Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Wilkinson: Before my hon. Friend terminates his catalogue of equipment grief, will he ask the Secretary of State when Tucanos that have been grounded will be airworthy again, and at what additional cost Royal Air Force pupil pilots are being sent to Australia? We were given no clarification of that matter because of the total imbalance in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I simply relay my hon. Friend's question to Ministers. I hope that it is another question

26 Oct 2000 : Column 438

that the Under-Secretary will answer in his reply, as it deserves an answer. Clearly, the Secretary of State is not prepared to answer my question about the Nottingham facility. Will the Under-Secretary confer with his right hon. Friend and decide exactly what their position is on that facility? The people who work there ought to know whether the Government are rethinking. If they are not, those workers will at least know what their future holds. The Government must make that clear.

On Bowman--as the Secretary of State has decided to run that as part of his re-election campaign--again I make no bones about the fact that the project has gone on far too long. Yet again, I spy the brooding presence of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence in the corner of the Chamber--as the Secretary of State also found, to his cost.

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend is smiling.

Mr. Duncan Smith: One cannot accuse the Chairman of the Select Committee of smiling--that will ruin his reputation. As he knows, because his reports have stated it many times, and he has long been a member of the Committee, as well as its Chairman for some time, there are huge and inescapable problems with the project. The Government must bear some responsibility for the delays that have taken place. They have been in power nearly four years, and in that time they have stated their belief that the Bowman project, and Archer Communications Systems in particular, were spot on, and that there were no problems.

Even as late as March, the Minister for Defence Procurement said:

"Hooray," we all said--but three months later they said, "Enough's enough. Bowman simply has to be scrapped." Now they say that they will reconsider the matter.

It is no good merely blaming the previous Government. We are four years into this Government and we have only just received an unequivocal answer from them. They are going to change the programme. They must take responsibility for the delays of the past four years. If they were so angry about it and thought so little of it, why did they not scrap it when they came to power? They waited all that time, so they must answer that question, too.

Mr. Chidgey: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the Bowman project, which was being run by Archer Communications Systems Ltd., which was in my constituency. Does he agree that one of the tragedies of that failure, which predates smart procurement--goodness knows what would have happened under smart procurement--is that not only have we lost the project, but we have lost £200 million of taxpayers' money and 650 highly skilled engineering jobs in my constituency? Those people have moved elsewhere and they will not be replaced.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Clearly, the programme has all the hallmarks of the worst of the excesses that we have come to regret in the annals of the Ministry of Defence. The Select Committee has made that clear time and again.

26 Oct 2000 : Column 439

The Government now bear some responsibility for the further delays to the programme. They cannot shake that off. If we are prepared to accept that previous Governments bear some responsibility, this Government should stop playing political games and simply admit that they could have got on with it earlier if they thought that it was such a disaster. They did not. In March they were busy reassuring everyone that they had the solution, and then they suddenly said that they did not have it. They have been in power nearly four years and must start to accept some responsibility. I know that that is difficult and that they do not like doing it.

Previous Conservative Governments found out the hard way about international collaboration. Meteor and the A400M illustrate some of the concerns. Certainly, I would like to think that we found it out; posterity has certainly done so. Such programmes are fraught with nightmare problems, and when I mention the wranglings and the setbacks of the Eurofighter programme--who can forget those?--I think that the Secretary of State will agree. The programme has been put back years. I saw the first prototype fly years ago--perhaps the right hon. Gentleman also saw it. It is absurd that we should now be expecting an in-service date as late as 2005. I am not trying to score a political point, because this has happened over a long period, with many nations making absurd declarations about production figures and the like.

The type 45s come on the back of the Horizon failure and the collapse of the multi-role armoured vehicle programme. Those are just three examples. The Government know that there are others, such as the third generation anti-tank weapon. We have gone round the fence many times and I wonder when we shall learn the lessons. Despite those harsh lessons, such multi-nation collaborative programmes remain a serious problem.

I am worried that the Government may be about to repeat past mistakes by participating in some European procurement strategies that run the risk of creating a fortress Europe and alienating others in the NATO alliance. I should like the Secretary of State to respond to my worry that we may be artificially creating two monopolistic blocs that unnecessarily divide NATO--not what British industry wants. The Minister will be aware that, for all the grand talk generally about European defence initiatives and improved European defence capability, by and large, defence spending across Europe is plummeting, although some countries are worse than others.

Mr. Hoon: Given the hon. Gentleman's comments about multinational defence co-operation, would a Conservative Government support the A400M project?

