Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 180-199)



180.  That is not the point I am making at all.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) You did mention it at the beginning, so it is fair—

181.  It is in the report.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I think it is fair for me to explain that this is part of an ongoing medical co-operation programme with the Netherlands and I think the phrase "only because" in the report may have led you to imply that this was somehow a derogatory thing or a bad thing. I think it is a good thing.

182.  Is that something else you have not read properly as well?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No. I hope this hearing is to try to get a balanced view of what happened. I am here to assist you in understanding what the exercise was about. I am sorry if it becomes a conflictual thing, because I am trying to explain facts to you. The first point is that our relationship with the Netherlands on medical co-operation is something we think is positive in relation to our operations, not negative. Secondly, you were right, we are under strength in our medical services to a significant degree. It is one of the key priorities we have. Over a number of years we are putting about £350 million into improving our medical cover, improving recruitment and retention of nurses, consultants and specialists. It is also true that as part of our Strategic Defence Review in 1998, we took a decision that in future, we would not have quite as many people in the armed forces and we would rely more on targeted reserves, including reserves in the National Health Service. We provide our doctors and nurses in normal peace time to help the National Health Service and in times of operational requirements, not exercises, we take people from the National Health Service to meet surge requirements. That is the basis of the arrangement.

183.  I certainly do not want to be conflictual. I am trying to hasten your replies, but in doing so, I see they actually get longer, so I shall try an alternative technique. I have asked a Written Question about the number of nurses, GPs, medical consultants and other health care professionals who are reservists. I wonder whether you could provide us with that information?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I shall be happy to do so.[10]

184.  There is clearly an interlocking set of questions about the work of your department and its impact on the Government's domestic agenda.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I shall be very happy to do so. At the risk of being extensive, may I add that I have a concordat between myself and the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health in this area so that we move forward together.

Mr Rendel

185.  You said earlier on that you took the hardest possible test you could find and that this was the most arduous exercise we could have set up. I think those are two quotes from answers you gave right at the beginning.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes; compared with the alternatives.

186.  It seems rather odd, if so, does it not, that you were grading the environment as A3? Are A2 and A1 not harder?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, they are.

187.  So it was not the hardest environment?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No. The alternative exercise areas we had to consider were North America or Poland, the north German plain, so we chose the toughest one.

188.  So not the hardest test you could face across the world, simply the hardest test area available to you.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, I would venture to suggest that the southern Oman desert was probably about the hardest test you could possibly have found.

189.  So why do you have an A2 and A1 grade if A3 is actually the hardest you can find anywhere in the world?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Actually the southern Oman desert turned out to be closer to A2, but you are quite right, we could have found different climatic conditions, but not really for tank warfare. Those also cover things like jungle warfare, Equatorial Africa, those sorts of things. It gets hotter in Sierra Leone for example.

190.  They are not A2 and A1 necessarily.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I am not sure what Sierra Leone would be.

191.  They tend to have rather higher humidity and the whole point about A2 and A1 is that they have even lower humidity, surely.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I think it is the heat, but I am not an expert on climatic conditions. For the sake of argument, let us take it that this was a very arduous environment in which to test our Joint Rapid Reaction Force concept.

192.  I am sure it was and presumably it would have been even more arduous if you had done it in July or August.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, it would have been.

193.  So it was not really the hardest test you could have done.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) We had 2,000 people out there throughout that period planning it. One needs to understand the scale of this exercise; it was a very big event. For three and a half months we had a lot of people there.

194.  I am sure it was, but you did say to Mr Williams that it was the hardest possible test.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) In relation to the alternatives.

195.  It took place in what you accept is not the hardest possible environment because you had harder environment gradings and you accept that you did not do it at the hardest time of year.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I should like to see the Armed Forces which are doing training of this kind in even more arduous circumstances I must say.

196.  The design authority said that the filter life expectancy was 14 hours. When they decided that, what were they referring to? Were they referring to life expectancy if the tanks had the side armour on?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) No, they were not.

197.  So that was really expected to be the life expectancy in the very worst possible circumstances even if you exposed your tanks fully to all possible dust conditions.

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) That is indeed what was assumed.

198.  In that case I really think I have some sympathy with the questions you were being asked just now by Mr Trickett about the contractual arrangements. Is there anything in that contract which says they have to meet those design specifications?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) I honestly do not know. I have agreed to look into that.

199.  When you set up these contracts for purchase of equipment do you normally say that if the equipment does not meet the design specifications there is some financial comeback to the armed forces?

  (Sir Kevin Tebbit) Yes, indeed; there are various forms of redress which can be sought and it is part of the Procurement Agency's duty to be able to seek redress if they fail to meet specifications. There is a general point here.

10   Note by witness: I undertook to provide information sought in a written Parliamentary Question tabled by Mr Trickett about the number of nurses, GPs, medical consultants and other health care professionals who are reservists. This has now been provided (HC Deb, 28 October 2002, col 695W and HC Deb, 31 October 2002, col 883W). Back

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