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Mr. Hanley : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman admits that that is a sensible move. He may not be aware that, when the Donington conflagration occurred, I was one of the Members of Parliament who complained vociferously about it. I believed that the security was totally inadequate. The amount of spares carried now is much smaller. As a result of other management initiatives and quicker turn-round of the requirement for spares, the amount of spares carried as a whole is smaller.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : The amount of spares as a whole may be smaller, but the point is that if one needs a vital component in an emergency and it is not available on another site because it is not duplicated, the equipment will be non-operational whatever the management changes that have been made to provide greater efficiency. Surely that is dangerous in terms of national defence policy.
Mr. Hanley : Under the hon. Gentleman's policy, we would have two sets of Crown jewels in case one was damaged. We need to keep the best security if we keep expensive equipment at one site. We believe that we are carrying out the changes. The "Front Line First" studies will continue to examine that matter.
The review of avionics and communication electronics has recommended that the ground radio servicing centre should relocate from RAF North Luffenham No. 30 maintenance unit at RAF Sealand.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : Does my hon. Friend accept that, if RAF North Luffenham closes, thought must be given to how the large area on which it is based will be used afterwards? North Luffenham is in an idyllic part of rural Rutland and it must be allowed to preserve its identity. Will he give an assurance that thought will be given even now to how the land might be disposed of, how business might be brought in and, for example, how trees and shrubs might be planted? Will he undertake to work with Rutland district council to ensure that we have an imaginative transition to civilian use?
Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend is right that there would be uncertainty in the proposals if we had not said that the RAF North Luffenham site would be closed by 1 October 1996. Other units currently located there will be relocated elsewhere. Indeed, the Ministry will save about £15 million over 10 years. However, we shall co-operate fully with the local council and the planning authorities--that is always our intention--and, with the guidance of my hon. Friend and of the planning authorities, shall ensure that people's time with the RAF is remembered with happiness rather than with the misery that many Opposition Members have expressed today. A wide- ranging review of RAF maintenance group as a whole is currently being undertaken. This should identify a more cost-effective location for the ground radio servicing centre. So far as Sealand is concerned, there are still decisions to be made, but we are proceeding on the basis of the assumption that North Luffenham will close. A new RAF Personnel and Training Command will be created at the same time.
The third major study--the one on the future of RAF flying training--has recently reported a first stage of rationalisation. It has recommended that fast jet advanced flying training should be rationalised from the current two stations--RAF Chivenor and RAF Valley--into just RAF Valley. Chivenor would cease flying from 1 October 1994 and would be put on a care-and- maintenance basis from 1 October 1995. This proposal, which is out to consultation, would save £130 million, at net present value, over a period of 10 years.
Mr. Ainger : Is the Minister aware that today is the 51st anniversary of the Royal Air Force mountain rescue service? I should like to refer to the reorganisation of flight training along the west coast. The mountain rescue team that is currently covering the Snowdonia range is
Column 446extremely concerned that, as a result of the proposed transfer of Flight 202 from Brawdy to Chivenor, which, as the Minister has announced, is due to close, it will not be able to respond quickly enough when climbers and walkers fall and, because of severe injury, face hypothermia.
Mr. Hanley : I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the search and rescue teams, which do a tremendous job around the country. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the decision to move this service from Brawdy to Chivenor was made on logistical grounds. It is an entirely sensible move. The hon. Gentleman may, for constituency reasons, regret it very much--though he has not today welcomed the move of the Royal Welch Fusiliers to Brawdy, which is an example of the best use of facilities--but every silver lining has a cloud.
I was dealing a moment ago with the question of flying training and the move from Chivenor to Valley. Further work on the pattern of flying training is being done to determine whether there is scope for more rationalisation of flying training.
All the matters that I have mentioned involve difficult and painful decisions. We have carried out our appraisals to secure cost-effective solutions for the taxpayer while meeting the changed requirements in the new defence environment. As I have stressed to Opposition Front Bench Members, we are in full consultation with the trade unions. I have met hon. Members from both sides of the House whose constituencies are affected, as well as representatives of local authorities. It is important that the need for these changes be understood.
Market testing is another recent initiative which the RAF has pursued with great vigour and success. Current savings from the RAF's market testing programme are positive and encouraging. The achievement of the Royal Air Force in meeting the challenge of its market testing targets and time scales is perhaps best illustrated in a snapshot of recently completed market tests. Savings of more than £8 million in annual support costs were realised through market testing between 1992 and 1993. The activities in respect of which savings were made formerly cost the public more than £22.5 million. They range from the elementary flying training school at RAF Topcliffe, where training for ab initio pilots entering the RAF and the Royal Navy is undertaken, to the engineering maintenance and supply support of training aircraft at RAF Scampton.
The RAF is also adopting new working practices, one of which is known as support chain management--SCM. Under SCM it is possible to detect previously hidden inefficiencies caused by bottlenecks in the flow of information or material. Within the RAF, SCM will move the service away from its traditional dependence on depot stocks, which are costly to maintain, and will introduce more responsive and flexible supply management. SCM will also complement the RAF logistics information technology strategy, which aims to introduce an integrated system serving the whole logistics community. Together, they should generate net savings, in spares and repair costs, of at least £500 million.
The "Front Line First" study is, of course, looking again at all these rationalisations and initiatives in the support area with a view to seeing whether even greater reductions in costs can be achieved. But, as I hope I have demonstrated, the RAF is now engaged in making many of the fundamental changes that are necessary if it is to be in the best possible shape to meet the varied challenges that
Column 447will face us all in the coming years. The changes in its organisation could not, of course, be sustained if it were not for the professionalism displayed by its men and women, together with-- and this is so often forgotten--the support of the families who remain at home.
Mr. Wilkinson : Can my hon. Friend say whether it is still Her Majesty's Government's policy that members of the armed forces--men and women--must be ready to undertake any duty on behalf of the Crown, in peace or in war? If a member of the Women's Royal Air Force becomes pregnant, she is paid off to the tune of several tens of thousands of pounds. Is this an appropriate use of taxpayers' money?
Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend raises an issue that has caused some concern recently. A situation that existed for a time has now been overtaken by events and by changed contracts of employment. I believe that the changes took place in 1990. The situation is of a finite nature. The vast majority of the women involved settled their claims quickly and efficiently, although some are taking a long time in their efforts to secure very large sums. I have to admit that, whatever their rights may be, and whatever compensation is decided legally, this has given offence to certain people. However, as I have indicated, I hope that it has been changed by events.
There is a great deal of uncertainty in the hearts and minds of the families, but I am tremendously impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm that both civilian and service personnel--at headquarters, at other establishments and in the field--have demonstrated.
Sir Harold Walker (Doncaster, Central) : The Minister has quite properly paid tribute to the professionalism of the men and women of the Royal Air Force. I hope that he has in mind the professionalism of and the service given by those who preceded the present generation. The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that 1994 is the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the jet fighter aircraft--the Meteor having gone into service with the South Yorkshire Squadron 616, flying out of Doncaster in 1944. What does the Minister intend to do to commemorate that significant event?
Mr. Hanley : I am one of those who wrote to the Royal Mail asking that a stamp be issued to commemorate the event. In addition, I was in south Yorkshire this morning, and I pay tribute to the RAF--in particular, 33 Squadron--for getting me back in time for this debate. The entire Ministry of Defence team, under the Secretary of State, is impressed by the professionalism and the stoic good humour of the people we meet as we travel around. It is a great credit to the RAF that it is approaching the hurdles--many of them financial--with the skill and determination that it has displayed so often. This attitude continues in many places around the world. I appreciate that current operations in some areas are placing heavy demands on personnel, but their enthusiasm and attention to duty is inspirational.
With the 75th anniversary of the RAF and the 50th anniversary of the jet aircraft, it is appropriate and it gives me great pleasure to be able to announce to the House that Her Majesty the Queen has graciously approved the introduction of a medal to recognise aggregated campaign service since 14 August 1969 in those theatres where the General Service medal (1962), with clasp, has been
Column 448awarded. The medal will be known as the Accumulated Campaign Service medal and it recognises 36 months or more of service, which qualify for a clasp or clasps to the General Service medal (1962). The medal is for services in awkward and difficult theatres of operation in which our service men and women work around the world. I am delighted that that service will now be formally recognised. The details of the award are set out in a Command Paper, which was presented to the House earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. The regulations for the award of the medal are different for each force, because the qualifying periods are different for each of the forces. They are slightly complicated, but they are available to hon. Members in the Library.
