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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should know that he must not refer by name to another   hon. Member. He should refer either to the relevant office—in this case, Prime Minister—or constituency.

Mr. Ellwood: I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and apologise to the House. The Prime Minister should take every opportunity to raise this matter, which is standing in the way of progress with the joint strike fighter aircraft.

Circumstances changed after 9/11, and the Americans now have a different perception of how technology is to be shared. We need to lean on our strong relationship with them to make sure that we remain within their circle of trust so that we can share technology and allow the joint strike fighter project to go ahead.

I was surprised to hear Labour Members say that we should walk away from the project and revert to plan B represented by the Typhoon. We have already spent £2 billion on the joint strike fighter project, and this debate has illustrated the huge amount of money that has been wasted on other projects. To walk away from the project now would be completely wrong. We need to make it work as soon as possible.

The House is rightly keen to praise the armed forces, but we are not so keen to finance them. We are keen to send them into battle, but not so keen to equip them. We expect so much more from our armed forces but we give them less and less. That problem is evident in the number of battalions that are being cut, and in the quality of the equipment that we give them.

Mistakes have been made by both Conservative and Labour Governments, but we must learn from them and move forward. I hope that the Minister will take heed of the message from today's debate, and make sure that the joint strike fighter aircraft goes ahead. We need to develop a stronger relationship with the US, so that that very important project can be completed.
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5.32 pm

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in allowing me to speak, and I apologise for my absence during some of the debate. However, I assure the House that I kept abreast of developments on television, and that hon. Members look even better through that medium than they do in the flesh.

I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who made an eloquent speech. His points about America were reflected widely in the debate, but defence procurement is an incredibly important subject. The systems involved both protect our soldiers and put them at risk, so procurement mistakes can cost lives. By definition, those systems cost millions and millions of pounds, so the scope for waste is easy to imagine. Given that procurement involves politicians, officials and public money—and the fact that the armed forces change their requirements every year—it is almost essential to build in natural waste.

Several hon. Members have welcomed the defence industrial strategy, and I am happy to do the same. The work done by Lord Drayson has been widely welcomed and is regarded as a good thing. I agree, and I hope that my praise does not undermine his career. However, despite the consensus with respect to the early stages of the strategy, I hope that the Government will take very seriously the report that will eventually emerge from the Defence Committee on how the strategy is working. That report should be studied carefully.

I have read, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) has, Lewis Page's book, "Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs". It is a quick, enjoyable and highly polemical read. I imagine that it has caused no end of irritation in the corridors of power. I suspect that it makes many valuable points and I am also sure that it misses its target on many occasions. It led me to think about the principles that we should adopt in defence procurement.

One principle that has emerged from the debate is that we are all anxious to keep some home-grown capability. It is not simply about jobs; it is also about the wider spin offs of technology transfer and negotiating muscle—of being able to bring something unique to the table. As a layman who is new to the defence debate, it is slightly tragic that we can no longer produce on our own an aircraft, like the Hawker Harrier, which has given us such useful service and was so innovative.

It is worth hon. Members remembering that our special relationship with the United States is between the people and, often, a Prime Minister and a President, but is rarely between Parliament and Congress. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East pointed out, it is Congress that is causing the difficulties. We as a nation should look further afield for other partners. I was lucky enough to go to India earlier in the year where I met the Indian Defence Minister and Chief of Defence Staff. They are hoping to be 95 per cent. self-sufficient in providing their defence capability. I ask the Minister in a genuine spirit of inquiry what we are doing to build relationships with emerging nations such as India. India will soon be the largest country in the world. By 2030 it will be the third richest nation in the world. Surely we should now work on our special relationship
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with India in terms of our defence capability. I would be fascinated to hear from the Minister what we are doing on that basis. [Interruption.] Absolutely, we are selling Hawks to India, but what are we doing about developing home-grown defence technology with that country?

The other point about defence procurement is that it does not stop when we hand over the cheque and get the kit sent over. Errors can continue long after the kit has been purchased. I am aware, for example, that the Apache helicopter, which we have purchased, is hugely short of spares. The maintenance lines that were meant to be set up at Watersham are still not set up. We have a shortage of flying instructors and have had to reduce the number of pilots on each course from 24 to 18. Parts are being cannibalised. When the Apache Squadron goes to Afghanistan, the training fleet here will have to be effectively mothballed. It was amusing to be told by my source, who of course will remain nameless, that when the Minister saw a display of two Apache helicopters last week, there were four in reserve just in case one of them broke down.

Finally, please do not forget the Army. It is the poor relation in this debate. The Air Force is getting its new fighters. The Navy is getting its new ships. The Army is still waiting for the future rapid effect system. It is incredibly important that our troops have rifles, boots and clothing made here, not in China, and a new generation of armoured vehicles.

5.38 pm

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Several hon. Members have rightly paid tribute to our two soldiers killed in the line of duty this week. I add my personal tribute and condolences to their families.

Mr. Ingram: In my opening statement, I said that 100 British personnel in Iraq had now lost their lives, 77 as a direct result of hostile action. To be more accurate, the position is that 77 have been killed in action, including as a direct result of hostile action. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and letting me set the record straight on that.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister for putting that on the record.

