That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 255,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1950.
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
In the Memorandum issued by the Secretary of State for Air in connection with the Air Estimates when they were debated last week, reference was made to the shortage of personnel, in particular skilled personnel, in the Regular Air Force. On the Estimates last week in this House, and also at the beginning of this month in another place, detailed attention was drawn to the shortage of recruits coming forward for the Royal Air Force, to the fact that Halton was only two-thirds full, and that at Cranwell there were vacant places. One of the reasons for the present shortage of skilled men is neglect of the Air Training Corps in 1945 and in succeeding years. Had the same encouragement been given to air training in those years as I believe is being given now and as was given during the war years, we should not be suffering from such a severe shortage as at the present time. After all, the future strength of the Royal Air Force depends to a certain extent upon the interest which the Air Force takes in the training and support of the Air Training Corps from the highest level.
I am glad to know, and I am sure the House is also, of the progress made particularly in gliding which the Under-Secretary announced last week in reply to a question I asked earlier in the Debate. I want to apologise for not having been in my place when the Under-Secretary replied late in the evening, but I was elsewhere on a public engagement. I read with great interest what he had said. In these Estimates what provision is made and what encouragement is being given to the Royal Air Force as a whole to establish gliding clubs at stations and elsewhere? I believe that if every possible encouragement and facility were 90 given to the Royal Air Force to glide, it would greatly stimulate interest in the Service, improve morale and be of general assistance to the efficiency of the Royal Air Force.
I am not now talking of gliding for training purposes but of gliding as a recreation and a sport. Many power pilots would greatly enjoy it. I can speak from personal experience of gliding over both water and land. There is no greater thrill in the world than to be floating around in the air hoping to catch an up current, without any noise, all by oneself. It is a great thrill and great fun. It would have an advantage for power pilots because meteorological conditions have to be studied, and all air experiences are valuable. I also consider it of great use for ground crews. It would encourage their interest in the air and promote greater co-operation and better feeling between aircrews and ground crews. I should also like to, see opportunities to fly given to members of technical, medical and other branches of the Royal Air Force who would not normally fly, by the formation of Royal Air Force gliding clubs. I hope we may hear from the Under-Secretary that these Estimates contain proper provision for developing what I believe will be of great value in years to come as a sporting and recreational aid to the Royal Air Force.
Turning again to the Air Training Corps, although improvement is taking place I do not think that all which ought to be done is being done to encourage that cadet force. Over the week end I had sent to me the usual annual report of a squadron. The commanding officer's report said:Only first class and proficient cadets are now permitted to fly (except at annual camp) and this restriction, whilst stimulating the interest of the keener cadets, is often discouraging to the others.There we have a commanding officer's statement that there is discouragement of the cadets whom we require to make keen to serve not only in the Air Training Corps but in the Royal Air Force when they get older. I hope the Under-Secretary will look into this and see whether the old practice of giving flights to others to encourage keenness and give air experience can be renewed.
During the war in advertising for recruits and in advertising the advantages of joining the Royal Air Force, the 91 Training Corps was linked with the Royal Air Force on posters and other publicity material. We got that after a great struggle, and it was of advantage to both the Air Training Corps and the Air Force. That is not being done now. Why not? These points may be small, but they indicate the way in which the fullest support is not being given to the Air Training Corps by the Royal Air Force, the Air Ministry and others who could in these various ways show the value and importance they place upon the Air Training Corps as a recruiting ground and as a basis for the future strength and development of the Royal Air Force. Anything that can be done to link the Air Training Corps with the Air Force is of particular value to the cadets.
I have referred to the value of gliding in the Air Training Corps, as the Under-Secretary did in his, observations last week. I have a suggestion which ought to stimulate interest in the Air Training Corps and be a help to the Royal Air Force. I suggest that the most promising and keenest of our cadets who go on solo gliding be given an opportunity to do power flying. This can best be done by much greater support of the flying clubs by the Air Ministry than is now being given. Replying to the Amendment in the Debate last week, the Secretary of State for Air drew attention to the subject of the support of the flying clubs in a way which was rather disheartening. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March. 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2011.]If cadets were given flying in the flying clubs right up to the standard where they could get their A licence we should get some absolutely first class material and there would be no such disadvantage as outlined by the Secretary of State. A further advantage of giving help to the flying clubs is that not only can young men be trained to fly but it also gives great practice and encouragement to both instructors and ground crew. The Secretary of State also said:In addition, we must also maintain an efficient training organisation which, in the 92 event of war, could rapidly be adjusted to meet the needs of a greatly expanded service." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1937.]That was the position in 1939. Owing to the support then given to the flying clubs, among other things, both ground crews and instructors were available for a rapid expansion of the training force. Here is one way in which the important point made by the Secretary of State could be met. Give the cadets this opportunity to go solo on powered aircraft and at the same time provide a valuable reserve of instructors and ground crew. This is what Canada is doing with great success. Why cannot it be done here? It would be an encouragement to cadets and a great advantage to the Royal Air Force. If there is any suggestion of Treasury difficulty, surely we could not have a cheaper insurance or a better way of providing flying training.
In his reply the Under-Secretary referred to the fact that experiments were taking place at Cranwell in connection with gliding. That is to say, certain cadets were to be given an opportunity to glide first and then be power trained after to see what advantage, if any, arose. I know there is considerable controversy on this matter. As far back as 1943, when I was director of the Air Training Corps, I went fully into this subject and arrangements were made that cadets who had gone solo gliding should have their careers followed up to see whether or not any advantage accrued in this way. That was six years ago and, since then, thousands of cadets have gone solo gliding. What has been the result? There ought to be a lot of evidence already available on that question which perhaps could be looked at.
Reference was made last week to the Chipmunk. I beg the Under-Secretary of State to let officers on the flying reserve have an opportunity to fly more advanced aircraft than that. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) suggested that they should be allowed to fly Oxfords or Harvards. Pilots cannot keep their hands in sufficiently on a light aircraft such as the Chipmunk, they cannot do twinengined flying, they cannot do instrument flying and all the other requirements of more advanced flying which are necessary if reservists are to keep their hands in. Therefore this matter should be looked at again.
93 One of the most valuable ways of increasing keenness in the A.T.C. is by the interchange of cadets with other countries. I was glad to see that there had been an interchange of 25 cadets with Canada. Is there any opportunity of that interchange being extended? For example, can any go to Southern Rhodesia or to South Africa where extensive training is taking place? Australia and New Zealand are rather far, but even if only one or two cadets could go there, it would be a gesture which would be appreciated in the Dominions as well as over here. Again, are any exchanges of cadets taking place with the Benelux countries, with Norway or Denmark? Exchanges of that kind would be invaluable in every way and I hope the Under-Secretary of State can give us some helpful information in that respect. All the ways I have suggested are, I believe, important ways for increasing interest in the A.T.C. and so assisting the Royal Air Force of the future.
It was abundantly clear in the Debates last week, both here and in another place, that the main reason for the shortage of recruits to the R.A.F. is the pay and conditions in the service. When one realises that in the United States of America a 'bus driver gets two and a half to three times the amount of a flight lieutenant in the R.A.F. one feels that there is something wrong somewhere. If we want the strength of the R.A.F. to be as it should be, and if we want the people in it to be really happy and satisfied, something must be done about pay and allowances, particuarly of those ranks of flight lieutenant, squadron leader and wing commander from which the commanding offiers and chiefs of staff are to be drawn.
Believe me, there is real distress there, particularly amongst the married officers. I have two daughters married to serving officers of those ranks and I know, from talks I have with them and their friends, how bitter the wives feel about it. It is an expensive business when Service families are uprooted and posted from here to there and everywhere, and they do not get the allowances they should. There is a lot of additional expense which these families cannot afford. For instance, my own daughter had to take a young baby overseas. She was told that its pram could not be shipped for three or four months, which 94 meant that she either had to hire or buy a new pram. There are many promising officers, who ought to rise to the highest rank, who are thinking seriously whether they can continue serving in the light of the education of their children and of living conditions. This matter must be looked at in all seriousness. After all, the future of this country depends on the efficiency of the Air Force.
