§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I hope that the Secretary of State for Air is feeling none the worse for his experiences of yesterday. I have no desire to make things more difficult for him or for the R.A.F., but there are several matters to which I wish to refer which have not been said in this House or perhaps dealt with through the medium of the Press. Much has been said recently by various retired air marshals and others who profess to know the Service, and a considerable amount of it was true. But there is real disquiet in the country at the moment among those who are in the Royal Air Force and also the civilians at large. They still remember that the Royal Air Force is the first line of defence of this country, and that if it had not been for a small number of men and one particular Command in 1940, we would not be here today discussing the Service.
I wish to reiterate what I have said before on many occasions, that conscription on the present basis will not suit the Royal Air Force. Eighteen months service is not of real value. There are in the service more than 50 per cent. National Service men, men who are in for only 18 months. During that period they have to acquire discipline and learn the details of most complicated aircraft and ancillary equipment. I do not see how we can have an efficient service with 50 per cent. of the men serving for that short space of time. I would ask the Secretary of State to fight the battle for the Air Force with the Cabinet and to see if he can get preferential treatment for this particular Service. After all, preferential treatment has been given to the coalminers, because we want coal. Is it not equally important to have similar treatment for this fighting Service, to ensure that we have peace and to safeguard our shores?
381 I am unable to quote what has been said by a noble Lord in another place, but Lord Douglas quite recently said that unless something was done very quickly for the Royal Air Force it would die on its feet. That was said by a marshal of the Royal Air Force who has recently retired, and I believe that the Cabinet must give this matter their full consideration. Does the Cabinet really understand the problems of the Royal Air Force or of any of the other fighting Services? I often feel that it would be a very good thing if the Cabinet would take a holiday from this House and go to the I.D.C. for a short time and really learn something about Service matters. I am not referring to the Minister of Defence, because he has been connected with the fighting Services for a great many years. But I believe that some of the other Ministers could learn a lot if they made a particular study of our fighting Services.
I wish to refer to the discipline in the Royal Air Force. We recognise that over the last 20 or 30 years the method of discipline and so on has changed considerably, and a very good thing too. I well remember the time when as a young cadet I was bullied by a sergeant-major and marched round the square with pack and rifle for hours on end. I do not believe that that is the right method. But we have gone to the other extreme. It may have sounded attractive when Lord Montgomery promised the troops that they should have bedside lamps; they were almost promised breakfast in bed. We do not want that.
What we do want is a proper discipline which is fair to the individual and the Service. When I see officers and airmen walking about our towns with their caps stuck on the side of their heads, with their coats undone and grease round the collar I wonder how parents are going to look up to the Service and say, "That is what I want my boy to go into." It is quite wrong, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to impress that point upon some of his most senior officers. When they are making inspections and visiting stations they should smarten themselves up and set an example to the rest of the Service. When we see the Guards out on parade it is a great picture. The Guards have no great difficulty in obtaining recruits. I believe it would be all to the good for the Royal Air Force to 382 insist on smartness to achieve something of which we could be really proud.
I do not propose to refer to "Operation Sunrise," because much has been said about it and it is comparatively old news. I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of it, except to say that I think the Air Force were badly treated in the Press. There was a substance of truth in what was said. After all, the reporters were there and I imagine that they were flying in the aircraft, and to a certain extent they gave a fair report. I do say, however, that the public relations branch of the Air Ministry failed miserably on that occasion. They could quite well have got out a snap statement giving the Air Force point of view. If they were not equal to the job, the Air Ministry should have seen that competent senior officers were on the station ready to give assistance to public relations. They did themselves an infinite amount of damage by not having an organisation ready to cope with any situation at that time.
I think that the B.B.C. could render much more assistance to the Royal Air Force. There are two retired air marshals on the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. Why do not we ask them to give the benefit of their knowledge both for recruiting, and about what the Air Force is doing for the nation? We had a review of the Royal Air Force on New Year's Eve, but nothing was said about Malaya and what the Royal Air Force did to keep the Colony going for weeks on end by bringing in supplies and men and materials to keep peace.
I would ask that the public relations department make more use of their own paper, the "Royal Air Force Review." In October and November they had an article and pages of pictures describing the Soviet Air Force. Some of it was quite inaccurate, and I got the impression that it was written by a Communist within the walls of Adastral House. Surely at this time we do not want to publicise the Soviet Air Force. I cannot imagine the Royal Air Force being given a favourable write-up in Moscow—when we get Yaks diving down on civil and military aircraft flying into Berlin and generally being completely unhelpful. I think the Ministry has to be really bold and set about these people who are trying to play the game of breaking it up from within.
383 I wish to refer to the question of leadership and morale. In my view there is no doubt that the Air Force today is deficient in leadership. That I think is due mainly to organisation. As is generally known, the Service is split into three divisions. First of all flying, which seems to count least of all, and then administrative and technical. Stations from which the aircraft operate are composed as I have outlined, and that system is reflected at group and command headquarters. It is known, as the right hon. Gentleman will well know, as the "three prong system." There is a certain amount to commend the system, because in certain respects there is a saving in man hours. But, generally speaking, there are definite drawbacks, to two of which in particular I will refer.
The first is that on a bomber or fighter station two-thirds of the men on the station come under the command of noncombatant officers, officers who never sit in an aeroplane in any capacity, except perhaps to test some piece of equipment. I think that that is entirely wrong. In a fighting Service the men, in the main, ought to be commanded by men who know their business of flying aeroplanes. I have no doubt that the technical officers are extremely good at their jobs, whether it be radio, engineering or anything else. But, nevertheless, they are not aviators, and I believe the men would react much more favourably if they were commanded by combatant officers, the men who do the fighting.
The second point is that the technical branches share to a very large extent the responsibility for the Service. The general duties officer, the pilot, gets very little experience at all in command in his early days in the Service. He is merely left there to learn how to fly his aeroplane, he gets no real opportunity of exercising command in his early years in the Serwhich I admit is difficult enough. But vice. The general duties officers are the men who will be the future Chief of Air Staff and will fill several of the more senior posts at the Air Ministry, and on the Air Council—not all but most of them. It seems most unfortunate that he should not get an opportunity to command in his early years. I do not think that this is a very good example of the impressive planning on which the Government prides itself. Administration is all 384 right up to a point, but there is no substitute for really doing the job. In the Navy there are large shore establishments, but nevertheless the men, whatever their branch, have to go to sea every so often and they are in touch with their profession. Not so in the Air Force. Many of them never fly.
I wonder how many air marshals can really fly a modern aeroplane? How many could step into a Spitfire or even a Mosquito and fly it? Not very many. I know of one or two regular flying men but most of them have probably not flown an aeroplane for 15 or 20 years. It really is deplorable and it ought to be put right. If something on these lines could be done to give the young general duties officer the opportunity to exercise more command, there would be a reduction in the overall establishments throughout the Service. It is most important that the atmosphere of flying should permeate the whole Service. We would get that atmosphere if we had larger squadrons. Today the squadrons are minute because they have echelons and other units rendering assistance. Every airman likes to think that he belongs to a famous squadron. Even if he is a cook he likes to belong to a squadron instead of merely being a number and living as one of many hundreds on a station.
