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Mr. Arbuthnot: That is nonsense. The problem is that the Labour party does not believe in defence. It believes in a number of different concepts, and defence comes at the end of the queue for spending. It might be a good idea if I moved on--[Interruption.] I think that I should move on to more sensible policies than those of the Labour party.

The House has taken the opportunity today to reaffirm the vital role played by the Royal Air Force in support of the United Kingdom's security interests. The Government are firmly committed to providing the men and women of the Royal Air Force and their civilian support with the means necessary to fulfil that role. There can be no question but that the effective use of air power continues to be vital in the changed strategic setting that we face.

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We have moved away from planning for defence against the monolithic threat that the Warsaw pact represented. Now we need to be ready to respond to the many and varied risks to our security that might arise. It is necessary to consider only the crises to which our forces have reacted in recent years to realise the breadth of possible tasks.

In the Gulf, we were part of the largest allied operation since the second world war, which successfully liberated a friendly country from unprovoked aggression. In Bosnia, we worked to safeguard the supply of vital humanitarian aid to civilians caught up in a tragic civil war. We form the second largest contingent in the NATO force which ensures the peace.

At the same time, we have maintained our commitments to the defence of our territory and our presence in the dependent territories, as well as our continuing commitment to NATO. The withdrawal from Bruggen by 2002 will enable the RAF to make more effective use of time available for training and does not in any way imply a weakening of our commitment to the alliance.

The operations that I have mentioned are examples of the wide range of missions that the RAF of today carries out. The importance of different facets of air power has been clearly demonstrated and we must be prepared to ask the RAF to perform those and many other kinds of duties in the next few years and into the new century.

I should like to take this opportunity to record my personal gratitude to the personnel of 5 squadron at RAF Conningsby, who afforded me the privilege of taking a flight in a Tornado F3 just before Christmas. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East was right when he spoke about white knuckles. I was able to see for myself, when my eyes were not shut, the brilliance of our Air Force pilots, who are rightly respected the world over, and the formidable power of the F3 as an air defence fighter.

The importance of "Front Line First" was founded in the need to develop the right support structure for the new kinds of forces that we need for the 21st century. We are seeing a worldwide progression towards smaller but more capable forces. Quality is of ever-increasing importance as quantity reduces.

The reform of the RAF logistics community has meant enormous efficiency improvements and savings. New management systems building on best commercial practice have been effective in promoting better management of stocks, without compromising either safety or the RAF's ability to respond to contingencies.

The "Competing for Quality" programme has generated further efficiency improvements. Across the Air Force, more than £155 million-worth of business has been market-tested, generating £41 million of savings. That is crucial, because, by bearing down on the costs of support for the front line, we have managed to sustain increased investment in Air Force equipment within a stable defence budget.

We aim to identify, and realise, the full potential for improving long-term value for money in defence support by systematically exposing all RAF non-core activities to private sector involvement. Significant "Competing for Quality" programmes in the near future include that at RAF Sealand, which the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) mentioned, and that at RAFSt. Athan. Both those programmes are proceeding well.

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The Air Force has been active in pursuit of the opportunities offered by the private finance initiative. Many Air Force projects, at varying stages of maturity, have been identified as having potential for PFI. Those include the provision of simulators and associated training, and the replacement of the Bulldog elementary flying trainer, which I mentioned in connection with the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre. It was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside, who has such a valuable contribution to make in all matters concerning cadets. Other projects with private finance initiative potential include the provision of utilities at various RAF stations.

As a result of "Front Line First", CFQ, PFI and other initiatives--I am sorry about all those initials, Mr. Deputy Speaker: CFQ stands for "Competing for Quality"--we are now able to devote a greater share of our resources to providing the right modern equipment for the RAF's front line. By the end of the decade, Logistic Command's expenditure will fall from one third to one quarter of the RAF's budget, yet, as a result of efficiency improvements, we shall be able to continue to support a front line for which equipment expenditure is expected almost to double by the turn of the century. That is a remarkable achievement. The RAF will be smaller than in the past, but it will be prepared for 21st-century military combat.

The sheer breadth of the forward equipment programme demonstrates clearly our commitment to that vision of highly resourced, flexible and responsive air power. All areas of the RAF's front line will benefit from massive investment in fighting equipment, which will amount to nothing less than a technological revolution in the RAF's inventory.

