HC Deb 11 January 1994 vol 235 cc9-10
7. Mr. Alan W.Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the defence budget for 1992–93 as a percentage of gross domestic product; and what are the planned figures for 1993–94 and 1994–95.

Mr. Rifkind

The defence budget was equivalent to 4.1 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1992–93. It is expected to be 3.7 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1993–94 and 3.5 per cent. in 1994–95.

Mr. Williams

Against that background of contraction in the defence budget, the Minister will know of my concern about the proof and experimental establishment at Pendine in my constituency. I understand that the final recommendation on rationalisation of the direct labour test and evaluation is on the Minister's desk. Can he give some idea when decisions will be made and say whether they will be announced in the form of a statement to the House?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is correct in assuming that we are at a fairly advanced stage in considering the matter to which he has referred. We hope to come to a conclusion in the next few weeks.

Mr. Allason

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the figures include alleged savings made by the closure of HMS Malabar? Will he explain why that closure was announced on the day before Christmas recess when very few hon. Members were present, although he had given an undertaking that important closures of that kind, of strategic Royal Navy bases, would be made in the House and not leaked to the press the day before an announcement was made?

Mr. Rifkind

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is being most uncharitable, and that is in increasingly characteristic form. He ought to be aware that the naval significance of the base that he mentions is not of the same order as in the past. At present, it is largely used merely for rest and recreation. Modern frigates do not require refuelling in the way that was required in the past. We have had full consultations with the Government of Bermuda, and it is right and proper that we should not incur unnecessary expenditure. I pay great tribute to the important part that HMS Malabar played in past years. However, modern technology and requirements mean that it is no longer necessary.

Ms Rachel Squire

Does the Secretary of State agree that a sensible approach to public expenditure on defence is to seek value for money? If he does, will he explain why he is planning to waste taxpayers' money and lose control of vital strategic interests by going ahead with the privatisation of the two dockyards?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not think that there is any question of losing control in the way that the hon. Lady suggests. As she is aware, both yards were contractorised and have been run by the private sector for several years. That has led to substantial improvements in both yards. It is in the long-term interests of the yards for them to be transferred to the private sector.

Mr. Streeter

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that any reduction in the budget for 1994–95 will affect support services and not our front-line capability? In particular, will he confirm that every aspect of our support services, including fleet maintenance, will be subject to impartial and rigorous scrutiny so that we can ensure value for money for the Navy and the taxpayer?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is right and proper to have rigorous scrutiny of ways of reducing the cost of providing the defence services that are needed. I am happy to confirm that, in doing that, we are determined not to reduce the fighting capability of our armed forces.