HC Deb 06 March 1945 vol 408 cc1930-92

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Touche

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House, while expressing its appreciation of the valuable services rendered by the Air Training Corps, regrets that the present lack of leadership by the Air Council is causing discouragement and concern to the officers, cadets, civilian committees and instructors of the corps and urges upon the Government the need for an immediate declaration of policy and future intentions for the Air Training Corps. The right hon. Gentleman this morning gave us a vivid and stirring account of the great achievements of the Royal Air Force; and, although this Debate has wandered over many fields and into some unexpected avenues, our main impression must be one of great admiration for the gallantry, skill, and courage of the officers, men and women, of the Air Service. Long after many of the points raised in the Debate have been forgotten, the achievements of the Royal Air Force this year will stand out in history. It may seem a subsidiary matter to call attention to the Air Training Corps, but, personally, I believe that the future of the Air Training Corps is of great importance, not merely to the Royal Air Force, but to the future of Great Britain as an air Power.

This Amendment falls into three parts. It deals first with the past, which has been most successful; it deals with the present, which is discouraging and obscure; and it deals with the future, which holds great hope of-promise, but which may well see, if the policy is allowed to continue, a deterioration and decline of the Air Training. Corps. As regards the past, hon. Members of all parties will agree with me on the most valuable services which have been rendered by the Air Training Corps. Over 100,000 cadets have joined the Royal Air Force and many thousands have gone into the Fleet Air Arm. They have taken part in operations wherever the air war has been fought, and many of them have won high honours. Other hon. Members more closely associated with their training can speak with greater authority than myself, particularly the hon. Member for Swindon (Sir W. Wakefield), who is to second this Amendment. All of us, whatever our experience, have on occasions, such as the Wings for Victory weeks, seen cadets of the A.T.C. in our constituencies, and, if other hon. Members have had the same experience as I have, they could not fail to have been impressed by the keenness, smartness and efficiency of these lads.

It is a very encouraging fact to us that the air makes such an appeal to adventurous youth. It is a very encouraging fact for our future as an air Power. Our power in the past has very largely been maintained by the fact that the British nation has developed great gifts of seamanship. Now we have learned in this war that there are abundant sources of young men with great talent for the air, and this is the guarantee that Great Britain will remain an air Power. In the South East of England, I think this enthusiasm to join the Royal Air Force was greatly increased by the fact that many of these lads saw the Battle of Britain fought and won in the skies above them. In the A.T.C. these lads have learned not only airmanship and become qualified to join the Royal Air Force, but they have also learned to become good citizens. To-day, magistrates and those interested in social welfare are sadly concerned at the amount of juvenile crime and the lack of discipline among the young, but the young boys who get into trouble are not the cadets either of the A.T.C. or of the other three Services. To-day, unhappily, the position of the A.T.C. is that it is sadly lacking both the numbers and enthusiasm which it possessed a short time ago. Many squadrons are now mere shadows of their former strength.

The first blow that fell on the A.T.C., and, indeed, on all cadet movements, was of course, the introduction of the ballot for the mines. I do not intend to pursue the question of the wisdom or otherwise of that decision, but it does seem a strange thing that a Minister who undertakes to direct everybody to various forms of employment, when he comes to recruitment for a skilled industry should fall back upon the most primitive and most unscientific method of selection. It is unfortunate that, when this decision was made, no exemption was made in favour of those cadets who volunteered for the Services and who had acquired a certain standard of efficiency. There were many young boys in the country who had not volunteered for the cadet forces, and who had, therefore, shown no great enthusiasm to train themselves for Service life. It does seem unfortunate that the selection for the mines could not have been made from those who were not cadets. The ballot for the mines was a great blow to the A.T.C., as it was to every cadet movement, but more and more blows have fallen, on the A.T.C. and more and more cadets have been drafted into the Army and into industry. In some squadrons and some units, I believe, none have gone to the R.A.F. for over a year. I know of a cadet being accepted for flying crew service but, later on, being told that there was no vacancy in the Royal Air Force he had to go into the mines. I do not know whether he will make a good miner or not, but certainly the Royal Air Force have lost a very good recruit. It would be impossible to exaggerate the harm that has been done to the morale of these lads. In fact, I think they have stood up to their disappointments very well, but it is not really in human nature to expect young boys to work in their spare time at mathematics and navigation when, at the end of it all, they see that they have very little chance of going into the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm but are to be pitchforked instead into some other Service or into industry.

I do not suggest for a moment that these cadets do not benefit by being in the A.T.C., but they joined it not merely to become good citizens but in order to become members of the Royal Air Force. I do not believe that the Air Ministry realises the gravity of the situation which exists to-day. They naturally, I think, very largely rely on returns, and many of these returns are out-of-date, and all of them represent strength on paper and not strength on parade. The problem facing every unit in the A.T.C. to-day is whether to insist on regular attendance, in which case the already depleted ranks may be further reduced, or to depend on casual attendance, in which case the high standard of efficiency of the corps is bound to suffer. To-day, officers and instructors are frankly discouraged. A number of officers have resigned, and we must remember that these officers normally have arduous civil occupations and give up their spare time to working for the A.T.C. Many others may be feeling now that the sense of urgency which previously existed has gone, but they are carrying on because they hope that this is only a temporary phase and because they are fond of the A.T.C. Instructors, too, are finding their classes reduced to a handful. In these circumstances it is really most discouraging, for officers, instructors and cadets. It would help enormously if the right hon. Gentleman to-day could give a new message of hope and encouragement to the Air Training Corps.

We cannot expect any alteration in the policy adopted by the Government during the war with Germany, but it would be a great encouragement to the A.T.C. if they could learn that, after the defeat of Germany, the Air Training Corps would once again become the normal entry ground for the Royal Air Force. It would help them also to know how the Air Training Corps is to be conducted in future, and if exact information could be given as to the opportunities to be given them later both for flying and gliding.

They could be encouraged still further if they could be given all the training equipment which becomes surplus to the Royal Air Force, and if they could be assured, as they are not to-day, that they are not the forgotten corps of the Air Council.

I do not move this Amendment in any spirit of hostility to the Government, but I would ask them to appreciate that the situation is very serious, and that, if they allow it to continue to drift, the A.T.C. will emulate the old soldier and fade away. The energy and enthusiasm are there, and, if we dissipate it, we shall dissipate some of the most valuable things in life for these young men, who feel that they have had a very rough deal. If, to-day, some lead could be given, I believe the response will be enormous, and I believe it will ensure the permanent welfare of one of the finest youth movements we have yet produced in this country.

4.59 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (Swindon)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) on choosing this opportunity to bring forward this Amendment. At this time in the world's history, plans are being made and decisions reached which will vitally affect the future of the world. It is only right that, on such an occasion as this, the House should be able to debate another important future—that of the opportunities for British youth to take part in the air age. I would like to support the observations which my hon. Friend has made. I start by paying a very real and sincere tribute to the officers, warrant officers, civilian instructors and members of the civilian committees who have given so much of their time during these years with unflagging zeal and energy. Their devotion to duty has been really remarkable. It has to be seen to be believed. The greatness of their efforts can be judged by the results achieved by the cadets who have been turned out in recent years, by the work they are now doing in the Royal Air Force and in the Fleet Air Arm. Just tributes have been paid to the cadets, ex-cadets and to the work of those officers and instructors by the Secretary of State and by senior Naval and Air Force officers.

The value of pre-entry training is seen in the discipline and in the development of character, initiative and confidence which that training has given to tens of thousands of our young men. There have been many tributes from employers to the value of the pre-Service training of young men in their employ, and, coming from these sources, it is of extreme value when considering the future position of the Corps in peace-time. The value of this work has been recognised far and wide by the people of this country and they do not want to see it lost, but rather perpetuated in times of peace. The people of this country realise how we were saved at the Battle of Britain, and how the future security of our country, and the influence that we are to yield as a nation, and the part we are to play in whatever post-war security organisation may be formed will depend upon our air contribution. The age of our population, the decline in the birth-rate and other contributory factors mean that the contribution that we can make to any post-war world security organisation cannot be to a great army but must be primarily to the air and to the sea. In pre-war days it was the Royal Navy and its reserves, and in particular the men of the Merchant Navy, that provided our security. The Royal Navy held the sea. That was our security. In the future it is going to be the Royal Air Force and its reserves which will be our first line of defence, dependent, of course, as we shall be, upon the Navy keeping the seas open and carrying the supplies across the sea.

Mr. Arthur Duckworth (Shreswsbury)

And the Fleet Air Arm.

Sir W. Wakefield

Certainly, in all these observations I am talking of the air age which covers transportation whether of peace or war, of men and goods and services by air. The air age is with us and our youth who wish to take part in it must be given a real opportunity in their teens to be able to be trained for service in the air with the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm or their reserves. The right hon. and gallant Member for Thanet, now the Minister Resident in West Africa (Captain Balfour), just before he left, made a very pertinent observation. He said: Aviation whether military or civil must be the corner stone of the security and prosperity of the British Empire and therefore if as well as providing the numbers the A.T.C. in future years provides minds equipped with true appreciation of the meaning and value of the air, its peace-time work will equal in importance, its war-time defence. These are fine words but the time for fine words and generalities has now passed. What this House desires and what the country wants is action by those responsible in the Government. There is a very real anxiety throughout the country about the future of the Air Training Corps and it is for this reason that I am glad to be able to second the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate has so ably moved.

I know that the Secretary of State for Air, in a statement made to this House on 15th November last, said that the future of the Air Training Corps must clearly depend on the conclusions yet to be reached on matters of high policy, such as the size of, and the conditions of service in, the Armed Forces after the war."—(Official Report, 15th November, 1944, Vol. 404, c. 1939.) This failure by the Secretary of State for Air and the Government to make a clear statement on future Air Training Corps requirements is having a most harmful effect on the Air Training Corps, on its officers, its instructors, civilian committees and, above all, on the cadets, and not least upon that very large section of the public that has so faithfully supported the Corps in these past few years. The reason for this harmful effect is that nobody now has any specific target to go for; there is no definite object at which to aim. There is a lack of guidance and leadership and there is no purpose ahead. The future is aimless. What officers, committees and cadets want to know is, what will be required of them after the war, and in particular, what is to be the size of the unit looked for by the Air Ministry. They want to be able to make plans and preparations for their finances and post-war training. The man in the street knows that in future, if the regular Air Force is small, then the volunteer reserves and auxiliaries behind it must be very large. If the post-war Royal Air Force is to be very large then there must be a wide choice from which to draw. Whichever way you look at it, a broad basis and a wide field is desired from which to choose the best. It is a well-known and proved fact that it is much easier to learn things when you are young where brain, hand and eye have to be co-ordinated, whether in playing games or flying aircraft. It is easier if it is done in the teens than it is if it is done in the twenties. Experience has shown that it is uneconomical to try and train people to fly after they have reached the age of 30 for the purpose of operational flying if they have never flown before.

If Britain is to be in a position to play her part in any future world security organisation proportionate to her war effort in the air, opportunity must be given for a substantial number of our youth to learn to fly, whether by gliders or light-powered aircraft, in their teens. Owing to the wastage which occurs and for a variety of other reasons, and because of the quality demanded, at least one-fifth of the age group of our youth in each year, that is to say, something of the order of 50,000, ought to be given the opportunity to volunteer for training in the Air Training Corps before volunteering for air and ground duties afterwards. I hope that an opportunity may be given to every youth between 15 and 18 who desires to join the Air Training Corps to fly solo, whatever duties he may be required to do in the air or on the ground afterwards.

Preferably I would like to see opportunities provided for more than this, perhaps a quarter to one-third of our youth, and that may mean over 75,000 a year. If this is done, then Britain can indeed look with confidence to taking her proper part in the air age, but, above all, she can look with satisfaction to her future security and to the part she has to play in any-world security organisation. Once a young man in his 'teens has learned to fly and got a liking for it, then opportunity can always be given for him to keep his hand in and to carry on in later years should he reach the necessary standards at an early age. The cost, surely, need not be great, and if it were, it is surely that kind of cost which it is quite vital this country ought to be prepared to undertake for future security.

