|Draft Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Trading Fund Order 2001
Dr. Moonie: May I clarify that? The DDA is not going into NewDERA; it is being taken into central MOD. That is important, and we have guaranteed that we shall continue to fund the DDA.
Mr. Key: The Minister has anticipated my question. We all know that parliamentary answers can be drafted with obfuscation in mind. Some of us may have done that inadvertently when we were Ministers, but the answer to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) on 16 January is a masterpiece. She had asked the Secretary of State to make a statement on the future of the Defence Diversification Agency.
The Minister replied on behalf of the Secretary of State, and his long and detailed answer stated:
Another issue on which we need more answers is NewDERA's involvement in manufacturing, about which the Defence Committee questioned Baroness Symons. In question 178 of the Defence Committee's report, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) made the following point:
Sir John was unable to explain exactly what he meant by systems integration, because Baroness Symons interrupted. In question 180, she said:
Mr. Key: My hon. Friend is right. We have a duty to probe the Minister. Consultations were on-going and certainly had not been concluded by 28 February. It is now only 22 March, yet apparently everything done and dusted, signed and sealed with industry, so we are supposed to be able confidently to go ahead with the order. It is only 14 weeks until vesting day. My hon. Friend is right. Will the Minister please give a direct answer to a simple question? Have industry and the MOD agreed a definition of manufacturing, and will the MOD permit NewDERA to be a systems integrator? That is a key point.
My next point concerns restrictions on foreign ownership of NewDERA. On 28 February, in the Defence Committee, question 52 was put to the Minister for Defence Procurement by the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), who asked:
I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify another point that interests many people outsidethat is, the concern that has been expressed by the European Commission, especially about the golden share and the whole process by which NewDERA and DSTL will operate under their new trading funds. What contact has the Minister had with the Commission, and what has it said about the matter in terms of competition policy?
Will DSTL remain as a trading fund? It is core to the MOD's responsibilities, and matters of national interest and security are at stake. We do not wish to see DSTL sold off in any way. That is a touchstone. The Government of my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher decided not to make any attempt to privatise DERA, and that view was shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and his Government. They felt that any such attempt to divide DERA would destroy the totality of its assets and expertise. In seeking to privatise it, the Government have gone against Baroness Thatcher. If they are determined to proceed, and we cannot stop them, we must know that there is an irreducible core that they will not seek to privatise.
By far the most important element of the matter is the people whose lives and expertise are at stake. We remain concerned about the scientific expertise that is being dispersed and broken up. DERA has always worked in the way in which the best Government institutions have workedby networking. A person who knows that someone else is doing similar work in another part of the organisation can pick up the phone and talk to that person. That is all over. Now, specific restrictions are in place. People in DERA organisations who have been talking to each other for years are now forbidden to do so. People from Fort Halstead can turn up to a meeting at Farnborough, only to be told that they must go home again because an American is present, and the Americans have said that they cannot have a meeting with DSTL at which a member of NewDERA is present. I am concerned about such matters. The debate is, ultimately, about the future of Britain's forces, and the kit available to them.
Will the Minister reassure me that the staff side and trade unions are satisfied with pension arrangements? We must return from the great and grand vision of DERA's future to the daily, practical issues facing the 12,500 people whose lives are being changed, and their dependants. They did not join a private sector company. They chose to go into public service, from the best possible motives. Now, their lives are being disrupted. Many years' experience of privatisation has taught us how important such things are. The party that is now in government made sure that we knew about such disruption, and the experience was not comfortable.
In turn, I want to make things uncomfortable for the Minister by asking him to reassure me that the pension arrangements that he has made for his employees in DERA are the best possible, and have been agreed with the National Audit Office and with the staff and trade unions. I know that we cannot stop the processes that are taking place, but it is our business to ask questions on behalf of the country's entire defence community.
Mr. Howarth: I am delighted to take part in the debate, and I first declare an interest. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I have many DERA employees in my constituency. DERA's headquarters at Farnborough, where about 2,500 people are employed, is in the centre of my constituency. I also have a direct interest, as I am an honorary member of the DERA Aero club, the oldest military flying club in the UK. I am one of about 12 members who are not employees of DERA or the MOD. I do not wish to put my membership of that august organisation in jeopardy by being hypercritical of the Minister, who might seek revenge on me. He suggested earlier this week that he might seek revenge for my slightly churlish response to his announcement about investment in new service accommodation.
I am surprised that no representative of the Liberal Democrats is present. The issue under discussion goes to the heart of the defence of the UK. Ensuring the defence of the realm is the first responsibility of Members of Parliament. The absence of Liberal Democrats suggests the priority that they attach to that. However, Conservative Members are here in force.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, I am concerned that the matter is being discussed in Committee by only a few hon. Members. I am not sure, Mr. Stevenson, whether any Labour Back Bencher has sought to catch your eye. This is a major privatisation project. That it is not being discussed on the Floor of the House is odd, unusual and even slightly contemptuous of the House. Many hon. Members with DERA operations in their constituencies have raised concerns about them. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) secured an Adjournment debate on the subject recently. Hon. Members who do not have a constituency interest nevertheless
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 22 March 2001|