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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: May I offer my hon. Friend some encouragement? Declassified destroyers that were being broken up in China have been moved to Liverpool
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dock, and the reason given for that is better environmental standards, as well as our ability to ensure that the workers are treated well and are not exposed to any risk. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that as encouragement that similar decisions may be made regarding uniforms.

Mr. Hoyle: I hope that, if that is a clear message to the Government, they are listening, so we can look forward to uniforms for the British Army being made in the UK. I take heart from my hon. Friend’s comment. The Under-Secretary is listening carefully, and I am sure that he will want to give me good news as we progress.

It is about making sure that we get the right uniform, and ensuring that we produce it and look after British jobs, but it is also about the best kit, and making sure that it is of high quality. Much of the kit from China has had to be sent away to be repaired. That has been done quietly, so we have not known about all the things that have gone wrong regularly, such as buttons being missing and uniforms not being stitched properly and falling apart. I hope that the Under-Secretary takes that on board.

Another issue, which has been touched on by hon. Members, is the A400M, which fulfils a strategic heavy-lift requirement and is crucial to our future needs. The delays are unacceptable: we should shake all the other parties involved, and say, “Let’s get on with it.” In the end, we have little option. We have ended up with C-130s, and we have sweated as far as we can with them. The C-130 is a great workhorse—it is the backbone of the RAF’s heavy-lift programme—but the problem is how much longer we can keep it in the air. Delays are not good for the future of heavy lift.

Of course the C-17 is a great aircraft, but we need something in the middle. The A400M would give us that heavy lift capability—the capability to lift a battle tank—which we should have but do not. The benefit is that it is a saleable asset around the world. If we produce good kit, we should ensure that there is a return to UK industry and jobs. There is not only a military but a civilian role for such an aircraft. We should support the project and get back on board with it. We should start kicking our partners to make them listen, shaking them by the neck, which I know the Minister is very good at, and saying, “Come on. Let’s not let this programme fall away.” We cannot have everything we want, but that is a capability that we cannot go back on.

Other speakers have touched on Typhoon. Tranche 3 is critical not just to the north-west, as I mentioned earlier, but to the RAF and its future requirements. I want to ensure that tranche 3 goes ahead. It is not too late to consider what will operate off the platform provided by the carriers. We ought not to rule out a Typhoon variant that could operate off the carriers. We have done the design work. We invested heavily and all the computer designs are available. It is a capability that we could fall back on, and that we should consider.

Typhoon is a world-leading aircraft—the best. There is nothing else to touch it, so please let us support it; let us push our partners, and let us not be the partner who wants to shy away from our commitment to tranche 3. It is crucial to jobs and skills in the north-west and to the supply chain in the components sector, as well. It is a good news story that we can sell. We know that other
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countries around the world are keen to buy it, and we should ensure that it is at the forefront of our exports. We should be talking to Japan and delivering it to Japan. We know that countries in the middle east have been buying it. We want to sell it to further countries in the middle east. Let us not be afraid of exporting this quality aircraft. I know that that will be taken on board.

That brings me to the joint strike fighter, from which we benefit in the north-west at Samlesbury and Warton. It is a good aircraft that is good for jobs and for everything that we need, but there are questions of intellectual transfer. What type of joint strike fighter will be on the order books? What will we be allowed to build?

Mr. Soames: The hon. Gentleman always makes a good case for his region, but is he aware that the issue is not just intellectual rights? Thus far the JSF cannot carry the weapons configuration that we want. What has he to say about that?

Mr. Hoyle: We want to hear about that from those on the Government Front Bench. We need to know whether we will have the stowable version, what intellectual copyrights we still need to agree on, and what we will be allowed to build. Will we be allowed to build the full aircraft? Will we be allowed wholly to maintain the aircraft? The jobs in maintenance are important, and we must be clear that we can do deep maintenance. Full assembly is crucial.

I make a plea for Woodford, which is important to the north-west. The MRA4, the upgrading of Nimrod, is needed. The alternative is to buy second-hand aircraft from the Americans. Those aircraft are overpriced and are not as good. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will rule out the American option and support jobs at Woodford; we need that commitment from Government. The issue drags on and on, and we cannot afford to lose the skills at Woodford and the technology that has been built up there. We are the world leader in aerospace, and the north-west is at the forefront. We must ensure that we keep those jobs.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are part of the future for Warton and Salmesbury. I want to ensure that we do not shy away from investment in research and development. We can lead the world in UAVs and we must do so. It is easy to save a pound now, but it will be a long-term cost in the future, not only in jobs and skills but in cutting-edge technology. I am presenting a great wish list, but it is one on which we can deliver, and I hope my hon. Friend will take that on board.