I am sincerely grateful to the men and women of the RAF who continue to serve their country with such distinction and courage. I am also grateful to the civilians who help them out in the field and to the civil servants at the Ministry of Defence, whose efforts often go unsung. I assure them that they are all worthy upholders of the traditions of their proud service, which has lasted for the past 75 years.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) : On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the announcement about the new medal, which is perhaps overdue. I should also like to associate myself with the final words of the Minister, but I am not sure about the parts in between. I pay tribute to the men and women of the RAF who have continued to serve the country loyally in the year since the previous debate on the RAF. In 1993, in addition to their continuing role of defending the United Kingdom, RAF personnel have assisted efforts in Sarajevo aimed at lifting the siege so as to ensure that the local people are not starved into submission. They have assisted the United Nations by policing the no-fly zone in Bosnia and undertaking the early-warning monitoring role over Hungary and the Adriatic. Aircrews have also done a magnificent job in assisting the rescue efforts in Bosnia and the Adriatic.
The RAF is also policing the no-fly zone in southern Iraq to deter the Iraqi air force from attempting the genocide of the marsh Arabs. It continues to protect the Kurdish people of northern Iraq. It also continues to provide security cover in the Falklands, Hong Kong and other outposts around the world, while playing a major part in assisting the security forces in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that millions of people throughout the world have reason to be thankful for the skills and dedication of the RAF.
We must also remember the thousands of MOD civilian workers and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the defence industry, who play a vital role in our defences.
In many ways this has been a good year for the RAF, but as Charles Dickens wrote :
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".
The reason for that is the shabby way in which the forces, and in particular the RAF, have been treated by the Government. I can recall no other occasion in recent history when there has been such a lack of confidence in the commitment of a British Government to maintain credible armed forces.
Column 449As a result of "Options for Change", the RAF has suffered the loss of 15 squadrons, a 33 per cent. reduction in the number of combat aircraft and a reduction in the number of service personnel from 91, 000 in 1989 to 77,000 in 1993. "Options for Change" anticipates that, by 1995, that number will be down to 70,000. Rumours are already circulating around the RAF, however, that even greater cuts will be made. I know that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who will reply to the debate, is not responsible for manpower, but perhaps he can comment on it.
Mr. Mans : The hon. Gentleman has accurately recorded the changes that have taken place in the past few years. I hope that he will spell out exactly Labour party policy towards manpower, equipment and RAF commitments across the world. We will then be able to measure more accurately whether Opposition rhetoric is matched by facts.
Mr. Martlew : That is fine by me. I will return to that issue later. The short answer is that-- [Laughter.] Hon. Members should not start laughing. The Labour party will consider our overseas commitments and the necessary role for the forces, including the RAF. We will then decide, subject to a full defence review, what we need to meet those commitments. We shall provide the money to ensure that they are met.
The Government have failed to carry out a defence review, but they have continued to make cuts in the forces, like a blind man. They have not reduced our defence commitments, but they have cut the personnel, which has put an extra strain on service men and women. Conservative Members are aware of that. I am sure that, before the debate is over, we will hear a call for a defence review from many Conservative Members.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : The hon. Gentleman will know that I am one of those who has called for a defence review, and I have been doing so for some time. I want to be absolutely clear about what the hon. Gentleman said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). Am I correct to assume that, at the end of that review, the Labour party will match commitments with resources? Can we therefore assume that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will not be bound by several recent Labour party conference motions?
The Government have broken their promises to the RAF on many occasions, not least with regard to the RAF's continuing nuclear role. During the debate on the defence estimates, the Secretary of State announced that the tactical air-to-surface missile, TASM, would be cancelled. We welcomed that decision, but the RAF did not. I spoke to several senior officers before that debate and they did not believe that the Government would leave the RAF without a nuclear role in the next century. That is exactly what they have done.
