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Defence Research and Technology

Volume 518: debated on Monday 8 November 2010

12. What plans his Department has to increase the effectiveness of its defence research and technology programmes. (22173)

We are publishing a Green Paper before the House rises for the Christmas recess that will set out our intended approach to industrial policy and the closely related issues of research and technology. The result will be published in a White Paper next spring that will formalise our approach for the five years until the next strategic defence and security review

I thank the Minister. Does he agree that the Ministry of Defence’s strategy for investment in research and technology will determine the areas in which indigenous industrial capacity will thrive? Likewise, when the MOD decides not to invest but to buy in from abroad, that capacity will not thrive.

It is certainly the case that ensuring sovereignty in the use of our armed forces often requires specific industrial capabilities to be maintained in the UK. That often involves research and development. However, I must emphasise that competition in the global market remains our preferred means of acquiring equipment at the best value for money, which means buying off the shelf where possible. I freely acknowledge that the issue is complex, which is exactly why we will consult formally on it in the Green Paper to which I referred.

Could the effectiveness of defence research possibly have been enhanced if we had had a defence training college? The Minister will know of the bitter disappointment in south Wales about the announcement in the comprehensive spending review. What can he tell the House about the potential future of that development?

The hon. Gentleman is ingenious in his use of his supplementary question. That is not a matter for which I am technically responsible, but I can reassure him that we are still examining carefully the consequences of the decision. That is all I can say at present, I am afraid.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when money is tight, as it quite often seems to be, defence research and technology is an easy target for cuts because the effect is felt some way down the line? We saw that under the last Government. Can we please avoid seeing it under the current Government?

I could not agree more strongly with my right hon. Friend. The last Government’s massive slash-and-burn approach to the science budget was a major scandal and makes our task a great deal more difficult. The SDSR document makes it clear that we are maintaining our essential science and technology investment, and I can tell him that at present, we expect that budget to rise slightly in cash terms over the CSR period. That is not the ideal outcome, but it is a good one and I hope he will welcome it.