§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I beg to move,That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.The purpose of the order is to continue in force for a further year——
§ Mr. Freeman
The purpose of the order is to continue in force for a further year the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957, which together provide the basis for the disciplinary arrangements in the three services. The concept of annual parliamentary approval for the special legal positon of the service man or woman, subject as he or she is to constraints of military discipline as well as the rule of civil law, is a long-established one in British constitutional practice. Every fifth year the opportunity is taken to review in depth the needs of the service disciplinary systems, and an Armed Forces Act is passed making such amendments to the systems as are considered necessary. The most recent such Act was passed in 1986.
The Select Committee that considered the 1986 Act accepted that on balance the procedure under which such Bills are introduced quinquennially, with annual continuation orders such as I am moving today proposed in the intervening years, is the right way to ensure that the working of the service discipline Acts is kept under review by Parliament. The annual debate on the continuation order allows us to debate matters affecting service discipline and welfare. In addition, it provides me with an opportunity to pay a wholehearted tribute to the skill and dedication of our armed forces. Their professionalism is founded in part upon a sound disciplinary system that will be continued with the order, which I invite the House to approve.
§ Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)
As the Under-Secretary of State said, the order provides an opportunity for us to keep under review the Armed Forces Act. It enables us to seek from the Minister something in the way of a progress report, not least in the light of the work of last year's Select Committee that considered what was then the Bill. I had hoped that the Minister would be more fulsome in his justification of the order. I hope that when he replies to the debate he will address himself to some of the issues that I intend to raise and to the matters that some of my hon. Friends will bring to his attention.
It has been said that the purpose of the review is to ensure that volunteer service men and women who give up some of the civil liberties that we enjoy as private citizens—they forgo some of these civil liberties to protect our civil liberties—can carry out their activities within the services in a fair, reasonable and just way.
Last year the House debated the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill. At that time considerable misgivings were expressed—certainly by Opposition Members—about some of the Government's antics and attitudes. It was unfortunate that, at the time, the Select Committee on the 452 Armed Forces Bill was denied the right to call on the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who wished to give oral evidence concerning the UDR. The Committee was denied the right to call Mr. Calcutt to give evidence concerning the Cyprus spy inquiry. It was also denied oral evidence from the Campaign for Homosexual Equality on matters relating to homosexuality in the armed forces. We recognise that such matters still require consideration, and we hope that in response to the debate the Minister will provide us with more information. [Interruption.] Is it necessary, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for hon. Members to carry on conversations in the House when we are trying to deal with important matters?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I am finding it difficult to hear the debate. I hope that hon. Members who are not listening to the debate will withdraw from the Chamber.
§ Mr. O'Neill
One of the problems in the armed forces is that of morale. In a highly disciplined force the like of which we have in this country, the significance of morale can never be underestimated. It is an integral part of order within the armed forces.
In recent years we have seen a 25 per cent. increase in the number of skilled personnel leaving the armed forces. A substantial number of pilots, whose training has cost in excess of £3 million, are taking premature voluntary retirement. It could be that orders of the kind that we are discussing have been contributing factors. Certainly, morale is significant. In the Royal Navy the decline in the size of the fleet and the number of frigates have been contributory factors. About 70 per cent. of RAF married quarters are regarded as substandard. It is fair to say that, if we point to inadequate housing in civilian society as being a contributory factor to the breakdown of order, there must be a recognition of the inadequacy of housing standards as something that could undermine order. We cannot make a simple comparison between civilian society and the armed forces, but identifiable shortcomings will have repercussions in the behaviour of service personnel. It is to their credit that they have been able to put up with increasingly intolerable conditions, but many of them arc voting with their feet and leaving the forces in great numbers. Neither the security of the country nor the general morale of the forces can afford that.
We have seen other examples of the breakdown of morale. It is a matter of regret that, over the past 12 months, there has been an increase——
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that he is exaggerating beyond a peradventure when he talks about a breakdown in morale? If he is in day-to-day contact with our armed forces, as many Conservative Members are, he will know that to talk in such terms is a gross exaggeration. There are matters of concern, but to talk about a breakdown is a gross exaggeration. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his comments.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I was not aware that I was over-egging the pudding. I was merely saying that we ignore at our peril the increasing difficulties confronting our armed forces as a result of the Government's indifference. That is evidenced by the steady stream of well-trained personnel who are leaving the services—and leaving at great cost to this country.
453 There have been reports of five cases of bullying and malpractice at training establishments that have resulted in fatalities. I know that at least one case is still sub judice and that it would therefore be inappropriate for us to discuss it in detail. However, the Under-Secretary must reconsider his refusal to hold a broader inquiry into those unfortunate and tragic incidents.
We must examine carefully the problems with our junior soldiers. We cannot forget that junior soldiers are minors and that the armed forces are, in effect, in loco parentis in respect of them. They have a responsibility that far exceeds their responsibility for older soldiers. The Minister should address himself to that point, because it is a consequence of the fact that the regulations have not been adhered to as we would have wished.
The problems of training establishments and the treatment of young soldiers have been highlighted in a variety of ways, and in one case there were allegations of racial abuse. The Government must reconsider their refusal to introduce some form of ethnic monitoring. I know that Alf Dubs, the former Member for Battersea, whose absence from the House many of us greatly regret, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) pursued the problem with great vigour. The stories that we have heard do not satisfy us and we believe that it is incumbent upon the Minister to re-examine the desirability of introducing ethnic monitoring and preventing racial abuse in the armed forces.
The Opposition never have a three-line Whip in debates on capital punishment. It is never a matter of party division. It is up to individuals and their consciences. We know that over the years debates on capital punishment have never been a source of great satisfaction to the Prime Minister. It is only right that we should re-examine the retention of the death penalty in the regulations and consider whether we should move away from the use of that penalty in times of peace.
Last year the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill recommended that Queen's Regulations in respect of courts martial should be reviewed, with particular regard to the rights of service men and women in the Army and RAF to be represented at summary proceedings by an accused's friend, to use the naval jargon. Will the Minister tell us what is happening about that and whether the Government have agreed to support the recommendations of the Committee?
