HC Deb 08 November 1977 vol 938 cc468-9
7. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will ensure that Parliament is given an equivalent amount of information concerning the costs of defence weapons systems to that which is available in the United States.

Dr. Gilbert

It is the Government's intention to continue to be as forthcoming as possible in these matters, but each case must be judged on its own merits.

Mr. Tebbit

Is the Minister aware that the United States Congress and taxpayers are told in considerable detail the costs of the defence equipment which is bought for the United States forces? Why are the British Parliament and taxpayer denied similar information about identical equipment when it is purchased from the United States for the British forces?

Dr. Gilbert

There are many circumstances in which our position is different from that of the United States. First, the United States probably has a monopoly position in supplying many types of equipment, which gives it a much greater bargaining position in world markets. We have to consider the position both of our customers, who are reluctant to have such information published, and of our suppliers when the information is given in commercial confidence.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have in my hand the annual statement to Congress of procurement costs, which runs to over 130 pages of tabulated information? Why cannot our Minister be as forthcoming as the Pentagon in America and give us the information we need so that we may properly scrutinise his own decision-making?

Dr. Gilbert

From time to time we give additional information, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I have today approved the draft of a letter to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) giving the annual operational costs of the different classes of ships. As regards development costs and actual procurement costs, it is very difficult to give those at an early stage in the procurement process.