Defence in Scotland

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The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Duncan: I shall focus on two issues where I would like to be more positive. My constituency was severely affected by foot and mouth disease. This month marks the first anniversary of the first case in Scotland. The role of our forces during the foot and mouth prevention programme was significant and shows the correct policy towards the Territorial Army. We welcomed the expanded role envisaged for the TA, but it should not be at the expense of our regular army. The TA played a crucial role in FMD control, when 90 volunteers were available at short notice and showed the flexibility and local knowledge that is the key to their existence.

We opposed the reduction of TA numbers from 59,000 to 41,000, which was part of the 1998 strategic defence review. We are pleased that we have been proved right and that a new chapter now being written will see that rectified. September 11 highlights the need for a volunteer TA with local knowledge as its key and speed of call-up as its unique selling proposition. It plays a key role in recruitment to the services, which is increasingly becoming a problem.

We have a proud defence history. Scotland's defence is inseparable from UK defence. Together, our defence is stronger.

12.35 pm

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I wish to concentrate my remarks on the importance to Scotland of defence-related jobs. We have heard many statistics and I shall not repeat them all, but the figures of 46,000 defence industry-related jobs and 25,000 civilian and armed forces personnel in Scotland are important. One day I would be interested to hear what percentage of Scotland's gross domestic product the SNP would be prepared to spend in an independent Scotland to maintain the many thousands of jobs currently available.

I agree with the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on one point—that I have never seen so many SNP Members present at a defence debate. They are usually notable for their

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absence, unless they think that a headline might be forthcoming.

I welcome the defence procurement decisions recently made by the UK Government and the excellence of Scotland's engineering skills. I welcome the £230 million order for Thales Optronics to supply night vision equipment on armoured vehicles, the confirmation of the Eurofighter Typhoon work, which the SNP opposes, and the excellent decision on type 45 frigates, which will provide a future for Scotland's proud shipbuilding traditions.

Last year, the Ministry of Defence alone spent about £600 million in Scotland, sustaining jobs in defence manufacturing. The one estimate that I have managed to obtain from the SNP's planned defence procurement is about £300 million. Frankly, that would buy one and a bit frigates and no more, which would leave a bleak future for the work force at Rosyth, Govan and Scotstoun in an independent Scotland.

I shall speak for just a couple of minutes—I want to allow other hon. Members to enter the debate—on Rosyth dockyard, which has undertaken many changes in response to the challenges of the past 10 years. It is now under private ownership and has changed its core work from submarines to ship refitting. I am proud to say that the skills, workmanship and standards maintained by the dockyard work force are widely recognised and that the Labour Government have maintained the allocated programme of work to which they committed themselves.

Many further opportunities remain. We all welcome the possible diversification that the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry may bring, but naval ship refitting will always remain the core work for the dockyard. With the continuing support of the Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friends, I look forward to working for a secure future for Rosyth.

I will end my comments, to allow some of my hon. Friends to speak. There has been much to celebrate in the Scottish defence industry in recent months. Scotland's skilled work force and service personnel have always played a key role in the United Kingdom's defence. They are proud to be Scottish, but they are also proud to be part of the UK's armed forces and defence policy. I look forward to working with colleagues in supporting that tradition and maintaining the high professionalism and worldwide reputation of the UK's armed forces.

12.40 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Judging by the time, I think that I have three minutes to wind up on this fascinating debate, which is not long enough—although I could wind up with one sentence, which would be, ''North-East Fife 3, Moray 0.''

The debate has predominantly addressed the international front, but I wish to turn to a couple of domestic matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) referred to low flying areas. With regard to them, I wish to raise the

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subject of wind farms—and, bearing in mind a debate that took place during the previous sitting of the Scottish Grand Committee, I hope that they will not be referred to as health farms. North of the Great Glen, 80 per cent. of the land mass is covered by low flying area and, as far as I am aware, the Ministry of Defence has never agreed to permit a wind farm to be established in that region—I know of one case in which permission was sought in my constituency. I have been in correspondence with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence on the subject, and I wish the Minister to look into it.