The Opposition do not believe that the present court martial system is the best that our services could have. We believe that the defendant service man at a court martial should have the right to be defended by a senior NCO, if the defendant thinks it appropriate. The use of an NCO's services might well afford the court the opportunity to hear someone with more direct experience of the life of the other ranks than can be provided by a comissioned officer. This is a delicate point in some respects, but it might be an appropriate matter for consideration. I realise that it would be difficult to ensure that NCOs were given legal training, but the Minister should consider whether some NCOs could be utilised in that way.
We acknowledge the work of the services in dealing with drug abuse. We recognise that sterling efforts have been made, especially in educating service people about the hazards of drug and alcohol abuse. I understand that the Army is to subject soldiers to routine drug tests. A 454 number of pieces of special equipment have been ordered. Will that equipment be purchased for the RAF and the Navy as well? Has the Army carried out any tests? What are the results? These are important matters. If the Army is still breaking in the equipment or getting the bugs out of the system we would be happy about that, but we would like assurances that if the equipment is worthwhile—we believe that it is—and is successfully applied by the Army, it will be extended to the other services. We congratulate the Royal Navy's alcohol abuse team on its excellent work. We hope that the other services will set up similar specialist units. Alcohol abuse is a major problem in our society. In some instances, young men who have reasonable amounts to spend on alcohol will do so, to their disadvantage.
I mentioned that the Campaign for Homosexual Equality was not allowed to give oral evidence to the Select Committee. Due recognition ought to be given to the increasing self-confidence of homosexuals in being able to come out and live an open life, rather than the closed life that many lived in the past. It would be desirable for the Government to take account of changing social attitudes and again consider the issue of homosexuality in the armed forces.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is making a thoroughly irresponsible suggestion from the point of view of military discipline? It would be fatal to be more permissive towards homosexual behaviour within the closed confines of military units, ships at sea, and so on, especially in view of the AIDS epidemic. That is one of the most ludicrous and dangerous suggestions that I have ever heard.
§ Mr. O'Neill
That shows that there is a genuine difference of opinion. We take the view that homosexuality exists and that it should not be a source of blackmail. It should not necessarily be a threat to military discipline. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but other armed forces do not take the same view and it does not seem to have a deleterious effect on discipline.
The issue of AIDS has already been raised and I should like to ask the Minister about the fate of those service personnel who are identified as being HIV positive: will they be discharged, or will they be allowed to remain in the service as happens in the United States Navy? Perhaps the Minister will advise us of current thinking on this subject, because it is clear that in the Western Alliance there are differences of emphasis and attitude. I do now want to labour the point, but it is important that we use a debate such as this, which is not a heated debate, to consider the regulations dispassionately. I should like to know the Minister's attitude on this issue.
Last year there were extensive discussions, long debates and a serious examination of these regulations by the Select Committee, as happens in the quinquennial review. An order that affords only 90 minutes for debate must, of necessity, be superficial in some respects, but in other respects this is an opportunity for us to obtain an update from the Minister about current thinking in the Ministry and the services. Therefore, I should be grateful if the Minister would address himself to the points that we have raised during the past 12 months, because they have been raised on previous occasions, and some of our arguments have been reinforced by unfortunate and tragic experiences. We ask the Minister to take account of that. 455 We shall not seek to divide the House on this order, although perhaps some of the new Conservative Members had not appreciated that point, and that is why they are here.
We recognise the high standards of our forces and we wish to ensure that those high standards of behaviour continue. We recognise that we demand a loss of civil liberties from our voluntary forces so that our civil liberties and freedom can be maintained and protected. Therefore, we take our responsibilities in this area extremely seriously and carefully. That is why the points that I have raised this evening merit consideration and response from the Minister and the House. We hope that tonight the Minister will give satisfactory answers to some of the points on which he has not given satisfactory answers in the past.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
This renewal debate on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts provides a useful opportunity to raise specific matters of importance to the discipline of the armed forces. I want to touch on one issue which, from a disciplinary point of view, could be of considerable significance, especially to the Royal Air Force. I have addressed this issue before, but to my knowledge it has not been satisfactorily answered.
The Government possess powers to requisition, in time of emergency or war, civilian assets and to take them up from trade. That includes not only ships but civil aircraft that belong to airlines and civil air transport operators. Of course, crews are needed to operate those airplanes. One can imagine a situation in which civil crews would come under military command to fulfil ostensibly civil roles but roles that could, in time of emergency, bring hazard and danger to the operating air crews. One can also imagine that the British Air Line Pilots Association, or other unions, or even the individuals themselves, might be reluctant to fly their aircraft into what they regard as a war zone.
I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should have powers to make civilian aircrews who are flying civilian aircraft such as air transport airplanes, airliners that are converted to flight refuelling, civil helicopters for air transport and air-sea rescue and perhaps other aircraft, such as surveillance airplanes used in peace time for policing the United Kingdom's economic zones, such as fishing zones, that are operated in peacetime under the aegis of the Department of Trade and Industry, but which in case of war, would be required for maritime patrol, come under military commanders.
Civilian personnel whose primary job is flying for an airline or some other duty can be members of the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve and, as such, fly regularly with the Royal Air Force on air transport and maritime patrol duties, as well as carrying out flying instruction and air experience duties. But civilians who do not belong to the volunteer reserve or the Royal Auxiliary Air Force could, in an emergency or war, be required to carry out difficult and dangerous operations. In those circumstances, it is essential that they be subject to military discipline under the Air Force Act 1955. If the Government have not already done so, I hope that they will make provision for this, because it could have considerable operational significance.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I want to ask the Minister one question, which I hope he will take in the spirit in which it is asked. In a rather careful and unemotional spirit. I have to say to him that, for three and a half hours earlier in the year, starting from a basis of scepticism, I saw Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd. The truth of the matter is that I do not know one way or the other what happened or what did not happen in the case of Captain Nairac. I know that, in certain other matters, what Colin Wallace has claimed is suspiciously near the truth in relation to Lord Glenamara and in relation to what happened in the 1970s of which I have personal knowledge——
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that we were debating the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts. We know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) likes to bang on about all sorts of things which have nothing to do with the business, but the House will be very grateful that you are in the Chair and are well able to control the hon. Gentleman should he stray out of line.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, who has only just started his speech. Perhaps it would be helpful if I reminded the House that we are discussing the terms of service, discipline and punishment in the armed services.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is very much a question of discipline. Even if the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) thinks that I am raising matters in a provocative way, I hope that other Conservative Members will not. I am asking a serious question.
