HC Deb 11 March 1997 vol 292 cc128-9
4. Mr. Allason

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proportion of the defence industry's output was exported in the last year for which figures are available. [18038]

Mr. Arbuthnot

Although definitive output figures are not available, I estimate that, in the recent past, the percentage of defence goods exported was in the region of 35 per cent. That represents an outstanding success for British industry, and one that is envied worldwide.

Mr. Allason

Will my hon. Friend confirm that a large number of British jobs emanate from defence exports, that there is the most rigorous scrutiny of British export contracts, and that no British export is made in contravention of European Union or United Nations embargoes?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I confirm what my hon. Friend says. We have probably the most rigorous control of exports of any nation. We export responsibly and we shall continue to export responsibly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House that we take 25 per cent. of world market share—an astonishing achievement. Those exports bring many benefits to Britain, not only in jobs, but in increased influence overseas and in the reduction of costs to the Ministry of Defence in buying equipment. If we were to put those jobs at risk by introducing a strategic defence review, we would undermine the stability of the defence industry and damage not only jobs but our influence and MOD costs. We must be careful about that as we move towards a general election.

Mr. Gunnell

Is the Minister aware of the proposed closure of IMI Yorkshire Alloys in my constituency and in Smethwick? That company contributes to defence exports and sells directly to the US Navy and to others. Its products are not made by any other company in Britain. Our position will suffer a net loss if the proposed closure goes ahead. Will he look into the closure and its strategic significance for the defence industry to ascertain whether he can make any suggestions to help those who want at least some part of the company to remain in existence?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I was not aware of that proposed closure. We deeply regret job losses following the closure of any part of the defence industry. In view of the hon. Gentleman's comments, I shall look into the matter in the way that he suggests.

Mr. Day

Is my hon. Friend aware that while the defence industry is important to the nation as a whole, it is of particular importance to the north-west of England, in respect of both the defence and aerospace industries? Has he a message for the many thousands of people in the north-west whose jobs and livelihoods depend on the continuance of present defence policies about the attitudes of the Government and the Opposition to the defence industry?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I do have a message. The defence industry of the north-west is very valuable, and the Government recognise its value. Our defence industry is successful because of the policies that the Government have followed. We have followed policies of competition and privatisation, both of which the Labour party abhors. We have followed policies that improve exports and we have provided stable defence funding. We do not want a strategic defence review that would undermine defence exports and the strength of our defence industry. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of the industry in the north-west.

Mr. Spellar

Does the Minister agree that overseas sales depend on orders in the home market? If so, is it not a shame that he did not think about that when ordering the Army field ambulance? We had to mount a massive campaign to save it for Land Rover from the Austrians. Does the Minister comprehend that his comments and those of the Secretary of State will be widely welcomed in Paris, Los Angeles, Fort Worth and anywhere our competitors seek to create uncertainty and to undermine Britain's position? This close to a general election, why does he not stop playing party political games and start backing Britain's defence industry? It all goes to show: "You can't trust the Tories on defence."

Mr. Arbuthnot

—it says here. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question lies in his own hands. If he is complaining about uncertainty, perhaps he can tell us which of the projects that we have ordered would be exempted from his defence review. For instance, will the replacement maritime patrol aircraft, the Nimrod 2000, be exempted from the defence review? No? I take it, then, that it would not be exempted. Instead of exempting certain elements from a defence review, a more responsible attitude would be to recognise the long-lasting damage that the entire review would do to our British defence industry, and to abandon it lock, stock and barrel.