HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc810-2
4. Mr. Burns

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the contribution to the economy of defence exports.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken)

Britain's defence exports for 1992 were £4.5 billion, representing 20 per cent. of the world market.

Those were record figures. In the month of January 1993, British companies won orders in the middle and far east with a value approaching that of our worldwide defence exports for the whole of 1992, so we now expect that 1993 will be another record-breaking year. We regard this as a satisfactory contribution to our economy.

Mr. Burns

Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his tremendous work in securing the important Tornado order and for safeguarding thousands of jobs in this country? Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating HE, a company in my constituency of Chelmsford, on its important work in the building of Tornado?

Mr. Aitken

First, I am glad to confirm that HE, the admirable high-technology company in my hon. Friend's constituency, is likely to benefit from the large Tornado order. I make the point that all round the country approximately 150 British subcontracting firms will benefit from the order, in addition to British Aerospace, the main contractor. As my hon. Friend has said, all those companies have good reason to be extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his superb negotiating skills which won the order.

Mr. Hutton

Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Defence has no current plans to sell any of the four Upholder class submarines which are due to enter service in the Navy in the near future? Will he take this opportunity to tell the House that those four submarines have an important role to play in the Navy's submarine service?

Mr. Aitken

I can certainly confirm that there are no current plans for the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The question concerns defence exports generally. Whatever any one product may be, our disposals branch plays a useful role in selling unwanted defence equipment to overseas buyers.

Mr. Trotter

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the role that he played in obtaining the very valuable aircraft and tank export orders. May I draw his attention to the potential for naval exports and particularly, in this unstable world, the need of foreign navies for amphibious ships? If we proceed with the landing platform helicopter order in this country, which was recently described by the Commander-in-Chief Fleet as critical to the Navy's capabilities, it could lead to export orders which would help to maintain our defence and industrial base.

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) is a formidable champion of the interests of his constituency, where there is a great shipyard. He has been most helpful in pressing us to make efforts to achieve export orders for naval vessels, and there have been many successes in recent months. I certainly hope that, with my hon. Friend's help, we will continue to win orders in this important matter.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Instead of promoting the sale of weapons of mass destruction to undemocratic countries overseas, would not the Prime Minister have spent his time more successfully in taking a leaf out of the book of the Taiwanese Government and investing in our civil aerospace industry?

Mr. Aitken

The Prime Minister, on his recent trip, batted for Britain splendidly on civil and military matters and won orders for both. I am amazed by the hon. Lady's attitude, which conflicts with that of the many hon. Members who keep writing to me on behalf of their constituents asking us to fight for export orders. The hon. Lady reflects the confusion which was sown so excitably by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on 24 November, when he said that we should not be selling defence equipment to anyone other than non-military dictatorships. We are all waiting for clarification as to which regimes have the Labour party's seal of approval. Should we send back the orders in the meantime?

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