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Military Technology

2. Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): What recent discussions his Department has had with the United States about the transfer of military technology. [53934]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): We have regular discussions at ministerial and official level with the US Government concerning the issue of technology transfer.

Mr. Ellwood: We have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Americans not only on the battlefield, but in the corridors of diplomacy and on the factory floor. Joint efforts to build a replacement for the Sea Harrier are being challenged by a corner of Capitol Hill. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State do what they can to ensure that the necessary technology is shared? Otherwise, we will have two new aircraft carriers, but no aircraft to put on them.

Mr. Ingram: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's conclusion, but I share the view that everyone who meets senior US legislators in Washington and elsewhere should point out that we are their longest and best ally. The Secretary of State has raised the matter directly with the US Secretary of State for Defence in the
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past two weeks, and that process continues daily through every contact that we can make. I am sure that the Conservative Members who recently visited Washington spread that message, too.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): In his comments on the joint strike fighter in The Times today, Lord Drayson states that he has made technology transfer a priority:

for the building of the joint strike fighter. Is that the case, and will the Government demand such an outcome in order to protect jobs in the north-west?

Mr. Ingram: I wonder whether Lord Drayson's remarks were reported accurately. The matter is vital and detailed discussions are taking place with the US Administration. The strength of our view has been made known and has been articulated time and again from the Dispatch Box and on both sides of the House. We will continue to ensure that we get best value from the project.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): It is true that we agree across the Dispatch Box that a failure by the United States to permit the transfer of technology to enable us to service our own aircraft would amount to an unacceptable loss of British sovereignty. However, do not US suspicions about its technology leaching out to France and elsewhere inevitably increase when Javier Solana states that he wants the European Defence Agency to be responsible for at least 20 per cent. of all European military research spending? Ministers cannot have it both ways—protesting in Washington and then sneaking off to Brussels to sign up to technology sharing with our European partners is hardly likely to win friends in Congress.

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman sets a hare running that has no substance whatsoever. His allegation has no foundation. The fact that some senior representative in Europe expresses his point of view does not necessarily mean that it is our point of view.

Landing Ships Dock (Auxiliary) Project

3. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What recent progress there has been on the landing ships dock (auxiliary) project; and if he will make a statement. [53935]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The landing ships dock (auxiliary) project continues to make progress towards the completion of the four bay class vessels. RFA Mounts Bay, the first ship built by BAE Systems in Glasgow and accepted off contract in December 2005, is undergoing her capability trials in readiness for meeting her in-service date in late 2006. RFA Largs Bay, the first Swan Hunter-built ship, is undergoing final preparations for contractor sea trials, which are scheduled to start next month. Build and testing continues on the remaining two ships.

Philip Davies: I thank the Minister for that reply, but he conveniently glossed over the fact that the cost of the contract with Swan Hunter is now double the original
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MOD estimate. I have a freedom of information request that indicates that, as at October 2005, the MOD had already made payments of £295 million to Swan Hunter out of a total revised contract of £309 million. The first ship is yet to be completed. If it has cost us that much to come this far, how much more will it cost to get these ships into service?

Mr. Ingram: I did not gloss over that point, as the question that the hon. Gentleman tabled did not ask me to comment on it. I responded on the progress that has been made on procuring and delivering the ships, which is the most important aspect of all this. I do not deny that there have been cost over-runs. That is to be regretted, and it has implications for the rest of our procurement programme. The important point is that these ships are vital. The negotiations that have taken place not only with Swan Hunter but with BAE Systems on the completion of the contract must remain in confidence. The full contract price will no doubt surface eventually. Many Conservative Members are campaigning to close Swan Hunter—perhaps they should go up to the north-east and say why.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work that the Clyde work force, in particular, has done on Cardigan Bay and Mounts Bay has been exemplary and that they should be congratulated on it? Are not the problems that we have with morale in the British shipbuilding industry caused by those who try to put it down at every possible opportunity instead of trying to build it up to ensure that we remain the force that we are seen to be throughout the world?

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he speaks for this country's shipbuilding areas. This is the largest warship building programme that we have had for very many years. The future of shipbuilding is exceptionally bright, and at the end of the process we will have an exceptional and modern Navy. We should congratulate not only those who are involved in procuring that process but, as my hon. Friend says, those who are building the ships, of which we will be proud for many decades to come.


4. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What assessment he has made of Iran's nuclear weapons capability and delivery systems; and if he will make a statement. [53936]

The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): We continue to assess closely the development of a potential nuclear weapons capability in Iran, including delivery systems, taking careful note of the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has failed so far to provide the international community with the necessary confidence that its nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes, and we remain concerned that it is developing options for a nuclear weapons capability. We await the forthcoming detailed report from the IAEA.
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Mr. Amess: Given that the Iranian President has already threatened to wipe one country from the face of the earth, does the Secretary of State agree that an Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons should be avoided at all costs?

John Reid: International concern, to which the history of deception about the development of nuclear capacity, as testified to by the International Atomic Energy Agency, gives rise is only heightened by statements such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The international community is united in ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear capacity. That would be destabilising for the whole world, not only one area of it.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the strength of the international resolve to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state? What does he believe the next step should be?

John Reid: One of the effects of the diplomacy pursued by what has become known as the E3—the United Kingdom, under the Foreign Secretary, Germany and France—has been to build increasing unanimity and solidarity in the international community, increasing awareness of the dangers and increasing regret that Iran has, thus far, not taken the opportunity to try to resolve the matter diplomatically. The next step must surely be for Iran to re-engage in suspending the activities that breached its earlier promises and to try to do that before 6 March, when the next meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency takes place. Like the whole international community, I hope that Iran will take the opportunity to re-engage and try to find a diplomatic resolution of the problem.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): In assessing Iran's nuclear capabilities and seeking, as the free world is, a peaceful solution to the serious problem, does the Secretary of State agree that China, Russia and India are probably best placed to take the lead in seeking a peaceful resolution? Will he discuss with our American friends how we may best engage the efforts of those three countries?

John Reid: The problem is one for the whole international community—that is increasingly recognised. Doubtless particular countries are well placed to encourage, persuade and allow the Iranians to reach such a diplomatic solution. One is obviously Russia. It is therefore regrettable that, at this stage, the Iranians appear to have rejected the overtures that the Russians have made and the avenues that they have opened. The suspicion grows that their position on the Russian efforts merely constitutes delaying tactics. I hope that that is not the case. I am convinced that there is an increasing resolve in the world, including the countries that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to ensure that there is no question of Iran developing the capacity for nuclear weaponry.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that there are increasing obligations for technology transfer for peaceful purposes. What protections are in place for the development of
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wider, peaceful use of nuclear power and avoiding the transfer of some of that technology to countries such as Iran, as occurred under A. Q. Khan's regime?

John Reid: The non-proliferation treaty is the most important element of international agreement that aims at what my hon. Friend outlines. It is worrying for the whole international community that Iran appears to have breached its safeguard obligations under the NPT for some time. I can do no better than quote Dr. el-Baradei, who made it clear in an interview with Newsweek as recently as 23 January that

in Iran.

It must be recognised that neither the EU nor the international community as a whole is trying to deny Iran access to nuclear technology. Indeed, the European proposals of 5 August outlined our readiness to consider a number of significant elements in support of a civilian nuclear programme. However, the IAEA has made it clear to Iran that it lacks confidence in the peaceful aims of its nuclear programme; that is the essential element of the problem. We have therefore asked Iran to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity, as a confidence-building measure. I am afraid that its refusal to maintain that suspension only heightens the suspicions and concerns of the international community, and the sooner it gets back into dialogue to resolve this matter diplomatically, the better it will be for the whole world.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): As one of the more sensible and consistent members of the Cabinet, will the Secretary of State tell us whether he agrees with the Foreign Secretary, who says that he can conceive of no circumstances in which military action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons would be contemplated, or with the Prime Minister, who says that he has ruled out no form of action whatever?

John Reid: I am not aware of anyone who is considering or speaking about military action, certainly not at this stage. I do not think that that is on anyone's agenda. There is therefore an obligation on all of us to try to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. That is precisely why we have made so many efforts in that direction, and why I hope that, even at this late stage before the IAEA's meeting on 6 March, Iran will re-engage constructively with the international community, possibly under the auspices of Russia or through some other mechanism. We all want to see a diplomatic resolution to this matter.

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