HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc160-1
9. Mr. Meale

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he makes of the employment implications in the defence industries when considering reductions in defence expenditure programmes.

Mr. Sainsbury

Defence expenditure this year is over 20 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1978–79. In formulating our expenditure plans within the available resources we consider the employment implications for industry. But our main criteria are the military requirement and the need to obtain the best value for money.

Mr. Meale

Is the Minister aware that the United Kingdom brokers, Scrimgeour Vickers, forecast that 100,000 jobs would be lost in conventional defence expenditure over the next three years? Has the reality of that been borne out by the expenditure White Paper published last week?

Mr. Sainsbury

I remind the hon. Gentleman that on 27 October last year he put his signature to an amendment proposing a non-aligned foreign and defence policy for this country and a massive reallocation of resources from weapons. I am glad to know that he is now concerned with the employment implications of our defence procurement programmes.

Mr. Mates

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the height of hypocrisy for Opposition Members to call for less and less expenditure on defence unless and until it affects a job in their constituency?

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is worth remembering that both defence and procurement expenditure are substantially higher than they would have been had we continued at the rate that we inherited from the last Labour Government.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Regardless of whether we support defence spending on a particular range of weapons, it is the Minister's responsibility to tell us what effect he thinks the cuts in defence expenditure will have on jobs. The House has a right to know.

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman is looking at nonexistent cuts. As I said, defence and procurement expenditure is substantially higher than the level that we inherited and is continuing at a more or less stable level.

Mr. Latham

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the most depressing jobs of the Public Accounts Committee is to see the tremendous waste of money that there has been on procurement programmes? That money could have been spent properly, on decent weapons systems. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Department is putting its full weight behind Mr. Levene to get this matter sorted out?

Mr. Sainsbury

I agree that there have been mistakes in the past. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to secure the best possible value for money in our procurement expenditure.

Mr. O'Neil

Will the Minister tell us the position on staff shortages, which appear to be due to the funding difficulties referred to in today's edition of The Independent. Are they the reason for the delay in the production of nuclear warheads for the Trident programme? Will we have to borrow the warheads from the United States, or are we to have an independent deterrent?

Mr. Sainsbury

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the headline to that article bore about as much relation to its content as its content bore to reality. I am happy to assure him that Aldermaston is nearly up to full establishment and that there are no problems due to funding difficulties.