With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement to update the House on Ajax, which is an important capability and a vital step-change in the way the British Army will operate on the future battlefield. It will provide ground-mounted reconnaissance, allowing the Army to understand the battlefield in all weathers, 24 hours a day.
As part of our £41 billion investment in Army equipment and support over the next 10 years, this modernisation is critical to address future threats. This is a vital investment, and the Defence Secretary and I have been deeply concerned about progress on this troubled project, which has been running for over 11 years since its commencement in March 2010. That is why we have been thoroughly focused on the project, why I insisted earlier this year that no declaration of initial operating capability would be made without ministerial involvement and why we asked the permanent secretary to commission a report from the Ministry of Defence’s director of health, safety and environmental protection on the health and safety concerns raised by noise and vibration. I am today publishing that report, and placing a copy in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office.
Over the past 35 years, there have been some 13 formal reports on defence procurement; we know the foundations that can build success. Openness, good communication and collaboration within Defence and the ability to act as an informed and challenging customer are vital. This health and safety report has highlighted shortcomings that need to be addressed, not just in health and safety, but more broadly. The review finds serious failings in the processes followed. The result was that personnel worked on a vehicle that had the potential to cause harm. The review finds that the failure was complex and systemic; that a culture exists of not treating safety as equally important as cost and time in the acquisition process; and that, from a cultural perspective, the Army did not believe it was potentially causing harm to people, especially from vibration, as it was tacitly expected that soldiers can and should endure such issues.
As I informed the House on 18 October, we have contacted all personnel identified as having worked on Ajax. Forty declined to be assessed for hearing but I am pleased to report that the vast majority of the remainder have returned to duty with no health impact. As of 9 December, 17 individuals remain under specialist out-patient care for their hearing, some of whom are again expected to return to duty with no health impact. Eleven individuals have had long-term restrictions on noise exposure recommended, potentially requiring a limitation in their military duties. Seven of them had pre-existing hearing issues prior to working on Ajax, but four did not.
In addition, four individuals who worked on Ajax have been discharged on health grounds, in some cases for reasons wholly unrelated to hearing loss. Although we cannot yet establish a definitive causal link, it is possible that Ajax may have contributed to the current hearing loss in a small number of individuals. It remains the case that no individuals have had long-term restrictions or been discharged as a result of vibration. However, assessment for both hand-transmitted and whole-body vibration takes time and requires specialist assessment, and these continue.
I will set out the key points from the review. General Dynamics UK is responsible for the design and build of the Ajax vehicles. The vehicles that it delivered for use in the trials had levels of noise and vibration that were higher than usually expected in tracked vehicles and have been proven to be above the statutory limit. That exposed our personnel to potential harm.
That exposure was not prevented by the Ministry of Defence due to a series of failures to act when concerns were raised by expert advisers and by soldiers operating in the vehicles. For example, an MOD safety notice in December 2018 said that design upgrades were required to reduce vibration, but this was not acted upon. MOD safety cases and safety management used GDUK calculations that were not independently assured, despite experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory advising that the calculations should not be relied on.
A report from the Defence Safety Authority in May 2020 identifying some of these issues and entitled “Serious Safety Concerns on Ajax” was retracted and not pursued, either by the DSA or by the project team in Defence Equipment and Support. Multiple warnings from the DSTL and from the Armoured Trials and Development Unit, which was running the trials, were not actioned, even when the ATDU commanding officer questioned the approach as having the potential to expose soldiers to a known hazard, which he stated was not a defendable position.
Overall, the report makes 20 recommendations. The MOD accepts all those relating specifically to armoured vehicle procurements, the regulation of safety for land equipment and the broader approach to safety in defence. Recommendation 9 relates to avoiding the concurrent running of the demonstration and manufacture stages in future projects. That recommendation needs to be considered carefully to ensure that we capture the safety imperatives while not preventing sensible spiral development or, for example, the parallel construction of classes of warship. I will update the House on that, alongside recommendations 12 and 14, which also need consideration of how to best implement them, building on existing work on approvals and senior responsible owners.
I will also update the House on the project more broadly. We have a robust, firm price contract for the delivery of 589 vehicles at a cost of £5.5 billion. We are ensuring that we protect our commercial position under the contract and will not accept a vehicle that is not fit for purpose. It remains impossible to share with the House 100% confidence that the programme will succeed or, if it does, the timing of achieving full operating capability. However, we are working closely with General Dynamics on noise and vibration and it is showing great commitment to resolving these issues. This very advanced fighting vehicle project employs 4,100 in south Wales and across the UK. We all want it to succeed and deliver what the British Army requires.
