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The second reason why the litany of Government failures is so important is that we live in an increasingly dangerous and, as the Minister said, unpredictable world. Our failure to provide the nation with a defence insurance cover will render us and our way of life vulnerable. If the cold war taught us anything, it was the critical importance of deterrence. Since our last defence procurement debate, Russia launched with complete impunity an aggressive attack on Georgia, a sovereign state; troops have been deployed to the Arctic where Russia has staked a claim to 460,000 square miles of
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territory that scientists believe could prove rich in oil and gas deposits; and we have seen a resumption of incursions into UK airspace. Between now and 2015, Russia will spend more than $200 billion upgrading its forces.

Then there is Iran and the particular threat of the country acquiring nuclear weapons, which could be followed by nuclear proliferation and regional arms races. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has been vigorous in pointing out the potential risks to the region that might follow such a move by Tehran, which has already shown its intent to destabilise the region. The Minister and I are “ad idem” on these issues. He did not mention North Korea, but we have recently had confirmation that the country has launched its latest Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile. As we know, North Korea is not a country that has ever been too fussy about its customer base. Then there is the increasing threat to our sea lanes by Somali pirates and there are also cyber-threats, as mentioned earlier, which need to be taken very seriously indeed.

Those events illustrate the way in which the events we face can suddenly change. Mention was made earlier of the US Defence Secretary Bob Gates, who said last year that it was

that required all our attention. Earlier this month he refined his position when he declared as one of his three key objectives the rebalancing of his department’s programmes

Secretary Gates has shifted his position and understands that simply concentrating on winning the war in Afghanistan is not sufficient. The Minister made the same point and I agree with him.

Secretary Gates is determined to reform his procurement programme and we intend to do the same if we are returned to Government in the next 12 months. We have already made it clear that we will immediately undertake a defence review. It is imperative that our armed forces and UK industry have a clear picture of how a Conservative Government would view defence in the long term. We will begin by deciding what role Britain should play in the world, and we will then determine what capabilities are needed to fulfil that role and the cost of providing them. If we cannot afford the capability, the mission, not the capability, must change. That way, we would hope to end the failure of this Government properly to fund the duties we impose on our armed forces.

Industry and the Ministry of Defence must adapt to new principles of procurement. We call them the “Fox five” and they will guide individual programmes. The first is capability—does the equipment provide the capability to enable our armed forces to fight effectively? Secondly, there is affordability—can we afford the costs of acquisition and through-life maintenance? The third is adaptability—the platform must have the capability to adapt to meet potential future threats. The fourth is interoperability to allow integrated military operations with our allies, most importantly, of course, the United States. Fifthly, there is exportability—can the product be exportable, thereby reducing unit costs of equipment and sustaining the skills base in our own country?

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On day one, we plan to return the Defence Export Services Organisation to the Department where it belongs: the Ministry of Defence. In addition, the programmes must underpin our existing strategic relationships, particularly with the United States, and provide predictability to United Kingdom industry. The Government have begun a process of partnership with industry—questioned by the Minister’s colleague, the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), and I think for very good reason—on which we would seek to build. We would have to, because if only one company in the United Kingdom can manufacture critical equipment over which we must have sovereign control, there is little alternative but to negotiate with that company.

There is evidence that industry is becoming far more nimble in offering unsolicited solutions and then dramatically reducing the time lines for the development of new equipment and putting it into operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring and I have visited BAE Systems and its Mantis programme— 17 months from concept to first flight. That is the sort of thing that the Government should be looking to industry to be able to deliver. The missile manufacturer MBDA is undertaking at its own expense research that it then makes available to the Government. The case is similar with Fire Shadow. However, companies have to be more nimble, and Ministers and civil servants equally have to be more nimble in making decisions.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas rose—

Mr. Howarth: I will not give way to the hon. Lady, if she will forgive me, because many hon. Members wish to speak and I gave way rather more than I should have done earlier on. I am approaching the end of my remarks.

The United Kingdom has more small and medium-sized companies than Spain, Germany, France and Italy put together, and we must find ways to support them and to allow them to continue to fuel the United Kingdom defence industry, because often they are where the innovation lies.

I have made a number of critical remarks and the Government have a lot to answer for to our armed forces for how they have managed the procurement programme, but I wish to end on a positive note. The public and some of us in the House believe that modern military operations should and can be quick and clinical, and that civilian casualties and collateral damage are avoidable. Such precision equipment to deliver that comes at a very high price—anybody who has been round a defence factory will have seen the magnitude and sophistication of the task involved.

Those of our fellow countrymen employed in the defence industry are engaged in the vital work of developing defence equipment to protect our armed forces and to remove with minimal collateral damage our enemies and those who threaten our national interests. Upon the continuing success of their endeavours depends our very freedom, for we cannot allow a situation to arise whereby the United Kingdom becomes dependent on any other country, not least our principal ally, the United States of America.

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The House should pay tribute to those men and women in constituencies across the land whose innovation and skill provide our armed forces with the tools to do the job of protecting our freedoms. Those who protest at defence exhibitions are free to do so thanks to the ingenuity of the very men and women whom they so gratuitously insult.

5.53 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Of all the decisions that Governments take, surely none is more important than that to send our forces overseas into combat. When that is done, I am sure the whole House agrees that it is imperative that everything is done to enable our forces to have the maximum opportunity to avoid loss of life and casualties when they are involved in such action. It is therefore understandable that in recent debates, and indeed to some extent in this debate, a lot of the focus has been on the need to provide proper equipment and support to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recalling the discussions about Snatch Land Rovers and the new vehicles that are coming on, I think there is agreement across the House—there are certainly some signs of it—that real progress has been made, that the equipment that the forces concerned are now being provided with has been massively improved and that the Government are providing the support which we have an obligation to provide if we send our forces into such action.

These are hugely significant issues, but it is important that we do not lose focus on the major long-term decisions that the Ministry of Defence and the Government have to take. I refer to the major procurement decisions, which are very important and involve expenditure of large sums of money. The defence industrial strategy was welcomed for many reasons, but partly because there was recognition that if we were to be able to secure the advanced sophisticated equipment that we needed in certain areas, there would have to be a policy that deliberately encouraged and nourished the capability in certain high-technology sectors and certain aspects of military manufacturing. It important that the Government develop and build on that policy, because once we lose industries they are lost for ever. It is important that we make the investment, provide the support and have a proper defence industrial strategy.

In that context, what industry is more important than the aerospace industry? The aerospace industry is a huge British success story and it is a tribute to the people who work in it that so much has been achieved in relation to exports and being at the forefront. Companies have been winning head-to-head contracts in the United States for the joint strike fighter. Our aerospace and avionics sectors are a tremendous British success story—not just for the people who work in them, who are the key people, but in respect of the support that the Government have provided in the sectors over the years. Surely it is incumbent on the Government that they continue to provide the support that those industries need.

In that context, I want to make a few remarks about the Eurofighter Typhoon, which I have spoken about repeatedly over the years in this House of Commons. The first point to understand is that it is a great success story. Obviously, when people develop a new plane they
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can never be quite sure how successful it will be, but the Royal Air Force and everyone who flies this plane seem to say that it is a tremendous achievement—an excellent plane to fly. Okay, we waited rather longer than we would have liked for tranche 2, but it came forward with the new precision ground attack capability. Tranche 2 is now delivering, and the Royal Air Force is, I think, expected to take between six and 20 aircraft a year.

The issue is tranche 3, of course. Reference has been made to that. It is vital that we do not have a prolonged delay. We must sustain this process. Major jobs are involved, as are companies such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. In Edinburgh, we have a particular interest with Selex, now owned by Finmeccanica, where we have people who are at the forefront of technological advance in many sectors, such as lasers and radar. It is vital that those organisations can continue and be successful. They can do that only if they can see the future, get the investment and make it in research and development. Just as the tranche 2 plane was an advance on the tranche 1, the tranche 3 plane will be an advance in some key respects, including radar, on the tranche 2.

I cannot emphasise too strongly how important it is that the Government maintain their support for the Eurofighter Typhoon. Let us be clear: some of the reports we have heard have not been very encouraging. There have been suggestions that there would be some weakening in Government support. I strongly urge the Government not to go down that road. We have a successful area and a successful plane, and we know that we need to encourage and nourish those capabilities in companies throughout the country, so it is vital that we maintain our commitment. We can do that only by honouring what we signed up to in relation to tranche 3.

I will not be drawn on the various speculation, although I must say that while I would welcome any export orders, including the possibility of more planes going to Saudi Arabia, I am not awfully encouraged by the idea that there should be some substitution and that some of those planes should be allocated, as it were, to what was intended for the Royal Air Force. As I say, I will not be drawn into the detail of that. The fact is that there is a commitment and the Government are obliged to reach an agreement with our partners—with Spain, Germany and Italy.

Surely we have been in the lead on this matter—at the beginning, as hon. Members will recall, the Germans were reluctant—so now that we have such a success story and as we have more international interest and commitment than all those other European countries, it is vital that we are not found wanting, that we recognise the issue’s importance to British industry and to the future, and that we go forward and support Eurofighter tranche 3. Let us have an early announcement, as soon as possible.

5.59 pm

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): In every defence debate we rightly pay tribute to the armed forces and the service that they give to the nation, and it is even more important for us to do that in the context of defence procurement. In my view, however, the best tribute that the House could pay our troops would be to provide them with the equipment that they deserve and desperately need. I believe that the Government are
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forcing the troops to change their mentality from “can do” to “make do”, and that there is an urgent necessity for the Government to review what they are asking our troops to do in the front line when their circumstances are so challenging.

It is well over a year since I was a member of the Defence Committee. Just before I left, we took evidence from the then new defence procurement Minister, Lady Taylor. She replaced the highly respected Lord Drayson when he decided to go off and race cars around the desert. I understand that he is now back at the Cabinet table. Lord Drayson was determined to push through a second edition of the defence industrial strategy as a means of further strengthening the relationship between industry and Government, but as soon as Lady Taylor secured her seat she slammed on the brakes, saying that it was time to reflect and consider before publication. Surely a year is more than enough time in which to deliberate on whether we need a second defence industrial strategy. Lady Taylor was subsequently punted to the right, and we now have a new defence procurement Minister. Perhaps he can enlighten us on when we shall see a new strategy, because we desperately need one.

The Government’s defence procurement strategy has been characterised by overblown commitments to the thousands of workers in dockyards and factories across the United Kingdom. As with their commitments in regard to public services, education and the health service, their delivery has fallen well short of expectations. I suppose that it is much better than the delivery under the Tory years, but that is not saying much. There have been extensive delays, overruns and cuts, and the workers have been let down badly by the present Government.

Let me give some examples. Although 12 Type 45 destroyers were promised, the number has been halved to six, yet the costs have risen dramatically. The Astute submarine is £1 billion over budget. The Chinook conversion, initiated by the Conservatives, will be delayed by up to nine years, with an extra cost of £200 million. The Nimrod MRA4 is eight years behind schedule and £1 billion over budget, which is leaving dangerous planes in the air and costing lives.

Angus Robertson: They are grounded now.

Willie Rennie: They are grounded, well beyond time. They should have been grounded a long time ago. The Minister knew that they were unsafe, but took no action to resolve the problem.

We have heard much about FRES, the future rapid effect system. We have spent an absolute fortune on it—some £132 million—but there has been no output whatsoever as a result.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am listening with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Let me take up two of his points. First, we have placed contracts for 12 destroyers and we are picking up six of them, but anyone who visits Govan and asks about the impact that those orders have had will learn that it is substantial. Moreover, we have sought to manufacture the destroyers in the United Kingdom, and we are leading manufacturers in that particular area. Secondly, I greatly resent his comment that Ministers should have taken action with respect to a perceived danger. They would have taken action had there been a danger.

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Willie Rennie: There was clearly a danger. If the hon. Lady had paid attention during the debate, she would have discovered that the Nimrod was extremely dangerous. Fuel was flooding out of the side of the plane and lying on the hot pipes, which blew up the plane. It was a clear example of sheer neglect. Airmen had been sent into the air to protect the troops on the ground. They felt that that was a tremendous obligation, which it was. Ministers should never have put themselves in such a position, and it was an outrage that that was allowed to happen. I think that the hon. Lady should ensure that she is a little better informed before entering into a debate on this issue.

As for the ships built in Glasgow—HMS Daring and the other Type 45 destroyers—we have done some tremendous work there and I am sure that the workers are delighted with the orders that they have received, but my point concerned overblown expectations. Although 12 destroyers had been promised, the number was cut in half.

Angus Robertson: Is it not important to place on record that there are 5,000 fewer shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde than in 1997? [Interruption.]

Willie Rennie: Nothing arouses passions more than SNP Members raising the subject of the Clyde during a debate, because their record is not particularly glowing. In this instance, however, we have lost thousands of jobs. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There are relatively few Members in the Chamber, and we really do not want the debate to be disturbed by a lot of sedentary comments, from whichever quarter they may come.

Willie Rennie: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall now move on.

The MARS or military afloat reach and sustainability project has been punted to the right, and the super-aircraft carriers—finally commissioned in Rosyth in my constituency, and a great, iconic project for the Forth—face a further two-year delay. Rather than securing a firm grip on defence procurement, the Government have simply added to the chaos. We have now been told that the delays, including the delay in producing the carriers, are not really delays but have more to do with “stretching” the process, with no real impact, in order to assist the industrial base.

While flattening the peaks and troughs will undoubtedly yield benefits, the motives for the decision were first and foremost financial, but the delay will not help the Government. As we have heard this afternoon, it will result in significant cost increases, in terms not just of the procurement or construction of the carriers but of the work that will have to be done on the current fleet to ensure that it lasts longer. When the Secretary of State for Defence made his announcement, he made no reference to the additional cost. If he had been a wee bit more frank, he would have made clear that this was not simply about saving but was about punting the cost into the future and, in fact, increasing it.

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