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Column 1057The deployment encompassed visits to Malaysia ; to Thailand to conduct joint training with the Royal Thai air force ; and to Singapore where further training was undertaken and where the opportunity was taken to exhibit the aircraft to potential customers. The aircraft then spent 10 days in Australia taking part in the celebrations marking the Australian bicentennial, followed by participation by the Tornados in two air displays in the United States.
That global deployment drew favourable comments from all of the many nations that were involved. It was indicative of some of the attractions still available to the young men choosing a career in the modern Royal Air Force and was a splendid testimony to the safety and reliability of the Tornado F3 aircraft.
That leads me to mention the safety of the aircraft of the RAF, which is a high priority for us, and is an area in which the RAF can be justifiably proud of its record.
It is perhaps all too easy to forget just how recent is man's conquest of the air. The RAF has only just reached its three score years and 10. However, we should never forget that safety in the air, just as at sea, can never be guaranteed even with the most sophisticated of aircraft.
The RAF suffered a number of tragic losses in 1988. Each loss is, of course, investigated thoroughly in an effort to ascertain just what went wrong and to try to prevent a recurrence. Unfortunately, the very nature of military flying means that it is impossible to guarantee that there will never be any accidents. What we can and must do is to ensure that our aircrew are fully trained and our aircraft designed, built and maintained to the highest standards possible. Only then can the risks inherent in military flying be reduced to the minimum possible. I can assure the House that the RAF is taking all these steps, with the full support of the Government. Progress in flight safety can sometimes seem painfully slow, and when we get down to the current relatively low level of accidents statistical fluctuations from one year to another can assume disproportionate significance. Over the longer term, however, the record can be ascertained more realistically and the trend is clear and encouraging. Thus, in 1957--which was then the best year on record for RAF flight safety--149 lives and 157 RAF aircraft were lost in accidents. Last year, by comparison, 17 aircrew died in 18 accidents, resulting in the loss of 19 aircraft.
Even though the service has reduced in size over the past 30 years, it is clear that the major accident rate has been cut dramatically, so that in recent years it is down to only one aircraft being lost for every 30,000 hours flown. I hope that hon. Members will join me in congratulating the RAF on the outstandingly professional way in which it carries out on our behalf the difficult flying operations that are so essential to our nation's defences.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : If it is absolutely essential to lose all those lives and the hundreds of millions pounds-worth of planes, including the 12 Tornado aircraft that fell out of the sky, why does West Germany not adopt the same criteria? Because of its losses, including Tornado aircraft, West Germany has cut its low flying and reviewed the necessity for it. As West Germany is a member of NATO, surely we can follow its example rather than continue with assertions that low flying is absolutely essential when it costs so much money and so many lives.
Mr. Neubert : The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The amount of low flying in this country is broadly comparable with that in West Germany. The hon. Gentleman knows that this matter is under review at the moment and that no decisions have been taken or announced.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Does my hon. Friend agree that a great problem facing us today in Europe is that the morale of the West German air force, especially its aircrew and specifically its pilots, is low because they are aware that they cannot carry out the tasks that they have been assigned because they do not train properly or effectively enough to do so?
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Perhaps the Minister will point out to his hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) that Conservatives in the West German Government have also complained strenuously about such matters.
Will the Minister tell me why, when I have three witnesses, each half a mile apart, who reported a near-miss on the boundary of Keswick a few months ago and when I submitted all the evidence from those independent persons to him in written statements, he has refused to accept that there was such a near-collision?
Why was he willing to accept the statements of the pilots who had not even reported the fact that a near-miss had taken place? Does he not understand that pilots have an interest in telling lies--[ Hon. Members :-- "Withdraw."] Oh yes, they have an interest in telling lies, not the truth--when they know that they have been involved in near-misses such as the one that was reported by my three independent witnesses?
While on the subject of flight safety, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have now conducted a thorough review of our arrangements for military participation in flying displays and for air shows held at military establishments. Full account has been taken of the Civil Aviation Authority's recently announced guidelines for civil aircraft and displays. I am pleased to observe that the review confirmed that existing MOD regulations were generally very satisfactory. A number of relatively minor modifications are, however, being introduced and these should improve safety still further.
Column 1059Particular attention was, of course, paid to the Red Arrows, the nation's premier flying display team. Changes are being made to the Red Arrows' routine, primarily to eliminate formation changes while aircraft are pointing towards spectators. To allow the team to be seen properly by spectators, a few over-flights of crowds will still be permitted. However, these will be at a minimum height of 1,000 ft rather than 500 ft as previously. In addition, no aerobatics or manoeuvres will be performed above crowds.
The chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority will accept Ministry of Defence assurances as to the safety of performances by the Red Arrows at any United Kingdom civil displays to which the team may be invited. I am sure that the Ministry of Defence review, together with the steps taken by the Department of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority, will lead to a successful 1989 flying display season, with millions of spectators being entertained safely and professionally. I know that low-flying training is of particular interest to hon. Members. The letters that I receive leave me in no doubt that some people question this intrusion into their daily lives. I can assure them that the Government and the Royal Air Force recognise the inconvenience that this training can cause and are keenly aware of the need to minimise it.
To maintain a credible capability to penetrate today's sophisticated enemy radar and defensive systems, our pilots must be able to fly as close to the ground and as fast as possible, using the terrain to screen their aircraft. Such a capability can be maintained only by realistic training and practice in peacetime. The procurement of modern and capable aircraft is not sufficient on is own. Since assuming my appointment, I have taken a close interest in low-flying training and its effect on those on the ground. The sudden noise of a low-flying aircraft can be alarming. The recent air accidents, even if unconnected with military low-flying training, have heightened public awareness of all air activities.
It is 10 years since a restructured system was introduced in 1979. Previously, the United Kingdom had some small areas for low flying that were linked by connecting routes. But they were inadequate. As the then Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force in the previous Labour Government explained to the House at the time, the old system channelled flying into particular areas, impeded training and led to undesirable concentrations of flying in some districts, mainly resulting from the many detailed restrictions that were introduced in an attempt to minimise the disturbance to particular places. But those restrictions simply aggravated problems elsewhere. The new system was designed to distribute flying training over a wide geographic area, spreading the burden more equitably across the country as a whole. Aircrew plan their sorties to give them the widest practice and experience of flying, and to reduce routine patterns of activity. Unfortunately, the distribution is not perfect for everyone. The location of operating bases and weapons ranges produces limitations.
I recognise that, in some areas, the need to avoid major conurbations, controlled air space and other features such as nuclear power stations can still cause some concentration of traffic, but within these constraints we make every effort in our management of the system to achieve the original aim of spreading the training more fairly.
Mr. Mans : Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a result of that change in training 10 years ago to spread low flying throughout the country, areas such as Cumbria have a smaller percentage of low flying over them than in the years to 1979 and that hon. Members with constituencies in such areas should be very pleased at the change?
I welcome the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) to his new, dual-capable role. As I believe that he will open and close the debate for the Opposition, I shall ensure that he receives the reply that he seeks during the course of one of his speeches.
Mr. Rogers : Then can the Minister tell me why RAF planes over-fly the city of Swansea, and will he now define what he means by "major conurbations" instead of listening to the inane cackling of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence?
Mr. Neubert : I suspect that further discussion now would be sterile. The incident to which the hon. Member for Rhondda may well be referring was an operation over Swansea airfield. That is a different matter altogether from over-flying the city itself. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind what I have said about spreading training more fairly when they consider concerns within their constituencies. Each restriction on the system merely forces training into somebody else's backyard. Our objective is to balance individual concerns against the wider impact on the population as a whole.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Has the Minister heard of a Soviet missile called the SA-10B? If he has heard of that missile, to what extent does he believe that it prevents those pilots who have been trained in low-flying exercises from penetrating Soviet air space? Has the hon. Gentleman been influenced in his judgment about the value of the whole programme by the existence of that missile system?
Mr. Neubert : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to question the whole principle of our forward defences, he is entitled to do so, but I do not believe that he will carry many people with him in such a suggestion.
Column 1061The need to reduce disturbance to the public is also taken into account in other ways. The techniques of low flying over land demand particular skills, which cannot be developed by low flying over sea or by training at higher levels. In war, aircraft would need to fly below 100 ft and at speeds of over 600 knots. In peacetime, to minimise the nuisance caused by noise, most low-flying training in the United Kingdom is carried out at speeds under 450 knots and not below 250 ft.
Training in operational low flying at lower altitudes is mainly carried out overseas, in parts of the United States and Canada that are virtually unpopulated, apart from the occasional moose. Only very little operational low flying is undertaken in the United Kingdom, in three sparsely populated areas in Northern Scotland, in the Scottish borders and in central Wales. Such flying is infrequent and represents less than 1 per cent. of the total of low-flying activity in the United Kingdom. As hon. Members will be aware, special efforts are made to keep them informed of this activity.
