HC Deb 19 March 1953 vol 513 cc285-313

REPORT [12th March]


Resolution reported, That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 302,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1954.

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

7.16 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

In view of the lateness of the hour, I do not propose to take up much time, but I should like to raise several matters which were not fully covered during the main debate last week. The Under-Secretary, in his speech on that occasion, referred to the refitting and modernising of our control and reporting system which, as the House knows, was given high priority by the last Government in the £4,700 million programme, and he reported to the House that the work was well on the way to completion.

Important as the deterrent powers of a modern strategic bomber force may be, it must be combined with an effective air defence system and should not be in place of it. Any effective air defence, in turn, depends upon an efficient radar screen, which is sometimes called the eyes of an air force. It is satisfactory to know from the Under-Secretary that such good progress is being made with the strengthening and extension of the radar screen round our own coasts.

An effective radar screen in Western Europe facing the Iron Curtain is, in my view, just as essential to our national security, even more perhaps, as it will extend the warning period possibly to more than one hour as against the warning of five minutes or so which we shall get if we have to rely solely upon the radar screen round our coast in the event of a sudden onslaught by jet aircraft. A radar screen facing the Iron Curtain would enable us to organise our air defences in depth, the value of which to our national security cannot be over-estimated.

The recent incidents affecting two Lincoln bombers—one with such tragic results—raises the question whether our radar screen in Europe is adequate and effective. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he is satisfied that it is, because it is important to us and vital to those countries in Western Europe who are associated with us in N.A.T.O.

What is the position with regard to aircraft radar? During the week-end the Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command, as reported in the "Manchester Guardian," said: The development of jet aircraft, air frames and engines has run clear away from the development inside the aircraft. He is also reported as saying that Britain was lagging behind in radar development. Is that so? Surely there is no evidence that in research and development we are lagging behind even the United States of America or Russia? Both those countries may have caught up with us, but during the last war we were ahead of the whole world. I should like a reassurance on that point.

Now I pass to quite a different aspect. The hon. Member for Stroud and Thorn-bury (Mr. Perkins), speaking in the debate on the Air Estimates on 12th March, said: … the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he introduced the Estimates in 1948, reduced the amount from £212 million to £173 million, a cut of £39 million, which was the main reason for the fact that today we have not got modern machines in our squadrons. That is not in accordance with the facts, and for the purposes of the record I should like to state categorically that the size of the Estimates in March, 1948, did not delay by one day the arrival of modern machines in Royal Air Force squadrons.

That fact can be checked by the Undersecretary, although I doubt whether he will disagree with what I am saying. No production order, even off the drawing board—and all the modern machines such as the Hunter, the Swift, the Canberra and the V-class four-engine bombers have been ordered off the drawing board— could have been placed in 1948 for the very good reason that not one of the aircraft had reached the state of development which would have made it possible to place a production order.

Now I come to the question of married quarters. When he spoke in the debate on the Air Estimates, the Under-Secretary made what I thought was a very satisfactory reference to the question. He said: Our aim is still to provide a married quarter for every entitled officer and airman who wants one, and in the past year we have completed 3,000 quarters at home and 500 overseas. I think the Under-Secretary would agree that the record of the Air Ministry since the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, 1950, was passed—and even before that —has been excellent. It is the best of the three Service Departments.

I hope that his reference to the need for more loan money to proceed with the projected programme does not indicate that the Air Ministry is having difficulties, because the Second Report of the Committee of Public Accounts suggests, in paragraph 12, that some difficulty has arisen between the Air Ministry and the Committee. I hope these difficulties are going to be smoothed out because during the years when I was Secretary of State for Air I came to the conclusion that one of the vital factors in building up and maintaining morale and a spirit of contentment —and, therefore, one of the best recruiting factors—was the assurance to the wife of a potential recruit that she would not be separated from her husband. I hope the Treasury will not be difficult about this matter, and that sufficient money will be provided to enable this programme to proceed.

Speaking in the same debate the Undersecretary said: During the year, slightly fewer women joined the W.R.A.F. than in 1951."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12tb March. 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1519–1561.1 I agree that that is very disappointing. My experience justifies me in saying that women are specially qualified and extremely expert—they seem to have not quite so heavy a touch as the other sex —in such trades as radar operators and fighter plotters. I was extremely disappointed to know that in the last six months of 1952, the War Office had, for the first time, more women recruits than had the Air Ministry. I do not know what is the explanation, or what greater attractions have been offered to the women to make them go into the Army rather than into the W.R.A.F., but I hope that the Secretary of State and the Undersecretary will see to it that the Air Force are not going to be outbid by their opposite numbers.

Perhaps the explanation is to be found in paragraph 26 of the Memorandum to the Air Estimates, which says: The rate of recruiting for the Women's Royal Air Force has shown a slight decrease on the previous year. This is partly attributable to the disappointingly smaller number of new applicants to reach the required standards. I hope that the Air Ministry are not putting the standards too high. I quite appreciate that for certain trades the qualifications must naturally be higher than for others, but what are the standards which so many potential recruits are apparently not able to reach? Are they physical standards? In view of the importance of having a large number of women in the Air Force—especially in the control and reporting system—I hope we shall have an assurance that this matter will be looked into.

