Henry Smith: The defence sector has a vital role to play in levelling up – but needs Treasury support

28 Nov

Henry Smith is the Member of Parliament for Crawley.

In Crawley, where the aerospace sector is a significant local employer, we have been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19. This will be an extremely challenging time for individuals and families in my constituency and we must look to replace those jobs quickly.

I believe that this recovery can, and should, be technology-led and that one of the Government departments with the biggest budgets – the Ministry of Defence – could be at the heart of it. With the Integrated Review due to report soon, it is important that the UK takes this opportunity to adapt to an environment where technology, science and data are at the centre of delivering our global ambitions.

I agree with Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, that investing in cyber, space, electronic warfare, AI, robotics and autonomy is vital for our future prosperity and security. These kinds of technologies will be critical in building not only national resilience for the UK but a resilient digitally enabled economy.

However, in order to make the Integrated Review effective and the long-term platform on which to build the nation’s security, it must be accompanied by a multi-year spending settlement.

I appreciate that Rishi Sunak needs to focus on the present. But in an industry where contracts are for tens of years and companies make decisions on R&D investment with a long-term view, the absence of a multi-year settlement adds to uncertainty, causes delays in programme decisions, and makes the UK less attractive to large defence companies for investment.

British national security cannot be separated from the strength of our onshore defence and technology base, which increasingly that includes cyber and digital. The ability to rapidly respond to changing threats or shifts in international dynamics is critical. By developing our industry at home, we are able to make decisions to prioritise our values and protect our security, as the Government rightly did with the Huawei/5G decision.

As we have seen throughout this pandemic, our economic and social lives have been shifted online and the importance of being able to have trust in the systems we use, – that our data is secure, that a website is legitimate – can scarcely be overstated. Given the importance of the digital economy, digital trust must now be considered a foundation for national security; we should consider an intrinsic aspect of our Critical National Infrastructure.

Having world leading capabilities that are created and developed in Britain can also support our trade ambitions and export strength. Export sales can help spread the costs of design and production, potentially bringing down the cost of capabilities for the Armed Forces and saving taxpayers’ money. The reputation of the British military is such that when they can be cited as a reference user it adds significant weight to an export campaign.

In order to maximise the UK-wide benefit, the Government must back our industry by choosing to place a high weighting on the positive economic and employment impacts for Britain when making contract decisions, particularly when taxpayer money has been invested in the development of key technologies.

Brexit represents a chance to level the playing field for our defence industry, having previously been hampered by EU competition laws that were interpreted differently across the different states. The Ministry of Defence must be serious about using criteria to make contract decisions that take into account the impact on British jobs. With a large budget and significant annual capital spending, the MoD can be a vital tool in supporting the economic resilience of the nation as well as our security in the more traditional terms. This is something we have seen in countries across the world as they respond to Covid-19 including the US, France, Germany, and Australia.

Like in Crawley, colleagues from many parts of the nation, from Broughton, Brough, and Barrow, will also know benefits of big manufacturers supporting both employment in their area and a national supply chain. By giving the MoD a multi-year settlement, the Government will be recognising the value that defence spending brings to the national and – crucially – local economies.

We must be thinking about the long-term future of our manufacturing towns, and the Government needs to demonstrate their commitment by giving industry the certainty it needs to level up the economy across our United Kingdom.

Henry Smith: Britain must show international leadership on wildlife and the environment

23 Jul

Henry Smith is the Member of Parliament for Crawley.

Last year, Lord Ashcroft published a devastating exposé of South Africa’s abhorrent lion farms. He has now released a new book detailing his gruesome findings.

The book is significant not only for uncovering a trophy hunting industry that profits from the suffering of one of our planet’s greatest creatures, but also for highlighting how the trade in lion parts for traditional medicine risks causing outbreaks of other animal-borne disease like Covid-19.

Diseases originating from animals have become more common in recent decades, and are now emerging at an alarming rate – with around three to four new animal-borne diseases appearing every year. While we have been battling Covid-19, a new type of flu transmitted by pigs has been found by scientists in China.

These diseases pose a serious risk to us all, but their spread is not inevitable.

We can halt the emergence of these diseases by stopping the dangerous practices which bring people into closer contact with wildlife and enable deadly viruses to jump from animals to humans. This means not only actively tackling the illegal trade in wildlife, but also protecting natural habitats that are being decimated by intensive farming, the unsustainable production of commodities like soy, and urban sprawl.

Humans have already altered 75 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, and some one million species worldwide are threatened with extinction. In the UK, 41 per cent of species have experienced a decline since 1970, in part due to the loss of key habitats – including 97 per cent of our meadows since the Second World War.

Recognising the threat which this trend poses to the health of humanity and the planet, the Government has worked hard in recent years to protect and restore nature both at home and abroad.

At the UN General Assembly last year, the Prime Minister announced a £220 million International Biodiversity Fund to protect endangered species from threats such as poaching and restore key habitats. The UK is also at the forefront of efforts to ensure communities develop in harmony with nature, with our Partnerships for Forests programme helping to create sustainable jobs and livelihoods in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, at home, we are committed to delivering a green Brexit, which leaves the environment in a better state for future generations. The landmark Agriculture Bill has the potential to restore Britain’s degraded natural landscapes after years of damage under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. This new post-Brexit farm subsidy scheme will reward farmers for their important role as stewards of the environment.

But there is still more to do. We need far tougher restrictions on the wildlife trade. The appalling conditions in which some of the animals are kept, such as the captive lions in Lord Ashcroft’s book, causes them immense distress and weakens their immune systems, making them more susceptible to catching and transmitting diseases to people who trade or consume them.

Temporary restrictions on the consumption of wild animals in China do not cover traditional medicine – leaving many animals, such as the approximate 12,000 captive lions in South Africa, without any further protection.

China has the opportunity to demonstrate conservation leadership before it hosts the next UN biodiversity summit in 2021 by strengthening its restrictions on the wildlife trade. The international community must also use the summit to agree ambitious new targets for protecting and restoring the natural world post-2020.

As host of the parallel UN climate negotiations and president of the G7 next year, the UK can also play a leading role in pushing for ambitious international commitments – such as protecting 30 per cent of lands and seas for nature by 2030 and restoring natural carbon sinks like forests.

What’s more, by putting nature at the heart of our recovery from coronavirus, we can create jobs, improve our health, and combat climate change at home.

The Prime Minister wants to “build back a greener and more beautiful Britain”, starting with the £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund to support conservation projects and create up to 3,000 new jobs. But there is room to go further: the umbrella group Wildlife and Countryside Link has proposed more than 300 ‘shovel-ready’ projects which could create 10,000 jobs and protect or restore at least 200,000 hectares of habitat.

Finally, we must urgently get on with passing the Environment Bill. The first major piece of environmental legislation for twenty years contains a suite of measures to put the environment at the heart of government policymaking and our economy.

We should also look at including measures to lighten the UK’s environmental footprint beyond our shores, such as requiring large companies to tackle deforestation in their supply chains.

Taken together, these measures could make a significant contribution to protecting the world’s natural habitats, and ensure a healthy ‘social distance’ between human populations and wildlife. Let’s take this opportunity to build a healthier and more resilient future.