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Mr. Mans: My hon. Friend mentioned the C130J. I wonder whether he is aware that Lockheed has decided to review its subcontractors for any export orders that it may obtain for that aircraft. It may well be that the British contractors that are working on the C130J for the Royal Air Force will not be those selected if other exports are produced. That should be borne in mind when a decision is taken on the project that he mentioned.

Mr. Colvin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. A certain amount of rumour is going around and there are press reports to that effect, but again the Minister must have better knowledge about this matter than we have. I have certainly been told by Lockheed that the provision for British work on that aircraft will be honoured for sales to third countries, which is why we would like to know to whom those sales will be made. Obviously every country buying the aircraft will also fight very hard for its own offsets. There must be some flexibility, but we would like to know what the C130J project will ultimately deliver in terms of British jobs.

It has never been more important to have an air force that is fully manned--recruitment is currently not bad, according to the RAF--well trained, with high morale and with the best equipment that money can buy. To my mind, leading edge technology equals the killing edge in battle.

RAF manpower has dropped from 83,000 in 1992-93 to 63,000 next year. It will descend even lower thereafter, to 56,000. On 13 March this year, which I have referred to as "brown envelope day", RAF service men and women received the news about redundancies or premature voluntary retirement. Reportedly the terms were very generous, but slightly more than 3,000 people who asked to leave under the voluntary redundancy terms were not fortunate enough to be granted it. They wanted to leave and were told no. I should like to know what will be the effect on morale of their having to go on serving and how they are regarded by their unit commanders, superior officers and warrant officers.

Morale is very important. Out of a total reduction of 8,300, there are to be 5,500 redundancies this year, of which 1,000 will be compulsory. What about the promotion prospects for those who remain? That question is often asked of the Select Committee by airmen when we visit RAF stations--as are questions on the

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consequences of contractorisation. When the Committee took evidence from the assistant chief of the air staff on 1 May, he said:

    "over the last few years there has certainly been a dip in promotion opportunities as a result of the turbulence that we have gone through. That dip is now coming to an end and we are now returning to the historic levels of promotion opportunity across the board for airmen and officers."

The Committee has for some time taken note of the turbulence that the RAF has been through. Over the years we have been increasingly concerned about the stresses and strains experienced by service personnel and their families. Last year, in our report on the statement on the defence estimates, we said:

    "The development and publication of detailed measures of turbulence in the RAF is long overdue; we will expect such measures to be available by the time of publication of SDE 96."

We now have SDE 96, but we have no reference to the RAF's objectives or targets on turbulence or tour intervals. That is a worry. The Army has managed a target, as has the Royal Navy, and I really think that the Royal Air Force should be able to do so. That would have a marked effect on morale.

I should also like to know the effect on morale of the Government's plans for the sale of married quarters, a subject mentioned by the Opposition spokesman. When the Minister of State for Defence Procurement gave evidence to the Select Committee yesterday, he was batting on a very sticky wicket but he carried his bat and carried it well and he managed to allay some of the fears expressed. I hope that he will be able to tell us today that the Treasury is not going to plunder all the proceeds.

The Minister issued to his parliamentary colleagues a letter which states:

I would also suggest that it should be at the right rent. The letter goes on to say that there are two key misapprehensions:

    "Misapprehension number one. It has been suggested that recent rises in Married Quarter charges are somehow linked to the Sale--almost as though there were some 'hidden agenda' to discourage Service families from living in married quarters . . .

    Misapprehension number 2. It has been suggested that the Sale will lead to the break-up of Service communities, and the introduction into Service housing 'patches' of undesirable neighbours."

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to allay such fears today, as he did yesterday when giving evidence to the Select Committee. That, too, would have a marked effect on the morale of our armed forces.

Germany has now taken over responsibility for the defence of German air space. Two Phantom squadrons have already been disbanded, withdrawal is planned from RAF Bruggen which is closing in the year 2002, when four Tornado GR1 squadrons are to move back to the United Kingdom. The other station, at Laarbruch, is due to close in 1999. What savings will be made as a result of those closures and of those squadrons returning to this country? A figure of £25 million has been mentioned, but is that the gross figure--simply the expenditure saved in Germany--or is it a net figure for the savings made after the provision of additional facilities for the squadrons in this country has been taken into account?

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The changes will mean, for example, that 2,500 RAF staff and their families will return to the United Kingdom. Where will the squadrons be based? Will an adequate number of married quarters have been retained in close proximity to the bases to enable them to be manned at an appropriate level?

I am sorry to ask a barrage of questions, but that is what these debates are for. Are we negotiating with our German allies for the use of their airfields in the event of our participation in NATO or United Nations operations, even if Germany may not be involved in them?

