HC Deb 12 February 2001 vol 363 cc12-3
8. Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

What plans he has to introduce new equipment for the Army. [148225]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

We are investing in a number of new systems that will ensure that the Army's capability is maintained at the highest level. The Apache helicopter entered service last month, and plans for future equipment include new armoured engineering vehicles and, in the longer term, improvements to the range and accuracy of our artillery weapons, a fully integrated fighting system for the infantry and a new range of armoured fighting vehicles. We have also taken decisive action to rectify two long-standing equipment problems by commencing a modification programme for the SA80 rifle and by launching a new competition for the Bowman radio requirement.

Mr. Jones

Is the Ministry still committed to purchasing the new heavy lift aircraft, the A400M? I urge him to ensure that he purchases not 25 but 45 of that aircraft, and makes sure that the wings are made in my constituency, where 4,800 skilled workers stand ready to be of service to him. May I further tell him that, in the Airbus consortium, our German colleagues are lobbying like mad to get the contract to make the wings? As we have had steel redundancies in Wales, including at Shotton in my constituency, manufacturing would receive a big boost if he would say that 45 aircraft will be purchased and that the wings will be made in my constituency.

Dr. Moonie

I assure my right hon. Friend that we are absolutely committed to the purchase of the A400M. Plans for its development are progressing well. I am confident that the wings will be built in his constituency and will preserve the jobs that will be underpinned as a consequence.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the Minister accept that until we have robot wars, we need human beings to operate the equipment? Is not the British Army 8,000 men short? What would the Minister say to the Staffordshire Regiment, whose representatives said at a meeting in the House of Commons only a week and a half ago that, for the first time since the second world war, it is undermanned by more than 250?

Dr. Moonie

I am well aware of the deficiencies in numbers that we inherited from the previous Government—deficiencies that, like them, we have done our best to remedy. The hon. Gentleman must recognise, however, that demographic changes in this country make it increasingly difficult to recruit into the armed forces. We are taking effective action to improve recruitment and retention through the package of support that we are giving to families, and through the improvements that we are making to accommodation. The picture in the next few years will be very much better than over the past few years.