HC Deb 12 March 1953 vol 512 cc1509-75


3.40 p.m.

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

I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

The Air Estimates for 1953–54 are for a net total of £498 million. This is an increase of some £60 million over the net sum provided for in the current year's Estimates. Defence support aid by the United States, however, amounts to £50 million in 1953–54, compared with £30 million in 1952–53. Disregarding this defence support aid altogether, therefore, we expect to spend about £80 million more this year than last year.

To speak of the expansion of the Air Force does not really indicate the size of the task. It is not merely an expansion of a stable force, but a rebuilding. To illustrate the extent of the run-down which took place after the war, let me remind the House that the Air Estimates for 1948–49 were only £173 million, as compared with the £498 million I am asking for today. But I should have had to ask for even more had we not considerably modified earlier plans on which this rebuilding was based. I am going to mention the principal changes which have resulted, but first let me try to put our plans against their proper background.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Boston in 1949: For good or ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power, and fleets and armies, however necessary, must accept a subordinate rank. It is indeed true that air power is today the supreme factor in military policy. It is equally true that under modern conditions the British people cannot have anything like an adequate Air Force except by the expenditure of a very great sum of money each year. But without air power, so much—perhaps all —other defence expenditure may be nugatory. What use is it to protect the extremities of the body if the heart is left unguarded? We cannot afford to lose sight of this terrible new factor in war and our plans for the R.A.F. must be geared to it.

Broadly speaking, the R.A.F. has three main tasks: first, to provide, in conjunction with the Commonwealth and the N.A.T.O. countries, a powerful deterrent. The spearhead of this deterrent must be the bomber, although an adequate and modern air defence system will also make an enemy hesitate to launch an attack upon us.

Secondly, if that deterrent should fail, we must provide for the defence of the United Kingdom and for an effective contribution to Commonwealth defence and to the joint defence of N.A.T.O. as a whole. For these tasks, too, we need a bomber force which can smash at the source of the enemy's power; a fighter force of exceptional quality, together with the immense and complex control and early warning system that goes with it; a maritime Air Force to help protect our sea communications and a Tactical Air Force in Europe. We must also provide an air-lift for all three Services. Thirdly, we have our cold war tasks. These extend from Europe to the Middle East and Far East.

This, then, is the Air Force which we must provide. But our job is made increasingly difficult by the ever-rising cost of modern aircraft, their equipment and their airfields. We have, therefore, had to seek drastic economies in everything which does not directly contribute to our military power. For it is the front line in a high state of readiness which provides the deterrent and which will take the first shock of the enemy's onslaught if war should come.

The changes we have made in our expansion plans are designed to produce an Air Force which, although different in size and composition from that previously planned, will, through the emphasis on quality and the introduction of the most advanced equipment, be more rather than less effective.

Our main economies have been found by cancelling or curtailing continuation orders for current types of aircraft, or types which are only a little better than those we have now. The useful life of this equipment would, in any case, have been short because we would have had to replace it as soon as something more advanced became available in quantity. The emphasis of our programme is now shifting towards the new swept-wing fighters and the new class of bombers which are more effective and more economical for the tasks we have in mind.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

What is regarded as the normal life of a modern bomber? How long is it reckoned that it will go on for?

Mr. Ward

Strategic thought is constantly changing, so one cannot lay down anything hard and fast on that.

The effect of these cancellations, will, of course, be to slow down the rate of expansion as compared with previous plans, but it will still be greater in 1953 than it was in 1952.

I will not pretend that these changes can be made without some difficulty, but my noble Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply have had to reconcile their very real responsibilities to the aircraft industry, on the one hand, and to the country as a whole on the other. In fact, the readjustment has been managed with less upset than might have been expected. The amount we shall have to pay the industry for work on those current types of aircraft which will not now be completed will be relatively small, and, as production of the latest types gets under way, any disturbance there may be should not last for long. Fortunately, too, the quality of British aircraft is so widely recognised overseas that demands for them are steadily rising.

Secondly, we have made all possible economies in new works services, but I will, if I may, talk about these later in my speech.

Training is the next field I should mention in which we have found room for important savings, first, in the training of Regular and National Service aircrew, and, secondly, in the training of the Volunteer Reserve.

The re-shaping of the Air Force and the slowing down of our expansion plans mean that our intake of aircrew will be smaller from now on. National Service men are inevitably able to give us little productive service in a squadron before passing to the Reserve. We have, therefore, decided to accept far fewer National Service men for aircrew and to accept them only for pilot training. When it became clear that this comparatively small number could be absorbed into Flying Training Command we had no alternative, but to make arrangements for ending our contracts with the seven civil basic training schools and two grading schools for National Service aircrew.

Improvements in the training of aircrew will soon be made possible by the new aircraft being delivered. Courses will be slightly lengthened, and a new training scheme, using the Provost at the basic stage and then the Vampire trainer, will be adopted, as the aircraft flow from the factories. This will give aircrew earlier and more thorough experience on jet aircraft during training, and is in step with the steadily increasing proportion of jet aircraft already in the front line.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

Can the hon. Gentleman say anything about the way in which other employment has been found for pilots displaced from the flying schools that have been closed?

Mr. Ward

I have not got on to the Volunteer Reserve question yet, but I am going to say something about it. I would ask hon. Gentlemen to realise that I am covering a very wide field in my speech. I do not want to spend a disproportionate length of time on one subject.

We can also eliminate one stage in the process of flying training, because for jet pilots we shall be able to dispense with the advanced flying schools in Flying Training Command. This necessary reduction in the size of the flying training organisation has led us to seek the agreement of the Southern Rhodesian Government to the closing of the Rhodesian Air Training Group in March next year. Although this scheme has been of great value to the Service, we do not feel that in present circumstances the expense can be justified.

Now for the Volunteer Reserve. In the ground branches, we have made economies by concentrating on annual continuous training at R.A.F. stations and cutting out spare-time evening training. This has enabled us to reduce the Ground Reserve centres from 22 to five. We have also made a thorough re-examination of our aircrew policy for the Volunteer Reserve. We have taken into account the fact that the age of these reservists is rising; that many of them have necessarily, been out of touch with Service flying for some years; and that any refresher training on modern operational aircraft must inevitably be given at Royal Air Force stations, as, indeed, happened when we called up pilots for three months refresher training on operational types in 1950. In consequence, we can only justify, in present circumstances, giving training on Chipmunks and Ansons to a much smaller proportion of the aircrew now on the Reserve.

These considerations have led us to the inescapable conclusion that we can and must make a saving in the provision of reserve flying facilities. At an early stage in our review it became clear that, whatever the outcome, we could dispense with seven schools and, as the House knows, these will close down at the end of this month. I promised to announce today whether it would end there, or whether further schools would have to be closed, and I shall do my best to keep this promise. Unfortunately, there is still some uncertainty about our potential requirements; for example, whether we shall need to provide training for the European Defence Community; but it is now quite clear that the largest number of civil schools which we could possibly justify retaining is seven out of the remaining 14. Seven further schools are, therefore, being told that we must close them down during the next five months.

We have, naturally, considered most carefully which seven schools should be retained, and for how long. The principles we have applied are geographical distribution, size of airfields, against the possibility of using a more advanced type than the Chipmunk; and the amount of living accommodation available, because we may want to use these schools later for continuous courses. Applying these principles, we have approved the following list of schools to be retained: Perth, Woodvale, Doncaster, Castle Bromwich, Exeter, Redhill and Cambridge.

However, as I have said, we cannot yet be certain that the long-term commitment will justify even seven schools indefinitely; and, therefore, where the contract of any of these schools falls due for renewal during the coming financial year, we shall negotiate an extension only until 31st March, 1954. The scale of operation after that date will depend upon our forward planning which must, of course, take account of our financial prospects; but we shall let the schools know our intentions as early as we possibly can.

The schools concerned and representative associations are being informed today of this decision. I need hardly say that it is a matter of great regret to my noble Friend that it may bear hardly on the firms concerned and their employees, many of whom have spent years as instructors or ground crew in these schools, and on those who developed, before the war, airfields to serve both civil aviation and the R.A.F.V.R. The fact remains that if we are to press forward with the expansion and re-equipment of the R.A.F. with modern aircraft and weapons, we must make economies in those things which are not absolutely essential.

Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)

Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have found it possible to make economies in any other direction but the Volunteer Reserve?

Mr. Ward

I have already listed many economies to be made in aircrew, but they do not apply only to the Reserve. I have said that we have reduced Flying Training Command and even the Southern Rhodesian Air Training Group. It is not confined only to the Reserve.

Mr. Beswick

The hon. Gentleman did say that he could give us an indication of what alternative employment had been found for the pilots. This is a national matter as much as an individual one.

Mr. Ward

Yes, but no doubt many hon. Members will raise this matter in their speeches. I am quite prepared to deal with it at any stage during the debate as is convenient to the House, or I can take a careful note of everything that is said and deal with it when I wind up the debate. I have a long speech to make covering a wide field and 1 would ask hon. Members to let me continue with it.

I am now going to say something about the new equipment with which we aim to build up an Air Force which will be preeminent in quality and effectiveness. Except for the Sabres which are now being delivered, the R.A.F. still has no swept-wing fighters in service. I explained the reasons for this last year. We intend to form our first squadrons of Swifts towards the end of the year and Hunter squadrons will follow. I will not promise precise dates now. The Swift and Hunter are of very advanced design and this involves the most exhaustive development trials which are by no means over. Both types were ordered by the late Government off the drawing board, rightly in the circumstances; but it is no good pretending that there are not disadvantages in so doing. We are convinced, however, that they are the finest day fighters in the world. Every preparation has been made to ensure that they will go straight into squadron service as they are delivered, and the pilots of Fighter Command are keenly looking forward to flying them. As the House knows, we have placed a large order for the delta-winged Gloster Javelin, which will be the all-weather fighter of the future.

Two new prototype bombers of exceptionally advanced design have made their appearance—the Avro Vulcan and the Handley Page Victor. Both aircraft are still undergoing trials, but their performance is so outstanding and their importance to the Royal Air Force so great that orders have already been placed for both. With these large and complex aircraft the production cycle is necessarily very long. We have, therefore, taken a calculated risk in placing orders so quickly. The last Government followed the same course in ordering the Valiant. To test each prototype before deciding which bomber to order would have meant delays of up to two or three years. Already the time lag between ordering a new aircraft of this size and receiving the first ones into squadron service is quite long enough. Although there are risks, I believe there will be a net saving in time. The Valiant will, naturally, come first into service, we hope in 1954. It must be the foundation of our new long-range bomber force.

It may be asked: why two further types? Both the Victor and the Vulcan have, in some respects, more advanced characteristics than the Valiant. Both, of bold, possibly unorthodox but certainly differing design, must be put to the test of squadron service. There is no certainty in this business. Of course, as we learn more about these aircraft we may have to decide whether, in the interests of efficiency no less than of economy, we ought to concentrate primarily on one or other of them.

Even with the last generation of bombers, which were designed before the war it was only after a long period of practical experience of the Halifax, the Lancaster and the Stirling under service conditions that we were able to find out which type we liked best. Today, the responsibilities are perhaps even greater. The modern development of air power means that we depend on our bomber force, more than any other single military factor, for safeguarding peace and security. It is, indeed, the greatest deterrent to war that we have the power to wield.

As regards cost, remember that the V-class bomber can carry many times the bomb load of the light Canberra, and can find its target far more accurately. The cost per ton of bombs dropped is greatly in favour of the big bomber. We have also decided to order a prototype of a transport version of the Valiant. This aircraft may well prove to be of revolutionary importance because of its outstanding performance and economics of operation.

Finally, we have been considering whether to introduce a jet trainer at the basic stage so that pupils can carry out the whole of their training on jet aircraft. Such a major change cannot be decided on purely theoretical arguments, and so we propose to start by making thorough practical, though limited, trials within the training organisation. We are ordering for this purpose a small number of jet trainers adapted from the Provost, but it will be some time before they are available and it will be at least two years before they can be properly evaluated and a decision taken.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

Can my hon. Friend say what engine is envisaged for these jet trainers? Is it the French engine?

Mr. Ward

I cannot say offhand. I may be able to give the answer later.

Now that I have touched on some of the main changes which will affect the operational quality of the Air Force within the next year or so, let me say something about the longer-term problems of research and development. There can be no doubt that the fighter will remain an important element in our air defence system, and we must solve the operational problems of flight well beyond the speed of sound. At the same time, we must go on exploring the field of guided weapons.

The greatest contribution that could be made to increasing the effectiveness of our fighter force would be to improve the killing power of its armaments. Here, air-to-air guided weapons offer the greatest possibility. In addition, we must develop surface-to-air guided weapons, to a stage where they can be usefully integrated into the air defence system. The guided bomb, with its promise of very great accuracy, will vastly increase the effectiveness of the bomber force. It is a strange thought that despite all the costly and ingenious devices which nowadays enable a bomber to arrive accurately over its target, the final delivery of the bomb itself has not changed in 35 years; it still falls free and uncontrolled through the air at the mercy of constantly shifting winds and currents.

