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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the decision that Nimrod MRA4 should remain at RAF Kinloss will not prejudice the existing deployment of aircraft or personnel at RAF Waddington, which is in my constituency, or in any way diminish operations from that base?
Mr. Ingram: The right hon. and learned Gentleman should have heard me say that Waddington remains the hub for ISTAR. The preferred option was to co-locate all the aircraft on one airfield. However, the cost implications were so great that it was simply not advisable. Had I done that, at a considerable cost to defence, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would criticise me for mis-spending money that could be better spent elsewhere.
I have no information that people will be moved from Waddington because of the replacement of MR2 with MRA4. There will be fewer MRA4s in the fleet. As the JCAs come to Lossiemouth, the GR4s will move to Kinloss to take up the free space. I do not anticipatethere has been no indication of it whateverthat Waddington will be adversely affected.
Mr. Ingram: I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would know that. I appreciate that he is considering support for our current fleet of aircraft as outlined in the Select Committee on Defence. The through-life support for aircraft, whether it takes place on the base or elsewhere, will be part of the final contract arrangements. We are some way from reaching a conclusion, but we are moving increasingly towards industry support for whole-life support. However, we must take account of the crisis manpower requirement because we need the skills in the RAF to do that. There will therefore be a mix that is not dissimilar to our new approach to servicing existing aircraft.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Minister will understand my profound disappointment at the implications of the statement for the future of RAF Leeming. He assured me in the Corridor after his last appearance at Defence questions that we would get a full statement on a defence airfield review "soon". Why is he releasing the information on a case-by-case basis? Why does not he undertake a fundamental, comprehensive, strategic, national review of all 50 airfields and their future?
In the Vale of York, we have RAF Leeming. I pay tribute to the contribution that the air crew, navigators and everyone on the base made when they were deployed during the Iraq hostilities and subsequently. RAF Linton is one of only two air training schools and we also have the Army helicopter base at Dishforth. Those based at RAF Leeming, or about to be based there, are very concerned about the long-term future. The Minister owes them today some explanation as to why they have been considered for the Typhoon and ruled out for that, and considered for the JCA and now ruled out for that? Where exactly does that leave RAF
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Leeming and the other bases that have not been considered as part of the strategic national review, which he owes to the House today?
Mr. Ingram: If the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is even interested in the subject, I am prepared to speak to him in the Corridor. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), however, is only remembering part of our discussion. The other part concerned why we do not have the all-singing, all-dancing comprehensive response. I tried to explain to her that what we must do is a bit like three-dimensional chess in some ways. We are having to unpick this on a case-by-case basis, because we must release assets, determine what will happen at certain bases, what the impact of that will be elsewhere, and what the downstream impact of that is in terms of other defence use. If we have to wait for all that to take place, the necessary infrastructure and planning work for the JCA and MRA4 would be delayed. That would delay its coming into service, which would not be desirable. That is a complex pattern, and I fully accept that the uncertainty about some airfields and airbases is not good. I meet a large number of our personnel, both at bases and operationally, and I must deal with those issues. Those personnel are mature enough, however, to understand that we must move forward on a progressive and proper analysis of what will happen.
The hon. Lady asked why RAF Leeming has not been selected as a third base for the Typhoon. That decision is some way down the line. We have made orders for the first two tranches, and while we are committed to the third tranche, that is some way downstream. If that happens, it could have a beneficial impact on RAF Leeming. She also knows that other defence interests are considering the matter, and I shall not go into all the detail, as she said that her hairdresser knows more about it than I doshe said that in the Chamber, I think, not in a Corridor discussion. As we begin to consider all the different future uses, someone gets to know about it, someone talks, and the rumour starts running. We must examine the matter, however, because we cannot come to the best conclusion otherwise. I am sorry that the hares start running
It is a complex picture. I pay tribute to the staff dealing with thisthe RAF and civilianswho must work their way through all this. We are trying to do what is right in terms of future basing, to make sure that we can have a long-term future and give that commitment to our personnel, both civilian and RAF, in relation to their location choice, where they buy their house and where they bring up their families.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP):
May I thank the Minister for the advance copy of his statement today? It
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has also been interesting to read in the media the informed reports about today's announcements since last Friday. Considering the efforts by some in the Ministry of Defence to run down and close bases, today's announcement is a tremendous success for local campaigners and the service community in Moray. They have resolutely made the military and economic case for the retention of both RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss. The decision is a victory for common sense. Can he confirm, however, whether the Ministry of Defence will continue with the nearly 1,000 job losses announced earlier this year, which will cost the Moray economy £20 million a year?
Mr. Ingram: I knew that the hon. Gentleman would introduce a sour note. We have discussed the reasons for the change, which is part of a better utilisation of personnel, and ensures that we get maximum benefit from our investment in defence. The aircraft that will be based there will be a very important part of NATO's capability. He represents a party that is opposed to NATO. I should have thought that he would say, "We don't want anything flying in support of NATO in my area." He also represents a party that only too recently called the Union flag the "butcher's apron". I have asked him to repudiate that time and again, and he has not done so.
I well understand the importance of this matter to the hon. Gentleman's area, and where we have made decisions that have adversely affected other areas, there have also been strong campaigns. This is not, as he said, a victory for common sense, but a victory for what is right for defence. [Interruption.] Well, he is talking about it on the basis that it has been designed to suit the needs of the local community, but it has been designed to suit the needs of defence. He is not a strong supporter of what we do in defence, and perhaps he should reflect on that.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Please will the Minister of State explain what will be the impact on the aircraft testing and evaluation regimes and other functions at the military airfield at Boscombe Down, which employs more than 2,000 of my constituents? Perhaps he would prefer to write to me in some detail.
Mr. Ingram: I am not announcing anything about Boscombe Down. There are 50 airfields, and as far as I remember I do not think that I was told anything about Boscombe Down in advance of this briefing. If I can write to him usefully about anything related to it, I shall do so. If he does not get a letter, it is probably because there is nothing that I can tell him.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con):
The Minister accused me of being mildly condemnatory during business questions. He is quite wrongI greatly admire the way in which he has handled these difficult, sensitive announcements, and I think that he does a rather good job of it. I welcome the hint during his statement that the regrettable removal of the Hercules aircraft from RAF Lyneham might none the less be mitigated by some other basing consideration. I shall not press him on his thinking on that, because I am sure
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that he would not want to say anything at this stage, but can he indicate how long that thinking might take, as people in and around RAF Lyneham in my constituency are extremely concerned about the future?
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