I want to ask the Secretary of State for Air why he cannot now give the Air Training Corps such a target for the future. Is there a difficulty and, if so, what is it? Is it the Treasury that is causing the difficulty? If so, I think this House ought to be informed. Does he disagree that a minimum of one-fifth of the young people of our country ought to be given the opportunity to volunteer for service in a cadet organisation? If he does not disagree with that minimum why cannot he say so, and straightway we have a purpose and a target for all our various units throughout the country. If he thinks those minimum requirements are far too great, again I suggest he ought to say so. The country ought to know where it is, and so ought the Air Training Corps. The Secretary of State for Air may argue that, as the size of the post-war Royal Air Force has not yet been decided, he cannot make a definite statement, but surely that is putting the cart before the horse. What the country wants to be assured is that opportunity will be given for at least a quarter to a fifth of our young people having opportunities for flying training if they wish it. From the best of those who have been given that opportunity a choice can then be made of the numbers required according to the size of the Royal Air Force, as and when that size is determined. I cannot see why the Secretary of State for Air cannot make some definite statement now upon that point.

The point is that this lack of decision is gravely affecting the future of the Corps. Such indecision is resulting, as the hon. Member for Reigate said, in the dissolving and dissipation of a fine force. It is still not too late to give that leadership and guidance to hold this force together and prevent its disintegration, but action must be taken now. There is a feeling growing throughout: the country that, now that the Royal Air Force has all the air crews it wants, the Air Ministry is taking little further interest in the activities of the Air Training Corps. There is a feeling shared by the volunteer officers, the instructors, the civilian committees and cadets that, whatever the Secretary of State may say, they are not really wanted. Many are getting disheartened at the lack of encouragement for the future, and in particular does this concern the civilian element of the Corps. When the Secretary of State for Air launched the Air Training Corps, he made a stirring appeal to the civilian authorities to help. Appeals were made to all responsible organisations throughout the country to rally round and give help. This rally came. Employers have done their utmost; trade unions through individual representatives on various committees have given invaluable assistance; educational and religious organisations of various sorts have worked unstintingly in the aid they have given.

Now all these people feel that they are being cold-shouldered. The Secretary of State for Air, I think at the end of 1943, made a statement about the future of the Air Training Corps in which he said that he hoped the Corps would be tied ever closer to the Royal Air Force. So far as the cadets are concerned, this was good news—the closer that cadets can be in touch with their heroes in the Royal Air Force and in the Fleet Air Arm, the serving officers who are doing the work, the better. Everyone desiring the future welfare of the Corps will welcome it, but if, by bringing the cadets closer to the serving officers and men in the Royal Air Force, and in the Fleet Air Arm, it means that civilian support in general throughout the country is to be squeezed out, then such a policy can only be harmful. That is the feeling that is gaining ground. Many of those who, in their civilian capacity, have worked so hard for the wellbeing of the Corps, are feeling that the Air Ministry does not want them any more. The feeling is growing that the Air Ministry wants to run the Corps through the Air Marshals, and no longer desires that advice and help and guidance and consultation of the various civilian elements which have done so much to further the work of the Corps.

I think there is some justification for this feeling. The corps is administered by a Chief Commandant through a number of Commandants. Civilian committees deal direct with these Commandants and, on the whole, this has worked quite well, but I think that some of this feeling of neglect would not have arisen if there had been set up some form of National Advisory Council—all civilians—which could bring direct to the Air Ministry difficulties as they arise, and from whom the Air Minister could seek advice and guidance. Some of the difficulties through which the Corps is now passing—the points so well made by the hon. Member for Reigate—I believe would have been mitigated if such a body had been in existence. Such a body would have as its members men who, in their individual capacities, carried great weight in the councils of employers' federations, the trade unions, the educational world, the religious world and so forth. Much could be done to help the Corps over its present difficulties, and if in that difficult transitional period between war and peace such a body were in existence the civilian element would feel that their advice was sought, their help needed, and that they were no longer being cold-shouldered; in fact, they would feel that they really had a future as well as a past. The help that these civilian committees can give, not only nationally but locally, is quite invaluable, and this will increase as buildings become needed more and more for various purposes and all kinds of difficulties arise. The policy of the Air Ministry has undoubtedly been rather to estrange than further the sympathy and help which it now needs, and so I hope that as soon as possible the Secretary of State for Air will set up a National Advisory Council for the Air Training Corps.

It is, however, not only the failure of the Secretary of State in this respect that has led to uncertainty and unrest; it is the lack of interest, and, indeed, the general apathy towards the Corps by the Air Ministry of late that has been responsible for some of the trouble. Officers and instructors are saying to themselves: "What is the point of putting in so much hard work when it really is not wanted?" They see some of their most promising cadets being directed into the Army. We know the reasons. The Secretary of State has given very sensible and sound reasons for this. What these people object to is that when first-class cadets are being directed into the Army others who have not given any service in the Air Training Corps are still going into the Air Force. The other day my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) drew attention to a case of a flight sergeant who had three years' service in the Corps and has passed his proficiency standard and yet was directed into the Army, while others who were not even in the A.T.C. went into the Air Force. How can officers and instructors continue to give heart to their work when this sort of thing is happening?

I have had brought to my attention the case of a young man, the son of a foreigner who, because of his ability was chosen to go on a short Service course at Cambridge University. That was some two or three years ago. He has now completed his flying training overseas. Thousands of pounds have been spent on him. He is now grounded because of colour blindness. In a big organisation like the Air Force cases of that kind sometimes occur. It is a matter for investigation and I have drawn the attention of the Air Ministry to it. What I am complaining about is the effect that it will have on the future of the Air Training Corps. One would have thought that, now that it is found that he cannot carry-on, he would be posted back to this country or be put on to some job worth the while of a man of his ability, enthusiasm and keenness. Here is an extract from a letter that he sent to his father: I feel as miserable as ever about my grounding. It takes a lot to get over, especially now that I have lost all the friends I had known since I joined the R.A.F. I am liable to wait anything up to five months. Being grounded, my pay has been reduced from 7s. 7d. to 3s. a day which is less than the lowest a/c's pay. I am helping in the cook house, serving dinners, etc., but I must take it with good heart. What is the attitude of officers, instructors and other cadets when they hear of this young man who has been put on to work which is usually given as a punishment? It is that attitude of the Air Ministry that causes unhappiness about the future of the Air Training Corps. I asked the Secretary of State a number of Questions last week. I asked him about the surplus training equipment formerly used in the initial training wing. If the Air Ministry were really keen on helping the Air Training Corps, arrangements could have been made long ago to transfer this interesting and valuable equipment for the use of cadets to help them in their work. It was put to them months ago but they have not bothered. They are not interested in it.

I have a few practical suggestions to offer to the Under-Secretary. Why does not the Secretary of State say that as soon as conditions permit greatcoats will be issued and that when the present uniform becomes unserviceable it will be replaced by batile-dress? Small points like these matter a great deal where young men are concerned, and attention to them is an earnest of whether the Minister means real business about the future of the Air Training Corps. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not say that, if there is going to be compulsory national service, cadets who volunteer for the A.T.C. will be given priority of choice for the Royal Air Force and its reserves and that they will at the same time have some special educational or other advantage for the service that they give from 15 to 18? It would be a great help. Again, why cannot he make arrangements with industry in general, and civil aviation and the aircraft industry in particular, for the grant of apprenticeships or scholarships or some form of encouragement for young men who make themselves proficient? What arrangements is he making for closer liaison with the counterpart of the Air Training Corps in the Dominions and Colonies? Have plans been made for the interchange of visits by cadets? I spoke to Field Marshal Smuts recently in Africa and he was most anxious that something of this kind should happen.

Why cannot the Sectary of State make some more definite statement than he has made on these and many other matters which are of vital importance to the future of the Corps? Does it really come back to the Treasury? Is it a fact that some financial clerk, who has probably never heard of the Air Training Corps, puts a stop on this? Where is "the nigger in the woodpile" who is stopping these things being done? The value of the general educational training in character building, as well as the technical advantages, cannot be assessed in pounds, shillings and pence by a Treasury clerk. I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will as soon as possible make some more definite pronouncement on the future of the Corps and give some encouragement to those who are working for it, and also to the cadets. What is wanted now is not more assurances or generalities but decision instead of indecision and action instead of inaction. May I commend to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the motto of the Air Training Corps: "Venture Adventure." Let him venture, even at the displeasure of the Treasury, to tell the youth of the country that at least a quarter of their members will have the opportunity to seek the adventure of the air which is by right their heritage.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

The hon. Member who moved the Amendment reprimanded the Minister of Labour for directing members of the A.T.C. into the Army and other Services, but I would remind him that, while the Minister of Labour is the whipping-boy, it was War Cabinet policy. I can speak for the North-East region, that is the counties of Durham, Northumberland and York, when I say that they accepted the decision loyally, but with great regret, because the cadets believed that in belonging to the A.T.C. they belonged to an organisation which was second to none. I admire them for their spirit. I have seen these cadets in their camps and giving up their holidays for training. I have seen them, too, at their tournaments. I saw them start from scratch in improvised rooms, and they could not have been kept going if it had not been for the generosity of public-spirited men who believed that they were putting their money on a winner. When the Secretary of State took office, I was deputed to see him to ascertain whether it was possible for the per capita grant to be slightly increased so that there would not have to be flag-days and going cap-in-hand begging for charity. I know the exact name of the Secretary of State, but I found then that he had an alias, which is Scrooge.

Undoubtedly the A.T.C. has come to stay. On every side of the House we have to recognise that the cadet movement generally has come to stay and that it is the duty of Parliament and of the Treasury to support these organisations. The more one sees of such a movement as the A.T.C. the more one admires it. Only yesterday a man expressed his appreciation of what the A.T.C. had done for the cadets in his employ, and he handed over £100 for the movement. There is no doubt that the A.T.C. is in the doldrums to-day owing to the wobbly indecision either of the Air Council or of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just taken office as Under-Secretary. At any rate, he is the only object I can see to attack at the moment, so I will put the blame upon him. We have been pretty well served in the North-East region, and that is the reason we have not come, like the hon. Member for Swindon (Sir W. Wakefield), in a white sheet, whining and grumbling. We in the North carry on pretty well and we shall continue to do so. When, however, there is no policy, when there is not even an advisory committee, and when the chairman has not even direct access to the Minister, the position is very unsatisfactory. I do not know who the chairman is now. I think he has resigned and taken in his bat. After the boys had gone home from an evening of training, I have seen officers gladly sweeping the floor and getting things ready for the following night so that the boys should be able to carry on training and become efficient cadets. I was glad to see the spirit of those fellows. I remember one of them when he was a schoolboy, and later when he became stroke of the Cambridge eight and took them to victory for the first time for many years. This man taught these boys air-mindedness, which is a valuable quality we cannot afford to lose. The Air Council have now taken that man from his mill.

What are we asking now? We are not suppliants. We are not demanding, but we are asking, and I particularly ask on behalf of the North-East region for some definite national policy for these cadets—a policy not for the end of the war, but for now. We do not want to lose these boys and allow them to be frittered away. We see the effect of self-discipline on them and what valuable citizens in the making they are, soon to make their contribution to the community, whether they have to join the Royal Air Force or settle down as citizens in their own neighbourhood. We want to prevent the drain which is taking place in the A.T.C. as a consequence of the indefiniteness of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary. I say that to him because his chief has gone to tea, and I hope he will report it to him and put in suitable adjectives such as I cannot do on the present occasion. I suggest the setting up of an advisory committee to give every encouragement to those people who are giving their best to the A.T.C. The general public look upon the A.T.C. almost with the same regard as Service officers look upon the Guards Regiment when it is marching by. They are the boys in blue. They look upon themselves as if they are wearing the blue ribbons of the Service, and their fathers and mothers are mighty proud of them, because they are mighty fine.

We want this advisory committee. Let the hon. and gallant Gentleman nominate quickly his chairman. I will give him a chairman if he wants one. Most of the good things came from Yorkshire, I agree. We have a man. He happens to be Lord-Lieutenant. He is no mere ornament. He is a working Lord-Lieutenant. He went the other day to a certain place in York- shire with the boys, and after having had a taste of enemy action, being machine gunned when they were going home, they all got home to bed at about 3.30 on Sunday morning. Ask him to be the chairman. Ask him for his ideas as to certain names who would back him up. Then let the Air Council bring their nominees. Let there be a strong central advisory council. It is essential and it is urgent, and that is why I am glad to have had the privilege of taking part in this Debate in order to urge this great necessity.

5.41 p.m.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)

It will avail this House very little to discuss methods by which the A.T.C. of the future may be made more attractive to the youth we wish to see within its ranks unless justice is rendered to those who have already served in it. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) referred to the necessity of the A.T.C. being a body from which the cadets would benefit; I wish to draw the attention of the House to those whose membership of the A.T.C. has definitely led to their being deprived of benefit. Among those who become cadets in the A.T.C. at or about the age of 16, are a large number who are already students at secondary schools. A great deal of what I have to say will not apply to them at all. Outside those who are in secondary schools have been tens of thousands of boys who were already at work and who came to the A.T.C. in their spare time. Nobody will deny that in the days when those boys were recruited, boys who are now coming to the age of the call-up, the A.T.C. did recruit from amongst the cream of the lads of that age. What, in normal times, would the cream of the working lads of 16 years of age have been doing? They would have been attending night schools, evening classes and technical institutes. They would have been training to matriculate, to prepare for the preliminary examinations of the scientific, chemical and engineering bodies who issue diplomas. They would have been preparing themselves to be the technicians of the future. Though recruited at a time when air losses were 30 or more machines in one raid, they are now, at the call of their country, to throw away all that opportunity, and go into the Army.

