HC Deb 01 August 1951 vol 491 cc1503-26

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

5.55 p.m.

Wing Commander Bullus

I was inquiring as to the future of Brabazon aircraft and whether they were to be taken over by the R.A.F. That led me to pertinent questions as to the condition of some of our airfields in all parts of the world. I confess that I have been balloting unsuccessfully during recent weeks to try to get an Adjournment debate to call attention to the state of our airfields in all parts of the world, particularly in the Far East.

At the end of the war we had many excellent airfields. What is the position today? In the unhappy event of war in the Far East, how many airfields could we count upon? I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will have something to say on that point when he replies to the debate. I hope he will tell us their state of repair. Have we learned anything from the trouble at Changi, in connection with which nearly £500,000 was lost. What have we learned from the investigations which have taken place into the matter?

That leads me finally to a point in connection with intelligence and research. Would the Minister tell us whether we have a British intelligence unit in Korea or whether we have to depend, as we do for so much, upon American information? If there is such a unit in Korea, has it been given full authority to carry out an independent examination of all captured enemy aircraft, for information which would be of real value to us? In connection with photographic intelligence are the squadrons now equipped with aircraft capable of penetrating deeply into enemy territory? Have they the necessary long range, and are they equipped with cameras capable of registering the necessary detail at great height?

On all these points we desire to know more. Hon. and gallant Members on this side of the House have asked a series of pertinent questions. It depends upon the result of the answers that we get to them whether we can decide that the Royal Air Force today is even adequate.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)

I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) will be disappointed if I do not take part in this debate. On the last occasion that be spoke I ventured to interrupt, and he retorted: the voice of Moscow."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd July, 1951; Vol. 490, c. 1772.] I felt complimented at the thought that I occupied such an important position in the universe, but I can imagine no greater embarrassment being caused in Moscow than if they thought that I was putting the Moscow point of view. So far from putting the Moscow point of view am I, that I cannot even get a visa to go to Moscow, and I hardly think my chances are improved as I go along.

I understand that this debate so far has mostly been an argument among very experienced hon. and gallant Gentlemen who have had enormous experience in the Air Force and who are all advocating different kinds of aircraft. It has been a technicians' debate, a specialists' debate. They are all advocating their different types of aircraft and, like the cobbler, they all think that there is nothing like leather.

I understand from the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield that there is a possibility of so much trouble in the world that we are required to have an increase in the number of transport aircraft, which are at present insufficient, and that the Government should build more transport aircraft in order to convey troops to all parts of the world. I hope that I have not misunderstood the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. If not, I can understand how it arises. If action is taken in the different parts of the world in which action has been demanded by the Opposition, we certainly will need a very large number of transport aircraft.

Air Commodore Harvey

I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent what I said. What I said was that even the recent operation of moving troops to Cyprus ought to have been carried out by air instead of the time of our men being wasted by sitting in aircraft carriers and steamers for weeks on end.

Mr. Hughes

That puts the argument more concisely. I do not want to go into what we are doing in Cyprus, except to say that I understand that Cyprus is to be one of the bombing bases for the defensive action against the U.S.S.R. Cyprus is another instance. I have a list of places in regard to which the Opposition has demanded military action in recent months. In addition to sending transport aircraft to Cyprus, we have presumably to have sufficient to enable us to send them to Persia, Malaya, Hong Kong, Korea, Egypt and also the Antarctic.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

Surely the hon. Member is not suggesting that the suggestion to send aircraft to Malaya and Korea is exclusive to the Opposition. No doubt he has noticed that his own Government are fighting a war in Korea.

Mr. Hughes

I am indebted to the noble Lord for the assistance which he always renders in these debates. I must correct him and say that it is the United Nations and not our Government which is supposed to be fighting in Korea.

I have mentioned six theatres of war to which we are called upon to send our troops in transport aircraft. If we are to be urged to have in readiness sufficient transport aircraft for all the military expeditions which are being advocated by the Opposition, we shall need a very large number, and we are entitled to know how the Opposition can justify their demand for expenditure upon aircraft which are getting more and more expensive, in view of the fact that during the last three months the Opposition's argument in debate has invariably been that the Government should decrease their expenditure. If all the demands for aircraft were accepted, we should have an astronomical increase in the expenditure upon the Royal Air Force.

Air Commodore Harvey

Surely the hon. Member does not wish to misrepre sent the point of view of the Opposition. We have made no case at all for wars in these different places. Two of these places, Hong Kong and Malaya, happen to be British Colonies. Surely it is out of order to represent that the Opposition are demanding that troops should be sent to six different places to fight wars. All we are suggesting is that aircraft be used for ambulance work and other things in order to save the time of our troops, who would otherwise have to travel by steamer, and thus get them home as quickly as possible.

