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Mr Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Town and Country Planning

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism (Northern Ireland)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Delegated Legislation

Question agreed to.

Modernisation of the House

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

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Bovine Tuberculosis

10.32 pm

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I wish to present an important petition on bovine tuberculosis, which is a disastrous disease that the Government have singularly failed to curtail. Cattle have been slaughtered, although no traces of the disease have been found in their lungs and no culture achieved afterwards.

To lie upon the Table.

Tail Docking

10.33 pm

Bill Wiggin: This important petition concerns tail docking. Many people who breed dogs feel unhappy about the Government’s proposals.

To lie upon the Table.

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Proposed Closure of RAF Hythe

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

10.34 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Anybody looking at the title of this Adjournment debate could be forgiven for anticipating that I am yet another Conservative Member standing up to complain about the Government’s closure of an RAF base. That would be very far from the truth. I am delighted to say that the Minister has been giving the utmost support and consideration to my efforts to prevent the closure of the base. He has been able to do that not only because he has safely survived the reshuffle, which I am delighted to see —[ Interruption. ] I am delighted that he is delighted. He has also been able to do it because RAF Hythe is not a British base at all. Since 1967, when General de Gaulle threw NATO bag and baggage out of France in the atmosphere of fraternal French military support to which we have become so accustomed, the base has been a US army facility in my constituency. It masquerades under the title of a Royal Air Force base and deals primarily with water craft, as one would expect given such consistency so far.

What RAF Hythe has done over these years is quite phenomenal. It has developed from what was originally a storage base into an advanced network of shipbuilding maintenance repair and upgrading skills that is second to none in the US armed forces. That has been acknowledged. In order to give the House an idea of what the equipment that is so well looked after by the personnel at RAF Hythe is for, I ask hon. Members to imagine the Mulberry harbours, which, perhaps by coincidence, were also developed, constructed and deployed from the Solent and Southampton Water region. Mulberry harbours were the artificial harbours that enabled a port to be opened on the coastline of occupied France when opposed landings were being made.

That is the work to which RAF Hythe has been essentially committed. It is involved in the preparation of causeways and the maintenance and upgrading of port-opening vessels, floating cranes, and medium-sized and small landing craft. Another particular line of expertise has been the maintenance of fleets of small vessels that were originally deployed on the back of a very large ship based in Diego Garcia, a place that I may mention again later. That large vessel, which was a semi-submersible, would be able to transport the small vessels to anywhere they were needed, flood down, and float them off, and thereby enable a floating point of deployment for the application of military force to a hostile shore.

Over the years, the staff of RAF Hythe, who are, with the exception of two or three American personnel, entirely British, have been called upon to perform many functions, and they have never failed. They wrote the textbooks on the way to dehumidify and preserve water craft and other military assets so that they can be pre-positioned in various theatres around the world. What is more, they developed the techniques and wrote the manual for bringing those dehumidified and otherwise stored assets safely back into service and ready for deployment within a 10-day period. In 2002,
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it was decided that 30 of those vessels should be pre-positioned to serve the far east theatre at Yokohama north dock in Japan. In 2003-04, a similar pre-positioning of another 30 such vessels was arranged to be carried out in Kuwait naval base. That was in no way to diminish the role of Hythe, which was integral to setting up those two bases and has been essential in carrying out the missions that the bases perform.

At Yokohama north dock, an attempt was made to contract out one of the less skilled functions that the direct US army-employed work force of Hythe had previously performed. It was such a failure both in the quality of the work and the cost that the services of ITT, the contractor company, were dispensed with and Hythe was recommissioned to carry on with the work.

The key document to which I shall refer is an audit, which was carried out early this year and presented on 13 March to Major-General Johnson, who is at army field support command at Rock Island, Illinois. That is the next step up in the chain of command from which the facility at Hythe derives its work and instructions. The audit examined four options for continuing the work, which the work force at Hythe, who are directly employed by the US army, has hitherto carried out.

Option 1 was to carry on with Hythe, option 2 was to continue with full and open competition, and options 3 and 4 were to use other agencies that had done similar bits of work, which related to part of the functions that Hythe had hitherto performed either for the Army or the US navy and ascertain whether they could apply. Five criteria applied: technical capability of sustaining the water craft; overall cost of the operation; contract duration; lead time to the award, and resident skills and expertise.

