§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House urges Her Majesty's Government to institute an impartial inquiry into the working of Coastal Command in order to ascertain the most efficient method of administration, operation and control of this essential arm of our maritime forces for the future.This is an old problem—the problem of who shall command the aircraft that fly over the oceans to hunt and kill the U-boat. It is a problem almost as old as myself. Therefore, as a new Member of this House, I embark upon it with some trepidation. I would straight away, because I conceive that in this matter passions get aroused, declare that I have no personal axe to grind. I am not a member of any naval lobby, if there be such a lobby. Although I had the honour to wear naval uniform and bear His Majesty's Commission in the war, my connection with salt water was very remote.
I must, therefore, immediately deny an allegation that was made by the hon. 2173 Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) during the debate on the Navy Estimates, that I had, in some way, entered into a plot with a Member of his Front Bench. I have had no contact with his Front Bench for several years, as the hon. Member knows. I would not raise this matter for the aggrandizement of any Service. I am not concerned with any old dispute or old feud on this subject.
It will be necessary to go shortly through the history of this controversy to show that, in my submission, the considerations are now different from what they were before—not that the protagonists have the same arguments but that the arguments have changed.
I am sure that, as all I ask for is an impartial inquiry, those who may perhaps take a different view from my own should not fear such an inquiry which would only tend to confirm their view if they be right. It would be a great pity if this controversy was handled on the old lines of an inter-Service feud. If there is one thing that we have surely grown out of it is the sort of inter-Service feud that used to hit the headlines between the wars and during the last war. There is only one matter more tedious than an inter-Service feud, and that is a row between inter-Allied commanders.
This dispute started in 1916, and there were ranged on one side the heroic figure of Lord Curzon and, on the other, the equally heroic figure of Arthur Balfour. As our late lamented Librarian, Mr. Hilary St. George Saunders described it, it was a war between Leviathan and Behemoth. Ever since then, the argument has got snarled up with personal feelings, and high ranking officers have committed themselves to personal positions from which they have been unable to retract.
It must be remembered that the reason why the Navy was first deprived of its own aircraft for performing its own functions in 1917 was not because it was inefficient but because it was too efficient. It was because the Navy had the best aero-engines. As a result of that the Royal Flying Corps, as it then was, could not provide itself with the engines it wanted and cast covetous eyes on those of the Royal Naval Air Service.
That caused a great deal of ill-feeling. The war became so violent and so 2174 enraged that when the Royal Air Force was at last created the Admiralty made its position clear. Among other things, it stooped to the extent of refusing to allow the Royal Air Force to use any naval title among its officers as was at first suggested. It minuted that the use of any naval title was objectionable in the Royal Air Force. In 1924, the Fleet Air Arm was created, and from then until 1937 there was a system of dual control over the Fleet Air Arm that persists now over Coastal Command. That was after all those years discovered to be so unsatisfactory that in 1937 full responsibility for the Fleet Air Arm was transferred to the Admiralty.
In all these years Coastal Command was under the administration and supply of the Air Ministry. It is significant that in a fairly recent number of the "Naval Review" Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferte, who was the distinguished chief of Coastal Command for many years, described that period as one of studied neglect by the Air Ministry of Coastal Command. I should not for one moment say today that the word "studied" should be applied. We are told that from 1937, during the war and up to today, the system of dual control of Coastal Command has worked well.
We are apt now, looking back on the war from quite a distance, to forget some of the perils and disasters that we endured. We are apt to think that because we won the war all went well during the war. I have very vivid recollections of matters that hon. Members on both sides probably remember better: questions of photographic reconnaissance, questions which I will not canvass now—I do not want to open old wounds—in which certainly the Navy had very bitter feelings, rightly or wrongly, about the way that co-operation with Coastal Command worked then.
In 1943, this matter was raised in the House by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) who is now Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not think he would have raised it in the middle of a war if he had not had some prima facie evidence that this co-operation was not working as well as we are apt now to think that it did.
As a result of his interventions in debate then, a very distinguished High 2175 Court judge, as he then was, was asked by the Admiralty to investigate this matter, the Fleet Air Arm in particular and Coastal Command as well. He reported—I think it is an open secret—that then, in the middle of the war, the Royal Air Force should remain responsible on the grounds that in the middle of a war it was not possible for the Navy overnight either to equip, to train or to run shore-based aircraft. That was clearly right.
In my opinion, no one could properly suggest that during a war all that should be switched overnight. I make that point, if it be a point against myself, that there was an impartial inquiry. Whether that judge was appointed by the Air Ministry as well as by the Admiralty, I do not know, but I think not; but I distinguish his report from the situation today, first, on the ground that it was during the war, and second, that it was during that particular war.
In that war, the Navy had many other things to do than fight submarines. There was a Japanese high seas fleet in existence. Indeed, everyone expected the Japanese fleet to break into the Indian Ocean at any minute. The Navy's sole concentration was not anti-submarine war. But in the next war, apart from the question of mines, I think it is clear that to all intents and purposes the only substantial naval warfare would be against the submarine. Therefore, this question of divided responsibility for the prime function of Admralty becomes even more acute.
I mention these historical details only to show that the case is different today from what it was then, because, on the one hand, the Air Ministry no longer adopt the attitude that was adopted in some extreme quarters of what one might call the air school between the wars and during the war, that all other services are outmoded; somehow, that war can be waged much more cheaply if one has nothing to do with armies and navies at all, but simply bomb people from the air. That was a very prevalent view and one, of course, that did not appeal to the Navy between the wars or in the war. It is a view that I do not think even the most extreme air-minded person any longer adopts.
On the other hand, the Admiralty no longer hold the view that the aircraft, 2176 and all machines of that sort that fly in the air, are pestilential discoveries and ought to be suppressed. That was what the Air Ministry always feared. They feared—they had some reason in those days to do so—the views of the admirals, of certain gallant naval Members of the House of Commons. Commander Bellairs was one among them. Those who have read his speeches in the House would think that the invention of the aircraft was an offence of some sort. The Air Ministry were, therefore, naturally worried that the Admiralty were seeking to get control of the shore-based Coastal Command machines only in order to suppress them and not to develop them.
Neither of those views obtains today. It is quite clear that the experience of the sinkings of the "Bismarck" and the "Prince of Wales" has shown dramatically the effect of air power on sea power. There can, therefore, no longer be any question of the Admiralty neglecting the air for the sort of psychological reasons that might have been a danger between the wars. I submit that any neglect of Coastal Command, if neglect there be, is more likely to occur if it remains under the Air Ministry than if it were transferred.
I make the case for a transfer because I conceive that it is my duty to put a prima facie case. I am not saying that it is an unanswerable case. What I am saying is that it is a case that should be considered, and that owing to the history of the matter it cannot be considered except impartially. It cannot possibly be considered by people who have deep feelings on the matter.
The reason why Coastal Command is likely to be neglected by the Air Ministry is fairly clear. The R.A.F. have so many more dramatic and exciting things to do than to fly over miles of unbroken water for hours and hours without seeing anything at all. That is a function that the Navy has performed either over the water, on the water, or under the water, for years, and the boredom of it they have got used to; but it cannot be the great desire of an Air Force pilot to spend the best part of his life doing that when the other branches of his Service offer him such more exciting opportunities.
Air Commodore Harvey
My hon. Friend talks about Royal Air Force pilots 2177 wanting to do more exciting things. Would he admit, however, that many of them have to fly hours on end in cloud to get to their destination, that many of them fly hours on end over the desert and that many of their jobs are very monotonous indeed? It is unfair to describe as "glamorous" the jobs in Transport Command which take them over oceans on their way out to the Far East. My hon. Friend must give the Air Force credit for being versatile and undertaking all these jobs.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I am sure that the Air Force is very versatile and undertakes all these jobs. My only point is that if one was going into the Air Force as a pilot it would not be the height of one's ambition to go into Coastal Command and stay there.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I cannot give way. There are plenty of hon. Members who have served in Coastal Command and who, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Wing Commander Hulbert) said, regard the Amendment as doing disservice to the country in some sort of way, and I will leave them to make their case.
§ Wing Commander Hulbert
I only wanted to say this. Is my hon. Friend aware that a man who joins the Air Force does not join one particular Command? He goes all down the Service, and his normal period of duty in Coastal Command would be only about two years.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
That was precisely my point, and I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend for making it. Those hon. Members who share my views agree that this is a specialised job, that the pilots who should fly Coastal Command machines should be students of sea war, that any other task that they perform when flying Coastal Command machines should be in connection with the sea war, and that they should not be taken off after two years on Coastal Command duties to bomb inland targets or to perform the other functions that Air Force pilots have to do.
As with the pilots, so with the machines. As we have been so ably told today, the 2178 function of the Ministry of Supply is to give super-priority to the fighters, to the interceptors and to all the machines which we so desperately need, and that is where their energies ought to be directed. The anti-U-boat warfare, on the other hand, is, as I say, almost the Admiralty's sole remaining task, and, apart from the mines and the normal peace-time functions of the Navy, that is where their energies are directed.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
When the hon. Gentleman says "apart from the mines," what does he mean? Does he mean sweeping mines or laying mines?
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
Primarily, sweeping mines, but laying mines as well.
The logical case of the matter is, I submit, really unanswerable. But the case is not based on logic. The logical case, of course, is that in all these matters of warfare the correct categories are those of function and not of appearance. The function of keeping open the sea lanes of this country are a single and undivided function, and it is quite absurd to split it up except in so far as it happens to be split up at the moment. One might as well divide this House, not on the ground of function and opposition, but on the ground of appearance, of people with hair and people without hair, or something like that.
There is no logical distinction for this division of the function of keeping open the sea lanes of our country, and all-purpose airmen and all-purpose aircraft are not good enough for the fighting of the anti-U-boat war.
Take another aspect of it, the question of the allocation of money. The anti-U-boat war is a single and fairly detachable' branch of our war effort. Surely it is right that one Ministry, and one Ministry alone, should be responsible for allocating the funds available for the task of that particular warfare between the frigates, the aircraft, the destroyers and the anti-U-boat submarines, if there be such now, and all the different ways of fighting the enemy U-boat. The proportions of these things vary with the years, and it ought to be within the control of a single Ministry to say they want to put more money into aircraft and less into destroyers.
2179 But, of course, if it is an inter-Service matter, then the money for the aircraft comes out of a different Ministry, and it is not within the power of the Ministry responsible for waging this particular part of warfare to allocate the funds between its different instruments in the way it should be able to do that. As I have said, I do not want in the course of this debate to exacerbate in any way inter-Service ill-feeling, and I quite accept what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockport, North, says, even though it is denied by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins), that co-operation is now working very smoothly.
Let us assume that is so. There is in this matter a very important psychological factor—the factor of uniform. It is an old factor, but it is still strong. I was much struck by an article written a month ago by the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), who had visited a United States air station in East Anglia. Why he did so, I do not quite know. His conclusion was, rather to his surprise, that the United States Air Force personnel were accepted by the inhabitants of East Anglia quite freely and much more openly than he had expected because now the United States Air Force wears a uniform of light blue almost indistinguishable from that worn by the Royal Air Force, and, therefore, the inhabitants thought it was all the same show, which they would not have thought had the U.S. airmen not worn that uniform.
That is an illustration, however much co-operation there may be and however many words may be spoken about cooperation in debate, of the importance, ultimately, of the matter of uniform. I cannot help feeling, however much they play the game—and I am sure they do—that the pilots of Fighter Command feel that their loyalty is not to the sea but to the Royal Air Force.
Finally, there is the question of the appointment of Admiral McCormick. Co-operation between the two Services, of course, is possible, but the more stages one puts into this business, the more likely it is that in a crisis something 2180 will go wrong. The imposing of another stage for the purposes of waging the next Battle of the Atlantic, in the awful event that there should be one, is, I submit, another reason why the matter should be examined. Admiral McCormick will have to fight the Battle of the Atlantic with United States naval aircraft in the west and Royal Air Force Coastal Command in the east. To impose yet another stratum of command, however great the co-operation may be, is asking for trouble.
The only serious objection to this is that the problems of supply and of training are, for the moment, beyond the capacity of the Admiralty. It cannot be so permanently, because the United States Navy performs its function very well, and anything they can do we can do better. It must be only a temporary matter, and, of course, this by no means suggests that this transfer, if it is to take place, should occur at once. But if ever it is to occur, this must be the time. We are rather tired of the doctrine of unripe time. It is one of those problems where it is wrong to raise the subject in war-time and unnecessary to raise it in peace-time. If ever there was the time, this is the time.
I suggest that those who disagree with me should show that they have nothing to fear in the matter by accepting the spirit in which this Amendment is moved. It is no good simply saying, "Why drag this up now because everything is working well?" I am quite sure that was said in 1936 and in 1937 by people who took the Air Ministry point of view, and yet we have Sir Philip Joubert's recollections that there was this studied neglect.
I appeal to hon. Member's on both sides to remember that it does not matter what hard feelings there may be in this, or what positions may have been taken up from which people find it difficult to withdraw; none of that matters if there is a chance of getting our organisation right now, and if we can save even one ship should war unfortunately come. Let us look at this matter as objectively as possible and admit, if having searched our souls we find it necessary to do so, that there may still be something in this case and that people would not feel so strongly about it if there was not something in it.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should like to make it clear that all we are asking here is for an impartial inquiry into what we feel to be a matter of considerable importance. Some people may say that Coastal Command should be placed under the Admiralty and others might say that the Fleet Air Arm should be amalgamated with Coastal Command. I do not want to associate myself with either of those points of view. All I am asking is that an impartial inquiry should be made into the facts.
Our case rests briefly on the following facts. The present arrangement was entered into, I think, in 1936 or 1937, in what was generally referred to as the Inskip Award. Surely in the intervening 15 years or so we have gained some valuable experience which should be the subject of an impartial investigation. After all, when this arrangement was made, many divergent controversial points of view were put forward. Surely, after these 15 dramatic years, in which we have all the experience of the war to call upon, there is some case for having this matter investigated.
The war-time experience in this connection was that we entered the war lamentably short of anti-submarine aircraft for operating over the ocean, and we were unable to obtain the aircraft until we had suffered grievous losses. It was not until half-way through the war that the Admiralty were able to go to their colleagues in the Government and obtain sufficient priority for aircraft. Then, under the impetus of the war, a degree of co-operation was established, which was highly commendable; for in such circumstances any Britisher will always do his best to make the system work.
But what happened when the war was over? At the request of the Air Ministry the whole of this arrangement was scrapped, and in its place there was set up a committee with two sub-committees—the Sea-Air Warfare Committees. It is under that system that the co-operation between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry exists. If anyone cares to argue that the system that was developed during the war was in any way perfect, I would commend to him a careful study of the 2182 occasion when the German battle cruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" and the cruiser "Prinz Eugen" escaped up the Channel.
That was an interesting occasion which brought into play the point which we are asking to be examined after all these years by an impartial inquiry. It was a case of reconnaissance failure, Fleet Air Arm aircraft being flown in, squadrons sent in without fighter escort, M.T.B.s and destroyers sent in without fighter cover, of bombers then being called in, and in the end the ships escaping up the Channel. That is the sort of operation which provides many lessons which ought to be studied.
I should like to consider the tactical aspect. It is an established fact that strike-aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft form an essential element in any naval operation. It is just as important for a commander to throw in his strike-aircraft at the right moment as it is to use his submarines or dispatch his torpedo-craft or even fire his main armament. They are all essential parts of the operation. Any arrangement which in this process divides the system of command, training, research, development and administration is basically unsound, however necessary it may be, and it is bound to give rise to certain difficulties.
Here are one or two of the difficulties. There is a natural and human tendency for any commander, especially when he is in a tight corner, to rely primarily on those forces which are under his direct command, on which he can count, which he has trained and for which he is wholly responsible, rather than on the forces for which he has got to go to another command or another Service, perhaps up through a long chain of commands to the top and then down the chain of commands, and then perhaps to be told that the forces he requires are not available because of greater priority being given elsewhere.
It is natural, in those circumstances, for the commander to place greater reliance on those forces immediately under his command. It may be that if this state of affairs is allowed to develop and all his life he is subject to this process, it will affect his true judgment of the tactical situation. It may very well happen that the whole of our tactical evolution may become distorted and we may be diverted 2183 in this way from a true balance between our naval and air Forces at sea. That is one very serious consideration which I put before the House.
Let us consider what is to be the position of an officer who has this experience all his life. He is quite possibly prejudiced in favour of his own Service. One can imagine the case of an officer who would place greater reliance on motor torpedo boats when, in point of fact, the best forces for him to have might well be torpedo aircraft. That is the sort of way in which tactical development can be distorted. When the officer gets into a higher command he will find that he has been denied the wider experience which might have been his had he been trained throughout his Service career in the whole wide range of maritime aircraft and naval Forces. This, of course, places him at a disadvantage in the higher ranges of allied command.
We have only to look at the present arrangement—the command in the Channel—when instead of appointing one officer—I do not mind whether he is a naval or an air officer—we have to appoint two officers. We have a sort of joint command, and we are told that one of them is to be a co-ordinating authority. I should have thought that in the narrow waters of the Channel, if unhappily there is a war, we want something more than a mere co-ordinating authority. It seems to me that we want a commander.
In this system of joint command we are going back to a system which was found obsolete in the old days of the consular armies of Rome. We are going back to a system of divided command which, throughout the centuries, has been proved to be basically unsound. I maintain that in this process we are liable to develop on the wrong tactical lines and we are liable to place this country at a disadvantage as against the other friendly countries in the allied system of command.
I should like to consider next the question of priorities. I can well imagine circumstances in which reconnaissance aircraft and anti-submarine aircraft might be considered to be an essential part, or even the most important part, of our naval Forces. These considerations are not altogether divorced from reality. At the same time, so far as the Air Ministry 2184 are concerned, I can well imagine that they would be under great pressure to give first priority to the fighter defence of this country—and I would not quarrel with that—and under heavy pressure also to develop their offensive armed Bomber Command; and then under heavy pressure also to build up and develop—we have heard it in debates—an effective Transport Command, so that they may carry our relatively small land forces quickly to any threatened theatre throughout the world.
At the tail end of the line comes Coastal Command, so that we can see, when we look at the system of priority, that what was essential for maritime forces has a very low priority when it goes to the Air Ministry. That is the essence of the problem which we are asking to be examined.
There is another argument which I should like to mention. It is sometimes argued that the system that we had during the war would provide a greater flexibility than a system whereby Coastal Command would be transferred to the Admiralty, if that were decided upon. That is argued on the basis that it is far easier to switch aircraft and aircrew from one section of one command of the R.A.F. to another in the event of a crisis or emergency during a war. That is a very valid consideration, and it is one of the questions which should be examined very carefully, but all that I am interested in at present is to suggest that that is no obstacle to an impartial examination of this matter.
The home commands of the R.A.F. operate very much in watertight compartments, and I am far from convinced that it is necessarily more flexible to switch forces from one R.A.F. home command to another than it is to second units, squadrons and aircraft from one Service to another. There were plenty of examples of that during the war. The Fleet Air Arm took part in the Battle of Britain, the American Army Air Force lent units to Coastal Command, the Fleet Air Arm operated from American carriers and the Marines frequently operated under military command.
Therefore, I suggest that that is no obstacle, although it is a very valid argument which will have to be weighed against any other argument. I am not going to come down on the one side or the other; I am merely trying to present 2185 the problem as I see it, and it is natural that I should raise objections as I see them from the naval point of view. Do not let us tackle this matter from the strictly narrow point of view of any one Department. That is why I am confining my interest in this matter to the impartial review which has been suggested.
There are one or two minor points. There is the question of the photographic reconnaissance units which carried out such very valuable work during the war, and which, for convenience, were placed under Coastal Command. [Interruption.] I am told they are now under Bomber Command, and I think that is the right answer, because there was no reason why they should be under Coastal Command. They are much more closely associated with Bomber Command, and I am glad to hear of the transfer.
