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PARLIMANENTARY QUESTIONS

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS FROM PS2 THE LEADING U.K. GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMPANY
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DEFENCE PROCUREMENT DEBATE

Westminster Hall
Wednesday 16 June 2004
[Mr. John McWilliam in the Chair]

Defence Procurement
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-[Mr.
Heppell.]

9.30 am
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. McWilliam. It is
a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I hope that we will have an interesting
debate.

I believe that it was Napoleon who once said that military victory results from three parts courage and only one part equipment. I will not quarrel with such a renowned strategist, given that my military experience is confined to the more humble armed forces parliamentary scheme. Nevertheless,

I want to focus on the equipment on which our forces rely, what is needed, where it is bought, and how it is made. First, I shall consider the way in which decisions about defence procurement are made, the security of Britain’s defence requirements, and the scarce financial resources with which we must meet those requirements. Secondly, I shall consider in greater detail the marketplace for defence equipment and the role that our Government should play. The central problem of defence procurement is how to plan for the uncertain threats in a rapidly changing world that the US Defence Secretary has described as “unknown unknowns”. We are not certain about the equipment that our forces will require in future campaigns. For decades, the transatlantic alliance was focused on the containment of Soviet expansion, but in the early 1980s how many people predicted the end of the cold war? Likewise, no one could have foreseen the terrible attacks that were launched on the United States on 11 September and which caused the US and its allies to reassess the nature of the threats that they faced. In the face of such uncertainty, we are right to emphasise the need for broad-based capabilities.

In recent weeks, concern has been expressed about the resources that are available for procurement. It has been reported that the war in Iraq led to
the Ministry of Defence’s having to borrow £500 million from procurement budget funds to cover short-term costs and that that sum was due to be paid out on the Eurofighter programme in the mistaken belief that it would be delayed and therefore payment would be put off. Will the Minister comment on the procurement budget and update us on discussions between the Secretary of State, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the defence budget for the years ahead?

Although those concerns about funding are real, we should put them into context. Labour introduced five years of year-on-year real terms increases in the defence budget, and the last round of spending was particularly beneficial to the armed services. That compares with a swingeing cut in defence spending of nearly one third in the previous decade. I am not making a party political point.

Indeed, politicians across the spectrum recognise that the end of the cold war reduced the threats that our conventional forces and nuclear deterrent were designed to repel. I want to emphasise the wider context of these funding issues: massive long-term investment in the armed forces and a vision of the armed services as a worldwide force for good. Having established the need for strong armed services and the Government’s firm belief in the need for effective procurement, there are still controversial issues about what equipment is required. There has recently been controversy over the Royal Navy’s needs as it transforms from a cold-war-based service to one that can genuinely project global power. As the Minister knows only too well from my frequent questions, the BAE Systems yard in Scotstoun in my constituency is building the first of the Type 45 destroyers. The decision to buy Type 45s has been much criticised, most recent

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