Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. Strang: I am glad to hear that the Liberals are likely to reconsider their position, especially if we need a short take-off and vertical landing plane and we cannot get the joint strike fighter for the future carriers.

Mr. Moore: I agree. If the JSF is not available to us and we need a massive rethink of what will happen on the carriers, options with Typhoon will have to be considered very seriously.

Mr. Jack: The Government claim that they are committed to 232 Eurofighter Typhoons. The hon. Gentleman, in defining his party's position, says in effect that the project should be kept on the boil just in case there is a problem with the joint strike fighter. Is it correct that he does not believe that 232 would be the operational capability for Eurofighter Typhoon?

Mr. Moore: My understanding is that there would be 232 under tranches 1 and 2.

Mr. Jack: And tranche 3.

Mr. Moore: I apologise if I gave the wrong figure earlier, but, as I said to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, we must keep a close eye on phase 3, especially as the joint strike fighter programme seems to be in difficulty. Clearly, if the JSF were ruled out, Typhoon is the most obvious alternative, notwithstanding the serious technical issues that would need to be overcome.

Mr. Hoyle: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government invested a lot of money, including in computer designs, to ensure the capability to build a variant that can operate from carriers? The money has already been spent.

Mr. Moore: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's insight, but there is wide debate of the issue and doubts have been expressed publicly and privately. None the less, if the JSF is not possible we shall have to look seriously at what Typhoon can offer us.

As the hon. Member for Aldershot said, the test of the    Government's bold new strategy will be its implementation. Beyond the bare bones of the document much detail has still to be provided, but if the ambitions of the strategy are achieved the defence sector and the armed forces will be transformed. The country needs that, and our armed forces deserve it. There is much to do.

3.6 pm

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): I add my congratulations to all those concerned with the launch of the Type 45 destroyer on the Clyde yesterday.
2 Feb 2006 : Column 526
It marked an important milestone on the march to a new type of warfare involving the introduction of a series of complicated weapons that will integrate land, sea and air in a way previously not envisaged. The vessel will be a credit to the defence manufacturers, engineers, those who serve in her and the Government for having the foresight and the courage to fund such excellent warships. Once again, it gives the lie to those who say that Labour Governments are not committed to Britain's defence.

This is an exciting beginning to an era of procurement that will completely modernise the British armed forces. Coupled with the publication of the defence industrial strategy, we are presented with an opportunity to deliver an impressive and profitable future for our defence industrial base. There is of course much to do to ensure the effective implementation of the defence industrial strategy, especially further down the supply chain, because small and medium enterprises will guarantee our future. We must ensure that the policy does not merely protect our major contractors.

The document should be welcomed as a helpful start, although I am disappointed that the decision to close the Royal Ordnance factories at Bridgwater and Chorley was made before the White Paper. Being wholly dependent on foreign suppliers for the manufacture of our military explosives appears inadvisable, to say the least, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) will have more to say about that if he has an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Research and technology are critical to the future of our defence industrial base. I very much look forward to the development of the MOD's future research and technology strategy, because we are undoubtedly in danger of failing significantly behind the Americans if we are not prepared to make greater efforts in that field of expertise. It is vital that we retain the technology independence that has served us so well through the generations.

With many of our European partners keen to retain a state interest in their defence industrial bases and the Americans increasingly obsessed with the buy American campaign, we should watch our backs. The decision taken by the Americans to deny the UK the international traffic in arms regulations waiver is, quite frankly, an absolute disgrace. It is an indication of how protective and, indeed, selfish our Atlantic allies are when defending their own living standards.

The US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations warned in 2004 that exempting Britain from the international traffic in arms regulations would increase the risk of sophisticated weapons, perhaps indirectly, being passed to terrorists or unfriendly nations. We are entitled to be offended by those remarks, because this country, with the support of the Government and the major Opposition party, has stuck its neck out in support of American foreign policy further than many of us believe that we should have done.

ITAR is obviously dead. It may well be that it is not all that important—that is what we are now told, although it was important not too long ago—but we should be appalled by the Americans' decision to distrust us in such a way when dealing with technology transfer. If all that we receive in return for our efforts in
2 Feb 2006 : Column 527
supporting George Bush and his regime is condemnation from the rest of the world, topped up with distrust from the Americans, we will simply be driven to think very carefully about our commitments in the future.

Of course the acid test will be the joint strike fighter, because even though I completely accept that the purchase of the JSF from the Americans represents extremely good value for money, it will be of little use if we are unable to utilise it effectively and to upgrade it, as and when we choose, without having to call on American industry every time that we want to develop something—not to mention the interference of American politicians. We must have access to the software and systems used on the JSF if we are to operate in a network-centric way, if we choose to defend ourselves without the Americans.

The United States must understand that, if Britain is able to utilise only the weapons that we pay for to their full potential with American permission and agreement, we may as well just leave them to do it themselves, thus saving money and the lives of British soldiers on the way.

I strongly suspect—I am optimistic—that we will persevere with the JSF, largely because we are so committed to the project, not least given the design of our new aircraft carriers, but we have been betrayed by the denial of ITAR, and we must learn some lessons from the behaviour of Congress. Of course questions about the availability of the short take-off and vertical landing version must be asked and answered urgently, because the impact on the design and cost of our future aircraft carriers, which are the cornerstone of our plans, will be crucial. Most importantly, we must apply the lessons learned from that sorry episode to the transfer of technology and independence when we decide to replace our nuclear deterrent. I urge the Government to ensure that we have a full and extensive debate on the replacement of our Vanguard submarines and Trident missiles.

I have no doubt that in a world on the edge of major nuclear weapons proliferation, we have no alternative but to retain a British independent nuclear deterrent. While India and Pakistan have a deterrent, with Israel and North Korea almost certainly in possession of one, Iran desperately wanting one, and Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Egypt and other countries waiting in the wings, we have little choice but to retain our nuclear defensive position. We find ourselves within 15 years of the end of the 25-year hull life of the first submarine, HMS Vanguard, although I understand and accept that its service life has been extended to 2024–25. The detail of its replacement clearly must be up for debate. We must decide not only whether to replace it, but the purpose and shape of our future delivery system.

Given the limited size of Britain's nuclear stockpile, it makes obvious sense to use submarine delivery because air or ground-launched missiles cannot possibly offer us the same security as a submarine. I am encouraged by the determination expressed in the defence industrial strategy to maintain key capabilities in the UK, but I urge an early published resolution to what we intend to replace the Vanguard class with, alongside firm decisions on the acquisition of the proposed Astute class
2 Feb 2006 : Column 528
nuclear-powered submarines so that we can ensure, most importantly, that we retain necessary skills and design capabilities onshore.

The defence industrial strategy is a fine start to what will be an exciting period in our defence history. However, we must ensure that we miss no opportunities to pass the benefits right down the food chain and defend our ability to protect independently our own security.

3.17 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page