§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Yarmouth)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House considers that continued efforts must be made to secure the best servicing and maintenance procedure in the Royal Air Force consistent with the economical use of trained manpower.Before I get down to the gist of my Amendment, may I say that this is the first opportunity I have had in either this or the last Parliament to congratulate a speaker on his maiden speech. I will begin by assuring the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor) that I expected him to make a very good maiden speech because he is a fellow Yorkshireman and he knows that in this House, as in every other house the sinews which bind Yorkshiremen together are as wide as the bat which Hutton wields in our favour all over the world. We very much enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's speech; it was like a breath of fresh air to hear those tones from Bail-don Moor, bringing Ilkley Moor into our midst. I am sure that in our Debates on the Air Estimates and similar Debates. 609 squadron, which I as a Yorkshire-man regard as highly as he does, and the A.T.C. will have a very great protagonist in this House. I think I express the wishes of all hon. Members when I say we all look forward to hearing Yorkshire's voice once again, through the hon. Member for Bradford, North, in Debates of this kind.
1823 I turn now to the Amendment standing in my name. It is concerned with our most precious asset in present-day conditions, the best possible use of our manpower. It is surprising to find, on investigation, that out of the 50 million people in this country a very small number earn a livelihood for the rest of us. According to the sources I have consulted, experts bring the figure down to as low as seven million; that is to say, seven million really do the work in industry, in the Services and so on. Out of that seven million the three Services and Civil Defence, which I rate very highly, must have their share if we are to carry on building up the defensive system of this country.
Further, I found out that the number of boys attaining the age of 18 is between 310,000 and 330,000 each year and that since 1939 that part of our population, which is so essential to our defence needs and to the building up of our Forces, has already declined by as much as 25 per cent. This process was already working when the 1945 election took place and the result of it is that when the next election takes place, in 1955, we shall have only half the number of juveniles at our disposal, for work of this kind, by comparison with the number in 1945. It therefore behoves us all to see that that section of our population, upon which so much depends for the welfare of our State, is used as wisely and efficiently as we can manage.
In the Air Force and in the Services in general the old system of short-service engagements has been very wasteful indeed. We have had people often trained at great expense in technical trades in the Royal Air Force, and I suppose in the Army and Navy, too, who after a certain number of years have left the Service and have had to be re-absorbed into civilian life. The adjustments necessary must have been very great indeed. Very often all the money spent on their training in the Service has been of little use afterwards because they have taken up completely different jobs in civil life. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State give an assurance this afternoon of improvements to try to overcome that great difficulty.
Again, there is the question of the National Service men, and this too 1824 applies to all three Services, for it is essential, as we have learned this afternoon, that they should be fit to be reabsorbed into civil life not simply where they left off, but with their value to the community in general greatly enhanced.
It was often said during the war that for every man who did a flying job—aircrew of one kind or another—there were 15 people on the ground who had to do some other job in order to keep him aloft. I am afraid that that proportion is much greater in these days and is probably round about 20 to one. When we discuss the Royal Air Force, therefore, on such subjects as wages, pay, conditions and married quarters, we must remember this ratio of one in 20 and remember that we are dealing with a greater number than the small proportion who are actually doing a complete flying job. All these other people are of very great importance and are doing a great part of the work which is necessary. Of that number, the people who service and maintain the aircraft so that the Air Force can fly form a very big proportion and are, therefore, very important people. They form a very big slice of the precious manpower which we have to afford, to make available, every year in our Estimates in order to keep the R.A.F. going in the world.
I wondered during the war and have wondered since, when I have gone round certain stations, whether sometimes the present establishments are not rather wasteful. We all know of certain parts of the country where the countryside is dotted with aerodromes so that very often their circuits even overlap. On going inside these aerodromes we should find that the establishment was the same in nearly all stations, whereas if the organisation were run by a business man who had to declare a dividend every year he would say, "There are certain fellows doing jobs in these stations, but if we had them all in one central station they would all do the same amount of work and we should save a great deal in overheads." Perhaps the Secretary of State would say what steps have been taken in that direction.
Again, in connection with centralisation, when some hon. Members from this House and some people from another place, went last year on a special visit to B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C. headquarters, 1825 we found that in a desolate Welsh valley, where unemployment had been rife for a generation, a factory had been erected to make engines and to renovate engines for the great Airways Corporations. It gave work to people who had been unemployed for a very long time. The whole thing was centralised there and engines could easily be taken to the various aerodromes. I have wondered whether the Royal Air Force does the same kind of thing and whether there could not be some similar centralised organisation, even starting a new industry in some of our constituencies, if necessary. Thus we should probably cut out some waste of manpower which may be found at the moment in certain stations.
We have heard this afternoon how Service life is being more and more integrated with civil life, and I believe that all hon. Members are worried about how far that will go. I think it should go very much further than it does at the moment, and I was glad to hear that discussions have already taken place with both sides of industry so that there is a guarantee that the National Service man, who leaves his job and does his 18 months' service, shall have a job waiting for him when he returns.
Further, I was glad to hear that service in the Royal Air Force will count for membership of trade unions. I was shocked, while talking to one of the employers in my own constituency a few months ago, when he said that, as soon as a boy left his job as an office boy in his factory and went into the Services he had finished with him and that a boy could not expect to have his job back if he did that. I hope the Services will get rid of that prejudice. I hope they will make people realise that a man in military life, whether in the Army, Navy or Air Force, is really carrying on his civilian job, and it is up to the Service people to see that a man's Service job is a continuation of his civilian job. A civilian job can be a continuation of the Service job, too.
I was glad to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend that steps have already been taken with the nationalised industries and with local government bodies to bring about this easy relationship between the civil and military careers. I would mention here that many of these young men 1826 coming out of the Forces, especially the National Service man and others on short-term engagements, could be of great use in some of the colonial development schemes. With their technical experience they should be of use in colonial territories. Perhaps that idea could be passed on to the people who decide these things.
There are one or two questions I should like to put to my right hon. and learned Friend on the matter of maintenance and servicing. I am told that during the air lift last year the Americans, to keep things going when they were short of skilled technicians in their Air Force, brought out from time to time workmen from industry—from radio manufacture, and so on—to work on the air lift. They worked side by side with the Service men, and wore a uniform. Eventually they went back to civilian life, and they were able to take back to their ordinary job an up-to-date knowledge of Service equipment which must have been of great use to them in their civilian life. I wonder whether we did anything like that on the air lift, or whether there is any possibility of doing that on some air stations in this country. There must be many stations at which people could go to work instead of going to the ordinary factories.
We were warned last week in an admirable maiden speech by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Orr-Ewing) that we should be facing maintenance difficulties before very long. We had an alarming warning that there were not enough people to do all the many and varied jobs in a modern Service. I hope that the investigations that have been going on in the last 12 months, about which we have heard so much, have so resulted that we may be given some assurance on the point, because it seems to me that we might become over-technicalised so that we should be hard put to it to find enough proficient people out of the seven million at our disposal to carry on this complicated equipment.
One way to get over the difficulty is to improve design for easier maintenance It always seemed surprising to me in the last war that once people had parachute harness on and full flying equipment it was difficult for them to move about, especially in some heavy bombers, and especially in the later years when we had so many scientific gadgets one could 1827 hardly move about in some bombers at all, because they were not streamlined inside as they were outside. Many more hours must have been spent on maintenance of some of that equipment than manufacturers of the instruments ever supposed would be so spent. I remember, for instance, that in a Beaufighter there was a panel held in place by 300 screws, and it had to be serviced and the 300 screws taken out painfully and methodically in the dark, except for the light of a pin-point torch.
Probably there are many such little snags of that kind in aircraft and their equipment. However, they should be put right, and could be if the technicians went along to the scientists, as the R.A.F. leaders did in the thirties before being given Radar, and said, "Here we have a difficulty. Can you solve it for us scientifically?" I remember a night when a pilot at short notice at the end of his training went in a bomber as second pilot. It was one of his last trips as a second pilot. The aircraft got over the North Sea, and the aircraft was gaining height. The instructor said to him, "Switch the oxygen on." The second pilot was an American. I do not blame him for what happened, for really it was not his respon-After a time the pilot thought his gauges sibility. He unscrewed certain things, must be working wrongly, because the supply of petrol was running down.
It was discovered in due time that the second pilot, instead of switching on the oxygen, had jettisoned the petrol. Luckily they were able to get back to the aerodrome with some petrol left, but it seems to me that the handle of an oxygen bottle and the apparatus for jettisoning petrol should be quite distinctive, so that even in the dark one could not be mistaken for the other. Here was an avoidable mistake which imperilled the lives of all the people in the aircraft and the aircraft itself, and could have lost us one more aircraft and crew for the attack on Berlin.
I think there ought to be some organisation to enable the Air Force to keep in touch with scientific developments. More and more aircraft are being more and more filled up with scientific devices, and it is our duty to see that all the latest designs are applied and that those who handle them have experience of them, and that the people who service them have 1828 absolutely tip-top knowledge of them There ought to be planned maintenance, so that it works according to plan. Once the site for a metropolitan aerodrome is settled, that aerodrome is static, and, so far as I can see, modern air force bases are more or less fixed. In the war, although certain aerodromes were knocked about, none was knocked out, that I remember, and invariably after an attack the aerodrome would go on being used. Therefore, if the aerodromes are static, would it not be possible to plan the maintenance of the aircraft on them at some central place, and so save manpower, which could be otherwise used?
It would be interesting if some of us Members could go out to some of these bases, and see some of the men working on the most modern equipment. Some of us have not been on aerodromes much since the war ended, and have got a bit out of date. If we could go to see these places, it would help to give us an idea of how things are now, and of the modern instruments that are being used. We should, at least, obtain some basic knowledge of them, and possibly more than some of us have at present.
One word about the womenfolk. Last year I criticised the hats of the W.R.A.F., and the next day the newspapers said there were to be new hats for the W.R.A.F. I hope that these new hats are coming out now, and that the W.R.A.F. girls will be as smart in 1950 as the American and Canadian girls are, because there is plenty of room for improvement. We have got to remember that 80 per cent. of the work done in the Royal Air Force can be done by the girls of the W.R.A.F. In a modern air force the women have an important part to play.
During the war we gradually brought in more and more women to do jobs which at one time we never thought women could do, and so any remarks which I have made apply equally to the nimble fingers of the W.R.A.F. as to other R.A.F. personnel. During the war, I visited a factory in the Midlands where bomber engines were being made. The only men in the place were the setters-up and an odd foreman. The vast majority of those who were building engines ready to go straight into the bombers were the womenfolk. It would be interesting to know how the W.R.A.F. are going on these days, and I think that we should let 1829 them know that they have our very best wishes, and we are confident that they will do as good a job in the Service in peace-time as they did during the war.
In my student days in Switzerland, I saw a great deal of conscription, and in almost every house the adult member of the family took his rifle home. The Swiss Government knew that at a moment's notice, when the defence system clicked into action, every man up to the age of 45 could seize his rifle and be on active service. That is an ideal which, I think, we should aim at in this country, particularly in view of modern forms of attack with atom bombs, and V2's and guided missiles. The sooner we can get to that ideal of clicking into action at once, with our rifle in our hands, so to speak, the nearer we are to the perfect system which we want. We are all units in the defence system—men, women and almost children. That was brought home to us in 1940, with the setting up of the Home Guard, and so on.
One of the attributes of this country has always been the building up of our own humble folk in certain native skills and then finding a leader to encourage them to use those skills. That has been so throughout history—at Agincourt, at Crécy, at Trafalgar and the battle of the Nile. It was that native skill, combined with wise leadership, which led us to victory. We saw it again during the last war at E1 Alamein, in the Battle of Britain, and in those grand fellows who bombed Berlin and the Ruhr night after night. We have done these things by building up native talent and using it to the best of our ability. We have always been fortunate, but in order to be fortunate again we have to have servicing and maintenance and jobs like that in which we can use our native skill properly. Those are the things that can save us in the end, and I hope that they are being watched by the Secretary of State for Air and the Air Ministry.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I beg to second the Amendment so ably moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn).
It was only a few minutes ago that I realised that the honour of seconding the Amendment was to fall to me. I gladly seize that honour because it gives 1830 me the opportunity of saying in public to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air how much pleasure I fed at his promotion to the office which he now enjoys.
In seconding the Amendment, I think it only right to say that I am doing so on rather different rounds from those which the mover has advanced. I am one of those hon. Members who are not in favour of our present system of National Service. I believe that conscription is wrong in principle, and that in the present situation it is economically unsound. I am, moreover, far from convinced that conscription is the best method of giving, us those defences which the country needs. I suppose that one can argue, with a great deal of justification, that of all the services the Royal Air Force is perhaps the least suited to a system of conscription. With its highly specialised trades, we want to attract into the Air Force the very best type of Service man—the man who has the ability and the initiative to make full use of the opportunities which the Royal Air Force provide.
I support the Amendment on this ground: the more effective use we make of manpower in the Air Force, the less will be the need for conscription, either at the present time or in the future. There is another argument and that is that, if we use these men effectively we are making life for them far more interesting than otherwise it would be. If there is anything that we can do to relieve the Service man of the tedium and monotony which at many times and in places in the past has been the lot of the Service man, then my hon. Friend will have done a great service in moving this Amendment.
I believe that the R.A.F. has gone a long way towards making the most effective use of the manpower available to it. I do not want to join issue with any of the other Services, but I think that the record of the R.A.F. in that respect can stand comparison with that of either of the other two Services. I believe that they are genuinely trying to put round pegs into round holes. There was an occasion in the 1929 Parliament when an hon. Member of this House accused Mr. Thomas of putting round pegs into square holes, and he replied, "Nonsense we do just the opposite." The R.A.F. have really made a genuine effort to get away from that position. Intelligence tests, interviews, and the activities of those 1831 much maligned men the psychiatrists have, I think, given the R.A.F. the opportunity of making the best use of the men who volunteer for service or who are directed into it. It means that we put them into the trades best suited to them and give them an opportunity to use their initiative. My hon. and gallant Friend was a little reminiscent tonight, and perhaps he will bear with me if I reminisce on this question of initiative.
My mind goes back to my first week in the R.A.F. when I was what the Air Ministry so gracefully and elegantly called an A.C.H.G.D.—aircraft hand (general duties). I was sent with some of my fellow recruits, under the guidance of a corporal, for a journey of 70 miles, and I found it was going to take 10 hours to complete the journey. Believing in initiative, I ventured to suggest to the corporal a better route, which would be far less inconvenient for my colleagues and myself and would mean much less wastage of manpower from the point of view of the Service. That was the last occasion while I was in the R.A.F. that I ever ventured to make a suggestion of that kind to anyone in authority over me. If I venture tonight to make suggestions to the Secretary of State for Air, I assure him that in those days I never anticipated that I should ever be in a position to make suggestions to anyone, not even to a pilot officer.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the fact that some establishments today are wasteful and overstaffed, and said that if business men were to investigate the running of these establishments it might be possible to make certain improvements. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend, with his great experience of these matters, is right. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will look into that aspect of the matter, and perhaps, too, he will look into another aspect of it, and that is the overlapping which, I believe, exists between the fighting Services. I know that in my days in R.A.F. intelligence there was a good deal of overlapping between the various intelligence branches of the Services. I imagine that that it is true in other branches of the fighting Services.
I know that many of us felt that when the Minister of Defence was appointed 1832 some years ago one result would be a closer co-ordination of the activities of the Services, and that it would perhaps result in some economy in manpower. I am afraid that the figures which are constantly given to us in this House do not suggest that the most adequate and economical use is yet being made of the manpower in the Services, and I think there is a case for saying that there is a great deal of overlapping between the Services.
I very seriously hope that we are getting away from what I think was an evil legacy of the war years—the feeling by many men in subordinate positions that manpower was plentiful and therefore it was not necessary to be as economical in manpower as it was in machines or in money. Today manpower is one of our most precious resources. Manpower is scarce, and the better use we put our manpower to in the Services, the better training that we can give it, the more useful will be those men when they come back into civil life. Just as men coming out of the Services highly trained, both morally and operationally, will be of value in civil life, so will the more highly trained recruits from civil life be of great value in the Services.
One of the most encouraging things at the moment is the large number of what I think are called deferred Service men who are entering the Royal Air Force. These men, who have been engaged on some kind of apprenticeship, and who have therefore gone into the Service at a rather more advanced age than would normally be the case, are almost invariably men of considerable calibre, and are more mature than the average run of National Service man. The result is that they are soon mustered to a trade. It means that there is less wastage of their ability and time, and also that the training costs are lower. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the use to which he has been putting these deferred Service men. I believe that the fact that he has made the most effective use of these men is one of the things for which we ought to compliment him tonight.
In this Amendment we call attention to the need for securing economy in trained manpower by improvements in servicing and maintenance, and I want to conclude on this note. Important as 1833 it is to secure economy in trained manpower by making these improvements, these improvements may well be necessary in themselves in the interests of the safety of those men who fly the aircraft of the Royal Air Force. I believe that by doing everything we can, not only by economising in manpower but by increasing the efficiency of the servicing and maintenance sections of the Royal Air Force, we shall be discharging our duty to those men who are continuing in peace-time the high traditions the Royal Air Force forged during the war.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I should like to thank my hon. Friends for raising this question of the need for securing economy in trained manpower by improvements in the servicing and maintenance organisation of the Royal Air Force. This is a problem which has been very much in the minds of myself and my advisers. It is one to which we have given very close attention and serious consideration for various reasons, not only because of our manpower difficulties—the shortage of skilled and experienced tradesmen, and the need to make the best use of the large number of National Service men in the Air Force—but also in the general interests of efficiency. I think few will disagree when I suggest that wasteful use of manpower can never lead to efficiency. Experience has invariably shown that a proper use of manpower has raised the general standard of efficient servicing and maintenance.
Perhaps it would be best if I attempted, for a short while, to give the House a brief account of what we have recently done in this matter. The servicing and maintenance of modern fighter or bomber aircraft, even in the days of the jet-engine, is a complex technical task of the first order. There are two facets to the problem: first, there is the question of the techniques and methods themselves; and secondly, there is the question of the best employment of our skilled manpower and of those techniques to achieve the best possible results.
I do not propose at this juncture to give the House a great deal of material about the techniques and methods of servicing in themselves. The Royal Air Force, however, has always sought to keep fully abreast of the latest developments in these fields. New techniques are employed 1834 whenever and wherever it is possible to do so. On the other hand, we have to remember that the Royal Air Force is an organisation which is geared for war; tactical operational squadrons must be ready to move quickly from place to place, and this emphasis on mobility does on occasion render more difficult the general use of certain techniques of servicing that may be suitable for a completely static organisation. So much for the techniques themselves.
