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Defence

Volume 210: debated on Tuesday 30 June 1992

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Diversification

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what initiatives he proposes to take to assist conversion and diversification in the defence sector; and if he will make a statement.

We have no plans to take any such initiatives. Decisions affecting the future of a company, including its product lines, are best left to the commercial judgment of the firm's management.

About 1 million jobs in this country depend, directly or indirectly, on defence expenditure. If we are to have a peace dividend and to prevent the non-proliferation of weapons among those who should not have them, diversification and conversion are required. Why do we not adopt the approach that we take towards eastern Europe, and provide conversion know-how in this country also?

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's argument, even though he exaggerated the number of jobs that are directly or indirectly connected with defence. His idea of spending taxpayers' money on a new quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation is misguided. The best way forward for defence diversification is for ideas to come from the companies themselves.

Does my hon. Friend agree that history is littered with unrealistic socialist dreams of agencies to beat swords into ploughshares? Are not the managers of the companies concerned best placed to make long-term strategic decisions? If the Government were to intervene, would not the long-term result be unhelpful?

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. Right hon. and hon. Members with long memories will recall the disastrous experiments with taxpayers' money by the National Enterprise Board. We cannot have Government second-guessing of industry, financed by the taxpayer.

That was a very disappointing answer. Is the Minister aware that conversion and diversification policy is needed in the Cowal area in my constituency following the departure of the United States navy? Is he aware also that last week the Ministry of Defence advertised the former United States buildings for sale on the open market? Will the Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence undertake to reconsider that decision, with a view to the MOD's reaching a financial agreement with the United States navy and handing over the buildings to the local enterprise company, which is at the very heart of the recovery strategy for the area?

The hon. Lady is living in a time warp—in a bygone age. It is not for the Government to spend taxpayers' money on such diversifications. We have an interest in making sure that taxpayers' money is wisely spent. The decision to place that land on the market at a fair price is much the best solution.

Even though concern about defence employment comes ill from the Labour party in view of recent considerations, does my hon. Friend acknowledge that many jobs in the south-west are dependent on the aircraft industry and docks and, in my constituency, effective firms such as Avimo and the MOD's hydrographic division? Will my hon. Friend give whatever consideration he can to preserving those jobs where possible and to future activities where such jobs have to be run down?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that Labour has consistently advocated massive defence cuts—of 27 per cent. at its last party conference. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must consider carefully the significant number of jobs involved, but, with a procurement budget alone of £9 billion a year, there is scope for creating a strong and thriving defence industry that provides many jobs, despite the current difficulties created by the undoubtedly necessary defence spending rundown.

I am sure that all hon. Members—with the exception of a few Conservative Members—will be disappointed by the Minister's answer. I know that his predecessor washed his hands of the defence industry, but I thought that the present Minister might he a little more sympathetic. Does he not understand that workers in the industry, like service men and women, have given a lifetime of service to this country? Surely, at a time of necessary cuts, the Government can make at least the minimum contribution. May I also point out that the only mention of an agency was made by the Minister himself?

It seems from the hon. Gentleman's final point that he has forgotten that the first mention of a defence diversification agency appeared in his party's election manifesto. It is also mentioned in the question.

The basic difference between the parties is this: the Government believe that it does not place the taxpayer and civil servants in the best position to try to second-guess industry's own wish to diversify. Many defence companies are doing that very successfully already and they should be encouraged to continue.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said in answer to Opposition Members. Will he reassure us, however, that he fully accepts that the Ministry of Defence has a prime responsibility in delineating the key technologies that the defence industry is likely to be asked to supply in the immediate future?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We continue to take the Defence Research Agency's work in new technologies very seriously, and we are communicating more and more openly with industry about the technologies of the future, on which we expect to spend more of the defence budget.

Range Safety Certificates

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to change the system of granting range safety certificates.

There are no plans to do so.

I am sorry to hear that, because a ludicrous situation has arisen in my constituency. A civilian gun club at Ruthin wishes to build a safe range; unfortunately, the only source of advice is the Ministry of Defence, and the gun club has no way of checking the accuracy of that advice because the handbook on which it is based is classified. Will the Minister declassify that document—or is he scared that Saddam Hussein will build safer ranges than ours?

