With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on a number of new equipment projects for the armed forces.
In my statement last week on amphibious forces, I said that a cornerstone of our policy in developing "smaller but better" armed forces was the enhancement of flexibility and mobility. For the Royal Air Force, one of the proven methods of achieving this—demonstrated both during the Falklands conflict and more recently in the liberation of Kuwait—is air-to-air refuelling. It became clear after the Falklands conflict that an increase in the RAF's tanker strength was vital, and a programme was set in train to augment and eventually replace the Victor tanker fleet. So far, nine VC10s and six Tristars have been added to the RAF tanker fleet, and a further 13 VC10 conversions are now in progress.
I am now pleased to announce that we have decided to award a contract to British Aerospace to give the remaining five VC10 transport aircraft a tanker capability. The work is expected to be done at BAe's Filton site, with significant elements sub-contracted to Flight Refuelling at Hurn.
The existing programme already provided the RAF with a capability in this area greater than that of any of our European allies. These additional aircraft will give the RAF the reach and flexibility that it needs to meet the challenges and uncertainties of the future.
The effectiveness of air power is determined not only by the performance of the aircraft but by their ability to defend themselves and suppress enemy air defences in a hostile environment. To those ends, we have decided to order a new defensive aids system for the Tornado F3 air defence variant, combining chaff and flares. Contract negotiations are under way with BAe, which, as prime contractor, will be responsible for system integration. The flare dispensers and system control equipment have been designed, and will be supplied, by Vinten Military Systems Ltd. of Bury St Edmunds.
Additionally, we intend to order from British Aerospace, subject to the agreement of satisfactory contract terms, a further batch of air-launched anti-radar missiles to replenish stocks expended during the Gulf war. Among the sub-contractors that will benefit from this order are Marconi Defence Systems of Portsmouth; Lucas Aerospace in Bradford; Irving of Letchworth; and Thorn EMI of Hayes.
The Gulf war also re-emphasised how essential good communications are to the success of military operations. We have decided to extend the successful Skynet 4 satellite communications programme. The three satellites currently in operation are expected to approach the end of their orbit life by 1997, and a further batch of new satellites will be ordered for launch in that year. That will extend the life of our current communications satellite system into the next century. A firm price project definition phase for Skynet 4, stage 2, will be conducted by the team responsible for the stage 1 satellites—British Aerospace Space Systems at Stevenage as prime contractor, with Matra Marconi Space at Portsmouth as the major sub-contractor.
We intend, subject to the agreement of acceptable contractual terms, to place a contract with Westland to convert the Royal Navy's Lynx mark 3 helicopter to the more capable mark 8 standard. The core of the Lynx mark 8 update will be a central tactical system, which has been developed by Racal Avionics in Raynes Park. The contract will provide for the conversion of seven airframes to the mark 8 standard, and the supply of tooling and modification kits to enable conversions of further aircraft to be undertaken by the Royal Navy.
The House will recall that we have been considering the purchase of additional Sea King for the search-and-rescue role. I am pleased to announce that we intend to order a further six Sea King helicopters and a Sea King simulator for the Royal Air Force. That will enable us to replace aging United Kingdom-based Wessex in the search-andrescue role with this longer-range and generally more capable helicopter. In line with our policy of moving to tauter contractual conditions for non-competitive procurement, the contract with Westland for the helicopters will be subject to prior agreement of an acceptable firm price. Competitive tenders will be invited for the simulator.
Finally, I can confirm to the House our plans for further trainer aircraft for the Harrier force. Subject to the agreement of satisfactory contractual terms with British Aerospace, we intend to purchase 13 new Harrier T10 two-seater trainers for the RAF, and to convert five Harrier T4 aircraft to the more capable T8 standard for the Royal Navy.
The total value of these orders for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy will be some £500 million. The proposals are within our existing defence expenditure plans, and provide yet further demonstration of the Government's firm commitment to ensuring that the armed forces, although smaller in overall numbers, will be better equipped than ever before.
I know that the Minister will not think me churlish if I merely note that this is the second time in two weeks that some games have been played with defence statements. The Minister will recall that on the first occasion the title of the statement bore absolutely no relation to the content. Today, as late as 2 o'clock this afternoon, the Minister's office was prepared to say only that the equipment mentioned would be of an aerial nature. That would be perfectly acceptable were it not for the fact that I was able to discover an hour earlier from non-governmental sources exactly the type and amount of equipment which would be mentioned in the statement. It is a sad day when the Opposition have to run their own military intelligence in order to be able to respond to a statement.
