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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): First, I express my appreciation for the troops from the Colchester garrison who are in Iraq and for those who will shortly go to Afghanistan.

I shall follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) by talking about clothing and textiles. We might be debating what will happen in the future, but we need to learn the lessons of the past.

I want to concentrate on the four opening aspects of the smart acquisition life-cycle suggested by the National Audit Office: concept, project initiation,
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assessment and project approval. In 1997, the Government inherited the relocation of the defence and clothing research establishment from Colchester to Caversfield. At the time, there were 147 staff in Colchester and the number was likely to increase to 156, but the number to be transferred to Caversfield was reduced to 84. The relocation was announced on 1 April 1999—an appropriate date, one might think—although it was more than two years before it happened. There was a year's delay while a private finance initiative was considered and a further year for a value for money investigation by McKinsey.

Last month, I was advised in written answers that 24 members of staff from Colchester were made redundant at the time of the transfer to Caversfield and only 46 were transferred, so there was a huge reduction. Of those who transferred from Colchester in March 2001 only six remain from what was arguably the world's best clothing and textile research work force.

I asked the Secretary of State for Defence for an independent review of the operation of the research and development facility following its transfer from Colchester to Caversfield. The Minister of State answered:

I then asked about the future of the Caversfield facility and the Minister replied:

He said that in future the work

That bears out the point made by the hon. Member for Chorley: we have lost the capacity in the UK to develop and research vital equipment for our armed forces in the field.

When the transfer to Caversfield was proposed, I accompanied a delegation from the Colchester work force to meet the Minister to suggest a staff buy-out, but the Government rejected it.

The Government also refused the concept of privatisation, because they said that the best way forward was to collocate everything at Caversfield. What is necessary is for the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Defence or, indeed, the NAO to look back on the proposals and compare them with the reality of events as they have unfolded.

In 1967—some decades ahead of today's concept of tri-service proposals—the three services combined to form a purpose-built clothing and textile research establishment at Colchester. It was the most modern and best-equipped textile laboratory in Europe. The Hohenstein—I hope that I pronounced that correctly—skin model, which used to measure the passage of heat and moisture through all textiles, was the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom. That has been destroyed now. The flammability manikin used in simulations of burning clothing was one of only two in the country. That has been destroyed.

The development of smart weapons used for camouflage, concealment and deception demands continuous effort to ensure that our service equipment
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remains fully capable when deployed against increasingly sophisticated technology. A fully equipped laboratory was available for that purpose. The camouflage of tanks, trucks and thermal imaging were majors areas of work—all destroyed. To develop footwear and handwear, there were environmental chambers equipped with heated hand and heated foot devices to enable the accurate measurement of the thermal efficiency of glove and boot designs. Respiratory protection equipment was available to test the quality and fit of respirators. All that has been destroyed.

The design and development of body armour and helmet and visor materials was undertaken to protect personnel from ballistic and non-ballistic impacts. High-speed photography was used to study bullets hitting body armour. Impact testing was carried out on military helmets. All that has been destroyed.

We know that lives were saved in Northern Ireland by the research work that was undertaken, because the flak jackets smothered the bullets. Vital research into garment design and clothing and textile development was undertaken. There was a fully equipped garment production workshop, capable of making a wide range of clothing items, with body measurement scanning booths and modern computer pattern grading equipment, but it has all been destroyed. Heavy textiles were designed for use in modern rucksacks, shelters and sleeping systems. Again, all that research has been destroyed.

Dedicated, loyal staff, who had given years of service, were uprooted, made redundant and their jobs were lost. At least an assurance was given that the work would continue at Caversfield, but the written answers that I received last month show that it will all go. The Government had arguably the world's best textile and clothing research laboratories, but all that has gone—it is all lost—and that is a tragedy. As the hon. Member for Chorley said, it is not right to get cheap replacements from China.

This is just a flavour of what our armed services have lost. The world's leading research facilities, originally based in Colchester, have now gone. There is no other organisation with the skilled staff available to carry out that vital and often life-saving work. I therefore hope that the PAC, the Defence Committee and the NAO will look back at what was said would happen and consider the reality of what has happened.

4.33 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I begin, as a number of other colleagues did, by paying tribute to our former colleague, Rachel Squire. She will be particularly missed on the Select Committee on Defence. She had great personal courage. Even after traumatic surgery, she returned to the House. I remember walking to Victoria with her one very pleasant summer evening, when she was looking very positively towards the future. She would have greatly enjoyed the partnership shown in the defence industrial strategy, which, among other things, we are discussing today. I know that she was looking forward greatly to being joined by other women Members representing marine constituencies, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry)
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and my neighbouring MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck). By this time next week, I hope that we will be joined by Catherine Stihler as the new Member for Dunfermline and West Fife.

Defence procurement is characterised by many as being pretty dry and expensive, but to those of us with constituencies with defence interests it is important and, indeed, interesting. That is not only because many of our constituents work in the defence industry, but because, as in Plymouth, there is often a larger than average number of constituents in the armed services in areas associated with that industry. As other hon. Members have said, there is never enough money to ensure that we have sufficient personnel and equipment, and there is no other aspect of Government expenditure where value for money is more important. For those reasons, there are few cities and regions in the United Kingdom to which defence procurement is more important than it is to Plymouth and the south-west.

That was why, as a new MP, I asked for a placement with BAE Systems during an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship. That was one of the first portfolio fellowships, so I also spent some time with GKN, Shorts and EDS. One of the 25 days that I spent on the fellowship entailed a visit to Abbey Wood in 1999. Smart procurement was fairly new at that time. A great deal was expected of it and everyone was excited by its      prospects. Five years on, there is some disappointment—to put it mildly—that we continued to experience cost and time overruns, especially in 2002–03 and 2003–04, although recent National Audit Office reports suggest that we are now travelling in the right direction. Some have queried how much of that has arisen due to cutting the quantity of programmes, including whole programmes, and the Defence Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have been critical of the situation.

The Defence Committee, of which I am a new member, visited Abbey Wood just last week. As the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), said, our experience suggested that newer projects might be showing real benefits. When I asked several of the staff who had been involved in a number of integrated project teams what was changing, they talked about the "toxic legacy" that had been left—my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North used that very phrase earlier. It might well be that the right direction of travel will be continued. The Chair of the Committee also said that the Defence Procurement Agency now has a better focus on recognising, as it puts it, that sometimes the best can be the enemy of the very good.

The Committee examined Sonar 2087 and Skynet 5, both of which are among the projects that have begun to be delivered that involved the newer stages of procurement and the main gate. Skynet 5 is providing the next generation of flexible and survivable communications services for military service, while Sonar 2087 gives us more capable anti-submarine warfare sensors for Type 23 combat systems. Sonar 2087 was first fitted to HMS Westminster in November 2004. It completed its initial assessment in 2000, went through the main gate in 2001 and was delivered before time. There was considerable environmental engagement and care throughout the project. Such
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projects and the much more robust and focused Government framework that the agency now has give us hope that more recent positive trends can continue. As a member of the Defence Committee, I will take a keen interest in probing to discover the bits of the programme that are working and the way in which improvements can be made.

The challenges of making the most of the defence industrial strategy are considerable. When the Defence Committee took evidence from my noble Friend Lord Drayson, the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, it was fair to say, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have noted, that we were impressed by his clarity and determination. We were sceptical that the defence industrial strategy would be published before Christmas and that it would be sufficiently robust and include adequate detail. A glance at the individual chapters and the overall document is enough to discover that it includes the detail and clarity that we wanted. It has been welcomed by industry, not least in Plymouth. Paragraphs B2.26 to 28 on maritime industry provide the required clarity, and recognise the fragility of the design base and the implications of the blurring of the line between initial build, important through-life support and upgrades of systems. The Subco proposal would tackle those issues and secure value for money while retaining capability, enabling us safely to deliver, operate and maintain those platforms and supporting technologies under UK control and ownership.

My hon. Friends can be assured that DML and its workers, and those who support them in the naval base and the MOD, know the importance of delivering on those value-for-money issues and have a good local track record. May I point out to Ministers that in recent years the company has diversified significantly? Paragraph 2.42 says:

DML designs and builds complex and highly sophisticated super-yachts, which are equal in size and complexity to a military corvette, and it has won contracts in competition with overseas yards.

The integration tasks in the final stages of a refit and upgrade of a major surface ship or nuclear-powered submarine are just as complex as the equivalent tasks on a new build and sometimes, indeed, are even more complex. When commissioning and setting to work naval platforms such as the future aircraft carrier, the skills base at Devonport can be used to achieve the timely and successful delivery of the imminent new-build programme. In future, there will be a significant increase in the shipbuilding programme, so capacity is a consideration. At the same time, however, a significant proportion of the skills base at Devonport will become available as a result of the downturn in the refit programme. As we develop our marine industrial strategy, I hope that we will look at the way in which we will tackle shortage in capacity. We should bear in mind the competitiveness that the Devonport work force has
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developed by diversifying into private sector work. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) and others said about the future of the nuclear deterrent and the importance of retaining skills and capability.

Having raised those local issues, may I conclude with a couple of concerns about the White Paper? The Minister and others have mentioned small and medium-sized enterprises. Devonport has 4,700 employees, but the huge supply chain increases the number of workers to more than 10,000 in 420 local companies. In the south-west region, 60,000 people are employed in defence work. Aerospace employs 43,000 full-time equivalent employees, and the supply chain another 100,000. I share the concerns that have been expressed about whether small and medium-sized enterprises have been fully involved in the evolution of the White Paper. There is still time to do that. I would welcome reassurances from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about how that can be achieved—in the case of maritime enterprises, through the industrial strategy. In relation to aerospace skills there needs to be careful involvement of those representing the industries—the trade associations, the regional development agencies and so on.

A debate is being held in Westminster Hall on employer engagement in further and higher education, in which I would have liked to highlight the importance of the higher education innovation fund research stream in sustaining and developing knowledge partnerships. That, too, is important to some industries, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises that we are discussing.

Finally, I acknowledge what my right hon. Friend the Minister said about partnership and partnering being seen as the way to achieve value for money—

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