HC Deb 22 July 1982 vol 28 cc566-626

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

5.23 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

In last year's RAF debate I said that my closing remarks were in many ways a valedictory address to the service of which I had been the political head for something over two years. As a defence procurement Minister I have maintained my interest in, and contacts with, the Royal Air Force. It is, therefore, a particular pleasure to open this debate on the RAF which in the past year has again seen much achievement and change. However, I feel sure that hon. Members will understand if I address the majority of remarks to equipment and only touch fleetingly on personnel, which I leave to be covered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, if he is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the conclussion of the debate.

The statement on defence Estimates dealing with our conventional forces states clearly that we currently are in the midst of the most comprehensive re-equipment programme for the Royal Air Force ever undertaken for some 30 years. I wish to itemise some of these programmes and deal with them in a litle more detail.

In the White Paper entitled "The United Kingdom Defence Programme: The Way Forward" we stated the critical importance of defence of the home base and the vital role to be played by our air defence forces. The substantial programme of improvements that we are undertaking is well advanced and will continue, greatly enhancing our air defence capability. These improvements include: the introduction of the Tornado F2 interceptor, 70 of which are currently on order, in about three years time; the retention of two Phantom squadrons, which had previously been planned to retire as Tornado F2 came in, to provide a substantial increase in the number of air defence fighters; the introduction of the Nimrod AEW aircraft, for which we are now actively considering an in-flight refuelling capability; the introduction of the Sidewinder AIM 9L short-range air-to-air missiles, which proved so effective in the South Atlantic, and will contribute towards the more than doubling of our holdings of modern air-to-air missiles; the arming of 72 Hawk aircraft with Sidewinder for the local air defence role, for which manufacture of modification kits is under way; the increase of the Royal Air Force's air-to-air refuelling capability with the introduction of VCIO tankers; the redeployment of a second Bloodhound area air defence surface-to-air missile squadron from Germany, which will be completed by the end of next year; and the fitting of Blindfire radar to Rapier fire units, which is now well on the way to completion.

This programme is complemeted by a major modernisation of the United Kingdom air defence ground environment, including the provision of transportable three-dimensional radars and an integral high-speed data processing and communications system which will greatly assist the management of our air defence assets.

I should like now to deal with certain elements of this large and diverse programme. The United Kingdom's airborne early warning capability is currently provided by the ageing Shackleton aircraft. I think there is no need for me to dwell on this important element in our air defence given recent experience in the South Atlantic. With the advent of the Nimrod mark 3, our capability in this field will be transformed. The Nimrod mark 3 airborne early warning programme is proceeding to plan and a total of 11 aircraft will eventually be based at RAF Waddington near Lincoln. The Nimrods will be the United Kingdom's contribution to the NATO airborne early warning mixed force and will be interoperable with the Boeing E3A AWACS aircraft that will make the balance of the force. A ceremony principally to mark the formal activation of the E3A component was held in the Federal Republic of Germany of 28 June and was attended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. A Nimrod AEW development aircraft participated in the event and it is planned to hold a similar ceremony in the United Kingdom when the Nimrod component is formally activated.

In military jargon, air-to-air refuelling has the effect of a force multiplier—it prolongs the patrol time and the range of our air forces. The effectiveness of our Victor tanker force which, with the Hercules, were the workhorses of the air operation, was demonstrated admirably during operations in the South Atlantic. The longstanding plans to introduce a VC10 squadron in the tanker role are now coming to fruition. The first of nine converted aircraft had its maiden flight at Filton a few weeks ago. We now plan to devote increased resources to in-flight refuelling and we shall be considering the possibiltity of converting additional VC1Os to replace the Victors as they approach the end of their useful life. As my right hon. Friend announced on 1 July, as an interim measure we are converting six Vulcans and four Hercules to the tanker role.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

My hon. Friend referred to the conversion of the Vulcans. Has he any plans for basing those Vulcans at Waddington?

Mr. Pattie

There are no plans to change the basing mode of the Vulcans at present.

Turning now to the RAF's maritime air capability, as the House will recall, the Government announced in Cmnd. 8288 their intention to increase the Nimrod fleet by converting the remaining three mark 1 airframes to full mark 2 standard, making a total of 34 mark 2 Nimrods. This decision was taken in recognition of the remarkable capabilities of the aircraft in the maritime reconnaissance role, and these capabilities were amply proven during the operations in the South Atlantic. As my right hon. Friend said during his speech in the defence debate on 1 July, 13 Nimrods have already been adapted for air-to-air refuelling. This allowed the aircraft to make regular flights of some 19 hours duration to the Falkland Islands area. Over 150 maritime surveillance sorties have been flown and the information gathered during these missions was crucial to the operations.

The fitting of the Harpoon anti-surface ship missile to the Nimrod, also announced by my right hon. Friend, will further enhance the aircraft's capability. This will allow us to fully exploit the Nimrod 2's Searchwater radar which can identify ships at extreme range, enabling attacks to be made at ranges of about 70 miles with Harpoon. I must stress, however, that the decision to fit Harpoon does not affect the acquisition of the next generation British Aerospace Sea Eagle missile, to be carried on the Buccaneer aircraft which will be kept in service for maritime operations. The Sea Eagle will probably also be carried on the Tornado.

In addition, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles were fitted to Nimrods during the hostilities in the South Atlantic to provide a limited self-defence capability. These also provide an offensive capability against slow-flying reconnaissance aircraft.

The significance of the Hercules aircraft of the air transport force has been amply demonstrated of late, A C130 of 70 Squadron, during the Falklands operation, undertook the longest ever flight of this aircraft type, of over 28 hours.

The programme to extend the fuselages of 30 of the RAF's Hercules fleet to improve their carrying capacity is now far advanced. Sixteen aircraft have already been delivered and the programme is due to be completed by late 1985. The stretching will add an extra 15 ft to the aircraft, thereby increasing the freight bay capacity by 30 per cent. without the attendant costs of additional crews, training, ground support and spares which could have been involved in other options for increasing the capacity of the fleet.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Would the stretching of the Hercules and the many other changes have been necessary had it not been for a commitment to the Falklands?

Mr. Pattie

All the improvements that I am describing have been in the programme for some time. They are not in any way related to recent events.

Given this increase in cargo compartment length, the resulting super Hercules will be able to carry seven cargo pallets instead of the present five, or, to put it another way, an additional Land Rover and three-quarter-ton trailer.

In terms of personnel capacity, the stretched version will be able to transport 128 infantry troops instead of the present maximum of 92, or 92 paratroops and their equipment instead of 64. A similar improvement will be felt in the aircraft's aero-medical evacuation role. The super Hercules will be able to carry 93 stretcher patients and six attendants, 23 more than the present total.

We are also enhancing the capability and flexibility of the Hercules by fitting station-keeping radar equipment which will enable the airaft to carry out the co-ordinated drop of a parachute assault force, even in poor weather.

Our experiences during operations in the South Alantic also demonstrated clearly that helicopter support is vital in the land battle. Substantial quantities of men and materials were moved by a wide variety of helicopters in appalling weather conditions. It is difficult to foresee a situation in which there could ever be too many helicopters available to our forces. The Chinook helicopter, in particular, proved very useful, with its substantial load-carrying ability, and we shall certainly be replacing those that we lost through the sinking of the "Atlantic Conveyor".

Hon. Members will be aware of the achievements of the Harrier aircraft in tie Falkland Islands. Its successes were a total vindication of the Royal Air Force's faith in the flexibility, versatility and potency of the VSTOL concept. We hope that other air forces will now follow the prescience of the United States Marine Corps and express an interest in buying the Harrier. It is a superb example of British technology.

As the House knows, we intend to produce at least 60 AV8B aircraft, or Harrier GR5s as they will be known in the Royal Air Force, which we are jointly engaged in developing with the United States. The development programme is proceeding very well; all four United States development aircraft have now flown successfully and a United Kingdom team has recently joined the United States trials programme. The GR5 should prove a very worthy development of the Harrier family to carry the RAF's vertical and short take-off and landing capability into the next century. It will possess greater manoeuvrability, range, endurance and weapon load than its progenitor. Furthermore, the total United Kingdom and United States programme would provide British industry with about £1 billion-worth of work.

The last of the RAF's orders for the Tornado GR1 aircraft, to complete the planned buy of 220 of that type, has now been placed. Conversion to the aircraft is proceeding well at the tri-national tornado training establishment at RAF Cottesmore which opened in January last year. That, as hon. Members will appreciate, is a unique organisation. Not only is there joint training, with nationality playing no part in the allocation of instructors to students, pilots to navigators or crew to aircraft, but the RAF, German Air Force, German Navy and Italian Air Force share the organisation and supervisory tasks. The full complement of RAF aircraft is now stationed at the base, and the first Italian Air Force aeroplane arrived in May. The Chief of the Italian Air Staff recently described the establishment and its activities as the most tangible witness of the common will which stimulates the NATO Air Forces". It is difficult to improve on that statement.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

May I express the appreciation that I and many of my hon. Friends feel of the organisation of visits to Cottesmore? We hope that there will be more. It is one of the most successful visits that we have made. It was impressive to see NATO working in such a co-ordinated manner.

Mr. Pattie

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces will be particularly grateful for my hon. Friend's comment. He has the responsibility for organising and co-ordinating the visits.

Mr. Dalyell

I have heard it said that one of the lessons of the Falklands is that the low-flying Tornado would be incredibly vulnerable to the intense ack-ack fire that brought down so many of the Argentine planes; given the extra fire power and expertise of, say, the Russians, one of the things that the Falklands operation has proved is that the Tornado would be highly vulnerable and not a very useful aircraft. I have no idea whether that is accurate. What is the Ministry's answer?

Mr. Pattie

One has to appreciate that the Tornado GR1 aircraft is a whole order of technology further on than anything that was demonstrated in the Falklands conflict. It has far greater speed. As I was about to point out, it has such attributes as terrain-following radar, enabling it to fly at very high speeds in zero weather and night-time conditions. It has a much better chance of penetrating the Warsaw Pact defences than any of the aircraft operating in the South Atlantic.

At the RAF's tactical weapons conversion unit at Honington where our aircrews are training on the aircraft's weapon systems, and where the first Tornado squadron, No. 9, was formed last month, the superlative characteristics of the aircraft are now also being appreciated. In particular, they are learning of the excellence of its terrain-following radar, which permits day and night and all-weather operations at low level, with the automatic release of weapons. That will add a new dimension to our combat capabilities.

I come now to the subject of a future combat aircraft and the recent considerable interest by hon. Members in the work which industry itself has started on the project that it calls the P110. I think that it would, therefore, be profitable to provide the House with an outline of the complexity of the issues involved.

We recognise that there will always be a high priority requirement for a combat aircraft with the ability not only to deliver weapons accurately against enemy targets on the ground but able to look after itself en route to and from its target by evading, outmanoeuvring and destroying enemy fighters. Such a performance confers the additional ability to undertake purely air combat or dog fight duties.

The Air Staff considered that type of aircraft in air staff target 403. As the House will know, it was found impossible to fund the costs of such a project in the defence forward programme at a time when the RAF was already engaged in the heaviest replacement programme since the war. Nevertheless, studies had been initiated to assess how far the development of new technology in airframes, engines and weapon systems might allow the performance targets of a future combat aircraft to be met, at what cost and in what time scale. In areas of particular challenge, technology demonstrator programmes were started to explore more accurately these new possibilities. Hon. Members may be aware of such specific programmes as fly by wire, carbon fibre structures and digital engine control.

Any aircraft project of that type is likely, however, to be beyond our own national resources unless industry is involved at all levels with particular emphasis on enhancing prospects for export sales and international collaboration. Without some major cost sharing through joint ventures with industry, both nationally and internationally, it would be impossible for the defence budget to meet unaided the heavy front end investment now associated with the new modern high technology combat aircraft.

Much consideration has been directed in the past not only to the technical demands of a new combat aircraft but also to the search for co-ordination of the similar operational requirements of other European nations and the likely demands of the wider world market. The subject has been reviewed on a number of occasions by Defence Ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany and France and their industries have jointly studied the tri-national prospects for a collaborative programme. There was early evidence that neither Germany nor France shared the United Kingdom interest in further development of the short take off and vertical landing concept, which we have so successfully pioneered in the Harrier, and it was decided therefore to meet the immediate RAF STOVL needs through joint development with America of the AV8B/Harrier mark 5, to which I referred earlier, and to draft a further air staff target—No. 410—to set performance targets to be explored for a much later advanced STOVL combat aircraft. At the same time the search for European partners for a combat aircraft continued. So far the disparity of views on details of operational performance and time scales has not identified a programme which each of us could afford, even in collaboration.

It is deceptively simple to imagine that British Aerospace, with commendable support from many others in the industry, has already found the solution to some of these problems in what it calls the P110 and that all that is missing is Government acceptance. But it was only recently, on 30 June, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State received a number of formal proposals for consideration from the chairman of British Aerospace. These are being studied with great care and many details will need to be discussed further with industry. We shall wish to examine jointly with industry the market survey and justification for export sales potential, which is a major element in its plans, together with proposals for its own financial investment.

Let me make it quite clear that there is no lack of appreciation of the industrial importance for the whole aerospace sector of timely decisions on future military aircraft requirements or that our military defence base, as I acknowledged during the defence debate, is a most valuable national asset. We applaud the initiatives being taken by industry. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to work very closely with British Aerospace and the other companies concerned, but I hope there will be widespread agreement that fundamental to any decisions must be the confidence of all concerned that it is possible to arrive at a true joint venture which will retain the design capacity at British Aerospace and that any proposal, perhaps a demonstrator programme, can be met out of existing defence budgetary allocations while work continues to find international partners and export markets. The Controller Aircraft will be discussing these vital issues with British Aerospace in the next few weeks.

I should say here that weapons are just as important as aircraft, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on several occasions. We have, of course, decided to continue with the JP 233 airfield attack weapon programme independently following the withdrawal of the United States. We are also working closely with our German partners on ASRAAM—the short range element of the next generation of advanced air-to-air missiles, which forms part of a collaborative package arrangement involving also France and the United States. We are also examining options for a defence suppression weapon and an anti-armour weapon. These systems will provide the main armament of the RAF in the late 1980s and the 1990s.

I said in closing the Royal Navy debate last Monday that even if our forces were equipped with all the most technically excellent and sophisticated weapons, this would be to no avail if we did not have, and retain, the men of the requisite calibre to man, maintain and direct them. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, when he replies, will be dealing with our recruitment and retention performance over the past year and with personnel matters in general.

However, I could not let pass the opportunity of mentioning one branch of the RAF, which is, this year, celebrating its fortieth anniversary. I refer to the RAF Regiment. During World War II the regiment fought in every major theatre of war—from the deserts of North Africa to the Normandy beaches and jungles of South-East Asia. In post-war years it has been on active duty in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Palestine, Aden, Iraq, Egypt, Borneo, Malaya and Kenya. The regiment has recently been equipped with light armoured vehicles of the Scorpion family which so distinguished themselves with the Blues and Royals during the Falkland Islands conflict.

In mentioning the Blues and Royals, perhaps I may put on record the RAF's sincere sympathy and condolences to that famous regiment for the losses and wounding that it suffered as a result of the appalling bomb incident two days ago.

Hon. Members will be aware that a squadron of the regiment went ashore at San Carlos to man the Rapier air defence systems. I should also point out that the regiment has made a particularly valuable contribution to the sales of about 450 optical units and 230 Blindfire units of the Rapier system, together with more than 13,500 rounds, by way of frequent demonstrations which has been much appreciated by British industry. I know that they have impressed potential customers with their efficiency in such displays.

As hon. Members will be aware, Rapier has been sold to the United States air force for the defence of some of its air bases in the United Kingdom. This programme is progressing well, and I believe that the United States air force is considering the procurement of further systems, possibly even extending to some of its European mainland bases. I thought that I should, at this point, say something briefly about the presence and operations of United States forces in this country, which so often come in for misinformed and misguided criticism.

There has been an American military presence in the United Kingdom for an almost unbroken period of 40 years. Since the inception of the North Atlantic Alliance in 1949, successive British Governments have agreed to and welcomed the continuing stationing of American forces at bases in the United Kingdom.

The American forces are here in the interests of our mutual security, and every effort is made to promote friendship and understanding between American Service personnel and their dependants and the local community among whom they live. The work done on a voluntary basis by Anglo-American community relations committees throughout the United Kingdom is a most valuable contribution to this. The United Kingdom provides the American forces with local support and assistance in the same way as do other NATO member countries with Allied forces in their territory. Repayment by the United States for construction and works maintenance amounted to £55 million in 1980 and 1981; in the years ahead this expenditure is expected to rise even higher as new United States construction projects are put in hand. This expenditure directly benefits the local economy by providing employment and income for British contractors and workers. The economy also benefits from the large sums spent in this country every year by the American forces—amounting to many hundreds of millions of pounds in 1981 and 1982. The employment created by the direct engagement of local people as well as the indirect employment resulting from the sums of money spent on the local economy, amounts to at least 25,000 jobs.

There are those who maintain that the presence of United States forces in this country increases Britain's chances of becoming a target in war. But to argue thus is to miss two crucial points—first, that in any conceivable conflict affecting Western Europe the facts of geography and politics would alone suffice to make Britain, inevitably, a target for attack; and, secondly, that the solidarity of the NATO Alliance as demonstrated by the presence of United States forces in the United Kingdom, and the strategy of deterrence to which those forces contribute so powerfully, are themselves our surest guarantee against the appalling eventuality of another war.

The military security of this country is dependent upon the capacity of the Alliance to deter aggression. It is essential for the success of deterrence that the Soviet Union should believe that the United States will defend Western Europe. The deployment of American forces in the United Kingdom, as in other European countries, is visible proof of the United States' readiness to identify its national security with our own and defend it.

Mr. Richard Needham (Chippenham)

Has my hon. Friend any further information about the possibility of the United States air force coming to RAF Kemble? Will he accept that, although comments have been made by some who have no connection with my constituents who live and work there, the vast majority of those who live around RAF Kemble would greatly welcome it if the United States air force decided to come?

