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Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): In his letter to me dated 19 July 2001, Lord Bach, the Minister for Defence Procurement said:

Is that a sop to my many constituents who work at Thales, or has CDC given positive indication to that effect to the Ministry? Why cannot the Minister give positive, clear news about the actual costs involved? He quoted a figure of £1.8 billion as the overall cost of acquisition, training and support. Could that not be broken down between the bid from Thales and CDC's winning bid? Is it not time for open government in defence procurement?

Mr. Hoon: Clearly there is some extremely sensitive commercial information, but none of the companies would welcome costs being published, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as the result of such competition. That has never been the practice and I do not anticipate changing that today. As I told the House, this is a prime contract; it is an overall contract for securing a particular service to the armed forces. I indicated that the contract was for 48,000 radios, 30,000 computers, a conversion of some 30,000 platforms and, most importantly, training for more than 100,000 members of the armed forces. As a result of the placing of the prime contract, there will be a cascade of further contracts across the country and we are confident that those companies that did not successfully secure the winning order will nevertheless benefit from that cascade.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend recall that during the Bosnian conflict our systems were so insecure that using the Welsh language was the only method of ensuring that no one could interfere? Although today's news will be disappointing to those who teach Welsh in the Balkan states, it is welcome for my constituency. It means 80 new jobs at Cogent Cryptographics in Newport. It is a small consolation in view of the thousands of jobs that have been lost a few miles away from the plant, but it emphasises that Cogent

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provides a world-class service and that south Wales is a natural home for high tech. The plant is cheek by jowl with that temple of intellectual property in Britain, the Patent Office in my constituency.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's later comments. Initially, I wondered whether he was suggesting that the Ministry of Defence might save money by compulsory training in Welsh for the armed forces. I agree with his further comments because we are pleased with the work that is conducted in his constituency. It adds to the security of the system and I am delighted that the announcement means jobs for his constituency.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): The Secretary of State knows the significance of the AEA Technology Batteries factory in Thurso. It is well placed to provide the batteries through its links with ITT. Is nominating ITT as supplier good news for Thurso? He mentioned an estimated 100 jobs for Scotland. Do they include jobs in battery provision in Thurso?

Mr. Hoon: Earlier, I referred to a cascade of contracts. I understand that the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers is well placed to take advantage of the decision that we announced and that it has some exciting technology, which could make a significant contribution. However, the Government will not examine every contract that results from the main decision. I therefore cannot answer his question specifically, but I am confident that the factory is in a good position to take advantage of today's announcement.

Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): I declare an interest because, as a trade union official, I have been involved in discussions with all three bidders about their future activities as corporate citizens. I welcome today's announcement.

I share Caerphilly borough council with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David). We have been involved in discussions about not only manufacturing work but quality research and development. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can confirm that approximately £25 million could be invested in research and development projects in that area with the local universities. The area is in great need of such activity.

My right hon. Friend should take note that no nationalist Members have bothered to be present for today's announcement although Caerphilly council is a nationalist authority.

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not for the Secretary of State to note such matters.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful that I do not have to comment on the absence of hon. Members. Nevertheless, I confirm that there will be substantial investment in south Wales. As I said in my opening statement, we attach great importance to providing training and research to take the equipment to a new level of digitisation and security.

Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): Is the equipment compatible with the equipment that we shall use

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in Europe? We know that it is compatible with Canada and north America, but is it interoperable with that of European forces?

Mr. Hoon: Compatibility is a tricky word in this context. We do not want the equipment to be easily understandable because the purpose of secure equipment is to be secure. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the need for interoperability, which may be a better word than compatibility.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I very much welcome the news today: anyone who has any connection with the armed forces will want to see the beginning of the end of this particular project. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a particular need in the United Kingdom to bolster the role of small subcontractors, and will he do everything that he can as part of the further negotiations that will undoubtedly ensue to ensure that small subcontractors have a fair wind and are not discriminated against?

Mr. Hoon: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of seeing the end of this particular saga, and I do not think that the Government can claim that the overall process has been particularly successful. In those circumstances, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I also agree with him entirely that it is important that, as the contracts that will be placed following the decision develop, smaller subcontractors have that opportunity. We have estimated that at least another 300 new jobs could be created as a result of those second-tier contracts, which are likely to be with smaller companies, adding to the total that I have already indicated.

