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Mr. Ingram: Very much so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But we have to have set our procurement strategy against the environment and theatres in which our people operate. I was setting the scene, but I shall come on to the specific issue.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You alluded to the subject of the Minister's opening remarks, so I am looking for your guidance. The Minister opened his remarks with casualty figures that have until now been unavailable to many of us who have tabled parliamentary questions about the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it in order for the Minister to release the figures in a debate on procurement?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Minister's remarks are a matter for him, but I repeat what I just said to him: this is not a general debate about Iraq or Afghanistan, but is specifically about procurement and it would be helpful to the whole House if he confined his remarks from now on to procurement.
Mr. Ingram: Of course I will, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At all times I try to keep within the rules of the House. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) is wholly wrong, however. The figures have been made available; indeed, I understand that parliamentary questions have been answered today. I suggest that he read the Order Paper to keep abreast of current developments. The information I gave was given previously, but I thought it important that we also recorded it here
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the Minister's response is a genuine response to the point of order, but it simply exhibits the problem that arises if we widen the debate too much. Again, I remind the Minister and the whole House that today's debate is about procurement.
Mr. Ingram: I accept all that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was of course coming to the conclusion of the context in which our people operate and I then intended to talk about the need to ensure that we have battle-winning equipment to ensure their success.
I was explaining that the environment into which our troops are going in the south of Afghanistan is less benign and more complex, where insurgents, the drugs
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trade and corruption pose a greater threat to security. That is why we have committed to move to the south. By deploying there, we hope to create an environment where the Afghan Government can operate freely and securely to bring about the progress we have already seen elsewhere. The international conference held this week in London resulted in a renewed international commitment to Afghanistan and will make a major contribution to its rebuilding.
Our forces' proven ability to act as a force for good in the worldin Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhereis testament to them and the equipment they use. Contrary to some opinions, the armed forces are provided with world-class equipment to support them in their tasks. As a result of the Government's sustained investment, about £5 billion a year is spent on new equipment, with £6 billion being spent across the entire equipment plan, and that will continue to be the case. In doing so, we are supported by a strong and innovative national defence industrial base. We need to ensure that our armed forces continue to have such support so that they have the equipment they require, on time and at best value for money for the taxpayer.
Mr. Ingram: I want to make some progress. I have hardly started to talk about procurement yet and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has some points to make about that. I have not yet mentioned any particular procurement streams, but if he is intervening on the general context in which our people operate I am prepared to give way.
Mr. Bone: I am grateful to the Minister. From a reply to a written question on a general point, a Member can establish the cost of a piece of equipment, but I cannot get from the Minister the estimated costs of the Eurofighter, for example. How does that general point tie in with what he was saying?
Mr. Ingram: We would need to look at the particular question. We constantly answer a range of questions. If I remember correctly, we said that some of the issues are held in commercial confidence, for very good reasonswe could enter the next phase of negotiations for tranche 3. I do not know how sophisticated the hon. Gentleman's understanding of procurement processes is, but he must know that we have to try to retain matters that are important to us as we negotiate to get best value for the taxpayer. Perhaps he would write to me if he thinks that we are not giving him best informationI do not know for what purpose, although I hope it is not to undermine what we are trying to do to get best value for the taxpayerand I shall see what additional information I can give him.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), the Minister used the word "could" in the context of the negotiations on tranche 3 of Eurofighter Typhoon. Is it still "could" or is it "will" enter? Will he clarify his language on that point?
The right hon. Gentleman probably means would I tell him rather than could I tell him. As
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he knows, we are committed to tranche 3, and the negotiations will not proceed until 2007, or slightly before that. I used that phrase because things can change; but that is not what we are planning, and we are still intent on continuing the process.
I was saying that we need to ensure that our armed forces have the equipment that they require on time and at best value for money for the taxpayer. That is why, in December 2005, the Government published the defence industrial strategy, which had that requirement as its principal aim.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister convinced that the privatisation agenda, which could lead to the loss of 20,000 MOD jobs, will not adversely affect the MOD's ability to be an intelligent customer and to acquire good-quality equipment at best prices in an immensely complex sector? Is he concerned that under the policy of collocation jobs will be lost in deprived areas such as south Wales, the west midlands and Cumbria, only to be transferred to prosperous areas where recruitment and retention are difficult, such as Abbey Wood, Bath and High Wycombe?
Mr. Ingram: I do not recognise the premise of the question. We are seeking not to privatise but to drive through very significant efficiencies. We have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that we are committed to achieving £2.8 billion, or thereabouts, in efficiencies over the next three years. We must therefore consider how we deliver our servicessometimes in partnership with industry and, sometimes, in-house, but at all times trying to maximise the efficiency of operation.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentions collocation. If he is arguing that we should keep two departments separate from each other, when we can make significant efficiencies in back-office staff by collocating, thereby releasing money for the front line, I could not disagree more.
Mr. Ingram: We must ensure that all those who support the front line do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as they can. By driving through that agenda, we are ensuringthis is where I shall come to the procurement aspect, Mr. Deputy Speakerthat we will be able to sustain the major procurement programme.
I hear language that is part of a major campaign, but I suggest that my hon. Friend may want to ask one or two of the unions that are organising the campaign whether they have ever passed a resolution at their conferences calling for more money for defenceI suspect notand if they want a growing defence base, they should join those of us who think that that is essential.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will be aware that staff at Sapphire House in Telford do an excellent procurement job. They have made a constructive alternative proposal to collocation, known
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as the straw man paper. Will he commit himself to taking another detailed look at that proposal before he makes any decision about the future of Sapphire House?
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend has been very active in respect of that and other decisions that might be deemed difficult that have landed on his area of the country and his constituency in particular. He will know that I am only too willing to meet the trade unions and local representatives, as well as him, to listen to the arguments and to put what we are doing under test. One of the projects that I inherited is a very good example, although people seem to have forgotten about it. The airfield support project was an amalgamation of a new, bigger review with what was originally defined as "Fire Study 2000". We spent a long time examining our airfield support. Ultimately, when it became clear that the private finance initiative proposal would not produce results, we abandoned that approach.
I give that example to show that, at all times, we put such things under intense scrutiny. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire mentioned the intelligent customer in the original question. We must test all our current projects by determining whether we would create a gap or a potential problem for ourselves in the future. If we cannot satisfy that test, we should not proceed. We undertake that examination at all times.
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