HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc127-9
3. Mrs. Gillan

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many RAF personnel are at present deployed overseas. [30557]

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

In addition to over 9,000 personnel on permanent overseas deployments, over 1,300 Royal Air Force personnel are deployed on out-of-area operational tasks in the former Yugoslavia, the middle east and elsewhere.

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend would no doubt agree that RAF personnel provide a first-class service in whichever arena they serve. Will he in particular praise the Jaguar wing from RAF Coltishall, which has been on almost permanent deployment for the past five years, first in the Gulf war, then in Turkey protecting the Kurds and latterly, since July 1993, providing close air support for UNPROFOR over Bosnia from Gioia del Colle? It is soon to be replaced by Harrier GR7s from RAF Laarbruch in Germany. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to acknowledge the special role that the Jag wing has played and to wish the GR7 team well?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Before I address her question, I congratulate her on being the only Member of Parliament on the armed forces parliamentary scheme to have flown in the Tornado, the Jaguar and the Harrier. I understand that she acquitted herself on all three missions with great distinction and without being in any way untidy.

I wholly endorse my hon. Friend's words about the Jaguar wing, which has achieved an exceptionally high strike rate over the past few years. It has done a very distinguished job in its recent deployment and will continue to do so until its end. I have no doubt that the Harriers will also acquit themselves well. I am also grateful for my hon. Friend's excellent support of the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Martlew

That is all very well but, since 1990, there have been cuts in RAF personnel of 13,000. During that time, the RAF has become involved in defence projects in Iraq and Bosnia. In this year's defence estimates, it is stated that the RAF is going to lose another 11,000 jobs. There is severe overstretch in the RAF. When are the Government going to decide either to cut their defence commitments or to stop sacking RAF personnel?

Mr. Soames

My right hon. Friends and I understand that it is the Labour party that wants to cut the Royal Air Force, not our party. I know that it will come as a terrible shock to the hon. Gentleman, but the Royal Air Force relishes the opportunity of flying operations and achieving exactly the exceptional results that it does. It is working hard. It is very busy. That is what it is there for, and it does it very well.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not the case that most of the Royal Air Force's overseas operations in recent years have been outside the NATO area—Turkey, Iraq and now Bosnia? What is the sense of stationing so many Royal Air Force personnel in Germany, to the benefit of the local German economy? Should they not be brought back to this country to benefit our economy when so many proud bases, such as Scampton and Finningley, have closed?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend, as a former Royal Air Force officer, is extremely knowledgeable in these matters. He knows well that our commitment to air defence in Germany at Laarbruch and Bruggen is extremely important. It is an essential part of our commitment to the defence of western Europe. That is why we are there and that is why we will stay there.