Then there is the question of mine-laying from aircraft at sea, which was carried out to a very important extent during the war, both in the North Sea and in Japanese waters. This work was not carried out by Coastal Command at all. It was largely the outcome of most successful co-operation between Bomber Command, on the one hand, and the Naval Mine Warfare Division of the Admiralty, on the other, so that it does not enter into the argument at all, although it is a factor which will have to be considered.
To sum up, I say that the present position set out in the Inskip Award has followed no natural boundary and is confined to no classical pattern. Strike-aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft and antisubmarine aircraft can operate either from the shore or from ships, and to divide them is a basically unsound arrangement. I feel that, after 15 years' experience, and after all the mistakes made and the advantages we secured during the war, we have a great deal to learn and that we should benefit greatly by an impartial examination of this question.
What are we to lose by that? What do we fear? I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence will weigh up these arguments very carefully, but I would also ask him what we are to think if he turns down this proposal. We can, in those circumstances, only think that the Minister fears the outcome of the inquiry. 2186 If he cannot grant this request for an inquiry, or if any other Minister is opposed to it, it can only be because he is afraid of the outcome.
In case anyone puts forward the view that this is the wrong time to ask for an inquiry of this sort, I say that there is a most pressing need for it. The Fleet Air Arm is at a very low ebb, and it cannot get pilots; Coastal Command is also at a very low ebb; and both are running high overhead costs. It is clear that if some kind of amalgamation were achieved, half the problem of the Fleet Air Arm and of the difficulty in getting pilots would be overcome, the overhead costs would be greatly reduced and we should get greater efficiency.
There are a number of other points which one could raise. We are now told that a decision has been taken that there are to be no flying-boats. Is that a final decision from the naval point of view? Can Shackleton aircraft operate in the India Ocean? Have we got airfields there, and what strike-aircraft are being provided? These are all matters that seem to me to be in a very unsatisfactory state at the present moment, and I therefore very sincerely ask my hon. Friend not to close his mind on this very important matter.
I quite appreciate that he cannot give a snap decision after a short debate of this kind, but if he will leave the matter open and consult with his noble Friend the newly-appointed Minister of Defence, I am sure that he will get some very good advice. I would ask him to consider this Amendment very carefully and very seriously before turning us down on a matter on which, I am quite sure, it would not be in the interests of the country for him to do so.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
Unlike the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who moved the Amendment in such moderate and cautious tones, I must declare an interest. I declare an interest as one who served for most of the war in Coastal Command, and who had the opportunity of going back last year, and who hopes to have the opportunity of going back this year, to Coastal Command and missing many of the all-night Sittings of this House, as I did on the previous occasion.
2187 I would say at once that both the mover and seconder of the Amendment have been extremely careful to put forward their case without any sort of rancour at all. One of the difficulties that arise in discussing inter-Service cooperation, and particularly this very vexed question of the status of Coastal Command, is that feelings are apt to run high. Indeed, there are some people—and I confess myself to have been one of them on occasion—who have found pleasure in such an argument. But I think that tonight we are looking at a very serious question, and I hope I shall be able to treat it as calmly as the hon. Members who have spoken on this Amendment.
I should like to take up the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) that if the Under-Secretary resisted the case for such an inquiry it would show that his case was bad, and that if he has nothing to fear he should agree to such an inquiry. That is one of the oldest arguments used by all of us on occasions when advocating an impartial inquiry. It is not good enough for this House to recommend that an impartial inquiry be set up unless in fact, as the hon. Member for Darwen made clear, a prima facia case has been made out.
Although the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden said he did not commit himself one way or the other on this matter, it is a fact that we know on which side he would probably come down. It is also a fact that this Amendment is worded in terms which quite clearly indicate that the mover and seconder and those who support the Amendment believe there is something wrong in the Coastal Command set-up and that they think that Coastal Command should be taken over by the Navy.
If the Amendment had been put in rather wider terms, if indeed it had been proposed to carry out an inquiry into the whole of air-sea co-operation, not excluding the status of the Fleet Air Arm, there might have been a case for examination on a less tendentious basis than is proposed in the terms of this Amendment; but I do not think that the type of inquiry—
§ Captain Ryder
I should like to make my point of view clear. I should be perfectly ready to accept terms of reference which included the position of the Fleet Air Arm as well.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Then it is unfortunate that the hon. and gallant Member seconded the wrong Amendment. If he had chosen the right Amendment we should have saved a lot of time. In any case, this Amendment has provided an. opportunity for which we should be grateful to discuss a most important problem which is exercising and has exercised the minds of many people, and of which I should be inclined to say it is extremely difficult to find a wholly satisfactory solution.
The question is whether at the moment we have adopted a solution which is the best in all the circumstances. Here I should like to make a point on the speech of the hon. Member for Darwen. I simply cannot accept his history of the setting up of Coastal Command or his history of why the Fleet Air Arm was taken away from that Command. I also have studied this subject, and I thought his was a rather one-sided version. One great difficulty that we have in any discussion of the Navy—and I say this as calmly as I can—is the fact that for the most part the Navy still prefers not to recognise the existence of air power.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am not suggesting that they do not recognise that there are aircraft, but they regard aircraft as a tactical extension of sea power and—
§ Mr. Shackleton
Precisely. That statement is in direct contradiction to the theory of air power. It may well be that the hon. Member spent a good deal of time studying the various staff handbooks—and I confess it is a somewhat unrewarding pastime—but one thing that can be stated with absolute certainty is that each Service has a primary and secondary role and that there is a double role involved for the Air Force and the Navy. The chief virtue of air power—and I shall attempt to substantiate this statement— 2189 is that it retains a flexibility which enables a far greater measure of concentration to be obtained at a vital point at the right time than is possible to other Services.
It is impossible for the Navy to go ashore, except where they land Marines or the Royal Naval Brigade at Antwerp. But the Air Force can be transferred to the precise and most important operation it is called upon to do at any one time. This is not just a question of taking a squadron of Coastal Command and saying, "Tomorrow you bomb so and so." But it is possible over a period of time to switch to different operations.
Both the mover and the seconder of this Amendment have blamed the Air Ministry for a lack of priority given to Coastal Command and to the antisubmarine role, but they will have heard the speech made by their own Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty who said:The total strength of the maritime arm of the R.A.F. is determined by the Chiefs of Staff or higher authority,…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 867.]fIt is not an Air Ministry responsibility to decide the size of Coastal Command. It is for the Chiefs of Staff and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. This is a point we must accept, and we must dispose of this argument that Coastal Command is not larger due to the machinations of the wicked Air Staff in the Air Ministry.
§ Captain Ryder
The hon. Member has illustrated very clearly the precise point I was trying to make: that is that the Air Ministry will be under pressure to give priority elsewhere but the Admiralty are not in a position to say, "We are quite ready to do without a couple of destroyers if you give us a couple of flying-boats." If they had their own allocation of long-range flying-boats and other aircraft they could choose their own priorities within their own Service.
§ Mr. Shackleton
This account of the horse-dealing that goes on in the Defence Committee between Chiefs of Staff is really shattering, and completely illustrates the frame of mind both of hon. Members who have served in the Navy and of the Navy in these matters. What they seek is not co-operation with the Air Force. They want domination in this field. They should get it into their 2190 heads that success in war in the past and success in war in the future, if such a disaster should come again, depends on the best form of inter-Service co-operation and not on a series of horse-dealing transactions in destroyers and coastal aircraft.
I certainly do not think the Prime Minister, who takes a certain interest in defence matters, is likely to look very kindly on the sort of intrigue that it is suggested from the benches opposite takes place. In any case, it will be a matter for the proper authorities to decide priority. During the war the priority that was given to Coastal Command changed according to the needs of the strategic situation. I agree that at the beginning of the war Coastal Command had extremely small and inadequate forces; but the Navy, due to their over-confidence in the use of asdic had a quite inadequate supply of escort vessels. The wrong decision was taken in this matter before the war.
We need not go into the details, but the Navy was woefully short of escort vessels. For only one short period during the war did the Air Force have the support of a hunting group, such as that under the late Captain Walker—which tremendously increased the efficiency of that operation—in carrying out its offensive role in attacking submarines in the Bay of Biscay.
Those of us who are interested in Coastal Command desire a stronger Coastal Command, but this is a decision which must be taken not by vested interests, not by people who are primarily and rightly concerned with the strength of their own Service; it is a decision which must be taken objectively under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to conduct government by impartial inquiry, but certainly that is not a device which will commend itself to his own Front Bench. Let me give an example of the advantages of unified Air Force control over a system in which we have two separate air forces, one Naval and one Royal Air Force.
At the height of the U-boat war, following a decision taken, I believe, at Casablanca, there was a change in priority, and Coastal Command were given first priority. At that time, 2191 Bomber Command was stripped of squadrons, which were sent into Coastal Command. Some were put straight on to operations, even though they were untrained, and they sank submarines; and others were re-trained and re-equipped and became an integral part of Coastal Command. Despite what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, that was all the easier because they were part of the same Service, and it is in this matter of re-inforcement and of the switching of air power that the great strength of unified control lies.
But it was not only a question of switching squadrons from bomber command. At the height of the battle in the Bay of Biscay, the Germans were so concerned about the destruction of their U-boats that they put Ju. 88's into the Bay to fight off the anti-submarine aircraft. We retaliated by bringing Beau-fighters into Coastal Command to provide protection for our aircraft. Indeed, the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that when he sailed down the Bay of Biscay on his very gallant exploit he did so under the protection of Coastal Command. The Germans retaliated, again, by bringing in Messerschmitt 109's in order to try to jump our aircraft off the Scillies, and we had to switch squadrons from Fighter Command to give additional protection.
The purpose of this argument is to show that even if the Navy were given control of Coastal Command, they would still be dependent to a very large extent indeed, and to an extent which would neutralise the arguments which have been advanced by hon. Members opposite, on the co-operation of the Air Force.
Let us look for a moment at some of the other roles. The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden suggested that he would be content for photographic reconnaissance to remain in the Air Force, but that apparently is not the view of the hon. Member for Darwen. In my opinion, one thing we cannot afford is to have two independent photographic reconnaissance units. The job of reconnaissance will switch according to the priority of the day and the need of the day They may be required to bring back information about whether the Scharnhorst or the Gneisenau are at Brest, or they may be asked to bring back information for 2192 the Army or of Bomber Command; and that is a case in point where a centralised Air Force must fulfill this role.
Let us consider the anti-shipping role. During the war, all three Commands of the Air Force were involved in this role. At the beginning, with the disappearance of land fighting in Europe, Blenheims from Army Co-operation Command became redundant and were switched to an anti-shipping role. Then they were needed for anti-submarine work and switched to that, and No. 2 group of Bomber Command took on the responsibility. They were very successful, but the battle became too hot and we had to call in strike wings, including Torbeaus and Beaufighters, many of whom were on anti-flak protection, and they carried out the role.
In certain circumstances it was necessary to pull Fighter Command into the anti-shipping role, in attacks on shipping and E. boats off the French coast, and at no period in the war could we say that any part of the Air Force would be engaged exclusively and permanently on anti-shipping. I suggest that this is a very strong argument in favour of the unified Air Force because of the impossibility of foretelling the particular role which any Command would have to fill.
The hon. Member for Darwen mentioned mining. As is known, most of the mining during the war was done by Bomber Command, and when the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau went up Channel they were damaged by mines laid by Bomber Command. In fact, one of them never put to sea again and was subsequently destroyed by bombers. I cannot allow to pass the suggestion that it was the fault of the Air Force that these ships were allowed to go up the Channel or that it was a result of the failure of reconnaissance through the system which we used.
Grave mistakes were made on that occasion—very grave mistakes. I confess that I was the senior intelligence officer at the station which was responsible for finding out whether these ships were coming up the Channel. I can claim, therefore, to speak with a little knowledge on the subject. Grave mistakes were made. The A.S.V. aircraft which was supposed to be patrolling off Ushant had an A.S.V. failure. We were using the Mark II A.S.V.; it was 2193 withdrawn and not replaced but the failure in that case cannot be laid on the Air Force because the Navy had operational control. The two Services were sitting side by side, but nevertheless grave mistakes were made and I do not believe the incident does any credit to either the Navy or the Air Force.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am glad to have my hon. Friend's approval on this occasion. That failure cannot be regarded as an excuse for switching Coastal Command to the Navy. I should like to develop this point at great length, but I will try to restrain myself.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I put this to him? He says this incident brought no credit to the Navy. Although my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) knows much more about this than I do, I think it is a fact that the main damage to these ships was done by Lieut.-Commander Eugene Esmond, who lost his life in that operation and who fired a torpedo into the Gneisenau.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I certainly did not want in any way to depreciate what was done by Coastal Command or Bomber Command or, particularly, by the naval squadron which took part in that attack, but as an operation of war it was not one of the more successful.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I thank my hon. Friend. Let me turn to some of the other arguments which have been advanced. A suggestion has been made that now we have an American Admiral in command of the Atlantic, it is desirable that he should have only people in Naval Blue to deal with. May I point out that S.H.A.P.E. is not only an international command; it is also an inter-service command, and a very successful one.
But the American example is a very unfortunate one to take. When America came into the war they had no effective anti-submarine forces and the damage which was done and the ships which were sunk in sight of American cities was a terrible experience, especially in the light 2194 of the fact that they had a fully-developed Naval Air Force. They built an antisubmarine command in the American Army Air Force. These squadrons came over here and served in Coastal Command, and in the course of time, as they gained experience, they became first rate at their job.
But right at the height of the battle in the Bay of Biscay, the American Navy carried out what I can only describe as another horse deal, and an infamous one; they traded their strategic bomber command for the army anti-submarine command. Out went the Army with the aircraft which they knew how to fly and in came the Navy, and for a long time they were prevented from taking an effective part in the battle because of lack of experience. This is another example of the difficulties we shall meet if we split up our air power and do not regard it as indivisible.
There are many other arguments which I should like to bring to bear, but there is one I want to make in conclusion. There is a very considerable need for improvement in the effective operational system of maritime air warfare. I would ask the Minister of Defence and the Service Ministers to look again to see if they cannot bring the Navy and the Air Force closer together. It is a fact, for instance, that the Fleet Air Arm Home Air Command, commanded, I think, by Flag Officer (Air) has not a single member of the Air Force on the staff; and equally, the number of naval officers in Coastal Command is very small.
If we are to benefit from the experience of the two Services and from the exchange of ideas between them there must be a closer mixing up of the various Armed Services. I am not suggesting tonight that Coastal Command should take over the Fleet Air Arm. There are many people, including many in the Fleet Air Arm, who wish that should be so. Many during the war, in particular, had very little confidence in the higher naval command, and the main cause of that was that the admirals as a whole lacked knowledge of aircraft and of air services and had very little understanding of air warfare. If they were given more experience they might be better, and they might not try to send Skuas over Brest in broad daylight to dive-bomb the Prinz Eugen. 2195 That sort of thing would be prevented if they had more knowledge of aircraft and air warfare.
At the same time, I think that this is not a question merely of transferring one part of a Service to another Service. It is mainly a question of inter-Service cooperation. I would suggest that, if a committee were set up—and I think that under the terms of this Motion I would strongly oppose it—but if an inter-Departmental inquiry were to take place, one of the things it might do would be to work out a closer mixing up of Coastal Command and the Navy. The difficulty we are up against still is that so few of the naval leaders yet fully accept the principles and idea of air power.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I was hoping that the Civil Lord would intercept, but, as it is, perhaps my hon. Friend will take it from me that the Fifth Sea Lord is a qualified pilot, and that the Flag Officer (Air) Home is also a qualified pilot, and that, indeed, the higher ranks in the Admiralty and in the Service are now becoming full of young men who started in the Fleet Air Arm only in 1937 or thereabouts and are only just now coming to the top. This out of date conception to which my hon. Friend refers—about the admirals not caring about air power—has really gone by the board a long time since.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has contrived to make a speech in this debate. I am glad to know, though I am not unduly surprised, that the officer in charge of Naval Air Services is in fact a pilot. I do not think, however, that that is a very startling sign of acceptance of new ideas. The Fifth Sea Lord is one against I do not know how many members of the Board of Admiralty. My hon. Friend knows more about the Board of Admiralty than I do, but now that he no longer has an official relationship with the Admiralty he can seek to find out the opinion of serving members of Naval Aviation, and he will find that there are very strong views on this subject indeed. This is something that the Navy have got to get down to, and to think hard about.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am glad my hon. Friend agrees. I hope that he will agree with my last remark on this subject, 2196 when I say that one of the great virtues—I know he will agree with this—of air power is its flexibility, which enables a concentration of force to be developed at the right place at the right time. That is something too valuable to be thrown away merely for the expansion of sea power, and it is on this ground particularly that I ask the Under-Secretary of State to say quite clearly that the Government have no intention whatsoever of granting this inquiry, and are not considering any change in the status of Coastal Command.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I feel so strongly about it that, after all, I feel I should say a few words.
I regret, personally, that the Amendment has been moved at all. We are told by successive Governments—certainly by the last and this—that we are living in times of great danger. The Russian air force is preponderant in numbers and in some cases in quality. In these circumstances I should have thought that, as Coastal Command is doing its job well, this would have been the last time at which to turn that Command upside down by this kind of inquiry. Personally, I should like to see all three Services wearing the same uniform—in complete integration. I hope that one day that will come about. [An HON. MEMBER: "In dark blue."] It may not be dark blue. It may be light blue.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I want to refer to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). He went back a long time, to the days of the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917. He talked about the Navy having priority on the equipment side. I well believe that, because since Nelson's day they have had a long arm that has got them what they have required, whereas the Army and the Air Force have had to go on their knees to beg for what they have wanted. That still happens to some extent. Unless the Royal Flying Corps was to disintegrate in 1917 something had to be done to give it equipment, and so I do not think that 2197 that was a balanced argument at all. I should like to know from the Under-Secretary of State whether the Navy has made any request for this inquiry since the end of the war. Perhaps, we should be informed on that.
I would congratulate the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), because I thought his speech was a very balanced one, and I want to reinforce what he said about priorities. I am quite sure that the Cabinet Defence Committee and the Minister of Defence tell the Service chiefs today in general terms—sometimes, I imagine, in great detail—what is expected of them in the way of equipment and what they have got to order. No doubt, that happens in Coastal Command.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen thought that the loyalty of the pilots in Coastal Command was not to the sea but to the Royal Air Force. I have never heard such nonsense in my life. When pilots are sought to be transferred from Coastal Command to another Command they fight for all they are worth to stay in Coastal Command. They cannot be very bored with flying over the sea. They are very loyal to their Command. It is disturbing to suggest the contrary—to suggest, as my hon. Friend did in the House, which enables that sort of thing to go on the record in the technical papers, that these officers are not loyal to their Command.
Then he said that if the transfer ought not to take place right now, the best thing would be to have an inquiry, and that the officers should wait for four or five years before the transfer takes place. Can anyone imagine anything more unsettling to young men entering the Navy or the Fleet Air Arm or the Royal Air Force than for them to know that in a few years' time they may be sent to another Service?
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder), is very well versed in naval matters, and he said we cannot have a unified command. Of course, we did not have a unified command before the war, but in the Western Desert Air Force, under the late Air Marshal Coningham and Field Marshal Montgomery there was a classic example of how two Services could get along together working as one team. I do not accept that argument at all, because I do not think that it bears 2198 consideration. Twenty years ago as a young officer in the Royal Air Force I used to read the letters of Lord Trenchard and of the die-hard admirals in "The Times." They wrote sufficient letters to fill a book. Surely we are not going over to that again at this stage.
Although my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden tried to get out of it by saying that he was not saying quite the same thing as the mover of the Amendment, in fact he was, Everything that he said was in favour of Coastal Command going to the the Navy. He made no argument at all in the other direction. What we want is an Air Arm as a whole under one control, co-ordinated by one air staff. It must be so, because it has become such a vast and complicated problem with regard to communications, training and so on, and the ordering of equipment.
