Motion made, and Question proposed:
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10 million, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1951, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Air Services for the year.
|—||Sums not exceeding|
|Supply Grants||Appropriations in Aid|
|1.||Pay, &c., of the Air Force||7,275,000||240,000|
|2.||Reserve and Auxiliary Services.||Cr.||250,000||—|
|4.||Civilians at Out-stations||520,000||10,000|
|7.||Aircraft and Stores||2,000,000||*-3,500,000|
|8.||Works and Lands||Cr.||1,200,000||*-800,000|
|9.||Miscellaneous Effective Services||150,000||*-310,000|
|11.||Additional Married Quarters||—||*-700,000|
|TOTAL, Air (Supplementary) 1950–51 £||10,000,000||*-5,000,000|
§ Mr. Crawley
I am sorry, Mr Mathers, if I was out of order in referring to these Estimates when you were putting the Question on Vote A. A large part of the increases in this £10 million is due to the increase of 28,000 men and women to which Vote A related. The major part of the rest of the increase is due to the increased pay and allowances about which the Committee already knows. The numbers are again reflected in Vote 6, in increased food and rations. I should like to refer to one point in Vote 6, namely that under the head of "Liquid fuel" we have laid in a good many extra stocks which account for an increase of £1 million.
The only other major reason for these increases is that we have received less from "Appropriations in aid" than we had expected, due mainly to the fact that we have curtailed sales of aircraft and spare parts abroad. Therefore, we now need a further sum to cover that deficiency. For those two reasons I ask the House to agree to the grant of this £10 million. I shall do my best to answer any questions.
§ Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The Under-Secretary of State for Air has beaten the Parliamentary Secretary to the 1675 Admiralty by only about 45 seconds in asking for his £10 million. He might have followed the example of the Under-Secretary of State for War in giving us a rather more detailed explanation than we have received. I do not wish to prejudice future debates or to get out of order, but when Ministers come here and ask for £10 million—this is the very round figure; when tendering in business one has to express the sum down to shillings and pence—there are one or two questions to which we should like answers.
The first one is on Vote 1, for pay. The Government are asking for an additional £7¼ million. At the risk of being taken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I will say, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) said, that had this money been spent three or four years ago, when the Opposition were pressing for it, there would have been more Regular personnel in the Air Force today.
However, it is Vote 2 with which I am really concerned. That Vote covers all the Reserves—the Royal Air Force Reserve, the Volunteer Reserve, Auxiliary Air Force, grants to the Territorial Associations, Air Training Corps, Combined Cadet Force and Royal Observer Corps. In not one case has the Minister asked for an additional Vote. It seems extraordinary that in 12 months there has been such neglect of Air Force. I cannot pursue that because I remember past occasions when I have been out of order when discussing similar matters.
On Vote 3 I believe I am in order in criticising the Air Ministry, which I may say I have done for many years past, both as a Regular officer and as a Member of Parliament. They are asking for another £65,000. It is extraordinary how the Air Ministry always get in first when extra money is required for personnel. I think we are entitled to ask how this money is being spent. Is it in building up a nucleus of staff for expansion or what is it?
Vote 4, which covers civilians at outstations, shows an increase of wages and salaries of works staff of £622,000. May we be told how much of this is due to the rise in wages and salaries, or is due to a very much larger number of personnel 1676 employed? I am impressed to see there is £982,000 required for meteorological, education and scientific purposes. Certainly, the money would be well spent in the meteorological department.
Vote 7 deals with aircraft and stores and the net increase asked for is £2 million. The appropriation-in-aid is £3½ million less than the original Estimate. When I first looked at this Vote I thought I should be out of order in dealing with this item, but as there is a net increase of £2 million I imagine that if I make my remarks I should be in order in discussing these few items. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), would allow me to get on with my speech—I do not mind interruptions from the other side of the Committee—
§ Sir H. Williams
I was merely observing that the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend were in order, whether brief or not.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
It is nothing like that. The split is on the other side of the Committee.