Mr. Pattie

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has primary responsibility for this matter, has heard what my hon. Friend said. I am advised that at the moment there is nothing further that I can tell either him or the House.

The Royal Air Force is a close-knit community. It is a mutually supportive system, with each part dependent on the other for the maintenance of their role. If it is a close-knit community, however, it is not one which stands outside the wider national community. The same holds true for all our Armed Forces and I know that my hon. Friend will wish to say something about the various services which the Royal Air Force provides to the community. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the RAF is a fighting service whose professionalism and dedication have won the admiration and respect of the free world. Those were the words that I used in closing last year's debate on the RAF. Recent events in the South Atlantic have more than vindicated my faith in those words. The men of the RAF have indeed proved themselves the worthy successors of their forebears who defended our freedom in the past. The House can rightly feel proud of what has been achieved.

5.49 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

On behalf of the Opposition I join the Minister in expressing condolences to the Blues and Royals and the Green Jackets following the casualties that they suffered on Tuesday. Those were horrific incidents and they show the continuous strain and danger faced, even in their own land, by those who serve us and defend our country. We hope that the families and relatives of the dead and injured will be able to overcome the tremendous wounding that they have suffered.

This is the fourth defence debate in three weeks and it is becoming difficult to find something new to say. However, the RAF played an enormous part in the Falklands campaign and has been rather unsung, particularly in terms of air transport, the setting up of the base on Ascension Island and the ferrying of goods and services. It was, perhaps, not the most glamorous work, but the campaign could not have been carried through to success without the workhorse role carried out by the RAF. It is right for the House to pay its tribute to the RAF for that work.

I should like to consider the RAF's role in the Falklands garrison. One of the important lessons learnt from the campaign was that we could have done with airborne early warning systems. Is it intended that a Nimrod with airborne early warning should be retained in the Falklands?

Indeed, will the Nimrod production line definitely remain closed or is it likely to be reopened so that we can develop the capabilities that the Secretary of State would like to have maintained, but was unable to do because of the pressure imposed on the defence budget by the Trident programme?

Will the runway extension for the Falklands garrison be completed by the end of August? We understand that an alloy matting system will be used and that it should last for three or four years. What arrangements are being made about the permanent runway at Stanley and is there any chance that a second runway could be provided? Presumably the Hercules aircraft will not be able to operate while the runway is being extended. What will happen during that period? Will we have to depend on the strips at San Carlos, Goose Green and Darwin?

There has been much talk, but nothing official, about the dispatch of a squadron of Phantoms to be part of the Falklands garrison and to replace the Harriers that are at Stanley. May we assume that the Phantoms will be sent to the Falklands on completion of the runway extension and that HMS "Invincible" will return to home waters and other work?

I join the Under-Secretary in congratulating the RAF Regiment on its fortieth anniversary. How many squadrons of the regiment will be with the Rapiers protecting Stanley airport? It would also be helpful to know where those Phantoms will come from. Will they be sent from squadrons stationed in the United Kingdom or from RAF Germany? How will the resulting gap in NATO assignments be filled?

If we send Nimrods to the Falklands the Sea King helicopters, which have some early warning radar, will, we presume, be withdrawn. They have a temporary role and the Nimrods would be a more logical choice for the defence of the islands.

It is generally felt that the RAF will be in the Falklands for a considerable time. We should like to know how the system will work in terms of personnel and postings. Will there be a rotation of units, as we rotate units from Germany to Northern Ireland and back again? The Forces would like to have that information.

Most hon. Members were waiting to hear the Under-Secretary's comments on the P110. British Aerospace has organised a powerful lobby on this issue, but it would be wrong for the Ministry to allow itself to be stampeded into taking decisions without looking carefully at the needs of the RAF and the role that such an aircraft would play.

However, I cannot but feel some unhappiness about the large douche of cold water that the Under-Secretary poured over the project. I hope that I misinterpreted him, because the industry needs to know where the next plane is to come from. The employment and industrial considerations involved in the development of such an aircraft are of considerable importance, particularly when one bears in mind that the aircraft will be built in areas of already high unemployment, such as Lancashire.

I am not sure that I took the full meaning of what the Under-Secretary said about a pre-prototype or demonstrator model of the P110. An editorial in Flight today said that if the Government did not cough up the money the industry and its foreign collaborators could hawk round a pre-demonstrator model in the hope that money would be forthcoming for the machine to be put into production.

I do not know whether that suggestion has come from the Ministry or the industry, but it has every possible defect. It would maintain uncertainty in the industry, which would not be good for its plans, its labour force or its structure in the next decade. It would also be bad because it would demonstrate lack of support by the Ministry and the Services for the P110 project. It would be better if we knew the Government's attitude, because the industry could then come to firm conclusions about future action.

I hope that the Government will reply quickly to the industry's presentation. I appreciate that the presentation was made only last month, but I hope that discussions will start soon and that the industry's fears about the money that it has put in running out in October can be overcome.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments on the P110, which is so important to Lancashire in particular and to the aviation industry generally. Did he read the recent speech of the Chief of the Air Staff who speculated on the future of the next combat aircraft and said that he strongly recognised the need for the P110 or, as it is now called, the agile combat aircraft? Does the hon. Gentleman feel that that speech represents the strength of the commitment that he would like to see from the RAF?

Mr. McNamara

I am sure that any serving officer in any of the Services, presented with the idea of having a super, better weapon, would immediately make speeches about how much he needed that weapon and how desperate his Service was for it. Whether everyone would reach that conclusion is another matter, but I imagine that such opinions from serving officers must carry great weight.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) for giving way. While we are talking about speeches, and on the subject of the P110 project, does he recollect the speech that the Prime Minister made two years ago, just before the Farnborough air show in 1980, in which she made a strong plea for military aircraft projects to be designed with world markets in mind? Is not the P110 a project which the industry designed with a view to sales overseas, as well as to NATO forces? Does the hon. Gentleman further agree that the Prime Minister's speech bore some traces of the eloquence of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who has just spoken?

Mr. McNamara

I have a terrible confession to make to the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Lady's speeches are not my normal bedtime reading. However, what she said has been brought continuously to my attention and to the attention of all hon. Members who have any interest in the Air Force. I could almost say that it has been etched on our hearts. I am not certain that the P110 will be etched on the right hon. Lady's heart, as Calais was on Queen Mary's.

Mr. Pattie

Perhaps I could help the hon. Gentleman on the demonstrator programme, as he said that he was not clear about what I had said. It is important that we do not lose the momentum that British industry has developed, and that we do not resort to what Governments tend to do in these situations, which is to have a series of studies in a variety of directions, while nothing happens on the engineering side. The importance of a demonstrator programme, if that is what emerges, is that it is a way of building an aircraft which will test to the point of flying the various technologies that will be needed, whatever form the new aircraft takes.

Mr. McNamara

I thank the Minister for that explanation. I wonder where the money will come from for the front end funding. If the Ministry thinks that it is important to maintain the technologies, it is important to consider the industry and the allied industries in Italy and Germany—to what extent they will be funded, and to what extent the Government are prepared to put in money. That is a matter of fundamental importance, if there is to be a replacement for Jaguar before we have the advanced VSTOL.

I have shown my concern for Lancashire, the county where I was born, and I now show the same concern for Yorkshire, the county that I am happy to represent. Lest the Minister thinks that the P110 is the only aircraft that he will ever hear about, I shall now produce another, and that is the P164. This aircraft seems admirable, and something that the Minister cannot fail to want to produce. The technology is all—British, it has a great British market and a great world-wide market, as well as being a tremendous successor aircraft, and one complementary, to the Hawk.

Mr. Robert Atkins


Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman should listen to what I said. I said that it was complementary to the Hawk, and that means that the two go together. When the hon. Gentlemen had their briefing last Tuesday night, they should have listened more carefully.

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman said a "successor".

Mr. McNamara

If I said "successor", I withdraw it, but I thought I said "complementary".

In this aircraft, which was designed in Brough, where many of my constituents work, to replace the Jet Provost trainer, we have another winner, which could have an impact on training similar to that of the Hawk. If the Ministry is thinking of spending large sums of money—up to perhaps £400,000 on each aircraft—on refurbishing an old and ageing aircraft, the Jet Provost, it should give careful thought to the P164, which offers the possibility of creating a new aircraft, creating job opportunities and maintaining a lead.

I understand that discussions are going on at official level. The RAF is talking about its needs, and the industry is looking at what it can supply. I know, too, that the advanced stage of the P110 has not yet been reached. However, in my view, it is something that we shall need in the future, and we should do better to think in terms of using a jet trainer that is British manufactured, instead of being forced, perhaps at the last minute when the Jet Provosts are so clapped out that they cannot be used again, to get something quickly from the Italians or the United States. We should do better to consider the matter at this stage.

One or two other matters arise in connection with the Falklands campaign. The Minister briefly spoke about radar suppressor systems. I believe that he has invited the industry to tender, and that he has laid down the specifications. It would be good to know when he intends to reach a decision on the radar suppressor system. Again, it is important from the point of view of British industry, in terms of international markets, and it is important for the RAF to maintain its role. The Falklands campaign showed the need to do that.

I shall finish with two points. First, I wonder whether the Minister, in winding up, will tell us about the success or otherwise of the last big exercise, Priory 82, which was the NATO exercise designed to test Britain's defences. It took place last month. It was a combined operation, in which the air forces of a dozen nations took part. I hope that the Minister can tell the House the results of that exercise. They are particularly important because of the controversy that has taken place over the past few years about the air gap, and whether we have sufficient aircraft to protect our shores.

The other point is of a more domestic nature, and that is the disposal of RAF houses, and military houses generally, and the relationship with local authorities in the areas where the houses are in surplus. It is a matter of particular concern in the south-west, where houses are becoming surplus to requirements and where there are long council housing lists. The Property Services Agency, although it is selling some of the houses to the local authorities, is selling some of them to people locally, many of whom are buying them as second homes. May we be told how the selling programme is going, and whether the Property Services Agency is encouraging local councils to buy the properties?

We have taken the RAF for granted in the Falklands campaign, although it was fundamental to its success—as, indeed, was co-operation between all the Services. Despite all that we say about targets, weapons systems and platforms, the plane is no better than the pilot who flies it. If we have superbly trained pilots, we should supply them with the best possible aircraft and weapon systems.

6.8 pm

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

First, I must declare an interest. I have spent about 25 years in the defence and electronics industries. That declaration is one of particular pride to me, having seen some of that equipment performing so well in the hands of our splendid pilots over the Falkland Islands.

I want to talk about three subjects in connection with the Royal Air Force: first, the Ministry of Defence as a public purchaser for the defence of the public; secondly, the cost of those purchases; and, thirdly, how we can improve the use of our money and technology to meet the threats that are constantly and frequently changing faster than our programmes are completed.

The principal cause of my concern is the pace of development and delivery of equipment to the Royal Air Force. I welcome the second report of the Select Committee on Defence that was published today. I had the honour to be called before that Select Committee to give evidence on 10 March. Frankly, I would have hoped for a much more radical report, having been through the evidence of those who appeared before the Committee. Indeed, I would have hoped that it might have questioned the need for the Ministry of Defence procurement executive. It employs 43,000 people, of whom 25,000 are engaged on research and 18,000 on the purchase of defence equipment for all the Services

The 25,000 people in research are easily the best pool of technical talent in Western Europe. They are certainly equal to anything that one can possibly find in the United States of America or the Soviet Union. However, in terms of butter mountains and wine lakes, that ocean of talent in those research establishments could be far more usefully deployed in the industries that are trying to supply equipment to the Royal Air Force and the other Services.

There are constant advertisements in the public and technical press for people of scientific quality and calibre. However, one knows that those people are already inside research establishments, unable to get out because of problems of non-transferable pension schemes and doubts as to whether they will be allowed to return to Government service after having served in industry. I should like to see a freer flow there. Those research establishments should be able to advise industry and industry should be able to show that it has qualities that can lead research establishment engineers as well.

My principal concern is the procurement executive. I find from parliamentary questions that my hon. Friends have kindly answered during the past 12 months that only 2,000 of its personnel come from the Services. The end users are not represented among the great swarm of elegant and, I am sure, well-intentioned and kind bureaucrats.

Looking at the evidence given to the Select Committee—the Select Committee said that it hoped that the Ministry of Defence would proceed with the Fisher report—one sees that it touched only tentatively on the basic problem of what the procurement executive's 18,000 staff do.

The principle problem is that most of them have no authority to act on their own. There is no delegation of authority to a level that is commonplace in industry. In my industrial experience, that means that individuals perform far beyond that which they might have thought themselves capable of had they not been given the opportunity.

When my right hon. and hon. Friends have read the Select Committee's report, I hope that they will consider being more daring, rather than combining committees, such as the operational requirements committee and the defence equipment procurement committee, all of which are essentially deputies and none of which is allowed to make a decision. We would then be able to move more clearly towards a point where resources could be effectively used.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)

I am sure that we shall all consider my hon. Friend's valuable suggestion. I have read the report that has been published today. It acknowledges—I am sure that my hon. Friend would, too—that we have been trying to push responsibility for cash much further down in the organisation so that people at lower levels have responsibility for spending money. I am sure that my hon. Friend would welcome that change.

Mr. Warren

Certainly, I welcome it enormously. I am glad that my right hon. Friend intervened on that point. However, if he looked at the evidence given to the Select Committee on 20 January this year by the Society of British Aerospace Companies, he would notice that in paragraph 483 the chairman of the society said that the chairman of the defence equipment policy committee is the chief scientific adviser, but that, once a decision has been taken by that committee, that gentleman has no more authority in terms of seeing how the project, for which he was responsible for giving the decision as chairman, proceeds.

It is in that context that I should like to see responsibility for money forced down. In addition, people should know that their heads are on the block in terms of future prospects and promotion, because they have the responsibility to deliver the goods on time and at the right price.

I do not want to dwell too much on the report that has been published today, but I was disappointed to see that, although it acknowledged that money came in and was subsequently allocated, there was nothing in that report, nor, I suspect, in the Ministry of Defence—I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish to assure me that I am wrong—to show that the resources equate with the threats.

Furthermore, when there is an out of balance situation, as is almost inevitable—the threat will be either greater or less than the resources allocated to it—there should be a feedback system which, within the lifetime of the project, will rapidly attempt to trim the ability of the resource to meet the threat as the threat changes.

When I looked at the Ministry of Defence procurement executive chart, which was deployed in the Select Committee by my hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 11 November 1981 in the company of Sir David Cardwell—his recent death is, I am sure, regretted by everybody because he gave valuable service to the Ministry of Defence—the first thing that struck me was that it was right until I realised that it was printed sideways.

If one looks at the whole of the procurement executive organisation, one finds that it tends to serve itself rather than the Services, which are off on the side. That is what made me question whether the procurement executive was necessary.

I want to look now at the concept of collaboration which has been espoused by my hon. Friend this afternoon and, indeed, has frequently been referred to in the Select Committee report and outside the House. There is the eternal problem that collaboration is understood in industry but misunderstood in the Ministry of Defence. It worries me that, even now, it has crept into the Select Committee's report.

The report, in paragraph 117, states: We consider that, because of costs, no one European country is likely to be able in future to produce some kinds of advanced new equipment. British Aerospace, for example, must look for partners to help finance the P110 aircraft project because the United Kingdom market alone cannot support it. Paragraph 132 states: The Tornado project"— a collaborative project— has experienced overruns in cost of development, unit production cost and in time scale. These are perhaps not unexpected in a programme of this size and complexity operated by three nations in collaboration. In other words, the Committee is arguing against the concept of collaboration in the second part and promoting it in the first part. That is after it has taken evidence from the procurement executive which, in August 1977, in a memorandum to industry, said that the concept of collaboration was not valid at all. A document that was produced at that time by the Ministry of Defence and sent to industry stated that the UK's total costs"— in terms of what was expected on the AST403— in a collaborative programme were within 10 per cent. of the cost if the UK designed, devloped and manufactured 300 of exactly the same aircraft. I am extremely worried that we should think that collaboration is the only way to get a project and to put that project into service in the Royal Air Force. That is not true. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who appears in his guise today as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State, is a man of great talent. He is the rapporteur of the Western European Union's Committee on Scientific, Technological and Aerospace Questions, of which I at one time had the honour to be chairman. In his report on a recent colloquy in London he said that the F-16 presents "a form of collaboration which should not be lightly dismissed". The problem is that the word "collaboration" is bandied about without considering exactly what is involved.

In the case of the F-16, four Western European nations collaborated, at the incitement and amazing success of the seller, General Dynamics in the United States, to purchase the aircraft. Yet none of the pilots of any of those four nations had flown the aircraft before the decision was taken to buy it. Furthermore, having been bought, it was found to cost twice the amount the Americans had quoted. So we have to be terribly careful about our concepts of words, such as "collaboration", which creep into our everyday defence language and cost us more money than we would ever dream of spending. One industrial manufacturer, working on the Tornado programme, old me that his black, boxes in the Tornado are now costing him three times as much as they would if he were trying to make them on his own.

The magic word "money" is not properly analysed in defence terms. It has been said that if we spend 3 per cent. more in real terms in a year, we shall be building up to what NATO expects of us, and that if we could spend only 1 per cent. More—4 per cent.—we would have all the defence systems that we need in Britain. That means that if, instead of spending 103 per cent., we spent 104 per cent., everything would be all right. Looked at in those terms, it is clearly nonsense.

People in the United States who have analysed the problem, and writers in The Economist here, have said that they would have thought it was possible within the Ministry of Defence to achieve economies of about 10 to 15 per cent. through better public purchasing. So within the Ministry of Defence, on an equipment budget which is a very large sector of the total defence budget, there should be a possibility of generating the extra defence we need by more effective public purchasing.

In the Falklands operation, what was quite startling from an industrial point of view was the ability of industry, when the procurement executive was taken out of its hair, to deliver goods and services at a rate which was unprecedented to meet the demands of our pilots in the Falklands.

