HC Deb 15 March 1948 vol 448 cc1784-812

Resolution reported: That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 325,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1949.

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

7.50 p.m.

Mr. George Ward (Worcester)

The Debate on the Estimates which was held in this House on 4th March ranged over a very wide field. A great variety of subjects were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House and a great many questions were asked. Clearly, the Under- Secretary could not be expected to deal with all those questions in his winding up speech. However, it is fair to say that some of us on this side of the House felt that he did not answer at sufficient length, if indeed he answered at all, many of the points which obviously were most interesting and of the greatest concern to hon. Members. We feel, therefore, that the Under-Secretary may welcome this opportunity to expand a little, and to give us some more detailed information on a few of the more important issues which were raised, since he has now had time to study HANSARD and to give these points his careful consideration.

The outstanding point which was raised in that Debate and, indeed became the theme running through its length, was that of co-operation with the Dominions. This was mentioned by a great many speakers. There was complete unanimity amongst Members on both sides of the House that this cooperation with the Dominions should be developed as rapidly as possible, and that every step possible should be taken to make it close and as real. If I might briefly summarise the main points: first of all there was the need for a manpower policy as an integrated whole; there was the idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Mr. Max Aitken) of an Empire Air Force and that advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) on the use of Dominion bases both for training flights and for defence strategy. The Under-Secretary will remember that on that occasion my right hon. Friend recommended the use of a globe rather than a Mercator map. There was the point in regard to the standardisation of equipment between ourselves and the Dominion Air Forces; and, finally, the dispersal of some of our aircraft industry throughout the Dominions in view of the extreme vulnerability of these islands. All these points are highly important.

We were very disappointed to find that the Under-Secretary, in his winding up speech, contented himself with saying, first of all, that we could not force the Dominions to do anything; and, secondly, deploring the use of the word "our" when speaking of the Dominions. I do not think anyone suggested that we could force the Dominions to do anything or that we had tried to force them. All we were asking—and we were quite justified in doing so—was whether any discussion on air strategy as a whole had taken place or was taking place with the Dominions, and if so along what lines. As regards the use of the word "our" in talking of the Dominions, I am afraid I cannot understand the objection to it. We regard the British Commonwealth of Nations as a family of nations and see nothing whatever offensive or objectionable in talking about "our" family.

The Under-Secretary did say, however, that goodwill flights had taken place and that there had been some exchange of ideas in such things as tactics, rearmament and navigation. That does not meet the case at all. Our conception of the air defence of the British Commonwealth means, of course, something very much bigger, as the Under-Secretary well knows, and I hope he will take this opportunity of saying something more about all the suggestions and ideas put forward the last time we discussed this matter about the co-operation with the Empire. Let us have as much information as we can about what is happening. There was also the point raised about whether there is any progress towards some standardisation of types of aircraft and methods of training with France and the Benelux countries. If the idea of a Western Union is to succeed, one of the first things we must do is to establish a very close liaison with the countries concerned in matters of air defence. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us what is happening there.

If I may turn for a moment to one or two matters of detail, the first point on which I should like to touch is the question of Reserve training apart from the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The Secretary of State in his opening speech last week said that there were over 1,000 pilots already in the Volunteer Reserve. When the ranks are swelled by the National Service men coming out at the end of their period of service with the Colours, there will be many more who must keep themselves in flying practice with the Volunteer Reserve. Yet we are told that there are to be only 20 Reserve flying schools. I suggested establishing more of these schools, and I got no answer. It is highly important, because at the moment there are more than 50 pupils per school, and everyone of them wants to keep himself in flying practice at week- ends. It is not as if it were spread out; it is concentrated, and if 50 per school want to keep in practice under these conditions their quality of training cannot be very high. There must be far more of these schools, especially if we are to keep up the quality of training and the standard of practice which they require.

Perhaps also the Under-Secretary would tell us what types of aircraft these schools are equipped with, because that is important, too. I member during the short time I was on Reserve before the war I had to keep myself in flying practice by flying aircraft which had been obsolete for about To years. It was the only type with which these schools were equipped. Would he also tell us how many flying hours per year are now considered necessary to keep a man in flying practice? The days have gone when a few flying hours a year could keep him in practice, because flying has become increasingly a more complicated business, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will appreciate that it is much more important now to keep oneself in practice in things like cockpit drill, link trainer, instrument flying, radio aids and so on. All these things must be done, quite apart from the mere handling of the aircraft, which was the thing one could do before the war, but which now is a comparatively minor part in keeping oneself in practice. Will he therefore tell us what provision is made for cockpit drill, instrument flying and so on in the Reserve schools?

These schools to which I am referring are operated by civilian companies. I hope that preference is given to the old established aircraft companies with long experience of operating training schools, and that the Air Ministry do not merely accept the lowest tender automatically. That is not the way to get quality.

Before the war there were two types of civilian flying training schools: those operated by old-established firms and new schools, which sprang up almost overnight in 1938–39 and in which the standard of flying training fell far short of that of the older establishments. I did three consecutive refresher courses, two of them with old-established firms and one with a new firm, and there was no comparison in methods of instruction. These things can be learned only by experience. I have been told that, owing to the policy of accepting always the lowest tender, the old-established firms are not getting contracts and that the new firms are getting them. If the Government try to save money in that way it is a short-sighted policy. The R.A.F. supply the aircraft, and one crashed aircraft can cost more than the difference between the lowest tender and the tender put in by an old-established firm. I would therefore ask the Under-Secretary to give me an answer to this question: How many post-war schools are operated by companies with more than two years' experience of prewar school operation?