Reference has already been made to the difficulties experienced with spares and the support for aircraft. The Committee has visited stations and talked to ground crews to whom the Minister has already paid proper tribute. The ground crews are working longer hours, especially on Tornados. Surely it is just as important to ensure that they do not get over-tired as it is to ensure that aircrews are not over-tired. The ground crews complain about a lack of spares and about having to rob other aircraft for spares to keep the front-line aircraft flying. Perhaps "borrow" would be a better word than "rob", but, however one describes it, it involves double labour costs--crews have to take the spare part off one aircraft, put it on another and then replace the part on the first aircraft. At some stations we heard the expression the "rolling rob" because it is a continuous process. Why is it necessary?

In spite of these and other difficulties, we still have the world's finest Air Force, which is looking forward to a period of greater stability so that it can get on with the job of defending the realm, as it did with such valour exactly 52 years ago.

5.42 pm

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am surprised to be speaking in today's debate on the Royal Air Force, but I am pleased to do so. I have always enjoyed contributing to what is usually an interesting and informative debate. I am glad to see that the usual suspects are here, plus one or two others. It is an important debate and we should have as many contributions as possible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) on his excellent speech. I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I have a serious constituency problem that is entirely the Government's fault, and it is my duty to bring the matter to the attention of the House.

During the 1992 general election, the Conservative candidate in my constituency claimed that a Labour Government would close RAF Carlisle, but that, if the electors voted for him and there were a Tory Government it would be kept open. Just as the Conservatives broke their tax pledge, they broke their promise about RAF Carlisle, and it is to close in March next year.

Mr. Hargreaves: The electors in Carlisle voted for you.

Mr. Martlew: Yes, but I did not decide to close RAF Carlisle; it was the Minister's decision. The blame lies not with the Labour party but with the Tories. However, as the Chief Whip has just reminded me, we must not get too excited.

The Government then undertook a sham consultation. It started in December 1993 and finished in June 1994. During that time, the trade unions suggested some very good alternative proposals that would have saved 50 per

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cent. of the jobs and still have provided the Ministry of Defence with the savings that it required. The Government rejected those proposals, but delayed the decision until the week after the European elections for political reasons. The Tory candidate in those elections was heavily defeated anyway, so it made no difference.

During the consultation process, several delegations went to see Ministers, who said that, if it was decided to close the base, they would help to provide alternative employment and to make the best use of the site, which is very large and in a prime area next to the motorway.

I remind the House that, in November 1994, the Select Committee on Defence said of site disposal that criteria other than the highest price should be taken into account, and the Government accepted that aspect of the Committee's report. The Government therefore accept the importance of community provision. Nevertheless, we have a major problem with RAF Carlisle.

After the decision to close the base was taken, the local authorities, although they were very angry, decided to work with the Ministry of Defence and English Partnerships to develop a scheme to market and manage the site. There was talk of creating a joint venture company. It appeared to be working and the MOD was very enthusiastic. Four major companies are interested in moving to the site.

This spring, however, a bombshell was dropped. The Government decided to pull out of the joint venture and to sell the site in one go to the private sector. This has created tremendous problems in my constituency. At the very least, it will mean serious delays in getting businesses on to the site. It will mean the loss of European money and a loss of money from English Partnerships. I have grave doubts about whether the whole of the site will be developed, because the private sector will cherry-pick, selling the good parts of the site and leaving other parts derelict. That is not a sensible way to develop the land.

I informed the Minister that I would be asking this question and I am hoping for a reply this evening. Will he reconsider the decision to market-test the site, so that we can return to the previous plan, whereby the local authorities, the Ministry of Defence and the private sector will work together to get the best deal for my constituents and to make up for some of the 800 jobs that we have lost?

As if all that was not bad enough and my constituency had not suffered enough, the Government suddenly came along with a new idea. I accept that they have problems with the culling of cows due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but I blame them for the BSE problem. They had originally decided to store bonemeal and the end product of the rendering of cull cows at a former RAF base, RAF Quedgeley in Gloucester, but the decision was then changed. One wonders whether it was changed because Gloucester is an extremely marginal Tory seat and the idea was not very popular with the people there.

Will the Minister confirm that, instead, hundreds of tonnes of bone meal will be sent to RAF Carlisle? He must realise that not only will there be a smell in Carlisle that we do not want, but we shall have a terrible job trying to market a site with hundreds of tonnes of stinking waste in its hangars. In his winding-up speech, will he give Carlisle some good news for a change--first, that he will reconsider his decision on market testing of the site and, secondly, that the bonemeal will not be sent to RAF Carlisle?

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