§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)
A total of 271 contracts have been placed by the Ministry of Defence directly with defence-related industries in the Chelmsford area since May 1997. The total value of these contracts is £6.76 million. These figures do not include any contracts which may have been placed by defence agencies as this information could not be compiled without incurring disproportionate cost.
§ Mr. Burns
I thank the Minister for that reply. My constituents will be extremely heartened by those figures, given that the constituency contains a significant number of defence-related industries. Will the Minister confirm and reassure my constituents further that where it is feasible and economically possible, the Government will continue the practice of placing the vast majority of defence contracts with British companies to safeguard British jobs?
§ Mr. Spellar
I am very much aware of the excellent defence companies in the Chelmsford area. The defence review is examining the establishment of systems of working in partnership with the defence industry. This would be to the benefit of British industry, would provide a service and supplies to our armed forces consistent with our value-for-money policy, and ensure that we are internationally competitive.
When I visited defence industry companies in Chelmsford, I was impressed by their diversification into civilian areas which has helped to sustain the industry there. We are looking at the examples that they have provided to be incorporated into our defence diversification paper which will be published in March.
§ Mr. Key
I join the Minister in congratulating the defence-related companies in Chelmsford, among which is Marconi. When will the Minister be in a position to make an announcement about the future of the next generation military satellite communications system of which Marconi is of course potentially an important part?
§ Mr. Spellar
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we are involved in that with our European partners, and we hope to be making an announcement shortly as to the outcome.