A great deal has been written about this. A serious forensic scientist, Dr. Julius Grant, has apparently confirmed the dates of a number of the dairies that many of us have seen. We are talking about people who have been endlessly trying to approach Ministers. All that I say, in as quiet and careful a way as I can, is that, being a person of some scepticism and very great care in dealing with people, I came to the conclusion — I have been extremely careful about it—that much of what Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd were saying certainly needed investigation. I want to say this in as unvituperative a manner as possible: this position should no longer be allowed to fester. I plead with the Ministry of Defence at least to take the matter seriously. It is not quite good enough, after all that has happened, simply to say that there will be no inquiry. Ministers cannot go on saying, "We will do nothing about it; we will ignore it." All these matters are gaining more and more credence.
I sit down now, because I promised that I would speak for only two minutes, with a plea that the Ministry of Defence, along with other Departments, takes seriously these allegations from Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd, who were trusted at the time—they are not of my political beliefs — and who occupied very important positions, in the case of Colin Wallace. Those who served with him bear witness to his importance in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Marlow
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is patent that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is banging on about something that is totally 457 unrelated to the business in hand. The hon. Gentleman is always doing this. Will you please defend the House from this abuse?
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is a matter of military discipline, and concerns something that happened in Northern Ireland in the mid-1970s. It is essential to military discipline. There should be some investigation.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not take up his argument. I fail to see its relevance to what we are considering.
It is right that we should have a regular review of matters relating to the Army, Air Force and Navy and discipline and morale in those services. One of the particularly good things about the House is that we have regular single service debates. From time to time we also review Army, Air Force and Navy discipline.
It is appropriate that I should say a few words—the House will be relieved that it will be a few words—about one of the principal instruments of maintaining discipline, the military corrective training centre, which is housed in Colchester. I am blessedly relieved to say that it is now in the last stages of the completion of its rebuild. I hope that the Minister can give us an update about that development. Certain parts of the rebuild are functioning now, but we hope that there will be a grand opening of the entire centre shortly. It would be fun to have the Minister, his colleagues and other dignitaries visiting the constituency for that opening.
For the 26 years that I have been in the House I have battled for the opening of a new military corrective training centre. Until last year, most of that centre was housed in Nissen huts.
§ Sir Antony Buck
Exactly. I started campaigning then for the centre and that campaign has been very effective. From time to time, even Opposition Members have been helpful. I am glad to say that the campaign has come to fruition and I hope that before long there will be a grand opening of the MCTC. In fact, when the Labour party was in power there was little progress towards that goal, but I shall not make party political points about matters that are, on the whole, best kept out of the political arena.
This debate gives us an opportunity to say a brief word about morale in the armed forces. I represent part of a garrison town and I have an opportunity to visit the armed forces. Indeed, many hon. Members visit the armed forces and we should take every opportunity to pay tribute to the high morale and expertise in the armed forces. Such professionalism is evident whether one visits the armed forces in the Falkland Islands, the British Army of the Rhine, in Belize or elsewhere.
What is the present state of affairs regarding premature voluntary release? If the figures are increasing, we should hear about that. When we came to power the situation was desperate. The middle ranks of the armed forces, the senior NCOs and junior officers, were taking premature 458 voluntary release in formidable numbers. The most skilled of our armed forces were draining away. The first thing that the Government did was to deal with the pay of the armed forces. That had an instant, dramatic effect on the outflow of personnel from the armed forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to skilled pilots. My hon. Friend is well aware that when the RAF trains a pilot he becomes an expert and is a valuable commodity on the commercial market. That pilot, as a chief pilot in the civilian air force or as an employee of the air authorities can earn large sums of money.
I hope that the Minister can give us an update about premature voluntary release. We must ensure that it does not occur to an alarming extent. Of course, people should be able to go into civilian life with the advantage of armed forces training. However, some of us have heard suggested that the figures for premature voluntary release are increasing. If so, that is a matter of considerable concern.
It is right that the House should take this opportunity to pay tribute to the armed forces of the Crown, particularly in the context of the burden borne in Northern Ireland. No armed forces but ours could have sustained that burden for such a long period. Having visited Northern Ireland 14 times since the troubles began—I am not unduly superstitious when I say that I was glad when the 13th visit was over—I know that high morale has been maintained. The House should take every opportunity to pay tribute to what our armed forces are doing throughout the world, but particularly in Northern Ireland. Discipline, with which we are particularly concerned tonight, is standing up to the strains imposed on them there just as much now as it has in the past.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Anyone with any experience of military matters or who has given any thought to them will recognise the need for discipline in the armed forces, both for military effectiveness and civilian safety.
Yet instilling in men the discipline to kill when required to do so in war and at the same time to behave in a civilised manner in peace time is no simple matter. That is why the Acts to which these continuation orders apply contain sections dealing with disgraceful and disorderly conduct.
Part II of the Air Force Act 1955 contains section 43A which prescribes penalties forAny person subject to air-force law who, without reasonable excuse … uses threatening, abusive, insulting or provocative words or behaviour likely to cause a disturbance".It is my belief that at the RAF base at Upper Heyford discipline has fallen far short of acceptable standards and the sort of behaviour to which that section applies. I doubt whether disciplinary action has been taken in this case, and I wish to bring it to the Minister's attention.
At first sight my complaint may seem to be trivial, because it relates to material that is on sale at that base, including stickers and a song book. But this is a serious matter. The stickers depicted an F-111 and carried the slogan "Warsaw pact central heating" — [Laughter.] I do not find that funny.
