HC Deb 20 July 1998 vol 316 cc767-8
4. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

If he will list each major new weapons project begun since May 1997. [49577]

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

Since May 1997, we have taken a range of important procurement decisions to ensure that the armed forces will have the equipment that they need. These decisions include the approval of major new projects for the replacement rocket for the guided multiple launch rocket system, the Hawk life extension programme, the successor identification friend or foe system and a new tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling.

Mrs. Bottomley

Arising out of the overall defence spending reductions in the strategic defence review, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House exactly what is the nature of the cuts that are planned in defence equipment spending over the lifetime of this Parliament?

Mr. Spellar

The actual nature of spending on equipment is identified in the review. It covers a range of equipment areas, some of which have been maintained, some of which have been increased and some of which, as the hon. Lady knows, have been reduced. That is the pattern of the equipment programme as we look to reshaping the armed forces and their equipment for the new roles that have been identified for Britain in the world.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

In looking at new important projects, especially that for the two new aircraft carriers, does the Minister agree that security from attack, in this case from the Treasury, would be greatly enhanced if we had a firm starting date?

Mr. Spellar

The strategic defence review gives a very clear, firm base for the future equipment programme. That fact is recognised, not only widely in the House but by the armed forces and, equally importantly, by industry, which has confirmed that point very strongly. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have also announced an in-service date for the new carriers, which has been welcomed by the Royal Navy.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Ministers have told us that they want more armed personnel in the services and more equipment—some small and some big. How will they pay for that? The strategic defence review gives the figure of £685 million in the first year, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last week, in table A3 of his comprehensive spending review, that the real cumulative cut in the defence budget over the lifetime of this Parliament is £4.6 billion. Can the Minister confirm whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given an unequivocal commitment to the construction of the two aircraft carriers?

Mr. Spellar

We are looking at 3 per cent. in three years. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the report, he will see that we are actually talking about an accelerated programme of estates disposal arising out of the freeing-up of resources. In the longer-term equipment programme, we are talking about the impact of smart procurement, which we have negotiated in consultation and in partnership with industry—something which the previous Government singularly failed to do. As a result, we shall use best practice in industry to ensure that we achieve better value for money for the taxpayer.