HC Deb 19 May 1981 vol 5 cc144-5
7. Mr. Viggers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will seek to authorise the Royal Air Force to recruit female pilots and other aircrew.

Mr. Pattie

I have no plans to authorise the Royal Air Force to recruit females as pilots, or to other aircrew specialisations not already open to them.

Mr. Viggers

Following the serious rundown in aircrew training by the previous Government, what thought was given to that form of recruiting as it was applied in the United States and in this country during the war?

Mr. Pattie

There are problems in recruiting females in a combat role. My hon. Friend will be aware that the recent White Paper has allowed females to be armed. However, the first barrier which will have to be surmounted before my hon. Friend's wish could come to fruition is to allow females to be put into a direct combat role. We do not feel that that is appropriate at this time.

Mr. Wellbeloved

In any case, would it not be premature to consider recruiting females for aircrew duties when 5,000 people are in receipt of flying pay and there are only 650 aircraft to man? Is not it time that the Minister came clean on the whole business of this myth of aircrew shortage when there is a ratio of 5,000 people who are qualified and paid to fly to 650 aircraft?

Mr. Pattie

It is not a matter of coming clean. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the evidence given to the Select Committee recently made available the full facts of the matter. I thought that the Select Committee's report was extremely helpful.

Mr. Wilkinson

Why is my hon. Friend being so coy? Only recently Miss Judy Chisholm managed to fly single-handed to Australia and for a living she flies HS125s commercially. Surely aeroplanes such as the 125, which operate from RAF Northolt in my constituency in a non-combative role, would be ideal for women pilots to fly and would release trained experienced aircrew for fast jet combat duties.

Mr. Pattie

As I did not wish to detain the House further, I did not add the second point—that we would have to change the regulations relating to the employment of women officers because many of them leave rather earlier than their male counterparts for reasons such as marriage and pregnancy.

Mr. Heffer

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, during the war years, there were female mechanics in the Royal Air Force? Therefore, if there could be women mechanics—[Laughter.]—I thought that women and females were the same. Is the Minister aware that, if we could have women mechanics during the war years, there is no reason why there should not be women pilots in the Royal Air Force, if they are to be in purely a non-combative role? It is about time we genuinely had equality in the forces as well as elsewhere.

Mr. Pattie

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be well received in the appropriate quarter. However, he must appreciate that, with our training commitment, all pilots recruited in the Royal Air Force are recruited initially with a view to their being in the fast jet force. We recruit them not as helicopter pilots, but for the fast jet force. As people fail in the fast jet force, they go to other parts of pilot training. Therefore, the costs would be high.