§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Whiteley.]
§ 4.7 p.m.
Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The Opposition is glad to have an opportunity to debate equipment in the Royal Air Force. We had a lengthy debate earlier in the year dealing with the Air Estimates, but many of us felt that a number of questions were not adequately or sufficiently answered on that occasion. The Minister of Defence, in his speech, said that air strength was to be given first priority in our defence system. We welcomed that statement We think it is right that if we are to rearm it is essential for air defence to be given the main priorities of production and scientific equipment.
We are concerned at certain deficiencies that exist in the equipment in the Air Force. In the remarks I shall make, particularly in regard to the Hastings aircraft, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not think me in any way biased because of my connection with the aircraft industry, because I have held similar views for many years.
We believe that there are insufficient transport aircraft in the Royal Air Force. In the spring of last year, the Government thought fit to cancel the orders for transport aircraft with Handley Page and Vickers aviation as a means of economy. We did not agree because we felt that for a country with a comparatively small number of men under arms it is vital to be able to move them, if necessary, to all parts of the world at the quickest possible speed. The Korean war started in July, 1950, and the Government went back on their previous decision and replaced the orders for that type of transport in the autumn of that year. Much 1470 time was lost. Men were paid off, certainly in one of the factories, and drifted into other industries.
I cannot stress to much the question of mobility. It is very important, I believe, to move men at the greatest possible speed. Only recently, when the Airborne Brigade were moved to Cyprus, they travelled in an aircraft carrier or two. I wonder what the Russians and the Persians really thought of that manœuvre. This great Power, Britain, wanted to move a comparatively small number of men to the Eastern Mediterranean, and took 10 days to do so.
If we are to maintain our industrial position, we recognise that not all the obligations to the Services can be carried out. But we have a duty in the British Commonwealth of Nations and in the world to play a lead, and not always to tag on to our United States friends for their assistance. We cannot afford to allow soldiers, sailors and airmen to spend weeks and weeks aboard troopships in carrying out their postings and travels to the Far East and other countries.
Many men are only in the Services for two years. Approximately three months of that time could be saved either for service or for additional training, were they to travel by air on all occasions. We ought to have learned our lesson in the early years of the war. It is well known that in 1939 when we moved the fighter squadrons of the Expeditionary Air Force to France—and I had the honour to command one of them—we had a few transport aircraft from Imperial Airways and a really mixed bag quite incapable of doing the job required of them.
We went through the war, or the biggest part of it, without a proper Transport Command. We never really caught up in that sphere. There was no alternative during the war but to accept American transport aircraft. The Americans concentrated on large transport aircraft, and we concentrated on fighters and bombers. We played our part in the war. Nevertheless, when hostilities ceased, this country was at a disadvantage. We lacked that knowledge which is required to build a large aeroplane. We had not got the knowledge in the industry. We had to start almost from scratch in design and manufacture.
Building a successful large aircraft is not just a question of designing an aeroplane and saying that in two or three 1471 years it will be in service. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend know perfectly well that a great deal of work is involved in the ancillary gear which goes into an aeroplane. It is the hydraulics and the electrical work which complicate the problem. It has taken five or six years to educate the subcontractors to play their part in the industry so that we can build our own transports. In fact, it is only at this stage that the industries are working together to carry out this important rôle. Are we know to throw all this knowledge and know-how overboard? Are we to throw it away and cease to build any military transports at all?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman told me recently that at a future date we might have four-engined jet transport aircraft. We have tried to get an elucidation of that statement from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, but we have made no progress at all. It was a vague statement to make to the House. It did not make any impression at all on those of us who are concerned about the lack of transport aeroplanes.
Work on the Vickers Valetta and the Handley Page Hastings is almost completed. It is only a question of weeks before the jigs will be dismantled. If we are to have aircraft quickly, it is essential to place contracts reasonably soon, even for existing types. We were told months ago that we should have a number of auxiliary transport squadrons. So far we know of one. The others are under consideration. But why is that matter taking so long to consider when we need these squadrons desperately?
We are confronted with the possibility of another airlift out of Berlin. Britain will again be unable to play its proper part in that operation, should it unfortunately come about, because we have insufficient aircraft. We should like to know why this branch of the Service has been, and continues to be, neglected. We recognise that fighters have to come first; but if the Government had had a clearer policy two or three years ago on all these matters, men would not have been dispersed into other parts of the industry and into different industries altogether.
We should like the Minister to clarify the position about the suggestion that we may obtain some Fairchild Packets, which 1472 are large transport aircraft, from the United States. That may be a good move as an interim measure. The information I have about this American aircraft is that its all-up weight is 64,000 lb., but it is allowed to fly with a special overload weight of 74,000 lb.; that is, with a payload of 18,400 lb., for 500 miles.
It will readily be seen that this is not a long-distance aircraft. It is really a close-support transport aircraft. The Hastings with a pay load of 18,330 lb.— only 70 lb. less—has double the range of 1,000 miles. I recognise that the Packet has got rear loading, and that was undoubtedly one of the specifications of the Air Ministry. But a Hastings specification was submitted to the Government over 12 months ago offering rear loading and the raising of the tail plane of an aeroplane which had been tried and was already in production. I understand, however, that very little interest was shown in this project in the last 12 months. A mock-up was made, and this aircraft could undoubtedly have done the job for which we are now considering other aircraft. On 27th July, "The Times" said:In consequence of the Persian crisis the R.A.F. ambulance aircraft service between Korea and Britain has been cancelled. Since all available transport aircraft were concentrated at Middle East airfields to evacuate British subjects from Persia no ambulance aircraft has completed the flight. At present there are 86 wounded British, South African,. French, Belgian, and Dutch troops at the R.A.F. hospital, Changi, and the British military hospital, Singapore. It is understood that more British Commonwealth and European casualties are awaiting evacuation in hospitals in Japan. The transport aircraft which arrived there today and is returning tomorrow will take 28 men, but there is little hope of the regular service being resumed in the near future.When we read a statement of that kind, we consider that our men who are fighting gallantly in Korea are suffering unduly because their transportation to Britain is delayed, as we have not got the aircraft, and maybe the crews, to bring them here. Therefore, I think that the Opposition are fully justified in raising this question today.
We think that Transport Command is an important part of the Royal Air Force. Through the generosity of the Americans, we have the B.29 heavy bomber known as the Washington. I understand that all 70 or 75 of these aircraft are in service, but I should like to know whether the 1473 Service is equipped with adequate spares to maintain these aircraft. Is the Service getting the requisite number of hours' flying duty from these aircraft which the Minister thought would be obtained?
These are points of real concern, because we have not got a heavy bomber of our own manufacture. We in this small island will be in a very dangerous position if hostilities occur, and the Royal Air Force will be the first Service to throw its weight into our defence. The other Services have to be adequately armed, but they will follow at a later date. The Air Force must be armed if we are to defend this island properly.
I should like the Minister to tell us something about United States jet fighters. The only information I have is from the "New York Times" of 29th July. I will quote only one paragraph which was written by Mr. Benjamin Welles, the London correspondent. Referring to the American Sabre fighter, he writes:Britain has been seeking for months to obtain about 400 Sabre fighters to tide over the Royal Air Force until its own two new jets, the Supermarine F.1 and the Swift and Hawker F.3, can come into production. Both of these planes are rated highly, but neither will be available in strength before 1953.We all know that newspaper correspondents can be inaccurate, and we should like to hear what the Minister has to say on this subject. We were told by the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the end of last year that the Chief of Air Staff, Sir John Slessor, was going to Washington to discuss the problem of the R.A.F. obtaining Sabre fighters. Here we are at 1st August, and still the country knows nothing about this project at all. It just is not good enough. The taxpayers are voting large sums of money for the Government, and, though I imagine that it is being spent, we do not see the equipment forthcoming in sufficient quantity. I hope the Minister will give us some more information on that subject.
I recognise, as we all do, that the R.A.F., which was run down just as much as were the other Services after the war, has built itself up into a fine machine. The morale is high and, if they were called upon, I am quite certain that the pilots and aircrews would acquit themselves admirably. I have no doubt about that, provided that they have equipment which is comparable to that of the other side.
1474 We have discussed in this House at Question time and at other times the subject of accidents in the R.A.F. In my view, there have been far too many in Fighter Command. We read of them almost daily, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman took me up on one occasion when he said that, as far as he knew, the details of accidents had never been published. I do not know whether he has had time to go into it or not, but I can assure him that, up to the beginning of the last war, details were published in the daily Press of all accidents in the R.A.F., and I do not see why the country should be denied that information today. The people are able to read about the accidents in the newspapers, but they do not see the tabulated statistics. It is far better to tell the country what is going on, because parents may become very sceptical, and that is one of the reasons why they may withhold their consent from their sons who wish to make the R.A.F. a career.
We understand from the Press that a statement has been made by General Vandenberg that neither this country nor America has a fighter aircraft in service which is comparable to the MIG.15. General Vandenberg said, a few weeks ago:The Russian jet fighter MIG.15 is far superior to American fighters, and the engines in them are better than anything the United States has at present. American and British experts are collaborating to produce something better and are doing everything possible. The engine in the MIG.15 is a very marked improvement on the Nene, which the British had sold to them.I shall not go into this question of the sale of jet engines to Russia, because that is past history and we have to make the best of it, but we are concerned as to what the performance of the MIG.15 really is. We read of these comments by an American general, and we read details in the technical papers and in the daily Press. Why cannot we be told? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said quite recently that it is because of security reasons. If he tells us about the MIG.15, is he telling us anything that the Russians do not know? I cannot for the life of me see why we should not be told, and why the country cannot be told, more details about the performance of these fighter aircraft.
We were told in the Press last week that the Hawker P.1067 had successfully 1475 carried out its first flight. We are delighted to know that, and we congratulate both the makers and the test pilot on this fine achievement, but when will they be in the squadrons? When will the fighter squadrons be equipped with these machines, because the Meteors and Vampires which have given excellent service are not new aircraft in design, but are rapidly becoming out-of-date, so far as performance is concerned. We should also like to know, concerning the Sabre aircraft, whether the armament is satisfactory, because it is no good having an aircraft that can climb to 45,000 feet in a very short time if it has not got sufficient armament to do the job when it gets there. Is it intended to fit British armament, or to re-design that part of the aircraft?
Another subject which we have discussed in this House is in regard to intermediate trainers, and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, will enlarge on that subject. He has had great experience in the Royal Air Force, and I am quite sure he will make a useful contribution as far as intermediate trainers are concerned. This is an important matter, because, if pilots are to receive a proper training, they cannot go straight on to Vampires and Meteors from basic training aircraft. We should also like to know whether the Vampire two-seater is being considered as an intermediate trainer, because, if so, we think that would be an admirable step forward.
We are also concerned about electronics in the Service, but I will leave that subject to my hon. Friend, and I would only ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is satisfied that the radar chain on the East Coast is progressing. Is he satisfied that the North-East Coast is now covered, and, if not, can he say when it will be covered by radar?
Parliament is going into Recess tomorrow until the middle of October, which is a tricky time of the year, and we would like to be assured by the right hon. and learned Gentleman on all these various points. We do not ask for details where security considerations arise, but we consider that the country is entitled to know, and I think the Debate will have been well worth while if the right 1476 hon. and learned Gentleman can give some more information to the House on these subjects.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has put his case very thoroughly and very properly, because all those who are interested in the Royal Air Force would agree that, whatever view we may take of the progress that is being made, there is certainly no cause for complacency on the part of any of us. With a technical service like the Royal Air Force, and considering all the difficulties encountered in the design and development of any modern type of aeroplane, we are always a little behind in seeking perfection, and I am not going to suggest for a moment that the R.A.F. today has attained anything like perfection.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the position is very much better than it was three, four or five years ago. We have got out of the run-down period, and entered into what I ventured, on one occasion in this House, to call the building up of the third Air Force, without in any way seeking to divorce that from the first or the second Air Force. There is nothing to be complacent about at the present moment, but at the same time I do not suggest that we have not got a number of problems still to deal with.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman dealt, in the first place, with Transport Command. He said that we had an insufficient number of transport aircraft. I suppose it would be very difficult to say what would be a sufficient number. Certainly those who advise me would not agree that in peace-time we should maintain a vast armada of air transports, especially during a period when we are seeking to build up to the fullest possible extent the aircraft of Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands. That may be wrong, but that is the view that is taken.
I am not going to suggest that we have a large number of transport squadrons. It would be wrong for me to do so. It was only last year that I informed the House that, for reasons of the economy which was prevalent at that time, it had been decided that, rather than restrict 1477 the building up of Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands, to some extent we should accept a lower Transport Command. Then we had the development as the result of the expansion programme. It may be that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not agree with me when I say that the orders which we have placed have been related to the maximum production capacity of the aircraft industry of the country. I may say that we have already placed orders for aircraft and ancillary equipment for an amount exceeding £500 million.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that we should concentrate upon utilising the aircraft industry of this country to the fullest possible extent for the production of modern fighters, bombers and land-based sea reconnaissance machines like the Shackleton, and he supported his argument by reference to the fact that we have reduced Transport Command very considerably. But when we fixed the number of squadrons in relation to Transport Command, we bore in mind the reserve potential that we can obtain from civil aviation.
Therefore, in an emergency we would look upon the available transport resources as comprising not only the front long-range and medium-range transport squadrons of the Royal Air Force, but also the aircraft of the Corporation and the various charter companies. It is quite untrue to say that the Parachute Brigade were sent to Cyprus in an aircraft carrier because the Royal Air Force were unable to move them by air. We were not asked to do so.
Air Commodore Harvey
Does not the Minister agree that had they been transported by air instead of by ship it would have made a far greater impression in Persia?
§ Mr. Henderson
In the light of subsequent events, I do not think so. Had it been a matter of hours, or, possibly, of two or three days, I have no doubt those responsible for moving the troops would have taken that point into consideration.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Air Ministry were not asked to move the Parachute Brigade to Cyprus. Will he say whether, had they been asked to do so, they would have been able to do so? That is the point.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
The Minister's argument does not seem very convincing. If we have plenty of transport aircraft, why cannot we continue to operate the ambulance service for evacuating wounded from Korea?
§ Mr. Henderson
I did not say that we had plenty of aircraft. Incidentally, the reduction in Transport Command only affects the squadrons in this country. There has been no reduction in the number of squadrons in the Far and Middle East; they remain as they were a year ago. The hon. Gentleman's point is quite a fair one, but I believe that the ambulance service has, in fact, been resumed today. It is a matter of great regret that for some reason or another it was decided to take off the aircraft operating that ambulance service. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they were carrying out their work on the scheduled routes. The stopping of that service was not really essential, and, as I have said, it is now being resumed.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman then went on to say that we ought not always to be dependent upon our American friends for assistance in the matter of aircraft. He applied that remark, I think, not only to the possibility of obtaining transport aircraft from the United States, but also to obtaining the F.86's, and he wanted to know why all this delay was taking place. I hope he is not suggesting that, if we are able to obtain aircraft from the United States under military aid we should be reluctant to accept them, especially in view of the fact that we are now spending 13 per cent. of our national income on a vast three-year re-armament programme. We have done that in the past, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman possibly knows. In 1938 we obtained large numbers of Harvards and Hudsons from the United States Government, and there was never any suggestion at that time that it was detrimental to the aircraft industry of this country.
Air Commodore Harvey
What I was suggesting was that if transport aircraft are not built in this country and we obtain them from America instead, this country would lose valuable technical knowledge which it has taken at least six years to acquire. We might have heavy bombers 1479 such as the B.29's and transport and fighter aircraft, which would mean three different types of engines and would be very confusing from the servicing point of view. That is my real concern.
§ Mr. Henderson
What we should like to do is to replace the long-range aircraft, such as the Hastings, with jet aircraft.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman then said that he had asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply whether any orders had actually been placed for these replacement transport aircraft and that the answer was "No." He seemed to think there was some inconsistency there. I never suggested that an order had been placed. We have not yet reached that stage. I do not wish to commit either the Department or myself, but it might be that one of the new four-jet bombers would be the type of plane which could be developed for transport purposes. It might be that something on the lines of the Comet would meet the case.
But we have not yet made up our minds, and the experts at the Air Ministry are at the moment considering what would be the best type of four-jet aircraft to replace the Hastings. In our view, we have sufficient reserves of Hastings for some years to come, but we cannot use those aircraft for some purposes owing to the fact that tail loading facilities do not exist in them. If we have to obtain—as we might well do—a number of the American C-119's, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, it would be because those aircraft have the facilities we require immediately, possibly as an interim measure, for the conveyance of troops.
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes, Sir, no charge would be made for them, as in the case of the F.86's.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to attribute some measure of blame to the Government for not having been able to conclude the discussions which I indicated were taking place with the Americans regarding the supply of F.86's. I can only repeat that that is the present position. We cannot compel them to do anything in the matter. They are themselves 1480 launched on a great re-armament programme, and I can only say what I said before, that we are having these discussions with them, but that they have not yet indicated whether or not they will provide these aircraft. If they do, they will be additional to the vast orders for aircraft which we have placed in this country. In other words, they will not be in substitution for any aircraft ordered over here. Indeed, had there been no possibility of obtaining these machines from America, not a single additional aircraft would have been added to the vast orders placed during the last six months.
I should like to say a word or two about bombers. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member did not consider it a mistake to have taken over the Washing-tons. It has been made clear in various speeches on Estimates, both by my predecessors and myself, why, in 1945, the Air Ministry decided not to follow up the Lincoln with another piston-engined bomber but to concentrate upon the design and long-term development of a four jet-engined bomber which would be in its performance, range, altitude and load carrying capacity superior, as they hope, to anything that might come along from any other country.
I think that we have been justified in the policy we have followed, both as regards the light and the heavy bomber. The Canberra is recognised as the outstanding light jet bomber in the world today. Although it is always a matter for suspicion to hon. Members opposite because I cannot give the actual numbers of squadrons, I can say, as I said a few months ago, that the first squadron has now been formed. A large number of squadrons—I cannot say what number but it is quite a respectable number—will be formed during the next 12 months, including a number of P.R. squadrons.
According to the information supplied to me, the Valiant, the new four jetengined bomber now flying, will be superior to the Canberra in range, speed, altitude and load carrying capacity, and it is believed it will give our country the lead in the field of heavy jet bombers. As regards the new fighter to which the hon. and gallant Member referred—the new Hawker interceptor type—which has successfully carried out its first flight, this aircraft is designed not only to deal with any bomber likely to be in service for 1481 some time to come but to be faster and have a higher performance than the Russian MIG.15 or the American F.86.
The hon. and gallant Member asked why I did not tell him the exact speed of flight of the MIG.15. I do not see how that will help him. I have been quite frank and have said that, according to the information we have, it is probably the second fastest fighter in level flight in the world today, second to the F.86; and I acknowledged that it was faster than the Meteor VII or the Vampire V, just as I equally assert that the new Hawker interceptor fighter will be faster in level flight than either the MIG.15 or the F.86.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to a jet intermediate trainer. If I may, I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) because I think I misled him the other day. I said we had ordered the Vampire trainer in a context which seemed to indicate that I regarded that trainer as an intermediate trainer. We do not look upon it officially as an intermediate trainer. The question arises whether we should have an intermediate trainer. Just as do members of my own profession, the law, so do experts in air matters all differ one from the other. Experts always do, and I find that there is a difference of opinion with regard to the provision of an intermediate jet trainer.
The flying instructors do not accept the view that it is desirable, if it is possible, to introduce a slow flying jet trainer. By all means, of course, we should improve the basic trainer or the more advanced trainer. The Balliol is faster than the Harvard, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, although its speed is well below anything at which the Vampire can fly. I am told that for the beginner it is possible to moderate the speed of the Meteor, for example, to very little more than the maximum speed of the Balliol. But there is a difference of opinion whether we should have an intermediate trainer at all.
I think the hon. and gallant Member was concerned also about the absence of the Chipmunk. We are not satisfied; we have not the number we would like; but if there had been no expansion programme the number we ordered two years ago would have been adequate for present-day requirements. They are not sufficient today because we have had to 1482 increase our training commitments and therefore that has led to a shortage. There are 118 Chipmunks in service in the Reserve flying schools today. There are 105 in the university air squadrons and 70 in the new schools provided for National Service trainees who are being trained as aircrew.
The reason we have had to send some away to training schools in Rhodesia is that they had been using the Tiger Moth, and just as the hon. and gallant Member objects to Tiger Moths being used in flying schools, so there was objection to their being used in Rhodesia. I think the House will agree with the importance of giving priority to Regular flying schools as against Reserve flying schools. But we have placed a very large order and, as I said in reply to a Question, next year we shall have more than sufficient Chipmunks for the requirements of the 20 flying schools operating today.
I know that other hon. Members want to raise other matters, but I thought it right to follow the speech of the hon. and gallant Member immediately. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be ready to reply to any other points made subsequently in this debate.
§ Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, do I understand from his last statement about trainers for the Reserve Command that he is now able to modify the statement he made in this House on 11th July to the effect that sufficient Chipmunks would be available by the end of 1953 and not before?
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Profumo (Stratford)
I think it is appropriate that we should have found time before going away for the Recess to discuss the urgent problem of equipment for the Royal Air Force. Having listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman I think it is all the more important that we should have this discussion this afternoon because, with all due respect, I do not think that what he has said—I appreciate he was trying to be brief so that other hon. Members could speak—has eased the worries of my hon. and gallant Friends.
1483 It does not need any words of mine to emphasise the significance of these problems to the whole of our defence scheme. I believe that the Minister is among the foremost Members of the House who are ready at any time to discuss any problems of the Royal Air Force. We on this side of the House recognise his devotion to the gallant Service for which he has the honour to be responsible to Parliament. But, on the other hand, the fact that he holds that privileged office carries with it the obligation of bearing the brunt of attack from hon. Members when things go wrong in the Air Force, or at least when they appear to have gone wrong. This afternoon the right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that we have to direct our attacks at him, though personally we realise that he is trying to do what he can to help his Service.
One of the great difficulties which we are always up against when discussing equipment for the Royal Air Force is that this matter does not concern only the Air Ministry. It concerns also the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Defence. We would obviously not expect to have a whole line of right hon. Gentlement sitting on the Front Bench opposite representing all these various Ministries this afternoon, like a lot of war criminals ready to be cross-examined by us, but. on the other hand, I hope that the charges which I shall make will be followed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and will be communicated to his right hon. Friends in the various Ministries which are concerned in these matters.
The problems which I want to raise do not affect only the Ministries I have mentioned. They also affect the Treasury, the War Office and, to some extent, the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I hope that the result of this debate will be that we shall not only get a stereotyped answer from the Under-Secretary but that my hon. Friends and I will feel that we have made some sincere contribution towards the solution of these problems and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will disseminate the information and will see whether he can work out the answers with his colleagues.
My charges are threefold. I charge the Air Ministry, first of all, with being guilty of seeking to fob off the Army with a second-rate tactical transport air- 1484 craft. Second, I accuse them of being guilty of jeopardising the future of the British aircraft industry; and, third, I accuse them of following a policy which will tend to make us dangerously dependent on the United States of America. Here, I want to follow the point which was made so excellently by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey).
The Army requires two classes of transport aircraft. It requires the strategic type, which has already been referred to—a long-range aircraft which is able to carry troops, light stores and equipment over really considerable distances, and also what one might call the tactical type from which men and equipment can be parachuted, and which will operate over shorter distances to and from—and this is the important point—makeshift landing strips and which, therefore, requires low take-off and landing speeds.
The strategic requirements have already been discussed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that we have a certain number of these strategic troop-carrying aircraft. My hon. and gallant Friend says we have not got enough. There must be some truth somewhere, and, personally, I back my hon. and gallant Friend. I fully realise that we have got this sort of aeroplane in some numbers, but we have not nearly enough. We have the Hastings and the Valetta, and those aeroplanes are backed up strategically by the airliner type of aeroplanes which fly for the civil air Corporations and also for the air charter companies, not forgetting, also, the Brabazon, which I believe might very well come in useful for those purposes. Just as in the last war the great "Queens" of the sea were brought into commission to carry our troops all over the world, so, in another war, the great "Queens" of the air could be mobilised.
Where I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has unintentionally misled the House, is in suggesting that we have enough to have done the job of carrying the airborne brigade out to Cyprus. Anybody can say "yes" to the question which my hon. and gallant Friend asked, whether the Air Force would have been capable of carrying this concentration of troops. So long as we have one aeroplane, and so long as we do not mind taking 10 years, naturally the 1485 job can be done. But what I should like to know is how long the Royal Air Force would have taken to have carried out this commitment. I believe it would have taken longer than it took them by aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. A. Hendersonindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Profumo
The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head; I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to disillusion us in this matter when he winds up the debate.
What I especially want to talk about is the tactical type of transport aeroplane, because the Royal Air Force has, at the moment, no aircraft designed to do that sort of job at all. This is through no fault of the British aircraft industry. They have constantly offered the Air Ministry suitable types of aeroplanes, some of which have been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend. For example, there are the Bristol Freighter, the Blackburn Universal Freighter, the Airspeed A.S.67 and a modified Hastings with rear ramp loading.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates that ramp loading is of the utmost importance, and in this case we must have an aeroplane the floor of which is sufficiently level and sufficiently close to the ground for it to be able to let down its own ramp in order to assemble and disembark large pieces of machinery and vehicles and equipment which the Army wants to move about. All the aeroplanes I have just mentioned have, in fact, got ramp loading of one sort or another.
Hon. Members can imagine my concern when, in reply to a supplementary question of mine on 11th July, the Secretary of State said—and these are his words:I say, quite frankly, and at once, that we have not ordered the aircraft to which the hon. Member is referring. We are, however, already in touch with the Ministry of Supply on this matter, and the matter is under the active consideration of the Air Staff and of the Air Councils."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c. 399.]Not only were we on this side of the House staggered by the appalling frankness of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his admission that no order had even been placed, but we were also very worried by the self-satisfied way in which he said: 1486We are, however, already in touch with the Ministry of Supply on this matter "—as if this was some new and unexpected problem which had suddenly cropped up, and as if, with remarkable and commendable foresight, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had displayed such knowledge of the matter that he had jumped the gun and was already taking action.
It is all very well for him to say that he is already in touch with the Ministry of Supply. It is already too late by far. Because of his inertia it will now be several years before these aeroplanes are able to operate and be in service with the Army.
Although the Minister was more restrained and guarded than I have been in this matter, he admitted it himself in a further reply when he said:I cannot just wave a wand and do something about it. The production of aircraft is not something which can be done by merely placing an order, as the hon. Member knows." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c. 400.]That is quite true. Nobody suggested that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could wave a wand, but we do expect him to make a plan. During the last six years we have continually heard of the Government vaunting their planning potentialities. We have been told that this is a Government of planners. But it is the plans that we want to see. Some plans must be made without delay.
The Minister said:The production of aircraft is not something which can be done by merely placing an order.That is perfectly true, but it is equally true to say that until an order is placed we shall not get the aircraft. I do not think there is any excuse for the Government on this occasion, because all the aircraft I have just referred to have either been flying or have been in advanced stages of design from one to three years. Yet the Air Ministry has done nothing about this.
The Minister disturbed me, and also amused me, when he said:… the matter is under the active consideration of the Air Staff and of the Air Council.and that he was in touch with the Ministry of Supply. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House what that means? Nowadays, when we read in HANSARD statements by Ministers of the 1487 Crown, we find them constantly repeating the phrase that something "is under active consideration" or else it is "under continuous review," to such an extent that one feels that one is reading an advertisement for the Windmill Theatre. I ask the Minister this sincerely and seriously: to meet our long-term requirements for these aircraft, have any aircraft of this type been ordered by the Air Ministry from the Ministry of Supply? Has an order been placed? If an order has been place, we must try to tackle the Minister of Supply.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I do not want to intervene unnecessarily, but this is rather an important point. The Air Ministry are not prepared to give an order. involving perhaps many millions of pounds, except in a very grave emergency —such as we did in the case of the Canberra and the F.3 and the B.9.
In the case of the transport aircraft to which the hon. Gentleman refers, the Blackburn Aircraft Company—the firm in question—which has produced the Universal Freighter, has a prototype flying and trials are now being carried out. We are not prepared to place an order until we know the results of those trials. The hon. Gentleman may have his joke about "under active consideration," but I think this is the right policy for the Air Council to follow. We must, therefore, wait until the trials are nearer completion than they are at the moment.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to his colleagues who supported him in that answer. But perhaps I may develop the point a little further because I think he may have misunderstood me. I am certainly not making a joke of this. It may be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought I was being flippant. We think the Government are carrying these matters as far as a joke and we are very seriously concerned with the fact that nothing has been ordered. I will develop the point a little further and then perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman may take it a little better.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has answered the question: no order has been placed. Are we, therefore, permanently to depend on the United 1488 States of America to supply this sort of aircraft—the tactical, troop-carrying aircraft, the only type with which I am dealing at the moment? When the Minister was dealing with this matter the other day he gave no indication whatsoever that the Government are trying to obtain the United States Fairchild Packet under M.D.P.A. My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the point and the right hon. and learned Gentleman slithered over it rather neatly, in accordance with his profession.
§ Mr. A. Hendersonindicated dissent
§ Mr. Profumo
We want to get the truth of this problem, however, from the debate. With all respect, I think he did slither over it. The other day, I think it was on 18th July, in another place, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, speaking for the Government said:We are so conscious of the need for transport aircraft at the present time that steps are being taken in order to try and obtain them from elsewhere.If my information is correct, it is over 12 months since the first approach was made by His Majesty's Government to the United States in order to get the Fairchild Packets for this job. If the House will forgive me for a moment. I will explain that there are two types of Fairchild Packets: there is one called the C-82, which has an all-up weight of 54,000 lb. and there is the rather more modern C-119, which I think has an all-up weight of 74,000 lb., as no doubt my hon. and gallant Friend could confirm.
In my opinion it is very unlikely that we shall get any of these C-119's in the foreseeable future because, as far as I can gather, the United States are ordering them as fast as they come off the production lines for their own Air Force. It is much more likely that we shall be offered the older type, the C-82, from reserve stocks as and when they are rendered surplus by delivery of the C-119 to the United States Air Force.
I agree that the C-82 is better than nothing, particularly in the position in which we find ourselves today. But we must be quite certain about this point— that aeroplane does not to any appreciable extent meet the requirements of the Army, which is where the War Office comes into the picture. It cannot be landed on most grass fields and it needs a long runway 1489 both for landing and taking off. I wonder whether I may make a short explanation by reading a report which has disturbed me very much. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not have seen it. It deals with the comparison between the Fairchild Packet and our British type of aircraft.
The report is called "Aviation Report"—in order that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not think I have written it myself—and it says:If ever there was an acid test of aircraft practicability it was there for all to see at Abingdon.There was a demonstration to the Staff College at Abingdon the other day:Three different types of military transport aircraft were lined up for the Army—the Fairchild C-82 Packet, the Handley Page Hastings and the Blackburn General Universal Freighter. The Army produced a load of heavy equipment.That was quite natural. The report continues that theywanted to see how each of them would take it to Watchfield, un-load it, then re-load it and fly it back. Watchfield is a small grass field,as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows.The Hastings and Packet did not attempt the operation. The freighter sailed gently into Watchfield with its load, sat down in 300 yards and disgorged it. In due course it flew the load out and back to Abingdon.It seems to me that the report alone shows that the British aircraft is superior to the American type. The Army has, quite naturally, a large list of equipment which it wants to be able to have carried by air. The Fairchild Packet is unable to load a considerable proportion of these, whereas the Blackburn Universal Freighter can carry nearly all these articles. The all-up weight of the Fairchild Packet is less than half that of the British Freighter. Let us consider what that means. It means that for every one British aeroplane we have to have two American aeroplanes. That means double crews, a double lot of pilots, double maintenance and double spare parts—and let us not forget that the spare parts have to be brought here all the way across the Atlantic.
Beggars cannot be choosers, however, and in our present position we shall have to put up with these troubles, if the Americans will give the aircraft to us for an interim period, but I ask the Minister 1490 this: assuming that the United States agree to supply the Fairchild Packets, which type are we to be offered? Shall we be offered the C-82 or shall we be offered the C-119? Perhaps even more important, on this side of the House we should like to know whether there is any estimate of a delivery date.
Can we be certain as to how long it will take, because if it is to take two or three years we might as well put our own aeroplane on order now and have the British aircraft. How long will it take? After all, the United States Air Force are needing more and more of the products of their own aircraft industry to equip themselves—at any rate as far as combat aircraft are concerned. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman let us know how certain he is about delivery?
In a recent article—and this seems to be very ominous indeed from the point of view of our relying too closely on deliveries from the United States— General Spaatz said:True, it has been announced that America is aiming at a 95-Group Air Force by the end of 1952, and by pulling planes out of mothballs she would have enough to equip, in numbers, a 95-Group Air Force by that date. But this would be providing an Air Force half-equipped with obsolescent planes.That is the view of General Spaaz. His view indicates that they will need their own aircraft industry to supply their own Air Force. In those circumstances, for goodness sake let us order our own British aeroplanes.
May I take a look for a moment at the financial aspect of this problem? It is quite understandable for the air staff and the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself to take the view that they want to get the maximum number of combat aircraft out of the budget which has been allocated to them, and although they accept the responsibility for providing transport aircraft for the Army they feel that if they can get these free, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman calls it, under M.D.A.P., it will not appear on Vote VII of the Air Estimate.
But when we talk about getting things free we should look at the matter very carefully indeed from a long-term view. That is the view which the Cabinet should take. If we look at it from that view, it is obvious that other items which are scheduled under M.D.A.P. will probably 1491 have to be scaled down in proportion— and this is the crucial point and the point which has not been sufficiently carefully considered by His Majesty's Government before these schemes were adopted.
I think it may be that in order to get the Fairchild Packets we may have to accept fewer raw materials and machine tools. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about getting things free but, as he knows, we cannot get everything from the United States. Up to a point we can get what we want, but somebody ought to be deciding which is more important. Is it more important to get these freighter aircraft or is it more important that we should get machine tools and raw materials and such things?
I believe that in this case we can have the best of both worlds. My information is that the Universal Freighter is so good that within the last four months the United States authorities have been making inquiries about it for their own Services. Here is an aeroplane which might easily accompany the Canberra into production for the U.S.A.F., but the Ministry of Supply has stopped work on the second prototype and no production order has been placed at all. Very strange—very strange indeed. We might sell the manufacturing rights to the United States, and in that case we could achieve not only standardisation of a first-class aeroplane, but we could also earn dollars, very vitally required, with which to offset the purchase of the military type aeroplanes which we must have as an interim measure. It does seem to me to warrant internally a large allocation of our defence budget.
I should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman this. What snags is he running up against? What snags are there? What are the technical difficulties? Who is standing in the way? Is it the War Office? I do not think it can be, because I have just shown the House that the Army are not getting a bad deal out of this. It cannot be the War Office. Is it the Minister of Defence?
§ Mr. Profumo
The hon. Member for Aryshire, South, knows about these matters. This is his subject. I am much flattered that he should be sitting here 1492 during my speech in this debate. He has an intimate knowledge of the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps later on he will be good enough to inform us how it could be the Minister of Defence. I do not think it can be. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may remember that the Minister of Defence made a statement about the defence budget in which he said that the Royal Air Force would have absolute priority in our defence programme. If that is to be carried out it is a little inconsistent that he should say that there shall not be enough money to make the necessary aeroplanes. It cannot be he.
Can it be the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Really, I wonder. I hope not, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer on many occasions—not recently, but on many occasions—has shown a certain amount of forethought. If he really considered this matter he might realise that this was one problem—perhaps the only one—easily disposed of. We could spend a part of this vast expenditure which is extorted from the taxpayers and use it to make more money. It could be used to invest in the manufacture of British aircraft Which might be sold abroad if, fortunately as we all hope, there is not going to be war at all. I do not think it can be he.
If the sole object of our re-armament programme were to prepare for imminent war, we should not bother in this House where we were getting the aircraft from so long as we were getting them. It is not the case, however, thank goodness. The Government have said, and we agree, that war is not inevitable. The preparations are being made rather for the purpose of enabling us to negotiate from strength. If that policy is successful, or partially successful, I think we must expect to find a quite long period, an indeterminate period, of a whole series of what one might call Koreas, Berlin airlifts, and Abadans.
If we are going to keep our heads above water, far less than maintain our standard of life, then it is of paramount importance that we should keep alive and increase our export markets. In British transport aircraft we have got some to offer the world which are superior to and far less expensive than the United States of America have. It would be a major economic tragedy to the nation if we 1493 ignored those world markets which will present themselves. But if more stable international relations should be established and the pressure of re-armament should be relaxed, as it easily may be, the British aircraft industry is going to find itself in a very difficult position in recapturing lost markets once they are lost, and that will be particularly so in the transport field.
At the present time, as the Secretary of State knows full well, civil airlines in the world are all in the process of re-equipping. If they do it with imported aeroplanes those markets will be lost to us for an indefinite period. Already certain overseas markets are being denied to us, like Egypt, and so on, from the point of view of military aeroplanes. It makes it all the more important that we should jump as quickly as possible with any types required into other markets.
I think that I have made my case. I yield to nobody—to nobody—in my gratitude to the Americans for the help with which they are providing us, but let us, remember that a permanent dependence upon such help will have very serious consequences indeed. It means that we must depend for delivery of all our vital equipment on the United States President and the United States Congress. Can we be certain—and this is the point —can we be certain that we can depend on the present scale of generosity, even if they run into a major economic slump in the United States? At this very moment we are awaiting from the United States a decision about Sabres.
The Secretary of State for War himself said the other day that we did not control the United States Government, and that the only thing we could do was to wait until we got agreement from them. So that is the situation. We have become far too dependent upon resources from the other side of the Atlantic for far too much equipment for our own British Air Force —fighters, bombers, and now transport aircraft. This means that Parliament has no longer really any control over our defences.
I notice from the Press that the party opposite to which the Minister of Defence belongs is due to have a conference in the autumn, and I see that some—indeed, quite a lot of—resolutions have been put down for this conference which deplore 1494 the Government's subservience to Washington. We do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to get into hot water if we can help it. So we warn him that this is just the sort of thing for which he and the Government will be attacked by certain of their supporters who are not here today—some of their comrades.
I want to say in conclusion that if we continue to depend on the supply of aeroplanes from America, it can only lead to the entire termination of our sovereign rights, and, indeed, to our becoming the 49th State of America.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
I was fascinated by the speech of the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo), as I always am. It is always a mystery to me whether he is in deadly earnest or whether he is someone else doing an after dinner imitation of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stratford. He did, I think, rather exaggerate in the indignation he displayed against the Government in their difficult decisions that have to be taken when we are spending so much on and developing our re-armament programme.
I do not think it is possible for anyone to put particular blame on the Government for the course of action they are taking. We know perfectly well—and my right hon. and learned Friend did not attempt and has never attempted to suggest that we can be—we know perfectly well that we cannot be satisfied with the state of our air defences. We are trying now to equip ourselves with the equipment that is immediately available and to develop the equipment, and the Government are having to decide priorities as they go along, and having to decide whether they should order more of equipment that is available or some new equipment which may be better. These are difficult decisions inherent in our present situation.
I believe that we may get into serious difficulty in this matter of Air Force equipment if we try ourselves to balance too heavily the claims of that branch or that of the Royal Air Force in which we ourselves are specially interested. The hon. Member for Stratford is undoubtedly very interested in transport aircraft. I happen to be interested in Coastal Command. The House knows that when we have these agreeable occasions such as 1495 this every year I make a speech on behalf of Coastal Command, demanding more aircraft for it, in just the same way as other hon. Gentlemen favour Transport Command. I am afraid I may get into trouble through my own criticism if I favour Coastal Command, but I must just mention that Command again today, because the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) rather attacked me the last time we had a debate like this by saying that I was running down the Shackleton aircraft.
Since then I have had an opportunity to find out more about that aircraft. I must say straight away it was not then my intention to run it down, and certainly Coastal Command is very anxious for it. It is very pleased with what it knows of it, and the Under-Secretary of State has flown in it, and has very good experience of its three-engined performance, of which, no doubt, he will be able to tell the House. It is an aircraft which we need, and need abundantly.
Having said that, and having stressed the claims of Coastal Command, in view of all the possibilities of what may happen in a future war, and in view of the dangers of the submarine menace, whether the old type of attack on shipping communications or the delivery of atom bombs through long-range torpedoes, and so on, I still think that we need to look at our over-all strategy and consider whether we are balancing up the supplies of equipment and available resources between a number of different competing vested interests and competing minor "empires."
I am wondering whether, perhaps, we are not still following the old line too much, and whether we should not have a wider conception of the possibility of a future war. If we were faced with the possibility of an atom bomb attack, then I am sorry to say that I do not believe purely defence forces will protect this country. We must consider whether we should not, as a purely defensive measure, put the greater part of our resources into offensive weapons as the only possible type of protection against an atom bomb attack.
Everybody knows that there is not the slightest danger of this country itself initiating the use of such offensive weapons, but, with the development of 1496 modern war and the atom bomb, I believe that we should seriously consider whether there should be the same diversion of resources into purely old-fashioned defence measures, particularly Anti-Aircraft Command—which is not, of course, part of the equipment of the Royal Air Force, but it is related to air defence—and whether we should not concentrate our resources much more in the one field which I believe might prevent another war, and might bring protection to this country, namely, the counter attack, should it be necessary. I say that with all seriousness and all sincerity.
When we urge the claims of radar, of Bomber Command, Transport Command and Coastal Command we do not really help; we do not help the Government in the very difficult decisions they have to take. Those decisions must be taken, or we shall go along too much on the old pattern, and we shall come off worse through finding that too much of our resources have been tied up in something which is not of decisive importance, and will not make the major effect at the time that we need it.
Whereas I believe it is right that the Air Force should be given the highest priority in our defence, we should at the same time be prepared for the danger of the vested interest and the "empires" within the Air Force, each demanding its share, when for lack of effort and bold and brave enough decisions there may be a tendency to give in, instead of taking what I believe may be an unpleasant but none the less right decision, that in the long-run the only possibility of defence for this country if a war should come is in the counter offensive.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) referred to trainer aircraft, and reference was also made to that subject in the reply of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I took them both to be referring to trainer aircraft in the Regular service, and not to trainer aircraft used in the Reserve or Home Command, and I want this afternoon to put in a modest plea for aircraft for a very important scheme that has been introduced by the Air Ministry during the past 12 months, namely, the Flying Scholarship Scheme, which is sponsored by the Association of British Aero Clubs.
1497 This year, 300 flying scholarships have been allotted to enable cadets of the Air Training Corps to take their elementary training as pilots. The cost is not inconsiderable, but if this scheme is considered to be a good one the Air Ministry should take steps to provide the equipment to enable it to be carried out properly.
The plan is for a cadet to be trained up to the civil pilot licence standard, and it is hoped that the number of flying scholarships next year will be increased to 500. Today, however, these flying clubs are working to the limit of their capacity in aeroplanes, and there is no prospect of any additional aircraft being made available to enable training to be carried out for the present numbers, let alone for any increase in number that might come along. According to my information, one of the main aircraft in use, the Anson, is in short supply due to this aircraft being used for navigational training. If that is so, we must look to some other type.
Claims have been made this afternoon from both sides of the House for new aircraft in large numbers from America and from British manufacturers. I ask the Secretary of State for something he has already got, and that is the Tiger Moth aircraft, which is at present being used in the Reserve training schools. I want him, if he will, to make that aircraft available to the flying clubs. I should prefer him to make it available free of cost, but if that cannot be done at least to make it available at a nominal charge, and to make arrangements with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply to put that into effect.
The present procedure is that these aircraft are put on the market for sale by tender, and the flying clubs often have no opportunity of bidding for them. The flying clubs are voluntary organisations, and I suppose they do not feel able to send an official to the Ministry of Supply sales to bid for these machines. It is true to say that a machine which is worth a few pounds for the scrap yard, and which is often sold in that way, would be worth a great deal more if it were reconditioned and made available to flying clubs to enable cadets to receive their elementary flying training.
The Association of British Aero Clubs state that they are capable of training 750 1498 cadet pilots a year. I submit that it is not much use having expensive aircraft in increasing numbers if we have not the men to fly them. Those men have to start at the beginning, with glider training, going on to elementary flying training and so on, and we must have these machines at the starting point in order that the scheme can work smoothly and well. If the supply of aircraft is made available, that will be of the greatest value to the Service, which would have this reserve of trained pilots. When these pilots have completed their elementary training they go on to the Volunteer Reserve, and after, or even before, their compulsory training will provide some solid service to their country.
There is no source of supply available to the flying clubs than the one I have mentioned, namely, from the Reserve flying schools, and I ask that consideration be given to this matter. I notice that in a speech which he made at Glasgow the Under-Secretary said:Anyone who has a stake of any kind in the future of this country must want the best of our young men to take to the air and must do all he can to encourage them.He went on to say:The Government is doing its best through A.T.C. scholarships and in the help that it gives to flying clubs and gliding clubs to reduce the expense and make things easier. But the Government will be able to do much more if pressure is put upon it from every quarter.I could not have said that better myself. I think that pressure should be put on the Government to provide increased training facilities, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will make these Tiger Moths available to the A.T.C. for this purpose.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Bullus (Wembley, North)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor), because we know the work that he has done and is doing on behalf of the Air Cadets. I hope in a few remarks to support him in asking for aircraft for training purposes.
It is just a year ago that I referred in the other Chamber, which was then our quarters, to the deplorable state of our air defences. That brought a mild rebuke from the Secretary of State for Air. I confess that it was a mild one, because I can never see the right hon. and learned 1499 Gentleman giving more than a mild rebuke. We all respect him, and our attacks today are not necessarily directed at him. He was not at that time prepared to describe the state of our air defences.
In retrospect, I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that I was not very far from the mark at that time. I would, therefore, ask him a pertinent question today. Is he now able to describe our air defences as entirely satisfactory? A year ago, the Minister definitely stated that he was not satisfied with the number and calibre of aircrew entrants. Is he satisfied today with the intake? No advance training aircraft was provided for the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve at that time. Does the Minister consider the position any more satisfactory today? He said 12 months ago:I agree that as soon as circumstances permit we ought to introduce more modern types."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2232.]He indicated at that time that the latest type of training aircraft were coming off the production lines "in a trickle." Since that 12 months'-old statement, the Minister of Defence has expressed the view that air strength has first priority in our defence system, and that it would be developed with all possible speed. I think that it is a very pertinent question to ask: Is the Air Force getting that priority over the other Services? There are many hon. and gallant Gentlemen on this side of the House who doubt whether the Air Force is getting that priority which was promised by the Minister of Defence.
What, then, is the position in regard to training aircraft? Harvards which were in use in 1939 are still in use and no single Balliol has yet been in service in our training schools. I am aware that a small number are in use in Fighter Command for air-firing training. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the air training schools will have Balliols this year? And in what numbers shall we receive them? Will it be a trickle? It has taken the Minister's Department some time to recognise that the step from the less-than-200 miles per hour Harvards to the near-600 miles per hour Meteors is far too steep. He has indicated today that there is some division of opinion among experts and 1500 suggested that the jets might be flown at a lesser speed. But is this to be recommended? The enterprise of the De Havilland Aircraft Company in developing the side-by-side seating dual Vampire should be acknowledged by the Minister. If these were brought into general use, it would mean economy of effort in the Royal Air Force and also economy of production in industry.
In regard to the Reserve Command, the Government have been constantly pressed for the past three years to provide an advanced trainer. When will these reserve schools have adequate aircraft? I think that the Minister ought to tell us that. If more Vampires could be provided for advanced regular training, then Balliols could be made available for the Reserve schools. This would mean that we should get more ex-war service pilots to join the Volunteer Reserve because flying practice would then be well worth while, and we could form from them, I hope, a pool of instructors for use in time of need. The work of the reserve schools would also become very much more interesting. Why has this most important question of equipment for the Reserve Command been so consistently shelved by the Minister?
Because of this lack of foresight, it is not possible at the present time to give adequate training to the R.A.F. Reserve. I think that the Minister must admit that because of the shortage of equipment it is not possible to give adequate training for the Reserve. I think that he must also admit that the position is far from satisfactory. The same dilatoriness on the part of his Department has been shown towards Transport Command, which has been allowed to run down to an uncomfortable—nay, an almost dangerously low-level. Why have we not ordered British tactical transport, and why, when contemplating such purchases, do we appear always to give the Americans the preference?
I agree with the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo) when he says, do not let us become too dependent upon our American friends. Our own construction companies must be encouraged, for when peace is assured we shall require the export values of British transport aircraft. I was one of those delighted and privileged to go to the 1501 "Daily Express" flying display, and I also attended the display at Farnborough last year. I was confirmed in my own mind that our constructors and designers were the finest in the world. Why not give them every encouragement? Why have always this apparent preference for American aircraft?
§ Mr. A. Hendersonindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Henderson
I said in my remarks that we have already given orders for hundreds of millions of pounds to aircraft manufacturers.
§ Wing Commander Bullus
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that in recent years British manufacturers have been discouraged. They are probably getting a little more encouragement now, but we still appear to show a preference for ordering American aircraft.
At this point, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what is to become of the Bristol-Brabazon I? Is it likely that this aircraft and the Brabazon II will be taken over for trooping? We could have well done with such aircraft when our paratroopers were moved to Cyprus. In spite of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about their being sufficient aircraft available at that time, we could have well done with these two large aircraft for trooping. If such aircraft is used, then the question of availability of airfields and landing grounds arises.