Work is also proceeding on new electronic equipment. Electronics help to increase accuracy, and accuracy alone can overcome the limitations in numerical strength imposed upon us. The complexity of this equipment has increased enormously as the performance of aircraft has gone up, and a particularly heavy load has been imposed on the electronic industry.

Research in that vital element in air defence, the radar control and reporting system is going on, too. But the high speeds of modern aircraft have greatly increased the problems. The heights and speeds of new aircraft are also producing a host of new medical problems that can only be solved by intensive research. Many of these are being studied at the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine, by a highly skilled body of R.A.F. medical officers and civilian scientists, using their own aircraft and having the most up-to-date laboratories and equipment. Their task is to discover the limits of the human body and mind which cannot be exceeded without risking the safety and efficiency of our aircrew.

But it is no good seeking perfection in weapons and equipment without skilled and highly trained officers and airmen to use them; and I now turn, for a moment, to the personnel side of the Royal Air Force. First, aircrew. The slowing down of our expansion rate means that although we shall still need large numbers of high quality aircrew, we can be even more selective than before. The more expensive and complex our aircraft become, the more important it is that only the very best type of young man should be trained to take them into the air. Once again, we have not filled all the cadetships for Cranwell. We are determined not to lower our standards of entry, and parents of boys accepted to the College can feel proud that their sons have achieved the high level of all-round quality which we demand. Cranwell offers the beginning of one of the finest careers that any boy could have.

This year we shall have turned out some 2,900 fully-trained aircrew, nearly twice the number for the previous year. Under arrangements made with N.A.T.O. we are getting considerable help from Canada in the training of aircrew. Some 480 pilots and 600 navigators will have been trained there this year. We also made a beginning in May last, again under N.A.T.O. arrangements, with training for the Royal Air Force in the United States and about 100 pilots are now training there. We are most grateful to these countries for their help.

Next year we shall again give up to 500 flying scholarships to members of the A.T.C. and the C.C.F. Naturally, we want as many of these boys as possible to take up Regular engagements in the R.A.F., but we must ensure that those who do are up to the standard needed to complete both the flying and the ground syllabus during their R.A.F. training. Already, it is clear that the wastage rate at the I.T.S. stage is too high among those entrants who hold flying scholarships, and the future of the scheme may well depend upon raising the standards of selection.

Mr. Beswick

What was the total number turned out this year?

Mr. Ward

Up to 500.

In future, therefore, candidates for flying scholarships will be tested at the R.A.F. Aircrew Selection Centre, Horn-church, and chosen according to the results they obtain.

Now for ground crews. We want to produce an efficient and balanced force containing the largest possible proportion of long-term Regular ground crews. But although the scheme for offering three-or four-year Regular engagements to National Service men was a great success and we are beginning to feel the extra productive service from these men, less than one-third of our Regular recruits joined for more than four years. Fewer than 5,000 Regulars, mostly apprentices and boy entrants, signed on for more than five years. The apparent reluctance of Regular recruits to take on long engagements is most disturbing and may seriously affect our future plans.

During the year, slightly fewer women joined the W.R.A.F. than in 1951. This is also disappointing and we need many more women recruits, especially for trades such as radar operator and fighter plotter.

We are, I fear, faced with serious difficulties in the advanced ground trades. The need for large numbers of highly skilled and experienced men on long engagements is as urgent today as the demand for high quality aircrew. Indeed, it will become more pressing as we are called upon to maintain and service the increasingly complex equipment now coming along. Publicity and inducements have not succeeded to anything like the extent we had hoped.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Why not?

Mr. Ward

Bounties for men re-enlisting, for men extending their service and for those re-engaging for pension are being continued during 1953. As an extra inducement to men to re-engage earlier instead of waiting until their current engagements end, we now make an advance of £75 out of the full £100 re-engagement bounty. This used to be paid only when the airman was beginning his 13th year of service.

But the R.A.F. today suffers from grave deficiencies of advanced tradesmen in the aircraft, radio, armament and electrical and instrument engineering trade groups, and it is upon these trades that the servicing tasks essential for supporting the flying effort most directly depend. Manning levels in these vital trades average about 70 per cent. but there is considerable unbalance between trades and some are well below this average, particularly radio engineering.

I think there are three main reasons for this very worrying state of affairs: no Regular recruiting during the war; an inadequate number of apprentices coming in since the war; and the reluctance of men now serving on short engagements to sign on for long service. To produce an advanced tradesman from an unskilled entrant is a slow and expensive process.

On the other hand, the new trade structure which has now been working for two years is showing results. In the two years more than three times as many airmen and airwomen have re-engaged to the age of 55 than re-engaged for 22 or 24 years in 1949 and 1950. We have been able to keep these people in the service without blocking promotions which now flow reasonably in most ranks and trades.

In the interests of economy, no less than to help us in overcoming our manpower difficulties, we have worked throughout the year to prune establishments and to make better use of manpower. My noble Friend well knows how important this is.

Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)

My hon. Friend has given very serious news to the House about manpower. Could he say what positive steps are to be taken to recruit men in order that the new aircraft coming along will be adequately manned?

Mr. Ward

We are doing all we can. I will return to that point later in the debate.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we are spending an enormous sum of money on bombers, but we are not going to have the men to fly them?

Mr. Ward

We are going to have the men to fly them; but we want very high quality men both to fly them and to service them, and the difficulty is to get men of the right quality.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

The hon. Gentleman says that he will return to this subject later in the debate. He made the same remark about another matter. It would be much more helpful if he would tell us during his opening speech what are his views, otherwise we may make criticisms to which he may have perfectly good answers.

Mr. Ward

I do not want to weary the House by making too long a speech. It is much better to wait until hon. Members have had a chance to make their points and then, when I have collected them all together, I can reply to them.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Does the hon. Gentleman intend to say anything about National Service men?

Mr. Ward

I have already spoken about National Service aircrew and National Service men who engage for three and four year Regular engagements.

Mr. Shinwell

What about the men who do not re-engage? What about the men who serve two years? What value do we derive from those two years of service and what happens afterwards?

Mr. Ward

We derive great value from them.

Although the recasting of the Royal Air Force expansion programme has had its effect on our plans for providing airfields and technical accommodation, a heavy programme of works services is still needed. This programme throws a great burden on our works staff, who are doing a splendid job. We are trying to introduce every possible economy into our designs and to make the most of existing facilities. For example, by refitting hangars and huts built during the last war we are hoping to provide, without new building, almost all the extra storage space needed by Maintenance Command. While the works programme for the R.A.F. is being reduced, the work we undertake for the United States Air Force is increasing. However, quite apart from its strategic importance, it represents a valuable dollar export.

Developing airfields for modern aircraft often means lengthening existing runways and this, in turn, means taking more land. We are, however, doing our best to keep demands for new land down to the lowest possible limit. We also have an obligation to see that the best possible agricultural use is made of the land we have to take. We have looked at each individual airfield during the past winter and some 38,000 acres in all have been made available without restriction to farmers, besides the 80,000 acres which we have let to farmers or handed over to county agricultural committees for some kind of agricultural use.

The most practicable form of food production on airfields is grass drying. By the end of the 1952 season grass drying was being carried out under contract at 75 R.A.F. airfields, an area of 15,000 acres. Although there are some financial and geographical difficulties, we hope to let a further 2,000 acres next season and at least as much again by early next year. Grass drying should then be going on at about 100 airfields.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

What sort of proportion is that? Is it 100 out of 200, or out of 250?

Mr. Ward

I do not think I ought to reveal the number of airfields that we have. It is a very large proportion.

Besides the operational works programme, there is the programme for married quarters. Our aim is still to provide a married quarter for every entitled officer and airman who wants one, and in the past year we have completed 3,000 quarters at home and 500 overseas. We still have many more to build and we shall need some more loan money to do it. We have also carried out a thorough review of married quarters designs and standards and have made big savings. For example, we have considerably reduced the size of officers' married quarters and more of them are being built semi-detached. Airmen's quarters are smaller, too, and we have a new two-bedroom design. We have used some terrace building and some non-traditional construction.

I now turn to the operational commands. Hornet, Vampire and Brigand squadrons of the Far East Air Force have flown continuously in Malaya, supported by Sunderlands, Valettas, Austers and helicopters. We are most grateful for the help given by a Lincoln squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force and the House will wish me, also, to express its thanks to the United States Government for agreeing to the use in Malaya of the S.55 helicopters originally provided for the Navy in the N.A.T.O. area.

During August, my noble Friend made a tour of Middle East Air Force bases and gained a good deal of information. especially by seeing at first-hand conditions at the most difficult season of the year. We well know the trying conditions in which our airmen are working in the Canal Zone and we are doing as much as possible to help. The leave scheme now operating will provide some relief and will help to keep up morale. In addition, airmen in the Canal Zone and in other overseas commands will, of course, benefit from the increased rates of local overseas allowance payable to married men separated from their wives, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, announced in his speech during the debate on the Army Estimates.

The strength of the R.A.F. in the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force has increased by over one-third during the year and there will be further substantial increases next year. An effective night fighter force has been built up, entirely armed with Meteor N.F. 11s. Vampires are being replaced by Sabres for day interception and by Venoms for ground attack. Several joint exercises have been held with other N.A.T.O. air forces, using joint airfields, joint controllers and joint ground facilities.

In Bomber Command the Canberra force is now taking shape. We have a number of bomber and target-marker squadrons and I hope that by this time next year we shall have three times as many. We shall also have a new mark of Canberra with improved range. Meanwhile, the first photographic reconnaissance Canberras are now coming into service.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Does my hon. Friend anticipate that the photographic reconnaissance squadrons will be completely equipped with Canberras before the end of the year?

Mr. Ward

I should not like to commit myself as far as that, but they are coming in as fast as we can get them from the factories.

We are continually trying to improve blind-bombing techniques, made ever more necessary by the great heights at which a modern bomber can fly. The present C.-in-C. Bomber Command, can take much of the credit for the remarkable advances in bombing accuracy made recently. Meanwhile, a new bombing school has been set up to study further the many problems of accurate bombing.

In Fighter Command two squadrons of Sabres will be formed in the coming year. These aircraft have done very well against the MIG. 15 in Korea and they will do much to improve our defensive strength until a large number of British swept-wing fighters appear. We are glad, too, to have with us American and Canadian Sabre squadrons. The Canadians are spending a year in the United Kingdom before moving on to the Continent and they have been fully integrated in Fighter Command's training.

To practise mobility and to broaden their operational experience, many of the auxiliary squadrons attended summer camps overseas. We hope that in the coming year at least two-thirds of them will go to camps in Malta or Germany. We are still very short of ground crews in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and I would appeal to young men living near an auxiliary squadron to join it if they possibly can. The same applies to the F.C.U.s, and here there are opportunities for women, too.

The refitting and modernisation of the control and reporting system is well on the way to completion and many of the stations are now fully operational. More will be coming into service during the summer. Equipment is being installed as fast as the manufacturers can produce it, though we are still short of some items.

Coastal Command is now mainly equipped with Shackletons and Neptunes. The Neptunes carry several important new anti-submarine weapons. We shall develop their tactical use, but so far we have been mainly concerned with problems of spares and servicing. A new mark of Shackleton is now coming into service which carries a greater weight of the varied equipment needed in maritime aircraft. We also have a target-seeking torpedo and a new Sonobuoy.

Naturally, we have worked closely with the Royal Navy and with the maritime forces of other N.A.T.O. countries. International co-operation in N.A.T.O. defence exercises has reached the point at which R.A.F. aircraft have successfully operated from bases in Norway, together with French squadrons working from Northern Ireland, Netherlands squadrons from Scotland and Americans from the Shetlands. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will be raising the subject of transport aircraft later in the debate; and the more important activities of Transport Command during the year are listed in the White Paper, but I should like to say a word about the part they played in the recent flood disaster. This gave the Command an emergency task of the highest importance.

As the House will know, several million sandbags were generously offered by a number of European countries to meet our urgent need for the repair of sea defences. Between 13th and 17th February, working round the clock, aircraft of Transport Command, helped by Coastal Command, brought to this country nearly 3 million sandbags from Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal. Nearly 220,000 miles were flown during the operation and 85 Hastings and 59 Valetta sorties were made. I am sure that the House will wish to congratulate the squadrons which took part in this fine effort.

During the year we ordered 20 Blackburn freighters. These will be known as "Beverleys." They are tail-loading aircraft and the only British type which can drop the Army's heavy equipment.

Mr. Beswick

Will the Under-Secretary of State make clear whether these are to be operated by Transport Command or other people?