Now I turn to the A.T.C. I was pleased that the Secretary of State said in his speech the other day that only cadets from the A.T.C. would be accepted for pilot training under the National Service scheme. That is an excellent idea but it makes it all the more important for the best type of cadet to be encouraged to join the A.T.C., and to get the best type of officer. I assure the Under-Secretary of State that entry into both those branches of the Service are being made unnecessarily difficult. Acceptance of the best type of cadet is made difficult by the great shortage of facilities and accommodation for training. Next, only a small point, is that the A.T.C. officers feel that they have had a very raw deal. I asked the Under-Secretary of State the other day whether those officers Were entitled to wear the Defence Medal. They are not entitled to do so but they feel that they should. They believe that they did a very much better job than many people who are now entitled to wear that medal. They worked very hard and they feel that they have not been properly treated. If the Government would give consideration to this matter and allow them to wear the Defence Medal that decision would encourage recruiting in this branch of the Service and would put life and morale into the A.T.C.

On the subject of redundant airfields I would point out that when airfields are no longer required by the R.A.F. nothing seems to happen to them for a long time. In spite of the need today to grow more food, those airfields are often left empty and become covered with weeds and thistles. No one bothers about them for much too long. I do not know who is responsible, once an airfield is given up, for getting it put to some better use as quickly as possible. This is a point well worth clearing up tonight.

We endorse the enthusiasm of the Secretary of State for the quality of the Air Force. He said that the emphasis was to be quality, and we wholeheartedly agree. I wish he would not talk about the third Air Force. It sounds rather like a B.B.C. programme. If we are to have a third Air Force or a fourth Air Force, it might become the fashion of the other Services to talk like that, until we got to a 568th Army. It is much better to regard the Royal Air Force as a continuous entity with its own traditions and its great, though short, history. If those traditions and qualities are maintained, we shall never quarrel about voting money. It is our first line of defence and we must see that the taxpayer gets value for his money. If our minds can be set at rest on the points about which we are not happy then this Debate will not have been in vain.

8.8 p.m.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) spoke about several things that interested me, although I am not in any way an expert in these matters. I have every sympathy with some of the things he said. He talked, for example, about the need for quality. I know that hon. Members on this side of the House are also enthusiastic about quality. He pointed out the expense entailed by a crashed aeroplane. I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State tonight about an accident that occurred to an aeroplane.

Recently, on the Air Estimates, I brought up the question of a smash that took place at Hendon. I understood from the Minister than an official inquiry was being conducted. It is more than a month since the accident took place, causing a great deal of anxiety in the nearby neighbourhood. According to the evidence at the inquest, the accident was caused because a small plane was not able to rise over the objects around it. I pointed out that it was a miracle that the accident had not caused many more casualties than it did. I pleaded with my right hon. and learned Friend that the report of the inquiry should be made public or that one should, at any rate, have access to its recommendations and its findings. There is a feeling in the neighbourhood of Hendon airfield, which is almost entirely surrounded by houses, that a similar accident may happen at almost any time. When the result of the official inquiry comes, we ought surely to be given some sort of guarantee that such an accident shall not recur. I therefore plead that the inquiry shall be speeded up.

The hon. Member for Worcester talked about redundant airfields with thistles growing on them. I can assure him that if only the Air Ministry would make Hendon redundant; there will be no thistles growing on it; there will be houses growing on it very speedily. Those houses are very badly needed. Hendon is desperately overcrowded. Like many places, Hendon has a very severe housing problem, and Hendon airfield, which is not a good airfield because it is too small and is now badly placed, would make an excellent housing estate. I can assure my right hon. and learned Friend that we would not allow a single thistle to rear its head if he would turn Hendon over to us. I ask that this shall be very seriously considered. I know that there are great difficulties. I know that it is necessary for the Auxiliary Air Force to train somewhere near London, but surely it should not train somewhere so near London if that place is not safe. I believe that the De Havilland school is at Enfield, which is much more out in the country and easily accessible. I plead that this matter shall be seriously considered and that Hendon airfield shall be handed over to the Hendon people.

Since there is so much disquietude and anxiety about the whole matter, I asked my right hon. and learned Friend if it would be possible for him to receive a deputation from Hendon on this question, to let us bring as a deputation the influence to bear which I as the North Hendon M.P. do not seem to have been able effectively to bring forward in this Chamber. I urge him to agree very speedily to receive a deputation to go into the whole question in the hope that he will give us some satisfaction.

8.14 p.m.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

I admire the optimism of the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) about the housing programme at Hendon. I only wish it were the same in my division. However, I do not altogether disagree with what she said about Hendon. I know that airfield par- ticularly well. Nevertheless, it is a most valuable airfield to the Royal Air Force, and must remain with them, as I understand that at the moment Hendon is accommodating auxiliary squadrons until they can be assured of an alternative airfield reasonably near London; otherwise they will not attract recruits in their leisure time. I see the difficulties of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Two fully equipped fighter squadrons are worth something these days when assessing the strength of the metropolitan Air Force, but I can see that as landing speeds of aircraft increase, it may not be possible to operate from Hendon. However, I ask the Minister not to be in a hurry to give up Hendon, but to exercise every care to ensure that all regulations are carried out and that the minimum of training of new pilots is done there, using it for the bare essentials of training for these fighter squadrons in the meantime.

We had a most interesting Debate on 4th March dealing with the Royal Air Force, but I was disappointed with the amount of information given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Under-Secretary because it is quite impossible for us to judge on what we were told and what was in the Memorandum whether the air component is satisfactory or not. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that a back-bench hon. Member has great difficulty when he comes to size up whether the Air Force is sufficient for our requirements. In the month before the, war, in the 1939 Memorandum, very much more information was given. We were told that we had 1,750 front line aircraft. If we could be told that, when war was imminent, surely we could be told a little more on this occasion. In the Defence Debate on 1st March the Prime Minister said that he would undertake to look into the question whether more information could be given. Perhaps he has given that information to the Under-Secretary who will pass it on to the House this evening. On 4th March the Secretary of State said: What, therefore, is the job of the Royal Air Force? … we must decide what kind of Air Force we need."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 539.] He did not tell us what was the strategic role of the Air Force or what its composition was to be. We were left guessing what was to happen in that respect.

There are two other things which concern me. The first is the actual strength of our fighter Air Force. I am much more concerned about the strength of our fighters at the moment, with the international situation as it is, than about the long range bombers. The last thing we want to see is this country caught in an unexpected attack by a potential enemy. We have said enough about that and I do not want to go over all the ground again. We know that the fighters which we have are good, but many of the auxiliary squadrons are still operating Spitfires which are now very much out-of-date. I hope that they will be re-equipped at a very early date. The right hon. and learned Gentleman or the Under-Secretary said this was being done. When are they being re-equipped? It is important that we should know when the fighter squadrons will all have jet aircraft.

We must know something about the strength of Fighter Command. The right hon. and learned Gentleman need not think that Soviet Russia does not know the strength of Fighter Command. Russia knows perfectly well. One has only to drive near the operational areodromes in the country on a fine day in order to count the aircraft lined up on the tarmac. If it is in Palestine, no doubt they have agents out there checking up. It is very easy to get out an order of battle and to know what the strength is, almost with its reserves. There is real concern in the country as to the strength of Fighter Command and fighters within the British Empire. I question very much whether we have a total of more than 300 or 400 fighters to defend this island—that is, which could be put in the air in an operational role. This House is entitled to know how we stand in these matters of defence. The situation in the world looks very ugly today and there is concern among the public, and we, as the representatives of our constituents, are entitled to know something. We do not ask for full details, but we ask to be given some information as to whether or not the situation is satisfactory. If it is not satisfactory, let us face up to it and put it right. That will do much more good in getting hon. Members' help in putting matters right, than creating a veil of secrecy—a policy which gets us nowhere.

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which I always think will play a great part in the defence of this country, is cheap to operate and conditions should be made more attractive in order to get men into the squadrons. I should like to see the number of squadrons increased. The Auxiliary Air Force can use existing equipment, the personnel are not paid pensions and they need little housing accommodation, and it is a remarkably good investment for the Air Ministry to undertake. I suggest that airmen who devote their time to the Auxiliary Air Force for 24 hours should be paid the rate of the regular Air Force. The cost would be negligible. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to see what can be done to get more recruits. The pilots can easily be obtained but there is difficulty in getting the tradesmen who have to do the donkey work. Serving in the Auxiliary Air Force must be made attractive so that these men will give up their leisure time.

We would like to know what is being done between the current types of bomber, such as the Lincoln, and the stratospheric bombers. We may not have much time on our hands. It may be said that a modern bomber is in sight. I think it is a long way off. I think the modern bombers are years away. In spending this money, cannot we pay a token sum to America and get some B 29's, Super-Fortresses, so that at least we will have some American standard bombers with spares? I suggest that something should be done to improve the situation. It is pathetic that we should have to go on for several years operating the Lincoln. During the Debate last week I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether the communications and radar installations were being maintained on a large network throughout the country. He said they were, but I have reason to believe that many are not being maintained, but are just rusting.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

I do not think I said anything about it. I did not say that radar installations are being maintained throughout the country, because that would not be in accordance with the facts. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member, however, that in the vital areas of the country they are being maintained.

Air-Commodore Harvey

That makes the situation a little clearer, although it is not as satisfactory as I thought. We have to think in terms of the whole country, not just of the Essex coast and down to Dover. We have to see that they are maintained over a large area. Millions of pounds were spent on building up these installations. It would be a tragedy to see them rot and rust, and become useless if they were really wanted. We want to be able to use them for training personnel at weekends, or during the summer training period. The same goes for airfields. I fly occasionally and I find that runways are getting rather like the road between here and Buckingham Palace, a very rough road, and in frosty weather would deteriorate still more. We know that the runways were only built to last for a short period. Unless they are maintained and surfaced, they will cost much more, if they have to be used again.

I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will get his Chiefs of Staff and others to look into the question of giving something out of the funds towards operating flying clubs. Having sat on the Whitney Straight Committee on private flying, I know they are not very much welcomed, but I think that a mistaken point of view. It would be a very cheap investment for the Air Ministry to put something behind the flying clubs, in order to keep them going. If they do not do so, the clubs will die. They provide potential instructors, and create a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, and when the time comes they could provide pilots. I hope the hon. and right hon. and learned Gentlemen will look into that. I also hope that charter companies are being looked upon as a potential reserve of aircraft and aircrews. As one interested in a charter company, I know no approach has been made to us, yet we have several large and small aircraft, and I should expect that in time of emergency the Government would call upon us to play some role. There must be 200 or 300 charter aircraft which could be used in an emergency, and I hope this matter will be looked into to see whether these companies could play their part, should the need arise.

I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look into the question of senior officers. They are all very fine men, but all, practically without exception, have fought in two wars, and the Air Force is a young service. Men in their 30's, who have attained air rank, have proved themselves great commanders, and I believe one or two served under my right hon. Friend in Middle East Command. They are given no encouragement to get the right type of command. We want them encouraged, and made into air-marshals. I do not think anyone should serve in the Air Force after they are a day over 50. That is the time to retire, or go into commercial flying, or something else.

