HL Deb 25 June 1990 vol 520 cc1266-7

2.49 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of continuing international progress in arms reduction, they intend to redirect funds from defence to industrial research and development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, it is too early to say what financial savings may result from the current work on options for change and how soon those may occur. Investment in civil research and development is a matter for industry.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. The threat to the Warsaw Pact has rapidly diminished and that must call for a restructuring of UK defence and possibly through the 1990s will lead to substantial savings. Could those savings be used to assist industry in research, particularly in science and technology, for the benefit not only of defence but all aspects of British industry?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is too early to know precisely what savings will accrue. What to do with the savings will be determined once the amount is known; but any likely savings will be in the medium and long term rather than the short term.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the continuing progress in international arms reduction referred to in the Question has resulted in any appreciable diminution in the superiority of the Soviet Union in nuclear, conventional and chemical warfare equipment?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Soviet Union continues to produce weaponry at a somewhat alarming rate.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, if funds are to be directed for research in industry, can it be made known that help from whatever source will be encouraged, particularly from the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as I indicated in the first Answer, it is the responsibility of industry to decide its own internal programming and research.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, can the Minister say whether it is now the Government's view that the Soviet threat is, as the Minister said, alarming?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, when I use the word "alarming" I must add that the Soviet Union is continuing to produce weapons and armaments at a regular pitch.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State has pointed out that in the past year, which is the fifth year of Gorbachev's reign, the Soviet Union has produced 15 new nuclear submarines, 500 of the most modern fighters, and 50 of the most modern bombers? Is my noble friend also aware that its rate of production of heavy tanks is three times that of NATO? Does he not agree that that is cause for alarm?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is against the background which my noble friend has outlined that we have to make far-reaching decisions on the size, shape and future of the armed forces. It is not an easy matter; it is a complex matter which needs very careful consideration.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the Minister will know that the defence review is the subject of intense speculation in the press and elsewhere. Can he give us any idea when the Government will be in a position to announce their conclusions?

The Earl of Arran

No, my Lords, I cannot do that at the moment. I can tell the noble Lord that an announcement will be made when it is considered that we have got the options for change correct.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the break up of the Warsaw Pact treaty countries is a very realistic state of affairs and something that we should welcome? Therefore, does he further agree that there is bound to be a need for some restructuring among our NATO allies? When that subject is being discussed will the Minister ensure that the Government discuss this restructuring with our NATO allies and also that they arrange for some kind of collaboration with industrial research for peaceful purposes in which we can join and which will be as good as that which we provided for defence?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, all decisions concerning the future are taken in consultation with our NATO allies.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how much the nation spends on R&D and what proportion of that total is spent on defence? Further, can the Minister estimate any necessary increase in R&D in the redirection to civilian use?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that in the 1990–91 long-term costing programme, just under £2 billion is being spent on defence.