HC Deb 15 December 2003 vol 415 cc1305-6
4. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

What progress he has made in his review of the RAF active combat service support units. [143771]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The review is progressing well and is expected to conclude in the new year.

Mr. Kidney

Does my right hon. Friend accept that an early conclusion of the review might be that the value of the communications and logistics units under review has not been appreciated as fully as it should have been by those at the highest levels of the RAF? Will he accept from me that the emerging conclusion is that instead of shuffling units around from camp to camp, we might do better to invest in their training, their equipment and—as I have suggested in other questions over the past two years—their living accommodation? Does he understand how strongly people in Stafford feel about the future of RAF Stafford? Would it be possible for me to bring a delegation from all parties in Stafford borough to see the Minister to discuss the matter while the review is taking place?

Mr. Ingram

The answer to the latter question is yes. My hon. Friend knows that I am only too willing to meet people to discuss those key important matters, but clearly the same invitation would have to be extended to all other bases covered by the review. My understanding is that all MPs who have an immediate interest have been fully consulted either in writing or by being given access to station commanders so that they are brought up to speed on the evolving review as it develops. It is important to do that. There are big issues involved. My hon. Friend touched on the importance of support units, which are vital to what the RAF does. That is why we need to consider the basing strategy to ensure that we are utilising what is undoubtedly a key resource to the best effect.

On accommodation, my hon. Friend was advised at one stage that the single living accommodation was up to scratch. A subsequent review showed that the RAF was not happy with the standard of the accommodation. That shows the concerns on that subject. All of that is tied up in the ongoing review. We must ensure that we get it right, primarily for the reasons that he gave: for the good of the RAF and the way in which the particular units support it overall.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

Does the Minister agree that bases such as Royal Air Force Stafford not only contribute to the local economy, but provide an important contribution to the national military footprint? On the wider issue of logistics—if I may trouble him with a matter of detail—is he not embarrassed by the NAO report's findings that Existing operational stock levels were, in many instances, not sufficient for readiness and sustainability"? Will he accept that just-in-time industrial practices suitable for Rover motor cars were not appropriate for our servicemen and women who put their lives on the line for our country?

Mr. Ingram rose

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

Hand it over.

Mr. Ingram

I was going to hand it over. It is clear that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has not read some very specific comments, both detailed and overall. The report said that, overall, UK equipment performed impressively. It said that the Department's major equipments … contributed significantly to overall military capability and the success of the Operation", and that they were also supported effectively. That is the overall general assessment of an extremely detailed examination of a huge logistical effort. I sometimes wonder what is in hon. Members' minds when they raise these questions. Are they trying to talk success into failure? [Interruption.] That is good to know. The National Audit Office report also says: For any required level of readiness, a balance has to be struck between having people and equipment ready to go immediately and make good shortfalls in the time available. The balance has to be struck at all times. My first quote is one that pays genuine plaudits to all the work that was done.

Of course we recognise the importance of RAF Stafford to the local economy. That is why these issues are taken into account when we undertake basing reviews. The hon. Gentleman has probably forgotten, but his party was once in Government. That Government conducted a massive cutback in the UK's defence footprint. I am sure that the people of this country will welcome the way in which we go about our business, because we take account of the local economy.

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