The squadrons in time of peace should be expanded even at the expense of centralisation. I do not say that that system could be carried on in war, but then I do not think that it is possible to have the same set-up in peace as in war. We must be ready to expand and to give efficient training. I do not think that the present system has had any great effect on the serviceability of aircraft. One hears only too often of the difficulties of the Air Force in keeping machines flying and bringing about a high rate of serviceability. Unquestionably it is bad for morale. I believe that there is too much over-centralisation in the R.A.F. The Secretary of State admitted recently that there were 265 courses of instruction open to the whole of the Service. We know that this is a highly technical Service and that we must have a number of courses, but I suggest that many of them could be combined or done away with altogether.
There are far too many branches in the Air Force. I will give a few examples. There are the provost, 385 the catering, the physical fitness and the marine branches. Many of these jobs could be done by general duties officers. They were done before the war very efficiently. After all, there is very little to teach a man in order to enable him to operate a small motor boat around Calshot. A man who is off flying for a limited period could well be taught another branch of the Service. Furthermore, these branches offer only a limited career to the men who join them. Their prospects of promotion could not be more gloomy. If they ever reach squadron-leader rank, most of them will be fortunate. The consequence is that the best men are not attracted, yet the Air Force wants the best and nothing but the best. People tend to get into what might be called backwaters, and usually we get a poor type who want to go into those branches.
I now refer to the R.A.F. Regiment. This subject has been discussed before. I referred to it myself last autumn. I cannot for the life of me see what are the functions of the R.A.F. Regiment. I am prepared to believe that the regiment does an extremely good job in carrying out its duties in many parts of the world, but I suggest that it is a task which ought to be undertaken entirely by the Army. If the Army will not co-operate to do the job, then they should be made to do it. Certainly, it is not the job of the Royal Air Force to train troops on the ground for the defence of aerodromes. I know that there are arguments on both sides. My view is that it is extravagant and expensive. I do not think that anybody really knows the functions of the Regiment. The R.A.F. Regiment was formed after the fall of Singapore when the Government were most concerned about the danger of airfields at home being occupied. A quick decision was arrived at. In practice this ought to be an Army responsibility.
There is no doubt that many of the establishments in the Service are inflated. There is a tendency to promote far too many good N.C.Os. and warrant officers to junior officer posts where they will never get promotion. That procedure ruins a good N.C.O. and puts him into a job where perhaps he is an indifferent officer with even less responsibility than he had previously. This argument applies also to the technical branch.
On the subject of pay, the Minister of Defence made a statement a few weeks 386 ago. The concessions were better than nothing. The right hon. Gentleman appears rather hurt at my remarks. I assure him that if he discusses this matter with Air Force men he will find that my view is the correct one. The officers were horrified when they heard of this increase. They had expected something better. If the Minister had given them their 6s. a day allowance free of Income Tax he would have had a good reception, but to give 6s. and to tax it, is to give an increase which amounts to nothing at all when one considers the commitments which an officer must meet. No one is more hard up today than the middle class professional man in all walks of life, in particular in the R.A.F. The pay is virtually the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago. The man is faced with all the problems of postings and of educating his children who may have to go to a new school almost every year. Many of these men are worried to death about their budgets. What has been given will be no real assistance.
I should like to point out one real anomaly to the Minister of Defence. I refer to the question of the G/D officer who admittedly has flying risks. He flies high speed aircraft and often it is a dangerous occupation. One does not want to overestimate that side of the question, because it is part of his every-day life, but in the end he carries a responsibility for doing the job. He gets the same pay as the man who works on the ground with the exception of the flying officer and pilot officer who get an extra 3s. a day. The flight-lieutenant and the squadron-leader get the same pay as those in the technical branch who sit in a nice warm office provided with tea and other comforts. That is quite wrong. We should follow the example of the Navy and pay risk pay—submarine pay or flying pay such as is given in the Fleet Air Arm. I know that the argument is that the general duties officer, the pilot, gets quicker promotion. Of course, that argument cuts both ways. If a man gets quicker promotion and becomes a group captain, he is retired sooner than the technical officer, so that his period of expectation as an officer drawing full pay and allowances is less than that of the officer on the ground who gets the same pay for taking no risks.
387 Another point is that, compared with the technical officer, the general duties officer is at a big disadvantage on the question of married quarters. As a rule the technical officer has had longer service usually because he has gone through Halton and become an N.C.O. and then a commissioned officer. His service, added up on a points system, gives him a married quarter much sooner than the general duties officer. There is considerable dissatisfaction in the Air Force about the allocation of married quarters. I ask the Secretary of State to inquire into the whole matter of the allocation of these quarters and see whether he can do something to make the system more fair.
Today the R.A.F. do not know what they are meant to be doing. There is no clear picture of direction to the Service as a whole. Before the war it was generally accepted that their job was to fly. Everybody worked to that end to get the aircraft serviceable and to get the maximum amount of flying training. I consider that the staffs today are much too large. They have been carried on from the end of the war and they have never been sufficiently pruned. For instance, we have the central fighter establishment and the central bomber establishment which are very fine affairs. I have no doubt that some of the results obtained are good, but I am told by men in the Service—senior officers and others—that these two units could well be dispensed with. They are most extravagant units and the work could be carried out on other stations.
The branches are all too watertight. Nobody really knows what another branch is doing, and there is far too much paper work throughout the Service. The right hon. Gentleman should get busy and form yet another committee to go into all these and many other matters. There is disquiet today both in the Service and outside. Over the last 30 years the Air Force has built up a great tradition for fighting and for the way in which it does its job. In the Berlin air lift we have a most magnificent example. We want to improve on these things and to get the best men into the R.A.F. Why are not the headmasters recommending boys to go into the Air Force? I put it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that they are not doing so, and there must be some reason why headmasters are not 388 backing up the Service to the extent to which they should.
I put forward one final suggestion. The time has come for some of the more senior officers to retire and make way for younger men. We want men of the middle 40's to accept the highest commands, men who can fly aeroplanes, who can set the right spirit and who have themselves graduated through the Staff Colleges. But they must start soon; it cannot be left long. Much can be done to bring about a better Royal Air Force. I believe that Lord Douglas was right when he said "Unless something is done, the Royal Air Force will die on its feet."
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
I remember during the recent war, when I was a squadron commander in Bomber Command, going to a conference at a training aerodrome which was very heavily over-established. I will not mention its name, but airmen will know which one I mean. During the course of that conference, a senior officer said, "This station runs perfectly, except for flying," There was a certain amount of criticism of my rather jejune comment that, if the flying had run perfectly, it would not have mattered about the rest of the station.
I want to talk about flying, its purpose and the function of the Royal Air Force in relation to flying. Those who are engaged in the occupation of flying, either in the Royal Air Force or in civil flying, are exceedingly fortunate in that they have an occupation which employs the most recent and by far the most thrilling method of getting from one place to another that has ever been invented. It is almost impossible for landlubbers properly to understand what there is in flying to an airman.
For example, it is very difficult to explain the purely aesthetic thrill of leaving the ground at 4 o'clock on a November afternoon, when there is a heavy overcast of low cloud, and flying up from damp, dark, dreary and miserable weather, through 9,000 or 10,000 feet of cloud, into clear sunshine, and flying for an hour or so in beautiful sunny weather before a second twilight and a second dark. It is very difficult to explain exactly what the thrill is to anybody engaged in making these machines and in flying them 389 in close formation at low altitude and at high speed. It is very difficult to explain the immense aesthetic thrill of going faster than people have ever done before.
