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In this process, we have insisted that the bidder complies with all employment obligations and with the Government’s fair deal for staff pensions. We will not sell the businesses unless Vector Aerospace complies with those vital employment safeguards. Moreover, I
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can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) that the protections are identical for both the Fleetlands and Almondbank sites, and that they also apply to any subsequent sale of the business to a third party. Vector Aerospace has also undertaken to support and take forward the apprentice scheme.

Vector Aerospace has legally undertaken to retain the businesses in the UK. To provide further certainty for the work force, we have secured equally binding assurances that Vector Aerospace will remain at the current locations as long as it is economically viable to do so. The MOD has also secured a legally binding commitment that Vector Aerospace cannot sell or transfer the business to a third party without the MOD’s prior approval.

If the sale proceeds, we expect Vector Aerospace not only to maintain current capability but to innovate and to improve the current service that DARA provides. Vector Aerospace has a good track record, in both employee relations and improving performance. I can also confirm that it has no current plans for redundancies at either site.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has accused the Government of lacking imagination, and he has asked that we think again about the sale. I do not know to what degree he has looked at the developments that have taken place under the defence industrial strategy. I am not at all sure what priority he gives to the issue, because I am not certain what priority his party gives to defence per se, never mind to the industrial hinterland that is required if we are to maintain our defence capabilities.

All the innovation that the hon. Gentleman talked about, and the methodologies for bringing well-paid employment and high levels of performance to the defence industries, is already taking place through partnering arrangements. There are such arrangements for different aspects of manufacture: for fleet maintenance—my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) will be more aware of that than anyone else in the Chamber—and for fixed-wing and rotary. If we are to develop, maintain and ensure security for the work force, that has to be the road forward. That is the direction that all contracting is taking. Inevitably, it must go in that direction.

I know that Members of Parliament have a job to do, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire has been doing that job for some time. However, I hope that they will not deliberately posture and scare people, because in the end it may be not the sale but ongoing uncertainty about the future that drives the work force away from DARA. They need to know that they are appreciated. I think that the main reason why the company is interested is the work force’s skills. It is not the real estate that the company wants; it wants that skilled work force, so that it can develop them and take them forward. If my right hon. and hon. Friends in the ministerial team and I did not believe that, we would not be considering the option as a way forward.

Pete Wishart: There is no scaremongering going on at Almondbank. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) and I have received countless
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representations from the concerned work force. The Minister speaks glowingly of the private sector’s involvement in defence installations, but I remind him that Scotland’s experience with privatisations and with the private sector becoming involved in defence facilities has not been particularly positive. One need only look at the Rosyth naval base in Dunfermline to find out what happens when the private sector is involved. The experience is not as positive as the Minister says. It is right that we raise concerns about such privatisations.

Mr. Ainsworth: I have visited the base at Faslane, where partnership arrangements have led to improved efficiency and an ongoing future for the work force. I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman supports that base; he is probably more likely to be at the gates demonstrating against its very existence. Only the other week I visited the RAF base at Marham, where we have partnering arrangements. BAE Systems employees work on the base alongside military people and Rolls-Royce employees to deliver supply and efficiency improvements in support of our Tornado fleet. Those methodologies are well-embedded, and are delivering real gains and security of employment for skilled people, not just in Scotland but across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Apprenticeships have been mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) are referring to very skilled jobs. It is not the policy of the Scottish Executive or Government, or whatever we call them, to fund apprenticeships in the workplace to the same degree as the UK Government, but is my right hon. Friend the Minister aware that one place where apprenticeships are still funded by the UK Government is in Scotland in jobs such as those that we are discussing?

Mr. Ainsworth: Part of our negotiations has been aimed at securing a commitment to continuing the situation as regards the apprentice scheme at DARA. We have got commitments from the company on that. We expect it to take the scheme forward, and to develop the apprentices and the apprenticeship, just as we expect it to maintain and develop the work force.

Gordon Banks: May I take my right hon. Friend back to the point that he made a few moments ago about the skills base at DARA at Almondbank? The expertise there which, as I said in my remarks, has met and exceeded every expectation of the MOD, makes the site attractive to a private sector buyer, and that same expertise has saved that location from closure and the other rationalisation of DARA that has gone on. Some of my constituents, as well as some of the constituents
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of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), see it as a double-edged sword—the expertise that saved the site from possible closure may now take them out of the MOD family that they have been in for so long.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue. We all know from experience in our own lives and in our constituencies that change is always worrying. I can only repeat what I said earlier. The two principles that we have in taking the proposal forward are, first, to maintain and improve support to our armed forces. We must never let go of that. It must always be the overriding first principle for anyone who is interested in the defence of the realm. The second is to make sure that we maintain the skills base that allows us to do that over the long term. If we did not believe that that was possible in this case, we would not be considering the proposal.

If the sale proceeds, we will expect Vector Aerospace not only to maintain current capability, but to innovate and improve the current service that DARA provides. Vector Aerospace has a good record both in employee relations and in improving performance. I can confirm that it has no current plans for redundancies at either site.

As I indicated to my hon. Friend, we have looked seriously at the alternative trade union proposals. We do not dismiss the work that they have done. The document is an impressive piece of work. I have read it, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has gone through it in great detail. However, we remain of the view that under the current arrangement DARA is not viable into the future and not viable on MOD rotary work alone. It needs care and investment, it needs to win other business and it needs to use and exploit the skills that its work force clearly possess.

The objective of the proposals that we are developing with Vector Aerospace is to generate the best opportunity to secure the business and investment and thereby protect the skill base that is so important to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire and to our nation’s industrial capacity.

I cannot join my hon. Friend in Scotland tomorrow. I am the duty Minister here in the House. A day in Perthshire might be a lot more pleasant than hanging around waiting for the Whips to tell me what or what not to do. I hope that he will continue discussions about this important matter with Baroness Taylor tomorrow, and I hope that over time we will be able to allay some of his fears and those of the work force at DARA.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes to Six o’clock.

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