HC Deb 30 January 1957 vol 563 cc987-90
32. Air Commodore Harvey

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement on the future of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons.

33. Mr. de Freitas

asked the Secretary of State for Air why it was not possible to convert flights of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force fighter squadrons into reserve flights attached to regular fighter squadrons, and thus make use of the enthusiasm and efficiency of these Auxiliary units.

36. Mr. Beswick

asked the Secretary of State for Air what consideration he has given to the proposal that members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force should be integrated with regular fighter squadrons and that Auxiliary pilots should do their week-end training on regular squadron aircraft; if he is aware that economies could by this means still be effected whilst retaining the skill and enthusiasm of most of the members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)

For the reasons which I gave last week to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert), the Government have decided, with the greatest possible regret, that it is necessary to disband all squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force except twenty Fighter Control Units and one Radar Reporting Unit.

In many cases it has been possible to offer Auxiliary officers and airmen opportunities of further service on the ground, either in those Fighter Control Units which are being retained or in Reserve flights at R.A.F. stations near their homes. I am glad to say that the indications are that many of them will continue to serve in this way.

Had it been possible I should, of course, have welcomed a scheme under which Auxiliary pilots and ground personnel could have been associated as squadrons or flights with regular fighter squadrons. But examination has shown that any such scheme would be very costly and it would involve a heavy commitment in regular manpower. Certain other suggestions have been put to me but they are all unacceptable for either operational, administrative or financial reasons. I am therefore going ahead with the present decision to retain the services of Auxiliary officers and airmen only where we can accept them for specific vacancies in the war establishment.

I should like to make it clear that the decision in no way reflects on the enthusiasm or flying ability of Auxiliary pilots. They could only be retained however by standing down fully trained regular pilots.

Air Commodore Harvey

is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us feel sorry for him, as a former Auxiliary pilot, at having to implement this unfortunate decision? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that, whether the decision is right or wrong, we feel that the case has been dealt with in a most ham-handed way, and that by throwing away this valuable asset of tremendous voluntary effort Britain may be a great loser? Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that he will not close the door until further propositions are put to him which may cost the Government very little money indeed?

Mr. Ward

No, Sir. I think it would be most unfair to these people to offer them any hope of reprieve. This morning I have received the Advisory Committee of the Territorial and Air Forces Association and also the Air League of the British Empire. They put forward several alternative schemes, and I think I was able to convince them that, although some of them were attractive, none is, in fact, possible.

Mr. de Freitas

Is the Secretary of State for Air aware that there are really valuable assets in the skill and enthusiasm of these volunteers, and that it does appear as if they have been thrown away without great consideration? Surely the Government can look at this again to see if some system cannot be devised to make use of the skill of these volunteers, and thus make real, instead of superficial, economies?

Mr. Ward

This is not a decision which has been taken in a hurry. It has been under consideration for a very long time, and every aspect of it has been carefully considered. The voluntary spirit will remain. The door is still open to it in the remaining Fighter Control Units and the R.R.U.s, and also in the reserve flights of the Volunteer Reserve. I am sure that many auxiliaries will show their voluntary spirit by joining those units.

Mr. Beswick

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it was in some ways an insulting gesture to these men to offer them a job on the ground in the way that was done? Secondly, can the right hon.

Gentleman give some figures as to the amount of extra regular personnel that would be used if the idea of a reserve flight was taken up, because no satisfactory figures have been given. Thirdly, if it is economies the Government are after, would it not have been much better to have looked at the entire question of the need for a fighter command and then to have settled the position of the Auxiliary squadrons in the context of that decision?

Mr. Ward

I cannot, without notice, give the exact number that would be required, but I can say that in order to keep the airfields open at weekends for Auxiliary flying it would be necessary to bring each one up to the establishment of a master diversion airfield, thereby having to duplicate flying control, ambulance, fire service, cooks and everything else, and it would be a very costly business indeed.