We keep our procedures under constant review, and are currently introducing further improvements.
I thank the Under-Secretary for his answer, but the main investment decisions on Terrier, Soothsayer and the new naval satellite communications terminals were made in 2001, on the introduction of smart acquisition, yet those very projects suffered the greatest slippage in 2007-08. Why?
As the hon. Lady knows, we have a substantial defence procurement programme, which we keep under constant review. One of the improvements to which I alluded is a more robust attitude to failure. The hon. Lady will see the results of that before too long.
Procuring the right up-to-date equipment is vital for our troops, but it can also provide skilled work for British workers, not least in my constituency at BAE Systems in Scotswood road in Newcastle. What prospect is there of an announcement early in 2010 on the future rapid effect system—FRES—the Warrior upgrade and the Scout and AFV support vehicles?
Just a week ago we issued draft invitations to tender for two important land vehicle projects. One is for the Scout vehicle and the other is for the Warrior upgrade. I remain hopeful that we can sign contracts for those two vehicles early next year, following the invitations to tender, the responses to those, which we have asked for by October, and our evaluation of those bids.
Good procurement depends, of course, on maintaining the best test centres. Some 6,500 defence-related jobs have gone in Scotland since 1997. No other political party supports the Government’s pondering of cutting 125 jobs at the Hebrides range in Uist. Will the Minister banish the uncertainty and tell us that those jobs, at Europe’s best missile testing centre, are safe? This Government will not be forgiven in Scotland if they go.
There is no question of degrading our testing facilities. The issue is whether it is more efficient to control all those ranges from one place, which modern IT makes a feasible possibility, and we would be irresponsible not to consider that. I have received a number of representations from Scotland that I greatly respect, and I have agreed to look at them. I have also agreed to visit the sites and to talk to local employees. We will not take any decisions until that has been completed.
Two years ago, the current Secretary of State said that all six ex-Danish Merlin helicopters would be operational by 2008, yet it now seems that they will not be available until the end of this year at the earliest. Given the widespread criticism of the Government’s failure to provide sufficient helicopters, how does the Minister justify yet another 12-month delay in a critical programme?
I do not accept that we have failed in producing helicopter capability in Afghanistan. The Secretary—[Interruption.] No, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just set out some of the figures, including an 80 per cent. increase in the availability of helicopter hours over the past two and a half years. We also have an enormous programme of procurement of new helicopters: there are the Danish Merlins and the—[Interruption.] I am coming to that in a second. There are the Merlins that are coming back from Iraq and being fitted up to theatre-entry standard for Afghanistan, as well as the prospect of the eight Mk 3 Chinooks, which will be available for operations again by the end of this year. There is also the re-engining of the Lynx helicopters and the prospect of Wildcat, which is being manufactured. That is a very good record. As for the Merlins from Denmark, they are being upgraded to theatre-entry standard as rapidly as possible. I cannot responsibly force through such procedures more rapidly than the experts can deliver them. Indeed, that would be an extremely dangerous thing to do.