HC Deb 02 May 1995 vol 259 cc153-4
1. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much his Department spent in each standard planning region in the last year for which figures are available. [20076]

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman)

Data on Ministry of Defence equipment expenditure with companies in each of the standard economic planning regions of the United Kingdom are contained in "UK Defence Statistics 1994", a copy of which is in the Library of the House. We do not compile regional figures for other aspects of defence expenditure.

Mr. Griffiths

Is it not about time that the Ministry of Defence did so, because its spending figures highly in any debate on public expenditure in the United Kingdom? From information that is available, it is clear that nations such as Wales are very badly disadvantaged in public expenditure by the Department. Will he undertake a review to ensure that there is a better share of that spending throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Freeman

The Government believe that that is precisely the wrong way to allocate scarce defence resources. It must be done on the basis of value for money, and that means placing contracts with United Kingdom companies—which win 90 per cent. of all competitions for our procurement—where it represents best value for money for the taxpayer, and not on the basis of some political fix.

Mr. Devlin

Would it not be best, from the points of view of value for money and the happiness of the troops and contractors who serve the Ministry of Defence, if more of them were moved out of the south-east of England and up to the north-east of England and Scotland, where the best recruiting areas are?

Mr. Freeman

There is a great deal of truth in what my hon. Friend says. He will know—indeed, the whole House will know—that we have moved out of the Ministry of Defence in London, to different locations around the country, the command headquarters for many aspects of service for the armed forces. That is good for employment and for representation around the country.

Mr. Martlew

I am sure that the Minister will agree that all areas of the country have suffered because of a reduction in defence expenditure, but does he further agree that the areas that have had Ministry of Defence bases have suffered more than most? Is it not a fact that local authorities in those areas are suffering because the MOD cannot respond quickly enough to ensure that the land is put back into efficient use for the community? Will he confirm that the only criterion being used by the MOD for the sale of land is that it should go to those who pay the highest price? Is that not what happened to RAF Bentwaters, where the base was sold to the Maharishi Foundation because it paid the highest fee, despite the fact that the local authority and community were against it?

Mr. Freeman

We believe that faster progress could be made on the disposal of Ministry of Defence land. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I have given commitments to a number of local authorities that we will move faster and begin the process of disposal and co-operation with the local authority as soon as we know when a change has to be made. I think that local authorities will appreciate that. It is not always the case that the sale is made to the highest bidder. If the hon. Gentleman has anything to suggest that the Bentwaters sale was to the disadvantage of the taxpayer, the House would be interested to learn about it. As a general rule, the highest price should prevail, but not in every circumstance.

Mr. Salmond

As a point of fact in answer to the main question, will the Minister confirm that per capita spending on defence procurement in the north of England and in the nations of Scotland and Wales is far lower than expenditure in the south of England? Is the Minister aware that that single aspect of policy has far greater impact than the Government's total remaining regional policy?

Mr. Freeman

The job of the Ministry of Defence and of the armed forces is not only to defend the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom but to fulfil our other defence commitments. We must deploy our forces—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force—where that best suits our strategic interests. The Labour party's view on defence procurement is that it would wish to have a defence review within the first six months of any Parliament in which it happened to form a majority. That would be bad for defence expenditure because there would be confusion and, inevitably, the Labour party would reduce defence expenditure.

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