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Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): I am delighted to be able to present a petition on behalf of 1,167 residents of the Lagan valley and surrounding areas. The collection of signatures has been co-ordinated by Ruby Hutchinson on behalf of United Christian Broadcasters.
That United Christian Broadcasters and groups like it are banned by law from applying for many types of broadcasting licence. This applies to both television and radio, and relegates religious broadcasting to the very limited opportunities provided by local radio, satellite and cable broadcasting. The legislation entrenches a suspicion of religious groups that is unjustified and unfair, and it impugns the religious basis on which they are founded.
The Petition also addresses the broadcasting codes for television and radio, which again single out religious groups for special restrictions. It is not right that secular groups should have freedom of expression, which is denied to faith-based groups.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will urge the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to bring forward proposals to amend the legislation to remove discrimination against the ownership of broadcasting licences by religious bodies, and to require the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority to amend their rules and codes of guidance to remove provisions that discriminate in wording or in practice against religious bodies.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Nowadays I always make it a practice to declare an interest as president of the Association of Electricity Producers, in case there is a read-across from defence to electricity. I also declare that the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, Malvern is in my constituency. Although I do not intend to refer specifically to that establishment, it is fair to say that the Government's proposals have alarmed my constituents and made them unsure of their future. I do not want to make that case tonight, but I cannot resist reminding the Minister that only this Monday an exhibition opened in Malvern to celebrate its heritage as the home of radar, which was arguably the most important technical development of the second world war.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), who represents DERA Fort Halstead, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who represents DERA headquarters at Farnborough, are present. I am also pleased to see such a heavy contingent of shadow Cabinet Ministers and deputy Ministers on our Front Bench.
An independent state has two primary functions: to protect its citizens from the threat of internal anarchy, through the rule of law, and to provide them with adequate defence from any threat of foreign or terrorist aggression. In circumstances in which adequate defence is as dependent as it is today on technological developments, it follows that the state must retain its capability to plan, evaluate and monitor the applications of defence technology and to satisfy the needs of its intelligence services. In other words, the state must have its own capability to know what is going on and what is coming up in defence technology. That is what DERA does.
For Britain, there is a particular dimension to the issue. British defence technology is entwined with and highly dependent on technical developments in the United States, even if the successful bilateral co-operation at governmental level with several other countries, notably France, is taken into account. The bond that has been built up between our defence scientists and those of the United States is at the core of Britain's high technology defence system. Britain is undoubtedly the net gainer in that relationship; that is the context in which the Government's proposals for the future of DERA, which were outlined in the consultation document published in April, should be viewed.
The essence of those proposals is that DERA should be split into two parts. The first, comprising some 3,000 people, would be known as retained DERA--or RDERA, to use one of the abbreviations that the military prefer--and kept in the public sector. The second, comprising some 9,000 staff, would be semi-privatised and known as new DERA, or NDERA.
Leaving aside the possibility that elements of pure research or down-the-line development might be hived off to an independent establishment, the main functions of providing advice to the Government and, above all, collaborating with other countries at intergovernmental level, cannot be easily split. Indeed, one questions whether they can be split at all. For that reason, the suspicion grows that the Government, under the guise of phoney privatisation, really propose a cut of some 75 per cent. in the nation's defence evaluation and development capability. Apparently, the job that was done by 12,000 people can now be done just as easily by 3,000.
The question of how close the two new organisations will be to each other goes to the heart of the matter, not merely because of the economic impact that the semi-privatisation of DERA will have, but because of the enormous implications for how the proposal will be viewed in the United States. In answer to a question that I put to him on 3 July, the Secretary of State for Defence said:
I first became aware of the seriousness of those concerns when I paid a visit to the Pentagon in Washington towards the end of last year. If the Chisholm version of what will happen comes about and the two