Although the song book consisted of 52 pages, it contained but one verse that I can recite in the Chamber without Mr. Speaker ordering me out. I shall recite that verse because the book was on sale at an open family day at a British base. It stated: 459Phantom flyers in the sky, Persian-pukes prepare to die, Rolling in with snake and nape, Allah creates but we cremate. North of Tehran, we did go, When the FAC said from below, 'Hit my smoke, and you will find, The Arabs there are in a bind'. I rolled in at a thousand feet, I saw those bastards, heating feet, No more they'll pillage, kill and rape, `Cause we fried 'em, with our nape".That would be extremely serious in any circumstances, but given the bombing that took place from this country on Libya, and given the position of the United States in the Gulf area at present, this is indeed insulting and provocative behaviour.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are not we discussing the Royal Air Force Act 1955, not the United States Air Force services?
§ Ms. Ruddock
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that the base has an RAF commander in charge of it; I have a letter from him; he exists.
I hope that the Minister will agree that the fact that the material has been produced and put on sale——
§ Mr. Marlow
I am not trying to be critical. By way of explanation, will the hon. Lady tell the House whether the verse that she read out was written by British service men or United States service men?
§ Ms. Ruddock
I am happy to tell the House, as I have been doing, that that material was on public sale at an open day at RAF Upper Heyford, where a British commander is in charge. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, I want to tell the Minister that I hope that he agrees that the fact that that material was produced—albeit, I suspect, by American service men—and was put on sale—[Interruption.] I am sure that it has a lot to do with us. It happened on a British base. The material was steeped in racial hatred and sexual violence, and should not have been on sale at such a function.
I wonder whether the Minister believes that, in order to discipline men for working with nuclear weapons, the cultural values of violent obscenities must be employed; and whether the spread of such values among the armed forces—British or American—in this country is good or bad for discipline.
I do not need to remind the House that there are nuclear weapons on that base that can bring about the total destruction of this nation, and every other. Such behaviour is not conducive to the special discipline that is required when one is in charge of nuclear weapons. I ask the Minister to hold an inquiry into the matter and report to the House.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I return to the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Minister on opening the debate—that of service discipline and the welfare of British, and not American, troops. I hope that I can emulate my hon. Friend's brevity in opening the debate.
If the British Army were given the opportunity to debate all the gossip and niggles that come out of the 460 Members' Tea Room I suspect that the debate might last much longer than tonight's may last. In this debate we are hearing many of the niggles that hon. Members will undoubtedly hear if they ever visit a unit. They are part of ordinary life. Hon. Members may hear echoes of those sorts of niggles during next week's debate on Members' pay, and they will hear them when they visit the services.
I have a great regard for the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). Those of us who have seen him perform in the past have come to like him. However, to go on about the capital punishment aspect of discipline in the armed forces when debating this order is not on. If the hon. Gentleman can tell me when that was last used I shall happily give—with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I would he gambling in the Chamber—£5 to the Army benevolent fund. However, it is not a matter of the greatest import, either to the Army or the House.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I do not want to rise to the bait, but I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that if a punishment is not used, and is seen not to be effective—I do not believe we should have an arid discussion about its deterrent value now—we would be well advised to rid ourselves of it and remove it from the legislation. The House has shown that it is opposed to all aspects of capital punishment. We believe, therefore, that it would be appropriate to delete it from the regulations.
§ Mr. Conway
The hon. Gentleman has not earned his £5 for the Army benevolent fund. It is one thing for Back Benchers—we lesser mortals—to nitpick, but we expect better things from the Opposition Front Bench.
One of the issues to which the hon. Member for Clackmannan rightly referred — some of us have contemporaries who are still serving — is that of premature retirement from the armed forces. The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember that during his party's term of government there was a much greater problem than there is now, when there has been a considerable improvement in pay and conditions for the armed forces.
Having crawled a little, I may incur my hon. Friend's wrath when I suggest that in considering welfare and discipline in our armed forces we should perhaps move forward a little with the times and appreciate that while, in civilian life, many people have working wives or partners, those who govern our armed forces have not quite come to terms with that concept. I understand that in many cases where people seek to leave the armed forces prematurely much of the pressure comes from spouses who may have to give up highly lucrative employment for the sake of their spouses' careers. Politicians perhaps do not realise how many wives sacrifice a great deal to enable their husbands to move on every two or three years as their postings demand.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I recently received a letter from a couple in which the wife had been a nurse in the armed forces for seven or eight years. The couple had married fairly recently and she had become pregnant. It was unplanned, but they liked the idea of having a baby. However, it meant that she would be forced to give up her career. The husband wrote to me a very upsetting letter saying that they were considering an 461 abortion because they had to choose between the wife's career in the armed forces or the baby. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is an outrageous condition of service which ought to be changed?
§ Mr. Conway
In view of the sparsity of Members on the Opposition Benches, the hon. Lady will have ample opportunity to make her own contribution to the debate. If she is asking whether I, as a convert to the Church of Rome, consider such a position outrageous, the answer is yes. Those of us blessed with children do not regard it as an unplanned curse and I am sorry if the hon. Lady sees it in that light.
§ Mr. Conway
Returning to my hon. Friend the Minister's opening remarks, I understand that the Army Act 1955, although it does not specifically say so, in fact covers those who serve in the Territorial Army. My hon. Friend is always very generous in bearing with me when I prattle on at length about the Territorial Army, but as it is a growing part of our armed forces' commitment I ask that when he comes to review the terms of the 1955 Act and of the order in view of the heavy recruitment to the Territorial Army and the Government's handsome and encouraging plans for it, he should consider that we are perhaps approaching the time when we should look rather more closely at the way in which the conditions of service apply to those signing up for a Territorial Army commitment. Young men joining infantry regiments are given a very good grounding about their military commitments before they actually sign on the dotted line and from the taxpayers' point of view once they have actually signed we perhaps need the Act to cover that commitment a little more forcefully than at present. As we encourage and expand the Territorial Army we should perhaps likewise ensure that from the taxpayers' point of view that commitment has meaning for those seeking to leave early.