The Millbrook trials to baseline the vehicle’s characteristics have completed and we expect to receive the conclusions shortly. In parallel, General Dynamics has been developing its theories and trialling design modifications to address vibration. We expect to receive its analysis in the new year, following which we will, if appropriate, undertake thorough testing of its proposed modifications to satisfy ourselves on their efficacy.
Part of our analysis is also looking at the performance of the headset used in Ajax. Although the noise profile on Ajax is noticeably different from that of other armoured vehicles, following tests on in-service headsets we took in November a precautionary measure to limit temporarily the amount of time personnel operate while using them in other armoured fighting vehicles. Acoustic testing of our in-service headsets is under way at test facilities in the UK and overseas. We are also testing other headsets to establish whether they will meet our requirements and provide additional attenuation. Once this analysis is complete, we expect to be able to relax the temporary restrictions or implement appropriate mitigations. In the meantime, we remain able to maintain our operational commitments.
The work on Ajax has also highlighted the significant number of personnel across defence whose exposure to noise results in short or long-term restrictions to their military duties. I have therefore asked the MOD permanent secretary to look further at that issue to ensure that we are doing all we can to prevent avoidable hearing loss in our people.
In conclusion, the Ajax health and safety report makes for very difficult reading. It lays bare a deep malaise, which is cultural and results in systemic failures across our organisations. I am grateful to David King and his team for their work and grateful for the candour of many who contributed to the review. There are many working tirelessly to get Ajax back on track. We need to build on that candour and dedication and encourage all those involved in procurement programmes to speak up, identify problems and make clear where those responsible are failing. A culture in which individuals are encouraged not to elevate problems but only solutions through the chain of command may be admirable in other circumstances, but rarely in procurement. We need to support our people by resolving underlying cultural issues that risk making it harder to deliver the capabilities needed by our armed forces.
To take that forward, we are commissioning a senior legal figure to look more deeply at Ajax and to examine not just health and safety, but the cultural and process flaws that it has highlighted. We will leave no stone unturned to learn those lessons. I encourage people to participate in the further review and will ensure they have the space to do so. Of course, if the review uncovers evidence of gross misconduct, those concerned will be held to account, but the primary purpose of this inquiry is to ensure that we address significant cultural failings. The terms of reference will be agreed with the reviewer and I will make them available to the House.
In summary, while we should not forget that General Dynamics UK is responsible for delivering a safe and effective vehicle, it is clear from the report that the customs and practices of the Army, Defence Equipment & Support, Defence Digital and the wider MOD resulted in a culture that prevented issues from being addressed at an earlier point. We are committed to ensuring that measures are put in place to deliver these very complex programmes in a way that minimises the risk to our people while delivering the capability needed by the armed forces. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by thanking the Minister for advance sight of his statement and for publishing this Ajax noise and vibration report. I pay tribute to his determination to get to the reasons why this Ajax procurement has gone so badly wrong and his commitment to updating the House openly on progress. This is vital to the UK’s warfighting capabilities and our frontline troops, so all sides of the House and beyond want to strengthen his hand in undertaking this work.
However, since the Minister commissioned this report, things have gone from bad to worse on Ajax. The Comptroller and Auditor General has confirmed to me that he has launched the urgent National Audit Office investigation into Ajax that I and the Defence Committee requested. The Public Accounts Committee has described the Ajax programme as a “catastrophe” and the MOD’s procurement system as “broken”.
This is a £5.5 billion programme that has been running for the past 10 years, has only delivered a couple of dozen vehicles and still has no definite date for completion. It is the biggest Defence procurement failure of the past decade. It is failing British taxpayers and failing British troops.
The first concern for any Minister or commander is rightly the safety of our own forces men and women, so this is an important report. It confirms that 17 individuals who worked on Ajax are still receiving specialist treatment for hearing loss, 11 have long-term limitations on their military duties and four have been medically discharged from service. What, if any, compensation have they received?
The Minister also refers to
“the significant number of personnel across defence whose exposure to noise results in short or long-term restrictions to their military duties.”
How many is that significant number, and when will the permanent secretary report on the wider problems?
