HC Deb 12 April 1994 vol 241 cc2-3
2. Mr. Jenkin

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the value of exports of defence equipment in 1993; and what was the percentage change on the previous year.

Mr. Aitken

Our latest estimates show that in 1993 we signed defence equipment export contracts worth more than £6 billion. That represents an increase of more than 15 per cent. on the 1992 figure and makes 1993 another record-breaking year for Britain's defence exports.

Mr. Jenkin

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Britain's defence equipment manufacturers on their success in achieving dramatically increased exports—particularly Paxman Diesels in Colchester, which is currently seeking diesel engine contracts from Kuwait and Abu Dhabi? Will my hon. Friend ensure that his excellent Department and the Defence Export Services Organisation in particular continue to provide the necessary support to British manufacturers, so that they may continue to achieve record exports?

Mr. Aitken

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to Britain's defence manufacturers, who deserve to be congratulated on an outstandingly good success story in British exports. I am also glad to pay tribute to Paxman Diesels in his constituency, which is part of GEC Alsthom. We are aware that that company is currently hoping to win major export contracts in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. My Department—and, indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend and I—have given it every possible help in its battle for those orders.

Mr. Donald Anderson

However remarkable and buoyant defence sales currently are, is not it clear that, over the next few years, there will be a contraction both in the domestic market and in many of our overseas markets, with major regional and employment effects? That will clearly be a major national problem. Do the Government intend to sit back, fold their arms and leave it to the market—or do they intend, like the United States Government, to set up a special agency designed to help in that period of transition and seek to diversify into civilian use wherever practicable?

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman has succeeded in sounding a note of lugubrious pessimism even though I am announcing some very good news. That is typical socialism. The Government do not have the slightest intention of sitting back or ceasing in the battle to win export orders for British companies. We hope to continue with some measure of success. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the likelihood is that, both at home and abroad, there will be some contraction of orders, but the recipe for solving the problem is not, as he suggests, to create a new Government quango like the Defence Conversion Agency; indeed, he may care to note that the current United States Secretary of Defence was recorded as saying that so far the whole process of the Defence Conversion Agency was "unblemished by success."