All of these things are part of the enormous attraction of flying itself to young men, and they are the justification for having an Air Force at all. I believe that the whole of the organisation of the Royal Air Force today should have only one purpose, and that is, that as many aircraft and as many airmen as possible should be put into the air for the purpose of completing their training during non-operational periods, so that we have a nation of men trained to a true appreciation of the instrument which modern science has put into our hands and capable of using it most competently. Because of that enormous attraction of the instruments of the Royal Air Force, I believe that a grave injustice is done to the R.A.F. by opponents of the present Administration—and, in this instance, I am not referring to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), or indeed to his speech, his record in the R.A.F. throughout the war or his service as a Member of Parliament—but, in particular, to Press comments on the state of the R.A.F.
I believe a great injustice is done to the Service and to the men who are doing a magnificent job in it, particularly the flying men, when we have a concentration of the emphasis upon maladministration, upon low morale and on all the dreariness of which we read from time to time in the newspapers. In fact, I believe that, whereas it was true immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1945—and the reason must have been apparent to the majority of hon. Members of this House why morale in the R.A.F. had sunk to a low level—the fact now is that there has been a progressive building-up of morale, simply because the causes of that declension were removed as soon as the first war run-down had been completed.
That does not mean that the whole of the administration of the R.A.F. is free from criticism. I have very much the same view as the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield that there is something wrong with the relationship between flying formations and ground formations. Whereas, in the pre-war days and in the early days of the war, 390 flight commanders who were pilots had the responsibility for ground crews, who serviced specific aircraft, which they could fly and of which they knew the purpose, nowadays there has been over-specialisation, which has brought a second consequence that we now have a rather inchoate mass of technical airmen who are grossly under-officered and who suffer from an inadequate degree of proper welfare attention. I believe that some compromise between the pre-war system and that in use today will have to be worked out, so that, when officers are created for specific flying or technical purposes, they will become officers in the same sense as an officer in the Army, having responsibility for men management and for looking after the welfare of N.C.O.s and other ranks.
If there is one reason why morale is a little shaken in some sections of the R.A.F., I believe that it lies not so much in the administration and organisation of the R.A.F. itself, but in the political usage of the R.A.F. The criticism which one can level at the R.A.F. is, in fact, not a criticism of the R.A.F. at all, but rather a criticism of the grand strategy which employs the R.A.F. at this moment for certain purposes. I would say, for example, of the affair of 7th January, and of the effect which it has had in the minds of the airmen, that instructions were given for two tactical reconnaissance flights for political purposes which caused men to take risks considerably in excess of the proper risks that should be taken by the Royal Air Force at a time when we are not engaged in specific hostilities.
That is the kind of thing which causes a considerable lowering of morale, not only among the airmen engaged, but, what is of enormous importance in all Service questions, a lowering of morale of their dependents, who see husbands and sons sticking out their necks in what they consider to be unnecessary directions. I think it is quite likely that it would be impossible to explain at all times and in detail the reasons for the specific use of specific units of the Royal Air Force, but I think that more could be done to present a clearer picture of the general use by the Defence Ministries, so that serving men and their dependents should have a clearer idea of the potentiality of risk which airmen would have to face.
391 I have no fear about the spirit and the morale of the Royal Air Force. I have seen many units during the last three years, and I believe that even those who have come quite newly to the Air Force and who have no recollection of it during the recent war, have properly inherited the traditions of the Air Force which have been built up over the last 30 years. What is needed is a little more close appreciation of what the man on the spot is feeling, a little more appreciation of the fact that the individual airman does not quite feel part of the whole thing, that he does not quite feel that he has a specific officer looking after his interests. If something can be done to tidy that up, I have no hesitation in expressing my belief that the Royal Air Force today could, if called upon, give as good an account of itself as it has ever done during the last 30 years.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)
Had we known that there would be an evening for discussing this Adjournment subject, I am sure that many of us who have been associated with the Royal Air Force during the last few years, and have an affection for that Service, would have been prepared to tackle this matter in the grand manner. However, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) raised this subject, and I only wish that the title chosen by him had been a little more fortunate. If anything, it was a little alarmist.
I have always thought it was the Royal Air Force which, since the Armistice in 1945, had the biggest flop in spirit, morale, or that intangible thing which keeps a great force going when its job is finished.
I remember, before the Armistice, people on bomber stations saying that they did not quite know what they would do, because all their targets had disappeared. We had the finest implement of war the world has ever seen, a great force and a wonderful spirit, but suddenly its work was ended as though a guillotine had fallen upon it. It is my experience that the Royal Air Force would never have had its morale or efficiency questioned in the years following the Armistice had we been able to offer a section of the people in that Service 392 permanent jobs for the rest of their lives. After all, that is what most people want; they expect it in industry and commerce, so why should they not expect it in the Services, also?
I remember, at the height of the bombing campaign, talking about the post-war situation with the wireless operator of a Lancaster. He had joined the Royal Air Force because he was attracted by the life, and wanted to do his service in that branch of the Armed Forces. He was so taken up with his experience during the war that, when it was over, he hoped to be able to carry on in the Air Force. I told him that I thought that was a fine thing to do, and that there would be opportunities for doing so. I asked him whether it meant that he had not much of a job before the war. "Oh, no," he said, "I was the pianist in the so-and-so dance band." I should have thought that the salary that he could get as a pianist in a well-known dance band would be far higher than he could expect to receive if he rose to the rank of squadron-leader as a member of a bomber crew. But he was so attracted to the Air Force that he had given up all idea of resuming his old profession in which, I presume, it would be possible to rise to greater heights in the monetary sense than by being an officer in the Air Force. But the flop came.
It seems to me that the one mistake made in the intervening years is that the opportunity was not taken while that spirit existed among those people who were willing to go on serving. Three years ago I was in a Royal Air Force hospital, and about that time people were hoping to get some answer to their applications for permanent commissions. I saw the forms they had to fill up, many of the details of which had no relevance to the matter. I am constantly meeting these people and find that they are still waiting and hoping for an answer to their applications. Only last week I came across a serving officer who, to my surprise, was a navigator. He had already got his permanent commission. He told me that, as far as he knew, he was the only navigator who had been given a permanent commission, and he thought himself very lucky indeed. Very often we who served in the Royal Air Force meet people who have given up all hope of remaining in the Service; they have left the Royal Air Force, and are doing other jobs.
393 There are further characteristics which ought, I think, to be looked into by this House and by the Air Minister. One is the question of overdone secrecy. As far as the general public are aware, there is a secret operation going on day by day—the supplying of Berlin by this country. How many of our people see the magnificent work being done? I remember, when we were sitting on the advisory committee and considering the question of private flying, a representative from the Ministry of Education was present. One question put to this representative was, "Are not the children still doodling on their desks and drawing pictures of aircraft as we know the schoolboys did during the war?" The reply was, "Oh no, they never do that now." "Why not?" the representative was asked. This time the answer was, "They never see any aircraft nowadays." As far as the public is concerned there is very little news about this magnificent airlift.
We have been told of the work going on in Malaya. When we were using this island as a bombing station, we had to keep the operations as secret as we could, although I know that the enemy knew far more about them than did the great mass of the general public in this country. I think the Air Force should take the public into its confidence. Let them see what a grand job the serving people are doing, even today.
