HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc7-8
6. Jacqui Smith

If he will make a statement on the Government's plans for a defence diversification agency. [16799]

Mr. Spellar

Our aim is to fulfil our manifesto commitment to facilitate the wider application of defence industry expertise to civil uses. Although I previously announced our hope to publish a Green Paper on this before Christmas, preparatory work has taken longer than anticipated. We now expect to publish the Green Paper early in the new year. However, I can assure the House that this remains a matter of the highest priority.

Jacqui Smith

I thank my hon. Friend for his assurance that this remains a priority, especially in the light of a survey of companies in my Redditch constituency with defence involvement, which suggested that, despite a reduction in their defence turnover, they believe that jobs could be preserved by defence diversification. What role will there be for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in the Government's plans for defence diversification? Will the Government learn from the experience of industries and other countries in that process?

Mr. Spellar

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question of industries in her Redditch constituency, because many of those are the small and medium enterprises that are very much the core of our defence industry. Sometimes we concentrate too much on the prime contractors, to the exclusion of SMEs.

Obviously, I cannot go into all the details of the paper now but, in answer to my hon. Friend's question about the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, we shall consider how to diffuse the technology and expertise in the agency into the wider economy. We shall study the experience of many of the major companies in this country that have diversified some of their activities, and the example of other countries—not least the United States—and the successful work that they have undertaken in diffusing defence technology more widely into industry.