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 am not aware of that situation. Obviously, my officials will find out about it, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman if I cannot get an answer in the next 20 minutes.

The re-engineering of the explosives manufacturing process was always going to be necessary, regardless of any company rationalisation plans. In simple terms, it was already undergoing considerable change as new technologies were adopted and new forms of chemical bonding developed.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, BAE Systems provides the armed forces with the majority of their general munitions matériel. In October, we reaffirmed our long-term commitment to BAE Systems and its supply of munitions in the form of signed partnering principles, which ensure security of supply of munitions and build on the framework partnering agreement that we signed with the company in 1999. Those principles encourage improved performance, value for money and modernisation of the company's systems. Without that, there is unlikely to be a substantial future for munitions production in the UK.

Any site rationalisation activity is a commercial decision for the company. I strongly understand the hon. Gentleman's point about security of supply, but we have been given assurances that the required capability will be delivered at value for money. It may be that today we will have to disagree on our interpretation of those assurances.

BAE Systems has announced the closure of two of its munitions sites: Chorley and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, Bridgwater. I understand his continuing concern about the Bridgwater site. If it were in my constituency, I would also be advocating my constituents' case. However, the decision remains a commercial matter for the company. I am aware that it is providing a comprehensive redundancy package that is well above the statutory minimum. In addition, there will be opportunities for relocation within the company. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, I recognise that this is a difficult time and that an older work force might choose not to take that option.

BAES Land Systems intends to outsource the supply of several explosive products, but some elements of the explosives manufacturing process at Bridgwater will be transferred to Glascoed. As such, a programme of significant investment has commenced to underpin a secure and affordable source of supply and to ensure that essential munitions capabilities continue to be supplied from a UK base. To secure greater value for money, BAE Systems may source base materials for those munitions overseas.

The company has assured us that, in assessing potential overseas sources of supply, security of supply considerations are a key factor in deciding which companies can provide such matériel. I have asked my officials at the MOD to keep me informed about this, and of course I will write to the hon. Gentleman if there are any changes.

For a variety of other munitions, the MOD and BAE Systems have a significant stockpile of matériel to ensure access to munitions when the armed forces need them. The hon. Gentleman will be reassured by the fact that we have undertaken rigorous assessments of our future arrangements with BAES Land Systems in respect of the supply of munitions and are confident that the right decisions are being made on security of supply and value for money.