Barrow-in-Furness is a world leader in submarines and surface fleet, and we must ensure that work comes to it. The carriers are important. We know that there is a slight delay, but I want to know that there is a guarantee that we will stand by the two carriers that we promised. Those future large carriers are so important because of the work that they bring to the north-west. As we heard earlier, it is about the drumbeat—the ability of the team designing the submarines, and the need to continue with other work to make sure that the skills in Barrow are not lost. It is important that submarine and surface fleet work continue to come to Barrow.

Barrow has had great news. It has been leader in the development of the howitzer, a specialist field gun that has been sold to the Americans. A £1 billion order is to
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be delivered, and others around the world want the cutting-edge gun. I hope that it is good not only for us, but for exports. I hope that a second contract comes from America, which will ensure that jobs at Barrow are protected. The Australians want to talk to us about the howitzer, as do other Governments, including the Canadian Government. Will my hon. Friend be at the forefront of ensuring that those exports take place and support BAE in whatever it needs to export that gun around the world?

It would be remiss of me not to mention the neighbouring constituency covering Bolton. MBDA is a leader in missile technology. BVRAAM and much else that we need have come out of Lostock. How can we ensure that contracts continue to come in, so that those skills are not lost in research and development and in the manufacturing facility? I look to the Minister to help ensure that MBDA continues to have a bright future. We lead the world in some of the missiles that we produce. We cannot afford to give up on that. It is one of the strategic values that we must keep in this country.

We have all those skills and we are putting so much money into defence and procurement. What can be done to ensure that we benefit from technology transfer? That is a way of ensuring that procurement becomes cheaper. The transfer of the skills, designs, knowledge, research and development is not about killing people. It is about supporting people, which is so important.

Leyland Trucks supplied the light vehicle for many years. Now the contract has gone to MAN, which bought ERF, which pretended that it would build in the UK. ERF has closed down, so MAN is supplying from Germany and has a two-bit garage to maintain the vehicles it is supplying to us. That is not good enough. We should have looked to support our truck manufacturer in this country. There is a chance to support Leyland Trucks, which produced the DROPS—demountable rack offload and pickup system—vehicles for moving ammunition around the battlefield. We have created a slight delay in the deep maintenance and upgrade of those trucks. It is important to ensure that some work goes to Leyland Trucks, because we cannot afford to lose another truck manufacturer in the UK. If the Minister looked at that issue quickly, I would be very grateful, because we have introduced a delay and we should not have done so. The DROPS trucks are needed.

The Territorial Army is a key factor. It is the backbone; it is the support that we need to give to our troops. Wherever we call on the TA, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is there to support us, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister, please do not cut its budget or its numbers. Let us ensure that it, too, has the best equipment and gets all the support it needs. The TA is the real back-up for our medical needs on the front line of the battlefield. C Squadron at Chorley has been out in Afghanistan and played its role, so I hope the Minister will acknowledge what a good role the TA plays and what a good future it will have under this Government. Let us not choose the easy option of nibbling away at the TA to try to save a few pence. It is easy to become penny-wise and pound-foolish, as he would be doing if he took that route.

The cadets are also important, so why should they lug around rifles from yester-year? Is it not time to ensure that their equipment is brought up to date? Will the Minister ensure that the cadets at Chorley and other TA cadets throughout the country also have better kit?
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Let us supply it, because if we want to recruit and get our forces up to strength, we will do so by looking after the cadets and the TA. That is how we will meet future requirements. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken that on board, and I look forward to positive news from him, and to our troops marching in uniforms that have been printed and produced in the UK.

7.12 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): I warmly endorse many points that the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) has made. He is a staunch defender of all things defence and knows a good deal about it. Whether he is right about the uniforms, I do not know, but he is certainly right about the Territorial Army and the cadets. May I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), if he is not beyond urging, to address the issue? To make cuts to the TA now would be an act of grotesque folly. I hope that he will see that that is not done, and in his winding-up speech, I should like an assurance to that end.

This is a debate about defence procurement, but defence procurement in the context of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have to use the equipment. As the Iraq operations come to an end, too soon in my view, we can say here without any shadow of a doubt, as we always do, that British troops have performed with the greatest courage, skill and determination. There were some serious dramas about the equipment to start with, but it is important that the lessons of the Iraq conflict be learned and applied to the operations in Afghanistan. Rather disappointingly, as a matter of fact, the Americans are much better at the lessons learned operations than we are. Here, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army—the individual services—get at it and grub away at it, and by the time a moderately successful operation has been staffed up, it comes out as one of the greatest military successes of all time.

We need to be much franker with ourselves—much more serious about the scale of the problems that we have faced. We have faced some serious problems in Iraq, not just with equipment but with military advice and many other issues. Given the difficult operation in Afghanistan, those problems need to be carefully dealt with, because one thing that bedevilled the Iraq operation, as always, was the improper architecture at the heart of Government for prosecuting such operations. No one figure had complete ownership of the problem, but there must be a single person who is responsible for the prosecution of the war. This House can be assured that no Conservative Government would ever send British troops into battle without a detailed plan of what to do after they had taken over. May I remind Defence Ministers that, despite the most vigorous questioning, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), I and my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) did not receive any proper answers.