Night and weekend flying is kept to a minimum. I am particularly conscious of the disturbance that is caused by night flying, but pilots must be capable of operating after dark, so strictly limited night flying is needed. No more activity is authorised than is absolutely necessary. We end flying at 11 pm whenever possible. One of the questions raised with me by hon. Members is the possibility of carrying out more training abroad. While there is no substitute for training in Europe, across terrain that the aircrew would fly over in the event of conflict, we will certainly continue to look at opportunities for training abroad. But there are limits to the extent to which such training makes sense. It is expensive in resources which have to be found or deployed away from where they are needed operationally, and it is expensive in wasteful transit flying. But such deployments provide valuable training at very low levels which cannot be provided in Europe.
Some Members of the public suspect that pilots are irresponsible in carrying out their flying training. The image of the Spitfire pilot doing a victory roll over the aerodrome lingers, and it may mislead. It is a far cry from the professional, disciplined approach of today's RAF and from that required to fly a modern high-speed jet aircraft at low level. Pilots are fully aware of their
responsibilities to the general public, and they plan and conduct their sorties as considerately as possible. As hon. Members are aware, the RAF police carry out surveys from time to time to establish whether height and other rules are being observed, and those surveys clearly show that there is a healthy respect for the regulations. I have been very impressed with the thorough nature of investigations of individual complaints associated with low flying. I have been impressed also with the work of the RAF police. I can assure the House that any pilot found to be disregarding regulations will be severely dealt with.
Hon. Members should be aware also that, as a means of augmenting the existing system, we have been considering the use of a Skyguard fire control radar system to monitor the heights of low-flying aircraft. The system has been subjected to a series of trials, and I am pleased to announce that we have decided to deploy the system in this role. Although further work will be required before it is
Column 1062fully operational, in the meantime it will give us a limited capability to monitor low-flying training activities. This will provide a very valuable aid and, I hope, will be seen as an indication of our concern to ensure that the highest standards are maintained. I am confident that the results shown by the system will be yet further evidence of the service's professionalism. The past 10 years have seen an increase in the level of low-flying activity in the United Kingdom, largely because of the introduction into service of the Tornado GR1 aircraft. The level of activity has reached a plateau in recent years, and we expect that it will remain fairly constant in the future. The new low- flying system has proved itself successful in accommodating this increase, in providing enhanced training value and in distributing this training more equitably.
I am satisfied that the basic structure of the system is correct, although there will always be a need to monitor its operation and adapt it as necessary to changing circumstances. The last thing that the RAF wants to do is to antagonise the people on whose support and forbearance it relies. Within the current system, I can assure hon. Members that it will continue to do all in its power to ensure that this essential training produces the minimum disturbance to those on the ground.
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : My hon. Friend has referred to low flying by fixed-wing aircraft. Do the restrictions to which he has referred relate in any way to helicopters operated by the Royal Air Force? Helicopters often fly at low altitudes in my constituency, and one wonders why they find that piece of terrain so attractive.
So far, I have spoken about the role of the RAF and some of its recent achievements. None would have been possible without the dedicated and professional personnel who make up the service. The trained strength of the RAF over the past year has been maintained at a level which has enabled it fully to discharge its operational commitments. There are some shortfalls in the officer branches and in ground engineering and support trades, but they are containable. Interest in RAF manning generally centres on the aircrew branch and, in particular, on pilots. Manning strengths in this branch are broadly in line with requirements, although some ground and flying appointments are vacant. Both recruiting and retention have become more difficult over the past 12 months, largely because of increased competition from civil airlines, but I would not wish to over-estimate those difficulties, and I can confirm that it is forecast that the aircrew branch will continue to see strengths and requirements broadly in balance over the next 10 years, although there may be a shortage of junior officer pilots in the shorter term.
Mr. Dykes : My hon. Friend has already given way a few times, and I thank him for doing so again. The RAF involves not only pilots, aircraft and flying but physical buildings, sites and bases. My hon. Friend will know of our strong RAF presence, of which we are intensely proud, in the borough of Harrow, and the putative longer-term plans for the eventual closure of RAF Stanmore Park,
Column 1063near RAF Bentley Priory. Incidentally, the local borough council will shortly be offering the freedom of the borough to the Royal Air Force.