Under Subhead A, in Vote 7, where there is an increase required of £2 million, there is £3,030,000 less spent on aircraft. This is a fantastic sum. I am wondering what the Air Ministry has been doing for the past eight or nine months, knowing that the war in Korea started last July and that we are in urgent need of every bit of equipment we can get. It is no use the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) nodding his head—
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I am putting it to the Minister that it is deplorable that this equipment has not, been purchased and I hope he will give an explanation. The same applies to radar. On clothing there is £1,230,000 extra required. Is the fantastic rise in wool prices reflected in the increased amount of money asked for? Can we have an assurance that, at any rate as far as the Air Ministry is concerned, the sale of surplus clothing and equipment is not taking place at the moment, but that the clothing and equipment is being retained in store?
1677 We are not satisfied with the explanation on page 11 which accounts for the drop in the Appropriation in aid as being due to a reduction in the issues of aircraft. That is why there is less money coming in. As I see it, the Air Ministry has failed to deliver equipment to the Admiralty, the Ministry of Supply and to other Governments. The original figure was £17,500,000 and the actual amount which has come in is £15,988,000. Why has not this equipment been produced? Are the Admiralty and friendly Powers to go short? Perhaps we can have some explanation about that. If we are able to catch your eye next week, Major Milner, we will pursue any other points about the Air Force then.
I should like to say to the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that we in this Committee enjoy his speeches. We think that they are sincere. But I ask him to weigh his words carefully, because these speeches are printed. They go out all over the world and young men, volunteers and National Service men, who are doing a most difficult job in the Far East and in Malaya are not helped by them. It does not help them to get through their jobs when they read comments such as those which have been made here tonight.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) had particularised any remark that I might have made that would be resented by the soldiers out in Malaya, I would have been willing to withdraw it. The most I have said is that they want to come home. I am prepared to have a ballot to see if they do want to come home. I do not think that they would be insulted by anything that I have said. If I have said anything to upset the sensitivities of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, certainly I withdraw.
I want to ask a few questions about Vote 7. That is a Vote of £55 million for aircraft. I want to know if this includes the cost of aircraft for Malaya and the cost of operations there. I noticed recently that we have been employing Brigands in Malaya. I mean Brigands, the aircraft; not brigands, the men. I do not understand the Air Ministry giving such a name to aircraft. It creates a wrong impression in every country in the world, especially in the Far East, when we read that the Brigands have 1678 been fighting the bandits. I should think that the aircraft should be named "Fletchers" or some other peaceable name like that.
Does Vote 7 include the operations in Malaya? I ask because recently I saw in the "Daily Telegraph," which is not normally critical of policy of this kind, that the air operations in Malaya had been very expensive. I have read competent articles not by people who agree with my point of view but by experts on air matters. They have asked whether we are justified in the expenditure in Malaya caused by bombing the jungle.
The hon. Gentleman cannot go into questions of policy. The only thing he can do is to ask in what respect the increase or, in this case, the decrease, arises.
§ Mr. Hughes
I understand that we are precluded from discussing whether the expenditure mentioned in this Vote includes expenditure in Malaya. As this is a Supplementary Estimate, and as aircraft are being used in Malaya, I concluded that we were discussing expenditure on aircraft in Malaya. I really do not understand what sort of policy is involved in this. This is a question of whether the expenditure has been justified.
I am sorry, but that question does not really arise. Regarding this particular item, there has been a decrease in the expenditure, as I understand it; that is to say, the whole of the Estimate provided for in the main Estimate has not been expended, and, in fact, less money has been spent than this House has provided for this particular item. No question, therefore, arises on this Supplementary Estimate, because the Air Ministry is not asking for any more on this Vote.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I think that even Erskine May would wonder at that. Here, we have been asked for £10 million extra. Truly, that is either right or wrong.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I think he was dealing with Vote 7, which is a Vote on which, in respect of aircraft—which was the matter to which the hon. Gentleman was addressing himself—less money has been expended than was provided for in the 1679 Estimate. The question which he put to the Minister is not in order on this particular Vote.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I accept your Ruling, Major Milner, though I am not so sure that Erskine May would. [Interruption.] I made no reflection on Sir Erskine May.