So far as the ordering of equipment is concerned, I should like to see it taken out of the Ministry of Supply and put under the Minister of Defence who would know the priorities and the allocations and dole out the equipment as he thought fit. It is not just a question of sinking submarines for Coastal Command. The Royal Air Force plays a much larger part than that. The fighters have to give fighter cover down the coast, and continually throughout the war they escorted our convoys up and down the coast and through the English Channel. That shows that Fighter Command has to co-operate with the Navy as much as Coastal Command. Likewise they strike against shipping and against land targets. I believe that Coastal Command took part in the bombing of Cologne, and on other occasions is was necessary to throw all our Commands in to make one supreme effort.
Today the Royal Air Force trains the naval pilots initially, and yet we have hon. Members talking about taking Coastal Command for the Navy and leaving the Air Force to train their pilots on Tiger Moths and Chipmunks. The hon. and gallant Member made his argument in favour of one Command only, and that was that Coastal Command should go to the Navy. He must not resent our loyalty to our own Service when we put forward both sides of the argument. The Royal Air Force today are training pilots for the Royal Navy, 2199 and I hope that they are doing it well, as no doubt they are. I am told that the Fleet Air Arm have something like 28 different types of aircraft. I do not know whether that is true or not, but if they have, it seems to me that the whole thing wants overhauling in the Fleet Air Arm. What do many of these types look like—box kites, bird cages or anything one likes. I think that is a deplorable situation.
Prior to the war, the Fleet Air Arm was grossly neglected. The new Under-Secretary, whom I congratulate sincerely on his appointment, was first a Regular officer, then a Reserve officer and then a Royal Air Force Auxiliary officer who spent some two years with the Fleet Air Arm. Unfortunately, he is not to reply tonight, because I should have liked to have heard his comments on the Fleet Air Arm. Many naval officers left the Navy during the inter-war years because they were left aside and were not promoted; they were given no encouragement, and it was not until the admirals saw the red light and realised that unless they recognised air power they would be out as well that anything was done. They only recognised it just in time, many of them, to save their own skins. We might as well argue that the Army should fly the aircraft which are carrying troops. We want all the Services to work together and co-operate and to be more efficient, and not to unsettle young officers and senior officers who, I think, are doing their best to bring about three efficient Services.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I think that the Committee should congratulate the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) on using his good luck in the Ballot to introduce this very important but somewhat thorny topic this evening. I am glad to intervene quite briefly for two reasons. First, to show that the views expressed by the mover and seconder of this Amendment are not held exclusively on the other side of the Committee, and, second, to allay any suspicions that the views expressed by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) represent the general views of this matter on these benches.
My interest in this matter is to some extent coloured, I admit, by the fact that 2200 I spent five years in the Navy. During that time I had the opportunity of seeing both the ship aspect and the aircraft aspect of the anti-submarine war. I spent the first six months of my naval career in destroyers in the Western Approaches and the last six months of it in the British Pacific Fleet, which was a carrier task force, almost exclusively concerned with air power.
Earlier today my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) suggested that this was a somewhat academic controversy in view of the likely nature of the next world war. It may well be that a lot of our defence preparations may turn out to be academic if another world war breaks out—
§ Mr. Robinson
I thought that would meet with a little support from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). Nevertheless, we must devise the most efficient method of using the defences which we are building up.
I am not at all happy that the present arrangements for Coastal Command are conducive to efficiency. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) referred to the Inskip Award. The House might be interested to know the background against which that decision was made.
In 1937 the problem which faced the Services, particularly the R.A.F., was that there would not be sufficient aircraft available to carry out the four main tasks which were likely to fall to the lot of aircraft in a future war—the bomber offensive, the fighter defence of our shores, transport and the defence of our trade routes. Therefore, it was considered that the aircraft available would have to be interchangeable.
That may sound laughable in these days of specialisation, but it was thought to be the only solution to the problem. As the roles of the aircraft had to be interchangeable, so the central pool had to be under a single control, and, naturally, it was decided that that should be the Royal Air Force. Those conditions are no longer valid. One might say that all the basic conditions on which the Inskip Award was founded are no longer valid.
§ Mr. Shackleton
My hon. Friend said that one of the conditions of the Inskip Award was acceptance of the fact that there would not be sufficient aircraft in any war which was likely to come. Does he now suggest that there are likely to be more than enough aircraft?
§ Mr. Robinson
I am not suggesting that. I am saying that aircraft are not going to be interchangeable in the sense that they were thought capable of being interchanged in 1937, and I think that my hon. friend will agree with that.
Let us admit that in 1941, when to some extent the operational control of Coastal Command passed to the Navy, the arrangement worked fairly well. But it was very wasteful. It entailed a duplication of officers. Mainly, I am afraid for reasons of inter-Service prestige, there was always a naval officer of equivalent rank sitting on the tail of his R.A.F. opposite number. That is not a very admirable way to conduct Coastal Command in any future emergency.
The war against submarines has to be fought by aircraft and by ships. This afternoon we heard statistics to the effect that in the last war aircraft sank more U-boats than did naval vessels. As all such operations during the war, the battle against the submarine fluctuated, and it will always fluctuate. Sometimes the aircraft will be on top and sometimes the escort vessels will be on top. I believe that it was in 1943–44 when the aircraft were so successful against the U-boat, but in 1945, when the Schnorkel device was invented, the escort vessel came into its own.
§ Mr. Robinson
It was in 1945, when the Schnorkel was in full production and being used extensively. That made it very much more difficult for an aircraft to locate a submarine, and in 1945 the escort vessels had the greater success. That kind of fluctuation is bound to take place in the future.
The lesson to be learned is that there must be the closest possible co-operation between ships and aircraft engaged in anti-submarine warfare. The closest co-operation can mean only one thing—that the two branches become part of the same Service. That is the closest cooperation that we can get in war-time, but what my hon. Friend the Member for 2202 Preston, South, seems to think is that if, by any chance, this inquiry should take place and the verdict were given that Coastal Command were to go into the Navy, it would adversely affect other forms of inter-Service co-operation. But that is not correct and there is no reason why it should affect other aspects of co-operation.
The lesson is that the two weapons in this fight against submarines must be in one pair of hands. Despite all the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South, I am not at all happy that the Air Ministry will give adequate priority to the war against the submarine. It is not entirely a matter of allocations or estimates decided by the Chiefs of Staff: it is also a matter of emphasis, personnel and a whole lot of similar factors. This inability to put the war against the submarine in its proper perspective is not a mistake of which the Royal Navy can ever be guilty. They are not going to forget the desperate ebb and flow of the Battle of the Atlantic during the six years of the last war.
All that the hon. Member for Darwen is asking the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence to do is to have an inquiry. The arguments against such a step are always those arguments for conserving the present status quo. I can understand such views coming from hon. Members opposite, but I am rather disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South, is not sufficiently sure of his case as to want the matter to be examined by an impartial court.
§ Mr. Robinson
He said he would welcome a wider inquiry into the whole matter of air-sea co-operation, and I should like to echo the words of the hon. Member for Darwen that I would be perfectly happy if that was the nature of the inquiry and those were the terms of reference, for they would not exclude the future administration of Coastal Command.
This matter has never been properly investigated under modern conditions. In some ways it is a good omen that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence is to reply to this part of the debate, because his noble Friend the 2203 Minister is in a position to arbitrate between the three Services. I hope we shall hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that his mind is not closed to this problem, which is giving serious concern to a lot of people, not only in the Navy but among all those who had experience of inter-Service co-operation in the last war.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
I disagree with a great deal of what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), but I think we all recognise that this thorny subject could not have been introduced in a more fluent and factual manner. My interest in this is that for a short time I had the honour of serving in Coastal Command as a pilot, and one of the things where I disagreed with my hon. Friend was when he said that the Coastal Command pilots were all-purpose aviators and that their loyalty was to the R.A.F. and not to the sea.
I do not think that is a fair summary of the attitude of the people in Coastal Command. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) rightly said, they are intensely proud of their Command and of the job they do.
I have the very greatest admiration for the Fleet Air Arm, and if I felt that this Amendment would help to build up the strength of Coastal Command I would certainly support it; but I do not think that it will, particularly because of its phraseology, which talks about Coastal Command as being an "essential air arm of our maritime forces." I regard Coastal Command as an essential arm of our air forces, and I do not think that an impartial inquiry could in any way help to build up its strength.
We are all in very great danger—and the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), is in that danger too—of trying to fight old wars in debates of this kind. The problem which now faces the Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm is, as much as any: "Where do we get our pilots and aircrews from?" As I understand it, young men over the age of 25 are not very good for flying at 40,000 feet or more today, because accident proneness, or liability to kill 2204 oneself, then begins to go up. The logical sequence is to get pilots into high performance aircraft first, and when they reach the ripe old age of 25 or thereabouts to start them flying in Coastal Command or indeed in Transport Command, which both call for qualities which are found more often in older and more experienced pilots than in very young men.
The crying need is for an aircraft of dual purpose, of enormous range and passenger-carrying capacity, which would operate either in Coastal Command over long distances or in Transport Command, where there is a shortage of aircraft at the moment. That type of aircraft would be relatively cheap to produce. It would have a piston engine and fairly simple equipment, and it would not become obsolete in a matter of months as high performance aircraft do. It would be much more economical to produce and to operate. I believe that we could man a lot of those squadrons, particularly of Coastal Command, from the Auxiliary Air Force or from the Reserves. At the moment we allow men with gallant flying records to go during their week-ends to civil aerodromes and fly light civil aircraft, although they are considered to be some of our first-line Reserves.
These men could be given very much more valuable training to keep their hand in in a more beneficial way for the country by flying larger aircraft on Coastal Command roles. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) said that at sea the commander must control his own tactical aircraft. I do not think that any of us who support Coastal Command would differ from that statement.
Those of us who wish to see in Coastal Command long-range heavy aircraft do not see them in anything like as tactical a role as does my hon. and gallant Friend. We see them as continually policing what he evidently does not regard as narrow waters. I regard all waters as narrow, because aircraft can cross all water with the greatest ease. I see Coastal Command continually policing the shipping lanes, and if they are not killing submarines they are at least keeping them down. That surely is a really vital objective because, if they keep them down, they impose strains on the submarine 2205 crews and reduce their effectiveness immeasurably.
I hope, therefore, that when my hon. Friend replies he will not accept this amendment but will, if any change has to be made, see that the functions of Coastal Command are confined more to the role of operating large aircraft. I hope he will deal with the building of heavier aircraft for manning both by reserve crews and by men who have reached an age at which they are no longer able to fly high performance aircraft; and therefore it is time for the Service to find them some other useful employment for which their earlier training will have fitted them.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
I only intervene for a few moments in this homely debate because I was possibly the first in the House to serve in Coastal Command. Before saying anything on that matter, however, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Under-Secretary of State for Air? His politics are a matter of great regret to me, but his enthusiasm for flying and for the Royal Air Force is a matter for congratulation.
It is many years since I was posted to Coastal Command. I had been overseas in a hot climate for a couple of years and it was suggested that I might like to go to Coastal Command. It seemed attractive to me in those days. It was then called Coastal Area. My children bought buckets and spades and we all looked forward to a sea vacation. I reported to the Air Ministry for my posting instructions only to find that the headquarters of Coastal Command were in Tavistock Place on top of the Express Dairy. In those days it was very much under the domination of the Royal Navy, and I always felt it was a great mistake to place the headquarters of the Coastal Fleet in London.
Not only was Coastal Command considered a very honoured and a great command in those days, but it is also considered so today in the Royal Air Force. I make this remark because an hon. Member who is not in the Chamber at the moment appeared to speak disparagingly of it. I could not possibly let that pass, 2206 because my son is a pilot in Coastal Command. In fact, he is pilot for the Commander-in-Chief, and today the Commander-in-Chief has flown to Gibraltar with my son as his pilot. I only mention that to show that it is not a question of the people in Coastal Command sitting down at home; they move around the world today because Coastal Command has great and world-wide responsibilities.
The next part of my speech I would have preferred to make in the absence from the Chamber of the hon. and very gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) and of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) who, being a Whip, has a certain influence over myself and my movements. I question very much whether today we can really afford a Royal Navy at all. There is no doubt that in war today the only place for a capital ship and a large carrier is tied up alongside and well camouflaged. I doubt very much whether any naval commander-in-chief would dare to take a large ship to sea in a future war—they showed great reluctance in doing so during the last war. Therefore, would it not be better if the Royal Navy were a department—and a very important department indeed—of Coastal Command?
§ Mr. Shackleton
Would my hon. and gallant Friend suggest the Transportation Corps of the Army as a suitable title?
§ Group Captain Wilcock
That is very attractive. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) mentioned that the real aim is to have an integrated Service of one uniform colour. When we have done this, as I have recently advocated, we should certainly not need these long discussions about under what jurisdiction the Command should be.
Those are my only remarks on the subject of Coastal Command, except to say that if my suggestion regarding the Royal Navy does not receive the approval of the Government Front Bench, at least there should be no change in Coastal Command and that it should remain, for the time being at any rate, until it has absorbed the Royal Navy, still one of Her Majesty's Royal Air Force Commands.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)
We have had a very spirited sea-air engagement, and on strictly non-party lines. It was remarkable how everybody was loyal to his own Service, with the exception of, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins), who wanted to lose Coastal Command but compensated for that action by caning the admirals in a very serious manner.
It is also very pleasant that the debate has been carried on with good temper. There was a slight Wisden feeling in the early part as to who scored what, but the general feeling has been to remember that in the presence of the Queen's enemies, at any rate, we are all on the same side.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) on his speech in moving the Amendment and for his great historical knowledge on the subject. It is a good thing that we should discuss this, because it is an old subject of controversy which comes up all the time and is intimately connected with the protection of our sea communications, which, we all realise, is vital. I will, therefore, try to answer the arguments that have been put forward on both sides of the House.
Three main points have exercised the attention of hon. Members. There is, first, the idea, which has been put forward by several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury and my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen, that Coastal Command is an ill-fed and unwanted child of the Air Ministry. It is certainly not an unwanted child. It is worth remembering that the present Chief of the Air Staff was a very distinguished Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Coastal Command, and it would certainly break his heart to lose it.
There remains the charge of malnutrition. It is certainly true that Coastal Command ran down. It is equally true that Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Transport Command ran down, and it is invidious to argue which is Cinderella and which are the Ugly Sisters.
Coastal Command is, as we know, vital, but the air defence of Great Britain 2208 is equally vital. We must have our maritime reconnaissance. If we cannot defend our own country, that will bring us to our knees just as quickly as a failure in maritime reconnaissance. Therefore, it is a matter for the correct allocation of our resources, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen said; and the size and shape of our forces is a matter for Government.
It is not open to the Air Ministry to say that they do not like Coastal Command and will halve it. They cannot do any such thing. The size and shape of our forces is decided by Government, who in their task have to weigh many factors—factors of foreign policy, of economics, and of the various threats with which we may be faced. It is a task of very great complexity, which cannot possibly be done by one Ministry. It can only be done by the whole power of Government, working together and keeping a sense of proportion.
So far as the present position of Coastal Command is concerned, as my hon. Friend said, a substantial expansion is taking place. The expansion is going on in the Shackleton principally and we are beginning to get the Neptunes, although we have not yet got a very great many.
It is also true, and I would ask the House to note this, that the only operational command where the expansion is going anything like up to plan is Coastal Command. Therefore, I do not think it can be argued that at present it is being neglected. In addition, a very great deal of research work is going on. As my hon. Friend said, when he presented his Estimates, the speed of the modern submarine equipped with the Snort presents new problems which have not been completely solved as far as the air is concerned. A great deal of effort has been put into that. That deals with the matter so far as the "unwanted child" goes. It is wanted, but is ill fed—
§ Mr. Birch
Everything costs a lot.
The next point was the question of the career structure raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden, and also, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston). It is true that there 2209 have been and are certain recruiting difficulties in naval aviation, but at present recruiting for naval aviation is improving and we always have variations in these things; there have been times when recruiting for the Royal Air Force was very bad. Now naval aviation is an integral part of the Royal Navy. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty said, when he spoke on the Navy Estimates:&aviation is now an integral part of the Navy and we do not want people to think of it as a separate arm."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 866.]For that reason they bring Regular officers in through Dartmouth. It is true both of the Royal Navy and of the Royal Air Force that we want many more officer pilots than we can offer a full time career. It is equally true of both Services, but a study of the figures will show that there is very little indeed to choose between the career prospects of officers on short service engagements in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. I do not think there is very much to be said upon the argument about a career.
The main point in this debate has been the question of command, what sort of uniform ought Coastal Command to wear and who ought to command it? It has been argued that it is logical for maritime reconnaissance to be under the Navy and we have had the analogy of the United States Navy. One point on the United States Navy is that the Air Force in America has had a very different history from the Air Force here and it was only after the last war that the Air Force was accepted as a separate arm with equal status with the American Army and the American Navy. We must also remember that the Americans have rather greater resources than we have and, therefore can afford to spread them with a rather more lavish hand than we can.
All Commonwealth countries have the same sort of organisation as ours and many of the countries in Europe also. Several hon. Members have spoken of the thought that has been given to this matter and have referred to the Inskip Report of 1937. The decisions there were, I think, perfectly clear, and certainly the first was perfectly logical. It was decided that the Admiralty should have not only operational but the administrative control of seaborne aircraft: that is to say, everything on a carrier was naval. But the 2210 Admiralty claim to Coastal Command was rejected.
That settlement still holds. It was to a certain extent modified by something the Prime Minister said in this House on 10th December, 1940. He amplified it to a certain extent. My right hon. Friend said:as the function of the Coastal Command squadrons is that of co-operation with the Royal Navy, the operational policy of the command must be governed by the Admiralty, of course in consultation with the Air Officer Commanding in Chief. Excellent relations have been established since the war between the two Services, and the closest contact exists between the Naval and Air authorities. I am satisfied that the integrity of operational direction will be fully achieved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1940; Vol. 367, c. 783.]That modification of the policy was carried out, and the control chain was Admiralty, Air Officer Commanding in Chief Coastal Command and then down through the respective Service channels; and the main tactical control of naval and air operations was carried out from an area combined headquarters where naval and air commanders were working in partnership. The Navy gave the Air Force a task and it was up to them to carry it out.
It is worth remembering that much the same system of co-operation was worked out between the Army and the Royal Air Force. My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen talked about dual control. If we have two Services we necessarily must have two channels of command. It was something which was worked out after great difficulties and a great deal of thought in the war about how we could in fact get perfect co-operation between two Services.
At the beginning of the war things were not very good either with the co-operation with the Navy or the Army. We did not know how to do it. But by the end of the war we did know, and the thing was working. This system both of co-operation with the Army and with the Navy as worked out during the war did stand the supreme test. In my opinion, it is a great mistake to go back on something which has stood the test of war.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden talked about the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau and said there had been great faults there. But if I heard him aright, he attributed 2211 most of the faults to Fighter Command and Bomber Command, and not to Coastal Command. It is difficult to see how the situation as it then arose would have been affected if Coastal Command had been under the Navy. That brings me to the point made by several hon. Members that Coastal Command is not the only Royal Air Force command which affects the maritime operations.
We have Fighter Command defending our bases here and providing air cover for convoys and coast-wise shipping. Fighter Command also carries out attacks on enemy shipping. In the last war we had Fighter Command helping to deny the Bay of Biscay to surfaced submarines. Then Bomber Command made attacks on U-boat bases, carrying out mine laying and attacks on warships and shipping and the crippling of repair work. A point to notice is that the proportion of air strength allotted to any of these tasks depended on the tactical and strategic situation at the time. By this system we had both economy of force and concentration of force, two of the great principles of war, as everybody knows.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen talked about function and appearance. Because something looks like a bomber it does not mean that it cannot affect the U-boat war, and I think that flexibility is enormously served by the present system.
I would say a word on the administrative aspect which was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden, but not enlarged upon. At the moment the Navy fly light ship-borne aircraft and not heavy aircraft. Within the Air Force we have not only heavy aircraft in Coastal Command but we have heavy aircraft in Bomber Command and Transport Command. It is far easier to switch a crew (trained) who have worked with heavy aircraft than it is to re-train and to switch those who have worked only with light aircraft, which, as several hon. Members have said, did happen a good deal in the war.
