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The BBC's Hayley Millar
"Strong opposition"
 real 28k

Bruce George MP
"The drivers are the Treasury"
 real 28k

Lady Symons
"Dera's core business is in decline"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Defence labs sell-off criticised
British soldiers
MPs fear a sale would make life harder for the army
Plans to sell off most of the government's secret defence research laboratories have been attacked by an all-party committee of MPs.

In a report on the sell-off, the defence select committee said the risks far out-weighed the "hypothetical benefits".

It also said the privatisation plans could endanger the UK's ability to get effective military equipment for the armed forces.

The Labour chair of the committee, Bruce George MP, told BBC Radio that the plans were "fundamentally flawed".



The future of defence research is far too important to be pushed into a public private partnership with a wing and a prayer

Bruce George MP
The government's proposals involve selling of 75% of DERA, its defence, evaluation and research agency.

Intially the government planned to sell off the entire agency but has stopped short of that following widespread concerns about national security, particularly from the United States.

But Mr George thinks the new plans are unlikely to silence critics.

"The future of defence research is far too important to be pushed into a public private partnership with a wing and a prayer," he told BBC Radio 4.

Treasury-led

Mr George said he was certain that the decision had been forced by the chancellor of the exchequer, as it is thought the sale could raise up to 1bn.

"The drivers are the Treasury," he said.

He rejected the idea that the Ministry of Defence was too inflexible for effective research to be carried out under its auspices.

"There's ample scope within the existing framework with a little more flexibility to continue to do the job," he said.

But Defence Minister Baroness Symons denied the decision was treasury-led, and insisted that the changes in defence procurement means that Dera is no longer securing enough core business from the MoD.

"If we were to do nothing, we would just be into a managed decline of DERA," she told BBC Radio.

"Overwhelming criticism"

Under the plans, a core of around 3,000 staff will stay in the Ministry of Defence to give the government access to in-house impartial advice.

Sensitive sites including Porton Down in Wiltshire, where chemical and biological weapons research is carried out, will also remain under state control.

More than 9,000 defence scientists would be employed by a private company that would be sold off and floated on the stock market.

Unions say a further 3,000 jobs will be lost.

Security concerns

But Lady Symons insisted that the plans to make Dera a "public-private partnership" rather than sell it off in full did have the backing of industry and of the United States.

Select committee members met senior US officials last summer and were told that, while Washington would not seek to intervene in any sell-off, it would have a series of consequences.

Mr George said he hoped that the government would quietly drop its plans in the face of "overwhelming criticism".

Shadow defence spokesman Iain Duncan-Smith described the government's proposals as "a privatisation too far".

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17 Apr 00 | UK Politics
MoD to sell-off research agency
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