Before I start properly, I must comment on something else that the Minister of State did today. The occupant of the Chair had cause to guide him earlier in his remarks about keeping to the terms of the debate. Yet, as the Minister ranged widely across a number of defence matters, he did not find time to refer to his written statement issued today, which announces a significant number of job losses relating to the Defence Aviation Repair Agency. It is typical of this Government that they made that announcement under cover of a written statement at the same time as this debate on that very subject. The Minister announced the beginning of the review in an oral statement. Why did he not use an oral statement to announce his final decision, especially given the large number of jobs at stake? Could he not face the comments from Labour Back Benchers, or did he not want to remind them of the £104 million wasted on the Red Dragon facility? Perhaps the Under-Secretary will comment on that when he winds up.
2 Feb 2006 : Column 563

Defence is the first duty of Government and it is critical to fund our commitments properly. The strategic defence review in 1998 stated that

The then Secretary of State, Lord Robertson, said that he was determined to put that right. However, since then, spending has declined from 2.7 per cent. of GDP to 2.3 per cent., and that is at a time when our commitments and operations have increased, and the challenges that we face are more unpredictable.

It has been said:

Those are not my words, but the Government's in the SDR. If the Government recognised the problem correctly, they failed to fix it. In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) laid out the record of overruns, highlighted by the National Audit Office, and the failure to deliver, with major procurement projects falling behind and delays increasing by 45 months over the past year. At that rate, we will never get the equipment.

Because of the failure properly to fund our commitments, the cost overruns and delays have forced the Ministry of Defence to seek savings. But rather than improving efficiency, the NAO has concluded that the Government have cut future capabilities and the number of platforms instead, leaving us less able to deal with the security challenges of the future.

On the subject of submarines, the Minister spoke of keeping a skills base in the long term and retaining the industrial capability of our submarine industry. Will he comment on the future of that capability after the construction of the Astute class has been completed in 2010? How will we maintain our skills base and what capability will be retained if there is a significant production gap between the completion of the Astute class and the potential replacement of Trident?

The nuclear deterrent has not been mentioned much, apart from in the excellent contribution by the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby). Our position on the nuclear deterrent is unequivocal: we are committed not only to retaining the current nuclear deterrent, but replacing it when necessary. We welcome the Defence Committee's inquiry into the strategic context and timetable for decision making for the replacement of Trident. I am sure that the Minister will also welcome the start of the debate on that issue.

The increasing use of the private finance initiative to fund procurement projects raises the concern that we may be tying ourselves into very long-term contracts that may reduce our flexibility to react to developments in this fast changing world. That is a matter that we will no doubt revisit in the future.

As my hon. Friend said, Government spending on defence research is critical to producing the battle-winning capabilities that we have seen to great effect in recent operations. However, research and development is being marginalised—spending on research and development fell between 2002–03 and 2003–04. The foundation of a solid defence industry remains research
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and development. Therefore, it is particularly worrying to read in "Defence Industrial Strategy" that there is a danger that

Unless sufficient attention is given to defence research in the near future, the long-term sustainability of our future capabilities is called into question.

The Government have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to fund defence research properly when they sell their stake in Qinetiq. Will the Minister confirm how much will be retained by the Ministry of Defence for investment in our future defence, and how much will be taken by the Chancellor to plug the gap in his finances?

The Minister referred to the joint combat aircraft. It really is no good for him to say that there is no plan B. That sends a signal of weakness to our US partners, who will have us over a barrel. I hope that he will urgently develop a plan B and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, urges, publish it to the House to strengthen our negotiating position with our US partners.

The debate was wide-ranging, with many contributions, and I shall touch briefly on some of them. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire demonstrated the link between procurement and its impact on our service personnel deployed on    operations, which is valuable and sometimes overlooked in these debates. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) reflected the scepticism of defence training organisation personnel about the proposed public-private partnerships.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr.   Jack) spoke about the importance of fast jet manufacture in the UK and was one of several Members who emphasised the significance of technology transfer from our US allies. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell), in forthright style, challenged conventional wisdom on defence procurement and I am sure that we shall hear more from him on the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) spoke about a number of important issues   for her constituency and about the balance between sovereignty and cost control. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) focused on the requirements for defence procurement, which had not been widely touched on during the debate. He also spoke about burden-sharing with our allies and the overstretch of our forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) rightly reminded us of how high the stakes are in terms of money and, more important, lives.

There were excellent contributions from other Members. I endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) about the late Rachel Squire's commitment to all matters defence. The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East, vice-chairman of the Defence Committee, spoke of the value of our relationship with the United States. His robust support for the replacement of our nuclear deterrent is welcome, at least on the Conservative Benches.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) spoke about the importance of value for money and highlighted the significance of lift capability.
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The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) referred to the importance of open defence markets and the bracing effects of competition.

I am sorry that I missed the barnstorming speech of the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). He agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot that we must not write off the future of manned combat aircraft, and rightly condemned the proposed loss of a national capability to manufacture explosives, which is very important in his constituency. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) made a detailed critique of the loss of specialist military textile research facilities.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) reviewed some of the work of the Defence Committee and spoke about the importance of the naval aspects of the DIS. The hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) noted the significance of the defence logistics facility in his constituency.

The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil)—the name of whose constituency is a speech for someone from England such as me—referred to the importance of Qinetiq and other sites in Scotland. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) spoke of the experience she brought to bear on how to achieve value for money. She referred to risk-sharing and drew attention not just to the large players in defence, but also to small and medium-sized enterprises.

As we prepare to send a large number of our brave and dedicated forces to Afghanistan, it is essential to ensure that we give them the proper tools to do the job. The key test for the DIS will be whether the Chancellor funds it properly. His past performance is not encouraging. The nation will be watching and will judge him harshly if he lets us down.

5.49 pm

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