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Mr. Mans: I have a certain sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am slightly at a loss to understand what his remarks have to do with a debate on the RAF.

Mr. Jones: If the hon. Gentleman will listen for a few more seconds, I will show him why I am entirely in order. I invite him to make the same statement in my constituency in front of my Raytheon workers: he would need my protection. However, I know that he made it in the best sense and was not being mischievous. If he will listen, I will explain.

Before I so foolishly gave way to the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans)--I note his origin--I was saying that Senator Bob Dole might perhaps have had a hand in the move. Later this year, the Raytheon jet makers in my constituency will suffer considerable job losses. I believe that they deserve better.

I thank the Minister of State for receiving a deputation of Raytheon workers. The Minister, who comes from the same party as the hon. Member for Wyre, gave a lot of his time to allow my constituents to make a passionate, well informed case for Britain's future as well as for their own. I thought that they made a wonderful case, and the Minister's reception of us was most helpful and hospitable.

I invite the Minister to my constituency once again, to visit the Raytheon plant, where he will be astonished and astounded--and very proud--to witness the skills of my constituents, who on current probabilities are soon to lose their jobs when the making of that wonderful machine moves for ever from Great Britain to the United States. That is madness. It is unjust and it is wrong. I know that the hon. Member for Wyre will now agree with me and will wish to show his support for the campaign that we are mounting.

I should like the Ministry of Defence to reward my excellent Raytheon work force with the contract to service the Hawker jets that the Ministry of Defence owns. The hon. Member for Wyre forgot that my constituents have made--and the Ministry of Defence has bought--25 to 30 of those machines, which I believe are now known as Dominie aircraft. As my constituents see the loss of their manufacturing jobs drawing ever nearer, they have had to

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ask themselves what they will do. They have made a fine business plan whereby the current manufacturing centre would become a service centre for the whole of Europe, for all the machines that the work force has made over the past quarter of a century and longer.

It is in the gift of the Ministry of Defence to award the service contract to Raytheon. If that happened, we could save many jobs and a presence would remain in Britain. The Government have admitted what I once described as the breakfast sale of the century--the sale of the Hawker jet to the United States--so what special help will they give? The work force have been so positive that they deserve a reward. They seek to make that plant a service centre for the whole of Europe, maintaining and servicing those fine machines, and that is a reasonable ambition for my constituents to have.

I have thrice thanked the Minister for his reception of our deputation, which was of great consequence for my area, and I hope that he will ponder my request carefully. So far, I am most grateful to him.

8.22 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I can claim neither personal military experience nor personal memories of the great days of the Royal Air Force in the 1940s, which for me must come alive through film and newsreel, or through the tales recounted by those honoured veterans who were there.

However, in my constituency there are many members of the Royal Air Force, ranging from the most junior ranks in the service to some of the most senior and decorated. At RAF Halton, just outside the village of Wendover, is the centre of the Royal Air Force's basic recruit training, and about 12 miles along the Chilterns, in the village of Naphill, lies RAF High Wycombe, which is the base of Strike Command and now also the home of the new Anglo-French group.

In the years since I was elected to the House, what has impressed me enormously is the tremendous pride that every member of the service, from the rawest recruit to the most senior air marshal, takes in the Royal Air Force. With that pride in the service goes a strong sense of duty to the nation that the RAF serves.

Last summer that was brought home to me strongly, when I had the honour to be invited to act as the reviewing officer of a parade of new recruits leaving RAF Halton after their basic training. Talking to those new members of the service--young men and women in their late teens or early twenties, and to their families--what struck me was the fact that they could draw on the history of the RAF, not as an arid museum of experience but as a living tradition. It was a history that gave them meaning, a sense of corporate identity, and a continuing sense of duty and purpose as they entered on their careers in the service.

There is no doubt that, for both the RAF bases in my constituency, the last couple of years have been times of great challenge and some difficulty. Some problems have been specific to each base, and others have been shared with the rest of the service as it has made its adjustments to the defence costs review.

At RAF Halton there has been a switch from technical training to basic recruit training. The base has also seen the reorganisation of the medical provision for the armed forces, which has led to the closure of the Princess Mary

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Royal Air Force hospital, and the reorganisation of dental services, which has also affected Halton. I hope that it will not be too long before Ministers will be able to resolve the uncertainty that still surrounds the future of the Princess Mary hospital site and the associated office space at the Halton base.

Various hon. Members have mentioned RAF quarters. For Halton the problem lies not with the policy change that is in train, but with the fact that question marks persisted for some years over the future of the base, until the decision was taken to relocate basic recruit training there. That meant that very little was spent on the buildings on the base, so there is now a substantial backlog of work, which I hope Ministers and senior RAF officers will ensure is tackled.

RAF High Wycombe has had to cope with the reorganisation of headquarters functions, and both stations have had to manage the problems associated with the overall reduction in RAF personnel and the contracting out of support services. Those policy decisions have certainly caused difficulties for my constituents, but I am sure that they were the right decisions.

Senior RAF officers who gave evidence to the Defence Select Committee only a few days ago said that the RAF's savings from the defence costs study would contribute about £300 million each year once the changes were implemented in full. At a time when not only the defence budget but all areas of Government spending are subject to scrutiny and to great pressure, it is clearly right for Ministers to look for every opportunity to make savings in administration and support services, so as to concentrate on providing our young men and women in the armed services with the best equipment and training, to enable them to do their job on behalf of the nation.

I would find some of the criticisms that Opposition Members have made during the debate slightly more compelling had they not coupled their critique of the Government for making savings or for seeking to contract out support services with additional demands for expenditure on defence procurement, or for taxpayers' support for defence industries. There is an inconsistency in the position of Opposition spokesmen, which Ministers have every right to expose.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces acknowledged that these necessary policy decisions have led to problems for individuals. Personal hopes have been disappointed and career ambitions frustrated, and far-reaching changes have been made to the organisational culture of many parts of the RAF. I therefore welcome his acknowledgement of the scale of the challenge facing the RAF in the next few years, and his tribute to the professionalism that the services are showing in tackling those changes and seeking to manage them in a way which deals as sensitively as possible with the real dilemmas and difficulties facing service men and women.

As the service comes through a period of turbulence, the duty lies with Ministers to demonstrate clearly to service men and women of all ranks that the RAF will continue to offer a fine career to new recruits and that it still has a central role to play in the United Kingdom's defence strategy. That cannot be done by exhortation

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alone, although exhortation and reassurance from Ministers--who must showing solidarity with the officers and men in the services--is important.

We must also think clearly about the future of the service in the post-cold war world. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the nature of future threats to the United Kingdom and the interests that our armed forces might be required to defend in various parts of the world. I therefore welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team have taken to enhance the role of the Western European Union in the Atlantic alliance.

I see no contradiction between a sceptical attitude towards some of the more extravagant ambitions of the European Union--although I could add a scepticism that would be recognised by my distant predecessor Edmund Burke, if not by one or two tabloid newspapers--with an equal desire to search for ways in which the countries of Europe can co-operate more effectively in the field of collective security.

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