Before the war schoolmasters used to tell me that they never hesitated to recommend their boys to go to Halton for training. They felt it was the finest technical education any lad could have. Any boy going there had great prospects and, if he did not wish to continue permanently in the Service he was magnificently fitted out for civilian life. What has happened? Why is Halton only two-thirds full? Is there a proper liaison between the Air Ministry, the Air Force and schools in this connection? Is there a breakdown there, or is it again the fact that it is now felt that the R.A.F. does not offer those prospects that it held out in pre-war years? If so, something must be done to overcome that.
In reply to a question of mine the Under-Secretary gave some useful and interesting figures about the exchange of officers between the Royal Air Force and the United States. As the House knows, the United States have recently formed a separate Air Force, exactly as we did 30 years ago in 1919. There were many teething and development troubles in its expansion from 1919 and onwards under peacetime conditions. I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State if, in the officers we have exchanged and who are serving with units or on the staff in America, we are satisfied that we have officers who can give information, should it be asked for by the United States, of the difficulties we went through in those days. It may well be that some serious difficulties are facing the United States Air Force in its early days. Also, if officers over there are doing a good job and are asked to remain, is any difficulty put in their way by the Treasury owing to shortage of dollars, or in any other way which prevents those men from continuing in service there? I hope there is not, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman can tell us something more about the liaison between this 95 country and the United States of America. The people of this country will have a much greater sense of confidence, security and satisfaction in knowing that United States Air Force officers are in this country co-operating with the officers of our own Royal Air Force, that at all levels, from the unit right up to staff rank, we are co-operating, planning and working with them, and that squadrons of the United States Air Force are now in this country.
It became obvious that the outstanding anxiety in the recent Debates, both here and in another place, was the concern about the shortage of Regular airmen. I should like the Under-Secretary to explain exactly what he meant when, in his reply last week, he observed:No wonder the R.A.F. is over-subscribed and we cannot take anything like the numbers who want to come to US."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2071.]
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)
As will be seen from the context, I was referring to the National Service entry who come in each year.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
I am glad that the Under Secretary has cleared up that important point. Obviously, if publicity were given to that statement many people might think that recruits were no longer wanted for the skilled trades and branches of the Regular Air Force, in which there are obvious vacancies. I hope the points I have raised are such that when the Under Secretary replies he can give us some assurance that steps are being taken along the lines I have indicated to help overcome some of the shortages now existing in the R.A.F., shortages which, for our future security, we simply must not allow to continue.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Warbey (Luton)
In his survey last week the Secretary of State for Air included a review of some of the peacetime activities of his Department. Unfortunately, he did not find time to deal with one section of his Department which is carrying on an activity of the utmost importance, not only to the R.A.F., but also to a large number of industries and national and international institutions. I refer to the Meteorological Office. Amongst the institutions peculiar to my 96 constituency are two which happen to be domiciled almost side by side in the neighbourhood of Dunstable; they are, the Whipsnade Zoo and the Central Forecasting Office. Their proximity to each other has no very great significance, but what they do have in common is that in each case their inhabitants have been compulsorily transferred from elsewhere. The inhabitants of Whipsnade Zoo, however, have the advantage of being provided with very commodious and comfortable quarters. That cannot be said, I am afraid, of the inhabitants of the Central Forecasting Office.
Before I say any more about the great inconvenience and discomfort to which its members have been put, I should like to remind the House of the very important work being carried on in the Central Forecasting Office. It is the focal point of a highly intricate and ingenious organisation, which stretches out throughout these islands, across the seas to the little ocean weather ships which are the eyes and ears of the service, and across continents to lands far away. This institution receives from a very large part of the Northern Hemisphere data which it analyses, collates and redistributes by teleprinter, wireless telephony and wireless telegraphy. The analyses, plotted on to weather charts and so on, form the basis of those forecasts which provide indispensible information, not only to airmen, both civil and military, but also to farmers, fishermen, seamen, public transport, private motorists and, indeed, to the ordinary citizen who is bothered about what he shall pack in his case for the week-end.
We often blame the Air Ministry for the inaccuracy of its forecasts, but we should recognise at the same time gut a tremendous amount of skill and organisation goes into the preparation of those forecasts and that if they are not always correct this is due to a number of very variable factors over which human beings have not yet established very much control. I was very glad to note when I recently visited the Central Forecasting Office that its research section was being expanded. I was surprised, however, by the fact that the expansion appeared to be of rather recent origin. In view of the importance of research in meteorological work, I shall be glad to have an assurance from the Under-Secretary that 97 every effort is being made in its furtherance.
I understand that we are beginning to get a little more information about the way in which the weather is formed. Today, apparently, a great deal depends upon the building up and movement of cold and warm fronts. I learnt that cold fronts, like cold wars, do not come only from the East, but move backwards and forwards regardless of political boundaries, alignments and curtains. This is true not only of the fronts themselves but of the information about them, which moves backwards and forwards without regard to political considerations. There is, for example, a thrice-daily interchange from Dunstable with weather centres in very many parts of the world, including Moscow. The one thing the Russians do not worry about keeping secret is their weather. Perhaps that is because it so big and so obvious.
This meteorological service is an extremely important activity. I suggest that we ought to pay rather more attention than the Air Ministry appears to have been doing to the comfort and wellbeing of the men and women who are engaged on this vital work. They are people who have been uprooted and brought from all over the country. Many of them have been shifted many times. Because very few of them lived originally in the neighbourhood where they are now situated, they do not possess the residential qualifications which enable them to secure priority positions on local housing lists.
They are faced with a tremendous housing problem. I have letters from many of them which give a heartrending account of the great inconveniences to which they are put. One family, for example, are living in a disused windmill and others are in very overcrowded conditions. Many families are quite separated and have been separated for years because the men are not able to bring their families to live with them. I feel that something more might be done by the Ministry to provide proper housing conditions for this staff. They are civilian staff, it is true, and the Secretary of State rightly pointed out last week that civilians are not subject to military discipline, and that there are various inconveniences in Service life to which 98 these men are not subject. Yet, if one goes into their history, one finds that in many cases they have been just as much uprooted as Service personnel. They have moved as many as eight to 10 times in some individual cases.
They have not very much option about their job. It is a job they enjoy doing and they do not want to change, but if they did, meteorological technicians would probably find considerable difficulty in obtaining other employment. I suggest that there is a responsibility which the Ministry ought to accept for seeing that proper housing accommodation is provided for these men and I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us if he can give an assurance that something will be done for them. I know it is not only a problem for his Department, but a problem of a more general character. I should be out of Order if I referred to it in general terms, but I ask that in this case an assurance might be given that something will be done for them.
I understand that it is not likely that Dunstable will remain the Government home of the Central Forecasting Office but that in a few years' time these people may have to move again. Is it possible to give some indication when they are likely to have to move? How long are they to be allowed to make some temporary settlement in their present location? Two or three of them, because they cannot get properly housed in any other way, are buying their own homes. What is to happen to them if in a few years' time they are moved again to another part of the country? Will they receive any compensation if in the course of two or three years the value of their capital investment has considerably fallen? Will they receive very generous personal grants to enable them to make good their financial loss? Can the Under-Secretary give some indication how long they are likely to stay where they are, so that they can have some basis on which they can work in determining how to look after the comfort of their families?
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) has expressed concern about a very important branch of the Service, the meteorological service. Although 99 that is a civilian branch of the Service, it is vital to the organisation of the Royal Air Force and I fully endorse his anxiety about the housing conditions in that ancillary service.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in the Debate on the Navy Estimates said that he thought that as a result of the Atlantic Pact, about to be signed, those Estimates were out of date today. There is a great deal to be said perhaps for that, but certainly not so far as the Air Estimates are concerned. Considering the magnitude of the American Navy there is a great deal which can be done almost immediately in the way of integration in the Services and co-ordination of the Services. But, in regard to the Air Force, I am convinced that if that ever takes place—and I hope it will take place—it will be a considerable time hence and we in this country cannot afford to relax in our efforts to build up a strong Air Force, a striking and fighting force, at the earliest possible moment.