Mr. Hughes

I did not misrepresent the hon. and gallant Gentleman. There are at least six places where the Opposition are in favour of military operations. They are places to which troops have to be moved, and presumably the demand will be that they shall be moved by transport aircraft. I do not know how many transport aircraft the hon. and gallant Gentleman considers necessary, but if we are to have enough to cover these enormous geographical areas we shall need 100 or even 1,000, which will involve a very large sum. I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we were recently discussing the Report of the Select Committee on Expenditure in which we were told about the very large increase in the cost of military aircraft.

Sir Arthur Salter (Ormskirk)

Does the hon. Gentleman really mean that because, when considering our air preparations, we assume that there must be British soldiers in a Colony like Hong Kong, we are therefore advocating military operations in Hong Kong?

Mr. Hughes

I will put it this way. En Hong Kong there are British troops—

Earl Wintertonrose

Mr. Hughes

I cannot answer two points at once. I shall be very glad to answer all the questions put to me and I will give way in turn to every hon. Member opposite who wishes to ask a question. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Sir A. Salter), the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is that transport planes are needed to convey troops in a more economical way to places where we have military forces. I want to look at the cost of this. I am not sure that here I shall not have some support from the right hon. Member for Ormskirk, who has delivered so many statements about public economy during the last few months. The cost of one of these transport aircraft in 1945 was £45,250 and the Select Committee recently reported that the price has now risen to £91,000.

Air Commodore Harvey

Which one?

Mr. Hughes

It was a transport aircraft as stated in the Report of the Select Committee. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to drag me into technicalities, the debate will be lengthened. I will not be diverted from my argument. We must face the fact that hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite are advocating at least 100 or even 1,000 transport aircraft at an approximate cost of £100,000 each. The argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is that in one short debate about £10 million shall be added to the national expenditure. That is enough to set the right hon. Member for Ormskirk going about the terrible nightmare of inflation.

Earl Winterton

Perhaps the hon. Member will now give way. He said that he would welcome a question. I wish to put to him a question which he will perhaps regard as a serious one. He is a pacifist. He is entitled to his views. He attacks his own Government. When any hon. Member on this side of the House states that it would be better for the troops, including wounded men from Malaya and Korea and others who have been kept in camps in great discomfort. to be flown to a place where there are already troops, he is not entitled to treat that as a laughing matter. It is an humanitarian matter. It is a matter of caring for the welfare of the troops. His own side, to do them justice, and the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the debate, are as keen on this matter as any of us are. The hon. Member stands alone in treating the matter as one for laughter and derision.

Mr. Hughes

I started arguing seriously but I was subjected to persistent interruption from the Opposition and I reply in my own way. I deny the right of the noble Lord to say that I am not interested in humanitarian matters. There would not have been troops in Korea if I had had my way and so we should not have needed to send ambulances to bring them home. That applies to all these various theatres of operations. The noble Lord calls me a pacifist. Of course I am a pacifist. Pacifists do not believe in war at all, and if there were no wars at all we should not have these extensive military operations in all parts of the world.

However, the Opposition must face up to the economic and financial consequences of their demand. From that point of view, we are asked to spend another £10 million on one item alone. We are entitled to demand that we should not assent to this as easily as apparently does the noble Lord, who drifts in here casually—

Earl Winterton

I care for the troops, which is more than the hon. Member does.

Mr. Hughes

The noble Lord can put himself on that high pinnacle if he likes. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that there will be a persistent attempt to barrack me, but it will not work. A pacifist may be a peaceful individual in international affairs but, when it comes to a debate in this House, then I shall hold my own. if the noble Lord does not like it, he can go out and amuse himself elsewhere. He is taking up the time of other hon. Members. I shall conclude my argument. I do not care whether the noble Lord behaves as a juvenile delinquent or not. I have only just begun.

Now let me come to the argument used in this debate, that the more we spend on the Air Force, the greater the security of this country. I challenge that view, whether it is put from Macclesfield or Moscow or anywhere else. I challenge the idea that the more money spent on aircraft, the greater the security of any country. Recently we have had figures from both sides of the House.

One argument used for the expenditure of public money on the Air Force is tint Moscow has so many modern planes that we have to build up our Air Force to meet that. It has been said over and over again in this House that Russia has 19,000 modern planes. If that is so, it means that under Communism they have managed to build up an enormous aircraft industry because there must be an immense technical organisation behind that number of planes. I am alarmed at the way these figures are growing. We have been given a figure of 19,000—

Air Commodore Harvey

By whom?

Mr. Hughes

By the Minister of Defence. Mr. Acheson has estimated 20,000 and if these aircraft figures increase in the same way as the number of divisions has multiplied during the last month, what will they be? Is Russia any safer because she has 19,000 aircraft? I deny it. Moscow has argued that there must be strength to meet strength, and that the only way to protect Russia is to have all these planes. That is the identical argument used here. If Moscow has 20,000 modern planes—jet fighters and bombers —presumably we have to build up a great force in order to destroy their bases.

