With permission, Mr. Speaker, it would be appropriate before we answer questions, to ask the House to join us in expressing sadness at the deaths of two naval airmen in an aircraft accident yesterday at Portland and in extending to their families our deepest sympathy.
I refer my hon. Friend to table 5 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1989", published last week, copies of which are available in the Library. He will note from that table that firm orders for a total of 550 RAF aircraft of eight different types have been placed since 1979.
As the first hon. Member to ask a question, may I strongly support my hon. Friend's first sentences. Obviously, flying the new aircraft, the orders for which we welcome, requires very rigorous training. Will my hon. Friend ensure that those pilots whose training involves low flights, which are particularly pronounced in my constituency, notably in Exmoor and west Somerset, are fully aware of the rules and regulations regarding low flying? Will my hon. Friend and his colleagues immediately look into any suggestion that the rules and regulations have been departed from?
Yes. I can assure my hon. Friend that any incidents of low flying which are brought to our attention in which people did not abide by the rules are rigorously investigated and everything is done to ensure that low flying is properly regulated.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Royal Air Force now has the best modern equipment of any time to meet the envisaged problems and that the aircraft which the Government have ordered do just that? Does he further agree that our aircrew are the most professional and highly trained in the western world? But there is no point in those two achievements if the aircraft —particularly strike aircraft—do not have modern stand-off capabilities otherwise they become very risky against sophisticated modern Soviet defences. Therefore it is essential that we have modern stand-off capabilities and we must upgrade those weapons systems.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is so important that our plans to replace the WE177 free-fall bomb with a tactical air-to-surface missile are so vital.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I associate the Opposition with the sentiments expressed by the Minister to the families of those killed in yesterday's tragic accident. In view of his answer, which could be quite misleading, will the Minister say how many of the new aircraft have been put into storage because of inadequate radar, how many have been brought in simply as replacements after flying accidents, and how many have been put into full operational service with the RAF?
There are a number of aircraft which have been put into storage at the moment. That is because of the most economical form of production run. There were some aircraft in which the radars were not up to scratch, but now the radars are improving rather faster than the aircraft so many of the aircraft are being brought into service. There was a small problem but it has been overcome.