As for the statement itself, we welcome the Government's long overdue steps on some of the issues, although we note that the timing is no coincidence because the Government have but three weeks to go. I note too the many areas which the statement fails to cover.
The replacement of the six elderly Wessex search-and-rescue helicopters is long overdue. Will the Minister confirm that what he has announced today is not an order but, if I read the statement correctly, an intention to order at some unspecified date in the future? When will he announce the replacement order for the other 44 Wessex helicopters and the 42 Puma helicopters, given the pressing need to make our armed forces more mobile?
The replacement orders for air-launched anti-radar missiles are also welcome and were anticipated as a result of the Gulf conflict. Why has the Minister taken so long to replace them, and does he intend also to replace all of the equipment used in the Gulf?
The announcement on Lynx helicopters is similarly welcome, but why did the Minister not provide this information when the issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) who asked him as far back as 23 May last year about plans to extend the life of the Lynx helicopters?
It was noticeable that, despite the fact that the Government wish to use the statement as an electoral weapon, all the announcements are for replacements. There are no new decisions and no new orders in any of the substantial and difficult areas. Has not the Government's continued dithering on the question of ASRAAM led to a withdrawal of our European partners and to a loss of interest by the United States? That has not only deprived British industry of much needed business but posed a threat to thousands of jobs in Bristol and Stevenage. It has also created uncertainty within the Royal Air Force itself about a replacement for Sidewinder. Why have the Government allowed that uncertainty to persist, and why have they taken so long to reach a decision? When do they intend to make an announcement on ASRAAM?
Will the Minister say what progress has been made on another substantial issue—the development of a stand-off runway denial weapon to replace the JP233 which was mentioned during the RAF debate? Have any studies been launched, and is any multinational collaboration envisaged?
What progress has been made on the substantial issue of the European fighter aircraft programme? Again, thousands of jobs in Warton, near Preston, are dependent on that decision. If the Government wish to use defence procurement as an electoral issue, we shall do likewise, because many decisions which they have refused to make affect thousands of jobs throughout the country, including those near Preston.
When will the Minister order the auxiliary oil replenishment vessel which will affect workers in Wallsend and Tynemouth?
Those questions must be answered. I am sure that the Minister will resist the temptation to produce a litany of lies about Labour's defence policy. [Interruption.] I am sure that he will avoid that temptation. Lest he be even tempted to do so, I repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan told the House on 14 October 1991. He said that the 1991 Labour party conference unanimously passed the following resolution:
'The next Labour government will make a thorough assessment of the new and changing conditions and relationships in Europe, the Soviet Union and the wider world.'"—[official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 70.]
The next Labour Government will spend what is required properly to defend and ensure the security of the United Kingdom. As of today, that Labour Government is only eight weeks away.
I understand why the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has very little to say—he wastes a lot of the House's time complaining about the niceties of the title of the statement. If he feels that he has been affronted in any way, I of course apologise.
It is interesting that the Labour party has now moved one stage further on from endorsing our programme, and is asking us why we took so long to reach a decision. I welcome that enthusiasm too, although I realise that every fresh endorsement given by the Opposition Front Bench further forecloses the options of the unfortunate right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who will find that he is committed to high defence expenditure. As we all know, he will fall back on precisely what we have all been predicting—he will increase taxes. No matter how much he denies it, that is what he will do.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North alleged that the statement concerned only replacement equipment. He cannot have been listening. The enhancement of the Skynet communication is new, as is the enhancement of the tanker and the flight refuelling equipment. The latter is unprecedented, and gives the Royal Air Force a greatly extended reach and capability. The purchase of Sea King, too, is new. It is a new aircraft, and it is very welcome.
I agree that ASRAAM is an important system, and a decision will be taken as soon as possible. I hope to make an announcement at some point in the future.
Order. I had better say now that there is a heavy demand to speak in the subsequent debate—indeed, I shall have to impose a 10-minute limit. I shall allow questions on the statement to continue until 4.15. Then we have a ten-minute Bill, and then we shall move on to the main debate.
