HC Deb 09 January 1996 vol 269 cc3-4
2. Mr. Betts

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the role of Mr. David Hart in his Department's financial efficiency schemes. [6339]

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)

Mr. Hart's unpaid advice has made a valuable contribution at the Ministry of Defence, including to the defence costs study and to our continuing search for greater efficiency.

Mr. Betts

The Minister did not sound very confident about that answer. Is not the whole affair just another example of serious lack of judgment on the part of the Secretary of State for Defence? Given Mr. Hart's expressed views about buying our defence equipment from abroad and the role that he is obviously playing in the efficiency studies within the Department, will the Minister assure us that Mr. Hart's activities will in no way reduce further the capabilities of the Royal Air Force? Will the Minister also give an assurance that Mr. Hart's activities will not lead to a threat to the future of the Eurofighter project?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I am extremely confident; unfortunately, I am also voiceless. The capabilities of Mr. Hart are considerable, and as I have said, he contributed significantly to the defence costs study. That will shortly save the Ministry of Defence over £1 billion every year.

Sir Anthony Grant

Will my hon. Friend seek the advice of Mr. Hart on the financial efficiency of the bid by Land-Rover Marshalls for the ambulances required by the MOD? Will my hon. Friend discuss with Mr. Hart the rather more expensive bid by a foreign country—namely, Austria?

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend is more ingenious than ever. I congratulate him on his advocacy for his constituency, which I knew he would produce, because he always does. Unfortunately, I must tell him that no decision has yet been made on the ambulance procurement issue.

Dr. Reid

Is it not true that, under the Secretary of State and his advisers, we have a new slogan for the Ministry of Defence—"If it's British military heritage, sell it; if it's foreign military hardware, buy it"? Does the Minister believe that that is efficient? Will he explain to the Secretary of State, when he returns from his jaunt to Japan, and to his advisers that operational effectiveness is the only way to judge efficiency for the armed forces?

The morale of the British armed forces is undermined every time this free-market Secretary of State and his free-market fanatic adviser take a decision. Does it make any sense to have people running the Ministry of Defence who know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

Mr. Arbuthnot

No. The hon. Member is pursuing a canard. [Interruption.] I am sorry, that is foreign. He based his question on the recent, incorrect suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had been involved in selling off Admiralty arch. It has never been the Government's intention to sell off Admiralty arch, and it is not now. The problem is that it is insufficiently occupied. We intend to keep it in the public sector, and to ensure that it is well and properly occupied.

Mr. Forman

Since the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) appears to know more about Mr. David Hart than many of the rest of us, will my hon. Friend consider placing a copy of his biographical details in the Library?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I would not wish to put a copy of the biographical details of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) in the Library, because they would not bear reading.