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Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I knew that he was not discriminating against me. He dealt earlier with aspects of procurement. The replacement of the Hercules is important to the British Aerospace plant at Prestwick and other British


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Aerospace plants. I hope that the Secretary of State will not be influenced by the knocking advertisements by Lockheed in the newspaper. There was one again today. I was worried when I received a reply from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, which suggested that a decision would be rushed by the end of the year. That would not allow the future large aircraft to be properly considered. I hope that the Secretary of State will give an assurance that no decision will be rushed and that the FLA will be properly assessed and considered.

Mr. Rifkind: I assure the hon. Gentleman that Government policy is not determined by the contents of advertisements. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will comment in greater detail on the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that we shall not be rushed into any decisions. We will take decisions based on the operational requirements of the Royal Air Force and the armed forces.

I shall briefly refer to the joint rapid deployment force, which is one of the important initiatives that we announced as a consequence of the "Front Line First" study, and which we are able to take forward because of some of the savings that have been identified. The reinforcement of Kuwait is just the latest in a series of examples of threats to security that have required the deployment at short notice of elements of our sea, land and air forces. Such operations play to the strength of our professional, experienced personnel and allow them to make a contribution greater than mere numbers might suggest. In July, I announced a number of measures that would further enhance all three services' capabilities for contingency operations. I should like to comment on the joint rapid deployment force.

As "rapid deployment" implies, the land elements of a rapid deployment force must be light while still able to protect themselves, and at high readiness, with a capability for strategic deployment by air or in dedicated specialist shipping. Hence the focus on the airborne and commando brigades, although in principle any element of our contingency forces could be drawn on to contribute to a JRDF operation. The rapid deployment force will rely heavily on the support provided by air and maritime forces, particularly for firepower and mobility. Operations in which it is involved will place emphasis on the need, if necessary, to apply force or to demonstrate the ability to use force quickly and with maximum effect, perhaps in order to save lives, as in service evacuation, or to forestall the escalation of a crisis, as in the reinforcement of a dependent territory. It may also be deployed in advance of heavier forces, to demonstrate intent or to secure an airhead or port.

Such tasks are demanding, and made all the more so by their diversity and the impossibility of predicting the exact combination of mission, environment, threat and allied involvement that will be encountered. The keys to success will lie in the co-ordination and confidence gained through extensive joint training and effective, interoperable communications and equipment.

Implementing the concept will not require fundamental changes to be made in the order of battle. The British armed forces already have more experience of joint warfare and are better prepared to meet the demands imposed by it than most of their counterparts. The JRDF


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will enable us to target resources for training and equipment to best joint effect. In that context, some £50 million to £60 million in total will be spent on the communications enhancements that I announced in July. The major element of that will start to arrive with units from 1996, and most will be in place by 1997.

The 3 (UK) Division and 3 Commando Brigade headquarters staff are already working closely together on joint planning of training and exercises and in future they will co-ordinate their training wherever possible. Those efforts, combined with the communications enhancements to Headquarters 3 Division and the RAF Tactical Communications Wing, which I announced in July, will be built upon in the years to come as an essential complement to the development of the new, permanent joint headquarters.

Before I conclude, it would be remiss of me not to mention briefly the Labour party policy on defence. I shall mention it only briefly because there is no policy, so it is unnecessary for me to detain the House terribly long. We have been conscious that in the past couple of years the Labour party, in a desperate attempt to appear respectable on the subject, has sought to avoid any commitments that would antagonise either its party supporters or the public. But those two objectives are irreconcilable, as we saw in Blackpool two weeks ago.

Not only the Government or the Conservative party hold in contempt the Labour party's position on defence. I shall draw to the Labour party's attention the remarks of people who might normally be thought to be sympathetic to or objective on its point of view and would like to put the best interpretation on whatever it might say. For example, on 22 July there was an editorial in The New Statesman and Society commenting on the "Front Line First" study, which had a mixed reaction in the press. That editorial praised the Government and condemned the Opposition. It stated that the Labour party

"in Parliament opted for the path of least controversy. In effect, it decided not to have a defence policy. In place of a policy, Labour has taken on a set of attitudes and tactics. David Clark repeats his call for a defence review with such regularity that things are now beginning to fall off the walls from sheer ennui. What would be reviewed in such a review; what Clark himself thinks; what Britain's defence relations should be with the United States and the European Union--all these questions are left unasked and unanswered . . . It will have some difficulty convincing voters that it is indeed fit to govern. The problem now is not the policy, much less disagreements over it. The problem is that there isn't one."

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich): The Minister said that he was coming to the end of his speech, but I should not like him to do so or to launch into flights of party political oratory without at least mentioning the issue of training. He will be conscious of the important recommendations in the defence costs study about the future location of the tri-service college. He will also be conscious of the real anxieties of people in Greenwich about the future of the Royal Naval college. The Minister probably shares those anxieties because he is a trustee of the Greenwich hospital estates. When will the study produce recommendations and what assurances can the Minister give the House that he looks forward to preserving not just the important naval college and its fine achievements, but its buildings for which he has a personal responsibility?

Mr. Rifkind: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said and in due course, when we reach a


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conclusion, we shall respond to his points. However, he will not distract me from the issue with which I was dealing, although I know that he would like to do so.

I have shared with the House the views of The New Statesman and Society on Labour's lack of policy, and I shall now move to The Guardian , that other well-known reactionary newspaper which would normally be thought sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman. On 14 July 1994 after the Government's publication of their proposals, Mr. Hugo Young wrote:

"There is no field in politics in which Labour is less convincing than defence. Its conferences vote for massive defence cuts, its spokesmen can barely admit that a single job should disappear. Although this may not be quite the economics of the madhouse it defines the statesmanship of the nursery."

The Independent on Sunday published a brief editorial that is relevant to the Opposition. It stated:

"Labour has called . . . for a full scale review of Britain's defence commitments . . . But it is no use Labour pretending that it can be done without loss of jobs and much consequent pain. And it is no use pretending that it can avoid hard choices in this or any other area."

The editorial, written in July, went on:

"If he does become Labour leader on Thursday, Tony Blair should act at once to stop the kind of wet and vapid thinking that did his party so little credit last week."

The Leader of the Opposition did become leader of his party in July, and since that time the total thinking vacuum has continued. Mr. Dalyell rose - -

Mr. Rifkind: I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman because I think that he more clearly represents the views of the Labour party than his Front-Bench spokesmen.

Mr. Dalyell: The Minister spoke about unanswered questions. On 27 November 1992 I asked seven questions. The fifth one was:

"will the Government confirm or deny that Mark Thatcher and a Saudi Arabian middle man involved in the deal, whose name was Wafic Said, paid income tax on money which they earned from the Al-Yamamah deal?"--[ Official Report , 27 November 1992; Vol. 214 , c. 1104.] If the Minister intends to indulge in such cross-party talk, perhaps he will explain the exact role of Mark Thatcher.

Mr. Rifkind: Mark Thatcher is neither a member of the Labour party nor, as far as I am aware, a member of the Conservative party, so I do not intend to be distracted by the hon. Gentleman.

It may just be that for the first time for two and a half years we are about to hear the makings of a Labour defence policy. I appeal to the Opposition spokesman not to give us nonsense about his calls for a defence review. Everyone knows perfectly well that Labour believes not in the defence review but in the necessity to avoid saying anything on this subject that will antagonise anyone either now or during the remainder of this Parliament.

If the hon. Member for South Shields does not believe my claim about that, he should simply state Labour's policy on whether we should spend more on defence, spend what we are spending now, or spend less. The Labour party does not need a review to determine that. Do we have the right number of battalions or should we have more or fewer, or does it depend on a review? [Interruption.] Do we have the right number of ships? Should we have more or fewer or does that also depend on a review? Have we the right number of aircraft or do


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we need more or fewer, or does it depend on a review? If the hon. Gentleman says that it depends on what commitments we should enter, perhaps he will give us Labour's view on those commitments. Perhaps we are not to be told about that for another three years until after a review.

The Labour party is a disgrace to the armed forces and to the national interests of this country. Unless the hon. Gentleman can rescue the reputation of his party in the next half hour, his party will rightly continue to be held in contempt.

5.16 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields): I shall begin by making a few observations which I hope will find consensus in the House. Over the years, I have come to respect the dedication and skills of all those who are involved in protecting the security of our country. The sheer professionalism of the men and women of our armed forces is second to none. I include in that our reserves and the oft forgotten men and women who serve in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Those who are involved in the necessary administration and planning are often ignored, but our defence effort would flounder without their contribution. The sheer brilliance of those involved in defence research is renowned throughout the world, and workers in the defence industries also deserve our gratitude. Time and again, they have shown that in an emergency they can more than rise to the occasion. Collectively, they have played their part admirably in ensuring our security. In view of the novel difficulties that have been created by Tory mismanagement of defence requirements over the past few years, my admiration for them is even stronger.

My experiences in visiting Bosnia and Northern Ireland and bases in the United Kingdom and elsewhere over recent years have served to reinforce my impression. As the Secretary of State for Defence has said, the task of the forces in Northern Ireland is now, we hope, ending. One of my most unnerving experiences was to be on foot patrol with soldiers in west Belfast, and the contrast between that experience and the soldiers' good nature will remain with me for ever.

Those who take part in the valuable humanitarian missions that we are undertaking at sea, in no-fly zones and on the ground throughout the world deserve the gratitude of the whole House. I am sure that we are all well served by those people. On behalf of the House, I should like to express condolences to the families and friends of loved ones who have lost their lives in Bosnia. Twelve British service men have lost their lives there in tasks which have saved thousands of innocent civilians.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the decision two weeks ago at the Labour conference to scrap Trident would throw 4,000 people in Plymouth out of work overnight? What are we to make of the fact that the only Labour amendment on the Order Paper "supports the call" to scrap Trident? We


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know that Opposition Members are weak on defence, but what do they have against the city of Plymouth which I represent? [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. I hope that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will withdraw his sedentary remark.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): Perhaps you would tell me what the sedentary remark was, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sorry to have to say that I thought I heard the hon. Gentleman use the word "rat". Will he confirm that he did not use that word?

Mr. Home Robertson: If I used that word, I withdraw it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Did or did not the hon. Gentleman use that word?

Mr. Home Robertson: Not that I recall, Sir.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am most grateful.

Dr. Clark: The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) demeans himself and the House. I am trying to pay tribute to the men and women who have served us so well in the past--yet he interrupts in the middle of my speech to make a cheap party political point. It has been reported to us that he has also been telling his constituents that the amendment on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is the Opposition's official amendment. That is not the case. We are debating the order under normal practice.

It is nice to see the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) joining us. Having failed to get healthy food when he was at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to deny that the only amendment on the Order Paper is the official Labour party amendment? There is no other amendment. How can it not be an official Labour party amendment when the Members who tabled it are all official Labour party candidates elected to the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not think that that is a matter for the Chair.

Dr. Clark: Your knowledge of the procedure of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and our knowledge of history confirm that what has happened is the usual procedure. Indeed, this is what happened last year. When a debate is held on the first two days after our return from the summer recess, any amendment must have been tabled on the day that the House rose. Of course, various things happen during the course of a three-month break and we need to keep our options open to ensure that we can debate everything that is relevant and pertinent to the time. I wish that my admiration for those who serve in our forces and in the defence industry could be shared by the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) has just shown why it cannot be.


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The truth is that the Government have mishandled our defence and cannot be trusted with our security. They are a Government without a coherent defence strategy and with a Secretary of State entirely in the hands of the Treasury. If there were need for proof of that, we had it just 12 months ago. It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech last November--not the Defence Secretary-- who told the House about the proposed shape of our armed forces and the further cuts in defence spending.

If the Secretary of State still claims that he runs his Department, can he explain why he did not tell the House last year that cuts were to be made very quickly? It might be assumed by the more cynical and by those who follow these matters that, perhaps, he was not aware of any unrest on his Back Benches. Perhaps he was not aware of a letter signed by his Back-Bench colleagues, which was delivered to the Prime Minister on 26 October, saying that enough was enough, that there could be no further cuts and that if there were, they would not be supported. That resulted in a headline in the Evening Standard .

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North): Is not it a fact that the £750 million savings asked for were widely exceeded by the then Ministers of State for Defence Procurement and for the Armed Forces? Is not the balance of that money being invested in front-line materials for front-line troops? Is not that what the armed forces require? Did not the suggested savings come from the armed forces? Would the hon. Gentleman have done otherwise?

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman's question was also asked by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). Unfortunately, there was no answer-- [Interruption.] At this moment--although this might change very soon --I am not the Secretary of State for Defence and unfortunately I am not running the budget for the defence of this country.

Will the Secretary of State now tell us about his future spending plans? Can we be sure that there will be no further cuts? It was reported that at the Conservative party conference he said that there would be no more defence cuts. However, if we look at the small print of his speech we see that he did not actually say that--he said that there would be no cuts in our fighting capacity. The two are not necessarily the same. Nor do we accept his definition of fighting capacity. We are worried that the former Defence Minister, the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Perhaps it is a case of gamekeeper turned poacher or protector turned persecutor. We shall have to wait and see. Last year, the Ministry of Defence was ordered to find further spending cuts, hence the defence costs study otherwise known as "Front Line First". Of course, that title was dropped when we asked the question, "When wasn't it front-line first?" Of course, the results of the study were announced under the protection of much delayed defence orders--most of which had been announced more times than the economic recovery.

The results of the cuts were not painless, as the Secretary of State has tried to tell us. They included the sacking of 11,600 uniformed men and women from the Army, Navy and Air Force. It was not an increase of 3,000, as the Prime Minister told the Tory party conference; it was a decrease of 11,600 service personnel. It meant an 11 per cent. fall in RAF manpower and the


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closure of two out of three service hospitals. We now hear of the possibility of buying into a private hospital in Glasgow to make up the shortfall.

Mr. Rifkind: I saw the press report about that, but the hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers. We cannot prevent any hospital from showing an interest, but it has already been explained to the hospital in question that it is unlikely that it could meet the needs of the armed forces because of its geographical location. The idea came from the hospital, not the MOD.

Dr. Clark: In view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, I take it that he is guaranteeing that no MOD money will be used to buy places in private hospitals. I take that to be Government policy.

Other results of the study include the merging of both headquarters and helicopter training centres and the closure of depots and supply stores, based on a decision that spares could be ordered just in time. The Defence Secretary gave the impression that he had universal approval from the military chiefs. That is not quite the case. The First Sea Lord, Sir Ben Bathurst, said on the BBC "PM" programme on 14 July:

"none of us are under any illusion that there is a certain amount of risk in this programme".

I feel that Sir Ben was flagging up his disclaimer if anything should go wrong.

On the same programme, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Michael Graydon, went even further, saying:

"within my service, and indeed all the services, there are large numbers of civilians who are crucial to our front line who will also be made redundant."

I emphasise the words,

"crucial to our front line".

They hardly accord with the Defence Secretary's bland and misleading assurances that the front line is not affected by the defence costs study.

Of course, I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not volunteer to do the study. During our debates last year, he did not explain that, because of the cuts made in the armed services there were surplus stores wasting taxpayers' money. Nor did he tell the House that there were thousands of unnecessary officials in the MOD, all just sitting there being paid for no good reason. Yet this year we are told that great savings can be made in the budget by closing stores and sacking staff. This year--and from now on, we are assured--we are told that the MOD will look for waste on a continuous basis. Why now? What has it been doing for the past 15 years if it can now find £750 million of genuine savings? The right hon. and learned Gentleman assures us that they are genuine. What have the MOD and the Government been doing for the past 15 years? Of course they know that much of those savings are not real.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): Nineteen eighty nine was 15 years ago. The iron curtain was lifted in 1989 and new circumstances then arose. That is the base date for reform of our armed services.

Dr. Clark: Yes, but even 1989 was five years ago, and five times £750 million would have been a big saving. The Government have been cutting since 1985.

The Secretary of State claimed that his proposals do not reduce the fighting strength of our armed forces, but his premise is fundamentally flawed. Does the Secretary


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of State not realise that in modern warfare, close integration of the front line and logistical support is fundamental to military success? Was he not advised at the start of the Gulf war that 77 per cent. of Challenger tanks in the British Army of the Rhine were unavailable due to lack of maintenance and of spare parts? We are now expected to believe that spare parts are not needed in any quantity and that depots can be closed. The reality is that logistics and front-line capability are inseparable. In Bosnia today, it is estimated that the ratio between combat and logistical support is one to one. I warn the Government that they may not have five months' notice, as they did in the Gulf conflict four years ago. We are told that millions of pounds can be saved by not storing parts and that we can rely instead on just-in-time production. Just in whose time? In Saddam Hussein's time? The crisis in Kuwait that started two weeks ago threatened a new Iraqi invasion within hours. If that had occurred, when would the Government have ordered the necessary spares? When the invasion took place? A week later? A month later?

Mr. Rifkind: If the hon. Gentleman wanted to comment on that aspect, he might at least have done the House the courtesy of reading the report, in which we made it explicit that we do not believe that just-in-time principles as they apply in industry can apply to the armed forces, precisely for the reasons just mentioned. Therefore, we make no such comparison.

Dr. Clark: The Secretary of State knows that and says it, but still he goes ahead, which is why we condemn the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that his policy does not make sense, yet he continues to pursue it.

The manner of the Government's cuts is frightening and irresponsible. We can be sure that it will not be MOD or Treasury Ministers who will face the consequences but service men and women at the front line. Government policy on spares may be appropriate for Tesco, the Co-op or Sainsbury, but it is not appropriate for front-line services. The Government should not only say so but act against implementing that policy.

Any progress in wiping out inefficiency must be welcomed, but it astonishes me that while 18,000 men and women will lose their jobs so that the Treasury can save £750 million, there is massive MOD waste. It is unbelievable. Would anyone have noticed that £250,000 was spent on refurbishing--not buying--one air chief marshal's house if that matter had not been raised in my parliamentary question in February? How can the MOD lose track of £6 billion worth of stores? Why is it that almost all the £2.8 billion saving on the Trident programme is a result of efficient American rather than United Kingdom work? As the Public Accounts Committee report showed, in the UK there is a real cost increase of £761 million just for facilities on the Clyde. After all the MOD checks, why did the National Audit Office find telephone lines that were not only never used but were proclaimed not to exist--yet have cost the taxpayer £10,000 a year every year since 1985? I know that the Secretary of State has friends in BT, but that is pushing too far.

I predict that in the months ahead we shall find more waste and more fraud. I will not say much about fraud, but the Secretary of State knows that there have been very


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unfortunate incidents of fraud involving millions of pounds of MOD money and the loss of jobs. The whole approach is unacceptable. Earlier, I said that defence workers deserve our gratitude and admiration for their skills and loyalty. Our defence workers have built aircraft for the RAF, tanks for our Army and ships for our Navy, and they have done us well. Their skills and expertise have also given the UK major export opportunities in countries as defensive as the United States of America. Much of the work on head-up displays for the F16 and on the stealth aircraft was a result of the skill of our research and defence workers.

Instead of rewarding those workers, the Government seem to do all they can to ensure that skills go to waste in the dole queues. Government policies have made 200,000 defence workers redundant. At times, one gets the strong feeling that the Government regard this country's defence workers as the new enemy. Swan Hunter fought hard to stay open. That company's work impressed its customer--the Royal Navy--in terms both of its timeliness and quality. A strongly motivated work force provided our forces with equipment that will provide British security well into the next century. After all the months of struggle, it is shameful that the Government have done nothing to help Swan Hunter's work force to continue their work and, even by quibbling over £700,000, have allowed that highly efficient work force to slip away from a deal. What happened to Swan Hunter is happening to other factories and workplaces throughout the country. While most countries recognise the need for a defence industrial base, the British Government do not. The right hon. Member for Thanet, South admitted in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts):

"Generally, we do not have a conception of a defence industrial base."

What an admission. The Tories are content to let our defence industry disappear as if it had no relevance to Britain. The Government ought to act. There ought to be a proper regional policy, to ease any downsizing in defence orders. A defence diversification agency should be established, which could retain our defence workers' skills and techniques and materials, to help revitalise Britain's shattered manufacturing base. Partnership between industry and such an agency would encourage business change and would help to utilise a work force who have done great things in Britain.

Does not the Secretary of State have any conscience about the effect of his ill thought-out cuts on communities as far apart as Exeter, Rosyth, Eaglescliffe, Pendine, Devonport and Kirkcudbright? A proper regional policy is needed.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): Can Labour's defence spokesman explain to the House why his party should be considered the defender of defence-related jobs when it is still Labour policy to bring our defence expenditure down to the level of our west European allies and to abolish the Trident nuclear programme? Labour's policies would have a far more devastating effect on defence jobs.

