Orders of the Day — The Royal Air Force

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd April 1978.

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Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford 12:00 am, 3rd April 1978

The Minister knows very well that only under his Government have so many people joined the queue for premature voluntary retirement that they have had to be told that they cannot quit for up to eight years. But there is not only the crisis of those queuing up to quit but the fact that the supply of recruits has dried up, as the Secretary of State so starkly admits in paragraph 404 of the White Paper when he says There has been a shortage of candidates of adequate quality to meet the recruiting requirements for the Royal Air Force. It has not proved possible to recruit the numbers required for the General Duties (Pilot, Navigator Aircraft Control and Fighter Control), Engineer, Security (RAF Regiment and Administrative Education) Branches, in some cases by a substantial margin. The University Cadetship Scheme has attracted only half the expected number of recruits to the General Duties, Engineer and Administrative Branches. This is an appalling state of affairs at a time when the RAF needs to attract a whole new generation of recruits of the highest calibre to man the Tornado in the 1980s.

As the Minister knows, the failure rate in the stream of pilots training for the "fast jets" is now running at an unprecedented level due to a drop in the calibre of those applying to enter the RAF. I am willing to give way to the Minister if he wishes to deny that this is the case.

This state of affairs represents a political mishandling of the RAF of consummate incompetence. This same Government, who have so recently slashed RAF manpower by, according to the Minister of State on 13th March in a parliamentary reply, no fewer than 14,400—that is 14½ per cent.—and embarked on a programme of enforced redundancies which has shattered the lives of many who had devoted their whole lives to the service of their country by joining the RAF. now find themselves short of pilots.

It is, furthermore, admitted that RAF Germany is under strength and no longer has the manpower to operate with maximum effectiveness on a sustained basis from the newly constructed, dispersed, hardened aircraft shelters. Who was responsible for cutting manpower in the first place? This same Minister, this same Government. These are the actions of a Government whose hallmark is one of gross ineptitude and bungling.

Has the Minister considered that perhaps if he raised the pay of pilots to that of London bus drivers he would not have so much trouble recruiting and retaining men of the right calibre? What a pity it is that this great array of five Defence Ministers on the Treasury Bench has less influence over their Cabinet colleagues when it comes to pay policy than even the chairman of London Transport.