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Lembit Öpik: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ingram: No, I really have been generous. If I can make some progress I shall return to the hon. Gentlemen.

Modern training methods and technology will be introduced, and training will be concentrated at a reduced number of sites, giving us the flexibility we need to match training delivery to operational needs. Like me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other hon. Friends believe that the DTR programme has reached a key milestone. I am pleased to say that the bidding consortiums, which are all credible and capable, have now lodged their proposals. Bids will be evaluated over the next six months and I expect an announcement about the preferred bidders next summer. The DTR programme is large and complex and transitional arrangements will need to be managed with care, but I am confident that the outcome will deliver the improved training and operational capability that we need.

Lembit Öpik: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ingram: I am usually generous and I have been exceptionally generous this afternoon, but I really do want to make progress.

As Members know, questions have been raised about the way in which we train and manage our recruits. It is our firm commitment to deliver change in the initial training environment, which more than 17,000 new recruits entered last year. To achieve that, we are focusing effort on improving the provision of support to
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our recruits and working to ensure that our actions result in sustained change over time. A number of work strands are under way: for example, we are looking at the selection and development of instructors and at the training provided to commanding officers. We have already increased the ratio of trainers to trainees and we are also reviewing how welfare policy is implemented and applied consistently. Those and other initiatives represent major work in progress involving policy, processes and people. We will continue to measure the impact of change over time to ensure that we are effectively achieving that change.

In seeking to implement good practice, we are maintaining our links with external bodies such as the adult learning inspectorate, which is undertaking follow-up inspections. Visits to 10 training establishments were planned to take place between last September and March next year. More visits are planned for 2006 and 2007, culminating in a report to be published in 2007.

Lembit Öpik: The Minister has been generous and I thank him for giving way.

I and others welcome many of the changes in the training regime with which the Minister has been involved. Does he agree that some of those changes were caused by the ongoing investigations into the deaths at Deepcut barracks? Although I commend his proactive role with the parents, they have still not seen the Deepcut report on the inquiry commissioned by Surrey police and conducted by Devon and Cornwall police. Does he accept that that raises suspicion and upset in the minds of the parents, and is there anything he can do to encourage Surrey police to publish that report, which would be in the public interest?

Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have not seen the report either. I note what he says, but it really is a matter for the police and I will see what we can glean about their reasons. The Collinson inquest is coming up next year. That commences—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am conscious that the Minister is treading carefully. He will be aware that parts of the issue that has been raised are still sub judice. So far, I think that everything is in order, but I am sure the Minister is aware of that.

Mr. Ingram: I am being very careful about what I say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The inquest has not yet commenced and the police report may be material to that. We also have the independent review by Nicholas Blake, QC. He is due to report before Christmas, but perhaps just after Christmas. I am waiting to see what he says and I know that he has had dealings with the Surrey police. I do not know whether anything of relevance can arise from his inquiry, which may be restricted any way because of the forthcoming inquest.

Lembit Öpik: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to my first question. Does he accept that the reason I am concerned to see the report published is that I genuinely believe that it is in the public interest for that to happen? It would also be in the Army's interests, because we have already learned lots of lessons. My
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frustration relates to the fact that, at every stage, Surrey police and, to an extent, the Army have been secretive and unwilling to share the information. I thank the Minister for his response and hope that he will be constructive in helping us to get the information into the public domain.

Mr. Ingram: I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not over-interpret what I am saying. There are good reasons the information has not been disclosed. I cannot give him the explanation. He should pursue the issue with the responsible Minister and the responsible Department. I do not answer for the civilian police, but I understand why he asks those questions, as well as the hurt about the issues.

With a slip of the tongue, I inadvertently called Private Beharry, VC, Fusilier Beharry. He is, of course, a private, and I just want to get the record straight.

Battle-winning troops need battle-winning equipment. Even the longest period of sustained real growth in planned defence spending for more than 20 years does not make equipment provision an easy task. Our aspirations will always outstrip our resources. With shipbuilding alone, we are embarked on a programme that is likely to be worth £14 billion over the next 10 to 15 years—the largest programme of work for decades. The ships and submarines that will be built are much more than steel hulls. They will be complex weapons systems full of cutting-edge technology. Some of our ships may be in service for a very long time and will need to be adapted and upgraded over their lives. The future carriers, for example, will deliver expeditionary offensive air power over a projected life of more than 50 years.

All that requires a change in the nature of our relationship with industry. We need to work more closely with those in the defence industry to ensure that they understand our needs and can tailor their expectations accordingly. That is why my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Drayson, who has responsibility for defence procurement, is developing a defence industrial strategy, which will provide industry with a better understanding of what our future equipment requirements are likely to be. It will set out the key capabilities that must be fostered and sustained in the UK to meet our future requirements. If there are industrial capabilities and technologies that we need to retain in the UK but that are at risk, we must act now to preserve them. However, we cannot sustain all the defence capabilities that currently exist within UK industry.