If we are to keep heavy aircraft flying we must have an enormous back-stage organisation. In the Royal Air Force that is supplied by Flying Training Command, Technical Training Command and Maintenance Command. They 2212 have the machinery for maintaining these aircraft, training men to maintain them and others to fly them. In the Navy there is no equivalent back-stage in existence. If the Navy were to start flying heavy aircraft they would have to set up some such back-stage organisation as that. I cannot think that it would really make either for economy or flexibility to set anything up like that.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden talked about flexibility and overheads. I should have thought that the way to pile up overheads and to lose flexibility was to do that. I have given the main reasons why I think the change is undesirable; I should now like to comment on the point about the inquiry. There have been some inquiries in the past. I should like to mention a few of the more important ones. There was the Haldane Inquiry in 1912; the Balfour Inquiry in 1921; the second Balfour Inquiry in 1923; and the Trenchard-Keyes Agreement in 1923; the first Inskip Inquiry in 1936; the second Inskip Inquiry in 1937; the Prime Minister's change that I have mentioned in December, 1940; and lastly—and I should like to mention this because it is the most important one—there was an Admiralty-Air Ministry Agreement in 1946.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden said that 15 years had elapsed since the Inskip Award and no fresh thought had been put into this question. That is not really true. This matter was gone into between the two Ministries in 1946. I should like to give to the House the conclusions they arrived at. They were three, and this was the first:Where the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are working in co-operation the problem is a joint one, but as such operations are the primary concern of the Royal Navy, the Naval Command in all normal circumstances is the predominant partner.That was the first proposition laid down. The second one was this:Other units of the Royal Air Force up to the total strength available may be required to undertake tasks connected with the war at sea, such as the fighter escort of convoys, sea mining and tactical or strategic bombing.That was the second. The third and last point was this:The proportion of the total existing and potential air strength of the Royal Air Force which shall be specifically equipped, allocated 2213 and trained to meet world-wide maritime commitments will be laid down from time to time by the Government, acting on the advice of the Admiralty and Air Ministry.It seems to me that those three conclusions, reached after reviewing the whole course of history during the war, should have great force with this House. They represent the position as it now is. I assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) that there is at present no disagreement.
§ Mr. Callaghan
There has been a most laudable desire on the part of the heads of both these Services during the last few years to avoid an open quarrel on this matter, but will the hon. Gentleman keep in mind that the desire to avoid a quarrel should be no substitute for thinking again?
§ Mr. Birch
There has been a good deal of thought upon this. I know that opinions are not completely united, but it is a fact that there is no present high level disagreement. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, speaking on the Navy Estimates, said:The Admiralty have not so far asked, and are not at present asking, for any such change."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 867.]He was talking about this business. That, I think, represents the true state of affairs.
I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend that there is some danger of being plus royalist que le roi. My noble Friend has taken considerable interest in this matter, and he has also been much exercised upon the whole question of the protection of our sea communications. He is very glad that this matter has been brought up and that the attention of the House has been drawn to a most important problem, but he does not see, at the moment, any great value in a further inquiry.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden said that we should show fear if we did not accept the Amendment. Well, my noble Friend is not a very timorous man, and I do not think that he is really very afraid. There are a great many busy men who would be employed in this inquiry, and I cannot see that, apart from giving them the opportunity of thinking about it, it will have very much result.
§ Captain Ryder
My hon. Friend has not made any mention of the very strong 2214 pressure that was put upon the Admiralty not to raise this matter. If he does not have the inquiry now, it will give the impression that they are afraid of the result of the inquiry, and that is just the sort of thing that will build up contentious feeling in the Service.
§ Mr. Birch
If my hon. and gallant Friend thinks that my noble Friend and myself are afraid, he will have to think so. I am very sorry, but I am afraid that I cannot make any change in the opinion which I have offered to the House. After all, this is a very old quarrel. Is it really very much good raising—Old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago"?I would have said not.
As an earth-bound type, I will try to get back to my own element. I have tried to give reasons why I think there is no very great point in an inquiry at the present time. I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised the matter in such a temperate and persuasive speech, but I ask him now to withdraw the Amendment in order that the general debate may go on.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. There is no doubt that the majority of opinion in the House tonight was against this Amendment, and that may well be because it is the occasion of the Air Estimates. As my hon. Friend has said, those who are interested in the air are loyal to their own Service and will regard this as something of an attempt to disrupt the Royal Air Force. At the same time, as the Admiralty do not wish to press it at the moment, and although I regard this as a Fox-North Coalition likely to last no longer than the earlier one did, nevertheless, in view of these circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I have one brief point to make, and it is a simple plea to the Government on a comparatively small matter. In the Air Estimates which we are discussing, on pages 32 and 33, we get the figures for the pay of the personnel of the Royal Air Force 2215 Volunteer Reserve. These figures show that the bounties which are given to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve are roughly equivalent to their pay during training, if we deduct marriage allowance and National Insurance.
These bounties are given to all ranks of aircrew at a uniform rate, very properly, of £35 or £30 or £27, according to function, and, somewhat less properly, according to sex. But when one comes to the ground personnel one finds that the ground trades receive bounty only if they are not officers. The result is that throughout the whole of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve there is only one class which does not receive a bounty and that is the officers in ground trades.
I can see no logical reason whatever for this. I can see some logic, though I would not agree with it, in confining the bounties to aircrew as a whole. I can see some sort of reason, though I would agree with it even less, for making a distinction between ranks of the Service both in aircrew and ground personnel. But to make it in one branch only, the ground trades, seems to me, on the face of it, incongruous and indefensible.
I believe the history of the matter is that this Force was originally constituted for aircrew only, that the ground trade personnel in it were brought in at a later stage and that it so happened that the response to the appeal to officers to join was very good. Whether that is or is not the historical explanation, I feel certain that the Under-Secretary of State for Air would agree that if that happened it is not a sufficient reason for docking this small body of their bounty.
I agree it is a small matter but these officers are serving in the R.A.F. just as much as the others. They are a type of whom we can rightly and properly be proud and I hope that this anomaly—for we must agree that it is an anomaly—can be removed. It is a very small matter and it would not require any large expenditure of public funds, but very often the small unfairness is the most galling to those who suffer from it. In this case the mere fact that this group is so small makes them appear to be singled out, as it were, for what they regard as a piece of exceptional—I would hardly 2216 say hardship but perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will not object if I say, in this case—Departmental stinginess.
I have tried to make my plea as simply and I hope as movingly as I possibly could. There is no more to be said about it. I know it has been refused in the past but sometimes if one knocks again and again at the door one gets what I should regard in this case as justice and proper treatment for this small body of officers.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, in his admirable and most realistic statement this afternoon, has referred to the intention to press forward with all vigour and all speed and at top priority the production of the two new British swept-wing fighters, the Hawker Hunter, and the Supermarine Swift. If I do not follow up what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said it is because I want to pass at once to that subject.
This must have been a very difficult decision indeed to take. Few Members on either side of the House would question, after the experience of the last year in Korea, that as things stand now these two aircraft, the Hunter and the Swift, will be superior in a great many ways to the Russian-built MIG.15.
But I submit that we must look two and three years ahead. How will these aircraft then compare with the later Marks of the MIG.15 or, if hon. Members like, any other fighter of advanced design attributed to Lavochkin and Yakovlev, and no doubt aided by German inventive genius. I think we can be pretty sure the Russians are not standing still. They have had an invaluable opportunity in the air fighting immediately South of, and high above, the Yalu River in Korea to size up the advantages, the disadvantages and the shortcomings of the MIG.15, an aircraft which, we should remember, has been developed and produced at a speed which should be an object lesson to us all.
In considering the development of new aircraft under Vote 7 of the Estimates, there is one matter to which I am particularly anxious to draw attention. We 2217 can give a fighter pilot the best aircraft. in the world; we can give him the best training in the world; we can give him the best gunsight in the world; but if, in the process, we have not taught him to hit a target moving at modern operational heights and speeds, a great deal of this expenditure will have been wasted.
In my submission, the most important single thing, operationally, which a fighter pilot has to learn today is to shoot straight. In the last war—and I was in some way concerned with this so that I take some measure of responsibility—we were surprisingly unimaginative in the way in which we tried to teach him this rudimentary principle. In those days the only place where a pilot could learn to shoot was in combat and there, I think, he learned pretty quickly.
Now, six or seven years later, we are dealing with a quite different set of circumstances. Then we were dealing with heights of 15,000 to 20,000 feet and below, and with speeds of 200 and 300 miles an hour—sometimes less. Now, the heights may be anything up to 35,000 or 40,000 feet and the speeds twice as great.
The questions I want to ask my hon. Friend are two-fold. First, are any attempts being made in Fighter Command today to give live firing practice to pilots under modern operational conditions—the sort of conditions, for instance, which exist high up over the Yalu River? Second, is every help and assistance being given to developing that type of equipment which would make such practice possible? I consider that this is a matter of top-class importance which, with the production of the aircraft—which it so much concerns—should be given super-priority. I hope the Air Staff are giving this matter regular attention; I hope it comes up every month; and I hope that the operational research section are being prodded for ideas all the time. Further, I hope that every idea is given, within proper reason, the consideration and thought it deserves.
It seems to me to be an interesting commentary—and this has a considerable bearing on what I am saying—that in this new and modernised conception of air fighting, which has taken place in Korea, the Americans have found that, as a rule, the best age for a pilot is 2218 around 30. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) is not here, because in the course of his speech he made some reference to the age at which a man was at his best as a pilot. It is interesting to record that some of the American pilots fighting in Korea are of the opinion that 30 is perhaps the best age. It is true that the average age of pilots of some of the F.86 Sabre jet squadrons now operating with the Americans in Korea is around 28 or 29. That is very different from the age of 21 and 22, as we have now come to recognise. At this age—28, 29 or 30—these pilots, some of whom, of course, have had experience in the late war, have learned to shoot, and they are more solid in the air than their younger, less experienced—though equally courageous—comrades, who saw nothing of the fighting in the war in Europe.
As we assess new types of aircraft for the Royal Air Force, and especially as we consider the man-hours and the expenditure—£111 million on this Vote 7—that is involved, we must always be on the look out for ways to economise. I have been impressed at the progress made the last few years with a synthetic training device which comes closer to reproducing the actual flying characteristics of an aeroplane than anything else I have seen.
I have never been very much attracted to the idea of a synthetic training device. It is a horrible phrase, anyway. While I fully appreciated in the old days the value of the Link trainer, it also had its limitations. I did not think, however, it could be considered to be any real substitute for time in the air. There is not, in my submission, and never will be any real substitute for actual flying time in an aircraft.
There has been developed in the United States, however, a new type of training device known as the "Flight Simulator," a product of the Curtiss Wright Corporation of America. This operational flight trainer simulates in the minutest detail the actual cockpit lay-out of the aircraft it is built to represent. I think at this stage it is interesting to recall that when Pan American World Airways were converting crews from Constellations on to Stratocruisers the actual flying time involved in the conversion from one 2219 aircraft to the other was of the order of 21 to 22 flying hours.
At £200 sterling an hour, the House will appreciate that this was a considerable expenditure. But later, when the "Flight Simulator" had been introduced, to represent in detail the cockpit lay-out of a Stratocruiser, by giving each crew 35 hours in this trainer, the actual time required in the air in a Stratocruiser was reduced to four or five hours—from 21 to 22 hours down to four or five hours. The House will see that this involved a very considerable economy.
We have entered a phase of fantastically expensive and highly complicated military aeroplanes. Moreover, the time taken over their production in terms of man-hours is infinitely greater than anything we have known in earlier years. If we can see a way of reducing the expenditure, if we can see a way of economising in both the expenditure of money and of man-hours, I submit we should grasp it. This operational flight trainer of which I am speaking is now, I understand, being developed in this country. British Overseas Airways Corporation has a copy of the Stratocruiser in operation near Heath Row and a copy of the Comet, I believe, is also becoming available shortly. The Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command, has, I am told, signified his desire for a reproduction of the Valiant, and an order has been placed for a copy of this type.
A question I should like to ask my hon. Friend is, whether he could not now consider introducing these "Flight Simulators" into Fighter Command, if not to simulate the new, single-seat swept-wing fighters, then as an illustration of the new, all-weather fighters. I hope that my hon. Friend will have a look at this matter because I believe it is very important. I have said that I have always in the past been opposed to synthetic training devices, but I am not now. I think the position has changed through the development of British and American science, and I think that that is now a really important matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will consult with the Minister of Supply in this matter because I believe that certain production difficulties are here involved.
While we are considering the equipment for operational, advanced and con 2220 version training, let me say it surprises me that we should continue to undertake so much of this advanced jet training in the industrial areas of England. The House knows very well my views—and no one knows them better than the right hon. and learned Gentleman the former Secretary of State for Air—upon the need for an intermediate jet trainer. I think it a great pity that we have not now an easy jet aircraft on to which a pilot could convert after, perhaps, 50 or 60 hours' flying on a conventional, piston-engined trainer.
Now that we are resigned, if that is the word, to the Meteor and Vampire dual-trainers, I think we ought to make it as easy as possible for pilots to gain confidence on those aeroplanes. Learning to fly a piston-engined fighter in conditions of permanent industrial haze was hard enough in any case, but to have to do it in a high-speed, jet-propulsion aircraft with a high wing-loading and short endurance seems to me to be asking more of the pilot than is necessary. Perhaps my hon. Friend would have a look at the log books of the pilots who did their advanced training in the industrial North of England in December and January last year and this year because I think he would be surprised at some of the totals of flying hours he would find.
If this training has to be undertaken in this country—and I should like to see more of it transferred to the North American Continent and to the Carribean—I wish it could take place in the north of Scotland or in the extreme south-west of England—in Cornwall. There, I think, flying weather tends to be better than in the industrial North. I believe that if we did the training there, it would he safer—and we are trying to reduce accidents—and I believe we should be able to get through it quicker and, in some cases, I believe, it would lighten the heavy responsibility which falls on the judgment of chief flying instructors especially in winter.
In conclusion, I turn to a matter which I believe is a governing factor in the prevention of a third world conflict. Twelve months ago, on 6th March, 1951, speaking on the Air Estimates, I expressed myself in this House in these terms:In our endeavour to secure our own defence let us beware of concentrating too much upon short-range, lower endurance, defensive 2221 fighter aircraft and not enough upon the establishment of a long-range striking force. The development of rocket and jet propulsion, in all its modern and most hideous forms, has increased immeasurably the difficulties of interception by fighters alone&the place to meet modern air attacks is at its source."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 289.]Few would, I think, deny that the ability of the United States to carry an atom bomb from continent to continent remains today the paramount deterrent to war.
Yet I feel—and perhaps my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—that we are now engaged on the development of a highly-efficient and magnificently equipped Air Force composed primarily of defensive, tactical and middle-distance machines. I do not see as yet any signs of an inter-continental bomber. Perhaps there is one. If there is, I cannot think that it would do any harm to say so. I can scarcely believe that the aircraft industry has neglected this matter entirely.
It may be foolish of me to prophesy, but nothing I can now foresee—I am trying to look into the future as one has to do in considering military and civil aviation—alters my conviction that, with modern atomic weapons, the establishment of a long-range, strategic striking force will remain, perhaps for a decade, the prime deterrent to war.
The historic offensive waged by Bomber Command between 1942 and 1945 gave us, in the face of grievous losses, a practical knowledge of strategic assault which, of its type, was unrivalled in the world. From such a basis the development of inter-continental attack is the next and natural step. With all this experience, gained at so great a cost, I trust that it will not be our intention to surrender indefinitely to the United States the unquestioned supremacy which she now holds in this decisive field.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
One word seems to have dominated the debate—"super-priority." This rather curious word was first introduced into our debates by that master of precise language, the Prime Minister. What is the difference between "priority" and "super-priority"? The Prime Minister used "super-priority" in relation to fighters; the dominating idea in his speech was that there should be super-priority for fighters.
2222 I have never accused the Prime Minister of being a war-monger, although one phrase of mine might indicate that. All that I have ever said about the Prime Minister was that not even his most ardent admirers had ever thought of recommending him for the Nobel Peace Prize; and after this resounding but rather curiously meaningless verbiage nobody is ever likely to do it.
The idea of super-priority for fighters is a development of what the Prime Minister told us in the last Parliament when be was warning us about the effect on the security and safety of our people of the establishment of the American Bomber Force in East Anglia. On three occasions the Prime Minister has told us of the terrible consequences which are likely to come to this country as a result of East Anglia being regarded by the Soviet Union as the base of the atom bombers, which are, I understand from the argument of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), to be directed against the war potential of the Soviet Union.
As I have said, on three occasions the Prime Minister has warned us that, as a result of the establishment of this American base here, we have made ourselves the target or the bull's-eye for possible retaliatory action. That fits in with the argument of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick. He has talked about the atom bombers being a deterrent to war. If that argument holds for this country and for the U.S.A., is it not also likely that the leaders of the Soviet Union, who also believe in having deterrents to war, will adopt exactly the same line of argument and also concentrate on long-range bombers meant to be a deterrent to the United States and to us should we think of the possibility of destroying the war potential of the U.S.S.R.?
The warning has come from the Prime Minister. I do not believe that the presence of the American Air Force here is, as the Under-Secretary indicated in his opening speech, a source of safety or security to the people of this country. It is a terrible danger, and this country would be safer if the American bombers were transferred to American territory or to the innumerable other American bases which are scattered throughout the world.
2223 I read an article on American air strategy in the "New York Times" by the reputable military correspondent of that paper. He pointed out that America had at least 20 of these atom bomb bases ranging from the Antarctic across Europe, through the Mediterranean, over Africa and across to Japan. General MacArthur declared on one occasion that he regarded Formosa as an aircraft carrier of the Far East.
Apparently the idea of American strategists is that this country must be the aircraft carrier for Europe. According to that we have risked what the Prime Minister calls a fearsome and terrible prospect for the people of this country. The Prime Minister has argued that if we get only 50 atom bombs on this country the consequences will be such as we cannot even contemplate. We should be knocked out of the war, our industrial centres would be destroyed and there would be millions upon millions of casualties.
I am going to suggest that it is not by getting more fighters to protect the bombers that the safety of the people of this country will be secured, but rather by the removal of these American bombers to other parts of the world. The Americans argue that they want to be as near Russia as possible, but anyone who knows anything about geography knows that the shortest way from America to Moscow is over the North Pole.
The Prime Minister has argued that the fighters are necessary to protect the bombers, and then presumably more bombers will be necessary to protect the fighter bases. So this argument goes on at a ruinous cost to this country, and here tonight we are discussing these astronomically increasing Air Estimates at a time when we are on the borders of national bankruptcy.
The figures we are asked to approve in this Estimate amount to £467,640,000, nearly £139 million more than last year, and as far as we can judge from the arguments that have been advanced this item is going up and up so that in five years time the expenditure on the Air Force will be ruinously high, and will be taking in an enormous amount of manpower and materials from the industries of this country which depend largely upon the export trade. I am concerned 2224 about the way that Ministers are coming to this House with the different Estimates. The Editor of the "Economist"—yes, we regard the "Economist" as a sort of religious paper in this House and I quote the editor with due reverence—declared in an article in the American paper "Look" that,The weakness of the present defence programme is that it does not look as if it means to slow down.It means to go on apparently by geometric progression. It was conceived in the near-panic days of a year ago. He adds:The armed Services were given a blank cheque and told to fill it up. They naturally filled it to cover everything they wanted.In this debate we are getting increased demands, without any real attempt to estimate what they will cost the country. An hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite put in a plea for helicopters and when I asked him what a helicopter cost he did not know. He said he had never inquired because he could not afford one. That is the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite regard our national finances at a time of serious economic crisis.
I am always asking hon. Gentlemen in these Estimates debates, what does the thing cost? It is very difficult to extract the answer from the Ministry, but I hope that we shall be more successful with the present Minister. I remember the time, not so long ago, when he was wanting to know what things cost. I hope that he is going to be more communicative.
The cost of aircraft has steadily increased. We are told for example, in the recent report of the Select Committee on Estimates, that in 1945 a general reconnaissance plane cost £44,844 and that last year, 1951, it cost £105,055. Now, not a year afterwards, the cost has gone up to £114,695. With the complexity of modern aircraft and the increased cost of the metals and the gadgets inside one of these aircraft, the cost grows and grows, until we realise that the air Service is going to become far more expensive than ever the Navy was. In the same report, we are told about a fighter which in 1945 cost £7,680 and the latest model of which costs £16,720. The cost of a reconnaissance plane is the cost of a small village.
We shall find, as a result of pressure from hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite, the cost of the air Service mounting astronomically, and it is the duty of those 2225 of us who look at the matter from the layman's point of view and are interested in the general finances of the country to put forward arguments in these debates which must criticise the purely specialist point of view.
It would be very interesting to add up the cost of all the suggestions which are being made by hon. and gallant Gentlemen in the debate. To meet that cost we should have to treble the Income Tax, put a bigger tax on excess profits and an enormous tax on whisky, and then we should not be able to pay for the Air Force in five years' time. Let me give one figure which illustrates the point. When the R.A.F. go out to exercise, the 650 cartridges which an R.A.F. pilot fires in one minute cost £150. In 10 minutes' firing practice by 40 planes, the amount is £52,000.
Sooner or later, we have to realise that this country cannot afford all these expensive machines, and that they mean the ruin and bankruptcy of this nation. I am surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not take a greater interest in these debates by coming to them and keeping an eagle eye on people before they spend the money that he has collected in his Budget.
Let us look at some of the indirect economic effects of the Prime Minister's new slogan "Super-priority for fighters." How has it affected us in industry? On the Sunday following the speech of the Prime Minister the air correspondent of the "Sunday Times" went to Sheffield and inquired what would be the effect on the steel industry. He published his conclusions under the heading "Aircraft instead of sinks and washing machines," thus making it look rather prosaic. He said:The extra aircraft are going to be made out of steels which would otherwise have gone into sinks, fish fryers, washing machines, fish tanks for trawlers and a great range of other domestic and industrial articles.Those are exactly the articles which are needed for the export trade in order that we can face our problem of the balance of payments. Of course the Prime Minister never thinks in terms of economics, but we have to think in terms of economics. And when we find that not only our export trade but, our home market is being denuded of the articles needed by our people in this way, then we are 2226 entitled to have some regard to the economic consequences.
There is another aspect of aircraft production which is rather perplexing the manufacturers of aircraft, for example Mr. Sopwith, who is the chairman and managing director of one of our big manufacturing concerns. In a speech to his company at the beginning of this year he asked:What is the position today as compared with the war years? A modern fighter like the Hawker P1067 absorbs nearly three times as much manpower as did its counterpart, the Hurricane, in 1940. Manpower is the key to almost all our problems and we must beat the manpower shortage.Is it possible to beat the manpower shortage? Look at all the evidence which was brought before the Select Committee on Estimates and it will be found that none of the experts who appeared before that committee can tell us where the manpower is coming from for this complicated machine. Even the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), the other day at Question time struck a note rather resembling some of the questions which I have been asking. He put what was, from his point of view, a perfectly rational Question to the Minister of Labour about the apprentices in the aircraft industry. After we have trained the aircraft apprentice boy for many years until he has become a skilled worker, he is taken for National Service. That is exactly what I have been saying about other forms of labour, and it is quite rational.
We find that the Secretary of State for War has only been able to achieve his increased manpower in the Army by denuding the aircraft industry of its skilled workers. And so this runs throughout all our industries, with the result that the manpower shortage has. as Mr. Sopwith said, become one of our main problems. My contention is that it is an insoluble problem.
There is another aspect of these Estimates. I maintain that they divert from the manufacture of civil aircraft the manpower that is needed for the development of what might be our most important export trade. I cannot go into the question of civil aviation on the Vote which is now before the House, except to say that all this elaborate programme of super-priorities for fighters is diverting manpower away from the manufacture of 2227 the aircraft which, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside has recently pointed out, are absolutely essential if we are to maintain our position in the manufacture of civil aircraft and to maintain our competition in the markets of the world.
Without developing that point, I only wish to say that I agree with Lord Douglas when he said:This year is a year of destiny for British aviation and it is important for the whole nation to know what is at stake. The genius of British scientists and aeronautical engineers has provided two civil liners that are several years ahead of all foreign competition: the straight jet Comet and the pro-jet fighter.He went on to argue that it was a tragedy that at this time, there is being taken away in this super-priority programme, the materials and the labour which alone can help us to maintain this important prospective export trade which is essential to the future development of the industry of this country.
And so I say that from the point of view of security, we have no greater measure of security as the result of the argument that we must build more atom bombers as a deterrent. What we have got is that both sides of the Iron Curtain are building the atom bombers as a deterrent, with the result that the world is infinitely more dangerous, and the greatest danger of all is to the congested population of the islands for which we as a House of Commons are responsible.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) dwelt on the lessons to be learnt from Korea. There is another lesson that I should draw from Korea, and I hope that I will get an answer upon this point from the Under-Secretary. I should like to know whether our aircraft in Korea have had anything to do with the dropping of the napalm bomb. I should like to know whether the napalm bomb has become one of the recognised bombs which the British Air Force is likely to use in the event of war.
I believe that people of this country have been rather shocked by the revelations that have appeared in a recent book on Korea by a B.B.C. reporter. I refer to the book by Mr. Rene Cutforth entitled "Korean Reporter," in which he describes the effects of bombing in Korea. The "Manchester Guardian," in reviewing this book, gave an extract which must 2228 have horrified a very large number of its readers, with the result that letters poured in from all parts of the country.
I want to read this extract to the House, because that bomb is, presumably, the kind of weapon that we will use and for which we are actually budgeting in part of these Estimates. The B.B.C. reporter, in his book, describes what he saw. At a British field hospital a doctor showed Mr. Cutforth one case.In front of us a curious figure was standing, a little crouched, legs straggled, arms held out from his sides. He had no eyes, and the whole of his body, nearly all of which was visible through tatters of burned rags, was covered with a hard black crust speckled with yellow pus. A Korean woman by his side began to speak and the interpreter said, 'He has to stand, Sir. He cannot sit or lie.' He had to stand because he was no longer covered with a skin but with a crust-like crackling which broke easily.The "Manchester Guardian" said:Whatever the rights or wrongs of using napalm, the casualties have to be attended to.That is a very obvious comment—They may be gangrenous and affect other wounded. In Korea the Civil Assistance Command has had to deal with them and, according to Mr. Cutforth, it has almost made a success of an impossible job.We are very glad to know that. This B.B.C. writer comments:I thought of the hundreds of villages reduced to ashes which I personally had seen and realised the sort of casualty list which must be mounting along the whole Korean front.
§ Mr. Speaker
What we find in the Estimates is in order; if it is not in the Estimates, it is not in order.
§ Mr. Hughes
My argument is that we are estimating for aircraft that drop bombs and that these aircraft in Korea—
§ Mr. Hughes
—and that the napalm bomb is being used in Korea. I was asking the Under-Secretary if this is the kind of bomb that the Royal Air Force contemplate using in a possible future war.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must point out that an extension of that argument would carry the debate to any length.
§ Mr. Hughes
I appreciate the point, and I do not wish to carry that argument any further, except to say that when we have millions of public money being spent we should have some idea of the great deal of misery and the consequences which we cause as a result of that expenditure.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
On a point of order, as I understand it there are no Royal Air Force aircraft operating in Korea at all. The aircraft operating there are of the Royal Australian Air Force.
§ Mr. Hughes
Someone may have noticed that unfortunately there was a pilot killed in Korea yesterday.
§ Mr. Hughes
According to the Estimates there is a definite estimate for Korea—[An HON. MEMBER: "It has nothing to do with it."] I am asking a definite question of the Under-Secretary, if any of our money is being spent on the napalm bomb. The very fact that hon. Members are so sensitive about this means that in their heart of hearts they know quite well that the whole thing is a monstrous atrocity; and it is against the monstrous atrocity contained in these figures that I protest in this House tonight.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Profumo (Stratford)
I had not fully appreciated that the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had finished speaking, because I imagined he would have said, "Here endeth the third lesson," as it seemed to me that I heard exactly the same speech from him on Navy Estimates and on Army Estimates. I shall not try to detract from the deep impression he has made on the House with his speech by commenting on it. Perhaps we can get away from South Ayr to the air proper for the rest of the debate.
May I start by joining hon. Members on all sides of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary 2230 on the remarkable way in which he introduced the Estimates so soon after taking office. One thing I found extremely refreshing was that his remarks were frank and open. We have not been used to that in the last six years. In every year in the Estimates to which I have listened we have been treated to a great deal of soft soap, platitude and generalities.
I do not know what my hon. and right hon. Friends feel, but personally I am getting a little tired of hearing right hon. Gentlemen opposite who come to the House in the guise of gamekeeper turned poacher so soon after they have been sitting on this side of the House and start teaching lessons to the present Government so soon after we have taken office.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) made several remarks in his speech. He said that the morale of the Royal Air Force was very high. We would agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it seemed to me a little out of the context of his speech, because certainly the former Labour Government can claim no kudos for the fact that that morale is high. If anything, it is in spite of the Socialist Government that the Royal Air Force morale is high rather than because of it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say, again rightly, that we were lagging behind in the construction of aircraft. That certainly is very true, but of course it is not the fault of Her Majesty's Government that we are lagging behind. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will cast his mind back to what, I am sure, must has been a very trying occasion for him, to the first time when he himself presented the Air Estimates to this House in 1948, he will remember that at that time he was responsible for introducing a cut in the Estimates of £39 million. That was the first thing the right hon. and learned Gentleman did on assuming office as Secretary of State for Air. That was four years ago. In my submission it takes about four years to produce a modern Royal Air Force plane. Therefore, it is little wonder that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to say that we are now lagging behind in the production of aircraft. If it is the fault of any one at all it is the fault of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Is the hon. Member aware that the first thing the present Prime Minister had to do was to make a substantial cut in the whole Defence programme of this country?
§ Mr. Profumo
The Prime Minister has made an overall economic cut but, as the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) knows, he has accorded substantial priority to the production of aircraft. It was the production of aircraft I was talking about, because anything else would be out of order in this debate.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
Would the hon. Member be perfectly fair and agree that one would expect to see a cut in the Fighting Services when a successful war had just been terminated and that that was the time to make retrenchment in the Services? Would not he further agree that under the former Labour Government the Royal Air Force enjoyed a much greater expansion than at any other time before the war under a Conservative Government?
§ Mr. Profumo
I really cannot accept the whole of that interjection. Although it was fairly soon after the successful conclusion of a war, one must remember that several years had elapsed during which the party of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite were responsible for introducing conscription. One would imagine that there were some qualms in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and as a matter of fact it was soon after that that another and more terrifying war broke out in the Far East.
§ Mr. Beswick
If I understood the hon. Member aright, he criticised the Labour Government for running down the Forces too much. Will he explain why the present Prime Minister criticised the Labour Government for not releasing men from the Forces more quickly?
§ Mr. Profumo
I will come to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) in a moment, if he will allow me and not try to muddle me. He will realise that I was talking about 1948 and not 1946. I was not talking about 1946 when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister criticised the Government then in office. The Prime Minister has so often found it necessary to criticise the Government of the past few years that one might get a 2232 little muddled about the occasions. I was talking about 1948. I think that I had made my point that it is not right that right hon. Gentlemen opposite should seek to use the prestige of the Air Force to try to bolster up the prestige of their own battered and defeated party.
Perhaps I might come to my main point. I think all hon. Members will agree that the difficulty of any Government today is to apportion the resources of the nation adequately between the requirements of defence and of exports. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) would have one view, the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite would have another, and Her Majesty's Government would have a third view on how to apportion them. That is the difficulty which any Government has to face today.
There is one branch of our air arm which appears to be particularly important in our discussions tonight, in that it is common to both the two prongs of our thoughts at the moment. It is common to our air arm—our defence force—and it is also common to our export programme. I am speaking of the question of air transport about which the hon. Member for Uxbridge spoke earlier. I do not find any evidence, either in the Memorandum which accompanies these Estimates or in the White Paper on Defence, which would suggest that the Government were considering a considerable expansion in our air transport.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly explained to the House the other day how important it was to hasten the production of the latest types of fighter aircraft. I wish to make the strongest plea that this should not be done to the complete exclusion of the development of air transport which is so much required today in the exercise of air power.
This appears to me to be one of the greatest lessons of the last war. We never had enough transport aircraft either for the R.A.F. or the Army. It is becoming a common thought today among hon. Members opposite that we should only continue with building up our defence forces in so far as we are able easily to adjust the position from the point of view of our internal financial situation, and that we should leave the rest to the United States of America. 2233 The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) made a speech about that the other day, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton made a similar suggestion tonight. They say, "Let us do what we can, but let us remember that the Americans should do the rest."
If we leave the provision of these transport services to our United States Allies, I suggest that we shall be giving them an immense advantage over us in the field of civil aviation, a field in which at the moment we are in a position to lead the world. This is not merely a question of the transport of supplies but, even more important, the development of striking power based on high mobility.
There has been a striking example of the importance of mobility during the Korean campaign. The 15th United States Strategic Air Force, which consisted of 1,030 Superfortress bombers, was moved. It was flown 9,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, with all the crews and equipment, and was in operation over Korea within nine days of having had orders to leave its bases in the United States. That really is something. It indicates the importance of the mobility of air power today.
If we consider the excellent progress being made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, I, for one, would say that the future looks very much more likely to offer a protracted continuation of the cold war than the danger of an immediate hot war. If that is the case, under these conditions air transport can play a most important, and perhaps even a decisive, role.
After all, the only potential aggressor in the world today is the Soviet Union, and, if we are considering Russia, we must remember that Russia is operating on internal lines of communication, rather like a boxer who turns round slowly, making his opponent run right round in a circle. The British Commonwealth, and, indeed, the United States, never know when they will have to meet some new threat and from what part of the world it will come, whereas Russia sits still and works on internal lines of communication. In these circumstances, it is even more important that we should be able and ready to move our forces to whatever trouble spot next appears.
2234 In our present straitened circumstances, it would be quite impracticable for this country to hold in reserve large forces of military aircraft and personnel, and, therefore, the only way in which we can develop this side of our re-armament seems to be in the field of civil aviation. This means increasing the output of the aircraft industry, and encouraging the scope of the independent air operators so that they, together with the State Corporations, can form a reserve of air transport which can be used now for military purposes, if required, and, indeed, incorporated in our fighting forces in the event of war.
There must be an urgent survey of the whole conception of imperial defence. I am convinced that great economies can be made in personnel, in the Royal Navy, Army, and the Royal Air Force, in accommodation, in administration, and, indeed, in shipping, if full advantage is taken of the unique quality of high mobility which could be the result of the provision of adequate air transport.
It has been estimated that, at any one given time, there are as many as 30,000 men of the British Army in transit from one place to another, apart from air trooping itself. The six weeks' voyage to the Far East by ship could be reduced to three or four days if we were to use aeroplanes, but we simply have not got enough suitable types to carry out this sort of programme.
§ Mr. Profumo
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what. Despite all the speeches which he has been making, I ask him to listen to some plain talking from an hon. Member who wishes to see our Air Force made strong and our country defended in the way which he would like to see it done, even if he does not understand it.
Air trooping would not only reduce the sterilisation of troops equivalent to a whole division, but would also enable much greater operational use to be made of National Service men and of men who are serving on a three years' Regular engagement. The expansion of air transport services would lead to the creation of large reserves of aircraft and aircrew maintenance engineers, and the fact that there was a substantial air transport industry would be a considerable incentive 2235 to men to accept short-term service in the R.A.F., and would ensure that these aircrew members would be maintained in civilian life, both in flying practice in conditions of modern multi-engined aircraft—
§ Mr. Hughes
Would the hon. Gentleman enlighten me on this point? The noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) has given the cost of one transport plane as £350,000. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that, and, if so, how many of these planes does he think we can afford?
§ Mr. Profumo
The cost which my noble Friend gave was the cost of the prototype. The hon. Gentleman is always arguing about cost. I would say to him that he should listen more to arguments than ask questions about the cost. What I am seeking to establish is that, if we are spending money on the development of civil transport aeroplanes, we are not wasting it, and that is a point which ought to appeal to the hon. Gentleman.
We are not wasting money—and this ought to appeal to the hon. Member—because we ought to be able to earn money in the export markets of the world and to earn invisible imports by carrying people all over the world, and at the same time have these aeroplanes ready for use in case they are wanted in the event of war. That is a great economy.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member is now arguing against the Prime Minister's super-priority. The Prime Minister wants super-priority for fighters. The hon. Member wants it for transport planes. How can one get it for two things at the same time?
§ Mr. Profumo
I think the hon. Member is away up in South Ayrshire. He does not follow my argument. I believe it would be more appropriate if I spoke to him privately afterwards, because I believe that other hon. Members have followed me. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked for super-priority for fighters only. I merely say, "Please do not let us concentrate entirely on fighter aircraft." Super-priority leaves room enough for priority. On reflection, if the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South, reads my speech he will perhaps understand it better than if he sits and listens to it. I well understand his difficulty.
2236 It is an established fact that about 100 aeroplanes make the most economic size for any single operating civil aviation organisation. B.E.A. have already a fleet of that size, and B.O.A.C. will not be far short of that number when they have finished their present orders. Therefore that means that any extension must be amongst independent organisations.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge, in a speech with most of which I heartily agreed, pleaded for expansion in air transport. But the one thing the hon. Member did when he was Under-Secretary for Civil Aviation was to stop the expansion of the independent air operators by the policy of His late Majesty's Government. Therefore, it is not much good his coming along and saying what he is now saying. Why did he not do something to help when he was in charge instead of making these platitudinous suggestions? I agreed with those suggestions, but I would be far more impressed by them if the hon. Member had had enough guts to stand up to his hon. and right hon. Friends and had said, "Let us see that the independent air operators are allowed full scope, because it is not only a matter of civil aviation but a matter of defence."
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Member might at least endeavour to be accurate. Whilst I was in office no operator was stopped, private or otherwise. We gave considerable encouragement to private operators to take on work which hitherto they had not been allowed to take.
§ Mr. Profumo
If we must talk of accuracy I should really have thought the hon. Member would have been more accurate himself. It is a travesty of the situation to make a statement of that sort. Everybody knows that private operators were not given the scope under His late Majesty's Government which we on this side of the House thought they should be given. We came to the House constantly to ask that they should be given more priority.
§ Mr. Beswick
What the hon. Member is now saying is that his friends outside did not get all the work they would have liked. That is very different from saying that whilst I was in office certain operators were closed down. If he will examine the figures the hon. Member will 2237 see that certain private operators received £1 million worth of business from Government Departments.
§ Mr. Profumo
They were given the pickings, that is all; and many of these charter companies did not have enough money to continue. I have no wish to enter into violent conflict with the hon. Member, because I started by saying that I agreed with his thesis; and I hope he will join with my hon. Friends to increase the possibility of private charter companies having some encouragement even at the expense of his moral feelings about nationalised industries.
I only wish to say a word in conclusion about the problem of the aircraft industry itself, because this very much affects the Air Estimates. If we are going to be able to increase our transport aircraft, what we have got to try to do is to see that the manpower situation in the aircraft industry is eased. That is just as important, whether one is considering transport aircraft, bombers or fighter aircraft. The Select Committee on Estimates has shown very clearly that this industry is undermanned, and at this moment there are under 200,000 people in the industry. They are not capable of dealing with the present orders and the present problems, far less with an expanding situation such as I have envisaged.
One of the problems in this industry is the housing problem. It has always been a problem. The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton must have known that very well when he was Secretary of State for Air. I wonder how much he managed to prevail upon his Cabinet colleagues to give super-priority to housing for people in the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
The hon. Member has already misrepresented what I have said. On the first occasion I did not take any notice, because I did not think it was worth it, but I am bound to say that he had no right to suggest that I criticised the former Government because of the time-lag in the production of aircraft. What I referred to was the state of unbalance by reason of the policy of marrying the live aircrews with the supply of aircraft. In so far as the aircraft do not come up to production expectations, there may be an embarrassment to the Air Ministry as regards 2238 the supply of aircrew. I was not criticising the Government. I said I agreed with the need for doing everything possible to obtain the necessary supplies as soon as possible.
As regards the housing of these workers, I do not know whether the present Under-Secretary will agree with me when I say it is not the responsibility of the Air Ministry to provide houses for workers in the aircraft industry, but if he wants to know whether I and those associated with me on the Air Council were extremely concerned about the provision of houses for aircraft workers, the answer is, Yes.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am obliged. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been listening he would have heard me say that I had no wish to criticise him unfairly. I said I would like to ask him whether, when he was Secretary of State, he made representations to his Cabinet colleagues in order to get a greater allocation of houses for the workers in the aircraft industry. I did not criticise the Air Staff. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman must take responsibility. His was the job of representing the Service to the Cabinet.
I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will bear in mind the very great importance of seeing whether his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government can make it possible to afford some form of priority to housing for workers in the aircraft industry instead of just the super-priority to the mining industry. I believe that it is of the utmost importance, and I hope my hon. Friend will bear it in mind.
But that is not the only problem. The real cause of the dearth of labour in the aircraft industry has in the past had a great deal to do with the fact that men are unwilling to transfer to an industry which is almost entirely engaged on rearmament. Here I know I have the hon. Member for South Ayrshire with me. Naturally everybody hopes that this matter of the high-powered re-armament programme will be of a reasonably short duration, but it nevertheless makes employment in the aircraft industry inherently unstable.
This danger would be very largely removed and we would be able to speed up our production of military aeroplanes 2239 if substantial orders were given to the aircraft industry for civilian type aircraft at the same time, so that the industry could develop on a more stable basis and could grow rather than shrink with an improvement in the international situation. The final justification for the case that I am seeking to make is that in the production of civil aircraft lies an immense source of export dollar earning power.
The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South, mentioned an article written by Marshal of the Air Force Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, entitled "Now or Never," which appeared in the "Observer." In case Lord Douglas, who is an eminent air officer, is not satisfied with the compliment paid to him by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South, may I add my voice to that of his in saying that I thought it was an article which should be commended to everybody interested in civilian and military aviation today?
It brings out the point which I am trying to make, that if we want a healthy aircraft industry we must give it long-term orders, both civilian and military. If we are to take advantage of the chance we now have through the skill and ability of our designers and manufacturers to capture the world market, and to maintain it by taking the bull by the horns, then the Government must take action today to make a realistic reverse of priorities to the aircraft industry itself.
This is an opportunity which must be seized with all vigour for thereby we can improve the striking power of our fighting Forces and can help to meet some of our immense expenditure on re-armament. In addition, we can thus ensure that just as in the first Elizabethan era this country was supreme in mercantile transport on the high seas, so now in our new Queen's reign we can once again lead the world with our merchant ships of the air.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
Perhaps we might have a word on behalf of the Army here today. We have already seen the hand of the Navy come dripping out of the briny with seaweed hanging from it trying to drag Coastal Command into the waves.
I want to say a word or two about the use of aircraft in military ground opera 2240 tions, about the type of aircraft to be used and to be provided for that use, and, in particular, about the broad strategy of whether we are to have an Air Force which is to be capable of large-scale mass drenching of areas with high explosives, or whether we are to build up an Air Force which is to be capable of making pin-point attacks on crucial centres which will have the greatest effect in the shortest possible time.
My own authority for speaking on this matter is that I wrote the manuals subsequently published by the Air Ministry and Army Council on this whole subject of Army air co-operation. I shall be glad to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Air that those manuals have now been withdrawn from circulation. Although I think they were good, my knowledge of syntax makes me think they can be better done nowadays.
The whole crux of the use of aircraft against ground targets, whether they be economic or military targets, revolves round the question whether the Air Force is to be designed, as I say, to obliterate enormous large-scale targets or to execute important pin-point attacks with the maximum degree of accuracy, with the maximum economy and with the greatest chance of saving human life both in our own Forces and among the civilians who are to suffer in any kind of air attack.
I want to draw one or two examples from experience, which I think will have been shared by many hon. Members, regarding the use of air power in support of ground operations during the last war. There were many occasions when we used air forces with a fine degree of accuracy in which we achieved very great effect. In the Normandy operations we used our Air Force to break up the Seine bridges, to isolate the battlefield, to win air superiority over the Army, and on the massive interdiction programme which tangled the enemy in a mass of destroyed communications so that he lost the volition for moving his reserves, and lost his power to influence the battle by moving his reserves within this area.
On other occasions we failed, and failed dismally as we now know, when we used air force as a bludgeon and not as a rapier. When we were delayed on the outskirts of Caen we called on air forces to obliterate the northern end of the 2241 town. They destroyed it. They created in havoc in the fields outside. They killed a large number of French civilians, and the total effect was merely one of destruction. There was no forward advance by the forces on the ground as a consequence of the use of air power as a bludgeon and not as a rapier.
I remember another occasion when we thought an armoured division was moving through two villages. We destroyed the villages of Villers Bocage and Tracy Bocage by Lancaster bombers, and it did not stop an armoured fighting vehicle from coming through, because they just went over the ruins on their own. By using air power as a bludgeon we created untold havoc and destruction for very little military effect. As time went on in these particular operations we did learn. The air force learned to restrain the soldier and the soldier to contain his impatience.
This misuse of aircraft happens when the soldier is frustrated and finds that mobile warfare has ceased and he is sitting on a defensive line and morale is beginning to suffer because forward momentum is beginning to stop. On these occasions an attack, even on a haystack, which may give the impression that something is happening, is welcomed. These are occasions when air power is misused and when air and army staffs must learn to restrain their impetuosity.
I am afraid some of the lessons which our harsh experience taught us in the Normandy campaign are being unlearned now. In Korea we are having a demonstration of the use of air power. We are learning. We are learning over again how to solve the fundamental problem. Are we to use the air weapon as a bludgeon, laying waste whole areas, attacking every single focal point and destroying every village through which an enemy may perchance come, or are we to use it intelligently and deploy the forces to get the maximum effect with the least possible destruction? If air power is used unwisely, one will get an enormous tract of land in which everything is laid to ruin for very little military advantage, giving rise to the additional social problem of trying to rehabilitate these areas afterwards.
Frankly, I think a gross misuse has been made of air power in Korea 2242 support of the ground forces. There one does not have mechanised forces operating against one, but soldiers leaving the road, lumping their supplies and going across open country. Because air force is available, and there is undisputed air superiority both locally and generally in that area, there is what I regard as a most disastrous temptation for military and air commanders to use the weapon for the sake of using it. And that does happen. I have known it happen in military operations in Normandy many times.
I am most anxious that the training methods in co-operation between ground and air forces should draw on experience so that we shall get the most efficient use of air forces. Reginald Thompson, who was a war correspondent for the "Daily Telegraph," in discussing the movement of army and air forces in Korea, says:If these armies have failed to destroy each other they have not failed to destroy the country over which they have fought. This result has been brought about by the mechanised force and its method of total interdiction. All the major towns of Korea, with the exception of Taegu and Pusan, have suffered the most terrible destruction; the slow and painful efforts at industrialisation have disappeared; roads and railways have been gravely damaged; hundreds of villages have been erased from the face of the earth, and countless people, caught in this dreadful exercise, have been reduced to ashes in their homes, or condemned hopelessly to roam the barren wilderness. Few of them know why.This is an example of the misuse of air power from which I hope we can draw a lesson, and from which I hope we will draw the conclusion am trying to drive in, that we must regard our air weapon as a rapier and not as a bludgeon to be used indiscriminately over large areas of country.
If I may make one or two points of particular relevance to army-air support, I am worried about the way the Army is losing through the increase in speed of our modern military aircraft. Speed is the enemy of accuracy when aircraft are asked to operate close to one's own troops. I interrogated hundreds of pilots during the war, and there was great difficulty in briefing on to small targets and finding out what had happened when the men came back, mainly because the increased speed of military aircraft blurred memories of their accuracy when they got close to ground targets. What the answer is I do not know. But if there 2243 are to be intensive and closely cooperative efforts approaching close to ground troops in a military operation, something will have to be done to make up in accuracy what we may stand in danger of losing through the increase in speed.
Another matter to which I hope the Air Ministry is devoting attention is the Army's intensive demand that night shall be turned into day. If we have air superiority, most enemy ground troops who are driven off the roads during the day choose to travel at night. That denies us intelligence of their movements. Towards the end of the late war there were plenty of developments whereby air photography was taking place at night and night interception aircraft were flying up and down over the roads destroying enemy transport. I do not know what has happened to these experiments. But I hope that something can be done to provide that support which armies need.
This same simile of the bludgeon and the rapier applies in the use of air force to attack economic targets as well as military targets. There are justifiable economic targets, but we have to make a decision—and this is a political and not a military decision—on whether the target is to be a township and the factories in it or the factory in the first place.
A proper economic target to be knocked out is, say, an oil plant. That can be done in one of two ways. Enormous numbers of mass-produced aircraft can be sent over the town in which the oil plant is situated, drenching all of it with high explosive, at enormous cost to one's own force and with enormous and appalling destruction of civilians; and also at the appalling cost later when—since all our wars end in victory—we have to clear up the mess largely created by the large-scale methods of the attack. That is one way.
Alternatively, we can develop an air force smaller in content which carries a big bomb load but which, above all, is capable of the most fine and accurate attacks on specific targets. In that way we save an enormous social cost but still tie down large numbers of anti-aircraft guns and civil defence workers. We have to balance the profit and loss in this 2244 kind of operation and, more, important, preserve some of the decencies.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
I know it is almost impossible to talk of preserving the decencies in war so far as my hon. Friend is concerned, but he will agree that if an air force can be designed to hit the oil plant in a town, instead of destroying the town itself, we shall at least be nearer decency than we were.
§ Mr. Hughes
I folowed three-quarters of that argument, and I want to carry it to the logical conclusion. How is it possible to destroy an oil well or, say, a railway siding, or an important military or munitions centre, without destroying the working people in it?
§ Mr. Fienburgh
There is a world of difference between what I am suggesting and the policy ultimately adopted towards the end of the late war, when to achieve the maximum economic dislocation we hit towns hard. There might be first and second targets within those towns, but in the main it was a centre of living people that was the target, and, with the pathfinder force above, the aircraft dropped bombs on the whole area. I do not rule that out if it is necessary for victory, but it is possible to concentrate on specific targets by using the more advanced electronic techniques.
I know all about the difficulties of flying in bomber operations; I was taken on a trip once and that was enough for me. But I am certain that, given a determination to develop an air force designed primarily for accurate and individual attacks, rather than an air force enormous in numbers and very costly to build, designed to drench whole areas, we can not only achieve our military and economic aim of destroying the enemy's economy, but preserve some of the decencies and save some of the civilians from slaughter.
This attempt to distinguish between the two possible uses of an air force is not derived from any mistaken pacificism—my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) would no doubt say that no pacificist could be mistaken. It is derived from my experience as liaison officer between the Air Force and armies in the field during the Normandy campaign. There were then 2245 occasions when we succeeded well, achieved our objective by, say, clearing strong points out of the way; but these successes came when we asked for and obtained the most accurate attacks upon small targets, with the maximum briefing and the maximum care.
Where we failed—and we failed many times, because we were learning and developing a new instrument of warfare in this period—was when we said someone might move through a certain town, so let us knock it out to make movement impossible. We failed when we said that there was a bridge across a river, so let us "bash" the whole town and destroy it completely, because, if we do not destroy the bridge, at least we shall block the route that will be used.
I think that the argument I have advanced is valid on the grounds of military experience and on the grounds of economy in the use of military forces, which is one of the foundations of military strategy. Above all, in the use of this air weapon, which is the one weapon above all others which can make of a civilian in an enemy country the prime target of its attack, the type of strategy I have been outlining is the more humanitarian approach to a problem which basically cannot be humanitarian at all.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I wish to take up two or three remarks made by hon. Members opposite before addressing myself to the main points of my speech. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) made a valid point, that none of us wish to see towns unnecessarily pulverised. At a time when there is competition between our economic stability and perhaps our Bomber Force, it is well worth remembering that if the bombing error is halved only a quarter of the number of bombers is needed. I hope my hon. Friend will direct his attention to more and more accurate bombing in order to prevent waste and to save the civilian population to the greatest possible extent.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) made a good point when he asked what was being done with regard to defence against weapons of the V2 variety. I submit that we are a very long way from inventing any sort of rocket interception weapon which will 2246 succeed in destroying a V2 which comes down at something like 6,000 miles an hour. I would support the hon. Member and say that this year or next year, and for some years to come, the only chance we have of avoiding attacks of that sort is by attacking the launching bases.
I realise that these weapons can be launched from roads and all sorts of places quite simply and without reinforcement, and it would be difficult to locate the launching sites. But I would ask my hon. Friend what is being done in this connection. Towards the end of the last war we pushed forward mobile radar units and were able within a few minutes of the launching of the V2s, to pin-point the sites from which they came. Although it may not be possible to do the site any damage, it is posible to know the area in which the enemy is concentrating his weapons, and from the interdiction of bridges, rail and road, and of dumps it may be possible to protect our civilian population.
I thought the hon. Member for Uxbridge was a little unfair. After having being so long in the Government, he should have taken the opportunity to make sure that some action was taken by his own Front Bench. On 7th March, 1951, I addressed a written Question to the Minister of Defence, in which I asked:if he has yet laid down the spheres of responsibility for defence against guided missiles as between the Service Departments.The reply I received was:The problem of spheres of responsibility for defence against guided missiles is being examined by the Service Departments concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 56.]That was after we had had the rearmament programme for a considerable number of years. I followed that up three months later and asked what progress was being made in this connection. I was told by the Minister of Defence that he had nothing to add to the answer he had given me three months earlier. I cannot help feeling that the matter of defence against these missiles was not being given the priority it deserved. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will give it some attention, as it is a matter of very great urgency.
I was interested to hear the remarks, as indeed I think were all hon. Mem- 2247 bers, of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), but again, surely if he was the responsible Minister for so many years it is surprising that he should come here today and in some way pretend that he was not at all responsible. In the Air Estimates considered on 15th March, 1949—just three, years ago—the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:I can say with confidence that the lead which we at present hold in day fighters will be maintained in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1931.]Surely that is a reflection. He speaks of the "lead we hold," but does he suggest that the F.86 and the MIG.15 were not then flying?
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Perhaps the hon. Member has better information than we had at the Air Ministry, but, without fear of contradiction, I can tell him that we had no information in March, 1949, with regard to the MIG.15.
§ Mr. Henderson
It is no use somebody shouting "We should have had," because that is a most stupid interruption. How does the hon. Member know that it was in existence at that time? The evidence is that it was not with the Russian squadrons in March, 1949. I made my statement on the very best information available, but I am quite prepared to add this point for the hon. Member; it is another example of the lack of wisdom of making prophecies.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I appreciate what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but surely we had the closest liaison with the Americans at that time, and if our intelligence had slipped up about the MIG.15, we must have known of the F.86. But, we seem to be slipping behind even today. It was a R.A.F. "crack" at one period of the last war that the more one opens the throttle, the slower the enemy gets away, and unless we speed the new fighters, that is what is likely to happen.
I should like to make three brief points. First—and here I find myself in line with the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), although I hope that does not damage my political future—I suggest that we should produce more 2248 economical fighters. Something which is quicker to produce; something needing less engineering man-hours, and something more easy to maintain than those aircraft envisaged.
Secondly, we need to recruit more women for the W.R.A.F. in order to release young men for more of the combatant duties and, thirdly, there is the vital need for transport aircraft.
On the question of a cheap and simple fighter, it is surely an alarming fact—although I have no figures for British production—that a single fighter in America now takes 27 times the number of engineering man-hours that it took in 1940. The American figure is 1.13 million man-hours per aircraft. Are we not beginning to get so complex that we may never get aircraft that are better than the enemy's? By the time that they are in squadron service they may be slower than those we are up against.
The "Economist" among other papers, has drawn attention to the grave engineering problems which are going to be created in providing the new aircraft. Turbine blades were an example. Could we not go in for a rocket aircraft? I should like to draw attention to the very considerable results which the German Air Force achieved in the last years with the M.E. 163. This was a swept-wing rocket-propelled fighter, and would go to 30,000 ft. in 2½ minutes. It was simple and cheap to produce.
I believe, although we must not draw priority and super-priority away from the Swift and the Hunter, that we ought to divert some of our development effort to something which is cheaper and quicker to produce. One wonders whether the new plastic processes, which we have seen announced in the Press as developed at the Government's Research and Development Establishment at Farnborough, could not be applied and used for tail units and even wings for a new rocket fighter.
In the long-term future, we have been told today that we are going towards a greater and greater use of guided missiles for our air defence. My hon. Friend mentioned they were to be ground-to-air and air-to-air, etc. I hope we will not put too much faith in the guided missile. One must realise that a guided missile, when it is fired from the ground to the 2249 air, needs to home on its target. It may home—on radiation, light reflection, ionisation or radar reflection. Whatever it homes-on, it is capable of being jammed. I hope we will not put so much of our engineering effort or so much of our security into this one weapon and find, when it comes to be used in an operational crisis, it is jammed and does not achieve its proper result.
My own recommendation would be that we go for something between the Swift and the Hunter types and the guided missile, and that we produce a simple rocket aircraft manned by a person. One cannot jam a man's eyes or a man's intelligence with anything like the ease with which one can jam an electronic weapon homing on its target. I should also like to ask my hon. Friend whether an evaluation has been done on the load which will be thrown on industry, particularly on the electronic industry, by these guided missiles. One reads in American papers that each one of them may use up to 100 or more sub-miniature valves. Of course, each one goes to its destruction and never comes back to be used again. Have we got the economic capacity and the industrial know-how to produce all the equipment necessary to produce these guided missiles?
I will now turn to my second point. I notice in Vote A that the strength of the Women's Royal Air Force in the coming year will be only 10,650. It is surprising how this strength has steadily fallen over the last four years. In 1948, it was 22,000; in 1949, 15,000; in 1950, 10,900; in 1951, 10,300, and for the coming year, the estimate is 10,650. In the last two years, we have added 100,000 men to the strength of our Air Force and yet in the same period we have reduced the strength of the Women's Royal Air Force. Surely at a time when all the Armed Forces are going to comb the tail and produce the greatest effort and make the most economical use of the younger manpower, it is time to re-double our efforts to recruit women.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was talking about his successes, but he certainly does not appear to have succeeded in attracting women into the Royal Air Force. I do not know to what it was due. I am not suggesting it was his personality, but I would sug- 2250 gest that either the leadership within that force is not right, or possibly the publicity is not right, or possibly even the shape of their headgear is not right. But something is clearly wrong that we cannot recruit women for the many jobs which all hon. Members will agree they do with much greater efficiency and conscientiousness than many men. On jobs like telephones, signalling, teleprinter operating, operations room work, intelligence, and photo interpretation, they were quite outstanding. The Americans always sang their praises in this direction. Surely we ought to set out to recruit more women to the Air Force and thus make better use of our young manpower.
Now I turn to my last point—transport aircraft. I will not repeat all the arguments we have heard this evening, but my hon. Friend in opening this debate said we could not have everything; we are short of money and industrial effort and if we are to have transport aircraft in addition to fighters and coastal aircraft and bombers it would break the back of the nation. I cannot believe this is a true valuation of the position. It is rather like saying you may have a rifleman, or the rifle or the bullet, but you cannot have all three. It is absolutely essential to have all three to achieve your object. With all our commitments today around the perimeter of the Commonwealth, it is essential, even if we have to cut down the strength of some operational command, to have transport aircraft to carry men and weapons to the places where we want to use them.
My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that we could use the civil aircraft fleets. I believe there may be 100 aircraft in each of the corporations, and there may be as many as 100 in all the charter firms, but we cannot take them all when a crisis arises because some will be needed to go on plying their routes. We have to maintain many of these routes just as we have to maintain our railways and shipping lines in war-time. Supposing one takes half of them—that means a force of 150 aircraft, which is not adequate. I believe this will be of little use for military purposes unless some plans are made at this instant. The civil aircraft has a small door—it is impossible to load military loads into a door that is only three feet wide.
2251 May I suggest that all aircraft, being designed or produced at the moment, like the Bristol 175, should be designed so that they can take double cargo doors, so that we can have their floors strengthened for military loads, so that tie-down points are provided and all those parts are stock-piled so that if an emergency arises they can be fitted in three weeks? I know the argument is that it would not take long, but in the rush and panic of the early days of a war, we may need our transport aircraft immediately. It will certainly take two or three months to produce all the parts that are necessary to modify these aircraft for military purposes.
Before the war, the War Office had a scheme whereby they provided a small subsidy to purchasers who bought lorries suitable for military loads. I do not believe the scheme was a very great success, but the principle has been established. Can we not carry out the same principle in regard to civilian aircraft now being built, which will come into commission for the various corporations and charter firms in the next few years? At last we begin to get a feeling of urgency about the air defence of this country, and our commitments in Western Europe. We seek to make this country safe, not sometime or never, but this year and next year. I hope that my hon. Friend will carry on with the good work he has started, and that, backed up by the Front Bench he will get the super-priority needed to put our Air Force into a state of operational efficiency in the shortest possible time.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
I want to deal briefly with only one subject, and not to follow the hon. Member who has just made such a valuable contribution—except to clear up one point he made in relation to guided missiles. When he pointed out the difficulty of control, I am sure he was not putting forward the view that guided missiles against a very large target like London would be unsuccessful. It would be a great pity if he left that impression on the House and on the public.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He is perfectly right. I did say ground-to-air and air-to-air.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State if he will give his personal supervision to the matter of Reserves. We have heard a great deal of sense talked about aircraft, their arms and their functions, from both sides of the House, but I do not think the question of Reserves has been dealt with. For the Army, and even for the Navy, the training of Reserves to war standard takes some time, but the production of pilots and aircrew is a very different matter; it is a very long job, and it is useless making wonderful preparations for aircraft, arms, and bombs, and not having the aircrew.
I have been looking at the figures in the Estimates, and the amount we are spending on the Reserve side of the R.A.F. is totally inadequate. On page 12 a figure is given for the salaries and wages costs of the Regular Air Force. Incidentally, I think there is a mistake in the addition there. I am not very good at figures, but I cannot add the first three figures up to £77 million. I make it £78 million. I hope I am right, because I have so often been proved wrong by the Civil Service. But irrespective of this mistake of £1 million, the point I want to make is that a very small proportion of this is going to Reserve services. It looks to me as if out of every £100 the R.A.F. is spending, less than 10s. is spent on Reserves. That may be a reason why the Auxiliary Reserves and the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve are a complete failure in regard to numbers.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
The hon. Gentleman does not agree, but we have no sympathy with any Ministers, irrespective of party, unless we can get efficiency in the Air Force.
I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State realises that if a civilian flying instructor is killed while flying, or an air line pilot, his dependants receive at least £3,000 in compensation, but the family of a volunteer reservist, to the best of my knowledge, receives nothing in the way of a lump sum if he is killed flying. There is a pension, but no sum in compensation. That is a very important factor in recruitment for the Volunteer Reserve.
2253 The Volunteer Reserve is the first and only reserve. The Auxiliary Air Force takes its place in the line immediately on hostilities, and the Volunteer Reserve is the only reserve. It is essential, therefore, that we should have a healthy and numerically strong Volunteer Reserve. If the Under-Secretary will give this his personal attention and will endeavour to give better benefits and better pay to Volunteer Reservists, I believe that we shall find an improvement in recruitment.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) knows precisely what I am going to talk about. Some 18 months ago my noble Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) and I expressed very deep concern on the subject of reconnaissance squadrons and the right hon. and learned Gentleman promised that something would be done. He was good enough to arrange for us to pay a visit to the Royal Air Force station at Benson so that we could see for ourselves what was taking place there.
We were horrified to find that some five years after the war the Spitfire squadrons were only just being converted to Meteors and that two Mosquito squadrons still had their Mosquito aircraft. In the Air Estimates debate last year we expressed ourselves strongly on this point, and if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will read the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton he will see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman promised us then that Canberra aircraft would be available for the reconnaissance squadrons. That was more than 12 months ago.
Today, in his very excellent speech in presenting the Estimates, my hon. Friend was obliged to tell us that the reconnaissance squadrons will be receiving Canberra aircraft. What has happened during the past 12 months to the inquiry which we were promised would be taking place on the question of reconnaissance aircraft? Are we to understand that nothing whatever was done by the Socialist Government on this question?
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I personally visited a squadron of Canberra aircraft which is a reconnaissance squadron.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the twin engined reconnaissance squadrons as we know them in this country today are still equipped with Mosquito aircraft.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
That does not seem to be a very effective answer to the charge I am making.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not wish to continue intervening, as time is getting on, but I am stating a fact. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to suggest that I had misled him and his hon. Friends. I say that is not true. All I said was that I had personally visited a photographic reconnaissance squadron which was equipped with Canberras.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I shall do no such thing, because I personally and my hon. Friends have the greatest confidence in the present Under-Secretary and in the statement he made today. He said quite clearly that our reconnaissance squadrons will be equipped with Canberra aircraft. That will is in the future, not in the past, and I still assert that the reconnaissance squadrons as we know them in this country are equipped with Mosquito aircraft. I submit that the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton is gravely at fault in failing to provide our reconnaissance squadrons with the most up-to-date aircraft which are essential.
Last year, we also drew attention to the type of photographic equipment with which these squadrons are equipped at the present time. Here, again, we are not satisfied that our squadrons are equipped with equipment equal to that being used by other air forces. I should like to receive an assurance from my hon. Friend that steps are being taken to put us at least in a position of parity in this field with other air forces.
Finally, I want to make a plea on the general question of the policy to be pursued with regard to reconnaissance squadrons. My noble Friend the Member for Inverness and I made this same plea last year. We are strongly of the opinion that to place these squadrons 2255 under the control of Bomber Command is the wrong thing to do. During the war reconnaissance squadrons were attached to Coastal Command, and it was only after the war that they were transferred to Bomber Command.
I have never been able to understand the reasoning that brought about that change. I am not suggesting, however, that it was correct that the reconnaissance squadrons should be under Coastal Command. Indeed, my noble Friend and I long formed the opinion that they should have a command headquarters of their own, together with an air officer in Air Ministry directly responsible for their operations.
We must not forget that reconnaissance squadrons are not concerned only with seeking out targets for Bomber Command. They have a much wider part to play in any theatre of operations in which we may be engaged—for example, in coastal waters, in seeking out targets for artillery attack, and, generally, in support of advancing armies. They have, in fact, a role to play which covers all branches of our attacking Forces.
We fear that if these squadrons are placed under the control of Bomber Command, they will be used purely and simply as an adjunct for that Command and for the seeking out of their targets and making the necessary estimates after attacks have taken place. Therefore, those of us, if I may say so with proper modesty, who have some considerable experience of this particular type of work urge that this matter be dealt with in Air Ministry as one of very great urgency.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
It is a great pleasure for me again to be taking part after three years in an Air Estimates debate, and it is also a delight to be putting some questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, as he did to me when I had his job some years ago. In our Estimates debate in those days we were chiefly concerned in discussing problems which flowed from demobilising a vast war machine and simultaneously building up an efficient, modern Air Force.
I ask hon. Members who were not in this House at that time and who have 2256 brought their experience to bear in this debate today to realise just what a problem it was to preserve the structure of an Air Force when one was demobilising at the rate then necessary. These problems have been overcome, and this debate, and particularly the speech of the hon, and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper), has been concerned chiefly with the shortage of equipment rather than the problems of manpower, which were the greatest we faced a few years ago, following as much as anything from the fact that by some great disaster the Royal Air Force, because of policy decisions, did not recruit Regulars during the war years.
Before I come to questions on equipment, there are three problems about manpower I should like the Under-Secretary to consider. They worry me, and he knows they worry me. I am not only worried because the problems are there, but that they may be forgotten through the emphasis on equipment. I refer first to the selection of officers, secondly to technical n.c.o.s, and, thirdly, to the more general point of the Women's Royal Air Force.
In selecting general duties officers there are many difficulties, but tonight I shall mention only a few. We all know an officer must be physically and mentally equipped to fly and to fight in the air. We all know an officer must have qualities of leadership, at least of command. We all know that a small proportion of each year's crop of young officers has to have the imagination, ability and personality to develop into a senior air officer in 20 to 30 years' time. The basic problem is to evolve a system of selection which balances these requirements.
For instance, I should like to know consideration is to be given to such matters as whether some physical qualities are over-emphasised. For example, eyesight. It may have been right in the days of the open cockpit, and before much flying was done by instruments, to make perfect eyesight an all-important factor. But should not other factors, such as eagerness to fly, eagerness to fight, academic qualifications and a sense of humour be included in the balance when selecting officers? I suggest eyesight should be a factor, and an important factor, but not the all-important factor.
2257 Again is there not danger too in the present method of testing aircrew aptitude? I know it cuts down wastage in training, and that could be proved dramatically by figures. But in concentrating on selecting hundreds of men who will be pilots, and who will be capable of becoming squadron leaders, may we not run the risk of eliminating the man who is just a little different? Have we avoided rejecting the air Nelson of the future? Do we know whether Nelson would have passed the aptitude test?
§ Mr. de Freitas
May I now turn to the technical n.c.o.s. This ties with the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing). We all acknowledge that the system of scientific education in this country has produced Nobel prize winners out of proportion to the population. It is a selective system of scientific education. But we do not produce enough technicians in this country.
Applied to the Royal Air Force it works like this. We have been discussing at great length the killing of U-boats and the best methods of doing it. We could invent some highly intricate depth charge. We might be able to produce it in large numbers. We might be able to produce and fly the aircraft to deliver those charges; but could we maintain and repair this highly intricate equipment? With our educational system, can we produce enough technicians of the n.c.o. grade? This is a big subject, and I should like to be assured that it is recognised today as a problem for the future, a problem which must be discussed by the Secretary of State for Air and the Minister of Education, and by that I mean the whole problem of technical education.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North, referred to the Women's Royal Air Force. I do not want to make too much of it but, on looking at the figures, my impression is that there is an increase forecast for next year, not a decrease.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It is going up a little. I am glad. But I agree that it is not nearly as high as it ought to be. This is surprising, because it is an attractive 2258 career for a girl. One can look at the index to the Estimates to find that a W.R.A.F. gets less pay than an airman as a trumpeter, and gets less as a parachutist, and for attending at divine service. But that is not the discouragement. There is obviously something wrong in the appeal. Therefore, I am asking the Under-Secretary to examine this. While I have been speaking I have remembered that at one time when there was a great shortage of girl labour in the cotton towns we deliberately did not advertise in the papers circulating in those areas. It is something that might be looked at to see whether there ought to be a change; perhaps it has been changed already.
With regard to equipment, I was worried last autumn when the Prime Minister took on the Minister of Defence. He had referred to and stressed in so many debates, "bayonet strength." He talked in debates about the number of sailors who slept ashore or afloat. He continually talked about the number of front-line troops. I was worried because he apparently did not appreciate that the number of men in the front line is not an important consideration in air warfare. The right hon. Gentleman had apparently ignored the fact that the test here is firepower and the accuracy with which firepower can be directed.
I was therefore delighted to hear the Under-Secretary stress the importance of accuracy in bombing. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) in another connection stressed this also. If tens of thouands of man-hours go into the making of an atom bomb, the accuracy with which it is delivered is vital. If there were a small front-line bomber force, it would not necessarily be a weakness provided large resources of brain power and manpower were devoted to research development, production and maintenance, of devices capable of delivering the bomb with greater accuracy.
I think I am right in saying that if bombing error is halved, the number of aircraft needed is divided by four. In other words, I ask the Secretary of State to consider whether some of the resources of men and materials going into aircraft research, development and production could not be of greater value 2259 if they were put on to navigation and bombsight research, development and production.
The Prime Minister served gallantly in the cavalry—and I agree it would be no good saying, if a cavalry charge were ordered, that half the squadron was absent because they were engaged on research about the merits of short and long stirrups. I know front lines do matter, as they matter today in Malaya. But that must not lead us into thinking—this is what worried me in the Prime Minister's speeches during the last few years—that a war in Europe would be anything like that; and I earnestly hope that during his reign at the Ministry of Defence the Prime Minister did not stampede the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply into dressing up the front line so that it looked well on a chart at the expense of research and development and production.
Above all, I ask whether we are doing enough research into radar, navigation equipment, and bombsights; we must do full justice to developments in aero engines and aircraft. The Canberra is an obvious illustration. We ordered it from the drawing board and it has been a great success, but is the ancillary equipment far enough ahead to do full justice to its speed?
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) talked about reserves and the Under-Secretary mentioned the three-month call-up of auxiliaries last summer. I understand that there has been a postmortem conference at the Air Ministry, over which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence presided. Can we know anything about the results? And is it a fact that the role of some of these squadrons is to be changed? If it is, I hope that we may be told. Again, how has recruiting benefited? Surely it cannot be as alarming as my hon. and gallant Friend suggested. And what about recruiting for the fighter-control units, which provide interesting work for women members of the Service?
The hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) and others mentioned civil flying clubs. I declare an interest, not financial but a strong personal one, in civil flying, and I was pleased to hear that the A.T.C. scholar- 2260 ship scheme has apparently been a success and is going ahead. What about the training of engineering apprentices to fly at these clubs? We need a pool of potential officers and n.c.o.s for the R.A.F. engineering branch, and the clubs could undertake this training because they actually train Regular commissioned engineer officers. The flying clubs are ready to help, and the training of engineer officers is recognised by the Air Ministry, but I do not think that the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Supply, and the Service realise that the clubs can also provide practical engineering experience to technical students who are studying at the colleges up and down the country. I hope the Minister of Education and the other Ministers will consider making use of these clubs which have aircraft near our technical schools.
I should like the Under-Secretary to consider a point, which I regard as of considerable importance, concerning the experience of senior R.A.F. officers working with civilians. It is exceedingly important that the leaders in our fighting services should be men who can deal with civilians and who recognise the problems of statesmen and politics. Because of the organisation of the Army and Navy their officers have more experience of working with civil authorities.
Therefore, the fullest use must be made of the R.A.F. Commands, such as those in Aden and Iraq where the Air Officer Commanding works directly with the civilian authorities, and in Malta where he was, and probably still is, the Fortress Commander. I ask the Under-Secretary to consider that these commands should be held by men who are on their way to the top, because the experience of working with civil authorities is too valuable to be wasted on officers about to retire from the Service.
Five years ago in the debate on the Air Estimates, I gave an account of a remarkable example of peacetime integration in Japan—the British Commonwealth Air Command. I had just returned from there and had seen it in operation. At that time General MacArthur was there and I had a long discussion with him about its organisation. Whatever hon. Members may think of his politics, they would have a high regard for the opinion of General MacArthur on technical military matters. He was most impressed by 2261 the way in which this British Commonwealth Force, B.C.A.I.R., were grouped together in an entirely integrated command in peace-time.
What steps are we taking to build up a similar joint Commonwealth Command in peace-time? It is not enough to have flights or squadrons operating together. It is essential that they should work and fight together in an integrated command. The war in Korea has been mentioned in another connection, and I do not expect the Under-Secretary to go into a great deal of the story of that war; but I hope he will give us some idea of the air organisation in Korea to see if it is of any value to us in working an international or inter-Commonwealth command.
I asked a Question about gliding of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence when he was Under-Secretary of State for Air. Apparently it was an ambiguous question, and I was rather floored by a supplementary question from an hon. Member opposite. I did not come out of that well, and I hope to have a better chance now of getting some information on gliding.
Many different opinions are held in the Royal Air Force as to the value of gliding training before powered flying training. A few years ago a test was started in which certain cadets were given gliding training before powered-flying training, and others were put straight on to powered-flying training. The idea was that in time data on these men would accumulate, and when their flying records were compared we could discover if there was any advantage in learning to fly a sail-plane before going into a powered aeroplane. What was learned and has anything been achieved?
My other point about gliding is on a completely different side of the subject. It is gliding at R.A.F. stations as a recreation for ground staffs and women members of the Service. I do not think anyone can over-estimate the importance of giving these men and women a chance to fly. After all, they are proud of being in the Air Force and normally they would have no chance of flying at all. How is that scheme going?
In his interesting speech, my hon. Friend, the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), referred among other matters to the necessity for creating a pool of 2262 pilots. I agree. We must have more pilots in this country. The hon. Member for Inverness referred to the whole question of civil flying, and the question of air-mindedness. It is interesting to note that in 1938 there were more than 600 private aircraft registered in this country, but only 250 in 1950.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It may be because of taxation, but those are the figures. In 1938, there were 2,700 new private flying licences issued, the figure in 1950 was less than a thousand. Whatever the reason—be it expense, or taxation, or the higher standard demanded—what is the result?
It is becoming more and more difficult for a young man or woman to learn to fly unless he or she meets the physical and other requirements of one of the fighting Services. That is to be regretted, for aviation then becomes associated almost entirely with the Services. There is no doubt that Service experience has been enriched with civil flying experience, and vice versa. A little more of the free and easy atmosphere of civil flying might well make for valuable contribution to aviation for the benefit of all who fly.
Those hon. Members who speak for the Royal Navy would certainly agree that all the wisdom of sea-faring is not confined to the Royal Navy, great Service thought it is. We must be air-minded, and that does not mean only Service air-mindedness. There is now no Department bearing the title of "Civil Aviation." The Ministry of Transport care for it, and I say nothing of that. But the result is that men and women who are air-minded look more and more to the Air Ministry for guidance and encouragement, and it is not only the duty of the Ministry to build up an efficient fighting Service, but also to encourage air-mindedness.
I, with my right hon. and hon. Friends, wish the hon. Gentleman a pleasant tour of duty at the Air Ministry; I do not say short and sweet, although perhaps that is more appropriate, for we on this side are in Opposition, and it is our duty to criticise. But, he can count on us for a good hearing whenever he comes to the House to talk of the R.A.F., because it is a Service in which many of us are interested and all of us hold in the highest esteem.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I should like to be allowed to make a short personal explanation. The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) referred just a short time ago to reconnaissance aircraft, and I stated that I had seen a Canberra squadron in Germany. I was drawing on my recollection, but I now find that, in fact, the aircraft were Meteor 10's, which were the latest type of reconniassance machines prior to the introduction of the Canberra. I should like to express my regret for having misled him, but it was a genuine error on my part.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that statement, which, I should like to add is fully in accordance with the high standard of courtesy which we in this House have come to associate with him.
§ 11.55 p.m.
So many matters of substance have been raised in this long debate that I fear I shall not be able to answer more than a small proportion. I shall try to answer as many points as I can, and I can give an assurance that the others will be very carefully examined in the Department and that as many hon. Members as possible, whose points I do not answer tonight, will receive answers by correspondence.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), started by suggesting that we might do well to look into the Army offer of long-term pensionable engagements of 22 years. As he said, this includes an option of terminating Colour service at the end of every three years. We have studied this scheme very carefully and we agree that it may prove valuable to the Army to improve the Regular content of their forces.
