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Dr. Moonie: As well as apportioning blame, I am prepared to apportion credit. The hon. Gentleman is right. On some occasions the Conservative Government ordered things that worked well, and we are fortunate that they did. Many of the other things that they ordered have not worked quite so well.
Shortly, I shall move on to quickly cover as many points as I can. After an hour of questions from the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I shall not be able to answer them all in 10 minutes. I shall ditch the rest of what I intended to say that was on the formal side. There is a two-day defence debate next week, and with a bit of luck I shall then have longer to cover various matters. If a Minister makes a habit of doing this, Members will always expect him to do so. In fact, he is summing up for the Government and not necessarily replying to the debate. However, I let that pass.
I shall deal first with the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation. They are both relatively new organisations and it is interesting to speculate how things may emerge over time. There are no plans in progress to consider their position in the immediate future.
I shall now talk about the Brimstone weapon, and I shall occasionally refer to notes because that is much easier than trying to remember everything. We always keep the mix of weapons available to us under review.
I thought that I had adequately covered the subject of proposed reductions in squadrons of front-line aircraft during the broadcast a few weeks ago, but I shall reiterate. There was a study paper. We produce many such papers and many of them never see the light of day, which is fortunate, because we would be unable to comment properly on all of them, as happened in the case in question. The studies cover the full range of planned equipment capability and establish the scope or lack thereof for significant changes in our forward equipment plans. The paper was not seen by Ministers--at least, not until after it had been leaked.
I can confirm that no recommendations have been made to us, still less any decisions taken, to cut any of our fast jet fleets. It is impossible, and it would be irresponsible of me, to say that nothing will ever change. When Eurofighter is introduced, existing aeroplanes will be replaced. That is only logical--no one would expect us to keep obsolete equipment in service once the new aircraft was in operation. However, that issue will be examined at the proper time. The paper posed hypothetical questions; they will not be answered in the immediate future, but when Eurofighter is in service and it becomes necessary to make decisions on how to plan reductions in the alternative aircraft that we use.
The failure of the Lynx helicopter rotor hub posed considerable problems. However, operational requirements are being met and, although people are having to queue up for training, they are being trained. A tremendous job of work is being done by the people replacing the defective part, and they deserve our congratulations.
We have every confidence that the SA80 upgrade plan will satisfy all the requirements. It is thought that some of the initial work might be done in Nottingham, but most will be carried out in the factory in Germany. After all, it is essential that the work be done as quickly as possible. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Ms Ward) that we expect at least 20,000 weapons to have been fully modified and to be back in service by the end of next year, when I am sure they will make a considerable difference.
A difficult decision had to be made about the future missile, Meteor. There were many factors, especially the fact that smart procurement had identified a route through Meteor for procuring the missile which we thought produced considerable advantages for us, especially in terms of the balance of risk.
Progress is being made on the development of the A400M. I know of no snags, nor of cold feet affecting any of our partners, at the moment. We must expect progress to be slow at first and then to take off after the initial configuration and the initial agreements have been finalised. We are satisfied with the progress that is being made now.
OCCAR will offer considerable benefits to us in the medium to long term, providing a much more rational basis for the selection of projects, and allowing a multinational element and as much co-operation as is needed to ensure that highly complex and often expensive projects are brought to fruition in the minimum time.
We have not yet decided what form the sale of DERA will take. Hon. Members may say--as happened in an Adjournment debate shortly before the summer recess--that someone has told them that things are not very good and that they are not happy, but no one comes to us and says that. Therefore, we must assume that what the Americans are telling us is true and that they are happy with the system that we have proposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said that hard decisions have to be made and, ideally, made quickly. However, a balance must be struck between wasting money through too early a cancellation and wasting it through too late a cancellation. Sometimes the balance of opinion, as in Bowman, is to carry on a little longer to try to obtain a satisfactory outcome. In other words, a bit of good money is thrown after what has gone before in the hope of a successful outcome. It is not all dead cost. People are employed using that money. The fact that the work does not ultimately come to fruition does not mean that the money was all thrown away or burned. It was spent on development and it kept people in employment, and we should not forget that. I hope that we shall be able to make an announcement soon on the chosen vehicle for producing the system.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) referred to many problems. I have covered his points on smart procurement. I shall have to look into the matter of the floating dock. I did not think that we had any other docks floating around, but I am sure that someone will put me right and I shall be able to reply to the hon. Gentleman.
One of the major purchasing decisions of the next decade concerns the future large aircraft, along with the carriers. It is essential that we get that right. A huge sum of money will have to be spent. We are not yet in a position to make such a decision, but I hope that, during the next few years, as our debates on procurement evolve, so will our position on the purchase of such an aircraft.
The vertical communication system is based on the Duro vehicle which was proposed to the competitors because no other vehicle has the configuration to take the system and still be transportable by air.
The matter has been extensively investigated within and outside the EC and no equivalent vehicle of sufficient size is available. However, the vehicle will be sourced through a British distributor and spares will be purchased accordingly.
I join the hon. Gentleman in his congratulations to Swan Hunter. The news was excellent and I wish the yard a long and successful future. Its apprentices were mentioned, and that afforded me particular pleasure.
I must mention ro-ro ferries. The Opposition have created a smokescreen to try to conceal what is a good deal. We should not forget that as this is a PFI project, we are talking about a whole life cost. It will cost more than £900 million during its life, and there is no doubt that that offers a staggering saving over any of the other options. I suspect that that is why the previous Government intended to go down exactly the same route.
The ships will be built in Germany, not Poland. However, I do not see why we should object to Poles building them, as many hon. Members hope to welcome Poland into the EC. We should not forget that had we taken any other route, the cost would have been greater, and that would have meant less money to spend on something else.
I have the greatest of sympathy with those who will lose their jobs as a result of the decision on Bowman. We are aware of the problems that have been raised about Vospers, and we are considering them. So far, they are not sufficient to cause us anxiety. I believe that hon. Members are becoming over-anxious, but we will consider the matter closely. The problem with the contracting system is that one has to trust the system. We do not simply rely on people's word; we include checks to ensure that it is implemented properly.