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Procurement Programme

Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the present methods of defence procurement; and if he will make a statement.

We continue to seek improvements in the way that we procure the equipment the services require for a price which gives the taxpayer best value for money. To this end we shall pursue vigorously the twin aims of expanding competition and collaboration.

Why should defence contractors be able to hide behind rules of confidentiality from answering questions about the post-costing of defence contracts where excess profits have been made by them? Is the Minister aware that a prominent journalist wrote to me enclosing a list of post-costed defence contracts where excess profits had been made, all of which have been investigated by the Ministry of Defence? Is he aware, further, that I am prevented, by the rule of confidentiality, from raising that list in a public sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, when all those matters are in the public interest and should be made known to the public?

I shall certainly look at that point. Post costing occurs in non-competitive contracts. It is done in confidence because some matters are commercially sensitive, and, even if the contract is non-competitive in the United Kingdom, the intention may be to sell the equipment overseas. Therefore, commercial confidentiality is important. However, I shall investigate what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the defence procurement arrangements for the European fighter aircraft, which, as well as the United Kingdom, involves Germany, Italy and Spain? Will he take this opportunity to say whether the apparent efforts by the French to come back into the scheme are too late?

We are satisfied that work is proceeding with all speed on the project definition of the European fighter aircraft. As well as being a tremendous opportunity for British and European industry, it is a tremendous achievement. As for the French approach, we would have preferred the French to be in the project from the beginning, but we shall have to examine the details of what exactly they have in mind.

What assurances has the Minister given to Dennis Ferranti to enable it to go ahead with a massive capital expenditure on CNC lathes to make mortar shells, when those shells are currently made quite effectively by ROF Birtley?

I am not familiar with the case that the hon. Gentleman raises, but if he writes to me I shall look into it.