I want to turn away from that point to deal with what is obviously in order, and that is the final paragraph on page 11, which reads:Expenditure on additional married quarters to be financed under the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, 1949, will be £700,000 less than provided for in the original Estimates, owing to shortages of labour and building materials.I recall that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) and I raised precisely this point when we were discussing the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, 1949, and I want to know what is going to be done about this paragraph. Here we have the statement made that the promise of the provisions of the Act of 1949, which were going to bring such boons to the married airman, has simply not been carried out, and it is said that this is due to the shortage of labour and building materials. When we debated this matter before, I pointed out that the Government could not redeem their promises because of the shortage of building labour and materials, and I therefore say that this paragraph is an ample justification of all that we said when we were discussing the Bill in 1949.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I wish to draw attention to Vote 7 and to ask the Under-Secretary if he would give us an explanation. On 14th September, we were told by the Minister of Defence:There was £70 million in addition, the bulk of which will go in the provision of modern aircraft."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1392.]Not unreasonably, we expected to see an enormous jump having been made in that specific figure. This Vote shows that something is amiss, because we are now asked to approve expenditure which is little above the expenditure shown in the Estimates for 1949–50, which was just £50 million. I am wondering if the Under-Secretary, in replying, could tell us how long it is taking to get an order 1680 through the Ministry of Supply, which acts for him in these matters. We have the impression on this side of the Committee that it is taking from three to six months to churn the paper out and place the contract. If that is so, it would be some explanation why these aircraft, which we have been told by Ministers on the Front Bench were being given high priority, are not, in fact, being delivered when they are required.
The same, I think, will apply to Item C in Vote 7. You might call me to order, Major Milner, if I were to go further into that matter, so I will proceed hurriedly to Item E in Vote 7—"Mechanical transport vehicles and marine craft"—which have cost us £2.2 million more than was anticipated. I think the public feel some concern as to whether this increase is not due to lack of care and lack of maintenance of those vehicles. It has been reported in the House that the new type of vehicle is not likely to be delivered just yet, and, therefore, this increase must be for rehabilitation of old types of vehicles.
We wonder, when we see vehicles standing out in the open and being returned for rehabilitation in a most rusty condition, whether they have been given that care which public equipment deserves. We also wonder, when we come to Appropriations in aid, which is rising £3,500,000 less than was expected, whether that is due not only to throttling back in the sale of surplus equipment but to artificially low prices when this equipment is sold.
It was the Select Committee on Estimates who, when investigating the storage of Service equipment, recommended that some attention should be given to modern storage methods. We wonder whether all these items in this Vote are not to some extent affected by poor storage and poor supervision in the stores. I am not suggesting that the people on the job are slack, but there are large numbers of stores housing obsolete material. To quote a brief example, I know of a friend who came across a transmitter, dating back to the First World War, which was in the store and was keeping far more valuable and important equipment out.
Is it not time that the equipment was gone over with a fine-tooth comb, and 1681 time that equipment, which dates back to very old wars, was thrown out to make room for valuable equipment which we now have and which has to be looked after?
May I also draw attention to a matter of some public concern—the continuous disposal of surplus equipment? We have heard it repeated again and again in the House—
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I understand that "Appropriations in aid" mean the disposal of equipment by the Ministry of Supply on behalf of the Air Ministry. We are told in the explanatory note that it concerns the disposal of aircraft and other stores, and we have been told that disposal has been slackened off. But it certainly must also include the disposal of sheets, blankets and all sorts of stores that are in the London shops today. Do you agree, Major Milner, that that is in order?
I do not think it is a question of the sale of stores in the ordinary sense. I see that the explanatory note says:The reduced receipts are mainly due to a reduction in issues of aircraft and stores on repayment. …The hon. Member certainly cannot put it down to surplus sales. If I am not mistaken, that does not refer to the ordinary sale of stores by the Ministry of Supply, and so on.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I have looked through this most carefully and consulted the original Estimates. I cannot see any other place where the sale of stores can possibly be put, except in Item Z of Vote 7. In any case, Major Milner, you have been kind enough to allow me to make my point, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will look into the matter, because the public are very concerned over the thought that the equipment is not being looked after in a proper manner and is being sold when we think it might be badly needed in the months to come.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I want, very briefly, to look at these revised Estimates of £51,750,000. I think we ought to be interested not merely in the 1682 sum itself and the purpose it is serving, but in where this money is going. This is money raised from the taxpayers and we notice that it is going into the hands of one of the most powerful monopolies in Britain today. It is going to that small band of firms who dominate the aircraft industry, consisting of not more than five firms under the name of the British Society of Aircraft Constructors. By and large, that is the organisation to which this money is going, and it is reappearing in the public Press in the form of dividends which, over the last year or so, have ranged from 17½ per cent. to—
Whether the hon. Member is right in what he is saying or not I do not know, but clearly that is not a matter for consideration on this Supplementary Estimate. Expenditure of that sort would, I imagine, be a question for the Ministry of Supply in any event.
§ Mr. Rankin
When we sanctioned the spending of £30 million and propose to agree to the spending of another £10 million without blinking an eye-lid, I think we should look at where the money is going. We find difficulty in giving something to the old age pensioners and yet we find no difficulty in giving money to organisations such as those which compose the aircraft industry today. It is material at this point to direct the attention of my colleagues on the Front Bench to the fact that here is profit in war.
Order. These observations are quite out of order. We cannot discuss tonight the question of policy, or whether it is desirable to have this work done by private enterprise or public enterprise, or anything of that sort. These questions of policy are quite out of order.
§ Mr. Rankin
My point was that this decrease of £3 million might have been largely improved upon if we had taken this industry out of private hands.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I should like to follow, very briefly, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) with regard to the disposal of stores. One looks at Vote 6, item Z; no, Item G; no, I am sorry, Item Z. [HON. MEMBERS: "Make your mind up."] All right, we all make a slip sometime. One finds that the appropriations in aid show a decrease of £80,000. I think that £80,000 incorporates the kind of materials that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North, had in mind. Apart from that, I think we ought to have a more adequate explanation than that given on page 11, where it says:Appropriations in aid of Votes 7 and 8 are now expected to be £3,500,000 and £800,000 respectively, less than allowed for in the original Estimates.Later on it says:The reduced receipts are mainly due to a reduction in issues of aircraft …I presume that means the reduced sales of aircraft. If so, to whom? I think we ought to be told. On page 10 there is a total net Supplementary Estimate of £10,000,000. One half is represented by a net increase in total gross expenditure, and the other half by a net decrease in total appropriations in aid.
They represent half the bill. The only explanation we get, signed by one Privy Councillor who is also a King's counsel, and nine other distinguished people, consists of a few words which are quite unintelligible and which I imagine were intended to he unintelligible. We do not know why a change of £5 million has taken place. It is a very large sum of money. The right hon. Gentleman and I could do lots of things with £5 million and here we are asked to give our approval to a change of £5 million without any adequate explanation.
With regard to the increase of £5 million, we have page after page of summarised information, but there is very little information indeed about this other half, and we ought to be told a little more than the words which appear in the paragraph to which I have already referred and in the paragraph above it. We are entitled to an adequate explanation of why the right hon. Gentleman is asking for £5 million more, not for the purpose of increasing the defences of this country but because he has not done so 1684 well in his junk shop as he thought he would do. That may be the explanation, although I admit it may be a very rude thing to calla reduction in issues of aircraft and stores on repayment.The Government ought to tell this Committee, and through this Committee the nation at large, a little more about how they are wasting our money.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I shall confine my remarks to Vote 7. I must say that this Vote fills me with consternation. It seems to be nothing more nor less than a pointer to the direction in which the Air Ministry is spending our money on such a big scale. Items D to K have all been increased. Item E has been bumped up by £2 million odd, largely due, no doubt, to the inadequate storage and maintenance of vehicles which have been left over from the war and have been allowed to rust out in the weather. If that is not so, what has happened?
Going down to Item J—clothing and clothing allowances—there is an extremely sharp stepping up of clothing allowances to the tune of approximately £1¼ million. Why should this be taking place when I for one have had letters from constituents, one of whom has said that he was going around facing the climatic conditions outside and the conditions imposed by the Ministry of Fuel and Power indoors, in a pair of very fine fleece underpants trimmed with silk which had been obtained for a silly sum of money from a Government surplus stores and derived from the Royal Air Force stores? Why should we be spending all this extra money for clothing when clothing has been thrown away at silly prices?
We have a series of very large increases in spending in all the non-essential branches of the Royal Air Force while the essential parts such as aeroplanes are underspent. We have here once again the story of the tail wagging the dog, because with all this spending in nonessential items we find that aircraft, armaments, radar and things of that sort are the least considered items of the lot. That shows the measure of the maladministration which I seem to see in the Royal Air Force today.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I want to ask a question on Vote 7. I should like a more detailed explanation about the reduction of some £3 million on aircraft. We ought to know something about that sum of money.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley
I understood, Major Milner, that your predecessor's Ruling was that decreases in the Estimates are not allowed to be discussed.
§ Mr. Carmichael
Obviously we cannot discuss increases without discussing decreases. From the very fact it is in the Supplementary Estimates, surely we are in order to discuss it.
The position is that hon. Members may ask the particular Service on which a reduction has been made, but they are not entitled to go into the policy of the Service in respect of which the saving has been made. Hon. Members may, however, ask in what respect or in what Service the saving has been made.
§ Mr. Carmichael
That is precisely what I have been doing. With other hon. Members, I think it would be wrong to discuss the policy of the Estimates, but surely the Under-Secretary is not going to hide behind the excuse he made, that because this is a decrease we dare not ask any questions.
We are dealing here with Estimates for aircraft that have gone down £3,000,000 and I think we are entitled to ask questions. I am no expert about the air, but I gather that aircraft are the most important part of the whole thing. I understand that radar and the equipment connected with it is an extremely vital part of flying these aircraft. Yet there is a saving of almost £2,000,000 on that. Almost £5,000,000 is being saved on these two items alone. Surely we are entitled to have some information, some greater detail, of why we are saving money in this very important period in the history of the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about tomorrow?"] I am dealing with tonight; never mind about tomorrow. I have not the slightest doubt about tomorrow.
Turning to Vote A, on page 11, I note that under the heading of "New Works," in the last paragraph, the expenditure on additional married quarters will be 1686 £700,000 less than provided. I remember the discussion we had on this and the very strong evidence that was then submitted that we should require every penny in order to improve married quarters for the Forces. Everybody admitted they were shockingly bad and that their number should be increased. Why is it necessary to have these reductions on these important items?
The hon. Member is not in order in asking that, if the question is one of policy. The only answer he can receive is that in fact these amounts have not been expended.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I know it is wrong to start debating with the Chair, but it is not good enough to come to the Committee and say, "We did not spend these amounts." Surely if the Department bring forward Estimates, we are entitled to ask the simple question: Why have you not spent these amounts? Is the efficiency of the service being restricted? If it is, why are the items included in this Supplementary Estimate? That is all I am asking. If the item was not in the Estimate we could not ask any questions about it, but it is put in and we are required to accept it. Surely if we have to accept it we are entitled to ask the question. Why it is that the Government come forward asking for a Supplementary Estimate for £10 million, but in actual fact they are asking for a much higher figure than is put in the Estimate?
What is the explanation for not spending £2,900,000? That is not policy. Policy has been decided. I am not questioning policy: I am wanting to know why it has not been spent. That is extremely important. What is the good of spending an entire night discussing the extension of married quarters and granting permission to the Government to do that when they do not do it? When we ask the simple question why did not they do it, we are supposed to be out of order. Well, I have got that fairly well across, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air will tell us now why it had been possible to save the millions we have saved in this Supplementary Estimate.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
I realise how delicate the ground is when speaking about decreases, but I think if the Under-Secre- 1687 tary had been a little more explanatory on these points all these questions would not have arisen. They are big points, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael), has made clear. The fact is that the people of this country want to know where their money is going. One hon. Member who spoke a short time ago wondered where it was going. It is going into the aircraft industry, for if aircraft are required that is where it must go. But the people of the country want to know where this vast expenditure is going because the total extra which the Government are asking for—and it is always extra that Governments ask for—is £10 million. Yet when we come to the most important items, which are those the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton mentioned, in Vote 7 there is a decrease.
If the Under-Secretary had given a little more information all these questions might have been saved. I hope he will now make the points clear. The country wants to know, if we are going to spend all this vast amount of money, whether it is producing fighting units in whichever of the three Services it might be spent, and in this case it is the Air Service. We are entitled to know in the interests of our constituencies where the money is going, whether the decreases should have been made and whether the increases could have been avoided.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot ask questions which deal with policy and which the Under-Secretary cannot answer.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) referred to powerful monopolies. There is one powerful monopoly I want to see and that is the monopoly of the Royal Air Force over any sky in which it may fly. With regard to the Estimates, I want to draw attention to Vote 7—Aircraft Stores, Instruments and Photographic Equipment. There is an increase there of £270,000. I hope that this sum is being used to perfect the latest type of photographic gear. During the last war there was considerable difficulty in getting certain items of photographic equipment perfected so that air reconnaissance could be adequately done. Without photographic reconnaissance 80 per cent. of our intelligence cannot be done over enemy territory. This is going 1688 to be vitally important. I trust that these matters in the Air Force and the performance of the aircraft of this type are not going to be neglected. The aircraft have to be the fastest in the service.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I should like to address myself for a few minutes to a rather controversial item, the decrease in expenditure on the Air Force, and in particular to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey). I understand that the hon. Member is an expert at testing flower seeds. I might tell him that I have myself produced a very fine variety of Pomea Rubro Curulea—
§ Mr. Snow
I merely wanted to point out to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield that his remarks about the lack of expenditure on aircraft do not fit in today with the ordinary profession of public accounting, because expenditure in a Government Department is carried out on the basis of orders placed a long time before. If orders have been placed within the last six or 12 months, these will not be paid for a considerable period and, as and when production comes forward. I thought that the hon. and gallant Member ought to be put right on that matter—
§ Mr. Snow
May I just finish? I thought the hon. Member ought to be put right on that matter, because it looks bad in the Press, I think, if it appears that in this vital and tense time of world affairs we are not spending money which Parliament has provided because of some faulty administration. That is not so. Orders placed recently will be paid for in the ordinary course of events, which may be in a year or so.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
When the Estimates were introduced last year the Minister estimated that the money would be spent. It is simple planning that the money should be spent. If £3 million has not been spent there is something wrong in the organisation. The hon. Member cannot get away with it like that.
§ Mr. Snow
I am not trying to get away with it. The matter must be put in its right perspective. I think the hon. Member ought to know that one may have a type of aircraft coming forward and, at a certain point, a better aircraft is designed. It is decided to put that better aircraft into production. Therefore it is possible to fulfil only a part of the original order. Hence the kind of reduction which appears in the Estimate.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I should like to support the remarks of the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton). We have perhaps a special interest in this question of photographic reconnaissance. Actually I think it is unique, for he and I were pilot and navigator respectively of a Mosquito aircraft engaged on this work in World War Two. Photography was then a most important part of the whole Allied operations. For a long time we had no forces on the Continent of Europe and were forced to fly over enemy occupied territory for vital information.
Since that time aircraft, both defensive and offensive have improved in speed and range, and it is vitally important that the photography in planes we use today should be of the highest possible efficiency and, furthermore, that the photographic equipment used in them should be designed to operate at the greater speeds and greater heights at which jet planes operate today. The increase in Vote 7, Item D is only something of the order of a quarter of a million pounds, and that does not seem to my hon. Friends an adequate sum of money for this very vital service.
§ Squadron Leader Burden (Gillingham)
I should like to join my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) in referring to Subhead D of Vote 7. We all three have particular interest in the subject of photographic reconnaissance and I do not think that too much emphasis can be laid on the matter of this arm of the Air Service. It is not only a matter of providing modern high speed high altitude aircraft with modern photographic equipment capable of photographing at high speeds but we are con- 1690 siderably concerned at the reduction of the Vote for aircraft, if there has been a reduction, in the amount set aside for providing not merely the fastest aircraft in our own Air Force for photographic reconnaissance, but the fastest aircraft in any air force against which we are likely to be engaged.
This is a question of policy. This is a very restricted debate and it is restricted to items in which savings, if there are savings, have been made.
§ Squadron Leader Burden
May I say I hope that in the increase of £270,000 measures have been taken to increase the photographic interpretation centres, which are also vitally important, and that the photographic interpreters have the utmost advantage of scientific advancement in that field, and also that provision would be made for employing an adequate number of interpretation centres and an adequate number of highly skilled intelligence officers. That is vital to any military or naval engagements in which we may be called upon to participate in future.
§ Mr. Crawley
I always thought brevity was a merit in this House and I hoped that by following my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty in saying very little and offering to answer any questions so far as I could, I should have commended myself to the Opposition. But the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) accused me of not having explained the Supplementary Estimate properly. He might have saved himself a little of his own speech had he listened to what I said. One of his chief questions was about the drop in appropriations which I took particular care to explain. As he knows, or I am sure ought to know, the Air Ministry is not an issuing department for aircraft to the other services, except in a very few exceptional cases.
As I said, the drop to which he referred, £3,500,000, is almost entirely due to our curtailment of sending aircraft to foreign countries, aircraft in the main which are secondhand and which we have thrown up and which are not therefore of very 1691 great value here, except as reserves. We have not sent them, but are keeping them as reserves.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
May I carry the point further? Is that the result of curtailment of jets sent to Egypt?
§ Mr. Crawley
No, because the Air Ministry does not send jets. They are sent direct by the manufacturer or the Ministry of Supply. As he knows, we do throw up a number of aircraft which have some life in them; it may be piston-engine aircraft which some countries want to buy. But we have been keeping even those aircraft as a reserve and they are not being sent abroad at the moment.
I think most of the other questions related to Vote 7, and the main question is, why are the estimates for aircraft themselves—the aircraft that we order—£3,000,000 down. One of the reasons is that some of them have cost less than was estimated. About one-third of that £3,000,000 is, therefore, grist to our mill and the other £2,000,000 is simply due to the fact that the estimate was too high.
When the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield or some other hon. Member, said it was a very simple matter when making an estimate to spend it all and have one's accounts balanced exactly at the end of the year, I should like to point out that even in quite a small business he would discover that that is not always so easy. As a matter of fact, this deficiency of £2,000,000 on this estimate is a good deal lower than it usually is. We do not feel dissatisfied at being as close as we were, and it represents a very small short-fall on estimates based on Ministry of Supply forecasts of the capacity of the industry, which never can be, in effect, very accurate.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
We on this side of the Committee would have been very much happier if the hon. Gentleman had come asking for more money for aircraft instead of other sundry equipment as outlined by his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Crawley
The hon. and gallant Member is really getting confused there as was the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing). The additional orders placed under the accelerated 1692 programme—and the Minister of Defence mentioned £70,000,000—cannot come into this year's figures. These orders will be paid for in the years to come. This year's Estimates are probably paying for orders made two or three years ago. At the beginning of the year, one estimates how much of these orders come into this year, and at the end one always finds that there is a difference because it is an estimate.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
When the hon. Gentleman says "cannot come in this year," surely it is correct to say that the Air Ministry, following through the Ministry of Supply, always gives progress payments on contract? I should have thought that some of these progress payments would have appeared in these Estimates.
§ Mr. Crawley
The hon. Member will find that a very large number of orders have been placed, but nothing has come into these Estimates.
§ Sir H. Williams
Why not separate the existing orders in view of the state of emergency which now exists?
§ Mr. Crawley
Regarding other smaller points raised, the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) spoke about the clothing which also comes into Vote 7, and he described it, I would ask the Committee to note, as a non-essential item. His own physique, I am sure, is very hardy but our Air Force needs clothing and we have many extra people to clothe, which is a simple explanation of the increase in the clothing estimate.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North, mentioned the increase in mechanical transport. There is a simple accounting explanation for a greater part of that. Of that £2,000,000-odd, £1,250,000 is due to the fact that we paid too little to this service last year and are now having to make up the difference. The odd £750,000 is due to the fact that refurbishing of transport has gone up in price, but it does not mean that the transport we are re-furbishing has been badly looked after.
1693 In regard to this question and the question of sales of surplus stores, we have, in fact, gone through all our equipment with a tooth-comb and have been discarding the stuff which is completely obsolete or which is beginning to be deficient, because it is no use keeping equipment of that kind which might be faulty when it is wanted in an emergency. We also take the greatest trouble at sales to examine equipment, and we send down special officers to do this before the sales take place. Although to a layman, who is superficially looking at it, these garments and articles appear very useful, they are, in fact, obsolete or have a deficiency which we are not prepared to accept. On Vote 4 one or two questions were raised about the pay of civilians. It represents mainly higher wages and salaries and partly more civilians being employed.
Lastly—and I think I have already covered the main points of Vote 7—there is the question of housing which some of my hon. Friends on this side raised. The reason for the shortage, or the short-fall in the building programme, has been plainly set out: it is due to shortages of labour and materials. Nevertheless, I think the Air Ministry can claim, through its loans policy, that it has been really very successful in building a larger number of houses than most other single organisations have been able to. Four thousand are under construction now, and although we shall probably not be able to finish them quite as quickly as we had originally hoped, we do expect to do that with only a few months' delay. I think that is something we should be proud of rather than the reverse.
§ Mr. Rankin
Will my hon. Friend deal with one point in regard to this revised estimate of £51,750,000? How much of that is being spent in Scotland? Is it a fact that not a halfpenny of the money that is raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland?
We are not discussing the £51,700,000: that was discussed presumably on the main Estimate some months ago. We are not discussing that question at all.
§ Squadron Leader Burden
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary if he will refer to what has been done to equip photographic reconnaissance squadrons with modern equipment. Has anything been done in regard to that, because it is terribly important?
§ Mr. Crawley
That is dealt with in these Supplementary Estimates. The hon. and gallant Member has already referred to increases, and these Estimates do show that we are stepping up equipment in the reconnaissance squadrons. On the actual quality of the equipment, which is a measure of our scientific skill, I do not think I should like to go into great detail. Some of this equipment is very new. The hon. and gallant Member will soon be visiting some stations and we shall be glad to point it out to him so that he can form his own opinion. We are equipping the reconnaissance squadrons with the best available equip-men in this country.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
With regard to the storage of equipment the Under-Secretary assures us that equipment examined was not in good condition before being sent to be sold, but we are more concerned about the storage of future equipment. A lot of this will not be required for ten years. He said that in matters of rebuilding the R.A.F. was very restricted as regards new construction. If that is so, will he look at some methods of storage such as "cocooning" and "mothballing" developed in the U.S.A. which are very economical and which do not need high-quality buildings which he would not be in a position to supply now?
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1951, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Air Services for the year.
§ Resolutions to be reported Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.