HC Deb 04 November 2002 vol 392 c12
10. Phil Sawford (Kettering)

What action he has taken to ensure the reliability of the SA80 rifle used by British forces. [76702]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The SA80 modification programme has significantly improved the reliability and performance of the weapon. Extensive trials were carried out across all climatic conditions before the modified weapon was introduced. More recent trials and demonstrations in Afghanistan and Oman have established beyond doubt that the weapon is reliable and accurate and can be maintained in an operational environment.

Phil Sawford

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. With much talk of a possible war with Iraq, many people, including my constituents, would wish to be reassured that our armed forces have reliable weapons, but will he tell the House who, if anyone, has accepted responsibility for the problems experienced with the SA80? Will he also tell the House who has paid the £80 million cost of the modifications to 300,000 rifles?

Mr. Ingram

Well, the taxpayer pays for the modifications. As for who takes responsibility, when we modified the weapon, we put it through an intensive trial period and, because of some issues relating to the maintenance regime, it was discovered that it was not always functioning in the way that had been anticipated. That is why we then put it back through an even more detailed set of conditions in very extreme circumstances. An important key to this, of course, was that the actual practitioners—not officials and certainly not Ministers—decided whether the weapon was reliable, but I suppose that Ministers ultimately take responsibility for decisions.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

I am delighted that the problems with at least one piece of equipment seem to be on the way to being solved, but would the Minister care to comment on replacing the British Army's combat helmet, which provides 40 per cent. less protection than any other helmet in NATO?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That question is far too wide.

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