8.25 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

I wish to stress what has been said by some hon. Members, and also to call the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to what I said in the Debate on the Estimates. First, let me cross the t's and dot the i's of what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) said in his further appeal to the Air Ministry to do something about flying clubs. Tonight we have heard that we want a flying reserve. If we are going to carry on air warfare and need to send people up in some kind of aircraft, whether bombers, fighters, or transport aircraft, we must have people used to the air. In the days before the war, when there was a certain number of fairly well-off people who could afford to have private aircraft, and to keep flying clubs going, a potential was kept in being. It was strengthened by some of the other clubs, where there was a vast membership quite prepared to watch some of the younger members spend their time in flying on Saturday afternoons in the two or three aircraft which the club possessed. We know that the people who got that flying experience formed one of the greatest assets our air arm had at the beginning of the war, and they probably saved us from disaster. Evidently we are going to be faced with a similar situation, should the need arise, in which there will be a quick expansion of the Air Force from the position in which it was left.

It is obvious to me, and became more and more obvious every day I sat on the Whitney Straight Committee, that we must have a reserve. One obvious place for it is in the A.T.C. It should be like the reserve which the Navy have. Their people go round the coasts in dinghies and pinnaces and a friend of mine was taken on the Thames by his father-in-law.

Air-Commodore Harvey

What about the petrol?

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn

He brought the boat from Hamble and the whole family had a day out. That is how the Navy is kept going, and how we had the great potential of Dunkirk. The same applies to the Air Force, if we are to have an Air Force in the future similar to the past. I hope that the Air Force of the future will be something different. If we are to have a vast reserve of young men and women to take to the air, either for war purposes, or, as in Pakistan and in India, for peace purposes during the evacuation operations, the finest thing we can do is to see that young people and even children, are made conversant with the air, and link that up with the development of the Empire, so that we have this potential in being.

In our political work, going to our constituencies, and other constituencies, we notice by the main railway lines aerodrome after aerodrome which has become derelict. In the company of Mr. Deputy-Speaker I passed one today which was a very famous one. If ever its story is written, we shall see what wonderful work the Royal Air Force did there, in conjunction with the resistance movement throughout Europe before the great invasion. That aerodrome, as far as I could see, is absolutely derelict. Hon. Members will know which aerodrome I mean, although I suppose I cannot mention its name, as it will still be on the secret list. It is covered with thistles, and falling to pieces, as far as I know, and is very like a desert.

Mr. A. Henderson

The hon. and gallant Member can mention the aerodrome.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn

It is Tempsford, which is alongside the L.N.E.R. section of British Railways. It may be that it should be derelict, but there are a lot of flying clubs in this country and when members of the Private Flying Committee asked about these aerodromes, we found that people were warned off. My brother was in the Army. He had charge of a dump near one of these aerodromes. When a person landed one day at the aerodrome an Army officer came up and said, "You cannot land here, go away at once." That was my brother carrying out orders. There was no harm in that man landing on that particular aerodrome. In fact, he was doing a good job of work in the country. He was making use of grass-drying apparatus. There seems to be no general set of regulations governing the Army people on aerodromes which are not completely derelict.

While we have the finest collection of aerodromes in the world in this country, we are not making the fullest use of them for the development of civil aviation. I hope, if we are to have these aerodromes which are not used by the R.A.F., that whatever private owners are left, or whatever flying clubs manage to survive, will be allowed the use of them as a right, just as pedestrians are allowed the use of the streets of this country. We can all see these aerodromes. Any enemy agent need only take a railway ticket and travel round the country and count up all the aerodromes and see whether they are occupied or not. It is obvious that, if war were to break out in the near future—and certainly in the remote future—we should conduct the war, not so much with aircraft, as with missiles which would require to be sent from a missile platform, or some kind of base, such as the Germans must have used in North-West Germany, and in France, prior to the invasion. If that is so, there should be some evidence of these missile stations. In my peregrinations I have not seen any indication of such stations. Presumably, we shall carry on aerial warfare in the way the Germans taught us in the last two years of the war. Perhaps the answer is that the Air Force has nothing to do with such bases, but that it is a job for the Army. I do not know.

We can carry this matter of secrecy too far. Foreign military attaches and air attachés can read into statements and figures. They have their own contacts, and they know what is going on. During the war, in the intelligence department where I was, we got day-to-day information on the state of the German Air Force which was pretty well correct. Therefore, it is not too much to assume that the representatives of nations who may be potential enemies are kept pretty well informed as to what is going on. But we do not get that information, and we have not been given much information by the Minister. We can overdo this secrecy, with check-ups at R.A.F. stations and attempts to prevent people getting into the stations, and so on. They seem very successful, until it is found out that a sergeant in the works department is taking a short cut through a hedge, rather than walking two and a half miles round the aerodrome, while we have been trying to keep out the enemy by locking the front gate. Hon. Members of this House should be let into secrets rather more than some gentlemen in a place like Prague, for instance.

I hope that we get some replies to the questions which have been put to the Minister tonight. In the last Debate there were a number of speakers, but the ground was not fully covered by him. We ought to be reassured that the R.A.F. is fighting fit, and that the many stories that we get from old comrades, still in the Service, to the effect that there is not much flying now, or that the morale of this or that station is not what it was, are not true, and that we have started in 1948 to build up an Air Force potentially as great as the Air Force we had from 1939 to 1945.

8.35 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

As every day passes, more than ever it becomes apparent that our Air Force should be prepared to face whatever difficulties may lie ahead. If that Air Force is to be efficient and properly equipped and manned to face whatever lies ahead, it is of the utmost importance that its personnel should be trained in the way the personnel were trained prior to the outbreak of the last war. Then, as we all know, quality was the keynote. It must be the keynote now. On the Air Estimates previously I stressed this point, and I asked a number of questions of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary. The answers were not given to those questions. I hope that today I may have answers to the questions I asked then and to the questions I shall ask now on this very important matter.

