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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The defence training review, published in March 2001, recommended that some types of military specialist training should be rationalised. It also recommended that industry should be engaged at an early stage in determining how that training can best be delivered. Accordingly, the Department is currently taking forward a programme to provide, in partnership with the private sector, modern, cost-effective training, better accommodation and facilities, and the more efficient use of the training estate.
Dr. Cable : Is the Minister aware of the serious concern in his Department and in the armed forces that specialised trainingfrom complex logistics to intelligence trainingcould be handed over to private companies that do not have the experience or the expertise of MOD trainers, and do not have the knowledge of long-term military requirements? When
Dr. Moonie: I would be concerned if that were what we are doing, but it is not. The rationalisation programme is about modernisation of training, and ensuring that delivery continues to adapt to reflect operational need. The benefits that we will derive from a more efficient use of the training estate will help us to achieve those key aims. We are currently consulting prospective bidders to determine the scope of a future partnering arrangement. We expect to be ready to select short-list bidders and issue invitations to negotiate by the end of the year. Each prospective consortium has been carefully scrutinised to ensure that it has the full range of skills and experience required to meet the needs of our programme.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): My hon. Friend will know that I am usually in favour of relationships between the public and private sectors, such as private finance initiatives. Does he agree that the training record of the British defence forces has been exemplary, and that most people recognise that our armed forces historically have the best trainers in the world? Whether he calls it rationalisation or anything else, he should be cautious before he destroys the critical mass of training in our armed services.
Dr. Moonie: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what we are trying to do. Our training has been the best in the world, and our intention is not only to keep it the best, but to make it even better. Everything we are doing in the review is aimed at producing that outcome.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Minister recognise that it is important to keep all Members of the House who have constituency interests in defence training informed of plans? He will recall that there has been a history of difficulties with defence training establishments in my constituency, but I shall not labour that point because he is well aware of the problems. I have the defence medical training organisation in my constituency, and I am sure that he would agree that there is nothing more vital to the interests of our armed forces personnel than defence medical training. Will he undertake to keep me and all other MPs fully informed of any further developments or changes in defence training, especially in the medical field?
Dr. Moonie: I should point out that this is not part of the training review, but I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I generally try to ensure that a Member is informed of any changes that are likely to affect the interests of his constituency. If I fail to do so, Members are not slow to remind me!
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Although we want European Union nations to strengthen their military capabilities, there is no standing European rapid reaction force or any EU agreement to create one. Existing national or multinational forces, declared under the Helsinki headline goal, will be made available to the EU on a voluntary, case-by-case basis when required for a crisis management operation. The United Kingdom has made a significant contribution, offering a wide range of capabilities and assets, but there are, overall, still significant capability shortfalls against the EU's headline goal. EU Defence Ministers will consider shortly how to take matters forward. The UK will look to member states to make firm commitments to improve European military capabilities, rather than duplicate existing capabilities.
Sir Sydney Chapman : Will the Secretary of State confirm that it was agreed in 1999 that the European rapid reaction force should be concerned with peacekeepingthat that should be its roleand that last year it was agreed that the NATO reaction force should cover high-intensity conflicts? What on earth was the point of last month's summit between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg? Would not any other arrangement be duplication at bestas the right hon. Gentleman suggestedand divisive at worst?
Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to agree with the Prime Minister's recent statement that the basis of any European defence policy should be entirely compatible with our membership of NATO?
Mr. Hoon: I do not think I shall have any difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's question. Having been involved in negotiations on the need for improved military capabilities, whether through the European Union or through NATO, I know that that compatibility is crucial. That is precisely why we judged that the recent Brussels summit was neither timely nor appropriate.
Mr. Gray: The Secretary of State's very helpful answer seems to me to reaffirm three fundamental truths about the European rapid reaction force. First, if the intention is to provide a NATO rapid reaction force at the same time, we certainly have not enough forces for the purpose. Secondly, nothing emanating from Brussels could possibly be described as rapid in any
Mr. Hoon: Our criticism of the recent Brussels summit has been consistent, as has our criticism of all the attempts to create a so-called European army. What we want is for our European partners to make determined efforts to improve military capabilities, whether through the European Union or through NATO. We believe that those efforts should be concentrated specifically on the adding of new capabilities rather than the duplication of existing ones.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the future of the European rapid reaction force, given the deep differences of opinion on Iraq that we have observed over the past month or so?
Mr. Hoon: The future of the force will be in the terms I have set out to the Housein the improvement of European military capabilities. It will not have a future if it fails in that task. That is why the United Kingdom consistently urges our partners to invest in extra and more capable military forces, so that Europe can make an effective contribution when it chooses to act on a case-by-case basis through the European Union, or more commonly when it acts as a member of NATO.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The 1998 strategic defence review and the new chapter published last year remain the foundation for the shape, size and capabilities of our armed forces. The defence White Paper to be published in the autumn will provide an updated statement of defence policy and explain our plans for the delivery of enhanced defence capability. This will provide the baseline against which the Department will work with companies such as BAE Systems to procure future battle-winning equipment.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I thank the Minister for that reply. The Royal Ordnance factory in Puriton in my constituency has turned out an enormous amount of ordnance over the past few months to support our troops in the Gulf. BAE Systems has said that it will continue production there, but I wonder for how long. Does the Minister agree not only that that battle-winning equipment, as he calls it, should be manufactured in this country but that one should ensure that it can be procured at a moment's notice for use in any battlefield around the world? Will he therefore commit himself to continuing production?