Finally, like many hon. Members I was concerned to read this week that the regimental system which has been the pride of the British Army may be under review. Many of us deeply regretted the abolition of many county regiments under the Labour Government. That was most unwelcome in many parts of the country. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister that such a proposal would be heavily resisted by many hon. Members because the regimental system undoubtedly plays a major part in the disciplinary aspects as well as the welfare aspects of service in our armed forces
§ Mr. Marlow
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the regimental system in terms of discipline, prestige, morale and so on, but there are other armies—perhaps not quite so good as ours—elsewhere in the world which have not had such a system but have nevertheless been highly efficient. Moreover, one of the disadvantages of the regimental system is a tendency towards hidebound attitudes so that when changes in tactics and strategy are required it may be a dead hand on progress, which should quite properly be re-examined.
§ Mr. Conway
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a suggestion to a Geordie who very much misses the Northumberland Fusiliers—now the Royal Regiment of 462 Fusiliers—and who is the Member for Parliament for a constituency where the King's Shropshire Light Infantry had a proud county record, but which was abolished by the Labour party. My hon. Friend should discuss with our American allies whether the lack of a regimental system has made their fighting troops more efficient. I suggest that the reverse is the case and that that is why they are moving towards a cohort system to try to instil the notion of family, which is an essential part of training, discipline and welfare.
I have taken longer than I expected. but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that the regimental system remains a fundamental. if not a legislative, part of the discipline of our armed forces.
§ 11.5 pm
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
This debate gives me an opportunity to comment on the Air Force Act 1955, which has 224 sections, three of which deal with a matter of great concern to me and which should be of great concern to the Minister.
I refer to flying and offences related to flying in sections 49, 51 and 52. They provide:49. Any person subject to air-force law who is guilty of any act or neglect in flying, or in the use of any aircraft or in relation to any aircraft or aircraft material, which causes or is likely to cause loss of life or bodily injury to any person shall, on conviction by court-martial …51. Any person subject air-force law who, being the pilot of one of Her Majesty's aircraft, flies it at a height less than such height as may be provided by any regulations …shall, on conviction by court-martial …52. Any person subject to air-force law who, being the pilot of one of Her Majesty's aircraft, flies it so as to cause, or to be likely to cause, unnecessary annoyance to any person shall on conviction by court-martial …Those sections are not being implemented, and the Minister knows it. From his own replies, we know that there have been 34,000 complaints about low-flying aircraft in the United Kingdom in the period 1979–86, but there has been only one court-martial. Two pilots have been fined and five have been summarily disciplined, or received a smack on the hand.
I want tonight to use Parliament for what it was meant for — I want to read into the record some of the interesting correspondence that I have received from my constituents and constituents of other Members, some Conservative, who are present. I received a letter from a person in the county of Cumbria on 6 May who said:Somebody has to call a halt. Last Thursday, May 1st at 4.45 p.m. one of your low flying aircraft missed our weather-cock by a few feet. It is thirty feet above the ground and I was twenty yards away. The 'plane then made a terrific swerve to avoid going through an ash tree and passed it seventy feet up, well below the top of the tree. Thirty yards east of the weather-cock were twenty in-calf cows and heifers, which the craft went over and to my horror they all went beserk, as did 36 other cattle twenty odd yards to the south, some of which jumped a barbed wire fence and broke the side of a ditch which had just been cleaned out. Two days before this, i.e. April 29th, five aircraft screamed over these premises between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. the fifth one at exactly 11 p.m.The constituent—not mine—then provides an ordnance survey reference. The Minister will be pleased to know that I have sent him this information and asked for an investigation. As is always the case, the investigation will turn out to be a farce and nothing will be done, but we can still go through the motions because the Minister demands it, as do the public, it seems.
I have another letter from someone in the county of Cumbria which runs: 463As residents of Buttermere Valley, we are constantly annoyed and on occasions frightened, by the low flying of military aircraft, some of which are so low that we are able to see the pilot in the cockpit. One incident in early August 1985, prompted me to write a strong letter of protest to MOD (Air). We run a small guest house and on that occasion we had in residence a lady who was suffering from an advanced stage of Parkinson's Disease. The aircraft banked over the house at very low level, frightening the whole household and stampeding neighbouring livestock and reducing our guest to a state of shock and collapse. In my letter to MOD (Air) I forewarned of possible future tragedy not only to RAF personnel but possibly to to residents of the valley also. Of course I received the expected bland reply …Wednesday's fatal accident was a tragedy for the unfortunate pilot's family but could have been a disaster with Keswick only a few seconds flying time from the scene of the crash!Until now I have never felt the need to write to my Member of Parliament but I feel so strongly on this point. Can nothing be done to at least reduce this constant low flying in this area?I estimate that I have probably received about 800 letters on the subject over the past few years, but I have received a particularly large number during the last month, following this most recent accident in my constituency. A letter that I received from someone living near Leeds tells me:My wife and I and a number of friends have struck the Lakes off our holiday list because of the incessant noise and the bedlam caused by training aircraft. We actually came across some overseas tourists who were amazed that HM Government allows the desecration of such a jewel of landscape.An infuriated United States holidaymaker says:How thick are these guys who allow the destruction through noise of one of Europe's brightest holiday places? Your Wordsworth is surely turning with shaky fingers in his ears.I have received many letters from tourists complaining about what is going on in the Lake District and, indeed, in other parts of the country. I have a very curious mailbag from people in Devon and Cornwall, who complain about the failure of their Conservative Members of Parliament to take such matters seriously. When they receive replies from Ministers saying that nothing is wrong — that everything is OK, and that such things are to be accepted—they cannot understand why their own Members of Parliament do not object. I see an hon. Member in the House tonight whose constituents have written to me on a number of occasions objecting to the fact that he has failed to deal with such complaints, and the fact that pilots who should have been disciplined have not been so disciplined.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman should not ask me to name people in the Chamber. He will know the difficulties that I have had on previous occasions when I have set out to do that—although perhaps for other reasons.
I have another letter here, which reads:On Tuesday 16 June, my wife and I were travelling from Ambleside to Silloth.That crosses two Conservative constituencies in the county of Cumbria.At about 4 pm my wife saw a war plane travelling north over Thirlmere. The road, of course, is higher than the water level and the plane appeared to be on a level with us. The following noise was so horrendous that I instinctively ducked and my car swerved across the road. Fortunately the road was empty and I immediately regained control. However a serious accident or even a fatality could have occurred. As you will 464 observe I live in Silloth and continually these plans tear across the sky at very low height causing much distress to elderly people by the terrible noise emitted.This has been going on for a long time.