Now let us come to the argument advanced by the Leader of the Opposition. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke in the defence debate, he pointed out that far from this country having any greater safety than it had 10 or 20 years ago, we are now in a state of great peril because of the American bombing base in East Anglia. In many respects in this controversy the Leader of the Opposition is a realist, not a mediaeval illusionist like the noble Lord. In the defence debate the right hon. Gentleman said that we are in a position of immense danger as a result of having those bombing bases in this country. He has repeated that three times, and in his last speech he talked about dispersing our strength to bases in the Mediterranean.

Supposing Russia has 19,000 or 20,000 planes, the Leader of the Opposition argued that if the Russians had 50 atom bombs and dropped them here, the position would be very serious for this country.

Air Commodore Harvey

And for the hon. Gentleman too.

Mr. Hughes

Even if Russia had only a small number of atom bombs and 20,000 aeroplanes, there would be a serious possibility that a dozen or so of those planes would come through. If so, what is the purpose of gigantic expenditure on aircraft which cannot possibly keep out the rocket or the atom bomb? My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), discarded the theory that fighters and aircraft were really defensive. His argument was that we would have to take the offensive. That is precisely the Moscow argument. So, as a result of this theory, we have the world divided into two great camps, each of which has enormous destructive power and against which the defensive is very weak.

So I challenge the idea that by spending huge sums in this way we are increasing the safety of the people. I believe, with the Leader of the Opposition, that we are in a state of great danger as a result of these enormous military preparations. If Russia has increased her military and aircraft and defensive-offensive potential so much during the last five years, is she not likely to increase it during the next five years? And if we are fortunate enough to escape war for another five years, as a result of both hemispheres having built up enormous destructive power which can destroy the civilisation of either East or West, in five years' time we shall be faced with the fact that we have this enormous potentially destructive power in the world.

So I challenge the idea that by piling up these armaments we are getting this nation into a state of security. We may make America more secure, but we shall not make this country more secure with its closely congested industrial population. When I give these warnings periodically, although I meet with criticism and opposition from that side of the House whenever I rise, yet I am taking the realistic view. And if the people of this country knew what they were doing, they would bring their enormous public opinion to bear, not upon increasing armaments but upon facing the cold fact that this country has nothing to gain by proceeding with the armament race; that our security depends upon negotiation and upon a diplomatic initiative which will face the fact of the modern world that, in the atom age, war has become an anachronism and does not bring security or safety to anybody.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman in the course of his remarks referred to the question of an intermediate jet trainer. In the short time I shall detain the House, I shall endeavour to expand some of the more serious and important arguments which exist for the introduction of this most necessary item of equipment. In spite of the strictures of the Secretary of State upon this subject, I honestly think that some of the accidents now occurring among jet pilots in Fighter Command and Training Command are the result of pilots having unsuitable aircraft on which to learn to fly.

What is the case for an intermediate jet trainer? For the few months immediately following the war, I was privileged to command a station in Fighter Command on which were based three of the first jet squadrons in the Royal Air Force. Thus I was able to obtain in a small and humble way some first-hand experience, not only of the flying characteristics of these aircraft, but also of the difficulties which are presented in converting pilots from the conventional piston engine to this later, more simple, and more ingenious method of jet propulsion.

I do not hesitate to say that for an experienced pilot, with a high total of flying hours, it is an easy matter to convert him from piston-engined to jetengined aircraft, for in many ways these aircraft are much simpler to fly. But with the inexperienced pilot this is quite another matter, for in his vulnerable and uninitiated state he is required to contend with three prime factors.

First, he is faced with speeds of 400 and 500 miles an hour and more. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that a pilot can fly a Vampire or a Meteor at half speed. He can, but that is not my experience of Pilot Officer Prune. At these speeds, all sorts of navigational difficulties are presented, particularly in bad weather. In the second place, the pilot finds himself flying an aircraft which at low altitudes may run out of fuel in, perhaps, 50 minutes, whereas he may have been accustomed to flying an aeroplane with an endurance of one and a half or two hours. Third, and most disconcerting of all, he is conscious of controlling an aircraft which, on account of its high wing-loading—and this is the important factor—allows him little latitude for handling errors which are expected at that stage of a pilot's training.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has indicated that the Vampire is to be modified to take side-by-side dual control and will be introduced into the Service as a trainer. I am very glad to hear that. It is a step in the right direction, and is a further tribute to the genius, initiative and enterprise of the great British De Havilland Aircraft Company.

But I do not think that merely by taking out of the squadrons front-line aircraft such as the Vampire or the Meteor —aircraft which, although inferior in performance to their Russian counterparts, are still our first line of defence in a supreme emergency—and fitting them with two seats instead of one, we shall get an intermediate jet trainer, of an adequate type.