The question of the recent operation "Sunrise" was brought up by the hon. and gallant Member. I presume that, as far as the public are aware, that operation was a failure. The public have probably got the impression that there is something really wrong with the Air Force because the weather stopped it from carrying out its operational activities. Had the public been kept properly informed as to how the weather intervened during the war, and how it stopped activities, if they had been told the whole story of the incident concerning the two German battleships, "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau," and why those battleships got through, they would probably have appreciated, more than they did, the work of the Air Force. If the public only realised that in this part of the world, situated, as it is, on the edge of the Atlantic, the weather is highly unpredictable, and that there is no more difficult place over which to fly, 394 they would be able to put these happenings in their proper perspective, and would realise how difficult is the position.
There is one point that I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister. It is that on this small island there is always a potential ready to move into the Navy. For instance, people around my constituency spend a great deal of time on the Broads during the summer, and there are the little ships off the Norfolk coast. That, of course, is the experience of every hon. Member who has a constituency impinging on the coast. There is this constant activity on our waters, whether inland or at sea. There is a great reservoir on which the Navy has always drawn from the time of Alfred the Great down to the present day. But the great Force, whether we like it or not, is going to be the Air Force. We are the centre of a great Commonwealth; we have no land communications like Russia, and as our people must cross the seven seas the method of their travel must obviously be by air. It seemed to us on the permanent advisory committee that we ought to see that all our young folk are made as air-minded as they were made sea-minded by the chance of history.
In our report we pointed out that in many countries private flying, gliding and, in several instances, the construction of model aircraft received direct financial assistance from the State. One of the main reasons for such assistance is the defence value of those activities. We know that discussions have been going on ever since that report was issued in August, 1947. We hope that some tangible result will emerge in the near future, but in view of the fact that this is a Debate on the efficiency of the Royal Air Force I thought it wise to mention the point, in passing, so that the Ministers concerned could be alive to the fact that there is a wonderful potential for the Air Ministry in this country if only they would provide the impetus, with the other Ministries, like that of Civil Aviation, in order that we may have the same reserve always behind the Air Force as that which the Navy has always had in its history. That is important not only for defence purposes, because future movement will be by air. We are the people who, as the centre of a commonwealth, have to do more moving than any other collection of nations. It is our duty, 395 in this House, to see that every opportunity is given to the younger generation to exploit the wonders we have discovered in the earth.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)
I am a little troubled by what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) as to exactly how it will be possible for children to see the air lift to Berlin? Having been linked up with the public relations side of the Air Ministry during the war, I can say that I believe we have today in Fleet Street a great number of quite brilliant journalists who were with the public relations department and who are more than willing to do everything they possibly can for the Royal Air Force to publicise it. If they are not able to do so, it seems to me that it must be because there is something wrong with what they have to sell.
I am particularly glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) raised this issue this evening. It should be raised as frequently as possible. Obviously the younger generation are not entering the R.A.F. to anything like the extent we should expect. We have all received many letters from men already in the R.A.F., men who have been called up, complaining about the lack of anything to do. We hear from parents who are very worried about the future of their sons, and about what will happen to them as long as they stay in the R.A.F. Then there are organisations such as the R.A.F. Association which today is more successful than the British Legion in recruiting old R.A.F. types. Yet this association does not seem to be able to get the younger people interested, or to get them to want to join the Royal Air Force.
I put that down to the feeling amongst, say, the pilots that the present people in command, those at present at the head in the Air Force, are people who had very little to do with the pilots' life and the pilots' work during the last war. Many of them were mixed up with the 1914–18 war and others with the period just after that. These men are in key positions. They are too old. It may be that that would be a good thing in the Army and the Navy, but the Air Force is a new force in which undoubtedly it 396 is not a good thing. We want the younger men, the men who served brilliantly during the war and who are famous names, to be in command today and to be in the key positions.
Next comes the question of family life. The younger pilots want to get married; older ones are married. They simply cannot find proper housing accommodation. My own brother-in-law is a Group Captain and at the present moment he is in Singapore. His wife and children have had to remain in this country; yet he was abroad all through the war and they saw practically nothing of him then. The same thing is happening to many others. I feel that very little is being done to try to make it possible for families to keep together. I do not entirely lay the blame for that on the Air Ministry. It may be largely Treasury pressure from behind. If that is so then we in this House must press the Treasury to give the Air Ministry the opportunity to make it attractive for young men to join the R.A.F. There is a great need for better amenities of all kinds, not only abroad but at home. Things have greatly changed since the war so far as amenities are concerned and especially with regard to homes and the possibility of family life.
Pay is very bad. It is in no way sufficient to tempt people. Furthermore, the young men know they will be leaving the service at a fairly early age. Unless a scheme is introduced whereby after they leave the Air Force they can be placed into some other kind of Government employment or given some other job, it seems that we shall have to wait a long time before we get people really interested. It is inevitable that after all the publicity during the war there should be, amongst the public, a certain lack of interest in films about the Royal Air Force or in reading about it. That is a natural reaction which can continue for a long time. I suppose many of the papers do not want to publish, nor do the film producers want to produce films, about news which may not be very attractive. That danger exists. The Air Ministry must do all they can to get to the root of such problems.
Mainly—I think almost entirely—the reasons for lack of interest are questions of pay, amenities and above all housing for families; those are the critical problems from the point of view of persuading 397 the ordinary young man to join the R.A.F. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) spoke of the incidents which occurred at the beginning of January. No doubt they will be debated at some other time but that sort of thing greatly alarms parents and families. I think the subject will have to be discussed in much more detail later.
I beg the Air Ministry to put before the Treasury the fact that unless they can give more money to make things easier for people who join we shall not get what we badly need—the very best type in the R.A.F. We must not spend too much time on technical work, making people feel that the Air Force is becoming anything like a branch of a university. It frightens away young men who would make brilliant pilots in the long run and who are terrified by all the paper and by the technical details upon which they are made to work.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I am sure the House is greatly indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for raising this question this evening. Incidentally, may I make him an overdue apology, because on one occasion, in an interjection, I attributed to him certain remarks about the strategy of attacking the enemy potential behind the iron curtain which actually were made by another hon. Member. I take this opportunity to make the necessary apology, and to rectify the mistake which I made.
At the back of all our minds in dealing with this question of the efficiency of the Air Force is the question which was raised yesterday at Question Time. I had a great deal of sympathy for the Secretary of State for Air, because he was doing his best to defend what I thought was an impossible position. All this all revolves upon the efficiency of the Air Force, Sir.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I think I should tell the hon. Member, who obviously appreciated that I was looking at him, that I am very doubtful whether what he is apparently beginning to say comes within the purview of this Debate. I hope he will not develop that point.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have great respect for you, Sir, but I fail to understand how you can suggest that what I am about to begin to say is out of Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps if I am a little more definite the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the point. To develop any matter about the incidents which were the subject matter of Questions yesterday would be irrelevant, I think, in a Debate dealing with the efficiency of the Royal Air Force.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I do not wish to question your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I thought that on the Adjournment any hon. Member could address the House on any subject he liked, and that it was merely a convention that, because we are now discussing the efficiency of the Air Force, we should discuss that only. Surely, at all times it is open to a Member who catches your eye on the Adjournment to raise any matter which does not involve legislation?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I have every respect, Sir, for your judgment as Deputy-Speaker, but I have my doubts about your capacity as a clairvoyant.
§ Captain Crookshank
I should like to have established whether what I have just said was right or wrong, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because it may affect future Debates, whatever happens to this one.