One thing which emerged from the Debate last week and from the Debate today is that, in spite of the optimism expressed by the Secretary of State, no one seems happy about the present position in regard to the Regular Air Force or the rapidity of recruitment to the Service. Certainly I am not happy about it. When we consider that during the war 95 per cent. of those called up for Service elected to go into the Air Force, either as air crew or for ground staff, and the popularity of the Service at that time, I cannot understand why more recruits are not anxious to go into the Service today, especially when we consider the opportunities for learning a trade which are now provided in the Service.
Various reasons have been given for the falling off in recruitment, chiefly those of pay and housing conditions. I endorse the criticism which has been made and I am convinced that pay and housing conditions are the two main reasons why more recruits are not anxious to go into the Air Force today and sign on for permanent service. I hope that these two matters will be very seriously considered and met at an early date, because it is vital that we should 100 have a strong regular Air Force and that we should have it soon. In regard to pay, I suggest that more attention should be given to the men who are time-expired in the Service in order to encourage them to re-enlist.
More could be done as regards pay and allowances and I hope the Secretary of State will look into that and try to get as many as possible of the time-expired men due to retire in the near future to re-enlist and give them greater encouragement by way of pay and housing conditions. I am amazed that he has not taken advantage of the opportunities open to him of obtaining temporary houses. I have seen these factory-made houses set up in under an hour on ready prepared sites and I have seen families living in them. I am convinced that officers and other ranks would be delighted to have houses like that in which to live instead of having to live with "in-laws" or in rooms, sometimes long distances from their stations.
I am also concerned about the size of these Estimates, especially as regards the Air Ministry in comparison with the operational side of the Royal Air Force. When we consider the amount of the Vote which goes to administration and compare that with the amount that goes to the operational side of the Royal Air Force, I am amazed. I hope something will be done to see that far less staff are employed tilling up forms and asking for returns from stations where station officers, N.C.Os and men are engaged practically the whole of their time filling up forms and being chairborne instead of airborne. There is far too much of that and I hope that less clerical work will be required so that more men will be able to fulfil their proper functions in the Air Force and not be tied to desks, as at present.
The other aspect I wish to discuss is the strength of aircraft and pilots. I was not at all satisfied with the statement by the Secretary of State last week about the increased strength of the Air Force. We were told that the number of aircraft were being doubled. We were not told what the original strength was, though many of us guessed and certainly over the weekend the Press had a very good guess. I suggested at the time of the statement that the air squadrons were only being brought up to establishment. Before the war the 101 establishment was 12 aircraft to a squadron of two flights. In addition to that, most squadrons, certainly in Fighter Command, carried another 50 per cent. on reserve.
What is the position today? Have we increased the establishment? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said when I questioned him that the establishment had been doubled but, unless there has been a considerable change since I knew the Air Force, the squadrons today are only up to strength and there is no reserve at all. That is what I am concerned about. Before the war in Fighter Command the Royal Air Force policy was to train the reserve pilots in the squadrons, which carried 50 per cent. over strength for that purpose. There were no operational training units. That policy very nearly proved disastrous more than once during the war.
One cannot train pilots operationally and fight an air battle at the same time. One must have an operational training unit. There were such units in Bomber Command at the end of the war and there was always a steady stream of aircrew, but in Fighter Command when the big battles took place there was no reserve left. That happened after the Dunkirk battle when almost every squadron had heavy losses and some were wiped out altogether. There were no reserves to draw upon. Fortunately for us, we had time between then and the Battle of Britain to train new pilots and to re-equip squadrons. Even then at the end of the Battle of Britain, without operational training units, we found ourselves in an almost disastrous position. Young pilot officers had to be put in command of squadrons. There was also a serious difficulty about aircraft.
I should not be so unhappy about the strength of the squadrons today if I knew that there were operational training units which could feed the squadrons in the event of war. It is obvious that we shall not have much time to build up operational training units if a war takes place today. I want to know from the Minister if any steps are being taken to provide and equip O.T.U.'s for the Royal Air Force and particularly for Fighter Command. Without this training ground and this reserve of operationally trained pilots, I consider that we are running the greatest risks. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to these points.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) mentioned co-ordination of Anglo-American Air Forces, and before I sit down I should like to come back to that point. First, I wish to discuss one or two points of detail which arise on these votes. Among the people whose pay we are voting are the air attachés who serve in foreign countries and collect our intelligence and whose work is bound up with the whole question of security. I do not want to enter into the argument we had last week about whether or not the Government are being too secure in giving us so little information, except to say that on balance I think it is a fault on the right side. In one respect, however, I am afraid that we in this country are not secure enough. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) in accusing the Government of being over-cautious, said last week that he was sure that in this country every foreign air attaché had a very clear picture of what was the size of the Royal Air Force.
I speak as one who served as an attaché in hostile or potentially hostile countries, and I consider his picture was much overdrawn. On the surface it would seem to be extraordinarily easy to get the sort of information which the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself, and perhaps I myself, have been able to get about our Air Force here. As a layman, particularly if one has friends in the Service, there does not appear to be much difficulty about it. But when one is living in another country and when one is regarded with suspicion by the Government of that country, as one of the official spies—which really an air attaché is—it can be extraordinarily difficult to get any accurate picture of the state of their forces since official services are practically closed and one has to rely on a great variety of other sources. One gets an enormous number of contradictory reports whatever agents one has.
The great difficulty is to get any confirmation. If one cannot get official confirmation of any of the facts and figures one must try to get first-hand evidence from somebody somewhere. A man is extremely lucky, however large a fifth-column there may have been in the country—and where I served there was a very small one—if he happens to hit 103 upon someone who can really say that he knows for a fact that such and such a figure is correct. My view about the likelihood of foreign attachés here, who are not given a great deal of official information, knowing much about our Air Force is that they will be speculating within certain limits and that they will have a vague general picture which is not too inaccurate. But there is an enormous amount of information which they would like to have but about which they can get no confirmation.
The basis of all official intelligence work through air attachés is reciprocity. We allow the same facilities to attachés here as our attachés are allowed in foreign countries. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield recently suggested that any attaché here might be able to get into an aircraft and fly around this country over our aerodromes and see whatever he likes. In fact, only a very limited number of air attachés in this country would be allowed to get into an aircraft without careful precautions being taken and without exact information being given of where they intended to go. It is only representatives of those countries who grant that facility to us abroad, who would be allowed to fly here, and they are not very many in number. I understand, however, that in this country attachés are allowed to drive about wherever they like unmolested and that no check whatever is kept of their movements. That is not a reciprocal facility. There are many countries in Europe where we have air attachés who are not allowed to drive about wherever they like in cars and where a close check is kept on their movements.
Only a few weeks ago our air attaché at Prague was expelled, I understand, simply for using facilities to move about the country as he thought he was entitled to do. So far—it may be for very good reasons—no retaliatory action has been taken. I appreciate the difficulties. We have not got secret police who are available to track people down and keep a tag on their movements. Also, there is no limit, as there is in some countries in Europe, on the number of visitors who can come here. Therefore, it is much easier for foreign attachés to get information through civilian channels than it is for our attachés to do that in countries where there are very few British visitors. 104 Nevertheless, it is not too reliable to get information through a third party who is not necessarily skilled in the classification of it. Where foreign countries do not allow freedom of movement to our air attachés, I do not think that their attachés here should be allowed unlimited freedom.
If there is a shortage of police which makes this difficult there is none the less quite a good remedy. The practice abroad is simple. The attachés of the three Services are obliged to inform the respective Ministries where they are going by car, when they have to go by car. They are not always followed, but if in fact they are followed or a report is received from a civilian inhabitant, or anybody else, that they have been seen at a certain place the Ministry concerned immediately rings up the Embassy and says, "We learn that your attaché was seen at so-and-so and he never told us that he was going." If that happens more than once or twice the attaché is declared no longer persona grata, and he is sent home. I believe that that procedure could be introduced here with advantage. All that would need to be done would be to instruct the Service police wherever they are stationed that if they see a diplomatic car in the vicinity of the perimeter of their aerodrome, to take the number and report to the Air Ministry. Then if the Air Ministry have not been informed previously they could make inquiries. That is a perfectly civil and courteous arrangement. I consider that we are granting facilities to some Powers which we certainly are not granted by them, or if we have attempted to use such powers we have suffered for it by having our attaché expelled.
I wish to refer to the question of allowances about which so much has already been said. Owing to the shortage of houses many people have to live a long way from where they work and the Air Ministry does make an allowance for extra travelling. As I understand it, a man who lives away from his command or station and travels by train or bus has to pay 2s. 6d. a week himself, and the balance is paid by the Service. That does not apply to people serving in the Air Ministry, because they receive an allowance of 4s. a day, and there are a good many hundreds of them. That allowance is subject to tax and amounts 105 actually to little more than half of the 4s. a day. Many of them who live 30 or 40 miles out of London suffer to the tune of £40 or £50 a year compared with people who do not get the London allowance, but who have a proportion of their expenses paid for them. That seems to be an anomaly which should be reviewed. I know of one case where a man, who is at the Air Ministry and lives outside London, has worked it out that he loses £50 a year compared with what he was paid at his last station.
I am told by my friends in the Air Force that one of the greatest grievances with regard to pay and allowances is the allowance made to married men and officers who have to live out. They have to rent furnished houses or rooms, often at short notice and the rents are not subject to control. They have therefore often to pay substantial sums. Compared with the married man living on the station they are not only worse off financially, but, because they sometimes live 12 or 15 miles away, they lose all the amenities of the station which represent considerable sums, such as free entertainment, free games and opportunities of education for their children. I consider that there also is a case for revision and that these allowances for married officers who cannot get into married quarters should be put on a more elastic basis. Perhaps it could be done in every individual case rather as is done now by the National Assistance Board or in some similar manner.
I do not wish to enter into the question of the morale of the Air Force, because that has been fully debated, but I am told—and it is my experience so far as I have been able still to keep in touch with the Air Force—that the difficulty which Air Force officers have always experienced in keeping in close touch with their men is increasing rather than decreasing. The difficulty arises particularly among young pilots, because they are, both figuratively and literally in these days, wrapt up in their machines. Normally they meet only the fitter and the rigger, and one or two other people of the flight, who deal with the machines, and their contact with other ranks is limited. If they live off the station this contact is all the more limited. It is a truism to say that the care of, and a sense of responsibilty for, the men under 106 his command is the making of an officer. In the Air Force it is difficult for officers to get that sense of responsibility quite as fully as in the other Services.
It is disturbing to learn that this difficulty is increased by the fact that most of the personal questions from other ranks are dealt with by the chief technical officer and that the ordinary station officer, the flying officer and pilot officer, have less to do than before. I have no doubt that there are good reasons for this, but it is the young officer of whom I am thinking and, for whatever reason it was introduced, if it results in the younger officers having less contact with the men it is a serious thing.
When so many men who had war service are being, quite rightly, taken back as officers into the Air Force I feel that the need for officers' training establishments is greater and not less than if these men had not had war service. So many people quite rightly obtained commissions during the war and they did excellent service but in different conditions from those which exist in peacetime. The obligations and duties of officers in peace-time are different from those in war-time. I am told, both by those who have gone back and are taking commissions, and Who were officers in war-time, and by some of the older officers, that a much fuller training of men as officers should be given as soon as possible.
I would take up what the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) said and I would agree that the most important thing at the moment, particularly from the point of view of economy, is the co-ordination as rapidly as possible of our Air Force with the Air Force of the United States for the defence of the Western Hemisphere. I do not propose to go into the arguments again, but my right hon. Friend is aware of my views. I would emphasise that the signing of the Atlantic Pact will give him the opportunity which he mentioned in his speech last week when he spoke of having to reorientate or change the design of our Air Force to changing political and diplomatic circumstances. He knows that I think the step might have been taken sooner, because the realities of the situation were the same then as now. The fact is that the diplomatic circumstances have changed, and I hope 107 he will put forward suggestions for coordination and urge the Minister of Defence to take the matter up with the United States at the highest possible level as quickly as possible. I see no other way in which we can make the really large economies which are absolutely essential if we are to expand our Air Force and have an efficient Air Force, and at the same time continue our economic recovery.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)
One cannot but have great sympathy with anyone framing Estimates for any of the Services in these days. We have not got the 10-year gap as we had after the last war, and almost before demobilisation is ended, we are having to build up our Forces again. I have noticed in the Debates in the last few weeks on these topics that we have protagonists with various points of view. Some say "Get ready for a Pearl Harbour"; some, I imagine, want to be ready for a "phoney" war. Whatever we are preparing for, it is obvious that the spearhead is bound to be the R.A.F.
It seems to me that we must never forget that for all the people in this island, together with the R.A.F. Civil Defence is the absolutely prior basis on which all our activities must be founded. I hope that the activities in that direction which were operated in war time on R.A.F. stations, are still being catered for so that if there were a Pearl Harbour or if we were in the position of a Malta, we should not be blotted out in the first onslaught, for in that event the other Services would not have much part to play. The R.A.F. is included in that overall priority for Civil Defence. We have been told that the way to avoid an atomic bomb is not to be there when it drops. If we are to stop an atomic bomb from being dropped, we must see that it does not set off from the point where it has been prepared. In the later stages of the war we stopped V/'s from falling on London in great numbers, because most of them were stillborn as a result of attacks by Bomber Command.
I want to give one word of warning to my friends on the Front Bench, namely, not to take too much notice of people who say "Lay down great plans for building' up big bomber or fighter 108 Forces, adopt certain aircraft as your pattern and build those aircraft by hundreds and thousands." Experience has shown that the R.A.F. is all the greater because it is flexible and that if our Air Forces of any kind were committed to a pattern too early in their development, it would create a danger. I remember people asking me why the Germans did not attack railway centres in this country during the war, why they did not attack Doncaster and other important transport targets and smash up our lines of communication. The simple fact is that the Germans—I suppose Goering was to blame—simply had no conception of strategic bombing. They whistled through Europe with a tactical air force clearing the way for their troops. That plan worked but after that, they seemed to have no idea of strategic bombing. That is where the R.A.F. scored with its onslaught chiefly of Lancasters and Halifaxes.
I am told that the Lancaster was already at the blue print stage in 1935 although it did not come into operational activity until 1942. It had been in existence but had not been manufactured in great numbers while we were turning out other kinds of aircraft. After a great deal of thought and research upon other types of aircraft we banked on the Lancaster, and it finished the war for us. But even in that there is a danger. While the crescendo of Lancaster production was developing, a very small aircraft came along and did a great part of the work of Bomber Command. It did so successfully, and did not need to dodge the defences to the extent to which the Lancaster had to do.
I refer to the Mosquito, that plywood little wonder, manned by two men, which did not have to worry about the defences, while our bomber force was cavorting across Europe, dodging the defences in the occupied countries in Germany because our heavy bombers could not fly direct, as the defences had to be outmanœuvred. I have often wondered if we did not commit ourselves too early to the mass manufacture of the Lancaster and whether it would not have been better to have built the necessary numbers of Mosquitos to do the job, with far less danger from the defences. I do not know whether it could have been done, but it would be worth while looking into that question to give us some guide as to our path in the future.
109 I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) who speaks with great weight on matters of security. I have been at the other end and have seen security in operation at our aerodromes. What impressed me was that on the whole security was good in the last war. It seems to be good now, because the longer I live the less I seem to get to know about the R.A.F. Sometimes I think they are rather overdoing security in keeping the secrets of the R.A.F. from us. By that I do not mean secrets of the performances of high speed aircraft and matters of that kind, but the general picture of what the R.A.F. is now doing as a part of our communal life. If we in this House and the general public could be taken a little more into the confidence of the R.A.F. it would be of benefit.
It is perfectly true that most people going into the Services plump for the R.A.F. I am sure that that plumping would be even greater if people were given an idea of the general picture of what the activity of the R.A.F. is today. During the war I came across appalling instances of ignorance on the part of the general public about what the Air Force was doing, because the shutter was kept down so well. Yet it would not have impaired the efficiency of the R.A.F., had the general public been told what was happening. I remember on one occasion having to receive a silver cup for work we had done in a Wings for Victory Week. The chairman of the local rural council came and presented the cup. We walked about 100 yards down the perimeter track. There were one or two Wellington aircraft—good old stand-bys of the war years—standing there. These leaders of local life said to me, "Are those Lancasters?" I should have thought that any small boy in those days could have told them that those planes were Wellingtons, but they just did not know. One said, "A lot of planes went up last night." I said, "Yes." I happened to know the exact number that left this country although I did not, of course, tell them that. They said, "They came from the north." I replied, "Yes, do you know whence they came?" The reply I got was, "No, but I think they came from Sheffield." So far as I know there were and still are few aerodromes within 50 miles of Sheffield.
