§ MR. GEORGE WARD'S STATEMENT
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Air Estimates for 1952–53 first provided for a net total of £467,640,000. A revised Estimate has since been presented to cover an addition of £30 million to Appropriations-in-Aid, our estimated share of the grant of economic aid by the United States of America announced in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 29th January. Taking into account the recent Supplementary Estimate, this is a net increase of just over £107 million on the 1951–52 Estimates. Comparing gross totals, we are expecting to spend £147 million more in the coming year than we have provided for this year.
As the House knows, this sum would have been larger if the original programme of expansion over the next three years had been maintained, but it is still a very great sum, especially at a time when the country is subject to acute economic and financial strain. My task today is to lay before the House the reasons which have prompted Her Majesty's Government to put forward these Estimates.
To get matters into perspective and to enable the House to appreciate the good and bad points of the present situation, I would like to start with a brief glance at the post-war history of the Royal Air Force. I do not seek to apportion praise or blame for what has happened. Indeed, upon the more important decisions history alone can pronounce. All I want to do is to put before the House certain relevant facts and dates.
The rundown of the Royal Air Force after the war was planned to end with a front line large enough to meet normal peace time commitments in a period of no international tension. At that time, 2106 however, there were only 38,000 Regulars and many of these were coming to the end of their service. All the rest were war-time entrants who were due to be released under the age-and-length-of-service system; and it soon became clear that there would not be enough men in the skilled maintenance trades, and especially in certain key trades which need long training, to keep the aircraft serviceable.
The front line was, therefore, determined, not by the number of aircraft but by the number of trained men available. At one stage, the front line sank to little over 1,000 aircraft, and any expansion was governed by the manpower situation.
There is another effect of immediate post-war policy which is especially important and from which we are suffering now. Because the main assumption in planning the peace-time Air Force was a period free from international tension, re-equipment was planned on a long-term basis. This policy no doubt relied at that time—1946–47—on the belief that the need for replacement aircraft which would incorporate the best possible developments in design lay seven or eight years ahead. Therefore, it was decided to rely on the existing types until radically new and fully developed designs could be brought into service.
Now, the inevitable result of this policy was a rundown of the aircraft industry which exceeded, in terms of manpower, that of the Royal Air Force itself, and no increase in the numbers employed in the industry took place until June, 1950. I know that many of these points were made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in his winding-up speech in the Defence Debate on 5th March, but I felt that the conclusion was so important that the factors leading up to it bear repetition; for it is this rundown in the aircraft industry which is making it so difficult to get production going quickly now.
In August, 1948, following the Berlin crisis, a number of emergency measures were taken to increase the production of existing types of fighters and to refurbish some of the war-time stocks of piston-engined fighters. The financial crisis in 1949 resulted in considerable economies in the Air Force, notably in Transport Command. On the other hand, Fighter Command began to expand slightly, and 2107 during this period intermediate types, such as the Venom and the Meteor night fighter, were ordered. We also obtained from America some B.29 Washington bombers, and the Canberra was ordered off the drawing board.
Then came the invasion of South Korea. This brought about a change in policy, and by the end of 1950 the £3,600 million programme was announced. This programme was designed on the basis of the maximum production of the armaments industry over a period of three years without special measures being taken. Under this plan, additional Canberras were ordered and the Valiant, the Swift and the Hawker P.1067 were ordered off the drawing board. The House will be interested to bear that we have now decided to name this new and important high-performance day fighter the Hawker Hunter.
In the defence debate two weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) suggested that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence was mistaken when he said that the Swift and other types of modern fighters were not ordered until after the invasion of South Korea. As my hon. Friend said at the time, the right hon. Gentleman's memory was at fault. The production orders for the Hunter and the Swift were approved some weeks after the invasion of South Korea.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The hon. Gentleman is correct. What I intended to say was that they were planned well ahead of Korea. It is perfectly true that they were not actually ordered until the Korean affair had begun.
§ Mr. Ward
I am, of course, talking about production orders.
Almost immediately after the announcement of the £3,600 million plan the Chinese entered the Korean war and the Government announced the £4,700 million armament programme. This programme was based on the assumption that special measures would be taken to ensure that materials and labour were available to the aircraft industry at the right time and in the right places. It is fair to say that little or no progress was made in 1951 towards ensuring that these basic assumptions were met. The result is that the capacity of the industry has 2108 been over-loaded and the programme is running behind the planned level.
During the last few months, however, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has, in co-operation with the industry, been endeavouring to increase the rate of aircraft construction. Following the introduction of the Notification of Engagements Order, the Ministry of Labour have been doing everything possible to assist aircraft firms in expanding their labour force. The grant of super-priority for the newest types of aircraft, announced by the Prime Minister a fortnight ago, will enable speedy action to be taken to overcome delays due to shortages of machine tools, materials, and components. The Minister of Supply is meeting representatives of the industry in a few days time to inform them of the detailed administrative arrangements for putting this super-priority into effect.
But aircraft by themselves are not enough. As their numbers increase so also increases the need for more aircrews and ground staff; for more training schools; for more airfields and for more accommodation. So the prodigous task facing us is fourfold: first, to increase the rate at which modern aircraft are delivered to the Royal Air Force; second, to increase the numbers of skilled men—both those who fly themselves and those who fill the equally important role of keeping the aircraft flying; third, to increase the Regular content of the Force with consequent gains in efficiency and economy; and, last, to provide the training organisation, the airfields, the maintenance depots, the accommodation, and so on, which are indispensable to a large, complex and efficient Force and are necessarily heavier commitments than those facing the other two Services.
Because in the early stages of an expansion the heaviest burdens are inevitably placed on the training organisation, a significant proportion of the total uniformed Force has to be used on instructor duties or as pupils.
That brings me up to the present. But before I speak of what is going on now, I think it right to say a word about the strategic context in which these matters must be considered. The vast importance of air power was demonstrated in the last war. Today it is decisive. Do not let us draw false lessons from what 2109 is happening in Korea. The United Nations' Air Forces there have shown great stopping power. Indeed, without them our ground Forces must have been overwhelmed by weight of numbers. But air power has not been deployed in the way that it would inevitably be deployed in a major war; that is, against the whole war-making power of the opponent.
We must remember that our own experience of the effects of hostile air power in the last war, bitter though it was, was insignificant compared with that of the enemy. Our armies on the Continent in 1944 and 1945 enjoyed the help of massive air superiority and our ports, communications and industries were not subjected to one-tenth the weight of the attacks on Germany. If our preparations in 1944 had suffered the disruption inflicted on the enemy's, "Overlord" would certainly never have been mounted.
Since that time, the atomic bomb has come. I do not want to discuss the effect of nuclear fission upon the strategy of a hot war, but I think it must be clear that the atom bomb multiplies the effectiveness of air power many times over, and this was, no doubt, in the minds of the late Government when they planned a large expansion of the Royal Air Force and it is certainly in the minds of Her Majesty's present advisers when they seek to carry out this programme.
I now turn to the present state of affairs. First about the recruiting of men and women into the Royal Air Force. The year 1951 was the best for recruiting since the war, and this improvement in recruiting extended to all sorts of engagements. For example, the number of boys who entered training as aircraft apprentices at Halton and the Radio School at Cranwell amounted to 928 compared with 551 the year before. In ground trades we recruited 45,000 Regular airmen and airwomen compared with 25,000 in 1950, and recruiting for aircrew was three times the total of the previous year.
There are, I think, a number of reasons for this. The better pay announced in September, 1950, had a big effect, and in the ground trades the three and four year Regular engagements have proved popular. The new trade structure, with 2110 its promise of a Service career up to the age of 55 in technician as well as n.c.o. grades, which the Royal Air Force introduced in 1950, has done good because it has offered many excellent career opportunities to those who otherwise would not have had them.
From now on also the Royal Air Force will recruit young men of 17½ years for three and four year Regular engagements in the ground trades, in addition to the longer engagements of 5, 10 and 12 years. In aircrew, big factors have been the offer of engagements for four years in addition to those for the normal period of eight years, and also the scheme whereby all pilot and navigator trainees carry out their basic and applied flying training as probationary officers. The latter scheme provides that on the satisfactory completion of both flying and officer training aircrew are confirmed in their commissions and promoted to the rank of pilot officer.
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Press for the generous amount of editorial space devoted during the past year to our great need for aircrew. It has been the policy of the Royal Air Force to do all they can to attract recruits by good conditions of service, and no doubt the material rewards and amenities have had a big effect on recruiting. But we should not forget that many men join because they count it an honour to be in so great a service with so great a future before it.
The facts I have given the House are, as far as they go, encouraging. It is true that recruiting over the last few months has not been quite so good as it was early last year, but without being unduly complacent I do not consider that this need give great cause for alarm because it was only to be expected that late in 1950 and early in 1951, when the combined effect of the introduction of the new pay conditions, the new trade structure and the short three and four year engagements at Regular rates of pay were being felt, there should have been a boost in numbers which could not be constantly maintained at the same high level.
I must however, sound the warning that, owing mainly to the suspension of Regular recruiting during the war, we are still short of experienced airmen and n.c.o.s in certain highly skilled trades. 2111 This applies particularly to the radio servicing trades. We are trying to meet this difficulty by narrower specialisations, which enable a man to do servicing tasks after a shorter period of training. But it will take time to get the situation right.
In the expansion of the Air Force most of the interest, in the public eye, tends to be concentrated on the operational commands. But if the R.A.F. is to preserve its war-time reputation for quality second to none, we must plan not only for new squadrons but for the thorough training of the extra aircrews who will go to those squadrons.
Consider the training of pilots alone: it takes nearly two years to train a pilot to the stage when he can get the best out of a modern aircraft, and this means that trained instructors, aircraft and other valuable resources have to be ploughed back for the time being in order to produce a larger force of the quality which we must maintain. This training is also expensive in works services, because much of it is now carried out in jet aircraft which need runways up to operational standards.
When the re-armament programme was first considered in 1950 the Government of the day took immediate action to increase training facilities. As a result, the training expansion is now well under way, and during the coming year we shall be turning out about 3,000 fully trained aircrew, which is nearly twice as many as in 1951. During 1953, as a result of the opening of still more schools, we shall go very much higher. This I regard as solid progress.
Although my predecessor was not in the Air Ministry for very long, he managed to visit quite a number of stations in Flying Training Command and he has told me how deeply he was impressed by the keenness and determination of the instructors and their pupils. During part of the war I was a flying instructor myself, and so I was greatly pleased to learn that the Training Commands of the Royal Air Force are keeping up the very high standards which they have always set themselves.
We are also receiving considerable help from Canada in the training of aircrew, and it is hoped to arrange, in conjunction with N.A.T.O., to increase the numbers training in Canada. Very soon, we shall 2112 also be getting help in this training from the U.S.A.
Recruitment for the volunteer forces has not been good, but the A.T.C. and the Combined Cadet Force are in fine heart and working hard. Hon. Members of the House have always shown a keen and friendly interest in the progress of the flying scholarship scheme for air cadets. I am glad to say that because of the undoubted practical success of these scholarships, we have decided to award up to 500 of them to the Air Training Corps and to the Combined Cadet Force during the coming year: a handsome increase over the 300 originally awarded this year. I will refer to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force later in my speech.
I can sum up by saying that on the personnel side, the outlook is reasonably encouraging. There are always difficulties, but the men are there and morale is high. The difficulties will be overcome.
It is when we turn to equipment, to the machines that these men have to fight with, that the situation is not so happy. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the decision was made after the war, on the assumption of a stable peace, that no intermediate types should be produced. The production of a modern aircraft is not a quick process. The problems of the some barrier are new and not easily solved, and the greater speeds and heights of jet aircraft bring new problems with them.
There are requirements for new navigation and bombing aids, new means of identification and interception, and before such things can be produced they have to be designed and developed, and then they have to be married up with the aircraft. Indeed, airframes and equipment must be designed as a unity. All this has put a heavy load on the aircraft and the electronics industries.
The decision when to go into production on new aircraft is one which is always extremely difficult to make. Countries tend to move ahead in their developments in spurts, and in the race for aircraft of superior performance the lead frequently changes. Anyone who has attended the S.B.A.C. Show at Farnborough year by year, as I have, will. I am sure, have retained two main impressions: first, how important the jump 2113 forward is from the existing straight-wing types of Service aircraft to the swept-wing and delta-wing types; and, second, that there is a foundation for our belief that we now have prototypes of sufficiently high quality and performance eventually to regain for us the lead which we lost temporarily both to the Americans and to the Russians.
But these new fighters are only prototypes, which means, of course, that so far only one or two are being flown by test pilots. I do not want to create undue anxiety, but it would be quite wrong for me not to make it plain that the air defences of this island at the present time would be woefully inadequate if we had not powerful allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The expansion of the R.A.F. is under way. But today it is still far from adequate, either to defend our country or to play its part in the defence of Europe and of our Atlantic lifeline.
These things are a matter of life or death for everyone of us in this country. The House is aware of the enormous numerical strength of the Soviet Air Force. But it is not only in numbers that we are so inadequate. Even more important is the fact which the Prime Minister has already told the House, that we are in some respects inferior in the performance of our aircraft. We have today no fighter in service to match the MIG.15 which is already operating in large numbers in Korea, and it will be some time before we begin to re-equip our squadrons with our own latest types.
It is a hard fact that we have temporarily lost our lead, and we cannot regain it for some time to come. There is no doubt that we shall regain it, and this Government will do everything it can to hasten the day. We have already given super-priority to the latest types of aircraft. But that in itself will not serve unless we have the whole-hearted cooperation of everyone.
This business of producing modern aircraft is one at which we have proved we can excel even in war, when the industry was exposed to enemy bombardment. We must have that same spirit throughout industry today—we must have a tremendous productive effort, which, I am convinced, we can and shall get, but only if everyone concerned is 2114 really aware of the need. It is for this reason that I have been frank in describing the present shortcomings of the R.A.F.
There is one other matter on which I must speak plainly. A vitally important element in the air defence of these islands is the Control and Reporting Organisation—the radar chain and the system of controlling fighters and putting them on to their targets in the air. The House will know full well that we were the pioneers of this development of radar—indeed, we might not be here now but for the radar screen, which, perhaps more than anything else, saved England in 1940 and reached such a peak of efficiency in the ensuing years. After the war, many of the stations were given up and others were put on to a care and maintenance basis.
Now, all that is being built up again. I will not pretend it is an easy business or that it is going ahead as fast as we would like. It is not merely a question of getting the old equipment out of store and refurbishing it. Modern techniques and, in particular, the greatly increased performance of the aircraft which might attack us in a future war, compared to last time, mean radical and expensive changes in equipment.
Moreover, the re-establishment of the system on a modern basis involves demands on material and labour which are difficult to meet and conflict with many important civilian requirements in such fields as steel, telecommunications and electronics. Also, many of the stations are in remote places, where labour is scarce.
Nevertheless, it is vital that these difficulties should be overcome. Since the re-armament programme started, the development of the Control and Reporting Organisation has had a high priority and has been pressed on with determination and vigour in so far as it lies within the capacity of the Service to do so. The Government are giving this their special attention and the highest priority. I would like to emphasise that all concerned in the production and supply of any of the material and equipment required must regard it as of transcendent importance. May I also take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the Post Office staff for the excellent work they are doing on the very extensive communications network which the system requires.
2115 The Royal Air Force, in its turn, is determined to play a full part in the all-out drive to bring the nation's defences speedily to a high state of readiness. We intend to cut out all inessential demands upon manpower and materials. We can also help by trying not to change cur minds too often and by doing everything we can to simplify the manufacture and maintenance of aircraft and other equipment. We can also refrain from ordering types of aircraft which, though highly desirable, are not vital for the defence of the country. I will refer again to this matter.
When considering the economies we can ourselves effect, it is right to remember that the Royal Air Force is a rapidly expanding Force. Nevertheless, there are things we can do to economise and we are doing everything we can, short of causing loss of operational efficiency to pare and prune expenditure. We are seeking every possible means of keeping agricultural land open to the farmers and making the smallest possible demands on building labour and materials. Because of this, hardstandings and concrete aprons on airfields have been reduced to the minimum that is operationally acceptable. Economies in the method of installing airfield lighting will produce a considerable financial saving.
We are using all possible expedients to avoid having to spend large sums of money and use large quantities of steel on building new storage accommodation. We have also made savings of money and materials upon domestic accommodation by more economically laid out schemes of heating and plumbing. Men in the Services must be properly accommodated, but it is only right that they should play their part with the rest of the community by really understanding and accepting the need for careful husbandry of our money and resources. We are, however, pressing on with the provision of more married quarters.
I now come to the operational commands. In Fighter Command we are at present necessarily carrying out our expansion with the latest version of existing types of aircraft, and we must continue to do so until the Swift and the Hunter are available. When our expansion is completed we shall have a larger fighter force than we had in 1939 and I must make it plain that although this increase in the home-based 2116 fighter force is being carried out with existing types, it will add very considerably to the security of this country.
The day fighters with which Fighter Command is now armed are still capable of intercepting and shooting down any type of enemy bomber likely to invade these shores in large numbers for some time to come. It is in a fighter versus fighter battle that our inferiority is likely to be apparent although the high quality of our pilots would no doubt largely counteract the difference in aircraft performances. However, we are very glad to have with us in this country Canadian and American fighter squadrons equipped with the Sabre, a high performance fighter which has proved itself in many ways superior to the MIG.15 in combat. Their presence will improve the defensive power of the whole fighter force in this country.
During the past year we have made considerable progress in the expansion and re-equipment of our night fighter force in Fighter Command. All squadrons now have jet aircraft, whereas a year ago all of them still had Mosquitoes. During the current year the rate of expansion will rapidly increase and the Venom night-fighter should do something to bring about a further improvement in quality. All Royal Auxiliary Air Force fighter squadrons have now been re-equipped with jets. They showed great keenness during their three months' intensive training last year and reached a high standard of efficiency. I think the House will wish me, on their behalf, to congratulate them on their good work and thank them for so cheerfully enduring the very real sacrifices which it entailed.
I now come to Bomber Command, which has a vital part to play in the defence of this country. If we think only of fighters, we see only part of the picture. It is never possible to maintain the air defence of a country if the enemy is left with the initiative. We must not be blind to the mistake the Germans made at the end of the last war, when they concentrated almost exclusively on fighter production. We cannot have a bomber force of the size we had in the last war. The cost would be prohibitive. Our aim must be to achieve striking power with fewer aircraft by increasing the bomb 2117 load, by greater accuracy, and by the use of more effective weapons.
I would particularly like to lay stress on the importance of accuracy. It is for this reason that we are developing new navigational and bomb-aiming devices, which are doubly necessary owing to the increased height and speed at which modern bombers operate. In the medium bomber role, we must at present rely on the Washington and Lincoln, which are essentially last war types. They are however fully capable of a wide range of duties. When the Valiant comes in we shall be able to build up a far more effective bomber force, which, in conjunction with the United States Bomber Force, should be able to fulfil all the tasks required of it. The expansion of Bomber Command is at present confined to the Canberra which is a light bomber designed to be used primarily in support of the N.A.T.O. Supreme Commander in Europe. Our Canberra force is not being built up as rapidly as was first hoped, but every effort is being made to speed things up.
The re-equipment of our Photographic Reconnaissance Force also presents problems. The speed and ceiling of modern fighters makes it essential that photographic reconnaissance aircraft should have comparable performance in order that they may bring back the results of their work, without which our Forces would be severely handicapped. For this reason, our Photographic Reconnaissance Force will be re-equipped with the Canberra and possibly other types of jet aircraft. The increase in speed and height presents new problems in the design of the camera and these problems are being tackled.
I will make only a few brief comments upon Coastal Command at this stage, as I understand that we shall have a further discussion when the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) is called.
One of the main lessons of the last war is that the defence of sea communications must be a joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force responsibility. Official statistics show that more German and Italian U-boats were destroyed in the last war by aircraft than by ships. The House must, however, recognise that the submarine equipped with the Snort presents 2118 a very difficult problem, which is not yet solved.
With present equipment, our Coastal Command aircraft are likely to be less effective than they were in the last war. The balance can be restored only by better weapons and equipment. New types of torpedoes, asdic equipment, sono-buoys and other more subtle means of detecting submerged submarines are being developed.
The expansion and re-equipment of Coastal Command is going steadily ahead. Shackletons have proved to be a satisfactory aircraft for maritime reconnaissance and the first Neptunes are being received from the United States. Co-operation with the Royal Navy is the heart of the matter. It is close and continuous and numerous joint exercises were held during the last year.
The 2nd Tactical Air Force in Germany forms part of General Eisenhower's command and operates under General Norstadt, the Commander-in-Chief Allied Air Forces, Central Europe. Its planned expansion is greater than that of any other single command. Its night-fighter force will be built up. The Venom, a development of the Vampire, will be introduced into the fighter-bomber force. It is our intention to form a strong top-cover force of Sabre Squadrons as soon as these aircraft are available from Canada. Steps are also being taken to make the Second Tactical Air Force mobile, as its role requires.
This is a big job, as it means putting practically everything on wheels except the runways, but my noble Friend is satisfied that this is essential if the Force is to carry out its role effectively. My noble Friend hopes that the relations of the 2nd Tactical Air Force with the European Air Force will be of the closest. We have already given technical help and assisted in the training of the Air Forces of our European Allies.
As the House knows, we do not propose a full integration in the European Defence community, but we do propose the closest liaison with it. We hope, by methods such as the exchange of officers and joint exercises, to bring about a situation where the 2nd Tactical Air Force and the European Air Force can fight together with the greatest confidence and effectiveness.
2119 We fully recognise that the expansion of Transport Command is something which is highly desirable, but regretfully we see no means of expanding it beyond its present size while the expansion of the other operational commands is in progress. The House will, however, bear in mind that in case of emergency we shall have the considerable resources of civil aviation at our disposal. I am sure hon. Members would wish to congratulate Transport Command on the speed and efficiency with which they carried large reinforcements to the Middle East in Hastings and Valettas a few months ago.
So much for the present, I do not think it would be right to end this speech without making some reference to future developments. Restless inventive minds in all countries are constantly peering and searching into the future. It is, therefore, necessary for us to devote a considerable part of our resources to research and development. Fortunately, the aircraft industry is well provided with scientists and designers of originality and with abundant experience.
While the main responsibility lies with our colleagues in the Ministry of Supply, our task in the Air Ministry is to state our operational requirements with regard both to efficiency and to our economic resources. I can, of course, give no detailed descriptions, but the House may want to know something of the lines on which research and development are proceeding.
First, there are the guided missiles, for the development of which Australia has put her wide open spaces at our disposal. Guided missiles are of various sorts and their development is of interest to all three Services. They may be launched from one aircraft to another, from the ground against enemy aircraft, from an aircraft against a ground target and from the ground to another ground target. Among many other objects of research and development are improvements in the armament of our fighters, better detection of enemy aircraft at low heights, and radar and bombing aids for our bombers.
We are trying to simplify the production and maintenance of all our equipment. Even allowing for the rise in costs since before the war, the cost of aircraft and equipment has risen enormously. The improved efficiency of the aircraft is 2120 of little use if the cost makes it impossible to produce them in sufficient numbers. The same consideration will apply if maintenance of equipment is so heavy that no adequate use from it can be obtained, or such use can be obtained only by the inordinate use of manpower.
The simplification of our requirements must, therefore, be a basic element in technical development. Only by confining our demands to what is truly essential and by the constant efforts of our scientific colleagues and technologists, can we achieve adequate air power within the possibilities of the country's economy. I am glad to record that the relations between the Royal Air Force and our scientific colleagues are of the very best and give promise that in the long run we shall not lose this long and terrible race.
I have tried to give the House a broad picture of the Royal Air Force as it is at present; to sketch in some of the more important considerations of the recent past and to indicate a few of our hopes for the future. I have necessarily had to leave many gaps, but I hope that some of these may be filled when, with permission of the House, I speak again later and try to answer the points raised during the debate.
Meanwhile, I trust that those engaged in the work of any branch of the Royal Air Force which I have been unable to mention will not assume that I attach any less importance to their work than I do to those branches with which I have dealt. On the contrary, in a complex, technical service like the Royal Air Force, the efficiency of the Force as a whole depends on the work of every individual member of it.
The same is true when we consider the wider aspect of the Commonwealth and N.A.T.O. Air Forces. The unity and mutual support of the Air Forces of the free world, working in the closest possible accord as members of a team, can provide a powerful deterrent to aggression and a strong first line of defence if war should come.
The Royal Air Force has a vital and formidable task. But it will tackle that task with the same courage, determination and devotion to duty with which it earned, so short a time ago, the admiration of the world.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I would first like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who has just introduced his first Estimates, in his new office as Under-Secretary of State for Air. I hope that during his term of office he will earn the confidence not only of this House but also of the Royal Air Force.
The hon. Gentleman has just become "airborne," and I am sure the whole House sympathises with him in the ordeal through which he has just passed so successfully. He was in a more fortunate position than I when I introduced my first Estimates in March 1948. In that year I was allotted the sum of £173 million, whereas for the coming financial year, 1952–53, as the hon. Gentleman indicated he, or his noble Friend, has been allotted the sum of £467 million. That is just a "small" difference of £300 million.
The Under-Secretary referred to the rundown of the Royal Air Force after the war. He also referred to the background of the present situation. He said that at one time, which I think was soon after the war ended in 1945, there were only just over 30,000 Regulars in the Royal Air Force. In 1948 I think that there were only 20.000 Regulars who had been in the Service in 1939.
Between June, 1945, and June, 1947, over 1,100,000 airmen and airwomen were released from the Force. With 20,000 Regulars remaining, many of whom were without the broad experience of leadership that was required to train and supervise the new entrants—National Service men as well as Regular recruits—it is not surprising that the condition of the R.A.F. began to deteriorate. As a result, as the hon. Gentleman has said, this Force, which is largely technical, became seriously unbalanced. There was widespread frustration leading to serious discontent.
The poor standard of accommodation in many of the camps, much of which was temporary war-time accommodation never intended for peace-time use, and the growing shortage of married quarters, only aggravated the situation. When I first went to the Air Ministry in October, 1947, the officials were working on a plan known as P.P.F.—Permanent Peace Force—which provided for a steady 2122 build-up stage by stage of the post-war Air Force. That plan was subsequently replaced by another which provided for a much more rapid expansion as a result of the vastly increased financial provision under the three-year re-armament programme, the second instalment of which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman.
Great credit is due to the officials of the Air Ministry and the Air Force authorities for the efforts they have made to build a balanced Regular Air Force almost from the ground up with, as I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree, a considerable degree of success. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me when I make the following comments on the present state of the Royal Air Force. I make them because I spent four years in the Air Ministry, and I should like to complete the picture which was presented by the hon. Gentleman.
First, it will be generally agreed that there is today a high state of morale throughout the Royal Air Force. The members of the Force are in very good heart. I think that that statement will be accepted on both sides of the House. I would then submit that, although we had serious difficulties in the years following the end of the war as a result of the unbalance in the Force, that has been largely put right except for the deficiencies mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in the more advanced trades, such as that of the armament fitter and radar fitter.
The Minister mentioned the improvement in Regular recruiting. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have continually argued that what was necessary was to build up a hard core of Regulars in the Air Force. In 1948 the number of Regulars was approximately 34 per cent. of the total force. Today, the percentage of Regulars is 68 per cent. The hon. Gentleman then referred to aircrew. Not only did he admit it in his speech but it is admitted in the Memorandum published by his noble Friend that there has been an improvement throughout the year in aircrew entrants. That is in accord with my knowledge of the situation.
I wish to emphasise the reference made by the hon. Gentleman to the contribution which is being made by the Government of Canada by the training of pilots 2123 and navigators in Canadian training schools. It was my privilege in September of last year to visit those training schools with the Air Member for Personnel. We were much impressed by the way in which our young men are received by their opposite numbers in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The contribution made by the Government of Canada and the R.C.A.F., by the training of our aircrew, will prove most valuable.
I am a little concerned about one matter and I should like the hon. Gentleman to deal with it later. The Second Report of the Select Committee on Estimates has stated that the lag in the production of fighters and heavier aircraft is anything from three to nine months. That was not contemplated when our plans were made for relating, or marrying, the number of fighters and bombers that were coming off the production line with the number of aircrew from the training schools.
I assume that this will obviously result in an unbalance, because there is no delay in the training of aircrew. I should imagine that it will be an embarrassment to the Air Staff and to the Air Ministry, unless it is that the hon. Gentleman can assure us that, for some reason or another, there will not be any problem. I think that there will be a problem. There will be a lag in the production of aircraft, but not in the training of aircrew.
I referred to the discontent engendered in the early days after the war by reason of the poor accommodation for some of the personnel who were put in temporary war-time camps. There has been considerable improvement. I think that the Minister has been at the Air Ministry long enough to have been told that there was a steady improvement from 1947 onwards in the standard of accommodation for airmen and airwomen.
Some 60 post-war barrack blocks, with an average accommodation of 100 or 150 men or women, are of a very high standard indeed. I can say without fear of contradiction that the record of the Royal Air Force in building married quarters is better than that of the other two Services. These improvements in themselves have made a marked contribution towards improving morale and lessening discontent in the Royal Air Force.
2124 The Prime Minister gave his meed of praise to the trade structure scheme in the defence debate last week, and I believe he was right so to do. It is generally agreed by all who are associated with the Royal Air Force that that has had a quite remarkable effect upon morale—although I do not like to keep using the word "morale." It has increased the happiness of the men, because it has removed a very serious problem from their minds. They now have the opportunity of a life career up to the age of 55, provided certain conditions are fulfilled.
There is one thing about which I am a little perturbed. In the debate on the Army Estimates the Secretary of State for War said:We are not only offering a man an opportunity to join the Army for 22 years, but any man who wishes to do so can leave at three-yearly intervals throughout his service. Furthermore"—and these are the words about which I am concerned—provided his conduct is good and he can be employed—and I think in the majority of cases that will be so—he can remain in the Army until he is 55 years of age.If my memory serves me aright, the estimate I was given last year was that not more than 23 per cent. of entrants into the Royal Air Force could be guaranteed this life career. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for War has, in a sense, overpainted the picture. After all, he was, so to speak, selling his wares. I do not know whether there is any difference between the scheme of the War Office and the scheme of the Air Ministry. Or is it that, for some reason or another, although the Air Ministry pioneered the scheme the War Office have got away with something? If they have, to what extent have they got away with it?
The Secretary of State for War also claimed that he had given instructionsthat the entire staff of the War Office should be cut by 10 per cent. That has been most loyally implemented and it will result in a saving of 750 soldiers and civil servants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1028–38.]He also claimed that he had ordered a "combing of the tail" of the Army, which had resulted in a saving of 10,000 men. That is extremely interesting information. Will the Air Ministry be able to compete with the Army? Will they be able to save 10 per cent. of the 2125 staff of the Air Ministry, both civilian and uniformed?
Will they be able to "comb the tail" of the Royal Air Force to the extent of producing 10,000 bodies? Will they try to do it? It would be interesting to know. I have an idea that there is a catch in the saving in the War Office. But there it is. That statement is made with the authority of the Secretary of State for War. When we were the Government we were lectured many times about the way in which manpower was being wasted, but I am bound to say that the Air Ministry pioneered the way in saving manpower, because the first manpower economy committee was set up by the Air Ministry under my predecessor.
§ Mr. John Profumo (Stratford)
While the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Secretary of State for Air, did he conduct any examination to find out whether or not there could be any pruning of the Air Ministry staff? If so, to what conclusion did he come?
§ Mr. Henderson
No doubt the Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong; he has the advantage over me here, because I have to draw on my recollection, and I do not carry with me the papers containing this information. If my recollection is right, as a result of the manpower economy committee there was a cut of 20 per cent. in the establishment of the Royal Air Force. To what extent that was translated into an actual reduction in numbers, I cannot say. No doubt the Under-Secretary could find out.
§ Mr. Profumo
Perhaps I did not make myself quite clear. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not need any papers for this purpose. It will be within his recollection to tell me whether he himself ordered any investigation of a cutting down of the size of the Air Ministry; and if so, with what result.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to me.
I said that we were the first Department to have an inquiry into the use of manpower, both in the Air Ministry and in the Royal Air Force. To what extent that resulted in a saving of bodies or the number of bodies that were saved, I do not know. I suggest that the Under-Secretary could find out, because he is in a better position than I am to make 2126 inquiries about it. The point is that, as the War Office are apparently able to save 10,000 bodies as a result of "combing the tail" of the Army, surely we can be told by the Under-Secretary that his noble Friend will not be outdone by his colleague the Secretary of State for War, and that there will be a similar "combing of the tail" of the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
There was scarcely anybody on the Opposition benches to interrupt.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I feel that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to score a party point. He emphasised at the beginning of his speech that the Royal Air Force is spending £300 million more this year than last year. If that vast amount has to be spent, and wisely spent, surely we must have the staff to do it. While I am all for economy, we must have the people to spend this money wisely.
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has discussed Air Force matters with me for four years, and I do not think he has ever before suggested that I have been anxious to score party points. That is not my purpose at the moment. If he looks at the Army Estimates he will find that there is a considerable increase in them, just as there has been a considerable increase in the Air Estimates, because all three Services are expanding. Yet, although the Army is expanding they are apparently able to achieve this saving of 10,000 bodies.
In the Air Estimates debate last year I said that the front line strength of the Royal Air Force was more than half as large again as in March, 1948. I am sure the Under-Secretary will agree that since March of last year the front line strength has steadily increased. Indeed, that is stated in his noble Friend's memorandum. Referring to fighter strength, I said last year that the worldwide fighter strength in March, 1951, was greater than in September, 1939. I 2127 wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would disagree with me when I suggest that by the end of this year, 1952, it will approximate to the fighter strength we had at the time of the Battle of Britain.
I was not very impressed, if I may say so, with the amount of information the Under-Secretary gave about the size of the Royal Air Force. He mentioned that under the Labour Government in 1946 the front line strength was reduced to 1,000. I am very sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Housing and Local Government has left the Chamber, because I think he would be interested in what I am going to say.
During my four years in office, complaints were constantly made by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the House was not being given adequate information about the Royal Air Force. In the debate on the Air Estimates in 1949 the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said:My view is that the great plan and the broad outline of the plan ought to be known to the public…The absurd thing about secrecy is that the facts, in outline, of what we have now are not very difficult to find out. I am sure that every great Power knows the general position and that every Air Attaché who is worth his salt knows it too…I should like more general information to be given to the House of Commons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1949: Vol. 462, c. 1952–3.]He pursued the same subject the following year. He said:We have not been very successful, for the Air Estimates conceal under a vast statistical apparatus an almost complete black-out, much more complete than the Navy Estimates, on everything of real importance. If we look up the index we can find the most extraordinary range of information, especially on trivial matters, from chimney-sweeps to sewing machines, but if we want to know about the great questions—the number, the character, the equipment and the fighting strength of the actual formations—nothing at all…We have repeatedly asked, why all this secrecy?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1728–9.]Then, not to be outdone by the right hon. Member for Bromley, last year the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said:There is a great deal which we should have liked to learn and about which we still do not know…It is getting less and less…I suggest to the Minister of Defence…that it might be better to see whether further 2128 information can be made available not to individual Members of the House, but to the House as a whole.Later, the right hon. Gentleman said:Do not let us have too much secrecy and hush-hush."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 265–8.]I have looked at the Memorandum—we did not get very much out of the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite—to see whether there is very much in it. It says:The Royal Air Force has grown stronger during the last year…In Fighter Command, there have been further increases in the strength of the forces for defence of the United Kingdom, against attacks by day or night. Nearly all the regular day interceptor squadrons now have the latest marks of Meteor aircraft…In Bomber Command, the first Canberra squadrons have been formed and more will follow during 1952…Coastal Command has been strengthened, but further expansion is necessary for the Command to perform its increasingly important role…In Europe, the Royal Air Force 2nd Tactical Air Force is a most important contribution to the resources of the Supreme Allied Commander. Our largest expansion is taking place in this Command; its increased front line strength will include squadrons equipped with Venom aircraft.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman reading from this year's Memorandum or from last year's White Paper? It sounds very similar to me.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am not reading from the Memorandum for 1951–52, but from the Memorandum for 1952–53, which is the year we are dealing with in this debate.
The hon. Gentleman says it sounds very much like what was in the Memorandum last year. That is exactly my complaint. I was chided last year because I would not give any figures as to numbers of squadrons, numbers of front line aircraft and numbers of types in the front line. The right hon. Member for Bromley called it a black-out and the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington said there was too much secrecy and hush-hush. Were they really serious, or were they merely using the big stick with which to beat the then Government?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what he achieved in his first 10 days at the Air Ministry compared with what my hon. Friend has achieved?
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not believe that the Under-Secretary of State for Air really thinks I am making any personal attack upon him. He was not even hi the Air Ministry when the Memorandum was drafted. I am quite sure the hon. Gentleman takes no exception to my reference to what is in the Memorandum. Quite frankly, I am not pointing a finger at the present Secretary of State either. All I say is that both the right hon. Member for Bromley and the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, who are members of the Cabinet, if they seriously believe that more information should be given to the House and to the country, should have taken the necessary action to ensure that such information was given on the occasion of this debate.
I will now say a word about equipment. In his speech, the hon. Gentleman very rightly drew attention to the fact that we have no fighter equal to the MIG.15. The same point, of course, was debated during the Air Estimates last year when I admitted that the MIG.15 had a superior performance, certainly as far as level speed was concerned, against the Meteor or the Vampire. I entirely agree, if I may say so, with the Prime Minister that it is not a good arrangement for the highest class of pilots to have only second best machines. I think we must give our pilots, whether of Fighter, Bomber, Coastal or Transport Command the best available machines, and we must constantly endeavour to ensure that the best machines are available.
I will give the background of the day fighter. In 1949, the Meteor 8 and the Vampire 5 were regarded as the best fighters in the world, and certainly to my own knowledge most of the Air Forces of the world, with the possible exception of the Soviet and the United States Air Forces, were all queueing up to obtain supplies of either the Meteor 8 or the Vampire 5.
§ Mr. Henderson
We listened with great courtesy to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and I hope that the same courtesy will be extended to me.
These Meteors and Vampires were then in service in considerable numbers with our Regular squadrons. In 1950, 2130 the MIG.15 came along, which, as we all admit, has a superior performance to the Meteor or the Vampire in level fight. Then, in the autumn of 1950, the Hawker fighter, the Hunter, to which the hon. Gentleman referred this afternoon, and the Supermarine Swift were ordered in quantity off the drawing board. That was the earliest time that the Air Ministry could have placed that order. Both these planes are, of course, superior in performance to the MIG.15.
There is one aspect of this shortage to which I have already referred. I said that I do not think anyone could deny that the sooner we get the F.3 and the Swift into production the better it will be for the efficiency of Fighter Command and the fighter squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Our need of the F.3 and the Swift does not, in my submission, mean that we do not today possess an effective fighter force composed, as it is, not only of Meteor 8's and Vampire 5's but, as the hon. Gentleman said, of the American and Canadian Sabre squadrons. I believe—and I think it is the view of a good many Royal Air Force pilots—that the Meteors and Vampires would give a very good account of themselves if, unhappily, they were ever called upon to go into action.
May I bring to the notice of the House the views of Major Jabara, the American fighter ace in Korea, who said that in his view the jet pilots in Western Europe, with their present machines and equipment, could hold their own against Russia's MIG.15's in combat, man against man and plane against plane; that is his own statement. Therefore, while intensifying our efforts to speed up the production of the more modern fighter, I hope that nothing will be said or done to undermine the confidence of our pilots in their present machines.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Canberra light bomber with which squadrons of Bomber Command are to be equipped, and which I think he will agree is regarded as the best of its kind to be found in any Air Force in the world today. The Valiant, as the hon. Gentleman admitted, was ordered off the drawing board. It may be that the long-term policy to which he has referred, and to which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence referred in the 2131 defence debate—the policy which governed the advent of a four jet engined bomber—may, in the light of subsequent events, prove to have been unwise.
I do not think, however, that anyone in any Government could, in 1946 or 1947, have anticipated the Berlin blockade, or the invasion of South Korea by North Korea and subsequently by the Chinese forces. The Valiant, as the hon. Gentleman admitted, was ordered off the drawing board, and I hope that the tragic setback which this plane has recently had will not deter the Air Ministry from proceeding with this aircraft.
The fundamental difficulty confronting us in building up the Royal Air Force arises from the pressure for quantitative as well as qualitative power in each branch. While there is general agreement on the need for a balanced Air Force, some wanting a preponderance of fighters, others wanting a preponderance of bombers, some wanting a preponderance of aircraft for Coastal Command and others wanting a preponderance of transport machines, it is quite impracticable, in my opinion, to equip the Royal Air Force with great numbers of modern machines in all four Commands out of the means available or likely to be available; nor, in my view, is it essential.
The hon. Gentleman said that our air defences would be woefully inadequate if we did not have powerful allies. Does he or any other hon. Gentleman really believe that we have sufficient resources to match the production of a country like the Soviet Union? It is quite impracticable; it is impossible. Surely we must remember that we are part of a Western defence system, and the strength of our Air Force must, therefore, be related to that of our partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Our target should be to have a fighter force adequate to enable us to defend the United Kingdom and to make an adequate contribution to the combined fighter forces of the Western Allies in Europe and elsewhere.
We should, in my view, similarly relate the strength of our Bomber Command to the bomber strength of our American allies. Of course, we must make our contribution, but the Amercans, with their greater resources, must obviously have to make the major quantitative contribution to the combined bomber forces of the Western democracies. 2132 In other words, while the main responsibility for strategic bombing must, in these circumstances, rest with the American Air Force, Britain must build up a bomber striking force to co-operate with the American bomber force both for strategical and tactical purposes. Similar considerations should, in my opinion, govern the building-up of those vitally important Commands, Coastal and Transport.
At the end of the last war we were faced with a new weapon of attack, the V.2. We are told that it took only two minutes to travel from North Foreland to London and that it reached a height of 300,000 feet. If, unhappily, war ever came again, bombers must be available to strike at the sites from which the V.2 might be fired, because as far as I know—I may be wrong—there is as yet no other way of intercepting the V.2. On the other hand, the cost of the jet bomber remains very high, although I was interested in the suggestion—a new one to me—that we should have a very small bomber force but capable of carrying a very heavy weight of bombs. If that were possible that would be one way of dealing with the problem.
There is, however, another way which might be considered. So long as the cost of the jet bomber remains so high—and it is very high today—I agree that large numbers are out of the question. Perhaps the remedy may be found along the lines which the hon. Gentleman suggested, or alternatively in a simplified mass-produced jet bomber which could be produced at a lower cost. Moreover, whether we have a small number of bombers or a large number of bombers, so far as any possible enemy is concerned, we have the advent of the modern jet bomber which raises a vital defence problem.
In 1916 a German aeroplane took 58 minutes to fly from North Foreland to London, flying at 10,000 feet with a bomb load approximating six cwt. Today, one jet bomber would do the journey in six minutes flying at 30,000 feet, and it could drop an atomic bomb the equivalent of 20,000 tons—not lb.—of explosive. The jet fighter, backed by a modern radar chain, may be an effective defence against the jet bomber, but with bombers and fighters flying at speeds exceeding 500 miles an hour many experts consider that other means of defence must be found 2133 such as the guided missile to which the hon. Gentleman referred—although he did not make much of a reference—radarcontrolled, which can home on to a bomber and destroy it.
In my view, it is essential in the present circumstances, therefore—and I am not making this suggestion in any spirit of criticism—to intensify research and development, both air to air, ground to air and air to ground, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. We are confronted with the remorseless progress of scientific destruction. So long as wars unhappily afflict the world, so long will weapons even more deadly than those up to date be developed until, eventually, there will come the weapons that will destroy mankind.
We are told, again, that Russia is now spending £10,000 million a year on armaments, that the United States is spending £15,000 million and that we are spending £1,400 million. The entire world is mortgaging its future in a colossal arms race unprecedented in world history in peacetime. Surely the Governments of the world, in face of this menacing threat to all their peoples, must realise that it is their supreme duty to bring speedy security to a world that is in danger of annihilation.
I am certain the people themselves demand peace, and it is therefore imperative, in my view, that everything should be done to secure effective agreement in the disarmament discussions which are taking place under the auspices of the United Nations. An agreement on armaments might well transform the international situation and lead to those political settlements which are essential if we are to secure a stable world at peace.
On the other hand, until practical results have been achieved, we must all realise that it is the imperative duty of whatever Government may be in power in this country to ensure that we make our full contribution to the collective defence of peace consistent with the maintenance of our economic and social stability, and an essential part of that contribution must obviously be a highly efficient Royal Air Force.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. D. Perkins (Stroud and Thornbury)
As an old flying instructor, I wonder if I may be allowed to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under- 2134 Secretary of State for Air on a brilliant first solo, I must remark on the fact that he was airborne in 45 minutes, whereas the Secretary of State last year took an hour and 20 minutes. I am certain that my hon. Friend is now on the circuit, resting, and, later, in the early hours of tomorrow morning, I have no doubt that he will make a brilliant three-point landing all in one piece. I am sure that we all wish to congratulate him and to wish him the very best of luck in the difficult task which he has undertaken.
The Memorandum which has been supplied with the Air Estimates is, I believe, a soothing and, to a certain extent, a misleading document. I believe that it is an attempt to whitewash those people who are largely responsible for the present state of our air defences. In the last five years, we have spent something like £1,145 million on our air defences, and I think we are entitled to ask if we got value for that money, and, if we have got value for that money, why it is that the Air Force which, only six years ago, was all powerful, irresistible and invincible, has steadily wilted and withered until today it is relatively in a worse position than it has ever been since the late Colonel Guest disbanded the Service in 1919 and 1920.
I believe that, today, if the tragedy of war should occur, the Royal Air Force is not at present in a position to defend our country. I believe that the reason why we have fallen behind is because of the cut that was made in the Estimates four years ago, and to which reference has been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson).
The Estimates were reduced from £212 million in 1947 to £173 million in 1948, a drop of £39 million, and I believe that it was that drop that is the prime cause of all our troubles today, and that the responsibility for that cut must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Perkins
I could not have supported it, because I was not in the House.
Now, to go into greater detail, I want to refer to Fighter Command and today fighters only at the moment. We have not got in Fighter Command today one 2135 modern, swept-back wing fighter. All the fighters in Fighter Command today are not obsolete, but they are obsolescent in type, and, worse still, there is no prospect of our getting modern, swept-back wing fighters into Fighter Command, unless we buy them with dollars from America or Canada, for at least two years.
We won the Battle of Britain by quality—the quality of our machines and the quality of the pilots. We have been told today that we now have the necessary quality in the Hunter and the Swift, and it is universally agreed that these two aircraft are superior to the MIG.15, but will they be superior when they reach our squadrons in three years' time? Today, MIG.15 is finding its way into the Russian satellite air forces. It is obvious to me that the Russians are beginning to regard the MIG.15 as a second-line aircraft, and it is therefore also obvious that they have got something better up their sleeves—something which they are going to produce in two or three years' time.
I want to ask the Under-Secretary two questions. Will the Hunter and the Swift, when they go into the squadrons in two or three years' time, be superior to the latest Russian fighter? My second question is: Are these machines in production today, or are we still fiddling around with prototypes? Has a production line been laid down? Are we going right ahead with the production of these machines today? I believe that, if the answer is "No," the factories are still trying to improve the prototypes and have not yet actually started production of these machines.
Next, I come to night fighters. We read in this Memorandum that the squadrons have all been re-equipped. With what have they been re-equipped? With Meteor 11 and the Vampire 10 machines, which have no ejector seats and which are now obsolescent? I want to ask the Under-Secretary when we are likely to get modern machines in the night fighter squadrons? When are we likely to see the De Havilland 110 or the Gloster G.A.5? I read in the Press that they are to go into manufacturers' trials, which means that they are unlikely to go into the squadrons for at least three years, and probably even five years.
2136 Fighter Command today is a little low, and, as far as I can see, there is little chance of it being on top of the world again for at least two years, and probably three years. I believe that the main reason why Fighter Command has dropped back is the cut that was made four years ago.
I wonder if I might digress for a moment to the subject, which I am sure will be out of order, of the relationship between Fighter Command, guided missiles and the anti-aircraft defences. We read in the "Illustrated London News" last year that we are manufacturing and experimenting with a guided missile that will seek out and destroy at long range an enemy bomber, that will find its own target, and, by some mysterious process, will be attracted to the enemy aircraft before it reaches our shores. This country is eminently suited for rocket defence. Our frontiers are short compared with the frontiers of many other countries in the world.
§ Mr. Perkins
Yes, we have a bigger and more concentrated population. It would be an easy matter to have round our coasts, like our radar chains, rocket stations from which these guided missiles could be fired. I believe these guided missiles are very nearly operational now and I should like to know who is to command those in charge of them and who is to be responsible for firing them, whether from the ground or from the air?
We cannot have our fighter pilots in the air at the same time as the missiles, for the missiles might not seek out the enemy bomber but one of our own fighters. We cannot have our fighter pilots going into action with the fear that behind their shoulders one of these monstrosities will come up and torpedo them. Who is to be in charge of the guided missiles when they appear? The whole control of guided missiles and Anti-aircraft Command must be taken from the Army and the Ministry of Supply and must be handed over entirely to Fighter Command.
As to Bomber Command, the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) made a most interesting contribution a fortnight ago in the course 2137 of the debate on defence. I think he proved conclusively to the House that a heavy bomber force in this country would definitely act as a deterrent to any foreign aggressor. It would make the aggressor think twice. I entirely agree with him in that, although we probably disagree on every other subject under the sun. Not only would a bomber force in this country be a deterrent, but it would be a very effective form of defence against any potential attacker. Perhaps the most effective means of destroying any rockets or guided missiles is to smash the factories where they are made and their breeding and spawning grounds. If that is done the enemy attack will soon wither away.
Today, Bomber Command is equipped with Washington B29s—obsolete aircraft. They have been pensioned off for a long time. They have been in rest camps in cocoons. They have been brought out of those cocoons and are now in service with Bomber Command. Bomber Command may have two squadrons of Canberras, but that is all. That has been published in the Press so I am not letting out any official secrets. One day Bomber Command will have the Valiant, to which the Under-Secretary of State has referred. But as far as I can see, the chance of their reaching squadrons in quantities must be four years and may well be five years ahead. Today, Bomber Command is incapable of fulfilling its proper function of either acting as a deterrent to the enemy or destroying the breeding grounds where enemy bombers are made.
The Under-Secretary referred to Transport Command. He admitted it was an unwanted child of the Royal Air Force. He admitted it was really incapable of doing its job.
§ Mr. Perkins
That was certainly the impression that my hon. Friend gave me. He gave the impression that the whole of the R.A.F. wanted to concentrate on Bomber Command and Fighter Command and that Transport Command had to take a back seat, but if I am wrong I gladly apologise and withdraw.
The plain fact is that when we had to have a lot of transport machines to 2138 break the blockade of Berlin. Transport Command could not supply them and it had to call in civilian operators. When we had to send the Airborne Division out to Cyprus at the time of the Abadan trouble again Transport Command could not do the job and the Airborne Division which would normally expect to go by air, went by sea. It is quite obvious to me that Transport Command is very much a paper command.
As to Coastal Command, we have a handful of Shackletons. I do not know whether they are very good or very bad. All I know is that they are the old Lincolns re-designed and re-hashed in 1946, given another coat of paint, given a different name, given more petrol and a lot of gadgets. Whether the Shackleton is a good aeroplane or not I am not prepared to say, but I know that we have not very many of them.
The Under-Secretary will say, "What about the Neptunes?" The Press were asked to visit Coastal Command on 18th January last, They came back and reported that we then had only two Neptunes; so, obviously, we cannot place great reliance on Coastal Command with two Neptunes. Coastal Command today is in a sad state. I believe that the reason is that the Air Council, naturally and quite rightly, concentrate on fighters and bombers to defend this country. If they have anything to spare it goes to Coastal Command or Transport Command, but I believe that Coastal Command is regarded today as a kind of sideline. It is a rest home for the halt, the lame and the blind.
§ Mr. Perkins
I remember that when the Russian Ambassador was staying in Mr. Speaker's constituency outside Cheltenham during the last war he was asked one day by a friend of mine if he could explain why, at the beginning of the war, the Russian Government had liquidated so many of their generals. He turned round and very smartly and intelligently said, "We did not have a Cheltenham to which we could retire them."
I believe that Coastal Command is today the Cheltenham of the Royal Air Force Something is obviously radically wrong with that Command. It is more important to this country than is the 2139 British Navy. The Navy no longer have to worry about surface ships except, of course,, a few raiders. There are no longer battle fleets for the Navy to fight. All the Navy has to do is to keep our sea lanes clear of submarines and mines; and against the submarines in the last war the aeroplane was proved to be by far the most effective weapon. The Admiralty on 10th June, 1945, said—
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
If my hon. Friend will allow me to interrupt, this is the second time that the claim has been made that more submarines have been sunk by aircraft. I should like to call my hon. Friend's attention to Cmd. 6751, which indicates that more submarines were sunk by ships than were sunk by aircraft. It is rather important that these misleading statements should not go out uncorrected.
§ Mr. Perkins
There appears to be a difference of opinion between us, because on 10th June, 1945. the Admiralty issued the statement that 781 U-boats had been sunk in the war, of which 413 were sunk either by bombing or by air attack or by ships working in conjunction with the air. That means that 413 out of 781, well over 50 per cent., could be attributed to the aeroplane.
§ Captain Ryder
That enables me to return to the charge. Since those claims were made this Command Paper has been published, dated 1946. It was the result of very careful examination and the figures were set out with very great care. If one adds up the total sunk by ships and ship-borne aircraft and submarines—
§ Captain Ryder
But the point was that the statement quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) was made in connection with Coastal Command.
§ Captain Ryder
Yes, it was. I think it is quite clear that my hon. Friend was referring to Coastal Command. Therefore, I think it is important that these misleading statements should not go out uncorrected.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I wonder if the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) would arbitrate in this matter?
§ Mr. Perkins
Perhaps I had better leave this highly contentious subject and go back to 1930.
I was a very humble, junior and insignificant Member of this House at that time. There was then a feud between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. The Admiralty were anxious to get hold of Coastal Command, and various hon. Members of the House took sides. At that time I did my level best to help my friends who were fighting this battle. I was convinced that the old seadogs at that time did not realise the danger of aircraft attacks on ships and on submarines. The old seadogs were not air-minded and they were convinced that a battleship of that day could never be sunk by air power.
I have looked up the debate on the Navy Estimates for 17th March, 1938, and our present Prime Minister, who is usually well in advance of his time on these matters, then ridiculed the idea that any ship could be sunk by air power. He poked fun at my old friend who was sitting on the other side of the House—the then Member for Hertford, Admiral Sir Murray Sueter—suggesting to him that it was quite impossible for an aeroplane to fly along the deck of a ship and drop a bomb down the funnel, and he ended that speech with these words:…the air menace, however seriously it may operate in other directions, will not destroy the validity of sea power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1938; Vol. 333, c. 664.]The same gentleman, when he was Prime Minister, only three years afterwards—on 11th December, 1941—when the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" had been sunk, announced the news in the House in these words:Both ships were sunk by repeated air attacks by bombers and by torpedo-aircraft."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1941; Vol. 376, c. 1695.]Within three years that very distinguished thinker, the present Prime Minister, had realised that the impossible had happened.
I believe that from that moment onwards the Admiralty began to wake up and to realise the danger of air attack not only on big ships but on submarines. 2141 There came over them a change of heart. I believe that there should be pinned up in every room in the Admiralty that date—11th December, 1941. Today, like many converts, they are a bit too enthusiastic about air power. Their Fleet Air Arm have something like 28 different types of aircraft, whereas they really ought to have only three or four types. They are a bit too air-minded—in many ways more air-minded than some of the air marshals in the Air Ministry.
It is because of this change of heart which has taken place in the Admiralty and because Coastal Command is, as I say, the unwanted child of the Air Force, that that part of Coastal Command which is vital for the sinking of submarines should be taken away and given to the Admiralty, and that the responsibility for keeping our sea lanes clear of submarines should rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Admiralty alone.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I should like to add my good wishes to the new Under-Secretary of State for Air. I hope he has a happy term of office, although a short-lived one. As fraternal greetings have been bandied about between one instructor and another, I think it should be stated that there are also former instructors on this side and, as a product of the Central Flying School myself, I think I am entitled to be included amongst them.
I am not surprised that we have had the usual complaint about the incomplete information that is provided to the House. Despite all the rash promises made by Government spokesmen when they were on this side, I noticed that in the literature they publish the word "substantial" is still preferred to hard figures. I beg leave to doubt whether a discussion of Air Estimates is best carried out in a Chamber of this kind.
I recognise that a great weight of responsibility does rest upon the Chiefs of Staff and upon the Air Council, and I recognise that they must pay very close regard to the question of security; but, after all, Members of Parliament also have a responsibility. In fact we have a dual responsibility. We have a responsibility not only for ensuring that the money collected from our constituents is spent wisely, but, as representatives of the 2142 people, for trying to assure ourselves that the physical safety of our people is being safeguarded.
Here I speak only for myself, but I sometimes think that some modification—some form of the American Military Affairs Committee—might very well be adopted for the discussion of these matters. One of the first items about which I should like some more information—though I doubt very much whether I shall be given it—is the question of our control and reporting system. The Under-Secretary, in introducing these Estimates, did stress its importance. He said that we were going to press on with the overhaul of our radar network with determination and vigour. I hope all our affairs in this field are pressed on with determination and vigour; but it really does not tell us very much.
I realise that we cannot get details, but I wonder whether it would be possible to know in what time it was originally intended to complete this overhaul. Is it likely to be completed within that time and, if not, is it material, equipment, personnel or a mixture of all three that will limit progress?
The second subject on which I should like to put several questions if I were a member of one of these American-type committees is one which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) and one on which my right hon. Friend, the former Secretary of State, also had some very thoughtful and thought-provoking words to say. I refer to our defences against guided missiles and rocket projectiles. I should say that, as a former junior Minister, I have no information at all on these subjects, but I suggest that Soviet Russia is much further advanced in these matters than we are prepared to admit.
It seems almost certain that they have got a good deal of information and "know-how" from the Germans. Some of the Germans went over to their side voluntarily, some were bribed, and I know the names of at least two who were kidnapped and taken over there. In one way or another it is quite certain that the Russians have benefited a good deal from the experience and the research of the Germans during the last war.
If I may divert for a moment, I would say that there are three reasons why patriotic and intelligent citizens sometimes 2143 doubt the whole underlying assumptions of our arms programme. One reason is that although we are told that this is a time of great urgency we are, precisely at this time, running down our strategic stocks of essential raw materials. The second reason is that amongst all the work that is going on there is no sign that any provision is being made for deep-shelter accommodation for the civilian population. It is difficult to say that there is any urgency at the present time in our civil defence preparations.
I know that these two matters do not come within the scope of the Air Estimates, but this third matter does come within their scope, and it is one which alarms a good many thoughtful citizens of our country at the present moment. The big question in the minds of many people is the possibility of defence against projectiles and guided missiles. It is a mistake to think that people will be reassured by any impressive silence. Moreover, it is impossible for us, as Members of Parliament, to form a valid or worthwhile judgment about other decisions which this Government have taken unless we know something about the possibilities in this field.
We know that in the last war the German V.2 carried a warhead of one ton for a distance of about 200 miles and had an accuracy of around four miles. A great deal of research has been done since that time. About three or four years ago the United States Navy Department went or record with this statement, that it wasa safe assumption that rockets with atomic warheads capable of thousands of miles of range could not be expected for 25 years.Well, that may be some consolation to the people of the United States, but it is no consolation to the people of this country who are living considerably nearer to possible launching bases than the distance quoted by the United States Navy Department.
I am not convinced that there are not rockets with an atomic warhead now available which could traverse the distance to this island from possible launching bases. I remember discussing some of these possibilities in 1946 with one of the principal scientific advisers to Mr. Stalin. He told me at that time, in 1946, that they had in Russia already 2144 succeeded in separating fissionable isotopes, that they had stocks of plutonium, and that a bomb would be produced within two or three years time. My English scientist friends derided this suggestion, "Here," they said, "is an example of Soviet boasting." We now know that that Russian scientist was telling me the truth. I am inclined to think that the under-estimate which we had of the Russian development of the atomic bomb is probably duplicated in respect to guided missiles.
I have gone into this matter in some detail because it will have relevance to what I want to say at a later stage of my speech. All I now wish to ask is this: Can the Under-Secretary give us some general information about the possibility of defence against these guided missiles? If, for example, we are depending upon light or heavy bombers for destroying these missiles at their launching bases, as suggested by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury, there are some of us who would wish to question the wisdom of giving super-priority, as the Prime Minister suggested, to our fighter defences.
Now I should like to turn to a rather more congenial subject. It concerns the total supply in this country and the potential reserve of pilots. Later I wish to say something about the supply and potential reserve of transport aircraft. We are all very glad to learn that the recruitment of pilots has improved so sharply, but I would argue that in this country we need a much larger pool of trained pilots in reserve than anything of which hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite have yet spoken.
When I had some responsibility for these matters in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, I was very keen to get a scheme working which would ensure a regular flow of recruits into the airline pilots profession. I was convinced that there were ample numbers of young men in this country who would be only too glad to turn to the airline pilots profession if, first, they could get their preliminary training without the expenditure of several thousand pounds, and secondly, if they knew how to go about it. Here, perhaps, I might digress again to say that, after all, this profession is not without its attractions. A senior captain's pay today is equal to that of a present-day 2145 Cabinet Minister, and is twice that of the hon. Gentleman who presented these Estimates.
§ Mr. Beswick
It certainly has greater security than that of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in their posts, and it attracts a pension.
My idea was to get young men interested in this profession before it came to the time when they had to report for National Service. I do not wish to be unfair, but I and others have the impression that the Air Ministry are not cooperating in this scheme quite so enthusiastically as they might. I am not now thinking of trained pilots only for the air corporations—I think the organisation they serve is immaterial provided we have the trained reserves available—but the more and the higher quality available for taking further training with the air corporations or with one of the charter companies.
I hope the Under-Secretary will note my remarks on this subject, because I know that he is as enthusiastic about this as I am. I hope that he will look into this himself to make absolutely certain that there is the fullest partnership and support between the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the air corporations and the charter companies in getting young men interested in this idea of National Service as a gateway to the airline pilots profession.
I now come to the question of aircraft. There is a growing realisation that we need a greatly increased capacity of transport aircraft in this country, but I doubt very much whether many people realise just how big a capacity we shall need one day. I am not thinking in terms of another two or three squadrons, or an additional 50 or 60 machines. I am thinking in terms of hundreds, if not thousands, of transport aircraft. The Berlin airlift gave us some idea of the possible problem. We have had other reminders in connection with Persia and Egypt.
Reference has already been made to a dinner in the City of London celebrating the fact that we flew 3,000 men out to Egypt, but I believe I am correct in saying that up to December of last year no fewer than 121,000 men had been flown 2146 half way round the world from San Francisco to the Japanese and Korean theatres of war. That is the order of the military problem, and it may well be that our own problems will be even bigger than that.
Besides the emergence of war-time uses, there is the question of air trooping. The Prime Minister said the other day that at any time there are 30,000 Service men in the pipe line; that is to say, coming or going from or to one or other theatre for which we have responsibility. I will not go into the figures, although some of them are known. The economics of air trooping as against sea trooping repay the most profound study; they are fascinating. I should have thought that added weight ought to be given to the advantages of air trooping. I say this partly because it is a better way of making the best possible use of the limited number of men available, and partly because it will have ready for us in war-time a ready-made reserve.
There is another matter about which I want to go into some detail. As the House knows, I had the privilege a few years ago of seeing two atomic bombs detonated. I am not likely to forget either spectacle. But to me the second one, the under-water detonation, was something quite out of this world. I remember that senior military officers and scientists around me were provoked into stamping and shouting to express their emotion when they saw this tremendous spectacle. What occurred to me immediately was, "Here is the method of attack that is going to be most deadly so far as we are concerned." I could very well imagine the Pool of London throwing up similar showers of radio contaminated spray.
I understand from one American journal that the Americans have a plan to put China out of action by rendering her waterways unusable. I do not know whether that plan is feasible or not. What I do know is that it would be quite feasible to put our Island out of commission if we were entirely dependent, if our communications and our supplies were entirely dependent, on our own waterways and ports and harbours. Members will, perhaps, now see why I went into some detail about the possibilities of guided missiles. Have we any defence that can prevent these weapons falling upon our harbours and ports? 2147 Have we any defence that can stop high flying aircraft from dropping these bombs from great heights, and probably 15 miles away from our coasts? I doubt it.
I do think that this is a possibility that we must concentrate on—that to all intents and purposes this Island can be rendered unusable so far as sea transport is concerned. We hear a lot in this Chamber about the dangers of submarines and mines and so on. I gather that there is to be quite a mock fight later on between the airmen and the sailors as to whether Coastal Command should be a naval or Air Force command. Such a fight` may well be quite unrealistic, and utterly irrelevant to the facts of the situation. If a ship, with the aid of the Admiralty or of the Royal Air Force, survived the submarine menace and found its way to these shores, of what use would it be if, when it arrived, the harbours were out of commission? Of what value would a ship in such circumstances be to us? In such circumstances, hundreds—indeed, thousands—of transport aircraft to assure the delivery of supplies to this Island would be absolutely invaluable, and we have to think in those terms.
I put forward this demand all the more confidently because I feel that a programme of this kind, unlike so many other military demands, can be undertaken without incurring an absolutely intolerable economic burden. The machines I have in mind can also develop a manufacturing capacity which would give us a tremendous export potential. One of the most telling points, I thought, in the document which was circulated by the Air League, was the figures it gave of weight against value ratio of transport aircraft. The figures, as most Members will know, were as follows: a De Havilland Comet represents exports worth approximately £530,000, and has a deadweight of approximately 50,000 lb.; the comparable weight of motor cars has an export value of between £10,000 and £15,000.
I am suggesting that the Under-Secretary of State needs to build up our transport aircraft reserve. It will be in his interest and in our country's interest to have a manufacturing potential for this type of aircraft, both for our own commercial needs and for the export trade. I have not time to go into all the details of how this force could be deployed. 2148 Quite obviously, however, Transport Command should be built up and priority given to the new machines for our air corporations. We should develop our air freighter services from this country, and I should like to see a large organisation, preferably a publicly-owned organisation, specialising in air trooping.
Just a word about aircraft types. Any one who goes to Farnborough, as the hon. Gentleman said, and has anything of an eye for aircraft, could not help but think that in the Valiant we have a basic type to provide for us admirable transport machines. I personally should like to see something bigger. Could the hon. Gentleman say whether the possibility of developing this aircraft as a transport machine is being explored with all the urgency that it requires?
Second, let me say something about flying boats. I am, sorry to see the Princess put back again. There was talk in a magazine the other day about the "martyrdom" of the flying boats. If ever a flying boat was martyred I think the Princess was, and by the manufacturers of aircraft engines. The treatment of the Princess flying boat from the engine point of view has been really appalling, and if the full story could be told I think it would reflect very badly on those people who had the responsibility for building the engines for that flying boat. Nevertheless, although it has been put back, I think there is still a great need for an aircraft of this weight which can alight on water, and I hope that the Air Ministry will not go back on its declared intention of using these machines for transport purposes. I hope that the Proteus III engines will be given some priority, and that the Princess will get some of the first engines that are produced at Bristol.
Third—but by no means of least importance—in connection with the aircraft programme is the necessity in this country for a big multi-engined helicopter. It is really a tragedy the way we have got so far behind in the development of this machine. I should like the hon. Gentleman to promise me that he will give this project his personal and his urgent attention in conjunction with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Supply. There are immense possibilities for a machine of this kind—for a 40-seater helicopter—both for civil use 2149 and for military use. We need these machines very badly, and I hope that we shall be told that work on a machine of the type and size I suggest has been started.
Let me sum up what I have asked for and the opinions I have ventured to offer in this debate. What progress is being made in the overhaul of our radar network? On what do we fix our hopes for defence against guided missiles and projectiles? Will the hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that he will get a positive and enthusiastic partnership between his Department and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, in their common interests, to ensure an infinitely greater reserve of trained pilots and of transport aircraft? Will he give his support for greater priority for those jet transports that are now in production? Will he see that absolutely no time is lost in the development of bigger and faster machines that will be available by the year 1956? Will he promise that the decision to fit the Princess flying boats with a Proteus III engine is not made an excuse to scrap the project altogether? Will he also lend his energies, together with those of the other Departments concerned, to getting for this country a multi-engined 40-seater helicopter within the next four or five years?
In the last war the Allies had an agreement in which we concentrated on fighter planes. I think that at this time we might well have another agreement under which the United Kingdom could concentrate upon transport machines. Overseas transport communications are important to the United States. But to us, in peace as well as in war, they are absolutely vital. The proposals which I have tried to outline may well make all the difference to our survival in the event of another war. I believe they could also make a contribution to our prosperity in time of peace.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) posed three doubts about our arms programme which I think go to the core of the problem. First, he was concerned about the run-down of our stocks of raw materials, secondly, that we have not any deep shelters, and, thirdly, about the question of our defence against guided missiles. I quite agree that the first one does go to the core of the problem, and it reminds me of what a 2150 Russian officer in Berlin in 1946 or 1947 said to one of our officers. He said: "We reckon we have got you taped." The British officer said, "What do you mean?" The Russian officer replied, "If you do not re-arm we have got you at our mercy, and if you do, you are going to go bust economically." That is the problem which we have to face today in considering all forms of re-armament.
The question of deep shelters I have always considered to be an urgent one. I cannot understand why they were not started several years ago. With regard to guided missiles, there are four places where we can hope to get the projectile—the place where it is made; when it is on the way to the launching site; at the launching site; and, finally, when it is in flight. The last one poses the greatest problem of the lot and undoubtedly requires a great deal of scientific research.
What is the main factor in considering these Estimates today, and the whole question of air power? The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) complained that the Under-Secretary did not give us very much information. I should like to add, as the third flying instructor called within an hour, my congratulations to my hon. Friend on the excellent way in which he managed his first survey, which was what I expected of him. My hon. Friend did say very definitely certain things. He said that the question of air power was a matter of life or death for this country. He indicated that we were virtually nowhere but for our powerful allies.
The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) raised a bit of a storm, or a potential storm, between the naval men and the air men. I think this is a matter which can be wrongly put, but it ought to be stated in perfectly plain language. What has really happened today is that air power has become what sea power was in the last century. That is to say, there is no other power that can operate today without the permission of air power. That does not mean that sea power or land power is not important; it means we have first got to conquor the air before we can either operate sea or land power. That surely is clear. That is why it is a matter of life or death to us that we take the right steps now in regard to our 2151 air power. Air power is probably the most delicate of all the forces, and it depends not only on skilful and brave air crews but on scientific development, technical efficiency and power of greater production.
What the Under-Secretary said today by inference was virtually this: That United States air power is keeping the peace of the world. That, in fact, is what is happening. We have to play our part and fit into this picture. It is the capacity to deliver the atomic bomb and not only the atomic bomb itself that matters, and the United States is the only nation that has the power of rapid production and the technical efficiency and scientific development that is necessary. We can make an immense addition to this. We can build and design extremely good aeroplanes and aero-engines. Almost equally important is not only defence front line aircraft, our economic position and our exports abroad.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge raised this point. I should like to stress that there is a wealth of difference in selling what is our life or death defence, our front line aircraft, and selling transport aircraft. The latter is perfectly permissible. It helps our industry and foreign peoples want them. But our latest type engines and airframes are something which foreign powers should not get unless we are certain they are going to be reliable allies. United States air power is keeping the peace today, but is it, after all, in such a happy condition? The Alsop Bros., writing in the "New York Herald Tribune" early in February, pointed out that Soviet Russia were making six jet interceptors to every one of the American interceptors, and two jet bombers to every one that the Americans are making. They are turning out MIG.15's at the rate of 6,200 a year and twin-engined jet bombers at the rate of 750 a year. As the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury said, the Royal Air Force is not in a position to stop these twin-engine Russian bombers from geting through to this country.
There is not only the danger of bombers coming through and of air-borne troops, but the danger of submarines. We have the Shackleton. Supposing that it is capable of and equipped for doing the job required, can the Under-Secretary 2152 give an assurance that the runways on which the Shackleton operates have been strengthened in the last year or two and that it can now operate on most airfields from all airstrips instead of only one, as was the case a year or two back.
I want to take up a point which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Uxbridge concerning transport. Here, I heartily agree with him that we cannot over-estimate the element of air transport in air power. It is an essential element of air power. At the present time, we have one or two freighters which have been developed by companies like Bristol and Blackburn, and I believe that the Blackburn freighter is a particularly good one.
This aeroplane has been flying since 1950. There is still apparently no definite order placed for this aeroplane for any of the fighting services by any Government Department. I believe that it is right to say that two squadrons of these freighters could carry a brigade plus its whole equipment to Egypt in half the time and at half the capital cost of the necessary sea transport. Surely that is something which is worth developing. But these modern aeroplanes cost a great deal of money, and aircraft firms have not got a great deal of reserves for development. They are tremendously dependent—
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
I cannot tell the hon. Member the exact cost, but it is something like £350,000. That is a lot of money for a firm to carry.
Flying-boats have also been mentioned today. I must here declare an interest, because I am a director of the only British company operating flying-boats today. However, hon. Members will know that I spoke in favour of flying boats even before I had this interest. Another firm is anxious to operate flying-boats and would do so if it could get permission from the Government.
The lesson I wish to draw from this is simply that there appears to be no high level machinery for deciding policy between civil and military air transport, and such machinery is very badly needed. We need high level policy to push matters like flying-boats and freighters. In that 2153 connection, I suggest that the Royal Air Force could save money and gain manpower if civil operators were allowed to operate all the scheduled routes which are at present being done by Transport Command and Transport Command confined its activities to Army support, paratroop carrying, airborne troop carrying, supply carrying, trooping, glider towing, etc. Machinery to decide this is needed at the highest possible level.
I want to say a word or two about training. Can we be told if there is any prospect of the R.A.F. Reserve getting some worthwhile aircraft in the near future? Is the reserve of pilots being built up with imagination and drive? Also, is there any chance of developing a jet trainer? It is a very big step to pass from the advanced trainer straight to a jet aircraft, and a jet trainer with a medium speed of about 350 miles an hour would be a great help and might be cheap in the long run.
Is the Air Ministry doing everything it can—this is perhaps something to be decided at the highest level—to encourage flying clubs and private owners? The Chancellor of the Exchequer should certainly be brought into those consultations. The petrol duty on private owners comes to not more than £5,000 a year with the present ownership. There is a danger that the private owner will become extinct. In the United States the private flyer is regarded as a kind of auxiliary reserve, and we ought to look upon him in exactly the same way.
The cost of our air power has been mentioned several times. The cost test is of very little value. The only test is what effective combatant units we can put in the field. Looking through the Air Estimates I find that if we take out all the aircraft, guns and bombs under the heading of "Aircraft and stores" we shall take out less than half the total cost. Therefore, it is possible to have an air force costing six or seven times what the most expensive air force did before the war and yet have no aircraft, guns or bombs in it. It is obvious that that side must be examined very carefully in relation to economy measures.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton mentioned—we all agree with him—that the morale of our airmen is high. That is an asset 2154 which we can count on very gratefully, but we ought to back it up as soon as we can with equipment of the latest type. Meantime, it is our duty to ensure that we repair this lack as speedily as possible and make do with all the available resources that we have.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
I listened with interest to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments. I wish to draw attention to a branch of the Service which has been rather neglected in these debates. This is the fourth successive occasion on which I have been privileged as an hon. Member to listen to the annual debate on the Air Estimates, and in all the speeches to which I have listened I have not heard a word said about the Medical Branch of the Royal Air Force.
I speak today to remedy that serious omission and to draw attention to the importance of the work of that branch. I do not for a moment suggest that the Medical Branch is the most important branch of the Royal Air Force. Undoubtedly the key men of the Service are the aircrew. The Royal Air Force is a fighting Service and the highest place of distinction must be given to those who serve primarily as combatants.
All I suggest is that the Medical Branch, in common with all other ground staff, has a vital part in maintaining the efficiency of a great Service. My conviction about the value of the branch is fortified by the attitude of the aircrew towards the medical personnel of their Service. Speaking from personal experience, I found that those modest men who fly our aircraft hold the Medical Branch in high regard. That is the recommendation that really matters.
I have one or two suggestions to make to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, but before I do so I should like briefly to remind him and the House of the duties of the Medical Branch in the hope that my proposals will be thoroughly understood and accepted. I wish to confine my remarks to matters on which I can speak with a certain amount of knowledge, and, therefore, I speak from the point of view of the medical officer.
2155 First and foremost among the duties of the medical officer in the Royal Air Force I place the use of his knowledge and the practise of his art and skill in healing the sick and the injured. In addition to those literally vital duties he has indispensable and essential ones in the prevention of illness and accidents.
He is responsible for advising his commanding officer on all matters concerning hygiene and sanitation. He prevents disease by means of routine innoculations and vaccination, and he conducts medical examinations from time to time to make sure that personnel remain at the required standard of fitness for their respective duties. Those medical examinations are, of course, of the greatest importance in the case of aircrew.
Those are not all his duties, but they are the principal ways in which he prevents and treats accidents and disease. That is a brief summary of his duties which he undertakes by virtue of being a medical man. There are other duties which he shares with other officers of commissioned and non-commissioned rank in upholding the prestige and maintaining the efficiency of the Royal Air Force, but I wish to confine my attention to his medical duties.
In order that he may carry out these duties with a high degree of skill and efficiency, I believe it is necessary for him to acquire a knowledge of a comparatively new branch of medicine, namely aviation medicine. This has become a specialised subject containing medical problems which are not encountered in the other Armed Forces of the Crown with the exception of the Fleet Air Arm.
It is not natural for the human body to ascend to such heights as it is taken in aircraft. It is unnatural to ascend or decend with the rapidity required in flying. It is a new experience for human beings to travel at the speed of modern aircraft and to change direction when flying so fast. Therefore, from these few examples it will easily be seen how many physical and psychological problems arise as a result of modern aviation.
My first question to the Minister is, is he satisfied that medical officers in the Royal Air Force are given every opportunity and encouragement to learn the subject of aviation medicine? I know that useful knowledge of this subject can 2156 be gained by means of lectures and demonstrations on the ground such as the use of the de-compression chamber, but I suggest that the most useful way to understand this subject is by actual experience of flying. This is not an original idea of mine.
Before the war medical officers could qualify as pilots and have the distinction of wings on their uniforms. King's Regulations laid down clearly the requirements for that qualification. At the outbreak of war the Air Ministry stopped the practice. I believe that aircraft could not be spared for the purpose of training medical officers to fly, and it was rumoured that a shortage of medical manpower during the war made it undesirable that they should risk their lives unnecessarily.
Towards the end of the war, however, a new scheme was instituted and operated by the Air Ministry. Certain young medical officers who were taking Regular commissions, were given a full course of training required for pilots of modern aircraft. I should like to know whether that scheme is still in operation. Are Regular medical officers being given facilities for gaining that experience? I will go even further and suggest that all personnel of the medical branch should be given every opportunity of being airborne. It will bring good results I am sure.
In the first place, there will be a better understanding by all medical officers, airmen and airwomen of the work of aircrew, and such experience must still further that fine spirit among those concerned by making them feel that they are really members of an air force. I would also suggest that it gives aircrew greater confidence in their medical advisers because they know that those advisers understand and appreciate their own special problems and difficulties.
For all those reasons I ask the Minister to take an interest in this matter. I should be glad if he could advise the officers of the General Duties Branch to provide, whenever possible, opportunities for medical personnel of all ranks to have the experience that I have suggested.
I have another request to make: it concerns air ambulances. I know that air ambulances were used in the later years of the war, but I should be glad to know how far this life-saving measure has been developed since then. I am concerned 2157 about this matter because of a remark which was made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air in his speech this afternoon. I jotted down his words and I hope I wrote them correctly:We must refrain from ordering types of aircraft, which, although desirable, are not vital for the defence of our island.From that I understand that the Air Ministry are not ordering the construction of air ambulances. I appreciate the difficulty, but I would ask whether it is not possible for the conversion into air ambulances of some types of aircraft which have become obsolete for operational purposes and have been replaced by more modern types of machines.
Air ambulances, we must remember, can transport speedily cases requiring urgent and difficult surgical operations. The existence of a large number of air ambulances would increase the efficiency of medical treatment. The knowledge that such a service was available would be appreciated by the fighting men, and it would be a comfort to their relatives and friends at home. I am sure there would be no difficulty of staffing those ambulances. Volunteers would come forward readily from all ranks, and I would suggest to the Minister that some airwomen could be employed in air ambulances as nursing orderlies.
It might be advisable for the personnel who form the crews of air ambulances to be given some distinctive badge, possibly a shoulder flash saying "Air Ambulance," which I am sure would be worn with pride. That distinctive badge would be seen by the fighting men and by the civilians at home when the airmen and airwomen go on leave. It would show that a highly efficient medical service was doing everything possible to save life.
My final request to the Minister concerns the recruitment of medical officers in the Royal Air Force. Is he satisfied that every effort is being made to attract suitable men and women to take Regular commissions? Service in the Medical Branch of the Royal Air Force provides not only professional work, with opportunities for specialising in certain fields of medicine and surgery, but it gives the opportunity of travel and the experience of flying, and it provides a life lived in the company of men and women of a 2158 type of which our country is rightly proud.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I am particularly happy to be following the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton): as I can say with some feeling that I endorse truly all that he has said. As one who, in fact, did qualify during the war in aviation medicine, having been trained first as a pilot in the Royal Air Force and then trained back on biplanes by the Fleet Air Arm, I can say that I have seen the work of the flying medical officer, who is an indispensable adjunct to the flying service.
I know that many medical officers were flying in the Royal Air Force before the war. Sir Philip Sassoon said that I should continue to fly with the Royal Air Force if I joined as a doctor, but knowing that a doctor has to be on the ground, or else all flying stops, I did not fall for that one. The discontinuing of flying training for doctors during the war was a pity, although I can understand it. I trust that it will be reinstituted, because it has the greatest effect upon the morale of the flying types concerned. I know, and the aviators in this House will probably endorse it, that on the subject of flying a pilot will listen to a pilot and will not listen to anybody else. Therefore, if a doctor has to train aircrews in aviation medicine and about the things that happen to them in the air, the chap who is doing the instruction must be an aviator himself; otherwise he will not be listened to.
I can mention a point which arose in my own experience, although it was not altogether pleasant. I remember serving in East Africa during the war on an air station. I was approached by the Commander-Flying of H.M.S. "Illustrious," who was finding things a little difficult because a lot of pilots were having crashes during night flying. There was a good deal of what was known as "twitch" flying about. He suggested that I should undertake night deck landing training and go on and get twitch myself so that I could explain what happened. Fortunately somebody stopped me from doing that.
I can endorse that there is such a thing as an air ambulance, because only a few weeks ago I was near Bagdad, at the 2159 Royal Air Force station Habbaniyah, a magnificent place. I landed just behind an R.A.F. Hastings which was evacuating patients from the Korean war by stages, and this was one of the stages. There was a perfectly good, serviceable Hastings, one of a number which I understood were doing ambulance work, and there were women of the Royal Air Force doing orderly work on board, although they were not equipped with special indications of their airborne character.
The main point in these Estimates which strikes me a considerable blow, I must say, is the fact that we are still without a first-line British fighter. We did not have one last year, and we have not got one this year, that is fit to mix it on anything like level terms with the MIG 15, in spite of what the gallant Major Jabara may say. Furthermore, I do not think that we shall have one next year. This is a very serious matter. We are in a very sad position in this country. I think there is blame to be apportioned, and it must be brought to bear in the right place. It is also a very terrible thing that the Russian Nene engine is still superior to any Rolls-Royce engine now flying in the Royal Air Force. That is a pretty shameful position. We have a frightful amount of leeway to make up as regards the indiscretions—if I call them no worse—of the late Administration.
While we are sagging behind and attempting to catch up in the air, I should be very grateful if my hon. Friend could give some further description of the "super-priority" which is to be brought in about aircraft supplies. It is felt very far and wide throughout the country that this is wanted, and I know that the industry would like to have the information at the earliest opportunity. I would be very keen to know whether the super-priority applies to fighters only or to bombers as well. I do not think that I have ever seen that information clearly expressed.
What steps are being taken to bring about standardisation of air equipment between America and Britain, and among the North Atlantic Treaty Powers? In connection with standardisation, I recently had information which gave me a good deal of misgiving. It was that certain types of aircraft are being adopted for the North Atlantic Treaty Powers, such as the Sabre, which has now been in 2160 existence as a front-line aircraft for 3½ years, although we have nothing yet to compare with it. If this and the F.84 Thunderjet are to be standardised for the North Atlantic Powers, I should like to know whether this is the final crystallisation of standardisation, or whether any of our own aircraft, when produced, are to be taken up as standard equipment for the North Atlantic Treaty Powers.
I have been much disturbed by the fact that we have had to put our production, such as it has been, into intermediate types which, even when produced, are not of first-line quality. They are not capable of giving battle in the air to the best potential enemy machines. I should like to know when there is any likelihood of improvement. As soon as the Sabres, the Swifts and the Hunters come into production and are made the equipment for the Royal Air Force, the Government should lift the embargo on the export of military aircraft to friendly countries, and in particular in the Middle East. We should then supply the aircraft which they need and which it is not so vitally necessary should have the highest performance figures, as it would be if they were in the main theatre of war here.
I should like to have some misgivings put at rest, if it can be done, about the question of officers. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) talked about the need for a reserve of trained pilots. I learned my flying training with the Royal Air Force and I had four years of it. I was instructed almost throughout by short-service officers, and afterwards, when they had done their few years' service, they went out of the Royal Air Force and had to support themselves in any way they could. I do not feel that that constitutes the most tempting prospect at all for young men for this country, and I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether there are any further prospects, or improvement in the prospects, or whether he will consider any improvements in the future employment of short-service officers.
In the matter of technical progress, I should like to see our resources include the production of helicopters and more provision made for them than is going on now. I am convinced that once the crisis descends on us, if it is to do so, there will be a concerted howl for helicopters from all the fighting Services, and from 2161 many other people. The usefulness of the helicopter is being demonstrated only in the tiny theatre of Korea, where there are few spectators, but once its usefulness as a communications instrument can be demonstrated we shall be overwhelmed with demands for helicopters, far more than for fixed-wing aircraft.
§ Dr. Bennett
I hope I shall never have to ask for one, though I admit that they are very convenient.
Another preoccupation for me, which is becoming a preoccupation in wider circles throughout Europe, is the dreadful question of the swallowing up of land for runways. I see certain signs of recognition on the faces of hon. Gentlemen opposite as I approach this subject again. On a previous occasion I merely dealt with the possibility of transferring long landing grounds to the surface of the sea. On this occasion I will not touch on that one. Runways are getting longer and longer, and the longest ones in existence are still proving to be too short for the latest fighters. So runways will be going on across country until they can swallow up all the land there is.
§ Dr. Bennett
I can appreciate this Scottish preoccupation with expenditure, but I am dealing now with areas and not bawbees. My hon. Friend said he wanted to keep agricultural land open for the farmers. I am perturbed that agricultural land all over this country and other countries is being swallowed up and rendered unfit for use even if it should be returned for farming. Denmark is petrified at the thought of having to operate modern fighters at all because she is an agricultural country and does not want to be paved with concrete throughout.
The problem is a difficult one and not merely one of academic interest. If there is to be any fighting, which heaven for-fend, the advanced operational runways off which the fighter defences work will be so long and so near the fighting that they will be intensely vulnerable. It will be impossible to camouflage them, and 2162 therefore they will be likely to be put out of action immediately. However, unless we have runways up at the very front of the fighting, the fighters will have to be too big and heavy for the highest possible performance if they have to sacrifice performance to range. Therefore, we must find some other solution to the problem of runways.
This brings us inevitably to the matter of having assisted launching, either with explosives—that is rocket take-off gear or by mechanical means, that is with catapults, or by using other aircraft as tugs. I believe it is correct to say that an aircraft can now pluck another aircraft off the ground up to one-quarter of the weight of the towing aircraft. Therefore, we must consider these ways of getting aircraft off the ground, and the one of towing has, so to speak, the fewest overheads underfoot and therefore is likely to be the most easy to instal.
The other point in this discussion is that we must have arrester gear. In fact both these are similar to the techniques which have to be provided in aircraft carrier practice today except that on terra firma there is much more room and we can deal with heavier and bulkier equipment and can use not only hydraulic brakes but friction brakes on a fairly large scale.
The Under-Secretary of State said earlier in the debate—I took down his words—that we are making the Second Tactical Air Force mobile, and that this means we shall be putting practically everything on wheels except the runways. I suggest that even the runway equipment should now be mobile and that, instead of having fixed and unmistakable targets, we should now have mobile landing and accelerating units which can anchor themselves in place, using stretches of roads which have been strengthened previously, and camouflaging themselves by hiding in woods or establishing themselves in clearings in the jungle. Above all, since they can be concealed, they are no longer vulnerable and are mobile. In that direction lies the only way of saving land, of saving our airfield works, of saving our fighter planes and maybe of saving the battle.
Finally, I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend has achieved the post of Under-Secretary of State for Air. I know that he has his heart in the Royal Air 2163 Force for he has spent many years with it. I know that he has the Royal Air Force and flying absolutely in his soul, and I am quite sure that we can now look forward with confidence to the future of our country in the air.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
There was one observation made by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) with which I heartily agreed, and that was his concern at the appetite of the Air Force for valuable land. Obviously there would be little use in having the finest military Forces possible if we were likely to starve to death because we had taken the land which should have been growing the food to sustain us.
I do not want to intervene on technical or production matters but on manpower. I want the Under-Secretary of State to carry out an investigation into what is happening when boys go for their medical examination. Last week I met a number of boys who had just come back from Cardington. They informed me that when they went for their medical examination they said they would prefer to go into the Royal Air Force. They were told they could only go into the R.A.F. provided that they signed on for three years and that, if they did so, they would be given a choice of trades.
Two of those boys signed on for three years. They did not tell their parents because they would have been vexed if they had learned that the boys had enlisted for an additional year. The boys went to Cardington last week and on arrival they were told that although they had signed on for three years on the understanding that they would be able to choose their trade, the only trade they could go into for three years was that of a gardener, an administrative orderly or a cook.
Hundreds of boys at Cardington last week were interviewed by officers, and each was told that if he signed on for four years instead of three, he would be able to choose his trade. Of course, young boys of 18 facing the military bosses can be persuaded in the usual military manner to agree to an additional year or an additional two years. Those who refused to sign on for four years were given their cards, a railway warrant, 2164 and 21s. and were told to go back and await instructions from the Army authorities.
These boys were encouraged to sign on originally for three years on a fraudulent prospectus. They understood that if they went for three years they would have a choice of a trade. Having got to Cardington they were given the choice of the lowest and most menial occupations in the R.A.F. Because they refused to accept a further year, they were sent home. If the Army calls up these boys this week, are they due to serve three years in the Army? Does the fact that they signed on for three years in the R.A.F. and have been sent back mean that they will serve three years in the Army?
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not so. Recruitment to the R.A.F. becomes invalid when the man is recruited into the Army.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
That will be reassuring to these boys because I told them that, if I had an opportunity, I would raise this matter.
Most people in this House know my feelings with regard to military matters, but I want the Under-Secretary of State to understand that all the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) do not do half as much damage to recruitment to the Services as the experiences which these boys had at Cardington last week. Until they are called up they will go back to their jobs in the factories. They will tell the rest of their colleagues of the treatment they have had. Therefore, it behoves those who are anxious to build up the personnel of our military Forces to see that boys are not treated in that manner.
I tell the Under-Secretary frankly that the British public will not tolerate attempts to recruit by press-gang methods. The British public will not tolerate boys being inveigled into the Services on false pretences. I hope the Under-Secretary will look into this question of Cardington, because I understand that hundreds of boys were turned hack from Cardington last week, having gone there on the basis I have given. All of them left because the prospectus for 2165 which they were looking was not available.
I think the parents of boys have a right to know under what circumstances they are being called up. If the Under-Secretary investigates this he will be performing a public duty, for unless methods of this kind are stopped, and unless the methods to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire referred in the debate on the Army Estimates are stopped, then all the advertisements and all the propaganda in the world will not give the Government the number of men in any of the Services that they wish to have.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Wing Commander N. J. Hulbert (Stockport, North)
It is unfortunate that in a debate on the Air Estimates the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) should suggest that men are recruited into the Services on a fraudulent prospectus.
§ Wing Commander Hulbert
In my experience, and that of many hon. Members, anybody who volunteers for the R.A.F. or the other Services is in possession of the most complete details of the Service and of the obligations into which he is entering before he signs on.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Surely the fact that these men had signed on, had had their medical examination and had gone to the station, and then were sent back after three days, is indicative that they must have been called there under false pretences.
§ Wing Commander Hulbert
I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion at all. No one who goes to the reception centres of any of the Services ever goes there under false pretences. If a statement of the kind made by the hon. Gentleman were to go out from this House unchallenged it would do immeasurable harm to recruiting to the Services.
I join in the congratulations which have been extended to the Under-Secretary of State on his appointment. It is the first time for six or seven years that there has been anyone in the Air Ministry with practical flying experience—and that is no reflection whatever on 2166 the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) or his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), and certainly not on my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), who had a short tenure at the Air Ministry.
I wish to deal with one or two diverse matters. The first is a question which affects the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I was a little disappointed that my hon. Friend did not devote more of his speech to that branch of the Service. Can he assure the House that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is today being equipped with the very latest type of jets? If not, why not, and when is that happy state of affairs to be achieved? Secondly, what steps are the Air Ministry taking to ensure that Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons get better treatment about accommodation and ground services?
My hon. Friend may or may not know that before an Auxiliary Air Force squadron can obtain adequate town training facilities all sorts of authorities have to give approval. There has been an instance in the last few weeks in London, where an Auxiliary Air Force squadron has been without a town headquarters for about two years, in which the squadron has been prohibited by the local planning authority from obtaining headquarters on the ground that the location of this squadron would be seriously detrimental to the amenities of a quiet road because of the noise created by vehicular and foot traffic.
As my hon. Friends knows, the establishment of an R.A.A.F. squadron is comparatively small. It is, therefore, fantastic that a local town planning authority can say that the foot traffic of that squadron will upset the amenities of a quiet road, with the result that the squadron, which I believe my hon. Friend knows very well, is still without town headquarters.
§ Wing Commander Hulbert
My hon. Friend shakes his head to indicate that he does not know the squadron. May I tell him that there is a very big file at the Air Ministry on this matter? I hope he will look into it.
Two years ago I advocated the appointment of a Royal Auxiliary Air Force 2167 officer as an inspector of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and that was done. On the expiration of his term of office he has been replaced by a Regular officer, whom I do not criticise in any way whatever; but it would be useful if the Under-Secretary could tell us that this is not a precedent and that on future occasions the claims of R.A.A.F. officers for this appointment will be considered.
There are two steps concerning personnel which could be taken which would, I think, considerably alleviate grievances in the Service. A man joins the Royal Air Force when he is 17 or 18 years old, and if he is good and successful, he should become a warrant officer or a chief technician by the time be is 40 or 42. Under present rules he then has to continue for another 15 years in the same rank. Not only is that rather a depressing outlook for him, but it also retards promotion in that rank.
Has consideration been given to the creation of some further promotion from that rank for a man who has reached the ceiling at the age of 40 but will not retire for another 15 years? I understand that one difficulty is the objection raised by the other Services, but I am sure that the Air Ministry will be able to overcome that through inter-Departmental discussions.
The second point on the question of personnel concerns the education allowances to officers serving overseas. I understand that in the Civil Service and Her Majesty's Foreign Service a man serving overseas gets a tax-free grant of £75 for the education of his first child and approximately the same grant for other children. In the Royal Air Force I believe that £25 is the maximum education grant paid to an officer up to the rank of squadron leader.
I should like the Under-Secretary of State to look into that matter to see if some further alleviation can be given to officers for the education of their children. As my hon. Friend knows, the ordinary overseas tour of duty is one of 2½ to three years and it becomes a very heavy burden on an officer moving about the world without a tax-free education allowance such as those in civil services receive.
I wish to say a word about Transport Command, which was dealt with by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). I think we have all been rather concerned 2168 to read in the Press today of the cancellation, or possibly "postponement" is a fairer word, of production of the Brabazon and the second two Princess flying-boats. That is a decision which will have a very serious effect on Transport Command. I ask the Under-Secretary if the Air Ministry was consulted before this very drastic and far-reaching decision was taken by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.
In his speech today the Under-Secretary referred, as did the Prime Minister a few days ago, to the super-priority which had been given to the production of certain types of aircraft. It is all very well to say that super-priority shall be given to this or that type of aircraft, but what precisely does the phrase mean? We cannot get a big volume of production of aircraft merely by constructing airframes, or even producing the motive power. We have to give super-priorities right down the lines. We have to get super-priority for the electric motors, for the hydraulic work, for the coils obtained from a subcontractor—the coil maker. The coil maker has to buy his copper wire from the wire maker: the wire maker has to buy the raw material, copper. It would be very helpful and useful if the Under-Secretary could give us further information of what this delightful phrase—which we hope will be translated into effect—really means.
My last point deals with Coastal Command. I would not wish to anticipate the debate which will follow the moving by my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) of the Amendment dealing with the future of Coastal Command, if that Amendment is called by you, Sir. I am rather provoked in what I am about to say by the observations which fell from the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins), who had considerable experience in the Royal Air Force during the war and was for a time Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I regret that at the moment he is not in his place.
So far as I gather, he said that everything that could be wrong is wrong with Coastal Command. There is one thing which from my experience I know E, not wrong with it—that is its high morale and spirit today. It is often said that there is little or no co-operation between Coastal Command and the Royal Navy, 2169 Only a few months ago I had the opportunity of serving for a time with Coastal Command and taking part in an exercise in which they were engaged with the Royal Navy.
If anybody doubts that there is cooperation, they have only to go to a combined operations station like Mountbatten, where they will see an admiral working alongside an air marshal, a group captain alongside a captain of the Royal Navy and an able seaman alongside an aircraftman of the Royal Air Force. They have only to spend a day there in order to come away with one feeling and one feeling only—that there is complete cooperation between those Services. Anyone who today would seek to upset those harmonious relationships is doing an ill-service both to the Royal Navy and to Coastal Command.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury made some remarks to the effect that Coastal Command was the Cheltenham of the Royal Air Force. I would not attempt to go into his reason for saying that, but so far as I know the only connection between Coastal Command and Cheltenham today is that the wife of an officer in Coastal Command has one acre and a cow near Cheltenham.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I gather from the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport, North (Wing Commander Hulbert) that the present Under-Secretary of State for Air—and I join in the congratulations which have been showered upon him—is the first individual with flying experience since the war to occupy that position. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if I correct him, because the previous occupant of the office under the Labour Government, Mr. Aidan Crawley, had experience as a fighter pilot and was shot down in actual combat. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will note that little correction.
§ Mr. Rankin
I wish to confine myself to two points. In the Estimates before us there is a sum of £21 million to be devoted to radio, radar and electrical equipment. That is a very big sum indeed. Incidentally, I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman a question in regard to 2170 the supply of those people who carry out the very important job of watching on the radar screen the flight of an aircraft and reporting on it from time to time. I should like to know if the supply of these very important officers is meeting the demand.
Generally, I wish to ask what advances have taken place in the use of this equipment to make known the movements of aircraft to other interested Ministries and to private flyers. I should explain to the House that there is a little history behind that question, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will recollect some of it. He will remember the occasion when an Anson trainer aircraft collided with a Dakota civilian machine over Coventry three years ago last month and all those concerned were killed. The conclusion arrived at was that one or other of the pilots had not been keeping a sufficiently careful lookout.
As a result of that accident I made a proposal in this House, and I was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), that we should institute a system of airways throughout the country for civil aircraft. That seemed to me perfectly reasonable. If we can have sea lanes for merchant shipping- and railways for passenger locomotive traffic, and forms of control on the roads, there appeared to be nothing unreasonable in suggesting a similar system whereby aircraft flying from one point to another within the country should fly between minimum and maximum heights. Pilots would then know that there was no danger of their route being crossed without due warning by any other type of aircraft.
That proposal was opposed, I will not say how strongly, by the Air Ministry of that time. They assumed that everything was quite all right and that present methods, or at least the then existing methods of indicating the movements of aircraft, were quite satisfactory; although it emerged that at that period there was a time-lag in communicating those movements between Ministries which might conceivably have resulted in danger at one point or another during the flight.
No one gave more vigorous support to my proposal than the present Minister of Civil Aviation. He said that it was not good enough in a matter of this kind 2171 to assume that everything was all right and asked for an assurance that the two Ministers concerned were in active contact to make certain that these precautions were being taken. I am assured that an agreement has been reached which is acceptable to both the Ministries concerned, and that a system of positive air traffic control can be exercised which should help to provide a greater measure of safety than formerly existed in the transit of aircraft.
I am assured that the scheme has been agreed. What I want to know is whether that scheme is now in active operation. I was told it would be in operation by the end of 1949, but that did not happen. Later I was assured it would be in operation by the end of 1950, but again that was not so. I wish now to ask whether that scheme was in operation by the end of 1951 and, if not, why not?
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry, I cannot give way. I am under an obligation to finish soon, because of other business.
My second point concerns the services to the Western Isles of Scotland.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)
They are not run by the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Rankin
If the hon. Member will contain himself he will discover the reason why I am raising the question. I understand, and it is up to the hon. Member if he is to reply to clear up the point, that the nigger in the woodpile here is the Air Ministry. It is their action which is keeping back the development of civil air services to the Western Isles. Again let me recount a bit of history in order to make the position clear.
Everyone agrees that the D.H. Rapide ought to be out of service altogether. There is no argument about that. The machine was useful in its way, but now it is outdated and ought not to be in use. We were told it would be scrapped and the Merchantman, a machine more serviceable and more up-to-date, would take its place. Months passed and nothing happened. We were next assured that the Marathon would replace the D.H. Rapide. Again nothing happened. Then we were told that the Heron would take 2172 its place, but again nothing happened. Now we are back in the position where no new machine is even being suggested as a replacement for the old D.H. Rapide.
§ Mr. Speaker
This appears to be a discussion on civil aircraft. That is not in order on the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Rankin
My point is that these machines have now, as it were, gone off the map. The three have all disappeared because, we are led to believe, none of them meets the strategic requirements of the Air Ministry. Therefore, because of that, the development of civil aviation in Scotland is impeded. I submit that my point is material to these Estimates.
We are spending a great deal of money on the development of aircraft. If it is true that in Scotland the Ministry of Civil Aviation is compelled to get a machine which will suit the strategic needs of the Royal Air Force, then in the interests of the development of civil aviation in Scotland the sooner that is done the better. I ask the Minister who is to reply to this debate to make the position perfectly clear to the House and to the people of Scotland.