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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Minister has mentioned some of the high-tech procurement, and I am grateful for that because I have BAE Systems in my constituency and I am proud of what that company achieves. On the low-tech side, I have some firms that have suffered because a clothing contract has been given to a Northern Ireland firm that has outsourced provision to China. A constituent came to see me last weekend and pointed out that the French are able to ensure that the clothing provided to their servicemen and women is manufactured in France. Could we do that, and if so, why do we not take that opportunity to back British business?
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Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman asked how we can back British business, but—as he said—the contract went to a UK company. The detailed background to the cut and sew contract is not in the public domain, but several firms made bids. Examination of the competing bids also entailed significant sourcing outside the UK. The conclusion showed that significant savings could be achieved for the MOD and, therefore, the taxpayer. The contract provides value for money and uses a supply route in which we have every confidence. I repeat that the contract did not go to a parent company outside the UK. We are sourcing from the UK, but the supply chain is a matter for the prime companies.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that we should do what other nations do, which is to impose conditions on contracts. That leads to overpriced contracts, which means that we cannot make savings that can be invested in defence spending elsewhere. That balance has to be struck in any procurement decision. We do not have such a protective system and nor did the Conservative Governments of long and distant memory. We have to ensure that we have a robust contract that will deliver on time, on value and on quality. That is what we believe we have achieved in that case.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): The Minister was right to go through the broad aspects of the Army, Navy and Air Force main procurements. Will he say anything about procurement for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, especially the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability—or MARS—programme? As he knows, while the two new carriers and the new assault ships are welcome, they will not be sufficiently deployable unless they have support ships to refuel and rearm them in combat. The MARS programme is a substantial programme that will place huge demands on our design and shipbuilding but is vital to the future of the Royal Navy.

Mr. Ingram: I agree that the MARS programme is important. I am increasingly intrigued by Opposition spokesmen who make demands but never put a ticket price on them. They give lists of everything they want, but deny that they amount to spending commitments. They say that they want us to do this and that, but they never reveal their total commitment in each area. Nor do they ever say what they would take out of the existing programme to make way for their demands. If we are to have an honest and open debate on procurement—

Mr. Keetch: Answer the question, and then we might do so.

Mr. Ingram: Well, I have said that the MARS programme is important. Our whole approach to expeditionary warfare requires support shipping. How we pay for that and the timing of its provision are issues for the procurement stream. As I said, we are spending £6 billion this year on procurement and £8 billion to sustain it. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would want to spend more.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I wish to take my right hon. Friend back to the issue of the desert field jacket, the contract for which was awarded to Cooneen
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in Northern Ireland. He has written to me on the issue and I am grateful for that. I do not know whether he has yet had sight of the letter from the chairman of Carrington, a company in the north-west, but it reveals that it has been 19 weeks since the contract was award to Cooneen. In that time, the Chinese subcontractor—People's Liberation Army factory No. 3533 in Chongqing—has not been able to produce fabrics that meet the specifications for tensile strength, tear strength, shrinkage and infra-red reflectance. How long does Cooneen have to meet the specifications in the contract before it is awarded elsewhere? [Interruption.]

Mr. Ingram: I hear the snide comments from the Opposition. Is it suggested that we should have a trade embargo with China? [Interruption.] Well, it is nice to know that that is not what is suggested. Outsourcing in China is an acceptable part of a process put in place by any prime contractor. All contracts have to be subject to evaluation as they proceed. That happens in all procurement streams, and if contractors do not supply on quality, on time and on the required numbers, the penalty will fall on them. They will then have to find other sourcing methods. If contractors do not deliver, it is their failure and we hold them to account for it. That is exactly what would happen on the contract my hon. Friend mentions. He said that he had a letter about the contract, but several allegations have already been made about it. All of them have been investigated, and the allegations he makes will also be investigated. We owe that to the people who depend on the equipment procured, be it uniforms or the big-ticket items I have already mentioned. We will give consideration to the points that he makes, but making an allegation does not make it a fact or accurate. We will have to examine the allegations.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ingram: I wish to make some progress. I have always been generous to my hon. Friend, although I am not so sure that he is always generous to me. I will come back to him in a moment, but I wanted to comment further on the big-ticket items and how we are trying to deliver in some very demanding procurement areas. There is no easy or simple formula.

We have received criticism from the Defence Committee, as well as from some ill-informed sections of the media. We are not letting down the armed forces. Not only is the criticism in the recent report misleading, it is unfair and demoralising to all those people in the Defence Procurement Agency, both service and civilian, who work so hard for our men and women on the front line. I am conscious of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee is present. I do not know whether he will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab): Yes, I will.

Mr. Ingram: No doubt my right hon. Friend will make his points. I am sure that he recognises that we normally have robust exchanges between the Defence Committee and the Ministry of Defence, and where criticisms are levelled, a reasoned response is always
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given, but he should perhaps also recognise that the strong response on this occasion was caused by some of the wildly wrong comments and criticisms in the report.

The DPA comprises about 3,500 civilian and military personnel, all of whom work extremely hard, but we are told that they are working in a climate of fear—a statement that was never made by any member of the MOD, although it somehow appears in the report. I will not go into all the detail in the report; we have more useful things to discuss. No doubt the Chairman will tell us his point of view in great detail, but let us have a   balanced debate. As I say, I believe that some of those    comments are very misleading, unfair and unquestionably demoralising for those who are trying to do what is undoubtedly a very difficult job.

I shall say more about the improvements that we continue to make in our procurement processes, but first I want to say something about what we are trying to achieve with our procurement plans—our vision, to use the jargon. Before I do so, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson). I hope that he still remembers his question.

Mr. Davidson: I do indeed. I take very much to heart the point that the Minister made when he said that I am insufficiently generous to him. He has perhaps not been listening to what I have been saying about some of his colleagues.

I very much welcome the enormous shipbuilding orders that are in the pipeline, but will the Minister expand a little on the management of the relationship between the MOD and the industry? Will he speak about how he is trying to avoid boom and bust and how dialogue is emerging to ensure that peaks and troughs are evened out? Will he tell us when the maritime coherence study might be published? In particular, what can he do to avoid the redundancy of design staff, who are rapidly running out of work on Clydeside and for whom no work is available in the short term?

Mr. Ingram: I take that as a very generous and helpful comment. I will consider what my hon. Friend says about my colleagues, and I may sleep better at night knowing that he is less of an enemy of mine than of theirs.

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