That question is misleading. If the gun club applies through the National Rifle Association, it will be able to gain access to all the information contained in the booklet. That booklet is restricted the—lowest form of classification—because it is a training document, and we classify all our training documents.

The National Rifle Association will point the way ahead. I gather that consultation is under way and that the gun club is complying with many of the regulations. We hope to be able to send a military man down soon, so that he can check the place out and give the club the cover that it wants.

Diversification

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation counterparts concerning the provision of advice and assistance to other countries on the diversification of defence industries.

Advice to the countries of central and eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on the diversification of defence industries has been provided by experts from the private sector under the auspices of the North Atlantic Co-operation Council.

All NATO Governments are committed, under the terms of the 1991 Copenhagen declaration, to providing practical support for the defence industries of eastern Europe in regard to diversification. Does the Minister agree with his German and United States counterparts that successful diversification stategies need the active assistance of Government? Will he also explain to my constituents why the Government are prepared to support diversification initiatives in eastern Europe but not similar initiatives in this country?

The hon. Gentleman may have missed some vital words in my original answer. I said that advice would be provided by experts from the private sector. Advice from the the private sector is not really necessary in a country such as ours. We do not need special Government intervention because we already have a free enterprise economy and private companies are already in touch with experts from the private sector. In the nationalised industries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, some form of NATO umbrella is probably helpful, ensuring that the countries concerned consult the best private-sector experts.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most useful forms of assistance that we can give the former Soviet Union countries is help with the safe dismantling and storage of their nuclear weapons? What assistance is the United Kingdom giving in that regard?

As a result of discussions between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Yeltsin earlier this year, we have now agreed to give the Russian Government 250 super-containers and 20 special vehicles for the safe and secure transport of nuclear weapons. We are also providing technical advice on the disabling and destruction of nuclear weapons in the arsenal of the former Soviet Union. We expect the first equipment in that programme to be delivered in the middle of next year. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is a very positive form of assistance for those countries and that it will encourage greater stability and security in the regions involved.

Will the Minister tell me how I should explain to workers at Cammell Laird in Wallasey the help that he is giving to eastern European countries to diversify their defence industries while there is absolutely no help for domestic defence industries? Will he also explain why, given that the peace dividend is going to all taxpayers, its results are to be visited on only a very few members of the community in areas such as Wallasey and Birkenhead?

Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd., which is the main company affecting the hon. Lady's constituency interests, is already diversifying into offshore oil rigs, for example, without having to have special advice from a new quango or from civil servants. Private-sector advice in the countries of the former Soviet Union under the NATO umbrella is more easily obtained from direct contacts between industry and the private sector. That is the most effective channel of communication in this country.

Raf Pilots

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Royal Air Force pilots have left within 10 years of qualifying as pilots in each of the past three years.

The number of Royal Air Force pilots leaving the service within 10 years of qualifying as pilots was 88 in 1989–90, 66 in 1990–91 and 44 in 1991–92.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that interesting and encouraging reply. Will he confirm that it costs more than £4.4 million to train a Tornado pilot these days? Is it not therefore essential that his Department goes out of its way to retain our extremely well-trained, effective and efficient RAF pilots?

Yes. The figure that I have for training is more like £3 million, but even that is a very large sum. We do all that we can to retain people who have cost so much to train. The rate at which they leave depends very much on the health of the airline business generally. There may be signs that it will pick up in future; then, of course, companies find it very profitable to bribe away our well-trained pilots rather than to train their own.

When considering the question of Royal Air Force pilots leaving early, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the proposal that anyone who is trained at public expense to fly RAF aircraft should have a duty for the rest of his flying life to make himself available as and when required, probably on a voluntary part-time basis, to the reserve forces? That seems to be the best way to get value for taxpayers' money.

Yes, I agree absolutely. Anyone who leaves prematurely has to spend four years on reserve, and in that way we get some value for the money that we spend.

Trident

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much Government money has been spent on Trident since 1987; and how much more is expected to be spent before completion.

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the most recent estimated total cost of the Trident programme; and if he will make a statement.

The estimated total cost of the Trident procurement programme is £10.5 billion, of which 60 per cent. has been spent so far.

Order. I am sure that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will begin his question again.