In the course of the next few years, we shall witness the advent of faster, higher-powered and more complicated aircraft into the Royal Air Force squadrons. The F.3, the F.4 and B.9 will far surpass in performance—and, incidentally, in expense—any comparable aircraft with which the squadrons are now equipped. I do not believe that we shall be able to afford, either in terms of money or in man-hours in the aircraft industry, avoidable accidents to such valuable equipment, particularly from pilot errors which in themselves may be the result of inadequate experience upon a suitable type of intermediate jet trainer.

As I see it, we are now preparing to equip the Royal Air Force squadrons with these exceptional aeroplanes without first providing adequate training aircraft on which pilots may gain knowledge, proficiency and confidence. This is a very curious way of setting about it. The Dutch, on the other hand, seem to me to be acting wisely and with foresight, for in the production of their advanced trainer—the Fokker S.14—with its lower wing-loading and longer endurance, they are showing an imaginative trend. It is not, in my belief, the complete answer, but it goes some of the distance.

I am thinking tonight in terms of an easy intermediate trainer, of lower wing-loading and of longer endurance, to which a pilot might be converted after only 20 or 30 hours of basic training on a light aeroplane. After 180 or 200 hours or so on such an aircraft, a pilot would be better equipped to tackle the more difficult and more powerful Vampires and Meteors, with all their many perplexities.

In these days, when military aircraft approach and pass the speed of sound, the method by which a pilot may be ejected from his aircraft in emergency, assumes an importance without previous parallel. As a result of the courageous planning and pioneering in this field, the ejection seat manufactured by the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, which, so far as I am aware, is the only make to be supplied to the Royal Air Force, affords a very much wider measure of safety to the pilot.

But the recent tragic and irreparable loss of Squadron Leader Wade in the Hawker P.1081 experimental aircraft, which, I am sure, hon. Members on both sides will regret, has again riveted our attention on this type of equipment. The evidence would seem to suggest—I put it no higher than that—that when the emergency arose before his crash, Squadron Leader Wade operated his ejection seat in a final attempt to save his life. What was not made public at the time was that the seat employed in this experimental aircraft, which, naturally, had been undergoing experimental tests of a most hazardous character, was not of Martin-Baker manufacture but of a type never before subjected to live testing.

The 30 or more live-test ejections which have been undertaken by the Martin-Baker Company have directly resulted in the incorporation into this seat of two essential modifications which are now considered imperative for a pilot's safety. My information is that these vital modifications were not, and are not, embodied in the type of seat which was fitted to Squadron Leader Wade's aircraft.

When, on 30th April, my hon. Friends and I questioned the Minister of Supply upon this matter, he replied that live testing of ejection seats was not a requirement of his Department. The fact that six days after raising this matter in the House—namely, on 6th May—a seat similar to that used by Squadron Leader Wade was removed from an experimental Westland Wyvern aircraft at Farnborough and a Martin-Baker seat substituted in its place, is to my way of thinking a sufficient testimony to the value attributed in certain quarters to live testing.

I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Under-Secretary, in the interests of pilots' lives and safety, to impress upon the Minister of Supply that live testing of ejection seats is a definite Service requirement. Further, I ask the Minister to give tonight an undertaking that no ejection seat will ever be accepted by the Royal Air Force which has not first been subjected to a series of prolonged and searching tests such as those which have been undertaken with such infinite resolution by Mr. Lynch, the parachutist of the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. George Ward (Worcester)

One of the main objects of a winding up speech is to provide an opportunity to reply to some of the arguments which have been put forward during the debate by hon. Members on the other side of the House, but that task is made somewhat difficult for me this evening because, apart from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we have had only two back bench speeches from hon. Members opposite. One of the speeches we have heard so often before that it has been replied to, to my certain knowledge, after every Service and defence debate since I have been in the House of Commons.

There is one point about the speech of the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), which I think I must make quite clear. When we on the Opposition side of the House talk about offensive aircraft, we do not mean aircraft with which we are going to take the first, initial offensive. That is an idea the hon. Member seems to have got into his head. The word "offensive" is almost synonomous with defence because, with speeds as high as they are, the interception of enemy aircraft is becoming so difficult that the best way to stop them coming is to go and bomb them before they ever get off the ground. That is what we mean by offence; it is purely a defensive measure.

The speech of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) was very much on the same point, but he was emphasising the importance of having a strong striking force and the importance of offence for defence. His point was that it was important that we should concentrate on that and not disperse our efforts by building too many types of aircraft. There is quite a lot in that, but the difficulty is that if we believe we ought to have a balanced force of our own—I firmly believe we should—we cannot rely on any foreign power, however friendly, to provide us exclusively with any one type of aircraft.

