Defence in Scotland

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Sir Robert Smith: The other way in which defence impacts on local economy is through Ministry decisions to move from a base, leaving it in civilian hands. In relation to the offloading of such property, would the Minister and his colleagues consider carrying out a quality assessment of those who take over the housing stock before selling it on to the public to ensure that a bad taste is not left in the mouth of the community from the loss of the defence base?

Mr. Ingram: Although I do not have direct responsibility for the defence estates, one lesson that I have learned is about the careful way in which the Department handles a range of changes in terms of defence estate activity and the effect on local employment if there is a downsizing as a consequence of closure or redefinition. Change has to happen. I know that the hon. Gentleman would accept that matters cannot stand still. I take on board what he is saying. If he has an example of a situation that has not been well handled, I would be grateful if he could write to me and I will make sure that we get a detailed answer to him.

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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Further to that point, I commend the Ministry on its dealings in regard to the drawdown of the RAF Saxa Vord that was announced in my constituency. The manner in which it dealt with the consultation on housing at Setters Hill is a model of how operations should be carried out. However, there is still concern in the community that we do not yet have a final decision on what will happen with the housing stock. The management of stock at Setters Hill and Unst is of prime importance to the economic future of that island. Can the Minister tell us when we can expect a final decision in order that the community can look to the future?

Mr. Ingram: I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman off the top of my head when he will get a final decision but I know a man—or maybe a lady—who can. I take note of what he said. I am grateful for his comment about the way in which the matters have been handled. That reaffirms my point about how we assess the way in which we try to handle them. We are improving all the time and are learning lessons from previous experiences. If problems remain, the hon. Gentleman may ask me a question in Committee or write to me. I will try to give him an answer.

The breadth of defence in Scotland is clear. However, I must address the tired allegations that Scotland is not getting a fair deal in defence, and that the Scottish people are receiving less than their fair share of defence expenditure and are therefore subsidising the rest of the United Kingdom. I return to my point about the indivisible nature of defence. Defence does not benefit some members of the United Kingdom more than others. It is there to protect and provide security to us all, wherever we may be. It is not like health or education where spending on a hospital or a school largely benefits a local area. Defence spending benefits the whole of the United Kingdom wherever it occurs, from RAF Culdrose in Cornwall to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It does not differentiate on the basis of some narrow nationalistic creed.

I hope that I have made it clear that Scotland makes its proportionate contribution to defence and benefits from the indivisible security that we all enjoy. However, there has been some debate about figures. I will set out the reality in the interests of ensuring that the debate is informed, rather than pick misleading figures to make political points, which is the current practice. Approximately £1.4 billion of defence expenditure goes directly to Scotland, £600 million of which is paid directly to contractors in Scotland for defence procurement, spare parts, goods and other services. The remainder—£818 million—is paid in salaries and wages to people in Scotland. That is before taking into account the pensions that are paid to veterans or their families.

The figure of £1.4 billion is a conservative estimate. It does not include such items as sub-contracted work, rent, and local base spending, or the wider economic contribution that defence makes in Scotland. As I mentioned earlier, MOD procurement expenditure supports 21,000 defence-related jobs and brings approximately £380 million more into Scotland. That

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is not included in the total estimate of £1.4 billion. If it was, it could be argued that defence is worth nearly £1.8 billion to the Scottish economy, which errs on the conservative side. As direct expenditure is some £1.4 billion and the minimum total economic contribution is £1.8 billion, I hope that it is clear to those who argue differently that Scotland receives a good and equitable share from the national pot.

Defence should not be reduced to calculations on the back of a fag packet to suit a political point, which the SNP did recently. Scotland benefits from a high level of protection and security, and contributes internationally as a major force for good. The UK punches well above its weight and Scotland plays a significant part in that. That is a good deal for everyone in Scotland, by any standards.

I have dwelt on the strategic and macro level of defence and its impact in Scotland. Defence is also an integral part of the communities that it is there to protect. Hon. Members would agree that defence largely has an extremely beneficial role in their communities. I could provide a litany of all the ways in which the defence community works directly and indirectly with the local community, and I add my support to that.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister may be aware that, last month, the Scottish Grand Committee had an excellent debate on the future of renewable energy. A point was made about the MOD's unhelpful role in planning applications for wind farms. Will the Minister tell us whether that matter is under review, and whether we can expect the MOD to have a more helpful approach?

Mr. Ingram: I do not accept that the Ministry is unhelpful. It is trying to do what it must to protect a range of interests. The Government wants a roll-out of wind farms. There is a major planning application for a wind farm in my constituency and, although I shall not go into the technical details, wind farms can affect air traffic control. If a wind farm were located beside a civilian airport, that objection could be made.

The country's security should rank extremely high, if not uppermost, in the list of considerations to be taken into account. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not like it if a wind farm were established without the MOD's having examined it, and a plane came out of the sky as a consequence. He would then ask why we had not examined all the details. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and we try to be helpful in these matters, but we must take all considerations into account.

We are trying to balance a number of strategies and approaches. We will do our best to ensure that we deliver on that part of Government policy that is designed to take forward the renewable energy strategy, particularly on wind farms.

Mr. Carmichael: Most of the objections of which I am aware related not to air traffic control, but to low-flying exercises. I have never quite understood the basis of those objections. As was said last month in Committee, there must come a time when low-flying exercises will be carried out over other areas and other countries that have wind farms. The point was made

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that Denmark would surely be safe from attack by low-flying aircraft from this country.

Mr. Ingram: Denmark would be safe from attack by low-flying aircraft from this country; our relationship is on a good footing. My constituency of East Kilbride has a long established relationship with the town of Ballerup, which is just outside Copenhagen. I know of no plans that would put Denmark at risk—I like to put people's minds at rest occasionally—unless the hon. Gentleman knows something that I do not.

There are technical aspects to low-flying areas. We must train pilots in low-flying activity or their capabilities and competencies can degrade. We need to continue to do that, which is why we must have matching between the requests that are made. I cannot give the figures off the top of my head, but some applications have been accepted and a considerable number have been objected to or are in that process. These tend to be small-scale planning applications, not large-scale wind farms. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about specific concerns, I will address them.

I have set out what Scotland does for defence and what defence does for Scotland, but could Scotland do more? Scottish industry is proud to make an important contribution to defence, but for contracts to continue to be won for Scotland, and for work to be undertaken in Scotland, industry must ensure that it is well placed to win the business. There is no fatted calf in defence any more and no spoils left to be divided, but there remains a considerable quantity of high-quality work to be won from defence, and jobs to be sustained and created. I challenge Scottish-based companies to continue to do their utmost to be competitive and to win that business. There are tremendous opportunities, and it is up to them to win the orders.

Scotland is proud to host a considerable part of the defence establishment, from RAF bases and barracks to offices and exercise areas. I have set out the considerable benefit to be gained by local economies and in the direct employment from the basing of defence facilities. I commend those hon. Members who support defence establishments and I urge them to continue to show support. I have talked about the importance of defence establishments for local communities and the way in which Members can help that relationship.

Scottish people are proud to serve in the UK armed forces and the supporting defence establishments. Scottish service personnel have always been known for their gallantry and dedication to duty in defending their fellow citizens. The best way to ensure that those proud traditions are honoured and continue is for defence as a whole to continue to thrive in Scotland, as an integral part of defence in the UK.

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