Second Day's Debate

Part of Defence – in the House of Commons at 7:44 pm on 28th October 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 7:44 pm, 28th October 1987

A week or so ago a Harrier jet went out of control and flew, pilotless, some 200 miles before crashing into the ocean. The Government's defence policy is in a similar state—out of control and heading for disaster. Despite vast increases in spending, adding 5 per cent. per annum since the Government came to office to an already very large budget, it is acknowledged that the armed forces are probably in a worse state, relatively speaking, than they were before the second world war.

The Navy is a good example. On 22 February this year the Sunday Telegraph reported: By the summer, the strength of the Navy will be less than the level planned by Sir John Nott, when he was Defence Secretary in 1981. On 10 July The Independent carried the headline: Navy sending sitting-ducks to sea". A headline in The Times on 10 April stated: The Fleet's Up the Creek". Despite all that, there are to be cuts totalling hundreds of millions of pounds. That money will not be redistributed to the social sector — to education and housing — as I would wish. The cuts are due to financial crisis and mismanagement, and the money is needed particularly to pay for the Government's nuclear obsession—a topic to which I shall return in due course. The cuts will mean more job losses, but there will be no Government action to provide replacement jobs.

The excessive waste in the Defence Estimates is caused by a combination of muddle, mismanagement and inadequate control by the Ministry of Defence, and excessive profiteering by racketeers in the defence industry monopolies cushioned by the Ministry of Defence. There are plenty of examples. In the light of all the talk about glasnost, I hope that the Minister will bring some glasnost to this country and comment on the examples that I shall give.

For instance, the programme to replace the self-propelled howitzer artillery guns with the SP70 ended in disaster, with £88 million of taxpayers' money down the drain. The Army's artillery command computer — the Bates system — is reported to have doubled in cost to some £200 million so far, with further costs to come, as the project has been delayed at least four years and will in any event not achieve what it set out to achieve. The Secretary of State had the nerve to talk about improved contract performance, but where is the improved performance in that instance?

Marconi and its subsidiaries have been accused of fraud, non-payment of royalties and making excessive profits, not to mention the unexplained deaths of three of its employees. The House should have answers to all those points. I congratulate the MOD police on having at long last taken action, but it should have been monitoring those contracts long ago so that such waste and fraud could not take place. More than £1 billion was wasted on the Nimrod early warning system. It is all very well for Conservative Members to say that that began under a Labour Government, but the Tory Government have seven and a half years of waste to answer for.

The AWACS to replace the Nimrod system cost £860 million for six. Another two will push the total over £1 billion, excluding spares. Yet a press report of 5 October stated that a senior Pentagon scientist, Dr. Tom Amlie, had said that the system would 'not last 30 minutes' in a war". According to Dr. Amlie: the unarmed aircraft could be shot down with great ease once hostilities had started …The system's powerful radar, designed to detect low-flying enemy aircraft between 200 and 300 miles away, will act as a beacon to Warsaw Pact fighters carrying missiles which home in on radar signals". It was further reported: AWACS aircraft in Saudia Arabia have twice failed to spot aircraft being flown into the country by defecting Iranian pilots. That is the kind of programme on which we are wasting £1 billion.

We saw pictures of the Tornados in the press today. The Foxhunter fire control radar which enables them to operate does not work, although it has cost £650 million so far. It is already 60 per cent. over budget and the MOD has given it another four years to work, at an extra cost of at least £100 million—so far as we can ascertain, as the figure has been deleted from the major project list in volume two of the Defence Estimates on the ground that it is "confidential." In fact, it has been deleted to cover up the enormous waste of public money.

UKADGE, the United Kingdom air defence ground environment — defence radar operation centres, computers, communication systems and control systems—was expected to cost £400 million, but is already to cost £1 billion or more. Moreover, it is alleged, the system will be vulnerable to electronic magnetic pulses. The RAF's friend or foe identification system does not work either and is still shooting down our own and other NATO aircraft in trials. The waste is immense.

Then there is land use. There are more than 3,000 bases in this country, with a replacement value of £50 billion at 1982 prices. That figure must be much higher now. According to the Ministry's own study, those sites are being significantly underused. In 1986 the Ministry had 14,000 empty homes and 4,000 had been empty for more than a year, despite the severe homelessness problem in this country. What a waste.

Millions of pounds are wasted every time one of the low-flying aircraft crashes. At least £70 million was wasted on the Zircon project.