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Mr. Duncan Smith: How will the United States transfer the key technologies that are relevant to that programme, as BAE will tell them time and again that stealth technologies are critical? There is no joint programme if BAE does not have access to those critical technologies. Yet I hope and believe that BAE will tell the Secretary of State what it has told me: it is deeply worried after conversations with the Americans, who are saying that they have no idea about what will happen to places such as Boscombe Down, or what the relationship will be, and that they are loth to make commitments on those technology transfer issues, all of which will be damning.
If the Minister thinks that the Americans are absolutely on-side, I must tell him that I do not think so. The new Deputy Secretary of Defence described the relationship a few days ago as constructive and workable, but went beyond those diplomatic words in adding that a number of detailed issues inevitably remained to be resolved. The point is that partial privatisation is immensely complicated and detailed: the devil is not just in the detail, it is the detail. The problems have not been resolved yet, and the Select Committee report goes to the heart of that.
The Secretary of State and the Minister have an opportunity to respond properly to that report--not in the patronising manner of the response I read the other day--by saying how they will deal with the problems. If JSF fails because of the partial privatisation of DERA, neither the industry nor the country will forgive the Government.
The Secretary of State did not refer to some matters, vital in procurement terms, that go way beyond the big money programmes for frigates, aircraft, missiles and so on. I refer to small things that we rather take for granted, but which affect the daily life of service men and women. These might be said to be silly things, but they are important--soap, lavatory paper, vaccines and accommodation. Who could forget the substandard tent accommodation identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) during deployment in Kosovo in winter? We may forget such problems, but they are just as important as failures on big procurement programmes. They affect soldiers, sailors and airmen. How are such problems being resolved, and how deeply have they bitten? When people decide to leave the forces early, those are the straws that break the camel's back.
Defence exports are important to everyone, particularly the 400,000 people who work in the industry and their dependants, and the hon. Members who represent them. We have heard endlessly about legislation on export controls, but can the Minister tell us what that will mean for industry, when it will come forward, what it will contain and how deeply it will bite on industry's ability to deal with future export possibilities?
No one wants programmes to get into difficulties or produce the wrong equipment. Our defence would suffer from that, which is why procurement is hugely important. By its nature, defence procurement is always fraught with difficulties that do not exist in commercial contracts. We are always quick to point out failings at the Ministry of Defence, with people saying that equipment could be
It is inevitable that mistakes will sometimes be made because procurement has been overdone, but we are dealing with equipment likely to be used in some of the worst environments that it is possible to imagine, such as slit trenches half-filled with water, in freezing Arctic conditions or at high altitude in aircraft in combat. Whatever it takes, the Ministry of Defence must deal with equipment that will work in those circumstances. No one would forgive the Ministry for choosing an option that, although cheap, did not work when most needed, as has too often happened.
We expected answers from the Government on many of the issues that I have raised. Instead we heard a statement that should have been made separately on a particular procurement project, then a party political broadcast by the Secretary of State. No doubt that was inserted in his programme by Alastair Campbell, who is fed up because the Secretary of State has not yet done enough party politicking. Perhaps every time the right hon. Gentleman stands up in future, we can expect to hear the usual four and a half yards of political nonsense from the Government, rather than their dealing with the issues and problems. I regret that the Secretary of State took that approach today, but we are running towards an election which Labour will lose. Every dog must have his day, and I am happy to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to play silly political games while I look forward to taking over the problems and dealing with them after the election.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is now an opportunity for Back Benchers to have their day. Rather more wish to speak than would be successful in catching my eye if everyone took the full allocation of time available. I therefore appeal for brevity so that those who have been here throughout the debate may have an opportunity to speak.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I am not sure whether to feel flattered by the reference by the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) to my brooding presence. I am not so much brooding as sitting here amused and bemused. One great advantage of having sat for ever on the Select Committee on Defence is that one goes round the houses time and again. Whenever the hon. Gentleman or his colleagues scream "foul" or "foul-up", I can say, "Tories--1981 and 1987."
The hon. Gentleman has at least enough humility occasionally to lapse into fairness, though that owes more to his early career at Jane's--incredibly objective--and in the Army than to his present role. The hon. Gentleman must have seen many foul-ups, and must realise--even if not all his colleagues do--that fouling up in procurement is almost par for the course. One can only hope that smart procurement will minimise the foul-ups, which no Government have, as yet, managed to do.
I did not bounce to my feet to ask questions about roll on/roll off ferries. I find it amusing that those who did all the screaming have departed the Chamber, leaving those of us who remain less chance to make our speeches. The incandescence of their rage lasted just the length of a statement. They may read what I have said.
