British Army Uniforms

– in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 6th December 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour 2:50 pm, 6th December 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether British Army uniforms are being manufactured in China.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interesting reply, because no jobs are being created in Northern Ireland. Are any of those garments being manufactured in Lithuania? If so, what percentage? Are the breatheability and waterproofing to specification?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

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.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Well, my Lords, you learn something new every day in this House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for that fascinating information.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

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?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour

My Lords, is the Army getting the benefit of new technology in textiles, rather than buying uniforms made out of old-style fabrics because they are cheap?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative

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?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Wade of Chorlton Lord Wade of Chorlton Conservative

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?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, why do we not buy the garments direct?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the companies that we ask to tender are the most efficient and effective to clothe a modern Army.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

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?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

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.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if she needs any professional advice—