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Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the problem he faces on Sunday mornings, which I recognise as an issue for many people who help and support young people in sport and voluntary service. I accept that it is necessary to re-examine how people who assist young people in sport are required to submit to multiple tests on their background and suitability, and the Government will do that. However, I hope that he accepts that it is not simply a question of saying that that area must be deregulated, because we have seen several disturbing cases in which regulation has failed, with disturbing—even tragic—consequences. It is necessary to strike the right balance, but I sympathise with him on that point.
 
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Defence Airfields Review

12.22 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I should like to inform the House about developments in the defence airfields review. As my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence told the House on 21 July 2004 in his statement on "Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities", a review of defence airfields is under way to ensure the best use of the defence estate.

The review is taking the form of a series of business cases, two of which have addressed the basing requirements for new aircraft—the joint combat aircraft and the Nimrod MRA4. I am pleased to inform the House today of my basing decisions for those aircraft. The decisions will enable the detailed planning that precedes the introduction of new aircraft and facilitate wider estate rationalisation. We will consult the trade unions on this decision and the implications for civilian staff.

The JCA is due progressively to replace the Harrier fleet towards the middle of the next decade and the Nimrod MRA4 is expected to replace the Nimrod MR2 from around the end of this decade. The state-of-the-art, multi-role JCA will provide significantly increased performance and improved strike and reconnaissance capabilities, as well as incorporating stealth technology. The Nimrod MRA4 will offer enhanced surveillance support over a greater area in both the land and maritime environments. Final procurement decisions will be taken in due course.

The JCA basing study has been very thorough, including the widespread consultation of local authorities, and it considered a number of locations in two stages. On 10 March this year, I wrote to hon. Members affected by the outcome of the first stage, notifying them that RNAS Yeovilton, RAF Kinloss and RAF Wittering were discounted from further consideration. The study then concentrated on five locations—RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, RAF Marham in Norfolk and RAF St. Mawgan in Cornwall. After careful consideration of the options, I have decided that the initial base for the JCA will be RAF Lossiemouth, currently home to the Tornado GR4, as it offers the most operationally satisfactory and cost-effective solution.

As I said in March, our work made an assumption that two JCA bases would be required. However, since it is too early to say whether a second base will be needed after the Tornado GR4 fleet goes out of service, I have decided that only one base should be selected at this stage. Further work will be undertaken in the event that a second base is required, but we are still a number of years away from making that decision. The study shows that either RAF Cottesmore or RAF Marham would be appropriate for the second base. In any event, both these RAF stations have defined uses into the next decade and beyond, with Harriers at RAF Cottesmore and Tornado GR4s at RAF Marham. RAF Leeming, currently a Tornado F3 base, was ruled out as a possible second base because of the disproportionately high noise impact.
 
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RAF St. Mawgan was not selected because the business case demonstrated that it was an expensive option. I announced in March that that station would go into care and maintenance from April 2007 following the relocation of the Sea King helicopters currently based there. In the light of my decision on JCA basing, I can now confirm that there is no long-term RAF Strike Command requirement for the airfield. We shall therefore be considering alternative defence uses or possible disposal. The future basing of the remaining units at RAF St. Mawgan will also be considered.

I wrote to hon. Members in October 2004 to inform them that we were considering whether RAF Kinloss or RAF Waddington would be the most suitable base for the Nimrod MRA4. RAF Kinloss is currently the base for the Nimrod MR2, while RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire is our primary ISTAR—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—base. I subsequently advised the House in March 2005 that, irrespective of the outcome of the business case, we had decided to base the MRA4 initially at Kinloss as it would not be possible to prepare the necessary infrastructure at Waddington in time for the aircraft's arrival around the end of the decade.

The business case has now shown that, while there would be some advantages in basing the MRA4 with the other ISTAR assets at Waddington, it would not justify the financial investment, and I have therefore decided that the MRA4 will remain at Kinloss. That decision does not change RAF Waddington's role as the primary ISTAR base. On current planning, I also expect RAF Kinloss to become a base for some Tornado GR4s from around 2013. The arrival of the JCA at RAF Lossiemouth will require at least some of the Tornado aircraft based there to be relocated to RAF Kinloss until the aircraft goes out of service in the mid-2020s.

Those decisions form part of my Department's continuing efforts to rationalise our estate. Work is continuing and I will keep the House informed of developments. Today's announcement on JCA and MRA4 basing enables us to take work forward to begin to plan for the long-term infrastructure requirements of these key new capabilities. The choice of RAF Lossiemouth for the JCA and of RAF Kinloss for the Nimrod MRA4 confirms the long-term future for some 4,500 Ministry of Defence personnel and also safeguards a significant number of jobs in the Moray area. It is good news for the Moray area and underscores once again the MOD's commitment to Scotland.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I thank the Minister for giving me advance notice of the statement. I would have thanked the BBC for the even-more-advanced notice that it would have given me had I been up at 6 am to read its online version, but sadly I was still fast asleep and unaware that a statement would be made.

The central points of the statement are uncontentious. It is obviously sensible that the new Nimrods should primarily be focused on the base where the existing Nimrods have been deployed successfully for so long. It is also obviously sensible that the new JCA should be focused on one of the bases where the Tornados have similarly been based for so long. There
 
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are, however, some undercurrents to this statement about which we must be concerned—most importantly the resiling from the earlier, pretty firm commitment that the JCA would have two bases. What does that tell us about future orders for the JCA? Does it suggest that in fact, as with so many other defence projects, when those orders come to fruition they will be found to be quantitatively much smaller than was originally promised and intended?

What does it tell us also about the thinking that is going on whereby numerous RAF bases appear to be scheduled for contraction? We heard that expression a couple of times in the statement in the context of wider estate rationalisation. I have reason to believe that St. Mawgan will not be the last base to close, by any means. It is clear from the statement that the reason that the choice was made not to put the Nimrods with the ISTAR Nimrods but to keep a separate base was not a strategic but an economic choice.

My primary question for the Minister is this: what consideration has been given to the nature of the threats that will face us in the short, the medium and the long term? In the short and medium terms, there is the prospect of a terrorist threat. What happens if a terrorist attack is successful on an RAF base in which all the facilities for one particular type of function have been concentrated?

In the medium to long term, we have to face up to the prospect, incredible though it may seem at the moment, that we might face a major war of a more conventional nature with a more conventional power. What prospect is there of the RAF being able to survive if its bases are vulnerable to attack because each individual role carried out by each separate part of the RAF is focused on a single site that, if put out of action, could mean that the RAF lost that function completely?

I turn briefly to some specifics. What is the future of the air sea rescue function currently operating out of St. Mawgan? What assessment has been made of the effect on the local economy?

What are the implications for the future of RAF Leeming? Reading between the lines of the statement, I would be a little concerned if my job depended on its having a long-term future.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office on the security implications of the move towards reducing the number of bases so that more and more eggs are carried in fewer and fewer baskets?

What assessment has been made, on a strategic basis, of the long-term military threat facing this country?

Today's announcement has some central sensible elements, but it must be seen in the context of a continued hollowing out of the Royal Air Force, with the closure of Lyneham announced less than two months after the Prime Minister had told my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) that it would have an assured future. As a result, heavy-lift equipment is now concentrated solely at a single base. Three Tornado squadrons have been scheduled for the future instead of the five called for by the strategic defence review. It has been announced that the Jaguar is to go out of service two years earlier than would be required if the Typhoon were able smoothly to take over its functions.
 
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In themselves, the announcements contain sensible elements, but as part of a wider picture they give us great cause for concern.


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