Is it not significant that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said not a word to congratulate my right hon. Friend on these important orders? Is that not revealing about the Labour party's attitude to orders for defence equipment?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the equipment for Tornado to which he referred will be made at Warton —or, at least, in Lancashire? Will he also confirm that the Government are pressing ahead with their efforts to sell more military aircraft overseas, to which Labour Members are, at best, lukewarm, and to which many are downright hostile?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; he is right. I know that it is a source of embarrassment for the Labour party, which never welcomes good news, to hear of £500 million-worth of orders going to the defence industry. It has to find fault with such news and pick holes in it.
I confirm what my right hon. Friend said about the sourcing of the equipment for Tornado, with the exception of the chaff dispenser, which will be made by Bofors of Sweden.
I welcome the terms of the Minister's statement, especially in relation to the enhancement of the capability of the Tornado F3, two squadrons of which are stationed at RAF Leuchars, in my constituency. In the light of what the Minister said about helicopters, will he confirm that the Government do not intend to contractorise the military search-and-rescue capability? In particular, can he confirm that such a capability will be retained at RAF Leuchars, albeit using the Sea King rather than the Wessex, as he said in his statement?
Yes, I can confirm that we have no intention of contractorising search-and-air rescue. In any case, in combat conditions, in wartime, the military requirement would not effectively be subject to contractorisation.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Leuchars. No decision has yet been made on the basing of the aircraft; that is an entirely separate issue from their procurement.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the happy day that he and I spent at Flight Refuelling, in my constituency, some time ago? Will he accept not only the congratulations but the thanks of the management and work force of that company for his recognition today of their skill and the good work that they perform?
Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the company's hangar, which he opened, was built by Reids of Christchurch, in my constituency, that the Schlumberger computer factory in my constituency substantially increased its profits in 1991, that School Book Fairs has moved to larger premises twice in the past three years, and that Revvo Castors has just won the biggest single contract in its history? Does that not represent a combination of the Government rewarding success, and good management and dedicated work forces earning the rewards that they deserve?
Yes, of course. My hon. Friend forgot to mention the dedicated and assiduous lobbying by the Member of Parliament which, I have no doubt, contributed to the outcome. I well recall that day, and I was most impressed by the quality of Flight Refuelling. I am sure that the greatly extended contract it has with the Ministry reflects that.
I do not dissent from the need for various items of equipment to be purchased and for other items to be enhanced. However, does the Minister realise that we discern from his statement that many of the contracts will be distributed to areas of marked political marginality? Will the contracts that are not to be devoted to such areas be delayed unduly as a consequence of the approaching election?
Over what period will the contracts and expenditure run? I ask that not least because the expenditure is substantial. There are also residual fears that material and equipment are being organised while there may be cause for anxiety about the capacity of the armed forces, especially the Air Force, to maintain their essential training purpose.
The hon. Gentleman does no justice to our Procurement Executive. We place contracts on the basis not of the marginality of a constituency, but of the capability, record and competence of the companies concerned. The British defence industry is fortunate in being so rich in talent and capability. If the hon. Gentleman looks at where most of the contracts have been placed—we have not yet heard from the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and I do not know whether we shall—
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will disclose to us whether he is concerned with the marginality of his seat.
I remind the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) of the three type 23 frigates which came from constituencies that, optimistic though I am about the result of the general election, are not likely to return a Conservative Member of Parliament.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that I am delighted by the very large new defence orders which will cover a great deal of the United Kingdom? May I press him a little further on Leuchars and on the order for new helicopters? Will they be stationed there for search and rescue? In Scotland, there is very high regard for the skill and airmanship of the air crew in the helicopter squadron. We want the helicopters to be stationed near the mountains and the hostile seas of the north. I hope that some of the helicopters will go there.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. It is an important subject which must be considered separately from the decision to purchase the helicopters which will greatly enhance the capability, as I am sure my hon. Friend welcomes.
When the stocks of ALARM are replenished, what will happen to the jobs in Bradford and elsewhere which were listed in the statement? Is it not time that the Ministry of Defence and the Government as a whole recognised the importance of public expenditure in creating jobs? Will the Ministry of Defence work with the other Departments to produce a planned changeover from military expenditure, which is of finite and limited capacity, to civilian expenditure so that, for example, we could compete in world markets for aircraft instead of relying for the retention of high quality jobs, such as those in Bradford, on military expenditure with its limited potential for sustaining jobs? It is time that the Minister stopped sneering at the idea of changing from military to peaceful purposes. The whole world will do it, and it is time that he caught up.
