To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he is making towards restoring a flying role for squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
There are no plans to restore a flying role to squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that the Royal Air Force is the only one of the three western air forces with significant operational experience since world war two—the other two are the Israeli and the United States air forces—not to have combat-ready reserve squadrons? A flying role for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force would be exceedingly cost effective, particularly as air crews are being made redundant under "Options for Change". It is a marked distinction of the sensible policy of the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Reserve in that matter.
We are considering whether a small number of test air crews from industry in the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve should be used as front-line reinforcements for fast jet aircraft. We are talking about costs and, as my hon. Friend will know, the cost of maintaining any aircraft, whether in the Royal Air Force or the reserves, is great, and I do not know how cost effective it would be.
In the early stages of "Options for Change" the Secretary of State said that he would put more resources and emphasis on the development and re-equipping of the reserve forces. How many extra resources have been put into the reserve forces since the beginning of "Options for Change"? Would he agree to support a review of the Reserve Forces Safeguard of Employment Act 1985 so that we shall not have in the future the rash of litigation that has been needed against employers who have declined to accept reservists back since the Gulf war?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating what my right hon. Friend will say on the matter. My right hon. Friend will shortly make a statement on the regular-reserve mix.
While declaring an interest and reluctantly accepting what my right hon. Friend says about flying squadrons, may I ask him to confirm that there is a good future for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in view of its exceptional record and its cost effectiveness as a reserve force?
Yes, indeed. As my hon. Friend will know and as hon. Members will hardly need to be reminded, a large number of roles are currently carried out by the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Those roles are valuable and we intend to build on them.