HC Deb 11 March 1997 vol 292 cc126-7
2. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the estimated establishment of the Royal Air Force at 1 April 1999. [18036]

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

The requirement for trained Regular uniformed manpower for 1 April 1999 is forecast to be 52,200.

Mr. Cunningham

Does the Minister agree that, under the Conservatives, the Royal Air Force has received a 40 per cent. cut? Is not that the true legacy of the Tory Government?

Mr. Soames

That is a fluent and telling question: the hon. Gentleman is clearly well on top of the subject and has a deep knowledge of matters relating to the Royal Air Force. Of course, he is completely wrong: the Royal Air Force has had to go through a difficult period and has reconfigured itself for the new world order, to deal with the challenges that will face it, in common with all our allies and, indeed, our foes. All armed forces have been through a period of downsizing, but the Royal Air Force remains the benchmark against which all other air forces in the world judge themselves. It is highly rapidly deployable and extremely well equipped.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I remind my hon. Friend that 1 April 1999 will be the 81st anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Air Force and the second anniversary of the absorption by the Royal Auxiliary Air Force of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, forming a Reserve force that will be capable of expansion in time of war and extremely cost-effective in time of peace? Will it not, in short, be an 81st anniversary of which the founder of the Royal Air Force, Lord Trenchard, would be proud? It will be a good basis for taking the service to a glorious future in the next century.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course completely right. As he knows, because he spoke in the Royal Air Force debate, I announced on that occasion our intention to recruit up to 60 Reservist air crew over the next two years and that the training of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force helicopter support squadron was going well. We shall consider all possible ways of expanding and enhancing the role of the Reserves in the Royal Air Force.