§ Captain Crookshank
I raised a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am sorry to press you, if it is inconvenient.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is correct in principle, but my own personal view is that when a specific matter is selected for Debate, then, so far as possible, the House should confine itself to that subject, and not range over other subjects.
§ Captain Crookshank
I take it that that is a matter of convention which is for the general convenience of the House, and which I quite accept. I wanted to have it on record, however, that it is quite possible to raise other topics if that is desired, provided legislation is not involved.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am sorry to be a bone of contention in this House. The subject of the Debate is, I understand, the efficiency of the Royal Air Force. I suggest that this is a subject which ought to be discussed from a rather wider angle, and that it should not develop into a technical discussion between experts, because we know the enthusiasm of the experts for their particular ideas about strategy; and technical experts, when they come to discuss their pet theories, should certainly be checked by the general body of public opinion represented in this House. That is to take a very much wider view than the views that have been put before the House in the speeches we have just heard. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) referred to the efficiency of the Air Force in relation to its political usage.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
May I ask the hon. Member if he does not think he is not an efficient clairvoyant?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The exact phrase the hon. and gallant Member used was "political usage of the Air Force," and he proceeded to elaborate certain technical arguments in discussing the proficiency of the Air Force. In discussing the proficiency of the Air Force my question is: to what extent does it serve the nation, and of what particular use is it to us in giving us security? I submit that we have to discuss the proficiency of the Air Force in relation to the possible usages of the Air Force. What is the purpose of the Air Force in the Middle East, for example? It is to protect certain strategic interests, and the efficiency of the Air Force must be considered in relation to the question whether or not it achieves that purpose. I suggest that when the efficiency of the Air Force is such that five machines are shot down with loss of life, it passes outside purely technical, tactical, strategical and academic considerations, and that the efficiency of the Royal Air Force must be judged according to wider considerations, which we all have in mind.
400 I am an ordinary layman, and not a technical expert in warfare at all. I am not a technical expert in the use of bombers and fighters. I want to know how this efficiency can be considered in relation to the broad general question of security. I challenge the whole conception put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentlemen who have spoken, that the Air Force is a guarantee of security and safety. I have the greatest possible fear that if this argument is developed, and if we relate it to the policy of the Government, we shall be involved in enormous expenditure. The experts in air warfare will want this, that and the other thing, in times when these things cost an enormous amount of money. After we have piled up a huge bill for the Air Force, I fear, we shall not get the security that this House would wish to obtain for the people of these islands.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member challenges the House. Perhaps he would say what he would do with the Air Force if he were in charge of it? Would he scrap it, or what would he do with it?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am coming to the question of what I would do with the Air Force. I would certainly say, "Scrap it." I have not made any bones about that in this House. I say the nation would be better off without an Air Force, and that in atomic warfare the people of this country would be safer if we had no Air Force at all.
§ Mr. Hughes
When you arrived, Mr. Speaker, I thought my difficulties were over, but I find they are only beginning. However, I was diverted from my argument only by the interjection of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey). Perhaps, at another time I shall be able to answer his question in great detail and, at least, to my own satisfaction. But I am not at all satisfied that we have an efficient Air Force for the purpose of protecting the security and life of the people of this country. I do not believe that the Air Force, with all the bombers and fighters, can stop the atomic bomb. It is, surely, recognised in the world today that the next war will be fought with rockets, with atomic energy. I fail to see that the hon. 401 and gallant Member for Macclesfield produced any ideas to show that the Air Force is becoming any more efficient in that respect.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman has said something which I think is most unfair, and I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker. I was dealing only with the efficiency of the Air Force within itself, and not with strategy.
§ Mr. Speaker
Under the Rules of Order pertaining to the Adjournment the hon. Member can wander widely. There is no protection.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I submit that this is a wider matter than the technical arguments produced by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield. He knows as well as I do that in the later stages of the last war atomic bombs were dropped in Japan. If he is not to heed those lessons, if he imagines that we should build up an Air Force on the lines of the one we had in the last war, on the theory that bombers and fighters will be employed in the next war as in the last war, I say that the hon. and gallant Member is under a delusion.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Assuming that the British Air Force is scrapped, does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Russians should keep their Air Force at its present strength?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
That is a further invitation to me to digress outside the limits of this Debate. If necessary, I am prepared to deal with that point at the proper time. I am trying to bring the hon. and gallant Gentleman down to an appreciation of the fact that we are living in an age of atomic bombs, and no evidence has been produced to show how fighters and bombers and the sort of Air Force in which the hon. and gallant Member served so gallantly in the last war are relevant to atomic warfare, which is no longer a dream but a reality. We have reached the stage of rocket warfare. I do not know how the R.A.F. can possibly prevent rockets descending on this country. I discussed this question with technical experts in America, and I listened to the American Secretary for Air, Mr. Symington, addressing a meeting in New York on the question of the Berlin air lift. There are certain aspects of the air lift which 402 have to be considered. The argument produced on that occasion was that the air lift was not only to help the starving people of Berlin, but was also a sort of practice for what might happen if war should, unfortunately, come again.
The hon. and gallant Member talked about attracting people into the Air Force. For what are we attracting people into the Air Force, and teaching them to bomb? I presume that we teach our bombers to obliterate the enemy. We used the weapon of the bomber in the last war, as the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn) has pointed out, for the purpose of obliterating the enemy and the civil population. If we had war tomorrow, and war in the air with the Russians, and Berlin became the headquarters of the Russian Air Force, I have no doubt that we would forget all about our sympathy with the civilian population of Berlin and proceed to obliterate it, as the Americans obliterated Hiroshima. I object very strongly to taking our young people and training them to be what they must be in the next war—just mass murderers. That is the reality of every war. There is no guarantee that an atomic bomb will not be dropped on a city of one million people. Whether that city is German or Russian, there are human beings in it, just the same. What we are doing is to train our young fellows in the R.A.F. in technical efficiency for the purpose of mass murder.
Even so, I presume that the question of the efficiency of the Air Force must be considered in relation to strategy in the Middle East. The Air Force is in the Middle East for what purpose? In the old days it used to be said that we needed the whole area of the Middle East for the defence of India; but now we have no India to defend, and I wonder whether we are justified in spending a great deal of money in the Middle East and on the R.A.F. for the purposes which have produced the unfortunate results which are apparent just now. Mount Sinai has come into the news after 5,000 years. Mount Sinai is in the wilderness. We were told that Moses was taking the people out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. Today, men are taking us away from the Promised Land and back into the wilderness.
403 What is the truth about our bases in the Middle East and our collection of aeroplanes in the Middle East? I have frequently pointed out in this House that the Middle East is regarded as a potential base of attack upon the oilfields of Russia. That is the truth, and the Minister of Defence cannot deny it. He cannot deny that at one stage of the last war—and it has been discussed in detail in the Swedish White Book—the Allies had a plan, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, for bombing the oilfields of the Caucasus. If we face the fact, that is exactly the purpose for which we need bases for the R.A.F. in the Middle East today. I would feel safer in this country if we had no Air Force at all, because I do not know how the Air Force can defend this country with its congested population in the event of atomic air war. I suggest that although this may be wide of the discussion, and may not deal with organisation, flights, day-to-day tactics, and strategy, this is the background against which we must consider every item of expenditure on the Royal Air Force.