I am delighted that we are debating procurement. The Defence Committee did a good job on the four reports relevant to the debate, and much information with which we may evaluate the Government's performance has arisen from the Committee's deliberations. I was pleased to hear the Government say that the debate on defence procurement would not proceed until the Defence Committee had had a chance to evaluate documentation and produce our report.
In addition to the four reports tagged for this debate--on the OCCAR convention, on the future of DOWRY, on major procurement and on the appointment of the chief scientific adviser--I should like to tag personally yesterday's report on the lessons of Kosovo, which contains a substantial section on procurement. I should also mention the report that we published a few months ago on the Government's annual reporting cycle.
The Government spend nearly £10 billion on procurement and spares, which shows how often we should debate those matters. One of the most delicate phrases that I have ever heard used about Ministry of Defence procurement was in our procurement report which said that its annual deeds record over 20 years had been less than glorious. Far worse could have been said, but we must recognise that any Government who try to develop a smart procurement policy will find no panacea. Anyone who claimed that we could save so many billion pounds after two years--or five or 10--would be a born optimist. So much can blow a Government, and their Ministry of Defence, off course.
I can speak with a degree of detachment because I have opposed my own party's policy for at least as long as I have opposed the Opposition's. The Defence Committee is evil to everyone. We have had much more time in which to hone our skills by attacking the Conservatives, but time will tell on that. In fairness, some good starts have been made, and the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green mentioned the establishment of the Defence Procurement Agency, smart procurement, public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives. All that is an attempt to change the culture of decision making at the Ministry of Defence and in its weapons procurement process.
The Government have been courageous--it is difficult to be courageous--where they have been prepared to take dramatic decisions: on the cancellation of Horizon, the common new generation frigate, what is now Skynet 5, the medium-range Trigat anti-tank missile, Bowman and perhaps more to come. That was absolutely right. It took the previous Government a long time, understandably, to change their mind and to say that the time had come to dump a programme. The move to AWACS is an example of where decisions must be made.
The report on Kosovo was published yesterday. It was not an easy report for the Committee to write. I am rabidly pro-NATO. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green will know that I wrote three great tomes in the early 1990s which he as marketing manager did not manage to sell. The books were grossly overpriced and undermarketed, but they were very good. I am a devotee of NATO and it was particularly difficult for me to chair a Committee that was so critical of NATO.
I feel strongly that the only way to get improvements is by criticism. If the Government have any reason to dissent from our analysis or if we have made any factual errors, I look forward to their reply in due course. The Committee was absolutely right to say:
I was a little disappointed with some of the press reports. There was a little too much publicity. We did not criticise the Prime Minister personally. "Grovel, grovel", as Ron Brown said after he was thrown out of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister did not preside over the North Atlantic Council. We pointed out that the need to maintain Alliance unity caused unforced errors. We acknowledged the United Kingdom to be the driving force in maintaining the determination of the Alliance to see the job through to a conclusion. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm was not shared by all our allies.
Wars test not just the resolve and competence of decision makers, and the support of parliamentarians; they test the quality of military personnel and of the equipment that is procured for them. The decisions made today are decisions that our men and women will fight with 20 years from now. One of the problems--here I lapse temporarily into partisanship, but it is necessary to do so--is that many of the procurement decisions that we identify as having been less than successful were inherited from the last Government. If a war is fought 15 years from now, the same criticism can be made by an ageing Member for
To prove my decency I now turn my criticism to an invisible role, next to the very visible Under-Secretary. I am disappointed in the way in which the Royal Air Force performed. I am not talking about the personnel. We revere them, correctly. I take no comfort from the fact that we were the fourth largest supplier of aircraft in the conflict. I would take satisfaction if we had been the second, behind the United States, and not behind France and Italy and just in front of a clutch of other countries. We can do better.
Admittedly, the Tornado and Harrier were good aircraft in their day. They are still useful, but are getting a little venerable. I fear that the poor kit that was procured some time ago did not properly maximise the RAF contribution. We said:
There was a lack of secure air-to-air communications. The Royal Air Force could not speak securely to its American allies. Nothing has been done and nothing announced. Phoenix has been a great success--that is, it was promised in the 1980s, hoped for in the 1990s and at least in this millennium we have seen this drone operational.
There was insufficient sealift. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the Defence Committee produced reports complaining about the collapse of the Merchant Marines. There was insufficient airlift. The Government put a lot of faith in the C-130J. It was not their fault; the last Government were still awaiting delivery. The SA80 was not all the Government's fault; it was the fault of the last Government. The Horizon was not this Government's fault. They cancelled it. The Government took a good decision over the BVRAAM and I applaud them for their choice. So when we look at procurement failures, let us be reasonably fair.
It is important that BAE Systems survives in an increasingly competitive world. Recently, I learned that the entire value of the United States aircraft and aerospace industry is only 17 per cent. of the value of Bill Gates and Microsoft. That is a sign of the problems the US industry is facing.