HC Deb 15 July 1986 vol 101 cc844-5
14. Mr. Hayes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy towards the placing of procurement contracts with British companies.

Mr. Lee

We buy British whenever it is sensible, economic and consistent with our international obligations to do so, and acquire from overseas only when the advantages of cost, performance and time scale outweigh the longer-term benefits of procuring the British alternative. The criteria used in deciding the source of our requirements are set out in the 1983 open government document "Value for Money in Defence Procurement".

Mr. Hayes

I hope that my hon. Friend will be protecting British jobs and British exports in my constituency in the company of Cossor Electronics by throwing out a bid by the American company that is called Bendix, which is using predatory pricing to get a foothold in the British market at the expense of British jobs. When are we to have a British procurement policy.

Mr. Lee

By and large, we have a British procurement policy. We are proud that about 90 to 95 per cent. of total procurement spend is spent with United Kingdom industry. As for the IFF competition, I can assure my hon. Friend that the strong and genuine representations that he has made to Ministry of Defence Ministers on behalf of the important Cossor factory in his constituency will be seriously taken into account, but we have a competition on at present.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May we have an inquiry into the case of Mr. Don Pitman, a former employee of Thorn EMI, who reported his company for making excess profits on defence contracts? May we have a statement also on when the Government intend to reply to the Public Accounts Committee's report on excess profits by defence contractor Aish and Company? Will the principle of compensation, which we have advocated, be accepted by the Government, and will Mr. Smith, who is in deep financial trouble, be compensated fully for laying his job on the line in the way that he did three years ago?

Mr. Lee

I believe that there will be a response to the PAC fairly shortly. I am not aware that any investigation is planned into the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred in the earlier part of his supplementary question.

Mr. Latham

It is highly desirable that we should have the largest possible British procurement programme, but is not the concomitant of that that weapons systems should be delivered on time and to cost? Will he study the reports of the PAC, which make pretty depressing reading?

Mr. Lee

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We are becoming increasingly a hard-nosed and commercial Department. Many aspects of our procurement policy are being tightened.

Mr. Meadowcroft

What order is about to be placed with the Royal Ordnance factory at Barnbow, Leeds?

Mr. Lee

I believe that the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question relates to another question, but we are giving serious consideration to the seventh Challenger regiment, which I believe the hon. Gentleman is getting at.

Mr. Dickens

Are not British procurement opportunities and production runs being undermined by the French, who are surreptitiously selling helicopters to South Africa in defiance of the United Nations arms embargo?

Mr. Lee

I have no intention of flying with my hon. Friend on that route.

Mr. Denzil Davis

Will the Minister give the assurance that was given to the Committee that considered the Ordnance Factories and Military Services Bill, as it was then, that there is no intention of selling off the ROFs piecemeal in the course of privatisation?

Mr. Lee

I cannot give that assurance. Such an assurance was never given to that Committee, in which the right hon. Gentleman and I were deeply involved. We said that the preferred option for privatisation was a flotation of the whole, but we did not rule out, in certain circumstances, the sale of individual factories. We would much prefer, however, to deal with Royal Ordnance as a whole.