HC Deb 01 November 2001 vol 373 cc988-90
3. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

What recent discussions she has had with the United Kingdom aerospace industry on the changes predicted as a result of the events of 11 September. [9549]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

My colleagues and I are in very close contact both with individual companies and with the trade associations in order to understand and evaluate the effect of the appalling events of 11 September on the aerospace sector. We are already of course putting in place measures to help the workers affected by the redundancies that have been announced, but it is too early to predict the full impact on the sector.

Mr. Pike

My right hon. Friend will know that in Burnley, as in many places, we have lost jobs in the aerospace industry since 11 September. Will she confirm that the Government believe that it is a high-skill, high-value industry crucial to the future of our economy, and that they will do everything possible to secure its future? Will they also do everything possible to ensure that those people who lose their jobs can retain their skills for the advantage of the industry and the country in years ahead?

Ms Hewitt

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the aerospace sector: it is a world-class high-tech manufacturing sector. During the past three years, we have invested £1 billion in support, through Airbus UK and Rolls-Royce, to ensure that we maintain that world-leading position. I also draw his attention to the very welcome announcement a few days ago that Lockheed and its British partners have won the new contract for the joint strike fighter. That will be worth more than £22 billion in investment and orders over the next 10 years and will help, with further Government backing, to ensure that workers and businesses in the aerospace sector have a strong future.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Traditionally, at difficult times for the civil aerospace industry, capacity is utilised by appropriate increases in orders for the military manufacturing sector of the industry. The Secretary of State's announcement of the Lockheed Martin order for the JSF—in which we are participating—is especially welcome news. Can she make it clear that the Ministry of Defence will now sign a contract for the A400M aircraft that will ensure the continuance of many British jobs? That contract is especially important in view of the Italian Government's decision not to sign.

Ms Hewitt

We will continue to work closely with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the British aerospace industry continues to flourish and to meet the needs of the defence as well as the civilian sector. I shall certainly raise the hon. Gentleman's point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)

The announcement of 1,900 job losses at Rolls-Royce in the Derby area shocked many local people. Steps are being taken to deal with the short-term implications of what we all consider a temporary setback for a great company. However, what steps are being taken to ensure that when the upturn comes, the investment that Rolls-Royce and other aerospace businesses want to make is located in the UK? Furthermore, what steps have been taken to ensure that the supply chains of that company are shortened and brought as far as possible within a UK compass?

Ms Hewitt

The announcement of the Rolls-Royce redundancies was an appalling shock, especially for workers in my hon. Friend's constituency and other parts of Derby. We are working closely with the company and with colleagues in the Employment Service to ensure that every support is given to the workers who face losing their jobs. The Minister for Industry and Energy will shortly meet the Rolls-Royce taskforce to ensure that my hon. Friend's points are taken on board as we develop an effective strategy so that the aerospace sector remains competitive and employs large numbers of British workers in very good jobs.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Is the Secretary of State aware of the possibility of serious misuse of the public funding of £530 million for the Airbus project? Has she realised that, whereas in the rest of Europe industrial assistance is being spread throughout the supply chain, in the UK, all the DTI funding is going to the prime contractor, which in turn is demanding that all the British suppliers provide the full up-front development costs, putting them at an enormous competitive disadvantage? Will she investigate that matter and intervene if necessary, because there is a real possibility that large amounts of taxpayers' money will end up providing employment for Italian subcontractors?

Ms Hewitt

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are of course in touch both with prime contractors and the first-tier suppliers as we look at the impact—in particular of 11 September—on the aerospace sector. I shall certainly look further at the point that he raised.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

The announcement about the joint strike fighter and the benefits that will come to the north-west from the creation of many thousands of jobs is wonderful. However, the supply chain is the worry. When we follow the supply chain back through BAE Systems, we find that some of the work is going to the former Russian bloc. I fear that that is uncompetitive and will disadvantage local skills and companies. Can my right hon. Friend help?

Ms Hewitt

We are working with the aerospace sector, as we are with other sectors, to ensure that throughout the supply chain our companies and workers are competitive, wherever the competition comes from. Having considered the implications of the award of that contract to Lockheed, I understand that we are looking not only at £22 billion of orders during the next 10 years, but at some 7,000 jobs throughout the British supply chain as a direct result. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming that news for the British aerospace sector.