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23 Apr 2001 : Column 1

House of Commons

Monday 23 April 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If he will make a statement on military action in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. [156926]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The Government support Macedonia's right to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty, including with proportionate and appropriate military action. We are giving a range of non-lethal military equipment to the Macedonian Government to assist them. We have a small number of troops based in Macedonia, providing logistics support for UK forces in Kosovo, and a defence adviser working with the Macedonian Ministry of Defence.

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In Kosovo, UK troops are providing reinforcements to the Multi-National Brigade (East) region in an area that includes the Macedonian border.

Mr. Dalyell: Is the Macedonian Ministry of Defence, as opposed to the Macedonian Government, being co-operative?

Mr. Hoon: Yes.

Procurement Policies

2. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): If he will make a statement on his Department's procurementpolicies. [156927]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The essence of our procurement policy is to secure the best equipment capability at the best value for money, through competition and prime contracting where viable. Our Smart acquisition programme is enhancing the efficiency of our acquisition process by streamlining the organisation, introducing new techniques and commercial best practice, building a closer and more constructive relationship with industry and improving the training and development of our acquisition personnel.

Mr. St. Aubyn: The Government have just finished paying between £30 million and £60 million to refit 1,100 CVR(T) tanks with diesel engines under a non- competitive contract. Were the Government aware before that contract was granted that those new engines would not operate in an A1 climate, such as that in the middle east; or was that key drawback of the new engines only discovered after the contract was awarded?

Dr. Moonie: That matter has been referred to before in the House and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the single-source procurement strategy was adopted because Alvis Vehicles Ltd. is the design authority for CVR(T)

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and has certain proprietary intellectual property rights over the vehicle. On the hon. Gentleman's specific question, I understand that there are no particular problems that cannot be managed in theatre.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State recently visited the Clyde submarine base at Faslane, where he talked to the unions about future procurement and work practice policies. He will also be aware that there is a combined trade union response document on securing work for the future. He knows that the work force are committed and loyal. Can he give us a progress report on the discussions between the Secretary of State and the work force and on the options regarding the combined trade union response on the future work practice at the Clyde submarine base?

Dr. Moonie: We are well aware of the high quality work that has been carried out for us for many years at Faslane. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the unions held constructive meetings during his visit, and I can assure my hon. Friend that their submission is receiving the most careful consideration.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Can the Minister confirm that confidentiality is a very important component of effective procurement and that effective procurement could easily be compromised if, for example, listening devices were present in the Ministry of Defence? Can he confirm, as the Secretary of State implied yesterday, that some 30 such devices have been discovered? Can he say who is believed to have been responsible for their being placed in MOD buildings; estimate how long they have been in position; and tell the House whether it is true that they only came to light when the current refurbishment of the main building began? What additional precautions have been taken to ensure that future procurement is not prejudiced in any way?

Dr. Moonie: I have always thought that one should not believe everything that one reads in the Sunday press, and this story is a very good example of that principle. I am very sorry to have to dampen some of the feverish speculation that has occurred, but the media reports of bugging devices being found in MOD buildings appear to have been derived largely from a misunderstanding involving an information security exhibition that was held for MOD staff in the main building in March. The exhibition, which was designed to improve staff security awareness, included a stand demonstrating the types of listening device that are readily available in high street shops and which could, potentially, be planted in MOD establishments to obtain information illegally. As I am sure all hon. Members are aware, the MOD protects itself against that threat by maintaining the capability to detect such devices should they be planted in our establishments at home or overseas. Clearly, I cannot comment in detail on the reports, but I can confirm that they are inaccurate and that no breach of security has occurred.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): Does my hon. Friend still intend to procure 25 A400M heavy-lift military Airbus aircraft? Has he seen the speculation that

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Britain's A400Ms would only fly in conjunction with French and German A400Ms? Would he care to comment on that speculation?

Dr. Moonie: I am quite sure that the speculation does not come from my right hon. Friend but, once again, it is an indication of the inaccuracy of reporting in the newspapers. The aircraft are not due to fly for another10 years, but I can confirm that it is still our intention to order the fleet.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the Minister confirm that the only way to ensure value for money in the procurement of the type 45 destroyer programme is to be certain that more than one firm will be capable of building the ships? How can he defend the constant prevarication over whether the contract for at least one of the ships will be awarded to Vosper Thornycroft? The uncertainty over that matter is putting the jobs of my constituents who work for Vosper Thornycroft gravely at risk.

Dr. Moonie: I am happy to confirm that it is still our intention to purchase one of the ships in the manner described. Our policy on the procurement of the type 45 has not changed.

Type 45 Destroyer

3. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): When the first type 45 destroyer will enter service with the Royal Navy. [156929]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence stated in the House on 11 July last year, we remain committed to an in-service date of 2007 for the first type 45 destroyer.

Mr. Chope: The Minister said, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), that the procurement strategy had not changed. In that case, why have the Government not rejected out of hand the unsolicited bid from BAE Systems and why do they not confirm that the original strategy--which would give Vosper Thornycroft on the south coast of England an equal share in the programme--still stands? Would it not be a very good way of celebrating St. George's day to place faith in a great English warship builder that has exported more than 300 warships in the past 10 years?

Dr. Moonie: It is British yards that we are in favour of--not just English ones. I repeat what I said before: the policy has not changed. Of course, it is incumbent on us to give careful consideration to proposals that would ostensibly save a great deal of money, and we would be in dereliction of our duty if we did not do that. However, I can confirm that things are progressing well and that the initial stages of the programme are on time.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I thank my hon. Friend for that statement, but will he bring forward the orders to help the workers on the Clyde and to ensure

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that they receive a fair share of the work? Perhaps he could also remind Conservative Members that the ships are British, not English.

Dr. Moonie: The programme is progressing as fast as it can. There have been no delays, information is being shared and the design is progressing. There is nothing more that I can say other than to add that the ships will be brought into service as quickly as possible.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): Is it not quite clear that the Government's agenda on this matter is to try to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone concerned and to keep it there until after the election? The Government signed a contract with BAE Systems in December for the first three of class and that was supposed to provide for the second of class to be built by Vosper Thornycroft. No such contract has been awarded or has even been offered to Vosper Thornycroft and, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East(Dr. Lewis) just said, the Government have markedly not responded to the BAE Systems pre-emptive offer to build all 12 of class, which would be thoroughly inconsistent with everything that the Government have said about their strategy for this matter. Is it not quite clear that the Government have very bad news in store either forthe workers of the Clyde or for the workers of the Southampton and Portsmouth areas and that they are simply determined to hold that news back until after the election?

Dr. Moonie: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but there is no truth in any of the allegations that he has made.

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