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Centre for Defence Medicine

12. Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): When he plans to announce a decision on the future location of the Centre for Defence Medicine. [100964]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): I am delighted to announce that, after careful consideration, the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust has been selected as the host for the new centre for defence medicine. The three competing bids received from NHS trusts were all of a very high quality, but after rigorous evaluation, the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust was found to meet our requirements most effectively.

The establishment of the Centre for Defence Medicine is an important landmark in our new strategy for the defence medical services. The centre will provide a very important professional focus for military medicine, and a prestigious place of work. The formal agreement with the trust is expected to be in place by 1 April, and the centre is expected to open by April 2001.

Mr. Cousins: Will my hon. Friend confirm that one in eight of the armed forces are recruited in the north-east of England, while only one in 100 jobs are located there? One of the three sites under consideration--an excellent site--was in the centre of the city of Newcastle. Does my hon. Friend realise that his announcement will be greeted with a good deal of dismay, disappointment and, indeed, anger in that area?

Mr. Spellar: I recognise that Newcastle, as well as Guy's and St. Thomas's, will be disappointed not to have been selected as the preferred host. I reiterate that all three

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bids were of extremely high quality, but we had to choose one, and the bid from the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust was clearly the best and met the criteria. I fully understand what my hon. Friend has said. I understand the disappointment, but it was the best of three good bids.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): It is over a year since the Government announced the foundation of a centre of medical excellence, during which time a number of the prime candidates have dropped out, leaving only three. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the level of dismay that will be felt within defence medical services that the Government are pressing ahead with the plan? Is he aware that, if they were to proceed, the effect would be to transfer doctors and nurses from an area of medical deprivation--South Hampshire--to one which I understand has sufficiency? I use the word "would" rather than "will" because I forecast that doctors and nurses who have chosen in the past five years to move their homes and families to South Hampshire to be near the only tri-service hospital at Haslar will not move to Birmingham. The result will be that the Government's inept and disastrous policy will not succeed.

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman has had a long and consistent record of representing his constituency on this issue. As he knows, I met him and his constituents at Haslar. The message that I got from people in the defence medical services was quite the reverse: they were asking for an early decision on the centre for defence medicine. They see that as an attraction and a key part of a future successful defence medical services. That is separate from the issue of the role of Haslar and the transfer to Queen Alexandra hospital, Portsmouth. They see the centre as an integral part of the defence medical services and a major attraction to young people wishing to be involved. All the messages that I get, not just from the chain of command, but from people on the ground, is that they are looking forward to the centre in Birmingham. They think that it is an exciting venture and prospect. When they become involved with the centre, they will find that that is what they joined up for, and what they will join up for.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): Now that a decision has finally been made, may I have an assurance that there will be no reduction in Ministers' efforts to solve the problem for the constituency of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and my own?

Mr. Spellar: I say to my hon. Friend and to all Members who represent the South Hampshire area that we are working extremely hard to effect a smooth and satisfactory transition. That is moving ahead. I accept that it is not an easy period for them, but we have exceedingly good relations now with the health authority, the health trust, the secondary care agency and representatives of the local council, whom I met in Gosport.

Eurofighter

14. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts regarding expenditure on the Eurofighter. [100966]

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The Secretary of State for Defence (

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I meet regularly with my European counterparts for discussions on a wide range of defence issues, including Eurofighter. Recent discussions have focused on the excellence of the aircraft and its importance for European defence industry, rather than on expenditure.

Miss McIntosh: I wonder whether the Secretary of State could put my mind at rest on whether our European partners are paying their fair share of Eurofighter. Is he minded to indicate where the Eurofighter might be located? What steps will he take to inform residents who live near the respective RAF stations of what the implications will be for them?

Mr. Hoon: Eurofighter is a superb aircraft. It is the product of European co-operation. It is well on course to enter service as the RAF's front-line fighter for the new millennium. I am delighted to be able to announce that Coningsby in Lincolnshire, Leeming in North Yorkshire and Leuchars in Fife, with their proud history of RAF service dating back to the beginning of the second world war, have been chosen as Eurofighter's operational bases. I am sure that that announcement, which I hope will be communicated to all those with constituency interests in due course, will be welcomed by all the people associated with those bases, whether they are in the RAF, or part of the local communities.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Secretary of State's announcement will be welcomed throughout the Royal Air Force. It is particularly welcome to those of us who have supported Eurofighter--or Typhoon as we must learn to call it--in the House of Commons, not least when we remember that one of the right hon. Gentleman's Conservative predecessors practically undermined the whole programme by trying to lease F16s from the United States. Will he tell us in a little more detail the programme for withdrawal of the Tornado F3 and the Jaguar aircraft? When does he anticipate the last of the 232 Eurofighters will be deployed?

Mr. Hoon: As I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows--I thank him for his good wishes--we expect the first Eurofighter to be delivered to the RAF in mid-2002. There will then be a consistent and steady deployment programme, allocating Eurofighters, as they are constructed, to the different air forces that have ordered them. Therefore--if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me--I shall not be too specific about the final in-service and replacement dates. Clearly, however, the Eurofighter is a huge success for European co-operation, and I hope that that lesson will not be lost on Conservative Members.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): Will the right hon. Gentleman note that the Eurofighter is a European aircraft and ought to be armed with European weapons? In making a decision on the beyond visual range air-to-air missile, will he bear in mind that if we were to buy American for BVRAAM, there is a danger that the United States could veto sale of the Eurofighter to third countries?

Mr. Hoon: I shall certainly take those matters into account, and all those factors are being considered as part

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of the very careful evaluation of the various bids for the beyond visual range air-to-air missile. We are considering the matter very carefully.

RAF (Heavy Lift Requirement)

15. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): If he will make a statement on the RAF's heavy lift requirement. [100968]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): The strategic defence review concluded that we needed to improve our strategic transport to deploy joint rapid reaction forces more quickly to meet operational requirements in the changed strategic environment. The SDR further considered a wide range of options for enhancing our strategic airlift capability. It concluded that, in the short term, we should meet our strategic airlift needs with C17 aircraft or their equivalent, and that, in the longer term, we should consider a suitable replacement for our remaining transport aircraft.

We are currently considering solutions in respect of both our short and long-term requirements, and expect to make an announcement in the House in the new year.

Mr. Gray: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he join me in congratulating the airmen and airwomen of RAF Lyneham in my constituency, whose current fleet of C130K Hercules flew 497 sorties in operation Agricola--carrying 4,964 passengers, 277 vehicles, and an astonishing 2,483 tonnes of freight? Does he agree that the Kosovo operation would not have been possible without the Hercules? Rather than doing what may be more politically expedient and moving towards the European Airbus A400M replacement, will he therefore commit himself to replacing the current Hercules fleet with the C130J and the C17?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The short answer is no. There are three responses to the longer-term aircraft needs of the transport wing, and we shall evaluate each of those, just as we shall do for bids to meet the short-term requirements--according to criteria that have been clearly stated and against which we have practised assiduously since publication of the strategic defence review. We will ensure that there is value for money and that requirements on qualities such as interoperability are satisfied. We will also certainly ensure that we get delivery on time, and that the aircraft meet operational requirements.


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