I give as an example the modification kits which went from British Aerospace to the Harrier force operating off the Falklands. During the Falklands operation, British Aerospace supplied 4,000 kits of spares against what would have been expected to be 1,500 kits in the same time scale. It also supplied 300 modification kits against an expected rate of 15 to 20 in that time scale.

Those were brave actions. I hope that the Minister, in replying to the debate, will recognise—as his hon. Friend did in opening the debate—the tremendous efforts made by the workers in the British aerospace industry to support our pilots and our forces in the Falklands. The end result of those efforts was to produce in the Sea Harrier, for example, a readiness rate on the carriers off the Falklands that was three times better than the United States navy is currently able to achieve in peacetime on its own carriers with all their sophisticated support.

I hope that foreign buyers, in looking at our products, will now realise that they should stop wasting their time buying silly things such as Mirages, which are easy to shoot down when one has good British Harriers. Secondly, I hope that we shall have the courage to face the fact that we were a little silly not to work out how to defend ourselves against the simple missile called the Exocet.

With regard to what the British aerospace industry was able to do in support of the Falklands operation, I am proud to say that in Hastings, two companies, Computing Devices and Helleman Deutsch, have produced excellent results and their workers deserve every praise, but when those companies and all the others in the British aerospace industry look at what they are getting out of their efforts, it is another matter altogether. I know that profit is a naughty word among Opposition Members—so few of whom are here today—but I ask the Ministry of Defence to consider the rate of return which is now available, and from which new investment can be made, among the companies working on defence projects.

The profit that is being achieved by companies in Britain is between 3 and 6 per cent. Companies in Britain working on Ministry of Defence contracts and making a profit of 6 per cent. tell me that, in supplying the same equipment from the same production line to the United States, they are not only turning it out more cheaply but making a bigger profit. It is remarkable that, by better production control and better public purchasing by the United States air force, the company is able to achieve a 15 per cent. profit, yet it gets only 6 per cent. when supplying the same equipment to the Ministry of Defence. That is a symptomatic problem that the Secretary of State might discuss with his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whereas 20 years ago the return on investment in Government stock was about 2½ per cent., it is now about 12 per cent., and the reverse has happened in industry. Anyone with cash is far better off giving it to the Government to spend for him than putting it into industry. There is a general problem that the lack of profit in industry is hindering new investment.

I should like to put forward some ideas on how we can do better and get to much-needed projects, such as the P110, at minimum expense and with a minimum of hassle. I think there is a concept in the Ministry of Defence purchasing organisation that one cannot have fixed price contracts because they are likely to give people too big a chance to make profit, or too dangerous a chance to make a big loss, to the detriment of the company concerned and the Ministry of Defence. I do not believe that that is true. I ask the Secretary of State and his colleagues to look at the problem, because fixed price contracts are readily given to those who bid from overseas into Britain.

It is extraordinary that the constraints which are put on home suppliers are not put on overseas suppliers to the Ministry of Defence. As regards missiles supplied for use by the Royal Air Force in Britain none of the procurement has to go through the ordance board as a prerequisite to acceptance, yet that august body has an absolute veto on the life and death of British projects. In saying that, I am quoting a director of a company in Britain which makes missiles for supply to the Ministry of Defence.

What is necessary in terms of defence contracts is control not so much over money as over time. If the time can be shortened, the price drops. I fear that the Ministry of Defence has learnt that to its cost, and to the public cost in terms of stretching the Tornado programme. When the unit cost goes up, the total cost of the programme goes up.

In looking at the future needs of the Royal Air Force, one is first confronted by a lack of air staff targets. Today there has been reference to the P110 and the P164 projects. It is worth looking at what British Aerospace has proposed in regard to both projects. There is a need to replace the Phantom by 1990. It says that it will take eight years to carry out the research and development to get those aircraft into service. It also says that the Provost will need to be replaced by 1995, and I agree with that, but it says that it will take six years to get into service the aircraft that it wants to propose. That means that the Phantom replacement would have to be ordered this year and that the Provost replacement would have had to be ordered in 1979, so there is a real problem there. Not only is there a lack of air staff targets; but it is impossible, even on British Aerospace timetables, to get the answers that we want. I believe that it can be done.

In considering the Tornado, I have looked at two somewhat similar American projects, the F15 and F16. The Tornado was started one year before the F15, but the F15 was in service six years earlier than the Tornado. The F16 was ordered two years later than the Tornado, yet it was in service 18 months before the Tornado. The unit costs are strictly comparable one with the other in pounds per aircraft weight, but in terms of the ability to get there on time it is a matter of management and of delegating—exactly the kind of delegation that the Secretary of State has said he wants to see in the Ministry of Defence—but delegating that authority outside the Ministry of Defence and down into the aircraft companies, which can then be made directly responsible for the projects.

In order to appreciate the problem of delivery time constraining decisions, one has only to consider the quotation that I gave about the cost of collaboration. In 1977 it was stated that the AST403 would be only 10 per cent. more expensive if collaboration did not take place. Those are Ministry of Defence figures. What I did not quote was that that estimate was based on us starting in 1980, and now we are three years on from that date. I hope that we can move faster towards air staff targets.

How can we solve the problem? The construction of demonstrators is the best way forward, and that would accord with what Admiral Fisher said before the First World War: Build few and build fast, the next one better than the last. The resources and the spirit of the Sidney Cams, the Mitchells and the Barnes Wallises are alive, but not very well in the British aerospace industry. We must get those demonstrators in the air to show what can be done.

Demonstrators are not a pre-Second World War concept. One demonstrator programme was the F16 in the United States of America, more than 1,000 of which have now been built. The F16 cost only £20 million to build, including the cost of the engines, which were a free issue. They got two aircraft in the air for £20 million, and they did it in exactly the same way as Lockheed worked on the U2, the SR71 and the Stealth aircraft. The method was to limit the number of people to 50 or 60 of the best engineers, who were given a tight time scale of 18 months to two years and told "Put it in the sky—or you are fired—and then you have got a contract". The words in the dashes may be used in the United States.

The target can be achieved not only by giving incentives to those people but in terms of cost. The reason why the American demonstrator programmes are so cheap is that they are conducted outside the normal company overheads structure. In Britain, aircraft production overheads are about 400 per cent. In the United States, they would be allowed to reach only 120 per cent. of the cost of production, so the programme is automatically cheaper. If the Ministry of Defence said to the British aerospace industry "Here is £50 million. We want two aeroplanes, but we want them in two years and you can have the engines free", one could visit Warton, see the doors open and the aeroplanes would be rolled out on time. The company would not risk failing to reach the Ministry of Defence target if it is a clearly defined one.

In order to meet the air staff targets, we must have those aeroplanes. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked about the penetration capability of Tornados. The United States of America has conducted studies of both the Tornado and the Jaguar and found that under the current threats that prevail in Eastern Europe, the Jaguar would have a 50 per cent. survival chance and the Tornado about 30 per cent. We are up against threats that are changing very quickly. I am sure that we can meet them, and we are acting to improve the survival capability.

However, we are not deploying the technical staff resources between the industry, the Ministry of Defence and, above all, the Royal Air Force that could meet the problems. We must match our natural aerospace talent to our national defence needs. From our experience of the Falklands, we know that our pilots will always do the rest for us.

6.33 pm
Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

This year's debate on the Royal Air Force was helped greatly by the Minister's opening speech in which he mentioned many vitally important equipment matters. I shall follow him along that road. I join the Minister in paying tribute to the RAF Regiment on its fortieth anniversary. From what I have seen of the regiment, I have no doubt that it is a crack regiment and that a young man looking for an exciting and honourable career could do no better than to enlist in the RAF, with its developing history, great expertise and dedication. I. wish the regiment well for the future.

I also join the Minister in expressing my support for the United States air force. During the three and a quarter years that I served at the Ministry of Defence I had nothing but the fullest co-operation from that force, which goes out of its way to fit neatly into our society and to cause no trouble. We cannot pay enough tribute to its officers and men for the way in which they conduct themselves in Britain, nor can we say enough about the vital role that it plays, by being stationed in Britain, in the preservation of our peace and freedom. I hope that the force remains with us for as long as the need remains.

Much has been said recently about the importance of the Navy, but we must not forget the vital role of air power in the Falklands and in any future conflict. It is highly mobile and adaptable and can bring concentrated force to bear at the time and place that it is needed. That inherent flexibility must be borne in mind by successive Governments when considering the allocation of resources to defence.

We must not underestimate the courage and professionalism of the pilots on long-range flights, whose aeroplanes must be refuelled in mid-air in order to reach the point where they deliver their weapons or cargo. While I was with the RAF I flew once in a refuelling aircraft. To insert the small refuelling probe into the drone requires great expertise and cool nerve. It put the wind up me. Thank goodness that it does not put the wind up those who must do it daily. I also pay tribute to the men who faced the enormous navigational problems of a vast ocean such as the South Atlantic. It is difficult to arrive on time and to locate the refuelling aircraft. Always there is the sure knowledge that if one has made an error or something has gone wrong one cannot make an emergency landing on a nearby airstrip, but will have to ditch into the sea, where the chances of survival are not great.

Perhaps the Minister could say something about the anxiety that the Port Stanley airfield was not put out of action by the Vulcan raids. There may also halve been a failure in some weapons systems in the attacks on the Falkland Islands radar installations, not all of which went well. The House is entitled to know a little of what happened and, if something went wrong, to know what is being done to put it right.

My next few remarks may be considered to be controversial. I noticed in The Daily Telegraph on 15 July a report of a speech by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Beetham. It is a matter of great regret to me that the Chief of the Air Staff has entered into political controversy by making a political criticism of the previous Labour Government. Sir Michael criticised the Labour Government for not extending the Port Stanley runway. I would have thought that a wise chief of staff, knowing that an inquiry had been established to investigate all the circumstances leading up to the Falklands issue, might have considered that it was better to leave such questions to the inquiry rather than indulging in politically controversial statements.

As the Chief of the Air Staff has made a political comment, I am sure that he will not mind if I extend a political invitation to him. Perhaps he will devote a few moments in his next political speech to spelling out whether he foresaw the need for the Port Stanley airport to be extended, whether he informed Labour Ministers of that requirement and whether he has pressed during the past three years for the Government to extend the Port Stanley airfield. It is a bit of a cheek when senior officers, particularly an officer of the rank of Chief of the Air Staff, make political comments when they are not answerable to Parliament for their own actions.

I regret that I have had to raise this matter but I believe that senior officers and chiefs of staff should keep out of the political arena. If they put their foot in it, they cannot complain if someone responds.

I should like to refer to a number of issues that the Minister touched upon. The first is the vital issue of United Kingdom air defence. The Minister read out a long list of improvements that have taken place. Like most informed hon. Members, he knows that almost all the items had either been decided or were in the pipeline during periods of office of successive Administrations. It is a little dodgy for any Administration to claim too much credit for what are partly the efforts of previous Governments over the past 10 to 15 years.

Nonetheless, there is a grave imbalance between the threat posed to the United Kingdom by Warsaw Pact air forces and the United Kingdom air defence capability. It appears to me that there are fewer fighter aircraft defending Britain today than at the time when the Government took office three years ago. No amount of window-dressing in relation to other improvements in the United Kingdom air defence environment can hide the harsh fact that there are fewer fighter aircraft able to take off and to defend the skies of this country.

I wonder what the Minister meant by his reference to the running on of Phantom squadrons. It is my recollection that the Phantoms were due to continue in service in the Royal Air Force until the late 1980s and possible the early 1990s. Does he mean by "running on" that it is intended they should run on beyond the early 1990s? Has the investigation into the fatigue life of the Phantoms reassured the Minister that this is a possibility? It is no good trying to persuade the House and the country that the Government are filling this dangerous gap in our air defences by running on the Phantoms for a period longer than that already proposed by the Ministry in previous plans. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, in his reply, will explain what his hon. Friend meant by "running on" two Phantom squadrons and whether this means that they will be in existence for much longer than originally planned.

Mr. Pattie

Following the plan to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, there was a change of plan which envisaged that the Phantoms, after the introduction of the Tornado F2, rather than running on, could run out. The running on of the Phantoms, which is a change, not in the hon. Gentleman's plan, but in our previous plan, means that there will be more aircraft available than would otherwise have been the case.

Mr. Wellbeloved

That is a helpful answer. It provides some reassurance. The Government reversed some proposals that would have enabled these extra aircraft to be available to defend Britain. I am therefore delighted that the Minister has returned now to the sensible proposals that he inherited.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

What worries me is not the running on of the aircraft but the quality of the aircraft that will be flying longer. We had to live through this experience in the Battle of Britain. A very difficult concept is being advanced.

Mr. Wellbeloved

It was for this reason that I mentioned research into aircraft fatigue. I am sure that the Minister will be able to answer the point put by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) when he replies to the debate.

I wish to refer to one or two equipment matters. The first test flight of VC10 tankers has taken place. I should like to know from the Minister why the conversion programme seems to have slipped. It is an important programme. As the Minister has remarked, refuelling tankers are great force multipliers. When one considers the terrible position in respect of fighter aircraft, one has the knowledge at least that the provision of tankers will increase the combat air patrol capability of existing fighters.

The Nimrod airborne early warning programme is also vital, especially as the Shackleton aircraft is now well beyond the stage in which it can be effective in an AEW environment. This programme was due to come into service in 1983. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm the date. In the White Paper, it is stated that the Nimrod AEW "should" enter service next year. That is a worrying word. It must enter service on the due date. Airborne early warning is a vital element in our air defence environment.

The Minister said little about radar coverage for the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom air defence region. There are still some serious gaps in our radar coverage. I hope that the plans that the Government have implemented and the plans that they inherited are speedily closing those gaps. The radar re-equipment programme, according to the White Paper, is well in hand. I hope that the Minister will be able to say how far the AST 888 has advanced. That the position is serious is shown by the development of the Soviet Backfire bomber that has the ability to approach and to attack the United Kingdom base from almost any direction. We are entitled to some reassurance from the Minister that the new radar is ECM resistant.

It would also be interesting to know about progress on the high frequency wave resistant radars that were being discussed in aviation circles a few years ago.

The White Paper states that two transportable radars have been ordered. We need more than two. I hope the Minister can say that essential radars that were programmed as a matter of urgency are in position in those areas, especially in the south-west where they will be vital. If they are not now in position, it means that the Government must have been tardy in the past three years in carrying out this essential re-equipment programme.

The Minister referred to the Sidewinder AIM 9L. I am concerned about that, and about the Sky Flash. I should like some reassurance, and the House is entitled to some reassurance, about whether our missile stocks are up to the NATO war reserve requirements—or are we still below those critical levels? This is a vital issue and the Government must give these assurances.

The Minister did not mention hardened facilities, but I hope that the hardened shelter programme, which is due to be completed in 1983, is well on schedule, and that all our planned hardened shelters will be in operation in due time. What has happened about other plans for hardening facilities such as the ground control and central equipment? I hope that, although not necessarily tonight, the Minister will be kind enough to let me know, perhaps by letter, how the rapid runway repair developments are progressing, I should also appreciate some up-to-date comments on the position of the NBC.

I shall not spend much time on the P110, but I am appalled that the decision on the AST 403 has gone out of the window. I remember being pressed hard by hon. Members who now sit on the Government Benches about the AST 403. It is a tragedy that no action has been taken. I had a letter from the Minister only in June 1980 reassuring me that the matter was rapidly moving forward to fruition, talks on collaboration were reaching a climax, and things would soon be sorted out.

All that has now gone out of the window. We still do not have the AST 403 anywhere near fruition. That was designed to replace the Harrier and Jaguar. I am delighted that the Harrier replacement is taken out. It is essential that the Harrier capacity is retained and developed as a distinct and separate thing from any other future aircraft requirements.

I hope that the Minister and the Government will not leave the country, in another three of four years, bewildered by the lack of a decision on future combat aircraft. It is essential that fast progress is made.

In the few moments left in the short speech that I have tried to make—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have had one or two interruptions, which has lengthened my speech. There are several essential priorities in the development of air force equipment. I have no doubt that sensors, and particularly communications networks, must be ECM resistant, and must be in hardened shelters. I hope that the Government will spend money on research to ensure that that is so.

As to the heavy use of United Kingdom air space in the time of tension or war, considerable effort will have to be made to develop an effective identification friend and foe system. That will be vital in the congestion of our air space that we expect in times of trouble, and will need to be compatible with other nations' aircraft systems. There is no doubt that the development of electronic warfare weapons must rank high in the priorities of the RAF. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that that development is going on.

The development of the next generation of RAF transport aircraft must be being considered by the Ministry. I hope that it will give priority to the development of the short take-off and landing capacity for transport aircraft, and ensure that the floors are strengthened in transport aircraft design so that they will have a roll-on/roll-off capability. The Ministry should be pressing civil air companies to ensure that new aircraft that are developed in the civil fleet have strengthened floors to enable their rapid conversion for military uses, should the need arise.

In the future, all developments of front-line aircraft, and training aircraft, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), should have a war role and should be properly armed with either short or medium-range missiles, so that they can combine some self-protection, as well as a limited offence capacity, with their main role, whether transport or rotary wing aircraft.

I have no doubt that the Ministry will be developing ideas about the next generation of missiles, with multi-target engagement capability, which will be a requirement of new missiles. That may be achieved by an improved Sky Flash, or it may be necessary to have fresh development of a new missile. I have no doubt that the missiles of the future, whether carried by aircraft or on SAMs, must have a multi-engagement capability, both at medium-low and very low levels. That is an essential development for the future.

There is danger in concentrating high value assets on too limited a number of sites. This applies not only to the Air Force but to the Royal Navy, if I may refer to the Royal Navy in an RAF debate. The proposals to concentrate essential dockyard facilities, for instance, in a more limited number of dockyards means that we are running an enormous risk and putting these essential high-value assets at an unnecessary risk. The same applies to the Air Force and we must look in the future for an RAF capability that can work off established airfields in dispersed circumstances for maintenance, refuelling and rearming in its war role. Airfields are primary targets, so the RAF must have that dispersal capability.