In discussing the financial provisions that have to be made for the Royal Air Force, we are all conscious of the daily hazards which face our airmen, and of their devotion to duty, which merits not only our admiration but our unceasing interest in their welfare.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)

I was extremely interested in the general remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) because his speech confirms me in a view that I have taken, that there has been running through all these debates on the Estimates of all three Services the general theme that during the past year we have made very satisfactory progress in strengthening our defences, with new technical devices and new weapons coming forward, but that we have, in consequence of that, a very serious manpower problem. This is a two-way manpower problem, and in a solution of it I think that the Air Ministry can help not only itself but the other Services.

First there is the problem of quality, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was referring. I agree with him that we should do everything we can to make this Service attractive to women, for there are many useful jobs that women could do in the technical services and so release men for other employment. The second is the problem of quantity, and that was exemplified by the Secretary of State for War when he referred to the "pipeline." That is to say, in the cold war we have commitments stretching from Korea at one end of the world to Germany at the other, and we have far too many men in far too many ships on the ocean wave, so that, as a result, we have far too few people at the important points. How can we help to minimise that pipeline?

It is due very largely to the pipeline that we find ourselves with no strategic reserve in this country, and with no real striking force. I quite understand why, and I quite agree that, the Air Ministry cannot at the moment build up a transport command and at the same time build up fighter squadrons and bomber squadrons, which obviously must have a very much greater priority. But because we have no transport aircraft we have to send all those troops, and not only soldiers but Air Force reserves and replacements, etc., by sea, and we have to leave our two striking forces, the only two we have—the Parachute Brigade in this country, and the admirable Royal Marine Commando—on the deck, so to speak; we have to leave them either on the ground, or, if they have to go anywhere, aboard ship.

I want to make a practical proposition. I realise that transport command may be a dream of the future, but one thing, I believe, can be done; that is, to use the three Princess flying-boats. One of those boats, I understand, is now undergoing flying trials, but with the wrong sort of engines. The other two are completed, or have nearly been completed, but have no engines at all. Bearing in mind the enormous fortune that has been spent on the building of those machines, surely it would be right, as a first priority, to fit them with the right type of engines and then hand them over to the Secretary of State for Air so that the Royal Air Force can employ them?

There are administrative reasons and tactical reasons for doing so. I understand, though I may be wrong, that those three flying-boats could take a Commando brigade or a brigade of parachutists at half the speed of sound to anywhere in the world.

Mr. A. Henderson

Not in one lift.

Mr. Gougfa

No, but I understand they can take something up to 200 troops per flying-boat. There are three flying-boats, so between them they could carry 600 troops. That would be a little more than a battalion.

Mr. Henderson

Two hundred per flying-boat?

Mr. Gough

Yes, so I understand; 600 in three lifts. From the tactical point of view those flying-boats would be useful. If we could take a striking force at that rate at very short notice and put it in a place where aggression might be threatened, that might well nip aggression in the bud.

Moreover, those flying-boats can earn their day-to-day keep. They could and should be used to cut the pipeline time down from weeks to days. I stand to be corrected, but I have been informed by those who, I believe, know their subject that every year those three flying-boats could achieve in the transportation of personnel as much as is achieved by six or seven troopships. If they can do that they will justify the cost of keeping them. Moreover, they do not require expensive runways. There is a strategic advantage in that, for if there were to be a war the enemy could bomb every runway in the country and those flying-boats could still fulfil their task.

It seems to me that our main problem is that of manpower. We are very short of manpower. The problem has two sides, the quality side and the quantity side. The quantity side is aggravated by the fact that our Forces are spread out in slow-moving sea transports all over the world. I believe that my proposition of using the Princess flying boats would help to mitigate the quantity problem, and I believe that we ought to take advantage of those flying boats.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

I was very interested in what the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) said about the flying boats, and, indeed, about transport command generally. I would remind him that an hon. Friend of mine had a Motion down about that subject.

I wish first of all, without, I assure the Under-Secretary of State, making heavy weather of it, to refer to the tragic incident that took place at the air display yesterday. There is a little bit of a feeling—I do not know whether it is justified—that some of these aerobatics have been conducted in unsuitable weather at times. I do not know whether that is so, but there is a certain amount of public alarm on the matter. I think it should be understood, however, that these displays are part and parcel of the general work of the Royal Air Force, and that they should not be regarded, as I think they may be by some people, as a waste and quite unnecessary.

I would take up a point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham, who spoke of the need for improved recruiting. I am sorry to see that although, compared with the previous year, there is no overall cut in the moneys paid to the Central Office of Information for recruiting publicity, there is none the less no increase, and although there is a small increase on another Vote it is not enough to match the increase in costs.

I feel that it is an extraordinary thing, at a time when we are increasing our rearmament and spending more money on defence, that the Government should continue to cut down on one of the most important sides of the work they are trying to do in fighting the cold war. I believe that it is necessary to increase the money for recruiting if we are to get the increased numbers we want, particularly of men suitable for the skilled trades and the Regulars. There has been a cut in the information services for recruiting to all three Services, and I think it is a very false economy.

I should now like to turn to certain matters that came up in the debate the other night. I hope that the Undersecretary of State will not think I am being patronising when I say that were it not for the fact that on other occasions he had not behaved offensively to the House, he would have got away with very few of the number of most objectionable things that he said during the debate to which I have referred.

He said something to his hon. Friend the Member for Strond and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) which was really quite ludicrous. He will remember what it was. I was not in the House before 1945, when the hon. Member temporarily departed from this House, but in the years before the war I understand it was an annual event for the hon. Member to go for the Secretary of State for Air. I think that there are times when the hon. Gentleman says things in a rather outrageous way, and I have objected most strongly to some of the things he has said, but I thought that the reply he received from the Undersecretary was in every way un-parliamentary.

