Orders of the Day — The Royal Air Force

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th June 1976.

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Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford 12:00 am, 10th June 1976

In all our negotiations with other Governments we take on those dealings in good faith and in the hope that they will be successfully concluded. Nothing which has yet come to my Department leads me to believe that the position with the MRCA will be other than that. No responsible Government could see such a major development as the MRCA fall to the ground.

It is not my responsibility to proceed into that area at this time.

As far as offensive air effort is concerned, we have seen major advances in enemy defensive systems notably in radar and anti-aircraft missiles, and the most effective counter in war would be high speed-low level attack as close to the ground as possible. All major air forces recognise the need for this low level capability and in addition aircraft may have to fly very low in support of the forces on the ground.

Low level flying is an exacting technique, and once aircrew have become proficient they must keep in constant practice. My predecessor spoke in this debate last year on this very difficult subject. There is little I can add to what he said except to say that of course I recognise that the activity of low level military flying does not meet with everyone's approval and regrettably does cause some disturbance to local communities and individuals. In the wider context I consider it rather ironic that I have received representations from hon. Members opposite who wish, on the one hand, to see low flying curtailed, or completely stopped, in their constituencies, but yet seek, or have sought, safeguards on the jobs some of their constituents have in support of the Defence effort.

I turn to the particular point raised by the hon. Member for Woking on the accident rate and its relationship to fuel economy. He may be aware that within a few days of my taking office there was a fatal accident in the RAF. Naturally I have given considerable attention to this matter, because it is not part of my intention to allow gallant young men to lose their lives unnecessarily while training in the RAF. I have taken particular care on all visits to particular commands to acquaint myself with the realities of the situation.

I can assure the hon. Member that it is absolutely wrong to suggest that defence economies expressed in the form of fuel restrictions are having an adverse effect on the training of air crew and flying safety. The Royal Air Force has a fuel economy target of 10 per cent. compared with the year before the fuel crisis, but the achievement of that target has not been at the expense of training Standards or operational effectiveness. No flying training syllabus has had to be altered on account of the fuel economies.