Defence in Scotland

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Angus Robertson: I shall be brief.

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman will have to be!

Angus Robertson: In answer to a question that was tabled last year, it was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence that the Defence Bills Agency paid defence contractors based in Scotland some £691 million during 1999–2000, which is 3 per cent. The difference in tax revenue is what keeps bases open and what gives Scotland vibrant and effective armed forces.

Mr. Foulkes: That is one specific point. We hear nit-picking daily about major issues that affect Scotland. We have witnessed the cynicism of the SNP. I would have said ''hypocrisy'', but I know that you would not allow me to use that word, Mr. Hood. On one hand, the SNP wants to close bases in Scotland, while on the other, it moans about the loss of jobs as a consequence of such policy. One good example is its opposition to the United States presence at Holy Loch. But when the Americans left, it attacked the Government because there was a scaling down of HMS Gannet. What was scaled down? The submarine surveillance unit, which was in place because of Holy Loch.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan asked the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale about Rosyth and Devonport. If the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan had his way, it would not only be Rosyth that did not have the work; neither would Devonport. As always, members of the Scottish National party want it both ways. They use kindergarten, not grown-up, politics.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foulkes: No. I have given way enough.

I understand that the SNP is reviewing its position on NATO and has set up a study group. It is currently opposed to NATO, but it is looking to future policy. We have seen the signs of not only a little split, but a major chasm in SNP policy.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State rightly said that the Black Watch had a successful tour in Kosovo. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan had an unsuccessful tour in relation to Kosovo. We recall that that was described as unpardonable folly. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would, for once, be big enough to apologise for one of the many errors that he made. Milosevic is now before an international court of justice. We are glad to see that and it was rightly due to the Serbian people, although it would not have been possible without the external intervention that the hon. Gentleman opposed.

The hon. Member for Moray proposed the European security and defence policy as his alternative to NATO. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said that the effectiveness of the whole operation depended on NATO and on European Union membership. We know that the SNP party conference last weekend conceded that continued membership of the European Union by an independent Scotland was not automatic. In fact, we would face many dangers as a consequence.

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A recently published book by Chalmers and Walker called ''Uncharted Waters: The UK, Nuclear Weapons and the Scottish Question'' sums up the matter correctly. It says:

    ''The SNP's long standing assumption that EU and NATO membership could be approached separately, without political linkage, currently seems mistaken . . . The SNP's policy on NATO membership has shown little consistency.''

External, unbiased and impartial observers wrote that.

Mr. Salmond: The SNP is implacably opposed to nuclear weapons in Scotland. We heard that past Scottish Labour party policy was against Trident. Does the Minister agree with the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) that that is irrelevant to Government policy? What relevance does Scottish Labour party policy have to the Minister and the Government?

Mr. Foulkes: I gave way—yet again—to the hon. Gentleman in the hope that he would apologise for his unpardonable folly. Instead, he repeated parrot fashion a question to which he knows the answer. It is appropriate that the large picture behind you, Mr. Hood, is entitled ''The flight of the five Members''.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West asked about women on the front line. That policy is under review, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State informs me that an announcement will be made shortly.

The hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) asked about wind farms and low flying. The Ministry of Defence has justifiable worries about the development of wind farms in tactical training areas. If aircraft fly down to 250 ft and the farms are taller than that, there could be cause for concern. We cannot dismiss lightly the safety of aircrew and the public. Several tactical training areas are the most advantageous areas for the positioning of wind farms, which, incidentally, we can discuss in more detail later on the Floor of the House. Later this month, I will attend a meeting with the relevant Ministers from the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Scottish Executive to discuss such issues. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentlemen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West mentioned the possibility of a defence college in Scotland. The Ministry of Defence is considering expanding the Army foundation college, and sites in Scotland will receive full consideration. However, no decisions have been taken. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke).

Several questions were asked about procurement and prime contract awards. I can draw hon. Members' attention to the increasing value of Ministry of Defence equipment contracts awarded to prime contractors in Scotland. In 1998–99, they were worth £207 million, rising to £243 million in 1999–2000 and to £248 million in 2000–01. We can be pleased about those contracts. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland mentioned the Clyde; I want to pay tribute to the work done by all members of the

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Clyde taskforce, to the interest shown by local Members of Parliament in the work, and especially to the positive contribution of the trade unions to the work of the taskforce, which has resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of redundancies that will be necessary. That is a good example of co-operation between the Scottish Executive and the UK Government; the trade unions, management, local Members of Parliament and MSPs were all involved.

Sir Robert Smith: Will the Minister ensure that the Ministry of Defence looks further north and is aware that the skills necessary in the hostile and challenging technical environment in the North sea provide many transferable assets that could be used in Ministry of Defence contracts? Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the MOD works closely with the industries to consider how best to introduce economies of scale and to improve efficiency?

Mr. Foulkes: My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has taken that on board and will consider it sympathetically.

I, too, am looking north: RAF Leuchars employed more than 1,500 personnel and the continued significance of the base was shown by its confirmation as an operational base for the Eurofighter.

Mr. Roy: Is the Minister aware that on 12 September, after the atrocities of 11 September, NATO provided some hope because an attack against one country is attack against them all? RAF airborne warning and communication system aircraft flew over the eastern seaboard of the United States, protecting the whole area, while the United States Air Force defended the homeland. After that terrorist atrocity and NATO's help, is it not shameful that the SNP would refuse to join NATO and therefore would not have played any part in that defence?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which shows the value of NATO and the stupidity of any party that suggests withdrawing from it.

Leuchars will further benefit from the early move of the aircraft operations element of the Tornado F3 operational conversion unit from RAF Coningsby, which will increase personnel by 450 posts. The UK's main Tornado base and the largest fast jet operating base is in Lossiemouth, Morayshire. It is one of the major employers in the area, with around 2,000 personnel. I wish that there had been more acknowledgment and understanding of its importance, not just to the local economy but to Scotland.

Her Majesty's naval base on the Clyde has about 6,500 personnel; it is one of the largest—if not the largest—single site industrial employers. The planned establishment of the Astute class training service centre at Faslane will add a further 20 new jobs when in operation, in addition to about 150 jobs sustained in the construction phase, approximately 70 of which will be in Scotland. They would all be under threat if there were any possibility of the SNP

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achieving its clearly stated, open policy of independence.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces explained about the contracts for five type 23 frigates awarded to Babcock Rosyth, and the 16 personnel and vehicle landing craft contract, also awarded to Rosyth, and the award of the contract for two landing craft to BAE Systems on Clydeside. I was privileged to sign that contract on behalf of my right hon. Friend; I have never signed a contract for so much in my life. I was exercising real power on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: A prenuptial contract.

Mr. Foulkes: The right hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking from a sedentary position, reminds me that a contract that I entered into in 1970 cost me a great deal.

The Minister of State touched on the hidden benefits of awards such as the type 45 programmes to BAE Systems, the six type 45 destroyers to Clydeside, and the contract to Rolls Royce Marine, Dalgety bay. Scotland is stronger and better defended by being part of the larger whole that is the United Kingdom. We live in an uncertain world. The people of Scotland deserve the best defence that we can offer them. That means being part of the United Kingdom rather than standing apart.

The converse is also true: defence in the United Kingdom is enhanced by Scottish participation in industry, and by its manpower and bases. United Kingdom defence is good for Scotland and it makes sense for the UK. This Government will keep it that way.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

 
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Prepared 5 March 2002