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

The countries that are hoping to supply us will have given guarantees that they will retain a security of supply. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be comforted on that point when I discuss Eurenco and future reassurances that we hope to make in that area.

The company has indicated that it is likely to source raw materials from the Holston plant in the United States, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. It is one of two potential international suppliers, the other being Eurenco in France. The hon. Gentleman raised the point about security in a previous debate. I have been assured that BAE Systems has talked to the company about security, and perhaps some of his concerns could be allayed by its security arrangements.

My officials have visited Holston and are wholly assured that it can easily produce ample quantities of the materials we require while meeting the stringent quality standards that the hon. Gentleman says are vital. However, the final decision on sourcing will be for the company, based on the parameters that we offer in the contract.

The hon. Gentleman tried to test my French on quality control. I shall not even attempt to come up with a phrase, but I assure him that quality control underpins everything that our officials are trying to achieve in the contracts. It is important that we include a system of monitoring and testing so that quality never decreases. He raised an important point, and I hope that the systems that we put in place will reassure him in that regard.

It should also be noted that the Holston plant can manufacture crude RDX to the same standard as that previously produced at Bridgwater. BAES Land Systems, overseen by the Defence Ordnance Safety Group, validated initial samples, and I am assured that they are of excellent quality. From the frown on the hon. Gentleman's face, we might have to disagree on that point as well. Each batch of raw material will be tested in the same manner to ensure continued quality.

The hon. Gentleman should be reassured that the decision to support the company's plans was not taken lightly. The company could not allow a situation to continue in which BAE Systems was starting to underwrite inefficient production. We applaud the company's efforts to achieve a better balance of cost and capability. Its decisions are in line with the defence industrial strategy and are in the best interests of producing a modern and sustainable munitions business in the UK for which we can tell the British taxpayer we are getting value for money. I hope he understands that that is the balance we must strike.

The hon. Gentleman should be reassured that a project team is closely monitoring and challenging BAE Systems as it undertakes that transition. I congratulate him, because these debates are profoundly challenging to BAE Systems as well, and perhaps a bit of parliamentary scrutiny will keep its technicians—although he mentioned its parliamentary officer—on their mettle.

In addition, the company has contingency plans, particularly as there are at least two overseas suppliers for each of the main raw energetic materials that we require. Should the unforeseen happen and supply be interrupted from one source, BAE Systems will retain the technical ability to switch to the alternative or draw on existing stockpiles.

Another benefit of the company's transition is the considerable investment—up to £10 million—in its facility at Glascoed. That will become a centre of excellence in the development and production of insensitive munitions, which are what we will need to operate all our future munitions requirements safely.