|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
From what appeared on the BBC this morning, I had an idea, in broad terms, that the media had got hold of the information. I was not best pleased, as I do everything to ensure that I come to the House first with such information. I am not accountable for speculation[Interruption.] Someone says that it was on the media last FridayI did not know that. The report suggested that Leuchars would feature in the statement, but it does notthat decision was announced some time ago. I can give the House the absolute assurance that I was not responsible.
I have also had to deal with pressure from Members who are affected by these decisions to meet them to notify them in advance of my statement to the House. I dealt with that by not meeting them, as I have to inform the House first.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) said that he was asleep at 6 o'clock this morning. The Opposition should never sleep, but having been in this place for some time I am aware that they have been asleep for the past eight and a half years. Perhaps they are now waking up to certain realities.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the crucial issue of the two bases. I said that that is the preferred option, but we are some considerable time away from choosing an alternative second base. We are delaying not because of numbers but because the decision on any future basing is better taken at the time on the basis of the configuration of bases that are available. I indicated that Cottesmore and Marham had come out on top in that calculation. Nothing is written out, but nothing is written in as a certainty.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the wider estate rationalisation. We have to take into account a range of issues, not least of which are the risk factors associated with concentrating assets on individual bases. We do not believe that we face the threat that the hon. Gentleman describes. I do not thinkI know that he is sensitive to this as wellthat we should explore the nature of possible terrorist attacks. It would take an attack of a catastrophic nature completely to disable a facility. That could apply equally to single buildings where many administrative activities are undertaken. We are aware of how to deal with those issues.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned St. Mawgan in relation to the movement of the ISTAR activity. As far as I am awareI have not seen the press releasethe announcement is welcomed by people in the area, because they are seeking to build on the commercial aspect of the Newquay Cornwall airport. It is likely that that could have not easily coexisted with a military base. The announcement has been welcomed, by and large, by the local communityI appreciate that it is not unanimousbecause it is better for the growth of the local economy.
A number of work streams are in place that could have a beneficial outcome for Leeming, but it is not yet at quite a mature enough level. We shall have to wait and see how that plays out. The same applies to
17 Nov 2005 : Column 1123
Lyneham. Although we have decided to move the aircraft that were at Lyneham to Brize Norton, we have always said that Lyneham could have alternative defence uses. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who represents the area, is very active in pursuing this. I pay him that compliment, although he was pretty condemnatory of me in business questions. Lyneham need not be a solely RAF solutionthere could be an Army interest in the site. The same could apply to Leeming. As we rationalise the estate, we do not dispose of it willy-nilly if it may have another defence use. It would be wrong to walk away from valuable real estate in important parts of the country. There has been considerable investment in all that infrastructure, some of which needs significant upgrading none the less. We do not need as many as 50 airfields in terms of what we now seek to do.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East mentioned the possibility of an external threat from a hostile enemy. I shall deal with that in the debate later, but we do not envisage it as part of the immediate threat. We can debate that at another time. All the factors are being considered, but they do not weigh as heavily with the Ministry of Defence as they do with the hon. Gentleman.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I shall be brief because I know that several hon. Members will speak specifically about the impact of the decisions on Cornwall, and we shall probe the Minister about the basis for his decision not to deploy the JCA at RAF St. Mawgan.
However, in the best interests of Cornwall and Plymouththe economic interrelationship between Plymouth and Newquay airports is incredibly closewill my right hon. Friend ensure that all the parties involved, including the local authorities, trade unions, Ministry of Defence and the airlines, work together so that the transfer from the MOD to civilian management is smooth? We now need certainty.
Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend's last point, which was about certainty, is valid. I came to the House to make the statement because I recognise the importance of JCA basing. When we undertook the study, we understood that we needed to be clear about what we were doing because it was proving difficult for the commercial interests on the airfield to envisage the future and, therefore, growth in the tourist trade, business and so on. I am working closely with the Department for Transport on that. Indeed, I spoke to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), yesterday about this matter. Several issues must be tackled, but we shall deal with them sympathetically and constructively.
I stress that the Ministry of Defence cannot bear the cost of matters for which we have no responsibility. They must be met from other sources. We are on the case, we understand its importance and we want Newquay Cornwall airport to grow successfully. We shall do all that we can to facilitate that.
17 Nov 2005 : Column 1124
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): However inelegantly the information may have got into the public domain, I am sure that all hon. Members welcome the fact that the Minister has come here today to make the statement and has brought greater clarity, at least for some. He has made welcome announcements for communities in Moray, but many in Cornwall, notwithstanding his comments about reports from there, will be disappointed.
Does the uncertainty about the need for a second base for the JCA reflect some continuing doubt about the availability of the aircraft, or simply the fact that the MOD has still to decide how many it may need? Although the Minister said that there would be support for Cornwall, what impact assessment has been made of the nature of the decision and its effect on Cornwall? What specific measures will he bring to bear to help the economy in that area?
Mr. Ingram: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. Let me deal with the last point first. The MOD is not responsible for taking on all the attendant responsibilitiesthat is what local authorities and other Departments are for. We try to minimise the adverse impact as best we can. We try to operate a good-neighbour policy whereby we work alongside the local community.
We understand the impact in number terms. Two lodger units remain at St. Mawgan and they engage many RAF personnel and some United States personnel. We are considering moving the two units elsewhere to give more coherence to what they do. One has a US input into what it wants to do about future use. Although we are involved in the care and maintenance of the airfield, two other announcements are likely to be made later. However, I am advised that conclusions will not be reached until 2010.
There have been competing pressures on the decision about Cornwall. Some did not want us to remain on the airfield because we could not grow its commercial aspect. Others said that we could co-exist. We conducted a sensitivity analysis to ascertain what was practical, bearing in mind that the aircraft will be noisy. The last thing people who are waiting to go on holiday want to hear is a noisy aircraft taking off or landing. Our best analysis was that it was possible to co-exist but that it would not be perfect. Cornwall county council concluded that it would be better to develop the airfield commercially after we gave them our best assurances on the noise thresholds.
The noise thresholds are currently understood on the basis of prototype analysis, because we do not have the aircraft. The people who give advice are good technical experts and they say that the noise will be the same or approximately the same as the prototype level. There will be no great variation. If there were, the adverse impact would be even greater. However, there will be no major variations that would have altered the calculations. We now have clarity, which allows all the relevant agencies to move forward with developing that important part of the country. A developing commercial airfield there is desirable.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|