The Armed Forces, in the Falklands, Northern Ireland and other parts of the world in which they are called on to uphold the interests of the United Kingdom, have shown their courage and professionalism. In the Falklands, once again, our Service men have had to pay the price of failures at the top. I pay tribute to the part that the Royal Air Force played in the Falklands war. I know, as do the Minister and the House, that we can look to the RAF to play its full part in whatever responsibilities are placed on it by the Government of the day.

The Armed Forces, and the RAF in particular, have not failed us in any time of need, and the least that we can do as politicians is to ensure that we do not fail them by denying them the equipment that they require to carry out their responsibilities.

7 pm

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) has been a Minister responsible for the Royal Air Force, and the general tenor of his remarks was that the Royal Air Force should be strengthened and modernised. In that connection, I make two proposals to the Minister.

My first suggestion is that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force should be expanded and given a flying role. I was delighted to see that on 1 July my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said: we shall examine, if this proves possible, whether the Wessex 5 helicopters with the TA reinforcing division might be flown by pilots of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force thereby giving RAF reservists a flying role again."—[Official Report, 1 July 1982; Vol.26, c.1061.] I welcome that statement warmly.

My hon. Friend will be aware that in 1957 the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were disbanded and that the force was reduced to three maritime headquarter units at Northwood, Pitreavie and Plymouth. These units were deployed to support the regular operational centres so that, in times of intensive operations when a higher than usual manning level was called for, they could operate to the full.

All this was extremely useful. But Royal Auxiliary Air Force officers were disappointed that they lost their flying role. It is relevant that in 1975 the vice-chairman of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve Council, Air-Vice Marshal Johnstone, made proposals to inaugurate a Royal Auxiliary Air Force presence in the Royal Air Force's search and rescue operations organisation. He suggested, on the grounds of economy, that it might be possible to infiltrate Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel into some of the search and rescue squadrons gradually by training up crews to certain standards to take over from their regular counterparts during weekends and holidays.

I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend's proposal goes even further than that. In the interests of those highly experienced Royal Air Force pilots who enter civilian life and wish to remain Royal Auxiliary Air Force pilots, I hope that my hon. Friend will look carefully at this proposal, as there seems to be a case for having at least one Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron and eventually, I hope, Scottish, English and Welsh helicopter squadrons which could have either a transport and support role or a search and rescue role. I hope that this matter will be pursued resolutely.

My second proposal to the Minister concerns the P110. Although I welcome all that my hon. Friend said, as far as it went, I hope that he will in due course be able to go a little further and commit the Government to helping with financial resources for the development of a prototype.

I raised this matter with my hon. Friend four and a half months ago. Since then, there has been support for it from both sides of the House and from trade unionists, including the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions' aerospace committee and, I might add to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, also Sir Michael Beetham. In this context, I welcome what he said, because he dealt specifically with the military aspect of the P110. He was reported in The Daily Telegraph on 15 July as saying that the new attack fighter could be just the aircraft that the RAF would need for an "out of area" role which Phantoms were to undertake in the Falklands. He went on to say that the Royal Air Force wanted a ground attack aircraft with a good air combat capability to replace the Jaguar.

It seems altogether correct that Sir Michael should have come to this view. As a single-seat fighter, the P110 can be likened to the Spitfire in its time, being both agile and speedy. It is vital for Britain's security. Much of its development would provide British Aerospace and other associated companies with the modern technology and design capability to produce the supersonic Harrier to meet air staff target No. 410. As we all know, the Harrier has abundantly proved its worth in the battle for the Falklands.

I am aware that occasionally detractors ask what is the use of having a modern defence industry. I was glad that the Defence Estimates said robustly that defence equipment expenditure supported directly 240,000 jobs in British industry and another 190,000 indirectly and that sales of defence equipment created another 140,000 jobs. It went on to say that defence sales transactions this year would reach the figure of £1,800 million.

In the case of the P110, developing it on a collaborative basis with Germany and Italy seems to have a great deal of merit. I believe that the actual number of jobs involved in the 1990s could be in the region of 40,000 and that there would be thousands of jobs more immediately at stake. In the absence of this project, the military division of British Aerospace would experience a savage contraction, and undoubtedly there would be adverse consequences for technology.

Of necessity, the defence industry encourages and generates the need to keep abreast of advanced technology, and the generation of sophisticated equipment which would be missed if this project did not go through would mean initiating the disintegration of highly qualified teams which, if allowed to continue, could be irrevocable.

I ask Ministers to give favourable consideration to providing financial support for the construction of a prototype. In due course, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able, in a collaborative venture, to come forward with a Royal Air Force order for the P110.

Ministers deserve to be congratulated on all the support that they gave the Armed Forces during the Falklands conflict. In some ways, we find that we do not as a country crow or boast about victories. Too often we go to the opposite extreme and eulogise such disgraceful disasters as the charge of the Light Brigade. But I suggest that my right hon. and hon. Friends share fully the credit with our Armed Forces for the splendid victory.

I hope that in due course the Government can support my two proposals to expand the Royal Auxiliary Air Force by giving it a flying role and also by helping to fund the construction of a prototype P110 and proceed with it. If they can, it will be extremely good news for the Armed Services.

7.7 pm

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I shall take up the detailed points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) later in my remarks. First, I want to take the Minister down memory lane.

At the outset of the war, the hon. Gentleman was three years of age. I want to talk about three aircraft which were in service then. He has probably never heard of them, or perhaps as a child he had models of them. There was the Fairy Battle, the Miles Master and the Gloster Gladiator.

Mr. Robert Atkins

What about the Brabazon?

Mr. Carter-Jones

That came much later, I might point out to that young man. I am talking about 1939. Those were three of our front-line aircraft and they were operated by first-class aircrew. They were flying aircraft, but were not fit to be flown in conditions of war in 1939.

The Minister must bear in mind that he is the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement. At that time, we also had two of the best aircraft in the world. I refer to those two superb aircraft, the Spitfire and the Hurricane. They were not paper aircraft. They were real. There is a marked difference between having a plan on paper and producing what we did not have in 1939 and 1940 in the Battle of Britain. We did not have enough of them, but at least they had been produced and we could repeat production. The Minister of Aircraft Production in those days did extremely well. They were produced in sufficient numbers, but the Battle of Britain was a very close-run thing.

In my view, if we go to the trouble of training aircrew, we have to make sure that they get the best aircraft available for the time at which they are flying. It was dreadfully unfair in 1939 to have men flying Fairy Battles and Gloster Gladiators when there should have been more Spitfires.

Towards the end of the war, I flew what was probably one of the best aircraft produced. I was a navigator flying in Mosquito night fighters. They were superb aircraft. They were not paper aircraft. In fact, they were made of wood, but with superb engines and a good airframe, and they ended up with superb radar equipment, the Mark X AI.

A point comes when an aircraft can be stretched to do more than was intended. As I listened to the Minister talking about what was to happen in the 1990s, my impression was that he was talking about stretching aircraft which are now flying beyond their capabilities. He will have to watch that extremely carefully.

I remember seeing the flying bedstead after the war. It was the first time that we saw an aircraft take off vertically, and we were all surprised. It became the Harrier, and we all know what the Harrier can do. It is an extremely capable aircraft, but because of advancing technology, it has a limited life. The Minister knows its limitations.

In the Falklands we showed what could be done with superb aircraft and aircrew. It was a close-run thing. We did not have many spares. We were lucky that we had good servicing; otherwise matters might have turned out differently.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West referred to the P110. It is no good the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement trying to sell the P110. He is not a salesman. Incidentally, if he manages to sell that aircraft, so much the better. The Minister has a responsibility to procure a first-class aircraft for the 1990s for our first-class aircrews. But there lies the important question. From 1930 through the 1950s and 1960s the aircraft industry showed and gave the Royal Air Force what it needed. The Minister must recognise now that the RAF needs British aircraft. Sometimes we decry our ability. I do not want to see British technology lost. I am not keen on complete integration and collaboration with other countries. We have wasted too many of our skills and resources in that way. The P110 is a great concept, and the Minister has a first-class opportunity to make use of existing technology to provide for 1990 onwards.

Somebody took decisions in the early 1930s that led to us having Spitfires later. We were lucky to have efficient pilots. I have no doubt that in 1990 we shall have efficient pilots. But is the Minister sure that we shall have the right aircraft? Time and technology move on. I do not want someone in the 1990s—I think that I shall be young and fit enough myself—to say to the Minister "You made a mistake in 1982, mate, when you decided not to order that aircraft." It will then be too late. The P110 is a paper aircraft, and paper aircraft do not fly. When paper aircraft are turned into reality, they become proper defence weapons.

I end with three questions. Is the Minister saying that we shall not be using fighter aircraft in the late 1990s? I do not believe that he is. I believe that the Minister wants to see British pilots in British aircraft in the 1990s. What aircraft will those pilots be flying? I warned the Minister that an aircraft can be stretched too far. One can go from mark Ito mark IV, but there is a limit to the number of modifications that can be made to an aircraft. In 1940, the Spitfire was the finest aircraft in the world. The Mosquito was the finest night fighter in the world in 1944. Those aircraft could not cope with the present MIG fighters, and it would be absurd to suggest that they could. The Minister must realise that in the 1990s and 2000s there will be new aircraft to be faced. I do not believe that the Minister has made provision for that.

Will the Minister decide to buy aircraft from another country? If we depend on that, we shall have to have what they allow us at their price. Those other countries may have acquired our technology in the past and we may not be able to replace that loss. I urge the Minister to support a new aircraft, such as the P110, to preserve our technology. No other country builds fighter aircraft without Government support. The Minister knows that British Aerospace is strained to the limit by the airbus and the HS146. There is no money left to produce a new aircraft.

The Minister is an old friend of mine. A junior Minister resigned because of a disagreement on naval matters. He turned out to be right. I do not want the Minister to resign. He must face the problem that we are discussing. The Treasury does not fly aircraft. It passes notes. The Minister must take Treasury officials by the scruff of the neck and say "The Royal Air Force is entitled to the best aircraft possible now and in the 1990s." It is the Minister's job to see that the Royal Air Force gets those aircraft.

7.16 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). We seem to be of the same aircrew vintage. It was good to hear the names of some of the aircraft one used to fly having an airing in the House. The hon. Member for Eccles made two valid points, upon which I should like to compliment him. First, he spoke of the danger of stretching aircraft too far. Over the years one is always hearing that new modifications are being brought in. They add weight and reduce performance. That never works in the long run.

Secondly, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman—it is emerging as an important point in the debate—that early decisions must be made about aircraft for the Royal Air Force. The P110 is the most important of those aircraft. When we talk about aircraft that we should love to see flying now, I wonder what the hon. Member thinks about the scrapping of TSR2, which was the biggest aircraft disaster since the war. We lost a remarkable aeroplane.

Too often, when we have these debates on the Royal Air Force, we talk about highly sophisticated equipment—missiles and communications systems—and great policy decisions. We forget that the Royal Air Force is not an impersonal collection of hardware but consists of men and women—pilots, ground crew, technicians and headquarters staff. It is as personal and integrated as any Army battalion or ship's company. We underestimate the importance of the officers and men and women of the Royal Air Force who do such a fine job each day for us.

During the Falkland debate I paid a handsome tribute to the Government's decision and achievement in sending the task force to sea so quickly. I congratulated the task force on everything it achieved in the Falklands. It is fortunate that so many men have returned safe and well. Again, the nation underestimated the RAF's importance in that operation. Its participation was tremendous and varied. The number and type of aircraft and helicopters involved show that. The pilots and aircrew deserve especial praise, which they would gladly share with the Fleet Air Arm. More than 2,000 operational flights were carried out from the aircraft carriers and that was a triumph in itself and a great tribute to the engineers who maintained a 90 per cent. serviceability rate.

We have blandly spoken about flight refuelling, but few realise the tremendous airmanship necessary to achieve flight refuelling to the RAF's standard of perfection. The modifications to our aircraft were carried out extremely quickly and that enabled the Hercules and Vulcans to fly enormous distances in the South Atlantic. I must stress the importance of airmanship. It is a very tricky and highly skilled job to intercept the tanker and to carry out the probe operation, particularly in the knowledge that there is no diversion base and if the operation is unsuccessful they would be in the sea. Many Harriers flew to the South Atlantic. The pilots were in single-cockpit aircraft and had to carry out all the operations themselves. It requires the highest skill to do that and to end up on a carrier off the Falkland Islands.

Our Hercules flew very long distances. The Minister spoke of more than 20 hours. That brings back nostalgic thoughts of carrying out standard patrols of that duration in Catalinas. I am only glad that we did not have a flight refuelling then, because we would have been up all week.

I am glad that hon. Members have paid full tribute to the RAF Regiment in the year of its fortieth anniversary. Few commentators mentioned its presence in the Falkland Islands, what it was doing and how effectively it carried out its work. Was there sufficient public relations input to explain what the RAF was doing? It is sad that the media do not concentrate enough on squadron numbers. We talk about an RAF Harrier but not a Harrier of No. 1 Squadron, as we should do. It is one of the squadrons in the Falkland Islands. However, I only found that out last week. In addition, 18 Squadron had the Chinook.

Each day the squadron numbers of the Vulcans, Victors and other aircraft involved in the operation should have been given. During the last war we built up the squadrons. Throughout the world, 617 Squadron was known as the Dambuster Squadron. We built up 1 Squadron, 73 Squadron, 249 and so on as the great fighter squadrons. Coastal Command had 201 and 209 Squadrons. We should concentrate on building up the image of our RAF squadrons. That does an immense amount for morale. In addition, the squadrons feel that it is right to have such publicity. I would love to know which squadrons flew in the South Atlantic during the recent operations.

The Minister has been asked about developments at Stanley airport. In response to a question, the Minister has said that the runway at Port Stanley is to be extended to 10,000 ft. What ground facilities are envisaged by way of hangers and communications? Do the Government intend to build up some of the other airstrips in the islands, which could be of advantage to us in future? Are we contemplating any arrangement with Chile for a diversion base in case the weather suddenly became impossible in the South Atlantic? As the Minister knows, to take off on a flight of several thousand miles with no diversion base is not an attractive prospect.

I hope that the Minister will say a little at the end of the debate about the expected living conditions in the Falklands during the next six months or so. I appreciate that some of the temporary buildings and tents were lost with the "Atlantic Conveyor". However, our Service men obviously far outnumber those who can be billeted in private houses in Port Stanley. How long will we have to wait until there is something approaching adequate living conditions? We think of the men carrying out dangerous missions, such as lifting mines, in difficult conditions and looking after South Georgia in extreme arctic weather. I hope that the Ministry and the Government will consider extending the South Atlantic medal to those who are presently helping to rehabilitate the islanders. The medals of those who fought will have a rosette and that distinction is quite correct.

Why was the RAF so successful? No one ever doubted the courage of our pilots and aircrew, but the other vital ingredient in that success was the training. Over the years we have developed exceptional skills, as demonstrated to this country and to the world by the Red Arrows and by the bombing competitions in which the RAF has been so successful. However, we must not skimp on training. Aircraft and missiles are very expensive and a high standard of airmanship is required if we are to deliver our attacks effectively and get the best from our aircraft and weapons. No doubt the success of the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm in the Falklands was closely related to the training given. It has always been the same.

I shall quote from a book by the Group Captain Laddie Lucas, who was one of our great wing leaders during the war and a fine squadron commander. He did not write as a regular, although he was a brilliant pilot in his own right. He mentioned Sir Douglas Bader flying over the North Weald to the station that Group Captain Lucas commanded and wrote: If any of the young squadron pilots were about at the time, I always made a point of running two or three of them over to the airfield in my car to watch him land. As an exercise in the control of an aeroplane and the use of sensitive, sympathetic hands, it was invariably a refined and accomplished performance. A tight ciruit, contained within the vicinity of the perimeter of the aerodrome, a finely judged, slow, curving approach, with the throttle cut right back and the engine popping … and there was the Spitfire, stalling lightly on to three points within a few yards of the start of the runway … and there was the classic demonstration of the real art of flying. A few lines later, Group Captain Lucas wrote about Sir Dermot Boyle, then air officer commanding 11 Group. The following passage highlights my point. Like Bader, he was a product of the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell. There, and elsewhere, the peacetime serving officers had obtained a training which, by its standards, demands and throughness, stood them apart from the rest. I saw Dermot Boyle land a Mosquito, the first time he came to visit us at Bentwaters, with a style and an authority which I had not witnessed during all my previous months with 138 Wing at Cambrai. And I don't suppose for a moment he was, at the time, with all his other work, in what we would normally call regular flying practice. The brute fact was that the first-rate, peacetime professionals in the Service, particularly those who had graduated from Cranwell, had been given the finest military flyng background in the world. It is important that that continues. I have examined the syllabus of the Royal Air Force flying training and I am faced with the question mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). What will be our basic trainer to succeed the Jet Provost? Some say that we should use a light, unsophisticated aircraft such as the Bulldog. Others say that we should use an aeroplane such as the P164, which I believe to be too similar to the Hawk for basic and subsequent training. We must find a basic trainer in the near future.

A host of questions must still be answered. Do we want a tandem trainer or a side-by-side trainer? Instructors cannot come to a unanimous view. Time is not on our side.

I am worried about a phrase on page 37 of the Estimates which reads: flying training will be further streamlined. I know from my visits to RAF stations that many pilots would gladly have more flying hours. I hope for an assurance that the Minister does not visualise a reduction in flying hours for squadron pilots. Nothing is as effective as hours in the air. We cannot live by simulators.

I went on a valuable 10½-hour sortie last year in a Nimrod of 201 Squadron doing a tapestry in the North Sea photographing fishing boats. It was an effective sortie by highly experienced air crew, but I wonder whether that is the best use of a Nimrod. Could not such a task be done by a twin-engined piston aircraft more cheaply? Has the Minister or his colleague in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food pursued that possibility, which I have mentioned in the past?

