HC Deb 20 July 1998 vol 316 cc775-6
9. Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

If he will make a statement on his Department's plans for defence diversification. [49584]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

We received some 80 responses to our consultative Green Paper on defence diversification. We plan to publish our response, and announce our decisions on the way ahead, in a White Paper in the autumn.

Mr. Shaw

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that we have a history of failing to capitalise fully on the fruits and benefits of defence research? If we are to realise such opportunities in the market across the world, should we not get defence diversification up and running as soon as possible? Jobs rely on it. I am particularly concerned about my constituents who work at GEC in Rochester. Can my hon. Friend give us some idea of when the agency will be set up?

Mr. Spellar

We expect the agency to be set up not too long after the publication of the White Paper in the autumn. We are working very hard on the mechanics of it.

My hon. Friend is right. Too much defence diversification has resulted in the creation of jobs abroad, rather than in this country. We need to speed up the dissemination of techniques and technologies into civil industry, and also to encourage feedback from civil industry into the defence community. We believe that the defence diversification agency will play a significant part in achieving that.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Minister agree that premises are a major issue in defence diversification? Earlier answers given by his colleagues today have referred to an accelerated programme of defence disposals, and to the importance that he and other Ministers ascribe to social factors. Does he recognise that there is enormous concern in my constituency about his ministerial colleagues' continuing and repeated failure to answer questions about the future of staff college Camberley?

Over the past year, the Minister's colleague, the Minister for the Armed Forces, has repeatedly said, "Decisions will come shortly; decisions will come shortly." In a written answer that I received as recently as last Thursday, I was told that no decisions had been made, and that no proposals had even been put to Ministers. Proposals have been put to Ministers, not least by me. Jobs are at stake, and that prestige site must not be wasted or sold off for housing.

Mr. Spellar

As someone who raised that issue a number of times with the previous Government when we were in opposition, I can only say that the phrase "brass neck" comes to mind. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the allocation of the staff colleges is a complicated issue. We inherited a major problem and, as the hon. Gentleman also knows, under the previous Administration, some decisions were changed within six weeks or so. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is working hard to try to get a satisfactory solution. Representations from the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members with people from the staff colleges in their constituencies will be welcome.

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