Dr. Clark: Labour's annual conference unanimously passed a resolution that rejected the re-ordering of British


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defences according to any rigid financial formula. We said that whatever is required and whatever resources are needed for the effective defence of our country will be supplied. I hope that is clear. I have looked at the history, because I heard the Secretary of State for Defence, at the Conservative party conference, claim that the Labour party could never be trusted with defence. So I worked out the annual percentage of gross domestic product on average spent by Labour Governments since the war, as compared with Conservative Governments. I must advise the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton- Brown) that, under a Labour Government, on average some 6.45 per cent. of GDP was spent on defence whereas the Conservative Government are spending 5.8 per cent. It is no wonder, then, that military men throughout the country tell us that they always do better under a Labour Government rather than a Conservative Government.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Opposition spokesman tell the House how much as a percentage of GDP the Labour party will spend on defence if-- unfortunately for the country--it wins the next election?

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman made his point as though the Conservatives have made no cuts. It is interesting that if one looks at the cuts in British defence made under this Government, one sees that they will bring us down to the average of our European allies without any problem. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows, but, in real terms, on the Government's projections, defence spending will be reduced by 40 per cent. towards the end of the century. What we have said, and I will say it again, is that the only way forward is to have a proper defence review where we can assess the risks facing our country and then reshape our policies accordingly.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I am most interested in all these military men up and down the country who are telling the hon. Gentleman that the armed forces would be so much better off under a Labour Government, because I remember being in the armed forces under a Labour Government. I remember the pay rises that never quite seemed to happen, or which amounted to about half a packet of cigarettes. I remember, too, that, no sooner had all my friends, with whom I joined, got in, than they started to leave. Will the hon. Gentleman reassure us that--God forbid--should there be another Labour Government, we will not have the same situation that we had between 1974 and 1979?

Dr. Clark: I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has said. If pay and morale are so good under the Tory Government, why are people leaving in such large numbers?

Mr. Robathan: Excellent redundancy terms.

Dr. Clark: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's logic bears out experience in the armed forces, but let us move on.

In the next 12 months, the Government have the opportunity to secure British high-technology aerospace well into the next century and at the same time give the RAF a greater transport capability than it has ever had before. British Aerospace, as the Secretary of State for Defence knows, hopes to be involved with our European partners in the production of a future large aircraft; it


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would be virtually guaranteed the core work if the Government promised to buy a set number of aircraft with the accompanying spin-offs into the civilian field. The FLA offers airlift options for Britain that will give our armed forces more scope to react than ever before. With the FLA, the RAF could transport service personnel to Rwanda efficiently and cheaply rather than having to rely on the United States. Despite the many other advantages, including Airbus Industrie's promise to manage the programme, the Tories, yet again, are prevaricating.

The Tories claim that our Hercules transport planes are tired and cannot wait until 2002 to be replaced by the joint British and European alternative. Then they offer them for sale to the rest of the world. It makes no sense. Either the aircraft are exhausted or they are not. But if the Government are offering them for sale as going, flying planes, surely the time for their replacement is not now.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): The hon. Gentleman will understand that the RAF Hercules fleet is the hardest-worked fleet of that type of aircraft anywhere in the world, and that there is a limit to how long one can work any aircraft at that level over a long period. If the costs for the development of the FLA are in the projected area, as I understand that they are, of around £6,000 million, of which the British component would be around £1,000 million, where would the money be found by a Labour Government?

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Of course, if the planes are exhausted, they need to be replaced. But if that is the case, why do we offer 10 of them for sale? It simply does not make sense. If they are exhausted, why, in its evidence to the Select Committee in March 1993, did the RAF indicate that, in terms of fatigue, only three aircraft would be life-expired by 2000 and only 11 by the year 2005.

Mr. Bill Walker: Fatigue.

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman says, "fatigue". I repeat, and I shall say it very slowly so that he may understand. The RAF indicated that, in terms of fatigue, only three aircraft would be life-expired by 2000, and 11 by 2005. If the reason for replacement is fatigue, as the RAF tells us, there is no urgency to replace them until after 2000, unless, of course, one puts them up for sale, which is precisely what the RAF has done.

Mr. Bill Walker: Just so that the hon. Gentleman and I are not confusing each other and the House, an aircraft's fatigue life is not quite the same thing as its operational life, as required by the Royal Air Force. Ask any RAF engineer or pilot.

Dr. Clark: But the point is that the argument was that those planes had to be replaced as a matter of urgency. We all know why the RAF wants to replace them: it has the money in its budget. But that is not a good enough reason.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark: No, because I promised to give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that no decision should be taken on replacing the Hercules aircraft until the FLA


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