Much has happened since the House last had a debate on the Royal Air Force. Important progress has been made on a number of major projects, including the Eurofighter, which several hon. Members have mentioned. Following upgrades, the first two development aircraft resumed flying in May 1995. Those were joined shortly afterwards by the third development aircraft, which is fitted with the EJ200 engine specially developed for Eurofighter. The flight test programme has now notched up over 160 sorties, steadily expanding the aircraft's performance envelope. Last month, the aircraft made its debut at a major international air show when it took part in the flying display in Berlin, and it is expected to appear at Farnborough later this year.

I announced on 5 March that we have decided to upgrade the weapons systems of the Tornado F3, and that was welcomed on both sides of the House. That programme will enable the aircraft to carry advanced short-range air-to-air missiles and advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, and will thus improve the F3's capability against modern airborne threats.

Also during the past year, we have signed a contract with GKN Westland for 22 Utility EH101 medium support helicopters for the RAF, and another with Boeing for 14 new-build Chinooks. Together with the programme to upgrade our existing Chinook fleet to HC2 standard, which has now been completed, those programmes will provide the RAF with a flexible and highly capable support helicopter force, which is vital for the support of joint operations.

The first Hercules C130J aircraft, 25 of which will be delivered to the UK from 1997 onwards, had a successful maiden flight in April this year. I listened with care to the

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interesting points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood about strategic lift and the C17. We have joined the United States production programme for an upgrade to the radar system of the E3D Sentry airborne early warning aircraft. This will ensure that the RAF maintains an effective early warning capability against modern aircraft and missiles. Within the tanker fleet, all but two of the VC10 aircraft undergoing conversion to the air-to-air refuelling role have now been delivered.

The programme to update 142 Tornado GR1 interdictor strike aircraft to GR4 standard is progressing well. This will greatly increase the aircraft's ability to prosecute its targets in all weathers, using new generation smart weapons. The first Tornado GR4 aircraft will enter service in 1998, and the aircraft will remain the UK's front line attack aircraft for another 20 years. We have also undertaken a programme to improve the capabilities of the Jaguar--a matter referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East--pending its replacement by Eurofighter in the next decade. That has involved giving the aircraft a thermal imaging and laser designation capability, together with certain enhancements to the aircraft's avionic systems. Twelve aircraft have been upgraded as part of the initial programme, and we expect the remainder of the long-term fleet to have completed their upgrade by 1998.

Of great importance in the near future are the competitions to provide the RAF with new air-launched, stand-off and anti-armour weapons. The conventionally armed stand-off weapon was mentioned by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) in relation to the work by Shorts that is going into one of the contenders for that programme. These weapons will significantly enhance our capabilities against high-value infrastructure assets and modern armoured vehicles respectively. We expect to announce our decisions shortly.

In December last year, we issued an invitation to tender for the future medium-range air-to-air missile, which with the advanced short-range air-to-air missile will provide Eurofighter's key weapons for the air defence role. We also expect to announce shortly the winning bid in the competition to supply a replacement for the RAF's aging fleet of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. [Interruption.] I say "shortly", because I have been asked whether the decision will be made before the recess. Unfortunately, I

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do not know when the recess will be. I shall address my inquiries to the Refreshment Department, which always seems to find out before Ministers.

The maritime aircraft proposal was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove(Mr. Thomason), for Birmingham, Hall Green(Mr. Hargreaves), for Wyre, for Romsey and Waterside, for Ruislip-Northwood, for Gillingham and for North Tayside. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside correctly said that the most important thing was to buy the right aircraft.

We have continued to work with industry and our partner nations within the future large aircraft programme to ensure that we can rejoin the project, provided that the conditions we set out in our announcement in December 1994 are met. That matter was mentioned by the hon. Members for Warley, West, for Wentworth and for Alyn and Deeside, as well as by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre. We await clarification of the French position. It is not wimpish to do that, as the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside suggests. The French position is crucial to the future of the project.

Looking slightly further into the future, we are examining how we might best meet the requirement for an airborne stand-off radar system to support land-based operations. There are several significant decisions to be made in the near future. Expenditure on equipment for all three services as a proportion of the defence budget will rise over the next decade. This coincides with a period of change within the defence industrial sector itself, and will be of great benefit to British jobs and firms that rely on that sector. In our reply to the report of the joint inquiry by the Select Committees on Defence and on Trade and Industry, we gave several important pieces of evidence and I do not need to repeat them.

In answer to the thoughtful speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon, I agree that we need to collaborate more with Europe, but not at the expense of collaboration with the United States, which is an important partner.

The equipment programme that I have outlined displays clearly the Government's firm and lasting commitment to the Royal Air Force. We will ensure that RAF personnel are given the training, equipment and support that they need to do the job. The whole country can take pride in the Royal Air Force.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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Computer Systems (Century Date Change)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Dr. Liam Fox.]

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