If my hon. Friend cannot answer my question now, will he add it to the growing list of answers which our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give when replying to the debate? What is the latest outlook for the proposed eventual closure of RAF Stanmore Park? Although we are deeply proud of the role which that station has played over many years for the Royal Air Force and the defence of this country in its particular specialist requirements, we know that it is now becoming gradually superfluous to present and future activities. Although the next matter is not directly within my hon. Friend's province, Stanmore Park would therefore be a useful area for the future development of housing in the borough of Harrow. What is the latest state of play on RAF Stanmore Park and its proposed future programme?
Mr. Neubert : I am happy to answer what must be the last intervention. We are currently considering the position at Stanmore Park. I assure my hon. Friend that, should there be any proposals, we shall consult closely with the local authority, the London borough of Harrow.
The RAF is adopting several measures to improve current recruitment and retention. The training of fast jet pilots is particularly lengthy, rigorous and costly, and the service seeks constantly to improve the efficiency and economy of the training given, while preserving the high standards required. It is for that reason that retention of aircrew, especially pilots, remains of great importance. The RAF continues to encourage our trained and experienced aircrew to remain in service, through measures such as those aimed at reducing the turbulence to their home lives which can be sometimes caused by their service, and through improvements to terms and conditions. Moreover, the RAF is alert to the future demographic trend and, in addition to seeking better retention rates, is considering a wide range of measures, including the possibility of widening opportunities for the employment of women as aircrew, and attracting more members of ethnic minorities into the service than we have been able to do so far. There will also be a higher profile campaign of recruiting for the RAF.
The role of women is currently under review in each of the services. We are examining the scope for increasing employment opportunities for them. Within our agreed policy, which I reaffirm, that women should not undertake direct combatant duties, women are already employed, unless physical limitations dictate otherwise, in the full range of officer specialisations and ground trades. In addition, it is planned that female fighter controllers will fly as aircrew in the Sentry AEW aircraft in 1991. I hope that wider opportunities for women will result from the present study, although I would not wish to pre-judge its outcome.
On the ground, the RAF has decided to increase the number of ground airwomen over the next five years from 5,000 to 7,000 personnel, some 10 per cent. of the ground trades' trained strength.
Hon. Members will be aware of the results of the first year of the exercise to monitor the ethnic origin of applicants and recruits to the armed forces. They have shown that only 1.5 per cent. of applicants for service in the RAF are black or Asian, and this is a disappointing
Column 1064figure, given that it compares with 5.7 per cent. of blacks and Asians aged 15 to 24 in the United Kingdom as a whole.
We would like to attract more recruits from these groups, and, on a tri- service basis, we are considering a number of measures to achieve this aim. As a first step, we have commissioned from independent consultants a study to investigate the reasons for the current low rate of application and to consider how we can best attract more young blacks and Asians into the armed forces.
Given the demographic trends over the next few years, it will be particularly important that we make life in the RAF attractive to all young men and women entering the employment market. In this connection, I am pleased to say that the armed services youth training scheme continues to receive full support from the RAF ; 750 training places have again been allocated for the coming financial year. So far this year, 73 per cent. of the overall vacancies have been filled or booked. Over 70 per cent. of the young people who enter the RAF subsequently transfer to a regular engagement. In addition to this, the Air Training Corps is a thriving youth organisation which enjoys widespread support both within the Ministry of Defence and in the community. There are some 38,500 cadets, including around 7,500 girls, in a total of 920 squadrons throughout the United Kingdom. The corps provides a large number of recruits to the Royal Air Force and aims to develop worthwhile interests and the values of good citizenship in the cadets.
My review of the manning scene would be incomplete without reference to the RAF Reserve. The regular Reserve which comprises former officers and airmen, together with RAF pensioners, continues to grow in strength. So too do the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the RAF Volunteer Reserve, for which there is no shortage of recruits at the moment ; their strengths have increased over the past year despite a higher turnover of airmen than we would have wished. Royal Auxiliary Air Force and RAF volunteer reservists are highly motivated, highly trained and, should the need arise, are ready to take their places alongside the regular forces in a variety of roles, often in the front line. I pay tribute to their competence and commitment which are second to none. It is wholly appropriate that later this year the Royal Auxiliary Air Force will be honoured by the presentation of a royal colour by Her Majesty the Queen.