Mr. Ward

By Transport Command. Before I leave the operational Commands I must say something about accidents. It will be clear that the expansion of the R.A.F. has led to a great increase in the amount of flying. Indeed, the total flying effort in 1952 was three-quarters greater than in 1950. It is true that the total number of fatal accidents in 1952 was higher than for the previous years, but the increase was encouragingly less than the increases in the number of hours flown. But we are by no means content. By changes being made in the flying training organisation we hope to raise the standards of flying skill and safety. Better instruments will be fitted on the newer types of aircraft, and modifications to improve safety in existing types are being speeded up. Officers of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force meet regularly to consider means of increasing the safety of service flying over the United Kingdom. This body, known as the Services Air Safety Committee, is doing very valuable work, and we shall go on doing all we can to reduce the number of accidents in all types of aircraft.

Earlier in my speech I spoke of rebuilding the Air Force. The process is necessarily much slower than most people realise. They are eagerly waiting for the coping——

Mr. Beswick

Because of the hon. Gentleman's speech last year.

Mr. Ward

—and they are inclined to be impatient with the bricklaying. But the coping must be firmly supported on a well-built wall. This is the year when we are beginning to put the coping on to a part of the wall; but I must make it plain that the complete process will take some years. I thought I had made it plain enough last year when I said: It is a hard fact that we have temporarily lost our lead, and we cannot regain it for some time to come."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2113.] But already some people are asking why the advanced types of high performance bombers and fighters of which I have spoken today have not been produced in large numbers during the last 18 months, and are not already flying in our operational squadrons.

The answer is simply this: that we cannot go into full-scale production with a piece of machinery as complicated as a modern aircraft, its engines and all its ancillary equipment, until we have put right the innumerable small defects from which any prototype is bound to suffer, but which have been greatly increased by entirely new designs and by modern speeds and heights.

Before the war it was usual to allow about a year for the development flying of a new fighter by the manufacturer and as long again by the Ministry of Supply. Today, it is only by ordering more than one prototype and conducting the firm's trials concurrently with those of the Ministry of Supply that the period of development can be kept within reasonable bounds at all. As it is, three years' development flying for a bomber and two for a fighter represents the shortest time possible without running absurd risks. To reduce it further would mean imposing on squadron pilots the functions and dangers of test flying. It would also waste time and money, because to modify a finished aircraft is much more difficult and costly than merely altering a blue-print.

The rebuilding of the Air Force must proceed in stages. So far, the emphasis has been mainly upon putting in the essential foundations: the airfields and the runways and the training organisation. Much of this has already been done—and well done. Now the main effort and the main expenditure shifts to the provision of new aircraft—the whole eason and justification for the huge sum of money already spent. Costly as these aircraft are, we must not now shrink from the expense of producing them, lest all the foundations we have so carefully laid be wasted and useless.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

I am quite sure that the Under-Secretary of State did not mean to convey to the House and the country that the foundations of the Royal Air Force, to which he has referred, were laid only during the past 12 months.

Mr. Ward

Certainly not. I beg the pardon of the House. I had no desire whatever to give that impression. Of course, it takes very much longer than 12 months to build an operational Air Force.

Mr. Beswick

With regard to these facts about its taking time to provide new aircraft and undertake development flying, the hon. Gentleman is speaking as though this were something new this year. Can he say why he did not explain all This 12 months ago?

Mr. Ward

It has all been explained over and over again.

Mr. Beswick

Not 12 months ago.

Mr. Ward

Let me repeat, quite frankly, that the new Air Force will take time and great expense to build; but when it is finished we shall have not only the finest aircraft in the world——

Mr. Emrys Hughes

By then they will be obsolete.

Mr. Ward

—but a Service which will give us new hope of security at home and exert a powerful influence on our international relations. Indeed, we shall have an Air Force of which our nation will be truly proud.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

I am quite sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will at least echo the hope expressed in the concluding of works of the Under-Secretary of State, that we shall in due course have as fine quality an Air Force as there is in any part of the world. I am sure that both sides of the House have listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has had to say. Indeed, I would venture to go further and suggest that with a good deal of what he has said there will be general agreement on both sides, especially with what he said about the concept of the Royal Air Force and of the part it has to play in the defence of our nation, and the emphasis that he sought to place upon quality rather than quantity.

We were, however, not so happy about two of the items of information that were new. I think that the speech did not contain anything particularly new, but his report to the House of the decision of the Air Council and the Secretary of State to close 14 Reserve schools—a further seven, in addition to the possibility of the remaining seven being closed down in due course, as well as the fact that seven other training schools, as announced in December, have already been closed —will come as a shock to many people, and especially to the hundreds of flying instructors who have given their service in the last two or three years. It will bring gloom into their homes when they get this information. The other point, that of the shortage of technicians, I should like to refer to later.

I listened very patiently and with great expectations in the hope that the Under-Secretary would give the House and the country some information about the number of squadrons and the number of front line planes we have in the Royal Air Force. I do not know whether he has refreshed his mind with the speech made in 1951 by the present Foreign Secretary, in which he said, as an admonition to myself, then the Secretary of State: it would be wrong for any Minister to take shelter behind the veil of secrecy in order to avoid saying something on which criticism might be embarrassing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 266.] I have never argued that the claims of secrecy should be ignored, and I do not argue that today. The argument has been put forward during the past six years by leaders of the party opposite.

I say quite frankly that, in spite of my intimate knowledge of the Royal Air Force and its affairs, acquired during the four years when I was Secretary of State, I have not the slightest idea of the present size, in the number of front line planes or squadrons, of the Royal Air Force, although I am well aware of the number of front line planes and squadrons which existed when I left the Air Ministry in November, 1951. I am also well aware of the number of planes and squadrons it was intended to have at the conclusion of the £4,700 million programme —let us call it the four-year programme —in 1955, which would be then the front line strength of the Royal Air Force. Apart from myself, Parliament itself does not know, and nor has the country any clear knowledge of, the strength and design of the Royal Air Force.

I shall not follow the bad example of the party opposite and ask them to destroy the veil of secrecy. I am not criticising the present Government, because I well know that there are good security reasons against giving too much information. But their present attitude is very different from the one they adopted while they were in opposition. During the four years I was at the Air Ministry there was considerable pressure from the party opposite in both Houses of Parliament that more information should be given. In another place two noble Lords, both of whom have been Secretary of State for Air, Lord Swinton and Lord Templewood, constantly pressed the Government for more information. In this House the present Foreign Secretary, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government and, not least, the present Under-Secretary of State for Air, pressed the late Government constantly, urging them to do away with secrecy and hush-hush and to tell the country the shape and size of the Air Force the country was getting for its money.

In 1951, during the last debate in which I sat on the Government Front Bench, the present Under-Secretary had quite a lot to say about the Memorandum that had been issued in connection with the Air Estimates for 1951–52. Perhaps I might be allowed to quote what he said on that occasion: The right hon. and learned Gentleman"— that was referring to myself— produced, to go with the Estimates, a Memorandum which is a mass of complacency, a mass of vague phrases which tell us nothing. References are made to 'increases,' and to 'more substantial increases' and in due 'course' and 'substantial increases.' They mean absolutely nothing. It leads one to think 'Everything is perfectly all right, there is really nothing to worry about. It is very silly to ask us to pay this money to strengthen our defences when we do not need it at all, because everything is quite all right.' That is very misleading indeed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 351.] It was the same last year. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) actually interrupted me when I was speaking and said surely I was referring to the Air Memorandum for 1951, whereas I was referring to the Air Memorandum for 1952. Then he chided me for referring to the Under-Secretary, because he said that the Under-Secretary had only been in the Air Ministry 10 days. I have had sufficient experience of the drafting of these Memoranda to know that they are produced long before 10 days prior to the Air Estimates debate, and the Under-Secretary knew perfectly well that I was not making any personal reflection upon his being the author of that Memorandum.

Bust it is different this year. He has been at the Air Ministry at least a year, and I imagine that he will accept his share of the responsibility for the Memorandum on the Air Estimates. Do we find in it anything different from this complacency to which he referred as applying to the Memorandum of 1951? Let us look at it.

Paragraph 6 says: During 1952, additional operational aircraft were brought into service … The largest single expansion was in the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force. Then we go over to page 4 and see: Both day and night fighter forces in Fighter Command will continue to expand … In Bomber Command, more squadrons of Canberra jet bombers have been formed. Then, in paragraph 9: There has also been a substantial reinforcement of our Meteor night fighter force in Europe. The hon. Gentleman did not like the word "substantial" any more than the Foreign Secretary did when I used it. Towards the end of the same paragraph we read: The first Sabre squadrons will shortly be forming in the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force, where, by the end of the year, a substantial day fighter force will have been built up.

Air Commodore Harvey

Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognises that his Government sat on this side of the House for six years, and he knows perfectly well that one cannot design and build aircraft and bring them into service in a period of 18 months, which is what this Government have had. The fact is, it was the right hon. and learned Gentleman who hid behind security reasons for six years till he had nothing else to say.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows perfectly well, from Parliamentary and other experience, that it was equally true in the days of the late Government that planes could not be produced in under a period of 18 months. He must know perfectly well the history of the Handley Page Victor, and that it took six years to produce that plane. If refinements had not been made by the Air Ministry six years ago, the three medium bombers upon which the country will have to rely would not be in existence at the present time.

Air Commodore Harvey

How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect my hon. Friend to give these figures when we have been in power for only 18 months?

Mr. Henderson

I am not asking him to give the figures. I am only say that when we were in power the party opposite were asking for figures, but when they get into power they find it more convenient to hide behind the veil of secrecy. Since the days of freedom in opposition it is quite clear that the present Ministers have apparently learned the responsibility of Government.

I do say, however, that the Opposition did have a point on this question of information with which I should like to deal. The present Foreign Secretary, speaking in the debate in 1951, said: I suggest to the Minister of Defence— and this is a serious point connected with the value of our discussions on defence Estimates —that it might be better to see whether further information can be made available not to individual Members of the House but to the House as a whole. It might be convenient to concentrate in any given year on certain important aspects of the problem we have to discuss. … I do not know what the remedy is, but Parliamentary systems are adaptable, and we ought to see before next year whether there is not a better way in which to handle the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 265.] I agree with the Foreign Secretary, so far as the Air Force is concerned. There is no concealment of the number of warships in the Royal Navy or of the number of divisions in the Army, but neither the House nor the nation have any idea of the number of squadrons or front line planes in the Royal Air Force, although the Estimates for the Royal Air Force last year and this year amount to nearly £1,000 million. [Interruption.] I am not dealing with the Russians. Apart from the Russians, Members of Parliament ought to have more knowledge than they have. Within reasonable limits of security, is there not some way whereby Parliament and the country can be given more information as to the size of the Royal Air Force than has been given today?

Mr. Burden

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has stated that in his view this information should be made known to the nation and to Members of Parliament. May I draw attention to the number of right hon. and hon. Members on his side of the House who are not present today?

Mr. Henderson

I think it is fair to say that hon. Members do not come into these air debates because the Under-Secretary, with all due respect to what he said—and I would say this about any other Under-Secretary or Secretary of State for Air, for that matter—told us nothing of interest. The only two new items which he told us about are ones which give concern to many hon. Members, namely, the treatment of the instructors on the closing of the flying schools, and the shortage of technicians, in view of the expansion that we are undertaking.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

Not many of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's hon. Friends are here to listen to him.

Mr. Henderson

I am not saying that they are. I have not the information; therefore, I cannot give it. If we could have a little more information, perhaps they would take some interest. I am not raising this matter in any spirit of carping criticism, but the position is as I have described it, and it will so continue, that neither Parliament nor the nation will have any real basis on which to formulate an appreciation of our strength in air defence unless a method can be devised to enable Parliament to have more information on this subject of vital national interest than is at present available to it.

May I turn to paragraph 4 of the Memorandum on page 1? The last sentence states: This decision naturally slows down the rate of expansion of the force, but the expansion will still be considerable. Does not the matter go a little further than that? Is it not only a question of slowing down but of reducing the projected size of the Royal Air Force? Is it not a little misleading to say that it is merely a question of slowing down the rate of expansion?

There is curtailment of production, especially of Canberras—and I am not complaining about it, because I agree with the Under-Secretary that the important thing is quality rather than quantity without quality—but I should have thought that it was far better that the Government should be frank with the House and make it quite clear that this is not only a question of slowing down the rate of expansion but a question of eventually reducing the projected front line strength of the Royal Air Force.

I should like to ask the Under-Secretary to which commands this applies. Surely the overall projected front line strength under the original £4,700 million programme will be considerably reduced and not merely slowed down. So I would ask on what commands is the impact of reduction to fall? For example, what is the position of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in view of the curtailment of Canberras announced by the Prime Minister? The Under-Secretary said last year its planned expansion is greater than that of any other single command."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2118.] Is that still the case? Does that mean that the 2nd Tactical Air Force front line strength will be considerably less than was intended in 1955, or is it to be the same or nearly the same?

I, as Secretary of State for Air, announced in the 1951 Estimates debate that the Canberra squadrons would be allocated to the Supreme Commander in Europe, although operated by the Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command on his behalf. In view of the reduction in Canberras, will our quota to N.A.T.O. through the 2nd Tactical Air Force be reduced? I hope it will be possible for the Under-Secretary not to hide behind the veil of security, but to follow the advice of the Foreign Secretary and answer the question, even though it may be somewhat embarrassing.

I turn to the question of super-priority, to which the Under-Secretary made some reference. I notice in the Defence White Paper of March of last year that the labour force in the aircraft industry had been previously about 150,000. It was then 177,000 and it was stated that a further 50,000 would be required by March, 1953, making a total of 227,000. In this year's Defence White Paper, we are told that the numbers have grown to 206,000, which is 21,000 short of the number of technicians required. Can we be told what the effect of this labour shortage has been on the production programme?

The Minister of Labour this afternoon replied to a Question on this point, and informed the House that the number of vacancies in the aircraft industry was only 4,000 or 5,000 as a result partly of the curtailment of the production programme. Is there any connection between the curtailment of the production programme and the fact that the labour force is insufficient to meet the requirements as regards aircraft, because the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply surely will agree with me that when we talk about super-priority we must not only have the machine tools and not only have the raw materials—both of which, I believe, are in ample supply—but we must have ample supplies of labour, skilled and unskilled? It is under the third heading that we have fallen down, namely, the shortage of labour.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

At Question time today there was a Question on that point. It was said that the labour force had been increased by 32,000 over the last two years. That is a very formidable increase in view of the stretch-out of the aircraft programme.

Mr. Henderson

It is not enough except by reason of the fact that the production programme has been curtailed. If it had not been curtailed, we should have been in very serious difficulties so far as super priority is concerned.

I should like to emphasise—and surely the Under-Secretary will agree with this—that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what super priority involves. I should like to express my agreement with the Secretary of State for Air, who said the other day, in another place, that the time between order and delivery is not due to lack of manufacturing capacity, even with super-priority of machine tools, raw materials and labour. Using all the manufacturing techniques of a great industrial concern, the cycle of aircraft production is from 18 to 24 months, depending on the type of aircraft.

I agree with the Under-Secretary that it is no use, any more than it was for hon. Members opposite a couple of years ago, to expect all the new types being developed and ordered from the drawing board to be flying with squadrons in a matter of a year or two. The Under-Secretary will agree that the cycle of production makes it impossible. Even assuming that we could iron out all the delays as a result of having an effective system of super-priority, we should still be left with the cycle of production of from 18 to 24 months or even longer in the case of a very complicated machine like one of these four-jet bombers.

Therefore, while I agree with the decision to concentrate within limits on quality instead of quantity, I hope that we shall not make the mistake of going to the other extreme. Quality is the first essential, but, within limits of finance and the ability to service and fly these aircraft, the more planes we have the better. It is evident that what was called Plan H—there is now no security reason why I should not mention it because it is a thing of the past—on which the £4,700 million programme was based will not be fulfilled, and we shall have to be content with a lower ceiling.

I am sure the House would like to be reassured by the Under-Secretary before the debate closes that he is satisfied that we shall have highly trained armourers, radar fitters, wireless fitters and electricians in sufficient num- bers to service the relatively smaller number of machines. It takes up to two years for a machine to come off the production line, and, therefore, the hon. Gentleman has a couple of years in hand in which to build up his force of skilled tradesmen.

The late Government ordered the Canberra, the Hunter, the Swift and the Valiant off the drawing board. Speaking at Cambridge on 8th June, 1952, the present Secretary of State, referring to what had been done by the late Government, said: Let us be quite clear that it is not a desirable thing to order complicated and expensive aircraft before they have even flown. That is all very well, but the present Government have done exactly the same thing by ordering the Victor and the Vulcan off the drawing board. On 17th February this year—it is true that he was speaking at a party meeting, where he probably had to let himself go a little—the Secretary of State went back on his words and said: …the Government would have been wrong not to be bold enough in this matter to order from the drawing board the Victor and the Vulcan Both machines are just as complicated as anything ordered off the drawing board by the late Government.

Mr. Ward

Is it not true that, in the first instance, my noble Friend was talking about the Javelin and the DH. 110?

Mr. Henderson

Not according to the report I had.

Mr. Ward

It makes all the difference. We had a prototype of the DH. 110 and of the Javelin and there was a question of evaluating which was the better of the two. There was no question of ordering off the drawing board.

Mr. Henderson

I have the quotation. It says: It is just as well that orders off the drawing board were placed for certain types of aircraft. Then the Secretary of State stated that it was undesirable to do so, but he now agrees. On 5th March the Prime Minister put the matter with his usual clarity when he said: With the growing rapidity of new inventions and in consequence of the increasing rapidity of obsolescence, the practice of going into production off the drawing board, which still remains a risk, is becoming almost a normal procedure."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 580.] Perhaps, on reflection, the Secretary of State would now agree that it should not be a point of criticism of the present or of the last Government that they ordered complicated machines off the drawing board.

I now pass to Bomber Command. In paragraph 8 of the Memorandum we are told that Bomber Command is to have more squadrons of Canberras and that this expansion is to be accelerated during the coming year. I agree with the Under-Secretary that Bomber Command is the spearhead of this country's air defences, and I agree that we must have a balanced Royal Air Force. That was the policy of the previous Government and it is also the policy of the present Government.

On the other hand, we must realise that these bombers cost £300,000 to £400,000 each, which is four or five times the cost of one Lancaster or Lincoln four-piston-engined bomber. I understood the Under-Secretary to say that the Government was concentrating on one of the three new types. I hope they will do so. I do not know whether it will be the Valiant, the Victor or the Vulcan, but the Government will involve the country in a great deal of expenditure if they start to order all three. I hope, as I understood the Under-Secretary to say, that the Government will for the time being concentrate upon the Valiant.

Mr. Ward

What I said was that after we have tried them out in squadron service we might find it best to concentrate on one.

Mr. Henderson

I assume that orders have been placed for the Vulcan in quantity, and for the Victor.

Mr. Ward indicated assent.

Mr. Henderson

It is unreal to suppose that Bomber Command could ever hope again to fill the skies with 1,000 or 1,200 four-engined jet bombers costing £300,000 to £400,000 each. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said the other night that we shall not have a very large strategic Air Force but that it will be a highly efficient one. I believe there will be general approval of the Government's decision to retain a balanced Air Force, including a number of the latest medium jet bombers, but I wonder what the Parliamentary Secretary meant when he said that we shall not have a very large strategic force. He did not give any specific number, for reasons which we all appreciate, and, therefore, we have no means of judging what number the Government have in mind.

In my view, the size of our medium jet bomber strategic force will have to be governed by two factors. One is the nation's economic capacity, bearing in mind the fact that, whereas during the war we were dealing with 1,000 Lincolns, Lancasters and other four-pistoned engined aircraft costing £50,000, £60,000 or £70,000 each, we are now dealing with aircraft costing £300,000 to £400,000 each. The second factor is that we shall be associated with the United States Strategic Air Force in Europe.

In view of these limitations, I should have thought the Government would have made it clear that our strategic bomber force, while highly efficient, must inevitably be small in numbers. Let us face the fact that it will be small in numbers, but, whatever may be the number decided upon, it is to be hoped that, in view of the large proportion of obsolescent medium bombers at present in Bomber Command—we have the Lincolns and also the B.29s which we received from the United States; they are not obsolete, but they are not modern types of bomber—all the orders required to re-equip the present medium piston engined bomber squadrons with medium jet bomber aircraft have been placed. I understand from the Under-Secretary that he has given me an assurance that orders have been placed sufficient to replace the Lincolns and B.29s in due course by an equal number of these four medium jet bombers.

Mr. Ward

I never gave any such assurance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot quote me on that.

Mr. Henderson

I asked if the Vulcan and the Victor as well as the Valiant—I know about the Valiants because those orders were placed before I left the Air Ministry—had been ordered in sufficient quantity with the aircraft manufacturers and I understood the hon. Gentleman to say "Yes."

Mr. Ward

It all depends on what is meant by "quantity."

Mr. Beswick

The hon. Member said squadrons.

Mr. Ward

Quantity could mean anything in figures from nought to 1,000.

Mr. Henderson

Oh no; the Under-Secretary can have recourse to the files of the Air Ministry and can check up every speech I made as Air Minister. He will find that when I used the word "substantial" I did not mean two or three or some fantastically small figure like that.

Mr. Ward

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows well that, in the first instance, an order is not placed for all the aeroplanes that are wanted. It goes on in stages. They have got to be paid for in stages, and we also know very well the importance of keeping production flowing in the factories.

Mr. Henderson

I do not want to go into these highly controversial matters, but the Under-Secretary knows perfectly well that we ordered quite a considerable number of Valiants long before there was experience of them in the squadrons. Now I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he is going to wait until they have experience of the squadrons before the Victor and the Vulcan are ordered in numbers.

Mr. Ward

We have given a production order, not just an order for prototypes. Is that what is worrying the right hon. and learned Gentleman?

Mr. Henderson

When I say "production in quantity," I do not mean two or three machines. I mean the sort of number included in the order for the Valiants given during the time I was at the Air Ministry.

Air Commodore Harvey

How many?

Mr. Henderson

I cannot tell that, but I want the Under-Secretary's assurance that his orders are based on the same numbers. With that I will be satisfied. I do not know whether we are still at cross-purposes, but the Under-Secretary, I believe, talked about two or three for testing in the squadrons. Have they been ordered in quantity?

Mr. Ward indicated assent.

Mr. Henderson

In considerable numbers?

Mr. Ward


Mr. Henderson

I still hope the Government will be very careful before they decide to proceed along three parallel lines, because I believe they will get as good service and much cheaper if they order some particular machine.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am rather interested in what is regarded as a considerable number of bombers we are Supposed to be asking for. In the air programme described by my right hon. and learned Friend, it was stated that the Russians had 7,000 aircraft. Is my right hon. and learned Friend, or the Government, suggesting that we should have 1,000 of these jet bombers which will work out at roughly £400,000 each, a programme costing £400 million?

Mr. Henderson

That is not for me to answer. All I said was that as far as I was concerned we had to take into account two factors, the economic position of the country and the fact that we will be closely associated with the United States Strategic Air Force if, unhappily, we ever get into another war.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that the first factor to be taken into consideration is the effective deterring power of each individual bomber we are ordering, even before thinking of the economic conditions of the country?

Mr. Henderson

I think we have got to take a broad picture. We must remember these two limiting factors, and perhaps there are other limiting factors which I have not mentioned. I would say that the bomber strength of the country must be related to the strength of the American Bomber Force with which it must maintain close contact.

I want to say a word about a statement that appeared in "The Times" on Tuesday, 3rd March. This statement was issued by the Air Ministry, and contains these words: The R.A.F. medium bomber squadrons are also part of our contribution to N.A.T.O. As they form an essential element in our national defences they remain under national control, but it has always been envisaged since the formation of N.A.T.O. that they would, on occasion and to the maximum extent possible, support the Supreme Commander's operations. The governing words there are "on occasion," and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether there is not a change of policy there. In 1951, when I was presenting the Air Estimates, I said: Our Air Forces in Germany will be allocated to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. In addition, the light bomber squadrons of Bomber Command will be allocated to the Supreme Commander, and operated by the Commander in Chief Bomber Command on his behalf. The medium bomber squadron of Bomber Command will also be at the general disposal of the Supreme Commander, but in the latter case the British Chiefs of Staff will reserve the right to direct these elements of Bomber Command to other tasks as and when required for the defence of the United Kingdom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 249–50.] I think there is a change of policy there, and it may be that the Government have good reasons for saying that the Supreme Commander in Europe is only going to have the use of Bomber Command on occasions. I should like to know from the Under-Secretary whether that is the case.

While there is nothing in the N.A.T.O. Agreement which obligates this country to put Bomber Command under the Supreme Commander of the N.A.T.O. Forces, surely there must be the closest co-operation and co-ordination of action between Bomber Command and the United States Strategic Air Force. I hope, therefore, that another statement will be issued by the Air Ministry phrased in a more happy way and assuring, what was no doubt intended, that there will always be the closest degree of operational unity, and that we will not on occasions only allow the combined forces of N.A.T.O. to use our bomber force.

May I turn to one other matter, and that is what I call the changing pattern of air warfare. I do not believe that conventional air forces will long suffice in the light of scientific developments. Quite recently the Minister of Supply told the House that work on guided rockets had been intensified. He described them as one of the instruments that would dominate the scene in the not-too-far distant future. He stated that these weapons would travel at several times the speed of sound; that is, up to 2,000 miles per hour, or more than 30 miles a minute. Whether the Minister of Supply was referring to guided rockets, such as the V.1 or V.2 types, or guided missiles which can be launched by one aeroplane against another, or a rocket to he fired from ground to air, he did not make clear. Nor do I know what the Minister means in terms of years when he talks about the not-too-distant future.

