Defence Procurement

Defence – in the House of Commons at on 25 March 2024.

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Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the defence procurement system.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the defence procurement system.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the defence procurement system.

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

The Department uses a range of measures to assess the effectiveness of defence acquisition. We have reduced the average time taken to deliver our projects and programmes, but we must go further to drive pace, so last month I announced our new integrated procurement model.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The National Audit Office has previously highlighted MOD pilot training procurement failures, so is the RAF now meeting its pilot training quotas? Is the Minister satisfied with progress in that key area?

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

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. Of course, training is fundamental to bringing in the next generation to man our capability. I recently had the pleasure of visiting RAF Valley, where I discussed the issue with the RAF. It was able to confirm to me that, for the first time in a long time, there were more students taking up their places rather than in holds. That is a key metric in which we are seeing significant progress, but yes we want to go further.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Last March, the Government said that they would have their Ajax scheme ready between October 2028 and September 2029. Given that only 25% of armoured vehicles have been produced, are the Government on target to meet that deadline?

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

Notwithstanding the waste of £5 billion in procurement since 2019, will the Minister join the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend John Healey in a campaign to make in Britain, ensuring our industry and economy move together to support not just our defence, but our economy? How will he achieve that given that Tata Steel—to which we have paid £500 million —is cutting down its blast furnace capacity? How will we be able to proceed with the AUKUS contract and other contracts without virgin steel?

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

On the important question of steel, we do not expect the closure of Port Talbot to have a significant impact on defence, but obviously we will continue to monitor that situation. I would just gently point out that in 2022-23, the last year for which we have figures available, 89% of spend by the MOD with industry was with British industry. It will be an awful lot harder to make that level of spend if Labour is unable to commit to matching our spending commitments. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned, perhaps he will join other colleagues on the Labour Benches in insisting that the shadow Secretary of State confirms whether he will match 2.3% of GDP now and our target of 2.5% as soon as the economy supports it.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

May I take this opportunity to also place on record my thanks to the Minister for Armed Forces, my right hon. and gallant Friend James Heappey for all the work he has done? It was a joy to work with him when I was in the Department.

I thank the Minister for Defence Procurement for his procurement review. It is an excellent document, moving forward in a pragmatic way. As part of that review, will he reassess where potential gaps might occur between old platforms being retired and new platforms being delayed? Does he agree that housing procurement—accommodation for our armed forces—is as much an operational capability as a tank?

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

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He made a similar point in the debate on readiness last week about the importance of accommodation. I think we can all agree that there is a tendency in defence to focus on the big shiny platforms. Accommodation is a key priority; we are very committed to improving accommodation. We know that in the winter before this one performance was not satisfactory. That is why we put in extra investment of £400 million and announced a winter plan. I am pleased to say that we have made huge progress, for example in ensuring that thousands of properties have work achieved on damp and mould.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire

I am delighted that the MOD has confirmed the procurement of additional Chinooks, given that RAF Odiham, in my constituency, is the home of the Chinook force. However, it is also home to the fleet’s frontline maintenance, second line engine repair, and in-depth upgrade and modification. Given that 85% of the Chinook fleet sustainment takes place in the UK today, can I have my hon. Friend’s assurance that RAF Odiham will remain the home of the Chinook, and that there will be a similar, if not higher, level of maintenance of the new variants here and across Britain?

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

I greatly enjoyed my visit to Odiham, where my hon. Friend and I discussed a wide variety of issues. He is right to draw attention to our commitment to the procurement of 14 extended-range Chinooks—they have a huge range, of 1,000 miles—but there is also the industrial benefit to the UK and, of course, to my hon. Friend’s constituency. I can confirm that not only has that procurement made us a £300 million saving, but it will contribute £150 million-worth of benefit to the UK’s prosperity.

Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke

Will my hon. Friend update the House on progress made with UK-Ukraine defence manufacturing co-operation, especially with regard to removing the hurdles? Is there anything more that the Government should be doing?

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

My hon. Friend has championed this matter consistently. I am pleased to say that we held the first UK trade mission in December, and that there will be further such missions. I can confirm most importantly that, following that mission, UK defence companies and the Ukrainian Government have signed the following agreements. Babcock has been being awarded a three-year contract by the Ukraine ministry of defence to support and maintain two mine countermeasure vessels; BAE Systems and AMS Integrated Solutions have signed an agreement that will enable them to offer specialised artillery systems support directly to the Ukrainian armed forces; and Thales has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ukrainian drone company AeroDrone, which will bring together the best of Ukrainian and Northern Irish engineering to deliver new capability to Ukraine’s forces.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Procurement of the new medium-lift helicopter has been characteristically suboptimal under the present Government, but this particular Defence Procurement Minister has managed, with his inverse Midas touch, to ensure that costs have grown from about £1 billion to £1.3 billion, delivery forecasts have slipped six delayed years to 2031, and the number of assets to be received has fallen from 44 to 35. Given that the forecast will inevitably slip to the right, service personnel will be under-resourced and the budget will almost certainly grow, what possible confidence can anyone have in this Defence Procurement Minister?

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

I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman, whose party has been unable even to procure a ferry. [Hon. Members: “It says here!”] I know the subject, and I can confirm to him, because I am very proud of this, that at my insistence our competition for the new medium helicopter will involve a far greater emphasis both on supporting UK industry and on supporting exports. It is by supporting exports that we secure industrial resilience and support for prosperity across the United Kingdom. Of course it is a competition, but we have three very good entrants.