HC Deb 16 June 1997 vol 296 cc11-2
8. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Government's plans to establish a defence diversification agency. [2047]

Mr. Spellar

The Government will be making proposals in the autumn on how best to give effect to the objectives for defence diversification as outlined in our manifesto. They will include how best to harness the contribution of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency to those objectives.

Mrs. Mahon

Does the Minister agree that the success of any defence diversification agency would depend on the defence industry extending its expertise to civilian industry? Would that not help British industry to take advantage of commercial opportunities in future?

Mr. Spellar

Very much so. The objective of defence diversification is to widen the contribution made by the UK defence industrial base to Britain's economic performance by diversifying some of its technological processes and manufacturing skills into new markets and to ensure better co-ordination between Government Departments on issues such as regional policy, training and business planning in order to develop a positive strategy for industrial regeneration. However, we also have to stress that it is not a one-way street: the Ministry of Defence and the forces would also benefit from having a broader, more resilient supplier base for the future.

Mr. Burns

Is the Minister aware that my constituency has paid a very high price for the peace dividend because of our reliance on defence-related industries and that, only last week, there were 535 redundancies at GEC Marconi Communications? Given that such companies have, over the past eight years or so, actively and positively sought to broaden their manufacturing base by diversifying, what practical help can be given in advance of any review because, sadly, redundancies cannot wait until the result of that review?

Mr. Spellar

I very much take the hon. Gentleman's point and fully understand the difficulties that his constituency has faced, especially in recent weeks as a result of the closures. That is why we would very much welcome approaches from companies and from the hon. Gentleman himself as to means by which we can take the process forward and examine defence diversification. The fact that we are looking at a mechanism being announced in the autumn does not mean that we have to stand still at the moment and ignore sensible proposals made to us. I would greatly welcome such proposals from the hon. Gentleman.