Hon. Members may mumble about how monotonous these letters are, but there are hundreds of them. Indeed across the House there must be tens of thousands. I only wish that hon. Members would bring them to the Chamber so that the Minister could learn what is happening. He sends junior aircraft men out to the provinces to lecture people and give them the old PR rubbish to justify what is happening, and never learns the truth. While people accept the need for low flying, they object strenuously when certain areas of the country are singled out for what I describe as special treatment, and the people of those areas are abused by joyriding pilots who are carrying out far more sorties than is necessary. I have many more of those letters but perhaps I will have time to come back to them later in the debate.
Five issues arise from what I have drawn to the attention of the House. The first is the loss of life of pilots. I tabled a question that was answered on Monday 29 June. I asked the Minister to tell me how many pilots had been lost in such accidents. He refused to do so. His reply referred me to some obscure document. He was unwilling to publish in Hansard the names of those pilots who have died in the service of their country. He was unwilling to name or identify by number those pilots who have died in the service of their country over the past eight years. That is shameful. The answer is clear and, just in case Conservative Members do not believe me, they should refer themselves to the reply on Monday 29 June.
The second issue is that of the loss of aircraft and the vast amount of public expenditure involved. According to Government replies given to me and other hon. Members over the past two years, just taking Tornado and Jaguar aircraft into account, there have been 172 accidents involving £1,500 million worth of equipment since 1976. In the period 1983–87 12 Tornado aircraft were lost at a loss to the Exchequer of £216 million. In the years 1975–87, 49 Jaguar aircraft were lost at a cost of £300 million to the Exchequer. That makes a total of £516 million. A total of 18 Hawk aircraft were lost in the period 1982–85. Eight United States F111 bombers were lost in the period 1981–84. I cannot imagine what happened before 1981 or after 1984. We do not have those figures. Those figures may well be doubled. In the period 1980–85 39 helicopters were lost. We are talking about an aircraft loss in excess of 140 compared to the 34 aircraft lost in the Falklands war. That is the measure of loss arising from air——
§ Mr. Wilkinson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What proof does the hon. Gentleman have that any of those losses were attributable to ill-discipline? Unless he can make it clear that that is the case he is, in my judgment, out of order.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I shall give the hon. Gentleman the answer. Instead of intervening, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could disappear to his office or the Library and read all the reports that have been published and the newspaper articles that have been printed following the loss of those aircraft. He will then be able to judge for himself whether they relate to neglect by pilots. It is 465 difficult for any of us to make the judgment but I have drawn conclusions and I am sure that he would wish to do so. The Minister does not deny it. He has every opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box now and dispute my figures, but he will not do so. I put it to the Minister that we have, perhaps, lost as many as 250 aircraft in the period 1976–87. Perhaps the Minister would care to come to the Dispatch Box and deny that. I do not have the total figure but it has been estimated to be as high as that. Is that the wrong figure? If that is not wrong, I put it to Conservative Members that they should multiply that by the millions of pounds that the aircraft cost and consider that as a global figure in terms of public expenditure as against other areas of the defence budget.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I will not give way because I have very little time left.
We are talking about a vast amount of money. It is significant that every time there is a low-flying aircraft disaster in the United Kingdom, instead of the Government referring to the cost to the Exchequer and the damage that the loss does to the defence estate, they hide behind commiserations about the loss of pilots. When I ask a question about it I do not get a clear answer. When statements are made by the Ministry of Defence, they are always commiserations for the pilot and there are never any references to the public expenditure that is lost when an aircraft is involved in an accident.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Perhaps they should be the priority. If they are the priority, the Ministry should have replied to the question that I tabled last week. However, it has not been replied to. I was asked to refer to another document.
The third issue is the whole question of the potential damage to communities. I have dealt with that to some extent in the letters that I read. The majority of the people in my constituency are concerned about what is happening. Many people blindly support low-flying aircraft sorties over the Lake District, but many people right across the political spectrum ring me at home or write to me to tell me that they object. They maintain that it has gone too far. I predicted, to within a quarter of a mile, where the last disaster occurred in the Borrowdale valley. That involved two aircraft, the loss of one life and a cost to the Ministry of Defence of over £25 million worth of equipment. That disaster has shaken my constituency. The Minister has a duty to consider that and to consider introducing at least a temporary ban to allow a proper review to take place.
When the Minister says that he is carrying out a review that is only part of the continuing review that he referred to in a reply that he gave me the other day when he said:The regulations governing the low-flying system are kept continuously under review and altered as necessary."—[Official Report, 6 July 1987; Vol. 119, c. 60.]That is the review that the junior aircraftman that he sent to Penrith the other week was talking about during that audience. It may have pleased some at that meeting when the Minister spoke about a review, but he did not tell them that it was a part of the review which is going on all the time and which is meaningless.
466 When we went to his office, we were told that there was a permanent review. But that review leads us nowhere because no action is taken and no initiatives are taken. People in the county are not listened to. Complaints are coming in from all over the country, mainly from Tory constituencies because it is mainly the Tories who represent rural areas. But those complaints are ignored. Tory Members are treating those representations with contempt. Last year I rang a Tory Member who is no longer here and mentioned this subject. However, his secretary came on the phone and argued with me suggesting that I had no right to contact him because it was all perfectly proper and that those matters were beyond contention. Such is the blind indifference of many Members in the House to what is going on.
The existing practice of low-flying aircraft is a danger to tourism in the county of Cumbria, in Devon and Cornwall, and in central Wales. If the hon. Gentlemen who represent those constituencies were true to themselves, they would admit that. It also has damaging effects on the health of the elderly and the infirm, as they are often greatly distressed when aircraft fly in close proximity to buildings.
The fourth issue is the whole question of whether the training is necessary. The Minister might take note of these figures that he has given to hon. Members over the past few years. There are now 4,751 pilots in all three services, and 3,426 in the RAF are trained. According to the Minister's replies to parliamentary questions, only a few pilots leave the services within five years of completing their training. Last year only six left within that period. There is a high retention rate, which means that there is a lesser requirement for pilots to be permanently under training than if the position were otherwise. Who is deciding the requirements? Is there joyriding going on? In other words, is unnecessary training taking place?