I am not sneering at the idea. I simply say that the hon. Gentleman has in his constituency a very good factory which makes very capable equipment. The hon. Gentleman returns frequently on the Floor of the House to his diversification plans. He seeks to set up some kind of fund and to put in place some busybodies and officials who tell factories what to make, and who interpret the market by goodness knows what criteria. Such people would generally divert the factories from making useful and vital defence equipment to making, what—buckets with holes in them? I do not know what the hon. Gentleman proposes.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement which fulfils the Government's pledges about appropriate adaptability for our future defence needs. Does he agree that the award of the contract to Racal Avionics, in my constituency, has nothing to do with electoral considerations, as Opposition Members have claimed? It merely reflects the expertise of that company and shows that the company is a worldwide leader. It will open the way to further contracts to export markets throughout the world.
That is absolutely right. It is an outstanding company. Our endorsement of its capabilities for our own orders will, I hope, also open the export market for which it has considerable potential.
Will the Minister confirm that what he has announced is within the existing procurement budget for his Ministry and that over the years that budget will decline? Could he give us some idea how many jobs are likely to be created by the expenditure of the £500 million and what proportion of those jobs will be in Scotland? As he will know, a report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise on defence in Scotland draws certain conclusions, including in particular that the number of defence jobs in Scotland will diminish in the next five to 10 years. What action does the Minister propose to take to arrest that decline and transfer some of the jobs to civilian needs?
I do not wish to give the hon. Gentleman precise figures on the breakdown between the two countries. However, I am ready to enter into correspondence with him. In doing so, I should like to ask him about his party's attitude to defence jobs in Scotland. It has some pretty peculiar standpoints on defence in general. I should like to know whether there is any consistency between being ready to provide equipment for Her Majesty's armed forces and some of the eccentricities of the hon. Gentleman's party. It would be an interesting correspondence and I look forward to it developing.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, many aspects of his statement will be welcomed throughout the west country, which remains heavily defence industry dependent. Does he agree that, with many of the orders which affect British Aerospace not only in my constituency but throughout the country, he has built on the proven expertise in several defence-related areas, with the result that the company will remain in the forefront of the world market?
Yes, indeed. We are building on proven expertise. We are extremely fortunate in Britain to have such a wide range of industrial defence expertise, which provides necessary equipment and will do so in the next decade for not only our forces but those of our allies and friendly customers.
First, will the Minister reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro)? Leuchars has performed marvellous helicopter operations both in the mountains and the North sea—which might be important. Secondly, forgive my ignorance, but what exactly is the purpose of Skynet 4, stage 2? What is its cost likely to be? I am not necessarily being critical, but the House of Commons ought to know.
The House of Commons will know immediately. The purpose is to enhance our capability in communications under what may be increasingly difficult conditions in the next decade. It is not likely to come into service before 1997. The overall cost will be in the region of £200 million.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the implications that it has for jobs in the Portsmouth travel-to-work area. I note that it is the latest in a long line of statements since "Options for Change", the theme of which was "smaller but better equipped". It is unworthy to think that he has made his statement just because the general election is approaching. I hope that such statements will continue to be made up to the general election and beyond it for the sake of defence workers throughout Britain.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. All this was foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his statement "Britain's Defence for the 1990s". However, it takes some time to put such changes into place. It involves a gradual reorientation and restructuring of our forces to adapt to the changed conditions. I hope that there will be many more such statements because the expenditure and contracts that we are placing are effecting a shift in our capability. Against a background of reducing our forces, the changes are making our forces more effective.
Yes. It is time that that was repeated and recognised widely. It is almost embarrassing that every time that we make a statement on defence procurement it is wholeheartedly endorsed by the Labour party and Labour Members chide us for our delay in putting it in place. ASRAAM is a good example. It is a major enhancement of air-to-air capability and a large sum of money is attached to it. If I am able to catch your eye to make a statement, Mr. Speaker—I would venture to predict, but I shall not spoil the atmosphere by suggesting what it will be—I look forward to the Labour party's reaction on that occasion.
