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Red Arrows

Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

I am delighted to hear that answer. However, there is concern about the future of RAF Scampton, the base at which the Red Arrows are located. There have been rumours in the press that the Government’s penny-pinching on the defence budget means that the colours of smoke used in the displays are under threat. Will the Minister give a commitment that no aspect of the Red Arrows will change and that they will remain at the forefront of display teams in the UK?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I will certainly examine the matter because we take great pride in what the Red Arrows do, not only in this country, but internationally.

I will come to RAF Scampton in a moment. I am trying to pay tribute to the Red Arrows, which I thought that the hon. Gentleman would want me to do. The Red Arrows make a major contribution in many ways. They fly the flag for this country and help recruitment to the RAF.

RAF Scampton, like several RAF airfields, is under review because we need to find the optimal basing for all our RAF assets. We have already taken some decisions on the Nimrod MRA4 and on future basing for the joint combat aircraft and Typhoon. We will continue to examine what the best lay-down will be and announcements will be made in due course.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his straightforward answer. However, may I press him a little further and suggest that he should increase the budget of the Red Arrows? As we know, all young people, such as Chorley air cadets, aspire to join the RAF and especially want to join the Red Arrows. Will he ensure that we will have the fine aircraft and the fine personnel that keep them flying, and that there is a bonus for BAE workers in Lancashire, which is why I am pressing him to increase the funding?

I can tell my hon. Friend that in the next three financial years the funding will be £5.6 million, £5.7 million and £5.9 million. He can take some credit for putting pressure on us to ensure that increase in the budget. Of course, there are other associated costs, too. The Red Arrows are not under threat; it does not matter what newspapers say or what criticisms people concoct. They are not under threat—end of story.

The citizens of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire take huge pride in what the Red Arrows do, and I am glad to hear from the Minister that their budget will not be cut. However, we should not consider them to be purely a flag-flying operation, as they clearly provide crucial battle flying skills for the RAF. Will the Minister please assure me that crew will continue to be trained regularly, and that the expense will be borne, so that the skills that they acquire can be spread throughout the Royal Air Force?

I do not think that we can keep the Red Arrows flying without meeting that commitment, because it takes the highest skill to fly those aircraft, no matter what colour the smoke coming out of the back. I am sure that the fact that we are retaining the Red Arrows means that the element of the requirement that the hon. Gentleman mentions will be retained.

As an east midlands MP I am pleased that the Red Arrows are based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Red Arrows are a public display of the pride, talent and professionalism of our armed forces. Will he confirm that the figures that he has just announced to the House, which represent barely half a day’s worth of the annual defence budget of £32 billion, will be protected in the medium and long term?

The original question was about the commitment over the next three years, and I have given that firm commitment. It would be very easy for me to say, after all the plaudits that I have given, that I do not see any chance of the situation altering, and I do not, but I cannot make commitments for what my hon. Friend calls the medium and long term, and that would apply to any part of defence expenditure. I have given a firm commitment: there is no threat to the Red Arrows and the budget is increasing over the next three years.