Mr. Duncan Smith: If the Secretary of State allows me about 20 seconds, I shall answer his question. I want to deal with matters in turn. I shall deal with Meteor first, then A400M, because I have serious concerns and should like some answers.

In the summer, it was reported that the Meteor missile proposed for use on the Luftwaffe's Eurofighter combat aircraft did

26 Oct 2000 : Column 440

If the controls on Meteor are tight, and if BAE is allowed to run the project, we may be able to deliver Meteor properly. I hope that we do, because the Secretary of State is right that Meteor is critical to the RAF's future capability. I make no bones about that, and it is therefore right to go ahead with that decision.

I have some serious concerns about the A400M, about which there are further problems that are of greater concern. Can the Minister or the Secretary of State tell us about the present position of the contract management for A400M? I have heard that the Germans are now demanding project leadership. Is that the case? Are the reports that there is no money in either the French or German defence budgets for that programme correct? Are the numbers of aircraft to be ordered realistic?

One of the great problems with the Eurofighter was that certain countries inflated their requirement. I do not believe that the United Kingdom did so, or that it has done so with this project. I suspect that if anything, we are at the bottom end of what may be the requirement, but one has to question whether some other countries will end up taking delivery of the numbers that they included in the schedules. That is the key point, because there is a critical mass and the item may become very expensive--much more so than on paper--if countries do not take the required numbers.

The Secretary of State asked me whether I supported the project. I had deep concerns when he announced it. I recognised why he had to make that announcement, but I said that the devil lies in the detail of the answers to the questions. If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to answer those questions or is unsure about those points, he needs to revisit the project. To be fair to all those concerned--from BAE onwards--we should tell them whether we are certain that the project can seriously go ahead. To do anything else would be repeating the same mistakes.

If the right hon. Gentleman can answer those questions, and if he is sure that there are no problems and that everything will be sorted out, he may well be right to go ahead with the project--otherwise we shall repeat earlier mistakes. Therefore the answer to his question is yes, I will support the project--so long as he can say that the numbers, and the other points that I made, are not a problem.

In the preamble to the OCCAR convention, signed in September 1998, the four participating Governments--France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom--seemed to lay the foundations for a fortress Europe in defence procurement, stating that

Those foundations are built on article 6, which states:

26 Oct 2000 : Column 441

Surely, procurement for the armed forces cannot be devoted to any grand European design; it should be about the best that is available. There should not be a fortress Europe versus a fortress United States. That would be a grave mistake, as the Secretary of State should be aware, and as British industry would tell him. I hope that the Government will agree that projects should be set, as far as possible, according to benchmark standards of interoperability with the best in NATO. Often, but not always, the best happens to be the USA. As we saw in Kosovo, the USA is best in certain aspects.

The key must be that we in NATO can operate in conjunction with those with other equipment. That requires us to look more widely than simply focusing on Europe. The wisdom of the approach has been seen in Kosovo. I hope that the Secretary of State, or the Minister when he responds, will deal with how the Government intend to square such a grand political design with the reality that the armed forces want best value.

The Government have referred to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, and I want to raise some points that have been raised many times, mostly by the Select Committee. I thought that the Government's first attempt at the partial privatisation of DERA was almost a fiasco. It was attacked by more or less everyone, not just the Select Committee, and the industry and the United States made their views clear. Despite the outcry following the Government's first consultation paper, instead of producing a genuinely new proposal that might have squared the problem, they simply seemed to go round the fence one more time and make a few corrections.

Questions still remain on many key issues. For example, exactly who will be allowed to buy shares in the privatised companies? There is an issue of national security. What will be the limitations on new company activities? What will be the relationship between the privatised and the retained parts of DERA? Even now, the industry complains about the thorny problem of intellectual property rights.

The Secretary of State will know that DERA is crucial to the process involved in any high-tech project, yet the Government are now putting that at risk. The United States is, of course, an ally with which we have had a long and fruitful history of successful collaborative projects, and the relationship is improving all the time. Technology transfer and exchange are now better than they have been for a considerable time. Harrier, Apache--which the Secretary of State mentioned--Trident and the joint strike fighter are all programmes in which Britain and the United States are collaborating, or have collaborated, with great mutual success.

The JSF is a prime example of how the DERA programme begins to hurt. I remind the Secretary of State of its huge potential not only for BAE, but for industry across the board. Already questions have begun to emerge. [Interruption.]

26 Oct 2000 : Column 442

Next Section

IndexHome Page