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken) : The hon. Gentleman has made a most important policy statement abouthe Labour party's defence policy. May I ask him to clarify it? Is he now
Column 450saying he would make funds available for any future defence commitments entered into by the Labour party, in defiance of the binding resolution--passed by 79 per cent. of the voters at the Labour party conference--in composite motion No. 49, the effect of which would be to reduce Britain's defence spending by £7.5 billion? That is equivalent to wiping out the entire spending on one of our three services. Is he overruling the motion that his own conference passed by a binding majority of more than two thirds, 79 per cent., of the voters at that conference?
Mr. Martlew : The Government should remember that they have already made massive cuts in defence spending. It does not sit well on the Minister's shoulders to talk about other parties cutting defence expenditure. We made a commitment at the election to the electorate that we would provide the necessary resources to protect the United Kingdom. It is obviously dawning on the British electorate that that cannot be said of the Government, because the most recent opinion poll on the subject, which asked people in whose hands the defence of Britain would be safest, revealed that the majority believed that it would be safest in the hands of the Labour party. That is some reference not only to the good work of my hon. Friends but to the dismal performance of Ministers.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : The hon. Gentleman talked about the defence of the realm being safe in somebody's hands. Is the base at RAF Carlisle safe in the Labour party's hands? Would it be kept open if the Labour party were to form the Government?
Mr. Martlew : The point is that it is not safe in the Government's hands. The Minister said today from the Dispatch Box that he intends to ignore consultations. It is a disgrace for Conservative Members to make political capital out of 850 people's jobs. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) will remain seated.
Conservative Members do not want to hear about the other broken promises, including those on air bases. However, the Government said that they have closed 14 air bases. That has been done with scant regard to consultation with the people who work there and even less regard to the effect of the closure on the local economy. It seems strange that the majority of the bases that have been closed are in the north, in what could be called the Celtic region of the country, and that those that are kept open are around the south of England.
Mr. Martlew : The Government have broken their promises on pay and conditions for service people. They said that they would allow a wage increase last year of only 1.5 per cent. If we believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they will not receive any pay increase this year.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I think that I should draw his attention to a comment made from a sedentary position by a former Minister on the Government Back Benches. When my hon. Friend referred to the fact that the Government kept closing bases in the north but not those in the south, that former Minister said, "A very good thing." Does not that show that there is a problem in defence policy of bias against the north of England?
Mr. Nicholls : It may not have escaped the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has absolutely no sense of humour. If he had ever doubted that, he will appreciate it now.
The Government's total mismanagement has meant that they have had to pay £7 million in compensation to women who were unfairly dismissed because they were pregnant. I shall return to that matter. As the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is to wind up the debate, I shall mention one or two items on that subject as well. Eurofighter 2000 is a very important project both in military and industrial terms. It is a scandal that the Government have allowed the timetable for that programme to slip by two years. I have been pressing for it to get back on stream as it is essential, especially to people working in the north-west. No one hopes more than me that Eurofighter 2000 will fly in April this year. Events surrounding the Eurohelicopter 101 are an absolute scandal. We have waited eight years for that project and the Minister, in reply to me during previous Defence questions, could not give a date for when the project was likely to come about.
The Government have treated the RAF badly over the past year. Morale in the RAF is low. It is so bad that last November Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, Chief of the Air Staff, launched an unprecedented public attack on the Government, saying that Treasury Ministers had campaigned deliberately to discredit the RAF.
Mr. Mans : I was in the audience when the Air Chief Marshal made that speech and I assure the hon. Gentleman that his remarks were directed not at any Treasury Minister, but elsewhere. If he were to read the text of the speech, he would understand that. On that basis, I hope that he will withdraw his last remark.
Mr. Martlew : The problem is that the speech is classified. We rang the Air Chief Marshal's office and he referred us to the Secretary of State. We rang the Secretary of State's office and he refused to give us the report of the speech, which has never been published. If the Secretary of State were to intervene now and say that he will put a copy of it in the Library, I should be delighted.
We have not seen a copy of the Air Chief Marshal's speech. We go by the press reports. We have been told by the Secretary of State that we cannot have a copy of that speech and we msut presume, therefore, that it is classified.
Mr. Walker : Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), I attended that open meeting, which took place at the Royal Aeronautical Society. At no point in his speech did the Chief of the Air Staff say specifically that anyone in the Government was spreading damaging information about the RAF. He did say that he and the RAF
Column 452knew who had been putting out that information. That is not the same as what the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) said.
Mr. Martlew : I would be more convinced by the hon. Gentleman's argument if the Secretary of State had not made the Chief of the Air Staff write a letter of apology to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The Guardian carried the headline :
"Air Chief says sorry to Portillo".
If the Chief of the Air Staff did not say anything, why did he have to apologise?
Mr. Hanley : I should like to help the hon. Gentleman with a little matter that he mentioned earlier. He is clearly speaking with prejudice or in ignorance--or both. In either case, it is breathtaking. Of the last 15 base closures, two were in Germany, 10 were located under a line south of Birmingham and only three were in the north. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong and I hope that that helps to clarify the position.
May I now get to the meat of my speech? Obviously, hon. Members have enjoyed the starter, but perhaps we can get on to the main course. There has not been a great deal of disagreement between the Opposition and Government Front-Bench Members on Bosnia. I am aware that Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House have differing views. From my last visit to Bosnia in the autumn, I came away convinced that it was suffering a human tragedy and a civil war, and that the United Nations, or any other outside organisation, should not get involved on one side or another. It would be disastrous if we were seen to be taking sides.
The present role of developing humanitarian aid and policing the no-fly zone has made a considerable contribution in reducing the number of innocent casualties. I am critical, however--this is where there is some discord--of recent statements made by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, who appear to be threatening to pull out British forces unilaterally. I have no doubt that that would lead to a considerable loss of innocent lives. I wish that we could give the commitment to the United Nations that we would remain in Bosnia as long as necessary and that, if and when a firm peace agreement is signed, we would stay to police it and, if necessary, make extra forces available.
At this time, we should be telling the United Nations what forces we shall have available. I hope that we can get away from the idea that we should keep on pretending that we may pull our people out. It does no good to the morale of our people on the ground and I am sure that the innocent people in Bosnia are not happy about that scenario.
I spoke earlier about service pay, but no Conservative Member sought to intervene. They did not seem to be bothered too much that service pay is being cut in real terms. Last year, the Government enforced a pay increase of 1.5 per cent. on all service personnel. That was equal to a cut in take- home pay of up to 2 per cent. because members of the armed forces are not normally mortgage holders and did not benefit from the dramatic drop in interest rates. As a result, they lost more than anybody else.
In November, the Chancellor told them that they would get no increase whatever unless it was earned by
Column 453productivity. The mind boggles. How does one measure the productivity of an RAF fighter pilot or an infantry man? One measure that could be applied is the reduction of 15 squadrons and a cut of 22 per cent. in RAF service personnel. In view of that and of the fact that few roles are being reduced, it could be argued that they are entitled to a 22 or 33 per cent. increase.
I had hoped that the Minister would say that the armed forces were to receive a pay increase this year. It has been rumoured in the press that senior officers will get a pay award of 2.8 per cent. That does not seem out of line, especially as Members of Parliament got 2.9 per cent. However, it would be regrettable, and it would be opposed by the Labour party, if senior officers received 2.8 per cent. and other ranks did not. There is no doubt that the pay difference between officers and other ranks has been growing steadily.
A page of the Tory party manifesto had the quaint heading "Taking responsibility for Britain". As the Prime Minister has been to the Scott inquiry, he is probably asking for that heading to be withdrawn so that he can take responsibility for nothing. The Government have broken their pledge because under that heading the manifesto states :
"Our Services deserve the excellent pay and conditions which we have secured for them and will maintain."
The Government failed to carry out that promise last year and I suspect that they will fail again this year.
A Select Committee report in 1991 concluded that the forces were having great difficulty in recruiting skilled technical staff, and in 1991 we were in the teeth of a recession. If there is the recovery for which we all hope, and service pay has not kept pace with the private sector, the forces will not be able to recruit and there will be an exodus and a severe skills shortage. I hope that the Minister will address that issue.
The Minister spoke about the closure of bases--I am sorry that he is not in his place. He said that it had been decided to close RAF Carlisle and RAF Quedgeley. He could have given many other examples of closures. There are great doubts as to whether the transfer of MOD establishments is in the best interests of the country in defence and in money terms. An example of that is the transfer of the MOD establishment in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Great resentment was felt, especially by the work force in that area, because the work went to RAF Wyton and RAF Brampton, which are in the Prime Minister's constituency. I am told that that could not be justified on grounds of cost saving or improvement in the national defences.