Low-flying is a problem in many constituencies. However, we must persevere with the programme and not be put off by complaints. We have rightly extended low-flying areas so that the frequency of flights over an area is significantly less. Now that the people have seen on television the importance of low-flying in warfare, I am sure that they will accept that our pilots must train at low levels if we are to receive the best return for our money.

I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) speak about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. No one has a greater right to do so. He is the son of a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron commander and the nephew of three men who also commanded squadrons in the war. No family has done more than his for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. He made a valid point. I am a former member of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and I may be biased, but it is right to consider carefully the flying role that has been mentioned in speeches earlier this year.

If we are to have more squadrons, whether in the Royal Air Force Regiment or whether eventually we have flying squadrons, I hope that we will use the old squadron numbers, which mean so much geographically throughout the country. The numbers 600 and 601 are important in the South and 602 and 603 are important in Scotland. I hope that all the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons will have the best possible equipment and conditions of service.

It is important, not only in terms of the effective fighting capabilities of the RAF, but in relation to the bridge between the public and the RAF, that there is an opportunity to serve in the reserves. Few people can do that. It is possible to join the Royal Auxiliary Air Force defence squadrons and, through the universities the RAFVR, but many more would like to join. The link between the RAF and the civilian population would be enhanced if we had a substantially larger reserve. There is enormous good will for the RAF and the opportunity should not be missed.

I have thought carefully about my suggestions which I believe have possibilities. The Royal Air Force, the Army and the Navy have never stood in higher esteem in the thoughts of our people. We have a great opportunity to build on strength and success and to continue to develop the Royal Air Force—a very fine fighting Service.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

The debate started just before half-past five. Eight hon. Members, and possibly more, wish to take part. Will hon. Members please bear that in mind when making their speeches?

7.37 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I am sure that you were not addressing me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not take advantage of there not being an overwhelming number of my colleagues wishing to speak. Usually, large numbers of hon. Members do not clamour to speak in the Services debates. If this were a major debate Back Benchers would find it difficult to make contributions.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made an important point about the need for training and flying hours. The Select Committee on Defence recently visited West Germany. Our report mentions some disquieting features. Fuel restrictions were such that the number of hours flown caused anxiety. Some of the more experienced pilots were giving up some of their hours to allow the less experienced pilots to gain flying experience. I wonder how long it will be before the experienced pilots become less experienced and the inexperienced pilots develop the experience necessary for the task.

The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) criticised what he regarded as a less than radical report by the Defence Committee published today. The report is important. I am sure that it will receive the treatment that it deserves in the Ministry of Defence. We all want real value for scarce resources.

We need to devise a structure for decision making that will produce equipment at the right price, in the right amount and at the right time and that will be of benefit to society. No organisation can look inwardly and say with too much satisfaction that its institutional arrangements are beyond improvement. I am certain that some of these recommendations, if implemented, will go some way towards improving the process of decision on procurement within the Ministry of Defence.

The hon. Member for Hastings undermined his own case by too sharply contrasting the alleged deficiencies; in the procurement process in the United Kingdom with a procurement Shangri-la in the United States where everything appeared to be done better. He should have referred to the F18 project, which was a loser in a fly-off competition with the F16. No one appeared to want it, but the politicians induced the United States Navy to purchase it. It led to billions of dollars in cost overruns. The Harrier was one of the projects that may have been affected detrimentally as a result of that strange procurement process. Therefore, it is not particularly wise to point to the process in America as the one to be followed.

Another example is the way in which the Americans procured the new battle tank—the Abrams XM1. That was rushed through to aid Detroit and Chrysler. It resulted in tanks that were produced with imperfect engines. The hon. Member for Hastings should read that fine book by Jaques Gansler called "The Defence Industry". That drew attention to the severe problems facing the defence industry in the United States. The smaller manufacturers were severely hurt and the subcontractor network was cut to ribbons. Therefore, while one can rightly point to deficiencies on this side of the Atlantic, one must be careful in drawing comparisons without going into detail.

In common with other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the skill, bravery and endurance of our Service men in the Falkland Islands and, particularly in this debate, to the Royal Air Force. The RAF did not play such a major role as the other Services but it nevertheless made a significant contribution to the eventual victory. Although high technology is essential in any conflict, it is important not to forget that it is a human being who presses the buttons. It is manifestly untrue that modern warfare is fought exclusively with modern technology and that the best technology wins.

One of the advisers to the Defence Committee, Brigadier Kenneth Hunt, said recently that the British had a secret weapon in the Falkland Islands known as "feet". It was the ordinary infantryman and the unsung mechanic who contributed enormously to the campaign. They may not have fired any guns or pressed any buttons, but their role was instrumental in our eventual success. We must pay tribute to such people.

Much must be learnt from the conflict, and learnt swiftly. We do not have the luxury of time to study and pontificate for years. We do not want to see what happened to earlier Royal Commissions or committees of inquiry which took years to deliberate and produced reports which were pigeonholed. We must carry out a sophisticated analysis of the conflict and produce recommendations for improvements that must be made. I trust that decisions will be made on a rational basis, because often in defence decision making the end product reflects the institutional arrangements and the conflict between the Services. We must stand back from the sectarian interests of each Service and take decisions based on our overall defence requirements.

We must have swift decision making. I do not suggest that that should be done to the detriment of correct decisions, but undoubtedly some quick fixes will have to be made. It is easy to make a swift decision when a deficiency must be made good, but sometimes the quick fix can prove to be inadequate and expensive. The United States has resuscitated and brought back into service ships that were destined for the scrapheap or museums. One critic said that if the Army did the same it would be akin to digging up General Custer. Perhaps there are faults in the quick fix or in modernising ancient equipment and putting it into the sea or into the air. On the other hand, if glaring deficiencies are exposed in the Falklands operation and if remedying those deficiencies takes time there must be immediate solutions, perhaps involving off-the-shelf purchases from elsewhere.

We must not send sailors to sea or pilots into the air without the weapons systems for their protection. A protracted decision making process taking five or 10 years to produce a solution cannot be accepted. Therefore, if quick fixes are essential, we must employ them.

The report of the Defence Committee pointed out, what we are all in any case aware of, that the decision-making process is very long. For example, in the decision to procure the Tornado the Ministry gave approval for United Kingdom participation in the initial stages of the MRCA project in 1968. The planes are only now coming into service. Therefore, if the inquiries prove that such delays are wrong, and if we need equipment, 10 years is far too long to wait.

Parliament is in the van of the inquiry process. There has been a tendency over the years whenever we have a military failure or success—particularly a failure—to entrust the inquiry to a Royal Commission of worthy, but ancient and venerable, figures from outside this institution. We have been bypassed. One good aspect of the Franks inquiry is the participation of hon. Members. Even better are the inquiries by the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Those inquiries will show that Members of Parliament are competent to look rationally at problems and that they have the right to inject their views into the process of determining our defence policy until the turn of the century.

Parliament has produced many major reports on military ventures. In the eighteenth century, the military and naval failures a Toulon and the Walcheren expedition in the Napoleonic wars were the subjects of major inquiries by a House of Commons Select Committee, as was the failure of the Army in the siege of Sebastopol. There was an inquiry before and after the Boer War. It is important for the House to be involved in the analysis of the Falklands campaign. We have too often been bypassed on defence matters in the past. The House has a contribution to make and I am certain that the reports, if considered with the seriousness they deserve, will enhance the Select Committee system and Parliament. They will also improve our defence capabilities for the next generation.

Many lessons must be learned, some of them peculiarly British. Some lessons will be learned by our allies and some by our enemies—existing or potential. I have learnt one lesson with which others may disagree. I do not want to rake up old problems, but I cannot see how it will be possible to maintain existing commitments to improve our conventional capability in the Armed Forces, maintain a garrison in the South Atlantic—perhaps the Government have a hankering for a force with an extra-territorial dimension—and at the same time procure a successor to Polaris.

If the Argentines are so unsporting as not to accept the results of the conflict—I suspect that they will not—we shall need to maintain a sizeable garrison so that we do not have to send another task force five or 10 years from now. It will mean lengthening the runway and building an infrastructure. Our troops cannot live in tents for the next 10 or 15 years. We shall need a number of Phantom squadrons and we shall need to maintain one or more hunter-killer submarines and at least 2,000 men. How much will it cost? The Minister says that the Treasury will sanction payment outside the Ministry of Defence budget, but for how long? The cost will be on top of our existing commitments. The Government will find that three into two does not go. It will be impossible to maintain a viable conventional contribution to NATO and procure a successor to Polaris.

There are other lessons to be learnt. The lack of AWACS was damaging. The Vulcan bombing raids were probably the longest ever strategic raids mounted by any air force. The in-flight refuelling was staggering, but the end product was hardly worth the effort. A few weeks ago I asked the Secretary of State for Defence what the likely cost would be of repairing the runway at Stanley. The answer is, not a great deal. With the Harriers, the Vulcans and the bombing from ships one wonders what went wrong. The JP233 will be a valuable acquisition.

The Select Committee on Defence recently went to the United States. We were pleased with our briefing from McDonnell Douglas on the progress with the collaborative ventures AV8B and the Hawk. It is said that an outstanding feature of the South Atlantic conflict was the performance of the Harrier. It achieved immense success although heavily outnumbered and fighting at the limits of its range. Before eulogising the plane and gloating too much, we must remember that in a different environment, fighting against a better and more sophisticated aeroplane than the super Etendard or the Mirage—I apologise to the Dassault factory at Mérignac—the Harrier will be even more taxed. However good a plane it is, it has its deficiencies. The AV8B will be a considerable improvement.

We should compliment not only the pilots but those responsible for the operational maintenance and readiness of the Harriers. The Harrier ground crew who kept the aircraft flying for 90 per cent. of the time are unsung heroes.

Another group who do not always get complimented from the Opposition Benches are those who worked extra hard and long in the middle of the conflict to provide the supplies: for example, British Aerospace in converting Nimrod for in-flight refuelling; Racal, working overtime on surveillance systems; Fairey; Ferranti; Lucas, where 1,400 men worked overtime and gave up their holidays. Industry responded quickly and efficiently to the demands.

The defence industry is often denigrated from these Benches. It is said that the machinations and desires of the war lords compel country to fight country. Some may have that desire, but the defence industry does what it is paid to do. If there is blame, it must be attached to the politicians and not necessarily to the producers. I listened to and watched the industry representatives who came before the Defence Committee; I did not have the impression that they were the potential instruments of repression who would necessarily cause the next world war. The defence industries employ a large number of people. As long as they are democratically controlled and politicians make proper decisions about peace and war we should not get paranoid about an industry that is essential for national survival.

Modem warfare is much more than a contest between rival electronic systems. The campaign in the South Atlantic has been a sober reminder of the strengths and limitations of technology and the importance of the human factor. It has also shown us the need for adequate defence.

Whether one believes that the action was offensive or defensive depends on one's political perspective. Many people regard defence at any level as threatening. Many people in my party would regard arming a motor boat as threatening another country and constituting a danger to international society. But I feel no guilt whatsoever in supporting a proper defence policy. If adequate defences could be provided by knocking 2 per cent. off GNP, everyone would be delighted. But it may require 5 per cent. and there could be circumstances in which it might require even more, although I hope to God not. The amount must be determined by the threat.

Times change. In 1914 we had a few months and the protection of the English Channel to remedy the appalling deficiencies in our defence capability. One benefit of the Boer war debacle was the creation of a better apparatus in the defence Ministries, which led to us having one of the finest Armed Forces that we have ever put into the field. We were not prepared for a long conflict, but we had the breathing space to make good the deficiencies. Even in the Second World War we had the breathing space of the phoney war and, after all, the equipment was not too sophisticated so it was easier to remedy the deficiencies. Even in the South Atlantic we had a breathing space, in the time that it took the task force to arrive.

We all hope that there will be no future conflict, but if there is we may not have a breathing space. We cannot suddenly open up a production line that has been closed. The warning may be only a week, a day or an hour. One lesson in the Defence Committee's first report on ammunition storage in West Germany is that if there is a sudden attack—I do not regard that as probable, but it is possible—not only will there be a problem getting ammunition and reserves from the United Kingdom; there will be a considerable problem getting the ammunition out of the ammunition storage sites in Germany because of sabotage—destruction of the railways and other lines of communication. We need adequate reserves. If large quantities of ammunition and missiles are expended in a conflict we should not have to run to the United States.

We need adequate defences. We fought this conflict more or less unaided, although historians and journalists will reveal the extent of American assistance. But in this modern age one cannot fight a defensive conflict on one's own. The future of our defences lies within an alliance. British defence should not be so reduced as to make our contribution to NATO minimal.

I reject the view that we should have a policy of unarmed neutrality or even armed neutrality. That view is not a licence for the United States to do as it wilt without any restraints placed upon it by other members of the Alliance. It is not a plea for a vast expansion of defence expenditure, or a recognition that we should rearm without taking positive steps to seek to bring about disarmament. We must play a part in NATO and work for proper arms reduction as well as ensuring—this is not necessarily inconsistent—that we have the right level of forces, the right range of weapons equipment, the right supplies of ammunition and the right quality of personnel. Then perhaps the rival blocs will be in a stronger position to bring about what we must all desire—a reduction of weapons and eventual disarmament.

In conclusion, I should like to compliment those who took part in the conflict. In the first place, I spoke as a sceptic of the operation. I am not seeking to say that now we have won the conflict I applaud it. I do not wish to go over old arguments. I was sceptical then and I am sceptical about the future. I do not wish to give a false impression. Even though Argentina's forces were not of Soviet standards and even though its army may be formidable when suppressing its unarmed civilian population but would not be a match for our Armed Forces, nevertheless, the Argentines had enough weapons and enough brave pilots and soldiers to cause us problems. Having said that, I am delighted that there has been a successful outcome. I hope that there will be a proper long-term solution because short-term solutions, by definition, will not be applicable in five or ten years from now.

I compliment those who fought and I commiserate with the relatives of those who fought and died. We have defence forces of which we can be proud. We should not undervalue their contribution or send them into a conflict one year or ten years from now without the proper support—which means, unfortunately, money.

8.2 pm

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

My interest in the debate is as wide as that of any other hon. Member, but I wish to focus attention on one aspect of the defence debate that concerns my constituents—the P110.

British Aerospace described the P110 as a single seat agile combat aircraft powered by two Rolls-Royce RB 199 engines. It is more than that; it is the best fighter that we have ever had or are likely ever to have. It is years ahead of its time and I cannot but expect that it will provide in a world market one of the best sellers of this type of fighter aircraft. We neglect its development nationally at our peril.

The conception of the P110 is the achievement of the brightest design team in the country and perhaps one of the most brilliant design teams working today. It has produced an aircraft of which Britain can well be proud. In the late 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s the P110 promises to be in the position that the Spitfire occupied in the late 1930s and the early 1940s. The money that has been provided for the development of this astonishing aircraft—it really is an astonishing aircraft in terms of high technology—has come from private investment. Altogther, about £25 million in capital has come from seven leading aerospace companies. That amount of money reflects and measures the faith of those companies in the future of the P110.

I do not want to take this point too narrowly but the future of the P110 is the future of the British Aerospace programme, as it affects the Warton centre of the aerospace project in my constituency. More than 350 members of the design team work in Warton. I can confidently say that no more brilliant design team has ever been put together.

Over the next ten years the P110 project is likely to employ about 40,000 to 50,000 skilled workers. If the project goes ahead it will provide opportunities for about 6,000 university graduates who will not have that opportunity if the P110 fails. The project will give about 2,500 apprentices the opportunity to enter the aerospace industry which will be denied to them if it fails. We fervently hope that the project will not fail but I must tell my hon. Friends on the Front Bench who are involved in the matter that there is deep disquiet in places such as Warton and Samlesbury in my constituency and in Preston in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) where there is another section of the aerospace industry.

Only today I was in touch with the management and asked them for their latest views about the P110. They were deeply concerned about whether the Government would go ahead with the P110, whether they would be indifferent or whether they would put an end to the project. I spoke to trade union members who are working at Warton, from whom I received the same reaction. It is imperative and, indeed, there is no alternative to having a statement from the Government. We should like that statement today to tell us that the P110 has their support, is the subject of their faith—the type of faith that has been expressed by the seven aerospace companies and has been shown in Germany and in Italy, which are likely to provide about £30 million in addition to the £25 million that has already come from private industry in Britain.

We need to know whether the RAF has made up its mind about its future needs. At the moment we are in limbo. If the development of the P110 is slowed down because of uncertainty over whether the Government will support it, the consequences will be massive lay-offs—40,000 to 50,000 skilled workers will lose their jobs—plant closures, the disintegration of a design team of incomparable quality—there will be no chance of recovering it—and the loss of opportunities for 6,000 university graduates and 2,500 apprentices.

The House has been reminded of the recent speech by the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Michael Beetham, but it has not been told that Sir Michael appeared to be coming round to the view that the P110 could be used by the RAF. That is the sort of view that we want to hear, but we want it to be expressed more firmly than it has so far been expressed. We want the Government to say that the RAF will take the P110 as the fighter for the future and that the machine will be bought for the RAF. If the Government do not say that, the development will die.

We are years ahead of everyone else, and we have a brilliant machine which could be a world-beater. At present, as a trade unionist told me this morning, the P110, which should be one of the outstanding developments of the century, is being drip-fed with drops of finance here and there.

We need two things. First, we need the Government to reply as soon as possible to the letter from the chairman of British Aerospace and to say that we will have the P110 as our fighter for the future. Secondly, as an interim measure, we need money to keep the development continuing at its present pace. It will not continue at that pace unless it gets extra finance from the Government. I hope that we shall have satisfactory answers tonight to both those questions.

8.13 pm
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have asked us to be brief, I shall not take up the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner).

I am proud to represent a city which has long associations with the RAF. I am certain that the sight of Lincoln cathedral on the return home after long bombing raids over the Continent warmed the hearts of many of the men in Bomber Command during the last war. We in Lincoln are still proud of our RAF connections. Many RAF families live in the city, and Waddington, from which Vulcan bombers have operated so successfully and for so long, and which will soon be the home of the modern Nimrods, is on the edge of the city.