110 Our great bombing aerodromes are situated all along the eastern part of England from Newcastle down to Cambridgeshire. [Interruption.] Is this considered to be a lack of security? Many can be seen from the train as one goes to York from London, and the tanks and armoured vehicles now standing on its perimeter tracks can be seen. I remember that during the war Goebbels issued a map, which was published in the "News Chronicle," showing the aerodromes from which bombing attacks went out. We have already been told in these Debates that we are to have flying displays and people are probably to be asked to these aerodromes this year. I hope that will be so. There might well be some let-up on security considerations.
My next point concerns Commonwealth defence. During the war the Commonwealth air forces obviously acted as one unit. There would be one squadron which was, say, Rhodesian, another purely Canadian, working alongside squadrons made up of personnel from this country. I hope that same activity is going on. We have had one or two pieces of news in the newspapers in the last few weeks showing that the Canadians are taking part in our activities. That links up with the training which we are managing to do in various parts of the Commonwealth.
In Southern Rhodesia, the Empire Training Scheme is still carried on, and I should like to know if we have any plans for continuing definitely with that scheme in that part of the world. Nearly four years have elapsed since they were turning out pilots, navigators and members of aircrews, who came to this country and took part in the activities of Bomber Command. I wonder if that machine is now geared up and turning out the personnel which it should be turning out at this time, and if we are getting a great Commonwealth Air Force going again. The Under-Secretary referred to his visit to Rhodesia in his speech last week, and what interested me most was one small excerpt in which he said: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.111 Later, the Under-Secretary said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2074–5.]I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, but what I noticed is lacking in these extracts is any reference to the question of housing accommodation. We know it is very difficult throughout the Commonwealth, yet it is necessary if we are going to keep up morale and turn out efficient pilots and navigators from these aerodromes. Obviously, conditions in Rhodesia are very different from those in this country, where we may have these great aerodromes within five miles of a cathedral city. I am told that there are great difficulties at the moment regarding the provision of housing accommodation, especially married quarters, which are very much needed. I am also informed that, since the war, no real building has gone on in these places to provide married quarters. I know that a certain number of a famous type of houses such as those in Hampshire have been erected, but I ask the Under-Secretary to expand his statement the other day and tell us, for instance, whether he learnt anything about this matter when he addressed a gathering of all ranks at an aerodrome in Rhodesia. Will he say whether any grievance was expressed about married quarters, because my information is that there is a strong feeling of grievance on these aerodromes.
My next point concerns flying clubs. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) mention them. I was also very pleased at the support given by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), who did very well for us last week. I know that, in speaking to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on this matter, we are pushing at an open door, because they are keen to help us. I was particularly glad, though surprised, to learn that the Under-Secretary himself is a member of a flying club, and therefore I do not see how he can do anything but help us to get this movement back on its feet. It is 18 months since three hon. Members of this House sat on the Advisory Council for Private Flying to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and we produced what I 112 think all agree is a good report, but 18 months is a long time in which to keep the flying clubs waiting to see whether they will get any Government help at all.
I know from my conversations with Members of the Front Bench who have served in the Service that they and the Minister of Civil Aviation are showing a much better receptivity to the flying club idea than was the case some time ago, and I believe that it is now largely a matter of finance. I hope that whoever will give the decision will bear in mind the fact that, for a small fraction of the money we are voting in these Estimates today, we could have a really fine flying club movement in this country which would be equal to, if not better than, the flying club movements of so many other smaller countries where they seem to have had no help at all from Government money and backing. Indeed, the movement has a great chance of providing the reserves for the three Services where there is now so much integration of the work of military personnel with flying activities.
I want to give some of the latest particulars about the movement which might persuade whoever has to give the final decision what these clubs can do. At the moment, in this country there are 55 clubs, and the highest number there ever was in the pre-war years was 57. We could have at least twice as many in this country and afford an excellent opportunity for our young people to take an interest in flying and to become air-minded. Here are some statistics about the Midland Bank Flying Club. At the outbreak of the war, the club had 84 ordinary flying members, and had 100 Civil Air Guard members, 32 of whom had taken their "A" Licence. There were 88 non-flying members out of a total of 272. Of this total, 125 served in the R.A.F. as pilots, 10 served on other aircrew duties and 88 on ground duties—all this out of a membership of 272, of which 88 were non-flying, making 223 who had served directly in the R.A.F. One of these men became a group-captain, one became a wing-commander, and 13 reached the rank of squadron-leader. Between them, they gained 28 D.F.C.s and two Bars, seven A.F.C.s, seven D.F.M.s, nine M.B.E.s, two Mentions in Despatches, one Croix de 113 Guerre and one U.S. Air Medal. No fewer than 37 were killed on active service.
If that record does not prove what a valuable reserve the flying clubs can provide, I do not know what would. Many of those who distinguished themselves in the R.A.F. learned to fly initially in these flying clubs. Air Vice-Marshal Ambler, who was trained by the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club, is one, and another is Group-Captain Gillam, D.S.O., D.F.C., A.F.C., who learned to fly when he was 17 with the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club, which also trained O'Meara, D.S.O., D.F.C., Mottram, D.F.C. and Bar, Boxer, D.S.O., and, in addition, Winifred Crossley, who was second in command of the women's section of the A.T.A. We should also bear in mind that the present chief executive of B.O.A.C. received his first training in a flying club, and I am told, though I have not had it from him personally, that his training in the air cost the Government nothing. We all know what a distinguished record he had in the war.
If anybody wants any further justification of the value of these clubs for defence purposes, there it is. If nothing more is done, are these 55 clubs to be left to their own devices? If that is so the old gibe which we have often heard —that these flying clubs were the playthings of well-to-do people—will come true, because nobody but wealthy people will be able to put down £400 to learn to fly and gain a certificate as a fully qualified pilot.
There is one last point, and this concerns the female section. I believe that the W.R.A.F. have not been mentioned in this Debate—
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn
Well, they have not been mentioned enough. In the last war, they did a magnificent job of work, and it is obvious that we should make up our minds to see that they can do a magnificent job in the new organisation. We have seen how they are capable of doing work which, before the last war began, would not have been regarded as suitable for women. Hitler never dared to regiment the womenfolk of the German Reich as much as we did when we introduced compulsory service for them. 114 I hope that there will be some improvement in that condition. It is all very well in war time putting up rough timber buildings for their accommodation and expecting them to rough it while carrying out their duty of getting the bombers and fighters into the air, but it is now time, four years after the end of the war, to give them the same conditions in the Service as they would have if they stayed at home.
I think they have the shabbiest uniform of all the Women's Services. It is a very queer kind of uniform. It does not remain in a smart condition for very long, and it is of an unfortunate colour which fades vary rapidly. Compared with the W.R.N.S. or the A.T.S., the W.R.A.F. personnel always seem to be badly turned out. The material of their uniform is poor, and, as I say, its colour fades very quickly. I should like to see some real improvement in that direction. Let us take as a pattern the Canadians or the Americans whose equivalents to the W.R.A.F.s were always well turned out, and still are. If we could have some improvement in the matter of dress, I am sure that the morale of the W.R.A.F.s would be far higher than it is at present.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) has covered many points. I was a little confused about what he said in regard to the planning of the Royal Air Force. He said that it should not be planned on a long-term period, and that it ought to have aircraft rather improvised—
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn
What I wanted to convey was that we must not tie ourselves up to a special line of industrial production of one or two types of aircraft because we ought to be in a position to turn over to the production of something new at a moment's notice.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
If we had followed that course in the 1930's, we should not have had the Spitfires and Hurricanes during the war.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) spoke about air attachés. It is comparatively easy for air attachés in this country to get information, but it is not so easy for British attachés overseas. He spoke about their having cars in which to go about. One or two air attachés 115 abroad who are known to me, have not even a bicycle, let alone a car, to help them to get the information. During the last Debate, the Minister of Defence interrupted my speech, and I should now like to explain to him my point of view on a matter which he will no doubt recall. I should like to assure him and the Secretary of State for Air that at no time have I ever discussed any matter concerning the Royal Air Force with joint planners. There are many officers in all three Services who talk about the "cold war" and the prospects of such a war. Whatever regulations exist, men cannot be stopped from discussing a matter of that kind. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that I have never discussed the long-term planning of his Department with personnel of the Air Force, or the other two Services, and neither have they discussed it with me.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I am very glad to receive the hon. and gallant Gentleman's assurance; it relieves my mind a great deal. I am sure he will appreciate that if he actually quotes a view in the House, it would be very unwise to make it appear that he has been having talks with planners.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
The right hon. Gentleman made the point about joint planners himself. There are many planners at the Central Tory Office and elsewhere; I would not say they are too good, but we have got planners.
I wish to emphasise again the importance of the question of pay for the Services. Much has been said about it in previous Debates, and it must be realised that if we are to get the men there must be some upward adjustment in their pay and allowances. Without a strong and adequate Air Force, all the other schemes are useless. We have the groundnut scheme costing millions of pounds and all the other schemes which the Government have in mind. I believe an increase in pay could to some extent be met out of economies effected in the Services and other Government Departments. It could be done if only the Government would face up to the problem.
As far as the auxiliary services are concerned, Vote 2 proposes an increase of £575,000. I do not think that is enough. 116 It is a very small amount when we consider how much we rely on the reserves and auxiliary forces. That was proved in the early part of the last war, and already our auxiliary squadrons are capable of flying on equal terms alongside the regular squadrons. As I have said before, it is a very cheap investment for the Government to get these men to do their training at weekends. There is no pension liability, and we could not get better value for our money. I should like to see this figure increased so that we could get more auxiliary squadrons. It would be a much better investment than the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, although, of course, that is a great organisation for feeding the main squadrons should they require reinforcements.
To get more recruits into the air, the Air Ministry might care to consider a scheme of liaison with the schools. Some serving officers deal with their own schools; they give lectures and so on. That sort of thing should be extended to officers of auxiliary squadrons and those on the reserve. I would very gladly act in such a liaison capacity with my own school and try to persuade cadets to go to Cranwell or Halton, as the case may be. It is important to interest these young men in the Royal Air Force. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the matter in great detail, but the results have not been forthcoming.
Under Vote 7, which deals with aircraft and stores, there is a net increase of £16,500,000, of which £13,500,000 is to be spent on aircraft. That is not a great deal of money when we consider the present cost of, say, a jet fighter or larger aircraft. I should like to have seen that figure increased. I am not quite clear whether in that figure are included the aircraft which we have to supply to Western European countries.
§ Mr. A. Henderson indicated dissent.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that such aircraft are not included in that figure.
§ Mr. Henderson
Those are the net figures after taking into consideration anything that may have been supplied to other countries. That is expenditure on aircraft for ourselves.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
It is very comforting to hear that. Very little has 117 been said about radar and the electrical services. As in the last war, these services will play a great part in our defence system in any future war. I should like to be assured that they are being adequately maintained, and that we have sufficient men to man them in training exercises.
The sum of £4,320,000 is being spent on clothing, and there is a slight increase of £285,000. If the uniform of the Royal Air Force was smartened up it would be a great attraction to recruits. The American Air Force have copied us and put their men into blue uniforms, but I am told that the cut and material of their uniforms for other ranks are the same as the officers with the exception, of course, of the badges on the caps and collars signifying their rank and the branch of the service they are in. Of course, I appreciate the fact that the Americans have more money than we have to spend on these items, but I am sure that if we are to get the full number of recruits, and the right type, we shall have to improve on the battle dress with which they are at present being issued.
Regarding works services in Vote 8, I should like to reinforce what the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth said about married quarters. I know that the Air Force has done quite well compared with the Army and the Navy, but they have not done anything like well enough. I am sure that most hon. Members receive letters from serving officers and their wives complaining about difficulties in getting around and following their husbands. Only this morning I received a letter from a woman whose husband is in Singapore. She said that he would sign on for a longer period if he could get a house so that she could go out and join him. I do not know whether that is a good point at the moment concerning Singapore; nevertheless, these wives want quarters. The education of the children is completely dislocated. Children of 10 years of age probably have to go to four or five different schools. This lack of quarters is not at all helpful to the domestic affairs of those who are married and in the Services.
As to airfields, I should like an assurance from the Under-Secretary that runways are being maintained. Many of these airfields were built very hurriedly 118 during the war, and there is no doubt that perimeter tracks and runways are deteriorating on certain airfields. I should like to know that the money voted for the works services is being spent on maintaining them in good condition.
I want to say a few words about the Women's Royal Air Force. There is no doubt that they have done a very tine job of work. When people decry what the women have done for the fighting Services, they completely underestimate their value. In many cases they carry out duties better than the men themselves in some branches of the Air Force. They are certainly far better when it comes to dealing with intricate radar and operations room duties. There is no doubt that the women of the Royal Air Force Reserve who are trying to carry out flying are very dissatisfied with their terms of service. I am not conversant with all their complaints, but I do know that they want something better to wear in the way of uniform and they want to get in more flying. The amount of flying they can carry out is very limited.
The other suggestion I want to make concerns the age limit for pilots in the Reserve, which is 42. There is a case for extending that age limit for men perhaps up to 50, if they are medically fit, so that they may fly transport aircraft in times of emergency. It was done in the last war by the A.T.A. There are many men who would like to carry out training to enable them to render this form of service in the event of hostilities. I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us what is being done about the number of courses of instruction in the Air Force. According to the last figure, the number of courses is 256. I hope the Air Force is introducing economies by dispensing with some of these courses or combining them, because the Service would be more efficient as a result.
Our Air Force is small, but I believe it is good. Those of us who have seen the Air Force fly recently feel sure that the standard of flying is every bit as good as it has ever been. I remember that at the beginning of the war it was said that they could not fly in formation in Hurricanes because they went so fast. Now when Vampires fly around we see that their pilots can fly in beautiful formation. On a trip to America last year they won outstanding praise from thousands of people 119 who saw them. I am sure that the Air Force could still take on five to one if they had to, and I should think that the standard of flying ought to be a warning to any country not to interfere with the British Isles. I hope the Government will do all they can to enlarge our Air Force at the earliest opportunity. By so doing we should have a Service which would play a large part in preventing a recurrence of war.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I must confess that I did not feel very competent to venture into a Services Debate but, having engaged for some time now in a war of attrition, I feel that I have gained sufficient experience to ventilate an opinion or two. It is just as well that these Debates are nearing a conclusion, because having observed the generals shouldering their crutches, captains of aircraft flapping their wings and admirals weighing their anchors, I began to feel that if the Debate did not come to an end very soon we would be at war with somebody.
I was gravely disturbed in an earlier part of the Debate when I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) tell us that there might be a flare up in July. I was also disturbed when the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern (Mr. Boothby) told us that our security depended on an overwhelming Air Force. After an excellent and sensible speech from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) dismissed it with the statement that it was unrealistic and that it was quite impossible to talk to the Russians. I felt that we were living in an atmosphere of war. Earlier in the Debate today the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) said that he could not understand why people were not going into the Air Force. I can give him a simple and straight answer. The reason is that they do not want to go to war. We in this House should make every endeavour to ensure that our nation does not go to war, and all our policies ought to be directed to that end. Frankly, I did not get that feeling while listening to these Debates.
120 On Saturday afternoon I had the great pleasure of speaking to a packed meeting in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire —I do not think he knew I was there —and when I referred to the point of view which he had put before this House last Tuesday it was greeted with the loudest cheer that I have heard for a very long while. From my own experience I would say that in his speech last Tuesday my hon. Friend put forward a point of view which is more in keeping with the attitude of mind of the country as a whole, than the point of view put forward by many other speakers in the Debates, both on the Opposition side and, I am sorry to say, on this side as well. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies he will make it clear that the views—the war views, I am sorry to say—which have been expressed do not represent the views of this Government, and that they will do everything in their power—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. Gentleman is going very wide. We have already had a long and wide discussion in the Committee stage on these Votes.
§ Mr. Rankin
I realise that, and I am very sorry. I am indebted to you, Mr. Bowles, for allowing me to go so far. I hope my hon. Friend will make it clear, in his reply, that these are not the views of the Government.
I want to turn to one specific aspect of what these Estimates involve, in so far as they impinge upon the peaceful pursuits of the civilian population. We have to remember that preparation for war affects us in our ordinary civilian life.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have told the hon. Member that he cannot go so wide and that he must keep himself much more closely to this Vote.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am talking about the Vote with which we are dealing—Vote A. I take it that that is under consideration now. It deals with the amount to be expended on the pay of officers of the Royal Air Force and on equipment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member obviously has not read the Vote. It deals with the number of officers and men and has nothing to do with payment.
§ Mr. Rankin
Vote A deals with the R.A.F., the officers and the total amount expended, and I take it that that will include the use to which these officers and that money is put.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes. That is quite correct, but the hon. Member cannot get into a long discussion on pacifism and so on which was discussed on the Army Vote last Thursday week.
§ Mr. Rankin
I said I had departed from that point. I wish to deal with a particular occurrence at Renfrew airport a fortnight ago today in which the R.A.F. were involved and I was stating, as my introductory point, the fact that these Services might affect us in our daily work. A fortnight ago today the services from Renfrew to Islay, to Belfast, to Campbeltown and to Northolt were disrupted. That was the occasion of Questions in this House from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire and myself. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War assured us, so far as I followed his answer, that that disruption was solely a matter for the civil services and was due to the weather conditions.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have not yet followed the hon. Member. Has this anything to do with the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Rankin
Yes: that is what I propose to show. I want to assure my hon. Friend that that answer was not in keeping with the facts and that the real reason why air services were interrupted a fortnight ago today was not due to the weather but to the fact that the Royal Air Force refused to give air control at Renfrew the heights at which they were operating. The result was that, faced with that fact, with the fact also that it was not a very good day and with the appalling disaster at Coventry in their minds, in the interests of air safety they did not allow their services to continue. I might add that it was not nearly such a bad day as it was this morning, when we flew without any trouble, but the R.A.F. were not operating this morning as they were a fortnight ago. This raises a very important point because we feel that had it been London Airport or Northolt Airport the European services would not have been interrupted, nor would the trunk services have been interrupted. 122 We claim that the R.A.F., in carrying out their necessary exercises, ought not to interfere, or at least to interfere to the very minimum, with the necessary, peaceful pursuits of the people of this country.
Another point which I wish to mention is that a week ago yesterday, during the course of air exercises, aircraft flew at a very low height over certain houses in the neighbourhood in which I reside. This occurred at between 3 and 4 o'clock on Sunday, 13th March. They flew at such an alarmingly low height over a house which I know well, that a little child, two years of age, could not sleep during the whole of the night. That may be a necessary exercise. Is the necessity to recondition the nerves of the people of this country to the sound of our fighter aircraft in preparation for some of the things which hon. Members opposite have visualised? Is that one of the purposes of these exercises? If not, I do not think it is necessary in carrying out those exercises for aircraft to fly at such a low level as that at which they have been flying during certain periods in the last 10 days. I shall leave the subject there; I do not want to expand it beyond that, but I hope my hon. Friend, in his reply, will be able to give some real assurance on these matters to the people of Scotland.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
I shall be very brief because the Army is waiting to march in as we fly out. The Debate has ranged over a variety of subjects and there is really little to be said. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn), after reading through the Report of the Debate which took place last Tuesday, that the Women's Royal Auxiliary Air Force did not get its fair share of the time. It would be a pity if the Women's Air Force got the impression that we in this House were not interested in their problems and I should like, therefore, in a very few minutes, to some extent to try to repair that omission.
If hon. Members will compare Table D and Table F at Appendix II they will find some rather strange anomalies. There are some special duties carrying with them additional pay for which both airmen and airwomen may qualify but, 123 having qualified, they do not always get the same additional pay. For example, a member of the crew of an aircraft, if a man, gets 1s. a day, whereas, if a woman, she gets only 9d. Is flying less hazardous for women and is the physical strain less than it is for a man? A male parachutist, for example, gets 2s. 6d. per day, but female parachutists only 1s. 11d. I cannot believe that parachuting is less dangerous for women than for men. Perhaps, it means that women do not maintain and pack their parachutes now. If not, why not? They did it in the war, and they did it extremely well. A male interpreter gets 1s. an hour and a female 9d. Surely, the examination to qualify is the some for both sexes? Why is a man supposed to be a better interpreter than a woman? For sanitary duties a man gets 6d., a woman 5d. I should have thought that sanitary duties were equally unpleasant for both sexes. In any case, from what I remember of sanitary duties in the Air Force, they are duties which ought to be carried out exclusively by men.
For tuberculosis nursing a male gets 6d. and a female 5d. Why? Are women less likely to catch tuberculosis than men are? These anomalies are very strange, are they not? However, a trumpeter, male or female, gets 3d. I should have thought that one could possibly argue that a man makes a better trumpeter than a women because his lungs are stronger, or he can trumpet for a longer period—although I have always thought that trumpeting should be confined to as short a period as possible. Proficiency in foreign languages is open to men but not to women. That, I think, must be a hangover from the past, when women were not sent abroad. Now they are, and surely they ought to be able to qualify for extra pay for proficiency in foreign languages. The allowances are the same, and so it is all the more strange that these special duties should carry with them different rates of pay.
Now I come to the W.R.A.F.V.R. A woman pilot who carries out flying training for the volunteer reserve gets £25 flying training bounty at the end of each year's service during which she has satisfactorily completed the training syllabus. Men pilots carrying out exactly the same duties get £35. Why is that? The 124 syllabus is the same for both; the same degree of skill is required in flying the same kind of aircraft; and the same risks are involved. That is a matter which I hope will be looked into. I am not arguing here that the W.R.A.F. women should always be paid the same as airmen for everything they do, but in the particular duties I have instanced I think some adjustment should be made.
On 10th November, 1948, I asked the Secretary of State a Question regarding the Air Ministry's pamphlet 236 requiring W.R.A.F.V.R. pilots to complete 100 hours' flying to qualify for acceptance into the flying branch of the Volunteer Reserve. I suggested that this figure was too high and that it could well be reduced to 60 hours, and I did that from my own experience as a flying instructor, remembering that it cost £3 an hour on the average at most flying clubs to carry out private flying, and that that means that these girls have to spend £300 before they can become acceptable for the Volunteer Reserve. When the Under-Secretary of State answered the Question he said that the Secretary of State was considering this point. That is the last I have heard of it, and I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell me if anything has yet been decided.
Also we should like to know how recruiting for the W.R.A.F. is proceeding, because such figures as the Secretary of State gave us on Tuesday included the figures for men and women together. All we know is that 14,500 Regulars have been recruited for the Women's Air Force since the war. What we should like to know is whether they are coming forward now in sufficient numbers. We who served in the Royal Air Force during the war know the large variety of duties which were admirably performed by W.A.A.F. personnel. We know their value to the Air Force, and we regard the recruiting of women for the Royal Air Force as of equal importance with the recruiting of the men. Those of us in this House who take an interest in air matters feel it our duty to fight the battles of the W.R.A.F., just as we feel it our duty to fight for the R.A.F.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)
It is quite right, since there are in this House no former members of the W.A.A.F., that ex-members of the R.A.F. should speak 125 up for them. Although they may have the same pay for trumpeting, since they are not here to blow their own trumpets, it is quite right that they should be blown for them. I welcome this opportunity and thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) and the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) for pointing out the great service that the W.R.A.F. is doing. Since 1st February this year, as the House knows, it has been an integral part of the Royal Air Force. That means that there is a full career in the Royal Air Force open to women, a career with a pension, so that she may serve her whole active life in the Service. Perhaps soon in these Service Debates, after the booms and rattlings of the retired admirals, generals and air-marshals, we shall have gracious words from retired air-commandants.
Although the W.R.A.F. is an integral part of the R.A.F. certain matters of a specifically female character are dealt with by women officers acting under the Director of the W.R.A.F. Apart from the direct value of the W.R.A.F. to the service, it has an indirect value. I was sorry to hear it suggested that the women were not well dressed. I believe them to be extremely smart, especially in their new silk stockings which in the past year have become an ordinary issue. It is found that when members of the W.R.A.F. are posted to a station, there is an immediate and lasting improvement in the smartness and bearing of the men of that station.
I was asked about the women in the Auxiliary Air Force. They are playing an important part, especially in the fighter control units where large numbers are required. In flying in the Volunteer Reserve, we have set a high standard in demanding 100 hours solo. Perhaps, we have set too high a standard, but we are trying to see if we can reduce that, and I think we may be able to do so in the case of those who have served in the Royal Air Force and who have been specifically recommended by the Director of the W.R.A.F.
Now for the women in the Berlin airlift. We talked on Tuesday a great deal about the work being done in that great enterprise, and it is right that I should now say something of what the women are doing. First, how eager they are to serve is illustrated by the 126 number who volunteer to serve there. Secondly, how fine is their work for the airlift can best be illustrated by this citation in the New Year's Honours List about a corporal W.A.A.F. at Gatow who won the British Empire Medal. The citation said:She has been in charge of a composite party of airmen and women, and has led and organised them in a manner worthy of the highest praise. Her technical skill and ability.… have been of supreme value during the peak periods of unserviceability, while her cheerfulness and high sense of duty have greatly inspired those working with her. Corporal Fisher has on many occasions worked long and late hours.… She is, without doubt, a credit to the Air Force.The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) referred to the shortage of pilots and recruitment from the schools. They asked what we were doing about it, and especially about having senior officers of the Royal Air Force as liaison officers with their old schools. We are extending that scheme and we welcome the help of ex-R.A.F. members of this House in keeping in touch with their schools whether they are public schools, grammar schools, or secondary schools. The Air Training Cadet units at the schools are links between Cranwell and the boys in their ordinary school life. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) mentioned the A.T.C. and asked me a number of questions about it. As I said on Tuesday, during the last year the strength has risen steadily and recruiting is now very good. Even more important the proportion of proficient cadets rises steadily. In 1947, the number of certificates was only 1,500 and in 1948 the number was 4,400.
I shall not repeat all that I said on gliding because I have already mentioned that point and that there were 2,000 solos in the A.T.C. during last year. As to the more general use of gliding in the R.A.F., which the hon. Member for St. Marylebone mentioned—and I know that he has had wide experience of this—we are trying to encourage gliding as a sport in the R.A.F. We shall begin by giving gliding instruction at the apprentice schools at Halton, St. Athan and Cranwell and, having got the apprentices interested in gliding, we hope that as they go into the Service they will foster interest in gliding at their stations and 127 that gradually and spontaneously we shall see gliding clubs growing up at those stations. I look forward to the time when every R.A.F. man on the ground will have had a chance of learning to glide at some time during his career.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Could, perhaps, women who have gone solo in gliding and have shown interest in that sport be given some priority of consideration in order that they may become pilots?
§ Mr. de Freitas
We shall consider that in connection with the V.R. point which we were discussing. On the matter of flying clubs, which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth, there is very little that I can add to what my right hon. Friend has said about it. We are well aware of the contribution which flying clubs made during the last war.
The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), mentioned in the constructive part of his speech, the incident at Renfrew two weeks ago today. Concerning the allegation that the R.A.F. delayed the B.E.A. aircraft by delay in passing on information, and the allegation that the R.A.F. really grounded the civil aircraft, the facts are these: On 3rd March, the Air Ministry issued a navigation warning giving details of this exercise. On 4th March, the Uxbridge air traffic control centre broadcast details of the area and the time, but, through a misunderstanding, they did not broadcast to Renfrew and others two most important pieces of information: first, that the movement of bombers in this exercise would be notified, and, secondly, that the many fighters engaged in this operation would be under radar control. Therefore, on 7th March, B.E.A. on the spot at Renfrew knew that the weather was bad and they knew that the area was full of bombers and fighters, but, unfortunately, they did not know that the movements of the bombers would be notified, and that the fighters were under radar control. Accordingly—and it is hard to blame them for doing it—B.E.A. postponed the service. If they had known the other two factors they would probably have flown.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
May I point out that a number of Members of Parliament were delayed in getting to this House. It is the privilege of Members of 128 Parliament to come to this House without interference, and they were entitled to expect the same treatment from the R.A.F. as from the policeman who makes a way for them across the road to come here.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The policeman makes way for us to cross the road when coming here, but we do not have a police escort from our constituencies all the way here, with sirens and bells ringing. I am sorry that the hon. Member and his colleagues were inconvenienced in coming to this House, and I am sure that the Debate would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had been here in the morning to contribute to it.
§ Mr. Rankin
There is no complaint about inconvenience; that is a detail. The complaint is about the danger, which is the important point.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I do not want to make too much of this. There is great danger in war, but that danger is reduced if there is adequate defence, and we cannot have defence without peacetime training. However the danger to which my hon. Friend refers is the danger of collision, and I think that what the hon. Member has in mind is the accident at Coventry recently. Let us look at the facts. It is the only case on record in this country in which there has been such a collision when aircraft are flying under ordinary visual flying rules. Considering everything, including the experience which we had during the war when 1,000 bombers, in a short space of time, were put over one small target, and even when we look for a considerable expansion of flying, the chances of such collision are extremely small. I will not quote the figures which the statisticians have turned out on this subject. I do not think they are realistic because there are so many unknown factors, but the most unfavourable estimate is one chance in many years. As I said last week in answer to a question, we are working with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and we shall do our best to devise air traffic rules which will benefit both parties.
The hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth mentioned a Commonwealth Air Force and he wanted to know if we had Commonwealth squadrons. He put in a plea for a Commonwealth Air Force. I mentioned on Tuesday that 129 No. 24 Squadron is a true Commonwealth squadron although an R.A.F. Squadron. It is not a British Commonwealth Air Force Squadron because there is no such thing as a British Commonwealth Air Force It is right that if such a squadron exists it should be in the air force of the Mother country. Anyone who doubts the representative nature of that squadron should have the experience which I have had of trying to sleep after a guest night with that squadron and being distracted by sounds explained next morning as a demonstration of an aborigine dance put on by an Australian crew, a Maori dance by a New Zealand crew and a Zulu war dance by a South African crew.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield mentioned the number of courses. He put this question down four or five months ago and the number given in answer by my right hon. Friend was about 250. Even if we consider that there are aver 200 trades in the Royal Air Force, and that the chief task in peace time is to train, it is a fact that there are too many. We are having all courses closely examined. We have abolished some, we have amalgamated many more, and if the question were put down now the number would be nearer 200 than 250, although most of this reduction—and I do not want to mislead the hon. and gallant Member or the House—has been because we have calculated the number more accurately than before. Often a course of three stages was counted as three courses instead of only one.
I do not want to be too long, because the Army is waiting to march in. Many points were raised into which I will look and about which I will write to hon. Members. Other points I dealt with on Tuesday night and hon. Members can see my reply in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) asiced about the meteorological services and in particular about the housing of his constituents at the central forecasting office. I cannot accept the doctrine that the Government are responsible for the housing of these civilians. But I can say—and this relates to the specific question he put—first, that as far as I can see the office will be at Dunstable for at least ten years: and 130 secondly, that I have much better news for him on housing than I expected to have, and I will write to him. As for the meteorological service generally, we recognise the great service they are giving to agriculture, aviation, fishing and merchant shipping. Their forecasts are far more accurate than is often supposed.
One of the most important developments has been the increasing use by this office in the hon. Members' constituency of the post mortem. Each day the forecast for the previous day is compared by senior officers with the actual conditions, and comparison of promise and performance is as good for meterologists as it is for politicians. It is chastening for them, and has shown real results. We all know from the recent speeches of the hon. Member for Luton that he is against any barriers being erected between East and West. We should be grateful that meterology is a science which has not had a Marxist analysis, and that there is no Lysenko to prove that cumulo nimbus clouds build up many time faster in dynamic Russia than in the effete West. It is appropriate that weather reports come in to this office in the hon. Member's constituency as regularly from Vladivostock and Moscow as they do from Portland, Maine, and Portland. Oregon.
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put and agreed to.
§ Resolutions reported: