Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the emperor of China bestowed upon "Chinese Gordon" the rank of a field marshal in the Chinese army, so that after the Red Guards had done their worst, the only surviving edition of a Chinese field marshal's uniform was in the Royal Engineers' museum in Chatham, to which General Gordon bequeathed it? Therefore, there is an opportunity for trade in the opposite direction.

Baroness Crawley: Well, my Lords, you learn something new every day in this House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for that fascinating information.

Lord Garden: My Lords, how many variants are there to what is paradoxically called uniform in the British forces? Given the wide variety of uniforms, if the Ministry of Defence is looking for better ways to spend defence money, might it now be time, as everyone in units wears DPM kit rather than other uniforms, to look at whether the more esoteric and expensive items might be held centrally, rather than on personal issue?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the defence industrial strategy, with which I know the noble Lord is familiar and on which there will soon be some public announcements, has looked carefully at supply of uniforms. One of the reasons we have this single major contract with Cooneen, Watts and Stone is that we found that past procurement of uniforms had not been as efficient and effective as it should have been. So the
 
6 Dec 2005 : Column 509
 
noble Lord is right, and we have learned the lessons that he his asking us to learn; but we learned them before he asked us.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, is the Army getting the benefit of new technology in textiles, rather than buying uniforms made out of old-style fabrics because they are cheap?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, all the services, including the Army, benefit from research and development into new and modern textiles all the time. It is an ongoing process. Whether we like it or not, the manufacture of Army and civilian garments is now outsourced to other countries, including China.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, bearing in mind the embargo placed on the import of bras from China earlier in the year by Commissioner Mandelson, is the Minister confident that a similar embargo will not be placed on the import of British Army uniforms, thus causing the European Union to leave our troops naked in the face of the enemy?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we will ensure that our troops are not left naked. In fact, the UK Armed Forces are among the best equipped in the world, as their repeated successes in operations demonstrate.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in placing the order with a company in Northern Ireland, which then gave the order to a company in China to manufacture the goods, production was stopped at a similar plant in the north-west of England that had produced the garments for the past 20 years? As a result, a lot of English people in the north-west, where manufacturing jobs are dropping at a tremendous rate, were put out of a job. Why do the Government not appreciate that the overall costs include not only those of the garments but perhaps the extra cost of losing jobs in the north-west of England and in the UK generally?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the procurement of these uniforms was carried out in adherence with UK public procurement regulations. They are derived from EC directives, which, again, whether we like it or not, do not permit discrimination in favour of a national interest. In fact, the companies that submitted tenders for this contract are all UK-based. Their manufacturing is often sub-contracted and outsourced beyond the UK but they are all UK-based companies.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, why do we not buy the garments direct?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the companies that we ask to tender are the most efficient and effective to clothe a modern Army.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, the whole contract was placed in China. Does my noble friend not agree that
 
6 Dec 2005 : Column 510
 
breatheability is crucial? Without it, the uniforms become extremely uncomfortable, troops sweat a lot and their performance is put at risk. Is it not rather stupid that we put performance and maybe the troops' lives at risk for the sake of saving a few pounds?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend. We are not putting any troops' lives at risk. The garments being manufactured in China come up to modern garment specification. I shall certainly look into the issue of breathability.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if she needs any professional advice—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we are now 16 minutes into Question Time.

Ministerial Code

2.58 pm

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will require retiring or resigning Ministers of the Crown not only to consult the advisory committee before taking up employment in the private sector but also to adhere to the Ministerial Code and follow any advice given by the committee.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, paragraph 5.29 of the Ministerial Code states that former Ministers should seek advice from the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments about any appointments that they wish to take up within two years of leaving office. Having received the advice of the advisory committee, it is for the former Minister to decide whether to accept it.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but is he not aware of the serious public concern at the fact that the Ministerial Code has been flouted by two former Cabinet Ministers, who took up jobs in the private sector without consulting the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments? Who is responsible for ensuring that the code is adhered to? Is it not the Prime Minister?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not aware that former Ministers have failed to consult the advisory committee. As I made clear in my initial response, it is expected that they should consult. Having gone through the process of consultation and seeking advice, it is then up to the former Minister to decide what he does. Ultimately, it is for Parliament to police the scheme, which I think has worked very well since it was introduced in 1995.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is it not essential for public confidence in our public services that Ministers and senior civil servants do not spend the twilight of their period in office thinking of their next
 
6 Dec 2005 : Column 511
 
appointment in the private sector? Is there not a real danger, particularly in departments with large procurements, of that happening?

What has happened to the inquiry by Sir Patrick Brown into the working of the advisory committee, which the Prime Minister has been sitting on for over a year? What has happened to the advice of the Committee on Standards in Public Life which recommended beefing up the powers of the advisory committee?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in response to the first set of comments, of course it is important that Ministers focus on their jobs. That is what our Ministers have been doing. It is also in the public interest, however, that former Ministers have the opportunity to move into business and other areas of life once they have completed their term of office. I would hope that we would all agree that it is very important that there should be no cause for any suspicion of impropriety about a particular appointment. That is why the code is there, and why the expectation is that there should be full and proper consultation.

The noble Lord asked about the Brown review. Sir Patrick Brown has carried out a thoroughgoing review of the business appointment rules, which has been submitted to the Cabinet Office. We are currently giving the matters it raises full consideration, and hope to respond in due course.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the Minister said that it is up to Parliament to police the system. How does Parliament do that?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in a sense, the noble Earl has rather fulfilled part of the obligation in posing the question. It is for Parliament to hold its Members to account, to scrutinise and to act in the court of public opinion.

Lord Stratford: My Lords, this is a great big fuss over very little. We have probably the least corrupt political process in the entire world. The more that people try to score cheap political points, however, the more we undermine public confidence in the whole political system.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page