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Mr. Gerald Howarth: Is my hon. Friend aware that it is because of DERA's status as a Government agency that foreign Governments are happy to place contracts with it? That earns foreign exchange and enables us to tap into technology that other Governments would not make available to us and would not show us if they felt that there was a risk of seepage, which in a Government agency will, I hope, not happen.

Mr. Key: My hon. Friend is spot on. I recognise his expertise as the Member of Parliament for Aldershot, which includes the DERA headquarters. Any dilution of that status poses a threat to that function. There must also remain a clear line of ministerial responsibility and accountability for fundamental security and procurement interests. I think, for example, of the work of the chemical and biological defence division at Porton Down.

Irrespective of the SDR's outcome, the market will not develop or maintain some capabilities that are essential to the UK's defence. That activity will surely remain one of DERA's core functions. It will also be linked to smart procurement because the applied research in that sector will reduce the risks and hence the costs of new programmes. The investment in DERA's technology base is a vital part of the ability of both the MOD and the defence industry to contribute to the UK's defence. Substitution for reduced spending in this area would be difficult for the private sector, and careful thought needs to be given to all the consequences of reduced funding.

The industry would like to encourage a joint effort with the Ministry of Defence and DERA to move matters forward, building on the consultative mechanisms created to design and implement the smart procurement initiative.

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I was glad to hear the Minister make such splendid comments about the Reservists, which I entirely endorse. It is crucial that we retain and promote the interests of Reservists in whatever force--the RAF, the Royal Navy or the Army.

I conclude on a theme around which we can surely all unite. People are the heart of our military capability. They are, and must remain, the highest priority. RAF personnel are expensive to train but we must never forget that people are the only asset that grows in value with the passage of time. Above all, creative, innovative and well-motivated people who are proud of their job and who are professionally and personally fulfilled are the foundation for the success of tomorrow's Royal Air Force.

5.51 pm

Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich): I want to follow the comments of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). It is true that the days of RAF, Navy and Army debates, in the days of jointery, are now gone. We should look at doing things in a different way. I recognise what the hon. Member for Salisbury said about the forces being overstretched. In 1996, I spent a year on the armed forces scheme with the Royal Navy. It was clear, particularly on the frigates, that people were not getting home to their families in the way that they should. I was told that the same was true for the Air Force and the Army.

My father worked on Lancasters, Wellingtons and Hampdens in the second world war. I am a member of my local Royal Air Force Association club. I have a great deal of time for the RAF and if I did not, my dad would not have a lot of time for me. Anything I say now about the RAF is not being critical of its existence. I want to discuss where it is going in the future.

We must look at this historically. The Navy has been with us for about 800 years and we have had the Army for about 300 or 400 years, certainly from the time of Cromwell. The RAF is relatively new, lodged in a slot between the Army and the Navy. It was essentially set up after the first world war, in the days when we thought about air, land and sea--RAF, Army and Navy. In today's world, that is not necessarily how we should be thinking.

Twenty years ago, the Army was essentially the British Army of the Rhine in Germany and the troops in Northern Ireland, as ever. The Navy focused on the Iceland-Faroes gap and anti-submarine warfare. The RAF was concerned with home defence. All those things have changed. In many ways, 25 years ago the RAF was the pre-eminent force. It was home defence and the main nuclear deterrent force. That has gone.

There is no longer a cold war, so we have no real need for huge numbers of jet aircraft for home defence. We have no real need for the RAF in Germany, but we have increased needs for a projection of air power overseas. What we are seeing increasingly--I hope that the strategic defence review deals with this--is the birth of British power projection as carrier battle groups, with the capacity to put a brigade ashore and keep it going for as long as necessary, with all the air cover it requires.

I am not sure that the RAF will be able to do that with its current focus. We are in danger of the RAF being marginalised. The Army Air Corps is increasingly looking

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after the needs of troops on the ground. The carrier battle groups--essentially the Royal Navy air service--is looking after the fleet.

What should the RAF focus on? There is coastal command, air-sea rescue, the airborne warning and communication system, and things of that sort. Despite that, it is becoming increasingly marginalised. We need to consider whether it should be refocused. Nobody is saying that we should get rid of it, but it needs to be refocused for current conditions.

The RAF should be looking at bringing the strategic lift under our command, so that we are not dependent on the Americans as we are now. That is where we are lacking strategically. That should be one of the RAF's key roles for the future. I hope that the SDR will look at that.

We should be looking at two types of uniform on carriers. We should look at the joint strike aircraft on carriers, certainly ground attack, being operated to some extent by RAF crews rather than Royal Navy air crews. I know that there are problems with the different modes of command within the two organisations, and they would need to be brought together, but we should look at that for the future.

Other hon. Members may know this better than me, but I believe that we started talking about the Eurofighter about 10 years ago.

Mr. Key: It was 1984.

Mr. Cann: What is it for? I am not sure why we are building it, unless it is to import wings from Italy. I am not sure that we really require Eurofighter in the way we thought we did 14 years ago. To be a little bit critical--

Mr. Frank Cook: Will my hon. Friend countenance the argument that we need the Eurofighter in case we need the Eurofighter?

Mr. Cann: Yes, certainly. However, why we cut perfectly good Phantoms into pieces and sold them for scrap instead of mothballing them is beyond me. That is the way of the world. I am not sure that, essentially, we need Eurofighter. I am not sure what it is designed to fight in the wars we are envisaging.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman might be taking advice from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). If the hon. Gentleman does not understand the basic requirement for an air superiority fighter, he does not understand the need for the Royal Air Force.

One of the RAF's key purposes is to provide air superiority. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that other air forces have invested substantial amounts of money in developing fighter aircraft, and that the only way to compete with them is with something of the type and capability of Eurofighter? In its class, it is a first-class aircraft.

Mr. Alan Clark rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be allowed to answer one intervention before taking another.

Mr. Cann: All I am saying is that we are in danger of falling between two stools. We have the joint strike

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aircraft, which is being developed with the Americans and we have Eurofighter, but we do not have the capacity to put many of those machines in the air in any case. We have gone adrift in our strategic thinking.

Mr. Alan Clark: I apologise for trying to encapsulate the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), and I do so with the greatest diffidence, because the expression that I am about to use is of monumental political incorrectness. However, I ask the indulgence of the House because I am quoting a remark made by the Lord Amery, the former right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who is, sadly, now deceased. I heard him say in this Chamber some 18 years ago that we live in an age "when wogs have MiGs".

Mr. Cann: I would not dream of commenting on that remark; perhaps it is appropriate to move on.

I know that manpower in the RAF has been significantly reduced. Some years ago, I heard that it took the Israeli air force one person to get an aircraft into the air, while it took our Air Force eight people, so the Israeli air force's ratio of person to punch was much greater. I understand that the situation has improved, but I am not at all sure that it has improved sufficiently, especially given that we use the RAF less than the other two services. I shall be interested to learn what the SDR has to say about that.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again; I am sure that it improves our debates to have this sort of to-ing and fro-ing. I understand that Mr. David Hart has to some extent recanted the line that he developed and the hon. Gentleman was advancing. I think that it is somewhat out of date. The reason for Mr. Hart's recantation is that the Israeli air force does not have an international force projection requirement. It is simply the air defence force of the state of Israel. [Interruption.].

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