I start by paying tribute to the RAF for the way that it contributes to local communities. The men and women of the RAF are excellent citizens. They try to make contact with the local population and they open their bases to schools and citizens generally.

The RAF families in our villages and in the city contribute to community life in a variety of ways. The RAF provides much-needed employment, and many families stay in the vicinity after leaving the RAF and use the skills learnt during their service for the continuing benefit of the locality. For example, a man who has just left the RAF, and is skilled in electronics, is setting up a school in Lincoln to train youngsters in information technology. That is an excellent use of the skills that he learnt in many years of excellent training and service in the RAF.

Any community that has an RAF presence is lucky, and that is certainly true of Lincoln and Lincolnshire. I pay tribute to the community spirit of the RAF.

Of course, a local presence is only a by-product of the essential role of the RAF, which is the defence of the realm and of our interests, wherever they are threatened. Recent events have proved conclusively the crucial nature of control of the air in any operation.

There are three specific areas that I should like the Government to consider. First, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary stressed earlier, we must retain our technical lead in the quality of our equipment. We live in a world of high technology and our excellence is crucial if we are to deter the much larger number of aircraft deployed against us by the Warsaw Pact. NATO has only 1,250 fixed-wing tactical aircraft, but the Warsaw Pact has 2,700—more than twice as many. Only excellence can narrow that gap, just as the excellence of the Harrier jump jet helped to restore some of the balance in the South Atlantic against a numerically superior Argentine air force.

I understand that in the 1950s and 1960s we were in danger of losing that excellence by concentrating on the belief that the nuclear deterrent was all-important. We allowed our conventional forces to suffer. We have rightly reverted to the idea of the flexible response, which demands the best conventional forces.

I am glad that we are engaged in the biggest re-equipment of the RAF since the war. In 1978, a total of £1,200 million was spent on RAF equipment, which was 16 per cent. of the total defence budget. This year, we shall spend £2,800 million, which is 20 per cent. of the total budget. That is a substantial increase, both in real terms and as a share of the defence budget. Progress is in the right direction, but we must make certain that the RAF does not relax its pursuit of excellence.

The second issue is our ability to improvise. The Falklands crisis showed the importance of our genius in this respect. The Vulcan bomber, which came from Waddington, improvised and got to Port Stanley to bomb the airport. Our refuelling techniques, to which we hastily added, enabled Harriers to fly to Ascension Island on the way to reinforce our ships and provide air cover in the South Atlantic. We improvised to convert merchant ships for use with the Navy. There are many other examples of how our ability to improvise helped our Forces.

Improvisation stretches the effectiveness of our Forces far beyond what most of us imagine they are capable of doing. Improvisation arises from the spur of crisis. The ability to improvise is an admirable British quality. Will the Government give greater consideration to other ways of improvisation? For example, Vulcans are now to be used as refuelling tankers. Perhaps civilian aircraft could be built with slight adaptations to enable them to be converted to a refuelling role in a crisis.

I am glad, for example, that our 72 Hawk trainers are to be modified to take the Sidewinder missile. In all these cases, a flexible approach can increase our strength out of all proportion to cost. I do not want to institutionalise improvisation, because that could snuff out the genius, but we should prepare for and think much more about it.

The third issue is training. This issue was raised more forcefully and eloquently than I could ever do by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). During the Falkland crisis many of us became acutely aware of the precious skills of our pilots. These human skills are among the scarcest of our resources in the Armed Forces. Have we sufficient trained manpower for a longer conflict? Are we satisfied that the training to give our Armed Forces that high degree of skill is adequate? I do not have the knowledge to judge, but it is a matter that we should examine vigorously.

I ask the Government to sustain and improve the excellence of our equipment. I urge them to nurture our ability to improvise. I hope that they will ensure that we have sufficient skilled men for a longer crisis than the Falkland operation.

I am glad to take part in this debate, not only because the RAF is close to the heart of the city of Lincoln, which I have the honour to represent, but because I believe that the Government recognise the crucial importance of the RAF.

8.21 pm
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

In recent days there have been many emotional reunions as the men of the task force have returned from the Falklands. They have deserved our cheers. Eloquent tributes were paid to them by the Minister in opening the debate and by all hon. Members who have spoken.

This afternoon I should like to pay a brief tribute to a group who played a vital role in the campaign, but who, for the most part, will be staying at their posts. I refer to the men who kept the air base at Ascension Island functioning throughout the campaign. I do not say that it would have been impossible to mount the campaign in the South Atlantic without the facilities on Ascension Island, but clearly it would have been much more difficult for us if those facilities did not exist.

It is perhaps understandable that attention should have been diverted from Ascension Island. On the whole, bases are not glamorous. The facilities there were largely provided and, to an extent, maintained by Americans, but, because of the sensitivity of relations with their Latin American neighbours, the Reagan Adminstration were never anxious to draw attention to the significant role that the Americans played. However, we should put on record our gratitude for the work that they did.

I suppose that in some ways it was an accident that we retained rights on Ascension Island. For years, we have been casually disposing of base sites around the world. In recent years, we abandoned Gan, although there was no local pressure to do so, and we abandoned Masirah in similar circumstances.

The Falkland Islands conflict has reminded us of the value of land bases. It is plain that the efficiency and safety of both the surface and submarine fleets are much enhanced if they can be supported by long-range aircraft which cannot possibly be based on carriers.

We shall have to provide major facilities on the Falkland Islands. As on Ascension Island, I hope that we can eventually share those facilities with the Americans. We must have a runway with the ability to maintain a force of Phantoms or Tornados to protect the Falkland Islands. However, in the long run, it is the Americans who have an infinitely greater interest than we do in the safety of the passage round Cape Horn.

At the moment the Americans are naturally inhibited from asking for and receiving a base site in the Falklands because of the fear of offending Latin American susceptibilities. However, if and when our dispute with Argentina is resolved, or fades into the middle distance, that inhibition will be removed.

Meanwhile, apart from reminding us of the paramount importance of bases or land-based aircraft, the conflict in the Falkland Islands has also driven home the message that the bombs and missiles that an aircraft carries are almost as important as the plane and its pilot's skill.

The pilots of the Argentine Air Force deserved the praise that has been heaped upon them in Britain for the skill, courage and determination with which they pressed home their attacks upon our task force. If they had been equipped with correctly fused bombs and had had more and better missiles, the impact of their assault would have been far more deadly.

As I watched the films of the Argentine planes skimming low over the water—films which eventually made their way back to Britain—I occasionally thought of the Tornado. Apart from the Falklands campaign, the arrival of the Tornado is the event of the year for the Royal Air Force, as my hon. Friend reminded us in his opening speech. It makes an immense impact on our strike capability, just as it makes an immense impact on the prospects for the Royal Air Force.

What will the Tornados carry? My hon. Friend referred to the superb characteristics of the plane. What about the superb characteristics of the missiles and bombs that it will have to carry in the next few years?

In his opening speech, my hon. Friend referred to the new Pershing defence missile and the new anti-tank weapon with which the RAF will be equipped towards the end of this decade. I am sure that in debates to come we shall be spending an increasing amount of time talking about the missiles as well as the planes of the Royal Air Force.

One other lesson from the Falkland Islands campaign that need not wait for detailed analysis of the combat is the crucial importance of helicopters. In his opening speech on the defence Estimates, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said that we could never have too many helicopters. The Minister, in his opening speech this afternoon, expressed exactly the same sentiments. I am sure that neither has ever spoken truer words. If we stick to our present plans, we are never likely to have too many helicopters; indeed, it is arguable whether we shall have enough.

In the past two years there have been significant increases in the strength of our helicopters. The Lynx is a magnificent machine. The TOW anti-tank missile with which it is equipped is also a highly effective weapon. The Lynx is largely flown by the Army Air Corps, which this weekend is celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday, and which performed magnificently in the Falkland Islands. But one wonders whether the demarcation dispute between the Royal Air Force and the Army Air Corps over who flies which helicopter has inhibited the development of helicopter strength.

I hope that the aerial lessons of the Falklands campaign will lead to the early development of the EH101—the replacement for the Sea King helicopter. I hope also that new thought will be given to the need for an attack helicopter. One knows that the presence of attack helicopters in the Soviet arsenal has had a profound impact on the thinking of the Army and of the Royal Air Force, yet we have not ventured into that area. After the Falklands campaign, I wonder whether we should be thinking again on the subject—but that is for the future. Meanwhile, we must be thankful that the superb training that the pilots received has borne the test of conflict in the Falklands, and that the Royal Air Force has behaved as magnificently this year as it ever has in its history.

8.33 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Obviously, I shall introduce a slightly different aspect to the debate. Of necessity, debates of this sort begin with a reference to the Falklands. The Falklands campaign showed that there was bravery on each side, and it has been recognised tonight. I would argue, and have argued consistently, that those who were involved should not have been put in that position in the first place. Having said that, it is clear that the people involved were very brave in facing the possibility of loss of life or limb. Indeed, many people lost lives and limbs in shouldering a terrific burden and facing terror.

The Harrier proved to be a highly adaptable and versatile aircraft, but one of the more nauseating sights on television was of a British Aerospace executive smugly saying that the sales of the Harrier would be increased world-wide because it had been "Falklands-tested". I hope that the lesson of the Falklands campaign is that the arms trade should be reduced.

It is a great pity that the United Nations second special disarmament session has ended without discussing the world conference on disarmament that was a proposed item on the agenda. That failure was largely because Governments such as the United Kingdom Government undermined the efforts of that session. It could have produced a positive result in the form of an international agreement about arms sales. I hope that the "Falklands test" will not be used to sell arms to other countries, given the dubious distinction that the Government make between one regime and another, because it would be used on the backs of all those who were killed and injured in the conflict.

The RAF is expensive and, according to the Estimates, costs £2.7 billion—almost £3 billion. The Government claim that it is a nationally organised force designed to match our defence needs. I believe that the Government make their own judgments. Philosophically, it is interesting that the Government, who talk about the necessity of private enterprise in every other area, never advance the theory that the best solution would be privatisation of the RAF. I raised the matter earlier when the Government were sounding forth about the need to privatise everything within sight, but no Minister suggested that the RAF should go to Laker, who at that time was their hero, pin-up boy and successful entrepreneur.

We must organise nationally in order to provide the most effective force. What is true for our national defence is also true for much of our manufacturing industry to maximise its effectiveness in international competition. Countries such as Japan have learned that lesson well.

The Government vastly overplay their hand and say that we must have a strong RAF because of the huge threat with which we are confronted. In such debates, I always try to demolish the myth that the Government and NATO perpetuate so assiduously. We need not the RAF's present nuclear capacity but a Royal Air Force that matches our defence needs. The threat that the Government claim exists is vastly overestimated. For example, on page 25 of the statement on defence Estimates—the only page dealing with arms control and security—it says: The Warsaw Pact has a substantial advantage over NATO in almost every respect. Patently, that highly debatable and controversial claim is made baldly and without any qualification.

I have a pamphlet issued in America by SANE, the American anti-nuclear weapons organisation. The pamphlet quotes, for example, from the Department of Defence annual report 1982: while the era of US superiority is long past, parity—not US inferiority—has replaced it, and the United States and the Soviet Union are roughly equal in strategic nuclear power. One would never get that impression from the defence Blue Book. The pamphlet also quotes Senator Proxmire, who said on 26 August 1980: It is time that the American public understands that these quotes about being outspent by the USSR are just plain inaccurate. They are nonsense, balderdash, phoney, fake and I might add, untrue. The senator is clearly emphasising that the notion that we are vainly trying to catch up with the massive spending of the Soviet Union is not borne out by the facts. Our needs are grossly exaggerated, so that the Government can make claims about the expenditure needed.

I wish to deal with the number of RAF bases that are occupied by the United States air force. I shall make a few critical comments about cruise missiles, but I must say that the United States of America has a much more open system of government than Britain. Some of the information that we receive, for example, from investigating journalists, comes not from Britain but from America. It is intolerable that there should be so much secrecy in a democracy. One of our supposed strengths is that we are a democratic country, yet the secrecy and the blocks that stand in the way of Members of Parliament who want information are an intolerable disgrace.

I have asked about the number of bases. If the United Kingdom is to become a fixed aircraft carrier for American military nuclear weaponry, we should know about it. On 18 June 1980 I asked the Secretary of State for Defence If he will list the total number of bases operated in whole or in part by the United States forces in the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 18 June 1980, Vol. 986, c. 587.] One would have thought that that was a comprehensive question requiring a comprehensive answer. The Secretary of State replied with a list of 12 bases. I asked further questions and each time I gleaned information about more bases. I reached a total of 50 bases, but the Stockholm international peace research institute claims a total of 100.

British citizens have a right to know the extent of American operations in Britain, because if the Government go ahead with their lunatic notion of installing cruise missiles, our citizens will be placed in jeopardy. If a nuclear conflict develops, the presence of American F111s at Lakenheath and elsewhere, loaded with nuclear weapons, will place Britain in jeopardy, yet the Government will not disclose to elected Members of Parliament the extent of the American presence. It is a considerable negation of democracy.

The Government are also coy about where the money goes. Page 12 of the defence Estimates contains an extraordinary item. It lists other support functions to the Army, Navy and Air Force and "local administration communications" in the United Kingdom. The Minister must enlighten the House about local administration communications. Those functions cost £903 million and employ about 20,000 personnel. I wonder whether they include Menwith Hill, the communications base on the moors above Harrogate.

I have asked questions about the authority of the bases, including Menwith Hill, and on 10 December 1980 I asked the Secretary of State for Defence to list the treaties, agreements, memorandum, letters, minutes or any other documents which have been exchanged or submitted by either the United Kingdom or the United States Governments providing the terms under which United States forces are stationed in the United Kingdom; how many of these documents have been presented to Parliament; and how many have been placed in the Library". One would not have believed that to be an unreasonable request in a democracy.

The answer listed some treaties and concluded: No central record of such material is held, and the research which would have to be undertaken to assemble one would entail disproportionate effort and cost."—[Official Report, 10 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 680–1.] I do not believe that. In a Department that spends almost £15 billion a year, there is a massive credibility gap around Ministers who fob off Members of Parliament with such deceit. I am convinced that a central record exists and that Ministers know die answers. My guess is that the central record is rather dog-eared and that the authority for some of the bases is so tatty that the Department does not wish it brought out into the light of day.

Menwith Hill may come under the aegis of the RAF. No one is sure about the shady operations, but the citizenry has a right to know. In an article in the New Statesman on 18 July 1980, Duncan Campbell and Linda Melvern said: The Menwith Hill base covers 562 closely-guarded acres of the Yorkshire Moors, festooned with a remarkable array of satellite-tracking aerials. Its business for more than fifteen years has been sifting the communications of private citizens, corporations and governments for information of political or economic value to the US intelligence community, and since the early 1960s its close partner in an operation of ever-growing technical sophistication has been the British Post Office". Has it indeed? Is there a massive cable link between Menwith Hill and Hunters Stones tower owned by the Post Office some five miles away? The answer is "Yes". Are there 800 people working on the base? That does seem to be the case. What does the base do? It seems to be concerned with interception.

If it is simply a European communications centre for United States forces in Europe, it makes the area a prime target in any nuclear war. No part of the country will be free from devastation and holocaust because of the link to microwave towers scattered throughout the United Kingdom. If what is claimed in the article is true, citizens have a right to know whether the nationalised Post Office has been co-operating with a foreign power, albeit a friendly foreign power, in allowing the interception of signals related to telephonic communications in this country.

The United States base is one of those that will have to close down and go. This does not mean that we shall put the American people at a distance. I was present at a march of a million Americans outside the United Nations building at the beginning of the second special disarmament session when trade unionists, Church representatives and people with no religious or political affiliation marched for a nuclear freeze and against nuclear expenditure. Their claims were identical to those made in this country.

Parts of New York are devastated. On the subway, armed police have to accompany each train. The JFK express out to the airport has to be accompanied by armed guards. The deprivation and crumbling nature of New York is plain for all to see. Yet the American Government are spending billions of pounds on escalating the nuclear arms race. This Government are also playing their part.

Our social and educational services face cuts. Ministers stress how local authorities must cut areas that are crucial to the existence of many people. Local authorities are even having to seek ways to maintain meals on wheels—a basic service—at their present level. At the same time, the Government propose to increase defence expenditure. They propose to endanger the nation by accepting cruise missiles in our country, presumably on Greenham Common and Molesworth RAF bases.

I pay tribute to the women, together with their supporters, who have set up the peace camps. In their belief and mine, cruise represents a dangerous escalation. No one has been able to answer the point I have put in the House that cruise is under American control. The United Kingdom Government have no right of veto. All talk of consultation is governed by the 1951 agreement between Attlee and Truman and that vague and ambivalent phrase, in the light of circumstances prevailing at the time". That does not give any right of veto. There are two keys for the operation of cruise. Both are held in American hands. Because cruise is non-detectable it cannot be verified. The Prime Minister, when she talks about disarmament, which is not often, refers to the need for verification. That is right, but cruise missiles are not verifiable.

What about approaching the Russians and talking about means of verification, and reducing the level? Representatives of the Russian mission at the United Nations said that they would accept any verification that was involved in a treaty agreement. What about taking that up and starting real negotiations?

The theatre nuclear talks that are going on do not involve our Government. Our nuclear weapons do not give us a place at the negotiating table. We are not there, so Aneurin Bevan's notion that we cannot go naked into the negotiating chamber is not valid. That is another reason to brush aside the notion that nuclear weapons are essential. They are not. They endanger us.

By being involved in nuclear alliances and by accepting cruise, we place our nation in danger. Because cruise missiles fly below radar, if one were used the Russians might have to resort to a retaliatory launch on warning, as cruise is not clearly detectable on a radar screen.

Opposition to cruise will grow and I hope that it does so successfully, and that we follow the people of Holland and West Germany who are raising loud and clear opposition to the stationing of cruise missiles. We cannot continue with the escalation of nuclear missiles in our country without, at some stage, either by accident or design, one of them going off into the awful conflagration that we all so desperately and earnestly wish to avoid.

We need an RAF to match the needs of the country, but that does not involve a nuclear element, missiles or United States bases, either operational or in the form of the Big Ears on Europe in our country.

8.53 pm
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I am not sure when the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) had his conversion on disarmament and arms sales on the road to Damascus, but I know that he was a member of a Government who sold arms throughout the world, including Argentina, and he did not leave that Government because of those arms sales. By the same token, I ask him to ponder the thought that perhaps peace and disarmament are not necessarily indivisible.

I wish to concentrate my remarks on one narrow aspect of the Royal Air Force. I do so in the context of this week and the concern that all of us in the House and throughout the nation have felt over the security of the Queen and the royal family in the light of the break-in at Buckingham Palace. I think that we all hold the view that the Queen's safety is a matter of the highest priority, wherever she is, and in whatever form of transport she travels, whether by road, on the sea or in the air.

This week, our thoughts have focused on what happened at Buckingham Palace. Tonight, for a few moments, we should turn our attention to the Queen's safety in terms of the aircraft of the Queen's Flight. I remind the House that the Queen's Flight is handled and serviced by the RAF. It includes three Andover aircraft and two Wessex helicopters. The Andovers, two of which have been in service for 18 years and one for 17 years, are military versions of the HS748 passenger aircraft in its series II form. The aircraft is twin-engined with a top speed of about 250 miles an hour. It has a baggage door at the tail, and it is about this that I wish to make some remarks.

The HS748 entered service in 1962 and, since then, the earlier versions of the aircraft have been plagued with problems relating to the baggage door. In all, the aircraft has had no fewer than 37 incidents involving the rear door. In those incidents, it is said that no fewer than 13 of the doors have become detached from the aircraft in flight. One of the most recent of the serious incidents involving the HS748 occurred in June 1981 when an aircraft belonging to Danair crashed at Nailstone in Leicestershire killing the three people on board, but only two months ago a similar aircraft crashed in the Philippines.

I must immediately declare an interest, for I am the deputy chairman of the air safety group. Last month I went to the headquarters of the air accident investigation branch at RAE Farnborough and saw for myself the fuselage of the Danair aircraft that had crashed in Leicestershire. I was shown the baggage door and the locking systems which malfunctioned to allow the door to fall off the aircraft. As the door fell, it wrapped itself round the tail of the aircraft, and that caused the crash in which three people died.

I was shown how the door locks had failed and why the door had therefore come away from the aircraft. The air accident investigation branch told me that the door that I was looking at had been modified by British Aerospace, the manufacturers of the HS748, after the first of the incidents to which I have referred.

It was also explained to me that the three Andovers of the Queen's Flight had the self-same door with the selfsame modifications which had failed last year in Leicestershire and two months ago in the Philippines.

I was nothing short of horrified to receive this information. I was even more horrified to hear that British Airways apparently had so little confidence in the modifications introduced by British Aerospace to this faulty door that it had introduced modifications of its own.

The implication seems to me to be quite clear. It is that the Andover aircraft used by the royal family are not as safe as the HS748s used by British Airways. I remind the House that last year the royal family used the Andovers on no fewer than 182 occasions and that, apart from their use by the royal family, the aircraft are constantly in use by Ministers.

Having seen the crashed fuselage of the Danair HS748, I find myself wondering why the Queen's Flight Andovers do not now have their baggage doors modified further to rule out the possibility, however remote, of one of those doors coming off with tragic consequences.

So far, I have resisted the temptation to suggest that it is time that the Queen's Flight was re-equipped, for, as I have told the House already, it is flying three aircraft, all of which are approaching 20 years in service and none of which could be described as modern, fast or particularly up-to-date. Many of us would say that the time had come for such a prestigious flight as the Queen's Flight to have much more modern equipment, perhaps Hawker Siddeley 125s or even the new Jetstreams. I also suggest that the two Wessex helicopters, each of which is 13 years old and unable to fly when certain icing conditions are present, should be replaced by modern machines with all-weather capabilities.

If I am to be told, as I understand those who have raised this subject in another place have been, that financial restraints make the possibility of re-equipping the Queen's Flight improbable at present, I am convinced by what I saw at Farnborough—which my hon. Friend can see for himself if he wishes—that further modifications to the rear doors of the Andovers of the Queen's Flight should be carried out as a matter of urgency. One door failed two months ago. British Airways do not accept the British Aerospace modification. It has clearly proved to be defective. British Airways fly with the slogan: We take good care of you. If taking good care of somebody means introducing the modifications that British Airways have introduced, surely the same safety standards available to British Airways' passengers should be available to the Queen, the Prime Minister and members of the Government who travel in those aircraft.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, answering questions about security at Buckingham Palace, said that it was the Government's duty to see that the protection we give to the Queen and members of her family is the best that can be provided, always remembering that the safety of the sovereign must be paramount."—[Official Report, 21 July 1982; Vol. 28, c. 403] I share that view.

9 pm

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

I do not wish to detain the House long. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) would have thought long and carefully before speaking in the way that he did, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says in reply to the serious points that were raised. I want to pose some questions and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some answers. There has been much talk about the part played by the Royal Air Force in the Falklands conflict. We shall know the full story in the autumn.

The Farnborough air show will take place in about a month. It is the greatest and best air show in the world. It is the shop window for British aviation and British Aerospace. It means a great deal to those companies when the show takes place at Farnborough every two years. Representatives of a number of companies have said—there are two in particular that I do not wish to name although I shall tell the Minister privately—that the story of the success of the weapons systems and aircraft and so on that participated in the Falklands conflict should be told at Farnborough. The comment was made, "Do you think that the French would not do that if they were in a similar position?" I leave that point with the Minister

I know that a presentation of the problems faced in the Falklands conflict and their solution will be made available to hon. Members. I believe that that presentation should be made available to schools, rotary clubs, civic societies and other people in the same way as the Navy and Royal Air Force make their "Know your Navy" and "Know your RAF" presentations available. People will then see what men and machines did in the interests of liberty and democracy.

Perhaps I could repeat a question, and ask why the Ministry of Defence still charges for the use of the aeroplanes at Farnborough for demonstration purposes. I understand the reason for charging for insurance, but the Ministry of Defence levies an enormous amount of money from the industry, and it does not seem to be helpful to continue charging for the use of those aeroplanes.

The Minister talked about air-to-air refuelling and the need for more. Many of us agree with that. However, he made no mention of something that my colleagues and I have raised before—the possibility of flexible tank; in civil airliners. Boeing made a presentation to some of the Minister's colleagues fairly recently and understandably pointed out that it makes 50 per cent. or more of the airliners used by British companies. It demonstrated, at least to my satisfaction, that it could incorporate either at source, or by way of retrofit, flexible tanking facilities so that civil airliners could be converted to meet the need that has been demonstrated in the South Atlantic.

The Minister referred to the Chinooks that were lost when the "Atlantic Conveyor" went down. He said that replacements would be ordered. When will they be ordered? Can he confirm that the Treasury, not the Ministry of Defence, will pay for them? I see my hon. Friend nodding, so I think that I have the answer to that second question. What will happen to the Vulcan force? Some of my hon. Friends went to Lincolnshire before the Falkland Islands conflict to see the Vulcan force and were told that it was to be scrapped. Will he confirm that that is no longer the case and elaborate on what will happen to the Vulcans on their return from the South Atlantic?

The success of the Harrier has been demonstrated in the South Atlantic. I understand from sources in British Aerospace that several things are required. Mention is made of a better airborne early-warning facility, bigger drop tanks and some improvement of the auto-pilot. Mention has also been made of a pulse doppler radar. Perhaps my hon. Friend will comment on that later.

I turn to the Harriers' future, air staff target 410 and the various projects in the pipeline relating to plenum chamber burning and supersonic STOVL defined under projects 112 and 12–16. What progress is being made and has my hon. Friend any idea of the time scale involved? I have raised some of my points before, but they bear repeating. I refer first to the paramount urgency of some sort of commitment to the RB199–67R engine that is required for the air defence version of the Tornado and for the P110, or ACA, as it is now called. A radar suppression weapon is also vital to the Tornado, because without it it is particularly vulnerable.

Mention has been made of the P164 and my hon. Friend will probably comment on it in detail. However, I hope that he will touch on the cost of rewinging the Jet Provost and the ensuing running costs compared with its replacement by an aircraft such as the P164. I support recommendation XXXI in the Select Committee's report, which was published today. Many hon. Members may not have read it yet and I have only had a chance to read the recommendations. However, recommendation XXXI refers to the need—supported by the Society of British Aerospace Companies—for a ministerial aerospace board, derived from a combination of the Department of Industry and the Ministry of Defence. That is extremely important for the future of aerospace in Britain.

Hon. Members will not expect me to sit down without referring to the P110, which is so important to my constituency and to the constituences of many of my hon. Friends. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) is in the Chamber and I am grateful for the support that he has given me and several other Lancashire Members—not ignoring my colleagues from north of the border and other parts of the country—in pressing for that aircraft. Indeed, I shall not forget that Minister, who always likes to be reminded that his constituency is adjacent to that containing British Aerospace. The project is vital. Like me, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) speaks for his constituency. He knows how important that aircraft is for jobs. The House knows of my determination and that of the British Aerospace work force, designers, trade unions and management to have that aeroplane. I spelt out the details of what is required fairly recently, and the Minister and those who understand the needs of the RAF will be familiar with them.

For strategic and industrial reasons we must have that aeroplane. Since 1976, when I became the prospective candidate for Preston, North, I have been told by British Aerospace and others how important AST403 was and how vital it was for a decision to be made. I was told the same about the P110, as it became and about the ACA, as it then became—that it was vital and that urgent decisions must be made. I was told exactly the same about the agile combat aircraft, as it now is; it is still vital and we still need an urgent decision. I know that the Minister recognises that. I hope that he will take account of what has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is an important project, welcomed by the Chief of the Air Staff.

This is an aeroplane which fits the needs of the RAF in the future. We must have it. Even if it means an increase in the defence budget of 1 per cent., 2 per cent. or whatever, we should have it.

I hope that the Minister will give some satisfactory answers.

9.11 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

I apologise for being absent for much of the debate. The House will gather from the way that I am dressed that I have been taking part in activities elsewhere. I have been taking advantage of one of our privileges. I have been taking my daughters to the Palace. I regard that as one of the great privileges of being a Member of the House.

Ministers are well aware of my long interest and involvement in the Royal Air Force. I intend to adopt a different approach to the defence of the airspace round the United Kingdom. Hon. Members have rightly concentrated on the need for the RAF to be equipped with another generation of air defence weapons. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) always deals efficiently with constituency problems.

I have no doubt that when the air defence version of the Tornado is operational, the RAF will have the finest weapons system of its type in the world. When that weapons system is properly and fully equipped, it will be second to none, but I doubt whether we have enough aircraft. I am confident that we can cope effectively with enemy aircraft from Soviet land bases over the north-east and central front in Europe. I am confident that we have the necessary men and equipment.

I have been worried for a long time about Soviet aircraft penetrating over Denmark at low level and making their way down the Channel to the south-east coast of England. That area is the soft underbelly of our air defences.

I am worried on two counts. The bulk of the taxpayers live there and I am sure that they would be worried if they realised how difficult it would be for the RAF to defend them against such an attack with the number of aircraft available. I am also worried that ships in the Channel are vulnerable to similar attacks. Above all, that is the reason why we should be considering the P110. It is there and it is an option. We shall certainly require an aircraft of that type to carry out saturation duties for air superiority requirements. We shall never be able to do that with the limited number of Tornados available.

For many years, I have been worried about the lack of reserves in the flying divisions of the RAF. I am delighted that at long last we are to have an auxiliary unit flying again and that it will fly helicopters. An auxiliary unit can do that job effectively and well. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the long and distinguished record of the auxiliary squadrons. It is vital that the new squadron is given one of the old numbers.

The Government should seriously consider augmenting the auxiliary component of our forces by having pilots who are flying Hawks and Jet Provosts and their replacements putting in sufficient operational hours monthly to keep them up to a standard of competence where they could quickly covert to fast jets. The above average pilots will convert quickly. We shall never have sufficient reserves, whatever the circumstances. Pilots are more valuable than aircraft. The Argentine saturation attacks on our fleet resulted in uncontemplated pilot losses. We could not have replaced that many pilots had we lost them.

We must consider carefully the revenue cost of the Jet Provost replacement. One problem has been the revenue cost of maintaining the Royal Air Force training machine at the necessary standard with a regular number of hours to get trainee pilots through in the right time scale. It is expensive. In the past we have not paid sufficient attention to the revenue costs. Towards the end of the decade, even on the normal ratio of the losses sustained over the period, we shall have to replace the Jet Provost. Whether or not we have a refurbishing programme, it will have to be replaced. We should go for an aircraft that is relatively inexpensive to operate.

I am delighted that the RAF again will be equipped with an aircraft to deal effectively with submarines, as during the war years. The Royal Air Force has a proud record. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) is not here. He is an ex-Royal Flying Corps man, and it did a wonderful job in anti-submarine warfare. Combined with the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force will do the job effectively using Nimrods. I am pleased that the airborne early warning Nimrod is coming into service soon.

I am the guardian angel in the House of the air cadets. The air cadets have many hard-working and unpaid volunteers. In particular, the volunteer gliding schools depend on the services of instructors who do not get paid for their weekend duties. Many have given their services for long years, some more than 30. It is an unusual individual who can convince his wife that he should be away every weekend teaching cadets to fly. The instructors get only out-of-pocket expenses for transport. I hope that there will be no further cuts in the expenses given to the instructors. These people take young boys into the air for the first time. Many of our fast jet pilots were blooded in gliders of the air cadet movement. They gain early experience and an interest in aviation that leads them to join the RAF.

I compliment the members of the Royal Air Force who did a wonderful job in the Falklands operation. But however important its role was in the Falklands, we must remember that the RAF's key role is the air defence of the United Kingdom and our surrounding sea lanes. That is where our priorities must always lie.

9.20 pm
Mr. McNamara

By leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate about the role of the Royal Air Force and the tasks facing Britain. We have had a vocal and loud lobby for British Aerospace and the P110. I shall return to that later in my remarks.

What was of interest and great service to the House—perhaps we should have had more discussion of it today, but that would be a little optimistic because it was published only today—was the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the organisation and procurement policies of the Ministry of Defence. It will prove to be one of the more important documents to have come from that Select Committee. In particular, it was interesting to note how my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) made use of the report. It is significant if one examines the argument and debate that has taken place about the development of the P110 and the P164. The report, in recommendation 31, states: In order to achieve closer high level co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Industry, we recommend that the case for appointing a Ministerial Aerospace Board be re-examined as a matter of urgency. That is important. Paragraph 123 of the report is also worth reading. It states: We consider that collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Industry is not as close as it should be. In 1971 the Rayner Report recommended the setting up of a Ministerial Aerospace Board, consisting of the two Ministers or their representatives, to oversee the collaboration between the two Departments and to be the authority for any instructions and policy guidance on aerospace matters to be given to the Procurement Executive. The report goes on to explain why that board was never appointed and recommends that it should be appointed. Our discussion today has been a background of concern both for the defence of the country with the P110 and for the future of the industry, for job opportunities, for regional policies—all contained in what one would want to have in the sponsoring work of the two main Departments involved: the Department of Industry and the Ministry of Defence.

When one talks to people about the role of the industry in producing the aircraft that are needed, there is often a distancing between the Department of Industry and the Ministry of Defence over those matters. Each looks to the other Department to be the one that pushes rather than their working together. On occasions, because there will be a conflict between industrial and military interests, the work that should be carried on between the Departments is not always there. That has been highlighted in the report of the Select Committee and has been illustrated today in the background to the discussion on the P110.

We have heard a number of spirited recollections about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The hon. Members for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and Dumfries (Sir H. Monro)—indeed, all the Scottish Members on the Conservative Benches—referred to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire welcomed the fact that it might have helicopters attached to it. When the Secretary of State opened a debate earlier in the year, he suggested that no decision had been taken. Will the Minister, when he replies, tell the House which squadrons are involved and give the number of helicopters that will be available? The Royal Auxiliary Air Force will welcome that development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) mentioned the problems associated with stretching the lives of some planes, and he spoke nostalgically about his training in the RAF and the planes available to the RAF in 1939. Our treatment of the Phantoms, the fact that we have ageing Canberras and the return of the Vulcans to a conventional role show that we are cheeseparing and extending the lives of some of our aircraft because of the Ministry of Defence's wrong-headed policy towards Trident and our nuclear capability. That cannot be to the advantage of the RAF or the defence of the country. We must look carefully at the problems involved in extending the lives of planes. For example, we do not know how they will be affected by metal fatigue.

I enjoyed the passionate plea made by the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) on behalf of the P110. I was amazed that in his tour de force he brought in a comment by a trade unionist to support his case. From the hon. and learned Gentleman that was surely a desperate plea. I welcome his conversion and look forward to his voting with us against the Employment Bill when it comes back from another place.

The House is showing a level of concern about the P110 that I cannot remember it showing over any other project. I was not here when the TSR2 was cancelled, although I remember the furore that that decision caused, and I cannot think of another project that has caught the imagination of hon. Members in the way that the P110 has done. That is a credit to the constituency and defence interests shown by hon. Members and to the way that British Aerospace has been able to identify with hon. Members on both sides, as independent companies have been unable to do in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made a number of telling points about the way in which nuclear expenditure was affecting our defence policy. The Opposition contend that Trident and a replacement for Polaris have distorted the conventional role of our Armed Forces. That view is quite apart from any moral arguments about the role of nuclear weapons and an independent deterrent. We passionately believe that the Trident decision has distorted many policy options available to our conventional forces.

