HC Deb 12 March 1953 vol 512 cc1575-681

7.0 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of Question, and to add instead thereof: this House urges Her Majesty's Government to relate the provision of an adequate force of transport aircraft to the strategic and tactical needs of the fighting services in peace and war. One of the regrettable features of the controversy about the size of our defence bill during the past two years is that vital issues have been obscured. In the long run, it is obvious that the size of our defence bill must be related to our ability to pay, and if we spend more on defence than our economy will stand, the results will eventually be revealed in no uncertain fashion. On the other hand, if we are spending too much on the wrong things our mistake may not be discovered until it is too late, and we might then have to pay the price not only of defeat but of national annihilation.

I regret the fact that during the last two or three years we have spent so little time in discussing whether defence expenditure has been correctly apportioned between land, sea and air forces, and the present time is a suitable one for taking stock, for this year marks a turning point. The new Government have been in office for 16 months and, according to the opening words of the White Paper, they …have devoted much time to a searching review of defence policy and of the rearmament programme which they inherited from their predecessors. It goes on to say: The review is now being carried further forward with the object of formulating our defence policy in the longer term. It is therefore particularly appropriate for the Government to re-examine our long-term defence needs and for the House to face the changed circumstances in which we find ourselves. We have not known invasion for almost a thousand years, and this blessing has meant that the needs of the Navy have rightly been given priority. The Navy has come to be regarded as holding a special place, and only the other evening, during the Army debate, there was a mention of the expenditure on the Navy which provoked an indignant retort. The Navy has provided a shield behind which in the past a small professional Army has mobilised and expanded, and without doubt that system up to a point has worked well.

But, during the last 30 years, air power has revolutionised our position. Our thinking, however, has unfortunately not kept abreast of events. We still think of the air mainly as a threat to our insularity. We have failed to appreciate that we cannot maintain maximum expenditure and maximum efficiency in all the Services, and the impact of events has done little more than rather to cause us to resent the growth of air power. We have certainly not realised that although air power is a threat, it also provides us with an opportunity, but we have singularly failed to take advantage of it. What we must now do is to get our priorities straight. We have to decide which horse we are going to back. If we back all three—if we try to maintain an enormous Navy, a large Army and an up-to-date Air Force—we shall inevitably fail.

I have little or no knowledge of the workings of the Royal Air Force. Nearly 20 years ago, for a brief period of two or three years, I was attached to the Royal Air Force, but since that time my experience has been that of a passenger, with one eye on the aircraft and the other on my kit. Therefore, I approach this problem primarily from the point of view of the Army, but it seems to be quite definite that in peace or in the cold war, our current military commitments, whether they be looked at from the point of view of the Navy, Army or Air Force, will be in increasing terms.

I would ask the Government to undertake the exercise of studying the various crises that have cropped up in the years from 1920 to 1940 and to examine the amount of air transport that would have been necessary to undertake the movement of the actual bodies of troops that were moved on those occasions. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to go to his noble Friend—whose knowledge of air power, like mine, will be that of a passenger—and ask him to appoint competent people to undertake exercises on the scale of the Shanghai and the two Palestine ventures, when all the troops we had were moved with great speed from this country. He could then ascertain what aircraft would be required if those conditions were repeated and measure the answer against the resources which are available.

I understand that the Government have already taken a decision to move 30,000 men by air to the Middle East. I am relying for my information upon a newspaper cutting. That number just about equals what we are told is in the pipeline at any one time. According to the information I have been able to gather, the cost of moving a man from this country to the Middle East is about £4 cheaper by air than by sea. That does not take into account the saving in pay and allowances arising from the cut-down in the length of time taken by the two operations. I am also told that if the movement takes place from this country to the Far East the cost by air is about equal to that by sea, if the cost of pay and allowances is taken into account. I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether those figures are correct.

There is no doubt that in the past the tactical use of our troops in peace-time has been wholly dictated by our ability to move considerable numbers of men from one place to another. During the last 30 years there have not been many occasions upon which it has been necessary to move comparatively large numbers rather quickly, but that movement, even before we were stretched as we are today, has had to be carried out.

It is interesting to note that before the war the movement of troops took place in what was called the "trooping season," from September to April. I have never understood the reason, although I have heard it said many times that the reason is that it was considered unhealthy to move men from Great Britain to hot climates. I never quite understood the argument because, conversely, if one happened to have the misfortune to be moved from a comparatively hot station in India and landed in Great Britain in January, that would not seem to me a particularly healthy undertaking.

The reason I make the point now is that one of the difficulties about the full use of air transport is that these machines are extremely costly and that what we want to do, therefore, is to spread the cost over the whole of the year. On the North Atlantic run the demand is seasonal. The passenger build-up is during the summer months. It seems to me, therefore, that we might go back to something like the trooping season in which, as far as possible, troops were moved from September to April. These same aircraft could be used on the North Atlantic run, which might lead to a spreading of the cost and to making the operation, which I am sure the Government regard as desirable, economically and financially possible.

Will the Under-Secretary of State consider the possibilities of so arranging the trooping programme, certainly for the movement of units and also, as far as possible, for the movement of drafts, that it can be crowded into a period of time when aircraft are available which otherwise and at other time of the year are engaged on civilian operations?

I recognise that there is a great difference today; we have the National Service men today, whereas before the war we had not. It was much easier to arrange a trooping programme in half the year. At present, the movement of the National Service men has to go on all the time. Even allowing for the fact that the movement of National Service men has to go on all the time, because of the expiration of their engagements, among other reasons, it nevertheless seems to me that we could investigate this aspect of the problem of trooping, and I hope the Under-Secretary will let us have his views on the subject.

During the defence debate and certainly during the debate on the Army Estimates, we heard a great deal about the lack of a strategic Reserve and the need to build one up. I am at one with those who deplore the absence of an uncommitted strategic Reserve. One factor which surprises me a little, however, is the ease with which every speaker I have heard in the debate so far seems to assume that of necessity the strategic Reserve must be held in this country. I rely only upon information made available in the Press, in technical journals and from conversations with those who know about these things, but if one is to believe the experts, the outbreak of a third world war would lead to heavy bombing of these islands, whereby communications might be interrupted and our ports heavily damaged. It is generally accepted that we shall not have the interval in which to mobilise that we had in the last two wars, and it might well be that if we relied upon conventional methods of moving mobilised divisions we should meet great difficulties.

It might even be that the outbreak of a third world war would mean that this country was under assault by airborne troops, and it might be necessary to have a strategic Reserve which could be brought to Great Britain. In my opinion, the Government would be extremely unwise necessarily to accept what seems to be the popular notion—that the strategic Reserve should be assembled in Great Britain. The Government should look for alternative training grounds and bases where considerable bodies of troops could serve in healthy conditions, where adequate training facilities exist, where the troops could undertake practical exercises and from where they could be flown to any part of the world where they were needed. I am not being dogmatic on the point, but I put it to the Minister as something which ought to be considered.

Next, I should like to know from the Government why the Princess flying boats, which I am told are capable of carrying 100 passengers, are to be cocooned or put into Reserve. I understand that two other flying boats are to be put in plaster cocoons against the time when they may be used. It seems to me that if we are planning against the possibility of very heavy enemy air attack, the sensible procedure is to rely to some extent upon the use of flying boats, because in their case the difficulty of finding landing places does not arise.

Having indicated the problem as I see it—the conveyance of troops, both as units and drafts, in peace and the conveyance of a strategic Reserve at the outbreak of war and during war, may I turn for a few minutes to look at how I think the problem might be solved? No one can deny that the services of the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth" for the conveyance of troops during the war was of enormous importance. It is equally true to say, I think, that those two vessels would never have been launched had there not been some element of Government support. I think Government support was available on first contract and I am told that some support was given on the second.

If the principle is accepted of Government support being given to vessels of that kind, and if events have shown how valuable those vessels were, I think the Government should consider an extension of that formula. I am asking here for a partnership between the Government and the other interests concerned. Obviously the R.A.F. itself must supply an adequate force of transport aircraft, but it would be expensive folly to expect the R.A.F. to meet all transport needs. What is required is a nucleus of experience and a skeleton organisation, at a high state of efficiency, which can be speedily expanded to meet the needs of an emergency. I realise that this would cost a great deal of money, but in my judgment it is money which must be spent.

The next partners are the B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. They have a very wide operational experience and they have available pilots and aircraft employed only seasonally. They should be brought into this partnership to engage not only in the movement of troops but also in building up the Reserve to meet a future emergency.

The third element is, of course, the independent operators. I hold the view that these men or undertakings have a role to play, but what they cannot expect is to get public money without some measure of public supervision or public control. Obviously, they cannot expect to be provided with contracts or with machines, or whatever may be found necessary, and then be left to take the cream off the transport market.

I am told that at the present time we have no freighters operating across the North Atlantic. That is a very chastening thought—that this field is being left to other countries to exploit. I am told one of the reasons for it is that the private operators have thought it better—more profitable—to go out to obtain trooping contracts. The result is that the freighter side of the service has been left. I think private operators must be given an opportunity to tender, and to have their share of the trooping contracts, but equally I think they should be expected to undertake some of the less lucrative jobs—the business of operating freight services.

To sum up, what I put to the House is this, that the country's needs centre round the building of an adequate transport service to meet the needs of both peace and war: in peace, the need of ordinary commercial undertakings for conveying freight, conveying civilian passengers, and for conveying troops, that operation to be undertaken by a partnership of the Government, B.E.A., B.O.A.C., and the private undertakers under the direction of or in an organisation controlled by the Royal Air Force; and to meet the needs of war, a reserve of aircraft should be built up. The size of the reserve should be determined, I think, largely as the result of the study which I would ask the Government to undertake as to the number of aircraft that would be required for specific problems like the problems which have concerned us during the last 20 years.

I think that a scheme of this kind operated in this way would have the support of the interests concerned. It would have the support of all sections of the House, and I hope very much that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, when he replies, will be able to tell us that the Government accept the point of view contained in the Amendment and are with vigour and enthusiasm going to tackle the problems involved.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

I beg to second the Amendment.

It seems to me that a case for an adequate reserve of aircraft has already been made—at any rate on the basis of the information that is available to us. I should like to say again that this year the speech we have had from the Government on the Air Estimates really has reached an all-time low so far as solid and precise information is concerned. The Under-Secretary of State said that the aircraft were coming into the squadrons as fast as we could get them from the factories, and that the equipment was being installed as fast as the factories could deliver it. I really had not expected it would be installed more quickly than the factories could deliver it. The only bit of precise information we did get about the whole of the Air Force activity was the number of freighter aircraft ordered.

I agree so much with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) said about the necessity for having some system by which we can discuss these Air Force matters and other technical matters rather more sensibly and intelligibly than we can in this Chamber, with only the limited information that can be given here. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) and I put forward some proposals on that matter that, personally, I thought were quite good, in the debate we had on Parliamentary procedure. My hon. Friend apparently also thought they were very good. My right hon. and learned Friend quoted words by the Foreign Secretary, who himself had said two years ago that it was about time this House evolved a system which provided us with the possibility of having full and frank debate consistent with national security. Parliament surely should be considering this question now in more detail.

Having said that, I think I still can claim that this case for an adequate reserve of transport aircraft has been made out, and by that I mean a large fleet of air transport machines which will not only be essential in war-time but also useful in peace. The strength of this case lies not least in this latter fact—that the machines can play as large a part in peace as in war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has moved an Amendment which he selected some weeks ago, but I think that his speech—and it is very significant—was really the culminating speech on a theme which has been running through the whole of the defence and Services debates which we have had so far this year. The persistent theme running through those debates has been the need for mobility. That is the demand—the mobility of troops. That seems to me the only possible solution to the apparently contradictory demands for bases abroad and operational forces at home. One of the most vivid points made in any of the defence or Services debates was that made by the Prime Minister, who said that we had no divisions here at home at all, and, facing you, Mr. Speaker, he said, "I have never felt so naked in all my life." I do think it a remarkable thing, a scarcely credible thing, that we are spending £1,600 million this year on defence and we have not a single division at home.

The only possibility, it seems to me, of having defence Forces here at home, and a reserve capable of employment overseas, either on police duties or in emergency, is to provide an adequate reserve of air transport. Rapid mobility is the only answer to the conflicting demands to reduce the numbers and to reduce the costs and yet maintain at any one time the total effective Forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said that at any one time there were—I think he said—30,000 men in the pipeline. I think that is the figure which was previously given by the Prime Minister. Other hon. Members have suggested that it may be nearer 20,000. In any case, the fact is that if we can move those men more quickly and keep them effective for a larger part of the year, we should be able to make economies. I was told in answer to a Question that 100,000 men left the United Kingdom each year for bases overseas. Presumably, a similar number of men return to the United Kingdom. That is 200,000 individuals a year on the move, and that is in addition to the men who move from one overseas base to another.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley asked for some figures about the cost of transporting by air. The Secretary of State, in a statement, did say that the cost in general is about the same as that of transport by sea, but if one starts from that position, that the cost of transporting by air is roughly the same as that of transporting by sea, then obviously an overwhelming case for air trooping is made, for by air trooping we can get more intensive and economical use of manpower, as we can also by more sensible dispositions of our troops.

I want to emphasise only two points in this argument. I do not think that anyone who heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) could have been unimpressed by his submission about the strain of our overseas commitments becoming intolerable. Financially and economically a given force costs much more if it is maintained overseas. Moreover, the incidental expenditure is not only higher but mostly in currencies we cannot afford.

With this argument in mind, I think the House would do well to consider again the facts that have been given year after year by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock). We should consider against this whole background of the mobility and disposition of reserves by air transport the question that he has so ably raised about married quarters overseas. He has made his case that to have married quarters overseas is wasteful and inefficient. At one time it might have been essential, but today, with the possibility of air transport, it is no longer necessary.

A shorter and more austere term overseas as a Service man instead of a longer term, partly as a service man and partly as a family man, seems to be the choice in many cases. I should have thought that we should choose the shorter and sharper term overseas. I really do not see why, as there is no disagreement in the House on these matters, we cannot get down to a closer consideration of this matter. I would say that my hon. and gallant Friend has probably as much experience of these matters as anyone in the House, and probably more than most people at present in the Departments who are now considering them.

The second point I want to stress is the threat of atomic weapons to the communications of our island. It is nearly seven years since I said—and no authoritative person has contested the statement —that 40 atomic bombs suitably placed could end organised society in the United Kingdom. Among the suitable places would be our docks and harbours. I emphasised this fact again on the Air Estimates last year, and since then we have had the explosion at Monte Bello. I speak without any inside knowledge at all on these matters, but I would say that the lesson Monte Bello underlines is that the sea, which was once our friend, could choke the life out of our country in an atomic war. No doubt something could be done with Mulberry Harbours and other improvisations of that kind; but our main hope can only be the maximum use of the air.

Some people, responsible as they are sincere, say that another war, and an atomic war, would be the end of our society anyway. I argue this particular case for air transport more confidently because I believe that modern and adequate fleets of transport aircraft can not only be our salvation in possible war but can strengthen us economically in time of peace. The question therefore is: What kind of transport machines shall we have, and by whom shall they be operated? How should this reserve be held?

A good deal of very intensive and skilful propaganda has been put out lately on this question. Much of the propaganda has been put out by the Air League of the British Empire. I have here a document which they sent out, I suppose to most Members of the House of Commons. I have never seen a more blatant piece of special pleading for private interests under the guise of national need. The Air League is a powerful organisation. It has considerable funds at its disposal. It has done extremely good and useful work. Among other things, its monthly magazine is something to which I look forward as an authoritative, interesting and helpful work.

The potential for good will that the Air League has, however, will be completely dissipated if it produces prejudiced documents of this character. This is a memorandum on air transport policy, yet it makes only an incidental and passing reference to B.O.A.C., and it does not even mention B.E.A. On the first page it hails the independent operators, who represent the only reserve of air transport available in time of war. That is grossly, cruelly and simply untrue. The greatest and the most valuable reserve is held by the publicly-owned civil air Corporations, for which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, whom I am pleased to see in his place, now has considerable responsibility.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Surely in time of war the aircraft of the Corporations would be fully employed carrying vital personnel other than military personnel, and the reserve for military personnel is left in the independent operators.

Mr. Beswick

These matters have been gone into with considerable care, and I do not believe that that would be the case.

A certain amount of civil work would, we hope, be possible on this globe. I just do not know how embracing the war would be. But even if it is not a world-wide war I think there would be a sufficient proportion of the Corporation's airfleets available to the country in time of war. However, I am going on to argue that under the Corporations there should be greater fleets and more adequate reserves of air transport machines. That is the substance of my case.

In addition to that untrue statement in the Air League memorandum, there is also an element of complete self-deception about the propaganda put out by the Air League and others on behalf of the independent operator. They say that the more Government business that is given to the independent air transport operators the greater will be our reserves of air transport machines. That is not true at all. The one result of such a policy would be that we should have more machines in the hands of private operators and fewer in the hands of the Corporations. The total would not be increased. Indeed, for reasons that I shall give later, I think that the total would probably be less.

Both sides of the House want to achieve the same objective, and I should like to argue this matter out on this and other occasions as fully, frankly and fairly as possible, but I do hope that we shall try not to deceive ourselves about it. All this scheming to give public business such as air trooping to private operators is not a plan to increase air transport reserves. It is a device to assist private operators as against the publicly-owned Corporations. If I thought that these proposals of the Air League were in the best interests of the nation I should give them my whole-hearted and unqualified support, but I do not think that, and I will say why.

During the time of the Labour Government there was a very close examination of the economic advantages of air trooping as against sea trooping. The balance came down, rather uncertainly at first, on the side of the air. Contracts were given, mostly to private companies because, and only because, their tenders were lowest. I think it can now be seen more clearly by some people that if one buys up old machines at low prices it is easier to put in lower tenders. However, that was as far as it went at that time. I will add only this. It did seem to me that some of the officers concerned in the Service Departments did not try very hard to hide their political tendencies in favour of the private operator. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I say what I feel, and I do not think I am being unfair about it.

The private operator is saying, to a very large extent through the Air League, that he must have more financial assistance. I understand the idea to be that the Government should buy the machines of the private operator, arrange yearly terms either for purchase or for rent, and then guarantee him work for 10 years at a price which would, of course, handsomely cover the rent or purchase arrangement—and very big figures are involved. There may well be arguments for that sort of arrangement.

There may be an argument for providing these modern merchant adventurers with guaranteed capital and guaranteed business, but let us not call it private enterprise. To call it private enterprise is to abuse the English language. And do not let us pretend that it is increasing the supply of air transport machines in time of emergency. It is not increasing the total supply at all. I think that there are three arguments against these proposals.

Firstly, I believe that, properly arranged, the national Corporations could do better what is required. B.E.A., for example, already have bases, experience and technical resources at such places as Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and North Africa. If we exploited these resources more fully, we could economise on national manpower and equipment to the benefit of everyone.

Secondly, I understand that the Air Ministry are contemplating hiring out to private companies a number of jet transport. I believe that this would not only be wasteful but potentially dangerous as well. We have already seen that margins of safety have been eaten into by the use of old machines. I think that we should be incurring a similar risk if we left the operation of ultra-modern jets to inexperienced private companies.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I think that the hon. Member is referring to the York. As an official inquiry is pending at the moment, and as the matter is sub judice, would it not be wise to withdraw that remark about safety?

Mr. Beswick

I repeat the words which I have said, and which I have very carefully considered. I have said that the margins of safety have been eaten into.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

By whom?

Mr. Beswick

By these firms who use old aircraft. I can give the hon. Gentleman a particular example, if he wishes it. I have no desire to do so in this House. But that is my belief, and it is a belief voiced by others than myself.

I will not say that they are unsafe—I obviously would not say that. I am not saying that they are being recklessly operated. I am saying that the big margins of safety, which the public air Corporations apply on top of, in addition to, the minimum standards that are required by law, are being eaten into by many of the private operators who use old machines. I have, therefore, stated— and this is my argument—that it is my belief that if we entrusted—and these are the words which I want the hon. Gentleman to understand—the operation of ultra-modern jets to inexperienced operators, we should again allow the safety margins to be eaten into.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)

I think that when the hon. Member makes these accusations he ought to be a little more specific. Against whom is he making the accusation, and what is his evidence?

