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Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument that what matters is not how much money is spent, but when it is spent. Page 7 of the Defence Committee report explains away the large capital investment for urgent operational requirements by referring to the purchase of, for example, force protection equipment. Given that the technology used in improvised explosive devices—shaped charges—has been around since the second world war and was used in Bosnia and Kosovo, why was the money to protect against that threat not spent at the start, when probably half the amount that is having to be spent now would have been required?

Mr. Havard: As I am not responsible for that matter, I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question, but I know that he has an interest in Kinetic activities of various sorts. He is right to identify the problem. Work is going on. I am saying merely that, although the right thing is being done, because of the way it is presented to us, it appears to be a bit rushed and being done a little too late. I do not think that that is true in some respects, but that is how it appears to us because of the way in which the finances are presented to us. I want to be confident that that is not happening; that is part of the reason why the Committee has asked for a more regular mechanism whereby what is actually being done is made visible.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend, like me, believe that the MOD sends a blank cheque to the Treasury and asks for it to be signed, or does he believe that there is a list of operational requirements with moneys attached? Does he agree that it would be to the benefit of accountability if the Committee received that list after it was approved by the Treasury, so that we could then scrutinise it?

Mr. Havard: Yes, there are mechanical processes that we could put in place that would facilitate better understanding, not only on the part of the Committee, but on the part of everyone who signs up to the estimates—the whole House on behalf of the whole population. That suggestion might be worth considering but no doubt there are others. I am not a management accountant or a policy wonk—I do not understand how some of those processes work and, to be frank, I do not want to, but I am sure that the pointy heads in the Treasury could come up with processes that would do that for us. The political aspect is what is important—if we have visibility and transparency, we might get better-quality decision making because we have a better understanding of the issues. To be frank, some people do not understand the issues of timely supply and what is actually happening as clearly as they should.

Let me return to my arguments about capital and, more importantly, repair and provision of equipment. I was pleased by last Thursday's decision about the Army Base Repair Organisation, although there has been an understanding about that for some time. However, I want to see figures on spending on urgent requirements
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and on capital depreciation of assets. I want to be confident about how existing assets will be maintained and their life perhaps extended. I want those things to be made clear. It is clear from that decision that we know that we need more armoured vehicles and that we need a better supply. The methods that are currently used are not wrong, but different methods are available. There is a relationship between all those things, and the Select Committee is working on a report on defence industrial strategy. We have a clear defence industrial policy, including a force generation process that assesses the number of people required against a set of defence assumptions. Perhaps we should have better individual debates about each of those matters but, more importantly, they relate to the industrial strategy for delivery which, in turn, is related to the way in which the money flows.

Those interrelationships are not clearly understood or debated properly in the House, so it is important to ventilate them. Partnering arrangements under a defence industrial strategy are probably a good idea for some things, but not for others. There are certain things that one needs to supply at certain times and that, frankly, one does not wish to subject to competition. ABRO has the capability to maintain armoured vehicles—whether that will be true for the new fleet is a different matter. Some estimates and decisions about when money can be spent and acquired are related to those decisions.

On the surface, I am asking a simple question about the regular supply of information but, in fact, the Committee and I are asking a very difficult question. Realistically, the answer is to provide a more joined-up process, because planning assumptions and so on depend on how the money is spent. It is not easy for the Ministry of Defence to do so, but it is vital to make those processes visible so that we achieve a better quality of understanding and, consequently, a better quality of debate. Doubtless, my right hon. Friend the Minister will be upset with me, and will have a bit of a row with me later but, although it may not feel like it, I am ally of his in this debate. At the end of the day, it is important that we show and demonstrate our own democracy at work. It is all very well for me to go on to the streets in Afghanistan and talk to ordinary Afghans about building capacity to provide a democratic process, but we must demonstrate such things in our own democratic process. In Iraq and Afghanistan, people said to me, "You come from the mother of Parliaments, so you know it all. Just tell us what to do." I said, "If I did know it all, I would be a dangerous man, and if I tried to tell you I would be even more dangerous. You have to develop it for yourself." One of the best ways in which we can help them to do so is to demonstrate that our processes are open and are seen to be open.

The debate is not just for our benefit. We need to send a message of support to our people in each theatre, whether they belong to the military, other Government Departments, the police service or other bodies that are helping to develop capacity. Money has, in fact, been provided. Our discussion is about the methodology that we should use to hold that debate properly and give those people confidence that we will maintain that funding for them. We should give similar confidence to the people of both those countries whom we claim that we are trying to help. That should be our motivation. I
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am not interested in what is said about the whys and wherefores of entering one conflict or another, or whether Mr. Bremer should have worn boots with his suit. We should make certain that we send the right message. May I tell my right hon. Friend that, although it may not feel like it, I am on his side?

5.8 pm

Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): The report by the Select Committee on Defence states:

Costs are imprecise, because we do not know precisely what they will be. We are told that the aims are, first, to deal with instability, to extend the writ of the Afghan Government, not to allow Afghanistan to fail, to support the Afghan national army and police and to gain the good will of the Afghan people. Those are great aims, given the consequences of actions in Afghanistan that led to the events of September 2001. Secondly, as part of that we are there to assist the Afghan authorities in reducing the supply of drugs. About 90 per cent. of the heroin on the streets of my constituency—Gravesham—comes from Afghanistan and about a quarter of those drugs come from Helmand province, where our troops will be deployed.

To my mind, however, those twin aims—stabilisation and the reduction in the supply of the opium poppy—are in conflict with each other. How do we gain the good will of people in Helmand province when a very large number of them are dependent on growing poppies, not as a great money-making adventure, but as a substance crop that they grow to feed their families? I have spoken to Afghan farmers who say that if we seek to interfere with their livelihoods and do not provide sufficient alternative means of income, they will take up arms against us.

We are told that military operations will be against the greedy, not the needy, and that the involvement of the British military will be confined to

To my mind, the consequences will generate anything but the good will of the local people. Last week, at a    meeting at Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, jokes were being made about whether, as a consequence of that conflict in aims, British troops would become the duty targets.

I and every person who is associated with planning for the deployment to whom I have spoken at the MOD and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office believe that the reason why the estimates of cost are so vague is precisely that we have no clear idea of the consequences of what we are proposing to do.

5.11 pm

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