The first point I wish to raise is in regard to the Air Training Corps. If the future quality of intake into the Royal Air Force is to be of the highest standard, what is being done to ensure that the Air Training Corps is so run at the present time that the young men in it will wish to continue to serve in the Royal Air Force itself? We have no means of knowing how satisfactory or otherwise is the state of the Air Training Corps at the present time. I asked how many cadets there were in the Air Training Corps at the present time, and how the figure compared with recent years. I was given an answer to the first part of the question as to how many there were at present, but I was given no comparison with recent years. It is only on comparative figures that we can ascertain whether the Corps is advancing or going backwards.

I asked what was the length of service of the cadets at the present time, and how that compared with previous years. If a cadet is keen on his training, if the training is good, and if the leadership of his squadron is first class, we shall find cadets coming in at the earliest possible age and remaining in their squadrons as long as they possibly can. If, on the other hand, there is not that keenness and leadership which we hope does exist in the Air Training Corps, then cadets will remain in only a comparatively short time, so that length of service does give an indication of the standard of keenness and efficiency which the Corps has reached. I hope that, not only in the replies given tonight, but that in future Air Estimates, more information of this nature will be given. If our Air Force in the years to come, is to be of the quality needed, it is of the utmost importance that, right on the ground floor, there should be given proper training and encouragement.

I asked a number of questions about training, and in particular the aircrew training of the Royal Air Force, in view of the new developments to which the Secretary of State made reference in his speech on the Air Estimates. I asked what training was being done to prepare aircrews for the new jet-propelled fighters now in existence, and the new jet-propelled bombers intended in the future. Is the kind of preparation required to fly this aircraft the same as is required to fly older types, now obsolete, or is there any new method of training being developed? I think we should have some information at this stage. For example, I think it is true to say that, as a result of a conference held towards the end of the war at the Empire Flying School, certain recommendations were made. Are those recommendations for the improvement of training being implemented? If our aircrews of the future are to be of the best quality, then they must be given the very latest equipment such as is recommended by the instructors who were gathered together from all over the Empire at the Central Flying Training School. The Prentice elementary trainer was produced to a specification which originated from that school in 1944. What is the position in regard to that aircraft? Are flying training schools equipped with it now, or are they to be equipped with it? I am sure that the House would like information on that point. For use in basic training, there is the Avro Athena and an unnamed Boulton and Paul aircraft. Both these aircraft were built to an Empire Central Flying Training School specification. I would like to know what progress has been made in their construction and whether they are to be used at a reasonably early date.

Also, I would ask whether there has been any change in the method of instruction. For example, is one instructor being used for all stages of a man's training or are several instructors used for the different stages? What is happening on the question of aircrew training? We are entitled to know some of these things. Are plans in existence for the same close co-operation which existed during the war between the countries of the Empire? I fear not. I hope that we may be given more specific assurances in this connection than were given us on the last occasion. Last week I also asked what action was being taken in connection with the Benelux countries. Are plans well advanced for a general co-ordination of training with those countries, and indeed with the Scandinavian countries? If the results of the Western Union are to be effective, then the first and most important task is that of co-ordinating and unifying air training with those countries in addition to the Empire and, to carry it a stage further, America. The House ought to be given information on that matter.

It is only right to stress that if we and our neighbours are to be properly prepared for the future, the present basis of security preparation is adequate and quality training. I hope that I may have answers to some of these points and to some of the questions which I asked earlier. I hope that information will be given on the question of training which will give confidence to the country, and that in future we shall have a great deal more information than we have had during the past year.

8.45 P.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

I listened with great interest to hon. Members who have contributed to this Debate. During the Debate last week it was my fortune—or misfortune—to be tied down to the narrow terms of an Amendment connected with technical education. I esteemed the opportunity highly. I did my best, and hon. Members from both sides joined in that Debate. But, with exception of one hour on the subject of technical training, the whole of the evening seemed to be devoted to putting the wind up the nation. It was panic-mongering on the first scale. There was talk of the dispersal of the Royal Air Force to all parts of the British Empire. Apparently, only the common people were to remain here at home. "Disperse our factories," said one; "Disperse our air units," said another. The general tone was, "disperse anything connected with the Air Force, but the poor working people should remain here." The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) said that he did not want the nation to be caught unexpectedly. I am sure that every hon. Member shares that sentiment. Nobody wants this island to be caught unprepared.

I would remind the House, however, that the Battle of Britain was not won by the dispersal of the Air Force to scattered parts of the Empire. The defence of this island is our first concern: the defence of the Empire as such, is our second concern. It may be said that the defence of this island is impossible without the defence of the Empire.

Sir W. Wakefield

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at the time of the Battle of Britain, and shortly afterwards, unless we had had an Empire Air Training scheme it would not have been possible to have trained the number of pilots necessary for the bomber force or, indeed, the number necessary for the maintenance of the fighter force? The building of aircraft in the Dominions was essential in order to keep the proper strength of aircraft in this country.

Mr. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman will not want to score a debating point on such a big issue as this. After the Battle of Britain it is true that there were many developments along the line which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Sir W. Wakefield

And prior to that.

Mr. Thomas

There were certain limited developments prior to that, but they were limited, as I am sure the House will remember. There is nothing to be gained in a Debate on the Air Estimates by our attempting to create an atmosphere suggesting that war is round the corner. If war is round the corner within the next five years we have "had it," because we are now the Belgium of the world. We are the small country between the big Powers, and we are wasting our time, our talent, and our money if we think that we can build up against atomic warfare within the next few years.