Does the Secretary of State agree that he is being economic with the truth and that it is nonsense to talk about £10.5 billion? Given that there are four submarines, each submarine taking 128 missiles, making 512 missiles in all, given that the strategic arms reduction talks between America and Russia are expanding and given that the Secretary of State has agreed to dismantle Nimrod and Sea Harrier, could not the global cost be in the region of £33 billion?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a rather extravagant estimate made by Greenpeace which has already been substantially discredited. I prefer to rest on the conclusion of the Select Committee on Defence, which looked into the cost of Trident and commented on what it described as

"the gratifying and unusual spectacle of a major defence procurement programme coming in far below estimate."

Will the Secretary of State tell us at exactly what he intends targeting the up to 512 new Trident warheads—French trawlers? Which would be the more effective at Sarajevo airport—one of the Scots regiments which he is disbanding to save a pittance or the Trident missile system, costing up to £32 billion, which is unnecessary, badly over budget and of no real purpose? Saving Scots regiments would represent value for money; Trident missiles do not.

The hon. Gentleman appears to be unaware of the fact that even at the end of the 10-year programme of reducing strategic nuclear weapons as a result of the agreement between President Bush and President Yeltsin, Russia and the United States will still have more than 3,000 strategic nuclear warheads. He appears to be unaware that President Yeltsin said that the British and French deterrents were so relatively small in number that it was foolish to try to draw a comparison between the British and French deterrents and the agreement that he had reached with President Bush. The reluctance of the Scottish National party to dedicate its interest to the proper defence of its country is well known north of the border.

Is it not a fact that the Labour party is yet again up to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] When it comes to discussing the estimated cost of Trident, the fact is—[Interruption.]

Order. If hon. Members would remain silent, I could hear what the hon. Lady is saying. I should then know whether she needs correcting.

I shall try again, Madam Speaker. Is it not a fact that when we are talking about the cost of Trident, the Labour party——

Order. Please let me give some guidance to the hon. Lady. The Secretary of State has no responsibility for Labour party policy. The hon. Lady should, therefore, frame her question in a way that gives the Secretary of State responsibility for answering.

I shall rephrase the question, Madam Speaker. Is it not correct that the real estimated costs of Trident are well below those forecast by the Opposition? I understand that they are well below 2 per cent. of the defence budget. Trident is, therefore, a deterrent well worth having for Britain.

Neither I nor the Leader of the Opposition has responsibility for Labour party policy, so no one in the Chamber could respond to that point. My hon. Friend is correct. The cost of Trident over the period of procurement is less than 2.5 per cent. of the defence budget. That puts the matter into proportion. Trident is of enormously important value in Britain's defence requirements.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the independent nuclear deterrent is the only absolute guarantee that this country will never be invaded and, as such, is the ultimate in cost effectiveness?

Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely correct. The defence strategy that has been pursued since the end of the second world war has more than vindicated the nuclear policy of both this country and the United States. But for that policy, we should not have seen the collapse of the Warsaw pact, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-emergence of a potentially free and democratic Russia.

If the Secretary of State is so keen to demonstrate to the House that his figures are accurate and that Greenpeace's figures are wrong, will he tell us, in his figures, how much he has put in for the eventual decommissioning of Trident and for making safe the nuclear material involved?

Decommissioning of all vessels, especially nuclear vessels, is ultimately required. For Trident, the decommissioning will not take place for a good 30 years. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that all the costs directly attributable to the Trident programme are included in the cost of £10.5 billion to which I referred.

Nuclear Deterrent

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received about the nuclear deterrent.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the independent deterrent has provided this country with peace and security for 47 years? Has he received any representations from the 100 hon. Members who are members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament? Are not they, rather than the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), the authentic voice of the Labour party?

It is difficult to know what is the authentic voice of the Labour party. Some two thirds of the members of the shadow Cabinet have or had an association with CND. I believe that at present, however, it is the policy of both the Government and the Opposition for Britain to keep nuclear weapons. That is certainly what the Labour party said during the last election, but whether that will be the Labour's policy in future is something on which we can only speculate and one of the great mysteries of the world in which we live.

If Trident nuclear weapons and Polaris are providing such a wonderful defence for freedom, what does the Secretary of State say to other nations about their potential for nuclear deterrence? Does he tell countries in the middle east that nuclear weapons are a safeguard for peace and advocate that middle eastern countries should have nuclear weapons? Does he agree that he should abide by the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty, clause 6 of which commits this country—as we are signatories to the treaty—to get rid of nuclear weapons? When will this country and the Government stop cheating on the treaty?

If the hon. Gentleman checked his facts before making wild allegations, he would realise that not only are we signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty but, over the past 12 months, either I or my predecessor has announced the ending of nuclear artillery; the ending of the application of nuclear warheads to Lance missiles; the reduction in the number of nuclear dual-capable aircraft and, only two weeks ago, the ending of Britain's maritime tactical nuclear capacity. We are perfectly prepared to see any reduction in our nuclear potential when that is consistent with the ultimate safety of this country. The hon. Gentleman's disinclination to give priority to the ultimate defence of this country is well known.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a nuclear threat can be deterred only by a nuclear deterrent and that Britain's independent nuclear deterrent has been vital to this country for more than 40 years for that reason? Does he further agree that the size of the fearsome armoury that still remains in the ex-Soviet republics and the spread of nuclear technology to some of the ugliest regimes in the middle east further emphasise the importance of maintaining Trident?

Sadly, my hon. Friend is entirely correct. I should have thought that our recent experience in the Gulf, when it became clear that the Iraqi Government had been seeking to develop a nuclear capacity, would be a clear warning to those who seek to deny this country the ultimate right to defend its people.

Will the Secretary of State try to explain to us the rationale behind the vast increase in the number of Trident warheads? The Government have told us over the past few years that we required the 250 per cent. increase in Trident warhead numbers over Polaris because of improved Russian anti-ballistic missile systems. The same Government are now acquiescing in United States-Russian co-operation to improve those anti-ballistic missile systems in Russia even further. Can the Secretary of State explain the absurd inconsistency that lies at the heart of the Government's approach?

There is no inconsistency whatsoever. The hon. Gentleman seems to forget conveniently the decision taken by a previous Labour Government to enhance Polaris through the Chevaline project because of their realisation that the defences against the nuclear deterrent had been increased at that time. In the same way, we have had to indicate the minimum nuclear deterrent required to ensure the protection of this country against any nuclear threat that it might face.

As for anti-ballistic missile defences, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is an anti-ballistic missile treaty. Any proposals to change that treaty would require the most careful attention, consistent with the credibility and effectiveness of the nuclear deterrents that we and the United States possess.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the decision taken by the Labour Government to adopt an independent nuclear deterrent has helped to keep the peace in post-war Europe? Does he further agree that there is a residual problem of decommissioning some of the atomic submarines? Have the Government come to any conclusions about what to do with them?

We are giving active consideration to our long-term policy on decommissioning of nuclear submarines. My hon. Friend is correct that the original decisions on nuclear weapons were shared by both sides of the House. It is unfortunate that the Labour party went through—and may still be going through—a spasm of hostility to the defence needs of Britain.

European Fighter Aircraft

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the European fighter aircraft project.

As the House will be aware, the German Defence Minister has indicated his belief that Germany should not participate in the production phase of the programme. With my Italian and Spanish colleagues, we have made clear to him our view that the EFA continues to represent the most cost-effective solution to the requirement.

While I recognise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Prime Minister, supported by the Opposition, have rightly done all that they can to persuade the Germans to stay on board, may I put it to the Secretary of State that even without the German order for more than 100 aeroplanes it is decisively in the national interest that the project should go ahead? Is it not the case that by the end of the century we shall require a new fighter aeroplane at least as good as any modified MiG 29, and that to buy an American alternative would not only cost the taxpayer more in the long run but lead to the loss of thousands of jobs and the elimination of Britain's capability in an important area of advanced technology?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I pay tribute not only to the Opposition parties but to my hon. Friends who have demonstrated convincingly the virtually unanimous view of the House that the European fighter aircraft is consistent with the defence interests of the United Kingdom. We believe that it is also in the interests of Germany. Indeed, many within Germany take that view. What one finds most difficult to understand about the German position is that the Germans acknowledge that they will need a new fighter aircraft, they are not aware what their alternative to the EFA would be and, in the absence of any conclusion to that effect, it is difficult to understand how they can believe that whatever option they ultimately chose would necessarily bring any saving. With the Select Committee, we believe that EFA represents the best value for money and is absolutely consistent with our defence requirements.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the view of the German Defence Minister that it is possible to produce a simpler aircraft more cheaply using research money from the EFA project is not viable? Does he agree that we would end up with an inferior aircraft that would cost us more?

I regret to say that my hon. Friend is almost certainly correct. It seems certain that if Herr Riihe's proposal for a lighter EFA were taken forward it would result in the waste of the billions of pounds that have so far been spent on the development stage of the project. It would also probably result in up to five years' delay before the aircraft could be made available. That would not be consistent with our defence requirements.

While I in no sense devalue the military and economic arguments in favour of the European fighter aircraft progamme, does the Secretary of State agree that the political implications of a German withdrawal are equally significant? At a time when necessary and inevitable efforts are being made to strengthen the European defence pillar, would not a German withdrawal from the EFA programme prejudice those efforts?

It is difficult to understand the German position. Germany has been a good European partner over the years. It is not consistent with that reputation to consider withdrawing from the most important example of European defence collaboration that exists.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we all agree with his conclusion that the EFA is important to our future defence interests. He will also be aware of the deep anxiety which many of us feel that our ground forces have already been pared to the bone. Can he give an assurance that, whatever happens to the EFA and whatever additional cost it might involve to Her Majesty's Government, no further cuts will he made in our ground force capability?

I would hope that, whatever the ultimate German decision on the EFA, the economies that have been identified in recent weeks will still be available to us. I hope that the rationalisation of industrial production which could follow any German decision to withdraw will not have cost implications. I assure my hon. Friend that our ground forces are an important priority to me.

Can the Minister give us a guarantee that a contingency plan will be drawn up in the event of the Germans withdrawing from the EFA? As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) said, there could be job losses in the area that we represent and it is important for the next generation of technology that we go ahead with the project. May we have a guarantee from the Minister that we shall go ahead with it?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He will appreciate that, in the event of such a German announcement, the first requirement would be for me to have discussions with my Spanish and Italian colleagues and to ensure, we hope, that they also wish the project to continue. That would be the first priority, and I hope that we would have a common purpose to continue with the project and bring it to a successful conclusion.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while the Tornado did great service in the Gulf, it is not a combat aircraft and it was never engaged in combat during that conflict? Does he further agree that all the expert advice that he receives from the Royal Air Force suggests that we must have a fighter to replace Tornado at the earliest possible time?

It is indeed the case that the Tornado is unlikely to have the capacity of the most modern Russian aircraft. As my hon. Friend will be aware, it is intended that when the EFA comes into operation it will have both an air defence and a ground attack role and will therefore be able to meet our defence requirements well into the next century.

The Secretary of State knows that the House is united in support of the programme. Will he guarantee that, in the event of a German withdrawal, we shall have the opportunity to debate the issue, and that the House will get the most up-to-date reports of the intentions of the Italians and Spaniards? We hope that they will continue with the programme. Above all else, as well as national defence, our interests in the House are in the defence of the 40,000 workers whose jobs could well depend on the project during the next 25 years. It is essential that a dialogue continues across the House and with our allies to ensure that the programme carries on, even if it is in a modified form.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that debates in the House are not a matter for me. I appreciate the important contribution that he and his hon. Friends have made in supporting the Government's representations to the German Government. I certainly hope to keep him and the House informed of progress on the matter as and when it takes place.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend needs no reminding that the allied air forces' air superiority in the Gulf war—their ability to keep the Iraqi air forces on the ground and to neutralise Saddam Hussein's ground formations—saved many thousands of lives. The EFA will be an air superiority aeroplane, able to intercept and to offer effective offensive support to our troops, and as such it will be essential to the Royal Air Force for the next 20 to 25 years. Can my right hon. and learned Friend guarantee that, whatever the circumstances, the Government will procure it?

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of that aircraft. The Select Committee on Defence made a valuable contribution when it concluded unanimously that there was no alternative aircraft in the world which could meet the Royal Air Force's defence requirements and do so in such a cost-efficient manner. It would be my desire that the project should continue, irrespective of the German decision, but, clearly, if the Germans decide to withdraw, the first obligation will be to discuss the implications with the allies taking part in the project and to come to a decision in the light of those discussions.

Arms Sales

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which countries Ministers have visited in the last year for which the purpose of the visit included promotion of arms sales.

Ministers in my Department during all visits abroad take the opportunity to discuss matters of mutual concern—including, where appropriate, defence exports. I shall write to the hon. Member providing her with a list of such visits by Defence Ministers in the past year.

Does the Minister accept that the Government will have to adopt greater openness in defence matters and, in particular, provide more detailed information on arms and defence equipment sales to specific countries? If the allegations in Sunday's edition of The Observer are true concerning the GCHQ phone tap of the Lonrho organisation in 1989, under the instruction of the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, does he accept that that merely underlines the scepticism that the Opposition feel about the sudden-found commitment to open government, as claimed by the Government? We shall monitor the Government's performance in that regard with particular interest.

In general terms, the Government support greater transparency concerning arms export matters. There is no question of allowing defence exports on an indiscriminate basis. We are playing our full part in the various international discussions on arms exports that have followed the Gulf war. We are also playing a full part in terms of the new United Nations register, which was set up largely as a result of the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We, too, await the greater emphasis on new information that that register will provide. I should make it clear, however, that there must be an element of confidentiality in any form of Government-to-Government negotiation. That has been the normal practice in defence export matters under successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative.

Is my hon. Friend aware of recent reports suggesting that at least one British defence contractor has supplied equipment to India which would help that country to acquire a nuclear weapons capability in contravention of the British Government's embargo on the export of such equipment? Is it not time that British and European defence contractors were put on notice by their Governments that they cannot expect to receive Government contracts if they breach their own Government's embargoes in this particularly sensitive matter?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Any breaches of those Government embargoes are treated as a most serious matter and will be thoroughly investigated.

Does the Minister recall that during his days on the Back Benches he was an eloquent supporter of open government? Does he recall his speech to the House on 2 February 1989 on the Official Secrets Bill, when he claimed that the House had been misled 20 years earlier over the sale of arms to Nigeria? Does he not think, now that he is a Minister, that history could well be repeating itself with his refusal to come clean about our arms deals in the past decade with Iran and Iraq?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his moling in Hansard, but he draws a false conclusion from it. There has been a substantial sea change in Whitehall under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, away from the old habits of unnecessary secrecy which were championed ferociously 18 years ago by the then Labour Prime Minister and Front-Bench spokesmen. Now there is greater emphasis on a new era of more responsible openness in all matters.

Relocation

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on the relocation of departmental staff and service personnel from sites in the south to ones in the north of the United Kingdom.

In line with Government policy, the Ministry of Defence aims to locate its work wherever best value for money can be obtained, taking account of the operational requirements of the Department.

Will the Minister pay tribute to the city of York for its long and proud history as a garrison town and its proven track record as an Army administration centre, with the regimental pay offices based there? Will he confirm that the current investigation by the Ministry of Defence into the establishment of an integrated Army personnel centre will include the city of York on the short list of possible bases for that centre?

I am happy to pay tribute to the city of York, which has been home to many units of the British Army and has played a great role as a garrison city. It has been proposed that we might do better to concentrate the entire manning and records office in one place, but it has also been suggested that we should consider more than one location. The investigation is still considering those possibilities and we hope to report on it soon.

When will the Minister make a decision on the future of Royal Navy Support Command? Is he aware that this is a crucial test of whether the Government intend to relocate facilities from the south to the north or from the north to the south, with the possible loss of about 170 jobs in my constituency resulting from the move to Bath?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are still working towards a decision on the question. I am sore about the whole idea of moving 180 jobs at RNSC Eaglescliffe from the north into the Bath area. On the other hand, it is thought that there are great economies of scale to be achieved by co-locating all those staff in one premises. We shall have to examine the matter closely and see how the cost analysis adds up.

Open Government

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how he intends to apply the Government's principles of open government to his Department.

My Department will fully implement the Government's policies on open government while continuing to discharge our duty to protect the material which needs to be protected.

Will the Minister give a commitment that the chief executive of the next steps agencies and. other senior officials in his Department will consult and negotiate with the appropriate trade unions at the beginning of the process of market testing and at each stage throughout the process? Does he accept that if the Government are to be really open, the process must begin with Government Departments being seen to be open and fair in all their dealings with their own employees?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last statement. The Government place great emphasis on their market testing initiative, which gives the opportunity for greater value for money and those savings being employed at the sharp end of defence spending. As for taking the unions into the Government's confidence, we are willing to be candid about what the plans are likely to be for market testing. That is the only way to approach the matter.