But, we do think that the range of engagements in the Royal Air Force of three, four, five, 10, 12, and 22 years does strike a sound balance between flexibility and stability. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware, Regular airmen in ground trades do secure an excellent career up to the age of 55 years in the new trades structure and they can re-engage up to this age after only four years' Regular service. This year there has been an excellent 2264 response to our scheme and, although we always preserve an open mind on these matters, we see no reason, at the present moment, to alter our own arrangements.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether it was true that not more than 23 per cent. of entrants into the R.A.F. could be guaranteed a life-career up to 55 years of age. I am pleased to say that I can assure him that we reckon, with very few exceptions, that we shall be able to offer a life-career in the R.A.F. to all suitable airmen who wish to take it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to the cut of 10 per cent. in the War Office staff and the combing of 10,000 men from the tail of the Army, and asked whether my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air contemplated similar economies in manpower. The answer is that we have made economies and that we are continuing to search for further means of economising in manpower the whole time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows well that in the R.A.F. conditions do not permit of the creation of further squadrons just by the comparatively direct process of combing the so-called tail. But, we are examining our manpower, not merely from the point of view of cutting establishments, but, what is even more practical, from the point of view of policies. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, establishments follow policy, and not the other way round—which, though desirable, may not be vital. All this must be done in the context of our necessary expansion, of our total manpower, and of the greater expenditure on works which the building-up of an Air Force to the size contemplated at the moment necessarily involves.
My noble Friend, however, is determined that this great expansion shall be carried out with the most stringent regard for economy. He is well aware of the dangers in this respect, which are so often associated with a build-up of this rapidity. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention to the need for a balance in our plans in the production of air-crews to match any reduction in output of modern operational types of aircraft. We are very well aware of the need for planning the expansion 2265 of the R.A.F. in all respects so that the various elements are kept in proportion to each other. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the interesting point he made about air crews is being very carefully watched. Without going into detail I can say that to match the aircraft production programme the R.A.F. will certainly need all the air crews now coming into the Service.
The hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), both asked about modern forms of transport aircraft. I can say that it was agreed last year to replace the Hastings by a jet transport, and the specification has been drawn up. I am sure that the House will agree it would have been inadvisable to have ordered a new tactical transport aircraft to replace the Valetta until it was quite certain that the American C119, the Packet, was not forthcoming; because had these aircraft been forthcoming we should have obtained them without cost to ourselves. To have ordered British transports while there was a chance of getting American ones would have meant curtailing the other operational commands. Now we know definitely we are not getting the C119s, the problem of maintaining the transport force when the Valetta squadrons start declining is being urgently examined now.
The hon. Members for Uxbridge, Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) and Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Profumo) spoke about Transport Command, and I am glad to have the opportunity of saying another word about it. I can assure- the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury that the picture is not really nearly as black as he paints it. Of course, we have not got as many aircraft in Transport Command as we should like, but, nevertheless, it has been able to meet all the demands for airlifts which arose from recent emergencies in the Middle East. In particular, during the Egyptian crisis Transport Command carried some 10,000 Army troops, nearly 400 vehicles and a considerable tonnage of military equipment and supplies. It also evacuated several hundred families from the Canal Zone.
I should like to read one or two tributes to Transport Command from the Army. These are messages from General Erskine to Air Marshal Groom about Transport Command. The first one says: 2266I would be most grateful if you would thank your staff and all concerned in the quite excellent arrangements which the R.A.F. made to bring in reinforcements from Cyprus. It has gone a long way ahead of schedule and under many difficulties, and we were all most impressed and delighted with the way it was handled by you. Perhaps you could also convey my thanks to the other end of the performance in Cyprus.Another message from General Erskine to Air Marshal Groom reads:I should like to say how much we have admired and appreciated the efforts made by Transport Command to bring in troops at top speed and take out families. Every soldier into the Zone has made my situation easier, and every family to leave has made our responsibilities less. The total effect has been very considerable&This could not have happened but for exceptional efforts by Transport Command. I know other transport agencies have helped, and many of them in a big way, but that does not detract from the tremendous help we have had from the Transport Command of the R.A.F. It has been a decisive factor in enabling me to keep the situation under control.I feel it right in view of what has been said about Transport Command to make that known. These flights have been undertaken in addition to continuous routine duties in support of all three Services in the Middle East.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked what plans we had made for the use of civil aviation in war. Considering that he left the Ministry of Civil Aviation such a short time ago, I should have thought that he might have known the whole resources of the Airways Corporations will be placed at the disposal of the Government for use as required on either civil or military duties. An agreement has already been reached between the two Corporations and Transport Command on the division of control where civil aircraft are allotted to military duties. Discussions are taking place now on detailed operational procedures to ensure full flexibility and efficient utilisation. One hon. Member was anxious about the Comets. I would remind him that, far from cutting down the production of Comets, they are now going to be produced under licence by Shorts and Harlands in Belfast.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) was worried about runways for Shackleton aircraft, and I can give him the assurance that the runways have been properly strengthened and that these aircraft can operate with full loads. He also asked about trainers. We already have a 2267 Meteor two-seater trainer in service, and Vampire and Canberra trainers will be in service during the coming year 1952–53: He asked also for more advanced aircraft for the R.A.F.V.R. I am afraid that the answer is that no more modern types will be available unless we can replace them with the Chipmunk, an extremely good aircraft with which we are going ahead. Training with more modern types is provided by flights with various operational commands, a scheme developed successfully over the past year or 18 months.
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) made an extremely interesting speech about the medical branch, which we hear far too little of in these debates. I am glad he raised this question, because I welcome this opportunity of paying tribute to the great efficiency of that branch, and I should like to couple with that the Institute of Aviation Medicine, which, deservedly, has a world wide reputation.
The hon. Member asked whether medical officers were allowed to qualify for their wings, and the answer is that Regular officers who will be engaged in flying personnel problems are allowed to do so. Four obtained the flying certificate in 1951, three qualified to fly jet aircraft, and seven were accepted for flying training. He asked whether medical officers are encouraged to become airborne. I can assure him that they are encouraged to get as much flying experience as possible.
As for recruiting, which was the other point he made, we have at present a deficiency of 80 medical officers; 92 medical officers were granted short-service commissions in 1951. The number applying for and granted permanent commissions, which was 13, was below our requirements. The standard of entrants to the medical branch is most satisfactory.
I was asked about air ambulances—a very interesting and important point—and I can say that while no special type of aircraft is produced as an air ambulance, transport aircraft are capable of conversion for that purpose and an airlift for Korean casualties has been maintained. Helicopters have been used as air ambulances in Malaya for a considerable time, and their value in saving life and maintaining morale has been very much appreciated.
2268 The hon. Member for Uxbridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) raised the question of helicopters and asked what the R.A.F. were using them for, if they were using them at all. The R.A.F. are using a small number of helicopters for the casualty evacuation in Malaya, to which I have just referred, for experimental trials in air-sea warfare, and for tactical trials with the Army. In Malaya, their value has been demonstrated for recovering casualties from very difficult country, and in Korean waters the Royal Navy has shown that the helicopter may have a very useful part to play in air-sea rescue.
Other uses which are being studied for helicopters are light communication and transport work. Of course, the American Army in Korea uses the helicopter like a jeep for staff officers to go right up to the forward part of the theatre.
There are only two types of helicopter at present in use in the Royal Air Force, and these are the Westland Sikorsky S.51, known as the Dragonfly, and the Bristol 171, which is known as the Sycamore. These two helicopters have a limited value, owing to their insufficient lift, to enable them to be used economically for the purpose for which we require them, but there are two new types planned for early production—the Westland Sikorsky S.55, which is an 8 to 10 passenger aircraft which will take six stretchers, and the Bristol 173, which is a twin rotor helicopter. Between them they could carry out most of the tasks which we foresee.
These are very costly aircraft. But against the high initial cost of the helicopter one can say that their advantage is that they can do jobs that other aircraft cannot do and they do not need the provision of very costly landing facilities.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us approximately—I do not ask him to give away any military secrets—the cost of a helicopter?
I am sorry, but I cannot. I would not like to guess at it, and I have not got the figure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham raised the very important point of air standardisation. I think the House might like to know some- 2269 thing of the machinery in air standardisation existing at the moment. The Air Standardisation Co-ordinating Committee, consisting of Britain, Canada and the United States, has existed for four years. The Military Standardisation Agency of N.A.T.O. has existed for just over a year. Agreement for the free interchange of equipment for this purpose between the three Air Forces has now been in operation for two years. Working parties cover the whole range of operational activity, and they provide a means for a continuous and rapid change of information.
The Military Standardisation Agency consists of a Navy Board, an Army Board and an Air Board. Each Board has a Service member from the United States, Canada, France and the United Kingdom and each of the other N.A.T.O. countries may appoint a liaison representative. The detailed work is done by working parties who report to the Board concerned and a standardisation agreement is then drafted. Examples of the sort of things that the Air Board have already agreed about on standardisation are things like airfield lighting, fuels and lubricants, aeronautical maps and charts, navigational briefing and air ground rockets.
That is one of the things that would be examined, but whether agreement has yet been reached on it I am not quite sure.
Then the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham raised some very interesting points about the importance of developing methods of landing and launching aircraft without the use of long and costly runways. Although the solution to this problem may probably lie some years ahead, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that such ideas are being very carefully studied at the present time, not only because of the dislike of having valuable agricultural land taken for airfield development, but also because of the development of aircraft without undercarriages whose performance figures are very attractive.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), who is not now present, made a rather important and serious allegation which I would like to deny. I am surprised that he has not had 2270 the courtesy to stay and hear the answer after having raised such a serious allegation. He talked about a false prospectus. I should like to say at once that in the time available to me to look into the allegation I have found no evidence whatever of men having been induced to sign on for three years under any false prospectus. In fact, none was attested at all.
The normal procedure is that men wishing to become Regulars in the Royal Air Force first attend a recruiting centre. There they undergo a short ability test to ascertain whether they are likely candidates for the trade of their choice. They are warned that acceptance will depend on their passing the ability and aptitude test for the particular trade. Where they are successful, attestation takes place.
Instructions to all recruiting officers make it clear that they are to make no firm promises to would-be recruits, and I have no reason to suppose that these instructions were disregarded in the present case. In some trades it is possible to accept a man for a three-year engagement if he has certain qualifications, such as the school certificate, or if he can pass the appropriate trade test; otherwise, it may not be possible to accept him for these trades unless he is prepared to enter for four or more years for only then can he become efficient and give us a reasonable return of productive service.
These men were not told to go home and wait to be called up; they were told to await instructions from the Ministry of Labour and National Service, who would issue enlistment orders for National Service in the ordinary way and have regard to any preference expressed by the men for the Royal Air Force. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Hulbert), asked about the aircraft with which auxiliary squadrons are now equipped. I can assure him that most of the auxiliary fighter squadrons now have the same marks of jet aircraft as those with which the Regular squadrons of the Fighter Command are equipped, and re-equipment of all the auxiliary squadrons with these marks will be completed by this summer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham, and the hon. 2271 Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) asked about officer pilots. I am glad to be able to say a word about that because there are one or two recent developments which I do not think have yet been widely publicised. The branch officer scheme, introduced last November is the first one, and under that scheme some 3,000 junior officer posts in ground branches will ultimately be filled by selected warrant officers and chief technicians commissioned initially with the rank of flying officer at an average age of 40. They will serve until they reach the age of 55 and will be eligible for promotion to flight lieutenant, and a few will be able to reach the rank of squadron leader.
The advantages are, firstly, the better use of suitable serving men who have long experience, secondly, that the Regular airman's chance of getting promotion will be improved, and, thirdly, that the need to recruit young short service officers to ground branches will be reduced. There is the other scheme of offering permanent commissions in ground branches to selected short service general duties officers. Up to now the number of commissions in the general duties branch available for short-service pilots and navigators has been very small.
I see that this scheme is mentioned in the current issue of the "Aeroplane," but perhaps hon. Gentlemen have not had an opportunity of reading it yet. Since the experience of these men will be extremely valuable in the ground branches it was recently decided to make these officers available for permanent commissions in six ground branches at the end of eight years' service in the general duties branch. The ground branches concerned are the technical branch, equipment branch, secretarial, fighter control, provost and catering and they will be given professional training at the end of their eight years in the general duties branch. The advantages of that scheme are, first of all, better prospects for permanent commissions for short service pilots and navigators, and, secondly, we hope that it will help recruiting for short service commissions and provide ground branches with some officers with flying experience.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) asked about bounties for ground officers 2272 in the R.A.F.V.R. It is not the practice to pay bounties to reserve and auxiliary officers in any of the services, except those on flying duties. The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested it would not cost much to pay bounties to ground officers in the V.R., but it would not be possible to give them more favourable treatment than members of the Territorial Army or other non-Regular forces. In the Territorial Army there are some 11,000 officers who would be equally eligible for some bounty if it was given to the Air Force.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), in another of his interesting speeches, asked several important questions. The first concerned live shooting at modern operational heights and speeds. I can assure him that fighter pilots are trained at these heights and speeds. To make this possible it has been necessary to introduce new targets and equipment and these are now in service. Efforts are continually being made to make air firing as realistic as possible, and progress continues within the resources available.
Live air firing training is extremely costly, and investigation is proceeding into improving simulated training devices and methods. The hon. Member also raised the question of the location of A.F.S's in industrial haze areas. While I appreciate the point, I am sure that he will realise that there are limiting factors. One of the factors limiting the choice of the Advanced Flying School airfields is that they have to match the output from the flying training schools, and this precluded building new stations in ideal areas, as from one and a half to two years would have been needed.
As to cost, the main runway of each Advanced Flying School is 2,000 yards long, exclusive of overshoots, and the building of a new station with the required runways would cost between £750,000 and £1,500,000. It was, therefore, essential to make use, wherever possible, of existing stations, and to adapt them to A.F.S. standards by runway extensions and in other ways. Then there is the other point about interference with agriculture. The building of new airfields in ideal areas would interfere a good deal with valuable agricultural land, which generally lies in the flat areas suitable for airfield construction.
2273 Of the nine new airfields constructed, only two are in industrial haze areas, those at Worksop and Middleton St. George. The hon. Member then asked about flying simulators for the training of Valiant crews, and crews for jet fighters. He will be pleased to know that this is being studied. He suggested, also, that none of the Swift and Hunter fighters would be introduced into service in 1952–53, or, perhaps, even in 1953–54. It is unwise to prophesy, but I shall be disappointed if this suggestion is not proved wrong in the event.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North, criticised the complexity of the new fighters which we have ordered to replace the Meteor and the Vampire. Our aim in future design is to build aircraft which can seek out targets and destroy them with the minimum risk of loss, and which will be able to operate in as wide a range of circumstances as possible, and with the greatest tactical freedom. To find and shoot down an aeroplane, even at present day speeds and heights of, say, 300 knots at 30,000 feet on a dark night, or in bad weather, is a difficult problem which cannot be solved in any simple way.
Nevertheless, we are alive to the possibilities of radically cheapening and simplifying designs for fighter aircraft to be used in certain limited and special roles by day, and we are going ahead with the design; but aircraft of the type of the Hunter and the Swift and the replacement night fighter must be the staple aircraft of our fighter force for some time to come.
The hon. Member for Lincoln, in a very thoughtful speech, talked about bombsights and navigational aids. The jet engine has doubled the height and speed of aircraft and this is the technical crux of the problem; the geographical problems are also more difficult than they were in the last war. Scientists and Service experts are developing equipment to satisfy these new conditions, but it would not be in the nublic interest for me to give any details of their work. We are very conscious of the need to provide bombsights and navigational aids that will do justice to the modern jet bomber. If he will bear in mind my words in opening about accuracy, he will know how keen I am on this matter.
2274 The hon. Member also raised the question of the control of the Air Force in Korea. The air forces are part of the United States command organisation. We have no R.A.F. squadrons in tactical air command, but it is only reasonable to suppose that the right answer is to have control of all the squadrons concentrated in the force by the country that is providing by far the largest contribution. This is the normal system for air operations and should provide the most effective control. So far as we know, this is the opinion of the Australian and South African Air Forces, which have a squadron in Korea. Sunderlands are operating with the United States Navy in maritime operations. During the war, when necessary, United States squadrons operated under British operational control.
He also raised the question of the W.R.A.F., where recruiting is very disappointing. It has been declining steadily. These are the figures: the first quarter of 1951, 1,097; second quarter, 1,071; third quarter, 840; fourth quarter, 797. We are doing all we can to stimulate recruiting, but the wastage rate, other than the expiry of engagement, is high at 20 per cent. The main cause, of course, is marriage, which accounts for 11½ per cent.
It is some consolation to remember that for some time past the W.R.A.F. has been attracting as many recruits as the two other women's Services put together.
Although the initial engagement is for four years, our manning plans—not a very apposite phrase—have to provide for an effective period of service which experience has shown to be nearer three years than four, owing to so many women marrying before the end of their engagement. Recruits are especially needed for the trades of radar operator and fighter plotter. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) can be assured that we are very conscious of the need for more women for these highly important duties and we are doing all we possibly can to get them.
Lastly, a word about the air cadets, a subject in which the hon. Member for Lincoln is keenly interested. I know what a great part he played in starting 2275 this scholarship scheme and how keenly he has followed it since. Recruiting for the cadets has improved slightly. At the end of 1951 the strength was 41,202, of which 4,099 were proficient, that is, 9.9 per cent.
The Air Scholarship Scheme is going ahead very well. As I said earlier, we are giving 500 scholarships this year instead of 300; 351 cadets are qualified and 67 were under training at the end of 1951. Two additional scholarships are being provided by the Air League. Apart from that scheme selected cadets get 10 hours' dual instruction, and other selected cadets get overseas flights in aircraft which would otherwise be only partly filled.
The hon. Member asked about the value of gliding. Gliding schools are being re-equipped with two-seater Kirby Cadets, Mark III and 22 were in use at the end of 1951. So far as their value is concerned, I do not think it would be true to say that we attach any great importance to gliding experience as a means of helping a pilot to fly a powered aircraft. But we think it helps him to become enthusiastic for the air and keen on the whole range of aircraft he will eventually come on to. I have not any figures which I can give to the hon. Member, but I think that is a fair summary of our views on the matter, and we will go on with gliding.
I would like also to mention the point he made about pilots. I began to think he had been reading a speech I made last summer. In any case, he knows how keen I am on this subject and how often I have raised it in this House. It is largely a matter for the Minister of Civil Aviation, but I can assure him I shall not lose my keenness about private flying.
This has been an extremely valuable debate and I can assure hon. Members that we shall examine everything they have said with extreme care. The interest they have taken and the suggestions and constructive speeches they have contributed will be of great help and encouragement to all ranks of the Royal Air Force.
§ 12.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
The Under-Secretary has covered a very wide field and answered many questions. But there is one matter which has not been 2276 discussed extensively and that is the production side of the aircraft and the equipment which must go with it. Perhaps the Under-Secretary did not deal with the subject because, although he orders the machines and the equipment, the contracts are placed for him by the Ministry of Supply, who see that they are carried through.
I ask them, jointly, to consider the part of the country where they place orders when they do so under the ex-pension programme. I ask attention for North-East Lancashire where, in the main towns, somewhere between a half and a third of the population is employed in the textiles industry and which is now suffering in a severe way industrially. As a result of world-wide depression in textiles, affecting not only this country, about half of the population in North-East Lancashire is on short time, or unemployed.
That is the position in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies, and we think that this may not be only a temporary situation. A few months ago many who had studied this subject thought that this recession might be short-lived. I think it a longer term problem, and I ask assistance now by rearmament orders for textiles being placed as soon as possible in this part of the country.
As a longer term proposition, we wish to see a greater diversity of industries being brought to that part of the country where employment is still so dependent on only one industry. What we should like, and what we believe is practicable, is to see both light and heavy engineering industry brought there. I believe that that would fit in with the programme which may hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Ministry of Supply have to carry through. In many part of this country where engineering is a more widely established industry they are, fortunately, in one way, suffering from a shortage of labour.
We, unfortunately, have no such shortage, and it does not seem that we shall have. I ask the Ministries concerned to see what can be done to guide industries to North-East Lancashire which would give employment, not only to the male population, but also to the highly trained female workers in the weaving area there. The local authorities and 2277 other interested concerns can give full information about facilities, and the help available. There are the facilities if only Government Departments and companies wishing to build air frames, engines and other equipment will turn to North-East Lancashire for part of the work they have to carry out in the air expansion programme.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. HOPKIN MORRIS in the Chair]