Just think how many school books and pieces of vital hospital equipment that £500 million could have bought. Since Conservative Members are wedded to the idea of competitive tendering in local government, are those contracts subject to the process of competitive tendering? How much was recovered by the Ministry of Defence last year from fraud perpetrated on British taxpayers by defence suppliers?
I cannot answer the latter question, but if there is anything in it, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.
As to alternative forms of expenditure for those large sums of money, I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman may have a different set of priorities from myself, or from those on his Front Bench. I strongly urge him to raise those matters. Does his skin not creep a little when he hears the Labour Front-Bench Members repeatedly endorsing such programmes? I do not know what arcane machinery the Labour party has to settle such issues. Are there no committees, conventions or groups in which that could be raised? If so, why does the hon. Gentleman not get on with it?
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it was an extraordinarily sensible decision to order six Sea Kings? They are a well tried, well proven advertisement for Westland at this time, when it has to fill the gap before production of the next model, which will come along in seven or eight years. We can be sure that the work force there will ensure that it is an excellent aircraft.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. There was a major leap forward in capability between the Wessex and the Sea King, which can fly at night, has a much longer loiter time, can cover much greater distances faster and is generally a far more capable instrument in that extremely important field.
Is the Minister aware that, representing a seat in a city which is more heavily dependent on defence contracts than almost anywhere else in the country—he knows that because of the questions that I have asked him in the past few years —I believe that defence expenditure ought to be radically cut and that that expenditure ought to be shifted, in a planned way, to civilian projects, not only to protect the jobs of extremely skilled workers in the defence industry but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, to provide socially useful things?
Since the Minister said that his statement reflected shifting priorities and the reducing level of the forces, why does he not complement such statements with the announcement of serious studies into defence conversion? Without that, we shall carry on with the anarchic haemorrhage of jobs from British Aerospace and elsewhere and the skills which have taken years, if not decades, to hone will go to waste.
My right hon. Friend's statement will be widely welcomed in the north-west, especially at Warton, close to my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend give some sign of the value of the work which will go to Warton for the air defence system for the F3 Tornado? Will he also confirm that, unlike the Labour party's foreign affairs spokesman—who last week made it clear on television that the Labour party would ban arms sales to the middle east—we will continue to supply defence equipment to Saudi Arabia and our other friends in the Gulf?
The immediate approximate value of the Tornado enhancement is about £27 million. British Aerospace is also heavily involved because of the announcements in the statement about the new Harriers, the Skynet system and others.
We regard the Saudi Government as an extremely important customer. They work closely with us in developing systems and we work closely with them on a military and civilian level with the British Aerospace support teams.
Is the Minister aware that every family of four in Britain, sometimes hard pressed by unemployment and mortgage payments, is now paying more than £30 a week for defence expenditure when the cold war is over? Is he aware that the strength of Japan and Germany derives from the fact that they have a much lower defence expenditure and have put that money into industrial production? Is he aware that, at the end of the war, 4 million people were shifted from the armed forces and the defence industry into civilian production, which built our industrial base? Is he also aware that the sale of arms to Iraq and the Argentine is one of the reasons why people throughout the country think that the defence sales programme is often wholly irresponsible?
The right hon. Gentleman asked about seven questions. He gave a very impressive demonstration, which will probably be more effective in terms of quality and comprehension than that which we shall have from the Labour Front-Bench spokesman in a couple of minutes. The right hon. Gentleman's questions lead me to ask him whether he is comfortable in the Labour party now, or would he prefer to join his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist)?
I am being serious. This is a much more serious point than a detailed repetition of my previous answers. What is the Labour party's attitude? How comfortable do the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues feel within the Labour party?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his decision to upgrade the Lynx helicopters will mean more work for Basildon? Is he also aware that, when he visits GEC Census in Basildon tomorrow, he will receive a warm welcome? Will he take that opportunity to cock a snook at the nuclear-free zone sign which the Labour-controlled council has put up outside the factory gates and which is deeply insulting to the local, excellent work force?
I am greatly looking forward to my visit to Basildon. I shall make a point of making an appropriate gesture in the direction of the sign. I agree with my hon. Friend that it must be most offensive to people whose skills, capabilities and dedication contribute so much to our defence effort to be constantly reminded of the idiocies—
They do not make nuclear bombs in Basildon.