The operation in Iraq was a catastrophe for the first few months after the military phase. The war among the people—the Rupert Smith theory of modern warfare—was never more obvious than in the months after that phase
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in Iraq, so we must learn those lessons very well, given what is happening and will continue to happen in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I was very fortunate to visit a forces logistics centre not so many months ago, and I talked to the staff about precisely the problems that the hon. Gentleman presents. I was told very clearly that as the decision to go to war was pending a vote in the House, until the vote was taken, the forces took no action to prepare for the engagement or for anything that happened afterwards, because had they done so, they would have been complicit in the argument that decisions had been made in advance of the House doing so. They were placed in tremendous difficulty, so what is his view on the House having the right to vote on whether the country goes to war, given the problems that it presents to our armed forces when such decisions are made?

Mr. Soames: The hon. Lady is only partially right. The delay in ordering kit was nothing to do with a vote in the House, where the Government had a substantial majority and could be assured of getting their way; the decision to delay any ordering of substantial amounts of equipment was based on the wait for a United Nations vote. I went to see the then Secretary of State for Defence—he is now the Secretary of State for Transport—to discuss the issue, and people were clearly in limbo. They knew perfectly well that we were going to war, but they could not submit orders for the fatuous reason that they could not take the necessary risk and put themselves in the right place in case the UN should not approve of the operation. The war was delayed for that reason.

We will never send troops as they were sent last time. They must never again be sent to fight without the proper equipment, training and, particularly, health and welfare structure to look after them on their return.

Mr. Jenkin: May I place a slightly different emphasis on these events? I was talking to Ministers at the time, and without breaching any confidences, I can say that it was quite clear, as my hon. Friend says, that we were going to go to war. However, there were ministerial decisions to try to disguise decisions that were being taken as having nothing to do with the possibility of invading Iraq, and to delay decisions that were obviously to do with that possibility, because they were embarrassing the Government. It might have embarrassed Ministers if they had pre-empted a decision that Parliament was going to take, when it would have been responsible to let Vickers tool up the tanks for desert warfare, for example, instead of waiting until the last minute.

Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend is completely right. As I said to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), the prime point was the UN vote, on which the vote in this House was conditional. I agree with my hon. Friend, however; there is an unparliamentary word and I cannot use it, but suffice to say, it was fantastically unwise and not very brave of the Government to take a risk, knowing that they were going to send into war troops who did not have the proper equipment, not to go ahead and make the order. I remember that in the Falklands war, ships were put to sea with civilian crews still on board tooling them up, and they got off at the Ascension islands.

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We should have been much more energetic, but I pay tribute to the work at the Ministry of Defence not only of the soldiers but of the civilians, who marvellously support our troops. When I was a Defence Minister, I was very proud to work alongside the civilian staff, who were incredibly proud of and very good at what they did. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) was so right to say that because the problems of the Ministry of Defence are enormous, they are magnified tenfold. Fundamentally, however, it is one of the best-run Departments in Whitehall. Nothing is too much trouble for it, but the fact was that we were not equipped and we did not, in my view, have the correct military doctrine for what was going to follow on in Iraq. As I said, I hope that those lessons have now been learned and that we will not suffer such problems in Afghanistan.

I would like the Minister to find out—I do not expect him to know—whether the architecture for the conduct of operations in Afghanistan is different from that for Iraq. Has it changed? We know of the terrible problems of the Department for International Development, which is unable to act in areas that are remotely hostile because of the views that it takes. That position is perfectly reasonable. Nevertheless, there are still people who are worried about the conduct of operations in Afghanistan, and I would be grateful if the Minister reassured me on that.

In my judgment, most of the programmes that we have been discussing today remain unaffordable. I want to make two points about the Navy. First, the carrier programme is much too expensive. The ships are much too big and the aeroplanes are much too costly. We will need to look at it all again and decide whether we need ships of that size. I totally endorse, as did the 1997 defence review and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire, the concept of “go away”—of being fully deployable. There is no doubt that the “fully deployable” concept is right, and that the carriers would be useful, but is the air power required proportionate to or necessary for what we need, bearing in mind that we will never go to war again on an expeditionary basis without being part of a coalition, and that one part of that coalition has massive air power?

My second point is that the Type 45s, the Daring class, are magnificent ships—some of the greatest that this country will ever own. Their technology is simply unmatched and they are extraordinarily powerful. However, as we have said for 10 years, ships can be in only one place at a time. I am afraid to say that the Navy is a shrunken beast; it has shrunk substantially since my right hon. Friend and I were at the Ministry of Defence, when it was also shrinking—we got rid of too many ships. However, now the Navy is suffering from a problem of critical mass.

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