Let us consider the figures. In 1978, there were 4,384 pilots plus Royal Navy pilots. At that stage it was impossible to define who was trained and who was not. According to the Minister's figures, there were about 4,700 pilots in 1978 and they were flying 76,000 sorties annually. Those are the Minister's figures. Eight years later in 1986, we had 4,751 pilots—only 51 more than in 1978, so effectively there was the same number of pilots—yet the number of sorties increased from 76,000 to 151,000. In other words, the number doubled. Are we saying that pilots in 1978 were untrained and that now—[Interruption.] We fought a war in the south Atlantic with those pilots so I presume that they were trained. The Labour Government had not been long out of power when the Prime Minister led us into that conflict.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The number of sorties has doubled yet the number of pilots has remained constant, and I want to know why our pilots are doing so much extra training.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has been in order until fairly recently but he is now straying into training, which does not relate to the order. Terms of service and discipline can be raised under the order but not training. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the order.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me to order and bringing to an end the interjections of Conservative Members.
The fifth issue is monitoring equipment, which would help us to identify those who are breaking the code that has been so carefully set out under the Act that identifies the nature of disciplinary offences. Monitoring equipment exists. Indeed, it was identified in the Daily Mirror of Saturday 8 January 1986. The article read:Nicked for speeding at 600 mph. Police trap pilot. By Dennis Newson. An RAF jet pilot has been booked for speeding."—I am sure that you will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a disciplinary offence—He was clocked doing nearly 600 mph in his Harrier jump jet.The pilot was caught in a new type of police radar trap specially developed for aircraft. A £2 million camera followed him as he flew over Marsberg, West Germany. Now he has been reported to his CO for speeding over a built-up area where the limit is 480 mph. He is also in trouble for flying too low—under 500 feet.When I read that article I thought that we should have a peep at the equipment. The article continues:The super radar — Skyguard — was built after complaints from West Germans that the noise from low-flying aircraft was smashing windows and waking babies.Major Klaus Petersen, who operates the camera with a six-man crew, said yesterday: 'The British pilot was caught red-handed.'I wrote to the Ministry on 6 March, 1986 and I received a reply from the Minister of State, Lord Trefgarne. He wrote:As you know, from time to time we conduct covert surveys of low-flying activity taking place in the UK.I wonder what that means. I presume that a man stands on Penrith railway station looking in the sky and estimating the speed of aircraft. I presume that it is something like that. The letter continues:These surveys confirm that there is a healthy respect for the UK low-flying regulations.If someone were standing on Penrith station and carrying out a visual observation that is exactly the conclusion to which he would come. The next passage of the Minister's letter reads:very few breaches, accidental or otherwise, are observed. Against this, we must carefully consider the cost of deploying sophisticated equipment of the kind you mention.We are talking about £2 million. So in Germany they can have equipment which costs £2 million for chasing people who break the rules, but in Britain we are not allowed to have that kind of equipment. We are willing to put up with a vast loss of public expenditure as people gallivant across the fells of the Lake District, breaking the rules and generally joyriding and costing the Exchequer a lot of money, but we are not allowed to have the £2 million cameras that would catch them doing it, which would then enable us to exercise those sections in the Act, which would ensure that they are fully disciplined. Indeed, we might then increase the number of courts-martial from one out of 34,000 complaints in 10 years to many more. But the 468 Minister does not seem to want to do that. I say to the Minister that my constituents want that equipment to be installed. He has a duty to install it. [AN HON. MEMBER: "He may not agree with the hon. Gentleman."] He may not agree with me because he wishes to turn a blind eye. That is why I raise the issue tonight. I object to Ministers turning a blind eye, which brings me to my last point of issue. That is, the indifference of Ministers to these matters.
The truth is that Ministers just do not recognise the anger of people living in the Lake District, in central Wales, Shropshire, or in the borders of Scotland. There are hon. Members from the borders, and I invite them to intervene. I should welcome an intervention from a Borders hon. Member.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I do not know when the hon. Gentleman last gave way in a speech that was so full of irrelevant and inaccurate information. All hon. Members are well aware of the problems of low flying. There is a requirement for low-flying training for Royal Air Force pilots. The way in which the hon. Gentleman has gone on about joyriding shows how little he knows about flying aeroplanes at high speed. One must train at low level, and one is not breaking the regulations. We must understand that if Royal Air Force pilots are to be the finest in the world, they must have low-flying training. We must, through the Ministry of Defence, see that they cause the least inconvenience. If the hon. Gentleman pushes all low flying out of the Lake District, he will only put it elsewhere. That does not help other constituents.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
First, I have never suggested' that we should push it all out of the Lake District. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has got his facts wrong. Secondly, he generalises. The truth is, as I have already said, with the same number of pilots we have doubled the number of sorties. I want the Minister to tell me why he has doubled the number of sorties. Why does he not go back to the——
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am sorry, I shall not give way. I intend to wrap up my 35 minutes to allow the Minister 10 minutes in which to reply.
As I said, the Minister does not recognise the anger in all parts of the United Kingdom in which low flying takes place. The truth is that I know the facts, and they are drawn from figures and statistics given by Government Ministers. Since 1978, the number of complaints has doubled. In 1978, according to Government replies, there were 2,290 complaints of low flying in the United Kingdom. Last year, there were 5,304 complaints. Indeed, I am wrong, it has not doubled; it has gone up by more than that. Everyone knows that what is happening is wrong. Everyone, apart from Conservative Members who are so obsessed and preoccupied with defence matters that they do not look at the issue objectively, knows that the pilots are breaking the rules. Everyone knows that there should be a proper review to secure a reduction in the number of sorties that are taking place.
I put it to the Minister that he will not reply to me. He has no intention of replying to me. He has no intention of changing the rules. Whatever I say, the only thing that will change the Minister's mind on the matter is some pilot veering over London and hitting Big Ben. When he hits 469 Big Ben and perhaps lands on the Houses of Parliament, Ministers of the Government may finally wake up. Indeed, that happened on a previous occasion, I am told.