I believe that we should have our own British made, balanced Air Force, with British aircraft performing every duty in it, whether it is a large or a small force —whatever the shape of it may be. Whether the offensive side of it is bigger than the defensive side or the transport side is a matter for the air staff but I do not think that we should hand over any single command to the Americans, or anyone else. This policy is very much that of the Secretary of State for Air, because in March, 1950, he said: I am clear that it must be our aim to build up a compact, balanced and mobile force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1769.] I am sure we all agree about that. What we are arguing about today is not his policy to build up a compact, mobile and balanced force; we are arguing that he is not doing enough about it, and that he has been putting it off much too long, long before he made that statement.

We have now got into a position where we have to call on the Americans to help us out—I agree temporarily. We are in the position where the Americans have to help us out in almost every branch of the Royal Air Force. We do not think that is at all healthy or desirable. There seems to be no sense of urgency about getting on with this plan of building up a balanced force. If there were a sense of urgency about it, I feel quite sure that we should not only be seeing more aicraft coming out of the factories, but we should be hearing that orders had been placed, in which case I think that the benches on both sides of the House—particularly the benches opposite—would have been very much fuller than they have been all the afternoon.

Let us look at one or two of the points which have been mentioned. Take Fighter Command first. It was our proud boast not so very long ago that we have the best fighters in the world. It was certainly our proud boast that we were furthest ahead of any nation with the development of jet engines. But only today the Secretary of State for Air has said at the Despatch Box that the fastest jet fighter in the world today is the American Sabre and the second fastest the MIG.15. He has admitted that. Incidentally, it was strange to hear him say that so soon after the Air Estimates debate of March this year, when the Under-Secretary of State for Air said this: Regarding the MIG.15, I have no doubt whatever that our fighters—the type we are now using—will give a very adequate account of themselves against the MIG.15 or any other aircraft. I am not going to indulge in a lot of speculation about the performance of the MIG.15. Some of the very interesting figures given by the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and by others cannot be described as anything more than an estimate and a speculation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 379.] But it is the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick who has been proved to be right—it has not been a speculation at all. It is very worrying when back bench Members of the Opposition have to tell the Under-Secretary things he ought to know and the Secretary of State for Air admits them at the Despatch Box so soon afterwards.

Mr. A. Henderson

May I correct that statement? I admitted it about three hours before the statement to which the hon. Member is referring, in reply to the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden).

Mr. Ward

I am afraid that is something I shall have to leave the right hon. and learned Gentleman to sort out with his Under-Secretary, but there seems to have been a complete contradiction between the two.

Mr. Henderson

There is no contradiction.

Mr. Ward

The fact remains that we have now taken at least third place; but, for all we know, the Americans may have the third place and the Russians may have the fourth. That is very bad considering the start we had, and I blame His Majesty's Government very largely for this. Not only have they delayed giving orders to the British aircraft industry so that they can get on with development of these new prototypes, but they have handed to the Russians on a silver platter much of the know-how which we developed through years of extremely hard work by selling them these Rolls-Royce Nene engines.

What is the position today? The position is that while we have no suitable fighters—by that I mean no very fast modern fighters—in our squadrons, we are begging the United States to come to our help with some Sabres, and nothing seems to be happening. What does the Secretary of State do? He throws up his hands in despair and says, "We do not control the United States Government. We can only wait until we can get agreement on it." But if these fighters had been ordered in plenty of time and were coming out—the Swifts and Deltas mentioned this afternoon—it would be quite unnecessary for us to be begging the United States to help us out.

In Bomber Command once again we find ourselves relying on the Americans for Washingtons. I am not saying that the policy of the Government not to build more piston-engined bombers is necessarily wrong. Indeed, I believe that the policy of trying to produce a new jet bomber instead of a new stop-gap pistonengined bomber is right. But if we accept that policy—as we do—surely the next step to take is to say, "These things cannot be built overnight; therefore, we must apply a sense of urgency to them as we have never applied a sense of urgency before."

We have to get a move on quickly, because there is bound to be a gap. But we have not applied urgency or, if we have, how is it that we have ordered only 20 or so of the new Vickers 660? The Handley Page has not yet flown, and neither has the Avro. Why are we so far behind the Russians in this matter? Once again we have had to fill the gap by begging the Americans to help us out with Washingtons, which are not very satisfactory, because many of them are often kept on the ground through want of spares.

I cannot emphasise too much the importance of the striking force. As I have already said, our best form of defence is to strike at the enemy's strength. I hope that the Government are really treating this question of Bomber Command with the urgency that it deserves. We really must build up a bomber striking force.

I turn to Coastal Command, on which we rely very largely to keep our vital sea routes open in war. We have heard of these 300 fast modern submarines possessed by the Russians. What are we doing about that? We are waiting hopefully for the United States to give us Neptunes. That is the third Command of the Air Force which is now relying, it may be only temporarily, on the United States.

I am not quite sure of the position of the Shackleton, but so far as I know there there are not any in Coastal Command.

Mr. A. Henderson

Oh, yes.

Mr. Ward

Not very many. To rely on the United States for Neptunes cannot possibly be the right policy. We should have our own aircraft.

We have had an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick about Training Command. Let us not forget that Reserve training schools are today still using an aircraft which was designed over a quarter of a century ago. If we are really serious about this matter, if we really mean that we want to maintain peace through strength, how on earth are we to do it if we expect our pilots to train themselves on aircraft that are 25 years old?

Is this force which I have rapidly outlined really a compact, balanced and mobile force? That is very difficult to believe. What does the Secretary of State say when we complain about Transport Command, when we complain that no transports have been ordered, that we are short of transports to carry the Army to the Middle East? He says, "I cannot just wave a wand and do something about it." He says, "We are in touch with the Ministry of Supply. The matter is under active consideration," and that sort of thing. Once more the answer is that he is hoping that the United States will come forward and give us some Packets. If that is not true, I shall be very glad to hear what else we are doing about it.

He himself admitted that we have not ordered any new transports. I do not want to be unfair, but the fact is that I have before me the answer in HANSARD that we have not ordered any transports of our own. If we are to have any transports we must be relying on the Americans to give us Packets. The Secretary of State said that our civilian types of aircraft would be suitable for certain types of transport operations in war provided that they were, I think he said, modified with certain types of double doors etc.

If that is what we are very largely relying upon, I hope we shall be told what steps have been taken to get these modifications ready. These big aeroplanes cannot be modified overnight with new equipment, the doors altered and that sort of thing. Is any preparation being made about that if that is what we are hoping for to help us out?

I hope that we shall be told a great deal about the Blackburn Universal Freighter. The Secretary of State in an intervention, in reply to a question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) said that the Blackburn Freighter was still doing trials and that they were not yet prepared to order any of them. But that is very weak indeed. The first prototype of the Blackburn Freighter has been flying for over a year; they must know something about it by now.

The second prototype has been cancelled altogether. Why is that? Why was it cancelled? I hope that we shall hear about that. It is a much better aeroplane than the Packet, and it suits Army requirements much better. Even the United States think it is a good aeroplane, because they have been making inquiries about it and are obviously interested in it. I should have thought that there was an ideal opportunity to let the Americans build some of them under licence, if they wished to do so, as in the case of the Canberra. If, as we hope and pray, we do not have to use these machines in a warlike way, we shall have an ideal potential export for peacetime use.

The Secretary of State said that we did not need "a vast armada of transport aircraft." Nobody on this side of the House suggested that we should have a vast armada. He went on to say that the ambulance service in Korea had been taken off for some reason or another, and he thought it was a great pity. But he is the Secretary of State for Air. Does he not know why it was taken off? What does "some reason or another" mean.

Mr. A. Henderson

It was because we were concentrating all the four-engined long-range transports for purposes connected with the situation in the Middle East. There was one four-engined transport in use each week which was taken off that particular service. I say again that I regret that it was, but I accept responsibility for it having been taken off.

Mr. Ward

I beg the pardon of the right hon. and learned Gentleman if I misunderstood him. I thought he said, "for some reason or another." I accept what he says, but it merely strengthens my argument that we have not got enough transport aircraft and that the sooner we get more the better it will be for everybody.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield mentioned the radar chain on the East Coast. That is obviously part of our air equipment, and a very important part indeed. My hon. and gallant Friend was anxious about it, as we all are. I should like the Under-Secretary of State, when referring to this subject, to go a step further and tell us a little more about the warning system on the Continent of Europe.

I was one of the fortunate ones who recently had an opportunity to go and observe the exercise "Ombrelle." I think that all of us who saw it agreed that the warning system was by no means perfect, that there was a great deal still to be done, particularly in the interception of low-flying aircraft.

The other thing we noticed was that there were no G.C.A. facilities whatever to get pilots down in thick weather. We had to orbit in a York over Holland for well over an hour because there was not a single aerodrome in that part of Europe where we could get down by G.C.A. If there are no such facilities, it means that our fighter defences in North Europe are absolutely useless in any sort of thick weather.

I am very glad indeed that we are able to part before the Recess on the note that we have given almost our last thoughts to the defence of this country in an emergency should it occur. I wish that there had been more hon. Members here to leave the impression with the public that we go away for our holidays, the last thought in our mind being the defence of the country. If this debate has achieved that, and if the public have been made conscious that a few of us, at any rate, have been trying to get up to date with what is going on in air defence before we go for our holidays, I think that it will have been worth while.

6.50 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Crawley)

I should like to begin by agreeing entirely with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) at the end of his speech. The air defence of this country is the most vital factor in our defence. It is admirable not only that we should have had this debate just before the Recess, but that we should, much more regularly than is possible merely on Estimates debates, inquire into the state of our defences. We certainly welcome the whole debate.

There have been some most objective speeches in which I think there have been two main themes. The first has been the tendency, which has run through most of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, to criticise the fact of American assistance—the fact that we need it and that we have it. The second, and I think the most general, theme has been a tendency to deplore that we have not got a larger Transport Command.

Before going into detailed points, I should like to say something about these two themes. First, on the question of American help, I should like to put this matter in its present background. The air threat to this country is very severe. There was a speech in this House recently by an hon. Member who questioned whether we were not exaggerating all our ideas of the threat which exists. I would only say that, having read his speech and taking all his figures of Russian production and so on, I think that everything he said still justifies all that I and others have said on this question. On all his figures, the estimates we give of the threat to this country are very possible.

I have said elsewhere that the present Russian air force would be capable, from its present bases, of delivering an attack on this country which would be heavier than the Germans were able to deliver at their peak. Of course, if those bases were moved nearer to this country, that threat would be heavier still.

One other factor which everybody thinking about air defence ought to bear in mind is that, when one is trying to plan an air defence, the first information which one wants is what the threat of the enemy is. Then one has to try to make an estimate of what sort of casualty rates can be inflicted on the enemy to prevent him from maintaining a sustained attack. Certain casualty rates seemed to achieve that object in the last war on both sides. If casualties above a certain level were reached, it became impossible for either side to maintain an attack for very long.

Of course, air defence today is based in many ways on the same principle. But there has been one significant change, and that is in the emergence of the atom bomb. Whereas when aircraft might be supposed only to be carrying orthodox bombs a certain casualty rate might give adequate defence, it is plain to anybody who thinks about the matter that, if aircraft may be carrying atomic bombs, it is necessary to have a much higher casualty rate before one can feel in any way secure.

One has to take the air threat which exists to this country as something which is most severe. I do not say that it would be impossible to meet that threat alone. I do not say that it would be impossible for this country to meet it without any help from the Americans; but I do say that it would be impossible to do that unless we went on to a full war footing and remained on that basis. The sooner the people of this country, and hon. Gentlemen opposite, recognise that, the better. Not only would it mean doing that but, by doing that—by putting the country on a full war footing and keeping it there—we should be throwing away all the advantages of collective security and all the advantages of alliances. It would give the people a standard of living which might prove intolerable and which might undermine all that we are trying to do.

On this question of American help, hon. Members opposite are suffering from a form of schizophrenia which, in some ways, calls to mind that of the bad baron in "Ruddigore." Their intelligence forces them to admit that they need American help but every time they admit it, some ghost gets down from one of their ancestor's photographs and says, "In our day Britain had most of the best of everything, and it is a surprising thing that Britain cannot have most of the best of everything now." It is time they realised that the world has moved on a little, and that they really cannot face any of these problems without realising that this must be a joint undertaking.

Air Commodore Harvey

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is clear about what we have been trying to put over this afternoon. Our main criticism has been that we are accepting assistance —I say that we should accept that assistance—in penny packets. We are taking various types of aircraft and engines instead of planning ahead and marking out where real assistance will be required in one sphere, rather than spreading it over the whole.

Mr. Crawley

I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can even sustain that criticism. The fact is that in one very large sphere—that of strategic bombing—we have planned that, for the present, the Americans should undertake almost the whole of it.

For the rest, obviously there are two requirements—intelligent co-operation and two-way co-operation. I should like to point out that at present we have both ways of co-operation with the Americans. I think our co-operation is intelligent, because it is sufficiently flexible to enable us to fill in each others' gaps wherever they occur, and it is two-way, and I doubt if the balance is so wholly one-sided as some people seem to think. The fact that the Americans have accepted and adopted the Canberra and are going to produce very large numbers of them, and that they have adopted and are producing a very large number of Saphire engines and are trying various other types of equipment, engines and aircraft, shows that they are prepared to fill in gaps to a very large extent with anything we can produce. That shows that this is a thoroughly two-way and reciprocal proceeding.

Surely, what we want is not less but more of that. We want to pool both planning and productive resources and to get the best out of both. I wish, therefore, that when hon. Members opposite talk about this question, they would leave aside the general attitude of criticism of the mere fact that we welcome, at this or that time, the addition of some American aircraft to our Air Force, just in the same way as they welcome our aircraft. I hope that in the future they will see that that is the right sort of co-operation. I hope that they will appreciate that in any air force there will always be gaps of some kind which, if one is lucky, one may find that one's friends may be able to fill. Let us be only too thankful if they can.

Mr. C. I. On-Ewing

A second point made from these benches was that on Government policy, with which we agree, it is most important to pay great attention to exports. We said that transport aircraft should make a real contribution to our export trade immediately and in the future. Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that point?

Mr. Crawley

I am just about to deal with that. I said that the second theme was Transport Command. Again, I think that there is a measure of irresponsibility in the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is really no good pretending that we can have all the forms of aircraft in Transport Command, or in any other command, that we should like to have. Nor is it any good supposing that we can have the sort of expansion that we are now producing in the Royal Air Force, plus all the forms of transport aircraft that we should like to have, and still allow neither element to have any appreciable effect on our economy.

The fact is that there are limits within which we must operate, and we have to be very careful about our priorities. The thing that matters about Transport Command is to try to decide on the principles on which to plan. The most important consideration is not to have a Transport Command in which there are a lot of aircraft of different types which spend a lot of time on the ground doing nothing because they are only designed for special operations. There is no country in the world which can afford that type of Transport Command.

I think that the only principle on which we can plan Transport Command in peace-time is to see that we are meeting as many of the demands as we possibly can which allow us to have a command which can be kept busy, and that, above that, we have a reserve partly in civil aircraft. It would be quite beyond our scope to have any specially designed aircraft. Instead, we shall have as large a variety as possible for emergency jobs which would also be required for general purposes. We must recognise that fact.

I am not pretending that we have got everything we want now. The fact is that demands are going up, and we are, therefore, planning a larger Transport Command. We have not got all we want, but we feel that this is only a temporary phase, and we are planning and ordering larger and more various Transport Command aircraft for the future.

We have not yet, in fact, ordered the freighter because the tests are not com- plete, and I want to say one particular thing about this business of ordering aircraft off the drawing-board. Because it succeeds once or twice, and because we hope it will succeed once or twice more, it would he a very great mistake to think that ordering aircraft off the drawing-board is an economical proposition. It is not. It might very well result in delaying what we want to get much longer than if we had gone through full trials.

That is one of the reasons why, with an aircraft as important as the heavy freighter, which is a very vital part of the transport force, we do not want to order it off the drawing-board, especially as this aircraft has been flying for some time. We want it to complete its tests, so as to give a complete order and not to have a second series of tests and troubles. I cannot emphasise this point too much. By ordering off the drawing-board, we are apt to run into development difficulties at a later stage which might well delay production far longer than would otherwise have been the case.

I should like to deal with a number of points which have been mentioned in the debate. First of all, there is the accusation of one hon. Member about the MIG.15. I repeat what I have said and sustain it. I said that our aircraft would give a very good account of themselves if they met any other aircraft. All the evidence we have had—and it is American evidence—shows that that is likely to be perfectly true. I gave some figures in the House the other day, but I will not quote them as I have not got them with me, and I might be wrong.

Such experience as we have had in Korea has shown that fighter aircraft comparable with those of the Russians have acquitted themselves well against the MIG.15, and have shown themselves, in the hands of better trained pilots, to be superior to them. That is only a limited experience, and it would be wrong to deduce too much from it, but it justifies me in the contention that our aircraft and pilots are capable of giving a good account of themselves against any of these aircraft.

We are just on the point of writing to three more charter companies to ask them to form three more auxiliary squadrons, and that will bring the number of reserve transport squadrons—and this supplements what I was saying about Transport Command and the necessity for a ready reserve which could be kept busy in other ways on civil work—up to four reserve transport squadrons in the near future.

I was also asked about Moths for the A.T.C. At the moment we have a Service use for all the Moths we have, but, as the Chipmunks come into use, we may have some available and it will be possible for people to bid for them at reasonable prices. I was asked about the first photographic reconnaissance squadron to be equipped with modern aircraft, and I can say that I think it will be equipped by next spring with the Canberra, which we hope will be the ideal aircraft for the job, since it has a more than adequate range.

Finally, I want to deal with the question of the accident rate. It has been suggested in speeches by hon. Gentlemen opposite today that the rate of accidents in the Royal Air Force is increasing alarmingly. The facts are otherwise. With the amount of flying increasing enormously, the fact is that the accident rate per number of hours flown is staying almost exactly the same. In regard to jet aircraft, it is steadily going down. The number of accidents per hours flown on jet aircraft is not only going down, but is well below what it was with Spitfires. This is a most interesting fact, and has a bearing on what was said by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) in his very-informed speech about training.

I have no time to go into the question of what is the correct advanced training for jet flying, but I think the facts that I have given concerning the development side show that there is nothing very radically wrong with our present methods.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Could the hon. Gentleman perhaps tells us, since he has said that he is creating extra transport squadrons, whether he is making plans for the fitting of double doors and cargo floors, which is a point to which we referred concerning existing squadrons and commercial aircraft?

Mr. Crawley

There are complete plans modifying aircraft in an emergency, but how far it is possible to do that without interfering with their civil use before the emergency is another matter.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.—[Mr.Bowden.]