More serious is what the Minister has described as the
“series of failures to act”
when concerns were raised about health and safety risks: the 2018 MOD safety notice that was not acted on, the 2020 Defence Safety Authority report that was retracted and the multiple warnings, including from the commanding officer in charge of the trials unit, that were not actioned. The Defence Secretary declared in this House last month that,
“it is really important…that we fundamentally learn the lessons and people carry the can for…their decisions.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2021; Vol. 704, c. 492.]
Has anyone been fired for the failings? Has anyone been demoted? I hesitate to ask this, but has anyone responsible been promoted since they worked on Ajax?
Fundamentally, there is a Defence Secretary-shaped hole in this report. There is no mention of his role or his misjudgments in this Ajax disaster. When exactly did the Defence Secretary first know about the flaws in Ajax? What action did he take then to investigate and fix the problems? The Ajax vibration problem has been known in the MOD since at least 2018, so why, when the Defence Secretary published his defence White Paper this year, did he double down on Ajax, scrapping Warrior and scaling back Challenger at the same time? Finally, neither this report nor the MOD’s continuing Millbrook trials were ready last month, so why did the Defence Secretary press ahead to confirm in “Future Soldier” that
“capabilities will be built around…Ajax”,
with other systems?
It is deeply unsatisfactory that the action following this review is to launch another review. It is also deeply unsatisfactory that Ajax is still in limbo, beset by suspicions that it is simply too big to be allowed to fail. Will the Minister now answer the remaining fundamental questions? What are the causes of the noise and vibration problems? Will the Defence Secretary scrap or stick with Ajax? What is the MOD’s cost for the additional trials and testing? What contingency plans are in place for the Army to have full reconnaissance and force-protection capabilities while Ajax is delayed or, indeed, deleted? Has the Minister discussed with the Welsh Government a plan to support jobs if Ajax is cancelled? What impact does this continuing delay to decisions on Ajax have on the Army’s ability to deploy the planned strike brigade?
The Defence Secretary’s rapid further cuts in Army numbers is directly linked to more advanced technology based on Ajax. Will Ministers now halt their Army cuts, at least until they have fixed this fundamentally failing procurement?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for welcoming the transparency that this report represents from the Ministry of Defence. He is absolutely right that its commissioning and publication have sent shock waves through Defence. That is valuable and important. Everyone needs to be aware of the important imperatives—people need to answer for them and ensure that they are on track—and, even by commissioning and publishing this report, we have sent an important and salutary message, as well as learning a lot of detailed facts. He was generous in that respect, but he was most ungenerous and wrong regarding the Secretary of State.
As set out in the report, we first knew of this issue in November 2020. Ministers acted promptly. I am concerned that at the time it was described to me as a late discovery item, and that was mentioned in the report, and a culture of optimism bias continued. That is why I insisted that no IOC would be declared without ministerial involvement. That is why we were, and have been, very focused on ensuring that we got to grips with this programme, which we have, and on ensuring that we had this report not only commissioned, but published.
The report has laid bare a host of very difficult issues inside Defence, across a whole series of organisations. That is what the Defence Secretary and I are absolutely focused on getting to grips with, and what we are doing. The purpose of the report was not to apportion blame, but to discover the facts. That is the normal process in industrial companies where there are issues of concern—to establish the facts and to set out recommendations. That has been done.
We want to have a second report—I have referred to that previously in the House—to dig deeper and to make certain that the lessons are learned and that the recommendations are appropriate. As I have said, if there are examples of gross misconduct, they will be acted on.
What the report revealed, however, is a deep cultural malaise: across Defence, horizontally, parts of it are not speaking to each other as they should be on a programme of this nature. Concerns are not being elevated as they should be, vertically up through the system. That is a problem, a failing, and it needs to be addressed. If we want to have proper procurement, we cannot have a culture in which people take the view that they want to hear only solutions and not problems. It is necessary to have a proper airing of concerns and for them to be taken up and dealt with.
The shadow Secretary of State raised a number of other points. A large number of hulls have been delivered to Merthyr and are being worked on. Of course, there has been a succession of capability drops in the project, so hulls will have to be enhanced and improved over time.
