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Mr. Gray: I am happy to accept the Minister's assurances that there are no inter-service rivalries. Does that apply also to the Regular Army and the Territorial Army? Will he assure the House that, if there are heavy cuts in the Territorial Army in the SDR, they are in no way the result of the Regular Army's involvement in the committees?

Dr. Reid: An obvious distinction between the Regular Army and the Territorial Army is that the Territorial

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Army and most of its components have the freedom to lobby publicly. The TA can send letters to Members of Parliament and urge them to defend the TA against the Regulars in debates. It can hold rallies and send the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve. The regular Army does not have that luxury: that is the obvious difference between the reserve forces and the Territorial Army and the regulars.

I would like to think that the contribution made by those in charge--particularly Richard Holmes, to whom the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) referred--has been constructive. I hope that it has been protective of the Territorial Army, not in terms of what it has achieved in the past but in terms of what it can give us today, tomorrow and in the future. Richard Holmes has done a stalwart job.

I shall single out one speech--mainly because I agreed with the three main points in it. I refer to the contribution made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). To my knowledge, I had not heard the hon. Gentleman speak before this evening. I was most impressed--as, I think, was the House. I made inquiries and was told that, by reputation, he is one of the bright young men of the Conservative party. If that is his reputation, all I can say, at risk of doing him down, is that he deserves it.

The hon. Gentleman's presentation--on Ernest Bevin, on the potential for the emerging threat, on the experience of the 10-year rule of the 1930s--along with the balanced way in which he approached the deterrent and the dishonesty that would ensue if we were to try to create the illusion that there are immediate foreseeable chances of a nuclear-free world, was highly meritorious.

The hon. Member for Salisbury, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, raised some extremely important points. I am grateful to him for conveying to us, as he sometimes does in private, some of the worries and concerns that perhaps people do not express to a Minister. We all know, as Billy Connolly once said, that the Queen thinks that the world smells of fresh paint. Wherever Her Majesty goes, someone is presenting the best side of life.

The RAF achieved close to 90 per cent. of last year's recruitment target--not 100 per cent., and we need100 per cent. However, some branches and trades are traditionally unattractive to recruits, and I think that 90 per cent. was a formidable result. We are actively considering ways further to maximise recruitment to the service to meet this year's target of 4,300 personnel.

I accept that there is tremendous competition from outside, especially from British Airways and other commercial firms, which are looking for a significant number of pilots. That is not being ignored. We are actively developing schemes that we hope will result in our getting three or four more years out of each individual in the RAF. It is when people reach 33 or 34 that problems occur. The schemes that we are developing will help private firms to plan ahead and, simultaneously, will give security to individual pilots at the age of 33 or 34. They will know that in a few years' time they will have a job. I do not want to go into any further detail. As I have said, we are actively working on developing appropriate schemes.

The hon. Member for Salisbury talked about single service debate timing. That is a matter for discussion through the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman raised

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the more important issue of RAF family concerns. I understood that there was to be ministerial involvement at the RAF wives conference. I met the Army Families Federation. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was to be involved with RAF family concerns, but then had to make new arrangements to be at the cenotaph as the Government's representative on ANZAC day. I understand that that was all within the past few days. No further rearrangement has been possible.

The hon. Gentleman referred to complaints about treatment received by wives of RAF personnel from the Department of Social Security. These are wives who return to the United Kingdom and are looking for a job. They meet some difficulties because they have not been deemed available for work while they have been moving around. I have already given the hon. Gentleman assurances that I shall raise the matter. From memory, I have already written to the Department of Social Security in an attempt to take up the issue.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) talked about strategic lift and heavy lift. As for the future fleet mix--whether to buy more C130Js or C17s, for example--the hon. Gentleman must await the outcome of the strategic defence review, as he would expect me to say. The mix is obviously an important part of the strategic development of our forces in general. On whether to buy more C130Js or C17s, and so on, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman must await the outcome of the SDR, but we are looking at that mix as an important part of the strategic development of our forces in general.

Specifically on C130Js, they are late, but Lockheed intends to deliver the aircraft more quickly than it has. We will, of course, put in a claim against Lockheed for delays in getting the aircraft into service, and that will accrue to the RAF.

The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who is no longer with us, referred, as did the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood, to the position of Air Officer Commanding Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have noted what they said and will ensure that it is taken into account, with other issues that were raised, in the final outcome of the strategic defence review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) raised the issue of the storage depot at Stafford. I should like to associate myself with the tributes that he paid to the people working there.

I return to an issue that was raised by almost every hon. Member in a more general sense than just the C130Js--heavy lift. We have inherited a shortfall in strategic lift capability. The SDR is determined to find out what action is needed on airlift and sealift to address the issue.

The Government believe that the future large aircraft could be a capable aircraft. The decision on whether it is the solution to our future transport needs will be made in the light of the review's conclusions. The competition between the C17 and the FLA is important, because it will help us to make our final decision in the SDR. I cannot go much further on the point that the C17 would be a better aircraft than the FLA, as it is premature to speculate on the eventual solution, but I can assure the House that most of the points made tonight have not only been taken into account but were debated vigorously over time.

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The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) was in emollient mood tonight. He made his usual constructive interventions. I knew that there was no aggression coming from him, because his moustache was not twitching. We all exhibit different signs when filled with adrenaline, and I knew that the static moustache position tonight meant that he would make a constructive contribution. He raised a point about the policy baseline. I had responded to that earlier--obviously, in his view, thoroughly inadequately, although since in his perception I so often respond thoroughly inadequately, I will not bore the House by going through all the speeches made by the Secretary of State, even if some hon. Members would like me to.

The question of Hawk availability, in particular in relation to RAF Valley, was raised by the hon. Member for Salisbury and several others. I said, perhaps in a non-consensual spirit, that, if some of the problems that they were identifying were true today, they were problems that some of us had identified some years ago. Indeed, some Opposition Members made the point about future contracts and the private sector being able to bid for a tender previously held by the RAF. Companies in the private sector could put in a cheaper tender because they know that they could recruit RAF specialists who are already trained, and pay them less because they have an RAF pension.

I am aware, because I have been down to RAF Valley a number of times and have discussed this with the people involved, that there has been a shortfall in the provision of sufficient aircraft from the maintenance lines to meet the flying requirement. That is a serious matter, and one that concerns me.

A key contributory factor has been the contractor's difficulty in recruiting sufficiently experienced personnel. In fairness to the contractor, it would also say that one of the problems was that we had contracted to supply a number of Hawks which we did not ultimately supply. But I can tell the House that the RAF is working closely with the contractor to resolve the position. To some extent, they are teething problems, and they are being overcome. They will not be fully overcome this year--and perhaps not even next year in terms of the training hours that we envisaged at the beginning. Therefore, we are also looking outside RAF Valley to see where we might achieve access to other Hawks or to more training hours.

On the brighter side, in the main the operation has been a success. About £5 million has been delivered in annual savings. However, I do not want to think that the story is over. When the contracts come up for renewal, we may find, in line with the strictures of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), that we have to have regard to the longer-term costings as well as the short-term costings, and that we have to take into account morale, which is hard to evaluate, skills and training and research capacity. All those are thrown in with uniformed personnel.

One of the ways of proceeding is to look at the sponsored reserve, which the previous Government put through the Reserve Forces Act 1996, which I supported at the time and still do. Another is to consider the experience of privatisation. I assure the House that we do not approach that ideologically. We do not take the view

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that everything must be retained in-house or pushed out of house. We judge the matter as best we can on the merits and in the light of experience.

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