HL Deb 25 January 2005 vol 668 cc1133-5

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

What criteria are used in the procurement of uniforms for the Army.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, under the EU public procurement regulations, we may only consider the award criteria directly relevant to the nature of the items or services to be supplied in order to apply the principles of "most economically advantageous tender".

The published award criteria, in accordance with the public procurement regulations, for the recent cut and sewn garments contract, which includes combat uniforms for the Army, were technical compliance, cost of acquisition, issues relating to the contractor's ability to meet our partnering approach, and delivery.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, have any of the camouflage uniforms been delivered to this country? Indeed, has any cloth been delivered to this country? Despite what my noble friend has said, will he reconsider the placing of the contract? It has gone to an ex-Red Army factory in China, which has poor labour conditions and is lacking when it comes to health and safety, at the expense of jobs in the north-west with a company that, as recently as Iraq, has been recommended for delivering on time and to schedule?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the cut and sewn contract, which has been looked at very carefully, was let after a fair and open competition against the published criteria. Cooneen Watts & Stone Limited, a UK company based in Northern Ireland, was the clear winner against these criteria. There have been four tests of the fabric from which the garments were made, which found that it was satisfactory. That is why we are satisfied about compliance so far with the contract. The first deliveries on the contract are due on 25 February, and we will of course check whether they are within the specifications.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, officers and senior NCOs affected by regimental and band cuts are concerned at the high cost of changing their privately funded uniforms, such as expensive mess kits. Will funds be set aside to compensate them?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we are still working through all the consequences of the recent announcements made in this House and elsewhere on the reorganisation of the infantry, including the implications for changes to uniform and regimental embellishments. We are already looking at amending contracts with clothing suppliers to ensure that current stock levels are reduced in a proper and timely manner. We think that the overall costs should be modest and can be absorbed into in-year budgets as they occur. I can give the noble Lord this satisfaction: I confirm that non-commissioned officers and officers will not have to pay for their standard issue of uniform. I know that one of the considerations is for the non-standard issue of uniform, and I will take that back.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, can my noble friend give us the difference in prices?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am afraid I am not in a position to give the difference between the prices, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so for a contract that was run commercially in the normal way. But I can say that all those who applied to be prime contractors for this contract—and it was a competition for a prime contractorship—are UK companies.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, is it clear that the NCOs' and the officers' uniforms will also be made in China, or was that a different order which might be made in the UK?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the Question of my noble friend Lord Hoyle was about a particular contract for combat uniforms. The contract for uniforms referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, is quite different.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the cost of a new mess kit for an officer would be at least £500? In asking the question, I remind the House of my interest.

Lord Bach

My Lords, if the noble Earl says so, of course I agree with him.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, in agreeing that the contract was placed with Cooneen Watts & Stone, will my noble friend confirm that the contract is with an ex-Red Army factory in China? Were the samples he described made in the UK or in China? My information is that they were produced in the UK.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I do not know where the fabric from which the garments were made was manufactured. I will write to my noble friend on that. He is quite right that the Chinese factory has a subcontract role, but all the consortium companies which submitted tenders for the contract were led by UK-based companies. As is the continuing trend in the clothing industry, whether we like it or not. most garment manufacture is sourced from overseas. Other bidders plan to have some of the items manufactured in countries as far apart as the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Sri Lanka, Dubai and China.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, if it is true that it is normal for these contracts to be placed overseas, why do we not simply buy the goods direct and save taxpayers a lot of money?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the prime contractor, whoever it is, in a contract such as this has a key role to play. We do not believe that we would get such efficient service if it were sent direct.

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