The right hon. Gentleman may believe that things have got worse. That is not my experience. On the contrary, we are in a far, far better position than we were last year and in a far better position than we were six months ago. Detailed work has been undertaken and conclusions from Millbrook will be with us before Christmas. GD has growing confidence in the design modifications that it believes can be effected. I will have no position on them until we have tested them, gone through them and made certain that they work, that they are efficacious and that they give us the kick that we require. There is a lot of work still to be done on headsets, but I have seen the benefit of having a full-time focused SRO and with ministerial focus on the project, driving it forward. We are in a far better place to take decisions on Ajax than we were. The project is in a healthier state than a year ago, as should be the case. It is an important capability that we need for our operational requirements, and we will continue the hard work to ensure that it is delivered.
I commend the focus that the Minister brings to the situation, which is very refreshing indeed. However, he speaks of a troubled programme with cultural and systematic failures and of commissioning a senior legal figure to investigate. The project is a complete mess. Indeed, our whole land warfare programme is now operationally suboptimal as we cut our tank numbers, all our armoured fighting vehicles and our recce vehicles and introduce Boxer—a wheeled vehicle but with no substantial firepower—and Ajax. As we have discussed, it is a £5 billion project that was expected in 2017, but only a dozen vehicles have arrived, and people are being sent to hospital because of the vibration problems. The MOD is fortunate that the west—sadly, this includes the UK—is now so risk-averse as we would struggle today to send appropriate hardware into Ukraine in a move that, in my view, would deter Putin from invading.
The real scandal is the cover-up and dishonesty that led to the integrated review hiding those very problems with Ajax that the Minister spoke about so that it would not be axed. I spoke to a number of four-star generals, and nobody expected it to survive the integrated review. It makes it difficult for me to call for defence spending to be increased to 3% to improve our defence posture because of the threats coming over the horizon when money is spent so poorly. I call on him to set a date in February when, if the procurement issues are not resolved, the project will finally be closed down.
I thank the Chair of the Defence Committee for his comments. Last year, his Committee produced a helpful report on armoured vehicles that made absolutely clear the requirement to invest more in that part of our defence. The Committee was right to do that and to highlight those concerns, and it should be reassured by the investment that we are putting into Boxer and Challenger. A £41 billion programme of investment in equipment and support is going into the Army in the next 10 years, and £8 billion of that is new. We differ, however, on the requirement for a recce vehicle of this nature. We need such a 24-hour vehicle that can operate in all weathers and all conditions to provide that critical ground reconnaissance, and that is what we are procuring via Ajax.
We must make certain that we have all the facts, because decisions are best made with all the facts. The root cause analysis on noise and vibration is in process, and we are doing that at pace. I am determined to drive answers on that. My right hon. Friend is right to ask searching questions, but, as I said, we are in a far better position than we were six months ago to understand what is going on. I hope that, early next year, we will know far more and be able to say, “Yes, this is a capacity that we can bring in and will work.” I am hopeful that we will get there, but it depends on the analysis that we do.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This is a sorry tale, but more importantly, it is a strategically very important equipment failure that leaves a very serious capability gap. I, for one, am clear that the Minister’s statement does not satisfactorily address the issues.
The health, safety and environmental protection review gets to the heart of the failures. It provides helpful definition and sources for the catastrophic failures—numerous as they are—in the management control issues, which have come to define the literally incredible £5.5 billion defence procurement fiasco. I am sure that others will detail the chronic operational consequences of those failures for the ability of UK forces to fight and defend, so I will concentrate on technical details.
I said in this Chamber some months ago that the problem was
“not…MTU V8 diesels or the Renk transmissions”—[Official Report, 9 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 494],
which were tried and tested assets in other platforms. So it has come to pass.
The review highlights the failure of the
“Track, suspension and running gear, in particular the tension and sprocket design/track interface”,
which are unique to Ajax. The engine, good as it is, is a proven engine poorly mounted in a badly designed vehicle. We also learned today that, as the review sets out, there were
“Quality issues associated with…inconsistent routing of cabling, lack of…weld quality…insecure components”.
That does not sound to me like a £6 million vehicle. The shoddy design and appalling quality management represent engineering management from a truly different era.
There is no shortage of concerns about the programme, but one of them is about the tone of the report: “This was all very difficult, and we’ve taken a look back to see where things went wrong.” Two elements are missing from that rather lightweight mea culpa routine: who is carrying the can, and what is the future of the programme? Can the Minister identify who will take responsibility for this almost limitless failure?
Currently, GD UK management are clearly letting down the workers at Merthyr and Oakdale. What discussions has the Minister had with GD US about their future? When will he make a final decision on the future of the programme?