By adopting a buy-British policy where an equivalent, cheaper alternative product is available abroad, or a better one for the same price, our armed forces could either get less, or worse, equipment than they deserve. Of course, equipment does not stay on the parade ground being polished. It is used in action. It must be fit for purpose. Our people expect that and they should get nothing less.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that many shipbuilding communities throughout the country are waiting with anticipation for the work to come on stream—it will give a lifeline to a lot of those yards—but can he give a commitment that,
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where workable alternatives exist in this country, those ships will be built in the UK, rather than the work being farmed out to eastern Europe, thus devastating parts of the UK shipbuilding industry, which is supportive of the Government at the moment?

Mr. Ingram: I do not know whether my hon. Friend is asking me specifically about the warship programme. I am conscious of that point. Given the fact that there is only so much that we can put into the yards throughout the UK, we must be very clear about what we want. We must find out whether they can deliver at the right price. We must then ensure that we have a shipbuilding industry for many years ahead. I suggest that our record to date shows how we protect and preserve those keys skills and capabilities. I would want to be judged on what we have done and I do not anticipate a major change in policy in that regard.

The defence industrial strategy will also recognise that, for defence to remain attractive to industry, there will need to be a focus on assured revenue streams and continued engagement, rather than a series of big "must win" procurements. The platforms of tomorrow, such as the future carriers and the future rapid effects system, will need to be underpinned by an emphasis on through-life capability. The same is true of the joint combat aircraft, the basing decisions for which I announced in detail earlier.

It is not just in respect of equipment that we must spend the taxpayer's money to best effect. Every penny that we spend in the head office and supporting agencies is a penny less for the front line. We are committed to achieving £2.8 billion of efficiencies—money that will be ploughed back into the front line. That is why we are collocating armed forces' headquarters—for example, the collocation of the RAF's Strike Command and Personnel and Training Command at High Wycombe. It is why we have embarked on a programme of transformation in logistics. Again, that is no small task. The Defence Logistics Organisation alone has a budget of some £5.5 billion and employs more than 28,000 people. For that to deliver the efficiencies that we must make, difficult decisions will have to be taken, such as the changes to the Defence Aviation Repair Agency and the Army Base Repair Organisation that I announced last week.

I will continue to take those difficult decisions with the best interests of defence at heart—not, as some have suggested, with the best interests of the private sector at heart. The success of the in-house future defence supply chain initiative bid should be evidence enough of that. The in-house solution was chosen to manage and operate the defence supply chain because it will provide the best balance between improved logistic support to operations and better value for money for taxpayers. Support to the front line will be significantly improved. We expect to make savings of more than £400 million over the next 10 years on that initiative alone.

I have said much about the programme of activity that we are embarked on to support our armed forces. I conclude by saying something of the work of our armed forces themselves in the UK.

The days of defending our shores from military invasion are long gone. We had an exchange during the earlier statement on that. Home security, rather than
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home defence, is the order of the day, and that is not primarily a matter for the armed forces. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members will recall that the last defence debate took place on 7 July, in the immediate aftermath of the appalling and tragic attacks in London that day. I pay tribute to the emergency services who responded so professionally. Their performance was a testament to the emergence of modern, highly capable emergency services. Indeed, the fact that it has not been necessary to mobilise a civil contingency reaction force serves to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Government's efforts to ensure that our civil authorities are resilient. None the less, across the UK, defence plays a vital role in our community and, when called upon, in our security.

The armed forces are not a conventional emergency service, but they are, for example, providing emergency fire cover in the west midlands as a result of strike action by the Fire Brigades Union. Resolving that dispute is a matter for the West Midlands fire service and the FBU, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment. I will say, however, that our armed forces are not permitted the luxury of strike action, yet we ask them to undertake those difficult jobs without comment, and they do it exceptionally well.

I said that the armed forces are not a conventional emergency service, but they regularly provide support to the police and other civil authorities. Most of those tasks are small-scale, drawing on specialist military skills. Invariably, they are unseen and unheralded, but they are the force that we call upon when all else fails. For example, right hon. and hon. Members will recall seeing a military Chinook helicopter deliver a police support unit to the scene of a disturbance during the G8 summit at Gleneagles. They will also recall the crucial role that the armed forces played in Carlisle during the flooding in January and in Boscastle last year.

As we know, whether they are operating in Carlisle or Kabul, Boscastle or Basra, our armed forces perform with great distinction. They have a professionalism, commitment and dedication to duty second to none—I know that they have the full support of the House—and that is why the Government are determined to deliver the best practical support they deserve. They should expect nothing less.

1.59 pm

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