RAF Numbers

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19 March 2001.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 12:00, 19 March 2001

How many people left the Royal Air Force in each of the past three years. [152702]

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

A total of 14,138 people left the RAF in the three years ending 31 December 2000; 4,847 left the service in 1998, 4,712 in 1999 and 4,579 in 2000. That was balanced against intake figures of 4,088 during 1998, 4,759 during 1999 and 3,731 during 2000.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Those figures are accurately reflected at RAF Lyneham in my constituency, where each year up to 5 per cent. more people leave than come in. That is not merely a result of overstretch caused by Sierra Leone and the Balkans; it is also caused by very poor living conditions and failure to invest in infrastructure at RAF Lyneham. Does the Minister agree that more people are now leaving the RAF than are joining and that that makes a mockery of the fine words in the strategic defence review's "Policy for People", which stated that delivery of tangible improvements in overstretch and undermanning was entirely dependent on finding new people? Why have the Government failed to do that in the three years since the SDR, and what does the Minister intend to do about it now?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I did not read out the outflow figures for the years under the previous Conservative Administration. We inherited a figure of 7,512 in 1997; in 1996—the Conservatives' last full year in office—the outflow figure was 10,544; in 1995 it was 5,610, and in 1994 it was 6,394. In every one of those years, there was a greater outflow than any that has occurred under the Labour Government. We are matching intake figures to outflow figures. The RAF recruited 98.6 per cent. of its requirement last year.

The hon. Gentleman has a real cheek to talk about accommodation when the Conservatives did nothing about it for 18 years and after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have announced a major building programme to rectify the problems. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of our policy, but not for his party's dereliction of duty.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Plaid Cymru, Caernarfon

Will the Minister arrange for those figures to be analysed to determine whether there is evidence of a significant number of people with minor disabilities leaving the RAF when those disabilities do not prevent them from undertaking their responsibilities; and whether there is any danger of discrimination against people with minor disabilities in RAF recruitment?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The right hon. Gentleman mixes two issues: first, requirements on recruitment and, secondly, changes in people's health and abilities occurring during their service. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is undertaking a review of service intake to match up the number of those with minor disabilities to modern day requirements.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that all the services, rightly, do a great deal to accommodate those who have already undertaken training, committed themselves to the service, and have a lot to offer. A balance has to be struck in the light of the requirement that all service personnel be available for active duty, but he will know that that is handled effectively and sensitively by the services.