What is the treatment to be meted out to them? Under the scheme now accepted by the Government, on demobi- lisation of these boys the Government will be prepared to assist financially the further education of those who, before they entered the Services, had reached the post-secondary school stage and had definitely indicated their further intentions. If those conditions are satisfied, after the boys are demobilised the expense of their training will be borne by the Government. What is to happen to boys in the A.T.C. who, by reason of the fact that they joined the A.T.C. and spent all their spare time there, deprived themselves of the opportunity of qualifying for the Government's post-war scheme? I do not suppose for a moment that the test imposed would not, in normal circumstances, be a fair one, but in these circumstances, the peculiar hardship inflicted upon the members of the A.T.C. is that those who would otherwise have been seeking technical qualifications have less command upon the Air Ministry. It is the duty of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his right hon. Friend to see that fair play is meted out to those boys.

We hear enough in this House from time to time about the need of educating the technicians of the future. It came up in our discussions on the Education Bill and again on the subject of research after the war. We are far behind Germany and America in our technical education. We cannot hope to have better industries after the war in scientific engineering or the new development of plastics, unless we have a new generation of technicians. We cannot even run a research laboratory with high-class scientists only. They must be backed by technical assistance. It goes through the whole gamut of industry, yet here is a fine class, as they will be when they come out, who will not be receiving any assistance whatever, nor that technical training which they would have had if they had not joined the A.T.C. Not only that, but they are not to receive any benefit for having shown themselves proficient and obtaining proficiency certificates.

Instructions given to the cadets of the A.T.C. cover a period of two years. The bible which they have to study is this large tome which I hold in my hand. At the end of the time, they have to pass a searching examination in its contents. The evidence that I have been able to discover is that the overwhelming majority of the boys and young men improve consider- ably intellectually through the course which they have in the A.T.C. They cover such subjects as mathematics and navigation and they are taught something about the methods of expression. I have consulted many schoolmasters who have been engaged in this work and they assure me that an A.T.C. cadet who gets the proficiency certificate has at least the equivalent of half matriculation. When these boys come out they will perhaps want to go for matriculation or the preliminary examinations of various kinds. So far, not one step has been taken to secure that in the proficiency certificate they should be given some degree in respect of that searching test which they have passed. In two ways, therefore, these cadets of the A.T.C., who came forward at a time when they were badly needed, are suffering.

This matter is not being brought to the attention of the Air Ministry for the first time. An enthusiastic officer in the A.T.C. brought it to their notice as long ago as 14th September last. In the step which he took he secured the support of committees of the A.T.C. from every part of the Kingdom. The representations he made were sufficiently strong to secure for him an interview early in October, in that holy of holies, followed by a letter on 24th October, written on behalf of the Commandant of the A.T.C., saying, in the well-worn phrase, that the matters he had put forward were being actively considered. I need hardly tell the House that that is the last which has been heard of the matter from the Air Ministry until it has been raised here to-day. I urge on these two grounds that "active consideration" be reduced to terms of action, and that justice be done to these boys of the A.T.C.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. Shephard (Newark)

It seems almost paradoxical that after the epic and inspiring story which the Secretary of State told us this morning we should this evening be debating an Amendment calling attention to the lack of encouragement to the very movement which has contributed so largely to that story. I am speaking to-day as a chairman of a county A.T.C. committee, and much of what I have to say will, I am afraid, be by way of criticism. I am sure that if the Secretary of State, or the Under-Secretary, had been at one of these committee meetings during the last few months he would quite appreciate my point, and I hope both will understand that my criticism is intended to be helpful.

There is despondency spreading throughout this movement. I do not think the figures showing the fall in strength have been quoted in this Debate. There were 182,000 members in April, 1943, 115,000 at the end of January this year. But that is not the true story, that is not the full picture. Many thousands of cadets who have not resigned have completely lost interest in the movement. I submit that if we knew the real facts about the strength of the A.T.C. movement, we should find that the effective strength was something nearer 50,000. One can well understand the difficulty in which the Air Ministry was placed when our casualties were fortunately so much less than anticipated. I believe that the cadets understand that. I am quite sure that they understand there are not vacancies in the Air Force for everyone in the A.T.C. What they do not understand, and what I find quite impossible to understand, are the anomalies which still exist. The first one is the fact that, as has already been stated by the seconder of the Amendment, youths are still getting into the Air Force without having to go through the A.T.C., and it is frightfully difficult to make youths in the A.T.C. understand that there may be some special reason for that, I take the view that there is really no special reason, and that it could be made quite clear that no youths shall enter the Air Force except through the one recognised channel of the A.T.C.

There is one other point which I also think ought to be put right, that is, the difference between the school squadrons and the open squadrons. To the school squadrons the Air Ministry send down a selection board, and if a boy at the school is passed, then automatically he goes into the Air Force. But a boy from an open squadron does not get that treatment. He goes to an air crew selection board, and if the board have had instructions that they are not to accept more than a certain number of air crew entrants then no matter what standard that boy has reached he cannot get into the Air Force, and automatically he is seized by the Army. These are two anomalies which have created a good deal of discontent. It is quite impossible to maintain the interest of the committees and officers and the cadets unless these anomalies are removed.

I wish to make one or two observations on the administrative side, because it is with that side that we committees come so closely in touch. In the first place, I think the Regional Commandant should be responsible for training only. Administration should be undertaken by a county committee appointed by the Territorial Association, in exactly the same way as the Army Cadet organisation. Then the county, or area, committees need drastic alteration. They have no constitution, they have no executive power, they are not even compulsory. If I, as a chairman of one of these committees, want to know what is happening, I have to find out for myself, because as far as I can remember I have not yet been sent a copy of a single A.T.C. instruction. I submit that chairmen of these committees should be kept fully informed of what is happening in the A.T.C. On the training side, the seconder of the Amendment mentioned the case of a man who was colour blind, and was badly treated. All these cadets should go through a medical examination before a proper medical board, before they are accepted for the A.T.C. I cannot see any sense in spending time—two years—training a boy or youth, and then, when he has finished his training, finding he is halted by the medical board. Surely he could have had that medical board before being accepted for the A.T.C.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

Many of the squadrons have a medical officer attached to them.

Mr. Shephard

I understand that, but he is only an honorary medical officer, and has no jurisdiction. Certainly he may make an examination, but it does not mean that a youth will be passed into the Air Force when he goes before a proper medical board.

Sir W. Wakefield

It is impossible to say, two or three years ahead, what the physical standards of a youth may be. Indeed, it is known that the standards have varied throughout this war. It might well be that some youths would have been prevented from flying, if they had been turned down two or three years earlier, because of changing standards. There is that danger to be faced.

Mr. Shephard

I quite agree that it works both ways, but I think that, taking the matter as a whole, what I have suggested would be a wise thing. There is the question of the 1s. 9d. a day, which I have always found a very sore point with these boys. Many of them, when they go to an R.A.F. station for training, really do actual ground staff duties, and it seems to me niggardly to charge them 1s. 9d. a day for being at camp, and on top of that to make them do work for which an ordinary aircraftman is paid. Very often this charge falls on the civilian committees. I have had this matter brought to my attention many times, and I hope that the Secretary of State will again look into it. My last word is about the lack of appreciation which has been shown up to now of the district inspecting officers, commanding officers, and other officers of the A.T.C. I do not know of a single honour awarded other than to fully-paid staff officers. [Interruption,.] I may be wrong, certainly I do not know of any; and this is quite a sore point. Other Ministries have recognised the services of voluntary people, and I hope that the Air Ministry will be more generous in future.

6.1 p.m.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I do not want altogether to associate myself with the mover and seconder of the Amendment. I think it is an excellent thing that they should have brought this matter forward, though I do not attack the leadership of the Air Ministry in the same way as my hon. Friends have done. Recently perhaps the Air Training Corps has not had the encouragement that it deserves, but there are many other factors to be considered. The whole general application of man-power to the war effort has to be borne in mind, and I do not think we should blame my right hon. Friend too much. I want to look at the matter not so much from the point of view of the present as from that of the future. We may be embarking very shortly upon a more peaceful era, and we should consider what is to be done with the Air Training Corps to meet the demands of peace.

After the story which has been told to us to-day, of bravery, initiative, and enterprise—so excellently set forth by the Secretary of State, in my opinion, though it was unfortunately marred by an incident this afternoon—this is a fitting oppor- tunity to consider the future of aviation so far as the youth of our country is concerned. I believe that aviation is one of the foremost problems that we shall have to face in times of peace. This country has always been the centre of communications, shipping, and so on, and it may well become the centre of world aviation, the line of communications between Europe and America, if we take the right steps. I believe that we, who have been a great seafaring people and have held our Empire by the efforts of our mariners, may become a great air-faring people as well if we take the right line. Not only should we have a proper scheme for training the youth of this country, who are already air-minded—every small boy to-day understands about aeroplanes: he thinks of nothing else—but we should have a proper organisation to establish a great British Air Training Corps, in consultation and collaboration with our Dominions, so far as we can urge them to set up similar organisations. Let us set up a committee at once, to consider not only our own Air Training Corps but its extension throughout the Empire. That would mean co-ordination throughout our Empire and the continued unity of the great English-speaking peoples.

I do not claim for these few remarks any great originality. This idea was put forward to the Air Ministry by the Chairman of the Chairman's Committee of the Advisory Committee of the Air Training Corps and by Mr. Taylor, the chairman of the Yorkshire branch of the A.T.C. I venture to put forward their ideas to the House. They suggested that the Ministry should consider an Air Training Corps divided into three divisions—a senior division, which would attract the younger flying personnel of the Royal Air Force and open to them gateways into civil flying; a junior branch, which would take in the youth of our country and give them preliminary training for air careers; and also a preparatory division, for the young boys, who are already, as I said, air-minded, and which might work in co-operation with the air scouts' organisation already in existence.

What would be the objects of an organisation of this kind? They would be not only objects of material value such as bringing British aviation to the forefront, but also objects of intense moral value to the rising generation. We should teach our younger people their duties and responsibilities to their country and to their Empire. We should teach them world citizenship. Such an organisation would open for them careers in aviation. They would be prepared to take on the great tasks which Civil Aviation would open to them in the future. We could arrange an interchange of cadets between the different Dominions, and indeed, with other nations which might adopt a similar policy. Thus, we could establish good will between the nations. It would encourage initiative, high ideals, and the spirit of leadership. There would be a continuous flow of youth, for the linking of different parts of our Empire and the other countries of the world by British aviators. That would be of immense value. Also, if the Dumbarton Oaks programme became a practical policy, we should have ready in this British Empire Air Training Corps an air territorial forces which could enforce international law. We should also be encouraging the establishment of stations for training youth in aviation throughout our great Empire, which is spread over the Seven Seas.

Now is the opportunity to make our plans for the future. How would this be administered? It could be administered by a Board, which would contain representatives of the two Ministries concerned—I thought it was only one, but I understand that there are to be two in the future—and it would contain civilians accustomed to act quickly and with initiative and enterprise, and it would also include some of our Air Marshals, who have had enormous experience in flying during the last few years. That would be the composition of the Board to administer the organisation which I suggest the Air Ministry should now consider. The civilian members of the Board would be men of well-known ability, men accustomed to administering great commercial organisations and so on. Thus we should have an active Board ready to put into being the idea that I have put forward. The finance of that Board would be partly provided by the Government, although I believe that the interest of the people of this country in this affair could be so stimulated that we would have large contributions from the shipping companies and the aircraft production companies, thereby easing the problem of finance.

Now is the time for the Air Ministry to consider this matter and put the whole of the Air Training Corps on a new foundation, expanding it, and encouraging our Dominions to form similar institutions which would eventually coalesce into a great British Empire Air Training Corps. The Committee, which should be appointed at once to investigate this matter, should be given the widest terms of reference, and asked to report at the earliest date. It should devise the necessary administrative and financial machinery. I ask the Secretary of State, whose qualities I always admire, because he always shows such determination and initiative in regard to his own Department, now that his Department is standing on the threshold of a new era, to consider this suggestion which I have put to the House and for which I claim no great originality—that our youth should be brought up in such a way that our country can take full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of us, and so that we can perpetuate in times of peace the greatness we have shown during the last five years of devastating war.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

The House is deeply concerned, and, I submit, rightly concerned, at the steep fall in the membership of the A.T.C. during recent months. I want to deal with only one aspect of its work. I do not want to deal with its technical instruction, but rather with its welfare. I understand that there is an organisation known as the Central Council of Welfare of the A.T.C., and I have ascertained, by means of Parliamentary Questions, that this body has on it 44 members. It is a great, and, indeed, I would say, noble body—a very noble body. Among its 44 members, there is one Labour Member of Parliament, one Liberal Member of Parliament, one Liberal National Member of Parliament and three Conservative Members of Parliament. But there are also, over and above that, no less than 16 Conservative Peers on this very remarkable committee. I am anxious to know what this committee does, what purpose it serves, why it was formed, how often it meets and how regularly its members attend its meetings. I suggest that it has plenty of work to do. The A.T.C. in my own constituency is very active, and has a very active welfare officer. It has never heard of this committee; the existence of this committee has never been brought to its notice—this committee with 16 Peers on it. Yet there is, as I have said, plenty of work in the A.T.C. for such a welfare committee. There are dances to be organised, footballs to be paid for, grants to serving members—all these are acts of welfare carried out by local A.T.C.'s in which, apparently, they have no assistance from the Central Welfare Committee.

There is more than that. I have mentioned outside activities, such as dances and football matches, but, over and above these, the local welfare committee even had to pay for the instruments ire the A.T.C. band. They have not only had to do that, but, most extraordinary of all, they have had to pay for the premises in which the boys get their instruction. I know that schools are often used, but many of the boys, for reasons that one can understand, do not like working in school, and a school is not necessarily the best place for them to work in, as it is not always possible to get all the equipment adequately housed. The Air Ministry apparently recognise this, because they say that welfare funds may be used for the extension or renting of premises. If the welfare funds may be used for this, what is the Central Welfare Committee of the A.T.C. doing to help in the supply of premises?

Lastly, I would support very strongly the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) in his plea that the practice of charging boys for their meals when they go to aerodromes to get instruction or even to work in helping the airmen should be discontinued at once. It is a disgraceful thing if the Air Ministry cares so little about the welfare of these boys of the A.T.C. that it cannot pay to send them to get their instruction on aerodromes. For all these reasons, I think it a good thing that the House should discuss this subject to-day, and I hope that, as a result of the discussion, the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that something will be, done both for the technical instruction and the welfare of these boys.

6.18 p.m.

Lieut-Commander Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)

I think every hon. Member who has spoken has criticised the organisation or administration of the A.T.C. from some point of view or other, but no one who has spoken has made any criticism whatever of the members of the A.T.C. I should like to join in the commendation which I think is felt by everybody for the extraordinarily fine spirit and showing of the members of the A.T.C. In the first place, the fact that they do join the A.T.C. shows that they are already very largely imbued with that very great British quality, the spirit of adventure, and, starting from that, the training which they receive in the Corps develop the finest qualities of citizenship which our country produces, qualities such as courage, initiative, perseverance and self-sacrifice. I am with my hon. Friends so far, and I am with them in the criticisms which they have addressed to the Secretary of State.

I want to try, however, for a few moments to put this matter before the House from an entirely different point of view. Both the mover and the seconder of this Amendment referred to the fact that the purpose of the A.T.C. is for training boys to join and become members of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. That is quite correct, and, in fact, the Royal Charter, which is the foundation government of the A.T.C., specially refers to the fact that it is to train candidates both for the Royal Air Force and for the Fleet Air Arm.

The Navy's reliance upon the A.T.C. for the production of recruits is hardly realised sufficiently by the general public. The A.T.C. training is based entirely on R.A.F. manuals and the whole of the administration and set up is equally based on R.A.F. principles and procedure. In every speech made this afternoon it has been evident that the hon. Member who has been speaking has recognised, as is the fact, that the A.T.C. is run by, and primarily for, the R.A.F. The only evidence of the Navy's interest in the A.T.C. is that small badge which is sometimes seen worn by members of the Corps representing that they are members of the "Y" scheme. The "Y" scheme is devoted solely to those cadets who are enrolled for air crew duties with the Fleet Air Ann through the "Y" scheme itself. In spite of this, the fact remains—and it is not generally recognised—that upwards of 25,000 members of the A.T.C. have joined the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, the administration and organisation are entirely and wholly R.A.F. and the Navy is, I think I am correct in saying, in no way represented in the organisation or the administration of the Corps at all. That is not at all as it should be. I would like, as the Secretary of State is here, to pay him the compliment of saying that one cannot but recognise him as the most successful individual recruiting officer for the Royal Navy.

If that is the state of affairs in the organisation and administration, it is very different indeed on the actual training level. The training of the A.T.C. is an example of the very highest degree of inter-Service co-operation which can be achieved. It is really a two-way traffic. On the one hand, the Royal Naval Air stations affiliate to themselves all the A.T.C. squadrons which are in the neighbourhood and actually there are some hundred squadrons of A.T.C. affiliated to R.A.F. stations. They run naval training camps during the summer months. from April to October, which are very largely patronised by members of the A.T.C. Last year over 9,000 cadets attended the naval training camp and nearly 10,000 hours' flying time put in by the cadets themselves. In addition there was also a substantial amount of training in deck landing given to cadets on aircraft carriers. As well as flying training, the camps go in for the general instruction which might be expected, the maintenance of aircraft and engines, photography, meteorology and so on. That is one side of the one-way traffic.

The other side is where the Navy goes to the A.T.C., to those corps which are not able to be affiliated for geographical reasons to the R.N.A.S. stations. There is a complete system of naval tuition of one sort or another going out to the corps. Upwards of 2,000 talks have been given by naval officers and representatives, and literature has been distributed to the A.T.C. on Fleet Air Arm activities. Warship recognition is given, though that is not entirely disinterested. Naturally, if members of the A.T.C. are going into bombing formations, whether the R.A.F. or Fleet Air Arm, it is of great interest, as well as of importance, that they should be taught to recognise warships of every description, because at a range of five miles or so one warship looks to the uninitiated eye very much like another. Films and photographs are distributed, and in addition there are air lecture tours given by the Fleet Air Arm to these various stations which cannot be affiliated in order to provide opportunities for flying experience to the corps in Fleet Air Arm craft.

Complaints have been made and criticisms have been directed during the course of the Debate to the lack of policy, to the difficulties of administration and organisation of the Corps, but despite the sort of interest the Navy have in the Corps, it must be recognised that those complaints cannot be directed otherwise than through the Air Ministry, because the Navy has no opportunity of participating in the organisation and administration. Nevertheless, it has this great interest m the Corps; it is drawing nearly 70 per cent. of its expected pilot and observer candidates from the Corps at the present time. Therefore, the future of the Corps is of the very greatest interest to the Navy. The Navy have co-operated to the utmost possible limit and the time has come when a re-organisation of the administration and of the governing policy of the Corps is overdue, and I plead with the Secretary of State that he shall very seriously take into consideration the possibility of admitting the Navy into partnership in some form or another as members of an advisory committee or in whatever way may best be suited for their convenience in order to assist and play their part in the organisation and administration of this Corps, which is of such great importance to them, and in which they have already participated to so very great an extent in the actual training of the lads themselves.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Perkins (Stroud)

We have had nine speeches, of which one has been neutral, one has supported the Air Ministry and seven have been critical or hostile. In view of that fact, I hope that the Secretary of State himself will reply to these criticisms and not "pass the buck" to the poor Under-Secretary, who has been in the saddle only two or three months. This is the only chance we get in the year of putting the Secretary of State across our knees, and giving him a good sharp dose of that medicine which is so essential and good for all Secretaries of State. I am a great believer in that old maxim "Dogs and Secretaries of State and walnut trees; the more you beat them, the better they be." There is a very apt expression in the R.A.F. which describes the situation when anything has gone wrong, and when a complete muddle has been made. It is said, "It is being muddled up, it is being messed up, in fact it has been irretrievably mucked up." That is what the present Secretary of State for Air has done for the Air Training Corps. He has muddled it up, he has messed it up and he has irretrievably mucked it up. In the good old days of tradition in this House, when a Minister made a first-class mess of things, it was the custom to offer his resignation to the Prime Minister, but, of course, now living in enlightened days, and perhaps the old custom is out of date, or perhaps the Secretary of State has already offered it unknown to us.

The Secretary of State himself in the year 1941, when this great scheme was being launched, used these words: It will be the royal road to the Royal Air Force. For three years it was the royal road, but what is the position now? This royal road is congested and cluttered up with broken promises to the young men of the country, it is littered with the forlorn hopes of youth. I am satisfied, from inquiries I have made, that in effect the Air Training Corps now is slowly but surely being stood down like the Home Guard, and unless some steps are taken urgently it will in fact be stood down in the next six months. Right through the whole Corps, whether one goes to the junior cadet or to the senior officer, one and all feel the same—they feel that they have been let down by my right hon. Friend. Some of them go further and feel they have been betrayed.

The Secretary of State in one of his very brilliant speeches—quite one of the best he has ever made, according to "The Times" of 16th September, 1943—when he was launching the national recruiting campaign for the Air Training Corps—this is under 18 months ago—said this: The need for young men in the Royal Air Force, with the training provided by the Air Training Corps, was to-day every bit as urgent as in the darkest days of the war. He went on: Now, with our enemies reeling under Allied blows, was the time for us to redouble our efforts and ensure that the Royal Air Force would be constantly strengthened by a flow of air crews and mechanics. And then, as a kind of bait, that in case the Royal Air Force could not take these boys, at any rate there would be lots of jobs in civil aviation, and he ended by saying: And after the war has been won, there would be great developments in air transport and communications throughout the world. This particular speech, broadcast all over the country, nay, all over the Empire, was taken by everyone in the Air Training Corps not as a definte promise but as a kind of gentleman's undertaking that the Air Ministry would stand behind the Air Training Corps and would do what they could to see it through. I know, because I had the privilege of being a district inspecting officer until about a year ago when I went to Australia, and had to give up, and at that time the policy of the Air Training Corps was: The sky is the limit. We were told to get all the recruits we could. In the Army Cadet Force they had a definte limit, and in the Sea Cadets they had a definite limit, but the Air Training Corps had no limit at all. I know that because it fell to my lot to approach both of these organisations who had waiting lists and say to them: "You have a waiting list; will you hand some of these cadets to us?" I am very glad and proud to say that they not only helped but were as anxious as we were to get the boys into uniform right up to the moment when this announcement was made. Right up to the very last minute the policy was: "The sky is the limit, get all you can."

Then one night, on the wireless, the cold news carne through that no longer did the R.A.F. need the Air Training Corps, that in future these cadets, whatever service they had given, were going to be passed on to the Army and into the mines. That statement undid three years' work in the Air Training Corps. The cadets, the officers, the committees, the parents, the instructors, one and all, were bewildered by that statement. I do not blame for one moment the Secretary of State for the policy; he had to transfer those boys to the Army, there was no alternative. I do not blame him for that, but I do blame him for the way he did it—no word of warning, no hint, no tendency to slow up recruits, no tendency to get a higher standard in order to allow fewer and fewer through the net, no word of warning, not even to commanding officers, no time to prepare the cadets for the shock—nothing. He himself did not even come to the microphone that night and explain it to the country. If he had, this Debate would not have taken place to-day.

I think that one of the most serious results we shall find in the future as the result of that broadcast is that these young boys, it may well be 250,000 of them, will go away feeling that a promise given on behalf of a Government Department or the Air Ministry is a promise that can be broken at will if it is expedient; that a promise is not binding, that a statement of policy is not binding, it is only binding as long as it pays the Air Ministry of the Government Department to stick to it. I myself have twice been let down by the Air Ministry. I took some part in helping along a volunteer reserve school in the county in 1938. We were let down; but I cannot discuss that now. Again, I took some part in the county of Gloucestershire with the Air Training Corps. I feel that I have been let down again. You can fool us all some of the time, and you can fool some of us all the time, but you cannot fool all of us all the time, and I for one, if the Secretary of State at some future date comes to me and asks me to help with a volunteer squadron or air training corps, shall look with considerable suspicion before I say "Yes," because I know I shall probably be let down if I take on the job.

What is the present position as a result of this policy of drift? The Air Training Corps, as I see it is wallowing in the slough of despond. Parents are 10th to send their sons into the Air Training Corps because they say, and rightly, that it leads nowhere. The cadets are absolutely grand, their hearts are in the right place, but that spirit and that keenness which we have seen for the last three years is now dormant. They are stunned, they are knocked out, they are uncertain as to the future, they cannot see the goal ahead. Any honest man must have a goal to work for. He desires for his own personal satisfaction that the job must be worth while to him and to the society in which he lives. This feeling which we all have is particularly strong in these young boys and, unless some ultimate goal is shown to them, I am afraid the Air Training Corps will go on dwindling and dwindling until it finally disappears. The same is true of the officers of the committees, of the general public, of the man in the street who gives a shilling to help along some Air Training Corps activity, of the shopkeeper who puts up a bill in his window advertising some Air Training Corps activity, or the doctor who gives up his time to carry out a medical examination of the boys—those people have now lost interest. They must be satisfied with the general worthiness of the object, they must know its purpose, and they must feel that the work they are doing is really worth doing, and it is because of this lack of leadership at the top that the numbers are rapidly going down.

What are the numbers? I have no doubt that whoever replies to this Debate will say, "The last returns show that we have got X"—probably it will be about 130,000. Those figures, whatever those figures are, are not correct. The last figures were obtained last October, six months ago, and since that time the land slide has taken place, If the Minister gets new figures up-to-date now, he will find they are about half of what the figures were in October, provided they are correct figures. That is not all. Of any squadron in the county now, what proportion of these cadets attend the parades? Perhaps 3o per cent., but not more—I have made inquiries—unless it is some big occasion. I have no doubt, if the Secretary of State were to say he would address the squadrons there would be a 99 per cent. turnout. If he would make a surprise visit and check-up the number of boys on parade with the number who should be there, I doubt if it would be in excess of a third. I ask him to come and stay with me in Gloucestershire and we will do a tour unannounced and count the boys on parade and check the paper figures, and I think he will find that I am correct. It is always easy to be critical, and I feel that we ought to do what we can to save the Air Training Corps from the wreck. It is up to us to put up constructive suggestions. Spring has arrived. It is time the Secretary of State started pecking at his shell. It is time he stopped hibernating and came out of his Air Ministry cocoon. It is time he looked around and put his finger on the public pulse. Why does not the Secretary of State go to the microphone to-morrow and tell the public the truth about the Air Training Corps, tell them that it belongs to them, that it has been run by the public and not by the Air Ministry in the past, and that there are probably 2,000,000 people actively interested in its welfare. Let him tell the parents and the workers, the aldermen, the mayors and the instructors that there is a future for air training. Let him tell them that this bottleneck is only temporary, that they have done a grand job of work but that there is still more to be done. Why not tell them that the Air Training Corps is the only gate of entry to the Royal Air Force? When a cadet joins the Air Training Corps he has to give an honourable undertaking that he will join the R.A.F. All we ask is that the Air Ministry should do the same. What are the objections to making it the only gate through which people can get into the Air Force? I have made exhaustive inquiries and I have found one. The Secretary of State likes to have a back door entrance through which a few favourite ones can enter. That is reasonable. There are some people who for one reason or other are not able to join the Air Training Corps and it would be a pity to lose them. But I am prepared to make an exception, provided they can satisfy an independent tribunal.

What we all want is to put a stop to the present "racket." A boy who has been in the Corps for three years, has attended all the parades and come up to the highest possible standard is directed to the mines or to the Army. His younger brother, who has taken no interest in the Corps and has done nothing but enjoy himself, gets into the Royal Air Force. We feel that that should be stopped, and that the Air Training Corps should be the only possible gate to getting into the Air Force, Civil Aviation and the aircraft industry. I am confident in my own mind that, if the Secretary of State were to go to the S.P.A.C. and say: "Will you give a preference when taking on people in the future to boys who have the proficiency certificate?" they would one and all say "Yes." My hon. Friend controls the S.P.A.C. He is their only customer. If I were a business man with one customer who asked me to do something, I should do my best to meet him. If the Secretary of State asked the S.P.A.C. that question he would get a straight "Yes." Then there is the question of the flying clubs and of the volunteer reserve units, the civil air guard of the future and the auxiliary squadrons of the future. Is there any reason why boys who have attained the proficiency standard should not after the war have some preference, why they should not get in on the ground floor, and why they should not have 10 hours free flying?

There is the question of an Advisory Council. Everyone connected with the Air Training Corps want that, and we want everyone on it, not only the Service people but industry, the trade unions, the education authorities, civil aviation, the committees, etc. Then, when we have got it going, let us go further and invite the Dominions to send representatives, not that we want them to meddle with our internal affairs, but to co-operate with us with a view to an interchange of cadets between the Dominions themselves and between the Dominions and this country. I believe that at the moment the wrong people are running these youth organisations. Civil aviation was always regarded as a retiring ground for Air Marshals. That is no longer available. That has been taken away from the Secretary of State's Department and put elsewhere, but these Air Marshals have now the Air Training Corps. I do not believe that worn out, decayed Air Marshals or Poona wallahs are the right people to run a youth organisation. A youth organisation should be run by people, if possible, under 3o, who are keen on their job and who would resign rather than see the boys let down. There are civilian committees attached to air squadrons. Why should not they be reconstituted and revived? Why should they not have the powers which an hon. Member opposite suggested? If they have ideas of their own or views or opinions, they cannot approach the Secretary of State. There is no one they can approach. Why should they not have a direct channel of approach to him or to the commandant?

I would give the right hon. Gentleman a word of warning from the financial side. The policy of paying a squadron so much per cadet is breaking down. Squadrons are getting into debt because, when they had a large number of cadets, they incurred certain overhead expenses. Now the cadets are shrinking but the overheads are still there and, unless the finance is overhauled, many squadrons will have to close down for lack of funds. There are the officers and instructors who went into the Corps as a job of work for the war. When the war ends they will want to get out and hand over to the new generation. Why not notify all the men coming out of the Royal Air Force of the existence of the Air Training Corps and ask them to help? Then those men will be able to retire and we shall get fresh blood into the Service. I have asked for more help from the R.A.F. for the Air Training Corps. If a cadet goes to a Service station he is under the direct command of the staff commander, whose duty it is to look after him. The staff commander cannot give that cadet a free meal, he has to charge him for it. Surely the boy should be entitled to a free lunch. I will go further and suggest that my right hon. Friend might very usefully order commanding officers of the various stations, who helped us in a wonderful way in the past, not only to feel that the cadets are their responsibility while they are on the stations, but to be responsible for the whole of the squadrons when they are at their headquarters, even if they are off the stations.

Then there is the air crew selection board farce. A hundred boys go up to the board knowing perfectly well that only one or two can get through and that the other 96 of 97 per cent. will be rejected. They go away feeling that they are not fit for the Royal Air Force and are automatically drafted without a word of warning into the Army or the pits. I understand that the Fleet Air Arm is still open for recruits. If that is so, the right thing to do is to give these rejects the opportunity to go into it before they are driven into the Army or the pits. On the question of huts, I know that my right hon. Friend has rules and regulations saying how squadrons can get huts, but how many squadrons have got them? I spent nearly 18 months writing letters trying to get huts and never succeeded. I have never known a squadron that has succeeded. In spite of all rules and regulations and the instructions given by the Air Ministry, it would be far easier for me, with my corporation, to get through the eye of a needle than to get a hut for the county of Gloucester. It is absolutely impossible.

May I put my last suggestion? Perhaps it will be out of Order, but now is the time to do it. We want county air territorial associations, as the Army has its county associations, to look after the Air Training Corps, flying clubs, volunteer reserve squadrons, and the auxiliary squadrons. In other words, we want county air territorial associations to mother the air activities in the counties just as the Army Territorial Associations look after the Army activities. I beg my right hon. Friend to act now. If he leaves it for another three months it will be too late; I do not believe that the Air Training Corps will be in existence then as a national asset. Unless he moves very soon this priceless national asset will have gone for ever, never to be revived.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)

The Secretary of State to-day paid a great and worthy tribute to the Royal Air Force, and that tribute has been endorsed by the people of this country and by all our Allies. The high standard which he proclaimed to have been attained was partly attained by various methods of organisation, not least of which is the Air Training Corps. I rather regret that I have to add my criticism of the Air Ministry for the way in which they have dealt and are dealing with that worthy organisation. The Amendment first points to the appreciation of the valuable services which have been rendered by the A.T.C. Then it goes on to regret the lack of leadership by the Air Council. Lastly, it points out the need for a more definite declaration of policy towards the A.T.C. by the Air Council. There is no doubt that the A.T.C. is gradually dwindling in numbers. I hold in my hand a letter from the Durham County Air Training Corps Association, and it is because of this letter that I am saying these few words. My hon. Friend the Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) has already referred to the association which covers Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. It points out that they have, with some anxiety, viewed the rapid deterioration in strength of the various A.T.C. units, which has been due mainly, they say, to the absence of any official pronouncement on postwar policy. The Yorkshire Air Training Corps Association passed a resolution in October, 1944, in which some stinging phrases are used. It talks about "gravest concern" and the serious condition of the A.T.C. consequent upon the failure of many cadets to obtain admission to the flying service and upon the fact that no positive and progressive policy has been announced for the future of the Corps. The resolution, a copy of which was sent to the Air Ministry, goes on to make certain recommendations, some of which have been mentioned in the Debate. One of the recommendations on which it puts great emphasis is that a more generous attitude towards finance and accommodation should be adopted, and that the ques- tion of cadet's personal equipment, flying facilities, including gliding and training equipment should be treated as matters of urgency. That resolution was passed in October, 1944. On 14th February this year a letter from the Yorkshire Air Training Corps Association to the Durham County Association points out that since then there has been a further serious deterioration of all units in the county and that there is a fear of the whole corps disintergrating. In face of such stinging sentences the Air Ministry will have to take the whole matter into serious consideration.

Valuable suggestions have been thrown out in this Debate. First, there should be a definite and declared policy. Second, there should be some sort of a council to carry out that policy. After the training is over, these boys should either go into the R.A.F. or, when peace comes, be allowed to enter civil aviation. In Elizabethan times the boys were sea-minded and the Spanish Main was the great attraction. All the hardships and privations that had to be suffered did not prevent them from joining. Nowadays the boys are air-minded. Even the little toddlers in the streets look up into the sky and say "Another bomber."

They play with their toys, which very often consist almost entirely of toy aeroplanes. The youth of to-day are no less courageous and adventurous than the youth of Elizabethan days. We hear some of these boys, when they come back from operational flights, speak lightheartedly and laughingly of a "piece of cake" Everybody knows that the piece of cake contains some disagreeable in gradients The currants are there, but they are currents of air, which had to be overcome by the manipulation of the machine. The spices were all there, but they were spices of extreme danger. Some of the cake was iced too, because icing conditions add very considerably to the difficulties of flying.

What about the boys who joined the Air Training Corps and are now being attracted away from it? That "piece of cake" is going to turn to the dry bread of frustration. Something must be done. It has been rightly said in the Debate that training in the A.T.C. is one of the most valuable educational trainings that there possibly can be. I am speaking with a little authority because, being a schoolmaster, I know the value the boys are bound to get from that training. So I feel sure, now that we have all uttered our lamentations, that the Air Ministry will take into serious consideration the future of the A.T.C. and will do all they can. They have the knowledge and the means of making the A.T.C. even stronger than it has ever been before. I urge upon them to try all they possibly can to revive the enthusiasm which brought about such a fine response in the days that have gone.

7.3 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Commander Brabner)

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment. I can only say, since I have been exhorted from all sides of the House to try to give a definite statement of policy in regard to the A.T.C., that those exhortations may eventually cocoon their way into my right hon. Friend's nest, and urge him to come out into the Spring weather, when no doubt a policy for the A.T.C. will emerge. I shall try as far as I am able to bring some small grains of comfort to the large number of Members who have been, to say the least of it, somewhat critical of the Air Ministry in this matter.

I must say at the very start that there is a very large number of things upon which a decision has not been taken and upon which it is impossible to make any decisive statement. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) introduced the Amendment with a charming speech which was not as critical as some of those which followed it. The Seconder exhorted me to all sorts of actions and to indulge in policies on behalf of His Majesty's Government which I do not think, upon mature consideration, we could expect the Air Ministry to adopt. We are surely all actuated by a desire to help the A.T.C., whether we are critical of the Air Ministry or not and it would be wrong if I were to try to make a rosy coloured speech, giving a sort of pink bedizenment to the whole show, which would be quite out of order with the facts. We cannot give the abundant reassurances to all the officers, warrant officers, committees and cadets of the A.T.C. that they would wish, at a time when the man-power allocation for the R.A.F. has been cut to a mere fraction of what it was before. I hope that I can get that idea across to the House.

When they formed the A.T.C., the Government had wholehearted support. It is no matter of doubt that the great effort which was then put into the Corps has contributed very largely to the success of the air battles which are going on at the moment and of which my right hon. Friend spoke this morning. It is ironical to say at the same time that the very success which the A.T.C. achieved, in maintaining the Royal Air Force at such a high standard, has contributed directly to the feeling of frustration which is now in the Corps. Let us be brutally frank about this matter. These young men are not, at the moment, required in such large numbers in the R.A.F. because their elder brothers have achieved that ascendancy in the air which we all desire. The House will appreciate what the alternative to that would be. I do not think the Government, because they made, if you like, some over-insurance in this policy, can be unduly blamed.

As I said, these A.T.C. cadets have contributed very largely to winning the battle of the air. I think only one hon. Member mentioned that, while ioo,000 or more A.T.C. cadets have entered the R.A.F., even during last year when there has been so much criticism, 18,000 cadets have gone into the R.A.F. and 3,000 into the Fleet Air Ann. I do not think it is fair with that sort of intake into the R.A.F., to cry as much havoc as some hon. Members have done. It is not in the real interests of the A.T.C. to do so, because there is still some intake into the R.A.F. I hope to say later on how one hopes in time that this intake will be increased. I wish I could say that we had a cut-and-dried plan for the postwar A.T.C. but I cannot. I do not think that either the Air Ministry or my standing committee can be blamed for that. We have to see what the R.A.F. will look like in phase two. We do not know how much of the Air Force is going to be engaged in occupying Germany or how much of it is going to be in South-East Asia. It is, therefore, impossible to put down a cut-and-dried plan of the constitution of the R.A.F. after the war with Germany, and, therefore, of the state of the A.T.C. I will say that we shall do everything possible. I started out by saying that we are all anxious to help the A.T.C. and to maintain the training facilities at as high a level as possible. In our own interests we shall do that. Can I say more than that? I do not think any hon. Member can ask me to be more definite.

Notwithstanding all those reservations and imponderables, I want to say a few things which are definite and certain. There will be an A.T.C. after the war. It will continue as a voluntary cadet organisation, under the control of the Air Ministry. I think hon. Members should know that. There is no question of there being a stand-down. There will be an A.T.C. after the war. Secondly, the A.T.C. will continue to receive financial support and it will be the main source of entry into the R.A.F. and its reserves. I know this has been said before, but I feel that these things, which are certain. must be set against the things upon which it is as yet impossible to take a decision.

Whether National Service is retained or not, the Air Force will require volunteers both for regular service and for non-regular air forces. It is also true that service in the A.T.C. must be of immense value, whether a cadet goes into the R.A.F. or one of the other armed Services. We should not forget the splendid record that A.T.C. cadets have won for themselves in other Forces, and the happiness with which many of them have expressed their recognition of what has been done for them in the A.T.C. I hope they will be able to enter Civil Aviation and the aircraft industry.

I know what disappointment and frustration cadets feel if, after working hard and gaining their certificate of proficiency, there is no room for them in the R.A.F. If there is National Service after the war every young man will have an opportunity of expressing a preference for a particular Service. We can be certain that only volunteers will be required for air crews. I should like that to go out to the A.T.C. Although the Air Force will only be entitled to its quota of young men who are coming foward, and this quota will depend on the size of the R.A.F. in relation to the other two Services in the post-war period, I say definitely that we shall take steps from now on to ensure that the output of the post-war A.T.C. bears a close relationship to the intake requirements of the R.A.F. Hon. Members have mentioned a policy of drift. That is putting it far too low. We have these things under—to use the hackneyed phrase—"active consideration." Hon. Members laugh, but I would not evade my responsibilities in this respect. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) has maintained that I cannot be blamed for these things. I am only too happy to take responsibility, as chairman of the A.T.C. Standing Committee. When I say that these things are under active consideration, I can assure hon. Members that they are. We are taking steps to see that the output of the A.T.C, will be in close relationship to what will be required in the R.A.F. after the war.

I do not think this Government can commit any successor to a policy of financial support to the A.T.C. in very changing circumstances. I will say in a minute what we have done very recently to improve the financial support which will be given to units. So far as we can see, the financial support will continue, as at present, to take two main forms, the provision of free equipment and services and the payment of capitation grants either at fixed rates or on a reimbursement basis within fixed limits. We cannot go further than that, and I do not think hon. Members can expect us to. We have been asked, Why cannot we recognise the A.T.C. as the sole source of recruitment for the R.A.F.? There are objections to that, and all I feel I should say is that there will be candidates with high claims. The hon. Member for Stroud mentioned some exceptions which might occur—that a man, from the point of view of his place of residence, might not have been able to join the A.T.C. We do not want to exclude Dominion and Colonial cadets.

Mr. Perkins

Does my hon. and gallant Friend realise that there are very efficient air training corps in Canada, Australia and New Zealand?

Commander Brabner

Yes, but presumably these will be required for recruitment to the Dominion Air Forces after the war. I do not think it is politically correct, in these days, to impose the policy of the closed shop and all the restrictive practices we hear about, on such an organisation as this. We ought to be proud to say that we take the best, and I hope the A.T.C. will regard this as a challenge to provide the best. It seems to me they can have no complaint about that. If we say that they are the main channel of recruitment, that surely is all they can fairly ask.

We are clear that the basic organisation of the corps in these local units will continue. We do not want to run this organisation rigidly from the Air Ministry. We want to try to keep our finger on the pulse of public opinion, and changes will continually be made as we move forward into new conditions of peace. These local committees, I have no doubt, will have an increasing part to play in the change-over period. Experience during the war has shown their great value.

I have been asked two or three times to-night about the question of a national advisory council. I took the opportunity of attending the last Commandants' Conference in London and meeting all the Commandants from this country, Wales and Scotland, and I certainly heard what they had to say about it. This matter of an advisory council is now being considered. I am not ready, or prepared, to say how far we shall be able to get with it, but I was fully seized of the views of the Commandants. As I say, the matter is now being considered in the Air Ministry, and we will get on with it as fast as we can. What we have in mind for the immediate future of the A.T.C.—things which I hope will be done straight away—includes a scheme we have just introduced under which A.T.C. units which are badly in need of accommodation for training purposes, and which cannot provide it, will in certain circumstances have huts provided for them. I am not certain if it is the same scheme as the hon. Member for Stroud mentioned. If he has difficulty in getting these huts I hope he will communicate with ere. Units will have to pay an economic rent for the huts, but this will be chargeable to their Government grants. After that comes a new arrangement we have made about capitation grants. The Government grant payable for each efficient cadet has been increased from a maximum rate of 15s. to a maximum rate of £1 I hope that will give some relief to the sorely tried committees of the A.T.C

As we get back to peace-time conditions it will probably be desirable to arrange some degree of amalgamation of existing squadrons and flights into larger units. This process has already started, and I hope it will continue. I feel that this should indicate to hon. Members that we are not allowing the thing to drift. I do not want to be too brutally frank about the A.T.C., but I have tried to explain to hon. Members what is our position at the moment, when there is a nil, or practically nil, allocation of R.A.F. manpower; that is why we are asking for amalgamations. Where units are falling, we are asking that they be amalgamated with other units, which Seems to me to be a reasonable and sensible policy, and I hope hon. Members will themselves regard it as such. No final decision has been taken about the organisation of the non-regular air forces after the war. We are actively considering this. The position will naturally be affected. There, again, I am glad to say that while neither I nor my right hon. Friend can be held responsible for the size of the regular or non-regular air forces after the war, there is obviously consideration, and considerable consideration, being given to those two points. I hope that we shall find town centres on the pre-war R.A.F.V.R. model, about which most Members knew. It may be desirable to affiliate A.T.C. units as closely as possible to those town centres, which will give them the benefit of the integration of the command and supervision of the R.A.F. reserve formation, and also joint accommodation and other facilities, such as training. There again, we shall do our best to see that there is a workable relationship between the A.T.C., the Reserve formations, and the post-war R.A.F.

Mr. Perkins

Do I understand that the old Volunteer Reserve is going to be reformed, working from town centres?

Commander Brabner

I would not like to be tied down to that. We shall form something along those lines, but I would not like to be asked to go further. We shall also try to maintain and extend the system of affiliation to operational and other units of the R.A.F., and I hope we shall see the future development of the A.T.C. in conjunction with the regular Air Force. What about flying? It is obvious that we want to get as much flying as we can into these young chaps. I hope that we shall be able to increase or make better use of the flying facilities which we have at the moment. There is a special centre at Halton, which last year did 3,500 hours flying, and something like 100,000 cadet flights were made. I hope that we shall be able to increase this. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lt.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) mentioned the amount of flying which naval units had done with A.T.C. cadets. I hope that that will continue. We have also been considering lately, urged on by questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Sir W. Wakefield), the question of improving gliding facilities, and the amount of gliding in gliding flights last year trebled. We shall see that that trend goes on. Recently we have formed a sport board, which will look after and foster sports and athletics throughout the Corps.

I know that this is a subject on which hon. Members feel strongly. I have tried—I am afraid rather hurriedly at this late hour—to put clearly and frankly what is uncertain, and also what is certain. I think it is not doing the A.T.C. a great service to "cry 'havoc'" very loudly at this moment. We are not unaware of the frustration and disappointment which the successful prosecution of the war is unavoidably bringing home to these A.T.C. cadets, but I should like to conclude by quoting from a letter from the Chief of Air Staff, who said: The time will come again when the R.A.F. will welcome every fit and suitable young man that the Corps can train, for the A.T.C. is firmly established as an integral part of our training organisation. I have taken a long note of many of these varied points which have been raised this evening. I felt that, so far as I was able, I ought to make clear the policy of the Air Ministry. There are a number of points on which hon. Members have asked for enlightenment, and perhaps I could answer them now. The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) asked about the Council of Welfare. This is not a particularly active body, and it is not composed of gentlemen selected entirely for their political affiliation. I think that that should have been clear to him; otherwise, there would have been a different balance. Because it happens to be short of Members of his party, that is not necessarily a criticism, because this body is, selected primarily for welfare work in the A.T.C.

Mr. Dugdale

What are their qualifications?

Commander Brabner

Generally speaking, that they take a strong interest in the A.T.C. They have a system of work- ing on day-to-day matters through the chairman and the secretary, and within the last three weeks a notice has been issued to all units of the A.T.C. inviting attention to the facilities which the Council of Welfare can offer. A number of points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff); I hope that I dealt with them so far as the advisory committee were concerned by saying that we were giving the matter active consideration. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) made a point about boys who, through joining the A.T.C., will be deprived after the war of some benefits which they might have had. That really is not the case. If they can prove that their post-school education has been interrupted they are eligible for these grants under the Hankey scheme. I do not think that you could write down any lack of benefits they get to the A.T.C. If they can prove that their education has been interrupted they will be eligible for grants after the war.

Mi. Hughes

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman answer that point more fully? The case I put is the case of cadets who have gone into the A.T.C. instead of going in for education after they left school. What is their position? They cannot possibly qualify under the Hankey scheme.

Commander Brabner

The hon. and learned Member must not ask the A.T.C. to make provision for those young men. We praise them for their patriotism, and I hope we give them good instruction and a reasonably good time in the A.T.C. We cannot be accused of taking away benefits from them. If they prove that their education has been interrupted they qualify.

Mr. Hughes

Their education had not started.

Commander Brabner

You cannot blame the A.T.C. for that. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester brought out a certain naval background, which he felt was lacking in the A.T.C. I can only assure him that the A.T.C. would welcome closer naval support and co-operation in its activities, and I am certain that we shall get it in the near future. I have tried to make a short statement on the A.T.C. and to answer some of the questions. I have taken a note of all of them, and I hope hon. Members will see that their suggestions have been received favourably. We shall do our best to consider them all, with a view to destroying this feeling of frustration and to improving the prospects of the A.T.C. in future.

Mr. Stokes

On a point of Order. The Secretary of State told us in the Debate that we were to have an answer to the questions we raised earlier. We have had no reply.

Mr. Speaker

The reply on the general Debate is to come.

Mr. Stokes

Is the Under-Secretary going to reply again?

Mr. Touche

Although the grains of comfort are very small, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Loverseed (Eddisbury)

I would like to follow the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree), who raised one or two points concerning the training of pilots, and their navigational training in particular. I think I understand exactly the point he referred to. I would suggest that the fault lies not so much with the training of R.A.F. personnel as with the selection of the personnel who are posted to Transport Command. I think that rather more discrimination in that direction would lead to better results. I most sincerely hope that the impression has not been given, as I am sure it was not intended, that anything lacking in the training of Royal Air Force personnel, either for flying or ground duties. I can speak from personal experience of the Royal Air Force training after something like nine years' active service in the Royal Air Force, and I consider that the R.A.F. training, as far as pilots are concerned, is absolutely second to none, and, what is more, one of the outstanding things which this war has produced is that, despite all difficulties of the hard years of 1940 and 1941, the standard of training of pilots has been kept at a very high level indeed. I think this is one of the outstanding achievements of the Air Ministry. That also, I think, applies, though perhaps to a lesser extent, to the training of the ground staff and of the mechanics in the flights.

Before the war, we had a wonderful scheme—the Halton apprentices scheme—for training tradesmen, and it was a scheme which turned out first-class tradesmen of which the R.A.F. can be justly proud. They are men who have formed the nucleus of the new technical force of the Royal Air Force which has been built around them during this war. It has, quite obviously, been necessary to dilute the technical forces of the R.A.F. to some extent, but I think they are amongst the best to be found in this country. I have not, in my experience, come across any really bad maintenance in the Royal Air Force. In fact, the only faulty maintenance in my experience has come, not from R.A.F. personnel, but from civilian maintenance parties who had the re-building or complete overhaul of an engine. I do not think any criticism whatever can be levelled at the R.A.F. maintenance personnel, and I hope that no misapprehension will be caused in the public mind about this.

What I particularly wish to speak about is the position of the sergeant pilot in the R.A.F. Here, again, I can claim to speak with some experience, as one who has served, oddly enough, as a commissioned officer, and later as a non-commissioned pilot in the Royal Air Force. Speaking with experience of both sides of it I hold the view that all pilots should be commissioned. I think that is the only way of overcoming certain anomalies which are present in the Service to-day. It has been stated in the House by the Secretary of State for Air that commissioning to-day, and commissioning opportunities in the R.A.F. are, in fact, unlimited. I am afraid that that is not borne out in practice. I feel that the R.A.F. pilot has to submit to a very hard training, and passes out from that training replete with the symbol of his skill in his pilot's badge, of which all pilots are so justly proud. There is no question whatever the standard of skill and proficiency necessary to acquire the pilot's badge in the Royal Air Force would secure for its holder a commission in the Army at any time, and yet, in most cases, the man passes out from his flying course with his flying badge as a sergeant pilot. In the commissioning of pilots, in my own experience, there have been many anomalies.

At one time, I believe, a list used to be sent from the Air Ministry requiring, from a certain course passing out from their training school, say, a dozen commissions. It might happen that on that particular course there were 20 or so very brilliant men, all worthy of a commission at any time, yet only 12 would be allotted commissions. On another course, there may pass out perhaps a mere handful, perhaps half a dozen, who are worthy of coin-missions by the standards set, and yet, on that occasion, the Air Ministry may require as many as 20 commissions. It is very difficult for a man to get a commission once he has passed out from flying training school, and the position of the sergeant pilots in the R.A.F. is, in many ways, an unenviable one. I do not believe that sufficient credit has been given to the sergeant pilots in this war. The pilots of the Service are associated in the public minds almost entirely with officers, but much brilliant and sterling work has been done by the sergeant pilots which has not been sufficiently recognised.

Under the present system, many anomalies from time to time creep in. I am quite aware that the captain of an aircraft has, in the air, complete and full authority over all members of his crew, and very rightly so, but frequently we find that the captain of an aircraft is a sergeant pilot, who is carrying as members of his crew commissioned officers. The sergeant pilot has full authority in the air, but that authority disappears as soon as the aircraft touches down upon the ground.

It does not happen in practice, because, fortunately, there is a marvellous sense of comradeship among all flying personnel, but it is possible, and I have known one or two instances, that when the captain of an aircraft is a sergeant he is likely to be intimidated by the presence of officers with him in his crew. There may be an occasion on which the pilot's judgment differs from that of his second pilot or navigator and he is likely to take a decision against his better judgment which affects the safety of the aircraft. I feel that that position should not be allowed to arise in any circumstances in the onerous duties of flying. The captain of an aircraft should be senior to any member of his crew. In my maiden speech in this House, I referred to the anomaly which creeps in affecting the pensions in that particular case, where it is quite pos- sible that the widow of the captain of an aircraft, the man who carries the full responsibility for the safety of the aircraft and crew, receives a pension rather less than will be given in the cases of certain other members of the crew. That is an anomaly which can only be remedied by ensuring that the captain of an aircraft is senior to any member whom he carries in the crew.

Not only among flying personnel, but among all the personnel who tend, care for and maintain aircraft, there is a comradeship and a spirit which are not to be found in any other Service, something which, I think, is peculiar to the R.A.F. There are also—and it is rather difficult for me to speak of this—other branches in the Air Force which are not intimately concerned with the servicing and maintenance of aircraft, but which are equally necessary and which perform very valuable services. I refer to the administrative branches of the Service. There is friendly rivalry between these two branches of the Service.

I have known two administrative types called by the flying personnel, without any disrespect, such names as "Wingless Wonders" or "Penguins," and the flying types called perhaps far less pleasant names by the administrative branch. Nevertheless, in certain instances, some of these jealousies become a little more acute. At such times it is very often the sergeant-pilot who is made the prey for some of these little frictions and jealousies. I have been on stations in which the air crew of the Royal Air Force were regarded by certain of the administrative branch as having little more than nuisance value. They were segregated, and the messes in which they were put were regarded as something almost unclean. That is wrong and should be overcome by giving to the air crews a rather higher standard than that which they enjoy at the moment.

In conclusion, I would like to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) in one plea he made with regard to the future of the personnel who are flying to-day. From 1929 to 1934 I served on a short service commission. I regard the short service scheme as being in every way most excellent, and I hope some way will be devised in future of extending the short service principle to all branches of the Royal Air Force. It maintains the youth and vigour so necessary in the senior ranks of the Service. There is everything to be said for the short service scheme, but in one respect it has now fallen down. It has failed to provide the jobs for the men on the completion of their commissions. Even after five years' flying in peace time a man was so imbued with the thrill of flying that he found it extremely difficult to settle down to any other form of civilian employment. If he could not find a job in the flying world, it was almost impossible for him to settle down to humdrum civilian employment. The problem is going to be very much more acute at the end of the present war. When men have not only enjoyed the thrill of flying but have been in acute contact with the enemy and seen war conditions, it is going to be much more difficult, or almost impossible, for them to settle down to many of the jobs at which they were employed before. Therefore, I hope that some means will be found or sought of absorbing these men into flying concerns after the war and that the men who are flying to-day will, in fact, be given priority in post-war civil aviation.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Emmott (Surrey, Eastern)

I only want to make a few remarks on a very few points. The Secretary of State this morning had a very fine story to tell. He presented to the House a fine picture; and if I mention a few of the matters that belong to the process of making the picture, I think they will be found to be important in their way and in their own place, and if some attention is paid to them and some improvement is effected the result will be even better. The Secretary of State referred very pertinently to the measures that we have to begin to take now towards the construction of the Air Force we wish to maintain in peace. These things are not too late to be considered for the remainder of this war, and it is not too early to consider them for the Air Force which we really must maintain in peace. Whatever I say does not in any way diminish the great merit of the performance of the Air Force but rather enhances it. The merit is the greater if so remarkable results as those which the Secretary of State described have been secured in spite of certain defects.

The first thing upon which I want to say something is the mechanical equipment at R.A.F. stations. An hon. and gallant Member pointed out that the supply of mechanical equipment is by no means satisfactory. Many times work has been held up in the Air Force by lack of such things as heavy cranes and tractors, aircraft jacks, transport and small tools.. The question I would like to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman is, Why has this deficiency existed? Has the Air Ministry-demanded a sufficiency of these things with enough determination? I ask the. question as a simple interrogative. The answer may be that the Department or Departments competent to supply them have not found themselves in a position to supply the equipment which the Air Ministry has demanded. But is this the answer to the question? Is the Air Ministry satisfied that in respect of these things there is an adequate establishment?

There are other things of rather a technical nature which are worth mentioning. The war-time hangar is very unsatisfactory, especially in the kind of weather which is common in this country. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with it. I believe that the standard tool-kit, too, is regarded as quite out of date. The tools which airmen—fitters and riggers—have to use are often not of very good quality. I believe that they often break in use. Consequently airmen frequently buy or make their own. Where civilian firms are working alongside the R.A.F. on sites and a comparison between the equipment of the employees of the civilian firms and the equipment of the R.A.F. is made, it is often very unsatisfactory. American tools, on the other hand, are of excellent quality.

The only other point on which I want to say something is a matter which it is not very easy to state precisely but it is one upon which there is a good deal of concern and feeling in the country. It is the question of the consideration of ideas on technical and other questions which arise in the course of the work of the Air Force, the consideration of ideas and suggestions which come from below, from other ranks and junior officers. I know it may be said that the more senior ranks in the Air Force are always most willing and anxious to consider fresh ideas, but nevertheless there is a rather general feeling in the Air Force that it is difficult to get new ideas from junior officers and other ranks considered in the way they should be. Probably it is a question of atmosphere more than anything else, but it may be also one of administration, and I wonder whether something cannot be done to clear the channels.

My last point is that the Air Force naturally attracts to itself many different types of men who have a very wide range of varied technical knowledge and aptitudes and these men often have considerable inventive talent. Many of them, I am afraid, feel that the ideas they put up on technical questions, and upon questions of general administration, do not obtain that easy. course to the top, to the men who have to decide whether or not the suggestions shall be adopted, which is their due. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend in the course of his reply may be able to say something on these points.

7.52 p.m.

Commander Brabner

I am afraid at this late hour that it will not be easy or advisable for me to try to answer in detail many of those points which have been brought up in the course of to-day's Debate. We certainly have ranged over an immense field, from the price of land in Middlesex, to pig-keeping in Regent's Park, and on to the higher mechanics of jets, and the latest forms of cranes and tools for the Royal Air Force. I am bound to say to the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) that the question of Civil Aviation which he raised is really not one for me to answer. He will appreciate, I am certain, as well as anybody else, that it is now a matter of Government policy that Civil Aviation matters are dealt with by another Ministry—

Mr. Montague

But that Ministry does not exist yet.

Commander Brabner

At the same time the hon. Member had an opportunity of debating Civil Aviation questions about two weeks ago and, when the White Paper appears, there will be, I take it, further opportunities for Debate on that question.

Mr. Montague

I am sorry to intervene, especially so soon, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that the essence of what I have to say, the burden of my point, lay in the fact that the pos- sible content of the White Paper has been made public in advance of a statement to this House. That is the point I wanted dealt with.

Commander Brabner

I am sorry. If the hon. Member has access to forms of information which are not available to other hon. Members of the House, he has no complaint to make to us on that.

Mr. Montague

I have. It has been made available to other people before this House has had a chance—

Commander Brabner

The Minister has had consultations on this matter but, as explained by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production thismorning—

Mr. Montague

It was an important point I raised.

Commander Brabner

The hon. Member will have an opportunity of debating these matters when the White Paper appears. It will be a statement of Government policy. I do not propose to deal with Civil Aviation this evening. The hon. Member for West Islington raised a number of other points which were certainly of more germane interest to the R.A.F. He asked about conditions of the educational and vocational training scheme for recruits in distant commands, and I can assure him that we are doing all in our power to see that these men do not regard themselves as forgotten.

Mr. Stokes

May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the question of Civil Aviation? Can we have an assurance from either himself or the Minister, that this information on Civil Aviation contained in the White Paper—of which my hon. Friend has apparently seen the inside—

Commander Brabner

I must interrupt—

Mr. Stokes

I will not give way. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must sit down.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

Commander Brabner.

Mr. Stokes

The hon. and gallant Gentleman gave way to me, and I have not finished my question. Surely I am entitled to ask him my question?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman had been content to put that question, I should not have interrupted him.

Mr. Stokes

I was just coming to my question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

But the question was running on to a speech, and that was why I called on Commander Brabner.

Mr. Stokes

May I put this question to the Minister? May we have an assurance that this White Paper will not be given to the Press before it is given to the House of Commons?

Commander Brabner

I am only too happy to give that assurance, and I should like to say that I was about to correct the hon. Member when he said that other people have seen this White Paper. What my hon. Friend saw on the Front Bench there was a draft White Paper of which he saw the outside cover in a folder belonging to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. There has been no divulgence of White Paper information to the public outside this House. I should like to underline that point because these sort of things ought not to be said across the floor of the House.

