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A well-known company of Scottish lawyers, McLay, Murray and Spens, who have offices down here, are known colloquially in Scotland as "Delay, Worry and Expense". I fear that that epithet characterises the Government's defence procurement programmes. That is shown in a variety of current programmes for the Navy, the Air Force and the Army.
Let me begin with some of the RAF procurement programmes. Several anxieties were expressedfor example, by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). We are disappointed by the delay in Eurofighter and concerned that the Government cannot manage more than a general commitment to it. As the hon. Member for Yeovil pointed out, we need to be sure about the third tranche of Eurofighter if we are to maintain our reputation as worthwhile designers and a leading force in fighter aircraft development. The third tranche will be different from the first tranche, and we need to be sure of the former.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) pointed out, the other great European project, the A400M, may be in difficulties if German constitutional law means that Germany cannot sign up to the 73 aircraft at least until after the general election. How long will Ministers stick with the deal? Seven thousand jobs depend on it. Many are in the west of England, and my constituency is affected.
Perhaps more importantly, what thought have the Government given to an alternative stratagem if the A400M fails? Have they considered, for example, a C-17 with British engines? It would be interesting to know about discussions that Ministers have held with manufacturers about an alternative to the A400M. My constituents in Lyneham need to know urgently where the A400M or its replacement will be based, and what constitutes the future for Lyneham. Two thousand five hundred military jobs, 750 civilian jobs and £75 million depend on it. We look forward to the Minister's early response to the current studies.
The future of strategic air tankers is also the subject of delay, worry and expense. When will the Minister announce which of the two remaining tenderers will be given the contract? Will he make a commitment about the in-service date? We are excellent at air-to-air refuelling, as the Afghanistan experience showed. We need to know that we can continue to offer that capability to the world. We cannot afford further slippage.
Delay, worry and expense apply to the Royal Navy in the context of procurement. It would be useful if the Minister scotched the rumours that the operational fleet is to be cut further. He could begin by allaying our fears about Astute class submarines. In a reply on 9 July to my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), the Under-Secretary said that HMS Astute was not scheduled until late 2006 instead of the original date of 2005, and that that would be followed by extensive work-ups.
When the programme was set out in 2001, the MOD said that the Astute class would be built in 69 months. Does the Under-Secretary's reply mean that the target will not be achieved for the other boats? If so, does the Minister accept that Artful and Ambush are likely to be similarly delayed? Will he therefore reconsider the decommissioning date for S and T class boats, which they replace? If not, we will face a cut in our submarine fleet, from 12 to six boats. That is unacceptable, and would prove devastating for our defence capabilities.
My hon. Friends the Members for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for New Forest, West, and the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), said that there was genuine anxiety about the Type 45 programme, which is showing signs of slippage. Will the Minister give us an absolute assurance that there will be no further slippage in the programme, and that the six vessels will meet the in-service date of 2007? If not, will he accept that he leaves the fleet bare of air defence for an unreasonable time because of the Government's demonstrably foolish decision to withdraw the Sea Harriers prematurelya decision to which so many hon. Members referred?
Incidentally, we hear that an American committee is to visit the UK shortly to assess what help we are to give the Americans with regard to ballistic missile defence. They view the Type 45 as a possibly suitable platform for our contribution to BMD. I know that that would not be popular on the Government Benches, but none the less it sounds as if it is being talked about.
Before the Minister says that no decisions have been taken on BMD, I draw his attention to an interesting brochure that I received this week for a conference about ballistic missile defence. The first speaker is to be none other than Group Captain Adrian Parrish, the ballistic missile defence capability working party chairman in the MOD. He is to be helped by a Mr. Philip Price, the BMD capability working group secretary in the MOD. So there is plainly a substantial part of the Department working on BMD. We need to know whether the Type 45s will be used for that defence programme.
Mr. Gray: I think that the Minister will find that he is quite incorrect in saying that. I have it on very good authority that the Brazilians have been crawling all over the ship for some time with a view to buying it for the Brazilian fleet. It is widely rumoured that the Brazilians do not need any LPDs and that the nation that does is Argentina. Will the Minister make plain today that he will put into any contract with the Brazilians a clause that states that the ship may under no circumstances, and at no time ever, be sold to Argentina? It would be an insult to the memory of the 225 service men who died in the Falklands campaign if Fearless were to land up in Argentina. We demand of the Minister an absolute assurance that he will take steps to ensure that that does not happen.
We could go on endlessly about the threats to our naval capabilities, but I would rather rest my case on a quotation from none other than Warship World, an outstanding magazine which most Members present will know well. This week's editorial states that the Royal Navy
The same problems of delay, worry and expense apply to the Army. We have heard a lot about the SA80 that is disturbing. Will the Minister clarify the tests conducted recently in Bagram on other rifles, and say whether, if they show that they are better, he will undertake to scrap the SA80 and replace it with something else? He is right to say that we must not allow our rhetoric to undermine the reliability of the main weapon that our soldiers use.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) highlighted some very worrying issues relating to the rundown of the Royal Ordnance factories, and to the problem with the accounting systems which means that we cannot now keep as large ammunition stocks as we used to. If we are to face any kind of major conflictI have mentioned Iraq, but there could be all sorts of otherswe ought, at the very least, to have a decent quantity of usable ammunition in this country, and to be able to keep some kind of capability to manufacture the stuff here. We have handed that capability over predominantly to Belgium and South Africa, and that is a disgrace. What are the Government going to do to ensure that Royal Ordnance is able to continue to manufacture ammunition, against the eventuality that we may go to war against somebody with whom Belgium and South Africa do not agree that we should go to war? It is important that we should be able to say to our people, "You can have the ammunition that you need."
Delay, worry and expense seem to typify the Government's occasionally haphazard and sometimes incompetent approach to some aspects of the procurement of the matériel that our service men need to carry out the ever more demanding tasks being asked of them. Like the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West, I pay tribute to the superb engineering skills that we have in this country, and to the great ability that we have to produce the matériel that we need. I suspect, however, that the Government are not taking the best advantage of those skills and abilities, or doing what they could be doing to promote them or to ensure that we keep them. Indeed, in some areaswe have mentioned ammunitionthey are allowing them to be run down.
Despite the Government's brave words about the comprehensive spending review, the fact remains that they are not spending enough money to avoid the awful procurement bow wave that is approaching us. This week's announcement, although welcome, will do little to address the problem if, as is widely predicted, the Prime Minister moves inexorably, despite his own party, towards some kind of conflict with Iraq. The truth is that it is the Treasury that is running the defence of the realm, not Ministry of Defence Ministers. They are not even clever enough to make a decent fist of the inadequate resources with which they are provided. That is not a sensible way of running the nation. There is an eerie echo of the 1930s here, in that the Government are ostrich-like in their determination to do little about our defence capabilities, despite the ever-gathering clouds of war. Let us hope that that is where the similarities end.