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RAF Aerobatic Team: Historical Allegations

Volume 835: debated on Monday 29 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team Non-Statutory Inquiry Report, and (2) the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team Command, Leadership and Management Report, published on 1 November 2023, relating to historical allegations of unacceptable behaviour within the RAF Aerobatic Team.

My Lords, the recommendations in both reports, the Royal Air Force aerobatic team non-statutory inquiry report and the command, leadership and management report, have all been accepted and implemented by the RAF. The findings of the investigations led to action being taken against personnel, up to and including dismissal from the service. Behaviours described by the witnesses in the reports are unacceptable and have no place in the RAF—or anywhere else for that matter.

The culture outlined in the reports about the Red Arrows is not limited to the RAF. Last month, 60 women in the MoD Main Building complained about the hostile and toxic working environment they face. The amount paid in compensation by the MoD for bullying and harassment has doubled in the last four years. These facts will inevitably impact recruitment and retention across our Armed Forces. Can the noble Earl tell your Lordships’ House how it has come to this and what he is going to do about this seemingly pervasive toxic culture?

The noble Baroness makes a very serious point. I have addressed it on a number of occasions from this Dispatch Box and continue to give the commitment that all the forces are absolutely determined to drive out any unacceptable sexual behaviour. There is nothing that goes on in the MoD now that does not address it. The question of zero tolerance has been brought back into focus and no fewer than four measures have been taken to address this.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that this shows serious failure of command and leadership at both operational and command level? Is he satisfied that this matter was dealt with at a fast enough pace? It seems that the first complaints were made a very long time before anything happened. I would be grateful if my noble friend could look into that.

My noble friend makes a couple of very good points. On the timelines, because one inquiry led into the next, it was very important that the thoroughness was followed the whole way through. The casework that fell out of the NSI, which then flowed into the chain of command investigation, and the casework and investigations required to follow that, made it appear a relatively slow process. In fact, it was not; it was going at quite a pace. There is an acceptance that there was poor leadership. Obviously, I cannot comment on individual cases, but all those responsible have been subject to appropriate action.

My Lords, when the inquiry reports were published in November, the air chief marshal said that it was vital to challenge unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour and to

“stop, challenge, educate, and if necessary, report situations”.

What training is there for all military and MoD personnel to understand how to intervene and, in the words of the report, to stop this “bystander culture”?

Those were some extremely good points from the noble Baroness. There is now training regarding endemic and unacceptable behaviour, which also addresses active bystanding. In this case, there is training regarding alcohol as well. A number of administrative sanctions are being put in place. Specifically in the RAF, another 55 positions on the personal support and HR side have been created to ensure that this is stopped.

My Lords, 45 years ago, I did the study into whether women should serve at sea in the Royal Navy. I said that they should, and I think it has worked very well, although a lot of people were against it at the time. When I did the study, we had 55 destroyers and frigates. We now have 16. Does the Minister feel that that is too few?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Yes, I think it is too few; I think everybody knows that. But however many frigates and destroyers we have, the unacceptable behaviour must finish.