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3 Mar 2003 : Column 575—continued


9. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If he will make a statement on the time taken for UK aerospace companies to be paid for the work they carry out on the Eurofighter project. [99855]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): All contracts for work on the Eurofighter Typhoon project placed by the Ministry of Defence or the NATO Eurofighter management agency are subject to national legislation regarding payment times. This legislation will apply equally to subcontracts placed on United Kingdom aerospace companies.

Mr. Robertson : I thank the Minister for that answer, but he knows that that system often does not work. One company in my constituency, which does not want to be named, has waited a long time for a tremendous amount of money for working on Eurofighter and has been rebuked by Eurofighter when it has tried to chase the money. On speaking to the company, it stressed that it does not blame the Government, but it does want them

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to introduce a new system that enables it to get paid at least in the same year as it carries out such a large amount of work.

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman has been very active on behalf of that company and he is right not to name it. Indeed, it would be wrong to name any company that might be experiencing similar difficulties. We are concerned about that company and try to help British companies as much as we can. However, most of the Ministry of Defence's UK requirements for Typhoon are contracted by the NATO European Typhoon management agency on Eurofighter GmbH. We have no direct contractual relationship with either ACMA, GmbH or the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, the Ministry has written to the agency, requesting that Eurofighter GmbH reminds its partner companies and suppliers of the importance that we attach to prompt payment when contractual obligations have been met. Lord Bach, who has ministerial responsibility for defence procurement, is actively dealing with the representation made by the company to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and other concerns have also been raised.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will the Minister confirm that over the past six years the project has cost the British taxpayer £4 billion? Does that sum include the moneys outstanding mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson)? What are the implications of the recent unfortunate aeroplane crash in Spain for the cost of the project and the delay to it?

Mr. Ingram: There has to be a full assessment following any incident of that nature such as a crash or equipment malfunction. If modifications are required, that has to be costed into the programme. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure at this stage. The project is a sizeable one, and the British defence sector, which is contributing expertise and technological input, is without doubt also gaining considerably from it. It is good for the British economy, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports that.

Ministerial Meetings

10. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): When he last held discussions with the US Defence Secretary on Iraq. [99856]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I have regular discussions with the US Defence Secretary. I last met him on 12 February in Washington.

Mr. Osborne : Does the Defence Secretary agree that behind some of the opposition to the Government's policy on Iraq is a caricature of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which is a gross distortion of the truth? Will he take the opportunity to set the record straight, as the Prime Minister helpfully did when I asked him to set the record straight about George W. Bush last week?

Mr. Hoon: I certainly find working with the US Defence Secretary straightforward. He deals with issues

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in a clear and concise way, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that our discussions, although sometimes terse, are very effective.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): If military action is taken, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had about the future, first and foremost the territorial integrity of Iraq, but also protecting the Kurds after Saddam; the start of democratic rule; and of course the necessity for an international presence apart from the United States and the United Kingdom? Is it not essential to make it clear to the people of Iraq that democracy is our first priority?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who is absolutely right. Central to the Government's policy on Iraq is preserving that country's territorial integrity, which includes ensuring the safety and security of its population, not only the Kurds, but also the Shi'as and minority groups in the country. Clearly, there will be a need for a continuing international presence in the event of military conflict in and around Iraq. It is important that the international community uses its influence, ability and resources to start Iraq back on the process of becoming a fully integrated member of the international community. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has set out our policy objectives, including the idea of representative Government in Iraq, which seems to me a thoroughly worthwhile objective for the international community.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that one purpose of any military action would be to prevent Saddam Hussein giving chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. Has the Defence Secretary discussed that with the Americans, and how could anyone ever have any assurance that no matter how much CBW material Saddam Hussein gave up he had not retained other material that could be given to terrorists? Is not the logic of the Government's position that that could be prevented only by removing Saddam Hussein from power once and for all?

Mr. Hoon: That is why it is important that the regime in Iraq complies fully with the terms of Security Council resolution 1441, and does not simply play the games that it appears to be playing at present. I have told the House many times since 11 September 2001 that those appalling events threw into sharp focus our need to ensure that we are protected against threats wherever they may arise in the world. We should therefore concentrate, as we are doing, on not only the continuing terrorist threat, but the threat posed by Saddam Hussein both in his capacity as a leader of a state and his willingness to support terrorism. We are therefore right to have regard not only for the safety and security of the region, but of the wider world.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seen the authoritative report in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, which says that the United States is prepared to use toxic gases in Iraq that would be illegal within the terms of the chemical weapons convention, and that Britain would not use them and would not transport them on behalf of

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the United States? Given this report, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the US Secretary of State? Will he impress upon him that illegal action by anybody is illegal and should not even be contemplated?

Mr. Hoon: I am confident that the United States, like the United Kingdom, will fully respect its obligations in international law.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): As British troops mass alongside American troops in the Gulf, so both forces become vulnerable to chemical and biological attacks, which I believe that Saddam Hussein is capable of launching. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have ruled out retaliating to such attacks with nuclear weapons?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that Governments do not comment on the use of nuclear deterrent. We foresee no circumstances at present where nuclear weapons would be required. They are a deterrent but they are not necessarily war-fighting weapons. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we see no circumstances in which they are likely to be used in the operation that we are discussing.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Will my right hon. Friend tell me what protection is being offered to the Kurds of northern Iraq in the event of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against them again? Does he know whether the UN inspectors have visited the border between Saddam Hussein's part of Iraq and the Kurdish part of northern Iraq, especially round Chamchamal, where the Kurds have seen rockets on the hillsides? They believe that there is the capability of firing chemical weapons at them all over again.

Mr. Hoon: Given Saddam Hussein's track record, my hon. Friend is right to raise concern about the plight of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. That is why over so many years Britain's forces, together with those from the United States, have been patrolling the no-fly zones. In a situation of military conflict, we will be concerned about the position of the Kurds and other groups inside Iraq. It is part of our thinking in relation to what we might find in the event of military conflict and thereafter that efforts will be made to protect the Kurds and others against the threat posed directly by Saddam Hussein's regime.

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