There is no doubt that there were major flaws in the way that consultation with the Harrogate work force was carried out. There is a belief in the country, which I do not say that I accept, that the RAF and other services do not like to be based in the north. Therefore, they slant their reports towards recommending the closure of such bases.
If we are not careful, my part of the country will be left with nothing but jets flying low over the Lake District. There will be no jobs. The Government should look at the economic impact of relocating bases.
Harrogate is a good example, and the Minister mentioned RAF Carlisle. I am sure the House would expect me to speak about that and, in doing so, I shall examine how the MOD works. It was rumoured that the
Column 454decision to close RAF Carlisle would be taken during the equipment supply study in December, and that was confirmed when I phoned the Minister's office. I was told that a decision had been made but that it had not been decided when to announce it.
On 13 December the Government leaked the fact that they would announce a decision the following day on the thermal oxide reprocessing plant in Cumbria. Lo and behold, there was a planted question that day by the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) about the equipment supply study, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of the reply. On the day that the Government announced that the THORP plant was to be opened in Cumbria, they decided to close RAF Carlisle.
Some of us thought that that was a piece of media manipulation. The Government knew that the local and national media would pay attention to the THORP announcement and, of course, they did because that decision had been leaked whereas the one on RAF Carlisle had not. I phoned the Minister's office to find out when I would be informed and I was told that a letter would be placed on the Board at 3 pm. I was at the Board at that time but no letter arrived. By 3.30 there was still no letter and at 3.45 pm I was told by a Lobby correspondent that RAF Carlisle was to close.
At 4.15 pm I met the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary who told me that there had been a mix-up and the letters had not been placed on the Board. I am sorry that the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary is not in his place. I have had a letter explaining the situation and I accept that there was a genuine mistake. However, it is strange that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who was also to get a letter, sent a fax to RAF Carlisle at 3.30 pm, 45 minutes before the letters arrived. It was obvious that the Government had leaked the information to hon. Members on the basis of their political persuasion. Such happenings occur when a party has been in government too long and no longer has respect for the House.
As the Minister said, it was arranged that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, would meet union representatives on the Friday. That was announced on the Wednesday, and it was made known to me that I would not be welcome at the meeting. I suppose that is politics. Perhaps it was a little early for them to get the full facts, but the union representatives went to the meeting and were told by the Minister that it seemed a good idea to publish the study and that he would look into it. He also agreed that it would be a good idea for the National Audit Office to study the recommendations, and he said that he would see what could be done.
On 21 December, the unions wrote to the Minister to confirm that, and on 18 January, well through the consultation period, they received a letter from the Minister saying that he would not release the report and would not call in the National Audit Office. That dashed union hopes because they believed that a full study would reveal a good argument for saving RAF Carlisle because over six years £50 million had been spent on it. There was no argument against some job losses, but they believe that they can be cost effective and put a good case to the Government. They may have been naive, but they believed that the Government simply wanted to save money. That belief was shattered by the Minister's letter in January.
The Minister must consider reversing his decision not to make the study available to trade unions or to call in the
Column 455National Audit Office. It is a disgrace that 800 people in Carlisle will lose their jobs because of a secret report. They were loyal workers throughout the Falklands conflict and the Gulf, and they have been treated very shabbily.
Yesterday, I met trade union representatives from RAF Quedgeley. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) is in his place. They had asked for the report and were devasted when they were told they could not have it. They also thought that it was a good idea that the National Audit Office should examine the findings of the report as they did not believe them to be correct. As the Minister said, RAF Quedgeley is not earmarked for closure until 1998. The depot had been allowed to tender for furniture repair contracts. It has been successful on three occasions in winning against outside competition repair and maintenance contracts for furniture, yet this month the depot received a letter saying that it would not be able to tender in future. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gloucester will also raise that point, but I must ask the Minister to reconsider his decision.
The Minister made some fairly derogatory comments in answer to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) about women being unfairly dismissed from the forces because they had become pregnant. It is a moral disgrace that has been going on for many years. The real problem is that the bill is coming home. Until now, according to parliamentary questions, the Government have paid £7,800,000 in compensation to women who were unfairly dismissed. That sum covers 1,679 cases. Two women who took their cases to the tribunal won large sums. One was awarded nearly £200,000, and only this week a Wren was awarded £130,000. There are 3,700 outstanding cases. If we assume that that amount is exceptional and accept the norm as £10,000, that represents a bill of £37 million. If we take the norm as £100, 000, the bill will be £370 million and the MOD will be paying out more than Littlewoods.
Where is the money to come from? Is it to come out of the defence budget or from contingency funds? If it were to be spent by local government, no doubt the councillors in charge would have been surcharged. It is a large sum of money and the House needs to know where it is to come from.
The Opposition were pleased when the Secretary of State announced the cancellation of the sub-strategic tactical air-to-surface missile, but there are still outstanding questions to be answered. When will the sub- strategic capability be placed on Trident? If it is to happen in the near future, as people are predicting, why are we keeping the free-fall bomb in service with the RAF until 2006?
Mention has been made of helicopters. Let us go through the disgraceful saga of the Westland helicopter, the EH101. In April 1987, the then Secretary of State announced that he would order 25 EH101 helicopters. In October 1992, after considerable pressure, the President of the Board of Trade visited Westland. In November 1992, Westland presented to the MOD the specifications, price and cost effectiveness. On 20 May 1993, draft specifications were received by the MOD. In July 1993, Westland responded, providing unit prices and support costs. On 27 July 1993, the matter was raised during the Consolidated Fund debate in which the Minister and I took part--I thought that the Government were going to try to win the by- election, but by that time it was obvious that Christchurch was a lost cause anyway.
Column 456In early October 1993, despite assurances from the Minister that he had had a word with his Dutch counterpart, the Dutch placed an order for a French helicopter. On 13 October 1993, the Secretary of State for Defence visited Westland and on 5 November 1993 the Prime Minister visited Westland. Last week in Defence questions, when I asked when the Government were likely to place an order, the Minister said that he did not know. The Chairman of the Select Committee said that the order would not be placed until after the Budget. However, he did not say what Budget and I hope that the Minister will make an announcement tonight that he will place the helicopter order with Westland. Many jobs depend on it and it is an excellent helicopter. Another defence procurement issue involves the Eurofighter 2000. There are no stronger supporters of the Eurofighter 2000 than myself and my hon. Friends. There has been some slippage on that, but I shall concentrate on the number of aircraft that we are likely to order. The Government are sticking to their statement that they will order 250. My understanding is that it is to replace the Tornado F-3 and the Jaguar. If I am kind and add the numbers together, there are 140 aircraft--some would say that we do not have 100 Tornados--but are we really talking about placing an order for 250 Eurofighter aircraft to replace 140 Tornados and Jaguars? I hope that we can have some clarification.
Mr. Mans : Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman with those figures. He is comparing the front-line strength of the Jaguar and Tornado F-3 force with the total buy and has not taken into account the number of back-up aircraft that the Eurofighter would also have to replace.
Mr. Martlew : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I hope that Minister will give us some clarification on the exact figures. It would be wrong to continue to pretend to the industry that the Government are going to order 250 if they know that is not likely. [Interruption.] I understand that I have been speaking for some time. I see that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) has woken up.
There is a complete breakdown of trust between the armed forces and the Conservative Government. It is best summed up by a report from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 14 January, under the heading :
"Back to Basics : Portillo on fighting the new British disease of cynicism about institutions".
The Minister said :
"Tonight I am going to talk about one of the greatest threats that have ever confronted the British nation. It does not come from the Soviet Union, nor from Nuclear weapons, not even from domestic terrorism. It is more insidious and therefore harder to counter and even to defeat. It is not an external threat but an internal one. It comes from amongst us.".
That was made two months after Sir Michael Graydon, Chief of Air Staff, said in a speech to the Air League that there had been a deliberate campaign to discredit the RAF and the other services. He added that they knew who had instigated it and why and no doubt a number are the same people who basked in the reflected glory of the Gulf war. The next day's headlines said that Sir Michael was