DEFENCE – DEFENCE EXPORTS – 17 October 2007

[Richard Benyon: Getting rid of DESO means that they can say to the Liberal Democrats, or any organisation with which they may wish to make deals, that they have dealt with the issue. It does not matter that DESO was not part of the deal or that the issue was not about DESO. The decision is hugely damaging and wrong, but the Government have taken it.]

Dr Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend has made the point that I wished to make a few moments ago. Surely this is a classic piece of horse trading and gesture politics? The Government are on the back foot, as their own left wing and the Liberal Democrats are baying about the dropping of the BAE Systems case. The decision is a sop – a piece of red meat thrown to the lions, irrespective of the merits of the case.

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Dr Lewis: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman [David Taylor], who did not intend to make a speech, on having such an extensive script from which to read. His general theme seems to be that DESO – or should I say the British defence industry, which is formally represented in DESO's activities – is not worth all that much to the British economy. Does he accept that it is worth some £5 billion a year, and does that figure not strike a chord in his memory as being exactly the size of the present Prime Minister's raid on pension funds when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer?

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[The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr Pat McFadden): We do not make the change because we believe DESO is in any sense a failing or a bad organisation but because, despite its record of success and the quality of its people, we believe that value can be added by integrating defence exports efforts with the efforts of UKTI to promote exports throughout the world.]

Dr Lewis: The Minister is being very gracious in giving way. He said that it was a machinery of government decision and that such decisions are routinely taken in that way, but are they routinely taken in that way without consulting the principals that the decision affects, as has clearly happened on this occasion?

[Mr McFadden: I have given my answer to the machinery of government question. The Prime Minister is responsible for machinery of government decisions, and it is not without precedent for such decisions to be announced and for the implementation details to be worked through afterwards. That is what has happened in this case.]

Dr Lewis: Consultation.

[For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]