Let me give the assessment of option 1—Hythe. The audit, by the US army’s audit agency, found in favour of Hythe that maintenance costs were projected to be significantly lower through continuing with Hythe than the contracted operation alternatives of options 2, 3 and 4. It found that there was a completely trained work force, total resident knowledge and technical capability, and that Hythe provided maximum flexibility, resident expertise to support exercises and no security problems because all employees are security cleared through their affiliation to the US army.

What was against Hythe? Only two things. The base closure was stated to be already in process, although nothing had been announced and no explanation has ever been given, and Hythe was not funded for the financial year 2007 and beyond.

Options 3 and 4 did not come close. It is interesting that one of the arguments against option 2 was:

and that it would be a lower risk if the award date were postponed until 31 December 2007.

At the end of the process, a matrix was produced showing the four options and judging them against the five criteria. Hythe was the only one to score a 1—the top grading—for technical capability, a 1 for overall cost, and a 1 for resident expertise. The other two criteria, which covered contracts and how long it would take to get the operation up and running, did not apply because Hythe is already up and running. So Hythe
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had a top score of 3—the lower the score, the better. Option 2 scored 10.5, option 3 scored 16, and option 4 scored 12.5.

This resulted in the realisation that, whereas it would cost $18.42 million for Hythe to carry on doing what it does, both locally and in running the bases in Japan and Kuwait, that sum would be at least doubled by option 2, to $37.73 million. The cost of closing Hythe—we assume that the Americans would act in good faith and pay off the pension fund in full—would have to be added to that $37.73. That would involve another $72.85 million, making a grand total of more than $110 million in the first year, compared with $18.42 million.

Three additional vessels in Hythe have been separately budgeted for, which would keep the base going until the end of 2007. That would lessen the risk even if option 2 were chosen. When that is taken into account, we need to add another $27 million to the costs that would result from the closure, because the uncompleted boats would have to be towed back across the Atlantic for completion in US dockyards. If they stayed at Hythe, however, and if the work force were allowed to continue to work on them for that extra year, it would cost only an extra $10 million. In other words, this is the economics of the madhouse.

The audit recommended to the commanding general in Rock Island, Illinois, that the closure notice that was under way—for reasons that have never been explained—should be rescinded, and that Hythe offered by far the best value for money. We do not know what went on when that audit report was received at the Rock Island base in Illinois. We do know, however, that no explanation has been given, and that no notice of any significance has been given. There seems to be a desperate rush to close the base at Hythe before the end of the American financial year on 30 September.

By contrast, other bases that carry out only part of the work—in Germany and Italy, for example—are not being closed, even though the base at Germersheim in Germany consistently fails to meet its targets. It carries out work not on the water craft but on flat-bed trailers and mobile military generators, in which Hythe also specialises. A similar function is carried out at a base at Livorno in Italy, which has frequently been beset by labour troubles and strikes.

We wonder whether Hythe is being picked on in this way because the American army authorities feel that it would be easier to divest themselves of their loyal work force in England than to divest themselves of people who are not direct employees of the US Army, and who are protected by all sorts of labour laws in countries on the continent that have shown themselves to be somewhat less reliable to the United States of America when the chips are down than have the people from this base in the United Kingdom.

In short, we have a facility that is versatile to the extent that when it was invited to send volunteers to Afghanistan, 14 went, and let us remember that they are civilians and do not get medals or other recognition. Incidentally, volunteers were requested from the Rock Island headquarters, and I believe that three were obtained. Out in Afghanistan, the volunteers from Hythe were
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able to turn their hands to augmenting the armour on armoured vehicles to protect the lives of US service personnel. This is an expert force: as I said, it wrote the manual for the preservation and reactivation techniques of pre-positioned stocks. It is an economical force—it is half the cost to the US taxpayer compared with the next best option, and that is only the yearly cost, apart from the colossal closure costs to which I have referred. It is a reliable force and has never taken industrial action in well over 30 years of service to the United States of America.

I have little time left, as I am anxious to hear the Minister’s reply. I shall therefore mention quickly some of Hythe’s commendations. One says:

Another says:

Another reads:

That is from Diego Garcia, an important base. We are showing rather more support to the Americans than they might perhaps be said to deserve given the way that they are treating RAF Hythe. On one occasion, RAF Hythe was told:

It also received an official commendation:

Some of the tributes that I have read go back a number of years, but here is one from last Tuesday, from the manager of the watercraft equipment site at the Kuwait naval base:

those are the Hythe people out in Kuwait. It continues:

landing craft—

financial year. It continues:

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