Foreign Procured Munitions

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:39 pm on 6th June 2006.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 1:39 pm, 6th June 2006

I congratulate Mr. Liddell-Grainger on securing a further debate on the procurement of munitions and for providing me with the opportunity to speak in my first ever Adjournment debate as a Minister.

The hon. Gentleman brings his considerable defence experience to the debate, and he is a powerful advocate for his constituents. I suspect that I shall be able to reassure him on the points he raised about security of supply, although I shall not be as reassuring on the independent commercial decisions made by BAE Systems.

The hon. Gentleman has raised vital strategic issues, and I recognise the disappointment being felt by the loyal, committed and experienced work force in Bridgwater. Although general munitions are important for the future of defence, this is a commercial decision for the company. However, I understand what the work force must be feeling. As a former trade union representative, I hope that I can be sensitive to that.

Turning more specifically to weapons and ammunition, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the UK defence market is the most open in the world. We procure a range of weapon systems from overseas that provides us with an effective military capability and value for money to the British taxpayer. It includes munitions—I shall refer to some of his specific points on munitions later—but also complex weapons and other equipment. It would be wrong to deny ourselves the opportunity to draw from a wider market if it made sense to do so.

The focus of the debate is the use of foreign-procured munitions, which is an emotive issue on both sides of the House, but one which I assure the hon. Gentleman has been thoroughly investigated and tested by Members of the House in Adjournment debates in this Chamber and on the Floor of the House. Such investigation helped to underpin much of the munitions chapter of the defence industrial strategy, which provided clarity in the thinking of the Ministry of Defence on the supply of general munitions.

The strategy explicitly recognised the military importance of munitions and the critical capabilities that we want to retain and develop in the UK industrial base, such as the ability to design munitions, support them through life and test them safely. In that regard, we have a stated policy to convert our explosives to insensitive munitions.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about TNT, of course it was important to our general munitions policy in the past, but demand for it will decrease as we start switching to insensitive munitions with a polymer-bonded explosive that do not rely on TNT as the explosive fill.