I am impressed with the hon. Gentleman’s attention to detail, but technical issues are not really within the scope of the health and safety report. Mr King would not claim to be the person who can put the House’s mind at rest on technical issues, but there is a huge amount of ongoing work on the matter. The Millbrook trials have concluded, as I say, and we are waiting for the conclusions to arrive before Christmas, and they will be analysed. That will get to the heart of the issues with root cause analysis of noise and vibration, which I know the hon. Gentleman will look forward to with eager anticipation. I will update the House on what the answers turn out to be; I would rather not prejudge that technical analysis.
The hon. Gentleman refers to General Dynamics. One of the positives in the programme since the issues came to light is that we have had a complete transformation in the relationship with General Dynamics, which has been taken up at a very senior level: I speak to the global chief executive, and she has been in direct communication with the head of DE&S. That has helped to drive real performance through General Dynamics, all the way through the system. We are seeing a complete transformation in how it views the programme, in its determination to succeed and in its willingness to embrace the problems, which are clear. It has its own theories about them and is developing design mitigations and design resolutions. We have yet to see whether or not they can absolutely succeed; clearly we will wish to test that independently.
To confuse the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is not a mistake that I would dare to make, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My right hon. Friend is right: this is a £5.5 billion firm-priced contract. I am very clear that we have a contract that says that 589 vehicles will be delivered that will meet our requirements for a price of £5.5 billion. That contract is very, very clear. I see no reason why this House or the taxpayer should pay more money to General Dynamics to produce 589 vehicles, when we have a contract for it to produce 589 vehicles to our requirements for £5.5 billion.
The Minister is to be congratulated on honestly identifying departmental failings. We all welcome that. It therefore seems almost churlish to criticise, but we have to, because the report skirts the core issue. Its conclusion admits that the vehicle
“is not fit for purpose”,
but nowhere that I can see does it state the deadline for deciding whether the project can ever succeed; if it cannot, whether the Department has to terminate the contract; and if so, what contingency plans it has. Or will the project just limp on, burning cash and putting our troops at risk with a dangerous capability gap?
The right hon. Gentleman raises good questions, but I hope that I can reassure him in part. The conclusion does say that the vehicle is not fit for purpose. Of course it is not fit for purpose now, because anything that does not meet our requirements is not fit for purpose. We cannot put personnel at risk, so absolutely it is not a vehicle that we can take on now, and we are not prepared to. We will only take into service a vehicle that actually works for our purposes and meets our requirements.
There is work to be done, but the decision point on whether that can be achieved with this vehicle is not now. A huge amount of work is being done. The time to take those decisions is after the root cause analysis has been concluded. As I said, GD has its own theories and has done its own work, and it believes that it has design modifications that could well fit the bill, but I am not going to take a decision on that until we have examined them and it is more confident of their grounds.
The Ajax programme wins the competition, from a very long list, to be the poster boy of defence procurement disasters. My admiration for my hon. Friend the Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence cannot disguise the fact that the report is truly shocking. It points towards an institution that does not bake in human factors in the design of our kit and appears to ignore health and safety, to the great detriment of the men and women of our armed forces, including my constituents. It is not good enough.
What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that people are truly held to account for this? If we have to go to a plan B in the new year, what contingency does he have for mounting stand-off radar, for example, on Wildcat and Watchkeeper, for rolling out the capability on our Boxer and Jackal fleets, and for using unmanned aerial vehicles? Otherwise, thanks to this tin can on tracks, we are going to have a walloping great hole in our defence capability.
There are two halves to my right hon. Friend’s question. Given his background, I would expect nothing less from him than to be truly shocked by what this report reveals, and so am I. I was horrified when I read the report for the first time, and I am still horrified now. There were clearly flaws deep in the heart of defence, and people were not thinking through the consequences of actions and their implications for some of our personnel. I think a lot of that was due to failures by one person to speak to another, a lack of communication horizontally, and a failure to elevate problems or for them to be heard properly as they went up the chain of command. But none of this is excusable, and it is outrageous that we have ended up in this situation. We are deeply shocked by what the report reveals.
As I say, there is an ongoing process, but the key thing is to understand what has gone wrong. My right hon. Friend has referred to this particular procurement among others. I am afraid to say that I suspect a similar tale could be told about many procurements of the past. The fact is that on this procurement, we commissioned and published a report and, as I said, it sent shockwaves through the organisations, with people asking themselves, “Have I been doing this right? Am I doing this appropriately?” That is the way to start to implement a change in culture.