We will continue to consider the roles which our reserve forces play, and trials of reservists in certain flying roles are continuing. In addition, the trial of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force support force has demonstrated the viability of the concept and it is planned to become a permanent and expanding part of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
I am grateful to have had the chance to speak about a service which is so well equipped and well motivated. The RAF, through its dedication, skill and courage, performs a vital task in the defence of the realm ; we should all be thankful for that. It also provides the chance for young men and women to build a career which offers unique challenges and opportunities, both in the United Kingdom and overseas. I shall be doing all I can over the coming months to ensure that that message is heard in the House and in the wider world.
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Opposition Members wish to express our sincere appreciation to all the service men and women who have given such dedicated commitment to the defence of our country. This dedication has, alas, meant, as the Minister said, 17 Royal Air Force personnel giving their lives in the past year. We convey our sympathy and support to the bereaved families. I am sure that the Minister is giving them all the support they need in the very difficult circumstances of a young life being taken away from a family, especially when, as is often the case in the services, it is the life of the only breadwinner. The dedication and unselfish attitude of RAF personnel is an example to us all. While I hesitate to pick out one individual, I should like to mention Squadron Leader Stephen Fox who was awarded the Air Force Cross last year. Squadron Leader Fox successfully landed a severely damaged Harrier in West Germany. The citation praised his high degree of courage, professionalism and coolness in deciding to remain with his aircraft when the simplest option would have been to eject and possibly risk many civilian lives. Squadron Leader Fox is a brave man and certainly deserves the highest decoration that can be awarded in peacetime.
I also congratulate Air Chief Marshal Sir David Craig on his assumption of the post of Chief of the Defence Staff. He is a person of great integrity, and I am sure that he will be outstanding in his new role. I am also sure of his political impartiality and I know that my hon. Friends are looking forward to working with him in the early 1990s when we assume government.
I am not happy, however, about the Government's politicisation of the post in the new system of appointing. Sir David Craig's appointment confirms the end of the old informal system of appointing chiefs of the defence staff from each service in rotation. There is now no discernible system in operation and it has been reported--I am sure that there is no truth in it- -that Sir Nigel Bagnell was passed over because his views were embarrassing to the Government. I trust that that is not the case, but I should welcome before the debate is over an explanation from the Minister of why the old system of rotating appointments has been abandoned.
It is always difficult to speak from the Opposition Benches in a service debate. Criticism of the Government is always distorted by them and their Back Benchers into the idea that the Opposition are not supportive of the armed forces.
Mr. Rogers : The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary says, "Hear, hear." That shows his complete ignorance of the matter. It is patent nonsense to imply that we do not support the armed forces. The Labour party is committed to the defence of this country, and its record in government since the war shows that this is so. There may be individual Opposition Members who do not support all
Column 1066the policies of the Labour party. [Hon. Members : "Ah!"] A substantial number of hon. Members who were on the Government Benches did not support Mr. Churchill in the 1930s and spent their holidays with the Nazis in Germany and with the Fascists in Italy. But never mind about that. We accept that sometimes, when a Conservative Government are in power, there may be some Tory Members who will not agree with them. But what was pretty awful about that period was that there were Ministers who were happy to consort with the fascists of Europe.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : The hon. Member suggests that there may be Labour Members who do not agree with the Labour party's policy. But surely three unilateralists out of five Labour Members present is a 60 per cent. record. That is an overall majority who do not agree with Labour party policy.
Mr. Rogers : That is absolutely right. It is just that my colleagues reckon that I can manage and do not need much support. It is important to remember in this debate that all of us in the Labour party represent constituents who come, in the main, from working-class backgrounds. We live in our constituencies. Our homes, our jobs, our savings and our future are in this country. We have no other place to go, unlike many Conservative Members who belong to and sometimes work as consultants for companies who have been expatriating their funds over recent years and may well expatriate themselves in times of difficulty. We on the Opposition side have nowhere to go. We and our families have nowhere to go and that is why we are completely dedicated to the defence of our traditions and our values. I find it gratuitously insulting for Conservative Members to suggest otherwise.
I say that at the outset simply to emphasise that we are committed to the defence of this country and that any Tory Member who suggests otherwise is wrong. My right hon. and hon. Friends do not need lessons in patriotism from anyone on the Government Benches. In three successive debates I have referred to the Government's mismanagement of the defence economy. This Government of big business have shown themselves to be just that. At the same time, however, they have also shown themselves to be incompetent or unwilling to manage defence procurement for the benefit of the nation. The Under-Secretary said that he would leave procurement issues to his hon. Friend who will wind up the debate. That is a great pity, because I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would have liked to put some questions to the Under-Secretary. The sorry saga of defence procurement is one of delays and overruns of time, with an accompanying and staggering escalation of costs reaching into billions of dollars.
Two notable events took place last week. One was the throwing out from GCHQ of Mr. Gareth Morris, the last trade unionist there. The other was the charging by the Director of Public Prosecutions of Major-General Sturge, who until recently was head of military communications responsible for GCHQ. He was charged with fraud, theft, deception and false accounting. I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will not allow me to comment on that case because it is sub judice, but it is interesting to note the manner in which people leave Government service and
Column 1067GCHQ, what happens to them afterwards and the double standards that Tory Members are presumably happy to support.
Mr. Morris, a trade unionist, was deemed to be unworthy of his nation's trust because of his membership of a trade union. That is a shabby and baseless judgment by a shabby and baseless Government who are prepared to allow the country to be ripped off through gargantuan frauds at the same time as they persecute the civil liberties of individuals. The Government victimise people for combining in trade unions. At the same time they are happy to allow another combination to be rampant--a freemasonry of generals, civil servants, industrialists and Tory politicians. [Interruption.] I can see that Tory Members are getting agitated. I understand why ; they are hearing some of the truth.
Mr. Bill Walker rose --
Mr. Walker : I thank the hon. Gentleman who, in his usual courteous fashion, has given way. Is he aware that nearly 30 years ago I represented GCHQ as a trade unionist? I was responsible for negotiations for the largest group of members. At that time we all knew that if ever the individuals working at GCHQ, or the Air Ministry where I worked at that time, became involved in industrial action, the Government of the day--the Government then were Labour--would change the rules. There was an unwritten agreement. That agreement was broken, and the fact was promoted and advertised.
The hon. Gentleman forgets that when the country has been involved in conflict we have had Labour Governments, but we never had the trouble that he suggested. He knows as well as I do that the reason the trade unions were kicked out of GCHQ was that the Americans said that they had to go. It was a shabby act, with the Prime Minister being pushed around by the former President of the United States. This hurts Tory Members, and I can understand them being agitated. As I was saying, they are happy to allow another combination to go rampant--a freemasonry of generals, civil servants, industrialists, Tory politicians and even failed lieutenants- colonel. In 1983, at about the same time as the retired General Sturge became managing director of Meccano, sorry, Marconi secure radio systems-- it is a bit like Meccano these days--Sir Brian Tovey, former head of GCHQ, became a consultant to Plessey, the manufacturer of electronic equipment for GCHQ, and General Sir Henry Tuzo, an ex-deputy commander of NATO, became chairman of Marconi space and defence systems.
Mr. Rogers : The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence says that that has nothing to do with the RAF. We all know that the companies are not buying in the generals for their ability to shoot straight, or the civil servants for their ability to write memos. These people are bought in because of their contacts in the Ministry of Defence and because they are in the know.
Column 1068The revolving door syndrome is well known to the Government. It has been brought to their attention on many occasions, perhaps most forcibly in 1984 by the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, which urged them to tighten the rules for civil servants leaving to take up jobs with companies that were in receipt of Government contracts. The Select Committee said :
"The traditional independence of the civil service is in danger of becoming eroded or compromised in the eyes of the public." The Select Committee suggested that there should be a time lapse between Government employment and related industrial employment--a recommendation which the Government seemed strangely reluctant to implement and operate.
Perhaps the truth lies in what was said by Sir Frank Cooper, ex-Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence--we cannot go higher and he can hardly be called a raving lefty--who also travelled the golden road to Westland :
"Why criticise the civil servants--look at James Prior and other politicians."
Indeed, let us look at the Tory politicians. What about Lord Prior, ex- Cabinet Minister, now managing director of GEC?
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Is it not significant that Lord Prior was appointed just some months before the Secretary of State for Defence had to take a decision on Nimrod? Many hon. Members believe that Weinstock appointed him only to ensure influence among his former Cabinet colleagues. [ Hon. Members :-- "It did not work."] I said "former" Cabinet colleagues.
Mr. Rogers : My hon. Friend is right. As Tory Members, who are far more in the know, say, it did not do the company much good. Those of us who were here when Lord Prior was in the Cabinet know that he did not have much influence with the Government then either.
Some other Tory Members are also involved. I had the courtesy to let them know that I would mention their names in the debate. The hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) is a parliamentary adviser to British Aerospace which received Government contracts in the past year worth £930 million.