It is to be hoped that he was including a rocket which can be used by our fighters against 500 m.p.h. jet bombers and jet fighters, flying at speeds approaching the supersonic, which will be the case if unhappily we have to face in war an attack on the security of these islands. Certainly that raises the question of the accuracy of fire power, which can only be solved by the guided rocket or missile.

The Under-Secretary referred to the splendid work of the Institute for Aviation Medicine, and I entirely agree with the work which is being done. A report has been published of the views of Wing Commander J. S. Howitt, who is a very experienced R.A.F. medical officer and an expert on aviation medicine. The following, which I imagine is an official quotation, appeared in the "Manchester Guardian": Wing Commander Howitt believes that the speed of aircraft is getting to the point where it outstrips human capacity for thought and action. When that stage is reached aerial warfare will have to be left to the machines. This is a very interesting indication of what the near future contains in view of this remarkable development of jet planes.

Then there are the long-range rockets. In 1945 the Germans were using a rocket with a range of 200 miles. Today we are told that very soon, according to Mr. Findlater, the former American Secretary of Air, the United States will have guided missiles which can span the ocean—presumably both the Atlantic and the Pacific; that is, 3,000 to 4,000 miles—with accuracy. How far the Russians can equal this development, I do not know, but on the reasonable assumption that they are engaged in similar development, these missiles raise vital problems both for us and the Russians. It would be fatal to assume that the Russians are lagging behind in this sphere. The intense and frightening strides which are being made in this development almost stagger the imagination, both in the case of atomic warfare and guided missiles.

Mr. Findlater, a great expert on air matters, recently stated that we are living in the fastest moving period in the history of man in the technique of warfare. It is almost certain that guided missiles and rockets will revolutionise warfare sooner rather than later, especially with the advent of the atomic age. That does not mean in my view that press-button warfare is just round the corner. Piloted planes flying at speeds limited by man's capacity to control them in war conditions may continue for years to come, though possibly within a few years in a secondary role. But while guided rockets may not be round the corner, they may well be close enough to justify a thorough review of the pattern of our air defences, even though that may involve the risk of using a great share of our available resources on guided weapons and less on conventional weapons.

A few days ago the "Daily Telegraph" drew attention to the need for exploring the implications of modern weapons and emphasised the changing pattern of defence. The subject is complex and there is no clear, easy answer at this stage; but such a review is essential and should not be delayed. The nettle of the allocation of resources to the three fighting Services will have to be grasped by one Government or another, and it will have to be decided that within our economic and financial limits air defence must be given everything necessary to safeguard the security of our islands, the balance then being divided between the other two Services. There will be a tremendous struggle when that comes, but sooner or later the country and the Government of the day must face that position.

I should like to associate my hon. and right hon. Friends with the tribute paid in the Memorandum and by the Under-Secretary to what was done by all Commands of the R.A.F., and especially Transport and Coastal Commands, to aid those who were victims of the recent floods in this country and the Netherlands. As the first duty of the R.A.F. is to play its part in deterring and resisting aggression and defending the security of these islands, it is inevitable that their operations for those vital purposes should be constantly in our minds. At the same time, we do not forget that they run peaceful services, as the Under-Secretary has enumerated, in many spheres, and we rightly have pride in all their activities.

It has been estimated that by January, 1954, the world will be spending £40,000 million on armaments and that there will be nearly 19 million men under arms throughout the world. The peoples of the nations long for the day when the world can live, work and travel in secure conditions of peace, when the rule of law prevails and when, as Prime Minister Nehru has said, science can be diverted more to the arts of peace than to the other arts which might destroy science itself. That, of course, is the goal to which all our policies and defence preparations are directed; and our efforts to reach that goal in the unsettled conditions of the world today will, in my view, be strengthened by the existence and readiness of a strong and balanced Royal Air Force.

5.26 p.m.

Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

In recent years those of us who have had complete faith in the Royal Air Force have been encouraged because we are gradually convincing others that the Royal Air Force must be given real priority in any successful scheme of defence for this country and for the free world. During the last three or four years, Estimates for the R.A.F. have taken an increasing share of the defence total and today they more closely approximate to the amounts set aside for the Army. The House will congratulate the Under-Secretary for any part he has had in this general education and will thank him for a very general review of the work of the R.A.F. But I think that all hon. Members will agree that there are many questions which remain to be answered.

The conception of defence changes as our aircraft gain in speed and as our development of guided missiles progresses. Any future war which unhappily might come would come with a suddenness that calls for constant vigilance and sustained efficiency. In such a war, after the initial repulse of an attack, bombers could play as decisive a part as they did in the last war. I am anxious, therefore, to have the assurance of the Minister that he would vigorously resist any suggestion that we should not have our own bomber force and bases in this country under our own command. Perhaps the Under-Secretary would subscribe to the assurance given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in the defence debate the other day that we would maintain our strategic bomber force under national control.

I should like to ask the Under-Secretary one or two other pertinent questions on which, I hope, we may have reassuring answers. I am concerned at the shortage of skilled personnel in the repair and maintenance section of a number of squadrons in Fighter Command. There is a natural disquiet at this continued shortage. In general, the terms of the Memorandum admits, on page six, paragraph 20, that: …there is still a serious deficiency of highly skilled men in some of the most important trade groups. Even if the recruits are forthcoming in sufficient numbers, lack of experience can only be made good by the passage of time,…. Again, this afternoon, the Under-Secretary has stressed the alarming nature of this problem. My information is that in a number of squadrons in Fighter Command, because of this serious shortage of skilled labour, pilots are only able to fly about a quarter of the number of hours that normally should be flown. The loss of flying time would not be so serious if those pilots were intended to continue to operate the earlier jet Meteors which they now fly. If a war came suddenly and the new jet Hunters and Swifts were sent to the squadrons, past lack of adequate training facilities could have serious repercussions. The violent change could be likened to a sudden switch from pony and trap to the streamlined modern motor car without any interval for practice.

What steps is the Minister taking to remedy the deficiency and to ensure adequate skilled labour—and a reserve pool, if possible—for our fighter squadrons? More money may have to be offered. Industry has much more financial attraction than the Royal Air Force. Is the Minister prepared to consider additional payments or a differential scale? Perhaps he will inform the House, because I believe this is a serious problem. My information is that a substantial proportion of the Meteors, which we exported recently to a Latin country, might well have been absorbed by our own Fighter Command if adequate ground maintenance had been available at all our fighter squadrons.

Aircraft design has improved enormously in recent years. It is pertinent to ask if our fighter aircraft armament has improved in any comparable way. After all, a fighter is really a gun platform in the air, and the armament should be worthy of the machine. I feel that there is room for improvement in fighter armament.

I should like more information also about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and I am sure that this desire is shared by other hon. Members. Only two lines are devoted to it in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates, and only brief reference has been made to it this afternoon by the Under-Secretary of State. What has the hon. Gentleman in mind for the R.A.A.F. in the unhappy event of war? What is its role to be? For the most part, members of the Auxiliary Air Force are week-end pilots who average only a limited number of hours flying at their week-ends and annual camps. In an emergency, a sudden transfer to the later jet Hunters and Swifts might have dire results. I want to ask the Under-Secretary if opportunity could be found for some of them to have training in our latest jets. I ask these questions, and I make these suggestions, because, in the event of a war, attack would have a grotesque suddenness. We should not have a breathing space of three months or so to tune up to high efficiency, but would have to be ready from the word "go"

Finally, because I promised that my remarks would be brief, may I say a word about aeronautical training? In this country I believe we have established a lead in this field, and we want to keep it. At a time when attention is being focused upon the development of technological training, every encouragement should be given to our colleges and universities. We are pioneers in the field of advanced training in aeronautical engineering and research. America has nothing like our college at Cranfield, where the demand for output by the aircraft industry exceeds the numbers trained. There was on the Order Paper only this afternoon a rather adverse Question about that college, but the Under-Secretary himself stressed the necessity for the expenditure of money if we are to maintain our high place in the world of aviation. We must keep our lead in this vital field if we are to continue to lead the world in aviation. I am convinced that our aircraft industry, unmatched, unrivalled in the world, has responded to the needs of the times. Our duty is to see that we make maximum use of that genius which gives us such superior weapons that their offensive potentialities could be one of the greatest factors for peace.

5.35 p.m.

Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)

I shall not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus), because we all agree with his sentiments, and especially with his comments on the aircraft industry and the excellence it has achieved since, and even before, the war.

To those of us concerned with the defence of the country—and in these days who is not?—the Air Estimates have a particular significance. This year there are hon. Members on this side of the House, and maybe even on the opposite side, who are perturbed and anxious. They are anxious because there is an indication of the sort of policy the Government adopted in the '30s, which nearly broke the spirit of the Royal Air Force; a policy of drastic cuts in Estimates and stagnation in the Government Departmental defence policy. I do not charge the Government with either of these things, but I say there is a feeling in the country and in the R.A.F. of uncertainty and confusion; uncertainty as to the future prospects of the officers and men, and confusion as to the policy that the Government have adopted, if they have adopted one, for the next few years. In the few minutes I propose to speak, I shall deal with but those two subjects.

We have been told that the R.A.F. is an acknowledged first line of defence, and all who are interested in aviation, particularly in Service aviation, are glad to hear that. The R.A.F. will be our first line of defence in a war which would certainly be world-wide, as were the last two wars: and judging by the troubled areas in the world today, Korea, Malaya, the Middle East and Africa, that is the pattern any future war would follow, apart from the main conflict which would be in Europe. Therefore, it appears to me that of all the fighting Services the Air Force must be the most mobile. My contention is that it is neither mobile nor ready. To be mobile it must have secure bases from which to operate and a strong fleet of transport aircraft to supply it with personnel, arms, spares and stores, and squadrons must be accustomed to quick movement in change of location.

I am sure my hon. Friends on this side of the House will be speaking of the need for transport aircraft, but it may be that they will speak from the point of view of lifting Army units. In the Air Force, however, transport also has a tremendously important role because, for an Air Force to be mobile, it needs a large, well equipped transport force of aircraft with which to support itself. We realised that towards the end of the last war more than anything else. Incidentally, it is the lesson which the United States Air Force has learned and well learned in that, whenever it operates its squadrons away from its bases, they are always supported by a large fleet of transport aircraft.

To be ready squadrons must be up to strength in personnel, both air crew and ground crew, and the personnel must be accustomed to the aircraft. That is a point where we are falling down today, and the Under-Secretary of State himself mentioned the grave shortage of certain skilled technical personnel. In my view it is fatal to establish Air Force units abroad on a permanent basis. To staff expensive workshops and even to build married quarters, and to follow these out-of-date methods of trooping by sea, is, I think, the wrong outlook. It is anti-mobility.

That leads me to the question of tours abroad. I am dealing with tours abroad for members of the Air Force—I will not offer any opinion about the Army; that is a separate study—but for the Air Force the tour should not be longer than 12 months. If that were so, we could cut out a lot of the nonsense of building married quarters abroad and transporting families abroad, the cost of education abroad for the children and so on. I wonder whether the cost of all those services has ever been assessed.

I intended to put a series of Questions to the Minister, but it may be convenient if I put my questions on record so that his Department may provide me with the replies at their leisure. I should like to know the cost of the construction of married quarters outside the United Kingdom in the last eight years. May I also be told the cost of the passages of families and the number of people at the Air Ministry employed on arranging the passage of families overseas? May we be told the number and the cost of the educational staff employed abroad for the children of these families and the cost of the hospitalisation of these families?

The Under-Secretary of State said that married quarters were to be provided for everybody who wanted them. Presumably he meant that they were to be provided at home and not abroad.

Mr. Ward

Our aim is to build married quarters for everyone who wants them here. The number we build overseas must depend on the international situation.

Group Captain Wilcock

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I thought he meant at home, and I agree that that is where we want them. I am sorry if I appear to be a little unsympathetic over the question of Service men's families. In fact, I am not. Only recently I saw my daughter-in-law off when she was going overseas to my son. But only a comparatively few families can go overseas, and I therefore regard it as a sounder policy to introduce a shorter tour for everyone, relieving them by air transport, and scrapping the expense of married facilities overseas. And it is good recruiting policy.

In my opinion there is one factor over all others—even over pay and allowance—which keeps down recruiting figures, and that is the long separation of families. The average married man does not like it; but he does not object so very much to a short separation. On the other hand, two or three years abroad—two or three years' separation—is too much for most people to stomach in peace-time.

In a highly technical service like the R.A.F. it is necessary—indeed, I believe imperative—that personnel should be brought into contact with the latest methods and the latest equipment. That can be done only in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that the efficiency of the personnel deteriorates if they have to serve for a long time in the East, and we want the highest possible efficiency in this jet age, particularly from aircrew.