I was sorry for the Minister yesterday when he tried to defend the impossible case which he had to defend. If we did not have an Air Force in the Middle East, we would not have Members on the Government Front Bench trying to extricate themselves from such an impossible position. I believe that the people of this country would be very much reassured if we took away our aeroplanes from the Middle East, as we have taken them out of India. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say that in certain parts of the world we have given the people Home Rule, and that we have cleared out. We have heard all sorts of prophecies in this House about the terrible things that would happen in India when we left India. Why should we not leave the Middle East as well?
Cannot we get all the education, enthusiasm and technical experience of our young people and harness it to constructive work? When talking about the efficiency of the R.A.F., we should consider what the R.A.F. is for and what our strategy is for. On every possible occasion, those of us who challenge this assumption, and say that we have to consider it against the broad background of creative activity and the building up of 404 a new world, should put this point of view before the House.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I understand that there is an agreement whereby we shall soon pass to another subject, and I should not like anyone to think that the interest of this House as a whole, or of my hon. and gallant Friends, in the R.A.F. is merely limited to this short Debate. It should be made quite clear that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) was fortunate enough to select this subject for an Adjournment Debate, and that it should not be regarded as a full-dress discussion of all the range of topics involved in the strategical purposes of the R.A.F. or. indeed, in its internal organisation.
I imagine that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for raising this topic because it is a preview of the discussions which are bound to take place on his Estimates in a comparatively short time. He will then find that there will be a lot further to be said on both sides of the House about what is I think true—a certain feeling of anxiety about the Royal Air Force today. It may be in the Force itself, as my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, and it certainly is elsewhere. There have been disquieting reports, and disquieting things have been said by high R.A.F. officers, both serving and retired, about their own problems, which will have to be probed. If I may say so, the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself is doing a good deal of probing. I understand he is doing a great deal of visiting of the Royal Air Force up and down the country, and I hope that as a result of those visits and his staff consultations, which presumably will take place afterwards, he will be able himself to form a sound estimate of what is wrong, if anything is wrong, and will be able to come forward later on with some of the answers, which he may not be able to give tonight to my hon. and gallant Friend's questions.
It certainly does seem that on the more obvious points, such as pay, housing and amenities, which are basic to the contentment of the men themselves, there are grievances of all kinds. However, I hope it will not go out that necessarily all 405 accommodation in the Royal Air Force is bad, because I must say that I was indeed pleased a few months ago, when the Americans first came over, to find how delighted the Americans were with the good accommodation in our own R.A.F. stations to which they came, compared with what they had been having to use in the United States during recent months. I think it should go on record that our good is probably the best that can be had. The trouble is that there is not enough of it. I hope that it will be the aim of the Secretary of State to do his best to improve the bad and to see that what is good does not deteriorate.
My hon. and gallant Friend touched upon one topic of enormous interest and extreme importance, and that is discipline. It may be that from the very nature of the case the Royal Air Force has had to adopt for that purpose different bases from those of the other two Services; but if I may venture a criticism—seeing it as I have done for so many years, because my constituency is one in which famous squadrons have always been posted—it is of the tremendously rapid changes and repostings of officers, particularly station commanders. I am not fully acquainted with the details of these things, but it must surely be wrong to change the stations commander too frequently. Almost every Recess when I go to the local station I find somebody new in command. That, of course, must militate against the commanding officer's own morale, because on coming there he has a house, and then in perhaps five, six or eight months he is sent off to another station, with all the complication and expense of moving house, particularly if he is married and has children. I do hope that a little more stability can be given in that type of command.
In the Army an officer who gets command of a battalion has a reasonable expectation that he will command that battalion for a certain period. But from my inquiries I do not find that there is any reasonable expectation, at present at any rate, for officers of that rank in the Royal Air Force. That applies not only to officers of that rank. Not very long ago I heard of a quite junior officer who over the last three and a half years had averaged not more than two months on one station; almost as soon as he had 406 arrived and unpacked his bag, and before he got to know his messmates, he was sent off somewhere else.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will examine that problem, which I think is fundamental to discipline. It is fundamental to the real basis of Discipline—in my view at any rate—which is that the officer should know his men. I quite agree that in the Royal Air Force the same responsibility is not put upon all officers. Indeed, that was part of the complaint of my hon. and gallant Friend. The same responsibility for looking after their men is not put upon Royal Air Force officers as is put upon officers of the Army or Navy. The system is different, and I am not quarrelling with that, if that be the right answer. But certainly if constant changes are taking place in all ranks it is made almost impossible to achieve a real basis of interest in the men themselves. What follows from that, and is indeed part of it, is the attention to welfare. Welfare cannot be divorced from—to use the awful modern phrase—man-management. Welfare cannot be put out to the expert and the technician; it must be a problem as between the officer and the men under his direct command.
The other difficulty to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred was overspecialisation. He, of course, knows far more than I could possibly know about that problem, but there again I wonder whether some of the difficulty which is being experienced by the Royal Air Force is not due to the fact that the recruiting posters and circulars, which call attention to the openings for so many different trades and groupings of work in the Force itself, do tend to make those entering the Royal Air Force—and I just ask the question—look far more at the job they are to do, which may be useful to them when they leave the Royal Air Force, than feel that they are entering a military organisation whose job is, not so much to train this, that and the other kind of tradesman, as to train something which is one of the three great Forces upon which this country depends for its safety at all times. I wonder whether, before a man ever gets into the R.A.F., the emphasis is not being put a little too much upon what is to happen to him after he leaves the Royal Air Force? I am not certain that the appeal is entirely rightly conceived today.
407 These are just obiter dicta on my part, but I have been wanting to put those two points to the Secretary of State for a long time. I hope he will give them and the other points raised in the Debate full consideration, even if he cannot answer them all tonight. I will end by saying that I hope none of the criticisms, and weighty criticisms, which have been made from different parts of the House will be held to mean that we in any way denigrate the value of the Royal Air Force or fail to appreciate the wonderful service it has rendered and is still rendering to the nation. Certainly not. One can criticise administrative matters without casting any slur upon a great Service, and I hope that is perfectly clear. I do not know about the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—eccentric views are all part of the conglomeration of Parliament—but we hope that no one will think that we do not all feel that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has a tremendous responsibility in his job. After all, Parliament votes enormous sums of money, and if as a result of the criticisms made improvements follow and we get a more efficient instrument for our policies, that is what we require.
My last word would be this. I hope that this year at any rate the right hon. and learned Gentleman will find it possible a little more to lift the veil of secrecy which has hung over the Royal Air Force ever since the war. We still do not know its strength; we still do not know how effective an instrument it is today. The information which was available before the war on all Service matters is not yet given to Parliament, and for my own part I cannot see why it should not be. The dangers of 1949 are really no greater in that respect than were the dangers of 1939, yet in 1939 far more generous information was given than is vouchsafed to us today. I hope that that also will receive the consideration of the right hon. and learned Gentleman before we come to the detailed Estimates. Tonight we have had a short preview, with pointed comments from my hon. and gallant Friend which I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to answer.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
Recently a spate of criticism in various parts of the country 408 has been levelled against the Royal Air Force, and, like the unbalanced state of the Force, a great deal of that criticism is also unbalanced. Tonight, we are grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for raising these matters. Whatever differences there may be on other issues, we are certainly on common ground in concerning ourselves with the welfare and effectiveness of one of our defence Services. All the speeches which have been concerned with the state of the Royal Air Force have, in my opinion, been on a constructive basis, and directed towards helping the Royal Air Force. I should like, in turn, to deal with most of the points that have been raised on that basis. There may be some with which I am not able to deal, but I will certainly take steps to follow them up with the necessary information.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield raised the question of conscripts, and argued that conscription will never suit the Royal Air Force. Let me at once admit that a properly manned Air Force must have, as its hard core, a large proportion of highly-trained regular personnel; indeed, that is what we are seeking to achieve. At present, therefore, the size and striking power of the Royal Air Force are restricted by the fact that we have not the balanced pyramid of trained manpower behind the front line, which modern equipment must have if it is to be properly operated. The explanation of this is, of course, that since the end of the war, as the House well knows, the Royal Air Force has demobilised over one million men.
