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Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for providing me with advance notice of the statement. Earlier this year, the Defence Committee said that one of the reasons why DARA was created was to provide assured access to repair capacity and also capacity for surge workload. Is the Minister confident that, given the announcement he has made today and the Treasury-strapped budget that he has, such surge capacity will continue to exist?
Mr. Ingram: I am not going to agree that we have a Treasury-strapped budget. I have always said that the budget is under pressure: if it were not, we would not be trying to save £2.8 billion. We have had the largest increase in real terms for 20 years, although any Department will say that it wants more support.
I make this point: if what we were doing was wrong pilots would not fly those fast jets. If they thought for a moment that the aircraft were unsafe or had not been properly maintained, they would not take them into the sky. That is the final arbiter. Much of the work on fast jets was already being carried out at the main operating bases. What we have done is transferred it to those areas. There is still an element of private company support alongside it, although the work is carried out predominantly by RAF technicians and personnel. They need that capability when aircraft go to the front line, to maintain them wherever they are posted. The judgment of those who need to examine such things in
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detail is that, yes, there is an assured capacity and, yes, it can meet the surge demand. That is the really big issue; that is what they are there for in the first place, to ensure that they have aircraft capable of meeting the needs of the country.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): May I too express deep disappointment and concern about the proposals for DARA St. Athan? It is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith), but many of my constituents work there. Is my right hon. Friend aware of how huge the loss is for the area and of how great the sense of betrayal and outrage is among the workers and the unions, who have campaigned so hard on the issue? Is he aware of the loss of high-quality apprenticeships that offer opportunities for young people in the area? Their withdrawal will threaten the local college, so what will he do to help?
Mr. Ingram: I do recognise that there is a huge loss. It does not come easy to me, or any Defence or Labour Minister, to make such announcements. I do not feel a sense of betrayal. I have tried to set out the logic of what we are doing: why it is inevitable, why it is good for defence and why we believe that it best configures that aspect of logistic support for the RAF. My hon. Friend made a particular point about apprenticeships. I have said elsewhere that bits of British industry would not exist without MOD investment, and I sometimes question what the rest of British industry is doing about apprenticeships in the aerospace sector. We are mindful of the issue, however, and will work with the Welsh Assembly to try to find a way of ensuring that the apprenticeship stream is maintained. It may not be wholly to do with the MOD, but we realise that it is vital. It is not simply for the MOD to provide aerospace apprenticeships; the rest of the industry has something to contribute as well.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Minister has spent time in Iraq and will have seen ABRO in action at the front line. Does he agree that these days the distinction between the front line and the logistics tail is increasingly blurred, and thus his announcement today is not just a blow to some hypothetical background backroom boys but is in fact a blow to our defence commitment overall?
No, I do not. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says. There is increasingly a blurring, but things must also be carefully defined. We cannot put non-uniform personnel into areas of risks, and such judgments have to come into play at all times. In my statement, I said that part of the reconfiguration of ABRO is to put capacity closer to the front-line customer. Admittedly, that will be in the UK, but it is closer to where the vehicles will be and the work will be integrated with that of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, which may have a beneficial spill-out in terms of front-line deployment. We are making the changes to improve support, not to diminish it. We have to reconfigure ABRO to that size to make it capable of withstanding the competitive pressures out there. Industry is well marshalled and understands the volume of work out there. We are seeking to retain ABRO jobs for a good number of years in the future, to
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ensure that we give that key support to the Army in everything it does, either in the UK or in areas of conflict.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does the Minister recognise that today is a dark day for many families along the whole stretch of the M4 corridor, including those in my constituency? Many of those families' menfolk will be incoherent with frustration and anger, given that the work force at DARA have met every possible hurdle and every target thrown at them to cut costs, to increase efficiency, to meet time scales and to prove efficient and effective. Will he acknowledge that today's decision is no fault of the quality of workmanship of those dedicated people in that work force?
Mr. Ingram: I can agree completely that the decision is not down to a lack of quality on the part of the work force. If there were any doubt about that, the MOD, working in concert with the Welsh Assembly, would find it had to attract others on to the site to use some of that capability. Of course, the Welsh Assembly was able to announce earlier this year that ATC Lasham would come on to the site, and we are working actively with the Welsh Assembly to extol the virtues of what is going on there. I pay tribute to the work force for all that they sought to do, but when legacy platforms have been take out of service, the work flow is not there. When we make a decision, because of a very careful financial analysis, that four levels of support can be collapsed into two, and the consequences of either moving back to St. Athan or moving forward into Marham and Cottesmore stack up in favour of the latter, we must do what is right for defence. That is my job, and I believe that we are doing what is right for defence and what is right for the country as well.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): This is a huge slap in the face for my constituents, 628 of whom will lose their jobs as a result of today's announcement40 per cent. of the overall job losses. Are the MOD and the Government committed to Shropshire, which has a huge defence sector? We have the defence training review at Cosford. Sapphire House, which is in the constituency of my colleague the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), is under review, and we now hear today's announcement about the DLO, ABRO and the defence centre. In particular, I am interested in what the Minister will say on the future of Donnington. Are the Government committed to Donnington? Are they committed to Shropshire?
Mr. Ingram: FDSCI is the acronym that I will give the hon. Gentleman. We have made a commitment about the in-house bid. He would probably not have supported the in-house bid; he would have preferred to go to one of the private sector companies, which, of course, may not have decided to locate at Donnington. I accept that there are reductions as a consequence of making part of the support to the MOD and the front line, again, much more efficient.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the DTR. Well, the DTR is out there, but it will probably be anything up to 18 months before we reach a conclusion. A number of
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bids have come in, and all of them must be evaluated. I do not know whether he is saying that we should ignore the quality of the bids and just give a commitment to Shropshire. That is not the way in which Ministers should make a decision. We must balance the various bids and decide where the best benefit lies.
Mr. Ingram: I find that offensive, in a sense. I am making an announcement today with, 500 mainly engineering jobs being lost to DARA St. Athan. That is not a subsidy to Wales; it is very painful. It will be very difficult, and we must work our way through it. The MOD will look at what is best for the United Kingdom and best for our front-line soldiers. That is what we must seek to achieve, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman was aware of that and be on our side.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Obviously, it is a sad day across the House. We are talking about almost 2,000 jobs going directly. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact on the supply and service industry? I do not know how many jobs may be lost there. Following today's review, can he guarantee that those platforms that have been maintained in the past will be as good for our front-line troops in the future?
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