Perhaps I may now turn to the prospects open to personnel in the R.A.F. Much has been done in the last few years, and certainly was done by Labour Governments, to improve the lot of officers and men in the R.A.F., but the prospects on leaving the R.A.F. still gives rise to great anxiety and is a brake on recruitment. Aviation is only at the beginning of its development and there should be unlimited possibilities in civil aviation, but there must be close liaison between the Air Ministry and the Departments of Civil Aviation. This is a very important matter to every officer and man who is not on a long-term engagement in the R.A.F.

I had the honour to be Chairman of a Committee appointed to investigate the future of civil aviation. On my Committee I had most distinguished colleagues. Perhaps I shall not weary the House if I give their names: Air Commodore Helmore, the late Air Commodore Brackley, Sir Edward Crowe, the late Lord Dukeston, Leslie Gamage, Group Captain Hockey, Captain James, Dr. James—High Master of St. Paul's School—the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Milverton, Sir Eustace Pulbrook, the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. R. Robinson) and Sir Miles Thomas. We spent a lot of time studying this problem, and we produced a Report. Heaven knows what has happened to the Report, but nothing appears to have been done, and it is a matter of great regret to me that I and my colleagues should have wasted so much time to achieve so little.

I am reminded of this situation by the fact that there is a fall in the strength of the R.A.F., according to the Estimates. I see that the Army has suffered, or is to suffer, a reduction of 1,000 men and the Navy a reduction of 2,000 men. The R.A.F. is to suffer a reduction of 13,000 men—13,000 from the service which is the front line of defence. This is a most serious trend, and I hope the Under-Secretary will comment upon it at some time during the debate. It may be that he will explain that the reduction is in Reserve air crew and is part and parcel of the closing down of these civil-operated flying schools The hon. Gentleman knows what I think personally on that decision to close the schools. It is right that I should declare to the House that I have a personal interest in this matter, for the company with which I am connected, and of which I am chairman, runs three of these schools. According to the Under-Secretary's speech today, we are to lose all the schools. In other words, these schools, two of which have served the R.A.F. for nearly 20 years, and have trained 20,000 pilots, are to be closed and British pilots are to go to the United States and Canada to be trained by civil schools over there. That is the picture today, and I hope the Under-Secretary realises it and that his Minister realises it too.

The hon. Gentleman may be interested in a letter which I received, not from one of my own pilots but from the wife of a pilot in another school. It will give him an indication of what people feel. She says: My husband is 43. He has flown 5,000 hours. He applied to the Air Ministry when it was decided to close the school and put out of work 300 pilots, but six weeks afterwards they told him that they could not do anything for him or take him back. It is not easy for a man of that age to find work. She says: We had very great difficulty in finding accommodation when we came to this town"— and I will not mention the name of the town— with our two children and we felt that we had some security of tenure under the Air Ministry contract. I should be very happy to pass that letter to the Under-Secretary after the debate. It gives an idea of what people feel. I hope the Under-Secretary will remember this and, before it is too late, try to take some action to prevent the closing of these schools, or to find some other work for them, or, if they are to be closed, to find some way of helping or compensating those who are losing their jobs.

My interest, however, goes a little further than my present connection with these schools. I believe I was the first commandant of a Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve centre. That was in 1938 when they were established in a great panic after Munich. Like today, it was thought extravagant to have V.R. schools, but they probably proved the best investment the Royal Air Force ever made. This afternoon we heard from the Under-Secretary that another batch of these Volunteer Reserve schools is to be closed. My Volunteer Reserves were the first reserve in the last war and filled the gaps in the Battle of Britain squadrons. Many of them gave their lives—too many. They were from the very schools which this Government are now closing down. I cannot emphasise too much how strong I feel about this.

Is it safe to argue that the next war will be a push button affair and then all will be over? If we go by what they are thinking in the United States of America, that is not so. They are thinking that there is still some value in the reciprocal type of aircraft. Indeed, I believe they are developing a smaller aircraft which can be used from a grass airfield, precisely the type of airfield which we are to close down. That is the development taking place in America; they consider it is not necessary to have every one of their aircraft of the expensive jet types which need long concrete runways.

We all want to see a strong Navy and a strong Army, but we advocate priority to the Royal Air Force solely because we know that this country, geographically, is in great danger, probably greater danger than in the last war because of the further development of guided missiles. Neither the Army nor the Navy, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) said, can help to deter a war. The Air Force, solely, has that power of retaliation and can get at the enemy. That brings me to a point I made in the Estimates debate last year about an austerity bomber-cum-transport plane. I should like to give the Under-Secretary the specification.

Such an aircraft should have a 2,000 miles range and be able to carry 50 men, or the equivalent in bombs or stores, have a moderate speed only, but a high ceiling and very little armament, as it would not fly by day, at least during a war. That same type of aircraft could be used in civil aviation as a freighter aircraft. There will be many—I can hear some of them now—who will say that such an aircraft has not this or that, or cannot do this, that or the other. But there is not a perfect general purpose aircraft, and there never has been. The nearest to that ideal was the Dakota. It is time that we developed such an aircraft as I suggest. I suggest that the error we are making is in trying to evolve too many specialised types of aircraft for the Air Force. That may be good business for the aircraft constructor, but it is very bad business for the Government and the country, and it will bankrupt us. Moreover, in time of war we would find our aircraft grounded because we would not have the skilled personnel to maintain the highly complex electrical and instrument systems. I was interested to hear the Under-Secretary mention this point, which was immediately taken up by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey).

During the war I was for some time Deputy-Director of Manning at the Air Ministry under that brilliant administrator, Sir John Cordingley. One day Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command rang me up to tell me that a squadron could not go into the air because it was deficient of a few instrument makers and electricians. They were sick or absent for some reason, and more than £1 million worth of aircraft could not go up, nor could 100 air crew move. Eight hundred men were doing nothing because three or four highly specialist men were absent—the only men who could check and pass out the intricate electrical circuits.

As hon. and gallant Members on both sides of the House who have aviation experience know, every gadget which goes on an aircraft goes wrong some day or other, and when it goes wrong it stops the aircraft going into the air. There are hundreds, literally thousands of gadgets on Royal Air Force aircraft today. In the Air Force we must look more than anything else for mobility. It must be a mobile service par excellence and everything else must give way to that. It must be able to move to any part of the world at short notice and it must be on an active service basis. That is what I want to underline more than anything else today.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I almost feel that I must apologise for daring to take part in an Air Force debate because I know nothing about the Air Force, except that it is necessary to our defence and is very expensive. Over recent years a new practice has grown up that in these Supply debates only those who have served in the particular Force which is being discussed take part. I think that is a bad practice for the reason that the original purpose of Supply debates was for hon. Members to act as guardians of the public purse and to insist that the money should be spent carefully, wisely and well. The general question that should be considered in a debate like this is the scrutiny of expenditure and not policy.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

That is my speech.

Mr. Osborne

I want to know from the Under-Secretary whether he is satisfied that the taxpayer is getting full value for money. Is he satisfied that in this £500 million to £600 million we are spending on this very essential Service, there is no waste or extravagance? Is he satisfied that the essential defence Service that all of us agree we must have is being obtained at the lowest possible price?

I looked up Erskine May, a book I do not often look at, and on page 704 I found that it says, with regard to Supply debates: The traditional insistence of the Commons on considering grievances before granting supply… had rather fallen into abeyance and the Committee had ceased more and more to concern itself with its original function of scrutinising the details of expenditure. So far there has been no scrutiny of expenditure at all, but that is what we should be doing the whole time. I should like to see that original function brought back. It may be said to me by the Under-Secretary that the Select Committee on Estimates should be doing this work, but, looking at their recent Report, I find that it deals with policy and not with details of expenditure. I think that critical—even hostile—examination of the items ought to be taking place in these days.

Speaking last week in the defence debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said that Departmental committees were continuously examining expenditure. I do not think that they are the right people to do that, because they are too much involved in the Services. I should like to see, if I may use the term, a team of Gladstonian chartered accountants, keen on getting taxes reduced, let loose in the spending Departments to make sure that the taxpayers whom we represent are getting value for money.

Next month we shall be considering the Budget. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be demanding either that taxes be reduced or social services increased. But there is no possibility of either of those things happening unless the money spent on the three Services is most carefully scrutinised. I do not agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I do not wish to weaken our national defences——

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The hon. Member is doing fine.

Mr. Osborne

I have no sympathy with pacifists or the point of view of fellow travellers. I know that our only hope of peace lies in strength. But I do not want to give a blank cheque to the Service chiefs——

Mr. Hughes

Yes, we are getting on all right.

Mr. Osborne

—I just want to know whether men and money are being used as carefully as possible. Neither a general, nor an admiral, nor an air marshal tends to be cautious in his estimates. He will never get the sack for having too many men or too much material. He might if he were short, and, therefore, his very job and responsibilities tend to make him extravagant. It is our job to see that this extravagance is kept within bounds.

Air Commodore Harvey

Will my hon. Friend explain why he is saying this, and from what experience?

Mr. Osborne

I will quote a name which I think hon. Members on both sides of the House respect. My hon. and gallant Friend's interruption came at the right moment, because I was about to mention it. Sir Stafford Cripps in his Budget speech in April, 1949——

Air Commodore Harvey

He was not an air marshal.

Mr. Osborne

That is the whole point. We are here looking after the interests of the taxpayer. To do that we must see that the money and men are being wisely and properly used. Sir Stafford Cripps said: Hon. Members will recall that their traditional role is to be the defenders of the taxpayer against the rapacity of the Executive…The roles of the private Member and the Executive in relation to expenditure have…tended to become reversed. But do not let us forget that the House of Commons' responsibility for finance still remains and cannot be abrogated. He finished by saying, and I commend this to my hon and gallant Friend: …while Members may press for all round increases of expenditure, the time comes when they have the responsibility of finding that money and meeting their own demands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2084.]

Air Commodore Harvey

That is not what my hon. Friend said. He said that air marshals have extravagant ideas, and I want to know why.

Mr. Osborne

Because of the very nature of their responsibility they are going to play safe, and have a few more rather than a few less. I would were I in their place, and so would every Departmental chief. But it is our duty, as back bench Members of this House, to protect the interests of our constituents, who have to find the money, and to see that there is no extravagance.

Mr. Shackleton

The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) has still not answered the point. He made a serious criticism that air marshals or other officers of the Services have a vested interest in extravagance. He must either substantiate that or withdraw it.

Mr. Osborne

My reason for saying it is, I think, sensible. Any chief of the Armed Forces will try to get all the men and materials he wants, with a bit extra. For so doing he will never get into trouble. If on the other hand he is short on an occasion, he is likely to be "bowler hatted." It is human not to want to be "bowler hatted," and I do not think that there is anything wrong in what I am saying.

Mr. Burden

My hon. Friend has stated that air marshals would play safe in looking after the safety of their country. Is it not essential that they should play safe?

Mr. Osborne

I agree that they should. We have to pay for our security. But when we have said all that, £600 million is a lot of money. Were it possible, I should like to see some of it spent in other ways. When we debate the Budget next month, hon. Members who are chivying me now will be chivying the Chancellor of the Exchequer for some of this money that today they are blaming me for looking after.

In my constituency there are a number of aerodromes, and at my last constituency "surgery" one of my constituents told me that agriculture was losing a lot of men to the aerodromes. My constituent alleged that men were getting better pay, easier jobs and a softer time when working at the aerodromes than when working in the fields. I do not know whether that is true, but I pass it on because it has been said on many occasions. If it is not true it should be denied. If it is true then something should be done.

I put these figures to the House. In 1949–50, agriculture lost 7,500 men. In the next year it lost 14,700 and last year 20,300. In three years agriculture has lost 42,500 men. Some of those men went to work at the aerodromes. I am not saying that what I have been told is true, but it is being repeated time after time in various parts of the country. It is said that civilians employed at aerodromes are not fully employed, and that there is a waste of man-power. I think it my duty as a back bench Member to bring this to the attention of my hon. Friend, and I ask him to look into the matter.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

Like the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), I am neither an ex-squadron leader, ex-air gunner, ex-group captain or ex-pilot, but also like him I am not precluded from joining in this debate. What I have to say relates to skilled labour, especially in regard to the electronics industry. The prerequisite to a modern armed force is a modern scientific and industrial force. In this country we are not providing that. In the last war we failed in that respect, and unless we are careful we shall fail again if there should be another war.

So far neither the Labour Minister nor the Service Ministers are doing enough about it. What is being done is piecemeal. There is no co-ordinated plan between science and the armed Services. In the last war, at the time of the Battle of Britain, there were lorries waiting in the factory where I was employed to shift transmitter valves which were to be put into the planes as they came down out of the skies. The filaments of the valves broke when the aircraft landed, because substitute material was employed in place of the glass which used to come from Germany.

Throughout the whole vital industry concerned with electronics—the nerve centre of equipment for the Fighting Forces—there was a lack of labour and of co-ordination. At one time battleships were waiting at Liverpool for radio transmitting valves which could not be provided in the early days of the war because there was no adequately trained labour force. Those ships could not go out to sea where they were urgently needed.

During the depression years we started centres for the training of what were known as neon-glass tube blowers who were required in connection with the high vacuum technique which is so essential in electronics. These men had the beginnings of the high degree of skill required for scientific glass blowing which is an important feature in high vacuum electronics. Good use was made of these men who were directed to various electrical industries.

But today there is not a training centre in England which is preparing men for this industry. In this occupation one may find only one recruit out of 100 who is able to do the job. It does not require a high degree of intelligence but technique and temperament are of great importance. The important question is, what we are going to do remedy this position? What is to be done about this industry? How are we to put it to work on behalf of the nation and the Fighting Forces?

We had the good sense to vest the future of atomic development in the Ministry of Supply. I have been responsible for directing skilled glass blowers to the atomic energy establishments. I have vouched for men on security grounds and in respect of their skill. But can we any longer decide to leave this highly intricate specialised electronics industry in the hands of the private manufacturers? It should be borne in mind that there are only a few private manufacturers in England who are capable of doing the job and who are equipped with the necessary scientific resources and laboratories. They are well known: I will not mention them. But this gives them a vested interest in price and performance. It gives them, as private industrialists and investors, the right to fix their prices in relation to their profits. That should not be so at a time of national emergency.

That is why I want to see as quickly as possible the development for the Fighting Forces and the aircraft industry of electronics equipment directly under the control of the Minister of Supply. It is his prerogative. This should not be left to outside industry. There should be a permanent practical and theoretical technical force always available. The international situation may not change materially for 20 or 25 years. We are in the position of always having to be ready. It is not too late to do something about it.

It is no use depending on the United States in this respect. Electronics development in this country is in theory and practice far ahead of the United States. The United States has better production lines, and produces on a larger scale, but in actual technical performance and advanced theory it can show us nothing. When the American bomber force first came here in 1941, almost the whole of their radar equipment was ripped out of their planes and equipment of our manufacture was put in. The Americans admitted on first examination that our equipment was far superior.

We have been developing our equipment for a longer time. It is better than anything the United States can provide. Therefore, on the issue of any future Lend-Lease or the supply of machine tools or anything else, let us not forget that we have a small but highly skilled specialised practical technical force of electronics experts. That force must be expanded quickly. The Government appear to be doing nothing about it.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I did not wish to interrupt, but the number of untruths coming from the hon. Member is really so alarming that it is necessary to interrupt. Could he say on what he founds his statement——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is expressing himself rather badly. He refers to untruths. I hope that he is not accusing the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney)

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I am sorry. I should have referred to mis-statements or inaccuracies. The hon. Gentleman said that there was no expansion going on in the electronics industry. Is he aware that the industry has £80 million of defence orders on its books and that these are a direct result of the activities of the Ministry of Supply and other Government Departments?

Mr. Tomney

I did not say that expansion was not going on. Expansion is taking place in connection with aircraft.

The hon. Member for Louth dealt with the question of costs and export markets. The Comet is worth in export value £20,000 per ton of material used as against about £464 per ton for a motor car. Therefore, it is obvious that there will be development. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) mentioned a figure of £80 million. How much of that is reflected in actual costs, actual profits and waste? I have been actively employed at bench level in this industry. I know what goes on in connection with the recruitment and establishment of technical staff. At the top level they are the best available and command good salaries, but throughout the whole range of the industry men have been recruited who have not been adequately employed. They have had time on their hands.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

The hon. Gentleman talked about profits. Surely he would agree that on all defence orders there is a 6 per cent. profit, and there are cost investigators in every factory. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can quote examples if that rule has not been obeyed.

Mr. Tomney

The hon. Gentleman ought to remember that in the early days of the last war most contractors worked on a cost-plus system until it was found too difficult to operate. We shall be confronted with that position again if we are not careful.

We should not forget that, although De Havillands have developed the Comet, they do not mention that most of the research was done by the Ministry of Supply. They do not mention the provision made by the Derbyshire County Council in respect of technical assistance. I do not doubt that the supply of turners, millers and engineers will be equal to the demands of the aircraft industry in any emergency. We could transfer men either from motor cars or general engineering. But we cannot train electronic engineers or high vacuum and scientific glass blowers in ten minutes. It is time that the Under-Secretary of State for Air got together with the Minister of Supply and did something to ensure that this industry is placed on a permanent basis, with all it requires to meet the calls which might be made upon it in future.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. W. R. D. Perkins (Stroud and Thornbury)

This is the first time for many years that I have been completely satisfied with the Air Estimates, which show that we are rapidly overcoming the mistake that was made five years ago. As we have been told by the Under-Secretary, the period of gestation of an aircraft is a very long one—about twice as long as that of an elephant—that is, between four and five years. Consequently, I believe that the cut that was made five years ago has, during the past year, had its maximum effect on the squadrons. I believe that this is the main reason why today so many of our squadrons in the Royal Air Force are equipped with obsolescent machines.

I should like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) on the happy thought that he had been born in this tolerant century, and not 200 years ago. I have no doubt whatever that, if the reverse were the case, he would have been impeached and would today be walking round the Lobbies with his head under his arm.

Mr. A. Henderson

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to give a good reason why I should be impeached, because I do not know of any?

Mr. Perkins

My reason is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he introduced the Estimates in 1948, reduced the amount from £212 million to £173 million, a cut of £39 million, which was the main reason for the fact that today we have not got modern machines in our squadrons.

Mr. Henderson

In that case, the hon. Gentleman should say that all other Members of the Government would have to be impeached as well, because I was only carrying out their policy.

Mr. Perkins

I quite agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and the more there are to be impeached, the better. However, I do not want to go into that, because I really want to raise quite a different question.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

What about the whole Opposition? Did they propose that the amount of the reduction should be done away with? Did they want to spend more? They accepted it. We should all he walking with our heads under our arms.

Mr. Perkins

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not accept it, because I was not in the House at the time.

I want to raise the question of the effect of the closing of these 16 flying schools, to which we have to add another seven, and, perhaps before the end of the year, a further seven in addition. This decision will have three effects. First, in regard to the position of the aerodromes, most of those to be evacuated are near big towns. They are today, in a sense, affiliated to those towns, because some of them are owned by the municipalities concerned.

The Air Ministry was responsible for the whole development of civil aviation up to 1945, and is entirely responsible for the existence of those aerodromes. The Ministry actively encouraged the building of the aerodromes, and, if my memory is correct, they sent out a circular in the early 30's urging local authorities to build municipal aerodromes. At the request of the Air Ministry, many of these local authorities spent large sums of the ratepayers' money on the building of these aerodromes, and now the Air Ministry say they are going to evacuate about 30 of them. As a result, the aerodromes will stagnate, there will be no income coming in, and, inevitably, they will be used in future for building. The ratepayers' money will be lost and those aerodromes will be lost to aviation for all time.

This does not seem to me to make sense. Indeed, it seems to me to be a kind of "Mad Hatter" policy to close down a large number of aerodromes on a Monday, allow the land to be used for building, and, on Tuesday, go round the countryside grabbing good farm lands in order to build a further number of aerodromes. Every one of these aerodromes was used in the last war, and even that at Perdiswell, which, I think, belongs to the city of Worcester, and is the smallest, most dangerous and most unsuitable aerodrome I know, was used for flying instruction during the war.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary if he has thought about this matter, and if he will say what is to happen to all these aerodromes in future. Has he any policy regarding them? Are they just going to rot and go to wrack and ruin, or are they to be kept in order?

Lastly, what is to be the effect on the pilots? I believe that there will be a redundancy problem, as far as the association with which I am connected can discover, of about 200 flying instructors. About 50 per cent. of the existing instructors will be absorbed either by the Air Ministry, the R.A.F. or private employers, so that it is a redundancy problem of about 50 per cent. The oldest of these men is 53 years of age. A large number of them have over 20 years' experience as flying instructors.

The association which represents them asked the Air Ministry about two months ago to agree to discussion of this matter. Unfortunately, the Air Ministry gave the impression, though I know it is a false one, that they were not particularly anxious at that time to discuss the matter. I think they must have thought that we must be a lot of Communists because we were affiliated to the T.U.C. I am speaking of the British Airline Pilots' Association. I cannot believe that the Air Ministry really thought that, because we had as our President the premier peer of Scotland, the Duke of Hamilton himself, and myself as Vice-President. I am happy to say that all this is now past history. Our relations with the Air Ministry are now extremely friendly, and the Ministry have taken a view different to that which they held about two months ago. One meeting has already taken place, and another is to take place next Wednesday, I shall myself be present, and, if it will help the hon. Gentleman, I will put on a red tie for the occasion. In spite of the fact that these negotiations are friendly. I do not see why I should not speak my mind. I believe that this whole business has been badly handled.

On 19th December last, after the House had actually adjourned for a six weeks' Recess and when no debate was possible, this announcement was made in an answer to a written Parliamentary Question. Why was it made on 19th December? What is the explanation of that? Was it because the Air Ministry funked the debate? Is it because they wanted to get on with the job and get it all cut and dried before the House reassembled towards the end of January? Whatever the explanation might be, it had one result. It gave every flying instructor in this country a thoroughly miserable and unhappy Christmas.

I agree that the Air Ministry has no legal or commercial obligation towards these pilots at all. There is a moral one, but no legal or commercial obligation. I think they are quite right in refusing to take back into the service those men who are medically unfit or those with skeletons in the cupboard, such as men with courts-martial records behind them. I think the Secretary of State is correct in that matter, but those people are few in number.

A very large number of men could be absorbed by the Air Ministry, and a far bigger proportion could be taken back into the Service. I ask the Under-Secretary, what are the principles guiding the selection board? Are these men being turned down because they are too old, or because they have a high substantive rank and would therefore be expensive men to re-employ? I should like an answer to those questions when the Minister winds up tonight.

Let me put three suggestions to the Minister—which I know he is going to turn down—as to how this problem could be solved. Some men have been taken on for ground duties. These old pilots have great experience and qualifications, and there is no doubt that a great many more of them could be taken on as air traffic controllers or fighter controllers in the Royal Air Force.

The second suggestion concerns the university air squadrons. They are taught by Royal Air Force instructors. Why should not those instructors go back to their squadrons and their places be taken by these more experienced civilian instructors? There are 16 university squadrons, and if four instructors were to be posted to each of them it would mean that 64 of these unemployed instructors would be mopped up.

"Oh," says the Under-Secretary, "we cannot do that because we must keep a Service atmosphere." What that means I do not know. It certainly does not appear to be a very successful policy today. Are these university squadrons full to the roof? Is there no more room in them? Are they not all willing to accept more tomorrow? I believe that if my hon. Friend would get away from that Service point of view, and would hand over the university air squadrons to the civil schools and let the civil instructors do the instructing, he would get those squadrons full to overflowing.

Lastly, there is today a demand for airline pilots. During the last three months B.O.A.C. have taken on quite a few. But these men cannot qualify as airline pilots because they have not the necessary licences; they have not the commercial licence and an instrument rating. I am told that to get those qualifications would take four months, and that it would cost something like £300 in each case to convert these old flying instructors into airline pilots, for whom there is a great demand.

What we want is some kind of vocational training school in order to resettle these men in another life. The Under-Secretary will say, "We have looked into this and have had contact with the Ministry of Labour, but there is no such scheme in existence." But is that any reason why we should not create a scheme for these men? I believe that if the Air Ministry would show a bit more push and initiative, and if they cared a bit more for these men, they would soon get a scheme operating.

I do not want the Under-Secretary to think that I am criticising him personally. I am not. I know that he loves the air and lives for the air, that it is his hobby and that he is the friend of every airman. I wish that could be said of the Secretary of State for Air. I believe that if the Secretary of State for Air were as interested in the air as is his Under-Secretary, if he were keen on flying and if he had his heart in the job and were air-minded, all these unemployed pilots would not be lost to aviation in this country.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Wiley (Sunderland, North)

Contrary to the convention of this House, I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins). However, I intervene in this debate with some trepidation and at once declare my interest in the hope that it will save me from informed interruption. I was successful in the Ballot, though only to the extent of gaining second place in the Air Estimates. If my Amendment had been called I should have raised the question about which the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury has spoken so eloquently and with such justified feeling.

I wished to raise that matter because it affects my constituency. One of the schools being closed is Usworth, which adjoins my constituency. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, we regard it as the Sunderland flying school. I am sorry that he has spoken before me because he is far better informed about this matter than I am. I have had to rely on information given to me by the organisations affected, but it is quite clear that all of them feel very keenly about this matter, and I believe that when representations are made unanimously by responsible organisations there is always something to be said for them.

On the merits of the case for closing these flying schools, I should not like to express an opinion, save to say that I am quite willing to accept the hon. Gentleman's view that this is the action of a "Mad Hatter." There may be justification for the step that has been taken, though almost invariably when we get alarm and redundancy it is overdone, and sooner or later the machinery is put into reverse. This, of course, has happened on other occasions regarding air pilots.

There has previously been redundancy here and there, but in the case of British European Airways for example, they soon found that no sooner had they declared a redundancy than they were tackling the problem of a shortage of pilots. But quite apart from the merits of the case, what upsets me is the fact that there seems to be no justification for the way in which the Air Ministry have acted in this case; no justification for doing this without consultation with these responsible representative bodies.

I should have thought there could have been consultation, that there could have been more adequate and proper notice and that, as the hon. Gentleman so eloquently said, greater regard could have been had for the people to whom this country should attach great value. I know that if we were round the conference table a case could be argued from the point of view of the Air Ministry. I concede that at once.

I was told quite frankly that in the past the question about these appointments being temporary has been argued from their point of view by at least some of the responsible associations. Of course no Ministry likes such men being attached to a service with the guarantee of permanency. Nevertheless, I think it unfair when, for administrative reasons, the appointments are technically temporary, that this fact is thrown up in the face of the men when an abrupt notice terminating their job is given.

As one of the organisations said, this came as a "considerable shock" to the men affected. I hoped that today we should at any rate get some permanent—if I may use that word—view with regard to the schools which are to remain open. But we have not got that. They have been given only a temporary reprieve. What an unhappy position has been created, owing to this unsettlement, for those who remain. I had hoped, regarding the seven schools that remain, that the Under-Secretary could have said that in view of the discussions that he had had those men would be given permanencies, so that if for reasons of policy there should be any change those men would receive adequate compensation.

That seems to me to be the crux of the problem at the moment. Following consultation and the benefit of the advice that the representative bodies have given, progress has now been made in affording some of these men an opportunity to enter the Royal Air Force. But that will only affect about 50 per cent. of the pilots. In the case of the flying school in which I am interested, Usworth, I am told that it will affect very few of the men there because not many of them will be able to take advantage of that offer.

Therefore, I add my appeal to that of the hon. Member for Stroud and Thorn-bury, whom I have no reason to suspect of being a Communist. If from his side of the House he can say much more forthright things than I can at the moment, it is only because he is better informed than I am. He has also more reason to feel more deeply about it.

I ask the Under-Secretary again to pay attention to this matter, to consider it very sympathetically once more and see whether he can either devise a scheme for compensation based upon that which would have obtained if these men had been in the Air Force, or, alternatively, deal with the question which the hon. Member put to him. Why not consider this as a problem of what we used to call rehabilitation? As I have said, I am not concerned here with criticising the change of policy. I am concerned with the incidence of that policy on the lives of people to whom we owe a great debt, enthusiastic men who have served their country—a change of policy, incidentally, which may affect their homes and cause them once again the expense of moving house.

Admittedly they were perhaps attracted to this work by the higher salary, but I really think that they entered the work because they thought it was an opportunity to do a job which they wanted to do. Although it may have been expressly pointed out to them at the time that they were taking on a temporary job, they knew that there was a prospect of permanent employment, on which they quite legitimately relied, and they believed that they were entering a permanent job.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary will look at this problem on the basis that these men should be compensated in the same way as they have been compensated in the Air Force, or, alternatively, on the basis of recognising that through a decision of the Government they are compelled to look for another job. With the good will of the organisations it should not be difficult to say, "We will tide them over in translating them to a new job. If it is a question of a civil licence, we will help them to obtain it, because we want civil pilots." These are matters for consideration. These men might also be helped if it is necessary for them to move their homes once again.

On the question of the effect on civil aviation, I cannot speak with much experience although I did obtain some information from the Aerodrome Owners' Association. They are "gravely perturbed and they are a responsible body who confirm all that the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury said. My intervention in this debate was not intended to be on that point, however, but to say that even if we accept this as an act of policy we should safeguard the individuals affected by the incidence of that policy as much as we possibly can. I am sure that with the good will of both sides, and if the Under-Secretary will personally interest himself in the matter and show understanding of a very difficult human problem, much more might and ought to he done for these men.

6.43 p.m.

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

In my view the most significant factor which arises from the statement of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air today is the decision to proceed with the build-up of a strategic bomber force. If I do not pursue the arguments which have been advanced by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), with a great deal of whose speech I agree, it is because I want to pass at once to this matter.

Since 1950 there have been justifiable doubts in some minds—and certainly in mine—as to the determination of successive Government to establish such a force. I recall distinctly hearing the then Under-Secretary for Air, Mr. Aidan Crawley, say during a debate on equipment in the Royal Air Force that it was the intention of the late Administration to leave the strategic bombing to the Americans. These were his words: The fact is that in one very large sphere—that of strategic bombing—we have planned that, for the present, the Americans should undertake almost the whole of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1951; Vol. 491, c. 1523.] That, to my mind, was the wrong policy. Even having regard to our limited resources and to the firmness of our alliance with the United States, I could not feel that in a state of cold war it was wise for us to concentrate upon the build-up of a short range, defensive and tactical Air Force to the detriment of a well-equipped, if small, strategic arm.

In considering the policy involved in selecting aircraft under Vote 7 of these Estimates, it seems to me that there is one military factor which affects profoundly the whole balance of power in the world today. It is not, in my opinion, the possession by the Russians of 175 or 200 divisions on the Eurasian land mass, supported by an air force of perhaps 20,000 aircraft.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

How many?

Mr. Lucas

I know that the hon. Member has said the number is 7,000. I hope that that is so, but I have seen a figure of 20,000 mentioned.

It is not the maritime strength of the Americans, typified by their great carrier fleets. It is not primarily the vast industrial resources upon which America could draw in the event of another world conflict. It is, in my opinion, the existence in the hands of the United States of General Curtis Lemay's Strategic Air Command, which possesses the means, the range and the flexibility to launch a long-range, atomic attack against any potential enemy. The long-range, atomic bomber is now the dominant instrument in this state of cold war. It is the paramount deterrent to aggression; and in the unfortunate event of hot war developing it is the weapon upon which victory must basically be built.

Looking back, I find no reason to vary the view which I expressed to the House last year, when I said on 18th March: …nothing I can now foresee…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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2221.] To those who are suggesting that the strategic bomber is an expensive weapon which, in terms of a force, is outside our limited resources, I would say simply that these aircraft, typified by our V class bombers—the Valiant, the Vulcan and the Victor—are far more economical to operate than some people appreciate. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has said, they are capable of carrying many times the load of the lighter bombers such as the Canberra. They can be manned by a crew less than twice the size; and they possess a speed and a manœuvreability which suggests a loss-rate no greater and even, perhaps, less than that to be expected with the lighter, tactical aircraft.

I do not think that one would be far wide of the mark in suggesting that, in terms of cost per ton of bombs dropped, the ratio in favour of the strategic bomber is of the order of nearly two to one. I applaud the decision of Her Majesty's Government to establish this force, small though it must be—and I acknowledge the views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson)—under our direct operational control. To leave such a role to the United States alone would be not only to reduce our international standing but to deprive the free world of the benefit of our exceptional experience.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton estimated the cost of the bomber at £400,000. The hon. Member has argued that the Russians have 20,000 aircraft. If we only build 1,000 bombers the cost would be £400 million. How many bombers does the hon. Member want?

Mr. Lucas

The point which I was making was that these medium-heavy bombers, typified by the V class aircraft—the Valiant, the Vulcan and the Victor—are more economical to operate than I think the hon. Member perhaps appreciates. Although the initial outlay is considerable, a small number of these bombers can do the job that it would require a much larger force of lighter aircraft to accomplish.

Mr. Hughes

What is a small force?

Mr. Lucas

Security might be affected if I suggested what I thought a small force would be.

Mr. Paget

May I put a point to the hon. Gentleman, whose opinion on these matters I value? While agreeing with him entirely that a strategic bomber force is a first essential, would he not agree with me that, looking at the Atlantic area as a whole, the base of the strategic force should be far back, and the base of the lighter and defensive forces should be forward? Whether we put our experience in America or not, surely America should be the base of the strategic force simply because of its geographical position?

Mr. Lucas

I do not dissent from the hon. and learned Gentleman's assertion. I think it is necessary that the Americans should in a sense form the spearhead of the strategic force. The point that I am trying to make is that I feel it is essential for us to build our own strategic force, with all its flexibility, because I consider that this is the prime deterrent in a cold war. I do not want to be controversial in this matter, but I believe that we possess much greater knowledge of strategic bombing, and especially of night bombing, which is very important, than any other world Power, and I include the Americans.

Certainly I take the view that our inventive genius has given us, in the case of these V class bombers, three aircraft types which in their class have no foreign equal. With the Americans' gift for technological development allied with the British genius for invention we form a partnership which, in the construction of strategic aircraft, is without parallel in the world today. Take away our contribution from this specialised field, and not only we but the Americans as well would be the losers in such a policy.

Now I must pass to a less agreeable topic, namely the speed with which these and other aircraft can be and are to be supplied. I have in mind not only the bombers of which I have been speaking but also the fighters such as the Hunter and the Javelin. In spite of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary this afternoon, it seems to me that these aircraft are taking much too long to reach the production stage and find their way into the squadrons. We are told that this year we are to have a squadron or two of Supermarine Swifts operating with Fighter Command, but I do not see it suggested that we shall have even one squadron of Hunters equipped during 1953.

The House will be aware that in 1947, only a year after laying the first plans on the drawing board, the Russians had flying a prototype of the MIG 15. In 1949, two years after the prototype had flown, this aircraft was in squadron production. Thus the MIG 15 went from the drawing board to squadron service in no more than three years. Even allowing for the advantage which was gained by the Russians from the sale of the Rolls-Royce Nene engines in 1947, I still consider this to be one of the remarkable achievements in post-war military aviation.

Against this must be set the fact that three years and more ago we were first referring to the Hawker 1081, one of the forerunners of the Hunter. Yet I do not think there is any likelihood that we shall see a Hunter squadron in operation with Fighter Command this year. I do not blame the manufacturers for the delay. What concerns me is the number of modifications which they are being compelled to incorporate in their aircraft before these can be accepted for operational service. This is a matter of governing importance.

Those of us who in the last war had anything to do with the testing of the latest types of Service aircraft were always confronted with one plea from the manufacturers—" Do not ask for modifications unless they are absolutely essential, because if you do it will only hold up production." I hope that my hon. Friend and his noble Friend the Secretary of State will consult the Minister of Supply in this matter and probe the whole question of modifications to military aircraft. Having satisfied ourselves that the necessary standards of safety are being met, let us not be so fussy. Let us aim first to get these aircraft into the squadrons and, once there, let the later modifications argue for themselves.

The only other point I want to make concerns primarily Vote 9 of the Estimates. I see that we are being asked to approve this year a further increase of £4,000 for publicity expenses. I agree that out of £500 million or so this is a relatively small sum, but I should like to know why it is necessary to increase this figure at all. In any event, I question whether we are really getting value, as it is, for the substantial expenditure on Royal Air Force publicity.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lucas

I am glad to carry the hon. Gentleman with me.

I must confess that for some time since the war I have not thought a great deal of the way in which Air Force information and publicity has been conducted. I do not think that the Service has presented itself well and I do not think it is now making the most of the cards which it holds in its hands. As a junior reporter in Fleet Street before the war, I was brought up to believe that the things that people wanted to see written about themselves in the newspapers were advertisement and could quite easily be paid for, and that the things they did not want to see written about themselves were news. On that not unreasonable assumption, I do not think the national Press can be expected to print stories about the Service merely for the benefit of the Royal Air Force, but I think the Press can be solidly relied upon to give the Service a fair run, provided the proper information and material are forthcoming.

I was disappointed that better use was not made of the recent good will mission to Latin-America under the able leadership of Air Marshal Sir Dermot Boyle. My information is that the four Canberras and their crews created in the countries which they visited a most remarkable impression. Yet the publicity which this mission received here was slight. Had this been a cruise by the British Fleet to South American waters, one may be pretty sure that the Admiralty would have made the most of the opportunity. In the presentation of its communiqués and news items the Admiralty seems to have a much better idea of doing things than has the Air Ministry. The Navy makes the most of itself, but I cannot say that of the Air Force.

Mr. Hughes

What about the Army?

Mr. Lucas

I am leaving the Army out of this.

Those responsible will no doubt say that more inches of space have been claimed this year by the Air Force in the national Press than in any similar period since the war. But it is not the extent of the space which matters so much as its position and its content. I hope that my hon. Friend will give some thought to this important question of presentation, because the authority, the prestige and standing of the Royal Air Force are here involved.

The Coronation will provide an exceptional opportunity. Let us be told who is to command and lead the fly-past over London on Coronation day. Let the nation know which commander is going to be responsible for Her Majesty's review at Odiham on 15th July. Tell us the numbers of the squadrons which will take part in these displays and let us know the names of their commanders. The Air Force today holds all the cards. Now it must learn to play them.

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