As regards the regular strength of the Force, this was only 40,000 at the end of the war, of whom 20,000 have since left the Force. At present we have 20,000 men in the Force who were serving in 1939. The regular strength today stands at about 125,000, but I frankly admit that a large number of officers, airmen and airwomen have, at present, far less experience than would be considered necessary in normal times. Of the 100,000 regular airmen and airwomen, 50,000 have less than three years' experience, while only 20,000 were serving in 1939.
The effective strength of the Royal Air Force is, therefore, lower than the figures of its strength might suggest for the following reasons: First, because the 409 average level of experience is very low; second, there is a serious lack of balance between the trades. Some trades are seriously under-manned while there are surpluses in others. We have deficiencies in the radar trades—the radar fitter and the radar mechanic—as well as the wireless fitter and the wireless mechanic, whereas we have a surplus of aircraft fitters and engine fitters, which are just as important trades. That is the state in which we find ourselves today. Third, as one would expect in these conditions, the proportion of men in training at present is high and that, in itself, reacts upon the proportion of staff necessary to engage in training.
While we are building up the hard core of regulars, therefore, the National Service man is indispensable. At present, for example, there are 109,000 National Service men out of a total of 210,000 airmen who are in the ground trades of the Force. In the past the National Service men, owing to their length of service—this was mostly during the war and after when the average service was two years plus—have often been as valuable as the regular airmen. With the reduced period of 18 months they continue to be essential to fill our manpower requirements. Moreover, although National Service does not provide us with highly skilled, fully trained reserves, it does ensure that the National Service man, who goes to the Reserve, is a semi-skilled tradesman, who will, at any rate, be of some value in the event of a new emergency.
Before leaving the question of the conscript, it indicates the attraction that the Royal Air Force still has for the youth of our country when I state that in December last 22,000 young men opted for the Royal Air Force out of 59,000 called up; of these 22,000 more than 4,000 expressed a preference for flying duties. That is a very interesting commentary on that particular side of the problem.
None the less it is our policy that the highest possible proportion of the strength of the Royal Air Force should consist of regulars. It is for this reason that we are seeking, as the Prime Minister said last night, in his broadcast, to stimulate recruiting to the maximum practical extent. We are receiving, in the Royal Air Force, as in the case of 410 the Army, assistance from those who are connected with parties other than the Government party. On the question of recruiting, it is only right to say that we are still not attracting enough regular recruits of the right type and quality, but it would be a mistake to think that the present state is as unsatisfactory as is sometimes implied by statements made both in the House and outside.
Bearing in mind that we have serious-handicaps which did not exist before the war, it is no mean achievement to have maintained the regular recruiting figures at their present rate. I say this in no party spirit, but as a fact, that with the single exception of 1938, the present rate of recruiting exceeds anything which we achieved before the war. In 1937, for example, the intake was about 14,000; in 1948 it was nearly 20,000, and since 1st January, 1946, we have secured well over 100,000 regular recruits. That is no mean record, and it puts a more favourable gloss on the situation than might otherwise have been the case.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Surely, before the war the Royal Air Force was very much smaller in numbers, the equipment was less complicated and no National Service men were required? The total figure was considerably lower.
§ Mr. Henderson
Oh, yes. I was not making a party point. Today, we have a competitor in the fact that we have full employment and a reasonable level of wages, and that has a bearing on the recruiting problem. The Royal Air Force, in 1938, had a Regular strength of 110,000 to 120,000. From what one reads in the newspapers, one would think that the source of supply had almost completely dried up, that people were indifferent to the Royal Air Force and that the youth of the country was no longer interested. I am entitled to point out that in the last two or three years, although we have not got sufficient numbers, we have, nevertheless, recruited well over 100,000.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
It would be helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could express the recruitment for 1947 and 1948 in terms of percentages of the total personnel in the Royal Air Force. We should get a better picture of how recruiting is going if that were possible.
§ Mr. Henderson
I cannot do that now, but I will have it done. It will depend on what the respective targets were, and I am not able to say what they were at the moment. I will certainly obtain that Information for the hon. Member.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
My right hon. and learned Friend said that 100,000 people had been recruited since 1946. Can he say what percentage of those were trained airmen who re-engaged, and can therefore be used for N.C.O. instructor duties? How many are ab initio and are of comparatively little use to the Royal Air Force until they are trained?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am diffident about drawing on my memory where statistics are concerned, but my recollection is that 28,000 are what we call "bounty men" who have re-engaged for three, four or five years. That suggests that the best part of 70,000 came direct from civil life.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield made comments about exercise "Sunrise" which took place recently, and was somewhat critical about the information department of the Air Ministry. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling) supported him. During the 15 months during which I have served in the Air Ministry I have usually found the information department extremely efficient. Blame cannot always be placed on an information department if there is little publicity of the kind required, because we must have the co-operation of the newspapers. While I certainly have no complaint to make against the newspapers, it is for them to decide to what extent and when they will afford space for the information supplied by the Air Ministry. In connection with "Sunrise," it is true that there were difficulties with one important national newspaper in which I was engaged in controversy, but, broadly speaking, the newspapers adequately published the statements which were issued by the Air Ministry giving the Air Ministry's explanation of what took place during that operation.
§ Mr. Teeling
I was not present when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) referred to those points, but I have always found the public relations department at the Air Ministry extremely efficient. It now very often finds itself in 412 the position of not being given enough of the right material to sell to the public though that is not its fault.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am very glad to have the hon. Gentleman's testimonial to the efficiency of that branch of the Department. It is well deserved. It may well be that a good deal of material is put out through the information department but it is for the newspapers to decide to what extent they will publish it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) referred to discipline in the Royal Air Force. The subject of re-posting has given me a great deal of anxiety because in my travels I have come in contact with station commanders, probably married men with families, who have been moved to new posts after six or eight months at a particular station. I do not think that is the case by and large throughout the Force. However, we have had additional difficulties by reason of the rundown of personnel. During the war many station commanders were temporary officers and they have been going out under the release scheme. There have been constant vacancies as a result. Those posts have had to be filled.
That probably meant advancement for certain station commanders—such as from a three-squadron station to a four-squadron station—but to some extent re-posting has been inevitable. I agree entirely with what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said when he deprecated re-postings which could be avoided. I will look into the matter again and satisfy myself that everything is being done, as I believe it is, to minimise re-postings.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was somewhat critical of present leadership in the Force. I believe the hon. Member for Brighton also referred to the need for opportunities for youth. I can, at any rate, say that as a beginning we have just appointed one of the most brilliant fighter-leaders of the war as Commander-in-Chief, Fighter Command, at the age of 46. Air Vice-Marshal Huddleston, whose age is, I believe, 40, has been appointed to a very important post in connection with Western Union defence arrangements. That is a beginning on the road on which those hon. Members wish us to travel.