Mr. Beswick

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to make particular allegations, I have in mind the operation of York aircraft I am not referring to a particular accident, the cause of which we do not know. But I am saying that the operation of that aircraft over a particular part of the world is eating into the margins of safety which would otherwise be maintained by, say, the national air Corporations.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Surely the hon. Member would agree that irrespective of whether aircraft are operated by the Corporations or by private companies, they have to maintain the same standards of safety as are laid down by the Air Registration Board, and have a certificate of airworthiness, which is the same for both.

Mr. Beswick

No. There is great interest in these matters, and I am prepared to go into them in some detail. It is true that operators must have a certificate of airworthiness for their particular machine, but that certificate of airworthiness is not for a particular route.

In the case of this particular York operation—not the one accident, because, as I say, it may have been caused by anything, and I would not prejudice the inquiry—as a matter of fact, if the hon. Gentleman wants to know, the company did take the trouble to write to the British Overseas Airways Corporation and ask for their advice about this particular operation. They received back a letter in which it was stated—and I think that I can quote almost the exact words— "We would not operate this machine at this weight factor; in fact we would not operate it at all over the Atlantic because of its unsuitability in winter weather."

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone) rose——

Mr. Speaker

I think, with every desire to allow the debate to go wide, that the hon. Member is getting away from the Amendment moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. I do not see how this incident of the York aircraft, or the suitability of any particular type of aircraft, really comes in issue on the hon. Member's Amendment. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we concentrated on what was actually put before it.

Sir W. Wakefield

On a point of order. A very serious statement has been made by the hon. Member. I happen to be a director of the company which has been operating these aircraft, and I say that what he has said is untrue. The company concerned has never received such a letter as he has alleged. There may have been private correspondence of which the company were completely unaware when it operated these York air- craft. The statement he has made is quite untrue.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. It is a point of debate, but a point of debate on a subject which I think is remote from the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Dudley.

Mr. Beswick

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I think that it will be seen on reading HANSARD that I was diverted along these particular lines by questions from hon. Members opposite.

With regard to the charge that I have made an untrue statement, I could give the hon. Member the date of the letter, and it was addressed to General Critchley, who is a director of the company concerned. If that letter was received in a private capacity, I accept the words of the hon. Gentleman, but I must say that it is a strange way of doing business.

Sir W. Wakefield

No letter was written from the company to the Corporation requesting such a letter, so that again is another untrue statement.

Mr. Beswick

We will leave it at that.

In my judgment, the hiring of ultramodern jet machines to private operators who have not had great experience of jet operation would be eating into the necessary safety margins. The two air Corporations have accumulated a great store of knowledge in the operation of jets, and I am only saying that we should be very silly to ignore their experience.

The third point that I want to make supports the other two, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence will try to follow it, because it is put very sincerely, and it is this. I want to see private companies doing business, and growing business, but I think that it should be business which is appropriate to the true nature of private enterprise. I believe that air freight, especially the non-scheduled freighting, the air tramping, is their legitimate business.

The more the world's air freight business that Britain's companies get, the bigger will be our total reserve of air fleets. There are some very able, energetic and likeable people among the independent operators, and I believe that they can get a good share of the world's business that is going. I would give them encouragement, and, if necessary, more solid assistance. But I warn the Parliamentary Secretary that the more the Government give way to pressure and the more they provide this guaranteed air trooping business, the less will be the incentive to the independant operators to go out and get the other business.

Air Commodore Harvey

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the shipping companies, who for decades have done the trooping, have always had 10-year contracts?

Mr. Beswick

Yes, but the situation is somewhat different as between air and sea in so far as we were not sufficiently well advised as to develop nationally-owned shipping companies.

It would be wrong to make a speech about air transports without mentioning flying boats. I was very pleased that my hon. Friend raised this matter again. Opinion in the House, no matter how it may be divided on other subjects, is overwhelmingly in favour of the use of flying boats. We have some grand machines in the Isle of Wight. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please tell us something definite about the plans for using the Princesses?

How is the development progressing with the first machine? We really ought to know that. A lot of public money is in it. When are the engines expected for the second and third machines? When we are talking of moving large numbers of men about the globe, it is wrong to put flying boats out of consideration. These machines are already partly built, and I believe we ought to have them in operation. I would leave for the future the question of who should operate them. At the moment my greatest desire is to have them flying, and flying on air trooping.

Then there are helicopters. Here again we seem to be up against the inertia of prejudice. On occasions there have been criticisms of lack of enterprise on the part of the publicly-owned services, but had it not been for the enterprise of B.E.A., and, at times, the Post Office, we should not even be in sight of a helicopter design, let alone a machine.

There are now, I understand, five designs for a big helicopter to B.E.A. specifications. Are the War Office and the Air Ministry coming in on this matter or not? Could we have a straight answer to that question? Surely a big machine capable of carrying 30, 40 or more troops and putting them all down accurately together is infinitely better than peppering parachutists about the countryside. Training for the troops is shorter and, therefore, less expensive. The only commands the troops need to know are two, "Get in" and "Get out." No other training is involved.

In both the civil and the Service fields we ought to develop a prototype machine of about that size. Thanks to the medical people, we are now using some small helicopters, but all the military mind appears to be thinking about is some large helicopter capable of picking up a tank and putting it over a river, or something of that sort. That is not good enough.

I should have liked to have gone into the question of reserves of pilots, but that ought properly to be raised in the wider debate. It is nevertheless important to the question of air transport reserves to stress that many of the men who have been acting as instructors would be admirable material for air transport pilots. If there is a possibility of transferring them and giving them the necessary training to become civil transport pilots, the Government ought to give whatever help is required. For the moment, I say again that an adequate reserve of transport aircraft could be our salvation in war and a source of strength in peace.

I hope that, in meeting this case, the Government will not yield to propaganda which promotes short-term private interests against long-term national needs, and I hope that in the development of this reserve we shall use to the full the experience and operation possibilities of the two publicly-owned air Corporations.

7.55 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

The House must congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on his luck in the Ballot and his wisdom in raising a matter of such great importance in the field of strategic defence.

As the House will realise from what happened a few minutes ago, I am connected with an independent operator who has been doing a substantial amount of air trooping in recent months, and, naturally, because of that I have made a very special study of the importance to the well-being of the country—the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) would probably suggest that the object was the well-being of the independent operators—of the extension of air trooping in future.

The thoughtful and constructive speech of the hon. Member for Dudley covered most of the main points about the advantages of air trooping compared with sea trooping. The actual cost at present is about the same in each case, but as more modern aircraft come along the cost of air trooping will substantially decrease. The facts are contrary to what was stated by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. He said it was easier to submit lower tenders in the case of old machines bought at low prices. On the contrary, the more modern aircraft which will soon be available will enable lower tenders to be made. I believe that in the next three, four or five years it will be found that the cost of air trooping will become very much cheaper than that of sea trooping.

Other matters have to be considered in relation to war conditions. With the possibility of attack by submarines and aircraft, it will be even more dangerous to move troops in a future war than it was during the last war. If there were large numbers of troops in a ship which was unfortunately sunk, the loss might be very great, but if we were moving troops rapidly in, perhaps, larger aircraft than are now available and one was lost, there would not occur such a disaster to our war effort as if a great ship were lost.

As we found to our cost during the last war, the transportation of troops by sea is subject to great delays owing to the vessels having to travel in convoy and perhaps to take difficult routes in order to avoid submarine and air attack; and when the troops arrive at their destination they are frequently extremely unfit. Troops can be flown to almost any part of the world within 24 or 48 hours, and they land fit and ready for immediate operations. That is of great importance.

I agree that the Princess flying boats should be brought into operation as soon as possible. I can think of nothing more advantageous from the point of view of flexibility and mobility than those flying boats. They may be put down on water anywhere, and we have not to build great runways for them. The three flying boats should be brought into operation— it is immaterial who operates them as long as they are brought into operation—while there still exist flying boat pilots and crews whose knowledge and skill has not disappeared. We could have no finer or cheaper service than these flying boats would afford.

I suggest, too, that by using aircraft for air trooping—this is where I differ from the hon. Member for Uxbridge— our peace-time activities in the air can be strengthened. We ought to try to build up a mercantile marine of the air. The Corporations are protected by the increasing volume of traffic on their scheduled services and by subsidy from the taxpayers. They are enabled to have —and rightly so—large trained organisations built to operate efficiently. What we want to see in this country, in addition to those important national Corporations, is the independent operators building up highly trained, successful organisations which are able to carry out air trooping contracts and to do the freighting and other work which is available throughout the world.

One of the best ways of seeing that happen is for the independent operators to have some steady basis of operation. Air trooping contracts just do that. The Corporations have a steady basis in their scheduled services, and the independent operators could have a good basis with air trooping contracts; then they would be able to develop in competition with the air fleets of the world.

It is regrettable that the hon. Member for Uxbridge indulged in a kind of—I cannot describe it as anything less than this—smear campaign about the reliability and effectiveness of the independent operators. Suggestions such as he made about the margins of safety being eaten into can only cause unjustified disquiet and uneasiness about British aviation generally. Anybody who wants to see British aviation built up should not make statements like that, because they are not helpful to the industry as a whole. It is deeply regretted that such an attack, wholly unjustified, was made by an hon. Member in this House. If this mercantile marine of the air is to be built up—and I think it is desirable that it should be built up in addition to the Corporation fleets—there ought to be some kind of assistance given in the purchasing of new aircraft. I am not suggesting for one moment that there should be any subsidy or that any part of the cost should fall on the taxpayer. It would, however, be a great help to the manufacturers if orders were placed with them now for new and up-to-date aircraft suitable for transportation, for passenger carrying and for charter work like trooping carrying, and then hire-purchased by the independent operators from the State on ordinary commercial terms. It would help export orders for British manufacturers, and at the same time assist in the building up of this great mercantile marine in the air, which, in turn, is also strengthening our strategic air reserves. There can be no question but that that would be an advantage.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that placing air trooping business with independent operators would not increase our reserves. He is not correct in that for the reason that, by giving trooping contracts to independent operators, they are being helped to retain the crews and cover their overheads. That, in turn, means that they are going to be able to expand their peace-time commercial activities, and that is going to be of great assistance to the economy of the country. It is, in fact, killing two birds with one stone. We are saving money for the taxpayer, and we are building up an entrepôt trade which must help the economic position of the country.

It is in the general interests of the nation that, in addition to the support which has been given by the taxpayers to the national Corporations, there should also be given, not financial support but encouragement and help to the independent operators to build up their organisations and their fleets, so that wherever British aircraft are seen we can be thoroughly proud of the work and activities of our aircraft, be they private enterprise or of the Corporation.

Mr. Beswick

Would the hon. Member be more precise and tell us how he thinks this encouragement and help should be given?

Sir W. Wakefield

Encouragement could easily be given if the Government made available on hire-purchase terms to independent operators up-to-date, modern aircraft which in two or three years' time will be available from the manufacturers, plus reasonable long-term contracts so that they can guarantee security of employment for their employees as well as the ability to plan ahead. Hon. Members opposite are always talking about longterm planning. There cannot be any of that if one is working on a hand-to-mouth basis. Encouragement given in the way I have suggested would bring its own reward.

I hope that, in the training of pilots and aircrews for the flying of these very expensive aircraft, increasing attention will be given to the great advantages which can be obtained, apart altogether from the saving of money to the taxpayer and the saving of life, by the use of flight simulators. This is particularly important in view of the shortage of good quality maintenance men in the Royal Air Force. The difficulties referred to previously about the training of men may be largely overcome if the aircrews coming on are trained in the flight simulators so that they get as much ground flying practice as possible. They can then go into the air and have operational and flying training without having to learn the flight drill.

I should like to conclude by wishing my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air all success in the extremely important tasks which lie ahead, and particularly in his main task of getting the right kind of quality, whether in the air or on the ground, during the next year or two, because I believe the success of the Royal Air Force, and, therefore, to a great extent the safety of our country, depends in the future as in the past upon the quality of the men who are in the Service.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I approach this subject as a soldier, although as one who has had only about one-third of my hon. Friend's service and approximately one-half of rank. Like him, I flew about a good deal during the war but, unlike him, I did not keep one eye on the aircraft and one on my kit. Mostly I was flying in Austers just above tree-top level, and I kept both eyes on the pilot and both hands engaged in seeing that my parachute straps were all right, although a parachute would not have been any use to me anyway. This, of course, was on the rare occasions when the pilot did not thrust a map into my hand and ask me to find out where on earth we were.

We have not stressed nearly enough in this debate the new strategical concept in the movement of forces which must flow from the Monte Bello experience and the experience of the atomic bombs exploded at Bikini and elsewhere. The first thing which happens when an atom bomb is dropped in or over water is the creation of an enormous radioactive waterspout which, when it falls, produces a radio-active area all round. Any ship in that area becomes radioactive, not temporarily but for some considerable time. Until it has been cleared, the whole area becomes radioactive, as Bikini and Monte Bello are today. It would appear that any idea of moving large forces of troops in the normal way by ship during a war started by the dropping of atomic bombs—a possibility which we must envisage—is completely out.

If we had to move troops, it would be necessary to do so by air. Unless we can move them by air we may not be able to move them at all. I feel that we must therefore try to create a strategic reserve of aircraft on different lines from those so far suggested. The argument as to whether B.O.A.C. or independent airline aircraft should be used is irrelevant to the strategic movement of troops and stores and equipment which is the sort of thing we must envisage.

Unless, when we move troops from one place to another, we can provide them with stores and weapons and ammunition from bases already established at their point of arrival, these stores must be conveyed with them. We can imagine many situations where this must happen. If we were fighting on the mainland of Europe and the Channel ports had been contaminated by the dropping of atomic bombs, the only way we could reinforce our troops on that Continental bridgehead would be by flying in men, stores and equipment.

It is here that the analogy between a merchant marine of the air and a merchant marine of the sea is totally false. The merchant marine of the sea consists of fairly big ships in which lots of men can be carried. They have capacious holds and derricks on their decks, and large chunks of equipment can be put into them. The difference in design between one ship and another is not very important. They are unloaded at the ports and off they go.

One of the last jobs I did before leaving the Army was to help to produce a series of loading tables for different types of aircraft based on trials and experiments at Netheravon. One learnt straight away that a different air loading table is needed for every piece of equipment and every type of aircraft. It is not just a question of stuffing an anti-tank gun or a body of troops into an aircraft. Details of the breakdown of pieces of mechanism have to be prepared and provision made inside the aircraft for ring bolts, and stancheons to secure them. This must be done not only for each different aircraft, but for every piece of equipment to be conveyed by air, and it is an enormously complicated performance.

It is not a question of something which can be done overnight, or by suddenly bringing into use a mercantile marine of the air which has been operating on civilian jobs, and saying, "Let us put some troops and guns into these aircraft and send them away." That is why I think that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member opposite were wrong when they envisaged the use of civilian aircraft for moving troops.

Mr. Beswick

Would my hon. Friend suggest that ships, having been loaded at Southampton, could steam into Central Europe and discharge their loads?

Mr. Fienburgh

My hon. Friend's interjection must have been amusing because some hon. Members opposite laughed. I may be slow but I did not get the substance of the point put by my hon. Friend. Perhaps he will explain it further.

Mr. Beswick

My hon. Friend appears to be arguing that there is difficulty in getting great loads into aircraft and that they cannot be used for getting troops and equipment quickly into a European theatre. That is what I understood him to say. I am now asking him what is his alternative. He said that ships were useful to transport men and equipment, but how are we to get ships into the centre of Europe?

Mr. Fienburgh

I have not the faintest desire to put ships into the centre of Europe. I was saying that we must have a type of aircraft in sufficient numbers for which we have prepared loading tables and about which we know the details of loading; and that if we try to bring into operation various different types of aircraft used for civilian operations we should find that at the crucial time we could not use them. But if we built up a strategic reserve of aircraft designed for the movement of troops and equipment, and which could be used during peace-time for trooping, they would be available at once, whereas B.O.A.C. or independent airline aircraft would not be usable for a considerable time. Therefore, although the intervention from my hon. Friend may have been diverting, I cannot feel that it added greatly to the point I was making.

Group Captain Wilcock

I hope my hon. Friend has not forgotten that exactly what he is saying could not be done was done in the Berlin airlift, when all types of equipment were moved successfully and without any difficulty.

Mr. Fienburgh

Certain stores were moved and certain bodies of people. But anti-tank guns, bren gun carriers and lorries were not moved. However, these items were moved during strategic airlifts during the war and we must be prepared to move them again. Again I say that details for the break-down of equipment must be prepared.

Mr. Wigg

May I interrupt my hon. Friend? [HON. MEMBERS: "A party piece."] So far this has proceeded on non-party lines. Surely my hon. Friend will realise that it is because I appreciate the point he is making that I asked the Under-Secretary to undertake a study of the major operations which took place in the period between the two wars? I mentioned Chanak, because we were not operating from fully equipped ports to fully equipped ports. There were no fully equipped ports in the Dardanelles, although men and stores left this country in the normal way.

Mr. Fienburgh

I agree. I was going on to say that the part of his speech where my hon. Friend suggested investigation along those lines, and further suggested the creation of a strategic reserve, was the main substance of his speech, and the part which I should like to see carried into operation.

8.20 p.m.

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

I do not want to enter into the combined attack upon the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh). He has received a left hook and a right hook, and I do not want to give him a punch from this side. I think civil transport aircraft could be used for carrying troops armed with light automatic weapons, although I fully understood his point that for heavy equipment, anti-aircraft guns and perhaps heavy anti-tank weapons, special facilities are needed in the transporting aircraft. I think it was last year that I made a speech on the point that we ought to stockpile now double doors and winches, and arrange in these civilian designs for the possibility of adding tiedown points to overcome the difficulty to which the hon. Member referred.

This has been a most useful debate, started by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I am only sorry that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) —and I have had to say this once before —rather bedevilled the occasion by trying to bring in politics and trying to play off one side of the aviation industry and the operators against the other. But I think that we should bury the hatchet and agree that we do not desire to abuse the Corporations or the private enterprise people. We want to see both flourish.

Mr. Beswick

In agreeing to bury the hatchet, shall we also agree that what the hon. Member calls "politics" is usually something about which he does not agree?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is not altogether fair in that sense. No one on this side of the House has ever started a smear campaign against the Corporations. We all have the very highest regard for them.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

What about the Coal Board?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am talking about civil aviation. Most of us travel by B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. and we always praise their success.

As I am going to detain the House only five minutes, I do not want to repeat the many valid points made. I want to raise one or two new ones. Transport Command must remain the nucleus of the air transport aspect. Secondly, we have the Corporations, which may perform some useful functions with their reserve of aircraft. But I do not think that anyone would consider it efficient to tie down large numbers of reserve aircraft in the Corporations against the possibility of their being required for military transport operations. I should have thought that that would be much better undertaken by the more flexible and much smaller charter firms who operate a few aircraft, and who can undertake this work, as has been so well described by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield).

The fact which emerges, as has been mentioned again and again, is that there are 30,000 people in the pipeline. In our defence debate it was said that we must have a strategic reserve, but many hon. Members asked where we were to get the men from? Could we not pull some of them away from the 30,000 who are in the pipeline? If we could speed up the transport of our troops to the various theatres where they are employed we could perhaps cut that 30,000 to 5,000. That would be a saving of 25,000 towards the strategic reserve.

I want to discuss the question of helicopters. I believe most sincerely that the helicopter is almost the ideal cold war aircraft. In a cold war or in a perimeter war we have to get in and out of the most awkward places. The helicopter is almost ideally suited for that purpose. It is suggested that helicopters are very expensive. All aircraft are expensive, but we could get 20 helicopters for £1 million. I believe that that £1 million would be well spent. As an example, the S.55 carries 12 armed men. In our Colonial Territories there may be many occasions in the next few years when the timely arrival of 12 armed men with automatic weapons could quell trouble which might spread far more quickly if the men were not there.

Not only can helicopters carry 12 armed men, but there are other designs coming along. The hon. Member for Uxbridge mentioned the B.E.A. designs. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence will say something about them. Can not he consider developing them for military use? Then there is the successor to the S.55, the S.56, which carries 30 armed men at a speed of 150 miles an hour.

It is strange to look back and to realise how our thought has changed on this question of load and speed. The D.C.3 took 30 armed men and travelled at approximately 150 miles an hour. We found that they were most useful; there are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, still in use in various parts of the world. If we could get a helicopter of that sort of size, whether it be to the B.E.A. specification or of Anglo-U.S. design, we should have a transport aircraft which would stand us in very good stead and give exactly the mobility which everyone desires to see given to our Forces if we are to carry out our Imperial commitments.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) stressed an important point when he referred to the need for reducing the number of Service men who are at a given moment in the pipeline. He quoted the figure of 30,000 which the Secretary of State for War mentioned recently. That is one of the reasons we should ask the Government to consider the speeches made from all parts of the House, and especially those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick).

I hope to speak again later, so I do not propose to take much time now. However, I should like to know what the Government intend to do about the flying boats. They are a most important asset if Properly used. Also, I should like to quote a figure which I read somewhere recently. It was said that three large modern troop-carrying aircraft with 100 seats cost a total of about £600,000, and they could carry in one year as many men as two troopships, which cost a total of £9 million. Of course, the depreciation is different; but even allowing for that there is not only a financial saving but a real saving in productive manpower. Would not this reduce the 30,000 men in the pipeline in peace-time? And in war-time would it not go some way towards meeting the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) about the effect of an atomic explosion in a harbour.

I welcome the decision of the Government to place an order for 20 Blackburn freighters. I gather that their name is to be Beverley, no doubt to encourage support from the Beaverbrook Press in general and the "Evening Standard" in particular. The decision is welcome on that account, but it is doubly welcome when we are told that the aircraft are to be operated by the Royal Air Force Transport Command.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge quoted from the Air League memorandum. I thought that the paragraph which says that encouragement should be given to the independent operators who represent the only reserve of air transport available in time of war was misleading. I hope that the Air League will cast aside any bias that they may have against State enterprise. On the face of it it looks as if this document has such a bias. After all, the Air League has in the past served aviation very well indeed. I hope it will continue to do so, and that it will do so impartially. I ask the Government to consider carefully the suggestions that have been made by my hon. Friends, and particularly those of the hon. Members for Dudley and Uxbridge.

8.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)

We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for raising this matter. He is extraordinarily lucky in the draw, and he seems to get something right every time, and he is also able to speak with Air Force experience. I am glad to hear that he kept his kit, and I hope he can say the same for the Air Force which he served.

The case which he put was very well presented, and he brought out all the main points, but he is really preaching to the converted. If we look at what has been happening in trooping, in 1950–51, there were 400,000 passenger miles flown, and in 1952–53, four million, which shows an increase of 10 times over those years. In 1951–52, 22½ per cent. of our trooping was carried out by air, and, in 1952–53, exclusive of North-West Europe, 50 per cent. of all trooping was carried out by air.

We can say that there has been a very considerable advance, and not only that, but the air trooping record of safety has been a very good one. Since air trooping contracts were first let three years ago, 6,600,000 passenger miles have been flown, and there has been only one fatal accident, and that was the very regrettable accident to a York aircraft in the Atlantic, about which certain exchanges took place a few moments ago. I do not think I will comment on what the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) said. I would only advise him to read the report, and meditate upon what he said.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has asked me to make an announcement about this matter, which I will read to the House.

"My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, who has been consulted, has fully considered the airworthiness and operational characteristics of the York against its background of some 10 years of successful operations, during which many thousands of hours have been flown, including 147,000 revenue hours by B.O.A.C. alone between 1947 and 1952. He has also had the advice of the Air Registration Board and the Air Safety Board on the use of this type of aircraft across the North Atlantic. From this experience and advice, he has concluded that there is no reason why these aircraft should not be operated on this route under the flight planning conditions to which the trooping operations are subject. He has, however, decided that a public inquiry should be made into this accident. In view of this decision, the Government have decided to suspend North Atlantic trooping operations with this type of aircraft in the meantime. Other arrangements will be made for the movement of troops and their families for the time being."

It certainly is to our strategic interest to stimulate as much as we can civil air transport of all kinds, including commercial air transport, and, as well, to build up Transport Command as far as we are able. It is to our strategic advantage to use air trooping wherever we can and whenever it is reasonably economic, and it is so because by these methods we shall increase our mobility of strategic deployment, we shall increase our flexibility for rapid movement in the cold war and our reserves for movement in the case of a possible hot war.

As an illustration of the flexibility which this method can confer, hon. Members will remember that, in October and November, 1951, 6,000 men were flown out from this country to the Middle East, and 10,000 men were moved within the Middle East theatre in a short space of time, and, only the other day, we had the very quick move of a battalion to Kenya. In these circumstances, there is a role for Transport Command, for the Corporations and for the civil operators, and they all have their part to play.

I want to say a word or two about Transport Command, and I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) is not in his place, because I want to comment on what he said. The role of Transport Command is the rapid deployment of troops in an emergency; that is the first thing. The second is movement of ground crews and equipment for an emergency deployment. The third one is the movement of urgent spares, and the last, and a very important one, is the tactical role of the dropping of troops and equipment and the training of the Parachute Brigade for the Territorial Airborne Division.

Hon. Members will notice that all these are operational or emergency roles, and though a certain amount of air trooping is done by Transport Command, the operational role must come first, and they must be trained to carry it out. At present, Transport Command is equipped with Hastings and Valettas which are designed to carry out all the roles about which I have been speaking.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, although he did not expand the point, there is a certain amount of new thought going forward. Instead of having one type, we are contemplating having two different types of aircraft in Transport Command. My hon. Friend mentioned the ordering of the prototype of the Vickers 1000 which is a fast long-range jet transport based on the Valiant bomber, which will be capable of carrying 120 men and their equipment. When we get it, that aircraft will revolutionise air transport in the Services, but it is entirely unsuitable for the tactical role. We cannot drop men or equipment from a fast jet aircraft, and that is the reason why we have given the order for the Beverley.

The Beverley is capable of carrying 20 tons over 1,100 nautical miles, and, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) pointed out, in addition to carrying troops, it can also carry heavy equipment, that is to say, one could get a charabanc inside it, though not a tank. However, the equipment which it is capable of carrying would be sufficient for many types of operation.

The second type of aircraft will be mainly for the operational role and is not designed for the steady run of air trooping all the time. Neither, of course, is Transport Command as large as we should like it to be. Nor is Fighter Command, Bomber Command or Coastal Command, and nor are many of the other things we should like to have. But we have got to put first things first and try to get things in their proper proportion. We think that the present size of Transport Command is the right size in relation to the size of the other Commands. That is all I want to say about Transport Command.

I now turn to the task of civil aviation in this matter. Civil aviation will carry out the main task in trooping, and will include both the Corporation and the charter companies, and will, incidentally, have a role to play in the hot war should it come. It will be a valuable reserve for us, and plans have already been worked out in detail for the employment of all civil aircraft should war come. That, of course, was done a long time ago, and arrangements have been made so that the personnel and the aircraft can be militarised if and when necessary.

From a defence point of view, the larger our civil aviation industry the better. I think we can all agree on that for the reasons I have already given. The question has been raised from both sides of the House about what help we can give in expanding our civil aircraft industry, particularly from the point of view of the charter companies. We are, of course, using them very much more than we were, and everyone knows that. We use air trooping wherever it is economic.

Conditions which vary very markedly in different theatres determine whether air trooping is economic or not. It is not economic for Germany, Austria and Trieste. It is not economic for Germany owing to the short sea crossing. One saves practically no time, and the cost of flying is about 80 per cent. more than sea and land transport. It is not economic for Trieste and Austria because there are no suitable airfields there sufficiently near to where our troops are garrisoned. It is not at the present time suitable for the Far East simply because we have not available for that work the most modern types of aircraft.

We hope that it will be possible, but at the moment, owing to the type of aircraft available and because of the staging difficulties, it is not economic to use air transport for the Far East. We are very conscious indeed of the manpower locked up in the ships, but it simply is not "on" at the moment, though we hope that it will be. But air trooping is in general use elsewhere. It is used as to 80 per cent, in trooping to the Middle East. It is not usual to disclose the actual prices of contracts but the order of figures given by the hon. Member for Dudley was on the whole right.

Mr. Beswick

Are not those figures based on the actual cost of transporting a person from A to B without taking into account incidental economies and wider advantages?

Mr. Birch

I think those points are taken into account.

We were asked whether one could have longer contracts. I think that longer contracts are desirable, but when one starts talking about 10 years one gets into certain difficulties. I do not know whether any hon. Member would like to predict how our Forces will be deployed 10 years hence. I certainly should not like to do it. The hon. Member for Dudley asked whether a trooping season could be established, but I think that he answered his own question. When we have men coming into and going out of the Forces every fortnight, we must have trooping all the year round. It would be very nice if we could have a trooping season. When men entered the Forces for five or seven years that was easy enough, but one cannot have that in present circumstances.

Mr. Wigg

I quite agree that with the movement of National Service men one must have trooping all the year round, but as air trooping develops and one has the movement of whole units, that could be dealt with in a trooping season.

Mr. Birch

Unit trooping is not normally done by air. [An HON. MEMBER: "It will be."] I should like to say a few words on the size of the military task. It is possible to exaggerate the number of aircraft that will be required. I am advised, for example, that it is estimated that a dozen Britannias, plus operating reserves, could cover all the personnel movement to the Canal Zone and Far East on the present scale. That number of aircraft with their speed and performance would be sufficient to do all the trooping that is at present going on between the Far East and the Middle East.

The subject of troopships naturally comes up in this context. It has been said that over the years it is probable that our troopship fleet will decline, but it is at present in full use and it is certainly suitable for certain tasks in the cold war. If one has no troopships, what happens when one wants to land somewhere where there are no suitable airfields? If there were a hot war there would also be the gap to be bridged before one had the merchant shipping requisitioned, and in bridging that gap a troopship fleet would be valuable indeed.

On the question of unit moves, which are only about 7 per cent. of the total moves, these are most suitably carried out in troop ships, because it is not much good if the troops arrive at their destination miles ahead of their equipment, which has got to go by sea. Therefore, on the whole it is more convenient to move units by sea. No time would be saved if units were moved by air.

I do not want to insist on the strategic argument, but let us suppose we did away with all troop ships and carried out all trooping, including unit moves, by air. This matter has been gone into rather carefully and it has been calculated that the saving in manpower in all three Services would amount to only 6,600 men. Out of a total of over 850,000 in the Forces, that is not a very large number. I am told that those are the correct figures.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Obviously we do not want to go into the mathematics at the moment, but would my hon. Friend place in the Library details of how that figure is arrived at? It seems rather surprising.

Mr. Birch

I cannot promise to do so, because I am not sure whether security considerations are involved. If security considerations are not involved—I expect they are—I will see what I can do.

On the question of a strategic reserve, we here all know that we have not got such a reserve. We want one, and most people would like it to be based in this country. The trouble is to find the men for that reserve. They are deployed all over the world and the question is how to get them back again. The hon. Member for Islington, North mentioned one of the difficulties involved in moving people from place to place by air at a moment's notice. The difficulty is to move the heavy equipment. Unless we have duplicate dumps of stores and heavy equipment all over the world, which would be expensive, it is impossible to achieve complete mobility merely by flying men about without their equipment. I think the hon. Member made a perfectly good point.

Many hon. Members have raised the question of the Princess flying boat. This subject was very fully debated in the House on 29th October, 1952, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply answered the questions which were then raised. I really have no fresh news to give the House on the subject.

Mr. Beswick

Is the Parliamentary Secretary suggesting that the specific questions I asked in that debate were answered?

Mr. Birch

I am suggesting that all the information that the hon. Gentleman is likely to get was furnished then. As I have said, the Government are very anxious that the civil aircraft industry in this country should expand, and they will certainly do what they can to help. There are two examinations going on in the Service at the present time—short-term and long-term. The short-term examination is to ascertain whether we could extend air trooping to the Far East by the use of aircraft such as Stratocruisers and Constellations which have not so far been used upon that route. The long-term inquiry covers questions such as the length of contracts and so on.

I should like to make this important point. If we are going to have a great merchant navy of the air it must be based upon commercial operations. Help is needed from the defence point of view, but our help is not likely to be much more than marginal; we cannot supply a sufficient volume of traffic to build up a great merchant navy of the air. It is important, however, that planning for the development of the civil aircraft industry and defence planning should march hand in hand. We are doing our best to see that that happens, and we shall continue to do so.

We are all very grateful to the hon. Member for Dudley for raising this subject. I have done my best to answer the questions that have been raised, and I hope that he will be good enough now to withdraw his Amendment so that the debate can go on.

Mr. Beswick

The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the question of the War Office and the Air Ministry assisting with the prototype of the helicopter.

Mr. Birch

Research and development are continuing. It is important to keep the civil and military development marching in step, but from the military point of view the helicopter is very expensive and it is a very vulnerable machine except when one has complete air superiority. A certain balance is required when we are talking about that machine.

Mr. Wigg

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

The Service Estimates debates this year are necessarily rather depressing because they are the formal obsequies of the defence programme, but of all three Estimates these Air Estimates are the most depressing. In the Army Estimates, which we were considering the other day, the cut in the defence programme was really a cut in equipment for the reserve divisions. National Service was originated in order to provide us with a reserve Army. Today, in considerable measure, it is to be a reserve Army of men without equipment.

But when we come to these Air Estimates the cut is not merely upon the Reserve—indeed, from what the Under-Secretary tells us the prospect of a Reserve seems to have almost disappeared —but also on the operational squadrons. Let us analyse what that means. Paragraph 4 of the Memorandum says: The increase in expenditure on aircraft would have been greater if the Government had not decided, as part of its review of the £4,700 million programme announced by the previous Government two years ago, to concentrate on the production of the most advanced types of aircraft and equipment for the Royal Air Force and to reduce purchases of the less advanced. This decision naturally slows down the rate of expansion of the force, but the expansion will still be considerable. Can we be given any indication of how much this cut amounts to? It is a very difficult figure to work out, but is it, in round figures, in the neighbourhood of £300 million? If so, it is a very formidable decrease on the force planned by the late Government, by which we hoped to contribute to our own defence and that of Europe. Having had to accept something very much smaller than we had hoped for the question is what we can do without, or, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, what are the first things that should be put first. With regard to our operational aircraft the Under-Secretary said that we had been cutting orders for current types.

Every aircraft is, in a measure, an obsolescent aircraft from the day it reaches the squadron. That is the nature of the procedure. By the time it reaches the squadron it is already out of date compared with the aircraft which is still on the drawing board. A system of cutting down on current types is a system of jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never jam today, because the current type is jam today. This might be a reasonable policy if we were in a position to say, as we were at periods between the wars, "No major war for 10 years"; or even if we were in a position to say, "No major war for five years." Clearly, we are not in that happy position and, therefore, a cut in current types is serious.

Remember that this is not simply a postponement of a programme. This is a cut in the total programme, and if a cut in current types is necessary today, it will be necessary next year and the year after. If the total is still to be kept down, it will always be a question of our not getting the current types. They are worked out on the drawing board, and then, when they become current, that is when we cease to have them. That is what is happening now. Can the Under-Secretary tell us when it will cease to happen?

Mr. Ward

May I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of the tremendous difference between a straight-wing fighter and a swept-wing fighter? That has made all the difference.

Mr. Paget

But there will be these tremendous differences continuously. That has been the history of aircraft since the Gloster Gladiator. Each new type has been tremendously different and each new type, by the time it is current, is obsolescent, relative to the drawing board. I do not think there is any very sound reason for imagining that we have reached finality in aircraft design—indeed the contrary is more likely, and the advance aircraft design is likely to be faster than that which we have experienced. The difference in the cost of the alterations which have occurred from one type to another has been an accelerated process — most alarmingly accelerated.

I feel that we ought not to adopt as our policy that of cutting down on current types. It seems to me that it would be far better to take the flow of production available for some modern types and do without others. This is where I differ from the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), to whose speeches on this subject I always listen with immense interest. I differ, certainly not because I challenge his faith in the importance of a strategic bomber force as a deterrent.

I could not agree with him more on that. Indeed, I remember having considerable differences with the present Secretary of State for War about a pamphlet which he wrote in which he said that the atomic bomb was no use in the cold war. I remember writing an answer saying that in fact it was the only weapon that had been of any use in the cold war: it was why it was still cold. I still think that is so. What the bomber has really become today is the instrument that delivers the atomic bomb, which is the vital deterrent.

The argument is not whether there should be a strategic bombing force, but where it should be and who should produce it. It seems to me that if we are to survive we have to regard the Atlantic area as a defensive unit. The position of our strategic bomber force is at the rear, and in that Atlantic strategic area the rear is America; whereas the position for our lighter bombers and fighters is at the front, and that is Britain. I should have thought that, as this Government are not prepared to perform the defence programme they undertook—I deplore it, but none the less we have got to accept it—we have to choose what we shall do without; and what we have to do without is a heavy bomber force.

As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick— again, I entirely agree with him—we have a "know-how" in this variety of air war which leads the world, but I do not see why that "know-how" should not be made available to our allies. I believe that there should be far greater co-operation between the American and the British Air Forces; that it should be co-operation between a forward force and a rearward force; that it should be the basis of that co-operation that we should attach Royal Air Force officers to their bomber squadrons, and that they should attach American flying officers to all our fighter and lighter bomber squadrons. In that way we should have a direct and constant interchange of personnel, which, I think, is the only way in which we shall achieve a real understanding of each other's methods.

In particular, with regard to manufacture there should be a complete exchange of "know-how." I know that this suggestion will be extremely repulsive to the aircraft manufacturers—and not for reasons which I would say were disreputable at all. It would be much resented by an aircraft industry which has achieved a lead in design, and which has done very good service to this country. None the less, I believe that the defensive requirements of the Atlantic area are such that that reluctance should be overcome, and that complete exchange should take place. That, I believe, would be a far better economy; a safer economy, using a comparative, because if we are cutting our programme, as we are, we are certainly in no position to make ourselves safe. Having to accept limitations somewhere, I would much rather accept a limitation in something which is immediately available across the Atlantic than in current types which are not available anywhere at present; for we are desperately short of serviceable planes.

So much, then, for the reductions in the immediate fighting Forces. But now we come to the question of reserves, and it is on the question of reserves that I have many questions to address to the Under-Secretary of State. He has told us that the intake of aircrew is to be less. That means, I suppose, that the passing of aircrew into the Reserve also becomes less. He tells us that of the National Service men only a few will be taken for pilot training and none for other aircrew duties.

Basic training is going. The Rhodesian Air School is going. Refresher training is going. Where are the air-minded training personnel which we had hoped to create, and which would be the foundation of an Air Force which would develop? They seem to be disappearing. I do not know the cost of producing a pilot. Is it much less than £20,000? Surely it is frightfully wasteful, as a pilot is passed out—at 20 or 22 years of age in the case of National Service men—to deny him the refresher training which would keep the £20,000 investment in that man in being. Is not that a very false economy?

Mr. Ward

I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstood me. I did not say that we were going to deny that man refresher training. I said, if I can remember the words, that it was inevitable that refresher training on operational jet aircraft must take place on Royal Air Force aerodromes, because of the runways, and so on.

Mr. Paget

I am most grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, but may we have an assurance that pilots. whether they are National Service or short-engagement pilots, will have sufficient flying to keep their hand in on the sort of aircraft they will be wanted for in war?

Mr. Ward

We are hoping that most of the National Service pilots coming out at the end of the two years' statutory time time will go to the Auxiliary Air Force. Others and those coming out of short Regular—four and eight-year—engagements will have their training kept refreshed so long as they are within the age limits under R.A.F. arrangements.

Mr. Paget

I am most grateful for that explanation, because I think the Under-Secretary will agree that his original words were ambiguous. I am very glad to have had the opportunity of clearing that point up, because I feel that it is vitally important that there should be some pool of people capable of flying fighting planes standing in reserve behind the Air Force if a war is to come. I regret very much that economies should have weighed so heavily on that reserve of flying men of all sorts.

The other question to which I feel we need a better answer was the question put by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Defence, namely, what value do we get from the two years' National Service? The only answer was "Great value." Well, that is qualitative but not descriptive, and I should like to have a little more explanation about what that means. The original purpose of National Service was to create a reserve. It was not designed to man-up our standing Army or our Regular Air Force; it was designed to produce a reserve. Gradually, as commitments turned out to be much larger than we had expected, it became necessary in order to maintain the Forces.

Now with the cut of equipment, even in the Army, the sole purpose of National Service has become, in a good many instances, to man-up the standing Army, because there is no equipment for the reserves which are being produced. So far as the Air Force is concerned, there is really no pretence that the National Service man becomes a reservist at all. What do the men in the various trades do when their two years are up? Where does the electrician go for his drills? How does the fortnight's camp, or 15 days' training, work out? Is there really any practical use as reserves of the men after they come out of National Service?

If one recognises that, while a certain facade of keeping them in the Reserve is there, they are not really being used as a reserve at all, surely one must then recognise that if their purpose has become, as it has become, exclusively to man-up the standing Air Force, it is a fantastically extravagant way in which to do it. To take men whom we are only going to have for two years and put them into trades in which they are spending half their time in training, and then let them pass out of the sphere where it will be of no further use to them is really quite a ludicrous method of maintaining a standing Force.

Mr. Shackleton

My hon. and learned Friend must know that there is a large number of trades not open to airmen in the Air Force and that for the most part these men go into trades in which there is not a long period of training. They can be suitably employed, because I have seen them suitably employed, while they are in the Reserve.

Mr. Paget

There may be instances of that sort, but this is becoming a smaller force from the operational point of view. These men are now being excluded from aircrew, and I do not know—perhaps we shall hear in the reply—what they do in the way of training when they come out of the Air Force. What arrangements exist, for instance, for the training of the various members of the Royal Air Force who are demobilised to Northampton, for instance?

We have really to think again about this problem to find whether there is not some other method. For instance, is it still inadvisable to have for the Royal Air Force a ballot of those who express a preference to serve for three years instead of two. Certainly a lesser number for a longer period would be far more valuable to the Air Force and far more economical from the point of view of the country.

Mr. Fernyhough

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that that method was very surreptitiously tried until recently. When men went for their medical and said that they wanted to go into the R.A.F. they were told that they could only get in to certain trades provided that they signed on for three years, and many men believed that if they signed on for three years they would be taught a trade, but when they got there, they found that they could only do the lower menial tasks.

Mr. Ward

I cannot allow that to go unchallenged. There are no false pretences such as the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) suggests, and no pressure whatever is put on anybody to take a three- or four-year engagement. It is simply that more people want to join the Royal Air Force than we can accept on a two-year engagement, and it is obvious that we must point out to them that we cannot accept them unless they join for a longer period. It is an advantage to them to join the Royal Air Force for a longer time, for they will then have a wider choice of trades; it is impossible to train men for some trades in two years. Another advantage for men who join for a longer period is that they get the pay, leave and other advantages which Regulars get. A longer period of service has many attractions for a man.

Mr. Paget

I agree with everything that the Under-Secretary has said, but the blue uniform, the reputation of the Royal Air Force and its glamour provide considerable attractions; and if we extended the period of National Service in the Royal Air Force to three years—in other words, a man who wished to do his National Service in the Royal Air Force would do an extra year's service—would there not be a substantial chance that the Royal Air Force would still get as many men as it needed? It must be remembered that the Royal Air Force could do with far fewer men proportionately if it could have them for three years than it needs if the period is only two years. Is that worth considering?

Last year I raised the subject of the Jamaicans, who did very good service during the war. There is heavy unemployment in Jamaica, and a great many Jamaicans are most anxious to join the R.A.F. Has recruitment for the R.A.F. been made available to Jamaicans and other West Indian populations where insufficient employment exists? Might not there be in such places a source of men to undertake long-term engagements?

Have Italians been considered? They have proved themselves to be extraordinarily good mechanics. The Italian Government are complaining of the limitations upon emigration and the obtaining of work abroad. I should have thought that many Italians could have been obtained for long-term engagements if that were recognised. I should also have thought that a great many Italians would have been far more effective under British command, where their knowledge and mechanical skill and ability would be given scope, than in units in their own country.

Are there not means whereby we could get away from the frightfully uneconomic period of two years' National Service in the Royal Air Force and put it on a longer-term basis, which is so much more appropriate for its purpose, with the idea of reserves, except very nominally, being ignored? Is not that the way to do it? After all, we now have only about three-quarters of the financial cloth which we anticipated last year, and we must devise a new cut for our coat if we are to make the best use of the reduced amount available for defence. Surely these new ideas must be explored. We must try to find an economic way of obtaining the best defence which is available, realising that it is a great deal less than we hoped for a year ago.

9.20 p.m.

Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)

We have listened with great interest to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). His speech has covered a very wide field. He suggested, I imagine after much thought, that the Royal Air Force might accept Italians. The miners in the coal industry in this country would not have them, and I can see many other reasons why they would not be acceptable to the Royal Air Force. With great respect to them, they were not too good in the last war, and if we are going to recruit men into the Royal Air Force we want men who can do the job properly.

Mr. Paget rose——

Air Commodore Harvey

May I finish my sentence? I imagine that we must only have British subjects serving in any British Force.

Mr. Paget

In point of fact, the last point is not so. We have now provided for foreigners to serve in our Forces. Secondly, I do not think that the competition which the miners fear would apply in National Service, and, lastly, I was not suggesting that the Italians should serve as aircrew.

Air Commodore Harvey

Earlier in his speech the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that we should do away with our heavy bomber force. I imagine he was referring to medium bombers. They are "heavies," but they are referred to by the Government as medium. That would be a very wrong policy. It might as well have been argued 40 years ago that Britain could do without her Grand Fleet. If Britain is to play her part in any future war, which we pray will not happen, we have got to have our own bomber Forces so that we can have a say in the policy and direction of the war and in the terms of peace. I am quite sure that if we followed out the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion we would soon be not only a second-rate but a third-rate Power.

There is now complete interchange of information with the United States. The Canberra bomber is being made in that country, but if we are going to have an interchange of information let it be a two-way traffic. In my experience in the last twelve years it has been mainly a one-way traffic—to the United States. No one likes the Americans as individuals more than I do. Unlike some hon. Members in this House, I have a great admiration for them, but they must change their mind and be a little more consistent in their policy. They must see the British point of view even to the extent of the acceptance of our certificates of air worthiness.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State delivered his speech with his customary efficiency, but I was disappointed with the meat in his speech. I have no doubt he had every intention of telling the House what he thought they should know, but I can imagine the Air Council and his advisers saying to him, "You cannot say that for security reasons," and they won the day, as has always happened in this House in the last eight years. I think it is a great pity, because it is well known exactly what the British Forces consist of. Any one driving round our airfields in a car can see radar at work and note the aircraft on the ground. I have no doubt Soviet Russia knows pretty well what we have got and the types of aircraft we are using.

If my hon. Friend wants to carry the House of Commons and the British people with him in obtaining £500 million or £600 million for the Royal Air Force, then he will have to tell them more than he has told us today. After all, the people are paying for it and they are concerned about the defence of this small Island with its 50 million people. We have not been told anything very reassuring about our Forces. I am not blaming my hon. Friend for that, because he inherited this legacy from the party opposite.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

And we inherited it from before that.

Air Commodore Harvey

Aeroplanes are not built over night, as everyone knows. The time between appearing on the drawing board and going into use is from five and six years. An air force has to be planned to reach its peak at a certain date, and that date must be accepted.

I am concerned about production. Mention was made of Sabres coming into the Royal Air Force. I remember two years ago last December when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) was in the Ministry, it was stated that Sir John Slessor was going to America to negotiate for Sabres for the British Air Force. We still have not got them. If we are to have inter-changes between this country and America, let it be on those sort of decisions. After all, we in Britain are in the front line——

Mr. A. Henderson

I think this is a matter on which the Under-Secretary of State should correct the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I understood him to say this afternoon that some Sabre squadrons have already been formed. They are part of the several hundreds of Sabres under discussion in 1949 and 1950. They have already arrived.

Mr. Ward

What I said was that we are forming two squadrons of Sabres in Fighter Command this year; these and the Sabres going to the Second Allied Tactical Air Force we have from America and Canada.

Air Commodore Harvey

It would seem that we have not any squadrons ready. By the time they are operationally ready and firing their guns it will be towards the end of the year, which is even more alarming.

We look to the Royal Air Force now as our front line defence. Today we read in the evening papers of a British aircraft shot down in the vicinity of Berlin. Two days ago an American aircraft was shot down by a Russian aircraft. I should have thought that these benches would have been packed tonight with hon. Members concerned about the defence of Britain, because there is no other way of defending Britain except by the Royal Air Force.

Not enough has been said today about how we are to defend this Island. We have heard a certain amount about Fighter Command but not nearly enough. I agree that the bomber is a deterrent, but if a potential enemy declared war on Britain and the Western Allies we should not be told through diplomatic channels. We should not receive a little note that they proposed to bomb London. The first thing that would happen would be enemy jet bombers, four-engine bombers, not coming direct across Denmark but round the north of Norway and down through Scotland bombing the cities of Britain, and in six hours Britain could be flattened. Let us make no mistake about that.

Is sufficient money being spent? Have we the latest fighters? Could we have manned the fighters sent to Brazil and those going to Egypt? Have we the men to man the aircraft when they come along? Frankly I say we have not. This Government have to face up to that problem and tackle it without a moment's delay. The people of Britain have a right to know exactly how they stand. Air Marshal Sir Basil Embery has done a tremendous job in Fighter Command in building up morale. No one could have done a better job, but he must be given the equipment and the men.

During the last war we shot down only 6 per cent. or 10 per cent. of the enemy bombers which reached Britain. There will be no warning next time. The number of bombers which must be destroyed will have to be 80 or 90 per cent. and that must be done before they reach the shores of Britain.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

What about the rockets?

Air Commodore Harvey

I will come to them in a moment. The trouble in Fighter Command is that they have not the technicians or the air radar operators. My hon. Friend referred to it this afternoon and was candid with the House. But no indication was given about how we should get these men. I am deputy-chairman of a firm which makes the Victor bomber, and I know the difficulty of getting men in the aircraft industry. A senior aircraftman in the Royal Air Force is paid £3 17s. a week. A corporal technician, who is a senior man, receives £5 8s. 6d. He gets another £2 marriage allowance, but if he is a married man he has the inconvenience of moving home and the education of his children disrupted.

Under present conditions, my hon. Friend will never get these technicians. The sooner that is realised by him and his noble Friend the better. They must raise the pay of these men and give them conditions of service somewhere between those offered by the Services now and those in industry. I do not suggest that they should pay what industry pays. If a man joins one of the Services he joins because he likes the life and all that goes with it. This matter ought to be inquired into by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, or a Royal Commission should be set up to get out an early report on how to get men into the Service. Otherwise, we shall be throwing £500 million down the drain. It will be a waste of money unless we do the job properly.

We must have 100 per cent. interception and destruction of guided missiles. The job cannot be done by fighters. I am sorry that there has been a cut this year in development and research. Money spent on development and research is money well invested from every point of view. The Russians took all the key men from Peenemunde in 1945. There were at least 1,000. They had weapons which then could come over and land in London 200 miles distant. What have they got today? What have we got today? What have the Americans got? But we note that research and development is being cut.

This is not good enough. We can have all the plans we like for a Welfare State and talk about all the things that people want, but unless this Island can be defended properly nothing else really matters. People who decry the spending of money on armaments are wrong, provided that the money is well spent. We do not intend to attack anybody or create war. We want arms as a deterrent and as a defence. The only real defence against air attack is the bomber. We must work with the Americans—and we expect them to work with us—while retaining a large measure of control over our strategic bomber force.

We should bear in mind that the Russians have had a four-engined jet bomber flying since 1948, nearly 5 years ago. We know that they have a high performance twin-jet bomber. They have a fighter, the Lavochkin, which has almost the same configuration as the MIG 15. It has a speed of 630 to 650 miles an hour with a 30 degree sweptback wing. Do not let us under-rate the design or the quality of Russian aircraft. We read the other day the report about the MIG 15 which landed in Denmark. We were told in the Press report that the aircraft was of high quality and finish. We know from reports from Korea and elsewhere that it has certainly got a good performance, and probably it is not their latest aircraft.

Conditions have changed vastly since the last war. Many of the staffs and senior officers plan on the basis of what happened in the last war. Far more imagination must be shown in the approach to these matters by the staffs and the staff colleges. Far more brains must be employed. In the last war the Royal Air Force played for time to allow the Army to be built up and the great attack to be made. It will not happen again.

If we take a 20-mile circle round London and a 20-mile circle round Manchester, we find that there are more people living in the Manchester area than around London. These two areas, coupled with six seaports if attacked by atom bombs, would be in chaos, and Britain would virtually be finished. Are the Government satisfied that, with the bomber force we have, we can find the Russian targets? Do we know where they are? [Interruption.] I suppose the hon. Gentleman who speaks on these subjects would know; he probably does, but I do not know. If he does know, let him be patriotic and tell the Government.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

It is true that I have been in Soviet Russia recently, but I do not know where their bases are. I can corroborate my hon. Friend's statement. I have seen jet bombers and fighters, and the prospect thoroughly appals me, and I quite agree with the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Air Commodore Harvey

British seaports, apart from being bombed, could be mined, and supplies of food and raw materials would be cut off from Britain. There is no need for Russia to have 300 submarines to go out into the Atlantic to sink shipping, because the ships would not get to the ports.

In the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force very little realism is being shown, and the attitude is much the same as it was 25 years ago. The ships will not be attacked because they cannot get into the picture. Why are we then spending £380 million or thereabuts on the Royal Navy? We are all proud of the British Navy and its traditions. We are proud of the Army, which is an excellent weapon in a cold war, but what is it really going to do in the next war?

I suggest that many of the tasks of the British Army today could be carried out by police. For heaven's sake, let us build up the Royal Air Force and make it efficient. I do not accept the argument that things cannot be done for the Royal Air Force, either for Bomber Command or Fighter Command, because of the shortage of money. If we drive down to Portsmouth and Gosport, we see the ships cocooned there. The Vanguard is now off to Lisbon, Madeira, to show the flag, give cocktail parties. What good is it doing? We have land-based aircraft to do some of these jobs, and I hope this matter will be ventilated next week.

We want much more thinking by the Minister of Defence on integrating these services and spending the money where it is most required. A war can only be won by a balanced air arm, and we must substitute new methods for the old. It has been said that the bomber force has to be a much smaller force than we thought of before in terms of the 1,000 bomber raids. We could not afford that now, and we would not have the weapons with which to carry it out.

I believe that the bombers now being built in this country are far better than the American bombers, and I should like to see the Americans come over here and say "Cannot we get together on this and build these machines, perhaps partially here and the remainder in America, and by that means see that the best weapons are available?" Whether those machines are British or American does not matter. We cannot afford to be proud when we hear of things such as we read of in the newspapers today concerning a British aircraft being shot down.

When it comes to the question of the cost of aircraft, the cost is decreased if we are able to give an order for a reasonable number, because they come out very much cheaper than a mere handful. If only a few are being built, there is no incentive to tool up and make the jigs, but the Government have shown courage in this matter by following up what the Americans are doing by placing larger orders to get the production lines going. Then, after 12 or 18 months, if either the international situation or the policy is changed, there can be a cut and production turned on to something of later design.

That is the answer to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who said that we are always progressing. It is not necessary to go through the whole programme, because a cut can be made in the middle in order to go on with the latest developments. We should not leave it to scientists and technicians to go on improving; they will go on doing it for 10 years, if we let them, producing improvements all the time, but we will never get the aircraft into the air.

Another factor which would help to speed up production would be, instead of building two prototypes, to build no less than six. That would enable them to go to the squadrons and to get through all their Service flying very much quicker than waiting for aircraft to come off the production line.

I view with great concern the technical branch of the Royal Air Force. I know that steps are being taken to improve this branch, but unless the key men are available the whole system will break down. I am told that at the moment a small number of R.A.F. officers are being trained as engineering officers, and that the amount of money being spent at the station where they are being trained is less than what is being spent at the Civil Aeronautical College.

I hope my hon. Friend will press the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air to train not 30 or 40 men as engineering officers, but hundreds, because unless the R.A.F. has trained technicians, officers and men, in four or five years' time, the Royal Air Force will never fly.

Britain has some of the best prototypes in the world, but we are slow in getting them into production. I believe that we must put on two or three shifts now in order to get our fighters and bombers produced, and that we must pay special attention to training technicians. If it is not possible to get technicians trained in the R.A.F., then we may have seriously to consider using civil firms of aircraft manufacturers to maintain the aircraft for the R.A.F. After all, the Air Force today is becoming more static. Owing to the range and endurance of aircraft becoming greater, more aircraft will remain in this country, and we could quite well use civilians. I have no doubt at all concerning their loyalty.

I suggest that the medical standards set for technicians should be lowered. They are far too high. After all, even a man with one leg can be a good technician and a man with brains. We must have new thoughts about this matter. There is no time to waste and we cannot afford to wait year after year for the Air Estimates in order to see this plan formulated. Something must be done and done quickly.

Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)

My hon. and gallant Friend has enunciated the doctrine that in modern war the Army is really outdated and outmoded. If that is the case, how is it that in Korea, where the United Nations have overwhelming air superiority, they are yet unable to achieve a decision?

Air Commodore Harvey

The reason is that the bomber force of the Allies is not allowed to bomb the bases of the enemy; they are restricted in their operations. If we got into a total war atomic bombs would undoubtedly be used, but they have not been used in Korea.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

I find myself in substantial agreement with much of what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has said, and I want at once to take up one very important point which is of great concern to this House, and indeed to the whole country. It is the dreadful incident that took place today, when one of our aircraft was apparently shot down in flames somewhere in Germany.

The Press of the world and this country are waiting for some official statement to be made about the incident, and I am wondering whether there is any prospect of a Government statement being made about it in this House before the end of this debate. We are given to understand that the aircraft fell actually within the Soviet zone. If that is so, it is a matter of great importance for it may be that we were technically to blame. But let us have a statement on the matter before feelings get too exacerbated, for it is a matter which, coming so soon after the incident of the American plane, gives very great cause for alarm.

Among the other points which emerged in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is the difficulty which we have in these debates of discussing matters about which there is a general security ban. Indeed, I was rather shocked by the light and jolly way in which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, when asked a question earlier in the debate, replied that he might put the details in the Library but that they were almost certainly covered by security and he thought it might not be possible to do so.

This is the difficulty to which the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) referred. Incidentally, we welcomed his civilian intervention in this debate. I see that the Army, in the person of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) has disappeared again. The hon. Member for Louth proceeded to say with great fury and energy that it was the duty of the House to examine these Estimates in detail. For ten minutes he said that it was the duty of the House to do so, but he did not do so himself, beyond a rather wild and general attack on waste of money by air marshals.

I would assure him—and I have had some recent experience in the Air Force —that the financial tightness is much greater than it ever was during the war, for instance, with regard to the use of transport. When we hear this talk about combing the tail, with which I am in general sympathy, one should remember that today in many cases there is on the staff one man doing a job which in wartime called for 20 or 30 people to do it. The hon. Member for Louth ought to withdraw his unkind reference to this much maligned race of air marshals.

Mr. Osborne

I did not attack air marshals, generals, or admirals. I said that it was quite natural that with their responsibilities they should over-estimate their need and that it was the duty of this House to check those needs from a financial point of view.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Hear, hear.

Mr. Osborne

If I am challenged on that, I do not withdraw it at all. If the hon. Member cares to look at the Prime Minister's latest volume of war memoirs, "Closing the Ring," page 365, he will see there a telegram from the Prime Minister to Admiral Mountbatten, in which the Prime Minister said quite clearly to the Admiral how astonished he was that overwhelming forces were required and that far more were needed than he thought necessary. If the hon. Member will not take it from me, perhaps he will take it from the Prime Minister.

Mr. Shackleton

I am sure that the hon. Member is very grateful to me for providing him with the opportunity of making a second speech, and he must be gratified by the cheers of the ranks of Tuscany in the shape of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). We take the hon. Member's point that there is general need for economy, but I do not think that it should go out of this House that there is a continued urge to spend, and indeed some success on the part of people in the Royal Air Force and the Armed Forces in spending a great deal of money.

Mr. Burden

I was very interested in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). The telegram to which he referred in fact was addressed to Admiral Mountbatten when he was in a command of which I was a member. At that time the Admiral was really beginning to appreciate the forces ranged against us, and due to his appreciation and the weapons which were sent out, the Japanese were defeated in that area.

Mr. Shackleton

I am very grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and I will proceed with my speech. I should like to develop some of the points which I had intended to make before I was stimulated by hon. Members opposite. I believe that there is very strong Treasury and financial control in the Armed Forces against extravagance. That does not mean that there may not be a great deal of wasted effort and bad organisation, but I am reasonably certain that there is no extravagance.

I turn now to the position of the Services in connection with careers and similar matters. There is no doubt that both officers and airmen are finding a great deal of stringency in their lives owing to the enormous rise in prices in recent years since they received their last general pay increase.

I should like to turn to a matter which I know will appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire because it concerns the lot of the National Service man. I hope the Under-Secretary will comment on this point when he replies. I am one of those who are in favour of National Service, but I recently had reported to me an incident to which I have given a good deal of thought; indeed, I wondered whether it would be in the best interests of the Air Force and the public generally to mention it in the House, but it is so serious that I feel obliged to do so.

I understand that on a certain date at West Kirby, the new intake of National Service men in two huts in one flight in a certain squadron, details of which I am prepared to give privately to the Under-Secretary, were kept standing at attention immediately after they had arrived and had gone to their billets, from 5 o'clock until 10 o'clock in the evening.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Scandalous; shameful!

Mr. Shackleton

I was told this by a certain person who is strongly in favour of National Service and who indeed has signed on as a Regular. Whether this be true or not I do not know, but I am satisfied that there is a prima facie case for investigation. I feel, however, that if it be true it shows the most scandalous lack of discipline——

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I cannot believe it for a moment. I think it is only fair to the Service and to the officers concerned that the hon. Member should give the name of the station so that the matter can be investigated.

Mr. Shackleton

I have already given the name of the station and I am prepared to give details of the squadron and of the flight, but I do not believe it would be fair to do so publicly. If this incident is true it is very serious, and I believe that it is on all fours with certain other incidents which have been reported from time to time.

I do not believe that any responsible officer could possibly have tolerated such a thing, and if it be true—I have chosen my words very carefully and moderately —I feel that it must be a case of an n.c.o. who grossly exceeded his powers because I have heard that it happened in the case of two huts only. Indeed, the n.c.o. may not have been under proper control, and this may have been an isolated incident. I am told that four of the men actually fainted. In the rest of the camp the men were properly allowed to remain seated on their beds while various inquiries were made and duties were explained.

Mr. Ward

The hon. Gentleman was good enough to give me notice that he would raise this matter. Of course, if he really feels that there is a prima facie case I shall be glad to have a thorough investigation made, but I have been able to make some preliminary inquiries— naturally not very thorough—and these inquiries show, so far as I can tell, that there is no foundation whatever for the allegation.

Mr. Shackleton

Naturally I shall be delighted if there is no foundation for it, but I heard of this incident in circumstantial form, and I would go so far as to say that I believe that there is rather unnecessarily strict discipline and pushing around of these new National Service intakes. We in Parliament have taken a very serious responsibility in calling up these young men against their will and putting them into the Forces. I happen to believe that it is necessary. I believe that it can be and, indeed, is conducted with humanity, but I understand there is a great deal of homesickness when the men first arrive. Many of them have never been away from home in their lives, and when they are off parade every effort should be made to bring some human friendship into their lives. They should not be chased around and given only 10 minutes in which to eat their breakfast and so on, reports of which practices have been reasonably substantiated.

I welcome the Under-Secretary's denial that this sort of thing could not happen. I should like his words to go out from this House so that it can be very clearly understood that if this has happened in the Air Force in the past it should not happen again.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman says that these men were kept standing to attention for several hours. Were they on parade? To keep them on parade is one thing, but to keep them standing to attention for several hours is quite bestial, and it requires careful examination.

Mr. Shackleton

I do not know whether my hon. Friend was here when I first raised this matter. I said they were standing at attention by their beds in their billets, whereas in the other billets they were allowed to sit down. This is probably an isolated incident, but I am told that four men fainted. I am very jealous of the good name of the Air Force and I should not have brought this matter forward—indeed I consulted one or two people to see whether it was right to do so—if I did not think it was important that the Under-Secretary should make a strong statement condemning such a thing.

Now I want to turn to certain other aspects of life in the Air Force. There is a particular problem concerning what is known as the career course for officers. After four or five years, when a man has become specialised in a particular subject, such as intelligence, in the interests of his career in the Air Force, he is liable to be switched to adjutant or other duties. I would ask the Under-Secretary to look at this question very closely, because I can tell him from personal knowledge that it affects the efficiency of the discharge of certain duties which call for a degree of specialisation that cannot be obtained by switching persons from one job to another every few years.

I wish the Under-Secretary would do something to simplify officers' uniforms. I am told that nowadays they have a choice of five different uniforms and that there are no fewer than four different types of tropical kit. This imposes expense both on the country and the people concerned, and some attention should be given to this matter with a view to simplification.

In the strategic and military field, the Under-Secretary referred to the fact that he is hoping very soon to introduce the Provost and Vampire training schemes so that he will be able to dispense with advanced flying training schools. Can he give us any indication when this project is coming into force? I know it may be a difficult matter but I do not think that any question of security can stand in the way of information being given. It is a matter of real importance and it is the sort of information that he can very properly give to the House. He also referred to the very interesting possibility of the introduction of some form of almost elementary jet trainer. We should like to know a little more about that.

On the question of helicopters, it really is too bad that the Air Force should have to borrow them from the Navy. The Air Staff should look into this matter again. The Air Force should have their own helicopters and should build up on them.

I turn now to my annual subject of Coastal Command. I will leave the subject of P.R.U. because I see that the P.R.U. lobby is well represented here tonight. From personal observation I would say that the system of command under N.A.T.O. is working reasonably well and that the system of communications which has been built up is quite encouraging. There is one difficulty involved in these gigantic international operations. It is extremely difficult to man the necessary control rooms and to find the staffs for the period of the operation except by calling back people from civilian life—and not even from the ordinary Reserve. It has always been said that the Z men and G men are wasting assets. I suggest that in this field we should build up some equivalent to the fighter control units. This is a matter which calls for high priority. I suggest that in Coastal Command there should be control units as part of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, or some such organisation, which could be trained and kept available for an emergency.

We had the usual gesture from the Under-Secretary of State—a reference to Coastal Command—and we had the usual reference to Sonobuoys and homing weapons. We are getting a little tired of hearing this trotted out every year. We have been hearing about Sonobuoys and homing weapons in the Air Force ever since 1943, and we should like to know how they are progressing, and whether they are reaching a stage of operational effectiveness.

No reference has been made to the possibility of using guided air missiles in this field, and we must not forget that the Germans used them with great effectiveness in maritime operations. There was a famous occasion when an Italian battleship which was coming over to the allied side was sunk; and we lost —I believe it was H.M.S. Stork—in the Bay of Biscay through a guided missile of that kind.

I should like to make some comments on the anti-shipping aspect, and I do so in full realisation of what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) said about fighting the next war in terms of the last war. Unfortunately, this is in terms of a very early part of the last war. A role for which Coastal Command is particularly well fitted but for which it is not equipped, is the strike role. It is ludicrous for aircraft carriers—as happened in the recent operation "Mainbrace"— to be stooging around in the North Sea, which is within easy range of land-based aircraft, for anti-shipping operations, if they are likely to occur at all in a future war.

This work is more easily covered by land-based aircraft of the type of the strike wings which we had in the last war—aircraft which can easily he switched to another role entirely, should the general situation require it. They could be switched to a land tactical role, for instance, I suggest that here is an appalling waste which raises once again the whole question of Air-Navy and of inter-Service co-operation. Last year, it will be recalled, there was a suggestion for an inquiry into the position of Coastal Command. That Amendment was withdrawn. I suggest that there should be an inquiry into inter-Service relationship and into the question of how far the Navy should continue the wide range of activities in which they are engaging now and into whether greater economies can be obtained by the use of aircraft.

In conclusion, one of the depressing things about these debates on the Estimates is that hon. Members are inclined to talk almost in terms of "when the war comes" and "if we do not gain victory." If there is one thing which these Estimates debates teach us it is the supreme necessity of preserving peace. I believe that an adequate Air Force and, in particular, an adequate Bomber Command is a real contribution towards maintaining that peace, and I hope that in these discussions—and the House has succeeded in this today—we shall not move into the more excited atmosphere which exists in certain countries, including some of our allies, and that we shall always continue these discussions convinced that by building a stronger Air Force we are building a stronger peace.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I was very interested and somewhat alarmed when my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) intervened in the manner in which he did in this debate. When he was asked to supply facts regarding his allegations that there was almost always over-emphasis on the amount of equipment and the numbers of weapons and men needed by each Service, he returned to this Chamber with a copy of a signal that was sent by the Prime Minister in the last war to Admiral Mountbatten in 1943. I think that in fact he did not prove his point, but only made it appear how ridiculous it is for people other than commanders in the field to assess their requirements for certain engagements and actions. For it so happens that at that time I was on the staff of Admiral Mountbatten in South-East Asia and I know we were about to move over to the offensive. In my view, it is always far better if, when assessing the requirements for carrying out an attack on the enemy and moving over to the offensive, commanders rather err on the generous side. It is infinitely better that they should do that, and that one should be able to bring overwhelming fire power against the enemy, and so minimise one's own losses, and very rapidly force him on to the retreat, than to underestimate requirements so that what should be an offensive against the enemy turns into a defeat of one's own forces. I say that because it is essential, in my view, that the views of the commander in the field, based on intelligence and information which is available to him, should take precedence over others.

Mr. Osborne

My hon. Friend says I was foolish to make the statement I did. However, the statement I made has been totally exaggerated. I looked up what the Prime Minister himself said. He was also Minister of Defence. But he was not on the spot. He was doing exactly what my hon. Friend says is so foolish to be done. He is accusing, not me now, but the Prime Minister.

Mr. Burden

I was very pleased that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) brought into this debate a sense of urgency. Those of us who have heard about the disaster—and I believe that it is a disaster—that has occurred today really felt that it was about time that a sense of urgency was brought into this debate. The Under-Secretary of State in his opening speech referred to the fact that air power is the supreme factor in our defence. I think that that will not be disagreed with by any Member in this Chamber now, but I do believe that this debate makes it clear that the forces which we have must be used efficiently and economically.

Two years ago I raised in this House the problem of photographic reconnaissance, and I have persistently pressed the claims of that small but elite force within the Air Force ever since that date. When I came into the House I was joined by two Members who had flown in sorties over Germany and who were experienced in that matter. I found that at the last Election those who were making pleas for photographic reconnaissance were reinforced by the addition of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Barber), who flew in a Spitfire in 1942 to Berlin, without armaments, and took photographs that were badly needed, and was subsequently shot down. He was taken prisoner, and kept in a prison camp till the end of the war. Why I point that out is to emphasise how necessary P.R.U. were in the last war, and how necessary I believe is modern equipment for that force today.

I do not intend to go at any great length into the points I made two years ago, but I should like to quote one paragraph which I believe sums up the need for this Force: In no small measure, intelligence for the higher direction of the war and the practical deployment, not only of our sailors, soldiers and airmen, but, also, our Civil Defence workers, was made possible by photographic intelligence. It gives the greatest advantage with the greatest economy of life and material. It did so in the last war, and I feel sure that in the next war it may well be even more important."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 317.] I believe that that is the case today. To bring the photographic reconnaissance squadrons in this country to the greatest state of efficiency means equiping them constantly with the fastest and most modern aircraft.

These aircraft should be chosen rather from the drawing board than after they have been in squadron use. They must be aircraft that can reach out far over enemy territories; indeed, they must be able to fly as far over enemy territory as any of our bombers may be asked to go. They must also have the most modern camera equipment so that they can bring back the information we require. The men flying these aircraft must fly aircraft that are unarmed and must rely purely and simply on the height at which they fly, their speed, and their manoeuvrability to get back after ranging out and taking the photographs of which so much of our intelligence must depend. They must therefore be aircraft which must always have the edge of any enemy aircraft they are likely to meet.

Can my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, just as the speed of aircraft has increased, so there has been an improvement in the cameras now available to the photographic reconnaissance squadron? Has there been any great technical advance in night photography? I should also like to be assured that radar photography is being investigated, and to know how far we have advanced in that important sphere. I have pressed constantly for these squadrons to be re-equipped, and it is gratifying to observe from the Secretary of State's Memorandum that he hopes the squadrons will be re-equipped with Canberras this year. But I ask that we have a definite promise that they will be re-equipped this year, for I believe it is a matter of the highest possible priority that they should have the capacity to reach out, as they must reach out, if they are asked to operate.

We have been told that we shall have a smallish highly efficient bomber force. If that is true it makes even more clearly the point I am trying to make. It is absolutely necessary that no expenditure of effort shall be avoided if our bomber squadrons are to be small and yet highly efficient. Therefore, if there is an outbreak of hostilities it is essential that, with highly-trained forces and so few aircraft, they shall be sent only against those targets that can pay the biggest dividends with the smallest possible chance of loss.

In my view, failure to penetrate and photograph enemy territory will mean much higher losses and very much wasted effort if we are called upon to defend our shores. It will give the enemy the advantage of surprise. Photographic reconnaissance in the last war often denied to the enemy that advantage. It disclosed in fact what was going on; where sites for rockets were being built on the Continent; it told the story of Peenemunde, it made the Admiralty aware of the movement of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and enabled our bombers to go out and stop them before they could do harm to our forces.

Submarine bases, warship movements and many of the factories whose presence at the moment is unknown to us can be discovered only by photographic reconnaissance. The door of Russia is closed to many of the ordinary means of intelligence, and I believe, therefore, that PRU must be made one of, if not the most, efficient forces we have today.

I was given a great opportunity of drawing the attention of hon. Members to the great work which this force can do after operation "Floodlight" had taken place. As hon. Members will know, a very interesting, instructive and useful exhibition of photographs was placed in the Library. Now an exhibition of photographs taken by photographic reconnaissance, with the interpretations, lessons and intelligence which it gives us, is in Regent Street. But those photographs were taken under peacetime conditions. They were taken by aircraft not likely to be harrassed and shot down by the enemy. We have been told that 82 Squadron has returned from Kenya after carrying out an aerial survey lasting five years of African territories which had been largely unmapped before. That is a wonderful performance. But not one of those aircraft would get back if we were at war and it was necessary to send it out to take photographs over enemy territory.

We have to recognise that the aircraft which these men are flying today are, from an operational point of view, obsolete. The pilots are men of high skill, courage and character, and if they are to be of any use to us—and surely that is their ultimate purpose—they must be able to carry out and extend their range over enemy territory and bring back, in spite of any opposition that may be launched against them, the information which we may require.

When they bring back the photographs it is also essential that there should be an establishment at which the interpretation and the intelligence that can be gathered from these photographs shall be gathered quickly and dispersed to those forces which can best use them. Any improvement in equipment that can be found in order to extend the efficiency of this most vital arm of our defence should, I believe, be incorporated into the equipment in use, without regard to cost.

I pressed the Secretary of State in the last Government, and I have pressed the present Secretary of State, to give his constant attention to this unit, and I shall continue to press the Government until I am completely satisfied that we have in the modern photographic reconnaissance unit one which can successfully play the part that it alone can play if we are again engaged in war.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Like several other hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has put forward arguments which, if accepted, would mean a considerable increase above the Royal Air Force expenditure which we are now discussing. While it may be possible for him and many of his hon. Friends, and also many of my hon. Friends, to view with equanimity the £500 million that we are voting, I am not quite so happy about it.

Their attitude is that defence, whether it concerns the Royal Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force Estimates, should always be discussed in isolation from other important matters about which our people are equally concerned. I cannot agree that Estimates of this kind and magnitude should go through without any criticism at a time when we are increasing school children's meal charges and reducing expenditure on other valuable activities.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Which Vote is the hon. Gentleman discussing?

Mr. Fernyhough

I am discussing the readiness of the House to vote £500 million for the Royal Air Force while it is unwilling to provide money for equally desirable and essential activities. I know that hon. Members are anxious to go home, but the more interruptions I have the longer they will remain here.

I am perturbed that, at a time when national production is declining, this Estimate has risen by £60 million compared with last year. This is bound to reflect itself in the standard of living of our people and to make life more intolerable for the vast majority of them. It may be said that we must vote this money because every other nation is doing the same sort of thing. I agree that a world arms race is taking place, but, no matter who began it, I am very anxious to know where it will end.

We are told that we are seeking peace through strength and that we need this great striking power and great destructive power because it ensures peace; in other words, we are seeking to obtain peace through fear. I do not believe that we can establish a decent and perpetual peace through fear, because it means that we seek to dominate rather than to negotiate.

Mr. Osborne

Does the hon. Member think that we can obtain a just and secure peace through weakness?

Mr. Fernyhough

It all depends. I hope to deal with that interjection later.

Some method must be found of calling a halt not only to our vast military expenditure but also to the vast military expenditure taking place throughout the world. We know ourselves how near to economic collapse the big arms burden has brought our country. We know how the programme initiated two years ago has had to be substantially reduced, not because we have got the guns, tanks and aeroplanes that the majority in this House thought we ought to have, but because it was realised that if we were to get the tanks, the aeroplanes and the other arms to meet what was thought were the desired numbers, it would have meant economic bankruptcy and collapse.

I want to put a point of view tonight which may not be shared by many in this House, but in which I very sincerely believe. I believe that we in this country, the Americans and all the Western Powers have over-estimated the military strength of Communism but have under-estimated the cause of Communism. No matter how big our arms may become, how powerful our Navy, how destructive our Air Force, or if we have the finest, strongest and biggest military machine in the world—none of this is going to give this generation or the next generation the peace we all want so long as three out of every five babies born in the world tonight are born into poverty, will live in poverty and will die in poverty. The poverty in the world today, particularly amongst the backward peoples and the coloured peoples of Africa and Asia, is much more likely to break the peace than the military strength of Russia.

I remember very well during the 1926 miners' strike the great miners' leader, Arthur Cook, said, "You cannot grow the flower of peace in the garden of poverty." International peace will not grow in a world of poverty. Cook said, "It is no good appealing for industrial peace at a time when one million miners and their wives and families are starving." Equally, it is no good for any of us in the world today appealing for peace as long as there is great poverty throughout two-thirds of the world which cannot be dealt with because we richer nations are unable to give economic help to these backward parts while so much of our resources go into re-armament.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) faced up much more realistically than other hon. Members from the Government side of the House which have spoken to what was going to happen in the event of war coming. In fact, some of the speeches made tended to indicate that the next war is about to start. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield said that during the last war 90 per cent. of the bombers got through and that in the event of a third world war it would be necessary to have a fighter force which would reverse that and prevent 90 per cent. of the bombers from getting through. Even if only 10 per cent. got through, what would that mean to this country? Let us consider what Senator Duff said in Philadelphia on 30th January: The explosion of a single test-tube wiped out a little island in the Pacific, last November 1st. This new explosive was a thousand times stronger than the atom bombs which destroyed two Japanese cities. … If this explosive were put into an cobalt shell and exploded it would kill every living thing within thousands of miles. If only one bomber gets through armed with one of those bombs it will be the last of this Island.

Let us see what was said by the American corresponding to the Secretary of State for Air. On 16th January this year, according to the "Manchester Guardian." Mr. Thomas Finletter, the outgoing Air Force Secretary, said: The human race will blow itself off the globe unless some international system is devised to control modern weapons. Unless such a system is devised, and whether we win or not, civilisation cannot survive. No one could spend nearly three years dealing with methods of trying to destroy men as he had done without having a deep concern to see that the dreadful things we have helped to achieve are never used. It is time this country, and America and Russia and all the other countries realised that modern warfare is becoming hellish and utterly destructive, and we must seek some other method of settling international differences. It might have been right and proper in centuries gone by for men to try to settle their differences with bows and arrows or rifles by going to war. But modern scientific achievements are such that men who can contemplate what might happen in a third world war without fear and trembling are men devoid of imagination. It is not wrong that someone should mention these things and try to retain a little sanity in the world.

Mr. Osborne

Will the hon. Member answer my question now?

Mr. Fernyhough

I have answered the hon. Member's question. The hon. Member thinks he can kill Communism by bombs. I say that Communism can be killed only by removing the causes of it.

Mr. Osborne

I asked the hon. Member a simple question, whether he thought we could have a lasting peace by having weak armed forces?

Mr. Fernyhough

I do not think we could possibly denude this country's defences while other people are armed. On the other hand, if it is a question of defence, why are we not building atom bomb-proof shelters?

Why are not we making sure that if war comes there will be some protection for the people from the bombers which get through? As a matter of fact, we are spending no money in that way. We are taking it for granted that there will be heavy casualties and terrific destruction. I believe that that is so. I believe that militarily we shall be written off within a mater of a week. I believe that the power of the atomic bomb is such that it will need only one or two to paralyse the entire community.

I come to the question of manpower. The Minister was a bit sore tonight when I suggested to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that pressure had been brought to bear in the past on National Service men to engage for a longer term of service, and that some of the pressure had been unfair. Last year, I think that I proved to the House more or less conclusively that that had been happening.

I wish to ask the Under-Secretary to tell us what are the activities of M.I.5 in connection with National Service men. I have a friend who, having won his way through to the university and having obtained an M.A. degree, was called to the Forces. He joined the R.A.F. He went before a selection board where potential young officers are chosen. He passed in every respect and was told that he would hear further within two or three weeks.

About three months went by. He did not hear anything, and then, as a result of my approach to the Under-Secretary, I was told that the boy had been turned down. The Under-Secretary was satisfied with the decision because, he said, he had seen the papers. He said that everything was right and proper and that there had been no political discrimination. The boy went to Hednesford. Again he was chosen to go before a selection board. The members of the board were amazed to learn that he had been before. When the papers were sent for they were amazed to find that he had not been accepted.

Again he was sent for a medical examination and again he was passed A.1. I could quote what the adjutant was supposed to have said about him, but I will not delay the House. In every respect this youth should have made one of the admirable, keen, intelligent young men that the Under-Secretary said he wanted to see in the Air Force this afternoon. But he has committed a crime. As a student, during his first three months at university, he was associated with the Communist Party. That was at least some four or five years ago. He has also done what many other young students in this country have done. He has been to Eastern Europe. He has his own views of what he saw there. He has a right to have them.

Although that young man has every one of the qualifications mentioned this afternoon, because he had a short honeymoon with the Communist Party and visited Eastern Europe with others and reported objectively on what he saw—condemning that which is evil and praising that which is good, and not condemning everything wholesale—he has been debarred from appointment. He has been debarred not because he has not the qualifications, but because in my opinion M.I.5 are interfering and suggesting that he might be very dangerous. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear." I would say then they must believe in political discrimination.

Mr. Burden

I did not want to intervene but, before the hon. Member makes these allegations, surely he should remember that the security of our Forces is most important and that even if one person who might have reformed is kept out, surely that is better than that the lives of men be lost because someone might betray or commit sabotage?

Mr. Fernyhough

It is a most shocking thing to pretend that an intelligent boy, who won his way through to the grammar school, and ultimately wins State scholarships, has not the education to permit him having sufficient "savvy" to change his mind and to know what is good and what is evil and to act decently. What is the use pretending that we want to weaken and to destroy the Communist Party when those who turn against it because they cannot accept its philosophy or methods are condemned for so doing?

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Would the hon. Member have former members of the Fascist Party in the Forces?

Mr. Fernyhough

Who was it that flirted with Mosley and Franco more than some hon. Members of the party opposite? I say that we have no more right to hold this against this young man than any other youthful indiscretion. His mother and father and his family are decent, working-class people, and if it is to be a question of every little incident in the past of any person in this country being brought up and held against that person, then it is a sorry day for many hon. Members on that side of this House— those who sided with Mosley and Franco, and so on.

I beg the Under-Secretary to look into this case; I beg him to believe me when I say that I think a great injustice is being done to this boy. I stake my life on his honesty and integrity. His upbringing has been such that to betray anybody would be something he could not undertake. I just cannot accept the idea that, because for a few brief months as a young student he thought the practice of Communism was a good thing, he should be condemned for ever. I am very glad that he has turned away from it, but perhaps hon. Members opposite would have preferred him to have continued his association. If not, then they have no right to pass this judgment on him. Therefore, I hope that the Under-Secretary will look into his case; he has had it in the office for several weeks and I think that it is time that this boy knew where he stands. I should like to conclude by saying that I believe that peace will depend much more upon our solving this problem of world poverty than on having great engines of war. Millions of people look to President Truman's Point Four Plan and the Colombo Plan, and millions are going to be disappointed because these two aspirations cannot be carried out simultaneously with world re-armament. I believe that we should have President Truman's fourth point and be prepared to give priority to the Colombo Plan; and I cannot be quite so happy in passing these Estimates for a sum of £500 or £600 million as the majority of hon. Members in this House appear to be in wanting to speed them on their way. I think that we are paying too high a price, and that unless there is a scaling down of military expenditure, not only in this country but in every country, it will mean not only poverty but, ultimately, revolution from almost one end of the world to the other.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I was very glad that towards the end of his speech the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) referred to the amount of money involved in these Estimates. I must say that I am surprised to see only about five back benchers opposite when we are discussing a matter of such importance.

Mr. Fernyhough

There have not been even five on the benches opposite tonight.

Mr. Williams

There are two points in the hon. Member's speech to which I wish to refer. I was interested to hear him say that in his opinion we were at one period pretty near to financial collapse owing to the rearmament programme. I presume he was referring to the period towards the end of 1951. I am sure that my hon. Friends on this side of the House are very grateful to him for this admission, for it is the first time that any hon. Member of the party opposite has ever admitted that there was any financial crisis at all when the present Government came into office.

The second point was the hon. Member's statement that he thought we in this country were over-estimating the power of the Russian military strength. I think that is a most dangerous thing to say, because I do not think we can over-estimate the dangers that exist in that powerful military weapon. The Minister responsible for the aircraft industry of the U.S.S.R. has openly boasted that last year they made 22,000 aircraft, half of which were military planes, and something like 63,000 aero-engines. It would be quite wrong if we in this House allowed it to be thought that in our view the strength of the Russian Air Force was being over-estimated. It is a most powerful weapon and a most dangerous threat to peace.

The part of the Estimates to which I particularly wish to address my remarks is Vote 7, which refers to aircraft and stores. The figure involved is something like £266 million and represents the equipment for the Royal Air Force, including, of course, the important item of £140 million for aircraft. I am particularly concerned to see that this money is well spent. I am also concerned about the research being carried out in this country into aircraft and aero engines. I am far from happy about the future.

I believe that at the present moment we are to a great extent living on our fat, and that we should pay particular attention to the necessity for new developments in regard to aircraft and aeroengines, particularly now that we know Russia has jet aeroplanes. The lead we had at the end of the war has been dissipated, and a very great effort indeed will be needed by the Service, the research departments of the Government and by the industry itself if we are to recapture that lead which we so needlessly threw away shortly after the war.

The most important expenditure to be considered in regard to aircraft is expenditure on research. If any reduction is to be made of the money that can be spent on aircraft and aero-engines, I hope that there will be no reduction whatever on research. Although the international situation may ease—and I hope that it will—that easing may well be temporary. We must not say then for a moment, "Let us start cutting our costs and reducing expenditure on research." That is the moment to press on with research and, if necessary, cut down production orders.

But I am not satisfied that the money spent on research in this country is being properly spent. It is quite right that the most basic research should be done in establishments run by the State, but when research is carried out there is always the danger that it may be done in watertight departments. I say this with great caution because I have great respect for the scientific world, but there are a tremendous number of scientists who, when charged with carrying out research into a certain matter, are inclined to look upon it as only an interesting experiment and not a means to an end in the form of a completed aircraft or some other production.

There is great danger if research is kept in water-tight departments. This tendency to keep it within those departments is increased when the research is done in Government research centres. I believe that the United States handle this problem far better than we do. The Americans are inclined to bring in production firms at a much earlier stage than we are inclined to do so that their production lines can be arranged. I believe that the production position in this country is made considerably worse than it need be because so much of the research into aircraft is done by a department divorced from the Ministry.

I suggest to the Under-Secretary that he might consider whether it is desirable that some of these research departments should be brought back from the control of the Ministry of Supply to the control of the Air Ministry, under whose control they were before the war. I have no doubt that it was necessary for the production and research departments of the Air Ministry to be removed from the Air Ministry and placed under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production during the war.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

In view of the attack which the hon. Member is making on British scientists—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO"]— does he not agree that the performance of British scientists during the war was very much at variance with his argument?

Mr. Williams

I have the greatest respect for scientists, and during the war I was in charge of a team of them. I was saying that at the moment there was a tendency among many scientists to keep developments in water-tight departments. But I have nothing but respect for scientists. The whole future of this country depends upon the basic work which they do. I believe that while it was necesary under the stress of war to transfer research departments——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am very reluctant to stop the hon. Member, but surely that comes under the Ministry of Supply Estimates, Class VI, Vote 10, page 131, and is not in order on this Vote.

Mr. Williams

I am referring to the aeroplanes produced for the Air Ministry under Vote 7, and I was concerned to see that we have the right aeroplanes and the right engines. Surely I am in order to draw attention to some of the dangers that may exist?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It was the particular point on page 121 of Vote 7 of the Estimates, which says, Expenditure in connection with research and development is borne by the Vote for the Ministry of Supply (Civil Estimates, Class VI, Vote 10), which made me come to this conclusion.

Mr. Williams

Surely, in Vote 7 I can refer to questions of research, because that affects the finished article which comes to the Service?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am rather doubtful. The finished product comes after the research is over.

Mr. Williams

Part of these aeroplanes are used for research for the Ministry of Supply and also for the R.A.F. Surely I can refer to questions of research?

Whilst, therefore, I am in favour of research being pressed on. I do consider that if these research establishments could be brought back to the Air Ministry and be subjected to Air Ministry control we could get a more adequate control of them and greater economy. While we can save money where this is concerned, we should spend more money on the development of new classes of engines in the firms in the aircraft industry.

At present, there are four main engine firms catering for the R.A.F. I would advocate a spreading of research orders in the industry generally over a greater number of firms. It is extremely difficult for four aircraft firms to handle all the research. If we spread aero-engine contracts over a greater number of firms, we would proceed more rapidly. I believe also we should increase the diversity of our research in this way.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I agree with the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) that nobody should attempt to under-estimate the Russian Air Force. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) gave a very realistic picture of the dangers we may have to face if our Air Force has to go into action against the air force of the Soviet Union. I do not believe he underestimated this danger. I believe that the realistic picture he presented should be very carefully noted, because I think it is essentially true.

I remember on one occasion when we had one of our interchanges across the Floor of the House and I interrupted him, the hon. Gentleman said, "The Voice of Moscow." I wish I were, because there would be a different line of policy and this debate would be unnecessary. Last year, I had the opportunity of travelling twice across the Soviet Union by air.

Air Commodore Harvey

Will the hon. Gentleman say why they gave him permission to go there when the Russian Embassy told me that there was not sufficient housing accommodation for me to go?

Mr. Hughes

After so many years of difficulty in trying to get there, I could not possibly attempt to solve the hon. and gallant Gentleman's problems. I finally succeeded in getting into Soviet Russia. I travelled by air and I kept my eyes open at the various aerodromes —Minsk, Moscow, and then across to Siberia into China. I had an opportunity of seeing a good many aerodromes, and I saw a large number of aircraft on them. As I landed in Moscow, I saw some of these infernally speedy jet bombers. I did not like the look of them at all.

Later, when I was in China, I saw the jet fighters sweep across the sky. I am not an authority on aircraft or on matters affecting military aviation, but I appreciate what I saw in the airports at Minsk, Kursk, Novgorod and Omsk and a few other places where we were detained by weather conditions. I had the utmost respect for what I saw, and if that is typical of the capacity of the Russians for organising aircraft production, their air force is indeed a menace which we must take seriously if ever we go to war.

At the various airports I had an opportunity of talking with Russian airmen and of discussing, as far as I could, the various problems of war and peace, and I can assure the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield that they had precisely the same opinion—that their air force was not for aggression at all but purely for defence.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman raised a question which we have discussed in these debates before—that of guided missiles. I remember that the question was raised in these debates two years ago. The hon. Member who was to wind up for the Conservative Party on that occasion was the present Under-Secretary of State. He had waited for a long time in order to speak, and he followed me in the debate. On that occasion he said I had been correct in drawing attention to the danger of guided missiles and rockets. We are in exactly the same position today. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield did not suggest that the fighters could stop the rockets. All he could say was that we must have more research and that we must speed up our production of aircraft. But the Russians can also do that.

Air Commodore Harvey

They are doing it.

Mr. Hughes

And let us remember that it presents a problem of organisation and finance to this country.

Air Commodore Harvey

They are shooting down British aircraft.

Mr. Hughes

They may be shooting down British aircraft. I am not arguing that. What I am arguing is that there have been lamentable attempts in the House to explain how we could possibly catch up with the Russian aircraft industry in view of the fact that in some curious way, as has been said, under Communism, which we are told is so inefficient, they have been able since the war to build up a remarkably well-organised technical aircraft industry which the hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to fear.

Air Commodore Harvey

Only four years ago Sir Stafford Cripps handed over 56 Rolls Royce Nene engines on a plate to the Russians to build up their jet air force.

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that is a contribution towards how we are to face this problem now he is welcome to it, but he is evading the question. He has posed the question very dramatically and honestly, and now he is trying to run away from it.

The problem is how we can keep pace with the enormous productivity of the Russians with our present lack of technicians and finance. If this problem is tackled along conventional lines, what hope is there of speeding up our aircraft industry? The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested having three shifts. How far will that help us? The Russians can have three shifts too, and with many more men. If we speed up our aircraft production we shall have to face the fact that the Russians can do it too, with a very large population and an increasing number of technical experts.

What contribution has come from either side this evening? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) pointed out that one of the new bombers costs £400,000. This is the first debate in which any figure has been given for the cost of a bomber. When my right hon. and learned Friend was in office he was very shy and very coy about it, but now we know that if we are to have a large number of these new bombers, 1,000 of them will cost us £400 million. But then we heard that the Russians produced 1,000 aicraft of a certain kind last year. I suggest that means that we want at least another 1,000. I do not suppose the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield will object to that. But if we need another 1,000 aircraft, that is £400 million more on the Budget of this country. How is it going to be done?

Air Commodore Harvey

Take it off the Army.

Mr. Hughes:

I quite agree there, but when we come to the Army Estimates they will say, "Take it off the Air Force," and when we come to the Navy they will say. "Don't take it off the Navy."

Air Commodore Harvey

Make up your mind.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is the most realistic speaker in these debates, and he has come to the conclusion, which I believe is quite right, that we must face the whole concept of defence afresh. Armies, navies and air forces have to be looked at again in the light of modern developments in the evolution of war, and here we come to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who brought to the debate a fresh mind and some old suggestions that I made about three years ago. I know that I have cast a lot of pearls about in the early hours of the morning during defence debates, but I never expected that they would be picked up by the hon. Member for Louth.

Today the hon. Member comes along with what I believe is the perfectly reasonable suggestion—greeted with a great deal of animosity on his side—that we should have an independent inquiry, and that we should approach this from the point of view of the civilian who, after all, has to pay these enormous bills. I think he is quite right. The hon. Member and I have a sort of united front; he is a kind of fellow traveller with me. We are asking that this whole business of the enormous expenditure on defence, and especially on the Air Force, should be considered in the light of the very interesting and valuable contributions made by hon. and gallant Gentlemen in this debate.

I have listened for the last five years very patiently, and I have become tough. I always have to wait until the end of the debates, but in doing so I have picked up an enormous lot of material. I know now the arguments and the patter, but I am afraid that I learned nothing from the Under-Secretary of State for Air who opened the debate. Once they get into office, they no longer discuss the Estimates; they develop a philosophical and a theosophical patter of their own, in which they reveal as little as possible. The Under-Secretary was most elusive. None of the new fighters, if they ever come to fight, will need to be as elusive of the Under-Secretary in this debate.

I am afraid the Under-Secretary is not going to satisfy Lord Beaverbrook and the "Daily Express." I travelled down by air on Monday, and I read the leading article in the "Daily Express." The first article that I read was headed, "R.A.F. must be saved." Saved from whom? Not from me, but saved from the Under-Secretary for Air. This article said: Mr. George Ward, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Air Ministry, must live in dread of next Thursday, for on that day he will present the Air Estimates in the Commons, and it can be certain there will be no repetition of the cheers which greeted him last year. That is right. There have not been any cheers, but there have been something very like stabs in the back. The article goes on: He admitted then the R.A.F. had fallen on hard times, but he was cheered for the fighting quality of his speech. He gave promise of better things to come. There was no fighting quality in his speech today and no cheers.

Mr. Hector Hughes

And no better things to come.

Mr. Hughes

The article goes on to say, discussing the Air Estimates: Does no one care? Can it be there is no realisation of the vital rôle which air power is to play in the destiny of Britain? Certainly Earl Alexander has shown no crusader's zeal for the cause of air power since he went into the Ministry of Defence. I thought the arrival of Earl Alexander on the scene at the Ministry of Defence was to start a new page in the life of that rather disreputable organisation.

The article goes on: Look next to the Air Marshals. Is there amongst them a man of the Trenchard's calibre. Is there one full-blooded mutinous character who will bang the table under any Minister's nose if he sees that the Service is not getting what it needs. I would bang on the Despatch Box under the Minister's nose if I were allowed anywhere near it. Here we have a Conservative paper, a paper that goes into four million homes. Surely if we can take it as a spiritual guide at election times, there will be found people who will take it for spiritual guidance on the Air Estimates. And according to this paper the Under-Secretary of State has been a complete flop.

The paper says the position is terrifying. Indeed it is. Look first at Fighter Command, the Nation's shield. The Meteors which Britain's fighter pilots must fly are old and slow, totally inferior to the planes which the Russians and Americans have had for years, and where are the long awaited wonder planes which are coming to replace them, the Hunter, Swift, and Javelin? The best that can be promised is two Squadrons of Swifts this year—just 36 planes. Chicken feed compared with the 22,000 planes which apparently the Soviet Union produced last year. The article goes on to make similar criticisms of the transport arm, and of all the other departments of the R.A.F., and ends up: That is the pathetic story which Mr. George Ward must present. And they have been right. Not one of these destructive criticisms has been answered. If we are thinking in terms of going to war with the Soviet Union in these conditions, all I can conclude, to echo the words of the hon and gallant Member for Macclesfield, is "God help us."

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take too seriously the personal attacks launched on the Front Bench, because the "Daily Express" attacks a different person every week. It may be the Deputy-Prime Minister one day, and the next day the Under-Secretary of State. It may even be the hon. Gentleman one day.

Mr. Hughes

I will bear it with my customary fortitude. I am used to it. I never expect anything else. Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they will not be disappointed. This is not a personal attack on the hon. Gentleman. It is a full-blooded attack on his Ministry, and I came to the House to see whether there was anything to be said for him. I have come to the conclusion that he is guilty and must be condemned on every charge brought against him by the "Daily Express." I am sorry for him.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield occasionally writes letters on R.A.F. matters to "The Times," and I read them. I hope he reads the letters I write to "The Times" on other subjects. In "The Times" of 5th January, he wrote: The best method of defending Britain is to strike at the heart of the enemy. Strike at the heart of the enemy with the planes we have not got.

Furthermore, the latest four-jet bomber to fly, that is, the Handley Page Victor, has great possibilities as a fast commercial airliner. It seems that we may get the best of both worlds in that we shall be strong in attack, and at the same time produce aircraft which will sell for export. I can understand that we should get the best of both worlds because the hon. and gallant Gentleman is a director of Handley Page, and I can understand him recommending his own wares to the House of Commons. I can also understand when he recommends his own wares——

Air Commodore Harvey

I think the hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark because, in the eight years I have been in the House of Commons, I have never failed to declare my interest. I wrote a letter to a London newspaper, but it is a different matter from making a speech in the House of Commons about one's own wares.

Mr. Hughes

The last thing I want to do is to insult the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He wrote a letter to "The Times" recommending the British public to accept the theory that the best aircraft we could use was the aircraft produced by the Handley Page Company.

Air Commodore Harvey

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. He is quoting out of context. I was replying to a letter from the Navy League complaining about the development of three different bombers. I was not recommending one of them, but referring to the last one to fly—I think on Christmas Eve.

Mr. Hughes

It is true. I followed the Navy League controversy in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman intervened. But it is a fact that he said the Handley Page Victor had great possibilities commercially.

Air Commodore Harvey

That has been successfully proved.

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. and gallant Member can recommend them, I am entitled to examine the claims of these companies.

In the past few years there has developed in British political life a tendency for certain big commercial interests to recommend their aircraft, and this is a danger that we can face only by nationalising the aircraft industry.

Air Commodore Harvey

If that happens in the next Labour Government, the hon. Gentleman can count me out.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is now saying that we can count him out. He will be a deserter. I should have thought that he would have placed his technical skill at the disposal of a nationalised industry just as he did during the war years. I cannot see how people who served in the Royal Air Force with distinction during the war can object to a nationalised industry. Surely the Royal Air Force is a nationalised industry, and there is every reason why they should be prepared——

Wing Commander Bullus

On a point of order. May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is in order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That had occurred to me. I do not know what these Estimates have to do with nationalised industries.

Mr. Hughes

I am not discussing the nationalised industries in the abstract. I am discussing a nationalised aircraft industry in so far as it will contribute to the efficiency of the Royal Air Force.

In "The Times" at the beginning of the year there was reported an interesting speech delivered by Mr. Sopwith of the Hawker Siddeley Group. He gave a full panoramic display of aircraft production and also stated the difficulties of these aircraft companies. From the financial point of view, there can be no doubt that this super-priority of certain types of aircraft has been a very good thing for the companies. If I were a director of any of these companies I might object to nationalisation too. But, as a watch-dog of the public interests, I am anxious to keep the Air Estimates as low as possible.

There was one interesting paragraph in the report which I think the House should know about. It dealt with the production of aircraft in Canada. Mr. Sopwith said: Our estimate of the taxation based on the year's profit is £3,768,000. You will notice that despite the increase in profits, it has been necessary to provide only £25,000 for Excess Profits Levy. Only £25,000 of the very substantial profits made out of super-priorities. By some strange coincidence, the company which transfers its aircraft production to Canada does not pay Excess Profits Levy. This is a peculiar state of affairs. By transferring the production of aircraft to Canada a company can make more profit than it can make by manufacturing in this country. Therefore, I say that this method of taxation ought to be tightened up so that we get from the aircraft industry the maximum taxation on profits made out of the super-priorities occasioned by the national emergency.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

The hon. Gentleman talks about the profits. Would he like to give the figure of Income Tax paid?

Mr. Hughes

There is no mystery. I have got the whole thing here. The article was published in full in "The Times." The profit was 12 per cent. There is a very large reserve. I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite have to come to me for their financial information. These details can be found in the Library. The facts are not open to serious challenge.

We need something like the impartial examination of the whole ramifications of aircraft production advocated by the hon. Member for Louth. I am in favour of an investigation by a body of independent business men. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) and the hon. Member for Louth could serve on the inquiry. which could be presided over by Mr. Hardie, who is no longer with the Iron and Steel Corporation. All I ask is that there should be an independent business-like examination of the whole business of aircraft production so that we can expel every suspicion that vested interests are making profit out of British re-armament.

At the end of the day, if everything said—not by me but by the experts in the party opposite—is true, then the sooner that independent examination is held the better. I do not see that after these three years of re-armament we have any greater security. All that has happened is that we have become a bigger target for the enemy. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has said that there is a grave danger and that as a result of all our re-armament by two Governments the British people are now less secure than they were before rearmament started.

I am glad to find this note of realism creeping into these debates. People are now saying what I said three or four years ago. I do not grudge them the opportunity of going back to my old speeches for a little inspiration. They are welcome to all of them. If they do that, and we get a breath of realism such as we have had today, then back benchers will force the Government to follow a more realistic re-armament policy which will lead ultimately to a revision of the whole system.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

An interesting development in this debate has been the realisation that the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) is inspired in these matters by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I have often wondered the source of inspiration of the hon. Member for Louth. Now it has been declared here on the Floor of the House. I shall watch my political neighbour with great interest lest his views change somewhat drastically as the years roll on.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire has the advantage over us. He has been to Minsk, Kursk, Novgorod and Omsk, whereas we have been denied the opportunity. I well remember a Russian play, in which the refrain kept coming through, "We shall never get to Omsk." That is it; we shall never get to see these things.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

There was an invitation sent out to hon. Members to attend the Moscow Economic Conference and one hon. Member on that side accepted, and one refused; so it cannot be said that there was not the opportunity.

Mr. de Freitas

Well, anyway, none of us has got as far as our friend Mr. Zilliacus who, in one year was rejected by the Soviet Union, the United States and the Labour Party.

Earlier this week we discussed the Army Estimates; early next week we shall discuss the Royal Navy, and it seems in accordance with tradition that the R.A.F. should come in between the two. For that was the original conception of the Royal Air Force. It was to be a new Service—neither an army nor a navy. The compromise has continued throughout the life of the R.A.F. It is expressed even in dress. Army officers wear soft collars; Navy officers wear stiff collars, and those of the R.A.F., in between, wear semi-stiff. The R.A.F. wears Army style uniforms with Navy markings of rank.

This new Service was superimposed on the existing pattern of two old Services. We should not forget that. My right hon. and learned Friend reminded us that it was superimposed on the existing pattern of defence. It has grown. So today we find that we must question this imposition of a third arm on the traditional arms of sea and land, and we must, in the next few years, think out the whole structure of our defence forces.

There are three facts to be borne in mind. First, in the cold war we must have ground forces to fight and maintain our stations in the Far East and Middle East; secondly, modern equipment is so complicated and expensive—and in that connection we have the point made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence that the electronics equipment alone in a modern fighter costs more than did a complete Spitfire. Thirdly we have to remember that we are entering a period when on both sides of the Iron Curtain there will be hundreds of atomic weapons and when our ability to deliver atomic weapons or to defend ourselves against them will be more important than having a stock of these weapons. In the last 7½ years it has been the stock of atom bombs in the West which has protected us.

In the West, we simply cannot afford to take full advantage of our technical and industrial superiority unless we can economise on our traditional weapons used in traditional organisations. That brings me to the question of research. Has there, for example, been anything done in the development of a light aircraft. I refer to something between 2,000 and 3,000 lb. which could be produced quickly in quantity and can be flown by pilots with short training, and which could be used from the grass airstrips to which the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) has referred. The Americans have such an aircraft in the Defender, which carries rockets and two fire bombs. Have we overlooked the development of such an aircraft simply because it does not fit into our traditional pattern of bomber, fighter, artillery or infantry, as the case may be? Such an aircraft might well result in an efficient provision of firepower and a real economy in traditional weapons.

I wonder if the Under-Secretary of State will say anything about what we have learned from the Americans in Korea concerning the very expensive use of jet aircraft in tactical air support. These aircraft require large airfields and special maintenance and fuel. Have we not learned that the old veteran piston engine fighters, like the Mustangs and Corsairs, are more practicable logistically? Can he assure us that here and elsewhere the R.A.F. are on the look out for ways of doing certain jobs in a simpler and cheaper way?

Perhaps I may illustrate what I mean by referring to a competition in the "New Statesman" during the war for the most fantastic application of modern industrial developments of science. The winning device was one for taking stones out of horses' hooves by radar. In every section of industry and trade and in the Services we must prevent ourselves becoming bogged down financially with the most expensive machine.

I should like to be assured that the Air Ministry is on the alert to see that we use our really expensive weapons only for those jobs which cannot be done by a cheaper method. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) said that above all we should maintain our research. I agree. I was interested in what the Under-Secretary of State said about the importance he attached to the development of the navigational devices and bomb sights. The need for accuracy in bombing was a subject to which I referred last year. I trust that emphasis on this will be maintained, because there could be nothing more futile than having all these expensively developed bombs and then failing to deliver them accurately.

I referred earlier to the axis between South Ayrshire and Louth, but, of course, it was not limited to those areas. Many other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), put forward the suggestion that we should consider changing our Parliamentary procedure so as to conform more with modern needs in the Service debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) said that it should be possible for Service details to be given in Committee upstairs and, if necessary, that there should be some form of secret session in Committee upstairs because only in that way could we perform our duties as Members of this House and see that the country got value for money. I agree. I welcome the increase that has been made in the strength of the North Atlantic Treaty forces, and especially the work that has been done in building up the 2nd T.A.F. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us more about exercise "Mainbrace." My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South referred to that exercise, and I should like to know whether it is a fact that the exercise showed clearly the impossibility of relying on carrier based aircraft because of the uncertainty of the weather. I should like to know also what lessons we have learned from it about the size and shape of our forces and what developments have taken place in the integration of the staffs in N.A.T.O.?

Since the war we have had experience in the Far East of the Commonwealth integrated Command in Japan. I know that this is more a political than a purely Service matter, but I should like the Government to consider consulting with the Dominions on the setting up of another British Commonwealth Air Command in South-East Asia. The advantages of such a Command are very great, not only in the sharing of a common task by the Forces of the Commonwealth but in the experience of working together, which we have in N.A.T.O. and of which we should have more with the other Commonwealth countries.

As to our dealings generally with foreign air forces, I was distressed to hear a few days ago from a leading figure in a small country which produces no aircraft of its own that our charges for training young air force cadets was so heavy that his Government had reversed their policy of sending them to this country and were sending them elsewhere. I need hardly stress that in every way—in civil and military aviation—we want to encourage the sending of young cadets to do their training here.

I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is in the House, because I want to say something about production, and I know of his great experience in that field. I was for a long time frightened of the prospect that with the Tory Party in power and under pressure from their friends in big business we might run the risk of seeing the Ministry of Supply weakened and falling too much under the influence of big business. That, however, does not appear to be happening. Anyone who has read Professor Postan's book, "British War Production," must pray that the Prime Minister will continue this system of supply, although he must be under pressure to change it.

We are going into the production of three bombers—the Valiant, the Victor and the Vulcan. I want an assurance from the Air Ministry that they and the Ministry of Supply will keep an eye on production. When we last went in for the production of three bombers—the Lancaster, the Halifax and the Stirling— it was intended to concentrate upon the production of the bomber which proved best in operations. Yet long after everyone had agreed that the Lancaster was the best of the three we were still producing the other two. The reason for the delay was that a change-over would result in too great a gap in production because of the need for re-tooling. But not everyone is convinced—and I certainly am not convinced—that that delay was inevitable. I ask the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply to keep a better look-out this time so that, as soon as it is decided which is the best of the three aircraft, production will be switched and all the firms concerned will concentrate on the best aircraft.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will also bear in mind the contribution to this debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) and the points which he made about electronics. It is an important technical matter, and there was a great deal of substance in what my hon. Friend said.

The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) wanted to impeach everyone in the House except himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, he was pretty fierce at most of us. But he presented with clarity and force the case on behalf of the instructors in the flying training schools which are being closed down.

Like many hon. Members connected with flying or flying clubs, I have had the most heart-rending letters from instructors. I know the Under-Secretary personally feels this very much. He is a former instructor himself. But that is not good enough. I believe the Air Ministry is under a moral obligation to do everything possible for these men. The Gov- ernment certainly have struck a heavy blow at those who seek to make the country as great in the air as she is on the seas. I believe that this action, referred to by so many hon. Gentlemen, and especially by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), may well do great harm in discouraging men from making the air their profession.

I will not repeat the arguments, but I want to try to pick something good out of the wreckage. The closing of the reserve schools must throw up surplus Tiger Moths. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation here, and I should like him to consider this. These aircraft would be fit to put into service without an expensive certificate of airworthiness inspection. Could not the Air Ministry sell these machines really cheaply to the flying clubs, for something like £50, which is about proportionately equivalent to the £10,000 taken for the Yorks which were handed over to civil operators? This would help the flying clubs enormously.

What is going to happen to the young men, who at great expense, after their two years' service in the R.A.F., have been trained to be pilots? If their reserve school closes, what are they to do? Take a reservist who has just come out of the R.A.F., who learned to fly at great expense and who lives in Hertford? Parshanger is closed. The nearest school open is Cambridge. Would it not be better than nothing for him to go to Broxbourne to the Herts and Essex Aero Club, and keep his hand in with a Tiger Moth or Auster at the small cost of about £4 a year? It has not the advantage of Service surroundings, which is so highly regarded, but is not it better than nothing? If we do nothing, then the whole of the man's training will have been completely useless and wasted.

It strikes me we are in grave danger here of a false economy resulting in waste. I believe the clubs could be used, if not for ab initio training, then for refresher training. Will the Under-Secretary not consider what is being done abroad? The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North, pointed out that ab initio flying training was done in Canada in civil flying schools and that men going overseas were trained in these civil flying schools. He told me he had actually had Canadian civil flying schools writing to him for information.

I ask the Under-Secretary to give us a little more encouragement about the number of A.T.C. scholarships. It is true they are up this year, but I detected, in his words, one or two lines which might have been written by the Treasury or by his officials who never look friendly on this scheme. I shall be delighted if I get an assurance that there will not be a cut in this.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield and other hon. Members referred to the importance of the technical officer. I know we have this new technical cadet scheme whereby we hope to get men with certain educational qualifications going to universities for a three years' honours course, later getting commissions. What are the educational qualifications, and are the universities going to keep places for them? What universities will give this course? How many technical branch officers shall we get from the scheme?

Other hon. Members, and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, in particular, have referred to the serious shortage of skilled men in some of the most important trades. I agree with him that the Under-Secretary should tell us how the Air Council are planning to try to solve this problem. One does not have to believe everything one reads in alarmist newspapers to be worried about the result of this serious shortage of skilled men. The Under-Secretary did not say enough about manning. In looking at the Estimates I was surprised by three points of detail which I will put to him, because they seem contrary to the trend which I should have expected. There are to be more air officers and senior officers at the Air Ministry than there were last year. There are to be fewer junior officers. There are to be more warrant officers and N.C.Os. at the Air Ministry, but fewer airmen. In view of the comments of the Conservative Party when they were in opposition, I am surprised to see that there will be fewer locally enlisted men in Malta, Iraq and Malaya. Why is that? How can that be explained? The figures are not large but the trend is there.

What thought are the Air Council giving to manning the Auxiliary Air Force? We know that at present, with Vampires, the Auxiliaries can manage with a camp and a few hours' training each week. What will happen when the swept-back wing aircraft are introduced? Will the Auxiliaries be removed from the front line, where they are now, and become reservists? If so, will not they have to spend several months before they are operationally ready for front-line squadrons? I should like to be assured that thought is being given to this complicated manning problem.

I have attended eight Air Estimates debates and taken part in most of them —generaly at the sleepy end of the evening. This is one of the most constructive debates I have heard. The Under-Secretary did a good job last year in answering our criticisms. I will not go as far as Lord Beaverbrook about what will happen tonight, but it has been different today. The Under-Secretary has had to face a very barrage of criticism and it is his duty to answer the points which have been put forward, or as many as he can in half-an-hour or so. These points have not been made to score party advantage. This is a serious matter. They were designed to assist in making this very great service, the Royal Air Force, an even greater service and a greater protector of peace.

11.54 p.m.

Mr. George Ward

The House will wish me to start by making the statement which has been requested by several hon. Members about the tragic loss of the Lincoln today. If I may, I will repeat the announcement which was made by the B.B.C. at nine o'clock and which includes all the information which is at present available. A Royal Air Force Lincoln of Flying Training Command on a routine exercise was shot down by MIG fighters today in the Hamburg-Berlin air corridor near the zonal frontier. Six of the crew were killed and one wounded. Earlier today another Royal Air Force Lincoln of Flying Training Command on a similar routine exercise had been the object of a threatening mock attack by two Soviet MIG fighters well within the British Zone near Kassel.

Her Majesty's Government take a grave view of this serious event within the Hamburg-Berlin air corridor. The United Kingdom High Commissioner in Germany has been instructed to protest to the Soviet High Commissioner in Germany in the strongest terms against this deliberate attack upon a British air- craft, involving the death of British airmen. He is to request that an investigation be undertaken immediately by the Soviet authorities, that those responsible for this outrage should be punished, and that due reparation be made for damage to persons and property. I feel that the House will wish me to express our deep sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives in this tragic happening.

Mr. A. Henderson

May I, on behalf of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House, associate ourselves with the expression of regret which the Under-Secretary has just expressed to those relatives who have suffered loss in this tragic incident. It is evident that we shall have to await further details as to what transpired in both incidents to which he has referred, and if on, say, Monday, subject to Mr. Speaker's consent, I put a Private Notice Question asking whether he has any further information to give the House, perhaps he would be prepared to answer further.

Mr. Ward

Yes, by all means.

May I say now how glad we are to see the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) returned to us in apparently such robust health, and, if I may say so, in such fine rhetorical fettle. He showed by his speech, and particularly by the closing passages, that during his time in opposition he has lost none of his interest in the Royal Air Force.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked to what extent our new plans for the bomber forces affected the support we should be able to give to General Ridg-way. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence explained during the defence debate that we have decided to build up our light bomber force to a lower peak than we had originally intended, but it must not be concluded from this that we are in any way weakening in our resolve to provide an effective bomber contribution to N.A.T.O. as a whole, and for S.A.C.E.U.R. in particular.

As I explained in my opening speech, the medium bomber can carry many times the bomb load of the Canberra and can find its target much more accurately, and therefore it will be a much more flexible instrument and able to bring to bear a greater fire power on a wider range of targets. This is the background, with the related factors of efficiency and economy, against which we have based our plans, and against which we have reduced the size of the light bomber force.

We are, of course, in close touch with our friends in N.A.T.O on all these problems of bomber support. It has been said that we could not have as large Armed Forces as we had in the last war, and I quite agree that we could not possibly afford it. But the accuracy of the hitting power of our new types of bomber makes it unnecessary to have as big a force.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked about skilled labour in the aircraft industry and super priority for them. There will always be shortages of labour in an expanding industry, but the special arrangements made by the Government have already met with a good deal of success. My noble Friend stated in another place a few days ago that nearly every firm in the industry has increased its labour force during the past year. The total number has been raised by 17 per cent., and in 1952 the total number employed in the aircraft industry rose by 30,000. The greatest difficulty was housing for the workers, and the local authorities have been most helpful. With their co-operation some 4,000 houses have been provided for aircraft workers, most of whom are employed in firms engaged in super-priority work.

With regard to advanced tradesmen in the Air Force, I am afraid there is no simple or straightforward solution to the problem of persuading a skilled man to extend his service or re-engage. The introduction of the new trade structure has undoubtedly resulted in some improvement and so has the increase in the number of married quarters. We hope that the new rate of local overseas allowance for men who cannot be accompanied by their families will help, and, as I have already said, we have arranged for part of the re-engagement bounty to be paid when a man re-engages, but, as I recognised in my opening speech, the problem of keeping in Service men with the experience and the requisite skill we want is a serious one. We do not claim that we have yet found an answer. In the meantime we are giving advanced training to a number of men on short engagements.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether there had been any change in essence of our policy for the medium bombers in Bomber Command in their relationship with the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He asked for an assurance that our plans are being developed in close co-operation with the Supreme Allied Commander. That assurance I can most certainly give him. Indeed, it has been in the course of that co-operation, and in discussions with the N.A.T.O. countries generally that arrangements have been made for our medium bombers to be made available to the maximum extent possible to support the Supreme Commander's operations.

Mr. A. Henderson

It was the words "on occasion" that I was worried about.

Mr. Ward

Yes, and I should like to emphasise again that all Bomber Command is part of our contribution to the defences of N.A.T.O. as a whole.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) asked for an assurance that we would keep control of Bomber Command. I am pleased to endorse what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said in the defence debate recently. He also mentioned the subject of the exports of aircraft to Brazil, and suggested that a shortage of technicians might have something to do with it. I can assure him that the shortage of technicians has nothing whatever to do with the export of aircraft to that country. On the contrary, as I mentioned in my opening speech, there has been an increasing number of inquiries for the export of British aircraft.

The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Capt. Wilcock) was, of course, mainly interested in the closing of the schools. He made several points, the first one of which was repeated by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), that pilots are being trained in Canada and America in similar schools. That is perfectly true, but they are being trained at no cost to us. He also said that reserve pilots had taken their places in the Battle of Britain. That is true, too, but they took their places on piston-engined aircraft, aircraft which flew very much more slowly than the modern aircraft do.

On the general question of the closing down of the schools, there are, of course, two quite separate aspects—the basic schools and the Reserve flying schools. I think the reason for closing the basic schools is fairly well understood. There does not seem to be very much dissension on that, because it was due entirely to our contraction of aircrew training, and if there are no pilots to feed into the schools you cannot keep them going. The Reserve flying schools, I agree, are more difficult, but here there are two main considerations. One is financial and the other practical. We have to consider very carefully how we can make economies in places which have the least effect on the effectiveness of our front line.

These training schools are costing about £2,500,000 a year, and for that money we can buy a lot of front line aircraft and train a lot of front line pilots. As the Member for Lincoln was good enough to remind the House, although no one feels it more keenly than I do, it was quite unrealistic to keep these schools going in a jet age at a time when there must be a limit to the amount of money to be spent on defence, and when the most important thing today is to have a strong and effective front line in a high state of readiness.

Group Captain Wilcock

The hon. Gentleman says that there were no pupils for the basic schools, yet he realises and says that we are sending pupils to America and Canada, and excused this on the grounds that it was at no cost to us. Even so, it is a bad thing to close our own units and send our men abroad.

Mr. Ward

There are other considerations beside the cost. For example, the Canadian training is "all through" from the basic to the advanced stage. As I told the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), it is just as well from a strategic point of view to have as many men training on the other side of the Atlantic as we can.

It is really unrealistic in a jet age to go on training on light aircraft on small grass airfields people who have been out of touch with operational flying for many years. What has been happening since the war? Many men came out of the Air Force after the war fully trained with recent operational experience. They went into the Volunteer Reserve. More have been coming out ever since at the end of their engagement and the Reserve has been swelling and swelling, but very few have been coming out at the other end. The object of a reserve, if you are to make use of it, is to have it continually flowing so that you have always people not too far from recent operational experience, and not above the age limit for war-time air fighting. So it really was a gross extravagance to keep people flying Chipmunks at this very high cost, who were never going to be the slightest use to the R.A.F. in time of war.

Mr. Beswick

Is not the Under-Secretary being a little unfair? He appears to be suggesting that these people are, in time of war, to be expected to fly Hunters and Swifts. There is a lot of flying to be done apart from fast fighters. There is transport and communication work. Where will the hon. Gentleman obtain the pilots for that kind of duty?

Mr. Ward

I was trying to explain that the object is to keep a flow so that at any time there are people who are below the operational age limits and beyond them people who are a little over the age. Beyond them again there must be a lot of pilots we cannot use and who we cannot afford to go on training. In any case, it is unrealistic to do so, because we want to keep the men in the reserve in training on jet aircraft.

The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) asked about the re-entry of flying school instructors in the Royal Air Force. That is a point which has been worrying most hon. Members. He asked why we accepted only about half the applicants for commissions. Anxious, as we are, to provide employment, we are even more anxious to maintain a high officer standard in the peace-time Air Force. Subject to that I can assure the House that every reasonable latitude has been given.

The hon. Member also suggested some could be employed on air traffic and fighter control duties. These are branches for which the older and more experienced pilots are particularly suitable, and we have granted a large number of short service commissions to these men. About one-third of the selected candidates have been appointed to these two branches.

It was also suggested that many of these people could be usefully employed in university air squadrons. I cannot agree that civilian instructors would be any more successful in attracting recruits than the Regular officers at present employed. If they are suitable for those duties they are suitable for short-service commissions in the Royal Air Force. I do not wish to appear hard-hearted. I would make it clear that my noble Friend and I appreciate the problems facing these men, but I have tried to explain how it is. I hope hon. Members will see our point of view, and will not think this decision has been taken without consideration of the implications.

Group Captain Wilcock

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the personnel we are discussing are ex-Royal Air Force personnel.

Mr. Ward

I know, but I do not see how that affects the issue.

Group Captain Wilcock

They are not having much done for them.

Mr. Ward

We are doing all we can.

Air Commodore Harvey

My hon. Friend said, in regard to the seven schools remaining in operation, that contracts will be renewed only for another year. Does he expect that the instructors in those schools will work for another year knowing that there is a prospect of losing their job?

Mr. Ward

The short answer is that if these people are finding it difficult to get other jobs they will remain.

Air Commodore Harvey

They will try to get other jobs, too.

Mr. de Freitas

There is one point I should like the hon. Gentleman to deal with. I am not referring to old reservists who left the Air Force some time ago, but to the man who has just left, having had a very expensive flying training. Now he will have no Reserve school to which to go. He is a young man who has just been trained. Is not it better to spend £4 5s. an hour for his 40 hours at a civil flying club to let him keep his hand in on Tiger Moths or Austers?

Mr. Ward

I said earlier that to keep these people who have just left the Air Force with recent operational experience refreshed it would be necessary to do it on R.A.F. airfields with runways and on jet aircraft. We are living in a jet age. It would not keep them refreshed to let them fly around in Chipmunks from grass airfields. The hon. Gentleman is saying that we ought to subsidise the flying clubs——

Mr. de Freitas

I am saying that these men will now get nothing at all. They will not get jets. We have spent thousands of pounds on teaching them to fly. They have just left the Air Force. Are we to waste that money? Is it not better for them to keep their hands in on Austers, or is it the official view that they should not keep their hands in? If so, let us be told.

Mr. Ward

The official view is that they should——

Mr. Beswick

Are they going to do it? The hon. Gentleman has not explained.

Mr. Ward

I said it in my opening speech.

Mr. Beswick


Mr. Ward

I certainly did. The hon. Member will see it in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow.

Mr. Beswick

For two weeks a year, or what?

Mr. Ward

I ask the hon. Member not to waste time, but to read my speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. He will find that I have said all this before.

Mr. Beswick rose——

Mr. Ward

I said all this in my opening——

Mr. Beswick

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Willams) is always telling other people to be quiet——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The debate is becoming a little disorderly. We are having a series of dialogues rather than a consecutive speech.

Mr. Ward

The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North spoke about the length of overseas tours. He said that it might be better if they were shortened. I agree that at first sight that is an attractive proposition. It would mean large savings in married quarters, education, family passages and so on. The difficulty is that the advantages are quite illusory. An airmail would still spend the same proportion of his service overseas. Instead of having fewer longer tours he would have more shorter ones. In addition, he would have to face an appreciable part of his service without ever being joined by his family. We could not send out his family unless the airman was overseas for a certain length of time.

For these and other reasons, including the increasing cost of movements to and from overseas, and the greater turbulence of postings in home commands, the suggestion is impracticable. Civilians do certain specialised jobs overseas. For example, telegraph line installers are Post Office employees. The suggestion is impracticable.

The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) suggested that the Air Ministry was attracting agricultural labourers away from the land. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member is not here."] In that case, I will not deal with that point.

I was more than astonished by the unjust and wholly unwarranted attack on my noble Friend made by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury. I only hope that the hon. Member has the courage to repeat his accusations to my noble Friend, so that he will have the chance of answering back himself. Meantime. I assure the hon. Member that everything he said has no foundation whatever in fact.

The hon. Member spoke about airfields being built in 1930, and said that was one of the reasons why we should keep them on. But, in the 'thirties we were not flying Hunters, Meteors, and Vampires; we were using biplanes, and there is quite a different problem today. The hon. Member also spoke of the closing of an airfield in my constituency, at Perdiswell. The truth is that the Worcester City Council has taken a very realistic view and ruled that it was much too small for modern aircraft; the field has been turned into a football field and for that purpose it is quite properly being used.

The hon. Member asked why it was necessary that an announcement should be made on 19th December. Of course, as one would expect from him, he insinuated that there was a sinister motive, and that we were afraid to debate the matters in the House. All I would say is that that is quite unworthy of consideration. The facts are that it was essential to give notice to these schools by 1st January so that the notices would be effective before the end of the financial year; and it was out of courtesy to the House that I thought I should tell hon. Members before I told the schools themselves.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) spoke about the speed of production, and I must take him up on one point. He said that we should let modifications argue for themselves in the squadrons. I must say that I heartily disagree with him. The R.A.F. squadron pilot should not be expected to be a test pilot; he cannot be expected to take risks of that sort. The hon. Member referred to Russian pilots and the M.I.Gs. and it may be that the Russians do these things differently; but we will not subject our squadron pilots to these risks. He also spoke about publicity, and the presentation of it, and I will certainly look into that question, and also the question of the fly-past and review leaders. I would remind him that R.A.F. officers do not like it to be thought that they are "shooting a line."

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised the question of the value of National Service. I should like to make it clear, as I tried to do in the middle of my speech to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. E. Shinwell), that the National Service man is of real value, both during his statutory service, and when on the Reserve. We employ National Service men in a wide variety of administrative, as well as technical, posts, and the average training period is six months. So, we get an average of 18 months' productive service from them.

We also make arrangements to take advantage of the large number of deferred apprentices who come in, and from them we get advanced tradesmen and a number of junior technical officers as well. A man is liable to immediate recall in the event of emergency, but he is also called up from time to time for refresher training, and we shall be dependant on our National Service reservists for bringing the control and reporting system into operation and up to full establishment in time of war. The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) wondered—and told the House that he had taken the advice of some friends about it—whether to raise the personal matter of West Kirby. I hope he will forgive me if I say that I think he was badly advised. Some mud of this kind always sticks, and I think it would have been better had he written to me and asked for full details before he raised the matter in the House. It is bad luck on people when these things are raised in the House and when, in fact, there is no foundation for them. Even though they are cleared in a private letter from the Air Ministry, there is bound to be some mud sticking to them at the end of it.

Mr. Shackleton

I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that I raised this matter in a most moderate way, and to suggest that a matter of public interest should not be so raised on the ground that some mud might stick to somebody seems to me a most remarkable proposition. Even now I am asking that the matter should be investigated—the hon. Gentleman has given no undertaking to do that—so that, if necessary, there may be a proper clearance of these charges. It is a very serious matter.

Mr. Ward

I have assured the hon. Member that inquiries have proved that there is nothing in it. I will investigate the matter, and I hope the hon. Member will settle it by asking me a Question in the House so that the answer may be given publicly.

Mr. Shackleton


Mr. Ward

The hon. Member also asked when the Provost-Vampire sequence would be produced. The answer is, of course, as soon as the aircraft come off the production lines.

Both the hon. Member for Preston, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North asked what engines we were planning to use for the new basic jet trainer which I told the House we had ordered in small numbers for evaluation trials. The engine will be the Armstrong-Siddeley Viper engine, and we have every reason to believe that it will be a very useful aeroplane for the purpose for which we ordered it, namely, evaluation. I know there are several schools of thought on this matter. Many believe that it is wrong to start pupils off on jets. Others believe it the right thing to do, and the only way to settle the argument is to try it out in the training organisation with a few aircraft.

I share the anxiety of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) about the air defences of the country. I think he will remember my speech last year in which I said so in fairly plain terms. I am sorry if he thought my speech today was a reticent confession. It was certainly not intended to be; it was intended to be a sober progress report of what we have been able to do in the last 12 months. I thought the House would appreciate a rather factual statement, which was what I sought to give.

My hon. and gallant Friend then went on to talk about the new types of Russian bombers and described their formidable qualities and performance. He said that we would need to intercept and shoot down 80 to 90 per cent. of them. If that is his view—and I would not dissent from it—it is not really very realistic to say that we could do that with anything but the latest fighter. Therefore, it is really better not to go on spending money on straight wing types, but to clear the decks and try to get the swept-wing types into production and off the line as quickly as possible.

Mr. A. Henderson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the view expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey)? I never had the information that the Russians had any four-jet bombers in service with their squadrons.

Air Commodore Harvey

What I said was that they had their four-engined jet bomber flying in 1948.

Mr. Ward

I took it that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield was "in the know."

My hon. and gallant Friend also asked about cadetships for the technical branch. The hon. Member for Lincoln touched upon the same point. It is very important. Last year we introduced a new scheme for cadetships for training permanent technical officers. It is open to boys between 17 and 19½ years of age who are educationally qualified to enter a university. There is one year's officer training and professional instruction at the R.A.F. Technical College at Henlow, followed by a three years' honours degree course at a university and six months' applied training at the Technical College.

We have arranged places at universities for nearly all of the first batch of 20 of the technical cadets who entered Henlow last September. The standard required is the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) in scientific subjects. The support of the scheme has been most encouraging. Over one hundred applications have been received and we were able to select the full quota of 20 suitably qualified candidates. We have also begun training the first class of technical cadets on a three years' course, part of which will be specially directed towards electronics and which will be carried out entirely at the R.A.F. Technical College, Henlow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) asked about photographic reconnaissance. Our aim is to keep the Photographic Reconnaissance Force roughly in step with the main operational forces it is designed to support. There is a short-range P.R. force with the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Europe; a medium-range force in the United Kingdom, under the operational control of Bomber Command, and in Commands overseas. Later there will be a long-range P.R. force to match the new V Class squadrons of bombers. At present, the short-range P.R. force is equipped with Meteors. We plan to replace this with a version of the Swift.

My hon. Friend also asked whether the medium-range P.R. force would be completely equipped with Canberra P.R.3 aircraft before the end of this year. I have now checked the matter and I am glad to be able to give him this assurance. There has been some delay in bringing the aircraft into service; some modifications had to be made. Today, as a result of development trials, the difficulties have been overcome and the Canberra should prove a very good aircraft indeed for photographic reconnaissance work. There will also be a later version of the Canberra 3 with an even better performance. The long-range P.R. force will be equipped with Valiant aircraft in phase with the expansion of the jet medium-bomber force.

My hon. Friend asked whether we were satisfied with progress in aerial reconnaissance and whether we had satisfactory aircraft and equipment. The essence of aerial photography is to be able to out-fly the enemy. That means flying faster and higher than was done in the last war and twice as far. That in turn means new cameras with twice the focal length and able to take twice as many pictures in the same time.

All that has presented very difficult problems, but they are being tackled and gradually overcome. There is also the weather problem, which is being met by the development of radar equipment. Finally, the hon. Member for Lincoln asked whether we had overlooked the development of the light interceptor aircraft. We have not. The air staff has been interested for sometime in its development. The project was for a light aircraft in which the armament and equipment would be much simplified. Unfortunately, there is only a certain amount of money and resources available for research and development. This particular project is not sufficiently promising at present to justify its inclusion in the current programme for research and development by the Ministry of Supply. The project is still being pursued as a private venture and we shall watch development of it with the greatest interest.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about Commonwealth co-operation, which is important. I will give some examples of that co-operation. The R.A.F. is working with Australian squadrons in Malta, with New Zealand squadrons in Cyprus, and with Australians in Malaya. United Kingdom officers, in considerable numbers, are in the Indian and Pakistan Air Forces and the United Kingdom provides the Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Australian Force.

I hope I did not give the impression that we are in any way less keen on flying scholarships than the hon. Member for Lincoln himself was. I know it was one of his pets when he was in office. I am sure he will agree it is no use giving a flying scholarship to a boy who cannot get any further when he comes into the R.A.F. and who gets ploughed in his ground subjects. We are trying to ensure that a boy has sufficient intelligence to cope with the rest of his R.A.F. training before we spend more money on him and give him a flying scholarship. I am well aware there are many points I have had to leave unanswered, but I have been speaking long enough. I end by giving my usual assurance on this occasion that I will carefully read HANSARD and answer other points by correspondence.

12.39 a.m.

Mr. Wigg

I had intended to put a few questions on Vote A, but there are one or two other points which have arisen. On the question referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), I find it difficult to believe men could be ordered to stand to attention for several hours on end. What probably happened was that they were kept on parade for several hours on end. It seems the Under-Secretary has completely failed to appreciate the seriousness of the charge. It is a most disgraceful charge and I should have thought he would have been so concerned with the honour of the R.A.F. that he would not have attacked my hon. Friend, but have thanked him and have said there would be an immediate inquiry into this allegation.

It seems the hon. Gentleman needs to learn a little from the experience of the Secretary of State for War in regard to the way he treats this House. His comments to the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) are a matter between him and the hon. Member who sits on his side of the House; but his attitude to a Member of the House of Commons is a matter for the House. I should have thought that the Under-Secretary came very near to involving himself in a breach of Privilege. He threatened his hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thombury not with anything he might say but with what his noble Friend might say.

Mr. Ward

Was the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in the House?

Mr. Wigg

I heard the speech and I am not making any comment on the merits.

I was saying that any hon. Member, whether on this side of the House or on the opposite side has a perfect right to say what he chooses. If his remarks are out of order, that is a matter for Mr. Speaker. If the Minister thinks it outrageous and says so, I do not complain, but there is a complaint when he threatens his hon. Friend with what the noble Lord is going to do and——

Mr. Ward


Mr. Wigg

HANSARD will bear me out. If I am wrong I will willingly withdraw. It is within my recollection and I think it is within the recollection——

Mr. Ward

I said nothing of the sort.

Mr. Wigg

Let me finish my sentence. It is within the recollection of hon. Members in all parts of the House that he said he invited his hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury to repeat to the Minister what he had had to say here.

Mr. Ward

That is exactly what I said. What is threatening about that?

Mr. Wigg

The Under-Secretary has been a Member of the House since 1945 and I should have thought he must know that what is said in the House is privileged and what is said outside is not privileged.

Mr. Ward


Mr. Wigg

What is to happen to the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury if he says what he said here to the noble Lord the Secretary of State?

Mr. Ward

All I was suggesting was that my hon. Friend should repeat to my noble Friend the remark that he made to me. There is no threat there.

Mr. Beswick

With what object?

Mr. Ward

Because I thought it unfair that such an attack should have been made on my noble Friend when he was not in a position to answer for himself.

Mr. Wigg

The question of unfairness has nothing to do with it. An hon. Member on any side of the House is privileged inside the House. What happens outside is not privileged. What the Under-Secretary is doing, therefore, is threatening one of his hon. Friends. Why does he invite his hon. Friend to say outside to the noble Lord what he has said here? What is the noble Lord going to do? Punch him on the nose?

What is to happen to the hon. Member? What is in the Under-Secretary's mind? I should have thought that if the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury said something particularly outrageous to the Under-Secretary, the latter could do what he liked about it here; that is a matter between hon. Members opposite and the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury. But what the Under-Secretary must not do is to come here and threaten any hon. Members with what is to happen to them outside the House for what they do inside. That, in my submission, is grossly improper and I hope very much indeed that the Under-Secretary will learn better and not do such a thing again.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]