Perhaps I might now say a little about what has been done in the Service to make the best use of these techniques, and of the limited number of skilled men we have available to employ on them. I have not time to do more than outline the most important of the methods used. I think that first and foremost would be the planned servicing scheme. In essence, the planned servicing scheme consists of integrating into a pattern the major and minor periodical inspections which have to he given to aircraft, so that there is an even flow of work coming through the station workshops. This, in turn, means that it is possible to man these workshops with a small picked team specially designed to meet the flow of work.
Before the inauguration of planned servicing the flow of work was erratic, and workshops tended to he over-manned because they were staffed to handle the peaks worked instead of the average flow. Flying Training Command, for example, have made some experiments along these lines, carrying out inspections at fixed intervals of time rather than after so many hours flying. They have reduced the time each inspection takes to one-third what it was before; they have reduced the number of aircraft going unserviceable by one-third; and they have cut the number of man-hours spent in servicing by one-half. That, I think, is very indicative of the value of this type of approach.
In addition, everything is being done to improve the design of equipment, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) referred, not so much in this context to improve performance as to ensure the reliability of components and accessories, and to make the servicing of the equipment, its removal and its replacement, easier. It is not so long since that little or no thought was given to this problem. Let me give an instance 1835 at random. The radio-telephone equipment of a Wellington bomber was so placed as to tax the ingenuity of the most experienced wireless mechanic, who had to take it out to service it, thus taking up valuable time. Today, we are doing all we can to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Specialist officers are present at all stages in the design of the aircraft to ensure that the maintenance of their particular equipment has not been forgotten. I am advised that this field is potentially perhaps the most fruitful for the saving of manpower.
Of particular concern to the Royal Air Force at the moment is the problem how to make the best use of the National Service man, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) referred. I do not propose at this moment to argue the merits of National Service, or its value in present circumstances to the Royal Air Force. Still, it is interesting perhaps to note what we have tried to do to make the best use of the National Service man; and, incidentally, at the same time to use the abilities of the highly skilled Regular airman.
The skilled tradesmen, who are needed for the overhaul and repair of equipment, receive full training to the trade standards which are being recognised by the trade unions. It is not possible, of course, to give the National Service entrant this lengthy trade training, and he is, therefore, given a much shorter period of general training, followed by a period of "on the job" training. Under this arrangement, a National Service man works on a particular type of aircraft and sometimes on a particular piece of equipment within that aircraft. He is constantly under skilled supervision, and by experience he achieves a high degree of skill in that particular field within which he will work during his period of National Service.
Everything is being done to make it easier for the Royal Air Force to employ National Service airmen effectively in that way. If I may give another example, the servicing schedules for aircraft are now so broken up and arranged that a National Service airman with the minimum of training can carry them out. These alterations in turn make supervision easier and we are able to cut down 1836 the number of highly skilled aircraftmen who have to be employed as supervisors. Great economies have been achieved. For example, the number of man-hours necessary to carry out a major periodical inspection on a Lincoln or York aircraft has been cut by one-half, and that on a Meteor by one-third. During the past two years the number of hours spent on servicing for each 1,000 hours flying has been halved. Each economy is, however, not considered as an end in itself, but rather as a step to further economy. I can assure the House that the Royal Air Force is fully alive to the need to achieve the utmost economy in the use of skilled and semi-skilled labour throughout the servicing and maintenance organisation of the Force.
Before I sit down, I should like to deal with one or two other points which were raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth. He referred to the methods adopted by the Americans in Germany during the air lift, in which, he said, they had brought civilian technicians from the United States to work side by side with uniformed personnel. He asked me what the Royal Air Force had done. We did not follow that system because there was no need to do it. Our circumstances were quite different. We were able to keep our trademen's establishments in Germany fully manned with our own R.A.F. tradesmen, and we made use of civilian contractors. A good deal of the servicing and maintenance was done, in fact, by contractors in this country.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the work of the W.R.A.F. Incidentally, during my various visits to Germany to the R.A.F., I came across instances where members of the W.R.A.F. were airframe and engine fitters in the A and B classes, and were doing their work just as efficiently as it was being done by their male counterparts, who were working side by side with them. As my hon. and gallant Friend indicated, we have arranged to open 48 ground trades in the servicing field for W.R.A.F. personnel. The trades for which they are eligible to do covers groups A, B and C, and thus it caters for varying degrees of skill. At the present time, 10 per cent. of the women serving in the W.R.A.F. are engaged in the servicing trades. That is a very clear indication of the most valuable 1837 work that is being done and will be done in the future by the women's branch of the R.A.F.
Finally, may I say that it has always been possible for hon. Members to visit units of the Royal Air Force. During the time I have been in the Air Ministry—and I am quite sure before that, too—no obstacle has been put in the way of Members of Parliament visiting units. In fact, on many occasions I have assisted hon. Members from both sides of the House to visit units, and I shall always be glad to do it in the future if called on.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
Does that apply only to units at home or does it apply to units overseas as well?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am not going to commit myself on that. A question of finance may come into it, but if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to pay his own expenses to visit the Far East, I will certainly help him. I do not think he would expect me to commit myself on that, hut, broadly speaking, I am always willing to facilitate the visit of hon. Members from both sides of the House to Royal Air Force stations, and I hope that what I have said will satisfy my hon. Friend.
§ Squadron-Leader Kinghorn
In view of the Minister's statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Perkins (Stroud and Thornbury)
I apologise to the House for introducing a discordant note into a very happy Debate, but I have some severe criticisms to make of the Secretary of State for Air. I have been comparing him in my mind to the hermit crab. Both the Secretary of State for Air and the hermit crab have certain characteristics in common. They are both home-loving creatures, both very house-proud, both like to sit at home, and both look away from what is going on in the outside world. In fact, I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman lives the life of a Trappist monk in the enclosed life of the Air Ministry. As Wordsworth says—
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Before the hon. Gentleman goes further, I should like to correct him. I do not want to speak too much about myself, but I paid more visits to air stations than possibly any other Air Minister. It has been my practice to go out on an average once a week to Royal Air Force stations and establishments. Whatever criticism the hon. Gentleman may have to make, he is certainly not fortunate in that one.
§ Mr. Perkins
The right hon. and learned Gentleman assures me that he has been out on an average of once a week to visit air stations. That was exactly the suggestion I was going to make, and as he has now told me he does it, I only hope that he will continue to carry on with that good work. I hope he will not only visit operational aerodromes but operational squadrons, and that he will go even further afield and see the Air Training Corps.
§ Mr. Henderson
As the hon. Gentleman is making a personal attack on me, I should like to correct him. If he had ascertained the facts before he started on this basis, he would have saved the House a good deal of time. I do not restrict myself to operational units when I visit, but I make the habit of going to as many maintenance units and training units as I do to fighter and bomber squadrons. Up to this moment the hon. Gentleman in his facts is 100 per cent wrong.
§ Mr. Perkins
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman also goes to the factories where the aircraft are made. It is important that the Minister, who is responsible for ordering these aircraft, should get around to the factories and see the men who are actually making the aircraft. That is merely a side point.
I have a very serious criticism to make of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He will say that what I have to say does not actually concern him. A notice to airmen was published on 10th March, 1950, by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I can understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had no control of that at all. But he has, in fact, almost completely sabotaged the safety scheme that has been put forward by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. As the House knows, owing to the vast increase in the number of civil aircraft in the world, the 1839 risk of collision is daily increasing. The Ministry of Civil Aviation put out a practical and very sensible scheme, which it called "Green Airway One." The proposition is to make a corridor roughly from London to Bristol, along which air liners to and from the United States of America may fly with safety.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Member is now dealing with a matter which is more the concern of the Ministry of Civil Aviation than of the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Perkins
On page 2 of the Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, we find that special exemption from the rules associated with this airway has been granted to military aircraft. It means that the jet and fighter aircraft used on operational training are exempted from the necessity of obtaining clearances. That is my grievance against the Secretary of State for Air. He has seen fit to ensure that this exemption has been put into this safety order. Consequently, the effect of the safety order has been largely nullified.
I was telling the House what this order is. It means a safety corridor from London to Bristol. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken power that his jets and fighters on operational training can play around in that corridor. It is only a matter of time before there will be a very serious accident to some incoming or outgoing aircraft. I urge the Secretary of State, in view of what is bound to happen, to withdraw at once this absurd exemption that he has put into this order. If he does not, an accident is bound to happen at some time or another, and the responsibility for that accident must rest on the shoulders of the Air Ministry, of which he is the head. I urge him to withdraw the exemption, and not to wait until there has been an accident and then to withdraw it under the pressure of public opinion.
Another matter which I wish to raise with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that of the flying clubs. Here I shall be in the happy position of keeping within the book. He told us that he is prepared to spend some £30,000 on these clubs in teaching members of the Air Training Corps to fly. That is first-class. For years we have been agitating in this 1840 House for such a scheme and we have always failed to get any satisfaction from the Air Ministry. It is true that in 1939 we got a civil aircraft scheme through, but it was a complete failure because it applied to all and sundry. I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman upon getting this scheme through. It is first-class and it is good for the clubs. It will be good for the municipal aerodromes, many of which are now becoming derelict. It will be good both for the Air Training Corps and for the Royal Air Force. It will keep those aerodromes alive, which may one day be wanted, and it will provide a pool of highly trained and qualified instructors for the Royal Air Force.
I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman one or two questions about the scheme. Who is to select the cadets? When does the scheme start? Will the cadets be under discipline when they get to the flying clubs? Will they have their own officers with them? What is the insurance position of a cadet who is damaged, disabled or killed? Who will be the instructors? Will they be Central Flying School trained? Will the Woman's Junior Air Corps be able to benefit from the scheme? What syllabus is proposed for these young pilots?
Will these cadets be allowed to fly solo or will there be any limitations of hours before they can go solo? Will membership be open to open as well as to school units? Will headmasters of the school units be consulted? I hope the Minister will be able to answer those questions when he replies to the Debate. We have been taking some part in the development of the Air Training Corps. We have given a great part of our lives to it and we want to ensure that the scheme will be made to work.
I make two suggestions to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The first is on the question of cost and the second on numbers. He told us today that there would be 200 or 250 cadets. That figure sounds a lot, but when we break it down and spread it over individual counties it is not so much. I estimate that in my county of Gloucester, where we have some very fine squadrons, we may be able to train three or four cadets a year. It is not very many, when the figure is brought down to earth. On the question of cost, to train 250 cadets for £30,000 1841 works out at about £120 per cadet. I do not know what terms the Air Ministry will make with the flying clubs, but if it is £3 a year it means that each one of these cadets will do about 40 hours' flying a year. Is it really necessary to give them 40 hours' flying? Would it not be better to give them 20 hours and so double the number of the cadets trained? Is it not better to train 500 than 250, by giving 20 hours' training a year instead of 40 hours?
While I am talking on this subject of the Air Training Corps I would add that there seems to be a great threat from someone in the Department over which the right hon. and learned Gentleman presides in regard to the Air Training Corps. He proposes to transfer to a very large extent the administration of the Air Training Corps to the Territorial association in each county. Those who are workers for the Air Training Corps feel that that is a fundamental mistake and that it will increase the cost of running the Air Training Corps. We believe that the Corps will be less efficient and that there may be—in fact we know that there will be—wholesale resignations of voluntary workers, particularly on the county advisory committees. I urge the Secretary of State to go very slowly on this matter. Let him experiment if he likes in one or two counties, but let him not force this scheme down our throats because it will do untold harm to the Air Training Corps.
Lastly there is the question of Transport Command. A sudden change of policy at the Air Council level has largely cancelled the contract for the Hastings, with its Bristol engine. I have constituents who are unemployed today because of the cancellation of this contract. I know full well that during this year many more of my constituents will become unemployed. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about this sudden change of policy. What does it mean? Does it mean that we are going to cut down Transport Command? Has some agreement been made with the United States, as was made during the war, so that they will provide the transport and we will provide the fighters? Is there any such agreement or understanding in these days? Is that what is behind this sudden cancellation of the contract? Why was it done so suddenly? Why was there no warning? Why did the Air Council suddenly, overnight, change their views and their plans?
1842 Surely this is the opposite of good planning. All the aircraft factories were working well and delivering the goods. They were producing at a wonderful rate. Overnight, the axe falls, and the Government say: "No, we don't want any more of these things." No opportunity has been given to the management to re-organise their factory and to re-tool and re-jig it to make something else. What is behind this sudden decision of the Air Council to change its plans? There must be something behind it. It is doing untold harm in the industry. It is doing untold harm to the young men who are coming into the industry. The apprentices know that from now on at any moment they may be dismissed because the Air Council has changed its policy. There is a loss of confidence among the young people entering the industry. I ask the Secretary of State to toll the House tonight what is behind this incident. Why has the Air Council done it? Why could it not have been spread over two or three years? What has made this suden change of policy vital?
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Hale (Rochdale)
In making my maiden speech I ask for the indulgence of the House. I shall endeavour as far as possible to be non controversial We heard yesterday and we have heard again today, of the difficulty which the Services are experiencing in drawing voluntary recruitment. I am not surprised at this. Good, attractive jobs never need advertising. We know from experience in the last few years that it became necessary to advertise coalmining as an attractive industry. Even those who had never been engaged in the industry knew that it was not an attractive one, but, like the subject we are discussing tonight, it is an essential one, and rather than talk in terms of colourful uniforms and brass bands, the appeal we ought to make to our young men is that the survival of this country depends upon their response to the appeals made to them from the various Ministries to support recruitment into the Armed Forces.
Reference has been made to the fact that Ministers have said that the Air Force is incapable of purchasing the whole output of aircraft from our aircraft factories. As an engineer, I agree with these Ministers that it is impossible for this country to take up the whole output 1843 of our factories. I often wonder whether the people who are so well versed in the military side of our defence are quite as well versed in the problems confronting manufacturers and engineers in our industries. We know full well that once a prototype has been produced, the "ribbon" is laid on in our great factories.
We know from experience during the war that we can produce in almost limitless numbers, and we also know that we should not produce too many of one type, because nothing becomes old-fashioned sooner than aircraft. In the last war we had experience of worthy battleships built for the 1914–18 war still giving good service. It has been said by the Opposition that the equipment of the Army put into storage at the end of the last war ought to be still in good condition to give good service should war overtake us. No one supposes that aircraft have that life and that we can restore them as we can other types of arms.
An hon. Member opposite mentioned to the Minister that the Auxiliary Air Force was now getting depots in our towns. That is perhaps one of the secrets of success for this branch of the service. When men, and young men particularly, have done a hard day's work in industry, the prospect of a long march into the country or a long journey by bus to the depot where the training takes place is not very appetising. The large industrial towns of the north have splendid technical colleges and I believe that a lot of the crafts which are so necessary in servicing aircraft could be given priority in these colleges. They produce engineers of all types, and aircraft engineering is only another branch of engineering. I believe that young fellows undergoing training in those colleges, could take into their curriculum subjects likely to be of service to them in the Auxiliary Air Force.
Keeping our forces up-to-date, particularly in the Air Force, is likely to prove more expensive than the amount we are now discussing. The figure is in the region of £223 million, which looks a large sum of money. I have no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House would be most happy if we were in a position to spend it on a better cause, but the fact remains that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government, whichever party happens to hold office at a particu- 1844 lar time, to make provision for the defence of these islands. I know full well that modern warfare does not allow a country the size of ours to defend itself alone. We are wrapped up in agreements, such as the agreement for the defence of Western Europe, and we become an integral part of a very complicated defence system. I feel sure that at present in our straitened circumstances we are bearing as big a burden as we can afford to bear. The only way the public are likely to judge the amount of money being spent on the Air Force is from the point of view of whether we are making the best use of the money.
I have sometimes heard in speeches from the Opposition a hint, not very often openly said, that the motives of many of my colleagues are perhaps not so patriotic as those of the Opposition. Let me assure them that the young men on these benches, whatever other opinions they may hold, hold one most dearly, and that is that they should contribute to the defence of this country now or at any future time so that it may survive, because we believe it is worth defending.
I should like to add in closing that we older people should not minimise the demands which are made upon young people today. We urge them in industry to produce for export. We also urge them to attend technical colleges in their spare time so that they can become real assets to industry at a later date. In asking them to take on National Service or part-time service in the Auxiliary Air Force we are placing a further burden upon them, and it rests upon every hon. Member to make that task as easy as possible by placing the facilities so needed in their training, as close to their homes as possible.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
It is my happy duty to congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale) on his maiden speech. He spoke with great conviction and on a subject about which, as an engineer, he obviously knew quite a lot. I was particularly impressed by his remarks about the necessity for town headquarters for Auxiliary and Territorial units and I am sure if that can be done it will be of great service to the Auxiliary Air Force. The House will look forward to hearing the hon. Member again, particularly in 1845 Debates dealing with the Ministry of Supply, the production of aircraft, etc.
May I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air on his appointment? I am particularly pleased that he has been selected for that appointment because he was an Auxiliary Air Force officer. He can, at the Air Ministry, as an ex-officer who served before the wars as an Auxiliary and who during the war was embodied in the Regulars, render a great service to the Auxiliary Air Force. I would also congratulate the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir John Slessor, on his appointment. He will be a great inspiration to all ranks of the Service which he leads.
The Secretary of State was frank with the House this afternoon, particularly on manpower difficulties. That is one of the greatest difficulties pertaining to the Air Force at the present time. The R.A.F. is at the moment 10,000 below the figures given in last year's Estimates. No one has so far said from the Government Front Bench anything about the position of the apprentice school at Halton. It is the backbone of the technical and engineering side of the Air Force. Men get a wonderful education there and some of their numbers have gained high rank in the Service. I should like to know whether Halton is full? If not what steps are being taken to get additional apprentices into that school?
The same applies to Cranwell, the R.A.F. Cadet College. I questioned the Secretary of State for Air on 16th November, regarding Cranwell. He said:One hundred and nine candidates sat for the written examination: 48 passed, 50 failed, while 11 withdrew or were rejected on medical grounds. In addition there were 200 candidates, mainly from the R.A.F., the Apprentice Schools and the A.T.C. … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 2004.]That means that the greater proportion of entrants to Cranwell were nominations. It is very worrying that so few men applied to go to Cranwell through the entrance examination. I hope that something will be said later from the Government Front Bench regarding the Cadet College. One may wonder why so few young men are going to Cranwell. There was no difficulty before the war. Then one had to pay to go there and it was always full. Now it is free, the cadets are actually paid to go there, and yet the R.A.F. cannot fill it.
