Foreign Involvement in the Defence Supply Chain Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.It is difficult to define what constitutes foreign involvement in the UK defence supply chain. However, regardless of the level of foreign ownership or the closeness of a company’s relationship with another Government, any foreign domiciled company, or subsidiary owned by a foreign domiciled company, will be subject to influence from outside the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 6)

2.As a result of the Ministry of Defence’s approach of encouraging inward investment, foreign involvement in the UK defence supply chain is widespread, with the UK hosting a broad range of UK-based and international suppliers. This approach has brought many benefits to the UK defence industry and wider economy. (Paragraph 13)

3.If the Ministry of Defence has the level of oversight of the defence supply chain that it claims, then it is clear that it was aware of purchases by Chinese companies into the UK defence supply chain and decided that such involvement was an acceptable risk. We do not agree. (Paragraph 23)

4.The Ministry of Defence should assess the implications of Chinese ownership of the companies listed within this report. (Paragraph 24)

5.The Ministry of Defence’s open and country-agnostic approach to foreign involvement means that the defence supply chain has been open to potentially hostile foreign involvement, with reports of companies being owned and influenced by foreign Governments whose values and behaviours are at odds with our own and who are known to engage in intellectual property theft. The Ministry of Defence should publish a list of countries it considers friendly and from whom investment should be encouraged. All those countries falling outside of this list should be barred from investing in the UK’s defence supply chain, including China and Russia. (Paragraph 27)

6.Recent reports have highlighted the purchase of second-hand Chinese equipment by the Ministry of Defence. This is deeply concerning. The purchase of equipment from China for use by the Armed Forces should not be considered a viable option by the Ministry of Defence. (Paragraph 29)

7.The relative indifference of the Ministry of Defence to the possible relocation of General Electric’s Rugby facility was concerning. We are pleased that this important industrial capacity ultimately remained in the UK. The Ministry of Defence should prioritise the maintenance of sovereign capability within the UK defence industry. (Paragraph 32)

8.The UK previously lacked foreign direct investment screening legislation which left the defence supply chain, alongside other sectors of the UK’s economy, vulnerable to influence from hostile foreign investors. The National Security and Investment Bill, once law, will change this situation and offer greater protection to the UK’s economy. Alongside industry and many expert commentators, we support the introduction of this Bill and the planned regime. (Paragraph 41)

9.Some commentators have questioned the placement of the ‘Investment Security Unit’ within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, suggesting that it does not have the necessary expertise and knowledge. We are content, however, that the unit will be able to draw on experience across Whitehall. The Ministry of Defence, alongside other departments and agencies, should proactively feed into all relevant assessment processes. (Paragraph 46)

10.Venture capitalism helps to drive innovation in defence and associated industries. However, we heard concerns that venture capitalist funding could represent an avenue for hostile foreign investors to gain entry into the UK defence supply chain. The Minister for Business and Industry told us that the National Security and Investment Bill legislates in this area to protect national security-sensitive entities. (Paragraph 50)

11.The new regime’s impact on foreign direct investment is, as yet, uncertain. If implemented efficiently the new regime should have little to no harmful impact on foreign direct investment to the UK defence supply chain, only preventing investment that is undesirable. (Paragraph 55)

12.The defence industry in the UK has remained broadly resilient in the face of financial pressures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all businesses within the defence supply chain, particularly those that also operate in commercial aerospace and are small and medium sized enterprises. The financial vulnerability of such businesses could increase the risk of hostile foreign involvement in the defence supply chain. (Paragraph 59)

13.The Ministry of Defence and wider Government have provided substantial support to businesses in the defence supply chain. Unfortunately, we heard that this support has not always reached its intended beneficiaries or had the intended consequences. The Ministry of Defence should improve its communication strategy with small and medium sized enterprises to ensure that they are aware of the support that they are eligible for at this difficult time. (Paragraph 66)

14.The commercial aerospace industry remains financially fragile. The Ministry of Defence should already be aware of the close links between this industry and the defence supply chain and should consider what more it can do to support businesses which operate here, particularly small and medium sized enterprises. (Paragraph 67)

15.The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the supply chains of defence businesses as well as their finances. Global supply chains for defence represent a vulnerability, especially when these supply chains include materials from countries not closely aligned with the UK. The Ministry of Defence should set out how it is proactively supporting efforts from defence businesses to seek domestic alternatives for supply and to shorten supply chains. (Paragraph 72)

Published: 14 February 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement