§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I am today asking the House to approve the sum of £207½ million, which is an increase of £.34½ million on the original estimates for 1948–49. Allowing for the Supplementary Estimate of £16½ million for the current year the net increase is just over £18 million.
Vote A shows the maximum number of officers, airmen and airwomen who may be maintained at any time during the year. As I forecast in my speech last year, women are now full members of the Royal Air Force and in view of their long and fine tradition of service, their new status as Regulars is a most welcome development. In general they will have the same work as men and the same opportunities of promotion over a wide range of Air Force work, trades and duties. The number authorised under Vote A is 255,000, which includes 18,000 personnel on release or terminal leave. In fact, the number of personnel actually in the Service during the coming year will be less, and until recently we anticipated that it would be 232,000 on 1st April next, reducing to 213,000 at the end of the year. Arrangements have, however, been made to accelerate release during the last fortnight of this month of a considerable number of early 1947 National Service entrants from our surplus trades somewhat before their due dates, and I anticipate that this will have the effect of reducing the strength at 1st April to 224,000.
In introducing the Air Estimates last year, I told the House that we were engaged in building the third Royal Air Force. I should like now to say something of the way in which that task is being tackled. First and most important, we are working to a definite plan 1929 with a definite target, but an Air Force cannot be built in a few months or even in a year or two. It is a continuing process in which every step must be related to the objective—the creation of a force adequate in size and shape for the work it has to do in peace time, and for the tasks it will be called upon to do in an emergency. We have set ourselves such a target and stage by stage we are working towards it. That is not to say that the target is unalterably fixed. We must be prepared to recast our forces and realign them when the pattern of Western Union defence and of any action which we may be called upon to take as a result of the Atlantic Pact has been settled.
But while the balance of our Force may be altered as time goes on, and while we must be prepared at all times to adapt our planning not only to altered circumstances in the international field or in the national economy, as well as to keep in step with scientific and technical development, our broad aim remains fixed and unchanging—to build up an air force composed of the latest types of jet fighters, day and night, of jet bombers and of equally advanced aircraft in other roles. I should have liked to give the House details of the stage in the development of this plan which we have reached today and of the plan itself, but, as has been explained in the Debate on Defence, there are strong security reasons against giving full details. Within these limits it is my intention to give the House as much information as I can.
First, I should like to outline once again and very briefly the functions and duties of the Royal Air Force. Its primary task is to build up a force of a size, shape, and quality which is sufficient, in association with forces of like minded powers, to deter any would-be aggressor. To achieve this we must build up not only a highly developed organisation for the close air defence of the United Kingdom, but also a striking force which will be both a vital element in our defence, and, as an offensive weapon, an effective deterrent. In addition, we must also maintain an efficient training organisation which, in the event of war, could rapidly be adjusted to meet the needs of a greatly expanded Service. Meanwhile the R.A.F. must be able to undertake the many 1930 world-wide responsibilities with which it is faced from day to day.
As far as the size of the force is concerned, it has several times been made clear that the years immediately after the war would have to be a time of contraction and reorganisation, when the training and other supporting formations of the force would have to be enlarged at the expense of the front line. I am glad to say that we are coming to the end of that period, and can start reversing the process. In spite of the fact that the manpower of the force is being reduced, we are proposing to make two major changes in the front line. We are doubling the strength of Fighter Command's jet fighter force. This process should be completed by the middle of next year.
§ Mr. Henderson
I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would like to draw me into giving numbers.
§ Mr. Henderson
No, there is not.
The House will remember that last Autumn the Government announced that the production of jet fighters would be greatly expanded, and the supplies for the doubling of our strength will be found 1931 out of this increased production. Moreover, our expansion will not be limited to the defensive element. We are now beginning to put into effect the first stage of our planned programme for increasing the front line strength of our bomber striking force. At the same time we shall be proceeding with the re-equipping of the day fighter and ground attack squadrons overseas, which will be getting jet fighters in increasing numbers, so that by June of next year the process should be complete. The Supplementary Estimate of £16.4 million contains a quite considerable sum for the accelerated production of these and other aircraft. Similar developments are taking place in the flying squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. But I do not propose at this stage to say more about this aspect of current development, as I shall have an opportunity of dealing with it later on, on the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg).
I should now like to deal with our re-equipment programme. I shall take jet fighters first. The latest Marks of Meteor and Vampire with which our fighter squadrons are equipped have a very much better performance than the original versions and are still the finest fighters in service today in any part of the world. Nevertheless, replacement types are already under development whose performance will be as much in advance of present types as those types are themselves in advance of the first jet fighters. I can say with confidence that the lead which we at present hold in day fighters will be maintained in the future.
As far as night fighters are concerned, though the Mosquito in its latest version is well able to deal with present-day types of night bomber, night fighters of much better performance will be needed in the future. Orders have been placed for the production of a jet engined night fighter which has been under development. This night fighter will have a performance which greatly exceeds that of the Mosquito, and in particular will have a speed approximating to that of our other types of jet fighter. In my Estimates speech last year I said that we had deferred reequipping our bomber force with jet bombers until the new jet engines with which future types are to be equipped had been fully proved.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the subject of jet engines and night bombers and fighters, can he tell the House—or can the Under-Secretary when he replies—whether the problem of flame traps for jet aircraft at night has been overcome?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am not in a position at this moment to answer that question, but I shall have an answer prepared for my hon. and gallant Friend.
I should like to explain the reasons for this decision with regard to jet bombers. At the end of the war we had two alternatives. We could have developed at great cost a type of jet bomber built around existing jet engines and existing equipment. Alternatively, we could have gone in for the development of another piston-engined type, larger, heavier and more costly than the Lincoln. Either course would have produced at great cost a bomber of only limited and very temporary value which would have become obsolete in a relatively short space of time. Moreover, the design and development of such aircraft would have made demands on our limited technical resources which would inevitably led to further delay in producing a really advanced type. It was therefore decided at the end of the war—at a time when the international situation was viewed in a different light to what it is today and at a time when military expenditure had to be cut to a minimum in the interests of national recovery—to concentrate our efforts on a long-term development of advanced jet bombers.
I regret that for obvious reasons of security I cannot give the House details of the performances which we hope these aircraft will achieve, nor of the dates by which they may be expected to come into squadron service. I can, however, say that our broad aim is to produce jet bombers capable of speeds, heights and ranges far greater than we have attained with our previous piston-engined types. To secure this, many problems have had to be and are still being solved. I should like to refer to one of these. Speed can only be obtained, without an unreasonable increase in fuel consumption and a consequent decrease in bomb load, by flying at greater heights than hitherto. Flying at these heights means of course 1933 pressurised cabins in order that the crew may carry out their exacting tasks.
We are in fact entering a completely new era in flying. In aerodynamics, in aeronautical engineering, in radar and in navigational equipment revolutionary developments are called for and are in fact taking place. But all this takes time and for that reason we have had under development a twin jet bomber which is less revolutionary than the advanced jet bomber to which I have referred. This aircraft will be capable of a speed approximately twice that of the Lincoln, with which Bomber Command is at present equipped, that is, a speed approaching 500 miles per hour. Orders have been placed for its production. Its introduction into the Service will be a great step towards our recovering in the bomber field the technical lead we already hold in the fighter field. The present position is therefore that we have placed orders for the production in quantity of a twin jet bomber and a twin jet night fighter.
Other new types of aircraft which are coming into service include the Valetta medium range transport, which is a replacement for the American Dakota on which we have had to rely for so long. The first squadrons of Hastings, which are replacing the York as a long range transport aircraft, are already in service and indeed already playing their part on the Berlin airlift, and we shall continue with the re-equipment of these long-range squadrons. The Shackleton is a new long-range general reconnaissance land plane for Coastal Command, and it is to be introduced into squadron service in the course of the year. This aircraft has just made its first flight and will greatly increase the effectiveness of this vital command.
During the last war shore-based aircraft of Coastal Command were responsible for nearly one-third of the U-boats destroyed. The defence of convoys against submarine attack will still be their main task in any future war. We are doing all we can to keep up to date the operational experience gained in the last war, and to increase the effectiveness of aircraft in detection and attack by developing new equipment and weapons. To this end, each coastal group carries out not only major exercises with units of the Fleet but special small-scale exercises with submarines. We hope that this co-operation will be of use and value 1934 to both Services and that it will be extended. Moreover, every squadron in Coastal Command goes through a course every year at the Anti-Submarine School which is directed jointly by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
The facts that I have given are an indication of the way in which our plan is developing, but its achievement will ultimately depend on manpower. In this field we face serious difficulties both now and for some time to come. The present position is that we have about 126,000 Regulars and some 102,000 National Service men, making a present total of about 228,000. I frankly admit that this is a larger number than would be needed for the present requirements of the Service were it not for the very great unbalance of the trades and the great shortage of experience within the total. Apart from the fact that Regulars were not recruited during the war, the inescapable results of the age-and-service scheme are such that we have had to start almost from the ground in building the Regular Service again. There are only 20,000 Regular airmen now in the Force who were serving in 1939, and even all these have not had the broad experience of management and leadership that one would wish for as the background for their work as N.C.Os. in training and supervising the National Service men and the Regular recruits. This year 80,000 men and women are to leave the Force. This means that, however many recruits come in, the Air Force will for some time be short of that kind of supervision among its N.C.Os. which only time can give.
Whilst this is the situation in most trades and categories in the R.A.F., the unbalance of trades is such that in a few we have actually surpluses of senior N.C.O.s, particularly in the skilled aircraft fitter trades. One consequence of this is that we have often been compelled to offer potential recruits from among former N.C.O.s entry in a much lower rank than we should wish. This is due to the fact that the balance of the Air Force has altered considerably since before the war. Our principal shortages of skilled and experienced Regulars are in the radio and administrative trades, the lack of skilled radio men being due to the fact that the Air Force had practically no radar before the war, because that was a comparatively new development. Even so, the Royal Air Force still needs as 1935 many Regular recruits as it can get. In 1948, 25,484 men and women were recruited as officers, aircrew and ground tradesmen. The average rate for the year was better than that of any pre-war year except 1938. There was a marked increase in the last quarter of the year, although we have not sufficient evidence yet to say whether this increase will be maintained. All I can say is that the position is better than it was, but still far from satisfactory and we shall need all the help the nation can give us.
The emphasis which I have just placed on Regular recruiting does not mean that we have no need of the National Service men. On the contrary, in present conditions we need them badly and plan to make the best possible use of their 18 months of service. It may interest the House to know that about 70 per cent. of the ground tradesmen of the R.A.F. receive six months or less training, so that the vast majority of National Service men will be able to give up to 12 months' productive service. We shall also do our best to see that the man's own preference and aptitude are taken into account in choosing his service trade. I realise, of course, that in individual cases this result has not been achieved, because of the limits imposed on us by our numerical requirements in the various trades concerned. We are also doing our best to see that as far as possible the National Service man will carry out the whole of his service at one station without being moved about. I think that the first good results of this policy can be seen in the fact that there is actually competition among National Service entrants for entry into the Royal Air Force.
It would be comparatively easy to re-plan the Air Force if we were able to concentrate on the long-term view and to accept a decline in operational effectiveness while the process of reorganisation was going on, but, in the state of the world today, the immediate commitments of the R.A.F., so far from decreasing and allowing us to concentrate on our rebuilding and giving us a breathing space, are if anything increasing.
I should like to remind the House of some of the tasks which have fallen to the lot of the Royal Air Force since I last presented the Air Estimates. First and foremost, the airlift to Berlin, Operation Plainfare. Since 28th June, on 1936 which date we reckoned for official purposes that Plainfare began, there has not been one single day on which we have failed to get supplies to Berlin. From the very first, this has been an Anglo-American operation, and the forces now taking part are organised into a single Anglo-American task force. In addition, the contribution of British civil aircraft has been invaluable, and many civil pilots have fine records in this operation.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough. West)
Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves that point, could he say what is the proportion of the R.A.F., as compared with the individual firms taking part.
§ Mr. Henderson
I think the proportion is roughly three or four to one for the Royal Air Force against the number of civil aircraft, but I do not think we should be too anxious to look upon it on the basis of proportions. The whole thing is one combined operation between the Americans, the Royal Air Force and civil aircraft. In particular, the civil aircraft have flown in the whole of the petrol and oil supplies required by the Western sectors.
Airfields both at Gatow, the principal R.A.F. base in Berlin, and in the British Zone, which were by no means suitable for the heaviest types of transport aircraft have been enlarged; existing runways have been extended and new ones built without interference to the constant movement of aircraft. I should like to say a word about the air traffic control system, which is second to none and incorporating the very latest navigational aids, and has been built up practically from scratch. In suitable weather conditions we are now able to achieve a rate of one aircraft landing and one aircraft taking off from Gatow every three minutes with the clockwork regularity we are accustomed to see on our London Tube. This is, of course, quite apart from the aircraft using the other Berlin airfields at Tempelhof and Tegel. Highly efficient Army supply and transport teams have ensured that there has always been a steady flow of supplies to the despatching airfields.
May I say a word on maintenance problems? The aircraft maintenance problems have been formidable, but ground staffs of every trade have turned to, just as hard and enthusiastically as 1937 they did in the war, and have seen to it that the aircraft have been kept flying. The achievement of the aircrews, many of whom have done more than 200 sorties, has been magnificent—a first rate job of work, requiring the highest order of flying precision and adherence to split-second time schedules in all weather conditions.
Plainfare is the biggest single task which the R.A.F. has ever been called upon to undertake in peacetime. During 1946 and 1947, when the R.A.F. was facing probably the most difficult period in its history, Transport Command set itself to establish the highest standard of flying and maintenance efficiency. The Berlin problem imposed a supreme test on that work. The inspiring way in which the test has been met is the best testimony of the spirit of the R.A.F.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the three most significant features of the airlift. First, I would say that the Berlin airlift is a great humanitarian operation. The R.A.F., which during the war carried bombs to Germany, is now engaged in carrying food and sustenance to people who were then our enemies. The skill and endurance of our aircrews are indeed being devoted to the service of humanity. These young airmen from Great Britain, the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, have set an example in the field of human endeavour which, if the world would only follow, would take us a long way on the road to world co-operation.
Secondly, it has enabled us not only to maintain our legal right to be in Berlin but also to provide the people of Berlin with the means of overcoming the blockade. In this way it has sustained the democratic resistance of the Western Berliners to Communist pressure, thereby making a positive contribution to the maintenance of peace and freedom.
Thirdly, we and the Americans have gained a knowledge of the highly complicated and technical problems connected with a major operation of this sort which is not possessed by any other country in the world. The operation has called for a flying and technical efficiency and planning ingenuity of the highest order—at times under the severest weather conditions—as the Prime 1938 Minister during his recent visit saw for himself, and to which he paid a well-deserved tribute.
Plans for maintaining and developing the airlift on a long-term basis are now being made. During the spring and summer of this year, we hope that it may be possible to make a substantial increase in the combined daily lift. Ways and means are being examined in consultation with the United States authorities. While there may be limits to the number of load carrying aircraft engaged on the operation, it may be possible to increase still further the average load carried by each individual aircraft on the run. In spite of the technical difficulties, which are still formidable, we are determined that the airlift shall be maintained for so long as the blockade of Berlin continues.
Within the last two months the Royal Air Force has been called upon to undertake another humanitarian operation, this time in the Hadhramaut. The failure of the crops had nearly brought disaster and starvation to some 80,000 Arab peoples in this remote corner of Southern Arabia. Aircraft were called down from other parts of the Middle East Command and in a short space of time the Royal Air Force were dropping the supplies of grain needed to save the situation. A few days ago, in another emergency, some 200 British civilians, men, women and children were evacuated from danger in Central Burma by aircraft from Singapore at a few hours' notice.
Meanwhile, in other ways, at home and abroad, the Royal Air Force has combined training for active operations with the constructive work of peace. The technique of air photography which was so highly developed during the war has now been turned to good account for peaceful purposes. At home. aircraft of Coastal Command have been carrying on with air survey work for various government departments. Abroad, other detachments have been engaged in an extensive air photographic survey of areas in East and West Africa, Malaya and Borneo. In these areas the Royal Air Force is doing a job which would be impracticable, or would certainly take years to do, from the ground, and is making in this way an invaluable contribution to the ultimate development of these areas.
1939 At the same time, in other parts of the world the Royal Air Force has been engaged in work no less exacting. In Malaya, it has been continuously engaged in joint operations with the Army in striking at bands of brigands in the jungle and driving them from their hideouts. These operations have illustrated convincingly the flexibility of air power. The bandit strongholds are well established and deep in the jungle, often in places visible only from the air and almost inaccessible to ground troops. Strikes by Beaufighters and Spitfires have been shown to be a quick and effective and at times the only means of bringing the offensive home to them. Transport aircraft have dropped supplies to ground troops in difficult country and far from their bases and so have enabled them to keep up the pressure against these bands. Other operations include photographic and tactical reconnaissance flights, the air transport of troops and supplies and collaboration with the Navy in sea searches for junks carrying illegal immigrants or smuggling arms. In all these ways the economical use of air power is having an important and decisive effect on these operations out of all proportion to the numbers of aircraft involved. Other operations, on a smaller scale, but none the less important, have taken place in Eritrea and in the hinterland of Aden. In every case these operations led to rapid submission.
Now I should like to deal for a moment with the training aspect. Squadrons of Bomber Command are constantly taking part in exercises which simulate active service conditions; mass attacks on Heligoland using live bombs; fighter affiliation exercises in which bomber and fighter squadrons combine in practising aerial combat are an important feature in our training programmes. In addition, bomber crews and ground staffs are being given training in the mobility which might be expected of them in war. For example, squadrons take regular turns in making visits to the Middle East where they gain experience in operating under conditions and in areas in which they have been called upon to operate in war in the past, and in which we have vital strategic interests.
In each of these exercises a supporting echelon of transport aircraft carry the 1940 maintenance personnel and spares required for the detachment. Two bomber squadrons have indeed gone further afield in the course of the last year. No. 97 (Malaya) Squadron accompanied by maintenance crews flew out to Singapore and there carried out a series of extensive exercises during the worst monsoon period before returning. No. 44 Squadron made a visit to Southern Rhodesia. In every case, as I know from my personal visits to Bomber Command, the operational atmosphere has been maintained. These exercises have provided valuable experience, not only for the aircrews, but for the wide variety of ground personnel—fitters, riggers, radio and radar mechanics, armourers, and so on—whose job it is to keep their bombers and their equipment in a high state of efficiency. Indeed, they have also been of the greatest value to the officers especially those who are required to control and direct them.
It is, of course, the case that some of our equipment is getting old—we have been living on our stocks, and, as I have said before, we have very serious shortages in some of the maintenance trades. But one of our objects in holding exercises is to find out where our weak spots are. In general, these exercises have shown quite convincingly that the standard of training of the crews and of their ability to operate under the most adverse weather conditions, sometimes worse than those through which they had to fly during the war, is very satisfactory. This year we intend to hold two major exercises in which nearly all the metropolitan air forces will take part and which will cover both our air defences and our bomber force.
Meanwhile, the work of Flying Training Command—the core and basis of all flying in the R.A.F.—goes on. It is essentially through this Command and Technical Training Command that the R.A.F. fulfils its task of building up and maintaining the front line strength and backing it with a highly efficient and readily expandable training organisation. We are making steady and convincing progress with the all-weather training programme to which I referred and which I outlined when I presented the Estimates last year. Aircraft of this Command have made frequent flights to all parts of the Commonwealth—Canada, 1941 Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ceylon, the Far East—and to the Middle East and the U.S.A. These aircraft were specially fitted to carry the latest equipment for demonstration and they carry special teams of experts able to discuss the latest training ideas and methods.
I suggest that is a very good way in which we can operate to the mutual benefit of the Air Forces of the various parts of the Commonwealth as well as of our friends in the United States. The welcome which these aircraft and their accompanying teams have received in all these countries in the past year has amply proved the value of the flights and shown the keen interest which is taken throughout the Commonwealth and elsewhere in the admirable and useful work carried out by this all-important Command of the R.A.F. In fact, we are discussing with the various Governments of the Commonwealth the possibility of exchanging complete squadrons between the R.A.F. and the Commonwealth Air Forces. While I am on the subject of visits overseas, I should like to refer specially to what was perhaps the most outstanding and inspiring achievement of the year: the first crossing of the Atlantic by jet aircraft of No. 54 Vampire Squadron which carried out highly successful demonstrations and exercises both in Canada and the U.S.A., and subsequently made the return journey across the Atlantic without incident.
That, broadly, is the picture which I wish to put before the House, of a Force which is being reorganised in accordance with a long term plan and which has at the same time to be ready at any moment to play its part in an emergency and to meet new operational commitments as they arise. Before concluding, I should like to deal with one or two of the current problems which face the R.A.F. at the moment and which react on the efficiency and the contentment of the Service as it is today. In the first place, the frequency of postings both for officers and men. This arises from various causes which I shall not now recapitulate, but I can give the House the assurance that we are taking all practicable steps to ensure greater security of tenure in a post than is the case now. There has, I think, already been some improvement, and I regard further progress as one of the most important requirements for the coming year.
1942 I should now like to deal with the problem of married quarters. When the war started in September, 1939, there were approximately 6,000 married quarters in the Royal Air Force. During the war construction stopped just as it did in the case of civilian housing. Consequently when the war ended in 1945 there was a serious shortage of married quarters. There is still a serious shortage, which has been accentuated, of course, by the increase in the size of the Royal Air Force as compared with pre-war days, although the total of permanent and temporary quarters at home and overseas has risen from about 7,550 a year ago to a present figure of 10.500. This is 1,150 more than I forecast when introducing last year's Estimates, and is a welcome improvement on what, in the circumstances, could then be anticipated. During the current year we hope to complete another 2,000 quarters of all categories, both at home and overseas. This falls short of what was achieved last year, which included the completion of 1,500 temporary quarters constructed from hutting. We are now reaching the end of these resources and available hutting is likely to be enough for only about another 300 more of these quarters. In addition, a start will he made on a further 1,400 permanent quarters.
Even with this, the total of about 12,500 quarters in use and 1,400 building at the end of next year will still he a long way short of what we need. Moreover our long term requirements are being assessed on the assumption that a much higher proportion of the Regular service will need married quarters than has been the case in the past. While I can offer no definite prospect of immediate improvements on a large scale, I must remind the House of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence in the Debate on 3rd March, when he explained that the provision of housing for the Services is as much a part of the national housing programme as for any other section of the community, and that the Government are giving urgent consideration to any practicable possibilities of expanding the present programme. I can assure those who are interested in the Royal Air Force that I have this reform very much at heart.
1943 Meanwhile, there is a substantial programme for the next 12 months, in addition to the married quarters, of new construction and reconstruction of messes, barrack blocks and technical accommodation. I have come to the conclusion, from many visits to R.A.F. stations that the need for new barrack accommodation is urgent. Many Royal Air Force units are housed in hutted camps which were never intended for peace-time occupation, and although much has been done to improve them it is essential to replace them with better and permanent accommodation as soon as possible. A further call on the Works Vote which must be met in the interest of operational efficiency is the adaptation of various existing airfields, at home and overseas, for jet fighters or heavier multi-engined aircraft. In nearly all these problems, whether it is the frequency of postings or the shortage of married quarters, progress is bound to take time, and while there are hardships, we have been able to make some real improvements during the past 12 months.
§ Wing-Commander Hulbert (Stockport)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of married quarters, would he say what is being done about the provision of prefabricated married quarters in the meantime? Will he also agree that as the Royal Air Force is our No. 1 defence, the housing of Air Force personnel should be priority No. 1 in the housing programme?
§ Mr. Henderson
I thought I indicated where my Department stood in the matter referred to in the last part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question. As regards pre-fabricated houses, I have been giving that my personal consideration. I am very much attracted to the idea of helping to solve the problem by the construction of these prefabricated married quarters, and I can say that the matter is receiving urgent consideration in the Department at this time.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government's policy is that there shall be priority for building married quarters before the provision of housing for the civilian population? For instance, is the R.A.F. having priority over miners who require houses?
§ Mr. Henderson
No, I did not say that, but in so far as there is any question of improving or expediting the provision of married quarters for the Services, as the Minister of Defence said, the Government regard this as a matter of the highest priority. I do not think that we should compare this with other sections of the population.
§ Mr. Warbey (Luton)
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the high degree of priority for married quarters for Service personnel. Will he say whether a similar degree of priority is applied to the housing of civilian personnel in the Ministry, particularly in out-stations?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am not going to be drawn into any controversy as to the relative claims of the Services and civilians. There is this point about the life of the Serviceman which does not apply to the ordinary civilian. He is under discipline. He is liable to receive orders to pack up tomorrow and to go off, and then probably in a month's time to go somewhere else. Therefore, this is a special problem. The Service man is not able to look after his own interests in the same way as a man who has a greater degree of stability in his life.
The increases of pay and marriage allowance granted last November will amount for the Royal Air Force to a total of nearly £4 million next year, compared with the old rates. I am particularly glad that we were able to give greater recognition to the highly-skilled men who are so important in a technical service such as the Royal Air Force. Airmen of all ranks in the most skilled trades now receive 10s. 6d. a week more pay than they did before last November. There has been the same increase for senior N.C.O.s in other trades. In the case of married men in these categories the increases in pay and marriage allowance amount to sums varying from 17s. 6d. to 21s. 6d. a week. In other ways, too, there have been financial improvements which are particularly helpful to the married officers as well as airmen for whom we have not yet been able to provide quarters.
For example, if a man has to live out some distance from his station, the unavoidable expenses of travel to and from his work mount up, and we have recognised that this is an extra burden for 1945 many members of the Service at the present time. They can now get special assistance to help them in this difficulty, depending on the length of their journey. Another improvement which has perhaps escaped general notice, but has nevertheless been of real value to those whom it concerns, is that provision has been made in the last year for families to travel overseas from this country under much more generous conditions than before. Improved financial arrangements are now being made to help towards the cost of moving families and furniture in this country.
Last year, I concluded my speech with an expression of confidence in the ability of the Royal Air Force to exert a powerful influence for peace, and in the response which the youth of Britain would make to the call of the Service. Today that confidence is strengthened by the knowledge of what the R.A.F. has accomplished in the Berlin air lift, and in other practical achievements. I will not pretend that the tasks to which I referred earlier have been carried out with ease. The heavy turnover of personnel, the state of unbalance in the Service, the low general level of experience and the ageing of much of our equipment have presented problems which have not been easy to overcome. But the Royal Air Force has shown once again that it can face problems which appear insoluble, and overcome difficulties which appear almost insurmountable, and I can state with confidence that the Royal Air Force of today retains in full measure the fighting spirit which made it during the war years the finest service in the world.
Much remains to be done before the third Royal Air Force is in full working order, but we are using it to good purpose while the vital task of rebuilding continues. This combination of reconstruction and current activities imposes many hardships on all the officers, airmen and airwomen who are engaged in it, but they have the real satisfaction of knowing that, by their own efforts, they are making a better Service, for themselves and for their country. There is no atmosphere of complacency amongst them, but there is pride and faith, and rightly so—pride not only for what the Royal Air Force has done in the past, but for what it is doing now, and faith in its future. These men and women, 1946 I submit, deserve our grateful thanks and our ungrudging support.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
Does the right hon. Gentleman or the Under-Secretary intend to make a statement about the progress of the A.T.C. during the last 12 months? Also, will a statement be made about the close cooperation between the R.A.F. and the United States Air Force in interchanging views, and so forth?
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)
Last year, in welcoming the Minister on the occasion of his first speech as Secretary of State for Air, I referred to the large number of Ministers who, under the present Administration, have held office as heads of our Service Departments. I think I called them embarrassed and transient phantoms who flit restlessly across the scene. I must, therefore, congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman who, if at times he has been a little embarrassed, has at any rate achieved a certain stability of tenure—I might almost say airworthiness. A few weeks ago he was nearly crushed to death by the Foreign Secretary, but he has recovered and survived. So, we welcome him today, not after just a few months of office but, if I may use a hereditary phrase, after a period both of office and of power. For 16 months or more he has been responsible for a great Service; he holds a position which is perhaps most to be envied and is certainly one of which any man can be proud.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman told us a lot about the development of the Air Force, but I think he felt himself a little happier in the latter part of the speech, when he described the splendid achievements of the Force, than in the earlier part, when he was on rather delicate ground. On the second, at any rate, we are all in complete agreement, and I only regret that the country as a whole does not realise more the immense service which the Royal Air Force, like our other Services, performs in time of peace as well as in war. But at the end of it all Parliament was not told very much about the Air Force.
1947 I referred in last year's Debate to the fact that we were voting about £160 million for about 270,000 personnel. This year we are voting about £203 million for about 235,000 personnel—I have made the necessary adjustments. In spite of the eight pages of the Memorandum and the great volume of the Air Estimates, that is practically all we are told about the Air Force, its character, organisation, equipment and general plan. We are spending over £200 million and we have about 235,000 men and women, half of them Regulars and the other half National Service men. Even in the Navy we are told the number of ships on the active list and on the reserve. It is true that of the Army we are told singularly little, but I would rather the Air Force emulated the Navy than the Army in this matter.
What is the reason for this excessive secrecy? Questions were asked in the recent Defence Debate, to which the Prime Minister made a weak reply. The Secretary of State has added little to that today. I ask the House to press this matter of security, as it is called, a little further. We must have an authoritative decision by Parliament as to what it means; Parliament must have the opportunity for careful and constructive consideration. The Prime Minister, in the Defence Debate, referred to the benefit which the Germans had derived from excessive information which was revealed before the war. He also said that German documents, which we had inspected, showed that they got quite a lot of things which it would have been better that they should not have had. That, however, is not a very strong phrase. It is, true of almost any form of literature.
In another place recently, similar statements were made about captured documents, but there a great authority, perhaps the greatest—the father of the Air Force, the Nelson of the Air Force—Lord Trenchard pooh-poohed the whole thing. Lord Portal took the same view. These are not men whose authority is altogether to be disbarred. But since the Government refer to these documents, I say let them follow the old rule—that when Ministers quote documents in a Debate they should lay them before the House. There cannot be anything secret 1948 about the documents. That was the old rule, and I think it was a salutary rule. No one intends to ask for publicity about research, details of weapons or equipment, or technical details and all that is implied in that phrase. Curiously enough, in this field I believe we are not quite as careful as we should be.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston)
What sort of information does the right hon. Gentleman want the Government to reveal? Will he give us examples?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I shall not leave this question for about half an hour, so I have every hope of satisfying the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
If the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to leave this point for half an hour, could he tell us, when giving examples, whether the Russians are giving us similar information?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I thought that point would be made, but after the speech which the hon. and learned Member made in the Debate on the Army Estimates, I did not think it would be made by him. I was saying that in the field of technical equipment and research I am rather surprised that so much information is given. I believe that new machines and new equipment are sometimes released too soon from the secret list. I am only a layman, but I receive a great number of technical journals, and I am surprised at the detail given in them. I believe that too many engines and machines have been sold to doubtful customers. I also believe that there are too many trade representatives of the U.S.S.R. and satellite States wandering around our factories. But that is not the kind of information we want.
It has been stated that our first task is to reconstruct new and efficient units to be fitted into the framework of a long-term National Defence plan. That sounds fine, but what plan? Is there a defence plan and, if so, where is it? Has it been conceived in the head of the Minister of Defence? Will it one day emerge fully armed, like Athene, from the head of Zeus? What is the plan? We have had some vague generalisations from the Minister today, but what do they amount to in terms of the number and character of squadrons? Does a plan exist?
§ Mr. Macmillan
May we know what that plan is? Of course, we are told that we are in a transitional stage. We are always told that; indeed, life itself is a transitional stage between birth and death—and a very difficult transitional stage. What is the present number of air squadrons and their character? Security, it is said, prevents us from knowing. What is the projected number to which we are working? Security prevents us from knowing that.
Lord Trenchard told the nation that he believed that a Commonwealth force of 180 to 220 squadrons was required. He said, "With such a force we might prevent war." Lord Portal agreed with the general figure as an indication of the size of the effort required. Those are impressive testimonies. Do the Government agree, in general terms? Do they accept that target, or anything like it? Lord Trenchard gave those figures, and Lord Portal accepted them as the size of the Commonwealth effort.
I say that excessive secrecy is bad for recruiting, is bad for the nation and is very had for Western Europe. It is bad also for the Commonwealth and it is bad for Anglo-American relations. If secrecy were universal in the grand alliance it could be understood. When British Ministers appeal to the security reason whenever they are asked about our defences, who will readily believe that it is a reason and not an excuse? In this exaggerated form, who will accept that it is a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness? Let us turn, not to Russia but the other way. What is obviously the dominant air Power in the world to-day? The United States. It is upon American strength that the peace of the world today; under Providence, depends. What do the Americans do? Do they practise secrecy? Not at all. They revel in publicity.
First, let us consider the purpose of an air force. After all, that is an important point. I was pleased to see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman came somewhere near to telling us its purpose. I read a statement by Mr. Vinson, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee of Congress. It had a rather refreshing air of reality about 1950 it which I found invigorating. Mr. Vinson said:In the atomic age of lighting attack, air power instantly capable of defence and sustained effective retaliatory attack is a basic need of the nation. Without such capacity, when within a few years the one group of countries capable of attacking the U.S. will possess in quantity the absolute weapon, the lives of our people will be in daily jeopardy. That would not seem to be the proper heritage to leave our children.General Vandenberg, the Air Chief of Staff, has a very clear idea of the objective of an air force. This is what he said when giving evidence before Congress:In the light of world conditions, in case of aggression against the U.S., the major tasks to be undertaken by the Air Force in the defence of our country are clear: First: The delivery of an immediate and powerful strategic air offensive against the basic sources of our enemy's war making capacity.Second: The defence of the United States and our essential bases against attack by air, andThird: The tactical support of the Army and Navy in exploitation of the opportunity presented through successful prosecution of the first two tasks.That seems to me a most admirable description of the objectives of an air force.
Inspired by that statement, the Air Force Bill was introduced into Congress. The Bill is not very long, but it is a very different matter from these Estimates. It provides that there shall be 70 groups of three squadrons, each in what we call the first line. It provides that the total number of machines is to be 24,000, and that of those, 12,500 are to be in the first line and 11,500 in the reserve line. It further provides—and I am bound to say that this is very encouraging to me—that of those 70 groups, 60 groups are to be brought into being in the year 1949. The Bill authorises an annual replacement of 5,200 aircraft. Of that number 3,798 are to be replacements for obsolete and unserviceable machines, and 1,400 for modernising the reserve.
The organisation of the groups and their character are, of course, not laid down in the Bill, but they are matters of public knowledge which are not at all concealed. They are published right throughout the United States in the Service journals and elsewhere. It might interest the House to know what they are. There are to be four heavy bombardment groups, 16 medium bombardment groups, 16 strategic reconnaissance groups, 5 light 1951 bombardment groups, 25 fighter groups, 4 tactical reconnaissance groups, 4 heavy troop carrier groups and 6 medium troop carrier groups. I could weary the House with much more detailed information, but I only give those facts to show the extraordinary contrast between what is regarded as secret here and almost indecent to mention, and the extreme detail in which, not the technical character of the weapons or the research and so on, but the broad outline and character of the force are set out. I think that that is a sign of strength. I believe that the contrast—I fear the contrast—which will be drawn is that we have not proportionately and relatively—we could not have absolutely—such a good story or such a fine objective in front of us.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how much of that programme has materialised up to date?
§ Mr. Rankin
It is just because of that fact that I am putting this question. If 60 have to be in being by 1949, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what part of the programme has materialised to this date?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how many of these groups have been brought into being in the first three months of 1949. We are comparing the estimates running from 1949 to 1950 and I say that of the American comparable estimate six-sevenths are to be in being before this year, for which we are estimating, has come to its conclusion. Those are very remarkable figures. Last year I quoted rather freely from the President's Air Commission and from that very remarkable publication "Survival in the Air." It was not very well received here. In fact, it was very hard to get a copy of it. It was only through my contacts in America that I was able to get one.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)
I had 10 copies of it in my office.
§ Mr. Macmillan
It was not very much publicised over here, but the Air Defence Bill is the direct result of the President's 1952 Air Commission. They have a fine democratic machine over there. The appointment of the President's Commission, and its Report, on publication, were discussed all over the United States and so are the provisions of the Air Defence Bill. I beg the Government—I know that the Secretary of State cannot do this of his own will—to reconsider the whole question of secrecy and security. My view is that the great plan and the broad outline of the plan ought to be known to the public. Only so can the plan command the enthusiastic support instead of the grudging acquiescence of a democratic people. It is only so that we shall be able to recruit the long-service, Regular forces which we all know are essential to its achievement.
The absurd thing about secrecy is that the facts, in outline, of what we have now are not very difficult to find out. I am sure that every great Power knows the general position and that every Air Attaché who is worth his salt knows it too. Let us remember that modern Embassies, Chancellories and Consulates have none of the old inhibitions as to the decencies of diplomatic life. Lord Vansittart's revelations the other day were very startling. There is a very active fifth column at work. Many matters about our Air Force are probably known to our potential enemies. Indeed, even private persons cannot help getting a good deal of information. We have a good deal of information. One obtains it from friends, relatives and so forth; it is impossible to avoid it. The problem is that we are placed in a very difficult position as to how far we are entitled to make use of our information. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition will be seeing the Prime Minister and confronting him with the information which we have and asking the questions which we shall wish to ask. That, of course, will come later. Meanwhile, there are certain—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
May I ask a question? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to submit the information to the House? He is complaining about lack of secrecy. Will he assure us that the information contained in the statement of the Leader of the Opposition will be presented to other Members of the House?
§ Mr. Macmillan
No. That is not the point. I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes); indeed, I am trying to plead his cause. I should like more general information to be given to the House of Commons, but, as I say, the difficulty of the position is that if the Government absolutely insist on this secrecy, no Opposition could be asked to give in public, in the House of Commons. contrary to the absolute decision of the Government, the facts which may be within their knowledge and which they may believe to be the correct facts. They cannot do that. Therefore, I think the only course open to us is to present them through the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister, and the decision and the responsibility must rest with him. Of course, we reserve our rights to say things which are within our knowledge, and if I ask some questions they will be based on some knowledge which we have. It is a difficult choice.
§ Mr. Warbey
The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) referred to information obtained from friends, relatives and other sources. Does he mean to say that he is going to put questions based on information obtained from some of "the boys" to whom his party gave jobs when they were in office?
§ Mr. Macmillan
Since the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) asks that, I would say that we naturally have on our side of the House, and our friends and relatives have, a considerable number of associations with the Services. After all, although we may be vermin, we have had a fairly long connection with the British Army, Navy and Air Force. There are more fighting ferrets on our side; the rabbits are on the hon. Member's side. We have a difficult choice. If we say all that we know, we are accused, as we were accused the other night by the Minister of Defence, of spreading alarm and despondency among our own people or, by the Prime Minister, of revealing secret information; but if we are silent, we may have to answer a very serious charge in the years to come.
Before I come to some questions that I wish to ask, there are some minor points I should like to mention. Some of them will be developed by my right 1954 hon. and hon. Friends. I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air told us about recruiting. As I understand his figures, he was a little on the optimistic side, because he told us that we had 126,000 Regulars. I make it that, comparing like with like, we have added in men from 102,500 to 109,500—we have gone up by 7,000. The right hon. Gentleman got this higher jump by including 14,000 of the Women's Forces. By the process of taking all these young women who before were irregular and regularising their position, so to speak, he has added 14,000 to those numbers. He did not tell that to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I was trying to give the facts to the House. Whichever way we explain their arrival, there are at the present time 126,000 Regulars in the Royal Air Force, and I think they include 14,000 members of the Women's Forces.
§ Mr. Macmillan
What has really happened to the men in the Force—and I am glad it is so—is an increase of the Regular enlistment, a rise from 102,500 to 109,500, and that is the achievement of the year. The other figure is obtained simply by the transfer of the whole block and it is not a figure with which to make a true comparison. I think those figures are correct—14,000 women.
I should have liked to ask about the Dominion and Colonial Air Forces and perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us about that when he replies. I should have liked to ask for something more about an Imperial and Commonwealth policy, both strategic and tactical; something more about an Empire training policy—after all, that was the backbone of the whole of our war effort from the point of view of training—and I should have liked to put some points in detail—I will mention them in passing—about the Royal Air Force Regiment and about its precise functions, particularly about its training functions as well as its tactical functions.
I have ventured to refer to this before: I hope the lesson will be learned that the first duty of every man who wears the King's uniform, in whatever Service, is to fight the King's enemies with his personal weapons, and his second duty is the specialist duty which is particularly 1955 accorded to him. I hope that lesson, which was sometimes forgotten in headquarters and which tends to disappear at central organisations, will be brought back again. There are more dirty rifles and men who are not in the habit of learning to defend themselves in great headquarters than there should be. I do not think the Royal Regiment should take over entirely the defence of airfields. It should be largely a training organisation to teach all men to defend themselves. The next point to which I should like to refer, and which was raised in another place, is the precise position of the shadow factories. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will wish to make some correction or modification to the reply given in the other place, because it was not, I think, wholly correct.
I do not wish to keep the House too long, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman has so rightly called our attention to the Berlin airlift. The Berlin airlift is a very wonderful story; it is a very fine story from the point of view of the Air Force, and anyone who has seen it, either at the beginning or at any stage, must have been tremendously impressed. It is a miracle of improvisation. But I am afraid it has put very heavy pressure both upon Transport Command, in particular, and upon the whole of the remainder of the Air Force. I fear that the strain on the other Commands in respect of training and efficiency must have been very considerable. I should like to be reassured as to how far this great effort has interfered with the growth and development of the Air Force itself. Is it intended to accept this as a kind of permanent part of our life? Is it to be a permanent sore? It really is a very serious position. I do not think the House or the country can accept it, much as it glories in the actual achievements of the Air Force itself.
Next, what is the position about aircraft and air armament stores? I understand that last year we voted £48 million and that this year we are voting about £64½ million for this. I am making the appropriate adjustments for appropriations in aid. This is in Vote 7.
In the Memorandum and in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech there was reference to the jet fighter and 1956 the development of new types in which we hope to maintain our lead. That is very satisfactory news and we congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his advisers on it. I trust that this lead in fighters, which we had at almost every stage in the war, will be preserved, and if the new developments enable us to do that they will be very good indeed. These are fairly modest figures in the cost of the whole thing, in Vote 7, and I should like to know the position, as I do not follow how far this is proceeding this year.
I understood him to say that the strength of our fighter squadrons was to be doubled—doubled as regards aircraft, and doubled, no doubt, as regards the crews which fly them and the crews to maintain them. The strength of the air fighters is to be double. That sounds very fine, and it is very fine; but, of course, to any ordinary person who was not aware that, in fact, they had been halved, and are now to be restored to normal establishment, it would not be so very impressive. What has happened is that we had two flights, they were reduced to one, and now they are to be brought back again to two. It reminds me of the old, struggling days at the Ministry of Supply. When we succeeded in making two tanks in a week, when in the week before we had made only one, we said, "Ah, we have doubled our tank production." So we had; but we had had only one before. If we had made none in the week before the number would have reached infinity, and that would have been better still.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to give a wrong impression to the world outside, and so I think he will agree with me when I say that, in fact, whatever may have happened in the past, we are doubling the total number of equipped and operationally effective jet fighters next year. As against what we had this year, we shall have twice the number.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I quite understand. In other words, the squadrons which are being brought up to strength will have two flights instead of one flight each. We are not, of course, told how many squadrons there are to be. The Americans 1957 tell us these things, but we do not know, and, therefore, we cannot really picture this.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
Is not the point that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make this—that now that the squadrons which had been reduced to one flight, are to be expanded again to two flights, Fighter Command will have an effective fighting power, enormously increased because Fighter Command has been re-equipped with jet fighters?
§ Mr. Macmillan
Not at all. There are two quite separate points here. There is the increase of numbers to bring them back to establishment, and then there is the fact that they will have their appropriate weapons. I am not quibbling about it at all. I am very glad it has happened, and I am glad that the public has been spared the anxiety which it would have had if it had known about what had happened before. For we were not told about that, either.
I want to say something about the jet night fighter. I was very interested in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was able to tell us about this. As I understood what he told us, orders were placed for the new two-seater jet night fighter. That, I take it, means that the development period is over, and that the production period is now beginning. If that is so, that is also very satisfactory, and we can congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on it. With regard to the radar services and the Observer Corps generally, I should like the House to be assured, if possible, that the radar services and the Observer Corps are in a position to undertake operational duties, if required, effectively at short notice.
Then I should like to say something about Coastal Command, which is a very important command. As we learned in the Debate on the Navy Estimates, there is a good deal of anxiety in many quarters about the development of the new Russian submarine, about its character, about its resistance to conventional methods of detection, and about its numbers. A good deal is known on that subject. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman reminded us—more than half the submarines sunk at sea during the 1958 whole course of the war were sunk from the air.
§ Mr. Macmillan
A third. That is leaving out altogether attacks upon their stations, and so forth. Those were sinkings at sea. That means that this Command is a very important part of our defences. We were very glad to hear that it was expected that the Shackletons would actually fly this month, and I should like to be assured that the progress of these orders will be rapid, and that they will be upon a large scale.
Then we come to the jet bombers. The Prime Minister rather peevishly took me to task during the Defence Debate because I ventured to make some observation about jet bombers. He said I had not read the Memorandum. I had read the Memorandum, but it did not tell us anything very much. It states:Although no jet bombers are yet in service, the development of a number of types of exceptionally high performance is proceeding as rapidly as possible, and the first of these aircraft is expected to fly in the near future.I do not think we could gather very much from that Memorandum. The Secretary of State expanded that a little, but I want to be very clear about this because it is very important. It is a little difficult to follow, because there are many points to seize. I do not know whether the Memorandum refers to the development of exceptionally high performance machines. I take it that it refers to those more distant "dream" bombers, so to speak, which are yet some way off. I take it that it is to those that the Memorandum really refers. They are machines still being developed, which are still on the drawing board, still a long way off. Those are, no doubt, long range bombers, and bombers, I take it, capable of carrying weapons both conventional and unconventional; and that is of great importance. I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that, apart from those, distant, far off bombers, orders were being placed—
§ Mr. Macmillan
—orders have been placed in the meantime for what one may call medium jet bombers—not the best of all; they are to come later—and that production is beginning of these. I should like to know whether they are 1959 short range or long range machines, because that is very important. Anyone who considers the possible strategic situation in Europe will perceive the importance of the difference between short and long range bombers. A short range bomber means bombing our friends. It requires a long range bomber to bomb our enemies. That is what it comes to. At present the total bomber force is very small—very small. I think I know the numbers, but I shall not give them. The machines are obsolescent. We know the position. It would be an effective force if it were called upon. Therefore, I hope that the production of these jet bombers will go forward with the greatest possible speed.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not know that I can accept that part of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman—that the present bomber force is totally ineffective. I think that any hon. Member who has seen Bomber Command and has had practical experience of Bomber Command will agree that its capacity and the weight of bombs that it can carry makes it a formidable force.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I am in this difficulty here. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell me what are the numbers of operational aircraft now functioning—I mean by "operational," maintained in squadrons with their crews to fly and service them—then he will answer the question. He will not tell me that?
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not want any unnecessary misunderstanding. I was dealing with the performance of the aeroplanes. I did not say "formidable in numbers." I was dealing with the weight of attack.
§ Mr. Macmillan
We must not have any confusion. I say that, in numbers, as a bomber force, it is negligible at present. I shall not give the numbers, although if the right hon. and learned Gentleman presses me I think I can do so. The aircraft are becoming obsolescent by the creation of jet bombers, and I would go further and say that we could re-arm the force today with the better American plane, the Super-Fortress. I do not see why, in the interval until we have our new planes, we should not arm ourselves with the Super-Fortress. I put that question.
1960 There has been a certain number of questions and answers in this Debate. I do not complain of that at all, for it is right that there should be, and it is the purpose of these Debates to have questions and answers, but now I should like to approach the manpower question. What about the trained pilots? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure me that he is happy about that question? What about the future of the training of pilots? What has happened to the training establishments in the Royal Air Force? Cranwell has tremendous traditions of which the R.A.F. is justly proud, and I understand that the education there is now completely free; but it is not full. I am told it is only about two-thirds full. That is very bad. Something must be wrong in the contact with the schools which provide those who should be filling these places, and the leaders in the Air Force. What is happening about the skilled craftsmen and that fine foundation at Halton? I am told that it is only about half full.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Even so, I do not think that that is very good. That naturally leads us back to the question which we had in the Debate the other day, and to which I should like to add.
I am relieved, in a sense, by some of the new information since the Memorandum, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given us about types. I am not, however, impressed with the amount of money to be spent on them. The only additional Vote is, I think, £20 million. On this year's Vote 7, there is an additional sum—in the order of £48 million last year to £64 million this year. Therefore, so far as anything is going to happen up to the end of March, 1950, only £16 million additional is to be actually spent, and those rather brave words about placing orders are not likely to eventuate in any very large numbers if that is the total amount asked for under this Estimate in Vote 7. I have asked questions about the schools and training, and I now pass to the question of morale.
We had a Debate upon morale the other day. I do not know whether it did good or harm. I was not happy about the character of the Debate, and some of the questions I thought were misinterpreted. Some sentences were taken from the right 1961 hon. and learned Gentleman's speech of which I do not think fair use was made because they were taken out of the context. I do not think that there is anything wrong with the potential morale of the Air Force. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Douglas said—and I thought it very foolish—that unless something was done very quickly for the R.A.F. it would "die on its feet." Something has been done for Lord Douglas. Perhaps now something may be done for the Royal Air Force. I do say that there is lack of imagination. I should like to see a little more showmanship; a little more pageantry. What has happened to the old Hendon review? Why cannot we revive that?
§ Mr. Macmillan
There is the work done in Malaya, which is a remarkable work; the work done in Arabia; but I have seen little about it on the films and in the newspapers. Above all there is the Berlin airlift. I cannot believe that the former Prime Minister would have waited nine months before going to greet the boys engaged in the Berlin airlift.
We need a little more of the panache, a little more of the pride that makes every boy who wishes to enter the Air Force believe that he is joining the finest station and belonging to the finest squadron of the finest Air Force in the world. That is the only spirit that will lead men to join the Army, Navy or Air Force, and the only spirit in which they will learn to live with their comrades and, if necessary, die with their comrades. In the long run, to create a powerful Air Force requires the great technical developments of which I have spoken, and it also requires the interest and enthusiasm of the nation. It is because of that, that I so much deplore the secrecy which surrounds it, because it requires, like the nation itself, true leadership if it is to succeed.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston)
The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) has followed the line which the Opposition, with, I admit, a certain amount of sympathy from this side, has been pursuing on the subject of secrecy, but I feel that they are not really being 1962 fair to the Government. I think that they know they are not being fair, because in quoting, for example, the figures given in America, I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman must realise that the American situation is totally different from ours. As one hon. Member said, the Americans announce their figures in order to frighten their enemies, while we keep our silence for fear of frightening ourselves. I do not think that is a fair statement, but, none the less, American policy is not one which we could necessarily follow. In referring, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to the Debates in another place, I would ask him to look again at the speech made by Lord Portal because, as I read it, I think that he gave only a very qualified assent to the figures given by another noble Lord.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Lord Portal said that he would accept in totality the number of squadrons but not the number of divisions into types which Lord Trenchard had recommended.
§ Mr. Shackleton
He also said that he was unable to comment very usefully on it, and that he felt that it was a matter to be left to the staff. That was the point, because I believe that a broad statement of strength of the squadrons or first-line aircraft is not of real value in assessing our defence. The right hon. Gentleman himself has been discussing and making a point of the number of operational flights in Fighter Command squadrons. That is what is of real importance. Unless that additional information relating to serviceability and specific equipment is given, I do not believe that figures in broad outline, such as the Americans are giving, would be of very real value to our Debates. The Minister gave a great deal more information than I had expected. But it is obvious that a great deal of useful information can be obtained—and I am sorry to repeat a point which I made in the Defence Debate—by a would-be enemy intelligence service from figures which in themselves are of little value to this House from the point of view of assessment of the efficiency of our defences.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that that the Russian Embassy do not know how many 1963 squadrons there are in the R.A.F? If one gets an aeroplane one can fly round, look down, and see what there is.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am not anxious to discuss whether it be a Russian Embassy or any other embassy, but since I happened to have a good deal to do with reports from our attachés during the war, I know that some of the most astonishingly ill-founded information came from such sources and, therefore, I do not think that it is fair to conclude that there is precise information in the hands of a would-be enemy with regard to our total strength. It is a difficult and technical point, and a point in which the House is in the greatest difficulty. I feel that it is extraordinarily hard for us to debate these matters, but I do not myself see how additional information such as the right hon. Gentleman seeks could, in sufficient detail, be given to us.
On turning to the Air Estimates, I think that the first thing the House must notice is that it is quite clear that the Secretary of State and the Air Ministry are pursuing the right policy on re-equipment. I am satisfied that it was right not to plunge ahead with the development of newer intermediate-stage piston bombers. In fact, the Lincoln bomber was a very new aircraft at the end of the war; it had played very little part in operations, relatively speaking, and even in terms of the speed of re-equipment achieved during the war, I would say that the Lincoln bomber is still, relatively, a new aircraft. It is also clear that the Air Ministry should concentrate at this stage on development, on producing the new types of jet aircraft; that should be our main aim, even if we have to suffer a little in operational efficiency at the moment.
The Minister made a number of points of interest, and I have several questions to which I hope the Under-Secretary will reply. I should first like to know, as I am sure would the House generally, what activities the scientific staff of the Air Ministry are engaged in. This is a question I have asked before. I feel that the contribution they can make in both administrative and operational efficiency is very great, and I should like to know, so far as the Minister can say, some of the tasks on which they are engaged. For instance, are they working at operational unit level? What type of work are 1964 they doing? On the subject of manpower, could the Minister tell us how far any policy of civilianisation of certain static activities or posts of the Air Force has been carried on? It is obviously more economical to use civilians in jobs such as at the Records Office, where those concerned are not likely to be called on to take part in a war away from that particular centre. I believe that there are economies which could be made which might release more men for active service.
There was one thing which I felt to be of great importance about which I am somewhat disappointed to learn in the sort of way that the Opposition learns of these things—indeed, it is a matter which has deteriorated in the last two years—and that is inter-Service liaison. I do not mean inter-Service co-ordination at the high level, but I do mean the sort of relationship which should exist between operational units of, say, the Navy and the Air Force. Let me put that in a precise form. Perhaps it is unfair to ask the Minister to answer it today, but could he say, for instance, how recently a naval officer has visited a Coastal Command station such as St. Eval? This is of the very greatest importance, and I am sorry to say that, so far as I have heard, such liaison as did exist at the operational level between the Services during the war is tending to weaken rather than to improve, as it should do in peace-time.
That leads me on to what the Minister said about the aspect in which I am mainly interested: namely, the part the Air Force can play in a possible war at sea. I was very glad to hear the Minister refer, as did the right hon. Member for Bromley, to the rôle of the Air Force in maritime warfare. Let me first of all assist them with the figures, on which there was some dispute. The actual figures for sinkings of German U-boats by aircraft were, 49 per cent. by land-based aircraft and another 7 per cent. by carrier-borne aircraft, while the Coastal Command figure, which was the figure referred to by the Minister, was somewhere around one-third of the total. But those were German U-boats. The most important thing about those figures is that whereas the Air Force played a decisive part in the years 1943 and 1944 in defeating the U-boat—in fact their rate of sinkings greatly exceeded the rate of sinkings by the Navy—the fact 1965 remains that by the end of the war the types of U-boats which the Germans had then developed—a few of which were already at sea or on the point of putting to sea—were such as largely to neutralise the effectiveness of aircraft.
That is the situation we were in at the end of the war: aircraft could still play a useful part in a negative rôle in making it more difficult for U-boats to make an attack, but to carry out the primary rôle of aircraft, which was to hunt U-boats to exhaustion, was in fact beyond the capacity of our aircraft as equipped at the end of the war against the new type of U-boats which were then coming along.
I realise that it is impossible for the Minister to give details of the development of counter devices, but I have a great fear that we have not succeeded in solving this problem. It is also quite clear that the Navy has not succeeded in solving the problem. I hope that the Air Force and the Air Ministry will take the very greatest interest in this. The Naval Debates and the present composition of the Navy are not such as to lend confidence, to me anyway, of their appreciation of the future problems of naval warfare. I believe that the Air Force must keep its stake, and must take a lead in the development of counter measures in a future U-boat war.
I pass now to the question of operational command. I am not proposing to refer to the vexed question of operational command vis-à-vis the Navy, but I shall refer to the organisation that the Air Ministry and the Air Force will have to use in a future war. At the end of the last war it was becoming increasingly obvious that the system of regional commands—Coastal Command, South-East Asia Command, and so on—was not entirely suitable for a war which was a global war. Let me give an example which, from the security point of view, I think it is now safe to give. I remember a time when we had aircraft hunting U-boats in the Indian Ocean employing a type of radar which the Germans could detect with their search receivers without any difficulty, at a time when we in England knew that those search receivers were in use by the enemy, and Coastal Command aircraft were therefore keeping their radar switched off by day. Now, that information had not penetrated 1966 through to a very important operational area. One may say that that was a fault which could be blamed on certain directorates in the Air Ministry. Obviously there were faults. But I would say that the system was, to some extent, at fault.
I believe that it will be necessary for the Air Force to consider the possibility of setting up global or world-wide commands. They need not interfere with local operational control. There would be a maritime command, and at a later stage it would be necessary to use a world-wide Bomber Command. At the moment the position is that the independent commands, such as Bomber Command and Coastal Command, are little air forces in themselves; the units serving overseas are divorced from them. and are linked only by particular directorates in the Air Ministry. Something stronger than that will have to be set up, rather on the lines of what I believe the Americans were developing at the end of the war for their atom bomb units.
Some form of organisation must exist to exercise direct operational control in what will become a global war. I do not believe that that organisation yet exists, and I wonder whether anything is being done to consider the problems involved. I have branched out into the rather dangerous topic of high tactics and strategy, but it is something we shall have to prepare, because we do not want to improvise this sort of organisation after a war breaks out.
I only wish to say one further word, and that is to commend the Minister on his speech. The main impression it left on me was that today the Air Force is beginning to get over those depressing and disruptive influences and circumstances which existed in the transitional stage. We realise that they were unavoidable in a lot of cases, but these difficulties are clearly beginning to be solved. I hope that the Minister will continue to press very hard to see that he gets his share of the national resources allocated to defence. I am sure there are Members on all sides who would like to see a bigger share of those resources go to the Royal Air Force in preference to one or other of the other two Services. I hope that the Minister will not, in the interests of this country and of the men 1967 in the service of the Royal Air Force who strongly believe in the importance of their work, cease to continue his fight for the Royal Air Force and allow their Lordships at the Admiralty to put it across him. He will find very strong moral support in this House for his efforts in that direction.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shackleton) speaks with a good deal of experience of Coastal Command, and I hope that we shall hear something in reply to the suggestions he has made. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) made one of his best speeches in this House on defence. I agree with him that we must certainly do more than we are doing at present for recruiting. We want a little more spectacle. The Royal Air Force display at Hendon used to attract great crowds and the Farnborough displays have created great interest, although these displays are organised by the Society of British Aircraft Constructors. I hope that something can also be done to give the youth of the country an opportunity to see the Royal Air Force in provincial centres, and that it will not be left merely to the initiative of the "Daily Express" to run these air displays. The same thing applies with A.T.C. training. Surely something could be done to give these boys more interesting studies in training. Surely jet types and miniatures besides ordinary theory could be made available to make their work much more interesting and experimental.
I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in regard to lack of information. He quoted the sort of information that is published in the United States. They publish not only information, but show films to interest people in technical development and research as well as in the strength of their air force. Similarly here we could be given a great deal more information on the strength and activities of the Royal Air Force. The right hon. Gentleman said that too many Russian commercial representatives were visiting our factories. We certainly made a mistake earlier in sending jets to Czechoslovakia—which may have gone elsewhere—even though they may be obsolete today. But is it really 1968 the case that anyone can go round our factories which are producing these important types for the Royal Air Force without having a priority defence pass? It is necessary to have all sorts of defence passes to visit any ordinary aircraft factory that is anywhere near the iron curtain. The House ought to be told whether the right hon. Gentleman's statement is correct, and whether it is possible for these commercial representatives to have access to these factories, particularly on the design and technical side.
I welcome the statement of the Secretary of State with regard to jet bombers and jet fighters. As he said, a great deal of development work has been going on. He has given us some hope about production and the supply of these aircraft to Royal Air Force units. I hope that too much will not be expected of the jet bombers and jet fighters, because I believe that in the United States, where these types have been subjected to severe trials, they are, in some cases, reverting to petrol engine bombers in considerable numbers. I hope it will not be expected that twin-engine jet bombers will be the complete answer, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are still tremendous problems of fuel jet control and questions of range and height to be solved before we can get what strategically we require. I also ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he is satisfied that he is getting the right priority of production for these night fighters and bombers.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman paid a tribute to the Berlin air lift, a magnificent piece of work which everyone admires. It has been a wonderful achievement in precision organisation, possibly the most important piece of organisation that has been attempted in peace time. It would seem that the supreme effect of "Uncle Joe's" blockade has been to give the Royal Air Force its greatest peace time operational transport training.
Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not tell us very much about it, we have at the present time joint exercises and interchange of personnel with the United States, the Dominions and the Benelux countries. We also have joint staff talks. The Royal Air Force is to equip the Benelux countries, and it is envisaged that we 1969 shall have a single strategic command. I wish to ask how soon it will be before we shall have in effect an international air force with full and effective co-operation with the Dominions, the Benelux countries and the United States. Many of us have for years looked forward to the ideal of an international air police force. As I have said, we have this cooperation and interchange of personnel and training which are of great importance. Are we not almost in sight of an international air force from the peace-loving nations? If we are near to that, I should like to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman adopt a bolder course and tell us that is where we have got to, because, in effect, when all the statements have been sorted out, we may be close to this actual achievement.
I should like to return to the question of standardisation in this respect. If we are to co-operate with the Dominions, the United States of America, the Benelux countries and the other peace-loving nations, standardisation is one of the most vital factors which can increase the effectiveness of that alliance and tremendously decrease the cost. When it is remembered that every British type of aircraft which the Americans had to convert during the war meant 5,000 man-hours, and that the same applied to us, it will be realised how important this matter is. When we realise how complicated are such matters as training and maintenance, it is necessary between the United States and this country and the Dominions that everything should be done for a greater step forward, which would be accomplished if there were practical measures for standardisation between all the countries concerned. This is a practical prerequisite to the international air force.
I know that a certain amount has already been done with regard to the standardisation of engineering measurements, and I believe that committees are studying this problem in Canada, in the United States and in this country. But who in the Government takes the decision with regard to these committees? The time has come now when we can make a stride forward in standardisation of measurements not only with regard to the Army and its equipment, but more particularly with 1970 regard to the R.A.F. and its aircraft requirements
With regard to zone defence responsibility, I read in the "Sunday Times" that zones of strategic responsibility will be allotted amongst the Empire countries. I should like to refer to one zone in that connection, the Arctic zone. I was hoping that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have told us a little more about the cold weather and the Arctic experimental work going on in that area with the Canadian Air Force, the Royal Air Force and the U.S.A. Air Force. There is no question here of security, because details have been published in our Press as well as in the Canadian and American Press. Could we not be told something about the experiments which are being made with regard to the men themselves and their special Arctic clothing, which would be used under those grim Arctic conditions, and information such as the "Musk-ox" operation, the Fort Churchill experiments, and so on.
Could we also be told something about R.A.F. technical equipment in these tests? We have a tremendous leeway to make up with regard to research and development work under Arctic conditions. Experiments have been made and there has been co-operation between Canada, the United States and this country in aircraft dispersal and flying in the frozen North. Everyone knows that the Arctic is going to be one of the strategic areas in zone defence, and we have a great part to play. The result of these experiments on men's warm clothing and so on will have a great influence in the days to come, and I hope that the Under-Secretary, when he replies, will tell us something about the progress that has been made to cope with blizzard operational conditions there.
Has there been an attempt to use the simulator, which is a new technique in improved training, similar to the link trainer, and which cuts down the number of hours in the training of crews? It can be used in all kinds of weather and instructs in night flying, navigation, gunnery, and so on. It has been used extensively in the United States with great success, and it can be used in non-flying weather. I should like to know whether America has loaned to this country some of these simulators to try them out with the R.A.F.
1971 The R.A.F. is more than ever vital to the defence of this country, and I hope we shall not take the advice of one hon. Member who urged the Government to take Jackie Fisher's advice and to build last but build fast. We have reached a stage now when the line must be drawn on research and technical development. We have got to telescope research and technical development and tremendously increase the production of essential priorities, so that we can get these new types into the Service squadrons as soon as possible. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be a little bolder next year and will be able to tell us that he is giving practical effect and taking steps forward to urge the creation of an international air police force as a really practical step towards world government.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
Before I formally move the Amendment which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends, I desire to make one or two general observations which are related to the Amendment but which perhaps are more appropriate to the general Debate which has taken place up to this point. I detect a new note in the Debates on the Service Estimates this year. In the first two Sessions of this Parliament the Debates on those Estimates could be reduced to two demands, faster demobilisation and greater amenities. Last year saw a vote which was a great battle for the soul of the Labour Party over the issue of compulsory service. This year I detect the cold wind of reality about war. There has been less said about amenities and nothing about demobilisation. The issue of conscription is settled, and we are once again discussing the grim facts of training, equipment, morale and the importance of strategic principles. For the first time this year there has been in responsible quarters express mention of the Soviet Union as a potential aggressor. It is against that background if one has to be realistic that this Debate must take place.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty in the Navy Estimates Debate said that in the next war, which we all hope and pray may never take place, the Atlantic might play the part of the Mediterranean in the last war with this island of ours playing the role of Malta. We all know what a vital factor the air 1972 was in the life of Malta. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) drew attention to the large potential and formidable advance preparations of the Soviet Union in the matter of submarines. We all know what a vital factor the air may be in defence against submarines.
Yet with all this new note of realism I find myself sharing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) the feeling that there is a lack of central direction in this matter of air defence. I cannot resist the feeling that clear-cut strategic conceptions are wanting. Also lacking are the great drive and organisation which are required in matters of this kind. In this connection I must say this. No doubt statesmen who find themselves at the head of great Service Departments, like the Secretary of State for War, are well advised to take, as the Secretary of State for War said he took, the advice of their experts and military advisers in strategic matters which come within the purview of their Departments, but in the last resort not merely political responsibility but personal responsibility in the fullest sense of that word rests with the political head of the Department. Drive in matters of this kind can only come from the top, and in our country the top means the political level and not the Service level. I am bound to say that, certainly in this matter of air defence and in other matters connected with the strategic defence of our country, I have failed to note that sense of urgency and drive which only the statesmen can give to a great Service Department.
Two years ago on the Air Estimates I spoke of the glorious tradition of the Royal Air Force during the recent war and said that I hoped that the battle honours of the Royal Air Force would rest like flags in a cathedral, gradually growing older although never forgotten, and not be taken out again for the purposes of actual reference in a current struggle. However, this year I am bound to say in all honesty and without making mention of any specific country in the world, that it is my settled conviction that the world is entering upon, indeed, is in the midst of, a long period of convulsion and change, of which the youngest person now alive is not likely to see the end. I do not say that wars 1973 will take place—we all hope and pray that they may not take place—but in such an era when the hearts and minds of men are troubled by tensions and antagonisms, the danger of war will certainly be present until humanity can march out again into a period of more ordered progress. During that time the people of this island must be, at any rate in my judgment, more alive to strategic danger than they are showing themselves at the present time.
In this country we have a population not large in comparison with the great powers of this world but dangerously concentrated in a few great conurbations, the ideal targets for modern weapons of all sorts and, in particular, for modern aerial weapons. We have a population vulnerable as no other population has ever been and dependent as no other population has even been for its means of subsistence on what it can import from abroad; and in war and in peace this means that by one means or another we must maintain control over the seaways which lead to our island and over the air above them and above it.
Our traditional defence policy has been of a wonderfully successful kind but of a kind which has led to one or two narrow escapes in our history. We have had in readiness a force sufficient, but barely sufficient, to prevent a surprise attack. We have had behind it a force of Reserves sufficient, but barely sufficient, to maintain the struggle until at last, sometimes after years of effort, the whole might of the nation has been organised sufficiently to enable it to strike a decisive blow.
We are in the same position today, but if there is a failure on our part either to maintain in a state of instant readiness that first line force, which nowadays in practice means the Air Force even more than the Navy, sufficient to prevent a surprise attack, or to build up behind it a body of Reserves which alone can enable that force to maintain the struggle, sometimes over a protracted period of months and years, we must inevitably go down in ruin. He who would in this disordered state of the world deny our need for an effective Air Force and effective Reserves is, in effect, seeking to deprive this country of the means of existence and is no friend to peace.
1974 I come now specifically to the question of Reserves. I suppose that many of us in this House have read that great book by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) describing the fall of France and the dramatic conversation which took place between him and General Gamelin when my right hon. Friend asked where the strategic reserves were—Où est la masse de manoeuvre? General Gamelin replied, Aucune—"There is none." Then it was known to both speakers that the end had come. The Amendment in my name and the name of other hon. Members is couched in strong terms. It begins with an expression of alarm at the inadequate state of our Reserves. Alarm is a strong word. It is a word which the Minister of Defence the other day flung in the teeth of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth when he accused him of trying to create alarm and despondency. It seemed to me at the time, and it seems to me more today, that the Minister of Defence was speaking without thinking about the real meaning of such phrases.
Alarm and despondency is an evil thing to create when one has lost a battle and when one is in danger of losing a war. It was the phrase used to attack those—they were very few—who were faint-hearted in 1940. However, if I could create a little more alarm today I should feel that I was doing a good service to my country. I wish I saw some sense of alarm and despondency about the present state of our defences. I should feel a great deal safer if I did. When I go to speak in the country and hear about nothing but free spectacles and free dentures when the question is whether our country will survive at all, I begin to feel that it is the duty of statesmen to create a little more alarm and despondency and to be a little less satisfied and complacent than they are at the present time.
I am bound to say that the figures revealed by the White Paper are such as to provide, if nothing else, an adequate basis for some alarm and some despondency. The Reserves of the Royal Air Force are divided into three main groups. There is the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the body which is organised into units; the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; and a body known as the R.A.F.R., the Royal Air Force Reserve, of 1,000 officers and 1,000 other ranks, 1975 men and women. Upon these reserves at the present time the Royal Air Force must draw in order to be able to carry out the second phase of any war in which this country is engaged, the phase in which we are seeking to maintain the struggle while we are organising our national defence. What are the figures?
The White Paper gives these figures: Royal Auxiliary Air Force on 1st October, 2,494; on 15th January, a welcome increase, 3,509. Target, 29,000. That is 3,509 out of a target of 29,000. That is the Reserve organised into units. I come now to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, the individual training reserve. On 1st October, 2,806; on 15th January, another welcome increase, 4,459. Target, 38,000. That is 4,459 out of a target of 38,000. Out of a total target of nearly 70,000, one in ten of what we need. I pondered long about the word "alarm" but I feel that this figure is one which calls for a certain measure of alarm. Then there is the Royal Air Force reserve of 1,000 officers and 1,000 men and women. In passing I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what is the exact function performed by the small body of 2,000 Royal Air Force Reserve. Does it serve any useful existence as a separate body? It seems small in comparison with what one would expect a Regular reserve to be.
After the overall figures I have given I come to the facts about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. What is the situation about new pilots? I understand that the pilots at present in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are all pilots with experience in the last war, that there are no new pilots coming in. Is this right, and is it considered satisfactory? I understand that there is a grave shortage of other ranks. Is that right, and what is being done to remedy the position? When I look at the somewhat grandiose list of units and the pitifully small number of personnel, I wonder a little about how many of these units are realities and how many are phantoms. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force ought to have 20 Royal Auxiliary Fighter Squadrons, of which four should be equipped with jet aircraft, 12 squadrons of the Royal Air Force Regiment, 26 fighter control units, six air traffic control sections. What does this mean in fact when all that exist in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are 3,509 men 1976 and women? What possible meaning can this long list of units conceivably have?
I turn to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Here, as it seems to me, there is a shortage of schools and a pitiful inadequacy of aircraft. I understand that the only aircraft used for training the R.A.F.V.R. is the "Tiger Moth." We all know the "Tiger Moth." If I may venture a personal reminiscence, when I, for a brief and embarrassed period, sat where the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now sitting, I made it my business to train on a Tiger Moth. What a pilot the world lost, Sir! Yet it scarcely occurred to me when I was undertaking this perilous experiment that I was using the same aircraft that was to train our pilots in the R.A.F.V.R. for the next war. Why cannot they have some of the obsolescent but still more impressive battle aircraft of the last war? Why cannot they have Ansons, Harvards, and so forth? Why cannot they have Oxfords—why cannot they have a few Spitfires and Hurricanes? Why cannot they be given aircraft which at any rate look something like service aircraft? It is rather like training a man to drive a tank on an Austin Seven.
Why, when there is apparently a large surplus of obsolescent aircraft—[An HON. MEMBER: "Perhaps they have sold them."] Perhaps they have; we shall be told if they have sold them. Why cannot they have something which is worth flying to train on? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that to train battle pilots on Tiger Moths is not the way to build up the figures from 4,000-odd to the desirable target of 38,000? Why cannot schools be provided in places convenient to the would-be pilots?
I understand there are 23 centres and 22 flying schools. When I looked through the list I looked eagerly for the name of the City of Oxford and I did not find it. I thought perhaps that was because they had already such a high standard of efficiency that they did not think they needed a school. However, I found that the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) is also without a school, and so are Shropshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Sussex, Bedfordshire, and so on. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises, especially at the present time when transport facilities are 1977 not always of the easiest, that schools must be provided reasonably close to the centres of population? Why should it be supposed that only those who live in large towns should want to fly in the R.A.F.V.R.? Why should it not be supposed that the desire to serve in this category is generally felt all over the country?
The third point touched upon by the Amendment which stands in my name is the question of flying clubs. To some extent I stand in a white sheet about these clubs. When I was Under-Secre-tary I am bound to say that I was not as impressed as I ought to have been perhaps by the need of flying clubs. It seemed to me that it was somewhat remote from battle training to train on these small aircraft, but it has been borne in upon me since by the great interest which has been shown, and by many other factors, that the flying clubs form an important part of our preparation for air defence. The instructors alone proved invaluable at the beginning of the last war, I am informed, and the background of flying experience provided the population with the air-mindedness which is necessary to support a great air fleet in time of war.
All these things were valuable but, as I understand it, the flying clubs are at present dying on their feet. There has been a report on this matter. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us in the course of his reply what is to be done about the Whitney Straight Report? Do the Government intend to implement it, or is that to be pigeonholed and nothing further done? I understand that at present it costs about £300 or £400 for a private citizen to learn to fly an aircraft. Is this figure accepted? Is it considered a reasonable way in which to breed an air-minded population? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that even countries like Sweden and Switzerland do more for their population, when no one can pretend that their strategic danger is as urgent as our own? Indeed, when one reflects that their whole tradition has been one of neutrality in even the greatest of wars, one wonders why it is that this country should do nothing when those others appear to be reasonably efficient. I could continue but I wish to leave the details of this matter to my hon. and 1978 hon. and gallant Friends. I think I have said enough, however, to justify the terms of the Amendment.
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of Question, and to insert:this House views with alarm the apparent inadequacy of Royal Air Force Reserves; considers that immediate steps should be taken by His Majesty's Government to build up the strength of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force; to increase the number of Fighter Control Units; to provide more facilities for Volunteer Reserve training; and to assist and encourage the Flying Clubs.It is not, at any rate in my view, desirable, where it is possible to avoid it, to divide the House upon a matter during the Service Estimates. These things are not ultimately a question for party politics nor to be exploited by party politics. But I feel that if by moving this Amendment we can do something to bring home, not merely to the Government, but to the country at large, the way we are drifting in a dangerous situation, our efforts will not have been in vain. I sincerely hope that when the Government reply, as they will reply, to this Amendment, they will give us a good reason to withdraw it, as we shall seek to do, not merely out of public spirit but out of some sense of reassurance.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I count it a very great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and to second his Amendment. As usual, he has put his case with outstanding ability and has brought to the Debate a sense of reality, urgency and common sense which is appreciated on all sides of the House. He has the vigour and initiative which people in the Royal Air Force feel should be theirs. From our own point of view, we on this side only wish that he could have served for a far longer period as Under-Secretary of State for Air. Both of us have in common the belief that in these troublesome days the country needs a strong Royal Air Force and that at the same time it must be backed by strong Reserves.
I hope that all of us have learnt the lessons of the last war and that we all know and understand that, whatever happens in any war in the future, no military 1979 Power can succeed unless it has the mastery of the air. That was proved throughout the last war, from the time of the German advances, through the Battle of Britain, to the last attacks of the war, when the British and American Air Forces were able to destroy the transportation of the German armies and deprive them of practically the whole of their oil supplies. The need for the Air Force was stressed by the Secretary of State when he pointed out the great service, it can render in time of a cold war, through the Berlin airlift. He showed us also what it can do on matters purely of peace in the dropping of supplies to starving people in different parts of the world.
We are at this time stressing more than ever the need for strengthening the Air Force and its Reserves. We want it to be strong, because we believe that if it is it can be a potent factor in maintaining the peace of the world. I need only quote the Secretary of State himself in support of what I say, for last year he told the House:But one must never lose sight of the end itself—which is quite simply to help to preserve peace and so to prevent war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March. 1948; Vol. 448, c. 539.]In these days we see the same signs of aggression in the world that we saw in the 1930's. We have no wish to make again the mistakes which were made on all sides of the House in those days. We ask, therefore, that the Air Force shall remain strong and that our strength shall be shown in an unmistakable manner. At the present time, as was pointed out in earlier speeches, we have friends and allies. We want their forces to train and to co-operate with ours. There are the forces of the Commonwealth and Empire, who fought by our side in the last war, our American allies, with their immensely powerful air forces, and the forces of other nations of Western Union, who should be working and training beside us and using, so far as is possible, standardised equipment. I believe that in the past year progress has been made with standardisation, and I urge the Secretary of State to press forward with it as hard and as much as he can.
The Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies the Estimates refers to four visits which have been made overseas by various squadrons. Indeed, the Secretary 1980 of State elaborated this when he talked about further operational exercises overseas. If we are to work side by side with other air forces as part of the same team, four visits a year are not enough. We have got to know these other air forces and to exercise and operate with them. I hope there will be many more of these visits during the coming year and that the Secretary of State will be able to report also visits by the squadrons of our allies to this country. It will be a great achievement if we can exchange squadrons so that they may become more used to working as a single unit. From the point of view of the Reserves, it will be very helpful if the same policy can be applied to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. What a good thing it would be if in the coming year two or three of our auxiliary squadrons could visit France, Belgium or Denmark; then we should get the kind of co-operation which would start at the top level and continue right down to the Reserve forces which mean so very much to us.
As has been stressed in practically every speech from this side, we are concerned to know whether the commitments which we are making for the defence of Western Union and our Empire are being honoured. As I see it, the Secretary of State comes once again to ask for a blank cheque, but we really do not know for what he wants all this money. Last year he talked to us in terms of a third Air Force. This year he tells us of broad aims, and promises new and better aircraft for tomorrow. We on this side are concerned to see that his promises are turned into reality as soon as possible
I wish the Secretary of State could tell us how many squadrons we possess, and I should very much like to know whether they are at full strength. I should like to see an answer to a question which was put by an eminent authority in another place: how many squadrons have we got which could put up a continuous daily operational effort with even six aircraft? So far as I know, that question has never been answered. Shortage and deficiency are made obvious when we hear that neither Halton nor Cranwell are full. If we went wrong now the country would never forgive us. We know that a great deal of planning is required and that an effective air arm cannot be built and manned in a night. We should like the assurance, therefore, that this process really is being carried out.
1981 The question of secrecy is always very much to the fore, but, after all, what have the Government to hide? The potential enemies must have their agents, attachés, fifth columns and people looking all round this country and making their reports; and when these Estimates are published, with figures of manpower strength and the amounts of money spent on machines, any foreign organisation with good intelligence can translate all this into the approximate strength of our Air Force. That being so, there is no necessity to hide from this House facts and figures which we and the people of the country are entitled to have.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but I should like to have your guidance about the nature of the Debate at this stage. I may be entirely wrong, but it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman's speech, albeit very interesting, is not on the Amendment that he is seconding. Does this mean that you will allow subsequent speakers on the Amendment, to travel as broadly through the Estimates as has the speech to which we are now listening?
§ Mr. Speaker
The mover and seconder of the Amendment are still speaking on the original Question. Once I put the Question on the Amendment, we shall be confined to the Amendment, but actually the mover and seconder are talking to the Question that I do now leave the Chair.
§ Mr. Robinson
I thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps if the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) had been present during the Debate on the Army Estimates last Thursday, he would have noticed that exactly the same question arose.
Whatever happens, a potential enemy can get a very shrewd idea of our strength, and I do not know why the Government should take their own view and ignore the advice of great experts such as Lord Portal, Chief of the Air Staff at a most vital period of the war, who analysed the matter, not as a politician, but as a man with a great service background, and who says that, on balance, he is satisfied that a policy of secrecy will lose more than it will gain. There are times when I feel that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like to tell us more and I 1982 wonder whether the Minister of Defence puts some clamp on him, or whether it is the Cabinet. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must see clearly that the world must know that we are strong. Let me quote from his speech last year when he said:Prevention is always better than cure and real deterrent power lies in striking force. A potential aggressor must be made to realise he would be hit hard and at once."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 540.]Those are the words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman last year. Why is he not carrying out the very view he gave to this House? In a matter like this, if we have strength we should show it and if we are weak we should hide it. I stress the point still further because I believe it has a very bad effect on recruiting. Reading the figures, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford that both Regulars and Reserves are sadly lacking in manpower. It is not really the National Service men we need. In my opinion, the Royal Air Force stands or falls on whether it has sufficient volunteers to man it.
Let us compare the position with the United States, where they have full publicity. They have a far bigger Air Force than we have and if there is a war their contribution in the air must be much larger than ours, because their forces are big, yet they have disclosed their hand. Therefore, a potential enemy must know the maximum of our forces. Publicity has had a great effect on recruiting in America, yet here we have secretiveness and bad recruiting while in the United States they have publicity and good recruiting. They are in the happy position that they do not need to draw on any men under their Selective Service Act. They can point to an Air Force of more than half a million men with reserves of 600,000.
We are making a big mistake, when we want to recruit Regulars and Reserves, by not giving the people of this country any idea of the type of Air Force we are building up. What we need is clear-cut direction and we want a lead. It seems to me that in the air we have the one thing which can appeal to the youth of the country today. We have the spirit of adventure, the excitement, and we might say we have the glamour, but at present all the glamour is taken away from the work of the Royal Air Force. 1983 They have not the publicity to stimulate interest and help recruiting. I suppose every young man has heard of the Arsenal Football Team but not one in a million has heard of the 54th Vampire Squadron that crossed the Atlantic. The Americans have cashed in, and by their round-the-world flight and allowing their people to break records of speed and altitude they make Americans say, "That is the Service we want to go into—it is go-ahead." At the moment we are not giving the same lead in this country. Everyone knows who Stanley Matthews is, but not one in a million can name one of the heroes of the Royal Air Force who are doing a great job today. Cannot we stimulate interest to help them on?
Other interests have prevented the development of recruiting and in my opinion the pay still remains completely inadequate to the job. If we want a powerful Air Force and a volunteer Air Force, we have to be certain that the rewards given to the men who are serving are just as good as rewards in civilian life. We have had minor increases, but their only purpose seems to have been to lull the general civilian population into the feeling that the Service is at last being given a square deal. In the United States many people get twice as much as we do and in some ranks and trades they get three or four times as much money.
I say that our Service men are very much worse off now than they were in 1939. On the Government's own figures the £ is now only worth 11s. 5d. of what it was in 1939, and on the whole civilian wages have risen by 97 per cent. since 1939, while Service pay has risen by only one-third. I say that unless Service pay can keep pace with civilian pay, so that the rewards are equally good, we shall never be able to recruit the men we want. We also have to help on allowances. I think it is all wrong, if the Service is unable to provide facilities by way of housing accommodation, and so on, and gives the man money by way of allowances, that those allowances should be taxed so that a good deal of the benefit is taken away. It is what is in the man's pocket at the end of the month that matters.
I was relieved to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that an effort 1984 is being made to improve married quarters. We appreciate that very much, but because we appreciate it I hope he will not sit back with a sense of satisfaction, because there is a tremendous amount more to be done, and unless we get that drive and urgency married quarters will be a sore which prevents people from joining the Forces for quite a long time. There are many other things which can be helped. There is the education of the men's children, which is dislocated by too frequent moves, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will help in that matter.
The Air Force offers a career even with a short-service agreement and steps should be taken to see that the transition to civil aviation or other jobs is made easy. I believe it can be done and I urge the right hon. And learned Gentleman to do it. I have referred to shortages in the Regulars. I believe there are some in the Reserves, and without Reserves we cannot have a really good Air Force. Without the Reserves and the Auxiliaries, we would have been useless in the early stages of the last war and might never have recovered. It seems to me a matter for very grave alarm that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force should have a manpower of 3,507 out of a target of 29,000 and the Volunteer Reserve 4,559 out of a target of some 38,000. In the Volunteer Reserve the recruiting achievement is 12 per cent. Can the Secretary of State tell us when he hopes the target will be achieved? It is no good getting up to the figure of 38,000 in five years, and at the present rate of recruiting there is very little chance of the target being achieved in anything like a reasonable time.
We have 20 squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Out of those 20 squadrons only four are equipped with jet aircraft. The Secretary of State says that he hopes that more of them will get jet aircraft this year. Can he say that by the end of the year the whole 20 squadrons will be equipped with jets? That is the type of equipment that they will need, and it is the type which they would use in the awful eventuality of another war. When the Secretary of State says that a squadron is equipped with jet aircraft, what does that mean? Have they eight aircraft per squadron or is the establishment in aircraft as high as it was during the war? We have 20 squadrons. 1985 Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how near any of them are to their establishment?
I should like to have a similar answer in regard to the Volunteer Reserves. We have our university air squadrons. I have looked through the list and seen the figures in relation to them—they are not hidden. Of the 14 university air squadrons in this country, only one is up to its establishment in men; that is at Nottingham, where no doubt the influence of the Under-Secretary of State for Air has been felt, because I feel sure that he will have given a great deal of leadership locally. I still do not think that university air squadrons are being used as they might be. They seem to offer little encouragement. Out of the 14 university air squadrons only 25 commissions have been granted since January, 1946. It does not seem to me that those squadrons are being used as well and as fully as they should be.
I urge on the right hon. and learned Gentleman the immediate expansion of the Volunteer Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force. I feel that we should have a minimum of 40 squadrons rather than 20, and that they should be developed very much more. Likewise the number of units of the Volunteer Reserve should also be developed. A matter of great difficulty is presented to many people in regard to travelling. I have had letters from my own constituency, Blackpool, a town which has been keen on flying since the pioneer days, letters from men who were pilots in the last war and are now in civilian employment. They say that they would like to be in a squadron of the Auxiliary Reserve or with the Volunteer Reserve, but the nearest place at which they can do any training is in Manchester or Liverpool, 50 or 60 miles away. When a man is doing a full-time job and is willing to give up his weekends and evenings as a Reservist, he should not have to travel 50 or 60 miles to get his training. I urge that young men should be able to get the opportunity to benefit from training facilities in places such as Blackpool and Oxford. When the men themselves, ex-pilots of the R.A.F., come to me they say that they would like to do something, and they ask "What is the use of joining the Territorial Army when, if 'the balloon goes up' we shall find our way back into the R.A.F., not 1986 the Army, and we should have done far better to have kept ourselves in training in the things that matter?"
I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman could say what encouragement is given to the people in the matter of gliding, which I regard as a valuable form of training for people who are to fly? Could he tell us more in regard to the flying clubs? They are vital. The Secretary of State for Air must desire to have as many men of the country able and willing to fly as possible. and this is one way in which training can be obtained. It would be all wrong were the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say, "Of course, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is looking after that." It is fundamental that he and his Department need these trained men behind them.
There has been an inquiry, and it has been disclosed in another place, as well as here, that the Minister of Civil Aviation has a plan and that he has gone to the Treasury about it. So far we do not know what the plan is or what is the Treasury answer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should also be at the door of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Civil Aviation, saying "I want the help of these people. I want them to come in." He ought to aid the appeal which is being made to the Chancellor in the matter of the duty on aviation spirit. How can flying clubs develop if they have to pay a heavy crippling tax designed in relation to the motorcar industry and road development, and which has nothing to do with the air? I hope that the Secretary of State will take his place in the queue before the Chancellor of the Exchequer prepares his Budget.
This question of Reserves cannot be too strongly stressed. They need more men, they want better aircraft. We do not want to hear of any more qualified bomber and fighter pilots of the last war being asked to do their further training in the Volunteer Reserve in Tiger Moths. Give them some of the aircraft left over from the war, unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman has scattered them over the world to recipients far less worthy. I hope that the Secretary of State will do all he can in the question of Reserves. Let him remember the glories of the Auxiliary Air Force in the 1987 days of the Battle of Britain. Let him remember that if there is trouble we shall, whatever happens, need these tremendous Reserves to back up the Air Force which we have to-day. We on this side of the House—and I believe all over the House—are proud of the Royal Air Force as a Service, we are proud of their Reserves. We wish them well, but we urge upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman that this is a matter of great urgency.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
On the evening of Saturday last, I, with about 8,000 other people, went to the Albert Hall. The thing which stuck out in my recollection about the first post-war reunion of Bomber Command—apart from considerable research by groups of men all over the place into the whereabouts of a certain gentleman called "Butch," about whom it is no part of my purpose to speak this evening—was the constant searching of men, all over the vast building, for men of their own squadron, for men with whom they had done service during the recent war. I should be very happy if members of my own squadron who were there, and whom I missed, would get in touch with me, because we go to reunions, in order, first of all, to refresh our squadron, our unit contacts. The second thing that impressed me was the fact that in an Air Force reunion, and particularly a reunion primarily of air crew, the essential character which made it different from reunions of most military forces was that all of those chaps were volunteers. It is these two aspects—the sense of comradeship in one's unit and also the sense that we were all volunteers in air crew during the war, which attract me to speak on this Amendment tonight.
The first thing that has to be said concerns the attraction which has been variously described by hon. and gallant Members as glamour, etc. The attraction of flying is such that men who have learned to fly rarely want to give it up, and of all the Services, the one which had a ready, willing and valuable source of recruits for the volunteer forces was the R.A.F. As soon as men were demobilised at the end of their period of war service, as soon as they had spread their wings a 1988 little and had found their place in civilian life, they began to make inquiries as to how they could continue service with the volunteer forces.
I believe that had this problem of the non-Regular R.A.F. been seized quite firmly in 1945 and 1946; had units been created to cope with the applications that ex-pilots and ex-aircrew were putting in, there would have been a bigger recruitment to the Regular element of the R.A.F. by today, and there would have been considerably less need for the element in the R.A.F. which I personally deplore, namely the conscripted element. What is regrettable is that whether there is the urgent political need that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) talked about; whether there is a prospect of us calling upon the Volunteer Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force to go to war in the near future, the fact remains that the volunteer citizen military service is of itself a good thing, if we have the necessity to maintain any kind of defence forces at all. This goodwill, this desire to serve is diminishing.
I turn to the terms of the Amendment, because that is what we are debating. After viewing with alarm the apparent inadequacy of the R.A.F. Reserves the hon. Member for Oxford and his hon. Friends ask this House to consider:that immediate steps should be taken by His Majesty's Government to build up the strength of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force; to increase the number of Fighter Control Units; to provide more facilities for Volunteer Reserve training; and to assist and encourage the flying clubs.I cannot support the Amendment in that form, because, as I said, my first impression of that re-union was the unit spirit. The essential thing, if we are to maintain and develop the Auxiliary Air Force, or the Volunteer Reserve, is that it should be organised on a unit basis.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
The Auxiliary Air Force is, and indeed I shall have something to say about that. But the Volunteer Reserve—for which the hon. Member for Oxford requests more facilities for training in—not being based on a unit or squadron basis at all, and being equipped only with Tiger Moths and elementary type aircraft, serves to fulfil one of his other demands, that is 1989 for flying club facilities. In my opinion it has no reference to the task to which the Explanatory Memorandum refers:In this way there will be available a body of trained volunteer reservists in flying and ground duties who can be fitted into the structure of the Royal Air Force wherever they are needed at the outset of any emergency.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
Those are duties which need not specifically or necessarily have been carried out in a V.R. training unit. The point I wish to make is that the Volunteer Reserve as it is at present organised, does not, in my submission, fulfil any function relative to the purpose set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, namely, to build up a body of trained airmen and ground crew who can be called upon to be fitted into the whole picture of the striking force of the Air Force immediately in an emergency.
So far as this Debate is concerned, this is very much the position which obtained when the recent war broke out. Because the Auxiliary Air Force was organised on a unit basis, they could very quickly be re-equipped and brought up to the standard of operational flying necessary to put them straight away into action. But because the Volunteer Reserve of those days, as now, was merely on a training centre basis, and not a unit basis, there was no esprit de corps. The operational training task put upon them was considerably longer than it would have been, if, regardless of the type of aircraft, the basis of their organisation had been a squadron or a unit basis.
Since the end of the recent war it seems to me that the need for a different kind of organisation between Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserves has passed, and it would be well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to examine the possibility of getting the whole of the flying side of his non-Regular Air Force on the Auxiliary basis. It could be staged. We could have, as it were, new Auxiliaries, forming squadrons flying only elementary types, and gradually being built up to operational level, but having all non-Regular flying on the basis of the 1990 Auxiliary squadrons, with the elimination of the Volunteer Reserve as it is constituted at the present.
However, there is a function for the centres which are at the moment operated under the Volunteer Reserve. I believe that they could be used with the present staff and with the present aircraft to pay the R.A.F. contribution to this great demand for flying clubs. They could be integrated with any civilian movement towards flying clubs. One of the most important things they could do would be to join with the A.T.C. which is still carrying on and doing a magnificent job of pre-Service training in spite of not having the modern facilities referred to by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). It would give them somewhere near their homes to which they could go and see an aeroplane, and, if they were very lucky, go up in one.
One of the difficulties of the A.T.C. organisation from the point of view of discipline and morale, is that they have to have training, as it were, in a vacuum. In their opinion it is not closely connected with the flying of aeroplanes. Every communication from the Air Ministry which one gets as a Member of Parliament implores us to join the Volunteer Reserve or the Auxiliary Air Force. In every publication of the Air Ministry there is a large advertisement calling upon us to join one or other of the non-Regular Forces of the R.A.F. My sorrow is that it is virtually impossible to join either of them unless one happens to be lucky enough to reside near an established centre.
The right hon. Gentleman well knows that I first made contact with him and his Department last March. I said that in the whole county in which I reside, part of which forms my constituency, there is no flying of any sort. As an ex-airman I want to join the Auxiliary Air Force. I should be very happy to do, everything I could to assist in the provision of more flying facilities in my home neighbourhood, and in my county. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my recounting that I did some personal investigation and found what I considered to be a reasonable-aerodrome. I did some further investigation with the R.A.F. associations in the neighbourhood. I found that it was not only possible to recruit men, but that 1991 they were crying out to join a unit. On my files I have the names of far more airmen, pilots and ground crew than the establishment of an Auxiliary squadron. It is a matter of considerable personal regret to me that yesterday I received a letter from the Minister explaining why it is impossible for any Auxiliary Air Force squadron to be established in the County of Essex.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
I suppose the reason is that the cost of converting back to use an aerodrome which had gone out of R.A.F. use, is considered prohibitive in view of the amount of money available to the Minister for this purpose. The fact remains that anybody in the County of Essex who wants to fly in the Volunteer Reserve or the Auxiliary Air Force, must go either to Hornchurch to do circuits and bumps in a Tiger Moth or else go into London to apply to join an auxiliary squadron which is already over establishment, and which will reject his application.
This problem must be tackled urgently. Not for the reasons the hon. Member for Oxford cited, nor even for the reasons advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in the Debate on the Army Estimates last week, I wish to see scope given to the desire of young men to serve, particularly in the Royal Air Force. I want to see built up to the establishment required an efficient competent Regular Air Force to be our first line of defence, and I want to see grow up beside it an organisation on a squadron basis flying aircraft which, if they are not front line aircraft, are much more nearly so than those quoted by the hon. Member for Oxford—not Ansons and Oxfords—
§ Wing-Commander Millington
I want to see them flying aircraft which have only just been replaced in the Regular Air Force. The Auxiliary Air Force should be built up to 40 or 50 squadrons. The men are there and the ground crew can be found provided the bases are spread evenly over the whole of the country, and that every county has at least one squadron which the chaps can join. 1992 If this were done, we should create not only a far more powerful and able Air Force which could be deployed more quickly to meet an emergency but also we should give to ex-airmen of the Royal Air Force an opportunity of which they are deprived at the moment. We should give them a channel through which they could fulfil their excellent desire to continue to serve their country.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Hulbert (Stockport)
The fact which strikes everyone on reading this year's Estimates is the small amount which is allocated for the Reserve Forces. From a figure of something like £55 million, only about £1,300,000 is devoted to the Reserve Forces. When we look back to the beginning of the war and remember the great part which the Auxiliary Air Force of that day played in the defence of the country, many of us consider that this figure is all too small.
I appreciate that, for reasons of security, the Secretary of State is reluctant to give details of the number of squadrons which are equipped with the most modern jet aircraft. I hope that he will give an assurance tonight that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons will not be treated as the poor relations of the Royal Air Force and that they will have an equal share of jet fighters and jet bombers. We know that some auxiliary squadrons have already received jet aircraft and that others hope to have them soon. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that the other Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons will receive them. There would be a great stimulus to recruiting for the Auxiliary Air Force if intending recruits knew that they were joining a unit which had the most modern equipment of a similar type to that issued to the Regular Air Force.
Though it is not strictly within the terms of the Amendment, I wish to refer to accommodation at R.A.F. stations. That factor plays a very large part in the life of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, especially when it is pointed out that certain squadrons now located at Hendon, are to be moved to airfields outside the Metropolis. If we have auxiliary airmen, members of the A.T.C. and others in the volunteer Forces working on stations where they see that the Regular airmen 1993 have not got proper living accommodation and the necessary married quarters, that will have a most adverse effect on recruiting for the Regular Service.
The Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons are administered by the Territorial Associations. I have had correspondence with the Secretary of State on various suggestions for increasing the popularity of the Auxiliary Air Force. Some of the suggestions would go a long way towards overcoming some of the petty grievances and complaints under which many Auxiliary airmen are labouring. While the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his usual courtesy, has replied to me personally on these matters, I take the view that they are of importance, as they affect recruiting, and that they should be dealt with by him during this Debate.
A great problem which faces the right hon. and learned Gentleman concerns the question of pay and allowances for Auxiliary airmen. In the case of a squadron located at Hendon, practically all of the recruits come from that neighbourhood. That squadron is to be moved to an airfield 20 miles away. Under the present regulations an airman does not draw his training pay until he signs on at squadron headquarters. Obviously. if a man has to spend an hour travelling to his place of training and an hour returning home, he will lose considerably as a result of the transfer. I hope that tonight the Secretary of State will be in a position to announce that some scheme—either by the provision of official transport or otherwise—has been devised whereby a man can claim training allowance from the time he reports at some central place near to his home.
There is also the question of uniform. The scale of free kit provided for members of the Auxiliary Air Force is certainly not a generous one. I understand that in the past one of the excuses—I am not being unkind to the Minister—has been his difficulty with the President of the Board of Trade on the question of coupons, but were we not told yesterday that that difficulty has been removed? I therefore hope that the Auxiliary squadrons will at last be able to get a greater issue of uniforms free. At the moment, they get one battle-dress which they have to use both for 1994 training and for work. I believe there would be a great stimulus to recruiting if the men could have a first-class walking-out uniform, as the other Services have. I think it would be a great incentive and would help recruiting very much. They should certainly have one "best blue."
Prior to 1939, there was located in the Air Ministry an Auxiliary officer who carried the title of Honorary Director of the Auxiliary Forces, and he served an extremely useful purpose as a liaison between the Air Ministry and the Auxiliary squadrons. Today there is no such appointment. The Auxiliary squadrons deal, at headquarters level, only with Regular officers, and I say that without any disrespect to the serving officers of the R.A.F. I think the revival of that appointment is a suggestion which merits the consideration of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because I feel that in that way, the Auxiliary squadrons, the volunteer Reserves and so on would be made to feel that they had in the Air Ministry at least one real friend who was always ready to further their interests and to speak for them.
Reference has been made to the value of flying clubs. In this House, only two or three weeks ago, we urged the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to try to make some progress with the Treasury, but, as far as I can gather, up to the present nothing has been done. I hope that, in conjunction with his noble Friend the Minister of Civil Aviation, the Secretary of State will ensure that the Treasury will give this well-deserved assistance to flying clubs. Before the war, a great many of the flying personnel of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons received their initial flying training in these flying clubs at the extraordinarily cheap rate of 25s. or 30s. an hour.
Now I come to the question of the Air Training Corps, which is the pre-Service organisation that should provide the large majority of recruits for the R.A.F. If the Secretary of State had been able to be present at the Royal Albert Hall one night last week and had seen the great rally of the Air Training Corps and the boxing display which they gave, he would have realised that these boys are the right stuff and just the type he wants to get into the R.A.F. They are the type 1995 who want to get into the R.A.F., not for what they can get out of it, but for what they can put into it. I understand that there is what is called a working party considering the future of the A.T.C., and that certain recommendations have been made. Territorial Associations were informed that, on an appointed day, they would take over the administration of the A.T.C. One association, of which I can speak with personal knowledge, formed a special committee to deal with the A.T.C., which they expected would be handed over to their administration on 1st April.
We are now told that that scheme has been entirely pushed overboard, and that discussions are still going on. Nobody knows what the future of the A.T.C. is to be, or who will control it, and that state of affairs is extremely bad for the prestige of the Corps and for the morale of the very hard-working local committees, which for years have striven to build up the A.T.C. and make it what it is today. Therefore, I hope that in his reply the Secretary of State will be able to tell the House that the Air Ministry have at long last a definite, unalterable policy for the future of the A.T.C., and I personally hope very much that it will be entrusted to the Territorial and Air Force Associations, which have had great experience for many years in administering the Territorial and Auxiliary Air Force units.
In conclusion, I believe I am right in saying that, in last year's Debate on the Estimates, the Secretary of State said that, during the year, he would seek the assistance of hon. Members in all parts of the House in regard to the Auxiliary Air Force and general recruiting for the R.A.F. His colleague, the Secretary of state for War, has certainly made more use of Members of Parliament than the right hon. and learned Gentleman has done up to the moment, and I hope that in future he will realise that, so far as the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the Volunteer Reserve and the A.T.C. are concerned, hon. Members on this side of the House do not treat these matters as a party issue, but are prepared to give of their very best in order to help him to ensure that the Reserves in the Auxiliary Air Force and the Air Training Corps are brought up to strength and 1996 that they maintain that position which is their due and which was theirs before the war.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Perhaps this is a convenient opportunity for me to intervene in the discussion on the Amendment which the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) introduced. May I say at once to the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert) that I think he would agree that I have never in any way sought to deal on Royal Air Force matters with hon. Members of this House on a party basis, and, if I have not been able to make more use of individual Members of Parliament than I have tried to do, it is because of special reasons which I was not able to overcome.
§ Wing-Commander Hulbert
I do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to misunderstand me, but it is a fact that, as far as recruiting activities are concerned, the War Office seeks the assistance of hon. Members more than his own Department.
§ Mr. Henderson
I should not like to accept that, or to agree that that was the situation in which we found ourselves, because I was hoping towards the end of my remarks tonight to make an appeal which was going to be extended far beyond the bounds of my own party. There has been no speech on this Amendment which in any way has had a party flavour, and I want to start by saying that, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Air, I am very much concerned, as was the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Amendment, by the paucity of those who have so far joined the various branches of our Reserve and Auxiliary forces. At the same time, I should like to put before the House certain relevant facts which I think, may go some distance at any rate, towards explaining what appears to be the very unsatisfactory position in which we find ourselves today.
First of all, may I deal with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I think we would get a better understanding of the situation if we analysed what we call the auxiliary forces by dividing them into the Auxiliary Squadrons, the Fighter Control Units and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment Squadrons. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons have been in existence for several years. There are 1997 26 fighter control units, seven of which were formed early in 1947, and 19 in the middle of last year. The recruiting campaign for the fighter control units, for the Royal Air Force Regiment and for squadrons with the Anti-Aircraft did not really begin until October. Therefore, while I am not saying that I am satisfied with the progress of the recruiting campaign, it is true to say that we did not begin that campaign, rightly or wrongly—it is not for me to say why we did not begin it before—until last October.
There are 20 Royal Auxiliary squadrons. Hon. Members have referred to the fact that these squadrons are not completely re-equipped with jets. The present position is that four have been completely re-equipped. Three Sundays ago I spent the day with one of the first squadrons to be re-equipped, the Warwickshire Squadron. I am bound to say that the keenness and the spirit of those young men made a great impression on my mind and I agree that we have got to do everything we can, and as soon as we can, to see that those squadrons—and we regard them as part of the front line—are properly equipped for any emergency in which they may have to take part. The difficulty has been that we have certain—I will not say commitments—requirements in relation to our friends in Western Union—France, Holland and Belgium—and we have had to balance the available supply—which we all know has doubled as from last September—with the requirements. We must balance those different requirements not only as regards our friends in Western Union, but also with Fighter Command, the Regular squadrons, as well.
Four more squadrons will be re-equipped during the next 12 months and more will start to be re-equipped in the following 12 months. This year, in addition, we are supplying seven squadrons with three Vampires for training purposes so that the pilots and ground staff can familiarise themselves with the type of jet machine which the squadrons will get in due time. I am not saying that is completely satisfactory, and I can assure the House and those particularly interested in these Air Force squadrons that if it is possible to expedite that programme of re-equipment with jets, I shall certainly take advantage of the opportunity. I would just remind the hon. 1998 Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that the recruiting position, as far as the Auxiliary Air Force squadrons are concerned, is not too bad. We are practically up to establishment in officers and air crew.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am dealing with the flying squadrons; they have two flights, one operational and one training. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not present because another hon. Member made the claim that the only flying squadron up to strength was the Nottingham Squadron. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, there are two or three squadrons within 20 miles of this House which are also up to strength. There is 604 Squadron.
§ Mr. Robinson
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgotten that I was not referring to the auxiliary squadrons but to the V.R. and in particular to the University Air Squadrons?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, but I want to make it quite clear that some of these squadrons are up to strength.
The overall picture with regard to the ground crews is that they are about 65 per cent. complete. I think the position with regard to the flying squadrons is relatively satisfactory. I do not know whether the House has been interested in the recent announcement about the formation of 20 flights—Air Observation Post flights—formed into five squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. This is an important development, but, there again, it will not be of much consolation to the hon. Gentleman because I am not able to say that the recruits are in as we are just starting to recruit. In fact, we have only started the first squadron, which is now forming at Colerne in Wiltshire, and I am not able to give any progress report as to recruitment. However, I hope that these squadrons will be supported because they are a very good example of the work of co-operation we want to see in these days between the Air Force and the Army in land operations.
A certain amount has been said about the fighter control units and the Royal Observer Corps. I want to remind the House that the 26 fighter control units 1999 are, relatively speaking, a new development. For most of them, as I have already indicated, recruiting only commenced last October. I think there is a good deal of justification for the criticisms that have been made as to their location. We have these 26 units and there are many people who, I have no doubt, would like to join a fighter control unit, and there are certainly a good many women who would. We are very anxious that at least 50 per cent. of the personnel which we require for these fighter control units should be women, but they are not able to join because of the distance from their homes. The desirability of raising more and similar units in order to tap a wider recruiting field is being examined, and I hope that may go some way towards solving the problem.
I cannot over emphasise the importance of the work of these units. The trouble is that they are not spectacular and do not make an appeal to the average young man. But there is no gainsaying their very real importance, forming as they do part of the reporting and control system which is so essential to the effective operation of any fighter command. Their work, together with that of the Royal Observer Corps—the eyes of the Air Force—and the regular radar operators is an essential factor in our readiness to meet air attack. We hope to have more town centres, but we are up against the usual difficulty of accommodation. That applies not only in relation to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force flying squadrons, some of whom are having difficulty with their town centres, but also to the Fighter Control Units.
I would just add one word about the Royal Observer Corps which, although primarily a civilian body, forms part, operationally speaking, of the Air Force reserves. This Corps, after doing indispensable and invaluable work during the war, was re-opened at the beginning of January, 1947, and has now attained a strength of 14,000. Despite the developments of radar and the increased speed of aircraft, we consider that the Royal Observer Corps still has a very important role to fulfil.
May I now deal for a moment with the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington). He has been 2000 very anxious to help, and I appreciate the interest that he has taken in these matters, but my difficulty has been to satisfy him, at least on his suggestion concerning the formation of an Air Force Marine Unit and an Air-Sea Rescue Squadron. It has been decided to form four Royal Auxiliary Air Force Marine Units and two Air-Sea Rescue Squadrons, and on present plans these units will be based at Tayport, Blyth, Felixstowe and Mountbatten. I am very sorry that I am not able to arrange for one to be stationed at Southend where I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend would be the best recruiting agent that we could have, but we cannot have them everywhere, and I am sure that his loss will be the gain of hon. Members who have been pressing me to station them elsewhere, at Plymouth for example.
Now I come to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. My hon. and gallant Friend is quite right; one of the difficulties about the Volunteer Reserve Force is the fact that it is not organised in units. It is a pool of trained volunteer reservists, and the aim is to have available a body of men and women trained in flying and ground duties who can be fitted into the structure of the Royal Air Force whenever and wherever they are needed at the outset of an emergency. It is quite true, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggested, that we are very short.
The strength at the moment is 4,000 aircrew among whom are 37 women pilots. All these, except a number in the University Air Squadrons, are up to at least air crew standard and most of them are operational air crew. I announced last year that under our National Service entry scheme we were going to train 300 National Service entrants as pilots each year. Two hundred of these will go into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and the others will go to make up the annual requirement of the Royal Auxiliary Flying Squadron—100 a year.
As to training, criticism has been made of the Tiger Moth—the machine which is being used by the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. I am glad to say that we shall now be able to provide these Reserve Flying Schools where the training is carried out with a more advanced type of training aircraft. The Tiger Moth trainer is to be replaced by the Chipmunk. This is an all-metal air- 2001 craft, and I am advised that it represents a very marked improvement over the Moth. We shall be able to bring our reservists up to a high standard in instrument and all-weather flying which is impossible so long as we use the Tiger Moth.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
While I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, surely he is overstressing the qualities of the Chipmunk. I think he will agree that what is required in the Reserve is a pilot who can fly an aeroplane and fire his guns accurately. How on earth are the reservists going to get their practice on a little 100-horsepower trainer?
§ Mr. Henderson
When the experts fall out it is very difficult for an amateur to step in, but I am advised that the Chipmunk is a very great improvement on the Tiger Moth, and that short of providing all these schools with numbers of jet machines, which in present circumstances is quite impossible—we may be able to do that in due course; I do not know—the Chipmunk is supposed to be a very excellent replacement for training purposes.
§ Mr. Henderson
Not all of them. I am not a pilot so I cannot speak from personal experience—and there are many others who are not pilots but who have had to deal with air matters—but I am told that it is important for a young pilot to keep his hand in. If the Chipmunk comes up to the performance that it is supposed to have, it may very well be an excellent substitute for the really operational aircraft which many people would like to have.
Now for a few words about the University Air Squadrons. The position here is reasonably satisfactory. There are 14 with a present total strength of nearly 800 pilots out of an establishment of 960. Their sole purpose, as the hon. Member for South Blackpool (Mr. Roland Robinson) knows, is not merely to provide commissioned officers for the Regular Force, although that is one of their expectations. The primary purpose is to prepare university undergraduates for commissioned service, not only in the 2002 Regular but in the Auxiliary and the Reserve Air Forces. They are also designed to maintain the interest of universities in flying and flying problems. This scheme is considered to have been very successful; it taps a valuable reservoir, and has provided some first-class material for the Air Force, both Regular and Reserve. So successful has it been that we are now about to form a further three squadrons at three universities in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "In Wales?"] No, I do not think Wales is included.
May I now deal with some of the points which were raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert)? He asked me whether the A.T.C. is going to be put under the Territorial Army and Air Force Association. I do not want to go into details about the A.T.C. because the Under-Secretary will deal with it in his speech, but I can say that the Air Council has accepted in principle the proposal that the A.T.C. should be administered by the T.A.F.A.s throughout the country. The date when this will come into operation has not been decided. It may be done on a phased basis.
The hon. and gallant Member asked me a question about travelling time. The question of travelling time and attending the place of training is under consideration, particularly as regards the case to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers where they assemble at a given point and transport is provided for them. When persons so assemble at a given point and travel collectively to a training centre, it has been agreed that training may count from the time of assembly. Whether this arrangement for the provision for special Service transport will meet the difficulty or whether some further concession will be required is now being examined. I think that meets the points raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman concerning the time between the point of assembly and reaching the training unit.
§ Wing-Commander Hulbert
Except that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be too insistent on collective travelling. It may work very unfairly against a man who has a small car. Why should he suffer as compared with the man who wants to go by public transport?
§ Mr. Henderson
One grievance perhaps creates another, but the whole question is being examined on the basis to which I have just referred.
Another question was that concerning the second suit. Again during my Sunday visits representations have been made to me in various quarters about the need for a second suit of battledress. So far as my Department is concerned, this is receiving most sympathetic consideration, but I am not yet in a position to make a firm announcement because this will obviously have repercussions upon the other Services. I myself have the greatest sympathy with this requirement.
Another point concerns flying clubs. Of course, the position is not quite so simple as it appears. My difficulty is that a large proportion of the members of most of these flying clubs are well past military age and, therefore, there is no advantage to be gained by the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not know whether they are entirely suitable for the A.T.A. That does not alter the fact that there is a case for giving earnest consideration to the question whether we should not keep these clubs in being. Perhaps the position is not very satisfactory, but it is receiving my own very earnest consideration, and if it is possible to do anything the House can rely upon me to do what I can.
The hon. and gallant Member rightly expressed concern at the fact that the establishments serving the various branches of our Reserve and Auxiliary Forces were not filled. I frankly admit that the strength of any front line, whether Navy, Army or Air Force, must inevitably depend, in an emergency, on the strength and efficiency of its reserves. Whatever difference there may be between the other side of the House and this side on method—I do not believe there is any difference on the more fundamental aspects of defence—there is certainly a wide measure of agreement on the urgent need for securing more recruits for our reserve and auxiliary Forces. I am not pessimistic about the position so far as the next few years are concerned because, as the House knows, there are nearly a million men and women, who served 2004 during the war, who will be available if an emergency should occur during the next two or three years. As time passes, of course, they will cease to have that potential value, and we shall have to fall back more and more on straight recruiting into our reserve and auxiliary Forces.
Anything which this Debate can do to bring home to our young men and women the great importance of joining—and not merely waiting to be called—one of these Reserve or Auxiliary units, and getting trained or keeping their hand in, is so. much the better from the point of view of this country. However much we may have a perfect organisation at the top that will not carry us very far. We have to bring home to these young people the fact that they must play their part by becoming part-time sailors or soldiers or, in our case, airmen or airwomen. While I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that the present position is not satisfactory, I think it is better than he made it out to be, and that we have a good deal to encourage us in the excellent recruiting returns of the last three to six months. We can only hope that as a result of this Debate, and co-operation from all sides of the House, we may be able to face the future with even greater confidence.
§ Mr. Hogg
As I indicated to the House, it is not the belief of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself that it would be in the public interest to divide on the Amendment. That being so, I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I asked the leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment in order that the House might proceed once more with the general Debate.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dodds (Dartford)
It is with great humility that I take part in this Debate, all the more so as in my service in the Royal Air Force, I did not rise to commissioned rank. A Debate of this sort is almost exclusively the happy hunting ground every year of the air-commodores, the wing-commanders and the squadronleaders. I believe that on this question of manpower in the Service the voice of the other ranks should be heard, because it is an important factor in building up any branch of the Service. I quote a 2005 sentence from the memorandum by the Secretary of State:I must repeat what I said last year, that until there is an adequate proportion of experienced Regulars the Royal Air Force cannot be fully efficient.Brilliant speeches have been made in Debate after Debate by admirals, generals, brigadiers and other high ranking officers, but what has been completely forgotten, when dealing with the manpower question in relation to long-term agreements to serve in any of the Services, is the need for commanding officers with enough common sense, in this enlightened age, to treat the men who go in for the adventurous and romantic life of the Services as grownups and not as naughty children.
Some brilliant speeches were made last week on the Army Estimates, including that by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). He put a point which is of great interest to all taxpayers, that what is needed is an immediate advance of 25 per cent. on the 1946 pay code, which, for the Army, would mean an additional £15 million. Some hon. Members who have risen to dizzy heights in the Services have long forgotten that the other ranks have deep feelings on the question of Service life. I could quote glaring examples of orders which have recently been given to men in the Services. I shall merely quote the classical case of orders given to members of the R.A.F. at Leconfield. "The Star" made some pungent comments in connection with the disciplinary action taken there in February last. They said:The Air Ministry say that the leave stoppage was quite fair, and upheld by the regulations. The fairness is certainly questionable, and if this is upheld by the regulations the sooner the regulations are altered the better. It does not make sense. Tearing down the poster"—that is, the recruiting poster which led to the incident—was an act of indiscipline. But to find the culprit was it really necessary to employ methods reminiscent of the Fifth Form at St. Dominics?They were quite right, and one or two hon. Members tried to raise the matter in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) put a Question on 15th February to my right hon. and learned Friend. He asked: 2006why about 700 airmen and Women's Royal Air Force personnel were deprived of weekend passes at Leconfield Air Station. Yorkshire, on 5th February, 1949?My right hon. Friend replied:… The incident which led to the withdrawal of weekend pass privileges at this particular station was not an isolated one, and in the interests of discipline it could not be allowed to pass unnoticed. While, in general, the collective withdrawal of privileges is to, be deprecated the decision as to what disciplinary action is appropriate in any particular circumstances must rest with the individual commanding officer.I recognise the difficulty of my right hon. Friend in a Service Department in which there is a good deal of clannishness between those in the Department and high ranking officers in Service stations. He used the word "deprecated," which is a step in the right direction, but went on:I wish to make it clear that I have every confidence in the commanding officer concerned, who has a fine record in the Service in peace and in war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 163–164.]The other ranks of the Services would no doubt appreciate that very fine record, but if there is a great need for voluntary recruitment of long service men, which would enable the evils of National Service to be done away with, there must be a better answer to actions that are taken by commanding officers.
I want to bring my few remarks to a conclusion by mentioning that last Saturday I had the task of appealing in a market place for recruits for the Royal Air Force. At the end I was spoken to by two N.C.O.s of the R.A.F. I wish it were possible for me to tell the House the remarks that were made to me by these N.C.O.s whom it is so desirable that we should retain in the Service. Sufficient for me to say that one of them made it quite clear that although he had taken up his service in the R.A.F. as a career, in matters of this sort—he specifically referred to the action taken at Leconfield—he would not go back into the Service even if they doubled his pay, until some assurance were given of protection from commanding officers of that calibre.
I hope that my right hon. Friend and his advisers will recognise that if we are to have voluntary recruitment of the necessary types of men, an air of reality needs to be brought into the Service Departments in order to encourage those men, in this enlightened age. This is a 2007 matter very much more important than the eloquent speeches of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Liberal Party, when they appealed over the air for recruits. Therefore, I make this appeal, on behalf of the other ranks, who are asking that common sense should be exercised in matters of this character.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
Like the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds), I rise to speak with great humility. It is true that I reached commissioned rank in the R.A.F. but it was the very modest one of flightlieutenant. My excuse for intervening in the Debate is that I have kept in touch with quite a number of those whom I had the honour to serve during the war, especially in Bomber Command. I should like to make one or two observations for the consideration of the Under-Secretary of State, who I understand is to reply, upon the general theme to which I am glad we have now returned, because it means that there is much less liability of being called to Order.
I want to say a few words upon the general strategic considerations which confront us. I am sorry, in a way, that the Secretary of State did not refer to this matter in his speech, but it seems to me that the conclusion of the Brussels Pact and the imminent conclusion of the Atlantic Pact transform the situation in which we now find ourselves. Whatever plans we now make have to be made within a new framework and against a new background. I was astonished that the Secretary of State, in introducing the Estimates, never thought fit to mention the entirely new situation which the prospect of some form of Western European Union has opened up to this country. It must have transformed completely the strategic situation which confronts us. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to say something about that matter when he replies.
I sometimes wonder whether the defence organisation established under the Brussels Pact is anything more than a façade at the present time, with a whole lot of headquarters, of commanders-inchief—glittering commanders-in-chief like Lord Montgomery and the Lord knows 2008 whom else—but is there anything behind it? It worries me sometimes to think that we may be trying to put up a sort of bluff. Whatever else we may do to the Russians we cannot bluff them, at any rate for any length of time. That ties up with this secrecy business, about which I shall have a word to say in a few minutes. I have one or two points to put first to the Under-Secretary of State. The first of them is this: I would like him and the House to consider whether there is a genuine will on the part of the Western democracies to resist any further aggression by Russia. It is not until we are satisfied on this point that it will be possible to work out an effective common strategy of resistance.
There are some very cheering indications, so far as this country is concerned. I think one of them should be put on record. I am going to venture—rather an odd thing for a Member on this side of the House to do—to put on record in HANSARD some sentences of what I think was a very remarkable article in the weekly newspaper entitled "Tribune." It was an article headed:A Settlement with Stalin?It contained these words:The world would dearly love 'a settlement.' Great numbers of people all over the world would be sorely tempted to sell their own souls and other people's liberties for such a boon. The settlement won at that price would not last. … The peoples of the Western world, with all those nations of Asia and elsewhere which they can gather around them, must summon their energies to pursue their legitimate ambitions of defence, economic development and democratic advance. … They must show the difference between democracy and slavery, between peace and surrender. It is going to be a long, hard trial of strength, but these are the only ways to prevent war and to save freedom.That, from an extreme Left-wing newspaper in this country seems to me encouraging.
I was further encouraged, as I think we all were, by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on the Army Estimates when he went so far as to say with almost brutal frankness, that the first priority strategic job was how to prevent Russia from over-running Europe before America can get here. He could not have put it much straighter than that. I therefore conclude that the will to resist exists in this country, except of course on the part of the 2009 Communists, who are also quite frank about it. I think that the will to resist exists in Holland and in Belgium. But what about Italy? Above all, what about France? Here is the key to the defence of Western Europe. The French Prime Minister said the other day:France cannot afford to be liberated again.There is a lot of good sense in that remark, alarming good sense, but still good sense. I have been on the Continent of Europe quite often in recent weeks and I think that, above all, they want to know what, in fact, we are going to do in the event of future aggression. They want reassurance; they need reassurance. They have not forgotten 1940 when, in the event, we could not and did not provide the air power, the air cover, which was necessary. We have all been reading, or many of us have been reading, about this recently in the "Daily Telegraph." We do not want that ever to happen again. I can assure hon. Members that, at any rate so far as France is concerned, they are not yet sufficiently convinced that we mean business in this matter, and by business I mean one thing and one thing only—the Royal Air Force. They are not yet convinced about the cover we are prepared to give them in the event of trouble.
I would also say quite frankly that they are by no means convinced by the Berlin air lift, concerning which the Secretary of State for Air made such play this afternoon—legitimate play, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said, this is a wonderful technical achievement in improvisation. But on the Continent of Europe they wonder quite a lot of things. They want to know where, and how, it is going to end. They say to themselves, "Oh, yes, it is a very formidable technical achievement, but is it not at the same time a bit of a humiliation that they should be compelled to drive machines through the air when the roads are there and when the railways are there?"
§ Mr. Boothby
They would be if we did something about it. I do not think we should delude ourselves into thinking that Europe as a whole regards the Berlin air lift as an undiluted triumph for the 2010 Western democracies. They regard it as a very remarkable technical achievement, but as a very considerable diplomatic humiliation; and I think we had much better face up to the fact. It is a remarkable achievement, but it certainly is no indication of great strength, and they are asking, as I sometimes ask myself, how long is it to go on? Year in and year out? I was disconcerted by the emphasis which the Secretary of State applied to this particular operation—phenomenon, I should call it—of the Berlin air lift. It is not the final answer, or anything like the final answer. All the boys deserve is a pat on the back for having done a grand job, but do not let us think that the Berlin air lift is anything for us to crow about or anything like a triumph for the Western democracies over the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
I have studied with great care the Debate on the Army Estimates. I agree with the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) made a very remarkable speech in that Debate, as did the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. I agree with them both. What we have to aim at is a highly-trained, mechanised, professional Army which can fight. It will take time, and I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who is sitting there, when he reckons—and I reckon the same thing, too—that the disparity between Russia and the Western democracies will be of the order of 50 divisions to 15 divisions in the measurable future. Therefore, I say that no land forces can be brought into being either here or on the Continent in any circumstances that could possibly by themselves stop a Russian advance to the coast in any foreseeable future.
I do not know whether hon. Members have read an interesting article by Sir A. Duff Cooper, which was published recently, on the prospects of Western Union. He drew attention to one fact—and I am very glad that he did, because it is important—and it was this: the fact that we are an island has ceased to be an asset from a strategic point of view and has become something of a liability. On the mainland, if you are subjected to intense bombardment you can withdraw. You can even withdraw 2011 your factories if you have enough land behind you, as Russia did in 1941 and 1942; whole factories and even whole towns were withdrawn 500 to 600 miles—again, a remarkable technical achievement, like the air lift, but possible on a continent; but in an island you cannot withdraw—you can withdraw nothing. I say to hon. Members that if the coast of Western Europe ever again falls into the hands of a powerful enemy, well equipped with modern weapons, this country will not be tenable for any great length of time. I say that the only way to prevent war—or, if war comes, to stop the Russians getting to the coast—is to establish overwhelming air superiority, and to establish it quickly.
§ Mr. Warbey
Will the hon. Gentleman also refer to what was said in the same article that he has quoted, namely, that to build up two power blocs in the world would inevitably lead to war, and that the only way to prevent that war is to form an independent third group of Western Union which is not tied either to America or Russia?
§ Mr. Boothby
I do not think that the hon. Member follows my activities and efforts with the attention that I, personally, think they deserve. If he did, he would know very well that I am one of the foremost advocates of that third force advocated by Sir Duff Cooper. I want to see Europe built up stronger, but I say emphatically that it is quite impossible unless we establish in Western Europe quickly—and by "quickly" I mean in the next 12 months—overwhelming air power. It is, literally, a matter of life and death. It is our first and last line of defence. By comparison with that, even the Royal Navy does not matter so much, and, therefore, should not have the same degree of priority.
We have heard a lot of talk in this House recently about the submarine menace. No doubt, it is serious. Let hon. Members take a look at the map, however, and see what exits the Soviet Union has to the Western Ocean. There are only two—the Baltic and the Black Sea. Establish overwhelming air superiority over the exits from the Baltic and the Black Sea, and how are the submarines to use them in any extensive way? I doubt if they can. I do not know; it may be possible. They 2012 talk about Schnorkel and "snorts"; but I am not so sure. Anyway, I pin my faith to air power, and I know this: that whatever anybody may say about any other weapon, one is absolutely essential, and that is the air weapon. So we should build up air power. Therefore, we should give it absolute priority over everything else in the next 12 months. This argument has not yet been put so violently in the Debate, and that is why I am glad I caught your eye, Sir.
I do not want to detain the House long, but there are one or two further questions I should like to ask. I was sorry that the Secretary of State gave us no indication of what sort of Air Force he is trying to build. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley that he has been frightfully vague. We have no idea what his ultimate objectives are. I am sure of one thing, that this tremendous secrecy, carried, as I think it has been, far too far—and we have Lord Portal's own opinion that it is, and his opinion must carry weight—discourages recruiting at home, because people do not know what the target or the objective is. Moreover, I think it encourages our enemies abroad, because they think it is an indication of our weakness.
This subject has been flogged to death in this Debate, and in other Debates on the Services and Defence; and I would only add my protest against this fantastic secrecy, imposed, I know, not by the Secretary of State, but by the Minister of Defence, who can think of nothing and who does nothing but stop everybody from saying anything to anybody about our defences He sits there on the Front Bench and looks worried. He has plenty to worry about. But all he does is to impose an iron secrecy on all the Service Ministers. I noticed that when the Secretary of State was speaking today, and was about to say something about jet fighters, the Minister of Defence said, "No, no." It was his only intervention; and the Secretary of State sheered off that matter. Another thing we should like to know is what broad commitments we are to accept. Another thing we should like to know is how far we are prepared to go in the standardisation and pooling of equipment, and in the rationalisation and concentration of production. within the Western Union.
2013 I am glad the Secretary of State has come back because he dealt at some length with Bomber Command and our bomber force. We finished the war with by far the best night bomber force in the world. We were right on the top line. We finished the war also with the best fighter force. We still have the best fighters, but we have lost our foremost position so far as bombers are concerned. Here is a gap. We may retrieve that with the jet bomber. At the moment, it is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that we are on the top line so far as Bomber Command is concerned, because not even the Minister of Defence can conceal the fact that we are not. We all know the present position of Bomber Command, and we know we are not on the top line.
Have the Americans ever offered to fill the gap between the Lancaster, which is now obsolete, and the jet bomber, which is not yet in production? Have they offered to fill it with Super-Fortresses? Have they offered us 1,500 Super-Fortresses; and if so, why have we not taken them? Is it because of the idiotic slogan adopted by B.O.A.C. which has cost so many millions of the taxpayers' money of this country, "Build British"—and only British and build nothing else? It is a silly slogan which has cost us many millions of pounds and landed us in the end with the Tudor and the Brabazon. We were doing the night bombers and the fighters during the war, and the Americans were doing the day bombers and the transport. Is it surprising that they came out of the war with the best transport? Why did not B.O.A.C. go in for Constellations right away? It would not have cost—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
I would remind the hon. Gentleman this is not a Debate on civil aviation, and he must not go very much further.
§ Mr. Boothby
I cannot take that back, but I shall not refer to the subject of civil aviation any further.
This "Build British"—exclusively British—slogan, if we are to have Western Union and if it means anything at all, is rather silly. We should all build the best aeroplanes that we can, and then pool them. I believe that the slogan of the late Lord Fisher, "Build few and build fast, each one better than the last" 2014 was equally silly. In one year, we reduced the British Fleet from a position of absolute supremacy to one of parity with the German High Seas Fleet, by building the Dreadnought. I am a tremendous believer in having, at a given moment, a large number of aeroplanes. They may not be the best we can get, but it is better to have them, because a lot of people can fly them, and learn how to fly them; and we shall at any given moment be in a position of readiness and preparedness. I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to go too far with this business of always having the very last word. It is better to have quite a number of second last words than only one or two of the last words of all.
The White Paper envisages a reduction of strength in 1950 to a point lower than any since 1939; and this despite the fact that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has not reached 12 per cent. of the target. The Secretary of State has told us that the standard of morale in the Royal Air Force is not entirely satisfactory, and he repeated today that there is a general shortage of experience. On any view, these are serious and even alarming statements coming from the Secretary of State.
I venture to suggest that a reason for the personnel trouble in the Air Force today is inadequate security. We are not offering enough long-term commissions in the Air Force, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should very seriously consider the possibility of offering permanent commissions of varying periods to those who were in the Air Force during the war, of anything up to five, seven or 14 years, according to what would best suit the individuals concerned; and thus give them an opportunity of a comparatively long period of service.
I have had a bitter experience in this matter, because there were many able temporary officers during the war who wrote to me three years ago asking me to help them to get permanent commissions; and they were almost invariably turned down. We could not foresee the position that was giong to develop so soon; but, looking back, that was a tragedy; and it is to the credit of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Under-Secretary that quite a number of these men have now been taken back into the Air Force and given permanent commissions. That is all to the good. We must give them adequate security for tenure.
2015 The other point which I want to make on the personnel problem is this: I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman thought that it was beyond his ambit to talk about it, because, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, he would hear about it. I can assure him that the inadequancy of pay is one of the gravest questions confronting the Royal Air Force at the present time. I have a great friend who is a wing-commander in the Royal Air Force today; he is a very distinguished wing-commander, who has a permanent commission, the D.S.O., D.F.C. and so on; he is in charge of the operational flight at a bomber station. For obvious reasons I cannot give his name; but he wrote to me not so very long ago and said that the continuous and constant preoccupation of all his officers with their debts and their overdrafts was now getting so great that it really was greatly diminishing the efficiency of the squadron, and of the command as a whole. He said that they simply could not live on the money they were getting at the present time; they could not do their stuff. At the end of his letter he said:I admit that I am writing under stress. because one of my closest friends, and one of the most promising officers in the Royal Air Force, has recently committed suicide and left a letter to say that this is the sole reason he has done so.Now, I do not want to make too colourful or dramatic a statement; and I do not want to exaggerate; but we have been hammering away, as have hon. Members opposite as well, on this question of pay for months and months and months, and nothing has been done; just a few grudging concessions are occasionally made to the Services, and then taken away in taxation. The Government come down to this House and announce increased pay for the Armed Forces, and everybody says, "Thank God! we are going to get something at last." But then, with the same gesture, the Government make all the allowances subject to taxation; and the net result for many officers is that they are worse off at the end of these so-called concessions than they were before they were given.
I must, however, make a rather dramatic statement tonight, because I believe pay to be the main cause of the bad recruiting for the Royal Air Force. I said just now, and I repeat it, that this is a matter of life and death to us. I say to 2016 the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he must give better conditions and pay, not only to the flying officers—who I think, following the American example, should get additional pay for hazardous service—but to the skilled mechanics upon whom, in the final resort, all depends; they should be offered conditions rather better than they can obtain in civil life at the present time. That is my belief and conviction.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman dealt most sympathetically with the question of the lack of married quarters, and the too frequent postings. I welcome what he said, and I fully agree and understand that he will do his best about it. But it is this question of pay, on which he did not touch, which seems to me to get right down to the guts of the personnel problem. He did not touch on that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Perhaps I should have said that he did just touch on it; but we all know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is. At the same time, it is vitally important.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I should be very grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would let me have the particulars of the case of the officer who committed suicide and gave the question of pay as his reason. That certainly has not been brought to my notice, and I should like to look into it.
§ Mr. Boothby
I should certainly be prepared to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman full information of that case. I am not trying to say that it is common, or usual, or anything like that. I do not want to over-exaggerate. I am perfectly prepared—naturally without giving the name of the officer who wrote it—to show the Secretary of State a most alarming letter saying that the whole business of these overdrafts and the pay of flying officers is getting on their minds to such an extent that it is seriously impairing their efficiency. I have had many other similar letters from officers as well.
I should like to conclude with a quotation from a letter I received from a flightlieutenant the other day. I am now coming down the scale a bit. It was rather an amusing letter; and I think the Under-Secretary might well give some consideration to the points it raises. Hon. and right hon. Members may think that 2017 I am going on rather too long, but I shall be only another three or four minutes. I would remind them that the Army Estimates and the Navy Estimates went on till one o'clock in the morning: these Air Estimates are even more important to this country at the present time. This officer wrote to me and said:If you are going to speak on the Air Estimates there is one point that might be of interest, and that is the vast quantity of orders and instructions that pass out 'for the information and guidance of all concerned.' Last year there were over 1,100 Air Ministry orders, quite apart from anything else. Not only does it make it difficult to act on any initiative one is supposed to have, but it makes us virtually into clerks. The ratio of men on the ground to those in the air is 86 to 14. This seems a bit staggering. Unless you happen to be in a squadron, it is no exaggeration to say that the most difficult thing to do in the Royal Air Force today is to fly. And there are not many squadrons.I have the feeling that there is a lot of truth in that this avalanche of A.M.O.s which even during the war when it was cut down to the minimum fell on one's head as an adjutant. There is really too much of this paper that is chucked about. A lot of officers with their careers at stake have not got the guts to do what they ought to do with 75 per cent. of it, and that is to put it straight into the waste paper basket.
That is all I have to say. It is all so horribly familiar to me—the relentless way in which history repeats itself. This is the sort of speech I was making to the House 15 years ago, and my peroration tonight will consist of my last words in a speech I made on 28th November, 1934, which was at a time when Hitler could have been stopped. What I said then, and repeat now, is this:If the world knows that the United States and the British Empire stand together and are adequately defended, nobody will dare to challenge that combination. To hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition"—Those are the people who are now in Government—who are always preaching disarmament and are always accusing the Tory Party of jingoism and of fomenting war, I would say that if the people in the next 10 years who believe in freedom are not prepared in the last resort to defend it, freedom will assuredly perish in this world at the hands of those who do not believe in it,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th Nov. 1934; Vol. 295, c. 964–5.]Those words are just as true today as they were 15 years ago.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Haire (Wycombe)
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has made his usual provocative and interesting speech, some parts of which may have been highly over-dramatised, but as one flight-lieutenant to another, I would say that there was much of it with which I agreed. His reading of "Tribune" seems to indicate that his education is progressing in our direction.
§ Mr. Haire
There was one serious omission in his speech, which was equally evident in the case of the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), and that was the lack of recognition of the remarkable amount of information that was provided by the Secretary of State in his speech this afternoon. It was much more than I expected and, I think, than most of us on this side expected. It is becoming rather a parrot cry or empty slogan of Members opposite to say that we are not getting the information and therefore we cannot debate these important problems. If Members care to look back to immediately before the war, they will find that from 1936 onwards very little information was given to the House. It is true that in 1937 we were told the total number of squadrons and in 1938 we were given the number of front-line aircraft, but it is equally true that in 1939 we got neither.
I suggest that the information given lulled many Members opposite, who then were in office, into a false sense of security, because the number of aircraft and squadrons is no indication whatever of the power of the Royal Air Force. Members will know, particularly those who served in the Royal Air Force, that in spite of the information given we did not have an adequate Royal Air Force when we entered the war to meet our commitments at that time. In fact, we were extremely lucky to get through the Battle of Britain. I suggest to Members opposite who believe that foreign attachés in foreign legations in London have this information, that it ought to be simple for their sleuths in the Conservative Central Office also to get the information, or that it indicates the fact 2019 that they have very little faith in the information which their sleuths procure.
§ Mr. Haire
I want to take up one point which the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen referred to. It seemed to me that he belittled the Berlin air lift. He said that it was a highly technical achievement and that the Secretary of State for Air was right in referring to it as such. I am one of the Members who has been fortunate enough to go to Berlin on the air lift, and I would join with my right hon. and learned Friend in congratulating all concerned in putting up a most magnificent achievement. If Berlin is in the front line of the cold war, then the air lift is one of the greatest battles in that war and we have won it.
The hon. Gentleman stated that in Western Europe there is a feeling of despondency about this air lift. In fact, the air lift is a very great defeat for Russia. In December last when I was in Berlin just before the municipal elections, the Russians were saying that by the end of January the air lift would have failed and by the beginning of February the evacuation of the city by the Western Allies would have begun. That is completely wrong and the Russians have taken a serious rebuff. It is a signal diplomatic triumph for this country and for America that we should have carried out this great achievement.
§ Mr. Boothby
In my view we shall not have won the Berlin air lift until the cars drive into that city.
§ Mr. Haire
The fact that we have greatly disappointed the Russians in their propaganda is a triumph. The people of Germany and of France are liberally acknowledging this success and our prestige has soared. I am going to suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that it is not enough to hand out bouquets to those taking part in this air lift. Only the other day the R.A.F. successfully carried the 100,000th ton of produce into Berlin. That has been done unfortunately with some loss of life. Over ten of the members of the R.A.F. have given their lives to this Berlin air lift and over 20 members of the American 2020 Air Force have lost their lives. If we are going properly to recognise the merits of this air lift, a medal should be struck to celebrate it and it should be given to those members of aircrews who have, in fact, flown a certain number of sorties—I would suggest 100—into Berlin. It is also right to recognise the part being played by maintenance crews in servicing the air lift. My right hon. and learned Friend might therefore equally evolve a means whereby this medal could be given to the ground forces, too.
On the question of the air lift there are one or two questions which I should like to put to my right hon. and learned Friend. He indicated that the air lift was likely to go on for a considerable period of time, indeed almost indefinitely. It must go on so long as the present diplomatic impasse lasts. Is he satisfied that the aerodromes he is using at present in the allied zones of Germany are adequate for the increased air lift of up to 8,000 to 10,000 tons a day? Would he consider taking a long term view and commence building some aerodromes nearer to the Iron Curtain, from which the hop to Berlin could be done in less time. That would enable us to carry out many more sorties per day with fewer aircraft. Then he could use the aerodromes we are using now for greater specialisation in the form of goods which are carried, as, for example, the French airport, Tegel, which I understand is being used for coal. My second question on the air lift is with regard to the extent of Allied cooperation in the task force. I understood when I was out there that while the cooperation was admirable in Berlin, it was not so good in the zones at the other end of the lift. I should like to be reassured by the Under-Secretary that the degree of co-operation has been improved.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the effect of the air lift on the aircraft being used. We must expect a high rate of unserviceability because some of the large aircraft we are using, like the Hastings and the Yorks, were never intended to do more than one landing per day but they are doing an average of 2½ and the strain on under-carriages and the danger which results must therefore be great. Does my hon. Friend hope to divert, for example, some of the Tudors which are now coming off the South 2021 American run to the air lift in order to increase the number of aircraft available? I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) when he referred to the fact that we were diverting far too many of our Air Force personnel into the air lift and therefore creating training difficulties. My right hon. Friend is faced with this dilemma, but I hope that he considers the proportion of personnel used for the air lift will not have a permanent weakening effect on the general training of the Royal Air Force.
In connection with the aircraft in the air lift. I was surprised to find that the charter companies were not under the direct supervision of the Air Ministry itself but were engaged and controlled by, of all Departments of State, the Foreign Office. Am I not right in saying that they are engaged by the Foreign Office?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I believe that the Foreign Office foots the bill, but the companies are engaged by, and their contract is with, British European Airways.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
As I am an interested party, I should like to say that the charter companies are supplying their own maintenance staffs entirely. I believe that my own aircraft there last month beat the record for service in hours flown by civilian aircraft. That speaks well for the maintenance staff.
§ Mr. Haire
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his company on that performance, but it was reported to me that the same happy situation 2022 does not apply to other charter companies participating in the air lift. Before I leave the question of the Berlin air lift, I think it right to say that its success is an answer to hon. Gentlemen opposite who say that our Air Force is deficient today. Our Air Force was able to rise to this occasion. It is true that in the early stages the air lift was to some extent an improvisation, but how magnificently the combined air forces have triumphed over all difficulties, and that within a mere matter of a few months. There is the answer to hon. Gentlemen opposite who consider that our Air Force is not adequate to the demands which may be made upon it.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen spoke about the importance of the Air Force today. I absolutely agree with him that the Air Force has become the senior Service today. I would like the House to recognise that. As we all agree, there must be a short-term strategic plan with the Air Force cast in the rôle of the shock absorber in initial operations, should they happen. For that reason I should like my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Air to recognise that the Air Force must be built on that pattern. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) in a recent Defence Debate made the point that we ought to concentrate on fighter aircraft. I entirely agree with him. If the Air Force is built up mainly on its fighter strength, using both day and night fighters, and its fighter-bomber strength, I believe that we shall have a Force which would be able to repel the initial attack.
Now I believe, with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, that we ought to integrate our bombing forces with those of the United States, particularly on the production side. Thereby we would not only save considerable funds but with, as I believe, their expert experience in the manufacture of bomber aircraft, they can provide us with the machines. We should, of course, continue to train an adequate number of bomber crews. We certainly hold the technical lead in fighter aircraft, and I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend indicate how much we had improved and would improve our fighter force. I think we should take advantage of our fighter lead and strengthen that side of the Air Force much more than we are doing at present.
2023 I think it was the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) who referred to the necessity for integrating our plans with those of the Empire. This is now becoming an annual request. Both last year and the year before we suggested that there should be Empire co-operation; first, we argued, for training, now, we are arguing, of Air Forces, for strategic purposes. My right hon. and learned Friend today gave no hint whatever that, apart from exchanges of visits between one squadron and another, we were indeed working to an Empire plan.
Another most important point which has emerged in recent Debates on the Forces has been the submarine menace, to which the hon. Gentleman also has just referred. I have a special interest here because, as a member of Coastal Command during the war, like my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Shackleton) we fully appreciated what a menace this was. I wish that all hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House knew that in 1943 this country was on the verge of starvation because of the excessive rate of sinkings in the Atlantic. It was only when we bridged the gap with air power in the Atlantic that the rate of sinkings was reduced. I remember how in operations rooms at Headquarters we saw those deadly U-boats lurking in the Atlantic, and saw the enormous shipping losses recorded every day. This is indeed a great menace, and if it is true, as hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to suggest, that there are 282 Russian submarines available of a new type, then it still is a deadly menace. In spite of what the hon. Gentleman has just said about two outlets from Russian waters, Russian submarines will get out, and obviously will find bases in Western Europe.
We have had today a recognition from the Secretary of State of the great part played by Coastal Command. I was pleased to hear that, and, if I may say so, it was somewhat overdue. There has been, however, a certain amount of uncertainty on both sides of the House as to what were the figures of actual U-boat sinkings in the war and in the meantime I have looked up those figures. I can tell the House that U-boats sunk by all British Forces in the last war were 524, and the number sunk by aircraft were 248, that is, just under 50 per cent. 2024 By Allied Forces the total number of U-boats sunk was 690, and the number sunk by aircraft was 390, making a total of 56 per cent. It becomes clear that the Air Arm is one of the best ways of defeating the submarine, and therefore I submit to my right hon. and learned Friend that he should make of prior importance the strengthening of Coastal Command.
I apologise for speaking at some length, but I want now to descend to the more mundane affairs of the Air Force, and to ask the Under-Secretary to give us a much clearer indication than we have had so far of the conditions and amenities which prevail in the Air Force for those chaps who are known as the "other ranks." The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) was indeed timely. According to the Estimates 102,000 National Service men are coming into the Royal Air Force this year. I heard with some concern the other day my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War say he had discovered that in the Army welfare conditions need to be improved. I should like to hear today from the Under-Secretary that he is satisfied that the conditions in the Royal Air Force are so good that we need not refer to them. I hope he will tell us also that the training given to these National Service men is not only adequate for their Air Force service but is useful for them in their civilian life. I should like to know whether it is true that there is a possibility for National Service men to be given training as aircrew during their 18 months' service. If so, obviously some of them can take up a career with one of our civil aviation Corporations. I had hoped to refer to the A.T.C., about which far too little has been said today. As a pre-service unit, the A.T.C. can capture the imagination and fire of youth and can give them that spirit of pride in the Royal Air Force which. I find, today is somewhat lacking.
My next point concerns the meteorological service. This is something which touches us all, whether we know anything about the Air Force or not. Those of us who do not have corns must fall back on the daily weather forecasts sent out by the Air Ministry. Is the Under-Secretary satisfied that he is now getting the right people into the Meteorological 2025 service and that they are receiving adequate training? I recollect that during the war people came into this service after the minimum of training. While, on the whole, they put up a very good show, it is true that, unfortunately, many of their forecasts were wrong and aircraft were lost. I should like to think that now we are building up a much better service.
I found the speech of the Minister today most encouraging. I recognised his limitations, on the ground of security, in giving full and adequate information, but I believe that after his statement today the country can feel reasonably safe behind the shield of the R.A.F.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
We have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) with considerable interest, and I agree with most of what he said. As far as the air lift is concerned, I can see his point of view and that also of my hon. Friend for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). As a technical achievement the air lift undoubtedly is outstanding and is something of which we can be very proud. But what the hon. Member for Wycombe did not say was the drain that that operation was making upon the other Commands. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us something about the difficulties of manning the air lift.
The hon. Member for Wycombe spoke about conditions before the war. I well remember, at the time of the Munich crisis, sitting in a biplane with a couple of guns but no paint even to camouflage the aeroplane. I went off to see one or two M.P.s and we got some paint. But do not let the hon. Member criticise this side, because his party has nothing to crow about as far as the years before the war were concerned. None of us is satisfied, but there was some good planning taking place even in 1931 and 1932 with the Spitfire and the Hurricane, although not in sufficient numbers; but had it not been for long-term planning we would not have had anything at all. The hon. Gentleman has nothing to be very proud about in that respect.
I came here this afternoon expecting to hear very little from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I thought he was going to follow the instructions of 2026 his master and the line of the Secretary of State for War and of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty in the recent Debates on Service Estimates. I was somewhat surprised—I will not say satisfied—when the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave us more than we thought we should get. That was at least encouraging, but I think it was only because hon. Members on both sides of the House—mostly on this side—have been at the Government for three years to come forward with this information. Of course the public want more information. I do not want to go over all that has been said about secrecy. One hon. Member ridiculed reports from foreign embassies, but I am certain they have a very good idea of the strength of our Air Force. That is not difficult if one can get petrol and drive round the country and see aerodromes and the types of aircraft. I was flying last Saturday and flew over one or two aerodromes and I know it is not difficult.
By all means let the Government keep secrets so far as radar is concerned and all the technical points, but we have sold jet turbines to Russia and the satellite countries. Although it is said that it does not help them in any way, it has probably saved them 10 or 15 years research work. Yet the British public are paying for this Air Force and may not know how strong it is. If the Americans can tell the strength of their Air Force, which is a very big one, surely the same could be done in this country.
A few weeks ago I put a question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the number of university candidates who had entered the Royal Air Force with permanent commissions and he replied that it was 25 since January, 1946. I take the opportunity of thanking him for a very lengthy memorandum he sent me dealing with the subject. I have read that memorandum and I am quite convinced that the Air Ministry have taken every possible step to get recruits but they have failed. They have had 25 university candidates in nearly three and a half years. There must he a reason for that.
It may be the same reason that Cranwell, the cadet college, is only two-thirds full. Before the War it was an expensive business to go to Cranwell, but the Government have made it free and one would 2027 have thought that boys would be clamouring to get into Cranwell, but not a bit of it. The same is true of Halton, the apprentice school. They were the backbone of the R.A.F. in the last war. Many of them rose to air rank but many are now buying themselves out. Literally by the dozens they are paying their £100 and getting out because they are not satisfied with conditions. There must be a reason. We cannot get recruits and men are buying themselves out. What is the reason? My hon. Friend the Member for South Blackpool (Mr. Roland Robinson) referred to it. It is pay and allowances.
When I interjected during the speech of the Minister of Defence a few weeks ago and asked him to face up to the fact that the men were asking for more pay, he slammed his fist on the Despatch Box and did not like it. I am going to enlarge on the subject tonight. I do not want to cause any alarm, but in my view there is an added risk in flying a military aeroplane. Probably the Air Force would say there is not, but I think there is an added risk and, as a result, headmasters of schools are not recommending the Air Force as a career and parents are not sending boys into the Service. I think it is regrettable but they say that it is because of continual postings and the fact that when they grow up and have children they cannot support and educate them on the pay they receive.
The hon. Member for Wycombe asked where we got our information. I received a letter yesterday from a flight-lieutenant in the Brigg Division who said he voted for the Socialist Party, the party to which the hon. Member belongs. The letter says that the annual income of a flight-lieutenant, after tax deduction, before the war was £380. Today, after two years as a flight-lieutenant, the pay is 25s. a day, which is equal to a net annual income of £390—he is £10 a year better off than before the war. He goes on to say:If the Government wishes to lower the standing and therefore the efficiency of an officer, then they have been conspicuously successful, but they must accept responsibility for inevitable deterioration in quality, both in the young man prepared to enter the Service, and the war-time officer now accepting the permanent commissions being almost indiscriminately handed out because of the recruiting campaign failure.2028 I do not agree with all that he says, but that is a letter from a young flightlieutenant now in the Air Force who voted for the Government. We do not all have to be sleuths to get our information. If these men are flying these aeroplanes at 600 miles an hour they should be paid a little more than a London bus driver, and it is about time that the Government really got down to this problem. It may cost a lot of money, and I shall refer to that aspect in a few minutes.
With regard to the question of giving permanent commissions before the war the applicant who was up for a shortservice commission was carefully interviewed and inquiries were made about the individual. At the end of the war there was a paper filled in like noughts and crosses. It was all done on paper and the man was never seen by anyone who granted him a permanent commission. I know of many really good officers who have been lost to the Air Force because they were not selected at the end of the war. Many who were kept on should not have been kept on. I ask that the age limit should be extended or else varied. If there is an outstanding man who has been out one, two or three years, then make the age limit 33 or whatever age he is so as to get a first-class man back. That is well worth doing. When holders of these short-service commissions are given a permanent commission they have to refund their gratuity. If they join the Service at the age of 18 their pension does not begin until they are 21. Why should these men be penalised and lose three years of their service before their pensionable period of service begins? That is one of the instances in which the Government are "chiselling." They should pay the rate for the job.
On the question of allowances, when the single officer is not accommodated in the mess he is given 11s. a day for the extra cost of living outside. A married officer not living in the mess also gets 11s. a day, but if he is able to find accommodation for his family he loses that allowance. The result is that there are young officers working in the Air Ministry sharing a room at £2 a week, if they can get one, and keeping their families in the country. The result is that they are separated and cannot afford to have their families living with them. In the case of Income Tax the average 2029 serving officer, in the course of 30 years' service, spends about ten years overseas, where he pays United Kingdom rate of Income Tax, for which he gets nothing in return, and he has to make all the other contributions also. In the case of the National Health Service he is now having to pay for medical attendance for himself and his family, which used to be free. That is my information.
When the Minister replies I should like him to tell us something about the deficiency in pilots and air crew. My information is that we are something like 1,000 pilots short in the Royal Air Force. It is all very well to have this magnificent programme of expansion. I have no doubt that the jet fighters will be turned out. The industry has responded extremely well, but if the position does not improve in the near future from where are the pilots to come in the next one, two or three years, particularly for the larger aircraft? It is a most dangerous situation.
I do not wish to speak at great length about the strength of the Royal Air Force. I am not qualified to say what the strength should be, but I am prepared to listen to men of great experience like Lord Trenchard and Lord Portal, who was probably the greatest Chief of Staff in the last war. His opinion is really worth something. When he said 180 squadrons for the whole of the British Empire I think the right hon. Gentleman interrupted and said "No, including America." That is not so at all. If he reads the Lords OFFICIAL REPORT he will find that he did say 180 squadrons for the British Empire. I cannot see how we are likely to achieve anything like that figure. It is all very well to talk about what the plans are and what we are to get when these aeroplanes have been built and tried out, but what is going to happen in the meantime, in the next two or three years? That is the difficult period. I am satisfied with the existing plan. We shall probably be all right in three years or even two-and-ahalf years. But if there is to be a world flare-up it may be in July of this year or not for another five, six or seven years. That is what I am told by some of the planners. It may be not, but I am really concerned with the build-up of the Air Force in the next three years.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
What planners? The hon. 2030 and gallant Member has referred to planners. What planners?
§ Mr. Alexander
It is a most extraordinary position, that we are here sitting in this House and the hon. and gallant Gentleman gives information from planners in the most secret Government service.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Is it a secret to say that it is thought that there may be a flare-up? The sooner the right hon. Gentleman realises it the better. I have respected him by not giving information about figures. I have no intention of doing so, because they are so bad. But I think that there is danger apparent for the whole Service in the next two or three years.
§ Mr. Alexander
It is almost unpardonable in my personal opinion, and I apologise for intruding my personal opinion, for the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with his experience in the Service, to say in this House in public that One planning officer has expressed this view to him, and that is regaled to the public. and to possible enemies.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
The right hon. Gentleman is getting very concerned about this. All that my hon. and gallant Friend said was that he understood that in the appreciation which was the preliminary to planning, the summer of this year was regarded as a very dangerous period, and if this is overcome, then there would be a period of less danger. I should not have thought that was a terribly alarming statement. I do not see whom it will injure. Are the potential enemies going to operate because my hon. and gallant Friend has said that? What is it that excited the right hon. Gentleman so in this affair?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I seem to have touched a raw spot so far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned. I did not think that it could possibly be very accurate. Many things are discussed in 2031 clubs and so on as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I did not attach very much importance to it.
I will leave that point, and go on to the question of pruning establishments. Will the hon. Gentleman, when he comes to reply, tell us something about the pruning of establishments? If they are to be given this extra pay establishments will have to be cut. Economies could be made within the Services themselves, and great saving could be made by pruning the various establishments. The Central Bomber Establishment and the Central Fighting Establishment could surely combine as one unit. Would the hon. Gentleman also say something about the situation so far as spares are concerned? We know that in the past the Service has been short of spare parts until new aircraft came into production. Are they catching up so far as spares are concerned? In the Debate last year I believe that the hon. Gentleman did say that the Auxiliary Air Force would be re-equipped with jet fighters by the end of 1948. I have not the OFFICIAL REPORT—
§ Mr. G. de Freitas
I am quite certain I did not say that. I referred to the interceptor aircraft of Fighter Command.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I am sorry if I misquoted the hon. Gentleman. I have not the OFFICIAL REPORT with me. He probably did say Fighter Command. One thinks in terms of the Auxiliary squadrons being supplementary to Fighter Command. I hope that those squadrons will be given every possible priority. They are the real backbone of the Metropolitan Air Force. They provide excellent material and a very cheap investment and I hope this work will be done at the earliest possible date.
I want to reinforce what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert) about giving way on the pinpricks. Where we have an airman who has to be eight hours on the aerodrome before he gets a free meal, we should perhaps make it four hours. Give him a spare pair of boots so that when his boots go to the menders he does not have to wear brown shoes with his uniform. It is all those little things which are irritating the volunteer today.
2032 I believe the Government will have to find somewhere about £30 million to £40 million if they want to get all the regular recruits they require for the three Services. That is about the cost of the groundnut scheme. I believe it would pay the country to make the investment to get these men. If we had more Regulars, the Air Force would probably need fewer men, because I do not think the National Service man, although he is doing a good job of work—better than any of us thought—will ever make for a really efficient service. The sooner the Air Force gets back to depend entirely on Regulars, on volunteers. the sooner we shall have a service which is economical. I ask the Government to give the matter most serious attention because a situation as it was in 1940 will never arise again. We shall not again be given a second chance. Everything depends on the Air Force; it is far more important than any groundnut schemes or anything like that and it should have first priority on the taxpayers' pockets. Build up an efficient Air Force and I do not believe there will be any war at all.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
All the speakers so far have supported these Air Estimates, but I wish to oppose them. I have listened with great interest and a good deal of sympathy to speakers on both sides of the House getting very indignant about the question of pain in childbirth, and I have listened. during recent Fridays, to the House discussing cruelty to animals; but when it comes to discussing spending £207 million on what to me symbolises infinite cruelty to human beings, there is no voice raised in protest. I do not understand it. I would say, with the distinguished scientist, Professor Einstein, whose 70th birthday occurred yesterday:My pacifism is not based on any intellectual theory but on a deep antipathy to every form of cruelty and hatred.If that were the only reason, I think I should be justified in opposing these colossal Estimates. This year we are spending £34,450,000 more than last year. If the war does not come next July, and if we are to have a cold war for six years, we shall be committed every year to an enormous increase in annual expenditure because, as the Secretary of State for Air has pointed out this afternoon, we are going in for a programme 2033 of jet bombers and for a completely new era in flying. We shall be committed to enormous expenditure on the increase of plant, factories and munitions, and I think we are safe in assuming that the one-sixth increase in this year's Estimates will be steadily repeated in geometrical progression either until we reach the calamity of war or until this nation becomes financially and economically bankrupt.
I would remind hon. Members on the Government side that one of their organs of opinion last week—I refer to the "New Statesman"—in an article entitled "Defence Dilemma," said:Defence Debates leave the impression that we are drifting into acceptance of re-armament, without any clear picture of either the ends or the means. While all agree that Europe cannot survive another war, the strategists are busy, and even they have no clear idea of their objective.In this Debate today there has been a tendency to avert our eyes from the realities. The best attempt at realism was the speech made by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg).
We have heard hon. Members talking of married quarters. As one who represents what is, perhaps, the biggest aerodrome in the country, Prestwick, I may say a few words about married quarters. I put a Question to the Secretary of State the other day in which I asked whether married quarters for the Royal Air Force are to have priority over other demands for housing. His reply was rather nebulous and unsatisfactory. He talked about the various classes of priorities. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to tell us whether these schemes for new married quarters in the Royal Air Force are to take precedence over those for married quarters for civilians.
If Prestwick is to be reorganised, as it probably will be, as an aerodrome for American aircraft, I think we shall have to face a problem of accommodating the personnel of the Royal Air Force in that area. Where are they to be housed? The old huts which the Royal Air Force used during the last war are now occupied by squatters. Are we to turn the squatters out? Are we to billet the Royal Air Force personnel on the neighbouring villagers? We have heard about the hardships arising out of the conditions in the Royal Air Force. Do the Royal Air Force anywhere in the country have seven 2034 people sleeping in one small room, three in a bed, one suffering from dermatitis? That is the sort of condition which the civil population, in the neighbourhood of that aerodrome, suffer. We can rebuild the married quarters only by taking away labour from work on houses required by the civil population. The Government talk about priorities. I say that our priorities are the commitments to house our people who are badly housed, and who are entitled to housing. I have every sympathy with hon. Gentlemen who are pleading for decent housing conditions for the Royal Air Force, but if we take the building personnel, already depleted, and put it into the Army, how shall we redeem our pledges to build better accommodation for the Army and the Royal Air Force?
I would point out to the Under-Secretary of State that he has promised the men in the Royal Air Force many things. He has indulged in very lavish promises to get recruits. I have here a poster that is given out to recruits wishing to join the Royal Air Force at the recruiting office in Southampton Row. I picked it up there today. In that we are told that the old married quarters, freshly furnished and equipped. are nearly all back to their rightful use, and that, moreover, the Royal Air Force building programme includes new and better married quarters, fine new rooms, education blocks, special shopping centres, cinemas, swimming pools, and single-room billets for single airmen. Indeed, on some stations this work is already in hand, so we are told. I tell the Under-Secretary of State that if he is getting recruits into the Royal Air Force on their assumption that they are to have billets like that, he is getting the men on false pretences. It is impossible, with some of the present depleted building force already being called up into certain branches of the Services, to build the quarters envisaged in this prospectus. There is no worse crime that we can do to the youth of this country than to deceive and disillusion them about the prospects in front of them.
I wish to deal with some of the recruiting propaganda for the R.A.F. I have here a booklet, "So you are going into the R.A.F.," and we are told in this booklet of a typical working day in the life of an airman. We are told that three-quarters of an hour in the morning is to be devoted 2035 to bayonet practice. I ask the Under-Secretary to tell us how he justifies three-quarters of an hour in the morning being devoted to bayonet practice. Does he conceive that these airmen, who are presumably to be sent out to bombard Russian towns, will eventually find themselves marooned in Stalingrad and having to fight their way out with bayonets? I do not understand what relevance bayonet fighting has to modern warfare.
Later, according to this booklet, after the bayonet fighting, there is an educational parade for one hour. Then there is the morning break, and then a padre's hour. In the padre's hour, presumably, the airmen will have explained to them the religious significance of bayonet fighting. I do not understand what relevance modern religion has either to bayonet fighting or to the bombing of a civilian population. In this booklet there is actually a picture of an altar in a R.A.F. chapel overseas, and in the first sentence we are told that the Royal Air Force attaches great importance to the religious welfare of its members. What humbug! Surely the purpose of the R.A.F., as has been explained by one hon. Member after another in this Debate, is to bomb the enemy.
We have heard of the Berlin air lift. Suppose, as we have been told in this Debate, that the Russians move forward into Western Europe, that there is fighting on the Rhine, and that Berlin suddenly becomes the headquarters of the Russian general staff; are we going to refrain from bombing Berlin? We hear a great deal about the Berlin air lift being for purely humanitarian motives. There are no humanitarian motives in modern war. The business of these airmen will be to drop their most powerful bombs, or atomic bombs, on the civil population, because that is ultimately what war means.
There have been some curious statements made in the recruiting campaigns which have been carried on under auspices of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have a report here of a recruiting meeting on 21st February, 1949, at the New Victoria Cinema, Edinburgh, which was addressed by Air-Commodore the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon. He said that the shadow of war is hanging on the horizon and that 2036 it is no exaggeration to say that there is great danger that this country may be drawn into war. He went on to say that the R.A.F. had played a very vital part in the last war, and would be even more essential because the Air Force was the only means by which we should be able effectively to strike the aggressor country. It is always assumed that in this war of which we are thinking the Russians will be the aggressors. The Duke of Hamilton went on to explain his idea of the aggressive war, and added:One of the greatest admirals in our country has said: 'Hit first, hit hard, and keep on hitting.'Well, if we are to hit first, surely we shall be the aggressors. The trouble is that in the Russian Press Russian airmen and experts talk in the same way. Both sides assume that the other will be the aggressor.
What is likely to happen if there are bombing raids and counter bombing raids? Last Sunday in Glasgow there was a conference which was addressed by one of our most prominent atomic scientists, Professor M. L. Oliphant, chief of Birmingham University atomic research plant and a world-famous scientist. He said:If an atomic bomb were dropped on the City of Glasgow it would kill 50,000 people, seriously injure another 100,000, and completely destroy three square miles of the city area.What protection will the R.A.F. give against that? I have listened very patiently, hoping to hear some hon. and gallant Member tell us how we are to be defended against rockets. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) recently spoke in an Adjournment Debate, and I interjected to ask whether he could tell us how fighters would stop rockets. You may remember, Mr. Speaker, that he appealed to you for protection against me; he seemed to see in you the rather unusual rôle of a Fury, a Tempest, a Spitfire or a Hurricane. I have never yet heard anyone tell us how in a potential modern war the civilian population is to be protected against the rocket. All hon. and gallant Members, experts in their own particular field, are assuming that it will be the same kind of aerial warfare that we had before—fighters chasing bombers. The fact is that rocket 2037 warfare has developed to such a tremendous extent—and the Minister of Defence probably knows this—that in the next war we shall not have in the first two or three months a kind of Battle of Britain fought at all; the probability is that we shall have what happened in the last stages of the war, the V.2; there will be rocket bombs; there may be atomic bombs.
It must be remembered that the Russians are no longer as ignorant and inexperienced as they were in the first stages, or for that matter the last stages, of the war. They, too, have taken into their hands and Services German atomic scientists and German rocket experts who have been giving the Russians the benefit of their experience. I saw recently in the "Daily Telegraph" an article pointing out that the Russian Air Force is now incomparably stronger than it was in the war.
I suggest to the House that these are the realities we have to face. We ought to make up our minds now that we have to think in terms of realities, and that if we are to have security for the people of this country we must have an international agreement to stop this chaos and devilry before it breaks out. If there is to be a war between the East and West and both sides use these powerful weapons and explosives modern research have provided, we do not know what will happen. I heard the American Secretary of State for Air deliver in New York, last October, an address on the air lift. He, too, stressed the humanitarian side of the air lift, but he also pointed out that it was excellent practice for the airmen on Europe. We have been told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty that we are to regard ourselves as another Malta.
With these realities before us, I suggest that the House is wasting its time talking in terms of strategy of the next war and that the Cabinet should be told it is their business to try to end all this in the field of diplomacy. They should be told that there is no security in providing hundreds of milllions of pounds for the Forces. It is a crime for the Government at this time to be spending £1,150 million on our Armed Forces. The time has come when we should face the facts and solve our problems in another 2038 way. I ask the House not to give a blank cheque to the Government when they come along for these increased Estimates for the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. The American people have just been reading an interesting report—it is a report of the Hoover Committee—on the question of the power that is in the hands of the chiefs of staff. The Hoover Committee have come to the conclusion that the chiefs of staff have too much power and it is time that the civilians asserted themselves.
I now want to say a word about the Women's Services. I asked a Question the other day about the new code of discipline in the Women's Services, and I was told that with the demand for equality of sexes we must be prepared for women to be court-martialled in the same way as men. However, when it comes to marriage, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), a lady member of the Royal Air Force can give notice and leave, but when a man gets married and has children they do not say, "You can leave the Royal Air Force." So there is no equality there. The target for the recruiting campaign for the Women's Forces is 26,000. In Scotland at the present time we cannot get women to nurse the victims of tuberculosis of the last war. I suggest it would be far better to keep these women in industry and in the hospitals instead of taking them into the Forces.
I ask the House to consider the direction in which the Government are going. We did not send the Government into office to make us a militarist nation and to obey the dictates and instructions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). The people voted for the Labour Government in 1945 because they thought a Labour Govern-meant a change. The people of this country are not in favour of militarism, and that is why the recruiting campaign is a complete flop. The time will come when the Labour Movement will assert itself and declare that our plans for the nation are to get an international policy of reconciliation. We have got to leave the paths of militarism behind, because they do not mean security for the people of this country.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
If the House will forgive me, I do not intend to follow very far the arguments of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) mainly because I find his arguments almost impossible to follow. He implores the House to be what he calls realistic, yet he himself says things which are wholly and absolutely divorced from realism. Surely he must have learnt by now that it is quite impossible to talk to the Russians on what he calls the field of diplomacy unless that diplomacy is backed up by armed force. That is the only language they understand.
§ Mr. Ward
There is one outstanding conclusion which can be drawn from the Debate as a whole, and that is that there is undoubtedly, both inside and outside this House, a feeling of uneasiness that all is not well with the Royal Air Force. That is an inescapable feeling which we must face no matter on which side of the House we sit. That would be serious enough were it confined to this House and country, but it becomes very much more serious if it is allowed to spread beyond these shores and to cause our friends overseas to lose confidence in our ability adequately to play our full part in the defence of Western civilisation, should we be called upon to do so. Most serious of all is if it should encourage our potential enemies to strike in the belief that our first line of defence is weak and vulnerable. That point was brought out admirably by many speakers, notably the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby).
There is little disagreement on either side of the House that the best possible deterrent to any potential aggressor is a well organised, well equipped and well-trained air force, especially a powerful striking force. However important armies and navies may be, there is no doubt that neither can get very far unless we have the command of the skies above them. As regards defence, it has been pointed out by more than one speaker that not only the whole of the civilian population but the whole of the economic and industrial life of these islands is dependent on adequate air defences. Therefore, this large sum of over 2040 £200 million which we are being asked to vote tonight is in my opinion the best possible insurance against war and annihilation provided that the money is properly spent. What we are concerned with tonight, and what is much more important than the amount of money is the question, will that money, in fact, be properly spent? What shall we get for it? Will it be such a good investment as we hoped it would be?
Three main anxieties appear to be exercising the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House and the minds of the general public. The first is the apparent lack of a properly co-ordinated plan; the second is the grave shortage of manpower in the Air Force and the reasons for it; and the third is the apparent inadequacy of the equipment. On the last point, the Secretary of State went some way in his speech today towards setting our minds rather more at rest, but on the other two he did not do very much to dispel the feeling of uneasiness.
On the point of the apparent lack of any coherent plan, we on this side of the House have always made our position clear. We have never asked for a very large Air Force in peace time when there are so many other pressing demands on available manpower, but have always laid our emphasis mainly on quality. All we have ever asked for is an efficient, contented and well-equipped Regular Force of whatever may be the best size backed up by very large Reserves in various stages of training and readiness all the way down the line. However, we have always insisted, and we insist now, that the size and the composition of such a force must be determined by something other than considerations of political expediency or the changing moods of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Secretary of State said this afternoon that the Force might vary according to the economic conditions of the country. I find that very disturbing. Why should it? If it is important, it is important, and it is not affected by the economic conditions of the country. The size and composition of the Force should be determined by a definite long-term over-all plan, a plan made after full consultation with the United States of America, the Western European countries 2041 and, above all, the Dominions, a plan made after full consultation and in full co-operation with the other two Defences Services. That has been our first and perhaps our greatest anxiety.
Does any such plan exist? This afternoon the Secretary of State said that the Air Force was being built up to a definite plan, but he did not say that that plan was made after consultation with the Dominions, the Americans and the Western European countries, and that surely must occur in any plan. Moreover, examination of these Estimates does not encourage us to believe that such a plan exists, nor does the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates throw any light upon it.
The impression that one gets from an examination of these Estimates is that each Department in the Air Ministry has been left to work out its own Estimates without any guidance from the top and without any clear objective in view. That feeling of lack of guidance from the top and general lack of aim spreads down throughout the whole Air Force, and if there is anything wrong in the Air Force and any weakening of morale or spirit in the Air Force, it is not the fault of the personnel but of the politicians at the top who do not give a clear definite lead. That point was brought out extremely clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg).
There is, of course, an outstanding exception to this generalisation which I have made, and that is the Berlin air lift. Why has that been such a magnificent achievement? Why has the Air Force responded so magnificently to that job? For one reason only in my view, because the aim was so perfectly clear. There was good leadership and guidance at the top, there was a job to be done, they knew what it was and they went and did it. That is what the Air Force needs—far clearer direction and guidance from the top and the removal of the fog of secrecy and vagueness which surrounds it.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me for interrupting, but can he name any other specific objective, when the nation is at peace, which can be held before the R.A.F., particularly the fighting operational crews, as the objective to which 2042 they will give the devoted singleness of purpose which they are giving to the air lift?
§ Mr. Ward
Certainly. I am coming on to that later. Has the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) seen any combined exercises with the Army going on lately, has he seen any tactical exercises? Has he seen any exercises with the Navy mentioned in the papers. Is there anything of that kind going on?
§ Wing-Commander Millington
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that there is such an exercise on at this moment involving the Air Force in cooperation with the Navy?
§ Mr. Ward
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will tell me, if he knows, how many aircraft are involved? That particular exercise had escaped my memory because, now I recall it, I believe there are four Lancasters involved, or something of that kind. I think I have made my point clear, so let me turn to the next point.
We are not convinced on, this side of the House—and I do not think the speech of the Secretary of State went far to help us—that anyone really knows how big the R.A.F. ought to be to fulfil its task, or, indeed, what that task is. We have had this afternoon several references to the suggestions made in another place by distinguished officers. I shall not repeat their suggestion except to remind the House that Lord Portal suggested that the size of the Dominions' and our own Air Forces should he about one-third of the total Allied air power. Surely there is no harm in telling the House and the country whether that is the plan to which we are working and whether there is any such agreement as that? I do not see that there should be any secrecy considerations involved there.
2043 The Memorandum accompanying these Estimates speaks in rather vague terms about an adequate proportion of experienced Regulars. Surely, we can be told what proportion of Regular officers and airmen is considered to be adequate. An examination of the figures gives no confidence that the statement is backed up by any clear plan. Take, for example, the figures of National Service men. Last year they numbered 140,000; this year, 110,000; and next year, as far as I can estimate from the figures in the Defence White Paper, there will be about 66,000 National Service men. In other words, the line on the chart is going steadily downwards. May we not be told whether the line is going to level off at any place, or whether it is planned eventually to let it disappear off the chart altogether?
The Secretary of State said in his speech this afternoon that the Air Force wanted National Service men. But how many does he want, and what is the proportion to be? We do not know this. Sixty-six thousand next year does not seem to be of any very great help to the Air Force. If we really got the recruiting campaign going, we ought to be able to recruit that number of Regular volunteers in fairly quick time. Let us look also at the figures of Regular airmen. Last year there were approximately 102,000; this year, approximately 110,000; if the target for next year of a total of 213,000, which is given in the Defence White Paper, is to be achieved, it seems that there should be about 30,000 Regulars in the Air Force.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the 16,000 women. The figures will be quite impossible of calculation unless, when talking about our rundown to 213,000, one takes into account the fact that we are, rightly or wrongly, including the number of women who are regarded as Regulars from now on. Their number, therefore, must not be ignored.
§ Mr. Ward
My figure of 20,000 was a rough guess. That gives a figure of 30,000 Regular men. If we take the figures of 102,000 and 110,000, we have a very long way to go to reach the 30,000 required for next year. I think that if the Secretary of State examines my figures he will see that probably I am not far wrong, although I do not profess to be exact. The achievement of the target for next year must depend on the recruiting figures. But what has been happening to these figures? They have steadily declined from 33,258 in 1947 to 13,550 in 1948. I admit that there was some slight improvement in the last quarter of 1948 because of an intensive recruiting campaign, but we cannot rely for the whole of our recruiting on a series of intensive campaigns.
While we are anxious about recruiting, we are anxious also about the wastage which takes place at the other end. I am, not concerned with the normal wastage of people who reach the end of their engagements in the ordinary way. What I am very concerned with is the fact that. 47 Regular officers in 1947, and 79 in 1948, retired at their own request or resigned their commissions, while several more wanted to do so but had their applications refused. Since the end of the war no fewer than 744 N.C.Os. and airmen, all ex-Halton apprentices, the cream of the Air Force, have bought themselves out. That wastage must be stopped if we are to benefit from recruiting. It is no good pumping men in at one end and letting them go out at the other end.
What are the causes of this serious man power situation, and what remedies have been suggested? The first cause—and, I think, by far the most important—which has been mentioned by almost every speaker today is the question of pay. We on this side of the House are unanimous in saying that the pay is still hopelessly inadequate in the Royal Air Force and unless that problem is really tackled by the Government they will not get the recruits needed. The small increases which have been given have not kept pace with the rise in the cost of living, and compared with prewar they are only 30 per cent. more, while civilian: wages have nearly doubled. They must be made comparable to pay levels in civil life before we can seriously offer 2045 a career to a man in the Air Force in preference to a job in civil life.
Flying pay should be restored. That point was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby.) But there is an aspect which has not been mentioned and which occurs to me. When I joined the Royal Air Force 20 years ago, those who completed a certain number of hours flying per year received extra pay for doing so and if they did not attain that number of hours, even by half an hour, they did not qualify. That had a very healthy effect in getting officers out of offices and into aeroplanes quicker than anything else, and there was not a single staff officer who did not keep in flying training in order to qualify for the flying pay. The result was that there was not nearly so much paper thrown out at the units.
§ Mr. Ward
I think it was 30 hours, but it was enough to get staff officers in the air. I think it should be restored. The Americans do it and they also have hazard pay and find that it attracts people in a most remarkable way. Then there is the burning question of married quarters. The Secretary of State painted too rosy a picture, which was not supported by his noble brother in another place, who took a much gloomier view and said:No single factor I believe would be more conducive to recruitment than if a high priority were given to housing, but the provision of permanent married quarters falls short of what is necessary …No doubt the opinion expressed by the noble Lord carries at least some weight with the Secretary of State for Air.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will clear up the question of married quarters, because definitely there is a confusion in the figures which the Secretary of State gave this afternoon. I do not say that the confusion is with him, but it is certainly with me, and I should like the Under-Secretary to try to clarify it. In his speech this afternoon the Secretary of State said that the number of married quarters at home and overseas was 7,550 a year ago and has increased to the present figure of 10,500 2046 and that that is 1,150 more than he forecast when introducing the Estimates last year. If we look at last year's Estimates we find that the intention was to complete 1,400 permanent houses for airmen and to convert a further 10,000 houses into temporary quarters. That was the aim last year, and that makes the total of 2,400 permanent and temporary quarters to be completed in the year.
On page 7, paragraph 26 of the Memorandum accompanying this year's Air Estimates we find that 900 permanent married quarters were completed and that in addition about 700 temporary quarters were constructed from hutting. That means that in the first ten months 1,600 houses were completed. Applying the same rate of building to the remaining two months of the year we find that so far from 1,150 more than last year being built 500 less than the target were built in this country. It looks as though the Secretary of State, or whoever helped him with his brief has, I am sure quite unintentionally, concealed this shortage of 500 houses under the overall figures, which makes the whole matter quite different. I hope that the Under-Secretary will explain that when he replies.
There is not nearly enough emphasis in the Air Force today on smartness. It makes me feel sick when I see airmen slouching about with coats open and without hats, looking scruffy and with long hair. These men and some officers are doing a great disservice to the R.A.F. and are considerably affecting the recruiting figures, though they may not realise it. I implore the Government to bring home to commanding officers all over the country that they must not allow airmen to walk about looking like that. I have always hated the forage cap. It was said that it was introduced because it was easy to stow in an aeroplane. It should be worn only on an aerodrome and on going into and out of an aeroplane. When an airman is going outside he should wear the round, peaked cap with a wire in it to keep it in shape. Let the airmen walking out look smart and proud of their uniform. How can people be expected to join the Air Force if they see airmen walking about like a lot of gangsters?
I wish to touch briefly on the question of permanent commissions. I have so far 2047 been dealing with matters mainly affecting airmen, but there are two matters affecting officers which are important. The first is the permanent commission. Th whole of the allocation of such commissions has been grossly mishandled, and we have lost to the Air Force a great many men who should never have been allowed to go. I have two letters from which I wish to read extracts in support of what I am saying about the way these men have been treated. The first case is a squadron leader of the New Zealand Air Force who fought in the Battle of Britain and was awarded the A.F.C. He transferred to the New Zealand Air Force and was demobilised there. He writes:I have been applying for re-entry to the R.A.F. since mid-1947, and after repeatedly writing was given an interview in February, 1948.Between May and February—he had to keep on writing before anything happened.Then two months later I received a letter saying that my interview was unsuccessful.It took him almost a year of hard work to be told that he could not get a permanent commission. That is not the way to treat people who want to come back into the Air Force after a distinguished war career.
The other letter is from a Flight-Lieutenant who said:I applied for a permanent commission in the R.A.F. and six months after my demobilisation received a letter from the Air Ministry regretting that they could not offer me a permanent commission, but would I accept a short service commission. Having married in the interim and started my own business, I decided that to go back in the Service for four years and then start again from scratch just wasn't good enough. However the lure of the R.A.F. is still most pronounced, and a year ago I wrote to the Air Ministry in order to join the R.A.F.V.R. They sent me a list of stations to apply to, but apparently the commanding officer of my nearest station does not want air gunners, at least he said he would write if and when I was needed, but I have heard nothing since. So it would appear that there is an affliction of malaise restricting the growth of the finest Service in which I had the honour to serve.Why does not the commanding officer of that Volunteer Reserve unit need air gunners? I should have thought that they were just as good and necessary people to be trained as anybody else. Why is so little notice taken of this man who wants to help his country? 2048 These are points which the Secretary of State must look into if he is to tackle this recruiting business seriously.
With regard to short-service commissions, I see from the Memorandum that it has been introduced as eight years, plus four years in the Reserve. I know that people are chary of joining the R.A.F. on those terms. They feel they they are giving perhaps eight of the best years of their life to the Air Force and then they will be thrown out, with no provision made for their future employment. They look at the way in which people coming out of the Air Force at the end of the war have been treated, when so many of them are still looking for jobs, and it is not encouraging to these people to go into the Air Force with a short-service commission. If they are to get people in under this scheme the Government must give a reasonable guarantee that, providing a man's service is satisfactory, a good job will be found for him when he has finished his eight years.
The last point on personnel which I wish to make concerns training facilities. It has been admirably dealt with by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) in moving the Amendment, and by other hon. Members who spoke. I would reinforce what has been said. In my own county in Worcestershire there is absolutely nowhere at all where anyone can get any training. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Wing - Commander Millington) pointed out that he could not get any flying training anywhere in the Eastern counties. I cannot get any flying training anywhere in my district and I want to very much. But I am not going all the way to Wolverhampton which is 50 or 60 miles from my home. Unless some provision is made in Worcestershire for me to get flying training. I am going to transfer to the Worcestershire Yeomanry; and I am only one. There are many people in my position. Can the Under-Secretary tell us why it was that although a fighter control unit was planned for Worcestershire and everybody was very pleased about it, it was immediately cancelled? I should have thought that, guarding as it does the great industrial Midlands the one place where we should want a fighter control was somewhere in Worcestershire.
Coming to the third anxiety in our minds, the question of equipment, I think the Secretary of State has gone some way 2049 to make us easier in our minds on that point; but it is understandable that this uneasiness should have spread throughout the country when the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself used the expression "ageing equipment." People see this old equipment and become anxious about it. I am very encouraged to hear that new types are coming along to meet any emergency. What will happen if it comes soon? It appears that we have not got sufficient aeroplanes to meet it until the new types are ready.
I made a point on that in a speech I made last year on the Air Estimates. It is all very well to increase the output of aircraft—that is very admirable and necesary—but it is no good having all the factories we need here unless we do something about ensuring that we could go on producing aircraft if these islands became untenable. Are we doing nothing about setting up a nucleus of aircraft factories to produce the latest types of aircraft in the Dominions, well dispersed from the storm centre of Europe? This is the second time I have asked this question, and I have had no answer.
I have already mentioned the tactical air force. I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us what he is doing about that. I think the co-operation achieved between the Air Force and the Army during the last war is dying, and it should not be allowed to die. It should be revived. The Army and Air Force should do frequent exercises together. Let the Army take an interest in the Air Force and see what it is doing. When they see the aircraft flying about, it will give them confidence that they are going to get air protection.
I cannot resist a short reference to flying training, in which, as an ex-flying instructor, I take a particular interest. I am very glad that the Secretary of State stressed the importance of flying training, because during the war we did not always receive the attention or consideration to which we, at least, thought we were entitled. If the Under-Secretary has time to fit this into his speech when he winds up, I shall be most interested to hear whether any results are yet apparent from the experiment tried by the Germans of pre-flying gliding training—training men on gliders before they go on engined craft. I have no great confidence in the experiment, because I believe that flying gliders will get men into bad habits which 2050 are much more difficult to eradicate than would be the case if the men started from scratch. I should like to know what is happening.
These are our main anxieties. I am afraid I have been rather longer than I meant to be, but there is so much to say on this subject and there is only one Debate on the Royal Air Force. I think these are the main anxieties of the public as well. It is not our desire in any way to discourage those who are rendering service in the R.A.F. or to deter those who might wish to join it in future. We believe the R.A.F. is basically sound and if anyone doubts it they should have been with me last August when I saw 54 Squadron, equipped with Vampires, at Idlewild putting up the finest exhibition of formation aerobatics I have ever seen.
This great service must not be allowed to deteriorate through half-hearted measures or a woolly policy on the part of the Government. We believe it to be our duty as an Opposition to draw the attention of the Government, and of the House and the country, in the strongest possible terms to our uneasiness and our doubts in this important matter. We call upon the Government to take the House and the country into their confidence, and to take vigorous action now to restore their confidence in the R.A.F. We may once again have to rely upon the R.A.F. for our very lives and for the lives of our children. It deserves nothing but the best.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ Dr. Segal (Preston)
I hope the hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if I do not follow him in his incursions into the subject of the sloppiness of the airmen's dress, except to say that after listening to the tale of woe of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) about rockets and "doodlebugs" and all the rest, and after listening to the efforts at global strategy of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), I felt it was a relief to come down to earth again and hear a dissertation on the subject of wire rings in airmen's hats. Perhaps I may be forgiven if I dwell for a few moments upon other aspects of the Estimates which we have to consider this evening, and particularly those which concerned my own branch of the R.A.F.
We have heard a great deal of talk from both sides of the House about the 2051 lowered morale of the R.A.F., but I think it is only fair to realise that our estimate of morale in the R.A.F. ought not to be based upon the exceptionally high morale which existed during the war years. It is not fair to assess morale in the R.A.F., or in any other service, in the immediate post-war years by comparison with the morale which existed during the war. Although it is not an absolute index to the degree of morale in any force, some indication of how the morale of a force stands may be obtained if one looks at the figures of the incidence of venereal disease.
It was proved during the war that whenever a force was going through a period of operational quiescence, whenever the morale happened to be low, invariably the incidence of venereal disease rose; and conversely, the opposite was true. During periods of operational stress the incidence of venereal disease fell to extremely low levels. In fact, at one period in the Middle East campaign—I am referring particularly to the period before the great attack on the eve of E1 Alamein—the incidence of venereal disease in the Middle East almost vanished.
So I would like to ask the Minister, in his summing up, to refer in a little more detail to paragraph 21 in the Memorandum on the Estimates. There it is stated that the campaign against venereal disease was successful in bringing the rate for 1948 below the rate for 1947. Can he, perhaps, expand that a little more fully, and let us know what the actual figures were? Can he also go further into detail and explain how he accounts for the fall in the incidence of venereal disease during the last 12 months? I have already instanced that a fall is to some extent a reflection of the state of morale in a force. I hope that he may be able to reassure us that these figures of the declining incidence are in themselves progressive figures which compare very favourably with the pre-war figures in the Royal Air Force and with the incidence of venereal disease in the other fighting Services. It has always been a source of pride in the Royal Air Force, that, if one gives a man a good job to do, one need not worry about his personal appearance or the venereal disease rate.
2052 Another matter about which I should like to ask the opinion of the Minister is this; I have always felt that, particularly in peace time, the medical branch of the Royal Air Force offers far more attractions to the young doctor—the newly qualified man—than either of the medical branches of the other two Services. First, in the Royal Air Force, the young doctor not only has opportunities of flying, with the incidental thrills, risks, and adventures which that involves, but he is also able to avail himself of the opportunity for research work which neither of the other two Services enjoy. In both the Royal Navy and the Army, the opportunities for medical research are rather less than in civilian life; but a great deal of research work still remains to be done on the physiological effects of flying at high altitudes, and on those rapidly evolving high speeds which are being practised by the Royal Air Force. Could the Minister let the House know more of the work which is being done in aeronautical medicine? What are the opportunities available to a medical officer, not only to get his "wings" but to be able to do research work on these new machines of supersonic speeds, reaching altitudes hitherto unknown?
There is another development which has occurred during the last 12 months to which, so far, no reference has been made. At Upper Heyford, in Oxfordshire, last October, there took place an event which could be classed as a pioneer development in the history of the Royal Air Force—the flying of the first hospital unit. Those of us who have experience, know from bitter knowledge during the war years how often during a crash it was a matter of life and death for the flying personnel to be able to receive expert attention immediately—absolutely immediately—after the crash. Valuable lives were lost in the process of taking the injured men from the scene of the accident to the nearest hospital. This new flying hospital unit is breaking entirely new ground in that it provides the first instance where a hospital can be brought to the patient rather than the patient to the hospital. How far has this experiment proved successful, and how often has it been made since the early days when it was first tried out? How often have there been casualties among medical officers, nurses, and nursing and medical orderlies in their parachuting from the 2053 aeroplane with their heavy equipment? How many cases of concussion, sprained ankles, and other accidents have there been? How many cases of tree-top landings? How many cases of damage to the valuable equipment, and what period has usually elapsed before the doctors of the flying unit were able to get together to assemble their equipment, and begin the treatment of the patient?
There is another aspect of the medical work of the R.A.F. which, I feel, also deserves mention. We were told in our early days in the medical branch that anyone can do medical work, anyone can be a surgical specialist, and anyone can carry out the ordinary routine medical treatment, but that it requires a really first-class brain and exceptional gifts for anyone to be able to cope with the administrative side of the medical world. Well, I believe the R.A.F. has recently introduced what is quite an exceptional innovation in any of the three Services. As a departure from the previous policy, the appointment of Director-General of the Medical Service was given to someone who was himself a medical specialist in the branch of ophthalmology. A great many administrative medical officers of very much higher seniority were passed over and the post was given to him on the strength of his qualifications, not only as an administrative, but also as a medical, specialist.
This is an innovation which is very cordially to be welcomed. I should like to see it extended into other branches of the R.A.F. It is a fond illusion which is gradually beginning to fade away that seniority as well as administrative ability and administrative capacity is what really matters before a post of this character is filled. In this instance I think the fruits are already beginning to be seen. The new Director-General is in a quite exceptional position to enter into the mentality of his junior medical officers and to sympathise with the conflicts which all of them go through in trying to reconcile their scientific background with the traditions of a squadron and its daily, routine work. Many of them have to go through a period of apprenticeship and ultimately when they find a happy adjustment the quality of their medical work invariably tends to suffer.
So I hope that even in these uncertain days exceptional care will be taken to see 2054 that the efficiency of the medical services is in no way allowed to suffer, and that the medical branch of the R.A.F. is allowed to recruit the keenest minds and the most efficient and most enthusiastic brains among the younger doctors of the country. I further hope the Minister will carry on the present policy of the Director-General in seeing that he secures as recruits to the medical branch some of the best doctors available in the country so that they may be able to make their own contribution towards what we hope will develop into the best Air Force in the world.
§ 10.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I confess I have listened to this Debate with a considerable degree of depression. At this hour it is too late for notes; I do not propose to use them and I shall be short. I feel that the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his speech, which was delivered with that amiability which he always shows, and which is appreciated by the House, talks in terms of, shall I say, 1928, rather than in terms of the very grave dangers which are facing us at the present time. One thing is certain; these Air Estimates are produced at a time, in my view, when the dangers affecting this country are as great as they were 11 or 12 years ago. We are faced today with a threat as grave as any threat we were faced with before.
I want first, before I deal with the few points I propose to raise, to ask the Under-Secretary one or two definite questions on the subject of recruitment. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made it plain—or he appeared to make it plain—that he was satisfied on the whole with Regular recruitment last year. He talked in terms of 2,000 a month. Later he pointed out, and it was only later that he did so, that he was including women. I understand that last year only between 13,000 and 14,000 Regular men have been recruited to the Royal Air Force. Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred with some pride to the recruitment in the last quarter of 1948, that was, so far as men were concerned, lower than recruitment in any quarter of 1947.
We are told that for next year our target will be 213,000. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in order to maintain the target he has asked for 2055 with the reduction of conscripts, he will need 20,000 Regulars. That does not allow for wastage, for the people who may drop out during next year. To he on the safe side, to maintain the present balance, we need 25,000 or almost double the recruitment of Regulars in 1948. That is not the whole picture. The Secretary of State not long ago referred to the fact that we have not reached a satisfactory balance between Regulars and conscripts. If we could hear from the Under-Secretary—and this at least is not a matter of grave secrecy—what the Government consider should be the proper balance between Regulars and conscripts it might help us.
The trouble is that at this time the Royal Air Force is not a force in which we want a larger number of conscripts. The United States has half a million men in their Air Force not one of whom is a conscript. Our period for training conscripts is not really sufficient; I do not think that under any terms of conscription it can really be sufficient. I am afraid of a situation in which we can only boost up the Regulars over the past year by including 14,000 women who, admirable as they may be, do not really fit into the real picture. We have had 13,500 Regulars in 1948 and the demand to reach our target is well over 20,000.
It is a grave matter and not one which can be easily swept away, because the Air Force today is the most important defence of the nation against the dangers which threaten us. It is a vital defence. We are not looking at it with the proper background, that is, not with the background of the years just before the last war. I am convinced of one thing beyond all else: that a strong Air Force will not only encourage Western Europe and our great Allies across the sea in the United States and the Dominions, but may well, in the next two or three years, make the difference between peace and a war which might devastate and ruin civilisation. That is why, at this late hour, I am pressing this question first and foremost of Regular entry into the Royal Air Force.
We shall never get the men we need until we have got the whole question of pay completely altered—I mean the question of pay as it stands now. I think I am right in saying—and I am sure the Under-Secretary will correct me if I am 2056 wrong—that in the Air Force as a whole there is an increase in pay of somewhere about 31 per cent. as against 1939—and that in a period when in many undermanned industries—and we are talking of inducements to men to come into them—there is an increase sometimes as high as 80 or even 90 per cent. Until we treat the R.A.F. as an undermanned industry, an industry in which there must be reasonable pay to attract young men into it so that they will make it their future, we shall not get the R.A.F. that we need in the years that lie ahead.
On the question of secrecy, I would add one further point. As long as we maintain a veil over the whole of our programme for the future, I say deliberately that we shall be discouraging the U.S.A., who are vital to the future of Western Europe, from making the vast global increases necessary not only to this country but to the world. We shall be doing something more than that. We are, I fear, by this policy encouraging our great Dominions to look rather to the U.S.A. than to this country for guidance and leadership in the years to come. These are grave matters, which I know the Secretary of State must appreciate, but it is easy to see that while Russia and her satellites—one must be quite blunt about it—are the one and only great danger to the peace of the world at the present time and do not inform us what they are doing, the U.S.A. is perfectly open. There we see the great difference between dictatorship and democracy. Dictatorship can build up force and strength behind secrecy. Democracy cannot do so.
Unless under democracy the people of a nation are brought into confidence by their leaders, unless they are taught to realise what the urgency is—and Heaven knows the urgency is great enough—we shall never get the men in. If democracy is to hold its own against dictatorship, publicity and frankness are needed. Publicity and frankness in the U.S.A. have contrived to put forward not only an enormous programme for the coming year, but a policy for inducements in pay as well. They have never had to ask at the present time for one conscript or selective training man, to use their own phrase, to go into their Air Force. But if we drift apart from them in these matters and continue to have this complete veil of secrecy the public in a democracy will 2057 never realise what the urgency of the present position may be.
I know that the House will forgive me for speaking after 11 o'clock because this is a big issue not only for this nation but for the civilized world. We must not have an unbalanced Air Force. We cannot go into figures because figures are not permitted unfortunately. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary can help us here. We have an increase of £13 million for aircraft for the next year, and we have seen discretion in favour of fighters, particularly jet fighters. I remember those days just before the last war when the stress was laid—and I think rightly laid at that time, when we were very unprepared—on getting our fighter force increased the whole time. Indeed, it was the fighters, and the production of fighters between 1937 and 1940, which just saved the Battle of Britain. But today no one can say that an unbalanced increase of fighters—and not an enormous number of fighters on a figure of £13 million—would save this country if a move was made against us. No one can say it will not be made, even in the course of the next year. If we have an enemy who has reached Western Europe, and who has sites for all these rocket schemes, with all the improvements that have been made upon them in the course of the last few years, we may well face a situation when mere fighter defence without powerful bombers to support it will be utterly inadequate to save this country from being destroyed from the air from not so very far away.
We have been told that preparations are being made for jet bombers. I realise that these preparations, however hard the work is done, must take a considerable amount of time before the best jet bombers are in operation. I wish, indeed, that there had been a sense of urgency in 1946. There was not. But if we cannot get our newest jet bombers ready within two or three years, it is vital at any rate—I hear the Minister of Defence is murmuring something; I did not hear what and I do not much care—that we should try to increase our heavy bomber strength until we have got our jet bombers ready. We are not allowed even the figures of our present bomber strength—the Government will not give them—but I hope and believe that at any rate they are larger than the number of jet engines that were sent in a moment of 2058 craziness to Russia in 1947. We want to speed them up because if we had to defend our country by jet fighters alone, I tremble to think what a great war might mean in the course of the next 18 months.
So I beg the Government to have a sense of urgency, and not to feel that jet fighters alone will be sufficient for the defence of this country. I do feel that if we fail to build an Air Force rapidly, which will not only co-operate with the United States, but will encourage Western Europe to know that we mean business, we shall fail not only our own nation, not only our own Empire, but, I think quite seriously, we shall fail the cause of humanity throughout the world. The Air Force which the right hon. and learned Gentleman represents may stand in the course of the next two years between chaos and ruin and the future of civilisation. I beg and urge more openness and less secrecy, and that in his reply the Under-Secretary will give us rather more words of hope than we have had in the course of this Debate.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)
I have been asked a number of questions and I shall deal with most of them. A few I cannot answer for reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Defence Debate. There will be others which I shall not answer, but I can assure hon. Member's who put the points and arguments that they will not be overlooked and that my right hon. and learned Friend and I will study them.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the plan for the development of the R.A.F. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) wondered how this plan would be affected by Western Union and the Atlantic Pact. I cannot stress too much that the plan is flexible and subject to alteration as conditions change in the Atlantic Pact and Western Union. While on the subject of plans and planners, I think it right that I should take up the point made in the discussion by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) about planners and a date in the Summer. I must say that June, July or mid-Summer, is a date entirely without significance to our planners and, so far as we know, to any- 2059 one else's planners. I should also say that we seek no war at all, and we do not believe that anything like that is inevitable.
The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) referred, as did other hon. Members, to a lack of showmanship in the Royal Air Force. "Panache" was the word used by the right hon. Member for Bromley. That criticism has a wide and deep significance going through the whole of the Royal Air Force. However, I can now take up only the point developed by the hon. Member for Eye about shows and displays by the R.A.F. Up and down the country in 1949 we shall have many air displays week, and we expect that more than half a million people will go to them. In 1950 we shall have a big review on the lines of pre-war Hendon—not at that tiny pocket-hand-kerchief of an airfield which it is today—but at a station where it will be possible to show off to full advantage our modern aircraft.
The important matter of pilots was raised by more than one hon. Member. First about Cranwell: the course starting in April is full. We have not done anything to reduce the high standards of Cranwell, and that it is full should be an encouragement to all of us. Secondly, about short-service commissions: we offer eight-year engagements plus four years on the Reserve. I cannot stress to much that these commissions are not dead ends. In the future a large proportion of our permanent officers will be those who have been granted permanent commissions after their short-service engagement, and they will have the same opportunity of advancement as if they had been Cranwell cadets. Secondly, and some hon. Members may find this surprising, there is a large civilian requirement for R.A.F. pilots. It is far larger than we might suppose. In addition to the British civil Corporations and charter companies there are the foreign operators. These all add up, so that I can say, from calculations we have made, that we do not foresee any difficulties in the way of a short-service pilot finding a flying job if he wants to.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
Does the hon. Gentleman really mean that after all the most that can be offered is a job with a civilian air line of a foreign country? Is 2060 that the best hope of employment for the best officers?
§ Mr. de Freitas
Not at all. The right hon. Gentleman is unfair to me. I said the British civil Corporations and the charter companies, and added the foreign air lines and corporations. The fame of the Royal Air Force is world-wide, and where are foreigners to come for expert pilots except to the R.A.F.? Obviously a short-service pilot will have an internationally recognised qualification. He will be a trained pilot of the R.A.F. Incidentally the acquisition of that qualification will have cost him nothing, but it will have cost us, in terms of capital investment, about £10,000.
Other hon. Members have referred to the difficulties and dangers of submarine warfare. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen said in another connection that it had ceased to be an advantage to be an island. That may well be true. This U-boat matter is a serious problem. There is only one small ray of comfort. The submarine when using the "Snort" is slow, blind, and in good conditions can be detected by radar. But it is only a small ray of comfort, and the problem is serious. We were asked for information on naval co-operation in this field, particularly on exchange visits between officers of both Services. From Coastal Command stations during the year there have been constant visits to and from naval units. R.A.F. men went to sea in the "Illustrious." There is also the highly important joint development school in Northern Ireland.
Flying training has been mentioned, and the question of the use of gliding before flying training has been raised. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) has wide training experience, and, as he pointed out, there have been differences of opinion on the value of gliding. We are taking certain cadets from courses at Cranwell and Wittering and giving them gliding instruction which their fellow cadets will not have. We shall watch their subsequent flying records, and in a few years time we shall have enough data to come to a conclusion.
The other aspect of gliding was raised indirectly by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) who asked about the A.T.C. The A.T.C. has today probably the largest gliding organisation in the world. This is gliding 2061 for a different purpose—for sport and to encourage air-mindedness. Two thousand cadets went solo last year, and 1,300 got an "A" Certificate from the Royal Aero Club. The A.T.C. has a first-class recruiting record, and the proportion of proficient cadets continues to rise. I am grateful to the officers of the A.T.C. who have worked so hard to make this possible. For something which combines showmanship and pleasure to the cadets, we have to thank the. Air Cadet League of Canada who last year arranged for 25 cadets to go to Canada for three weeks and for 25 from Canada to come here. With any luck, this year we may be able to extend this to the American organisation and have a three-way exchange.
I was asked about the exchange of officers between the United States Air Force and R.A.F. At staff colleges and institutions such as the Central Fighter Establishment we have American Air Force officers, and at the corresponding organisations in the U.S. there are our officers. Apart from men on the staffs and at colleges there are also exchange officers with the units.
§ Mr. Cooper
The hon. Gentleman has referred to mixing by our officers and men with those of other countries, particularly those of the U.S. Does he realise the extraordinary difficulty this involves, as the men of the R.A.F. are paid so much less than the members of the other forces?
§ Mr. de Freitas
When they are abroad the members of the R.A.F. get a considerable overseas allowance.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Yes, I am. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) and the hon. Member for Worcester spoke of the use and value of National Service men. It is an important matter. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that we care getting value from them. We are also of value to them. One of the important results of the Manpower Economy Committee has been that we have been able to work out a scheme to get far more productive service from our National Service men. Greater attention is paid to their selection, they get more training on the job, and as far as possible they serve on one station only. We are getting good value from them.
2062 Now let me show that they get good value from us. I was asked whether they had a chance of becoming pilots. We have reserved 300 places a year for National Service men to be trained as pilots. If we take their opportunities for commissions on the ground and in the air, we find a total of about 800 commissions a year. There are also real inducements for these men in other ways. They have instruction in current affairs, in citizenship, in general education, and they have good facilities for further study. A number of letters have been read tonight from flight-lieutenants, squadron-leaders, and wing-commanders. It is only right therefore that I should read extracts from a letter—an unsolicited testimonial—I received a few weeks ago on the subject of the National Service man in the R.A.F.:My son has, thanks to the facilities [given for educational training] and the consideration of his commanding officers, been able to pursue … his studies towards … a B.Sc. These facilities have permitted him not only to pass his B.Sc. inter, but in so doing, to obtain a distinction in Applied Mathematics … such results are a very definite counter-proof to any criticism that call-up time is wholly wasteful to young men in the R.A.F.… my son can only look back with the utmost appreciation to the manner in which his ambitions have been so splendidly supported by the service.No wonder the R.A.F. is oversubscribed and we cannot take anything like the numbers who want to come to us.
Here I must quote the result of a question put in a Social Survey made for the Central Office of Information and the Service Departments in connection with publicity for recruiting. The Survey asked the question: If you had to recommend a Service career to young men, which Service would you select? I am happy to say that the Royal Air Force received most votes among the population as a whole and among the male population. It is a historic fact that should be put on record that when the ladies were asked they said they wanted young men to serve in the Navy, which only proves that the R.A.F. has many centuries of leeway to make up among the ladies.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The R.A.F. is doing its best to make up that leeway in the eyes of the ladies.
2063 The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodd) rather alarmed me. His comments were strong and I should like to take up one aspect, that of man management, as he called it and the qualities of the commanding officer. We recognise that one of the difficulties in an organisation such as an Air Force is that of giving enough experience to the young general duties officer in leadership of men. It is extremely difficult. I think it is a difficulty inherent in an Air Force, but we have set out to tackle it, because we know that the commanding officer is the key to all matters of discipline and morale in an organisation like the R.A.F. We have gone a long way. The standard of man management and leadership among officers is improving rapidly.
I beg the House and the country not to confuse the R.A.F. of the demobilisation, the R.A.F. of 1946–47, when postings were going on at the rate of 1,000,000 a year, with the R.A.F. that is being built up now. In 1946–7—and I know this because in the course of my duties I visit scores of stations each year—many commanding officers were gallant men who had little experience of peacetime administration and leadership. Today it is different and we can say with confidence that it is the commanding officers who are responsible for the vastly improved spirit among officers and men in the Service.
Only yesterday I read a report by a distinguished air marshal who had recently visited one of our stations. Like all senior officers he remembers the order, continuity and efficiency only possible in the tiny little pre-war Air Force, about one-seventh of its present size. He naturally judges present conditions in terms of the R.A.F. that he knew. His report set out many criticisms of this station, but the last sentence read as follows: "I would put this station on a level with the average well-run station of pre-war days." We have come a long and hard way and, as I said a moment ago, let us not think of the R.A.F. in terms of the demobilising Air Force. That is past.
The hon. Member for Worcester put a question about the figures of married quarters. I think the hon. Member has misunderstood the Secretary of State. It is an arithmetical point, but I can say that the Secretary of State's figures are 2064 correct and I shall, with great pleasure, either by letter or in conversation, deal with the matter to the hon. Member's satisfaction.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the matter of married quarters; will he answer this point. How are these quarters to be built if the labour force is being depleted by taking men from the building industry into the Forces?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I have heard that point put before by the hon. Member, and I admire his persistency. The whole question of the manning of industry and the call-up is carefully worked out by the Minister of Labour and National Service in conjunction with the Services, and care is taken that those people with jobs more important than armed service are not called up.
An important point which went to the root of one of the newer features of the Royal Air Force, was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bromley and other hon. Members. I refer to the Royal Air Force Regiment. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) also discussed bayonets and I shall deal with that in a moment. Where a Royal Air Force airfield is behind the front line, the Army cannot guarantee its protection against attack by saboteurs or parachutists. Therefore the Royal Air Force Regiment was born. These are the circumstances for which men are trained to use the bayonet, as they may have to use them in defence of an airfield. I will go further. Hon. Gentlemen asked how much of the Royal Air Force Regiment is a mobile fighting force and how much is for training men on the ground. I have turned up the figures. It is a substantial proportion—16 per cent. of the officers and nearly as many of the men—which is engaged in training other men on the ground to defend themselves and their stations. The other part of the regiment exists because of the very nature of the job of the skilled tradesmen. Their task is to keep the aircraft flying, and they will never have the time to train up to the standard of an infantry regiment.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that whereas the airmen who fly the aircraft are not expected to defend themselves over Stalingrad with bayonets, for every airman in the air there are approximately 10 on the ground, and these men may, on occasion, have to defend themselves.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is true. I entirely agree with that. There is one last point I should like to make about the Royal Air Force Regiment. It is, of course, a highly trained organisation and, just as the Royal Navy asks us to train naval men to fly, we are not too proud to welcome a proportion of Sandhurst-trained officers into the Royal Air Force Regiment.
The hon. Member for Preston (Dr. Segal) raised medical matters, and in particular the venereal disease rate. We have had a remarkable year. In 1947, the figure was 22.2 per thousand, and in 1948, it was only 13.6 per thousand, which is a reduction of about 40 per cent. I have not as much time as I should like for dealing with the special field of aviation medicine, but I should like to explain one important matter to which he referred. The doctors who are the links between the Institute of Aviation Medicine and the flying crews are themselves pilots. As regards the teams of parachuting nurses and parachuting doctors which we are developing, we think they will be very useful. Once more the nurses are doing a fine job.
My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of the links in the British Commonwealth forged by the specialised aircraft travelling up and down the Empire routes, giving the benefit of Royal Air Force knowledge to the Dominions; and he referred also to the aircrews from the Dominions in the Berlin airlift. I must mention an example of co-operation between the Commonwealth air forces in 24 Squadron, which is already well known, and will be even better known to the public by its number. It is a squadron drawn from almost all the British Dominions. Sometimes the commanding officer is a member of the Royal Air Force, and sometimes he is a member of one of the Dominion air forces.
The matter of overseas air training has been put to me, and I should like to end 2066 on this. Only a few weeks ago I had the opportunity of seeing an example of Empire flying training in Southern Rhodesia—the only survivor of the Empire scheme of the war years. The Southern Rhodesian Government came forward in 1946 to help us. There was a difficult beginning because Southern Rhodesia was overwhelmed with settlers, and houses and other accommodation could not be provided as was hoped, but the scheme is working out well, and the quality of the navigators and pilots is excellent. I look forward to seeing the Rhodesian Air Training Group become a model, not only for a Royal Air Force Group, as such, but also for Common wealth co-operation in peacetime. Rhodesia has provided not only airfields and good weather but also a quarter of a million pounds a year which is a lot of money for a small country. We have provided men, money and technical experience. It is a great encouragement to all who believe in the Commonwealth's contribution to world peace. It stands as a sign that Commonwealth defence co-operation in peace is something more than it was between the wars when it was only a platitude in an after-dinner speech.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]