I prefer to turn the attention of my right hon. Friend to a more constructive suggestion of the way in which the Royal Air Force might be used. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) referred to the requirements of training for our pilots. The R.A.F. might well serve itself and fill a dire need in internal transport if it realised that the work done by Transport Command in Europe in 1945 might be done internally in this island in 1948. For instance, in Wales we have the largest Air Force station in the United Kingdom. We have the largest airfield in the United Kingdom, yet we are without any means of air communication between the different parts of the Principality. It takes me three times as long to travel from South Wales to North Wales as it takes from South Wales to London. It is fantastic that we should have a highly efficient force available, ticking over or marking time, as you will, while this great need exists on the part of our people. Surely, my right hon. Friend might realise that the Air Force could render a magnificent public service in the Principality if its fields were available, and if some of the larger planes could be adapted to the needs of passenger transport.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Free enterprise.

Mr. Thomas

Free enterprise broke down.

Air-Commodore Harvey

The Corporations have just cancelled their services to Liverpool, London and Manchester, because they are losing money. Why not allow free enterprise to do them?

Mr. Thomas

When we have a nationalised air service it seems silly to me—I hope the House will forgive me following the point this far—that we should keep these planes idle when they could be used, or at any rate some could be used, for this service. There are large numbers of them standing idle, and they have been standing idle for many months, along the coast of South Wales. I believe it would be a good experience for the pilots and certainly an excellent service for our people if this were undertaken.

8.53 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

May I first take up the point made by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) in his plea for civil aviation to be taken over in this field by the Royal Air Force? I can assure my hon. Friend that if we were to attempt to do so, these Estimates would be far larger and the call on the skilled manpower of this country would be far heavier. May I remind him that when he was in Poland about 18 months ago the Royal Air Force Transport Command took him on part of his journey and he was kind enough to say how very comfortable and helpful it had been, and I pointed out to him that at that time the R.A.F. was being called upon to fill a gap in civil aviation and perform a civil function, but at what a cost? At the expense of delaying the release of certain skilled tradesmen in the R.A.F. It is not as easy to do as it is to say: "There is the R.A.F., there are the planes, there are the men, there is the largest station—run a service." I will not get into a debate as to the merits of civil aviation, whether public or private; that is a matter which has been argued many times in this House.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) and the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield), asked for more information about our operational strength. I regret I can go no further than I did 10 days ago, except on one point; I can say that at the end of this year Fighter Command interception will be entirely by jet aircraft. There is, however, this fact to which I would draw the attention of these hon. Members: It is what was said by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) in the Defence Debate two weeks ago when he referred to the evidence that the Estimates Committee had obtained as to the value to the enemy of the information given in the pre-war Estimates. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield used the words "the situation today is very ugly." I do not necessarily endorse that statement but I say that, surely, is the greatest justification for the attitude we have taken today. The Prime Minister has said he will look into what can be done in future in the Estimates, and I can carry the matter no further.

Mention has been made of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the possibility of making it more attractive. My right hon. and learned Friend is looking into that in all its aspects. He is also looking into the matter of helping the flying clubs which is another matter which has been raised more than once today.

I was asked a specific question as to whether there was anything between the Lincoln and the supersonic bomber. I can add nothing to what I said previously—that we have not sat back and waited for these new developments.

On the point of the Commonwealth, put by several hon. Members, I think it is fair to claim that in military aviation there is more Commonwealth co-operation than in any other field. Last year in the Estimates I was able to talk to this House of my experiences in Japan with the British Commonwealth Air Command—a closely integrated Command with components from the United Kingdom, Australia, India and New Zealand. I wish we could have more such experiments, for they are of great value in planning in peacetime the integration of independent forces. However, we must not underestimate what we have. We have, first, direct exchange of officers, and that covers officers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We have, secondly, Dominion officers coming to our specialist schools, our radar school, our armament school, our navigation school, our land-air warfare school at Old Sarum, the Empire Flying School, the R.A.F. Staff College and other staff colleges, such as the I.D.C., not under the Air Ministry. These officers come from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Thirdly, No. 24 Squadron of Transport Command, a four-engined squadron, is partly manned by Dominion aircrews. They come from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The crew of the aircraft which took me to Malaya last year were, with the exception of one, all New Zealanders. Thus these men from the Dominions and from the United Kingdom get a wide experience travelling together up and down the Empire air routes. I must mention again the specialist aircraft—Thor, Mercury, Aries, Crusader—which travel about with specialist officers, giving instruction to the air forces of the Commonwealth. Last year we had these specialist aircraft in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and in the new Dominions of Pakistan and India. There is also excellent liaison in the fields of production and aeronautical research. I dealt as much as I could with the production point in the last Debate. On the research side we have the Commonwealth Aeronautical Research Council, and we have our leading scientists, Sir Henry Tizard and Sir Ben Lockspeiser travelling into all parts of the Commonwealth. It was reported in the papers this morning that Sir Ben had arrived in Australia for defence and scientific talks. Furthermore, we have exchanges of scientific workers in our research establishments. Lastly, we have joint research stations; for instance, the one about which there has been considerable publicity, the rocket range in Australia.

The hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) raised a particular point about the inquiry into the aircraft crash there. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State very much regrets that he cannot make a statement yet. The Commander-in-Chief of the Command concerned was overseas—he is Inspector-General of the Transport services among other things—and naturally my right hon. and learned Friend would not wish to come to any conclusion without considering his views The hon. Lady asked me to receive a deputation. If she believes that a deputation would assist us, of course I will receive one. I am always willing to do anything to help, provided it is consistent with maintaining the fighting efficiency of the Royal Air Force. We were able the other day to make an adjustment, by moving from near a city a squadron of reciprocating engine night fighters and moving on to its airfield a squadron of jet day fighters. The inhabitants preferred jet by day to recipro- cation by night. We will always consider any arrangement like that, but of course the maintenance of the fighting efficiency of the Royal Air Force comes first. I would point out to the hon. Lady what, I am sure, she appreciates, although many people do not, that flying low is not necessarily "low flying" in the technical sense. Before landing or taking off there must, of course, be low flying.

The hon. Lady asked me if I was satisfied that the best use was being made of the land. I have no evidence that either the Minister of Health or the Minister of Town and Country Planning disagrees with the use of this land as an airfield. As to the use of land generally—and here I must pick up points made by several hon. Members about thistles and other weeds—I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture, given the premise that we must have large areas for airfields, believes we are not doing badly in making good use of our land. So many Members talked about thistles on the land that I began to think most of them must have spent the week-end in Scotland. There are two important factors to remember in this matter of land usage.

First, on an average two-fifths of a runwayed airfield is covered with concrete runways, buildings, and so on. Secondly, the productive use made of the land available for cultivation—I am sorry to pass the buck like this but it is a fact—depends upon the drive and efficiency of the county agricultural executive committees. Of the 200,000 acres which are not covered with concrete runways or buildings, 170,000 are available for grazing and grass growing; 23,000 are available for ploughing; and there are an odd 3,000 or so which are worked by volunteers—men and women from the Air Force stations—as unit gardens. The acreage cultivated in this way is nearly equal to the 1945 figure, when the Royal Air Force was about four times its present size, and the value of the produce this year is expected to amount to £150,000.

The Reserves were mentioned by more than one hon. Member. Of these 20 reserve flying schools, 14 are already going, and the other six we hope will get under way this summer. There was a particular point put to me by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) about contractors who now under- take flying training for us. We entirely agree that the excellence of the old-established firms should not be overlooked in this connection. The question he asked was, how many of these contractors doing our flying training have had two years' prewar experience of it. I cannot answer that. However, I hope it will meet his point if I say that of the 17 contracts already placed, 16 are with firms which either trained for us before the war—though whether they did so for one or two years I do not know—or were in the E.F.T.S. scheme during the war. Only one of the firms is in any way a newcomer and there are special reasons for that contract. The firm was in possession of the most suitable airfield and was the lowest tenderer.

A point about the location of these flying schools was made. They have to be near well populated areas, otherwise with the overheads involved they are not worthwhile. Of the 14 we have set up already there is one, for instance, which we shall probably have to close because we made a miscalculation as to the number of people in that area who would undertake this volunteer reserve liability. The hon. Member in the last Debate referred to the fact that there was not one in Worcester. That is true. Our calculations did not lead us to believe that it would be profitable to have one in Worcester. So far we train only pilots, but in the next few months we shall start training navigators and signallers. For this we shall be using Ansons. At present it is Moths which we are using for the ordinary pilot training. As to the number of flying hours required, the minimum is twice as great as it was before the war. The synthetic equipment required on the ground is gradually being installed. The A.T.C. provides an extremely important form of pre-entry training.

Mr. Ward

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the Volunteer Reserve, may I remind him that the point I was trying to make was that if we have already got more than 1,000 pilots to be kept in flying practice, it means that there will be more than 50 at each school concentrating for weekend training. If some schools have to be closed down as being less profitable, I do not see how the men are to be trained.

Mr. de Freitas

I understand that in this reserve training where the men are very keen, they have been able to stagger their attendance for flying, and the result is that there is not that much overcrowding at the weekends. I can give the assurance that we are prepared at any time to expand a flying school most of which are not up to the maximum use that could be made of the airfield, if we find it is profitable to do so.

Sir W. Wakefield

To what extent are opportunities being given for synthetic training in many places other than airfields? Obviously, if people can go for an hour or two in the evenings for synthetic training, it is very important to make provision for them, and for that kind of training.

Mr. de Freitas

I entirely agree. That is the purpose of the reserve centres that we intend to have in the towns, as opposed to the airfields which may be several miles outside the towns. I should like to say that they are all operating, but in fact they are not all operating yet. We have had difficulties about accommodation.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that Moth aircraft are being used? Many of these thousand pilots are men who have fought in battle. Surely, they are not being trained with Moths which are nearly 20 years old? Surely they have modern aircraft?

Mr. de Freitas

I am afraid that there are nothing but Moths at this moment.

Air-Commodore Harvey


Mr. de Freitas

It is the problem of maintenance that limits us. We could not assist these clubs to maintain anything more complex than Moths at this stage.

Air-Commodore Harvey


Mr. de Freitas

I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is pathetic. We have to consider what has happened in the Royal Air Force. In the last 10 years we have multiplied its strength tenfold and have then divided it by four. Naturally, there are difficulties and problems arising in consequence, especially in bringing back a proper trade balance—and this prevents us maintaining additional aircraft.

The hon. Member for Marylebone brought up the subject of the A.T.C. He knows we have had a bad time. The latest figures for 1947 show that we are on the upward trend again, however. I regard the number of 42,000 as a good response, considering the boys now coming in are boys of 15 or so who, when the war ended, were about 12, and who, unlike their elder brothers, do not see on the horizon a service career of many years and of nothing but war ahead. I think it is a good response, although, of course, it is not good enough, and we have done everything we can to stimulate recruiting. As hon. Members well know proficient cadets get a guaranteed entry into the Royal Air Force; they get into the trade of their choice, provided it is one that may be undertaken by a N.S.A. entrant; they get less primary training in the R.A.F.; and there is also a scheme whereby we can fly proficient cadets acting as air quartermasters in Transport Command aircraft overseas, to India, Germany, and elsewhere.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Are these A.T.C. boys being told that they are to be expected to bomb Russia?

