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Defence Equipment Plan

Volume 590: debated on Monday 12 January 2015

Under this Government, the Ministry of Defence was one of the first Departments to publish a long-term plan: our 10-year equipment plan. The third annual iteration of the equipment plan will be published shortly. I expect it to show that, in the vital area of defence equipment, we have a plan and that we are delivering against it in each domain. New investment committed last year includes: three offshore patrol vessels, four new F-35s, and 589 new Scout armoured vehicles under the largest land equipment contract the British Army has seen for 30 years.

As my hon. Friend will recall, the previous Labour Administration had no plan and compounded one procurement incompetence with another. Consequently, the wrong equipment was often delivered, years late and billions over budget. By contrast, since balancing the defence budget and establishing an equipment plan, where there was chaos now there is competence; where there were cost overruns now there are cost savings; and where equipment deliveries were years late now they are on time, or, in far fewer cases, a few months behind.

In recent weeks, maritime patrol aircraft have been seen in the skies above Moray, operating from RAF Lossiemouth and plugging a capability cap, because the RAF has precisely no maritime patrol aircraft. All of our neighbours have them: the Irish air corps, the Royal Danish air force and the Royal Norwegian air force. In the plan the Minister has just mentioned, when can we expect to have maritime patrol aircraft?

As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, there was a recognised capability gap when maritime aircraft were taken out of service in SDSR 2010. The Government, as with previous Governments, operate in conjunction with our allies around the world. We provide aircraft to Baltic patrol and transport lift aircraft to the French. On occasion, our allies provide us with maritime patrol aircraft.

I was glad to hear the Minister’s answer to the question regarding Russian submarines infiltrating our waters.

Why, after the major equipment programme has been let, are his Department and UK Trade & Investment still scurrying around trying to hold the manufacturer to a pre-contract offer of safeguarding or creating 10,000 jobs in the UK? We now know that the Scout programme he mentioned will be built in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, and that the core jobs in the UK are fewer than 400. That has happened on his watch. Why was the economic case for bringing the work to the UK not done before the contract was finalised? The Secretary of State spent all that time trumpeting what seemed to be a huge success when, in fact, it is not.

As the hon. Lady may recall, the original proposed contract, which was considered under her Administration, was for more than double the number of vehicles for which we have contracted. Consequently, the number of people potentially employed is significantly lower. However, the contract for the Scout vehicle, at £3.5 billion, is the largest contract that the British Army has received, and involves some 160 companies, predominantly in the UK. It will sustain 1,400 jobs in the UK, and we are currently actively exploring the opportunity for the onshore assembly of vehicles, from 101 to 589.