HC Deb 03 November 1997 vol 300 cc8-9
7. Mr. Borrow

If he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's strategic defence review in respect of policy on RAF procurement. [11740]

Mr. Spellar

One of the aims of the strategic defence review is to ensure that the armed forces are properly equipped to undertake the tasks asked of them. The review will consider what procurement policies are necessary to obtain the best possible output from defence resources for all three services. We will be seeking to establish a mutually beneficial partnership with the defence industry to achieve this end.

Mr. Borrow

I thank the Government for their continued support for the Eurofighter project and its exclusion from the defence review. Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that the shadow Secretary of State for Defence sought in the House last Monday to undermine the previous Government's commitment to the project by arguing that it should be included in the defence review? Does the Minister agree that the voters of Lancashire were prudent on 1 May to vote for Labour candidates committed to the project rather than for Conservative candidates whose commitment now seems somewhat shaky?

Mr. Spellar

I presume that my hon. Friend was referring to the following words of the shadow Secretary of State last Monday: The second flaw is mentioned again in today's edition of The Guardian. Excluding defence equipment from the review poses a risk that the equipment will dictate defence policy, rather than the choice of equipment being dictated by policy."—[Official Report, 27 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 623.] That article in The Guardian dealt almost exclusively with Eurofighter. Only two items are excluded from the review. One is Trident, which I presume the right hon. Gentleman was not referring to. The other is Eurofighter, which is enormously important for the future of our armed forces and the RAF and is at a delicate stage of discussion in Germany. Members of the Defence Committee have been in Germany pressing the case for Eurofighter. We welcome their success and believe that all hon. Members should be four square behind Eurofighter, which is important for the Air Force and for the defence industry.

Mr. Evans

Unlike the Labour party, we have not changed our policies just because we have moved to the other side of the House. Our support for the European fighter aircraft is 100 per cent. We want an assurance from the Minister that the RAF will be able to do the tasks that we ask of it after the strategic defence review. Those who think that we can ask industries such as British Aerospace to diversify their Hawks into hoovers, their Tornados into teapots or their EFAs into fridges must realise that that cannot happen. We need to keep our skilled personnel together in factories such as those of British Aerospace.

Does the Minister agree that we must ensure that our domestic market co-operates with the defence manufacturing industries in Europe and the United States? Does he also agree that that is possible only if the Government ensure strong domestic demand?

Mr. Spellar

The Conservatives may not have changed their policy, but they have changed their entire defence team. The hon. Gentleman's silly comments about diversification are countered by the experience of British Aerospace, which has done a great deal of work on establishing industrial parks near its sites to build up its supplier base, which includes many dual-use suppliers. That, not the strange picture painted by the hon. Gentleman, is the reality of diversification.

In opposition and in government we have consistently reaffirmed our support for Eurofighter—not just in words, but in actions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went to Germany to urge support for Eurofighter and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the issue with the German Chancellor. Much of the movement on the issue in Germany is down to this Government's resolution.