Although the Under-Secretary was good enough to apologise to me for certain remarks which he made, I think he ought to make amends to his hon. Friend, who was discharging his constitutional right to make an attack on the Secretary of State. This is the only place where he can properly raise such a matter, and if the Secretary of State is not in this House, it is not the hon. Gentleman's fault; it is the fault of the Prime Minister and the Government.

The Under-Secretary also replied to a question which I put, but which I should like to ask him once more. I asked when the Provost-Vampire sequence would be introduced, and when it would be possible to dispense with the advanced flying training school. The answer I got was: The answer is, of course, as soon as the aircraft come off the production lines. I do not know whether that was meant as a smart answer. I certainly took it as such. But it is surely an answer which would be obvious before it was given. What I was asking for was some specific information, and if the Under-Secretary had not got it he could have said so. I do not think that was a proper answer. and I again ask him whether he can give me some information.

Finally, I should like to turn to the incident when he took me very severely to task for raising in the House the subject of National Service men at West Kirby. In saying that this was the sort of matter which should not be raised, he did make one categorical statement, namely: I have assured the hon. Member that inquiries have proved that there is nothing in it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1676.] I do not think the Under-Secretary will stick to that view now. We shall wait to see what the investigation produces, but that was a categorical statement which should only have been made on exact knowledge.

Since I was accused of bringing that matter up improperly, I should like to draw the Under-Secretary's attention to a letter I have received. I may say that one of the reasons I raised the matter was that I was reasonably convinced that some incident of this nature had taken place. I presented it to the House in that way, and I have now had some confirmation from outside. I have had a letter from an address in Lancashire which says: Please excuse me if I am wrong in writing to you, but I feel that I must because I am worried and because of it it is making me feel very ill. I read in the 'Daily Mail,' Friday, 13th March, your statement of the incident which occurred at West Kirby R.A.F. Station where a flight was kept standing to attention for a very long period when its new intake of National Service men arrived and that at least four men fainted. Dear Sir, it is true and correct, your statement, because my son is one who fainted, believe me please. I am telling you the truth and hope that you will understand. Perhaps my writing to you, sir, will, I hope, help others from having to endure such severeness at the start of their National Service. I realise there has to be discipline, but surely they have no need to be cruel and treat them as if they are not human. This kind of treatment only makes them more frightened, breaks their spirit, sir, and I am sure that is not fair play. The letter goes on in those terms. It is signed—I have the names; in fact, I have communicated the contents of this letter to the Ministry— Just one of many mothers who love their children with all their hearts and soul. I do not want to make too heavy weather of it, but I thought that a rather moving letter. There is no doubt that some such incident took place. I am reasonably certain of that, despite the positive statement made by the Under secretary: I have assured the hon. Gentleman that inquiries have proved that there is nothing in it. I am hoping that the publicity which has been given to this incident will put a stop to some of these incidents, and may perhaps lead to a general overhaul of the treatment of these National Service men.

I do not wish to pursue the Undersecretary further on it. He was good enough later in the debate to apologise. None the less, I do feel that that positive statement made by him on quite obviously insufficient information should be withdrawn. Had that happened in a more contentious field of politics I imagine very serious Parliamentary repercussions would have followed for the Minister concerned. I am quite sure that, now that these facts are available, he will pursue his inquiries with great vigour. I hope that the facts will prove not to be as bad as I have reported, but I am certain there is a need for the Under-Secretary, and for this House, to take very seriously the general feeling that is getting around, that on certain occasions there has been unnecessary bullying of National Service men.

That is all I have to say, except that I should like to remind the House, and especially the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), that I still believe to this day, and shall continue to believe, that a strong Air Force with a strong bomber force is one of the best defences of peace.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

The Under-Secretary got a bit of a pasting in the debate last week, and I have no doubt he is quite pleased with the much less crowded benches on this occasion and the quieter atmosphere which prevails. Most of us were rather sorry that he got into that trouble, because personally we have much regard for him.

I would say that a good deal of the trouble into which he ran arose out of the speech he made a year ago, because the story he told then, in firm and confident tones, was that his party had found the defences of the Royal Air Force woefully inadequate, but he said that things were now going to be all right: recruiting was improving, new machines were coming along, and the output of pilots would be more than double. The suggestion behind that speech, and certainly on the front pages of the newspapers the following day, was that everything would be all right in the Service simply because there was a new political party in power.

I was reminded of an occasion in my constituency two or three years ago when, at a recruiting meeting, I was introduced as the Member of Parliament, without any tag to it, to a visiting commanding officer, who said to me in confidential tones, "You know. I don't think recruiting will ever improve until the present lot are out of power and we get a new Government with Members with more interest in the Service." When I told him that I was one of the "present lot" and that I held a junior post in the Ministry, he was a little bit embarrassed. The point I wish to make is that I think that is bad talk; indeed, it is dangerous talk, and for either side to try to relate national capacity for service to any one political party is to do a disservice to all concerned.

If the Under-Secretary is tempted again to be too certain of what his Government are going to do, I hope he will reflect on the words he used about the training of pilots in the Air Estimates debate on 18th March of last year, when he said: the training expansion is now well under way, and during the coming year we shall be turning out about 3,000 fully trained aircrew, which is nearly twice as many as in 1951. During 1953. as a result of the opening of still more schools, we shall go very much higher. This I regard as solid progress."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 18th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2111.] It might have been solid, but it was not progress. The 3,000 target for last year was not reached. They were not far off it, but it was not reached. This year there will be no increase. Instead of going higher, the numbers trained will plunge much lower. The additional schools which he was saying only a year ago had been opened have, in fact, been opened and closed.

I tried to find out what was happening to these experienced instructors displaced from those schools. I am sorry for these men, as we all are, but from the Government and national points of view there is a loss if they leave flying, and we should make a greater effort than has yet been made to keep these men in service somewhere as pilots. I asked the Under-Secretary of State a Question on 21st January on this subject, and he replied: There is a very large variety of engagement open to them if they are suitable—four, five, six, seven or even eight years of Regular service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1953; Vol. 510, c. 1941.] I was very doubtful whether they were being offered up to eight years' Regular service as pilots, and I could not get the information at the time. I asked about it in last week's debate and the Undersecretary kept saying "Later, later." I got up once or twice to interrupt, and he told us that he would have the information at the end of the day. By the end of the debate all we knew was that about one-half of the displaced men had applied for entry into the Royal Air Force and had been granted commissions; and that one-third of that half were employed on air traffic and fighter control duties. Does that mean that the other two-thirds are employed on flying duties? Are two-thirds of the number who have been granted commissions being accepted for flying duties, and if so, what sort of engagement have they been given?

I ask the Under-Secretary again about the other half who have not applied for entry into the Royal Air Force. Are we making any effort to keep them in flying practice, or is any inquiry being made about the possibility of training them as civil pilots? I think the Air Ministry have an interest in this matter, because we all want to see a reserve of experienced flying people in the country.

There is another body of men on whom the country has spent much money and training, and whose services and skill are now, it seems, to be allowed to go to waste. I refer to the National Service men, and especially to the National Service men who were trained as pilots. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) last week tried to get an answer to this question, and eventually he walked out of the House in some disgust. Later on in the evening the Under-Secretary got very cross with me when I tried to get the same information. He did eventually tell me not to waste time, and that if I read the OFFICIAL REPORT I would find the information which I sought. I am bound to tell him it is a waste of time to read that speech in order to get this information. All we were told was that the country was getting good value from the National Service men.

I admit that in an interjection during the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) the Under-Secretary did say that it was hoped—nothing more than that—that these National Service men, having served their term, would join the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. That is not good enough, and I ask the hon. Gentleman, are all these National Service men who were trained as aircrew going to be kept in flying training after their two years is over? That is a straightforward question, and I should like him to answer it. If they are going to be kept in training, how and where are they going to do the training?

There is another factor which emerges from this debate and from Questions which I have put down in the last few days to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. In consequence of the Air Ministry decision to reduce the number of flying schools, it is pretty certain that some civil airports will have to close. They just cannot keep going to cater for club and private flying. If a number of these airports close, quite clearly a number of private flyers will have to give in. They cannot afford to keep their aircraft and do their flying, from an airport miles away. This thing is going to become quite a vicious circle; again, it means that the general reserve of flying experience and interest in this country is going to be thrown away.

The Air Ministry in previous years have said that they cannot be unconcerned about the reduction in private flying. Under the previous Government especially there was an acknowledgment of the importance to the nation of having this reserve of flying experience and some concessions were made. It would be worth the while of the Under-Secretary to look at this matter again, even at this late hour. Did the Air Ministry take into account when they decided to close these schools and to have the training overseas that there might be this shrinking effect on private flying in this country? Did they put this and other factors in the balance against the attraction of free flying in Canada?

There is another extraordinary and disquieting thing, that whilst we seem to be profligate and wasting skilled and experienced men who could be at our disposal, we are at the same time very seriously short of men in other branches of the Service. We were given the disquieting information about the lack of skilled men in the ground trades. We know that we have an average manning strength of 70 per cent., but that is an average and some trades are obviously below 70 per cent. They may be as low as 50 per cent. I should not be surprised if in one case it is probably not less than 50 per cent.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, there is no point in having these big machines coming along if we have not the men to service them. There is no point in having all the tradesmen but one to service them, because if one inspection is not carried out the machine does not get off the ground. It seems to me we have got to look at this problem again, and we have got to get some new ideas about recruiting. Some of the tricks which we have used over the last two or three years were probably a bit too smart. A Service man faced with the possibility of two years' National Service or, on the other hand, three years' voluntary service at a higher rate of pay would probably choose the latter, but that is not going to solve the problem of the Regular skilled men.

We are told today by the Under-Secretary that only one-third of the Regular recruits join for more than four years. The Royal Air Force on that basis is not going to be good enough. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) put his finger on one point when he said that he, as a member of a big aircraft manufacturing firm, paid so much more for the skilled men that the Air Force wanted. The extraordinary and, in some respects, absurd thing is that the money which the hon. and gallant Gentleman so generously gives to the engineers in his employ is State money just as much as the money which is paid out by the officer on a pay parade.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) is doubting that, but he is looking very doubtful about it. I hope he sees the point. The contract price and orders given to the aircraft manufacturing firms come from the Government, and this money which the Air Ministry pays for these machines in the last analysis fixes the rate of pay which goes to the engineers. I am saying it is rather absurd for the Air Ministry in a sense to compete for engineers to this extent, and as a result find themselves short of the same type of men for their own Service.

It seems to me that now or later on we are going to be faced with a need for a thorough investigation and inquiry into recruiting. The inquiry which we ought to have ought to go into the whole defence question, including the allocation of resources as between one Service and another, the allocation of resources as between the conventional weapons about which we know and the unconventional weapons like guided missiles and long-range rockets about which we know very little at all in this House.

Until we get all that information, debates in this Chamber will not be as useful and as fruitful as they ought to be and we shall not be able, as democratic representatives, to play our part in looking after the taxpayers' money that we ought to play. I hope that we shall try to evolve something within the Parliamentary system, such as a Military Affairs Committee, or something of that kind which can have access to all the facts upon which to base a proper judgment.

8.1 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) that the whole House should be devoted on these occasions to protecting the interests of the taxpayers and looking after their money. I have never made any claim to be a specialist in the Service debates, but I have always felt it my duty to approach them from the point of view of the ordinary citizen. I very much regret that so few Members attend to listen to Service debates and give us the benefit of their experience. Although I have intervened in the three debates— and I make no apology—I am very grateful for the tolerance which the House accords me on these occasions.

I have listened very carefully to every Service debate of every kind since 1945, and I have learned a lot. I cannot agree with the conclusion reached by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that the best way to secure peace is to have a stronger bomber force. That is a fundamental delusion. I believe that the only way to get peace is through negotiation, through understanding, through trying to understand what the supposed enemy nations are trying to get at and by realising that the big burden of armaments that we are piling up is the enemy. It is a burden on the whole of the Western and Eastern parts of world civilisation.

We have to find a way out, otherwise the burden of armaments will destroy us economically. If it comes to world war three, a very large part of the world will be destroyed in the way that old civilisations, Babylon and others, were destroyed in the past. When my hon. Friend turns to me and says: "The more bombers we get the nearer we are to peace," what does that mean to the world? I live in this great city. We all know that in a few days' time we are to have a bombing exercise in London in which the assumption will be that there are about 17,500 casualties and thousands of buildings destroyed. In Glasgow recently there was an exercise in which it was argued that one atom bomb dropped in the city would mean 7,000 casualties and the destruction of all buildings within a radius of one mile of the centre.

Today we have probably the strongest force of bombers that we have had since the war, but I do not believe that anybody would say, looking round this country, that we have a greater sense of security.

Mr. Shackleton

Would my hon. Friend have a greater sense of security if we had no bomber force?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, I think I would. That is precisely the point I want to make.

Southern Ireland feels far more secure about human life than we do in this country. I believe that the danger to this country is because we have so many bombers. The Prime Minister has recently told us, and has repeated it, that the result of bringing this huge concentration of American potential atom bombers to this country is that the bomber base attracts other bombers. believe that if this country had no bombers it would not attract the bombers of the other nations.

The argument used in support of more bombers is the argument used by the people in the other countries. I was in China recently, and I stood on the stand during their 3rd October celebration. I saw their jet bombers and fighters go past, and I said to a friend standing near me: "That is not a good advertisement for the peace conference that is beginning tomorrow." The reply was: "These bombers are not for oppression; they are for defence." That was the argument of the Chinese—" The more bombers we can have the less possibility there is of our country being destroyed." I look upon the city of Pekin as an old centre of Eastern civilisation. It would be a calamity and a crime to destroy Pekin.

The same applies to Moscow. I stood on the Lenin Hills in Moscow and saw the new city arising. I have seen their new university, one of the best in the world. I have seen the tremendous rebirth of that great city. It is as much a crime to think about the bombing of Moscow and Pekin as it is to think of the bombing of Glasgow and London. The very idea of dropping an atom bomb upon these congested cities, with their men, women, children and institutions of great social importance, such as hospitals and schools, is fundamentally wrong, and what is fundamentally wrong cannot be militarily right.

Mr. Shackleton

Does not my hon. Friend realise that the idea of dropping bombs is fundamentally wrong to all Members of the House of Commons?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, and if anything is fundamentally wrong then it cannot be militarily right. If we argue on the assumption that we have to get more bombers in order to get peace, we shall be up against an insoluble economic problem. In the debate on the Air Estimates we were told that we needed so many bombers and that the cost of one big bomber was £400,000. I estimated, and this has not been challenged, that 1,000 of the bombers would cost £400 million, which is financially and economically impossible.

What is to happen if we cannot get international agreement? Next year we shall get a demand for still more expensive bombers and a still greater number. The cost of a bomber is going up astronomically. Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert said, in a letter to "The Times" recently, that we had not a really good night fighter to keep out the bombers. If all nations act on the idea "The more bombers the more likely we are to get peace," when are they going to stop? Is there any possibility that in two or three years' time we shall be in a position to say to the Russians: "Unless you disband your bombing fleet we shall bomb your cities and bomb you to blazes"? We have an insoluble problem if we look upon it in that way. The whole future of humanity depends upon its renunciation of the idea that armed force can necessarily save the nations of the world.

That is the theme I have tried to argue throughout these debates. I do not believe that it has been answered properly, and I believe that we shall have to retrace our steps. War has now become so terrible, so unimaginable, that it is in the interests of the civilised and uncivilised nations of the world that this mad armaments race, expressed in terms of more bombers and bigger fleets and bigger armies, should be seen to be a fundamental delusion. Until we get rid of that delusion, we shall go steadily forward either to bankruptcy or to disaster.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

This is the second time within a week that it has been my task to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It is, of course, not a question of "follow-my-leader" because, although I value his friendship and I hope I have it still—

Mr. Emrys Hughes indicated assent.