My right hon. Friend's statement will be welcome by those who sat through the tortuous and often painful procedure of the Government going for smaller but better equipped armed forces. Bearing in mind what he said today and the response of the Labour party, who does he think that the public and those in the procurement industry will believe —those on the Opposition Front Bench, the fire trench, who say, "Let's have more, let's have it quicker," or the two thirds sat behind them shouting, "Never, never"? Who is speaking the truth for those whose jobs are at stake?
If people have any doubt, they need only look at the proceedings of successive Labour party conferences and the constitution of the Labour party, which obliges it to pay regard to conference resolutions. They should also consider the Opposition's constantly repeated theme of a text originally written by Mr. Bruce Kent, who I understand is seeking to become a Member of this House. They would then have little doubt.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has the deepest gratitude of the workers at British Aerospace in the north-west? Is he further aware that the voters of the area appreciate that they owe their future well-being, and the security of the nation, to the Minister's policy statement today?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The workers at British Aerospace are part of our outstanding reservoir of skill and technical proficiency. They have an absolutely essential part to play in maintaining the equipment and standard of our armed forces.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that, in recent years, the Westland work force and management have worked very hard indeed to increase productivity and cut costs? Will he further accept that this welcome order for Westland will not just apply in Yeovil and benefit my constituents but will be spread among a large number of sub-contractors throughout the country?
That is absolutely true, and it is a feature of defence orders, particularly in the high-tech sphere. A large number of sub-contractors and other providers scattered throughout the country benefit from such contracts. I also gladly join my hon. Friend in referring to the quality of the work force and management at Westland, particularly their innovative and technical proficiency in certain key sectors of helicopter design.
The people who live in Welwyn Hatfield and those who live and work in Stevenage will welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Will he join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), who led a vigorous quest for jobs in his area? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a bit rich to listen to the complaints of Opposition Members, who would cut defence spending by £6 billion, or 27 per cent?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I entirely endorse what he says, and the discomfort with which Opposition Members have received that repeated truth this afternoon is an indication of their anxiety on the subject, and their knowledge that what they say is not in any degree endorsed or shared by the electorate.
I wish to express my warm appreciation to my right hon. Friend for a statement which is not only industrially of great benefit to the country but represents one of the most significant enhancements of British air power in its widest sense for a long time. Can he say at this stage whether the launch of the Skynet 4, stage 2, satellite will be placed with Ariane Space as a token of our commitment to the European space programme?
I would not wish to identify the launch as a token of anything. It should be judged on the basis of competitive tendering. Ariane Space can tender for it, but we want to achieve value for money and the best possible capability of getting the satellite up and keeping it up.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is an excellent company, and I hope that there will be further orders for it as our equipment programme develops. As my hon. Friend says, the company has a useful and important element of the announcement.
I accept the apology that was graciously extended by the Minister. He will recognise that it is not fair to say that I did not welcome the proposals—[Interruption.] I used the word six times during my contribution. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what Opposition Members are saying because he is not listening.
While I accept that at this stage the Minister may not be able to clarify the position of Leuchars, the subject raised by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), may I ask him to say when it is likely to be clarified? Can he confirm that, despite today's announcement, we have lost nearly 40,000 jobs in the last year and more than 70,000 jobs in the last 18 months in the defence industry? Will he also confirm that defence industrialists have told him that, unless the Government provide a firmer direction for defence industry policy, as many as 123,000 defence jobs could go throughout the country?
As the Minister has decided to mention the good news and the areas that it affects, will he confirm that the loss of those 123,000 jobs will have a disastrous effect on Edinburgh, Preston, south Manchester, Bolton, Derby, Coventry, Stevenage, Weybridge, Portsmouth, Southampton and Bristol? Is not it about time that the Government did something to assist the transition from defence to civil production?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for doing my work for me and identifying the constituencies that would be so severely at risk were the Labour party ever to form a Government. I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming my announcement. I did not complain about his welcoming it, although I said that it might cause great embarrassment to his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). I simply said that he had little else to say, which was why he consumed so much time fiddling about over the minutiae of the statement's title.
I constantly have meetings with the leading members of the industry. Such a dialogue is extremely important during a transitional stage for the defence industry. I can honestly say that none of the leading members of the industry have ever mentioned a figure of 123,000 jobs, although all of them—I betray no confidence—have expressed their apprehension about what might happen were the Labour party ever to form a Government.