§ Mr. Freeman
The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) asked me to comment on the recommendations of the Select Committee. I do not wish to take up the time of the House by giving detailed answers to all the 14 recommendations, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of my reply in the Library for the benefit of the House.
I shall, however, refer to two of the key recommendations of the Committee, on which I had the honour to serve. The first was that standing civilian courts should be given the power to award suspended sentences. The Government accept that, and we shall take the necessary steps to ensure that that happens. The hon. Gentleman referred to the rights of the accused and to the so-called accused's friend. We are reviewing the summary powers of commanding officers and we shall certainly take the Committee's recommendations into account.
The hon. Gentleman then referred to the PVR rate—the rate of premature voluntary release applications by officers and service men, as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck). No doubt we shall return to this in greater detail when we consider the Defence Estimates, but the latest figures indicate that the PVR rate in all three services is still substantially lower than it was under the previous Labour Government. Furthermore, although the rate rose for a number of years following the Falklands conflict, there is now good evidence to suggest that the trend is down.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan rightly expressed concern about the state of the housing stock of our services. We have taken steps in this fiscal year to recycle into our works programme, which involves maintenance of married quarters, and rebuild where necessary, some of the receipts from the sale of vacant quarters and surplus land. That is a direct incentive for the services to improve the state of their housing.
I repeat that there are no grounds for holding a general investigation into allegations of bullying, particularly in the Army. Every serious allegation—whichever unit or regiment it concerns—is properly and fully investigated, and I have every confidence in the procedures used by the armed forces.
We have no intention of introducing ethnic monitoring for those in the services. First, we believe that it is unnecessary because there is no evidence to suggest that there is racial harrassment or discrimination. Secondly—and more important—it would be counter-productive. It would not only prejudice good order and discipline and the moral of the armed forces, but would be resented by members of the ethnic minorities.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that there is absolutely no case for changing our laws and regulations dealing with homosexuality in the armed forces. The hon. Member for Clackmannan specifically asked me to say something about AIDS. The Government are considering our policy on discharging those who are carrying the virus, and we hope to make an announcement very shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred to the problem of what to do with civilian 470 employees in times of transition to war and war itself, and their control by military laws. We would expect emergency powers to be introduced if necessary to meet the sorts of requirements to which my hon. Friend referred. Civilians in the employment of the services would already be subject to service law had an emergency been declared.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised the question of Mr. Colin Wallace and Mr. Fred Holroyd. I have nothing new to add to the statement that I made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) on 3 March.
§ Mr. Freeman
Because the statement that I made then was the truth. It was comprehensive, accurate and a definitive answer to the allegations that had been made.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North raised the future of D Wing at the MCTC, Colchester. I am well aware of his representations and of those made by Mr. Ken Weetch, and I pay tribute to Ken Weetch's service on the independent board of visitors at the Colchester MCTC. We are aware of the representations and will reach a decision towards the end of this year. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that the decision will take account of his representations.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) raised the case of the stickers and verse used at Upper Heyford. I am not aware of that case, but if the hon. Lady cares to write to me, or to table a question, I shall be pleased to answer in detail. I hope that the hon. Lady will not take offence at my comment, but I regard it as a somewhat trivial issue set in the context of the excellent relationship of the Royal Air Force with the United States air force and the acknowledgement of the tremendous job that the United States air force does in this country in terms of its public relations and co-operation with not only the military but the civilian authorities.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said that he had been singled out for special treatment. Perhaps it would be appropriate if I devoted a few more minutes to his allegations. He said that RAF pilots were joyriding. I reject that allegation. Royal Air Force pilots perform a vital job in a serious way and they are well disciplined. The discipline record to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention, which is the truth, although it excludes minor disciplinary action taken against pilots, speaks for the excellent way in which our pilots have observed the regulations, so I reject the hon. Gentleman's allegation.
The low-flying system, which was introduced by the last Labour Government in 1979, is as safe as we can make it. The accident trend is down, in the number of military aircraft that we lose and the number of casualties. There has been no civilian casualty this decade due to fast jet military aircraft activity. We spread the burden as fairly as we can. If we were to restrict activity in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, that would be reflected in complaints from the general public and other hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman said that I had failed to publish statistics about the number of pilots killed. That is not true. If he re-reads the letter, he will see that I referred him to the Statement on the Defence Estimates. He may think that that is an obscure document, but I am sure that that 471 view is not held by other hon. Members. It is an important document which we take great care in publishing each year.
The hon. Gentleman also said that there had been an excessive loss of aircraft. I answered the questions that he tabled about Jaguar and Tornado aircraft. These are sad losses. There is an unfortunate tendency in the remarks of some who comment on the accidents to concentrate on the loss of equipment, not on the tragic loss of life. I am sure that all Conservative Members would send their condolences to the families of the pilots who are lost in these tragic accidents. The attrition rate that we suffer is not unusual or exceptional. Sadly, it is inevitable with the low-level training activity undertaken, and I have already explained why we have to do it.
I can give the hon. Gentleman good news about the monitoring equipment. The Skyguard equipment to which he referred is being introduced by the RAF——
§ Mr. Freeman
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's compliment. The Skyguard equipment will be used in coming years. Steps have been taken to introduce that equipment for monitoring the activities of fast jet flights.
The hon. Gentleman asked why the same number of pilots are doing more flying. The Government have substantially increased the resources available to all three services, including the RAF, so there are more aircraft, more fuel is available and there is more training.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Will the Minister answer two questions? Where will the monitoring equipment be employed? What is happening with the monitoring equipment employed in respect of drug abuse and drug taking by the armed forces? I raised that latter point, but the Minister did not answer it.
§ Mr. Freeman
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on the point about drug abuse, and if he cares to table a question I shall answer it in the normal way.
I shall not tell the hon. Member for Workington where we will deploy the Skyguard equipment, because that would vitiate the purpose of using it.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) asked about the regimental system. The regimental system is intact and will remain so. It has contributed to our loyal, efficient Army -characteristics that are shared by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.