RAF Centenary

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 26th November 2018.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 6:59 pm, 26th November 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for sharing that with the House. Indeed, we would all like to pay tribute to her grandfather and all those who sacrificed their lives in that way.

I have to say that Dewsbury is not in north Wales; I will now return to my comments about north Wales. Lionel Wilmot Rees VC from Caernarfon was the first pilot to be sent to serve in a designated fighter squadron; it could be argued, especially by those in Caernarfon, that he was the first fighter pilot. North Wales has also been a hub of aerospace engineering. It remains so today, and will I hope remain so for a long time to come.

There has been a very long-standing relationship between the RAF and industrial partners. It has been encouraging to see the excellent work done for the RAF100 programme, through partnerships with industry and educational establishments, to promote the importance of STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—with children and young people and to inspire them to consider careers in this sector. It is particularly important that we make young women, as well as young men, aware of these opportunities.

In my own constituency, my Assembly Member, Lee Waters, and I have used the landing of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, in my constituency on 18 June 1928—albeit by accident, as she was supposed to land in Southampton—as an opportunity to establish an Amelia Earhart Day to provide a chance for girls from local primary schools to participate in activities to inspire them to consider a career in science or technology.

Of course, women have made a very significant contribution to our Air Force, and I want to pay particular tribute to them. The Women’s Royal Air Force was formed in April 1918, and reformed again just before the second world war as the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Women played a vital role in the Air Transport Auxiliary in world war two, ferrying aircraft across the country often in hazardous conditions.

Today, the RAF is outpacing the other two services on female personnel, with women making up 14% of regulars and 20% of reservists, compared to 15% and 13% for the maritime and Army reserves respectively. Not only that, but the RAF has the largest proportion of female officers: 16% of regular officers and 22% of reserve officers in the RAF are women. The current target for women in the armed forces is 15% by 2020, but the RAF plans to raise its target to 20%. And, of course, the RAF gave us the first female military two star, Air Vice-Marshal Elaine West.

As we celebrate RAF100, let us also pay tribute to the current work of the RAF in the complex task of defending our shores in the modern world. I thank the commander of RAF Valley, Group Captain Nick Tucker-Lowe, for a very informative visit to Valley to see the crucial work that he and his team do in training the UK’s next generation of world-class fighter pilots. I have also had the privilege of visiting RAF Akrotiri, where I met members of the RAF working relentless shifts to defeat Daesh and liberate Mosul and the surrounding areas, working in an extremely complex environment and taking the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties.

The Government have made progress in recognising participation in Operation Shader in the awarding of medals, but there is still concern about the criteria and whether there could be broader recognition of personnel. I wonder whether the Secretary of State would be open to looking at this again.