§ 11. Mr. Wilkinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he has made in augmenting the strength of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to compensate for cuts in the front line of the Royal Air Force imposed under "Options for Change".
§ Mr. Hanley
The strength of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has increased from 262 in April 1979 to some 1,700 now. We keep the numbers under regular review. For instance, the reduction in the threat to United Kingdom home bases means that we will no longer require the four Royal Auxiliary Air Force defence flights formed to protect key points, but Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel are now being given the opportunity to operate as an integral element of two regular RAF Regiment Rapier squadrons. We also intend to undertake trials of reservist aircrew for the first time on Hercules and Wessex aircraft.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Is my hon. Friend aware that since the decision was taken under the "Options for Change" review, the air defence element of the Royal Air Force has reduced by some 30 per cent. and the strike attack element by some 40 per cent., and therefore the Royal Air Force is smaller but, effectively, weaker? As a consequence, could he increase significantly the reserve element by the creation of flying squadrons, as is so effectively done in the United States, Israeli and Swiss air forces?
§ Mr. Hanley
The answer to my hon. Friend's last point is that we will certainly look at that because there is a future for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I mentioned that the number had increased from 262 to some 1,700. Even before the removal of the four flights, that will still be an increase of up to 1,300 with possibly more increases to come. As for the RAF Regular Reserve, the number was 3,250 in 1979 and it is some 17,500 now.
§ Mr. Martlew
Is it not correct that in "Options for Change", the plan was to increase the number to 2,000? The Minister has announced that it is only 1,700 at present, so in fact there has been a reduction of 300. That is another idea of the Government's lack of clarity towards their armed forces. In 1983, it was announced that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and part of the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve would be amalgamated. There is a problem with that; to carry that out, we need primary legislation. Can the Minister guarantee that we will deal 11 with the Reserve Forces Bill next year in the House? Will that Bill include clauses that will allow the amalgamation to take place?
§ Mr. Hanley
As I have said—and the hon. Gentleman clearly heard me—we keep the numbers of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force under review. That means that occasionally there will be reductions if threats change, and there will be increases when new roles can be found. As for the Reserve Forces Act 1980, what the hon. Gentleman said is exactly the intention of the Ministry of Defence—to enact a change in the legislation next year.
§ Mr. Mans
In relation to the Royal Air Force Reserve, will my hon. Friend have discussions with his opposite number at the Home Office before any decisions are taken over the air cadet movement because of the great social good that that movement does in terms of providing useful occupations for youths and preventing them from going down the wrong road towards crime?
§ Mr. Hanley
Naturally, I agree that many benefits flow from joining up with the Territorial Army, or the reserves. Those to which my hon. Friend has pointed are just some of them. The defence of the realm must primarily take account of the needs of the kingdom to be defended. This is not a purely social service, but there are certainly social service benefits. Indeed, many benefits flow from military discipline.