Mr. Montague

I must rise to a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These are the annual Air Estimates and we have always been able to debate the subject of Civil Aviation on them. Now the Under-Secretary says that he will not deal with Civil Aviation because there is to be a White Paper presented. The point is, surely, that no one knows anything about that White Paper; it is all presumption. On this annual occasion surely it is right and proper that this House should discuss any possible aspect of Civil Aviation and have an answer from the Minister.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Perhaps I might deal with that first. There seems to be a considerable amount of discussion about a White Paper which some people have seen, and how much they have seen of it. That is not a point of Order. Of course, any hon. Member can discuss matters dealing with the Estimates, but if, because the policy of the Government is changing at the time, or for any other reason, the Minister thinks it is not advisable to answer any point, the Minister is not bound to answer.

Mr. Montague

Is that a constitutional Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I know nothing that can compel a Minister to answer if he does not wish to do so. I know he generally does, but I know of no Order by which I can put on force to compel a Minister to answer.

Mr. Stokes

May I put this point? My hon. Friend who spoke earlier this afternoon referred to this White Paper, and his complaint was that we wanted to discuss Civil Aviation and the Government had nothing to tell us, when it was known that a White Paper on Civil Aviation had not only been drafted but printed, and this is the only opportunity we have to discuss it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The question of Civil Aviation belongs to another Department and we ought not to be discussing it at all to-day.

Commander Brabner

Perhaps I might be allowed to go on with the few remarks which I am trying to make at the conclusion of this long Debate. I should like to finish off this point by saying that there is, in actual legal fact, no White Paper as yet on this subject at all; all we are saying is that there will be a White Paper in due course, and then the House, presumably, will have an opportunity of discussing it. Further than that I do not think I can be expected to go.

Mr. Montague

This is a very important point, and I want to raise a question with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These are the Air Estimates. It is perfectly true that Vote A and Vote I are particularly mentioned in the Resolution, but it has always been the practice of this House to discuss any Vote, and Vote 8 is the Vote upon Civil Aviation. The question of the White Paper does not come in—that was an aside introduced by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) which had nothing to do with what I had to say at all. My reference was to the confidential minutes of a certain meeting which had taken place. I have no knowledge of what the White Paper may contain, nor has any other Member.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

May I ask what is the point of Order?

Mr. Montague

The point of Order is whether we are to depart from the practice of the House ever since I have been in it that on the Air Force Estimates Vote 8 can be discussed and an answer can be expected.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There has been no suggestion of that at all that I have heard of.

Mr. Tree

Is it not a fact that a month ago, I asked the Prime Minister to whom matters appertaining to civil aviation should be addressed, and the answer was that they should be addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I did not say that matters could not be discussed here, but that it is not necessary that the Minister should always reply.

Commander Brabner

A new Department is about to be set up but, technically, its Vote is still on the Air Estimates.

Captain P. Macdonald

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) made certain charges against the Minister for Civil Aviation.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That does not sound very much like a point of Order. It sounds more like the repetition of a previous speech.

Commander Brabner

A Department of Civil Aviation is about to be set up, and I understood that Civil Aviation would not be discussed on the Air Estimates. The hon. Member has raised the subject and has quoted from confidential minutes, which are, certainly, not available to me, and I do not know how they were available to him. He has quoted from them and demands a reply. I should have thought the least he could do was to furnish the Minister with a copy of the minutes, which I am unable to obtain.

If I may deal with one or two other points that have been made, the hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool (Wing-Commander Robinson) raised matters about the post-war organisation of the Royal Air Force. We are dealing with this urgently and the air defence of the country and the importance of our key bases overseas are being considered at this moment. My hon. and gallant Friend asked me about economy of man-power in occupying enemy countries. We shall do everything we can to use our air power in order to economise in man-power. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) asked about permanent commissions in the R.A.F. after the war. We are just about to issue a preliminary list of officers who have been selected for permanent commissions. I can only assure him too that an immense number of applications have been received, and it would be a fair assumption that the attractiveness of employment in the Royal Air Force after the war is well known to those officers and men who are now serving. Prisoners of war are being given special opportunities to apply, and they will have a number of places reserved for them when they come back.

The hon. and gallant Member and also the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) raised the question of Transport Command. I would like to go into this matter rather more fully than I am able to deal with some of the other points to-night. We realise that there is considerable concern in the House about Transport Command, but I should like to thank the hon. Member for Harborough for raising the matter in a reasonable and measured way, because I do not think we get any further by talking heatedly about safety and lack of safety and care, and things like that. I assume, too, that we all agree that the crews of officers and men of Transport Command are of high quality and I have no need to enlarge on that in this House. Let me make clear one thing which I feel has not been properly appreciated, because hon. Members are continually comparing Transport Command with civil air lines. Transport Command was set up to do an operational job. It was set up to lift men and materials into the war zones. It was set up to do things like the parachute landings on D-day, and at Arnhem, and operations such as those which have just been concluded on the Burma front. It was set up also to give flexibility and striking power on all theatres of the war fronts. If hon. Members realised that these two things are its main responsibilities, the operation of trunk and feeder services throughout the world falls more naturally into its proper place.

I do not emphasise these functions, because I wish to whitewash any of the accidents that have been occurring, but it must be said that Transport Command is flying under incomparably more difficult circumstances than any civil air line could contemplate at any time. It has only been possible during the last nine months for Transport Command to operate the trunk routes because, although it was formed two years ago, it has unquestionably not had the same priority as the operational commands. Now we have a new commanding officer, who is one of our most vigorous young men with a tremendous war record and who will, I hope, intensify the splendid work done by Air Chief Marshal Bowhill. We are putting new blood into this thing and it is now getting a much higher priority than it ever had before, both technical and human. I am certain the House will be pleased to hear this.

The hon. Member for Harborough raised the problems of meteorology and maintenance. I wish I had time to explain the system that we have of briefing pilots about weather conditions along a route. There is a complete network of meteorological stations all along the trunk routes of the world. An aircraft goes from one to another and is never out of contact of these stations. The aircraft are being equipped with all the latest mechanical and radio devices that we know of. I cannot mention any of them because they are on the top secret list, but I can say that an aircraft has access to some 15 different radio aids when flying from one area of control to another. I hope that will give the House some confidence in the importance that we attach to good, first-class meteorological information.

I should like to mention in passing that in the case of extremely important flights over new routes, the general practice is to send out an aircraft of Bomber Command along the route to get actual, practical, first-hand experience of the weather. We do everything we can to see that things are made as safe as possible. When the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Loverseed) said that the standard of maintenance in the R.A.F. was very high, I should like to confirm that experience. The maintenance used by Transport Command is on a slightly different system. It is what is known as planned maintenance, and inspections are done all along the route to prevent aircraft being grounded for an unnecessarily long time. So far as we know, I should say that an infinitesimal proportion of accidents, almost nil, is due to bad maintenance. I hope the House will take that assurance from both the hon. Member for Eddisbury and myself that the maintenance of Transport Command is very good indeed, considering the needs of war-time.

In regard to the training of crews, both the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and the hon. Member for Harborough raised points on the subject. All crews going into Transport Command are generally experienced. They come off operations, and many of them have extensive experience which would make the total of 1,600 hours flying look very small indeed. They go through a Transport Command O.T.U. After they have done that course, the most experienced and most efficient—they have to be graded when they come out—go on the main trunk routes and those who are less experienced and less up to standard go on to support and feeder services. This Transport Service has only just got into its stride. It, has been starved of men and materials because of the operational needs of the war.

Now as to accidents. I do not think it would be fair ever to let it go out from this House that Transport Command was unfit. It really is not the case. It is also unfair to compare Transport Command with a civil air line, with its dots and dashes right across America, never out of contact with the beam. Take the U.K.-Gibraltar route, flanked by the enemy, the worst weather in the world, no good meteorological information, difficulties at either end, and always the danger of interception. That is the sort of thing that Transport Command has been doing and which would not be looked at by a civilian air line. I do not think hon. Members would wish it to be thought that Transport Command has to compete with a civil air line, which can always travel in great luxury. It is worthy of mention that as the front moves forward, the feeder service runs behind it. It is not a mere ancillary service but is just as important as a trunk route. It follows the retreat of the enemy.

I would like to give the House an example. A Dakota had to go into Yugoslavia not many weeks ago on a dark night to a small aerodrome, because there was a necessity for this contact to be made. The machine overshot in the dark, because there was no proper landing ground and some people were killed. Bang goes the accident rate of Transport Command. You would not expect a civil air line to fly to Yugoslavia in those conditions. These matters must be treated on a strictly comparable basis and Transport Command must be given due credit for operational work that it is doing, with great safety and regularity. I am not, as I say, trying to whitewash the accidents. We have had some accidents and we are doing our very best to see that they decrease. They are decreasing, but we shall have more accidents. It is no use I or any other Member of the Government trying to explain that there will be no accidents henceforward. There will be. I have dealt rather briefly and hurriedly with Transport Command. I would like to conclude—

Captain P. Macdonald

Will my hon. and gallant Friend deal with the point I raised about the staging posts that we are setting up all over Europe to-day? Some of them, I pointed out, were very badly run, and were a disgrace to the R.A.F. and the country they represent. I want some assurance on that matter.

Commander Brabner

I have taken a personal interest in complaints coming into the Air Ministry about Transport Command, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the very closest attention is being paid to the staging posts. I must ask him to remember that D-Day is only six months away, and Transport Command has been pioneering routes across devastated Europe and across the world. We are pumping new blood into this thing, and we will get it cleared up. I promise him that the particular staging post he mentioned is a matter of some concern to us, and I am sure that something will be done about it in the near future.

May I conclude on a note of denial. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) read to the House a statement from an Associated Press war correspondent at S.H.A.E.F., in which he said that the Allied commanders had adopted a policy of terror bombing. This is absolutely not so. This report was received in this country, I think I am right in saying, at 8 o'clock, and denied at 12 o'clock. Although the message appeared in some papers, the immediate denial by S.H.A.E.F, did not appear in many papers. I should like to have an opportunity of denying it here. We are not wasting our bombers or time on purely terror tactics. Our job is to destroy the enemy. That is what we are doing, I hope in an ever-increasing and more efficient way. It does not do the hon. Member justice to come to this House and try to suggest that there are a lot of Air Marshals or pilots, or anyone else, sitting in a room, trying to think how many German women and children they can kill. The hon. Member comes to this House and does a mental somersault. He has been complaining about the lack of lethality of our tanks, but because Bomber Command is very lethal indeed he is complaining that it is let loose on the Germans. The two positions are incompatible. We are concentrating on war targets, and we intend to remain concentrated en them until Germany gives up.

At the end of this Debate on the Air Estimates, in the sixth year of war, I think I can, with great sincerity, commend the efforts of the Royal Air Force to the hon. Members of this House. The Luftwaffe is just about to disappear from the European stage, I hope for ever, with little honour, and certainly very little glory. After six years of war this House would, I feel, be ready and happy to congratulate the Royal Air Force on a resounding victory, starting from very small beginnings indeed.

Mr. Stokes

May I put this question to the hon. and gallant Gentleman? He says the report I read to the House is untrue. Will he answer this question: Why, when protest was made against it, was it stated that it was put out as official S.H.A.E.F. policy, and could not be suppressed on that account? I have evidence of that, which I shall be glad to supply to the Secretary of State for Air.

Sir A. Sinclair

The report is certainly not true. The hon. Member may take that from me. How it was handled, what newspapers published it, and whether publication was authorised, are matters which the hon. Member had better discuss with the Minister of Information.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

May I say at the conclusion of this long Debate in this House that the House will feel that the Under-Secretary has made a very fine contribution, and that we are very proud of our young Minister?

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) make a statement—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We cannot go into that.

Mr. Tinker

Then I will make a speech. The hon. Member for Ipswich said that Members of Parliament, going overseas to address the troops, were not allowed to speak to them unless their speeches were censored. I put a query to the hon. Member during his speech, but I did not press it, because I thought the point would be replied to by the Minister. I would ask the Minister to deal with it. It would make a bad impression if it went out that Members of Parliament could not address the troops as they desired.

8.23 p.m.

Sir A. Sinclair

I have not actually got the order to which the hon. Member referred at the moment, but I can assure the House that the situation is quite clear. Neither Members of Parliament nor anybody else can, in time of war, address the troops quite freely, and make speeches quite freely with representatives of the Press present. Security regulations have to be observed, and I know that a very large number of Members who have had facilities for addressing the troops have been not only willing, but anxious to obtain guidance from the station commanders and people who organise the meetings, as to the line they should take. That is very helpful. I know of hardly any case, although meetings of airmen have been addressed by Members of all parties, including the Commonwealth Party, in which there has been any difficulty.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS in the Chair]