HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1134-5
8. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the air defence capability of the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Pattie

The Government have made plain the importance they attach to the possession by the Royal Air Force of a strong air defence capability. A substantial programme of modernisation and improvement is in hand and I have already announced useful additions to that programme. We should like to have done more, but we have been constrained by the shortage of pilots, a direct legacy from the Labour Government, and also by the length of time it takes to get new aircraft into front-line service.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Will my hon. Friend say a little more about the recruitment of pilots? Has the shortfall of 200 pilots that we heard about just before the last general election been made good? If not, to what extent is there still a gap in the numbers required?

Mr. Pattie

We are recruiting about 87 per cent. of our pilot requirement. As my hon. Friend will know, it takes about two and a half years to train a pilot. The shortage to which he refers will therefore obtain at least into 1982.

Mr. Cryer

In view of the Minister's claim about the shortage of pilots, it is strange that he apparently does not know the location of an RAF pilot or a USAF pilot on 3 March when there was a near-miss with a Dan-Air civil aircraft over Keighley. Will he say when the investigation will be concluded? When will he report the matter to me in Parliament?

Mr. Pattie

The hon. Gentleman has already put down a question, and I told him in my answer that I would write to him as soon as the information was available. I am sure that he would wish me to do that at the proper time and not try to give him a premature answer. The answer is "Very soon".

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend inform the House of the availability of airfields for air defence aircraft, in view of the ever-improving capability of airfield denial weapons in Warsaw Pact countries? Can he ensure a sufficient dispersal of the air defence force in time of war?

Mr. Pattie

Planning to this effect has been taken into account in terms of the ability of the air defence force to disperse to alternative airfields. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter.