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 cannot give the hon. Gentleman a long-term guarantee, but I can certainly write to him and sketch out the future arrangements for munitions manufacture.

The company has already invested about £12 million in the new insensitive munitions plant at Glascoed, and we continue to examine new ways to provide capability and value for money. That is not an exclusive process, and if the hon. Gentleman can bring his experience to bear on it, I will welcome his input and that of his colleagues.

In munitions, that aim is being exercised through project MASS—munitions acquisition, the supply solution. With the hon. Gentleman's defence background, he will know that the MOD is fuelled by acronyms, and project MASS is one that does what it says on the tin. The project is in its assessment phase and is examining our requirements beyond 2010 with regard to the entire munitions supply chain, as well as analysing the potential benefits of further involving industry in the end-to-end supply chain for munitions.

The hon. Gentleman should also be reassured that even though BAES Land Systems is doing its utmost to guarantee security of supply, we have gone one step further. The Department is taking active steps to help the company to create an even more robust supply chain. A good example of that can be seen in the potential Holston arrangements. The supply arrangement from Holston will be a commercial one between two separate arms of BAE Systems—BAES Land Systems in the UK and BAE Systems Inc. in the US, which runs Holston—but we are already in negotiation with the US Department of Defence for a stand-alone munitions memorandum of understanding to underpin that. That will ensure clear understanding on both sides of the importance of reliable supply.

A similar memorandum of understanding with France is being considered for the products supplied by Eurenco, so on the hon. Gentleman's point about Belgium, I hope I can reassure him that we are trying to offer that extra confidence to the system.

More widely, there are also a number of international agreements with our allies, such as the implementing agreement on security of supply with France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Sweden, and the US-UK defence co-operation memorandum of understanding, which provide support and assurance in the security of supply of defence equipment, including munitions.

Although the supply of explosives to our armed forces is an emotive matter, it must be remembered that we already rely on overseas suppliers for a great deal of our equipment. The UK is successfully procuring a range of munitions components from overseas already, not to mention a range of complex weapons. Therefore, even if BAES Land Systems were to reinvest at Bridgwater and accept the resultant cuts in other capability areas, we would still have to source many of the remaining components of each ammunition round from overseas.

In general, even if a UK company is the prime contractor for a particular equipment, it is likely that it will source many of the components from overseas. We would not wish to hamper UK companies in their efforts to produce top-line equipment for our troops by insisting that they source components in the UK. Obviously, a balance must be struck between security of supply and value for money, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, if not be happy with my contribution, understand that we keep the issue at the forefront of our minds in every decision that is taken.

Conversely, many of our allies rely on us for many of their defence equipments where we are the leaders in a particular area. Only through that global marketplace can we ensure that we can afford to give our troops the best equipment they deserve.

As a new defence Minister, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I want the best equipped and the best trained forces, so that they can live up to their name as the best armed forces in the world. Although I do not do defence procurement—that is done by another Minister—and I am not the Minister with responsibility for the armed forces, that is a shared goal that all four Ministers at the Department are keen to achieve. Our new Secretary of State is particularly keen that we give the reassurances that the hon. Gentleman and other Members are looking for on security of supply.

To sum up, I am confident that the changes that I have described will provide better capability at better value for money in such an important sector, ensuring that our armed forces are provided with the general munitions necessary for success on operations. The hon. Gentleman might not walk away with the assurances that he requires on the future of Bridgwater, but I hope that I have been able to allay some of his fears on the strategic level of security of supply.

I understand how the hon. Gentleman is standing up for his constituents and the work force, and he has also talked to the trade unions about the issue. If there are any other ways in which the Department can soften the blow in our commercial relationship with BAE Systems, we will do everything we can to help him and his constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Two o'clock.