Royal Air Force

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

Morale in the Royal Air Force in this 75th anniversary year is high. This is due in large measure to the Government's major re-equipment programme and maintenance of pay comparability.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

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?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that premature voluntary retirement rates for officers and pilots in the Royal Air Force are down in the calendar year 1986 compared with 1985. We very much hope that that trend will continue.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

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?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

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.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

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?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

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.

Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West

Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the greatest danger to morale within the Royal Air Force will come from the threat of all the Opposition parties to cancel Trident and that the cancellation costs of that operation would strip the RAF of virtually all resources?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me that in the last year of the Labour Government the PVR rates were approximately twice the present level.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

Is the Minister unable to combine a little bit of staff duties for pilots with some flying experience as well? Is that beyond the planning schemes?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

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.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway , Shrewsbury and Atcham

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?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

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.

Photo of Mr John Powley Mr John Powley , Norwich South

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.

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and I concur with him.