For example, the time when expenditure would be required for the P110 is exactly the time when there will be a burst of spending on Trident. That is just one example of how Trident distorts policies, just as it distorts the hunter-killer submarine programme.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said about the safety of the Andovers of the Queen's Flight. If people are travelling on planes that are not safe, whether planes of the Queen's Flight or any other planes, we must be concerned. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to satisfy us that the hon. Gentleman's fears are, if not a figment of his imagination, at least without foundation. If there is cause for concern, we must be told what action is to be taken; and if there is no cause for concern, we should have our fears allayed.

Finally, I come back to the subject of the P164 and take up what was said by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire. If we have a trainer, it should be relatively cheap to run, easy to service and capable of being used and sold abroad. I have had the advantage of seeing the mockup of the fuselage, the configuration of the aircraft, and so on. It seems to me that in ease of serviceability, cost, and the type of engine that is being used, British Aerospace may have an aircraft, complementary to the Hawk, which is as cheap and as good a winner both for the company and for the Royal Air Force as the one that went before.

The interest and concern that have been shown in the Services throughout the debates that we have had over the past month have been kindled by what we have heard about them in the Falkland Islands. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, whether one feels that they should not have been sent or whether one feels that the Government blundered in having to send them there, once they were there they acquitted themselves well.

We in this House have a duty, when we send forces to fight for us, to ensure that they have the best conditions, weapons and protection. Now they are in the Falklands, and they are to be garrisoned there. We read letters in the press describing the living conditions of the troops on the islands. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy the House that the troops are as comfortable as is reasonably possible, and that some of the stories that we have heard are exaggerated. Now that they have won back the Falklands, I hope that they can garrison the islands in relative comfort, despite the difficulties that must arise when a large community suddenly descends in this way, and when so much was lost on the "Atlantic Conveyor".

9.31 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

Many of the things that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement said in opening the debate point to one development that must please us all, and that is the high morale in the Royal Air Force. That is evident to me when I visit Royal Air Force stations—and I had a happy visit to RAF Brawdy only the day before yesterday. It was clear in the confident and efficient part played by the RAF in the Falklands conflict. Here, of course, I join in all the complimentary remarks that have been made on that subject. I take the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), and we shall certainly give thought to his suggestions. More objectively, it is obvious in the substantial decline in the outflow of trained personnel.

The reasons for the confidence of the RAF in the future of the Service are equally clear. The RAF knows that it has a Government who believe in strong defence, are implementing a far-reaching re-equipment programme, and who respect the Service men who are to man it. The Service has a sense of real purpose. I have no doubt that the promise which the Government fulfilled as soon as they came to ofice to reintroduce and maintain pay comparability was a telling factor. Also important, but less widely commented on, has been the elimination of undermanning, which was made possible by the successful recruiting of the past three years. Up to then, personnel were increasingly overstretched in their jobs, and consequently leaving in greater numbers. It was a vicious circle, but it has now been broken.

Greater retention, in turn, means that we do not have the same intense demand for new recruits as we had before. That, combined with the slight dip in the numbers that we require, announced following last year's programme review, has enabled us to keep our intakes low—about 4,000 in 1981–82, and fewer this year. Standards of entry are high and the Service is undoubtedly attracting men and women of the quality that it needs for such an exciting, high technology force. I should add that we are finding that there are fewer failures in training, which further eases our manpower problems. My only regret is that we also have to turn down applications from many promising, bright and well-motivated young people.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) inquired about the Port Stanley airfield. Following the repossession of Port Stanley by British troops we need to reconstruct and extend the airfield. The quickest way of making a viable military airfield capable of operating air defence aircraft is to use specialised aluminium matting, for which the only source is the United States. Therefore, we made arrangements to procure a quantity of that matting and some has already arrived at Port Stanley. As soon as it had been unloaded from the ships, the reconstruction of the airfield can begin. That will be carried out by the Royal Engineers.

The exact make-up of the Falklands garrison is still under consideration. Therefore, it would be premature to comment upon that and the possible consequences for our deployments elsewhere. It is anticipated that a matting-covered runway, sufficient to operate some aircraft, will be in service at Port Stanley in August. It will be progressively extended to accept larger aircraft in due course.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and, passionately, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), and almost every other hon. Member who spoke, mentioned the P110. They stressed the importance of that aeroplane and the prospects that it held out for the British aerospace industry and the employment opportunities that it can offer in the future.

Hon. Members pressed for an early response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the proposals that were put to him recently by British Aerospace. However, if hon. Members read carefully in Hansard tomorrow what my hon. Friend said in his opening speech about the P110 they will be left in no doubt that the points that they have made are already fully taken. They will also see why we must put a great deal of care into considering the proposals that were put to my right hon. Friend only the other day. Therefore, there is nothing more that I can usefully add to the subject tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central raised the subject of the British Aerospace P164 project. We are aware of that private venture design and wish it every success. One hon. Member raised it in the context of its replacing the Jet Provost. However, I am bound to point out that we have no plans to replace the Royal Air Force's substantial Jet Provost fleet for many years.

In a well-informed and technical speech in which he raised several matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) repeated the comments that Britain takes longer to develop its aircraft than do, for example, the Americans or the French. I draw his attention to page 364 of the minutes of evidence to the Select Committee on Defence that came out this morning. The controller of aircraft was asked about that very matter.

In a somewhat lengthy commentary, which I shall not read to the House now, he pointed out that the Tornado took approximately six years, the F15 seven years, the F16 six years and the G8 Marcel Dassault 12 years.

Mr. Warren


Mr. Wiggin

I would rather not give way to my hon. Friend on the technicalities. It is all here in the evidence, which I am sure he will have studied.

Mr. Warren

Would my hon. Friend be kind enough to study the evidence that I gave, which was approved by the British Aerospace Corporation as being clear proof that demonstrator programmes could be achieved and that my figures were correct? I am always willing to correspond with the controller of aircraft.

Mr. Wiggin

The point that I am trying to make is that the controller of aircraft is satisfied that we at least tackle projects on a similar time scale. To suggest that we are always slower and worse is not particularly beneficial to the argument that we were having.

My hon. Friend also discussed at some length the reasonable point that the Services, as the ultimate user, should be more substantially represented in the Procurement Executive. To say that is to blur the clear distinction established by Sir Derek Rayner, in his 1971 proposals for setting up the Procurement Executive, between the respective functions of the Services which specify the military requirement and the procurement experts who satisfy it. Those are distinct functions calling for distinct skills and expertise. There are about 2,000 uniformed staff in the Procurement Executive whose contribution is highly valued, but they are there by virtue of their expertise in procurement, which they have acquired during their careers. The Fisher report did not call into question the distinction between the two basic funcions, although it rightly stressed the need for close cooperation and understanding between the two groups.

My hon. Friend also argued that the work carried out in the Ministry of Defence research and defence establishments would be more appropriately undertaken by industry. He will be aware that that general question was addressed by Lord Strathcona 18 months ago, and a copy of his report is available in the Library of the House. The noble Lord identified a number of areas of work as appropriate for transfer, and we are actively engaged in planning how that might be achieved. Gas turbines and rocket motors are two substantial examples of developments that lend themselves to that treatment, and they are included in our planning. However, he also concluded that other areas of research and development work—including, notably, basic research and acceptance testing—were appropriate to Government and likely to remain so. I take my hon. Friend's point but it cannot be applied indiscriminately.

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) with his substantial knowledge arising from his post as Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force—one that I have never held—referred to several matters. I shall, if he will permit me, seek to write to him about the more technical matters that he mentioned. He inquired about the current number of air defence aircraft. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), said: The number of aircraft available for the defence of the United Kingdom is greater that in 1979, and the capability of those aircraft has been enhanced."—[Official Report, 23 February 1982; Vol. 18, c. 730.] The hon. Gentleman also asked about missile stocks. He will recall from Cmnd. 8288, paragraph 12, that stocks of modern air-to-air missiles are to be more than doubled, and surface-to-air missile cover improved. As my right hon. Friend made clear some weeks ago, we shall be replacing all the missiles and other equipment lost or consumed in operations in the South Atlantic.

The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the fortieth anniversary of the Royal Air Force Regiment, which was celebrated recently in a very fine parade attended by Her Majesty. The regiment does an exceptionally good job, which is being substantially enhanced by the equipment that it is currently receiving.

The hon. Gentleman also rightly drew attention to the help and co-operation and—dare I use the word?—behaviour of the United States Air Force in Britain. It goes to a great deal of trouble to see that its airmen are properly organised. They look after themselves, they deal with the local community, and contribute a great deal in economic terms, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said recently.

The question of rapid runway repair development is receiving a great deal of attention, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that when my right hon. Friend announced the enhancement of the TA at the beginning of March, he said that we are to expand the airfield repair capacity by forming Royal Engineers TA squadrons with special responsibility for that work. The hon. Gentleman also asked about NBC protection for the Royal Air Force. That is proceeding along the current programme.

My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, West Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), Dumfries and others spoke of the importance of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The House is aware of the importance that the Government place on the use of reserve forces. Of course, the Royal Air Force is a complex organisation, needing men and women with a high and sustained level of training. The use of reserves is, perhaps, more restricted than in the Navy or Army. Even so, we are making significant advances. During his statement on 3 March my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the creation of three more Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons. I am pleased to announce that, in addition, another reserve unit, this time a movements squadron, is to be formed shortly.

I know of the close interest that many hon. Members have in the possibility of a flying reserve and my Department has studied the subject carefully on several occasions. Modern fast-jet pilots must have a sustained level of training and of operational readiness that reservists just could not maintain. Moreover, sufficient back-up is available from regular pilots with recent flying experience, serving in the support area of the Royal Air Force.

However, a flying role for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force may be possible in providing helicopter support for the Territorial Army. We are examining what scope there may be for that if naval Wessex aircraft can be transferred to the Royal Air Force. Clearly, helicopter establishments must be examined in the light of the Falklands experience. As the matter is under study, I shall not whet the appetites of my hon. Friends by proceeding further down that road. Of course, the Secretary of State's original statement holds good.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries mentioned accommodation and welfare for personnel on the Falkland Islands. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier today, although about 500 people remain in tents, the full range of special clothing and bedding is available and facilities exist to cook three hot meals a day.

I was disturbed to read reports of poor conditions suffered by 63 Squadron of the Royal Air Force Regiment earlier this week, but I was pleased to read confirmation later that that was ill-founded. An RAF Service man at Port Stanley airfield was quoted in The Guardian yesterday as saying If you haven't got anything, it's basic laziness that you haven't bothered to go and get it". We have now sent out large quantities of prefabricated hutted accommodation. A batch of 333 accommodation units is on board MV "Myrmidon" which arrives in Port Stanley today. They will provide accommodation and other facilities for about 3,000 men. That said, of course, our Forces continue to have a difficult and arduous job in atrocious weather conditions. We intend to give them every possible assistance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries also mentioned an important point about loyalty to the squadron. I am certain that his remarks will ring a bell with the Air Force Board, and my hon. Friend and I will take up that important point.

I have dealt with the living conditions mentioned by my hon. Friend but he also talked about low flying, and because of the substantial interest in the subject I shall devote some time to it. Obviously the operations of any air force are of some inconvenience to members of the public. We greatly regret that and do all that we can to minimise their impact on the local community and also to ensure safety. I repeat that low flying is a crucial part of our deterrence posture. The best way to deter enemy action is to leave the enemy in no doubt that one has the ability to strike back rapidly and effectively. In an air war, that would involve the use of low-level tactics to enable aircraft to fly under the enemy's radar to escape detection. Such tactics demand great professional expertise and continual practice. The necessary skills can be learned neither in simulators nor in flying over the sea, which does not provide relevant navigation experience, while opportunities for training abroad are limited.

In last year's debate my hon. Friend said that such training was an insurance for peace and a means of ensuring that, should we fail in … maintaining peace, our young men can do their job and face no more risk than they absolutely have to."—[Official Report, 23 June 1981; Vol. 7, c. 216.] RAF Harrier operations in the Falklands have shown the value of that rigorous training, in that, in about 150 sorties, only three aircraft were lost to enemy ground fire. I trust that those who are regrettably inconvenienced will see it as a small premium to pay to safeguard the lives of our young and gallant pilots.

I appreciated the remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who understood both the role of defence industries and the role of defence in protecting the nation. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), gave a rather philosophical dissertation, based on the RAF's role in his constituency and in the county of Lincolnshire. I entirely endorse his remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) mentioned Ascension Island, which was a crucial staging post and which we have continued to run intensively. Ascension Island was the hub of our air operational activity and more than 800 RAF officers and men were based there. Aircraft movements at Ascension Island peaked at 400 a day when the task force was moving through. By comparison, the average movements at Heathrow are about 750 a day. My hon. Friend was right to say that perhaps the men on Ascension Island are less well remembered. I welcome the opportunity to give them credit for a fine job well done. It would have been a different operation, if it had been one at all, without Ascension Island and the work done there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham also mentioned the undoubted advantages of having large air bases round the world. All of us share that view, but the fact that we must pay for them decides the disposition. My hon. Friend also spoke about helicopters and, as the largest employer in my constituency is Westland Aircraft, I share his interest in promoting those machines. My hon. Friend mentioned the EH-101—the new anti-submarine warfare helicopter—that we plan to develop in collaboration with Italy for entry into service towards the end of the decade. Although heavier than the Sea King, which it will replace in Royal Naval service, it will, by virtue of its much greater agility, be capable of operating from small ships, including the new type 23 towed array frigate. It will carry a highly sophisticated avionic suite which, together with Sting Ray torpedos, make it a formidable ASW weapon.

Commercial versions of the helicopter are also planned, for which a substantial market is foreseen by Westland and Agusta. By proceeding with an integrated Naval commercial programme, significant benefits should accrue to both defence and industry. Joint programme definition has been successfully completed and we are now discussing the way ahead with the Italian Government and with industry. We hope that the development will be launched early next year.

The response to a wide range of operational requests by one of Europe's top three helicopter manufacturers, Westland Helicopters, during the Falkland Islands conflict was excellent both as to speed and the technical solution of our requirements. It imposed exceptional demands on the staff, involving weekend and holiday working. I congratulate them on what they did.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) cast gloom over the safety of some aircraft. I assure him that the aircraft of the Queen's Flight are maintained to the highest possible standards. The Royal Air Force has extensive experience of Andover aircraft. Since entering service in 1964, such aircraft have flown more than 150,000 hours and there have been no major accidents to mark 2 aircraft. A minor accident involving a cabin door occurred in 1971 when, on take-off, the rear door opened into the air flow. It was concluded that the door had not been properly closed by the crew. Since the accident to Dan Air HS748 on 26 June 1981, the RAF has reviewed its air crew and engineering procedures and made minor amendments. In addition, minor modifications to the door mechanism are in hand.

The safety record of the Royal Air Force's Andovers is already very high. They are maintained to exceptionally high standards and further minor matters that we have put in hand reinforce our confidence in the safety of these aircraft.

I am delighted once again—and it is never too often—to pay tribute to the Royal Air Force's search and rescue organisation. I am not referring simply to the familiar yellow helicopters but also to the mountain rescue teams and even marine craft. Last year, the helicopters were scrambled 800 times rescuing or aiding over 600 civilians, 43 Service men and, to complete the picture, five dogs. The mountain rescue teams and marine craft responded to over 100 call-outs. This year looks like being little different.

By the end of May, 310 helicopter scrambles had been made, to assist 325 people. Some rescues are extensively reported in the media. Most pass almost unnoticed. We describe two rescues in the White Paper. Other examples are the winching to safety of four seamen at night and in fog after a collision between two coasters and the rescue of eight tankermen from their vessel as it sank in a force 11 storm. Last year, the bravery of the search and rescue crews was marked by the award of two George Medals, one, unhappily, posthumously. I am sure that the whole House joins me in extending thanks to the crews for their difficult and arduous work and the brave manner in which they carry it out.

During the recent manhunt for Barry Prudom in Yorkshire, helicopters from Royal Air Force Leconfield provided many hours of assistance to police forces involved, both in the aerial search role and as a means of rapid transportation. In addition, a specialised Puma helicopter with sophisticated surveillance devices was made available to assist in the search.

The Royal Air Force's contribution to the well-being of the civil community is not limited to search and rescue but encompasses a wide range of other activities, some of which one would not automatically associate with the Royal Air Force. For example, during the bad weather last winter, the Royal Air Force supplied transport resources for meals on wheels, delivered animal feed, carried out flood relief work and provided emergency ambulance cover. In my constituency, during a disastrous night just before Christmas, when the Bristol Channel overflowed sea defences, personnel of the local Royal Air Force station turned out in the middle of the night and worked without a break in terrible conditions to help my constituents and the constituents of neighbouring hon. Members.

Even less well known, perhaps, is the work of the Royal Air Force bomb disposal team which worked in the Falklands. After withstanding aerial bombardment in San Carlos Bay and helping to defuse a number of unexploded bombs, the team went ashore and disposed of 17 tons of napalm at Goose Green. After the fall of Port Stanley, the team contributed to a rapid return to normal conditions by dealing with booby traps and other ordnance and by clearing the runway and adjacent areas of Port Stanley airport to allow aircraft to land with essential supplies and personnel for the Falklands community.

The House should be in no doubt about the high value of the Royal Air Force's contribution to the Falklands operation. It performed the vital and incredibly arduous tasks of transporting men and materials on long flights to Ascension and to the task force. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Durnfries in commending the incredible endurance shown on some of these flights. The discomfort and the endurance required were remarkable.

The House will be aware of the gallantry of the RAF Harrier pilots in combat over the Falklands, the air defence activities of the RAF Regiment, the Nimrod patrols, the bomb disposal teams, and many more elements that add up to a vital role. This was performed by the Royal Air Force with the quiet confidence and supreme skill to which we have all become accustomed. There are dangers in becoming accustomed to tacit acceptance of a Service that consistently meets its traditionally high standards, so I am sure that the House will not object to being reminded of this, and will join me in paying tribute to the men and women of the RAF.

Mr. Donald Thompson (Sowerby)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to
Forward to