HC Deb 30 June 1992 vol 210 cc697-8
3. Mr. Hutton

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation counterparts concerning the provision of advice and assistance to other countries on the diversification of defence industries.

Mr. Aitken

Advice to the countries of central and eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on the diversification of defence industries has been provided by experts from the private sector under the auspices of the North Atlantic Co-operation Council.

Mr. Hutton

All NATO Governments are committed, under the terms of the 1991 Copenhagen declaration, to providing practical support for the defence industries of eastern Europe in regard to diversification. Does the Minister agree with his German and United States counterparts that successful diversification stategies need the active assistance of Government? Will he also explain to my constituents why the Government are prepared to support diversification initiatives in eastern Europe but not similar initiatives in this country?

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman may have missed some vital words in my original answer. I said that advice would be provided by experts from the private sector. Advice from the the private sector is not really necessary in a country such as ours. We do not need special Government intervention because we already have a free enterprise economy and private companies are already in touch with experts from the private sector. In the nationalised industries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, some form of NATO umbrella is probably helpful, ensuring that the countries concerned consult the best private-sector experts.

Mrs. Angela Knight

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most useful forms of assistance that we can give the former Soviet Union countries is help with the safe dismantling and storage of their nuclear weapons? What assistance is the United Kingdom giving in that regard?

Mr. Aitken

As a result of discussions between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Yeltsin earlier this year, we have now agreed to give the Russian Government 250 super-containers and 20 special vehicles for the safe and secure transport of nuclear weapons. We are also providing technical advice on the disabling and destruction of nuclear weapons in the arsenal of the former Soviet Union. We expect the first equipment in that programme to be delivered in the middle of next year. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is a very positive form of assistance for those countries and that it will encourage greater stability and security in the regions involved.

Ms. Eagle

Will the Minister tell me how I should explain to workers at Cammell Laird in Wallasey the help that he is giving to eastern European countries to diversify their defence industries while there is absolutely no help for domestic defence industries? Will he also explain why, given that the peace dividend is going to all taxpayers, its results are to be visited on only a very few members of the community in areas such as Wallasey and Birkenhead?

Mr. Aitken

Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd., which is the main company affecting the hon. Lady's constituency interests, is already diversifying into offshore oil rigs, for example, without having to have special advice from a new quango or from civil servants. Private-sector advice in the countries of the former Soviet Union under the NATO umbrella is more easily obtained from direct contacts between industry and the private sector. That is the most effective channel of communication in this country.

Forward to