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Munitions Supplies

Volume 454: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

2. What arrangements are in place to ensure the availability of adequate quantities of high quality munitions for the armed forces. (105373)

There are sufficient quantities of high-quality ammunition to meet operational requirements in all theatres. Ammunition is accepted into service with UK armed forces only after it has passed an extensive qualification programme addressing both performance and safety. Careful stock-pile management then ensures that the right quantities of the right types of ammunition are available to meet operational needs. That is achieved through a combination of extensive forward planning, close liaison with operational force commanders and detailed analysis of historic usage.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he not agree that for his Department to have justified sending to our troops in Afghanistan a batch of ammunition that was known to have a potentially lethal fault, on the grounds that it would have been irresponsible to hold it back owing to insufficient stocks of properly functioning ammunition, demonstrates yet again the unacceptable risks that our troops are exposed to as a result of inadequate resources, complacency and incompetence on the part of Ministers?

If that were the case, I would stand here guilty, but it is not. The hon. Gentleman should listen to explanations that have been given by the Ministry of Defence, not to what has been said in the press. What we are saying does not accord with his analysis.

Do Defence Ministers feel any scintilla of embarrassment at the fact that four former Chiefs of the General Staff, as well as the present incumbent, have publicly and strongly damned every aspect of MOD policies in respect of arms supplies, general administration and armaments—the policies of a Department over which those Ministers are supposed to preside?

We have very good and honest relations with current Chiefs of Staff and we keep in close liaison with previous ones, all of whom have the freedom to express a point of view, but all of whom were part of the planning process that I set out in my earlier answer.

I listened to the Minister’s earlier answer with great interest. The fact remains that troops on operations have found that their weapons have jammed because the quality of the ammunition provided was simply not good enough. Has the Minister any idea what it is like to fire a weapon and find that it jams in his hands? If he has not, I have.

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am not a military man, but I have fired rifles and I have been a Minister long enough to have been through all the testing that we had to do to improve the SA80. The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong, as, indeed, did the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb). The jamming of machine guns was not the result of the ammunition, but because of a fault in a particular part of the equipment, which has now been rectified. When we discover that a piece of equipment is not functioning, it is immediately replaced with new equipment. It has not happened in the way that Conservative Members have set out. I must also say that all the ammunition that we buy has been consistently up to NATO standards. Of the particular type of ammunition mentioned, 680,000 rounds have been fired in both operational and training terms.

We all saw the video on You Tube and know what position those two soldiers were in with their malfunctioning bullets or weapons. Last week, the former Chief of the General Staff said:

“Military operations cost in blood and treasure … It is our soldiers who pay the cost in blood; the nation must therefore pay the cost in treasure”.

Does the Minister agree that that includes giving our soldiers bullets and guns that work?

I am really surprised at this line of approach. I have already answered the question twice and said that it did not happen in the way in which it was set out in the media, so there is no point in continuing running this theme. A soldier who used that equipment could, on listening to our debate, become convinced that there was a fault with the ammunition. There is not. It is up to NATO standards. A fault was discovered with the machine gun, but it was rectified. Where such a fault manifests itself, the actual piece of equipment is then replaced. I ask Opposition Members, who are asking extensive questions about this, actually to read the answers that we give them.