Mr. Ingram: I will always pay tribute to the work force of Royal Ordnance factories throughout the country. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the privatisation of that part of our supply was carried out under a Conservative Government. Indeed, the previous Member for Bridgwater may have been Secretary of State for Defence at the time, but I will check that.
It is clearly important that we have a guarantee on supplies. Of course, all that will be subject to the lessons learned from the current conflict. We will conduct a deep analysis of what happened. It will take some time to come to decisions but I am sure that the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman will be reflected in some of the conclusions reached.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Is my right hon. Friend aware that 470 jobs at BAE Systems in Brough are under threat because of perceived delays in resolving the Hawk contract? Will he do all he can to lobby other Ministers in his Department and other Departments so that the contract can be sorted out sooner rather than later and the 470 jobs no longer be under threat?
Mr. Ingram: The best advice and information I can give my hon. Friend is that BAE Systems's proposal is being evaluated, so it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome at this stage. It is incumbent on companies that depend heavily on the Ministry of Defence to be proactive internationally. Alongside what they do for the MOD, they should look for other commercial outlets for their work force. Again, we hope that a decision can be reached quickly on that matter. That may ease the minds of the work force there.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): In the light of the retiring Chief of Defence Staff's remarks with reference to the Government's commitment to purchase 232 Eurofighters currently under production in my constituency, does the Minister understand that such remarks have caused much uncertainty and worry in the Wharton work force? The work force are also concerned that the Government have yet to make a clear decision about tranche 2 of that aircraft and the order for 80-odd aircraft, and uncertain about the Government's intentions in developing a ground attack capability for the Eurofighter Typhoon. May I ask him to put on record, if not now in the very near future, a clear statement of what the Government's precise intentions are about that weapons system to deal with the uncertainties that thousands of my constituents are experiencing?
Mr. Ingram: That is a fair and reasonable point. There is no question but that the MOD consults very widely and comprehensively as decisions are taken both in moving forward and perhaps in terms of rationalisation or changes to decisions. That is what we seek to do.
We expect the four partner nations to place the order for the tranche 2 aircraft, of which the United Kingdom's share is 89, later this year. Under the undertaking given in the four-nation memoranda of understanding, the UK has undertaken to acquire 232 aircraft out of a total production of 620. We will, of course, keep the capabilities of the defence programme under constant review, but our commitment to the Typhoon programme remains unchanged.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, under the strategic defence review, record numbers of orders have been placed with United Kingdom manufacturers? That has given a tremendous boost to economies such as that of the north-east of England. Does he further agree that the strong base that those orders have created gives UK manufacturing a strong and determined base from which to pursue export orders?
Mr. Ingram: I agree entirely. It is a point well made. As it stands, our capability and equipment programme is of record-breaking scope. We just need to consider the shipbuilding programme and the many other important procurement decisions that are coming on-stream. My hon. Friend made a good point in saying that the quality and capacity of British engineering companies enable them to win their share of the contracts, and he is right that that gives them a tremendous platform on which to build for the future not just in seeking and obtaining further MOD and international defence contracts but in gaining a significant share of the commercial market that is out there.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): As my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear, serious question marks hang over a number of critical defence projects involving not just BAE Systems but the many British companies in the supply chain. I was astonished at the answer that the Minister gave the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). Does he accept that what he said must set alarms bells ringing in the ears of the work force at Brough? It would be inconceivable for the UK Government to order an advanced jet trainer other than the proven, highly successful, world-beating Hawk aircraft. Nobody in this country would be able to understand it if he ordered anything else. He should get on and order the aircraft by the end of June if wants to keep those employees in continued employment.
Will the Minister also confirm that the joint strike fighter programme is slipping, with consequences for our maritime air defence? Without the JSF, the new aircraft carriers that he is ordering will be rather pointless. What efforts is he making to get the Americans to sign up to giving Britain the technology access agreements that are required by BAE Systems?
Further to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), what about the Typhoon tranche 2 and its air-to-ground capability? The Minister must address that issue very quickly, or we will not have the right equipment for the Royal Air Force.
Mr. Ingram: I am trying to explain that we get a shopping list from the Opposition. On our programme, I gave a clear answer in relation to the Hawk. The final bid has been put in by BAE Systems, and it has to be evaluated. I do not know whether the Opposition spokesmen are saying that there should be a different
Let me explain about BAE Systems. In the last financial year, the MOD made payments of about £250 million and the contracts awarded were worth in the region of £2.7 billion. That shows a significant measure of confidence in that company, and we could, of course, give similar figures for other major UK-based defence contractors. We are investing very substantially in British manufacturing through the defence sector. It would be nice for that to be recognised and applauded by the Opposition.