HC Deb 28 November 1995 vol 267 cc1041-2
5. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will review the suitability of private contractors to repair and maintain military equipment. [814]

Mr. Arbuthnot

No. Military equipment is manufactured by, private contractors and private contractors are perfectly capable of repairing and maintaining it.

Mr. Griffiths

What is the final bill for the damage done by the private contractor Airwork Ltd. to the Tornado aircraft that it was supposed to repair? Was not the Government's decision to take that work away from dedicated and skilled RAF personnel and give it to a private contractor another example of the Government being penny wise and pound foolish?

Mr. Arbuthnot

The final bill is the matter of a claim and it would not be right for me to comment on the precise figure at this stage. It is true that we have learnt several lessons from the difficulties that have arisen over the repairs to the Tornado. The fact is that private contractors make defence equipment, and we think that it is a good idea for them to be closely involved in work which relates to defence equipment because they know very well how to do it.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that the contractorisation provided by Hunting Engineering for the supply and maintenance of flight training aircraft has been extremely successful? Can he say when the contract for the extension of the joint elementary flight training scheme will be concluded? When does he expect to announce the outcome of his review into the replacement of Bulldog?

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend and I are in correspondence about that issue. I congratulate him on once again standing up for his constituents, something that he does so well. I agree with all that he says about Hunting Engineering.

Mr. Murphy

Does the Minister accept that the damage done by private contractors to the 18 Tornado aircraft at RAF St. Athan's will cost at least £120 million, and that about 4,000 hours of extra work will have to be carried out on each aircraft? Does he agree that such wasteful bungling raises basic queries about the Government's ability to manage some of our most vital defence capabilities, as well as giving us another example of how they have become wholly complacent in their financial management?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's figures. We have given many contractors work on defence equipment over many years. That always has been, and always will be, the case. They have the expertise, of which we need to make use. We have made hundreds of millions of pounds of savings by putting work out to private industry. That has benefited the Ministry of Defence in many different ways, such as defence procurement, repair of defence equipment and recruiting.