I can confirm that we are absolutely in a position to meet our operational requirements. We will always have fall-back positions. My right hon. Friend mentioned Watchkeeper. As he will recognise, there are huge benefits in having ground-mounted reconnaissance, and Ajax can provide a useful tool. We are committed to making certain that it works, but if it would not, for any reason, there will be alternatives to be brought forward.
I thank the Minister for his tenaciousness in providing the report. The opening paragraph of the conclusion states:
“Nothing in this Review detracts from the fact that GDUK has designed and built what MOD maintains is thus far a vehicle which is not fit for purpose and does not meet the contracted specification.”
In effect, we have a vehicle that does not work and has damaged our people, and GDUK has burnt something like £4 billion of UK taxpayers’ money so far. What the report does not actually outline, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) said, is a timescale for when decisions have to be taken. When will the decision on whether we are going to can this project altogether be taken? If it is canned, may I pick up on an issue raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), which is the exposure of the taxpayer? There is a big difference between GDUK and GD globally. Is the global company legally liable for the liabilities of the programme?
Those are good questions from the right hon. Gentleman. The key point from the quote he read out is the words “thus far”. Our focus with GD is getting a vehicle that meets the requirements and specifications of the Army, and which we can bring into service. As I say, GD has done a lot of work over the past six months. There are design modifications which it believes can help significantly. We are yet to test that—we are yet to hear definitive reports and we are yet to see its analysis—but progress is being made. So, first of all, we are not writing off Ajax, far from it. My hope is that it can still come into service as an absolute first-in-class vehicle. The capabilities are extraordinary if we can ensure that what are in many cases Newtonian problems of noise and vibration can be solved.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that £3.165 billion has so far been paid under the contract to GD. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), this is a £5.5 billion contract. It is clear under the contract that we have 589 vehicles plus other things that will come through as a result of it. There is a parent guarantee in place between GDUK, the subsidiary, and the parent company.
Yet again, complacency when it comes to health and safety sees ordinary working people pay the price. Given that service personnel have been medically downgraded and some discharged due to their exposure to the noise and vibrations of Ajax, what measures will be put in place to protect their livelihoods and careers?
I thank the hon. Lady. The passion with which she addresses that point is at the heart of why we undertook the report. I have to be slightly careful about what I say. Four individuals have been discharged and 11 downgraded. There is no definitive causal link established with Ajax, but it is certainly possible that Ajax was a contributory factor to hearing loss. Either way, it is deeply concerning.
The one thing I would say to reassure the hon. Lady is that I am absolutely confident that the same issues could not arise again. The reason I say that with such confidence is that I have seen the safety panels that have been created and the work they now do. There is no longer a situation where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. There is a single repository for knowledge. We have learned, I am pleased to say, from a situation in which all valid information raising difficult questions was spread in different parts of our organisation, and was not being brought forward and focused. I think I can speak with confidence to say that exactly the same problems could not, I believe, re-emerge, but there is more work to do in terms of culture to ensure that that is deeply embedded.
I thank the Minister for his statement. These are indeed very serious concerns being discussed today and, as other Members have said, they need to be addressed urgently. Alongside that, the committed and loyal staff at General Dynamics in my constituency are very concerned and worried about the uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds. I appreciate what the Minister said, but can I press him to give further details on the timescale for the outcome of the review, and a further commitment to ensure that staff, trade unions and the company are fully involved in the discussions, to ensure that the workforce at Merthyr Tydfil are kept in the loop as much as they possibly can be?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his input on this issue. He, like me, knows Merthyr. I visited the factory and the people working there. It is a great set-up and they are very proud of what they do. As I said in my statement, we should not forget that there are many people working tirelessly to deliver Ajax for the British Army. They are very proud of what they are doing and are bringing all their skills to bear to ensure we get that kit and get it as soon as we can. To be clear, there is no review into General Dynamics. We are working with General Dynamics and we intend to bring this vehicle forward. I cannot give a 100% guarantee, because one never can on a defence procurement programme, but we are a long way down the road on this programme—as we should be, given the number of years that it has taken to get us this far. We have invested heavily in it. It has a great capability. We will continue to invest in it. We will continue to work with GD, which is showing great commitment. I sincerely hope that during the course of next year we will be able to give dates on initial operating capability, full operating capacity and the like. I am looking at this with optimism but with my eyes wide open.