My Lords, some British Army uniforms are being manufactured in China, including those being successfully supplied under the cut and sewn garments contract awarded to a UK supplier in 2004.
Yes, my Lords. All items manufactured in China are to specification and meet the required standard. I cannot go into details about breatheability, but I am happy to write to my noble friend on that. Yes, some of our forces' clothing is manufactured in Lithuania through UK suppliers. I cannot give him the percentage. Last time I looked, Northern Ireland was part of the UK, and therefore we are using a UK company. That Fermanagh company will obtain many benefits as a result of its five-year contract.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the emperor of China bestowed upon "Chinese Gordon" the rank of a field marshal in the Chinese army, so that after the Red Guards had done their worst, the only surviving edition of a Chinese field marshal's uniform was in the Royal Engineers' museum in Chatham, to which General Gordon bequeathed it? Therefore, there is an opportunity for trade in the opposite direction.
Well, my Lords, you learn something new every day in this House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for that fascinating information.
My Lords, how many variants are there to what is paradoxically called uniform in the British forces? Given the wide variety of uniforms, if the Ministry of Defence is looking for better ways to spend defence money, might it now be time, as everyone in units wears DPM kit rather than other uniforms, to look at whether the more esoteric and expensive items might be held centrally, rather than on personal issue?
My Lords, the defence industrial strategy, with which I know the noble Lord is familiar and on which there will soon be some public announcements, has looked carefully at supply of uniforms. One of the reasons we have this single major contract with Cooneen, Watts and Stone is that we found that past procurement of uniforms had not been as efficient and effective as it should have been. So the noble Lord is right, and we have learned the lessons that he his asking us to learn; but we learned them before he asked us.
My Lords, all the services, including the Army, benefit from research and development into new and modern textiles all the time. It is an ongoing process. Whether we like it or not, the manufacture of Army and civilian garments is now outsourced to other countries, including China.
My Lords, bearing in mind the embargo placed on the import of bras from China earlier in the year by Commissioner Mandelson, is the Minister confident that a similar embargo will not be placed on the import of British Army uniforms, thus causing the European Union to leave our troops naked in the face of the enemy?
My Lords, we will ensure that our troops are not left naked. In fact, the UK Armed Forces are among the best equipped in the world, as their repeated successes in operations demonstrate.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that in placing the order with a company in Northern Ireland, which then gave the order to a company in China to manufacture the goods, production was stopped at a similar plant in the north-west of England that had produced the garments for the past 20 years? As a result, a lot of English people in the north-west, where manufacturing jobs are dropping at a tremendous rate, were put out of a job. Why do the Government not appreciate that the overall costs include not only those of the garments but perhaps the extra cost of losing jobs in the north-west of England and in the UK generally?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the procurement of these uniforms was carried out in adherence with UK public procurement regulations. They are derived from EC directives, which, again, whether we like it or not, do not permit discrimination in favour of a national interest. In fact, the companies that submitted tenders for this contract are all UK-based. Their manufacturing is often sub-contracted and outsourced beyond the UK but they are all UK-based companies.
My Lords, the whole contract was placed in China. Does my noble friend not agree that breatheability is crucial? Without it, the uniforms become extremely uncomfortable, troops sweat a lot and their performance is put at risk. Is it not rather stupid that we put performance and maybe the troops' lives at risk for the sake of saving a few pounds?
My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend. We are not putting any troops' lives at risk. The garments being manufactured in China come up to modern garment specification. I shall certainly look into the issue of breathability.