Defence Procurement System

Defence – in the House of Commons at on 15 May 2023.

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Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s defence procurement system.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We are driving the delivery of capability to the frontline. When requirements, budget and risk are clear, we have proven our ability to deliver. The majority of our programmes are on or ahead of time and budget. The Ministry of Defence has set out an affordable 10-year equipment plan to ensure that our armed forces are being given what they need, while living within our means.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

I heard what the Secretary of State said about Atlas. He has previously given me a commitment that there will be no loss of capability, but today, Deborah Haynes at Sky News is reporting that the UK will be left dangerously exposed when the C-130J is cut next month. That comes amid concerns that its successor, the Atlas A400M, has yet to be cleared to perform the niche but mission-critical functions of the C-130J. Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that our defence procurement system will ensure no loss of operational capability?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am more than happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There is a great deal of affection for the Hercules, but to go back to what the Secretary of State said about the recent performance in the important operation in Sudan, the largest number of evacuees that the Hercules carried out from Sudan was 143. The largest number in an A400M was about 100 more than that.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

Continuity, focus and a relentless grip on detail are the hallmarks of a competent defence procurement Minister. In less than a year, we are on our fourth defence procurement Minister, so we do not have the continuity bit nailed down. Will the new Minister reassure the House of his competence by enlightening us of the most challenging defence procurement issue on his desk this week?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I look to my left and my right and I see continuity. I am grateful to follow in the steps of my right hon. and learned Friend Alex Chalk, now Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who did a sterling job. To give one example, Dame Nia Griffith mentioned the issue of replenishment. I recently had the privilege of visiting British troops training Ukrainian forces, as referred to by the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood. We have to remember, it is not just that we are training 15,000 personnel to go back out to Ukraine and defend their homeland; every time they go we are giving them high-quality kit. There are lessons to learn from what has happened in Ukraine, but we should be incredibly proud of that effort. We have procured at pace, gifted in kind and ensured that Ukraine has been able to sustain its fight to this day.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

Well, that’s crystal clear. One of the things the Minister said when talking about Ukraine, in answer to my question about procurement, was about replenishment. He will know, even in his short tenure in the job, that small and medium-sized enterprises are the lifeblood of any military-industrial complex. Can he explain why, in answer to my parliamentary question a couple of weeks ago asking if the Ministry of Defence would attend a public sector meet-the-buyer event in Edinburgh, which is attended by other UK Government Departments, the MOD—a £50 billion-resourced organisation—cited a lack of resource as the reason it could not attend? Is that a special kind of indifference that is reserved for Scotland?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Of course not. I am happy to look into that. I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that the latest figures show that the proportion that the MOD spends with SMEs has increased from 19.3% in 2018-19 to 23% in 2021. I ran an SME before coming to this place—it was not a defence SME but I know how important they are. They give us creativity and innovation, and I want to work with them and the primes in delivering the British defence industry, because we see that as a key part of our own defence capability.