Mr. de Freitas

No. These A.T.C. boys are doing a very good job, and it is all the more important that we should see that the accommodation provided is adequate and proper. We have reviewed this recently, and we found that 10 per cent. of the accommodation could not be described as satisfactory, either because of its nature or because of its tenure. I ask hon. Members who are connected with local Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations to do what they can to help us to find accommodation. It is not a thing which those sitting in the Air Ministry can do so well.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone asked what training pilots received before they went on the new jet propelled aircraft. Their training is on ordinary reciprocating engine type aircraft. I can assure the House that there is no fundamental distinction other than that involved in the speed of the aircraft. We tackle that problem by building them up from the Spitfire to the Vampire, or the Meteor III, and finally to the Meteor IV. We hope to be training with the Prentice towards the end of this year, and the system adopted will be "all-through" training.

Only ten days ago I spoke of the realisation among the men and women in the Air Force today that there had been a change in the attitude of this House and of public opinion towards them. I felt sure they would be encouraged that instead of our continually saying, "Look what they are costing us," we were now saying, "Let us see what protection we are getting for what they are costing us." As I explained ten days ago, I am sorry that I cannot give a yardstick so that all can judge what protection this money is providing for the nation. Since I spoke of this change in attitude, I have met a considerable number of men and women of the Royal Air Force, and I find they are heartened at once again being regarded, after nearly three years, as men and women working for the good of the community in the important and essential task of defending the country.

9.13 p.m.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

I apologise for discussing one small point after the Under-Secretary has spoken. He rose sooner than I anticipated, and I missed the opportunity of speaking before him. Also, I hope he will accept my apologies for speaking on a question which is still the subject of correspondence.

The subject to which I wish to refer is the disclosure from R.A.F. records of medical information on personnel who have left the Royal Air Force. Recently a case has been the subject of correspondence with the Under-Secretary, where, for the sake of the man concerned, the medical adviser of his recognised trade union, with the man's consent, raised the question whether this information should be disclosed confidentially, with any restrictions the Minister cares to impose to prevent its abuse, in order that the man's claim can be fought in another direction. Sometimes Service Departments, including the Royal Air Force, give information to other Government Departments which are opposing claims for appointment or preferment, and the men may be prevented from obtaining that employment. Yet the trades unions who ask for such information confidentially under restrictions, who are willing to pledge themselves never to abuse the disclosure of the medical record of any man, are refused such information.

Twenty-five years ago, it took us three or four years to win this fight with one Government Department. That concession was made, and for the last 25 years has worked admirably in the interchange of medical information between medical officers of the Department and of the trade union concerned. I ask that the R.A.F. should review this question, and see whether a way cannot be found by which such information, which may be essential to the man in presenting his case—sometimes with another Government Department which has already had the information and perhaps arrived at a wrong diagnosis—cannot be given the man to enable him to fight his case and to get justice in any future claim in which he may be involved.

It is a difficult question. The Government, of course, always answer that if they disclose the information to one person they will have to disclose it to insurance companies, to private profit making concerns, for purposes which may not be considered legitimate by the Government Department. But the Department can impose restrictions on the disclosure of such confidential information, which will ensure that such disclosure is not abused, while at the same time giving the man the opportunity of being on equal terms with the Service Department. I hope the Under-Secretary will say that he will review this case again. I do not want him to answer the point tonight, because I know he has had short notice. But I wish he would consider it and later on give a favourable answer to the request put forward on behalf of the trade union.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I cannot be expected to agree to the passing of these Estimates without a protest, after the answer made to the Debate by the Under-Secretary, and after his failure to answer the question put to him by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas). He asked two vital questions. Surely, if young intelligent boys from secondary schools, or academies in Scotland, are asked to rally to the A.T.C. they must be told what they are to fight for. I confess, hon. Members of the Opposition seem to know precisely what the position is, and during Committee one hon. Member elaborated a theory that we must have a striking force to attack the enemy potential behind the "iron curtain" That means, to be quite frank —and I wish the Under-Secretary had been frank—that this expenditure for the Royal Air Force is intended for one purpose only, namely, war with the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

Sir W. Wakefield

If we are attacked.

Mr. Hughes

I presume that if nobody is going to attack there will be no expenditure on either side. I do not believe that anybody has produced any evidence to show that the Russian air force intends to attack us. I suppose the merits or otherwise of the Estimates can be argued on those lines. I protest against being called upon to vote a sum of £194,396,000 at a time of economic crisis. We seem to be living in watertight compartments. We have a "Black Paper" on Economic prices one day, and then, forgetting all about that, we are asked to agree to the Army and Air Force Estimates. I object very strongly at a time when basic petrol is such a burning question that we should be called upon to agree to £6,690,000 for the purpose of supplying the Air Force with petrol when, according to the Under-Secretary, the Air Force is able to rehearse only with "Moths" which are inadequate for the present emergency.

We are told that we are to disperse our aircraft all over the Empire and that we are to build aeroplanes in Winnipeg and to make our bases in central Africa. What is to become of the people in the industrial areas who have to bear the attack of the atomic bomb. I say that we are not justified in passing these Estimates and that this is a betrayal of humanity. I hope that we shall never see these Estimates carried to their logical conclusion. If Members generally asserted themselves and were realistic, they would fight these Estimates line by line and refuse to grant the money that is now being asked for.

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolutions by Mr. Shinwell, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. John Dugdale, Mr. John Freeman, Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas and Mr. Michael Stewart.