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Gray Report

Volume 498: debated on Monday 2 November 2009

6. What changes are planned to be made to the practices and processes within his Department in light of the recent Gray report on defence acquisition. (296686)

7. What steps he plans to take to reform the practices and processes of his Department in response to the Gray report on defence acquisition. (296687)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out in his oral statement to the House of 19 October a number of steps that we will take, in the light of the Gray report, to build on earlier and current reforms and to deliver a radical improvement in performance. Building on this, we intend to publish a wider, more detailed strategy for acquisition reform in the new year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he not accept that the Gray report shows the need for an immediate strategic defence review? Will that be enshrined in law, and will we now get the 10-year and 20-year rolling equipment budgets that the report recommends?

We were already committed, before the publication of the Gray review, to a strategic defence review, which will start next year. We are undertaking quite a lot of preparatory work for that now.

The Minister will have seen reports about the joint strike fighter and the aircraft carriers. Can he confirm whether those reports are accurate, and whether they will result in a reduction in aircraft, a reduction in the specification for the aircraft carriers, or both? In the context of the Gray report, does the Minister think that any such changes would represent value for money?

Order. There were at least two questions there, but I know that the hon. Gentleman will accept that one answer will suffice.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to say quite clearly on the record that the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers are complete rubbish. There is no suggestion—it has never been in our minds at all—to re-specify either of the two aircraft carriers. There has been no change in that programme, and neither has there been any change in our joint strike fighter programme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are already committed to purchasing the first three aircraft.

As the Gray report refers to major procurement activities, will the Minister tell me, and the House, what recent discussions he has had with commanders on the ground about the effectiveness of personal protection equipment for our troops in theatre—such as the Stourbridge war hero, 19-year-old Michelle Norris, who risked her life and was the first woman to gain the military cross for her work?

She was a particularly gallant lady, providing a wonderful and inspiring example to us all. The answer to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to raise this matter, is that we attempt to achieve the very best in personal protection, the very best in the latest techniques to counter improvised explosive devices, the very best armoured and protected vehicles for our troops, the very best in communications equipment and the very best in personal equipment. So far as personal equipment is concerned, I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that we now have the new Osprey assault armour—the latest version of it. The Osprey was brought in only two or three years ago—it was then the best of its time—and now we have the Osprey assault and the new mark 7 helmet. The latest roulement of troops out to Afghanistan a month ago were carrying that new armour, in respect of which they had undertaken pre-deployment training. Our principle in supplying Afghanistan with kit is a continuous pipeline of improvement, and the best available that money can buy at any point.

Page 38 of Bernard Gray’s report says that

“between £1 billion and £2.2 billion is being lost each year as a result of the failure to control this overheated equipment programme”.

Does the Minister agree?

Of course I noticed that rather startling figure when I read the Gray report myself. The right hon. Gentleman, who has obviously read the report, will also have noticed that there is no evidential basis for that statement anywhere in it, nor is there an evidential basis for it anywhere else that I have ever come across. The very fact that the figure ranges between £1 billion and more than £2 billion shows, I think, how imprecise that statement inevitably is.

Does my hon. Friend have plans to reduce elements in the procurement programme to match the number of personnel to oversee that programme and the resources to implement it?

We continue to keep our equipment programme under constant review. The whole purpose of having an equipment programme—this is my job—is to ensure that it is managed on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis so that it is coherent, and so that we can make such changes as are required as a result of changing operational or other priorities. At any one time, of course, it must also be affordable. We can spend only the money we have in any one year, and we always meet our contractual liabilities. This programme is constantly under review and constantly under management. There is no question of suddenly taking one decision and viewing it as valid for all time.

The Government’s stewardship of the defence of the realm has suffered two damning indictments in two weeks—the Gray report and also the Haddon-Cave report on the Nimrod. In considering how to respond to the devastating criticism contained in the Bernard Gray report, will the Government ensure that the lessons in the Haddon-Cave report on the Nimrod are also fully learned so that the welfare of our armed forces is given priority over cost-cutting in the Ministry of Defence?

In the light of the hon. Gentleman’s concern—he is trying to make a party political point—I think he has fundamentally misunderstood something important: the Haddon-Cave report, although it produced some very serious and worrying conclusions, is focused on the issue of airworthiness, whereas the Gray report is entirely about procurement. Clearly, we take into account in our procurement reforms—about which I have already made a statement—any relevant conclusions from the Haddon-Cave report, but the prime issue in that report is the procedures for delivering airworthiness certificates for our aircraft.