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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): It is estimated that 350,000 jobs are dependent on defence expenditure and equipment exports. Over 60,000 new contracts are placed each year. The Ministry of Defence does not record the number of jobs created or sustained as a result of each individual procurement decision, but it is estimated that a substantial number of jobs in the north-west of England depend
Maria Eagle: Does my hon. Friend agree that, while the Eurofighter is important to the future effectiveness of the RAF, it is also important to the future of the economy of the north-west, where it is sustaining and creating thousands of jobs? Will he assure me that, unlike the Conservative party, he will remain committed to the project?
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Are not the defence industries in the north-west, as elsewhere, important not just for jobs but for improving the technological base of industry as a whole? Will the Minister--in the words of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State--seek to be helpful to the United States in regard to any research programme, development and, ultimately, work that could ensue from ballistic missile defence?
Dr. Moonie: Perhaps the best example I can give of a tangible project with which we are dealing, as opposed to the fantasy to which the hon. Gentleman refers--at present, anyway--[Interruption.] If we could have fewer moronic remarks from Opposition Front Benchers,I might be able to answer their hon. Friend's question.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are determined to pursue the development of the joint strike fighter, with collaboration from companies in the United States. The project should provide a promising aircraft for our future needs.
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): The retention of pilots is a critical problem, not just for the RAF but for other armed forces around the world. Many pilots choose to leave the services at an early opportunity to pursue a second career with civil airlines. Improving pilot retention rates is therefore one of our highest priorities. Indeed, that was reflected in the announcement of the armed forces pay award for 2001, which, in addition to a 3.7 per cent. increase in basic salary for all ranks, will result in increases in flying pay. There will also be the introduction of a targeted financial retention incentive for RAF aircrew of up to £10,000 available for two years, linked to a commitment to continue serving. The scheme is an interim measure pending the outcome of the comprehensive review of aircrew retention that is being initiated.
Angela Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and welcome the response that he gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Retention levels decreased to an all-time low in 1996, and the measures that he has introduced are welcome. However, can he assure me that the matter will be kept under constant review, and that new measures will be introduced as times change and they become necessary?
Mr. Spellar: Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are also in discussions with other NATO countries on sharing experiences of the issue. Additionally, we believe that some of the other measures that we have highlighted today, particularly those on accommodation, will help to assist with retention.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the statement made over the weekend on radio and television by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the likelihood that foot and mouth originated from the illegal importation of infected material, have you had a request for a statement by him to the House? The matter is extremely important and must be cleared up. Indeed, there is a need for a ban on the importation of all such meats from all countries that may be affected by foot and mouth.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the past hour, the Minister for the Armed Forces and some other Ministers have given particularly long answers not to supplementary questions, but to the initial questions. They will have been reading those answers from their brief. Will you advise Ministers and their officials that such written answers should be shorter so that hon. Members can ask more supplementary questions?
[Relevant documents: Second Special Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1999-2000 (Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the draft Regulatory Reform Bill), HC 488; Third Special Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1999-2000 (Further Report on the draft Regulatory Reform Bill), HC 705; and First Special Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 2000-01 (The Handling of Regulatory Reform Orders), HC 328.]
All Governments regulate to protect consumers, the environment, employers, employees, and society as a whole. The Government were elected on principles of fairness, justice and equality of opportunity, and those are the principles that we have put into practice in introducing fair and effective regulation. That is not about red tape or petty bureaucracy. The Government have no need to apologise for legislating for decent holiday entitlement, safety in the workplace, or policies to make work pay, such as the working families tax credit and the minimum wage. Those are commitments that we made in our manifesto, and they are commitments that we have honoured.
Despite arguments made by Opposition Members when we introduced a fair minimum wage, jobs have not been lost. Introducing the working families tax credit has not lost jobs. Introducing proper maternity leave has not lost jobs, nor has taking action to tackle discrimination against the disabled. On the contrary, as we saw last week, for the first time in 25 years, United Kingdom unemployment has fallen below 1 million. We have a healthy and stable economy, with low inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment. I am proud of the action that we have taken and of what has been achieved.
As so often in politics, however, it is essential that we strike the right balance. Unnecessary or over-complicated regulation that is difficult to enforce is a burden on everyone. It stifles enterprise and limits opportunity, which is why we have taken active steps to ensure that the regulations that are introduced are necessary, simple, and easy to understand and implement.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The right hon. Lady said that the Conservatives had predicted a loss of jobs as a result of the introduction of the minimum wage. Does she recall that at that time the Labour party was promising a minimum wage of £5? Will she now say what the current level of the minimum wage is?
Marjorie Mowlam: We are not here to discuss the details of the minimum wage; we are here to discuss regulation and its reduction. The Tories always claim that they would reduce regulation, but the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), a Minister in the previous Government who tried to reduce regulation, said: