§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Sir F. Sykes
I was trying to explain why in my opinion air transport was of such great importance at the present time. The Prime Minister the other day gave us the very heartening piece of news that a combined plan of action had been formed to engage the enemy's force by land, sea and in the air on the largest possible scale and at the earliest possible moment. Of course, the War Cabinet alone can know when the time is ripe for such action to be taken, but I think that I am voicing the opinion of the House when I say that we hope that this definitely means that Russia will be able to continue her successful offensive, and that an Anglo-American attack can concurrently be launched on Germany in time to forestall Goebbels' "stable continuous front" in Germany. Can the requisite air fleets be assembled in time? As the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington told us, according to the policy agreed upon Britain is specialising upon fighters and certain types of bombers—and fighters and bombers have been obviously the first necessity—while the United States is devoting nearly one-third of her total production to transport planes.
There are, I would suggest, three short-range measures which might be adopted in order to meet the urgent demand. The first is to arrange with America to supply us with as many suitable transport aircraft as she can spare—and she is making vast numbers of them. The second is to expand the production of any temporarily suitable machines such as the Avro-York. The third is the possibility of designing a fuselage suitable for the purpose which could be fitted to existing wings and used with existing engines. I do not know whether that is possible. The great difficulty with regard to converting bombers for troop transport work is that the bomber naturally carries a concentrated load in a small space, whereas the transport carrier has to have a large space to carry the same load. As a long-range step I suggest that the War Cabinet should at once examine the position and if possible issue instructions to the Minister of Production to lay down an adequate programme—it may be late, but it is never too late to 923 start—specially designed for transport aircraft and put it into immediate execution.
I will not follow the hon. Member for West Islington in regard to some of the details he has mentioned, but I should like as he did to touch upon some points of a larger nature in regard to air transport in peace. I think that he agreed, although he does not go as far as I do, that air transport in future will be a great factor which this country and the Empire cannot disregard and should be prepared for on the right lines before peace comes. The world in general and the British Empire in particular will largely depend for markets upon rapid and widespread communications. Under present arrangements we shall be left with vast numbers of fighting and bombing aircraft, and America will be left with large numbers of transport aircraft. I cannot go as far as the hon. Member for West Islington in accepting that position. It would be a false position. In this as in most other matters we should try to depend upon ourselves, and I strongly urge that we at once set up a programme and carry it into effect. The programme could be modified in any way that is necessary for peace, but it should be continuous—war and peace. It is imperative that we should have a large fleet of air transport machines when the war ends. This is not only from the point of view of markets and their immense importance for the future prosperity of the world, but because there will be immediate post-war measures which can be best carried into effect by transport aircraft, such as carrying supplies of food to famine areas, helping policing arrangements in Europe and so forth, which will be semi-war and semi-peace measures. In brief, in carrying this method of transport into the peace there seem again to be three main factors. One is to ensure that the material is in being so that we can pass smartly from war to peace and not only material but organisation suitable to carry it out. The second is that we should have a definite understanding in regard to the peace organisation of air transport with the Dominions, the Empire and India.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am sorry but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not entitled to go into the development of civil aviation in detail, having regard to the Amendment on the Paper.
§ Sir F. Sykes
The two questions are so closely linked that I felt it was imperative to carry the discussion from one to the other. The hon. Member for West Islington touched on the international arrangements and so forth, and I thought that if there were anything I could usefully say now, it would be better to do so than to try and speak later on the Amendment. I do not know whether I am in Order in pursuing points on the international side about which the hon. Member who has just sat down spoke, and on the inter-Imperial side?
§ Sir F. Sykes
I bow to your Ruling. I agree with the hon. Member for West Islington that the international aspect is of paramount importance. A start should be made, a Commission should be set up to investigate it, but before that time comes it is of paramount importance that there should be a definite understanding between the various components of the Empire so that a certain policy can be set forth for consideration at an international conference. The major issue after the war will be the form which international control of flying is to take; for it is clear that there must be international control of some sort. We cannot without disaster tolerate unrestricted competition in the air. If we can evolve some method of carrying this out, it may well form the stepping-stone to dealing with other matters internationally. I look upon this question not only as a war measure, not merely as an ordinary peace measure, but as a measure leading from war to peace and to what we all hope will be a general international understanding, without which, on this matter as on so many others, the world cannot carry on at all. I hope that in this matter of air transport we shall grapple the question at once. I hope that we shall have the material and organisation available. We shall certainly have the personnel available from the vast numbers of Air Force officers and men and the innumerable workers in aircraft factories. All that will be available, but it will all want organising beforehand in order to pass speedily and satisfactorily from war to peace. Then comes the question of inter-Empire policy, and I would like to add a word in regard to India. It is one of the most important aspects of inter-Empire air policy that 925 India should be considered and dealt with in the general scheme. We must get representatives of the Empire together and come to some understanding. This would be a move of primary importance to the world as a whole. The key words for air transport for peace are an immediate improvement and expansion of material, an agreed inter-Imperial policy, and international co-operation. This last is absolutely vital to world peace.
In conclusion I should like in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State upon his interesting survey of the Royal Air Force to convey my congratulations also to the whole of the Royal Air Force on what they have done and what they are doing. It is a great pride to me to follow their doings, and I can only hope that when it comes to the peace, unlike after the last war, as many as possible of the officers and men will find their opportunity in British Commonwealth air transport services for which they will be so well qualified.
§ Mr. Purbrick (Liverpool, Walton)
The story that we have been told by the Secretary of State for Air is, indeed, a very gallant story. It is a story of hard work bravely done. There is very little in it that one can criticise, but I want to criticise it on one point. That is in regard to dive-bombers, about which there has been considerable controversy and about which I have asked for a good deal of information at different times. Sometimes the replies have been satisfactory and sometimes unsatisfactory. At the outbreak of war, as the Secretary of State told us in his speech a year ago, the enemy had great successes with the use of dive-bombers. In Holland, Norway, Poland and Belgium, in the fall of France, in Greece and Crete and in Singapore and Malaya they were successful under the conditions under which they were operating. The Americans developed them, the Russians have been using them, and we alone of all the Fighting Forces have not been equipped with them until now.
Any light aeroplane that is properly equipped with brakes can operate as a dive-bomber if it is a bomber or a dive-fighter. If it is a fighter or fighter-bomber, it can if it has brakes, do all three. The latest machines which the Germans have produced according to 926 reports will do long-range fighting, bombing and dive-bombing according to the conditions under which they are required to operate. To equip a machine with brakes adds very little to its weight and so detracts very little from its speed, and the greater manoeuvrability it has is a great benefit to it. In addition, it makes the machine much safer, which is an advantage both as regards the machines and the lives of our pilots who have to fly them. I think we all know the special advantages possessed by a dive-bomber. It is specially effective when one has to bomb a target with great precision. An ordinary bomber can bomb over a wide area, but for a smaller area the dive-bomber is particularly good, always providing that there is not heavy "flak" against it. It must have air protection, just like any other bomber. It is wrong to describe the dive-bomber as much more vulnerable than other types. We are told that the Germans used dive-bombers in the Battle of Britain, but that after two or three days they were a failure, because we shot down so many. The reason for that was that we had a very strong anti-aircraft defence; dive-bombers were not suitable for such work and should not have been used then. It would also be interesting to know whether the right hon. Gentleman could give us any idea of how many of those machines were shot down when they were diving and how many were shot down when doing normal flying.
In a recent statement by the right hon. Gentleman the suggestion was thrown out that the successes reported to have been achieved by dive-bombers were not always attained by them. I do not know whether he has any substantial evidence to that effect, but he has not given us any, and in its absence we must rather doubt whether that is the case. It is said that Germany is slackening off in the use of dive-bombers. Do we know whether that is so? If it is so, it is probably because our own defences have become so strong that the conditions under which Germany could operate dive-bombers successfully no longer exist. In spite of that, the Americans are now bringing their dive-bombers into play. Also we had a statement yesterday that the Navy are very glad to get dive-bombers, and we have been told that the Army are using them and that they are 927 coming into production now—but this is after 3½ years of the war.
My criticism is, Why did not we have them before when they would have been of a great deal of use to us? The Prime Minister told us last July that there was no question of not being able to get them, that the question of priority did not arise, that we were getting machines from America and that there was no question of priority regarding why we did not get dive-bombers. He told us that the Army and the Navy were crying out for them and that the Air Ministry were opposed to them. They had to go over the heads of the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Aircraft Production to get these first machines. I do not know whether any of the machines ordered in 1940 were ordered by the R.A.F. for their own use, or whether their orders applied to the machines that were ordered for the Army and subsequently, presumably, for the Navy.
In answer to a Question which I put down we were told that dive-bombers had to be of a very particular design, in which points had to be watched carefully, and that that was one of the reasons for the delay. How could there have been any reason for that delay when we had German dive bombers—because presumably we shot some down—and the Stormo-viks of the Russians to guide us and When America was also producing dive-bombers? If we were going to produce dive-bombers ourselves, surely we could have worked on their designs, and if we were going to rely upon America to produce them for us, surely what was good enough for the Americans ought to have been good enough for us. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that our pilots did not want dive-bombers. I do not know what experience our pilots have had of dive-bombing to be in a position to make such a statement, but we read only a few days ago that pilots got some Kittihawks and some Hurricanes and had them fitted as dive-bombers because they wanted to use them. I think our air-marshals are too prone to getting their own way and sticking to it when they have no right to do so. In this case they were opposed to dive-hombers before the war and were opposed to them during the war, and only now, when perhaps the field of utility may be less than it was in the past, are dive-bombers coming along.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I want to open my remarks by addressing a few words to the Secretary of State for Air upon his opening speech and lodging once more a protest against the growing habit of Ministers of the Crown reading their speeches when they address this House. It is a most deplorable habit and is growing day by day. I looked up the records since I came into the House, and I find that of the last six Ministerial addresses from the Treasury bench five have been solemnly read word by word, with a member of the Gestapo in the box making quite sure that every word was uttered so that it could be altered in the official record if it was not. My right hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect, is a natural speaker—it is a matter upon which he prides himself—and I have sat behind him when he was on the benches here and admired the way in which he captured the House with his eloquence, and I submit that there was no excuse whatsoever for his performance today. I agree that factual things must be accurately stated—nobody would object to that—but 90 per cent. of his speech would have been much more enjoyable if he had delivered it from his heart instead of from the closely typewritten sheets in front of him. I know the Prime Minister always reads his speeches, but, as with so many other things, he does it in such a way that you do not realise that he is doing it. He puts on his long-distance glasses and stands back. I noticed, too, that those in the Press Gallery were not very busy with their pencils during the delivery of that speech, so I suppose they had copies too. If Ministers are going to make a habit of reading their speeches, I suggest that they should circulate copies of them among Members. That would shorten the Debate or give back-benchers more opportunity of addressing this House. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will accept that proposal and recommend to the Leader of the House that that course should be followed in future. I will give way to him if he will assure me that that suggestion will have his support, as I am sure it has the support of everybody sitting here, and would have his support if he were sitting below me now.
Having made that protest, I will now take up some of the points which my right hon. Friend made in his address to us. I agree with the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Purbrick) that he gave us a very comprehensive record of the amazing 929 feats of endurance and gallantry of our men and women in the Royal Air Force. I want to touch on only one or two of his points, and knowing this to be one of the many things in regard to which I do not share the general view of the House, I had better get it off my chest first. I do protest once again against the steady destruction of Europe by bombing, and I do not mind if I stand alone in this. I quite recognise the gallantry of the men who have to go out and do it, although I am sure a lot of them do not like it, but I feel nauseated when I think of the destruction of Nuremberg. I am not in the least compensated when I am told that Herr Hitler intended to destroy it himself as insanitary. I do not wish to bring the performances of our country down to Hitler's level. If he cannot appreciate buildings of magnificent beauty and historical regard, that is no reason why we should not do so. When the Secretary of State went on to talk about the attacks on Essen—and here I am leaving out the wiping-out of Krupps with which I agree—I did not share his gloating over the destruction of 160 acres of built-up area, and I do not believe the masses of this country share it either. I protest in the name of humanity that we should with such cold-bloodedness both talk of and engage in the perfectly merciless destruction and slaughter of the women and children of other nations, even though they may be our enemies.
But that is by the way. I know my view is not popular in this House. The more important strategic consideration to us here is whether we have enough bombers to carry on in this way and at the same time to provide sufficient strength for the guardianship of our Western Approaches. I have heard strange tales of the reluctance of the Air Ministry to find a sufficiency of four-engined bombers for the defence of those Approaches. I would ask the Secretary of State if he speaks again, or the Under-Secretary, if it is he who is to speak, to give us some assurance that the Admiral commanding the Western Approaches is completely satisfied that he has enough long-distance bombers to enable him to carry out the protection of those Approaches.
Like all others who have spoken on the marvellous and prodigious efforts of the R.A.F., I want to ask the Secretary of 930 State whether, in regard to what I call the United Nations area battlefront, we have an entirely square deal with our Allies. I make no criticism of the men or the operational staffs, who, I am sure, are admirable, or of the equipment. My "grouse," as usual, is against the central direction of the war. After all, it is our job here to go for the people at the top, as Ministers so often remind us when we want to get at somebody lower down, and to make sure that they are approaching these matters seriously enough and with their eyes open. As I understand it, the Air Force is still in what I may term an unbalanced state. We still have no air transporters. The Secretary of State said that air transporters were coming from America, but then so have dive-bombers been coming for a very long time, and when is it that we shall see the arrival of these machines from America? I take it that my right hon. Friend would agree that just as the American Air Force is at the moment unbalanced and we supply most of their fighters because theirs are no good, so, as a quid pro quo, the Americans should supply us with sufficient transporter planes to enable us to have a mobile air force. Sooner or later, I suppose, the Air Force will have to become even more mobile than it is now, and it will be steadily incapacitated and held back unless we can be assured that there is an immediate arrangement—not "coming," like Christmas or the dive-bomber, but an immediate arrangement—whereby we get our correct allocation of transport planes from America. As I understand it from talking to quite responsible people, the position is too one-sided at the moment, and it is quite time the matter was considered and satisfactorily dealt with.
Now I turn to an entirely different subject, and curiously I propose to touch on the land question. I want to talk about a matter which is near to my heart but a long way from the hearts of most other people in this House, and that is the appalling burden that has been placed upon the country by the compensation which has apparently to be paid to landlords for aerodrome sites. In this war the Government can requisition bodies, can kill hundreds of thousands of people and fail to compensate people for all kinds of damage that happens to their property, are even entitled, although they have not done it, in many instances, to conscript 931 property; but the landlord must have his pound of flesh.
I would remind the House of what happened before the war. Most people are aware where most of the aerodromes are, yet, for some extraordinary reason, it is now considered not to be in the interests of public security to say how much compensation has been paid to the owners of land on which those aerodromes stand. In 1937, for land totalling 26,500 acres and purchased by the Air Ministry, the Ministry paid £1,225,000. The landlords got approximately £46 an acre for land which was only worth about £10 an acre and often less. Since then there has been complete silence on the subject. I have tried to get information from the Secretary of State for Air and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, approaching them from different angles, on this matter, but I have always received the answer that it is not in the public interest to make any statement. There is no reason whatever why my right hon. Friend could not stand up at that Box and tell us, globally, how many acres have been purchased since the outbreak of the war and how much has been paid in compensation. If the country knew those figures, I believe people would rise in their wrath and say that we must stop this process. "It is bad enough," they would say, "to go out and perhaps to get killed, but if we have to pay for the land for which we are fighting before we fight, and then find most of it is not ours when we come back to it, it is not good enough." The Government certainly ought to do something about it, and the sooner the better.
You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have ruled that I must not talk about Civil Aviation. I will not do so, but there are one or two general observations I wish to make following upon those made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes). Firstly, I want to obtain from the Secretary of State for Air an assurance that, in connection with the new organisation referred to in some of the daily papers this morning, no concession of any kind, a promise or even a half-promise, to anyone outside this country, has been made in regard to air transportation after the war. Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware, as I have no doubt he is, with all the facilities at his disposal—I have been out of this country only once since the war started—of the 932 widespread anxiety that is felt here and overseas at the almost overwhelming appearance of American interests and American aircraft on the trans-African routes, and in India? People are taking very seriously to heart the feeling that the Government are not playing straight with the country and not telling us exactly what is going on. I am wondering whether it is not part of the great Downing Street sell-out to America. I know that is not a popular phrase, but some of us feel very hot under the collar about the matter.
Thirdly, I want to raise the whole question of the production of transporter planes. I think it was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production who, when I put a Question a short time ago at the ordinary Question hour as to what the Department were doing in this matter, said that bomber planes would make very good transporters. When the Minister said that, I replied "Bosh," and of course it is bosh; no one knows that better than my right hon. Friend. A bomber is designed for a concentrated load and for a limited variation in the position of the centre of gravity; a transporter has to carry widespread loads of an irregular nature and must have a much larger variation possible in the position of the centre of gravity. It is no use the Government sitting down comfortably and saying, "It will be all right in the end because we shall find ourselves with a lot of bombers which we can turn into planes for transportation purposes," because they cannot do that. I stress the importance of getting on with this job now. It takes four or five years to get a big machine off the drawing board. You cannot produce a tank from the drawing board in six months, whatever any Ministers of the Crown may say—it is not true. But this is only by the way. The bottle-neck in the aircraft industry to-day is the absence of sufficient skilled technical engineers and draughtsmen. That is the real bottle-neck on the production side. Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that everything possible will be done to extract skilled men and draughtsmen from the Forces for this purpose? Any quantity of them have gone away; I myself have lost several who would make admirable workers and draughtsmen. They often are not doing technical work in the Armed Forces. It is essential that that 933 work should be got on with now, and that the capacity of these men should be made available. Otherwise, when the war ends, we shall find ourselves without any air transporters that are worth while.
I want to conclude by referring to what the Secretary of State said this morning about the new Command. The right hon. Gentleman slipped over it very quickly. He was a little impatient to get on with his script. I know that when I am speaking I sometimes cannot find what I want in my notes, and I am sure that if I had a script version, I should become literally mad if anybody tried to interrupt me. When the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) asked the right hon. Gentleman if he could give the name of the officer who is to take over the new Command, the right hon. Gentleman said, "No, I cannot"; but it is in the papers. Perhaps this information slipped out of the right hon. Gentleman's office by mistake—or was he following what is now the usual custom by sending it to the Press before telling this House? I cannot believe that the reputable newspapers who published the information this morning that the Commander-in-Chief of this new Command is to be Air-Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill——
§ Sir A. Sinclair
May I inform my hon. Friend that no decision has been taken as to who is to command the Transport Command? I have not the slightest doubt what has happened and why the name of that very distinguished officer has appeared in the newspapers. He is obviously one whose name would occur to any intelligent newspaperman as a possibility for an appointment of this kind; but there is no other foundation whatever, and no decision has been taken as to the appointment.
§ Mr. Stokes
It may be that the correspondent is telepathetic or has powers of prevision. Anybody who knows Sir Frederick Bowhill would agree that he would be a most admirable choice. I think the reason why my right hon. Friend did not tell us about this matter was that he did not want the matter discussed. I am going to assume that the newspaper is right. If not, the Secretary of State for Air will no doubt take the advice of the "Daily Mail" and the rest of the newspapers which published the information. Perhaps the news will only come out when the Fuehrer in Downing Street 934 has had time to put his name on the dotted line. What is to happen underneath? I am very sorry for these Air Marshals. If the Department is allowed to have its own way, they will be left with an appaling number of thugs to deal with. They will not have had the same experience of thuggery as some of us have had in this House. The House ought to know something about the history of British Airways. The newspaper went on to suggest that the British Overseas Airways Corporation was to be amalgamated into the——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As I indicated, it is not in Order to go into the details on the subject matter of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Stokes
With great respect, Sir, I suggest that I am dealing with the setting-up of the Royal Air Force Transport Command, which is intended to control all forms of air transport for the duration of the war, and that that is proper for discussion in this Debate.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman will continue, I shall be able to see whether his remarks remain within the bounds of Order.
§ Mr. Stokes
I will do my best not to slip up. My right hon. Friend mentioned that there must be some sort of war-time control of civil aviation, but there is no civil aviation now.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I call your attention Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that, in the course of his speech, the Secretary of State referred to this matter at some length, and may I respectfully suggest that it would be in Order not only for my hon. Friend to deal with the subject but for the Under-Secretary of State to reply to it?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I know that references have been made to the matter, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will confine himself to the main Question.
§ Mr. Stokes
I propose to confine myself to the point, which no doubt will come from Downing Street in due course, that the new Air Transport Command is intended to control all forms of air transport in relation to the war. Therefore I call it the Air War Transport Command. The matter I am interested in discussing with the Secretary of State for Air is what 935 exactly this set-up is to be, when it comes under my right hon. Friend's Department. It has nothing whatever to do with the Minister without Portfolio, who is concerned with civil aviation after the war, but is entirely a matter of control of transport aircraft during the war. British Airways Corporation was taken over by the Government, who did what they have done so often. The Government took over bag and baggage the whole personnel. They bought out the vested interests and then left them in charge. That is exactly what has happened—if my newspaper clairvoyant is correct. It is not very satisfactory to those of us who have protested against this Government's practice of putting vested interests in charge. I know we have a similar example with the Minister of Production who controlled the tin monopoly in peacetime. The Government did just the same thing in regard to that, which was put under the control of my right hon. Friend when he went as subordinate to the Ministry of Supply. The Government have already announced even what is to happen with the tin monopoly in Malaya and Singapore, when the Japanese are kicked out and the international control was virtually in the hands of the Ministry of Production. The point is, that the tendency of the Government is to put a veneer of political control on the top and then leave all the vested interests or their representatives in charge.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
My hon. Friend is discussing the position of British Overseas Corporation in relation to the new Transport Command. You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, interrupted him and said that that subject would be out of Order in this Debate, whereupon my hon. Friend argued that his remarks were devoted entirely to the Air Transport Command which was to take over the whole responsibility for air transport during the war. I must say, with great respect—although my hon. Friend's argument had great force—that he is now stating that the Government are handing these matters over to vested interests, which is contrary to the argument which he put to you.
§ Mr. Stokes
My right hon. Friend is a much more able debater than I am, but I am able to show him, if he pursues this erroneous path, that vested interests are in control. We have a right to know, and 936 the House of Commons ought to be told, what is behind all this organisation. There is no mistaking it. We know that vested interests are all mixed up with British Airways, Ltd. who are now absorbed into the British Overseas Corporation. But we find they have the same chairman and the same general manager in charge of affairs as were in charge of British Airways, Ltd. I would like the House to know about this new operational control. If the House thinks it a right and proper thing, then, as is often the case, I shall be in a minority again.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I submit that if my hon. Friend wishes to discuss British Overseas Airways, it ought to be done on the Amendment.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The Chair has ruled that. If the discussion is upon air transport, I suggest that my hon. Friend must stand by the declaration which he made himself on the Floor of this House and in the hearing of hon. Members all round the House. It is Air Transport Command, and not vested interests, which is to control the air routes.
§ Mr. Stokes
Certainly I am in agreement with him, for entirely different reasons, but if he is not now prepared to stand up and say who is to command the new Command, how can I discuss the organisation under the new Command unless I assume my newspaper clairvoyant is right?
If you are going to set up an operational control, the House is entitled to know what it is to be before it is faced with a fait accompli. This House has had very nearly enough of Ministers of the Crown coming to that Box and saying, "You can take it or leave it." We had the same sort of intimation from the Leader of the House to-day. When some of us were challenging him about meetings in the Treasury on post-war currency by the United Nations he practically said that the Government would take their decision and stand or fall by it, having committed the country. That is what my right hon. Friend wants to do, and it is exactly what I am trying to stop him from doing. I leave the House to judge whether I should be allowed to go on. I do not think it is satisfactory to get this extraordinary hand- 937 over made into a military Command and to leave the same personnel in charge.
I want to deal with one personal matter, because wrong things have been said. It is known that the Under-Secretary was at one time associated with British Airways, Ltd. I understand, and accept it, that he never had any interest or benefit in the matter at all; he was a technical director. But he was a director, and 9,000 shares were standing in his name. He says that he had no beneficial participation, and I must believe him, but so much has been said in the country that it is as well that that should be said in the House. Nevertheless, the fact that he held shares lends colour to the very deep suspicion that all is not right with the Government's handling of the situation. I conclude by asking for an absolute, categorical and specific assurance that the Government will not hand over any monopoly control of aviation at all to any civil corporation or group, and will not enter into any binding arrangement with people outside this country, without first coming to this House.
§ Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
I rise to make a short intervention in the Debate, because I know there are many other speakers and that there is an Amendment to discuss. I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his very comprehensive statement. It does not detract one iota from the story or the importance of it that he had recourse to his notes and stuck to them very closely. I was very pleased to hear him make reference to two branches of the Royal Air Force which up to now have had very little publicity for the magnificent work they have been doing since the beginning of the war. I refer to the Maintenance Command of the Royal Air Force and the Air-Sea Rescue Service. I had some experience of both these branches of the Service when I was with Fighter Command squadrons, and I can assure him that they have done a magnificent job of work, and this is the first time I have heard reference made to them in this House.
I do not intend to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) in his very heated discussion about the future of Air Transport Command, but I myself have one or two questions to ask about the future functions of that Command, because the right hon. Gentleman 938 made reference to this new Command and did not give us any important particulars. I want to know what the functions of this Command are to be. Are they, for instance, to take over some of the functions now being carried out by Army Co-operation Command, particularly as regards airborne troops? Are they to transport airborne troops? That is of vital importance in their relationship to the war in the future, and that should be made clear. If we knew now that that was to be one of their functions, I should have a good deal to say about it. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman could tell me now whether they will be responsible for the towing and conveying of airborne troops.
§ Captain Macdonald
I shall have a word to say about that. What are to be the functions of this new Command which is being set up? I am always very suspicious of new Commands which are set up on the day on which the Estimates are being introduced in this House. It looks to me very suspiciously as though the Government are just taking this opportunity of shelving what has become a rather difficult question, this question of air transport in the future. I hope that is not to be the case. Therefore, I hope we are to hear more from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to reply what the functions of the Command are to be and who is to command it. Is it to be just another opportunity of making a job for a bowler-hatted air marshal in order to shelve this question, as when the Army Co-operation Command was set up? Instead of finding a new, vigorous, young man who understood the problem and putting him in charge of that Command, they unfortunately dug up an old air marshal who had already been given the bowler hat. The result we have seen since. I have had opportunities of seeing some of the work of that Command, and I have heard a good deal of the mistakes that have been made.
A year ago, when the Estimates were introduced, complaints were made in this House about the lack of co-operation between Army Co-operation Command and other branches of the Service. At that time, I asked the right hon. Gentleman to ask the officer responsible to give an 939 account of his stewardship, and that if he was not satisfied to clear him out and get someone else in his place. That has not been done. I have no personal feelings against the officer, but I maintain that the Commands to-day should be in charge of young men who understand the problem, not Only the Air Force side of it, but that of other branches of the Services. It is not good enough to put a man in charge of a new job because you want to shelve it. I hope the man who is to be in charge of this new Command will be a young man who is going to give the Air Council a lot of trouble until he gets what he wants in aircraft and equipment, or it will be utterly useless, and the right hon. Gentleman will have lots of trouble in this House answering questions about the Command's functions and stewardship.
I cannot discuss this in very great detail, because I know so little about what those functions are. Is the Command to be confined entirely to the war, or is it to be carried on from war activity to civil transport functions? If I knew that, I might be able to say a good deal more about it, and to ask more questions. Even if it is confined to war activities, it is absolutely vital to put somebody in command of that new Command who not only understands the military aspect but also understands something of the civil side of aviation and civil air routes, because obviously the two functions must be carried on and if civil aviation is not to be neglected or air transport in the future is not to be neglected, you must lay your plans now. You must pay some attention to research now, to design now, not after the war. Therefore, it is important you should get the right officer in command and the right staff collected now, not after the war. I hope that when the Amendment is moved we shall hear something more about this aspect of the question. In fear of being ruled out of Order I am going to leave that matter there for the present.
I shall make one reference to a speech made by the hon. Member for the Walton Division (Mr. Purbrick), who referred to dive-bombers. This is an old story that has been causing a good deal of controversy in this House since I came back to it. I thought it had pretty well died out. I know some hon. Members on these benches were very vociferous some 940 months ago on this subject. One does not hear anything from them now and I assumed that they had been convinced that whatever might have been said for dive-bombers two or three years ago—and a good deal could have been said for them at that time—there is no earthly use harking back to them to-day. I have had some experience of these dive-bombers. In France I was in charge of convoys on roads and was dive-bombed, and it was not pleasant. It was decidedly unpleasant, and it always is. If you are part of a fixed target and there is no fighter protection or flak, it is very unpleasant being dive-bombed, but if I had to choose between the cannon gun fighter of to-day and any number of Stukas you would care to bring along, I should choose cannon gun fighters every time. That is the view of most people who are well informed on this subject and have had experience of both types of machine.
There was a test of the two in the Middle East not long ago. One South African squadron which was never in action previously met about 50 or 60 Stukas coming into action and shot down about 33 of them in one afternoon. That was the answer to the Stuka, and the last we saw of it on that particular part of the front. They are very effective if they have superior air cover, or if there is no strong opposition or no opposition at all in the way of fighter or ack-ack defences, I hope this controversy is not going to be stirred up again in this House. It detracts from other things; it confuses and disturbs the minds of people in this country who do not understand the position and are given the impression that our troops, their menfolk in the Army, are not being properly defended. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to reply will clear up these points. Experts to-day who are in a position to know are convinced, I think rightly, that the dive-bomber of two or three years ago is out of date. I hope that the British Government will not resort, to that or even a superior dive-bomber to-day in preference to the cannon gun fighter or even the eight machine gun fighter, which has proved itself capable of doing the work of the dive-bomber and defending itself at the same time.
I am not going to follow other arguments which have been put forward in this Debate, as it would take a long time and my hon. Friend the Mem- 941 ber for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) tells me that he is anxious to speak, and I know that he has important points to raise. But I hope that this question of the new Command will be cleared up, and that this House will know what the function of that Command is to be and who is to command. I hope we shall be told that it is not to be some bowler-hatted Air Marshal who will not give the Air Council any trouble, but some young officer who knows both the civil and military aspects of this problem and who will give the Air Council all the trouble he can, until he gets what is wanted in the way of aircraft and equipment.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
I have no complaints to make about the way the Minister delivered his speech to-day, because I think what is said is much more important than how it is said. I want to direct my remarks to-day solely to the examination of one point—the waste of man-power and of public money within the Air Ministry. The Minister has told us that the Maintenance Staff of the Royal Air Force has done, and is doing, a tremendous job of work. He referred to the scores of thousands of Air Force personnel, W.A.A.F., and civilians engaged in this very important section of the Air Ministry. It is true that there are scores of thousands of men and women employed in this section. I begin with the assertion that there are thousands more than there ought to be. That represents a waste of man-power which should not be tolerated at this stage of the war. I made this point on the Army Estimates, and I make it to-day on the Air Force Estimates. I assert that there is a calamitous waste of uniformed personnel, above all in the Maintenance Division of the Royal Air Force.
I will give a simple illustration. For obvious reasons, I cannot give the name of the Unit, but Members can have it privately if they wish. The pre-war complement of this Unit was—1 group-captain, 1 wing-commander, 4 flight-lieutenants, and 4 pilot-officers: a total of eight uniformed personnel, all told. To-day the establishment of that unit—and I quote it only because it is typical of all the other units—is 1 group-captain, 4 wing-commanders, 7 squadron-leaders, 22 flight-lieutenants, and 32 pilot-officers and flying-officers. I do not object to a quantitative increase, as there is bound 942 to have been an enormous increase in the work of the Royal Air Force. My point is that all this maintenance work could be done to-day by a civilian staff. It is, for the most part, not work which requires the services of pilot-officers, flight-lieutenants, squadron-leaders, and so on. It is a store-keeping and issuing job, rather than a flying or navigating job. We are wasting the services of thousands of officers, upon whose training a great deal of money has been spent, by putting them to work which could be done by civilian personnel.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
The hon. Member obviously does not understand that these officers are members of the Equipment Branch, who do not fly and never have flown.
§ Mr. Brown
That is beside the point. I say that we should not waste uniformed man-power on jobs which could be done by civilians. That holds good whether these men would in other circumstances be flying or not. Secondly, it is a heavy waste of money. The emoluments of a flight-lieutenant, taking pay and allowances together, will amount to rather more than £50 a month. Of that, £20 represents allowances not subject to Income Tax. The emoluments of the civilian, who is doing precisely the same sort of work, where he is allowed to, amount to somewhat less than £20 a month. For every flight-lieutenant used on this work, which could be done by a civilian, there is a net loss to the Exchequer of £30 a month. If that is multiplied by thousands of units, the net loss to the Exchequer in the course of the year becomes very large.
Here is my third point. The Air Minister, I am sure, will acknowledge, because I know him to be a just-minded man, that he owes much to the civilian staff of the Air Ministry, both at headquarters and outside. I must tell him, with a bluntness which I am sure he will forgive, because it is natural to me, that there is deep discontent among the civilian staff, above all in the Maintenance Division. There were some hundreds of civilian clerks employed in the Air Ministry before the war. They were trained in the expectation that when war came, if it unhappily should come, their services would be utilised to the full, and that an avenue would be provided for them to do better-paid work. That expectation was not unnatural; indeed, an expectation to a share in the spoils of war 943 is not confined to the Civil Service: it shows itself on the Front Benches on both sides of the House. But the fact is that the civilian staffs are confined to precisely the same work as they were doing before the war. Their claims for upgrading have been rejected, solely because of this habit of employing uniformed personnel on work which could be done just as efficiently, and far more economically, by civilians. This is a small point, but an accumulation of small points of this kind makes a very important total.
I hold the view that when the Russians and the Americans came into the war there ought to have been, from the centre, a revision of the whole man-power policy of this country. Then the point about which my hon. Friend complained, the taking up of draughtsmen and so on unnecessarily, would not have arisen. But if we are to go on with a man-power policy very much similar to that which we had before the United States and Russia came in, I beg the Minister not to waste man-power on the scale that he is doing. The Minister of Labour is combing out industry with a tooth brush. [AN HON. MEMBER: "A fine-tooth comb."] No, the uses of a fine-tooth comb are well-known, and I deliberately used the less offensive term "tooth brush." He is picking up every unconsidered trifle in the way of man-power that he can find. But there is more waste of man-power in the Civil Service, the Army, the Air Force, and, to a less degree, the Admiralty, than in any industry to-day. The Minister of Labour will find, without difficulty, far more men whose labour is being wasted in these Services, than he would get by combing out the last man he can lay his hands on in industry.
I ask the Air Minister whether he can give us an assurance that he will take seriously these representations, and if necessary consult the associations in the Air Ministry, the members of which will give him far more detail than I have been able to give in this short speech. If he is satisfied that what I have said is true, I ask him to take the necessary steps to put this work in the hands of the civilian staff. That will give him more men for the Air Force, and save public money.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. 944 W. Brown) on a subject about which he is an acknowledged expert, but I hope the Minister will consult with the appropriate organisations in the Air Ministry, because I think there is still a good deal too much waste of man-power in the Services as a whole. I share the regret which has been expressed that my right hon. Friend found it necessary to read his statement. Those of us who have sat here for years with him know that he is not only a great debater but a great orator. He had a fascinating story to tell. If he had allowed himself to tell it rather more in the style which we have heard him use in the past, it would have been better. While due regard must be paid to security, I hope that it will not become the practice of all Ministers to read their statements, because that does take away from the effect that their speeches otherwise might have.
Before I come to my main point, I would like to mention one or two comparatively small points. First, I would express satisfaction at the fact that the Air Ministry have decided to pay the full rate of pay to all officers holding acting rank. This was for two years, at any rate, a standing and considerable grievance in the Air Force, and my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated in having done away with it. Then I should like to express great satisfaction over the categorical assurance which my right hon. Friend gave in reply to a Question I put the other day, that sergeants who are taken off flying duties because of physical disability, and for no fault of their own, will not, in any circumstances, be reduced in rank. That is a matter about which I think the House has felt keenly.
There is one other routine point of administration to which I would like to refer. I do not know whether the House realises it, but at present when officers who are members of flying crews are required to live in mess for operational purposes their allowances, if they had been living out with their families, are substantially docked for the period during which they live in mess. I do not believe that this would be, in any circumstances, the wish of this House. These officers are operating under unprecedented conditions. They are attacking the enemy from bases in a peaceful countryside. That imposes a great psychological strain. It seems to me that when an officer has taken a cottage for his wife and family 945 and is required to live in mess in order to conduct operations against Germany, it is scandalous that his allowances should be docked. I make the most urgent appeal to my right hon. Friend to put that right. It is a great grievance, as I know, because I still keep in touch with the bomber stations as much as I can. I am sure that if this question were to be put squarely before the House, Members would say that it is not right that officers who are required to live in mess for the purpose of carrying out operations against the enemy, should be docked of any part of their allowances.
There is only one other point I wish to make on the question of personnel. The promotion of youth in the Royal Air Force has, by common consent, been justified to the full. It is most remarkable how these young men between the ages of 24 and 30 are discharging most immense responsibilities easily and competently. The right hon. Gentleman is to be most warmly congratulated on the policy that the Royal Air Force has always pursued of promoting young men to positions of the highest responsibility.
§ Mr. Boothby
There are group-captains in active command, and many wing-commanders commanding squadrons, who are under 30.
§ Mr. Boothby
Nevertheless I think that both the other Services would do well to emulate the example of the Royal Air Force in this respect, because on the whole they have done very well.
In any general consideration of air policy two things have to be borne in mind, first, that air power has now been proved to be absolutely essential to the successful conduct of modern war in any field; and secondly, that air power is indivisible. The main object of the Royal Air Force is first, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, to achieve air power; and then to bring the whole weight of it to bear at the vital point. Therefore, as against the other two Services, the Royal Air Force has two functions to discharge and two battles to fight. It has, first, to achieve air mastery, and then to bring that mastery to bear on the enemy. The greatest asset of air power is its flexibility. 946 One of the most famous of contemporary military leaders said the other day that the concentrated use of the air striking force is a battle-winning factor of the first importance. It follows, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that the operational control of the Air Force must be centralised, otherwise you are bound to get that most fatal of all things—a dispersal of effort.
The question of co-operation between the various Services has been raised in this Debate, and it is a subject in which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Captain Taylor) is particularly interested. There have been complaints of lack of co-operation in the past, and on the whole they have been justified. But as far as co-operation between the Air Force and the Navy is concerned it is fair to point out that not only Coastal but both Bomber and Fighter Commands are carrying out continuous sorties on behalf of the Admiralty, and have been for some time past.
I hope that, as the Lancasters come off the lines in increasing numbers, Stirlings will be diverted in a greater degree to operations against U-boats, for which they can be easily adapted. But it takes two to co-operate. In the last war the Admiralty, until the advent of Wemyss and Keyes, were very "defence-minded." I wonder if that is still the case. The services the Navy has rendered in protecting the merchant Service cannot be overestimated. But if you read the history of the last war their outlook was defensive rather than offensive. I suspect that if we could read the minutes of the three Services before this war upon the general question of air power, we might find in them an explanation of the comparative deficiency of the Fleet Air Arm at the present time. The fact remains that before the war the other two Services—and the Navy particularly—could not bring themselves to believe that air power would play as important a part as it has played and is now playing.
So far as the Army is concerned we have now a classic example of effective co-operation, based on sound doctrine, between the Royal Air Force and an army in the field. It is to be found in the history of the operations of the Eighth Army in North Africa during the past few months. How has this co-operation been achieved? As the right hon. Gentleman 947 pointed out, the operation as a whole is under the general direction of the Army commander. He issues the directive. But he has an Air Headquarters staff, living with him, which controls the operations of the Air Force and exercises direct command over such squadrons as may be allocated for the purpose of supporting the army. Through this Air Headquarters the Army commander can obtain a concentration of the whole of his air resources at a given moment at the decisive point. He can do it in no other way. He certainly could never hope to do it if the Air Force command were split up into divisions and sub-divisions on each sector of the front, and a brigade, division or corps given its own separate quota of air support.
Equally, the Air Officer Commanding can obtain from the Commander-in-Chief the necessary force and the facilities to achieve the capture or construction of aerodromes in the forward zone. General Montgomery, Commander of the Eighth Army, summarising this question of Air Force and Army co-operation, said recently that all that is required is that the two Services should work together at the same headquarters in complete harmony, and with complete mutual understanding and confidence. It can be done, because it has been done; and the result is a welding in action of the Army and Air Force into a single comprehensive unit of attack and defence. What this House wants to know from the right hon. Gentleman is whether the precept and practice so successfully adopted in North Africa is to be taken as a model for the future, and applied over the whole field of combined offensive action. I think we can take it from what the right hon. Gentleman said that the training, especially the combined training of the Army and Air Force, now going on in this country is based upon the example and model set by the Eighth Army in the North African campaign, which form a guide for their activities. Meanwhile, it might be a good thing if some of the retired Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals, who have little or no practical experience of the present war, were to-stop banging away at each other in another place. I do not think their almost interminable weekly discussions bear much relation to reality; and in so far as they do anything at all, I think they do a certain amount of harm from the psychological point of view.
948 One word before I sit down about Bomber Command. The right hon. Gentleman referred to it at some length in his speech. We decided to concentrate upon the production of bombers in the winter of 1940–41. It was the only thing we could do at that time, when we were quite alone fighting the Germans. I do not think that anybody can quarrel with that decision. But let us face it. The results achieved in 1942 were disappointing. We in this House might reasonably have expected that we would have built up a bomber force of great magnitude and striking power; and that expectation was not realised in 1942.
§ Mr. Boothby
Because we got very few bombers from the United States that we could use, at any rate in this country. There were also serious diversions to Coastal Command and to the Middle East; and we must admit that our own production of heavy bombers was disappointing. Actually Bomber Command at the end of last year had less than 10 per cent. increase in the number of aircraft at its disposal. I am not now talking of weight; but the numerical increase in aircraft of Bomber Command in 1942 was comparatively negligible, and that is disappointing, to say the least of it. What was the result? For the great thousand-bomber raids of last summer we were compelled to draw on the training organisation to a considerable extent.
§ Mr. Boothby
I think there were three. It is undesirable in itself to use half-trained crews for operations, and it may be expensive. But the fact nevertheless remains that the results of the first—the Cologne—raid on the night of 30th-3ist May last year were absolutely staggering. We dropped 1,500 tons of bombs in 90 minutes, as against fewer than 200 tons of bombs dropped on Coventry. During those 90 minutes it can be said that the third greatest city in the Reich was, for all practical purposes, knocked out. It took several months to get back any semblance of order into that city, or to get the factories going again.
On the other hand, our raids on the German industrial centres of the Ruhr and Rhineland with forces of moderate size 949 became increasingly expensive, and achieved no outstanding success. It became evident during 1942 that against large and heavily defended targets a force of say 250 aircraft is insufficient to saturate the defences and to produce sufficient devastation; and that the casualties were out of proportion. The lesson, as far as Bomber Command is concerned, to be learned is that, once again, the secret of air power is concentration at the vital point. The aircraft must have the necessary height, range, speed and bomb capacity; and must, above all, be sufficiently numerous to saturate both the air and ground defences. Without this, disproportionate casualties are bound to occur, because it is a fact that a bomber force can be outnumbered on the ground by the defences. Casualties do not increase in proportion to the number of aircraft put over a particular target at a given time. On the contrary, they decrease as the number of aircraft concentrated on a particular target is increased. Therefore we have to recognise the fact that concentration in time and space is the answer to Bomber Command policy, as it is to all Air Force policy. It is no easy task to get a force of sufficient size at a given moment over a point several hundred miles away from this country in the dark, and then to bomb the target accurately from a height of perhaps 15,000 or 20,000 feet, often enough in the teeth of an intense anti-aircraft barrage. But the new technique—what is called the pathfinder technique—which was developed in 1942, has proved conclusively that it can-be done.
The only conclusion that the House can reach is that we must go on with our bombing policy now that we have turned our hands towards it. Bomber Command is not a second front. I do not think that even the Lord Chancellor would claim that it was. It is not even, as someone has pointed out, a prelude or the necessary prelude to invasion. It is quite separate from the invasion of the Continent. But, at present, Bomber Command pins down 750,000 uniformed troops in Germany on anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, and another 750,000 A.R.P., Red Cross workers, and other workers in civil defence. Thus 1,500,000 individuals in Germany are at the present moment pinned down for the sole purpose of combating the attacks of Bomber Command. I ask the House to consider for 950 one moment the disparity between these figures and the figures of the German forces that are at present being engaged in North Africa. The only answer you can give is that Bomber Command is certainly fulfilling at the present moment a very useful purpose. And the Royal Air Force as a whole "contains" over 50 per cent. of the Luftwaffe. Think of what that does for the Russians.
I often think that when we talk to the Russians, who are, justifiably, apprehensive about what we are doing, and about the opening of a second front, we should do well to concentrate less upon the amount of stuff sent in convoys to them, although it has been substantial, and concentrate far more on the immense weight that the Royal Air Force, and particularly Bomber Command, is taking off the Eastern front at the present time. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, we are also swinging over German production from bombers to fighters, in order to combat the attacks of our Bomber Command. Therefore, the general results are cumulative. What is claimed, and rightly claimed, for Bomber Command, is that, given the necessary number of aircraft, it can be one of the decisive factors in the war this year. That, I think, is not an exaggerated claim to make. It can be one of the decisive factors. And, having put our hand to this job nearly three years ago, it would be absolute madness not to go through with it to the end.
I appreciate what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and I appreciate his hatred, in some ways, of the whole business. That can be understood, although I was interested to see that his dislike of our bombing policy stopped short of the bombing of armament factories, of which he seemed rather to approve. But I feel that, in view of the results already obtained with a force of a size which everybody will agree is inadequate for the task which has to be done, the achievements of Bomber Command have been most remarkable. Therefore, let us give our bomber crews the bombers—and, above all, the "Lancasters"—that they want and deserve. But do not let us treat them as mere machines. The only criticism I have heard levelled against Bomber Command is not against its efficiency, but against a certain touch of inhumanity. After all, our bomber crews are human 951 beings; and it is an arresting thought that when we carry out one of our big raids over a German town there may be anything from 3,500 to 4,500 young Englishmen in the air, about three miles above the target. When we staged our big raid on Cologne, no fewer than 7,000 young men were in the air over that town together at a given moment. These bomber crews display a quality of cold courage which has never been matched and which is quite unparalleled in the annals of war; and nothing we can do for them should be left undone.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I put a question to the hon. Gentleman since he has seen fit to mention my name? Is he aware that my constant objection has been to what I call indiscriminate night bombing—and bombing must be indiscriminate at night—and that I have never objected to bombing of strictly military targets by day?
§ Mr. Boothby
My answer to that is that we have now reached a point where bombing at night is no longer indiscriminate.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool)
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) made, as usual, a most interesting speech, and I agreed with him when he said that in the Royal Air Force youth does have its chance. I have been living with the Air Force now for three years, and I know it is the admiration of visitors and Allies from overseas that we have so many young men in high positions. Indeed, I am only 36, but for a long time now I have been saying "Sir" to wing-commanders 13 years younger than myself and to captains six or seven years younger. That is a very good thing. In the R.A.F. we have a unique combination of youth and experience. There was another point raised by my hon. Friend which interested me. He seemed a little disappointed in the numerical increase of our bomber force in this country. Assuming that his figure of 10 per cent. is accurate, it seems good to me. We have sent vast numbers of aircraft overseas, and, above all, during the past year there has been a tremendous change-over in the type of aircraft we are flying. The old Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens are being replaced by newer and more powerful planes which carry big bomb loads—Stirlings, Hali- 952 faxes and, above all, Lancasters. A truer and fairer analysis will show that with by far a fewer number of aircraft we can drop a greater tonnage of bombs on Germany.
However, my real provocation for making a speech in the House to-day came from the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who seemed to question our bombing policy and, referring to raids on Nuremberg and Munich, asked, "Are we not indulging in wanton destruction?" It seems to me that anyone who raises such a question now has not given fair consideration or study to the matter. Bomber Command attacks specifically chosen targets. One has only to look at the way in which they are announced in the Press. We have been smashing Brest, Lorient, and St. Nazaire, the big bases for enemy submarines which attack our shipping; we have been to Wilhelmshaven, Bremen, and Hamburg to smash their docks, shipbuilding yards and factories; we have been to Berlin, the capital of Germany, which is a big industrial centre; and we have been to Nuremburg and Munich, where they build engines that send their aircraft into the air and to equip their tanks. Surely that is evidence of real planning in attack. The hon. Gentleman leaves out of consideration the constant attacks made every day by our Mosquitoes flying low to go for selected factories in Denmark, Holland, Germany and France. Our bombing policy throughout has never been based on revenge but on competent planning which studies the essential things we need to win the war in the shortest possible time.
There has been a good deal of reference to the formation of the new Transport Command, and there has been a little criticism that it has come too late. I cannot agree. First things come first. We had our backs to the wall after Dunkirk, and when there came the Battle of Britain and we wanted fighters we got them. Then we moved to the offensive, for which we must have bombers. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air had been busy in the past providing all these transport aircraft then, we could not have had the fighters at the time of the Battle of Britain and the bombers now. Now my right hon. Friend is filling in the gap and equipping himself more thoroughly for the waging of the offensive against the enemy. Transport Command is part of 953 the normal routine in war. One has only to look at the large numbers of troops which the Germans have moved into Tunisia by air.
§ Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
We were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air that the carrying of airborne troops was not one of the new Command's functions.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I did not say it was not their function. If the hon. and gallant Member means the transport of troops by air, that is certainly part of their work.
§ Mr. Robinson
Air transport being essential, let us welcome it as being one of the last things to complete the picture of a fully developed Royal Air Force. It would be a good thing, for us, too, from the point of view of civil aviation, but do not let it go out to the world that we are forming an Air Transport Command solely so that we can compete in the field of civil aviation after the war. I do not want to see fierce competition; there is room in the world for us all, for our American and other Allies, in the air. Let us get away from the suggestions made here and on the other side of the Atlantic that we are doing it in order to plan for keen competition in the air when the war is over. Let the message go out from this House to the Americans that after the war they will be as welcome here in peace as they have been and are in war. I feel confident that we, too, will be welcome on the other side. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington also urged that there should be no jealousies among the United Nations. I have served at air stations with British, Dominion, Polish, Czechoslovakian, French, Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, and American pilots, and I can say that among the boys who are fighting there are no jealousies. We do not mink of these things. If we see our colleagues in the air, we do not stop to say, "There are the French." Our only thought is that there are our boys. I believe that by fostering that spirit the Royal Air Force has done a grand piece of work.
We are working now in particular in co-operation with our American friends. It has been my privilege to serve at American headquarters for some nine months, and I have been thrilled at the wonderful spirit of co-operation which exists. It is absolutely 100 per cent. I have heard Americans say, "So far as the British 954 are concerned, we must do everything we can to meet their wishes and desires." On the other hand, the Royal Air Force has said of our Allies, "We must do everything we can to help them in their wishes." So we have this grand spirit of co-operation which will lead us to victory. We are not working in competition; rather are we complementary. So I think it might have been stressed that while we are making these steady, heavy attacks night after night on Germany, we are looking forward to the time when the Americans, with their day bombing, will be able to put up as strong an effort as we do by night so that we can plaster the Hun for 24 hours a day, keep his defences going and make them so tired that they cannot stand up. I believe that an air offensive of that kind will soften the enemy so much that it will be easier for our ground forces to go forward to ultimate victory. The spirit of co-operation which has grown up between the British, American and Continental Allies will live, and because of that we can look forward to a better peace afterwards.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
There have been put to you, Mr. Speaker, from various parts of the House to-day some complaints as to the alleged practice of Ministers reading their speeches. There is no chance at all of the Minister who has to wind up a Debate being guilty of such a crime as that, because his task is to pick up the bits and pieces which have been thrown around the Chamber during a Debate of four hours or so by Members on all sides. His endeavour must be to sift the question from the declamation, and his duty is then to try to reply to the question and usually to pass by the declamation. So my task to-day is to endeavour to satisfy hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have put various questions to me, and I would like to deal first of all with the speech made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who is not in his place at the moment but who, I am sure, will excuse me for dealing with what he said in his absence. The hon. Gentleman asked me, as did another hon. Member, the very important question whether there is any change in our bombing policy, and he asked for an assurance that we are not bombing the women and children of Germany wantonly. I can at once give him, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that 955 assurance. Our objectives are, as they always have been, industry, transport, the war industry of our enemy. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) protested against the destruction of Nuremberg by bombing and said that he was not at all impressed by the answer that Hitler would himself have destroyed Nuremberg. I wonder whether the hon. Member would not be impressed by the answer of the sight of Coventry, Bristol, Plymouth and Southampton: of what the Germans have done to this country. If in our pursuit of our objective the German civilian population has to suffer, it is not our fault. It is not for us to turn back because of that. The remedy lies in the hands of the German people themselves.
§ Mr. Stokes
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for a moment consider that two wrongs make a right, and having said what he has said about the concentration of our bombers on war targets, how does he reconcile his statement with the statement of the Secretary of State for Air that we have obliterated 160 acres of built-up area—working-class dwellings—around Essen in our attempts to hit Krupp's works?
§ Captain Balfour
The Secretary of State was telling the House the facts of the results of our bombing, the purpose of which is to break down Germany's war effort. I repeat that if those innocent people, women and children, suffer in the execution of our policy on Germany, the remedy lies with the German men and women themselves. Of course, war is cruel and destructive, and the destruction of property and cities is inevitable, but again, I give the assurance that there is no change in our policy, that our purpose is to destroy Germany's industry, transport and war industry and war potential, and that we are not wantonly bombing women and children for the sake of so doing.
§ Mr. Montague
May I say that I did not intend to suggest that we were? I thought it would be desirable at this time, in view of the statements that are being made, that this reaffirmation should be made.
§ Captain Balfour
I am very glad the hon. Member gave us the opportunity of reaffirming that point. The hon. Member for West Islington also asked whether there was a quarrel between the Services. 956 The whole theme running through my right hon. Friend's speech was that we wished to have co-operation and we have achieved a great degree of co-operation, and intend to go on until we are absolutely satisfied that the closest co-operation from top to bottom exists between all three Services. The hon. Member then asked whether we are up to date in our ideas as regards using modern aircraft, and he mentioned particularly the helicopter for marine work. He will not expect me to go into any details, except to say this: "Yes, Sir," and we are acquiring a number of helicopters for marine protection duties. The next question my hon. Friend asked was whether we are getting our share of dive-bombers. The hon. Member for Ipswich also asked whether we are getting our right share of transport aircraft. My answer is, "Yes, Sir." We have a Combined Munitions Assignment Board set up between America and ourselves upon which both countries are represented, and the combined resources of both countries are distributed according to the strategical needs of the different theatres of war and given to each partner to use.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Will, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us on what occasion dive-bombers have been used by us in a European theatre of war recently?
§ Captain Balfour
I am giving an account of the machinery which exists for the distribution of the assets of the United Nations.
§ Mr. Bevan
We discussed this matter in the House last June and July, particularly in a Debate on a Motion of Censure, and we laid special stress upon the use of dive-bombers and transport planes. Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us, as he says that allocations of dive-bombers are being made and in view of the fact that dive-bombers have been used against us in North Africa with great effect, on what occasion we have used dive-bombers in European theatres of war?
§ Captain Balfour
No, Sir, we have not yet used dive-bombers in European theatres of war, but the hon. Member, who is such a prophet of strategy and the use of weapons in months to come, must appreciate the fact that those responsible for the direction of the war are not pre- 957 judiced against the use of dive-bombers. The only thing they wish to do is to use to the best of our ability such resources as we do possess. The hon. Member for Ipswich then said that, of course, the formation of the Transport Command was really rather late. But the reason it is only now being formed is that we are getting satisfaction in respect of the very point about which he was doubtful; we are getting satisfaction in the receipt of transport aircraft for the first time. I submit that the hon. Member cannot have it both ways; he cannot say, on the one hand, that the formation of the Transport Command is too late, and on the other hand, throw doubts on the receipt of transport aircraft when the very receipt of them is enabling us to form the Transport Command.
§ Mr. Stokes
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will take the trouble—I do not suppose he will—to read my speech tomorrow, he will find that I did not say anything of the sort. I did not say it was too late. I said that the delivery of transport planes was too late. I do not want to know whether there is a machine for supplying air transporters. A sausage machine that turns out no sausages is of no use. Are we getting the full requirements of air transporters to meet our immediate needs now, and not next Christmas?
§ Captain Balfour
Nobody has yet had his full requirements in this war. We are now getting our allocation of transport aircraft through the Board. One does not have hundreds of air transports now, this moment. What one has is a plan of deliveries—10, 20, 30, 40, or whatever it may be, a month. We have an agreed programme, which is being kept to at the present time.
The hon. Member for West Islington then referred to the more domestic point as to the alleged bad conditions in the W.A.A.F. camps, and he asked whether we would look into that matter. The figures of complaints received in the Air Ministry to-day from all quarters, in spite of the growth of the W.A.A.F., are about the same as the numbers of complaints received last year. It is interesting to note that the receipt of complaints is very largely seasonal and that one always gets a greater number during the three bad months of the year. I do not pretend for 958 one moment that conditions are satisfactory at every camp. Of course, they are not. What I will say is that the scale of baths, the scale of sanitary appliances, is a satisfactory one. Here and there we cannot satisfy that scale entirely, for one or other of two reasons: either because there are shortages of material or a shortage of contractors' labour which does not enable the camp to be finished, or because on occasions we deliberately ask and expect the W.A.A.F. to go into a camp before the accommodation is really finished if the operational part of the camp is finished and we need the aerodrome for operational purposes. I think the hon. Member will find that the majority of the complaints are passing ones and that once the camp has got into its stride, they disappear. However, we try most meticulously to go into all complaints that are sent to us either by hon. and right hon. Members or from other quarters. We have the welfare of those girls very much at heart and I should be only too glad to go into any cases which the hon. Member or any other hon. Members like to put before me.
I do not think I need answer the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Purbrick), who is, if I may so call him without offence in his absence, the political expert on dive-bombing, because he comes to the House, as is indeed his right, asks a great many questions during the Session, and then asked me a great many questions in his speech to-day, but unfortunately finds himself unable to be present to hear the replies. So I do not think the House would expect me to dwell upon the hon. Member's speech.
I would like to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich as regards the Transport Command. First, I can give him the assurance at once that there is no question of giving any concessions for civil aviation to anyone now or, as far as I can see, at any time during the war, because the whole of civil aviation is State-directed at the present time. Under Section 32 of the British Overseas Airways Act, the British Overseas Airways Corporation has had to put its undertaking entirely at the disposal of my right hon. Friend and he directs it as to what it is to do in aid of the war effort.
§ Mr. Stokes
That was not my point. I asked the Secretary of State whether he would give a categorical assurance that 959 no concession, implied or written, in air transport has been given by the Government anywhere within British territories to any foreign Power.
§ Captain Balfour
I will come to that matter. The hon. Member also asked the first question. He then asked whether, in respect of Pan-American and West Africa, which he particularly quoted, any particular concessions had been given. As I said from this Box in the Debate on the Estimates last year, as has been repeated since, and as was confirmed only recently by Mr. Wallace, the Vice-President of the United States, in a speech delivered a short time ago, there is no question of any post-war concession or post-war position existing because either partner in the war effort is travelling over the other's territories or has built bases on the other's territories.
He made the suggestion that there were skilled draughtsmen who could be got out of the Forces and used for the design of transport aircraft. That is a good idea. It had, however, already occurred to us, and we are acting upon it. He asked as to Transport Command's relationship to the British Airways Corporation and declaimed that vested interests must not be allowed to enter into the picture. There is no question of any vested interest, for the whole of the stock of the British overseas Airways Corporation, which operates at the direction of the Secretary of State, is held by the National Debt Commissioners.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald) asked for details as to Transport Command's functions. My right hon. Friend has said that Transport Command would, in addition to controlling the operations of the Royal Air Force transport squadrons at home, be responsible for the organisation and control of strategic air routes; for overseas, ferrying, and the movement of squadron reinforcements to and from overseas theatres. I will enlarge, upon those particular functions. Air reinforcement, that is to say, provision for the moving of operational aircraft and their crews between commands; ferrying, which is the movement of aircraft, for example, from the United States to the United Kingdom, using in the main ferry pilots from a central pool; and, thirdly, international or inter-command communications, that 960 is to say, regular strategic services; and then air transport in the sense of the movement of stores, personnel, etc., from the base to the front line within an operational command. Those are the enlarged details of the functions which we intend Transport Command to carry out. Its activities will be for the war only, as far as we can see at present. What the shape of things to come will be at the end of the war none of us can tell. My hon. Friend said the commander-in-chief should be an officer who will have a particular interest in air transport. No announcement has yet been made, but in general we are in entire agreement with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the air officer commanding should have a particular knowledge of and interest in air transport matters. The announcement will be made in due course.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The Secretary of State has told us that this Command is to be set up. The House is entitled to know when, and who is to be appointed.
§ Captain Balfour
My right hon. Friend told the House the decision of the Command at the earliest possible date, but as to when and who, those are essentially matters which the Air Council must decide in the light of the execution of its responsibilities devolved upon it by the House. In due course, as soon as we are in a position to make these decisions, they will be arrived at and announced.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) asked questions and made certain statements with regard to waste of manpower in the Air Ministry. We are as keen as he is to economise in man-power, and our Inspector-General has a special remit to look at all possible means of economising man-power when he goes round his various units. In particular the hon. Member quoted Maintenance Command and said there could be a great deal of substitution of uniformed persons by civilians, but I can tell him that about 50 per cent. of Maintenance Command is civilian at present. On the general question of uniform against civilian clothes, I side with him to a great extent, in that I do not like uniform for uniform's sake at all. My right hon. Friend has on at least two occasions deputed to me the task of carrying out certain investigations as to whether a particular branch containing civilians should be put into uniform, or possibly should be retained in uniform. I 961 have always approached the problem in the spirit that, if someone is a civil servant, I do not agree that he should be put into uniform and obtain Service rates of pay and Service non-effective benefits if he is doing during war-time the same work he was doing during peace-time and, broadly speaking, under the same conditions. That has been the general principle on which I made my recommendations to my right hon. Friend, and actually they have been accepted when I have made them. I shall be glad to look into any specific cases the hon. Member will send me as regards Maintenance Command.
§ Mr. W. Brown
There are three Ministries, the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry, and the only one that has achieved a reasonably satisfactory solution of the problem is the Admiralty. Both the other Ministries have much to learn from the Admiralty.
§ Captain Balfour
If we have much to learn, all I can say is, "Let us learn it." I am very glad to receive any lesson.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) raised the question of the living-out allowances in relation to the living-in allowances. It is not quite as easy as he made out, because it is not a question of docking the allowances. These officers go from one scale of allowances to another. They go from living-out allowances rates to the consolidated allowances rates.
§ Captain Balfour
Yes, but it is a little different from the naive way in which my hon. Friend said, "Of course, they have something docked," as if when they came to live in someone said, "That much off your allowance." What happens is that they go on to a different scale of allowances. I do not argue the point that they lose money on it, but it is a complicated question, raising the whole issue of the principle of allowances, not only for the Royal Air Force but for the Army and the Navy, and it can only be dealt with by agreement on an inter-Service basis with the Treasury. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are not inactive on the matter. It is not an easy one nor a quick one—I make no promise there—but we are going into the question to see if we 962 can do anything. I was glad of the support my hon. Friend gave to the bombing policy, and I am sure all those concerned in the higher direction of the Air Force will read with profit and interest his remarks on the strategy of bombing, though they may not all agree with the variations on the theme which he introduced into his speech. Nevertheless, we are glad of his general support, as of that of other Members, for the work that the Royal Air Force carries out.
I know that in endeavouring to answer the questions which have been put, whether they have been put critically or otherwise, the House will accept these Estimates with the deep and earnest hope that the Royal Air Force may be allowed to carry on its work during the coming year with continued success and at the least possible cost to itself.