HL Deb 10 March 1988 vol 494 cc795-7

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What will be the cost of the new Army boot compared with the one which it is to replace.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the Army boot currently on issue costs just over £15 a pair. I cannot give a precise figure for the cost of the proposed replacement boot since tenders have not yet been sought from the manufacturers. However, we estimate that it would cost about £10 a pair more.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. If the new boot really is waterproof and also allows the foot to breathe, is my noble friend aware that there will be many who will consider this money well spent? The old soldiers among them from sore experience will only regret that an enlightened policy of this kind was not adopted years ago.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend. I certainly agree that boots are a very important part of a soldier's equipment. I am glad that we have eventually been able to find a boot that I think will meet the high requirements. I should say that we still need to conduct an intensive trial with the new design of boot that we have decided upon. I hope that that trial will be successful and that in due course we shall be able to issue these boots to the armed forces.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that as one of those who wore Army boots for six years I do not remember any of the complaints which have been alleged by some noble Lords opposite? What was the reason behind the introduction of the new boot, and what will it do that the other boots apparently did not do?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it was found, particularly during the Falklands campaign, that the existing design of boot had some shortcomings, and that is why we have decided upon a new one.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, is the Army boot classified as a non-warlike piece of equipment, and will tenders for its replacement be invited in the Official Journal?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall be advertising our requirements as widely as possible, but I am pretty certain that British manufacturers will be well to the fore in the bids that we receive.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is not the prime consideration of the Government that the boots should not leak?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right; that is an important consideration. What is difficult to achieve is a boot that, while keeping the water out, will also allow the foot to breathe. That is why something like a Wellington boot is not suitable particularly when worn over a long period.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, is there not a case for standardising the NATO boot, given the fact—as my noble friend has already told me—that generally the British prefer the American boot, the Americans prefer the German boot and the Germans prefer the Dutch boot?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend has pointed to a curious but nonetheless accurate feature of collaboration in this particular matter. Every soldier prefers the boot that he has not got, and at the same time seems to prefer the rations of other armies, too.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, while not wishing to get involved in the boot controversy although I wore them for a long time we did not have any problems about boots when I was Secretary of State—is it not significant that the replacements will cost some 60 per cent. more than the existing boot? Is that not generally characteristic of defence expenditure? Can the Minister therefore bring home to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the fact that it is stupid just to up the Defence Estimates by the retail price index measure?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I make no apology for the considerable increase in the defence budget that has occurred under this Administration. It is a pity that we did not get the same increase under the previous one.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does my noble friend agree, in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, that besides the question of yomping, one of the problems occurs in operations, particularly in wartime, when men are not able to take off their boots for two or three days or nights on end?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is indeed one of the problems that we have had to face and why, as I said just now, a sealed-up boot of one kind or another is really not suitable for this purpose.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, as one who has spent many hours of his life in the Coldstream Guards trying to achieve the impossible task of making an Army boot toe shine like a mirror with a mixture of spit, boot polish and various other secret ingredients, may I ask the Minister to consider forbidding this silly timewasting practice, at any rate for combat troops?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that that question wholly arises from the one on the Order Paper, but I agree that when soldiers go into combat it is important that they concentrate upon the task in hand.

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