Mr. de Freitas

—and I respect him. he does not stand in any way as a leader of this side of the House in his attitude towards defence. It is clear that he does not reflect the views of the great party to which we both belong.

There is one important point he made which I should like to bring to the attention of the Under-Secretary and the House. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that he was not a specialist in matters concerned with defence but was speaking as an ordinary hon. Member making criticisms. That, of course, is the purpose of these debates and it is right that they should not be mere technical discussions. On the point of criticism, I would draw the attention of the Undersecretary to the end of my speech the other night. I pointed out that our criticisms were not made to score party advantage but were designed to assist in making this great Service, the Royal Air Force, a better Service and an even better protector of peace.

I thought the Under-Secretary did less than justice to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), who raised the question of events at West Kirby. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was justified in writing it off, as he gave the House the impression that he was doing, and regarding it as mere mud-slinging. It was a valid criticism made by an hon. Member of this House who is a loyal Reservist of the Royal Air Force and who has a high regard for the Royal Air Force and its name. I would also like the Under-Secretary to reflect on the criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), who referred to the Undersecretary having had to eat so many of his words in the speech he made last year, especially on the matter of flying schools.

As the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) drew our attention to the matter of manpower, I want to repeat a small criticism of last week, with which the Under-Secretary had not time to deal. These Estimates show an increase of air officers and senior officers in the Air Ministry and a decrease of junior officers for next year, an increase of warrant officers and N.C.O.s and a decrease of airmen. What is the reason?

I should also like to deal with another detail in the Air Estimates. I came into the Chamber during the previous debate on the Army but I could not follow the discussions going on about Colonial Forces between my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the Undersecretary of State for War. The trend in the Air Estimates this year—a small trend—is that there are to be less locally recruited Maltese in the Royal Air Force, less locally recruited men in Iraq, less locally recruited men in Malaya. Many hon. Members will have seen at one time or another, as I have, all these local forces. They are impressive. Do not these local troops allow a saving in money and also in United Kingdom manpower? If the trend this year is away from their employment, what is the reason?

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge mentioned a matter which both he and I and other hon. Members raised last Thursday. If the State has invested thousands of pounds in a young National Service pilot, what is the Air Ministry going to do to see that this money is not wasted? I believe it costs more to train a young man to fly than it does to train him for one of the learned professions, for instance the Bar. That is a great investment by the State and none of my hon. Friends were satisfied by the explanation given by the Under-Secretary.

We cannot expect that these young pilots can have jet experience in a civil flying school, but is it really the fact that there is no value in any other form of flying training to keep their hands in— perhaps on an Auster or a Tiger Moth? We are told that the Government are moved by motives of economy. I hope they have not overlooked the fact that there is really economy in using civil flying schools.

We all know that if a civil contractor has a fitter he does not have to worry about his flat feet or the state of his morals. But such things have to be looked after, and a highly elaborate and expensive organisation set up, in the case of a Service man. We should like to know why so much emphasis has been placed on removing this work from the field of civil contractors. What about the ground tradesmen on whom hundreds of pounds have been spent? Surely that money which has been invested will not be wasted? What are the plans for Reserve training? We are entitled to be told.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge referred again to the former instructors at the schools which have been closed down. All of us who have been connected in any way with flying have had sad letters about these instructors who have spent most of their lives in this profession and now find themselves out of work. Often they are getting on in years, in the late 40's, and it is difficult for them to find another job. I know from correspondence that the Undersecretary has been trying to find jobs for them. I hope he has good news for them tonight, and that will mean good news for us, because all of us in this House are most concerned about them.

Now may I sum up on a more general point? I say "sum up" because our hon. Friends interested in the Army Estimates spoke at length and I see that the "Silent Service" is here and obviously does not wish to remain silent; it is entitled to some time. We have a fair point to make on the general record of the Government on aviation. Nearly every chamber of commerce lunch ends with a reference to the fact that once we ruled the sea and it is now our destiny to rule the air. We have a wonderful opportunity to do so but the Government are throwing it away.

Last year the Government deprived our civil aviation of a Minister to fight for it. This year, not content with having no Minister, there is to be no Ministry exclusively concerned with civil aviation. It becomes a part-time job for someone who is otherwise engaged in discussing zebra crossings in the Ministry of Transport. All that means that it is 10 times as important as it was before for the Air Ministry to be concerned with what is left of our civil flying schools, yet the Government have shown that they are determined to strike even harder at those schools.

I submit that the Government are showing little interest, concern or comprehension of the importance of air-mindedness. I do not blame the Undersecretary—he knows that. I ask him to pass on our criticisms to his earthbound colleagues and to remind them what century we live in, to remind them that it may be true that Marlborough is doing well in his campaigns on the Continent, and to tell them that there may be some truth in the rumour which has come from the south coast that Bleriot has just flown the Channel.

8.20 p.m.

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

The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) started his speech by referring to the control and reporting system in Western Europe and emphasising the importance of organising our air defences in depth. He asked whether our radar screen was adequate and effective.

I agree most heartily about the importance of having our air defences in depth and of having efficient and effective radar defences. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, of course, that the radar defences in Europe are under the control of S.A.C.E.U.R. He also knows that I cannot go into any very great detail without prejudicing operational security, but I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman—it was this assurance for which he asked—that we have the closest operation with S.A.C.E.U.R. and that the radar chain facing the Iron Curtain is being pressed forward with as much urgency as our own in the United Kingdom.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned some remarks by the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command. I armed myself with "The Times" and confirmed what he said. I must make it plain, of course, that the Commander-in-Chief was expressing a personal view. Nevertheless, the House will remember that in my opening speech last week, when talking about the research and development programme as a whole, I said: Work is also proceeding on new electronic equipment. Electronics help to increase accuracy, and accuracy alone can overcome the limitations in numerical strength imposed upon us. The complexity of this equipment has increased enormously as the performance of aircraft has gone up, and a particularly heavy load has been imposed on the electronic industry."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1517.] I think that that is true.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know it is continually a race between the new developments in aircraft and their performances, and trying to keep up with the electronics. For that reason the electronics industry has had a heavy load imposed upon it. There may be some slight production difficulties, as are present in most industries under a heavy programme of rearmament.

Mr. A. Henderson

And in other countries?

Mr. Ward

Yes; but I think it is quite safe to say that, as far as technical knowhow is concerned, we are still second to none.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked for the dates of production orders of the new types of aircraft, and perhaps for the record he would like me to quote them: the Canberra, March, 1949; the Hunter, October, 1950; the Swift, November, 1950, and the Valiant, February, 1951.

Next, the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the married quarters position and asked me to give a few more details. We have completed some 3,500 married quarters this year, which, although not reaching the 4,000 reached in one year under his administration, nevertheless is not too bad. It is unlikely that we shall ever again reach that high figure of 4,000, however hard we try, because there are certain limiting factors.

For instance, we must avoid as far as possible taking good agricultural land. Until recently we had a lot of our own land on which to build. Finding suittable land delays us and makes site planning more difficult. Then, as the national housing programme develops, we shall be forced, in order to qualify for the terms of the housing loan, to site our quarters where the local planning authority thinks best. In many cases the sites that they select are some distance from the parent airfield, and this, too, causes delays. Finally, instead of building large blocks of houses at individual stations, we now need comparatively small pockets of married quarters at a fairly large number of stations, and this also makes for much slower progress.

Mr. A. Henderson

May the House take it that the hon. Gentleman's Department expect no difficulty in relation to obtaining the requisite authority to raise money under the 1950 Act as it may be amended?

Mr. Ward

I was just coming to that. As regards the housing loan, the Government will in due course ask Parliament to vote a further sum under the Act, because the amount of money which they have at the moment runs out in 1953–54.

On the question of the W.R.A.F., the right hon. and learned Gentleman quite rightly asked me to amplify what I said last week about recruiting. Some 3,350 women joined the W.R.A.F. in 1952. This was not quite so good as 1951, but the falling off in 1952 was proportionately less than for men. I was asked about standards. Of course, we could recruit more women if we were prepared to accept a lower standard, but we do not want to do that because, in particular, those members of the W.R.A.F. who are to be employed in the control and reporting system must be of a type on whom we can rely completely as regards intelligence and integrity.

For these reasons we have not accepted more than one-third of the 10,000 women who have applied to join during each of the past three years. I think that once it becomes generally known that the W.R.A.F. are interested only in women of the highest quality we shall attract far more of the right type. I think there are already indications that interest in the W.R.A.F. is increasing. As regards the other point made about the Army, we shall do our best not to be outdone by their recruiting. I do not know whether this has something to do with the nice green uniforms they wear, but at the moment they are getting more recruits than we are.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) asked about the Princess flying boats. He will realise that this is a very complex subject. I will try to answer briefly, although I am afraid I cannot do justice to the subject in such a short time. The Minister of Supply, on 17th March, 1952, made a statement on the Princess flying boat. The main points to remember are that there is a limited amount of money available for spending on all forms of defence and to use the Princess in a transport role would need very expensive provision in the way of staging posts, terminal buildings, marine craft and so on. The provision of all these things is likely to make the Princess uneconomical for this purpose in peace.

Another point to remember is that, as I announced last week, we have ordered a prototype of the transport version of the Valiant which we believe will have a tremendous performance and will be far more efficient and economical to operate in a transport role than the Princess flying boat is likely to be.

Mr. Beswick

Does that mean that the whole conception of using the Princess flying boat when the engines are available has now been given up?

Mr. Ward

No. Indeed, the Minister of Supply said: In the meantime, the first Princess flying boat, which is now nearing completion, will be fitted with Proteus II engines, so that experimental test flights can proceed."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 177.]

Mr. Beswick

I know what the Minister of Supply said, but the hon. Gentleman is advancing arguments against its use at any time.

Mr. Ward

No, I am saying that in present conditions of economic stringency I cannot raise the hopes of the House that there will be a requirement in the transport field. The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) asked about recruiting publicity. I can assure him that we are giving that matter very serious thought. We are examining as closely as possible every means we can think of for attracting more recruits of the right type, including the method of publicity.

He asked if I could be more explicit about the date of the introduction of the Provost Vampire training sequence. I am very sorry if I gave the impression of being smart or giving a sharp answer last week. It was just an answer which came to me because it was so obvious. In brief, the first course of Provosts ought to start in the autumn and the training on the Vampire will start early in 1954, as soon as the first Provost-trained pupils come along. As I explained, without at all meaning to be smart, the limiting factor is the production of Provosts.