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Speaker's Statement

2.11 pm

Mr. Speaker: Last, week, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) raised with me the view which the Electoral Commission has taken on the parking passes that hon. Members have received from the British Airports Authority and the need to declare them as a donation made for political purposes.

I must inform the House that no question of a contempt has arisen. However, as I promised, I have looked into the matter, and I am pursuing it vigorously. I hope that matters will be satisfactorily resolved very soon.


Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Appropriation (No. 2) Act 2001


Football (Disorder) (Amendment)

Mr. Secretary Blunkett, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw and Mr. John Denham, presented a Bill to amend section 5 of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 26].

19 Jul 2001 : Column 461

European Communities (Finance) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

2.12 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly): I beg to move,

I am pleased to move this motion, which provides for the conclusion of consideration in Committee by 5.30 today, and a further full day for remaining stages. We had a lively and good-natured debated on Second Reading, and it is important that all the issues of concern to hon. Members be properly scrutinised now. The motion allows the House adequate time to discuss this very short but important Bill, and I commend it to the House.

2.13 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): The Economic Secretary to the Treasury did not take long to speak to the programme motion, but I have one or two points to make about it. I should also state at the outset that I am by no means an admirer of the new arrangements that have been made, under the guise of so-called modernisation, to timetable legislation. The more I see of the operation of those arrangements, the more unsatisfactory they seem to be.

The usual reason why the arrangements are unsatisfactory is that, as we all well know, they constrain the House in its consideration of legislation. Bills are now passed by the House when large parts of them have received inadequate consideration, or in some cases no consideration at all. The arrangements therefore fundamentally negate the purpose of the House. However, we will not necessarily encounter those problems when considering the European Communities (Finance) Bill. The problem with this programme motion is that, in addition to the problems that I have just mentioned, it does not allow sufficient flexibility in considering the Bill in Committee and on Third Reading.

This Bill is important in its own way, and hon. Members on both sides of the House may wish to debate the important issues that it raises. The Economic Secretary was right to say that the Bill raised issues for debate. She was also right to say that we had a good debate on Second Reading, when Opposition Members properly raised some important issues. If hon. Members on either side of the House wished to address those issues in detail, the arrangements that have been made would be all well and good.

As we know, however, thus far no amendments to the Bill have been tabled. Our debates on the Bill today may be simply on whether its clauses should stand part. Perhaps those debates will occupy all the time that the Economic Secretary has said is available, but we shall

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have to wait and see. Perhaps that will not be the case. Perhaps there would have been sufficient time today to consider the Bill even on Third Reading. We simply do not know what will happen in the time available today.

The Opposition do not know why the programme motion was drafted so as to exclude the possibility of considering the Bill on Third Reading today. The motion provides that, regardless of whether we use all the time allocated for consideration in Committee, Third Reading is bound to occupy a second allotted day, in the autumn when the House returns from the summer recess. Those arrangements do not seem to be the most flexible possible, or even necessarily to work in the interests of the House, either in considering the Bill or in best using valuable parliamentary time.

Interestingly, as originally drafted, the motion provided for consideration on Third Reading today, the first allotted day. Additionally, when the motion was originally drafted, it was not known whether amendments would be tabled for debate in Committee. Yesterday, however, after it had become apparent that no amendments had been tabled, the motion was changed to exclude the possibility of Third Reading today. That is a strange arrangement.

Undoubtedly issues will arise in our consideration of this short Bill today, and they will have to be addressed. I am all for detailed scrutiny, and my usual criticism of programme motions is that they prevent such scrutiny. However, I do not know why we should be governed by programme motions that are so inflexible that they exclude the possibility of a debate on Third Reading even if such a debate would allow the best use of parliamentary time. I do not think that anything is to be gained by being so inflexible.

I must therefore conclude that this programme motion has exposed yet another unsatisfactory feature of the timetabling arrangements that the Government have introduced for the consideration of Bills. So often those arrangements not only prevent us from considering Bills properly and in the depth we should like, but are so inflexible that they could result, as they may today, in parliamentary time not being used in the best possible manner. We have discovered one more unsatisfactory feature of the arrangements, on top of all the others. It just goes to show that the arrangements have not been well thought through, and work against proper parliamentary scrutiny and proper parliamentary democracy.

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