HC Deb 13 March 1996 vol 273 cc963-5
1. Mr. Nigel Evans

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was the total value of defence-related equipment manufactured in the United Kingdom and exported abroad in 1995. [18686]

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian Lang)

Information is not yet available on the total value of equipment manufactured in the United Kingdom in 1995. However, in 1995 British defence equipment manufacturers won export orders worth some £5 billion. This represents 19 per cent. of the world market and retains our position as the world's second largest defence exporter, after the United States.

Mr. Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the export of defence-related manufactured items is important to the United Kingdom because of the balance of trade and for the retention of manufacturing skills, particularly in companies such as British Aerospace, in Samlesbury and nearby Warton in my constituency, and in a number of smaller companies that supply equipment to British Aerospace? Will he therefore ignore the ignorant and politically correct pleas of a number of Labour Members who have asked him to cancel the Hawk order to Indonesia? Does he agree that if we were to go down that route it would be bad news for manufacturing jobs in Lancashire and the north-west, but good news for manufacturing jobs in France, Germany, Spain and other countries that compete with us in this field?

Mr. Lang

I agree with my hon. Friend. The greatest care and consideration were given to the Hawk trainer export licence to Indonesia, to which he referred. In the past few months, I have visited the Lancashire aerospace consortium. I was enormously impressed by the high technological skill of many companies engaged in the defence sector and by the civil engineering activities. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to link the two.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the situation would be better if he could say for certain that the future large aircraft will be constructed? Have the French killed off the project by saying that they will not invest in it? I emphasise to him that 2,200 aerospace workers in my constituency make the wings of the airbus family aircraft. If he could say that the British Government are determined that the future large aircraft will go forward and fly, he would give a big boost to my constituency and to other constituencies that have an interest in aerospace, particularly British Aerospace plc.

Mr. Lang

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of contracts of this kind, and I am glad that he recognises that. However, it would be premature to reach conclusions of the type that the hon. Gentleman invited me to reach—it is essentially a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall continue to take a close interest in the contract.

Sir John Cope

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that, like other hon. Members, I welcome the jobs and the investment that the defence industry brings to my constituency? Will he make it clear that it is no good us thinking that our great defence companies could function without exports? They could not—not only would we lose exports but we would have to import.

Mr. Lang

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we lost the export market in the defence industries, not only would we have potential difficulties in defence alliances with other countries which would turn to other manufacturers, but it would considerably undermine our high-technology manufacturing base in non-defence activities.

Mr. Harvey

Will the President of the Board of Trade comment on this morning's press reports which anticipate this evening's "Dispatches" television documentary in which it is alleged that the Department of Trade and Industry has part-funded market research into opportunities for British firms to export electric shock torture equipment to security services in middle eastern countries, including Qatar? Can the President of the Board of Trade tell us whether the DTI has funded such research?

Mr. Lang

I cannot comment on a television programme that I have not yet seen, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government deplore the use of torture or torture equipment and would never knowingly support the export of equipment for such purposes.

Mr. Gallie

I should like to identify with comments made earlier about the sale of the Hawk aircraft. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there are some 2,200 jobs in British Aerospace in my constituency, where, I might say, there will be great sadness today, as there will be throughout Scotland?

I look to my right hon. Friend to ensure that sales of the Hawk aircraft continue to be made to countries throughout the world because, without doubt, finance from that has created great investment in my constituency.

Mr. Lang

I certainly recognise the merits of the employment created in my hon. Friend's constituency as a result of the activities of British Aerospace.

As regards the other matter to which my hon. Friend alluded, which is a source of great distress to many of us, there will be an opportunity on another occasion to refer to that.

Mr. Bell

I associate myself with the remarks of the President of the Board of Trade and the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) on the great sadness in Scotland today which the whole House shares.

The President of the Board of Trade will remember Lord Justice Scott's recommendation in relation to a consultation procedure on defence-related equipment in terms of empowering legislation, export licensing and procedures. He announced on 26 February that there would be consultation. How far has that progressed, when will the consultation document be published and can the right hon. Gentleman offer us legislation on the Scott report recommendations between now and the general election?

Mr. Lang

We are making as rapid progress as we can in our consideration of those matters and all the other matters on which we gave commitments following the publication of the Scott report. I expect that we shall be in a position to publish a consultation document on the export control legislation in the summer.