With regard to the range at Cape Wrath, to which the Minister has referred, I recently attended a meeting of its liaison group, where Commander Bertie Armstrong gave a categorical assurance that depleted uranium munitions had never been used on that range, and that they never would be. I wrote to the Minister to ask him to confirm that, and the response that I received was—to say the least—vague. I wish him to confirm what the Navy has said, which is that no depleted uranium has been used at Cape Wrath, and nor will it be.

I also wish the Minister to consider the representations that are being made in my constituency by the community councils in the area of Tain, where a bombing range is located that is an important asset to the MOD.

All the subjects that I have raised stem from changes in the contract between society and the MOD. External changes are also taking place, and we must take more account of the needs of the community than we did in the past.

12.42 pm

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I join in the well-deserved congratulations that have been offered to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces for his comprehensive and positive contribution on the subject of defence in Scotland. We expected nothing less from him.

I also congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife for his informed and constructive contribution, as well as other hon. Members for their comments, and I will reply to as many of them as possible. I wish particularly to respond to the hon. Member for Moray. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will write to hon. Members about specific constituency points, if I am unable to answer them.

The debate has underlined the importance of defence—and of defence's contribution to the people and economy of Scotland. It has also underlined the continuing importance of the Scottish Grand Committee, and I am glad that all five SNP Members have sat through the debate and constructively contributed to the Committee's work. That represents an encouraging step forward.

Not only is defence in the UK provided for the UK on behalf of all the British people but, following the

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events of 11 September, it has taken on even more global significance. Because of that, it is vital that we no longer get parochial contributions of the type that we have heard from certain quarters.

Scotland receives at least our fair share of expenditure, not only in defence but in all Government spending. The latest available figures showed that Government expenditure in Scotland was about £34 billion or 9.8 per cent. of United Kingdom Government expenditure. Total receipts in Scotland were estimated at about £30 billion or 8.3 per cent. of UK receipts. With a population share of 8.6 per cent., any reasonable impartial observer would consider Scotland's position to be very fair.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister give way?—[Interruption.]

Mr. Foulkes: But as the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine said, some people in the Chamber are not reasonable. I shall give way to one of them.

Mr. Salmond: I do not know whether the Minister is as familiar with the figures as he claims to be. Those that he quoted do not include most of the defence budget because that is set as a United Kingdom central expenditure figure. Is that not an example of how the figures that he has quoted exclude what Scotland receives under its population share and are used to present the misleading argument that used to be the preserve of English Conservative Members of Parliament?

Mr. Foulkes: Once again, the hon. Gentleman has jumped the gun. I am about to refer to defence expenditure. Defence is not undertaken throughout the United Kingdom on the basis of population share. We spend money on defence, we manage resources, we manage people, and we manage equipment on the basis of the defence needs of Britain as a whole. It is clear from the figures that Scotland does not lose out in the process.

I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said earlier. Let us consider defence expenditure in Scotland. There is direct expenditure of £1.4 billion. When added to the indirect expenditure, the amount is £1.8 billion. The year-on-year growth in recent times under the financial stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the fact that Ministry of Defence employment in Scotland amounts to 24,800 military and civilian personnel give Scotland the third largest defence footprint in the United Kingdom. It is the only part of the United Kingdom to have experienced a growth in numbers in the year 2000. That is an encouraging step forward. Not only are the numbers important, but it is what they mean to the local, often rural, economy that really counts. Rural areas, such as Moray, are well served by defence expenditure, as are Angus and North-East Fife.

If the SNP continues to twist the figures and to claim that Scotland loses out in defence spending, is it looking for an increase? Where can cuts be made to achieve that? For example, the hon. Member for Moray expressed his commitment to maintain bases, but he did not express how or for what purpose they

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would be maintained. He said also that he would keep Bishopton open. How and for what purpose?

 
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Prepared 5 March 2002