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Mr. Swayne: I accept that point, but had I been the Minister I would have taken steps to ensure that I had the information before the debate. I would not have waited for the gestation of the report but would have insisted on a verbal briefing straight away.
When the Minister winds up, will he address longer-term procurement and do a bit of blue-sky thinking? We know that our American allies are moving towards a capability for rapid deployment, which will involve very light, air-transportable armaments and armour. Are we intending to follow that lead? I understand that the rapid effects project was supposed to consider aspects of that technology. How is that requirement evolving? It seems to me that in any future conflict we will have to strike a balance between protection and deployability. That balance at the moment comes out at about 70 tonnes for armour. New technology will bring that down and enable a much more deployable armament that provides sufficient protection. Our American allies are considering that issue, but are we following their lead? Will we develop a procurement project along those lines in the future?
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I wish to raise a specific point relating to defence procurement that was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and briefly mentioned in the two opening speeches. I was surprised that the mentions were so brief, because the area of procurement in question commands the biggest slice of the defence budgetalmost £6 billion in procurement and procurement support. It is surprising that it has hardly been mentioned this evening.
As in all good debates among people who are passionate about and committed to defence, several points have been raised in this debate, and I shall respond generally to some of those before I turn to the main issue of my speech. The House may be surprised to learn that I think that tonight's debate is an historic one. Defence procurement does not excite everybodyit is not the sexiest subject for debatebut it has been proved tonight for the first time ever that the Labour party is the party of defence. If anyone was in any doubt about that, they can be sure of it after tonight's debate.
We have had an admission from both sides of the House that this week has seen the announcement of a substantial real-terms increase in defence expenditure that will help our procurement programme no end in the near future. It is the biggest increase in defence spending in 20 years, and it comes on top of at least three successive years' worth of increases in defence expenditure, after the haemorrhaging that we saw in the last 10 years of the Tory Government.
I remind the House that although the Tories cut the budget by a third in real terms, the way in which that was done is the real issue. There was a peace dividend after the cold war; but the way in which the Tory Government cut the defence budget left the country with enormous capability gaps. That is why I was a little worried when I heard the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) say that ifGod forbidthe Tories ever returned to power, they would commit themselves to capabilities enabling us to fulfil our international responsibilities and defend the homeland. I would prefer to consider what they did, rather than what they say they are going to do. There were huge gaps. Heavy lift, for instance, was virtually non-existent by 1997as were the provision of medical support for our service personnel in the front line, and second-line defence logistics.
Mr. Francois: Let me give the hon. Gentleman a chance to take a quick breather. I think it fair to say that because we are moving to a different system of MOD resource accounting and budgeting, we are to some extent comparing apples with pears. According to the analysis given by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), the figures are not as impressive as the Government suggest. I think we should wait for the Defence Committee to conduct a forensic analysis, as it does best. We shall then see whether the claims of the hon. Gentleman and his party are as impressive as they would have us all believe.
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman would want to wait, wouldn't he? Anyone looking at the Conservatives' record would say, "You bet they want to dilute and undermine this Government's achievements in any way they can, because they contrast so well with their disastrous performance during their last 10 years in office". In those days, we were dangerously lacking in capability. We could not have met our NATO capability requirements by 1997 had we been called on to do so. If article 5 had been invoked, this country could not have delivered on that invocation. It was indeed a disastrous situation in which we found ourselves in 1997which is why Labour, beyond any doubt, is now the party of defence.
To be honest, in the past I have never been particularly convinced by all that. But since the publication of the strategic defence review a year after the election of a Labour Government in 1997, there has been no doubt about it. That document has stood the test of time. It has given us the increase that defence deserves and needs this year.
Mr. Gray: I am loth to interrupt the hon. Gentleman when we are all enjoying his speech so much, but the strategic defence review happened some five years ago. Even if he is right in his assertion, it has taken his party five years to fund that review properly. Can he explain why?
Mr. Smith: I do not think it has taken five years. There has been a year-on-year increase, albeit small, and there is a substantial increase for the next three years. That must be compared with the massive and dangerous cuts that were made previously. We were able to do what we did because not only was the review inclusive and transparent, butConservative Members may not like hearing thisby and large, it garnered, bipartisan support. The books were opened. We were told to look at the current defence resources and at the change in the security environment and decide what action was needed. The fact is that most Members of Parliament agreed with the conclusions.
I am a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly: I represent this Parliament in that august organisation. I am also a member of a sub-committee considering the future military capabilities of NATO members and aspirant members. The British strategic defence review is used as a model throughout those countries. I happened to be present at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly summit in Edinburgh when General Wesley Clark, then Supreme Allied Commander Europe, held up the review as a future model for defence forces throughout the NATO countries.
We must not underestimate the strength and achievement of the SDR. Britain has put forward the money in the past, and we are still doing so. Tonight's debate is on procurement, and its emphasis in connection with the success of the SDR has focused on the reconfiguration of our forces to meet the changed security environment. Under the Tories, Britain was still defending itself against a non-existent enemy in the east, and we protected the plains of Germany with thousands of military personnel.
The Territorial Army was mentioned earlier. The previous Tory Government cut its numbers by some 20,000, but those who were left were given a job that they would never have to do in the foreseeable future. That was not good for them or for British defence, and it was a waste of taxpayers' money.
One of the most radical elements of the SDR often gets overlooked, and that has happened again even in this debate. That element is the review's proposals to improve procurement and defence logistics. As it happens, logistics takes up a bigger proportion of the defence budget than
The changes in procurement have been extremely radical. In some respects, they are more radical than the changes in our force structures. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, was right to say that nothing will happen overnight. We will be lucky if the task is completed in a decade, but the Government have attempted to tackle it and at least the oil tanker is starting to move in the right direction.
The bureaucracy needed to cope with procurement and logistics is gigantic, as is the amount of money involved. The vested bureaucratic and military interests will take quite some time to change, but the indications are that things are changing. Reports from the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and elsewhere show that we are starting to move in the right direction.
The Government have created the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation, and have brought logistics together in tri-service provision. That may sound easy to do, but it is a different matter when one tries to tell the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and the rest that they will not act alone any more. That is a huge task even to consider taking on, which is why this important programme has been so radical.
The savings, in terms of the reduction of waste, inefficiency and duplication, should be astronomical. We have heard of the cost over-runs with previous defence projects. I would like to be able to blame all that on the previous Tory Government, but such things have gone on for a long time. Projects can take eight, 10 or even 15 years to complete. It is very difficult to keep them under control, which is why the new agencies have been created.
Smart procurement was introduced to speed up decision making, and that approach has now been extended to smart acquisition. The integrated project teams were introduced for the same reason. A concept borrowed from the Americans, they have proved very successful, not merely keeping an eye on a project as it comes on-stream, but throughout its entire life. The potential savings in that regard are huge.
The Government have introduced a series of radical changes whose benefits will become clear to hon. Members of all parties. All the money saved and resources released will be devoted to front-line services. Our soldiers are the best in the world, and they will have the best equipment and resources to do whatever job they are given, be it in Sierra Leone, Kosovo or Afghanistan. That was the challenge set up by the SDR, and we must take it forward.
The fact that we have only to write a new chapter to the SDR in the aftermath of what happened on 11 September last year shows how far-sighted the review was. Obviously, no one anticipated that there would be an international terrorist attack on that scale, and the tragedy will have to change our thinking. It is clear that we will have to be able to deploy rapidly and to carry out a
We must look once again at our homeland defence, because the threat could come from anywhere. It could come from an unstable country, rogue state or terrorist gang and could strike right at the heart of this country. We must be able to adjust to meet that challenge.