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Royal Navy Submarine School

10. Sir Robert Hicks: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when the Royal Navy submarine school will move to HMS Raleigh, Torpoint; and if he will make a statement. [357]

Mr. Soames: The Royal Navy submarine school will move from HMS Dolphin at Gosport to HMS Raleigh at Torpoint, Cornwall. We plan that the school will become fully operational at its new location before the end of 2000.

Sir Robert Hicks: While welcoming the proposed move to Torpoint, may I emphasise the urgent need for that decision to be implemented sooner rather than later, not least to ensure the continuation of HMS Raleigh as a major training establishment and to help offset the adverse effects that have undoubtedly resulted for the area as a consequence of the changes in our United Kingdom defence requirement?

Mr. Soames: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a powerful point. From the many representations

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that he and local Conservative Members of Parliament have made to me about that situation I know exactly what he means. I give him my assurance that the submarine school will transfer as soon as it is convenient and possible for it sensibly to do so. I am delighted to be able to tell him that the Plymouth area will gain 182 service and 16 civilian jobs--a powerful illustration of the central importance of the south-west to the Navy. I hear what my hon. Friend has said and I will make close checks to ensure that it is done as quickly as possible.

Mr. Miller: The Minister said "fully operational" in his response. Will he clarify whether that statement includes the submarine escape tower, which is located at HMS Dolphin? If it does, which will mean the building of a new tower, can he clarify at what cost? If it does not mean that, how will that facility be maintained?

Mr. Soames: The submarine escape tower will remain at Dolphin. As the hon. Gentleman may or may not know, considerable sums have recently been spent on refurbishing and updating it. The Royal Navy has, in its usual effective and sensible way, managed to combine the use of the submarine escape tower at Dolphin with the transfer of the major part of the submarine school to Raleigh. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, were we to consider making such a transfer, we would clearly consult widely. We would not do so if it were patently a waste of money.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend will recall that my father was a submarines officer, but he may not know that I served at HMS Raleigh as a cadet. Will he confirm that the move will not only be more efficient in terms of the use of the defence estate, but will move the training school closer to the submarine operating base at Devonport, which is particularly advantageous?

Mr. Soames: Indeed I will. All those of us who know my hon. Friend's powerful pedigree will be sustained and fortified by the fact that he made good use of HMS Raleigh. The move is a sensible and effective one. It is the right thing to do and the Royal Navy is pleased to do it. It has also, I hope, been recognised that the move will certainly not be the end of HMS Dolphin, which will continue to play an important part in the life of the Royal Navy.

RAF Sealand

11. Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to announce a decision on RAF Sealand, Deeside, in respect of market testing. [358]

Mr. Arbuthnot: I expect to make an announcement on the market testing of RAF Sealand shortly.

Mr. Jones: I thank the Minister for the visit that he made and for his accessibility and that of his Department. Will he insist that the in-house bid is successful? May I remind him that great British companies such as British Aerospace, Siemens and Lucas back RAF Sealand's in-house bid? He might agree with me that the greatest fliers in the world should be supported by a military unit devoted to excellence and safety, and not by a company which is devoted to shareholders and profit.

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Mr. Arbuthnot: As ever, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he does for his constituency. I visited RAF Sealand at his invitation and had a most helpful and informative visit. I saw the work force of RAF Sealand and was most impressed by the work that they did. I shall take into account the points that the hon. Gentleman has made on a number of occasions, not least in the recent defence debate, and also the points that he has made when he has come to see me at the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Murphy: Is it not about time that the Government dropped their obsession with market testing and realised that, while there is nothing wrong with being business like, our armed forces are not businesses? Why does he not accept my hon. Friend's pleas on behalf of RAF Sealand, which is going through this business exercise simply for the sake of it when all informed opinion tells us that the 1,600 people who work there operate the best establishment of its kind in this country?

Mr. Arbuthnot: The hon. Gentleman is implying that if there were ever a Labour Government, he would drop all commitment to competition. The "Competing for Quality" initiative saves us hundreds of millions of pounds. It gives us value for money. It means that money is available to us to spend on equipment and personnel which otherwise would not be available. It obtains value for money while at the same time preserving flexibility and responsiveness. Those are benefits that it would not be sensible to give up. The impression with which the hon. Gentleman leaves me is that the armed forces could not trust a Labour Government on defence.

Sir Archibald Hamilton: Does my hon. Friend think that the reluctance of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to accept the concept of market testing and the suggestion that the interests of shareholders and safety cannot be combined is a sign of old Labour or new Labour?

Mr. Arbuthnot: I do not think that it really matters. It is a sign of Labour. The problem is that we cannot trust Labour on defence. We know that under any Labour Government we would find a reduction in competition, a reduction in the defence industry of Britain and a reduction in the value for money available to our armed services. I simply repeat that we cannot trust Labour on defence.

Land Mines

12. Mr. Pickthall: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his Department's estimate of the number of anti-personnel land mines currently emplaced throughout the world. [359]

Mr. Arbuthnot: The United Nations estimates there to be between 60 million and 110 million land mines emplaced worldwide.

Mr. Pickthall: As the next generation of land mines will be made entirely of plastic and therefore undetectable by currently available methods, does the Minister not think that now is the right time to ban entirely the export

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and import of land mines from the United Kingdom and to front up an international campaign to end the production of these evil weapons?

Mr. Arbuthnot: We have agreed that we wish to see the worldwide abolition of land mines. That is very important to us and we are working very hard to achieve it. We believe that land mines must be detectable. We should also like to see land mines made as self-destruct mines so that they no longer pose the dangers to civilians that we have seen far too widely. The land mines that our armed forces use do not pose the greatest threat to the world's civilian population because they are used by our forces responsibly and properly. That may not be precisely the answer that the hon. Gentleman wants to hear. We want a worldwide ban on land mines as soon as that can be achieved.

Mr. Robathan: Those of us in all parts of the House who want an end to the use of land mines that kill civilians welcome the Government's sensible lead on this matter. They are trying to stop land mines being produced and maiming civilians. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a bandwagon on to which many Opposition Members are jumping? They try to use the issue of land mines as a stick with which to beat the Government although, as my hon. Friend rightly says, no British land mines maim civilians anywhere in the world.

Mr. Arbuthnot: To a certain extent it is a bandwagon, but we should concentrate on the fact that the Government support a worldwide ban on land mines, so long as that can be achieved and agreed. The Government have paid almost £22 million towards the clearance of land mines throughout the world. We are world leaders in that area and we should take considerable credit for that.

Mr. Cunliffe: Is the Minister aware that the Manchester-based Co-operative bank has urged every bank in this and other countries to ban the financing of land mines? Those mines kill 24,000 people every year. As it is the Government's policy to oppose any further manufacture of land mines, will the Minister exhort, encourage and commend other banks in the United Kingdom and worldwide to do the same?

Mr. Arbuthnot: So far as I am aware, anti-personnel land mines have not been made in the United Kingdom for 10 years. We want an effective worldwide ban on land mines. That can be achieved only through international agreement. We are working with other countries to achieve such an agreement, and we shall continue to do so.

Sir Donald Thompson: Does my hon. Friend realise how glad we are to hear that we are clearing land mines? The world is strewn with these evil things. Will he encourage the United Nations and other agencies to persuade the polluters to clear up their own mess?

Mr. Arbuthnot: Yes, to a large extent we are doing that. Bosnia is an example. But it is not an easy task, and it requires skilled and courageous people. The skills that we can give people are very helpful. Sometimes this task must be done by people with the proper qualifications.

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