1846 There must be something wrong. I believe parents are unhappy about the Services as a whole. They are not satisfied about the prospects of a career in the Services, with continual postings and insufficient pay and allowances. I know that the Government Front Bench do not like to be reminded of that. The late Minister of Defence always pulled a long face if one said anything about increasing the pay of men in the Fighting Forces. It is necessary to review this vital problem. I agree with the Secretary of State that the National Service men are doing a very fine job within certain limits, but it does not suit the R.A.F. to have National Service men. They are given responsibility and are very intelligent and willing. They carry out their duties in an extraordinarily fine way. For example, a National Service man may man a radar apparatus to "home" a squadron of jet fighters to its base in bad weather. After 18 months he goes and is replaced by another airman who has had only a few months' training. There is no continuity and I do not think it right that they should he given duties of such responsibility. If such a man reaches a rank of leading aircraft-man he is paid 7s. 6d. per day, or £136 per year, for bringing home a squadron to its base in bad weather conditions.
So far as the junior officers are concerned, pay is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago. A pilot officer who flies gets 16s. a day, or £292 a year, for flying at nearly the speed of sound. They take great risks and they do not resent it, it is part of their job, but I contend that there is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) said, a case for giving flying pay to the men who take that risk. I understand that in the Navy additional pay is given in the submarine service, and I believe that extra pay is also given in the Fleet Air Arm. A pilot officer in the technical service, maintaining this complicated equipment, gets only 13s. per day, or £237 a year, and he is an officer who is maintaining very specialised equipment. Added to that, the young married officer's allowances are now taxed—and that on top of the higher cost of living and postings involving finding new schools for their children and other extra expense. If we want to get more men into the Fighting Services I am sure that the rates of pay will have to be increased.
1847 There are many little matters regarding the Services of which sight is often lost. I would say, in the case of the Air Force, improve the cooking of the food. The cooks in the Air Force are grade 3 in their trade, and I am told that many of the stations are only up to 50 per cent. of establishment in cooks. Give them better training. I know that the Secretary of State a few weeks ago made a speech at the opening of a new cookhouse and dining hall for the Air Force. That is very fine and there are one or two in operation now, but I believe that before new buildings are erected the right hon. and learned Gentleman should see that the cooks get a better training. If he can improve the class of their trade perhaps to grade 2, so that they get a little more money, it will attract more men into that branch of the Service.
Airmen are also complaining about the arrangement for purchasing uniform. They receive an allowance of £2 11s. three times a year out of which they have to maintain all their clothes, pay for boot repairs, etc. It is quite impossible to do it on that sum. Formerly they received a free issue of clothing. The R.A.F. uniform is not a particularly smart one—anything but. There is a need for a walking-out jacket in summer. These airmen when working on the station take off their jackets but it is quite unsuitable for them to walk out dressed like that. They want a light-weight summer jacket and if they could have one it would improve their appearance and they would be much happier.
Technical equipment is becoming much more complicated. To service an aircraft today is a very complicated business. The result is that owing to the international situation requirements are much heavier than one would expect them to be in peace-time. We should like to know what is going on in the Western European Defence Organisation. It has been in existence over a year but costs are not reduced. In fact, no important economies have been made. We have been told on many occasions by the Government that we are making our contribution with equipment to other countries, and I believe that; I know we are. But surely if we are to get an integrated air force or defence system we should sooner or later see the cost reduced.
1848 My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) referred to the radar system and he emphasised the necessity for having radar installations on the Continent as forward looking stations. We must have them, but meantime I wonder how many radar stations are working in Britain? I believe there is nothing to stop anybody from the Russian Embassy, until they are confined to a 30-mile limit, driving round Britain and seeing these stations when they are working. I would say that the number is very few. It is useless doubling Fighter Command unless we have the radar stations and men to operate them.
Many reasons have been given by the Government Front Bench as to why jet fighters were exported. I agree that it is a very good thing to export aircraft. Last year the aircraft industry earned no less than £33 million by the sale of aircraft to foreign countries. But I believe those aircraft were sold not because of the money, but because they could not be manned in Britain. There were not sufficient men to man them. They could not be used because we had not the airmen to maintain them.
We are told that the Auxiliary Aix Force squadrons are front line with the Regular jet squadrons. We have not been told when the Auxiliary squadrons are to have two flights in one squadron and I think that question should be answered tonight by the Under-Secretary. If there were a war tomorrow the Auxiliary squadrons would be called upon to play exactly the same part as the Regular units. Why then are they not getting equivalent aircraft to the Regular squadrons? They get aircraft which have been used for 300 or 400 hours flying by the Regular units and which have to have much more maintenance, and have a limitation in their operation. I suggest, having earlier in my speech congratulated the Under-Secretary on being an Auxiliary Air Force officer himself, that he should ensure that the Auxiliary squadrons are given comparable equipment with the Regular squadrons; otherwise they will be at a grave disadvantage in battle.
The doubling of Fighter Command is only the completion of what we were told last year. I think that my right hon. Friend made it clear that all we are getting is two flights in one squadron and 1849 thus bringing it up to what it ought to be. In my opinion the Government have been quite wrong to play up the fact that Fighter Command has been doubled. Some of the Auxiliary squadrons, particularly in the London area, maintain their own aircraft, and their identity is achieved by the squadrons working as a unit. They go to camp together in the summer and become a complete unit. I am told that there is a suggestion that some stations are now to have two Auxiliary squadrons and one Regular squadron and that the aircraft will be maintained on the garage system. If that is being done, and I think it can only be done to save a few men so that the Regular personnel in the Auxiliary squadrons can be pooled, I consider it most unfortunate. If they are to achieve what they set out to do, that is to attract recruits and maintain their identity, the Auxiliary squadrons must operate on their own.
If there should be a continuous attack of bombers I would ask how we are to defend this country with jet fighters alone. Their short endurance is well known to the world. How will they maintain defence against a continuous raid, or close intervals of raiding bombers? Are the Government considering that problem? Reference was made this afternoon to the University Air squadrons which are playing a great part in the training programme of the Royal Air Force. I ask the Under-Secretary to consider giving facilities to undergraduates when they leave the universities to train to wings standard in a unit elsewhere. At the moment they do their flying and then there is no further opportunity to get their wings. Many of them would like to join the Auxiliary Air Force, but they drift into the Volunteer Reserve. If they could go to a separate unit mid receive training and get the amount of flying to obtain their wings that would be a great help.
The Minister referred to night fighters, and I was very encouraged by his remark that by next year we shall have the new jet night fighters in operation. I do not want to say that the Secretary of State is optimistic, but I shall be very surprised if we have any number worth having in operation next year. It is a very big task and I should like the Government to be certain before making the statement that we shall have jet fighters 1850 operating as night fighter units. it is a matter of great urgency. At the moment night fighters cannot catch the bomber, certainly not the T.U.4. the Russian bomber.
To my way of thinking Bomber Command is a great disappointment. Two or three years ago hundreds or thousands of airmen, air gunners and wireless operators were found to be redundant in their trades and went into other branches of the Royal Air Force. Now they are being taken out again to man the B29 bombers. I am glad it has happened in time, because, had it gone on much longer, they would have lost most of their knowledge.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member a question? I am interested in this matter of jet fighters. He put forward the point of view that the jet fighters could not catch the Russian bomber. Can he give an explanation of what the jet fighters are for?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I never said anything of the kind. I said the present night fighter could not catch the T.U.4 bomber. The hon. Member must pay attention to these points. I made it quite clear.
I ask the Under-Secretary whether the Service will be in a position to man the B29. I appreciate it would take a considerable time to train the pilots and gunners and the others in the crew to man this aircraft, but I would ask if we have sufficient trained personnel to man these aircraft. I have seen it stated that we are to be given spares for one year with these aircraft. Is there any assurance from the United States that we shall get spares beyond a year, or have we to pay dollars after that date? As was stated earlier, the development of large aircraft takes a number of years, five to seven years. I fear that unless we really go ahead in manufacturing large aircraft it will be a great handicap to the manufacturers of civil aircraft, because one backs the other. It is not only the question of the manufacture of air frames, but it is all the ancillary equipment going into the modern bomber; and by ceasing to manufacture such machines much knowledge and "know-how" will be lost in the industry supplying the equipment.
1851 Reference has been made to cuts in Transport Command. I can quite see that if there is to be a cut Transport Command would be the first part of the Royal Air Force to receive it. But surely the Government knew at least a year ago that there were economic difficulties. Why was it left until the middle of an election before it was made known to the manufacturers and the public that such cuts were to be made in Transport Command? We have been talking in this House about an economic crisis for the last 18 months. I consider that the Government have been extremely lax in allowing the situation to continue.
It may be remembered that before the war the Soviet Embassy showed in London a film of troop carriers dropping soldiers by parachute. That film made a profound impression on the world, but we went to war in 1939 with very few transport aircraft. A few Hannibals from Imperial Airways flew us over to France, and they got stuck in the mud on arrival. We worked at a great disadvantage, because we had no transport aircraft. I am concerned about how the Air Force will manage unless it has an adequte Transport Command. I saw in a newspaper only this morning a report that the four Lincolns which had flown out to Singapore were backed up by a York transport carrying airmen, ground crew and equipment.
The Secretary of State said that the Air Force must be mobile. It may have to go to the Continent and take with it a lot of equipment. Unless the Air Force is backed up by a strong Transport Command, the position will he extremely difficult. I should like to think that this is only a temporary expedient and that, as soon as we find the way clear, the Air Force will secure additional transport machines, because the need is vital. Mobility is the first essential for all the Services.
The maddening point about all this is that the Government, through the Air Corporations, in the last four years have spent f18 million on American civil aircraft. That is enough to employ another 4,000 or 5,000 people in the British aircraft industry for four or five years, apart from what we shall have to spend in years to come on spares for Stratocruisers and Constellations. Is it intended 1852 to continue to withdraw air attaches from foreign countries? That step has been taken in two or three instances, and I think that it is false economy. The Air Force must be kept informed, and an air attaché can also help to secure orders from abroad for military equipment. I ask the Government to consider whether they are bringing about any worth while saving.
The Secretary of State talked about the Commonwealth Air Forces and referred to the auxiliary squadrons which were being formed in the Colonies. I congratulate him on that move. He did not make it clear whether these squadrons are recruiting Europeans or local men or both. Some information on that point would be helpful. If only Europeans are being recruited that is a step in the right direction, but it does not go nearly far enough. There are many men living in the Far East who would be willing to serve. In Hong Kong, for example, there are Chinese with British passports—British citizens—who would be very glad of the opportunity to defend their own British territory.
I ask whether we are going far enough in the integration of the Air Forces in the British Empire. I know that we have the schools and that visits take place, but are we really planning future types of aircraft and equipment with, for example, the Canadians? I do not think that we are. I should like some reassurance about that. I should like to be told that the planning of new types of aircraft and equipment is being worked out between the great countries in the Empire.
My humble view is that the Air Force has made progress in the last two years. I am desperately concerned that the problem of manning the Service will be one which will prove a great hindrance in our operation of the aircraft which we may acquire. I beg the Government to do everything they can to attract men into the Service. I believe that men want to go into the Service, but they will not join while they can earn more money in civilian life. I beg the Government to give the Air Force first priority in the three Services, because without an Air Force this country will mean nothing at all, but I believe that with a strong Air Force peace can be maintained.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Haire (Wycombe)
In these Service Debates we often reach a very happy measure of agreement, on all sides of the House, and today has been no exception. I find myself, for example, in considerable agreement with the marginal notes which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) has just offered us on the White Paper, and particularly with what he said at the beginning of his speech in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. J. Hale). I think that my hon. Friend gave us a well-informed and sincere speech and that he will make a useful addition to the fire power which we exercise on days like this in this House. Therefore, I very much welcome his contribution to this Debate.
I am not sure that I can offer the same congratulations to the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) who, I think, added a few blots to the performance put up by the Opposition today. He, in his first speech after his reappearance in this House, entered into a personal attack on my right hon. and learned Friend which was at once completely exposed as false. We who have been in this House during the last five years know that if there is one way of catching the ear of this House, it is to come to the House with one's facts fully checked. If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to find out the considerable contribution my right hon. and learned Friend has made to the Air Force in the last five years, he certainly would not have launched that personal attack.
In handing out bouquets, I thought the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield might have extended one to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, because, indeed, I thought that today he gave a good account of his stewardship in the past year. It is quite true that I, like many other hon. Members, would have liked a great deal more information. I know the limits of security within which my right hon. and learned Friend is confined, but I hoped very much that the little game which took place between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the Minister—a sort of "Twenty Questions"—might have produced a little more information.
1854 I want to bring the Debate back from the rather human considerations introduced by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken and who referred to cooks and cadets and so on, and to put in a plea for a re-orientation of the rôle of the Royal Air Force. I believe we have not yet, even five years after the last war, got down to the realistic rôle which the Royal Air Force should play in this new atomic age. In this new age, I think it is required of us to assert the right of the Royal Air Force to be considered the senior Service. I believe that, with his usual modesty, my right hon. and learned Friend has been too diffident to enter into competition with his Service colleagues, but he must not allow himself to remain in this Cinderella rôle. He must not allow himself to remain the junior prefect of the Services. The Royal Air Force is now the senior Service, and I believe that the Minister should make the bold decision to assert that position with the Minister of Defence.
In asserting this position for the R.A.F., I want to deal with what I think are the fundamental principles of our defence in this new post-war situation. I am glad to be supported in many of the conclusions at which I have arrived by the manifesto which I suppose most of us have received today from the Air League. I certainly conclude from my own experience in the R.A.F. in the last war that the first of these principles is that sea power and land power can only function effectively if they have got full air support. That being so, it is essential for any defence blueprint to start off with what can be achieved by the Air Force at our disposal, and only after that can it be determined what should be the shape of the Army and the Navy and their possible functions in any future war. Air superiority in any theatre of war is essential and gives the Air Force the dominating rôle.
The second fundamental principle which can be established is that, after our fighter forces have been organised to take the initial shocks of any possible enemy attack on this country or on Western Union, I believe that we must have available at once powerful bomber offensive forces. This is strongly recommended in the Air League manifesto. It states—and I thoroughly agree—that 1855 the spearhead of air power in the present world is the bomber force.
The third fundamental principle which emerges is that, in a jet-propelled, pushbutton war, there can be no breathing space such as we had at the beginning of the last war in which to build up our Air Force and plan our strategy. That being so, it is absolutely necessary that our Service Ministers should see to it that as soon as possible our Air Force is at full strength to meet the shape of the war which may come. In this Debate we, unfortunately, have to assume the possibility of war, but none of us wants it, and certainly we are not seeking war ourselves.
The final principle which I believe emerges is that, if we do create these bomber and fighter forces to meet any such offensive action against us, we shall, in effect, have created a deterrent force. The right hon. Member for Bromley was quite right when he said this afternoon that our supreme purpose is to prevent war. Therefore, I would say to my right hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I am not satisfied that the re-equipment of the R.A.F. has been rapid enough. In the Debate last year, and indeed in that of the year before, we on this side of the House and some hon. Members opposite urged that the Air Ministry should proceed with all speed with the re-equipment of our Fighter Squadrons. I am glad to see that considerable advance has been made in that direction, though I am not sure whether, in fact, we have reached a stage when we can congratulate the Minister on having perfected our Defence Forces, when our long-range bombers are still far behind what they should be.
Here is the dilemma in which this country and our Defence Ministers are placed. This is a most costly proposition. Today, we are being asked to vote a sum of £223 million for our Air Force in the next year. Our Defence costs are already too high, and here am I and other hon. Members making proposals which can only result in further costs. We must cut our coat in defence matters according to our cloth, and, if our defence costs are already high, they are also already out of proportion to our other expenses in our present economic situation. Hon. Members may well be aware of the enormous 1856 cost of building a modern bomber or fighter, which is from three to five times what it was in 1939, and that cost is still rising every day. The cost of equipping a modern aircraft with radar equipment is many times what it was in 1939, and the cost of training personnel to fly our aircraft is also many times what it was pre-war.
§ Mr. Haire
Perhaps my hon. Friend will address that question to the Under-Secretary, who may be able to give him the answer. The cost is changing every day, and I should like the information to be accurate.
In view of this very high and increasing cost, I believe the case is fully proved for an increasing integration of our Air Force with those of Western Union. I feel sure that many of us are delighted that so much progress has been made in that direction. Indeed, I was very glad to know that we were supplying jet-fighters to certain countries in Western Europe. That is the answer to one hon. Member opposite who was afraid we were getting rid of these aircraft because we could not afford to use them ourselves for various reasons. In terms of supply potential, it is most desirable that there should be countries willing and ready to take these aircraft in order that our supply capacity should be fully maintained.
I feel that we must integrate our bombing force much more closely with Western Union. I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend for the arrangements, in which he has personally taken part, in bringing about the gift to us of the B29's from the United States, the first four of which are to arrive in this country tomorrow. This co-operation in terms of the Atlantic Pact is something we ought to encourage. The combined operation between the American Air Force and our own over the Berlin Air Lift was a very successful venture. Indeed, in view of the fact that the air lift was only finally terminated in October last, I am surprised that not more reference has been made to it in the House today. That was indeed a magnificent achievement on the part of the American and British Air Forces acting in a combined operation. I hope that, though we may never need to use them, 1857 any later instalment of British-American co-operation in our Air Forces will be equally successful. It certainly was a symbol of our united strength and understanding.
Those of us who remember the conversion of certain squadrons to American aircraft in 1942–43, in the early stages of the war, will know that one of the great difficulties in maintaining those American aircraft was to get sufficient spare parts and sufficient of our ground staff fully trained as fitters and engineers to handle these aircraft, quite apart from the aircrews themselves. I ask the Minister to see that sufficient spares are forthcoming to maintain these Superfortresses, and that as soon as possible we shall have sufficient personnel of our own able to fly and maintain them.
I am anxious, as hon. Members will have realised, to try to spread the burden of our air defence, as regards cost as well as from the point of view of the actual problem of defence. I make no apology for turning once again, as I did last year, to the question of the greater integration of our defence plan in terms of air cooperation within the Commonwealth. I should like to know whether we have yet decided the role, according to the blueprint of the United Kingdom and Western Union defence, that our Commonwealth Air Forces would play. For example, do the Canadian Air Force know what role they might be required to play? Do the Australian and New Zealand Air Forces know their role?
When I was in Canada two years ago, I visited a number of Canadian Aerodromes. There is not the slightest doubt that Canadian co-operation with us during the war was a very happy one. Those of us who served with the Royal Air Force and who met squadrons from the Dominions will remember the very happy relationship which grew up. There is not the slightest doubt that in those Dominions there is a great desire for that relationship to continue. Therefore, I make a special plea that there should be joint training schemes and regular visits of our squadrons to the Dominions, and that in turn the Dominions should reciprocate by sending their squadrons over here. I appeal for a unified Empire plan in terms of air defence.
I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us what part the Dominions are playing 1858 in the production of aircraft. We have heard today of the Canberra, but we know that the prototypes of that aircraft are being produced in this country. Is there any plan for the production of modern types of bombers and fighters in the Dominions? Production in the Dominions would not only be a contribution to our war effort in terms of production, but it would be a most useful form of dispersal in the event of war.
I doubt whether our production potential in this country with that of the United States could add up to what we believe to be the production potential in the U.S.S.R., for example. I have no desire to add to any war scare, but here are the facts so far as they can be obtained. The best information available gives this sort of figure for the Soviet Air Defence. As hon. Members will know, the Soviet Air Force is integrated with the Army and the Navy. In the Army it is estimated there are 500 regiments with about 30 to 35 aircraft each, giving a total of from 15,000 to 17,000 aircraft. In the Naval Air Force it is estimated that there are 2,000 aircraft at present, nearly all fighters. It is generally understood I believe that the Soviet have no aircraft carriers. Therefore, the present position may be that there are 14,000 front-line aircraft and 10,000 in reserve available in the U.S.S.R.
What is the present industrial potential? As far as can be ascertained, the annual production of heavy bombers is from 1,500 to 1,800; of light bombers, 3,000 to 4,000; of fighters, 5,000 to 6,000; half of which are jets; of transport aircraft, 1,200 to 1,400, and of training aircraft some 3,000 to 4,000.
§ Mr. Haire
As I told the hon. Gentleman, this is the best information I could obtain, and it is readily available to him 1859 in the Library. I offer it to the House only on those terms, and with no other authority. I was trying to argue that if this, indeed, is the potential available to Soviet Russia, we ourselves ought to be concerned about having a potential available in this country and in the United States to equal it.
I have already spoken at greater length than I intended, but it would be ungenerous if I did not mention my old command—Coastal Command—in my annual speech on the Air Force Estimates, and I do so because I think that today we have entirely neglected it, although it was mentioned in the defence Debate last Thursday. There is not the slightest doubt—and hon. Members ought to be well aware of it—that if another war were to come, at sea it would be much more dangerous for this country than was the last war, and far more dangerous than was the 1914–18 war. As those concerned with air-sea warfare know, by the end of the war there had appeared the most deadly U-boat with its Snorkel device which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us, had an under-water speed of some 20-odd knots, and was very difficult to detect. We can take very little consolation from the development of the Sonobuoy, which was the nearest device we invented in 1945 for detecting this new weapon. I know it is very difficult for my right hon. and learned Friend to say, but I would like to know that research is well advanced, and that aircraft are being prepared to deal with this new menace at sea.
There is one small point I wish to mention before leaving the contribution which Coastal Command can make, and that is with regard to air-sea rescue. I remember how many of our crews were lost at sea in the last war because they could not be rescued in time. At the same time, we all recognise how important a part was played by air-sea rescue craft in recovering some of our crews. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that this side of our defence is being fully maintained.
I now wish to make a domestic point, because it is connected with my own constituency. I notice the success which is attending my right hon. and learned Friend's policy in regard to new barrack equipment and new housing for the Royal 1860 Air Force, and I want to congratulate him on the progress he has made there. But a problem does arise—it is more a problem in reverse—and it was brought home to me very much this morning by a letter I received from a constituent. The point is that when an airman who has been given married quarters and has installed his family, is then posted overseas, his family may find themselves in a very difficult position. I have such a family in my own constituency, and the mother writes:I have four children, 15, 14, 10, and 3 years of age. The two boys are at school and are both doing well. The eldest boy sits for his School Certificate in July so that it is most important that he should be allowed to stay at his present school. We have been given notice to get out by 20th April.A very great problem unfortunately now arises for that wife of a warrant officer who has been posted overseas. Can my hon. Friend say what is the remedy for such a situation as this, when it arises? I should be very glad if he would pay sympathetic attention to this case, the details of which I will send to him.
I support everything which has been said about the Air Cadets. If we are to get recruitment, both Regular and National Service, for the Air Force it must be by encouraging the pre-service units of our A.T.C., and I find that they are not being given all possible practical encouragement in the shape of buildings and proper financial contributions. It is only by getting proper air-mindedness in our cadet units that we can hope to build up the Air Force we want and the air defences which the country needs.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
I was very glad that the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) referred to the importance of co-operation with the Dominions. That is a matter which I have raised in previous years. I believe it is of the utmost importance that the fullest possible co-operation should take place in the future, just as it took place during the war. There was nothing finer during the war years than the great help which Canada gave us in the air training she undertook in Canada and nothing better than the work in the Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia where much of our training took place. It would be a great pity if all that experience and goodwill were 1861 lost. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State winds up we shall have an assurance that that co-operation is being continued at all levels, both operational and training, as it was in the war years.
May I also join with hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State on his appointment? It is always a satisfaction to know that someone has been appointed to office who has had personal experience of the job. That brings confidence not only in this House but, what is perhaps most important of all, in the Service which he is called upon to administer.
I was very glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made reference to the new developments which are taking place in the Air Training Corps. Those are developments which we on this side of the House have advocated. Reference has been made to it by others among my hon. Friends who have had great experience in the administration of the Air Training Corps. If only some of the work and encouragement now being given to the Air Training Corps had been given four or five years ago, I do not think we should be quite so short of recruits for our Air Force as we are at the present time, because in the future we must expect the Air Training Corps to be our best source of recruitment.
In the Air Force of the future quality of personnel will be required as well as quality of aircraft and equipment. It is deeply disturbing to find, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) has pointed out, that very many nominations have to be made to fill Cranwell. That means that the quality which should be there is not there. If the quality of the Royal Air Force is to be maintained in the future, there must be quality at both Cranwell and Halton. Before the war I remember vividly a discussion which I had with a headmaster in my former constituency of Swindon. He said that he never hesitated to tell parents that they could find no finer career for their boys than to let them go to Halton for technical training. There, he said, they were quite sure to have a thorough training and to be assured of a career afterwards. I do not believe that that 1862 position holds good in quite the same way today. I wish it did. Unless and until the reforms which my hon. Friends have mentioned are made, I do not think we shall get that quality and quantity which are so vitally essential for the future security of our country.
The hon. Member for Wycombe made a reference to a case in his constituency in which a warrant officer was being posted overseas and notice was given to his wife and children to quit on 20th April. I should like to know what steps the Air Ministry are taking to provide accommodation elsewhere for that family, and also many others. There must be throughout the country many disused camps where it ought to be possible for married quarters to be provided when men are being posted overseas to stations where married quarters are not available; and the married quarters ought to provide convenient and happy circumstances for the men's families. I should like to know what steps are being taken to ensure that families are being looked after in this way. Were they being looked after I am sure there would not be the same difficulty in recruitment as now faces the Air Ministry.
As the House knows, before Christmas I raised the question again and again in the House of the disparity between the travelling allowances and facilities afforded to the Civil Service and those afforded to Service personnel. I pointed out again and again the advantages that the Civil Service got as compared with the fighting Services when personnel were moved. Fighting Service personnel move about far more frequently than do members of the Civil Service. There is no doubt about it that one of the great handicaps under which Service personnel labour is the immense amount of incidental expense incurred in moving about from place to place. I have two sons-in-law, one in the Navy and one in the Army, and I know from personal experience the great expense they have to incur in moving their families about, as they have done so much in the last three or four years. What applies to those two Services applies in this respect equally to the Royal Air Force. I hope that this matter will be thoroughly examined.
Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) to the importance 1863 of having adequate flying in training. I can fully understand that, in view of the need for economy, large aircraft are considered very expensive to get into the air. However, I should like to ask the Secretary of State what steps are being taken to instal in the Royal Air Force the new synthetic training equipment developed in America and which B.O.A.C. are now using for training their air crews. It is a remarkable development. An air crew on the ground can have exactly the same type of flying experience as they could get were they in the air, and various "risks" can be taken on the ground—side to wind landings, and the like—which could not be taken, at any rate to the same extent, in the air with a large aircraft with personnel aboard. I should like to know if that new synthetic training device used by commercial interests will also be used in the R.A.F.
I should like to know also what action is being taken by the R.A.F. to maintain an interest in the development of flying boats. We had an announcement recently made in the House that the Solent flying-boat used by B.O.A.C. was no longer to be used. We know Princess flying-boats are being built at the present time for commercial purposes. What steps are the R.A.F. taking to maintain an interest in flying-boats?
I am certain that it is of the utmost importance for strategic purposes that they take the utmost interest in flying-boat production and development. A flying-boat can fly from a Norwegian fjord to a Central African lake, taking a large amount of equipment, whether of human beings or of stores, without the need for, or the length of time necessitated by, the preparation of an £8 million aerodrome. Most of the earth's surface is covered by water, and we know from the last war the value of the flying-boat in evacuations from Greece. Norway and other places, and the extraordinary value of those big flying-boats bought in 1940 in keeping open our communications around the West Coast of Africa when the Mediterranean was closed. It is quite clear that for strategic reasons and to ensure absolute mobility, the R.A.F. ought to take a deep interest in the future development of the flying-boat.
1864 It is obviously of importance that we should have all the development possible of jet aircraft for their speed, etc., but for mobility purposes the large flying-boat ought to be a part of the strategic needs and requirements of the R.A.F. The hon. Member for Wycombe made reference to Coastal Command. The greatest danger that faces this country in the future is the new submarine to which he referred. One of the main ways of combating that menace must be from the air. I think that a large flying-boat which is able to maintain patrol in mid-Atlantic for a long period is of the utmost importance and ought to be part of our strategic defence.
That brings me to refuelling in the air. What interest has the R.A.F. taken in that question? It may be necessary for large flying-boats or other aircraft to maintain patrol over packs of submarines in mid-Atlantic and to refuel in the air. Again, we have heard of the importance of maintaining a long-range bomber force. We all know that the greatest danger which an aircraft faces is when it takes off very heavily loaded with bombs and petrol, and it may well be that it would greatly assist operations if such an aircraft could take off with a lighter load and be refuelled in the air. It may also be that when an aircraft is proceeding some long distance it can by refuelling in the air reach its objective, which otherwise it could not do. The Under-Secretary should give us some assurance that these matters are not being overlooked because they are an important part of our strategic needs.
I conclude by stressing a point made by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), who opened the Debate for the Opposition, when he referred to the importance of providing opportunities for ex-short-service R.A.F. men in private flying. The lack of such opportunities is one of the greatest reasons why recruiting for the R.A.F. is not as good as it ought to be. Parents and young men feel that there are not now the opportunities that there ought to be for them in the future. Private flying has not developed, and I beg the Secretary of State for Air, in the interest of the R.A.F. and of the country, to give every possible opportunity for private operators to carry out flying operations, so that young men going into the R.A.F. 1865 can, when they have concluded their short-term service, feel that they have some future outside the State-operated airlines of participating in private flying, where they can take responsibility and perhaps have an opportunity in partnership with others in developing this great new venture in the air. I believe that if that is done recruiting, which we all consider to be so vital, will be helped.
I wish both the Secretary of State for Air and his Under-Secretary all success in their endeavours in making the Royal Air Force the most efficient service possible, because today the Royal Air Force, just as the Navy used to be, is our first line of defence. If we are to have security, it can come only through the Air Force. Above everything else, a strong, powerful Air Force can be such a deterrent that neither Russia nor any other country will ever dare attack us. Defence is the prime duty of any Government, and I am sure the Government will do their utmost to fulfil their responsibilities to this House and the country.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
When this Debate began, some of us on this side were very conscious of the departure of certain of our friends who took part in previous Debates on the Air Estimates. We are glad that some of those departures have taken the form of promotion, and at any rate the Air Force Members will be glad to see such a preponderance of the Air Force in the Government. However, it is a matter of some regret that some former Members have left us, particularly after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins). It was unfortunate that his return to this House should be signified by such an irrelevant and inaccurate attack as he made on the Secretary of State.
It was further marked by an extraordinary statement on the subject of the air corridor. I am sorry that he is not here at the moment; he has had plenty of time to have had his dinner and returned had he wanted to. He made a statement about the Air Ministry sabotaging these proposals for an air corridor for incoming and outgoing civil aircraft. It is a far more complicated subject than it appeared to be from what he had to say. Since he must have had some in 1866 formation from people who are concerned in it, he must have known that there are negotiations on this very subject going on at the present moment; that fighter aircraft and jet aircraft are a real problem when it comes to making them fly up and down air corridors; and that when they operate they are always under radar control, so far as the radar chain allows in this country. Indeed, it was quite wrong of him to make the attack on my right hon. and learned Friend in the way he did.
There is another aspect of these air Debates which I sometimes regret. I feel that the Navy have an advantage over us, in that in addition to the naval officers and seamen who speak in Debates there are dockyard Members. I think it is a great pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) is not able to speak as an airfield Member. He has some of the most important of our airfields in his constituency, and I hope that in future Debates he may introduce a new tradition so that we may keep level with the Navy. Of course, if we should run short of speakers in air Debates, we always have the indefatigable Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) who, to judge from his interventions in these Debates, is obviously seeking to promote his own candidature for Minister of Defence. I hope that before we finish tonight we shall hear something of what he has to say on the Air Force. How much will be about the Air Force and how much about Scottish housing we do not know, although of course Scottish housing is of very great importance.
I should have liked to deal with one particular issue which has been raised. I refer to the ridiculous matter raised by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in the defence Debate. It was raised again today by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), and referred to by the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo), who complained that he had been ill for four years and had just woken up to come back into the House again, and that is the question of the sale of jet aircraft to the Argentine. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) was the only hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House to appear to see the thing in anything like its right 1867 perspective. Surely hon. Gentlemen realise that in the supply of aircraft to the Royal Air Force, or, indeed, the supply of any equipment to our Armed Forces, we are limited by the capacity of this country to provide that equipment. There is no question of saying "You can have that equipment if you make it." Their attitude seems to show that extraordinary lack of economic knowledge that sometimes marks the speeches which come from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Surely they realise that the Air Force of this country is supplied with aircraft according to our capacity to provide them.
When we export aircraft to the Argentine it is, in fact, increasing the war potential of this country, because it helps to develop our aircraft industry, which is of vital importance to us. It is an export from that point of view not unlike the export of lipstick. Some people might argue that the lipstick we export comes back in the form of beef which we buy, and so it is with the Vampires that go to the Argentine. It is desirable that we should export these aircraft, and hon. Gentlemen opposite should understand that it is in the interests of this country to do so. It is not a question of depriving our own squadrons of aircraft, which I am sorry to say we cannot afford to provide at the moment.
That brings me to an aspect of Air Force matters which is not always fully appreciated, and that is the importance and the value of the work done by the Ministry of Supply in association with the Air Ministry. There is little doubt that this country today has a technical lead, especially in certain classes of aircraft, and anybody who saw the show at Farnborough and realises the part that the Government have played by helping to finance the striking developments which aircraft manufacturers in this country have produced, will appreciate the valuable work of the Ministry of Supply and the Air Ministry in building up a real potential of what one might call capital available against need.
There is another point which has come up again in this Debate, and which is obviously in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and that is the question of Germany. They have this idea of bringing Germany into Western Union, the 1868 excuse being that we need radar stations in Germany. I do not propose to go into that at any great length, but since this issue has been raised—and it is a pity that foreign affairs have intervened into this Debate—I say again that it is absolutely vital to the peace of Europe and of the world that Germany should remain neutralised, and no question of military considerations should allow that over-riding political fact to affect our attitude and our decision.
One of our great difficulties is not only maintaining a radar chain abroad but a radar chain in this country, as the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield said. I hope we shall hear something on this subject from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when he replies to the Debate. I believe it is necessary for a very special drive to be made to get recruits for these ground control units in order to man our defences, because all our other plans will be made in vain if we do not do so. I believe that the manning of these radar stations is of fundamental importance.
There is one point on which I should like to congratulate the Minister, and that is on the very real economies which he appears to have succeeded in making in the Air Ministry. I can tell this not only from the figures which he gave, but because of the departure of friends of mine into other fields. Not so long ago I called at a particular directorate and there were seven or eight people in it. Today it has a wing-commander and another officer. I believe that there has been some very successful work done by the manpower people in the Air Ministry. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will say something about what has been done by the Quig Committee, and about the work of the Organisation and Methods Department. I believe that a number of rather bold and not particularly pleasant decisions have been taken to close down old establishments playing a useful part in themselves but, unfortunately, marked to go because we must get the best use out of our available manpower.
I should like to hear something about the work of the scientific officers of the Air Ministry. This is one of my hardy annuals and I make no apology for raising it again. I believe that the work of the operational research section during 1869 the war was of fundamental importance. I hope that the Scientific Adviser at the Air Ministry and his staff are well-maintained. I hope that they are being given every opportunity of development over the whole field of the Air Force. They should be allowed to poke their noses in wherever they think they can do useful work. I hope that we shall hear that they are busily engaged upon a number of active experiments. How far have they been able to develop the work of the scientific application of work study—time and motion—to maintenance problems? It is a study which applies not only to maintenance but to other fields as well, and is of very great importance.
I should like to refer again to some of the equipment which the Air Force is receiving and particularly to the Canberra, which happens to be made in my constituency. It is an aircraft of which this country can be proud. It is obviously going to show the same sort of versatility as the Mosquito showed during the war. It is, however, difficult to see how we can maintain a steady flow of production. Already we know that there are threatened redundancies. They have not been very serious. Therefore, let me repeat the great importance of ensuring that we export as much as we can—perhaps not in regard to the Canberra but other aircraft—in order to maintain full employment in the aircraft industry. This shows the futility of the Tory complaint about export.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will say something about inter-Service liaison. We know that there are a number of admirable inter-Service organisations, such as the anti-U-boat school in Derry, but they do not solve the whole problem of inter-Service liaison. How far have we advanced along the road which I have advocated in the past and to which I know the Minister has given sympathetic consideration—namely, exchanges of personnel among the Services? I refer particularly to exchanges between the Navy and the Royal Air Force. To what extent can officers and other ranks be attached to units of the sister Service in order to learn something of their point of view and their problems?
One of the biggest problems for all Members of the House—we have all given a considerable amount of thought to it—is that of recruiting. I hope that 1870 hon. Members will not discourage the National Service men, who are playing a useful part in the Air Force, by suggesting that their time is wasted. We know that there are great difficulties in integrating them. There are difficulties in training. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will say something more on the use that is made of National Service men. It is a matter on which a good deal more publicity should be given, not in a carping spirit, but in order to show the efforts that are being made, and room should be left for suggestions which I am sure the House will on future occasions be glad to make.
We have not heard very much about welfare or the educational services of the Air Force. We have heard a little about photographic reconnaissance and also something about visits overseas. I would again stress the value of the visits of squadrons overseas, and I congratulate the Air Force upon sending their Vampire squadron to Italy, and, despite the large number of crashes that they suffered, in succeeding in selling Vampires to Italy. I should like to know what they did with the crashed aircraft. Did they sell them also? I am glad that there were no fatalities. I hope that this work of exchange will continue not only from the point of view of benefit to the Air Force, but also from the point of view of developing sales.
I want again to stress the point which has been made, and which must be made, in answer to the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley, on the subject of the size of the Air Force. Obviously anybody connected with the Air Force, particularly a retired officer or a serving man, will say that the Air Force is not big enough, and that we want a bigger and better Air Force. Everybody would agree that it is desirable to get the most money for the thing in which one believes, but we are limited by our national resources, and the right hon. Gentleman, who wrote the book "The Middle Way" and was a pre-war advocate of planning, must realise that there is a limit and that the sort of suggestions to which he has apparently lent support by quoting from the Air League's paper completely fail to comprehend the true national position, just as did his remarks about the sale of Vampires to the Argentine.
1871 We are seriously limited. It is arguable that we are spending too much of our resources on defence. I believe we have no alternative, but I also believe—again I congratulate the Secretary of State—that a real effort has been made in the last few years to make better use of the resources which are available. There is still much more to be done and there is still plenty of criticism which should come from either side of the House on the uses that are made of those resources, but I congratulate him and wish him and the Under-Secretary well in the work which they must do in the future.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
This is not quite my first speech in this House but I only spoke for 90 seconds last time so I claim at least the patience of the House if I try to speak a little longer on this occasion. First of all, I want to take up two points made by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton). In talking about the export of aircraft to the Argentine, his reasoning appeared to be that we thereby increased our air power. I do not quite see that, but I definitely see that we have increased the air power of the Argentine.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Our war potential then, if those were the words. I cannot see that we have increased our war potential but I can see that we have increased the war potential of the Argentine. My next point is the reference of the hon. Member to Germany and his remark about the "excuse" for bringing it in. I submit that no reason for the defence of Britain should be classed as an excuse. The hon. Member said he would like to keep Germany neutralised. Does he think that if Germany were overrun by Russia she would remain neutralised. I am sorry that I have rather strayed from the point; I now want to come to the question of the Air Estimates.
I am told that it is an old saying that if one is ever engaged in a fight, the great 1872 thing is to hit first, hit hard and keep on hitting. As a democracy we never hit first of course, but it is very important that we should be in a position, if we are hit at, to hit hard in return and to keep on hitting. I quite see that a Minister who introduces the Estimates for any of the Fighting Services is in a great difficulty in time of peace, even if it is only a so-called peace, because his experts are pulling him one way and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is pulling him another. He has nevertheless to consider, whatever the financial stringency of the country, what we shall do if, despite our wishes, war comes. The great point is that we must then be prepared to hit.
We should like to know more about the fighter squadrons which are to be doubled as regards jet aircraft, but at least we know that that is the Minister's intention. I should like to ask what preparation has been made for the control of fighter aircraft in respect of enemy attack if war comes. Have control units and operation rooms been put underground? Are they properly protected or could they easily be knocked out?
Has adequate provision been made for a very important aspect of Air Force work—reconnaissance? That is really the first and foremost work of any Air Force. In the 1914 war it was at first the only one. The reconnaisance aircraft has to make deep penetrations of enemy territory by day, unarmed and alone. It must therefore have a first-class performance. There is nothing in the Estimates about that aspect. I know that at present reconnaisance units are being employed in photographic survey work, but their job radically alters in time of war, and unless we have aircraft of first-class performance we cannot do the job and we cannot gain the intelligence we desire.
I am very glad to see that the Auxiliary squadrons are to be equipped with jet aircraft. I hope that the whole of them will be so equipped before very long. There is no doubt that the Auxiliary air squadrons in the last war paid a fine dividend for all the work that went into them. I wish to say a word about the V.R. schools. This is a vitally important matter. I believe that the V.R. schools now in existence have only light training aircraft. We should encourage ex-R.A.F. pilots of experience to keep their hand in. I do not think we shall do that with aircraft 1873 such as Tiger Moths. It would be a very good thing if we had Oxford aircraft or some aircraft that goes a little faster and is a little warmer than the Tiger Moth. I submit that part of an airman's training should be to broaden his horizon and to visit other countries. Part of the training at R.A.F.V.R. schools should be visits to the Continent.
I am glad to see that the flying clubs have at least received encouragement and approval in principle by the giving of an A.T.C. training grant. The value of the flying clubs is absolutely incalculable. The last war showed that not only did many pilots who distinguished themselves during the war gain their first experience in them; they also provided valuable experience for ferry pilots and for men who acted in flying control and other air duties. Moreover, every hour in the air counts, whether it be in a light aircraft or not, and over and over again that must have made the difference between whether or not an aircraft was smashed and lives lost.
I wish to say a word about this question of manpower. Every commanding officer to whom I have spoken has complained about the amount of paper work on his station. Is adequate consideration being given to this point? Are we training more bureaucrats per airman than is necessary? I will give this one example. Before the war a station was run by one flight-lieutenant who was the adjutant. Admittedly he was fairly hard worked. But today the establishment on a station of a comparable size for administration is one wing-commander, one squadron-leader, two flight-lieutenants and a flying officer. I wish to know whether what in the United States is called stream-lining, in cutting out unnecessary paper work, is being attempted, or whether too many Government Departments are having a hand in asking for returns in the running of a station.
I will give as an example an American Government appointed body, its Civil Aeronautics Board. I think this quotation shows an approach to bureaucracy which might well be followed by some of our Departments:One outstanding feature which characterises the operation of the Board's organisation is the desire to attain utmost procedural simplicity. … The Board and its staff are constantly endeavouring to find ways of further reducing effort, time, and expense in 1874 the preparation of proceedings and other items for action by the Board, and changes tending towards that end are made in existing procedures with a fair degree of frequency.I hope that attitude may obtain in some of our Departments.
To operate properly a good service must depend ultimately on good officers and that in turn depends on discovering the qualities of leadership. One finds leadership in all branches and grades of society. In the Air Force one very fine medium for finding it is through the A.T.C. This has been mentioned tonight by several hon. Members. It is an excellent method of finding good leaders and I would suggest that recruits should be selected from the A.T.C. for Cranwell. That would be a fine way of filling Cranwell. But above all, we need first-class qualities in leadership for men of the Air Force; quickness of thought, courage, fortitude, initiative, teamwork in adversity and capacity to meet the challenge of difficulties.
I would put forward the suggestion that cadets from all Services should at some time or another undergo training in establishments which will bring them into contact, while still cadets, with the challenge of circumstances. The type of establishments I am thinking of are those short-term schools which are based on mountains or by the sea, such as Aberdovey on the coast of Wales, and Glenmore in Scotland. They develop just the qualities in young boys which are needed to make them good citizens or good service men; and they are also cheap, which is a tremendous merit nowadays. A famous headmaster once said that boys were like matches, they showed their quality when they were brought up against something hard and rough. I realise that today we are living in times of financial stringency. Quite clearly the Minister cannot provide the Air Force which his advisers would like him to. But if we do not provide an efficiently effective Air Force we shall not have a Britain to provide for.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
Though my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) has not just made a maiden speech, I am sure that hon. Members would wish me to congratulate him on adding to the speech of 90 seconds 1875 that he made the other day. He has spoken with vigour and knowledge, and I am sure that he will always be a welcome contributor to our Debates.
I was glad that when he opened his remarks he at once challenged the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackle-ton). I always listen to the hon. Member for Preston, South, with the greatest interest. It was my privilege to see him during the war when he was with Coastal Command. I know that he is interested in the Service. I learned one other thing today, and that was that he was undoubtedly a very great admirer of the Secretary of State. Having vigorously defended his right hon. and learned Friend from the attack made upon him, he went so far as to thank his leader for having fired so many of his personal friends from the Air Ministry. That is indeed admiration. In an air Debate the hon. Member usually speaks with a fair measure of impartiality. Today he did not show the same virtue. It may well be that it is not long since the election and the sight of many of us on these benches provoked him to the antagonism which he must have shown to his opponent at that time.
The hon. Gentleman raised several hares which were of his own creation. It has never been suggested from this side of the House that we do not wish the aircraft industry to sell aircraft abroad. Of course, we want them to do that. We want to have a prosperous aircraft industry providing for our own needs and exporting as well. All that has been said from this side of the House is that proper priority should be given to the due needs of the defence of this nation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was right to take the matter any further than that. He rather suggested that we were not in a position to afford the necessary expenditure on defence. Whatever happens, we must always be able to afford whatever we need in order to defend our own shores.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Does the hon. Gentleman still maintain that it was wrong to export the aircraft which we have exported to the Argentine?
§ Mr. Robinson
I did not say that it was wrong to export them. I said that it was the first duty of the Secretary of State for Air to ensure that our own Air 1876 Force is properly equipped. Then, when he has done that, he should encourage the industry to sell their aircraft abroad. That is our view. I do not think that we need retract from it. The hon. Gentleman seeks to read many other meanings into what has been said from this side of the House.
We cannot retract any of the arguments we have advanced about the necessity to take the radar screen further away from this country. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is necessary and that it is not an excuse for any other action. Speeds of modern aircraft are so great that we must have our warning far sooner than we had it during the last war. I hope that that will not be held against us or used in an effort to prove any other proposition which we ourselves did not put forward.
I listened also with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire). I sympathised with him when he said that we really ought to have more information, and I was delighted when he paid his tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) for so ably cross-examining the Secretary of State for Air. We have emphasised year after year that we do not believe in overdoing secrecy and security. We consider that this House ought to have in its possession facts which are freely available in embassies all over the world.
We agree with the hon. Member for Wycombe that this country should be strong. We must be strong to defend ourselves, and it is the duty of the House to find out whether our Air Force is at its proper strength, because we can accept the idea of the hon. Member for Wycombe that we shall not have another breathing space if there is to be a war. We can also accept the idea put forward by the Secretary of State two years ago that one purpose of a strong Air Force is, by its display of strength, to help to keep the peace of the world. If we are to keep the peace of the world, it is vitally important that the world should know that we are strong and should not believe us to be weak and vulnerable to attack. Therefore, it would be far better if the Government told us more than they have done.
I do not propose to raise certain other problems, because many of them have been taken up, though belatedly, by the 1877 Air Ministry. We shall continue to urge on the right hon. and learned Gentleman the need for more efficient and better recruiting for the Royal Air Force. It is my view that the R.A.F. stands or falls on whether it has sufficient long-term volunteers. I think it is a matter of very great disappointment that the Minister's Memorandum accompanying the Estimates has to point out once again—because it is not for the first time—that Regular recruiting is still far from satisfactory. There is still a shortage of trained men, and a lack of balance which still persists between various trades. The Minister was perhaps even more alarming when he said that there is still a shortage of suitable applicants for short-service commissions as pilots and navigators. That is a shortage in what would seem to be the more interesting and attractive position in the whole of the Service.
I believe that the situation would be helped a little if the Service had more publicity. So much of the activities of the Service are still under the cloak of war-time security so that we do not have the great public interest in the Service which we used to have during the war. But that is but a minor matter compared with the more important point that, if we are to get people into the Armed Forces today, we must improve the conditions of service. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) said, we must cover everything from pay to pensions and living conditions, but it seems that the Government are hesitating on this matter.
The high level of recruitment cannot be maintained unless the Service itself can compete in attraction with the conditions of civilian life, and I say that so far the Government have done nothing to make Service conditions such that they can compete with conditions in civil life. I have to admit that they are better than they were, but they are still a long way from being competitive, and until they are we will not get the proper measure of recruitment. For years, we on this side have said this and shall go on saying it until we feel we can get some measure of support for this view from the Government. There is no doubt that the rise in Service pay has nowhere near kept pace with the rise in civilian pay, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend 1878 has said, it is all wrong that a man should be asked to fly a jet fighter for 16s. a day. It just does not work out that way.
I believe it would pay this country if we could spend more money on a smaller volunteer force, based on a fairly long-term service, than it would to put a lot of money into having a conscript force on a short-term service. I urge the Government to consider this matter and especially to consider the question of some of the officers. After all, if we are recruiting people into the Service, they have the right to expect to rise in some way, but, at the moment, there is very little inducement. I would especially ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the point that all allowances today are subject to Income Tax, which puts many of the junior officers in very serious difficulties.
The right hon. Gentleman has done quite a number of things to help, and I welcome the proposal outlined in his speech today to open the Service to really long-service careers. That has always seemed to me a sensible thing, because it is very difficult to ask a young man to join the Service as a career, and then to say, "You will be out on your neck at 32 or 35." Here, I think, we have a genuine chance of bringing more people into the Service with a view to making it a long career. We can help, too, if we push on with the work we are now doing with regard to married quarters. The right hon. Gentleman indicated today that we are going to give some real help with the careers of men who come in on short and medium-term service. I welcome that.
Some three years ago I was invited by the Minister of Civil Aviation to sit on the Wilcock Committee presided 'over by the hon. and gallant Member opposite. We made quite a number of recommendations, which were put forward in June, 1948, whereby we were to help people to come from the Royal Air Force into civil aviation. I should like the Under-Secretary of State for Air to say how far our recommendations are being taken up. It seems quite clear that when he refers to the scheme of pre-selection—which will help the men in the Royal Air Force going into civil aviation to get their civil licence, and so on, before they leave the Service—is an acceptance of these recommendations. I should like to know 1879 whether the Ministry have gone the whole way and have set up the standing liaison committee for the recruiting and training of these men which we recommended. Our suggestion was that the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Air Corporations, and the charter companies should work together on a joint standing committee in order to facilitate the recruitment and training of these men.
I should like very briefly to say that I support all that has been said about the necessity of having adequate Reserves. I had the opportunity of speaking on the Air Estimates last year, and I well remember that the Secretary of State for Air promised that eight of the squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force would be re-equipped with jets by the time the next Estimates were discussed. I was a bit disappointed when I read the accompanying Memorandum and saw that only seven squadrons were so re-equipped. However, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being able to tell us today that there are eight and not seven. I hope he will be able to honour his commitments so that by December, 1951, as he said, the whole 20 squadrons will be properly equipped with jet fighters.
I was a little worried to hear that recruiting is not so rapid as one would wish. I refer to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made today about the Auxiliary Air Force and the Volunteer Reserve. I think we ought to stimulate recruiting by making it much easier for people to give their service in this way. Take the case of people in my own constituency. If they wish to join the Auxiliary Air Force, they have to go all the way to Manchester or Liverpool to do their flying. When a man is working full-time and is willing to serve at weekends, he just does not have the opportunity or the time to travel some 50 or 60 miles or more in order to do his training. I believe it would be better if the Auxiliary Air Force or the Volunteer Reserve units were spread over a wider area of the country.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is not enough money to provide for more squadrons. I understand from what has been said that we are going to have the two flights per squadron in the very near future. Is this 1880 not the opportunity, even though he cannot increase the number of squadrons, for saying that where we are having two flights, one should have one located in one town and one in another where there is another aerodrome, and in that way we should be able to recruit from a far wider sphere and so provide the necessary manpower. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will consider that when he replies. We all know that he served with the Auxiliary Air Force and for that reason we welcome his appointment. I was looking up what he said before he achieved the power he has today. In 1946, in the Debate on the Air Estimates, he said:Flying is one of those arts, perhaps rather like steeplechasing or cricket, in which the amateur can approach the professional. There is a great deal of temperament and instinct in flying, and a great deal depends upon enthusiasm. Before the war, Regular officers used to say of the Auxiliary Squadrons that the best thing about them was that they flew because they liked it. …He went on to say that:If these squadrons could be extended they would prove to be a great economy in the Royal Air Force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1037–38.]May I remind him of that statement today and ask him to urge on his right hon. and learned Friend and on the Air Council the necessity of effecting such a constructive economy as that to which he referred four years ago?
There is another point. I should like to know whether it is planned for the future that we in this country should have a properly balanced Air Force. I ask that question quite deliberately because when the Secretary of State spoke this afternoon he said, "We want a balanced Air Force," and then he said, "A balanced Fighter Force." I am not quite sure whether the second statement was a correction of the first, or whether it was an addition to it. There are obviously two different types of Air Force we can have. One would be a strong offensive and defensive Air Force, whereby, if necessary, we could stand alone for a while. The other one would be an Air Force built on the American plan, which was put forward by General Omar Bradley, under which the United States would be charged with practically the whole responsibility of strategic bombing, and the United Kingdom and other European countries would have as 1881 their responsibility the bulk of short-range attack, bombardment and air defence of their various countries.
There has been a certain amount of doubt about this. It may have been fostered by the fact that we are now getting 70 B.29's from the Americans. While I feel that is a most generous gesture—and we welcome it wholeheartedly in view of the needs of today—this, together with the cuts in Transport Command and the fact that we are closing down our central bomber establishment, has led many people in the aircraft industry to think that we are adopting the American plan, and that, from now on, we shall be concerned mostly with fighters and with short-range aircraft. It is of great importance to the aircraft industry that they should know whether a successful new type of British heavy bomber would be used by the R.A.F. if it were developed, whether it would also be used by our allies, and whether it would be made in British or American factories.
There is no doubt there has been great concern recently in the aircraft industry following big cuts in Transport Command. It seems there may be other cuts too. Has the Secretary of State made cuts as well in the orders for fighters, which were to have been given? In my constituency we have at Blackpool, at Squire's Gate airport, a factory which was producing aircraft during the war. It has been empty for some three years now. Towards the end of last year it was announced by the Minister of Supply that at last a tenant had been found for the factory and that the Hawker Aircraft Company were to come to Blackpool. The reason for that change was that the orders for the Air Ministry, going through the Ministry of Supply, were so great that Hawker's could not meet them from their existing premises at Kingston. So they were coming to Blackpool where the facilities would be greater.
Then, during the Election, it suddenly appeared that Air Ministry orders for fighters would be not nearly as great as had been imagined, that Hawker's would be able to deal with the whole matter from Kingston, and that the prospect of employment for 3,000 men at Blackpool had gone. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why and in what 1882 way we are cutting down fighter production which would cause the Hawker Company to be able to continue with the smaller factory?
If we are to have a good Air Force, we must have first-class British aircraft, and we must also have a prosperous aircraft industry in this country to which engineers and other workers are readily attracted. At the moment I believe the opposite is tending to be the case. The workers see these orders being cancelled. They see unemployment coming in the aircraft industry, and conditions of full employment elsewhere. I believe they may think "This is a good industry to keep out of." That would be the worst thing which could possibly happen to this country, and I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give some assurance that the Air Ministry are going to support the British aircraft industry right up to the hilt.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I have listened with great attention to the general survey of the Air Ministry by the Secretary of State. He gave a very optimistic address; he covered the subject very well, and I believe he gave a great deal of satisfaction to the House. At the same time, there was one side of his Ministry to which he omitted any reference, and it is because of that that I should like to make a few remarks. I do not wish to take up much time, but I think the subject is worthy of consideration.
I have felt for some time that this part of the Air Ministry could almost be named "the forgotten men." I refer to the Meteorological Office. We hear a lot about the importance of the Royal Air Force and the need for having the best possible equipment. No doubt, we all agree on that, but it will also be agreed that among their closest colleagues are the people in the Meteorological Office. They are frequently consulted. On very many occasions safety in the Royal Air Force depends upon the efforts, intelligence and organisation of the Meteorological Office. Not so very long ago we had a House full of Members interested in the accident at Prestwick. The question was raised whether the Meteorological Office was involved. That discussion indicated the importance of that office and the tremendous responsibility it has in relation to civilian and Air Force flying.
1883 It is sometimes forgotten that the men in the meteorological section are at the disposal of the Secretary of State, and have to go to any part of the country, and indeed to any foreign country. They are treated almost as if they were Servicemen. In time of war they are often put into uniform, and they are constantly being moved about the country at short intervals. When we are dealing with the question of housing the Royal Air Force I wish the Minister would pay some attention to housing these people as well. They have just as much right to be considered. If the facts are investigated, hon. Members will find that, in housing questions, the Royal Air Force has been looked after well, but the meteorological section has been left without any effort whatever to house its members. That is why I want to draw attention to this side of the Air Ministry.
Hon. Members talk about the difficulty of getting recruits for the different sections of the Army and Air Force. If we examine the position in the Meteorological Office I think it will be found that we are perhaps worse off there than in any other section or any other trade. Moreover, I believe that if the men in that office had an opportunity to ventilate their grievances, just as the ordinary trade unions of the country have, we should find that there is a tremendous amount of discontent. I am not speaking in particular about remuneration, although there is a section of the staff, the assistant observers, who, I think, could be helped more than they are being helped. But there are other questions which cause great dissatisfaction. We must admit that when we are in need of recruits, of men of personality and character who can accept responsibility, we must have a system within the staff which gives them a feeling of confidence and satisfaction, a feeling that they are all being dealt with fairly and squarely together with the remainder of the staff.
There are a large number of vacancies among senior experimental officers which are not being filled. In one of the most important stations within Coastal Command, where the amount of forecasting last December was equivalent to the forecasting done in the whole of the Meteorological Office, there is not one senior experimental officer. Yet the staff are At least a thousand miles away from any 1884 other Meteorological Office and have constantly to supervise and help British and United States flyers in their operations. There is great dissatisfaction about the position and in my opinion no case can be made against grading senior experimental officers in that section.
I believe that this is a department which needs greater attention from the Air Ministry. Practices have developed since the beginning which are creating a position within the section which to my mind is not for the good of the Meteorological Office. There is a need for proper grading. Any man who comes in now will get some better remuneration, but that was arranged only within the last three months. There have been men and there are men—doing senior officers' work and bearing great responsibility whose position has not been recognised, and whose work is not paid at any higher rate. At one of the important points I have mentioned, where there is no senior officer—it is one of the most important sections in Coastal Command's area—all the men are of one class, no particular man having any special responsibilities over the others. I wanted to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to these facts, because I honestly feel that this section of the Ministry needs more investigation, and that something should be done for the staff. It might help him to obtain the men so much required in that particular section.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I should like to draw attention to paragraph 6 of the Memorandum by the Secretary of State, and very briefly make three points. The first one comes in this paragraph, where it says:The radar system of the United Kingdom—which is, of course, a vital element in our air defences—will be materially strengthened.Those are encouraging words, but as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) pointed out, we have only to have a pair of eyes, and a little petrol and "C.D." on the backs of our cars to tour round the coasts, to see how many stations are in fact operational in our radar system. It is extremely revealing.
I hope the Secretary of State will be able to give us some convincing news of improvements at those stations. One had only to read the weekly newspapers 1885 at the time of exercise "Foil" or exercise "Bulldog" to learn how, time and again, aerodromes were caught on the hop by low-flying aircraft coming in and catching aircraft on the ground refuelling. It is no good bringing our aircraft in at 30,000 feet or 40,000 feet in exercises. Everybody knows that they can be easily detected at that height. It is the low, quick aircraft which are far more difficult to combat. We should like to be convinced that this matter is being given some urgent attention. The recent evidence of our own eyes suggests that that is not so at this moment.
Suppose that this matter is put in order, then I should like to draw attention to this manning problem. We learned from the White Paper on Defence that fighter control units for both control and reporting have been brought into existence. It would not be right for me to probe to find out what are the figures for recruiting for these units, but the last figure that was mentioned was that 20,000 people were required and that 1,800 had come forward. That is a deplorable state of affairs. I wonder if something has been done in the intervening period to encourage recruiting. I have not seen much publicity on the subject. I have talked with people who were in the Service with me and who have just not been aware that the drum is being beaten at all, or that any effort is being made to man up this Service to defend this country.
The third problem with which I should like to deal I do not think has come up at all during the Debate, and that is the question of close support aircraft. I feel that we must support the Army—whatever we may think about it as a Service. In the last war we lagged a good way behind the United States Air Force. They controlled their fighter aircraft by means of what are called "fighter direction units"—radar units. By this means aircraft can be sent to the instant support of troops, and sent with great accuracy. Troops are in radio-telephonic communication with the aircraft, and the aircraft can be got to a corner of a wood, or any other strong point, with great accuracy. even in misty weather with low cloud.
We have heard today from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our close-support squadrons have been equipped with jets. He mentioned Vam- 1886 pires. They must fly reasonably low in order to give this close support, and the endurance of these jet aircraft at low levels is less than three-quarters of an hour. In the old days, with piston-engined aircraft, one could leave them on a "cab rank" and call them off the "cab rank" to bring them to the quick support of our troops. That is not so with the jet. One cannot call them off the "cab rank" at 35,000 feet and get them down with any hope of getting to the target where they are wanted. The view forward and downwards from fast jet aircraft cannot be good. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if we are at the same time getting piston-engine aircraft which can fly low and stooge around above light anti-aircraft height in order that they can be called to the support of our troops. If not, I do not know what will happen, because we have to have some sort of efficient, accurate and quick method of directing our jet aircraft to the support of our Army.
I think that we are putting a great deal of effort into a mobile Army, and I hope that some of the vast sums of money being spent on the Air Force is being directed to co-operation between the Air Force and the Army. I trust that we shall have some assurance on that point.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
Many subjects have been covered in the Debate tonight, but I want to bring forward a few points in which I am particularly interested. I will not try to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Orr-Ewing), who so obviously is an authority on the matter he raised or those of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallsend (Mr. J. McKay) who was so very interested in his own subject. I will leave the right hon. Gentleman to answer them.
What has always worried me most is the subject of getting recruits. At the end of the war that was partially my job, and I feel that, year after year, as we bring this subject up, very little is done to remedy the publicity faults. I can remember in the days when Air Marshal Peck was dealing with this matter at the Air Ministry, the thrill that one felt in this new Service by the publicity given day after day to some new point or new thing done by that Service. 1887 In the Memorandum of the right hon. Gentleman he refers to the assistance given to the "Amethyst" and the work done in Malaya, but a great deal of what he has been telling us today has either not been told in the Press during the year, or, if it has, it seems to have been missed by many of us; certainly it has not been "plugged" as was done during the war. That, I feel, is a great mistake on the part of the Air Ministry. What appeals to young people today is thrills rather than comforts and security.
In those war days, we were also particularly interested in our links with the Dominion Air Forces. We seemed to work much more closely together, and I have been asking myself, "Have we let this slip too much?" A great friendship was built up in those days between the men of different squadrons, some South African some Australian, some English, all closely mixed up together. What are we doing about that? The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred in a friendly way to the different Air Forces of the Empire, but he has not today given us any interesting, thrilling story of linking up with the Empire Forces; anything to make us think that there is a great future there for all of us working together. He has given me the opportunity, however, of thanking the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
About three years ago, I found myself in one of our British Embassy aircraft from Tokio grounded at Canton. Being an M.P., I was called a V.I.P. We were to take off to go to Hong Kong but the weather was risky and the pilot would not take the responsibility with me on board. The net result was that the Consul-General informed me that I was on the point of being arrested by the Chinese for being at Canton airfield without authority. However, there was a New Zealand Air Force transport plane on its way to Japan, and they certainly had no qualms about taking me. In the New Zealand Parliament they told me at that time the Government had such a small majority—of two or three, I think—that these planes were constantly being used to get M.P.s back at all risks for Debates. I notice that these Estimates were prepared before the General Election. We have cut down considerably on transport planes in this country; but perhaps that 1888 would not have happened had the Estimates been prepared after the election. I give that to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as an idea for future Debates and divisions, and if we could have the use of aircraft to get us to Westminster it would be of considerable assistance.
To turn to more serious matters, the Secretary of State said today that everything is being done with business firms to make it possible for airmen on finishing their tour of duty to return to the business at which they were working. Has he done anything in that matter with regard to the Dominions? Has anything been done about the possibility of getting people out to the Dominions after they leave the Service? Are we in any way negotiating with, or trying to get in touch with, firms or persons in the Dominions who would help in that respect? Is anything being done with regard to the Empire as a whole, not only in the Dominions but in the Colonies, for recruiting men from the Empire to come to this country to serve in our Air Force? There seem to be great possibilities in that direction.
I remember that in the old days a great help in the realm of publicity was the belief in a great future for anybody who entered the Air Force. They believed that when they left they would get into aircraft businesses or into civil aviation. As has already been stressed today, in those days the men never expected that civil aviation would become nationalised so quickly. Nor did they think that we should find ourselves using aircraft from America and elsewhere, and bit by bit our factories putting people off. Those sorts of things are very distracting to peoples' interest.
Furthermore, when men are thinking of their own future there is the housing problem. Today, hon. Members have spoken of houses for Service men's families and for the airmen while they are in the Air Force. I do not know whether other hon. Members have my experience in this respect, but I receive an enormous number of complaints from men in the Air Force that when they come out nothing at all is done for them with local councils to help to get houses. It may be argued that this is a matter for the Ministry of Health, or the local councils themselves, but the fact remains that in most areas ex-Service 1889 men get no priority. Once a man leaves the Service he has to start from scratch, and it may mean years before he gets a house. He feels that very much indeed, and I think the Air Ministry might look into it. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will say something about that aspect later.
From what I hear, I do not believe that the same consideration is given as used to be given in the old days to regulars on the point of leaving the Air Force. In the old days, if an officer or man was leaving in a year or two that was taken into account in the posting arrangements. Today, I know of people who, for no apparent reason, have been posted away quite long distances from where they have houses which they have had for a long time. The result is that they have to give up the houses shortly before leaving the Service; whereas if they were posted to somewhere nearby, their wives could remain on in the houses and the men could come home for week-ends, and they would then still have their houses on leaving the Service. That applies, I think, particularly to Fighter Command and other Commands near London.
Another complaint which I have received is that, in the Air Force far more than in the other Services, men were unable to vote at the election because nothing was done about getting them registered. I should like to know what the Air Ministry did about it or if they did anything at all, because at some stations practically nothing was done with the result that very many votes were lost. That was more so with regard to the Air Force than with regard to the other Services.
There is another point which the Under-Secretary might answer if he has the time—the question of food and food costs for families in the Air Force. When prices went up and more money was needed for food, the Air Minister did not hesitate to come to Parliament for further money and an increase has been voted. But this was meant for men living on the station. There was, however, no increase in allowances for food for the families living out. This is a further grievance on the part of families of men living near the station. They claim that they should have been given this extra allowance when there was a rise in food costs.
1890 Lastly—and this is separate from the points I have been raising—the Air Minister made many references to links with the Dominions and the United States, but he has hardly made any reference to the links with the French Air Force, nor has he told us what the French are doing. From what I have heard of the Berlin airlift, although they were not able to take part in the actual flying, the French gave us considerable help on the ground, and we were very grateful to them for that. During the last war we had the assistance of several squadrons from France and at the end of the war there were large numbers of French air squadrons available. The men prominent in that Force that was trained in England are now in nearly all the key positions in the French Air Force. The link between us is very strong, and I should like to know what is being done in regard to the younger generation in the French Air Force to continue this link.
Is there any possibility of getting them over here on visits or having them stationed here for a short time? If the hon. Gentleman cannot look into that matter now, perhaps he will think of it as something for the future. There is one other subject, which I have brought up on more than one occasion, and that is the matter of squadrons being adopted by foreign nations, and groups of friends of this country. There were many such before and during the war. Is there any chance of that being brought back again in some way? I know that there are numbers of people, including Ambassadors of foreign countries, who are most anxious to relink themselves in this way with the Air Force of this country.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
There is one point with which I find myself in agreement in the speeches that have been made by hon. Members opposite—that there has been too much secrecy, and that we have not been given the information that we should have had before we agreed to sanction the hugs sum of over £200 million for the Air Force. I want to put some questions to the Under-Secretary which I think are very relevant to the issues raised in the Debate.
For many hours now we have been discussing jet fighters and jet bombers, 1891 yet we do not know the price of them. I put this very specifically to the Secretary of State for Air—surely, if we are to approve large sums of money for fighters and bombers it is reasonable to have a direct answer to the question: What is the cost of a jet fighter and a jet bomber? There can be no question of giving any information away to the enemy. I certainly would not be willing that any information should be divulged about the mechanical secrets of aircraft production, but I come from a constituency where we wish to know exactly what we are getting for our money. I do not pretend to be an expert on aerial warfare, but some attempt should be made to make some sort of an answer to the question which every man in the street would think reasonable—what is the cost of a jet fighter and a jet bomber?
I am glad to see the Under-Secretary here, also. I want to see if I can get from him what I have failed to extract from the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State—an estimate of what one of these bombers costs. I will read a quotation from an article by a gentleman who, I believe, will be regarded as an authority on the cost of bombers. It was published in the "Observer" of 29th March, 1949, on the most prominent page, and I should say that the "Observer" examines very carefully the authority of its correspondents. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with it."] Just a little patience, comrade. The night is young yet, and I do not often get these opportunities. The article says:If we are to have the sort of Air Force for which Lords Portal and Trenchard are calling, we certainly cannot plan for fewer than 1,000 heavy bombers, which would cost at least £250,000,000.From this estimate we can deduce, I think my mathematics are correct, that one bomber costs £250,000. The writer proceeds:Can we afford bombers …?So, £250,000 is the estimated cost of a bomber. I would like the Under-Secretary to say whether that figure is correct, because he happens to be the writer of the article. After a rather tortuous method of research in the Library, we have it now, on reliable authority, that a jet bomber costs £250,000. The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackle- 1892 ton) expressed some concern earlier in the Debate lest, when I came to speak, I would refer to Scottish housing. I know I cannot do that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Try."] I certainly will try. I suggest that one jet bomber costs 200 houses, and I do not think we are getting our money's worth.
Now that we have solved the problem of the cost of one of these jet bombers, would it be too much to ask the Under-Secretary to satisfy our curiosity by telling us what is the cost of a jet fighter? We have heard a good deal about the Iron Curtain, but the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) explained to us in great detail indeed the exact production of jet bombers and fighters for the Russian Air Force. When I asked him for his authority he did not refer me to the Secret Service, but to the Librarian.
Throughout all this discussion there has been an assumption by hon. Members on both sides of this House that they want an expensive Air Force not for war but to maintain peace. I sincerely accept that argument. I believe that no hon. Member wants war, but we must examine that argument in relation to other countries. I will go further: I do not believe that Russia wants war; I do not believe that Mr. Stalin wants war any more than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill); I do not believe that any member of the Politburo wants war. If we were able to listen in the secret proceedings of the Politburo or the Praesidium I have no doubt that we should hear precisely the same argument about maintaining peace, and maintaining the security of the U.S.S.R. All the Russian air experts would be talking in exactly the same terminology as the experts in air warfare have been talking here today. Here, we have reached the stage where we are piling up armaments, spending £220 million in preparation for war: in Moscow they are talking the same way, and saying, "If we want peace we must be prepared for war, and be strong in the air."
The result is that the Allies, who fought side by side five years ago, are now wasting their blood and treasure and their manpower in preparing to build up an Air Force.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a foreign affairs matter, and not one for this Debate on the Air Force. It is the same argument that was used last night and could be used against the Army, the Air Force or the Navy. There is a rule against a repetition of the same argument.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Yes, Sir, but that argument has been used over and over again in this Debate. I will try to avoid, as far as possible, any matter that encroaches on foreign affairs. We are arming, presumably, against a potential enemy, and throughout this Debate it has been argued we must spend this £220 million to meet attacks from Soviet Russia. I challenge the whole idea that we are justified in this expenditure just to fight against Soviet Russia. I have no sympathy at all with Communism. I do not believe in the totalitarian theory of Communist rule. I tried to get into Russia last year, and was refused a visa.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am glad that extremes meet. I think we have to try to visualise what is likely to happen to humanity if this arms race drifts to its logical conclusion. I believe it is a crime for this country to be preparing to bomb Moscow, because I believe the civilian population of Moscow should be treated with exactly the same respect as is the civilian population of this country.
I do not believe that if we develop one of these defensive air attacks on Moscow we shall do something which is at all justifiable from the point of view of humanity. What is the point of view of the Russians? There has been an argument about the Russians having jet fighters. Why do the Russians spend their money on jet fighters? They do so to be able to bring down our jet bombers. We appear to be horrified by the very thought that the Russians have jet fighters to protect themselves. But let us try to look at it from the point of view of a Russian citizen; from the point of view of a Russian airman who has been trained in the Red Air Force.
I said in the last Parliament that it is not without cause that the Russians seek to have defensive armaments. The Russians fear attack from our bombers. At one stage in the war, in March, 1940, preparation was made for the bombing of 1894 the Caucasian oilfields from bases in the Middle East. Captain Liddell Hart, who is one of our authorities on the strategy of war, has pointed out that our bombers, our short-distance bombers, stationed in the Middle East, are there presumably for the purpose of 'bombing those oilfields. If there is what is regarded as a great strategic centre likely to be bombed by what they regard as hostile aircraft, then the Russians argue that they must meet those bombers by organising a bigger air force. So you have the position now which has been outlined by several hon. Members, that the Russians have something like 16,000 aircraft. If this is going on we must, I think, come to some agreement, or there will be a crash which will bring down humanity.
In this country we have a great deal to fear because of our congested cities. I do not feel at all relieved by learning that America is sending these new aircraft to this country. I do not subscribe to the idea which was put forward in a speech yesterday by the British Ambassador that these aircraft will necessarily help in the protection of this country. Our Ambassador, at the ceremony at the handing over of these aircraft, said:This is a collective preparedness.That is a new slogan—a new catchword. I believe that this collective preparedness will probably lead to collective suicide.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are discussing aircraft. We must not discuss what an Ambassador said on foreign affairs. The hon. Member is getting very wide of this Debate.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I apologise again, Mr. Speaker, for transgressing, but it is difficult to deal with the argument about the aircraft being brought to this country, a matter which was not introduced as an irrelevancy into this Debate, but which was mentioned in the speech of the Secretary of State for Air. Very respectfully, I submit that it is relevant to this argument.
§ Mr. Speaker
Not in the way the hon. Member put it. The hon. Member put it entirely as a foreign affairs argument.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I know I am not very good at military arguments, Mr. Speaker, but the line between foreign 1895 affairs and military strategy is one of those rather obscure lines which an amateur strategist like me sometimes fails to discern clearly. The Ambassador, referring to the planes and not to foreign policy, said that these machines were evidence that we are fireproofing all the houses in our street. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members laugh, but I think that that analogy on the part of our Ambassador was rather unfortunate, because whatever we may say of these bombers—which, I might add, are capable of dropping atom bombs—it is odd that we should say that they are fireproofing our houses. That seems rather curious. It will be noted in Russia that these bombers have arrived here, and the Russian strategists will immediately say. "Britain is to be the base for a hostile attack by air on Russia." That makes the position of this country very precarious indeed.
In the Debate today we have heard a good deal about fighters, but we have never had anybody attempt to answer the question put by myself to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) in a Debate which we had a few months ago. I then asked—and he seemed rather insulted, I thought, at my asking—how fighters could stop rockets. I have had no answer yet. Is that not a question which should be answered? The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said, quite rightly, that America was giving far more information on matters appertaining to air armament than was being given by this country. That was in one of his lucid moments, and I agree that in the book outlining American air strategy, called "Survival in the Air Age," there is a really honest attempt to convey the dangers of aerial warfare to the man in the street.
Here is one passage:The guided missile of the German V.2 type, travelling at supersonic speed, is now impossible to intercept.These, it is explained, are now relatively of short range, and others are of limited range; but this is talking of the internal strategy of the United States. They are not of short range so far as this country is concerned. We have not had in this Debate, as we are entitled to have, any statement as to what is the defence against guided missiles.
1896 I ask the Under-Secretary, who, I understand, is to reply, to give us some information as to how far our research work with guided missiles is co-ordinated with the research work going on in the United States. I put that question a few months ago, when trying to get from the Air Ministry a statement of the capital expenditure incurred in research of this kind in Australia. Surely we are entitled to know whether we are conducting in Australia precisely the same kind of research work being conducted in the United States. If we are going into a war as Allies we are entitled to know if there is any co-ordination in research, or if it is being duplicated and we are spending immense sums of capital money in just the same way as our Allies in the United States.
I want to make a further quotation from this authoritative American book on the possibilities of aerial warfare. The author says:We must also consider the defence against missiles launched against us, an even more difficult problem. Nothing was developed during the war that could cope with the V.2, yet we must be prepared to intercept and to destroy invisible missiles that will plunge towards our cities out of the stratosphere at speeds of over a mile per second. The practical difficulties involved in detecting, tracking, intercepting, and destroying them with other missiles miles above the earth are enormous. Whether or not this can ever be done is not clear.I would like to ask the Under-Secretary who has given a great deal of attention to these matters and who has spoken about them from on the back benches, to tell us in what way our fighter preparations are capable of meeting the rocket or the guided missile. I want to give just one final quotation from this authoritative air book:The funds being spent this year on guided missiles research are not insignificant. Some $75 million"—notice that the Americans give the figures—almost one quarter of the total research on development appropriations—are earmarked for this purpose.I do not believe that any Debate on air defence is adequate unless an attempt is made to answer this question: how far can this country be protected against the rocket, possibly carrying the atom bomb? I do submit that is the relevant issue of the day; that if the Russians can from Germany, or anywhere else, 1897 send these rockets over this country then our enormous air preparations are absolutely inadequate to meet that attack I have quoted from an authoritative American book on civil defence against air attack, in which it was finally admitted that the only defence against the atom bomb, dropped from the air, was dispersal. What sort of a policy is that for this country? Where are the people in our industrial areas to be dispersed to? Can the Under-Secretary give an answer to this question?
I say that we are not facing this problem in a realistic way. The building of a great Air Force will not give us security. It will be challenged by the potential enemy, and in this possible war anything like the defence of this country on the lines that have been produced in this Debate cannot be accepted. I challenge the whole conception that the voting of £220 million is giving security to our people, and if I am the only voice in this House to do so, I shall protest against that.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
I resist the temptation to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) into some of the more speculative lines which he has entered but I must, in passing, refer to some remarks made by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton). I do it with some reluctance because we have much in common in our experience; we are both ex-Coastal Command men and both, if not "dockyard M.P.s," have important aircraft factories in our divisions.
Speaking of our misgivings about the export of jet aircraft to the Argentine the hon. Member said they showed the lack of economic understanding of hon. Members on these benches. I say, quite simply, that what we would not think was a good deal would be a decision to sell early models of, say, the "Comet" to the Argentine. We should not think it a wise move to Fell early models of the "Canberra" and the "Venom" and the 113, which, I think, is the new night fighter. I suggest that to sell jet fighters to the Argentine, and not even for dollars but for one of the weakest and most watery currencies we could get, when the squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are equipped with 15-year-old piston-engined aircraft is a thing the 1898 Government should not do. It is not putting first things first, and, after all, it is the party opposite which praises the benefits of planning.
There was much upon which to take encouragement in what the Secretary of State had to say today. He spoke of great technical advances and of more married quarters, particularly for young married officers, a point in which many of us in all parts of the House will take great pleasure. He spoke of an increased first-line strength of the R.A.F. with a lower total manpower and also of improving the amenities for airmen, but we on this side of the House realise that Votes of this size add up to a budget of £4,000 million and we know that the taxation which goes with that expenditure is insupportable if we are to recover. We want to look at these items, therefore, to see whether the real economy which the operation of the Air Force represents is being fully used by the Government.
I certainly do not want to detract at all from what has been said about the prime duty of the Government to provide a first-class offensive bomber force. Their second duty is the provision of a really effective jet fighter force for the defence of our country. I do not think enough has been said, however, about the third duty of the Government, which is the much more mundane matter of sinking the submarines which will be a constant menace in any future wars. Some hon. Members have said that we must not be too keen to win the last war, but must prepare for the next, and that the question of the submarine has no relevance today, but I have looked up the figures, which are available to all hon. Members in the Library, and I see that it is thought that the Russians at the moment have 360 submarines, including ex-German boats. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman has more accurate figures. There are 100 in the 1948–49 programme in addition, and with the five-year plan there is envisaged by 1950–51 a figure of 1,000 submarines. I understand that it is most doubtful whether they will reach this figure. I hope the Minister has the accurate figures and appreciates the importance of this problem, and I hope he appreciates that the Russians are working on a submarine of great range and high under-water speed.
1899 If we are to attack these boats then, in my view, attack from the air is the only way to do it. If we are continually to make faster surface vessels in larger numbers the cost will be quite prohibitive, but we can concentrate on building aircraft—piston-engined, because we do not want jets at the heights at which we have to operate against submarines. We want aircraft whose speed is not very important but whose ability to remain in the air for long periods is of the utmost importance. After all, the speed of an aircraft is so immeasurably greater than the speed of a submarine that we do not need to go for extra speed and thereby constantly reduce the endurance.
A certain manoeuvrability is needed. If we get a simple piston-engined aircraft capable of remaining in the air for 24 or 30 hours we could cover the whole Atlantic with a screen of such aircraft in regular succession on our shipping routes, thereby relieving the Navy of a very great deal of expense with resultant economy to the country. This point has not been stressed enough, and I hope the Under-Secretary will give us a few more details of the research going on into the methods of killing submarines. While on that subject, should not the R.A.F. work out some means of assessing the probability of their own kills? During the war that matter was the exclusive work of the admirals who are well known in their dislike of aircraft, doubting often whether they could kill the U-boat. There were many certain kills which were not admitted because the crew were unable to produce the captains' trousers, the only evidence the admirals would accept. I hope some fairer method of assessment of kills will be worked out. It would reflect the greatest credit on the Minister himself.
§ Mr. Shackleton
There was an Air Force representative on the assessment committee. In fact, assessments subsequently checked were found to be about 95 per cent. correct. It is also a fact that far more U-boat kills were credited to the R.A.F. than to the Royal. Navy.
§ Mr. Grimston
I am delighted to hear that, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also confirm that the Air Force representative was in the minority on the 1900 committee and that claims were watered down because the Royal Navy had an uneasy feeling that the proper way to kill U-boats was by surface vessels because aircraft were not so effective. But it is not only the number that were sunk that counts, it is the moral effect on the crews, of constant crash diving and constant depth charging which they know they will subjected to from the air. Even the Snorkel device is not proof against aircraft; even towards the end of the war radar was able to pick the U-boats out, although not so easily as when they were on the surface.
There is one other point about long-range aircraft. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force will be equipped with jets, which means that the function of the Force will have to be reviewed. After all, the members of that Force are part-time men, generally having some other job, and flying fighters at great heights is a young man's job. One soon gets too old to do it properly. I suggest to the Minister that he should form other long-range squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force into which pilots can transfer after they have completed a tour in the fighter squadrons. The R.A.A.F., as it is now constituted, would form an excellent training ground for the handling of larger aircraft.
This suggestion would also have the advantage that it would be a very great help in recruiting, particularly of ground trades in the R.A.A.F. With the single-seater craft with which the Force is now equipped it is much more difficult to get ground tradesmen to join. Before the war, when, for the most part, we had two-seater aircraft, you could take your own rigger with you, and the point of joining that Force was that you did get a certain amount of flying even if you did ground work. If that were the case now we might have some interesting recruiting posters offering week-end trips to Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus, and possibly annual camps in Durban. The ground trades of the R.A.A.F. do look for a little flying, but with single-seater aircraft we are unable to give them that pleasure. Whether or not the Minister accepts that suggestion, I hope that he will have something to say on the production of very long-range aircraft. During the invasion of Normandy these aircraft kept the narrow seas free of submarines. In another was the same thing may have to 1901 be done between here and the United States, and that will be the third most important job the Air Force has to do.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
May I start by adding my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State on his appointment? I have known him for many years—we were in the same auxiliary squadron—we like to think it is the best—and I wish him all success in his new appointment. I hope he will not take it amiss if I express the hope that he will not have too many of those unfortunate lapses of memory from which he suffered one night at South Cerney, when he made a perfect landing without first taking the precaution of lowering his undercarriage.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we have had an excellent Debate, which I feel sure the Liberal Party will thoroughly enjoy reading it in HANSARD. It has been enriched by two excellent maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Brantford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) made a most able and experienced maiden speech, in which he emphasised the importance of a powerful striking force, and made some highly constructive suggestions of which I hope the Government will take note. He speaks with firsthand knowledge, and this House always accords to those who speak from firsthand an attentive hearing, particularly in Service Debates. We also had an excellent maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Mr. W. J. Taylor), who also spoke with experience and authority on the problems facing the Territorial air auxiliary associations. He clearly has the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces, and especially the A.T.C., much at heart, and I hope that the Government will take note, too, of his suggestions. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) had previously done taxiing trials, and this time he opened the throttle and took off in fine style. He made a valuable contribution to our deliberations.
This Debate as most of these Service Debates are apt to be, was divided into two aspects—first, the broad aspect, that is, the strategic and tactical considerations of the Royal Air Force, the overall size 1902 and shape of the Force, governed by our responsibilities in various parts of the world; and, second, the rather narrow aspect of equipment and personnel problems, which, though narrow, are so important to solve if what the Secretary of State likes to call the third Air Force is to live up to the fine example and the high standards set it by its two honourable and gallant predecessors.
I do not propose, in a short speech, to deal in any detail with the broad aspect. That has been admirably done by many speakers, notably my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire), with whom I went a good deal of the way, particularly when he spoke of greater cooperation with the Commonwealth Air Forces. Even the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), unfortunately now away from his place, dealt with the wider aspects. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) attributed to the Opposition in general, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley in particular, sinister political motives for wishing to spread our early warning radar devices out to the Continent of Europe. The hon. Member is a very experienced airman, and it is not worthy of him to say that His Majesty's Opposition are suggesting methods of protecting these shores only with a sinister, political motive behind them. He knows as well as I do that with the speed of modern aircraft, it is fantastic to think that London can adequately be defended with radar bases on the south coast of England. I hope that with more mature consideration the hon. Member will realise that his speech was not really up to the standard of those he generally produces in this House.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Since the hon. Gentleman has attacked me, I should like to say that I attributed no sinister motives to the Opposition. What I did say was that the Opposition were trying to bring Germany into Western Union, and I remarked that I thought it was a most undesirable thing on political grounds. I made the further observation that one of the first jobs was to man our own radar chains, but I was objecting to the general proposal. I am not saying there is anything sinister behind it.
§ Mr. Ward
I will not pursue the point any further, but perhaps the hon. Member will take it from me that the Opposition is as much concerned with the defence of this country, and with putting forward practical realistic suggestions for our defence, as are Government supporters.
I will not deal with the wider aspects of the problem, but I should like to echo the anxiety felt by many hon. Members on both sides of the House and by the Air League of the British Empire about our plans for the development of our bomber Force. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Profumo) asked the Government for an assurance that the future development of modern heavy long-range bombers would not be relaxed and would even be accelerated. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) also expressed anxiety on this point. I hope the Government will be able to set our minds at rest about this.
I should like to draw attention to one point which has not been mentioned. Although one is more than grateful to the Americans for providing us with this temporary respite of B29's under the Mutual Defence Assistance Act, let us not forget that it is one of the terms of that Act that weapons provided under the Act will not be used outside the Atlantic area. Therefore, should we be called on to use long-range bombers for the defence of the Commonwealth as a whole, or in connection with our responsibilities in the Near and Far East, I believe I am right in saying that we would not be able to use the bombers which have been given to us under the Mutual Defence Assistance Act. That is a very important point.
I should like to go on to deal with what I have called the narrower aspects, because I believe the main anxiety of hon. Members during this Debate has been on these problems of equipment and personnel. Equipment problems have been dealt with by other hon. Members, who have provided excellent suggestions, and I am not going to add very much. Reading paragraph 2 of the White Paper accompanying the Air Estimates, however, it is strange to find this sentence:The main Increase is due to the introduction of more modern types of aircraft and equipment.1904 Paragraph 24 speaks of the delivery of "Venoms," "Canberras," "Hastings," "Valettas" and improved modern types of trainers. The Secretary of State gave the impression that all these new types were flowing off the production line and into the Service squadrons, or were likely to do so very shortly, in considerable quantities. Therefore, it seems strange that in Vote 7 the increased provision for new aircraft for this year amounts to only £250,000. I submit that the words of the White Paper are misleading on this point. In fact, study of Vote 7 reveals that by far the largest amount of money is being spent on spare parts for aircraft which may already be obsolete, or at any rate obsolescent.
A word about research and development, because I believe these are vitally important, and because I am not at all happy about them. I want to make what I well appreciate is a highly controversial suggestion. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire and other hon. Members expressed anxiety about research and development on guided missiles. I, too, feel anxiety on that score, and my anxiety is increased by the knowledge that the Minister responsible for research and development on these modern weapons is the Minister of Supply. The Minister of Supply is not interested in such matters. He is far too much engrossed in political questions, such as the nationalisation of the steel industry and making losses on State trading. Research and development are technical matters which, in my view at any rate, are purely the concern of the Air Ministry and it is under the Air Ministry, I submit, that this development of new weapons should reside. I throw out that suggestion and I hope that the Secretary of State will give it serious consideration.
Now I want for a few minutes to turn to personnel problems, starting with officers. Paragraph 12 of the White Paper says:There is still a shortage of suitable applicants for short service commissions as pilots and navigators.That point has also been brought out in this Debate, not only by the Secretary of State but also by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). They spoke of the inability of pilot officers even 1905 to pay premiums on life assurance, even though they are daily taking their lives into their hands. I would like to put this in another way, just as striking, if not more so: it may interest the House to know that a pilot officer flying a jet fighter at speeds approaching that of sound makes less money a week than the civilian batman who looks after him. If I am challenged on this I have figures to show that, with weekend overtime, his civilian batman makes more money in a week than the pilot officer. This is an intolerable situation. The solution, I submit, is not to raise the rates of pay throughout the whole range of officers, but, as has been suggested already, to restore flying pay to the general duties branch below the rank of wing commander.
Anyone who is in touch with Royal Air Force officers will know, and will have to face the fact if he is sensible, that the quality of the officer material in the Air Force leaves much to be desired. I think the reasons are not far to seek. After the war many officers with the right qualifications, and with fine war records, were refused permanent commissions and allowed to drift away from the Service. The result now is that officers for permanent commissions are badly needed, and it is difficult to find the right type for such commissions in competition with the opportunities offered by civilian employment. If this problem is to be faced realistically, the first thing to do is to see that the officer of medium seniority—flight-lieutenant and squadron leaders, most of who are married and have families, or would like to have families—must be given a more reasonable life than they are having now. Almost all the officers of that seniority are living beyond their means, and getting into debt. That is a point which has been emphasised during this Debate, and, indeed, is emphasised in every Debate we have on Air Estimates. It is not as if they are living in any way extravagantly; the Secretary of State will know, because he gets around to the stations, that officers do not run motor cars nor smoke, because they cannot afford to, nor do they go to the cinema because they cannot afford it. Still, they get into debt. How can it be expected that people will apply for permanent commissions if they know that 1906 this is the sort of life they will have to lead?
Their main complaint is taxation of marriage and other allowances. After all, officers are responsible people, and they know, as well as we do, the economic situation of this country. They do not ask for immediately drastic increases in their rates of pay. But they do not see why their marriage and other allowances should be so penally taxed. Why should officers serving overseas have to pay United Kingdom rates of Income Tax? It puts them at a great and unnecessary disadvantage compared with officers and civilians of the country concerned. That is a thing which I wish the Government would look into. It is these pinpricks. these small things, which matter, and which make life so difficult for Royal Air Force officers.
Another reason for the shortage of candidates of the right type for short service commissions, of which the Secretary of State complained, has been mentioned by another hon. Member. it is the difficulty of finding suitable civilian employment when an officer's term of service comes to an end. Many hundreds of ex-officers who left the Service after the last war are still unemployed. Potential officers who, otherwise, would go into the Service, now look around and wonder what is to happen to them when they come out again. I do ask the Secretary of State to see whether he cannot provide some guarantee for these officers that they will have some suitable employment found for them, or that they are to be assisted to find it, when they have finished their service.
Vote 6 shows that £409,000 less is to be spent this year on the training of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve airmen at civil flying training schools. I think that is a short-sighted policy. The civil flying training schools have played an invaluable part in training the reserves of the Royal Air Force. We on this side of the House, at any rate, consider civil flying schools to be an essential part of the air defences of the country. Incidentally, it was those schools which provided, before the war, most of the employment for short service commission officers leaving the Service at the end of their time. But today, civil flying instructors in these schools are paid less than they were before the war. They are paid such miserable rates that it is not worth 1907 looking forward even to that form of employment after their R.A.F. service. I say that the solution of the problem of these Regular and short service commission officers is, first, to restore flying pay; second, to remove the taxation of allowances; third, to guarantee suitable employment at the end of their service. I believe that if the Government has the courage to do these three things there will be an immediate response, and that the recruiting of officers for the Royal Air Force, both Regular and short service, will be greatly stimulated.
Just a few words about N.C.O.s. I understand, though this comes from only a very few witnesses and I am, therefore, open to contradiction, that the present grading of air crew is very unpopular in the Royal Air Force. I understand that the grades of Pilot 1 and Pilot 2, and so on, are cordially disliked, and that a return to the serjeant pilot rank would be greatly welcomed throughout the Service. Will the Minister look into this matter, because it is one of those things which is important to many of our men? I think he will see that I am right.
It is admitted in the White Paper that the recruiting of Regular airmen is still far from satisfactory; that is a point which has been raised from both sides of the House, and the Secretary for Air has admitted that there is a lack of balance between trades. That still persists. In the Air Estimates for last year, the Secretary of State for Air said that the "unbalance" of trades was such that in a few trades there was actually a surplus of N.C.O.s; this applied especially in the skilled aircraft fitter trades. The truth is that a re-organisation of the whole of the trade structure of the R.A.F. is long overdue, and we were delighted this evening to hear that something is to be done about it and that the Government will adopt the recommendations of the committee examining this matter. I do sincerely hope that this will be treated as a matter of urgency because I know that there are many highly skilled fitters, ex-Halton apprentices, who are still corporals after many years because the establishment of senior N.C.O.s in the group of fitter is far too small. These men must be given greater hope of advancement in their important trade.
1908 The White Paper, and the Secretary of State both make much of the expansion of the front line. But the effectiveness of the front line is limited not by the pilots who fly the aircraft, but by the lack of skilled men of certain trades to maintain them. The heartening assurances about our fighter strength being doubled, and American bombers arriving are, I am afraid, just so many phrases unless we do something drastic to get the men to maintain the machines—particularly in those trades where there is a great shortage. The closing down of those second line units—the Empire Flying Training Schools, and so on—is a policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul. If these establishments are necessary for the quality of the Royal Air Force then all one is achieving by this policy is the sacrifice of quality to get quantity. That, in the long run, is not good for the Service. We want a long-term policy, and as quickly as possible. Regular recruiting, so far from increasing and helping the Secretary of State to fill the gaps in essential tradesmen—gaps which are keeping front line machines on the ground—is declining.
The Minister speaks of making the Service as attractive as possible; as attractive as civilian life. We all know that, but what we want to know is what is being done? We have been asking for five years, and we have been saying that that is what ought to be done. We are getting a little tired of seeing the platitudinous phrases which appear year after year, in the White Papers which accompany the Estimates. Next year, we want to see a real improvement in the situation; we want to see an end to these complaints and to the complaints of the difficulty of getting recruits. We want some definite steps taken to get them. While the shortages of skilled airmen persist, one would have thought that the Air Ministry would make as much use as possible of civilian tradesmen. But what do we find? Oil pages 98 and 99 of the Estimates we find that the numbers of civilian employees has been reduced this year by 4,072. Surely, with these shortages of airmen, we ought to keep these men. I may be talking nonsense, but it looks from a study of the Estimates that we are complaining, on the one hand, of the shortages of skilled maintenance men, and on the other hand, are sacking skilled civilians.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary can explain why those 4,000 men have been dis- 1909 missed at this time. I promised not to take up too much time, but I have been speaking longer than I intended to. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley suggested during his speech that to help overcome the shortages of airmen—and it is, after all, these shortages which are the key to the whole problem we are discussing—some arrangement might be made with the civilian aircraft factories, who are in a difficult position owing to the cancellation of certain contracts, to do a larger amount of maintenance work and overhaul work upon R.A.F. aircraft. I hope the Secretary of State will examine that very carefully, take it seriously and let us know as soon as possible what it has been possible to do in that direction.
I think it is not unfair to say that anyone reading the White Paper accompanying these Estimates would think that the Government, in relation to the Royal Air Force, are drifting, that they are waiting for something to turn up, that their head is still firmly in the sand; they are not facing the facts bravely and realistically. I do not think that this White Paper would give confidence to our people that our first line of defence is being really built up; that our first line of defence, which is the Royal Air Force, with its bembers and particularly its fighters, is being built up with energy and speed.
Nor that the Royal Air Force is getting the priority it should get and which it deserves in the allocation of available economic resources and manpower resources. Finally, it does not give the confidence that if an emergency comes, we can meet it as we should. The Secretary of State did go some way this afternoon towards easing our anxieties, but perhaps the Under-Secretary will go even further and set our minds at rest on many of these points.
§ 11.39 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Crawley)
This is the first time I have had the honour to address the House from this Box. I, too, must ask the indulgence of hon. Members in replying to a Debate in which an enormous number of questions to do with the Royal Air Force has been raised. Naturally, I welcome that fact. It shows a very great interest in the Royal Air Force in this House, but if I were to try to answer them all in my speech we should be here until 1910 dawn and I am sure those hon. Members to whom I give no direct answer will forgive me. We shall study their speeches with care and, if necessary, write to them about them. I naturally had a fellow feeling for the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor), the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and the noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), who was in the position of being nought not out for his first innings and continued his effort today. I do not know whether my ordeal or theirs is the worse. I should think there is not much in it, and I can only say that I should like to feel that I shall acquit myself as well as they did. I hope to answer some of the points they raised during their speeches.
The hon. Member for Bradford, North, who has played such a helpful part in the auxiliary and A.T.C. organisations, raised the question of transport for auxiliary squadrons, and we should like to know more about the case he mentioned because there are arrangements which can be made if there are difficulties. He spoke with a great deal of information about the A.T.C., and I should like to tell him that we are having meetings all over the country within the next few weeks to go into the whole question of the organisation and relationship between the A.T.C. and the Territorial Associations and organisations. We shall let him know about that.
Before turning to the Debate as a whole and the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) I want to draw attention to one matter in these Estimates, and this is the only way I can deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It is the increasing cost of modern aircraft. My right hon. and learned Friend outlined some of the increases when explaining the extra £15½ million we are seeking for aircraft and equipment, a sum which would have been very much larger had it not been for the fact that we have made a great many economies. The fact is that we are only at the beginning of the development of jet aircraft and of radar and of other forms of modern equipment, and when we look a few years ahead to the time when the aircraft we are now developing will be coming into service, there is no doubt that the increase in cost 1911 is a very formidable proportion. It seems to me that both in this Debate and in the Debates which will follow in the years to come this fact must be very much in our minds.
To put the position graphically and perhaps at its extreme, on our present Estimates—and, of course, they are only Estimates—if we needed a peak strength in another war of the same quantity of aircraft in bombers and fighters as that which we had in the last war, and if the proportions were roughly the same, then the cost of those aircraft alone would be at least twice as much as the whole of our Defence Estimates are now. That, of course, is only a rough estimate, but it seems to me that as one is constantly engaged in this sort of research and in finding money for it, one has a duty to make some estimate of where these costs are leading.
It follows, of course, that further development on these lines is only of practical value on the assumption that improved performance in some of these aircraft and the new equipment that goes with them will allow much of the work of an Air Force to be done by fewer machines. Obviously, one cannot go into details about this and, as I say, these are only estimates, but I think I can say that as things are developing now experiments look as if in many cases they are meeting this test particularly in relation to bombers. It is plain, I think, that with jet engines—and our lead in the jet engine is very important—and with immensely increased power of bombs—and it is a fact, which has already been demonstrated, that jet bombers can fly almost as high and almost as fast as a jet fighter—that it should be possible for bombers to do their work and to carry out attacks of as great or even greater power in smaller numbers.
Many people, thinking and realising this, have asked themselves how any defence against this sort of attack can be contrived. Again, there are developments that are taking place which show that the answer is plainly not in an indefinite increase in the number of jet fighters whose superior margin of height and speed is not very great. At this moment we need a greater number, but the guided missiles from air or land, combined with new radar devices do open up 1912 possibilities by which defence may be able to keep pace with this development.
My last word on this subject is that it is difficult in these days to over-estimate the importance of ancillary equipment such as radar. It would be possible, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Orr-Ewing) has raised this point before, to have the very latest jet aircraft and yet to have a comparatively inefficient Air Force if you have not got the most up-to-date directional and other equipment. We are very much aware of that fact.
I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley for his references to the Secretary of State and myself. It is, of course, perfectly fair to hoist anyone who has left the backbench for the front bench on the petard of his previous speeches. I am sure that it has happened to him.
§ Mr. Crawley
I remember that in the last Parliament a book called "The Middle Way" was much quoted, and I equally remember that the right hon. Gentleman remained entirely unmoved by these quotations. I propose to follow his example. I do not regret my speeches at all, and I can claim that much of what I said in the speech to which he has referred has come about. I asked for greater co-operation with the United States and I suggested that we should take advantage of any chance we had of using American bombers, and both these things have since come to pass. I am particularly glad that the right hon. Gentleman agreed that that policy is right, and I cannot help remarking that his view is really quite inconsistent with the views expressed by some hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo), and, I think, with the publication which the Air League has put out, and which appeared only in this morning's paper. I rather doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman has read it.
§ Mr. Crawley
This document I can only describe as irresponsible. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think it wants studying with care. I think it is irresponsible in two ways: first, in its timing. In the very first paragraph the authors 1913 of this document state that they have been deeply anxious for some time about the state of our air defences. If that is so it is very curious that they chose the day before the Estimates to publish their document, when everyone would admit that we are able to announce very considerable improvements in our air defences, and did not see fit to publish it last year or the year before when there was much greater anxiety. It lays them open to quite a lot of misrepresentation and the charge that they will be allowing their organisation to be used for political purposes. It is a mistake to have timed this announcement in the way they did.
My second point has to do with the substance because they make some very broad statements, the first of which is that we must have air superiority over all theatres of operations and over all home bases. Throughout this document it is suggested that we have to achieve this alone. They make not the smallest reference to the United States, the Atlantic Pact, or Western Defence. They simply state the broad requirement of an overall air defence, and leave one to conclude that we have to have this superiority not only over any powers we may have in mind but over the United States as well. It is a most curious document, and I am glad to note that the conclusions I draw from it are shared by the right hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members who sit behind him.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the maintenance of aircraft by civil firms. He is quite right about the part civil firms were able to play in the Berlin airlift, but I wonder if he is aware of the large volume of servicing that is done by civil firms. They do practically the whole of third-line servicing, and a great deal of engine maintenance. A working party is now going into the question of whether further major maintenance may be done in this way. We agree with him that it is well worth exploring. He and many other hon. Members also mentioned manning difficulties. It would be absurd to suggest that this is not a difficult problem. There are shortages in certain skilled trades, particularly the electrical trades, but we expect to be able to man the B29 squadrons. To the hon. Member for Brentford I would say that although the same difficulties arise in the expansion of our fighter Force, we see 1914 no reason for anxiety at the moment. It is difficult, and there are shortages, and one cannot be dogmatic about it.
Many hon. Members raised the question of charter firms, and the usefulness of civil aircraft generally to the Air Force. Again, I would say that we do use private firms for a great many purposes. One of the most common is for anti-aircraft practice, and we are hoping to increase their use for that purpose. They also provide the aircraft for some flying clubs, and—although this is really a War Office matter, they are engaged in troop movements to West Africa. We are examining a good many other ways in which we believe they may be able to help us.
The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members mentioned the question of exporting aircraft. It seems to me that the answer is straightforward. The decision to export military aircraft was not a sudden decision. It was part of a deliberate policy which enabled us to keep our production at a much higher level than would otherwise have been the case. If the 100 aircraft which went to Argentina had not been exported they ought not to have been produced, and would not have been produced. We planned the export of military aircraft, and we are still planning export, so that our industry should be kept at a higher level for war potential, and for purposes of expansion in war, than we could keep it if we only bought from it the aircraft we need ourselves. That seems to me the complete answer to all the suggestions thrown up on that point today or last week in the Debate on defence. It is impossible, if you are going to plan an export drive of that kind, suddenly to switch the aircraft to home account. If you do, you lose the export markets and very soon find yourselves with a lot of redundant aircraft factories, because you will have re-equipped your force at a speed greater than you can afford and you will find your demands are far less than an industry of that capacity needs.
I sympathise with the desire that auxiliary squadrons should be re-equipped with the latest types of aircraft. Nobody who has served in the auxiliary forces can have anything but the warmest of feelings for them, but, once again, it is no use pretending that finance has nothing to do with it. It is like 1915 the documents of the Air League, the obvious ideal. We should like to have all the aircraft for every purpose which would make us feel safe, but it cannot be done. It is absurd, too, to imagine that the auxiliary squadrons can be equipped before the Regular squadrons. The truth is we are re-equipping our auxiliary squadrons at the fastest speed we can afford, and we shall, I hope, re-equip them by next year. That is the answer to that particular problem.
I should like to come to one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Hendon, North, and which the Prime Minister referred to in his speech the other day when he said that we would be able to say something about them tonight. One of them is the question of the fighter control units. These units are of the utmost importance. They control from the ground the movement of our own aircraft, and report the movement of the enemy aircraft as they are coming in to attack us. At the moment we have 26 units, and they are to be manned mainly by volunteer auxiliaries with a kernel of regulars, at any rate, to start with.
The figures which were given by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) were not quite accurate. The fact is that we are in need of a great many volunteers still, but we have got something over 3,000. We need up to another 15,000 now. On the other hand, there are a good many National Service men doing this job in the Royal Air Force development area, and they will form a reserve and will volunteer to come into the organisation. There is another scheme. This work can be done by girls and women, and we are offering a new type of non-Regular contract for training for six months to girls who have left secondary schools and to women. They will then go into the auxiliary units and they will bring up the numbers. The hon. Member for Worcester raised the question of location. Twenty-six units are in the most vital places, and we hope to expand the number as quickly as can be. When a beginning is made, the most important place is organised first.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North, also raised the question of the possibility of using civilians from the radio industry in this type of work and in similar work. 1916 We have been discussing this with members of the industry and with other bodies. We are about to form in London a new type of auxiliary unit. It will include this radar reporting unit, which will specialise in this particular role. We hope they will start recruiting for it in the next two or three months, and they will draw strength from the radio industry. We are also considering raising another similar unit in Cambridge.
I should like to say a few words about recruiting. It would be idle to pretend that we are satisfied with recruiting, but I do not want to go into any detail on it. It was dealt with fully in the Defence Debate and also yesterday on the Army Estimates. The general view that was expressed on the question of pay that it should be at the level which people might assume was competitive with civilian life, does not seem to me to be a panacea in itself. It is agreed that the problem of pay is, after all, very important, but people do not, in fact, go into the Services to make money in the same way as one goes into business to make money. A reasonable return is expected to provide a decent standard of living, but then something else is looked for—the things that are got from comradeship, games, the sort of life when companies are living together, and a smart uniform.
I do not suppose that anyone in the Services has a closed mind on the question of pay, which is something which has continually to be looked at, but, at the same time, I believe that improved conditions, at a time when we are pressed so tightly economically, is equally important, and there, I claim, we have done a great deal. One could point to nothing of great significance except perhaps the improvement in the provision of married quarters, but we have done many different things which, on the whole, make life in the Air Force more agreeable. In connection with this I must emphasise that the best hope of improving recruitment is to persuade men who serve as National Service men to take on Regular engagements. One encouraging factor in the recruiting figures is the slight increase in the numbers of National Service men re-engaging. We hope to continue this increase by accelerating the disposal of surplus ammunition and cutting down the number of stations where the men had to do exceedingly boring jobs, like guard- 1917 ing ammunition and moving it, which so bored National Service men that when they left the Service they were going about the country saying, "Whatever you do, don't join the R.A.F., because you will be put on that kind of job."
Maintenance Command have greatly accelerated the disposal of that sort of work and as a result many many fewer National Service men are called on to do it. They are making better use of them in other ways, training them in all sorts of jobs. There is a limit to what we can do in this, because we cannot take men on the job off it too long, but we have devised a system of assistant training by breaking down a skilled job into subsections which are more or less repetitive but which require a certain amount of skill, to that we are training men more quickly. Another thing is that there have been too many postings. In future National Service men should have only two postings during their service, one being to their original recruit training.
Regarding trade careers, a point raised by the hon. Member for Worcester and to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred, we are hoping to devise a scheme whereby a man can find a career in a trade and get increases in pay throughout that career. We think this will reorganise the whole of the trade structure and offer a great deal that will be much more competitive with civilian life. The present scholarships to the Air Training Corps are not of direct value to the Air Force, because training of that kind does not produce pilots useful to the Air Force. But we can say that they are indirectly of great use because they encourage airmindedness.
There is a large number of further points I could take up, but we have already been debating for a long time and I would like to study these points at greater length. I will communicate with hon. Members where necessary privately about them. The R.A.F. is expanding and it is obviously improving, particularly in striking power. I think this Debate will have helped my right hon. and learned Friend to continue that improvement. The Royal Air Force is an effective Force now, and I think we can claim it is well on the way to meet all commitments likely to fall to it within the Atlantic Pact and for the defence of the Commonwealth and of democracy.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]