HC Deb 28 June 1979 vol 969 cc297-8W
Mr. Viggers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how he plans to deal with manpower shortages in the Armed Forces; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Pym

All three Services face serious manpower shortages. The Government are taking urgent steps to remedy the situation and I announced a few days after taking up office the Government's decision to restore Service pay to its proper levels. It will be some time, however, before we can estimate the effect on recruitment and retention rates. In the meantime certain measures have had to be taken in order to reduce to the minimum the effects of manpower shortages on our front-line forces.

For the Royal Navy, the operational capability of the Fleet is being markedly improved with the introduction of new classes of ship and submarines, together with a range of new and more effective equipment. However, in order to ensure that the momentum of these programmes is not prejudiced by current manpower shortages and at the same time to avoid further overstretch, Her Majesty's ships "Blake", "Nubian", "Zulu", "Mohawk", "Gurkha" and "Eskimo", all of which are more than 15 years old, will be transferred to the standby squadron over the next two years. They will remain available for operation in tension or war when they would be manned by personnel from peacetime short appointments.

The Army is now several thousand officers and men short of its establishment. It could be some time before the deficit, particularly in experienced men, is made good and the effects of the shortage are being felt throughout the Army. The shortage of infantry soldiers is forecast to rise to more than 10 per cent. before falling. It has therefore been decided that in battalions where under-manning is particularly severe it should be absorbed by reducing one company to cadre strength; the undermanned company could rapidly be expanded in an emergency.

The Royal Air Force will benefit from the introduction to new equipment, which will add greatly to its operaional capability, but is constrained by manpower shortages in some categories. Pilot recruiting is, however, now buoyant and the opening of a third basic flying training school will significantly increase the output of trained pilots. I am ensuring that the consequences for our contribution to NATO are kept to the minimum.

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