I wish that I could share the Government's complacency, when the recommended ratio of pilots to aircraft is 2:1 and ours is 1·7:1, among the lowest in Europe, and when the mechanistic operation of premature voluntary retirement regulations means that trained Lightning pilots at RAF Binbrook are grounded because they have asked for PVR and their substitutes will graduate just as the Lightnings are taken out of service, making the whole thing look ridiculous. If the Minister is so complacent, why was it necessary to establish the Robson inquiry? When will we have the result of that inquiry, and until then will he modify the PVR regulations so that they are used in a more delicate and sophisticated way?
Does my hon. Friend agree that when young men join the Royal Air Force to fly they are given the option of accepting a branch commission and thus spending all their time flying, or, alternatively, taking a general duties commission through a cadetship at Cranwell? Does he agree that in the latter case they will also be expected to carry out man-management responsibilities and that as part of their career structure it will fall upon them to take jobs that will train them for man-management? Does he therefore agree that one of the problems that we face and the resulting publicity have arisen from the fact that one individual RAF pilot did not understand that situation?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. About one third of all RAF pilots—of whom there are about 3,500—at any one time are on ground duties, and such ground duties are essential to the furtherance of their careers.
How many skill shortages are there within the RAF? How many similar examples are there to that of my constituent who had his request to buy himself out of the RAF deferred for nine months because of the skill shortages?
Recruitment into the RAF is good. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, it was in 1948 that the then Labour Government introduced a minimum return of service of three years upon promotion to squadron leader and higher. In 1978 the then Labour Government instituted a maximum three-year waiting period for PVR applications.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has great experience in matters connected with the Royal Air Force. As I explained earlier, it is natural in the career of all pilots in the Royal Air Force to have both flying and ground duties. Flying duties often follow ground appointments.
Is my hon. Friend aware that RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, which is on the boundary of my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, is an excellent establishment, with high morale, providing extremely good back-up for groups such as the air training corps based in Shrewsbury? If my hon. Friend is aware that if a particular officer in the RAF wishes publicly, in the newspaper, to decry promotion, there are tactful officers at RAF Shawbury who are more than deserving of such promotion?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. As I said earlier, morale within the RAF is extremely high. I compliment my hon. Friend on the support that he has given to the RAF and the reserves.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in January a number of hon. Members representing constituencies in Norfolk visited RAF Coltishall and that as a result of our discussions with officers and men we can confirm that morale is high? Officers and men understand the important defensive role that they must perform in the defence of this country.