I confess that I am not altogether surprised that the hon. Member for Preston, South spoke about the incident he raised last week which, he claimed, took place at West Kirby. I feel on reflection that my denial of the incident in my winding up speech was much too categorical, based as it was on telephone inquiries to the unit during the evening. I was of course influenced by the somewhat unlikely terms of the incident which the hon. Member described on that day and by my natural reluctance to believe that such an incident was even possible in the Royal Air Force.

Nevertheless, as I told the House at the end of that debate, I have no wish whatever to be discourteous to the hon. Member. I again apologise for having given the impression that I resented his criticism or in any way questioned his undoubted right to raise this matter if he so wished. I know what a friend of the Royal Air Force the hon. Member is. If any further proof were needed it has been amply provided year after year —as the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) pointed out—by the hon. Member for Preston, South returning to Coastal Command voluntarily to carry out his training. I cannot say any more about this now because I know the hon. Member would agree we should not prejudge the result of the very thorough inquiry into all the circumstances which I have now put into hand.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) spoke of the Reserve school position and particularly about redundant instructors, and asked some questions about them. The first question was how many have been accepted as pilots and for how long? He asked how many were accepted for secretarial and flying control branches. The answer is about half of those who applied have been, accepted either as pilots or for ground branches including the secretarial and flying control branches. I am sorry I cannot give the exact figures, which I could have given had I had notice of the question. Some have been accepted for the longest short-service period, which is eight years. In addition, we have circularised the firms concerned drawing attention to the Branch at the Air Ministry responsible for resettlement advice and assistance. I am glad to say that although not many have taken advantage of these facilities some have been steered into civilian employment.

On the general question of the reserve which was referred to also by the hon. Member for Lincoln, I will again try to make myself clear. I am afraid I have failed so far. The House will recognise that I am in some difficulty, because I cannot obviously give specific numbers. Nor can I give the strategic assumptions on which our considerations have been based. If the House will accept those limitations I will do my best to explain the matter as fully as possible.

When looking at this problem as a whole it must not be forgotten that within the Regular Air Force there are a number of young G.D. pilots fully trained who in the normal course happen to be doing non-operational duties. They could be replaced quickly by officers from the administrative and special duties branches, and could go into the front line at once.

Behind them are a number of Reservists not long out of the Service, and not far removed from recent operational flying. They too must be given refresher flying on jets under Service arrangements to meet immediate requirements on mobilisation. The number of Reservists to be kept in training and the type of training given must be related to our wartime requirements. We are at present giving training at Service stations to some 250 pilots, and 300 other aircrew each year who, at their own request, return to their own stations for their continuous training.

There is no question of the value of this training. We are doing all we can to extend these arrangements. For the rest we shall during the next 12 months at any rate go on training on Chipmunks and Ansons at the Reserve flying schools we are keeping on, and some 3,000 aircrew will be called up for training at these schools. Priority will be given to people who have recently left the Service—this meets the specific question asked by the hon. Member for Uxbridge—and to National Service aircrew who join the R.A.F.V.R. instead of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The remaining vacancies will be filled by aircrew selected by Home Command, taking into account such factors as age, flying experience in the appropriate operational rôle and the time which has elapsed since the pilot last flew in that rôle. I do not think I can make the position clearer than that, nor do I think we can afford to do more than that in terms either of money available or of carefully worked out war-time requirements.

I wish to correct an impression which I inadvertently gave last week when I said that training in Canada was carried out at civil schools. I have checked that, and I find I am wrong: it is carried out at Service schools.

The hon. Member for Lincoln raised the question of the recruitment of local forces. He will appreciate that the numbers of local forces given on page 16 of the Estimates represent not actual strengths but the estimated effective strengths in the coming year. The figures for 1953–54 are a little lower than those for 1952–53 because we have taken a slightly more realistic view of the number of recruits who are likely to be obtained. If the actual strengths of the units on 1st February this year are compared with those on 1st February last year it will be found that, although one unit alone, the R.A.F. Regiment (Malaya), has fallen a little in numbers, R.A.F. Malaya and R.A.F. Levies (Iraq) have increased slightly while R.A.F. Malta remain the same. I am glad to assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no general downward trend in the recruiting of these levies.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the numbers of senior officers in the Air Ministry are up and the numbers of junior officers are down, and also why the numbers of warrant officers are up and the numbers of airmen are down. In the short time I have had to look at this—

Mr. de Freitas

I mentioned the matter last week.

Mr. Ward

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I was afraid I had missed it in going through his speech. I wonder if he is looking at the wrong page. On page 12 he will find that the number of air officers increased by 10, but that is for the Royal Air Force as a whole and not merely at the Air Ministry. In the case of warrant officers and noncommissioned officers, page 14 shows that the numbers have gone up, but that is also for the Royal Air Force as a whole. On the other hand, in the case of the Air Ministry, the hon. Gentleman will find that the numbers of air marshals, air vice-marshals, air commodores and group captains have remained exactly the same. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will check this again.

Mr. de Freitas

Lest the admirals become annoyed with us—the Navy Estimate follows—I will not carry this further. My point was that the number of senior officers has increased but the number of junior officers has not.

Mr. Ward

I am afraid that I must finish now. I appreciate the point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln and other hon. Members about keeping people air-minded. No one is keener on that than I am. It is true to say, however, that that is not quite so important as it was in my day. When I started flying I was considered a raving lunatic by all my family and by most of my friends. Today that is not so, for people take to the air much more easily and naturally. I am sure my son does not regard it as any more dangerous to go into the air than it is to go to sea. We must bear in mind that the importance of air-mindedness is not quite so urgent as it was in earlier days.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

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