413 It is true that the standards of morale in the Royal Air Force are not entirely satisfactory at present. There are several reasons for this. By the time the war ended the Royal Air Force had expanded many times over, to a peak strength of 1,250,000 men and women. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that as a result there was an acute shortage of experienced officers and non-commissioned officers, and officers and airmen with pre-war experience were often promoted to assume responsibilities for which they had not the necessary background and training. Moreover, during the war trained officers were pre-occupied with operational tasks. General duties officers, in particular, had very little time to devote to the welfare of the ground airmen. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said—and I have always taken that view—one cannot attach too much importance to the welfare of the men. I believe that the real test of a fighting Force lies in the morale of the Force as well as in its training, and its morale depends upon the way the personnel are looked after. That does not mean bedroom lamps or taking the men breakfast in bed; it just means giving them reasonable living conditions, reasonable prospects of a career, and the assurance and feeling that they are being treated as human beings and not merely as machines.
The deterioriation in discipline and morale led the Air Council, at the end of 1946, to issue instructions to Commanders-in-Chief that steps were to be taken to secure a marked and steady improvement in the discipline of the Service. I know the term "man management" is not a colourful one, but specific training in man management is given during officer training and at various stages of his career an officer will fill posts in which this responsibility is pronounced. The effect of this re-emphasis on the responsibility of the junior officers will only be felt gradually throughout the Service, as time passes.
It would take me some time to deal with the many points that have been raised, so I will deal with one on the technical side. After all, this is a technical Force. The hon. and gallant Member raised a measure of criticism of the three-prong system. First I will deal with centralised servicing, which is a new scheme in the Force. This means 414 that certain operations are carried out centrally on a station instead of separately in each squadron or flight. No doubt in the early days the practice was to do the servicing in the flight, but now it is by no means a revolutionary departure because in some cases workshops were centralised on stations before the war. All that has happened has been that the centralising of servicing has been carried a little further. The object is simply to save manpower. This is not a question of planning in relation to any political programme; this is a scheme that has been evolved within the Service itself by the officers who have spent their lives in the Service, and who, apparently, have come to the conclusion that this method would save skilled manpower. It works out that a given number of men in a central scheme can do the work of a much larger number of tradesmen separated into small parties. There is also a saving in that they need fewer highly trained supervisors.
The objection, as was pointed out, is that the squadron tends to become less of a self-contained unit, but we cannot put the clock back. For one thing, we cannot afford, either in war or peace, to waste skilled men and, for another, whether we like it or not, the days are past when the general duties officer could have enough technical knowledge to supervise all the work of technical servicing. No doubt, in the past, when firearms were first introduced it was pointed out that the use of the bow was beter for the physique and probably for the moral qualities of the troops, but there comes a point when technical efficiency must over-ride such considerations if wars are to be won. On the other hand, we have not been led blindfold by the technicians in this matter, because the dangers of too centralised a system have been well known for many years. I do not believe, that centralisation in the Royal Air Force has been carried to the limit. For example, daily servicing has been left with the squadrons under the squadron commanders.
The three-prong system, to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, is as he knows, not a product of the centralised system. It is quite different. It is simply a recognition of the fact that the responsibilities of the R.A.F. commander lie in three main fields: flying, administration and servicing. I, for one, would not under 415 estimate the tremendous importance which the hon. and gallant Gentleman attaches to flying, and to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) referred in his jocular remark at the beginning of his speech, but I think they will both agree that there would be little flying done if there were not the most efficient and adequate servicing behind it. Therefore we have divided this responsibility into these three categories which provide the commander of the station with a deputy in each field. The head of the flying staff is, of course, a general duties officer, and the head of the administrative staff is frequently one. The head of the technical staff is normally a technical officer and, I think, rightly so.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the Royal Air Force Regiment, and asked why it was necessary to have such a body in existence. There may be two views about the Royal Air Force Regiment; there probably are. There may be others besides the hon. and gallant Gentleman who take the view that there is no need for it, but the primary and most important task of the Regiment is to work out and keep alive the technique of airfield defence—infiltration, saboteurs, air attack by parachutists. We all know from the experiences of the Second World War how important it is, and how disastrous it was in many cases when airfields which were not properly defended by ground Forces were attacked by parachutists. Therefore we seek to do two things: to provide an Armed Force which will have the responsibility of providing for the defences of airfields, and also provide skilled instructors to train the R.A.F. as a whole in ground combat.
After all, this is a technical force. Its primary function is not ground combat but, in days of modern war, it is common ground that anyone concerned in any one of the three Services, even though it may be in an administrative capacity, should be trained to play his part in the event of sudden attack, for example, by parachutists. The task of defending its airfields falls on the Royal Air Force as a whole, and this means that the R.A.F. personnel on any station, whatever their individual trades, must be capable of 416 providing the bulk of the defence Force. The full-time Royal Air Force Regiment which, incidentally, at the moment totals only about 2½ per cent. of the strength of the whole Royal Air Force, is the means by which we seek to achieve that end.
With regard to the extra flying pay for the general duties officer above the rank of flying officer, the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that the general duties officer of these ranks should be given extra flying pay. He said that in the General Duties Branch the inclusive rate of flying officers and pilot officers is 3s. a day higher than that for officers of the non-professional ground branches, but that the rates for the higher ranks are the same as those for the corresponding ranks of the ground branches. He was quite fair in admitting that there are compensations. The General Duties Branch officers receive compensation in that they receive promotion to flight lieutenant after 3½ years' total service, as compared with six years in the Secretarial and Equipment Branches.
Promotion to the higher ranks, of course, is by selection to meet establishment requirements, but it is anticipated that General Duties Branch officers will, on the average, be promoted to squadron leader four years, and to wing commander six years earlier than officers of the Technical Branch. I consider that that is a very reasonable compensation for the alteration which took place in 1945 after the new code came into operation whereby this extra flying pay was restricted to the junior officers of the G.D. Branch.
In conclusion, I echo the words of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), and, in spite of any misgivings there might be, I have certainly never sought to mislead the House or the nation by under-estimating the difficulties which confront the Royal Air Force today in view of the position in which it finds itself following the three years of rundown. I hope that when we have to deal with the Estimates I shall be in a position, if not to give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman all the information for which he asks, at any rate to submit a progress report indicating that we are seeking to carry out what I said we would try to do in my Estimates speech last March— 417 to commence building up what I called the third Royal Air Force. I said then that that would take time. I said, for example, that many of the trades in groups A and B take up to two years to train. I have already said tonight that 100,000 have come in during the last three years. To borrow a phrase which was used yesterday, I think it would be a criminal act on my part, or on the part of any other responsible Minister dealing with the Royal Air Force, to suggest that in a matter of months, or even a year or two years, we shall be able to produce an efficient and balanced Air Force comparable with what we had in the peak days during the war.
I believe, however, that in spite of the difficulties with which the Royal Air Force is confronted today, the spirit of the officers and men, on the whole, is extremely good; that in spite of the suggestions which have been made in various quarters outside this House, the morale throughout the Service on the whole is good, that, broadly speaking, discipline, although it can always be improved, is not in such a state as to cause us any anxiety, and that there is still a great deal of pride throughout all ranks of the Royal Air Force and a feeling that they are well able and willing to maintain, if necessary, the great traditions of the Royal Air Force of the past.