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Industrial, Security and Technology Policy

Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

3. What recent progress his Department has made on its consultation on the defence industrial, security and technology policy Green Paper. (45698)

Our Green Paper, “Equipment, Support, and Technology for UK Defence and Security: A Consultation Paper”, was published on 20 December 2010, and progress on the consultation is encouraging. Ministers have engaged extensively with a wide range of interested parties, including right hon. and hon. Members of this House and of the House of Lords. Last week, a consultation conference took place at which over 200 people from industry, academia, service providers, trade bodies and the public discussed the Green Paper issues with Ministers and senior officials. I encourage anyone interested to send in their views on the issues outlined in the Green Paper before the consultation period ends on 31 March 2011.

Can the Minister give me an assurance that he will give due weight to the need to have a steady and constant stream of graduates in the complex scientific disciplines that underpin the research and development work on which the future of our defence industry rests?

I am delighted to give my hon. Friend precisely that assurance. I am constantly amazed and delighted by the excellent work done by our scientists. I am in regular discussions with my colleagues in other Departments to ensure precisely that outcome, and he is right to highlight its importance.

Does the Minister share with his colleagues in industry his plans to cut the science and technology budget by £80 million? Will he tell the House how much impact that will have on our future ability to develop military capability?

It grieves me that the right hon. Gentleman, whom I hold in considerable regard and esteem, should ask such a question after the monstrous slashing of the science budget under the previous Government. Last year alone, £100 million was taken from the science budget by his party and his Government. I am glad to tell him that the science budget has been largely protected—[Interruption.] It has been largely protected from the massive problems that we inherited from him and his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. The budget will rise in cash terms over the spending round period. That is a remarkably successful outcome, and I am delighted by and proud of it.

Is the Minister in a position to update the House on the Government’s proposals to support the unmanned aerial vehicles programme, because that has a direct link to the skills that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) spoke about?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of protecting skills in the fixed-wing sector in general. I cannot give him that update at present, but good work is proceeding in this area and there are some very interesting things that I hope to report to the House in the relatively near future.

At last week’s consultation conference on the Government’s Green Paper, which was hosted by the Minister, Mr Neil Stansfield, the head of security and counter-terrorism, science and technology at the Home Office, warned the Government of the dangers of taking equipment “capability holidays”, and argued that it is not possible to dip in and dip out. In light of that, do the Government think that it is wise to take a nine-year capability holiday in carrier strike, a decision that the noble Lord Ashdown described at the weekend as “illogical”?

They just don’t get it, do they? We do not wish to have that capability gap, but were forced to take additional risks in the defence budget because of the mess we inherited from the Labour party. I regret that and do not welcome it, but it is a risk that we have to take.