§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, recognising the urgent need to expand home food production, urges Her Majesty's Government to make Royal Air Force airfields available for agricultural use to a greater extent than at present, subject to reasonable limits to preserve the safety of aircraft.It has been said that the farmer likes the flat, well-drained sites, and so does the builder. I would add, so does the Royal Air Force and the Secretary of 1429 State for Air. There is always keen competition for the flat, level land which is well drained and which happens to produce the best crops, particularly arable crops, and such land is found in the Eastern Counties. The Air Force find that the best strategic sites for their airfields are also in the Eastern Counties, and so we always get these two interests pulling against one another.
I believe that every hon. Member, knowing how we are threatened from overseas, would agree that we should put defence before everything else. But I would remind hon. Members that though aircraft are perhaps our first line of defence, running a very close race with them in order of importance is the food production which we must have in case of war. We know that we cannot build airfields on swamps, sand and hilltops, but for every acre of agricultural land that is taken for them about a ton of foodstuffs is lost to this country, and will probably have to be brought from overseas, and even paid for with valuable dollars.
If so much agricultural land is taken in this way, it is all the more vital to produce more crops on airfields wherever that can possibly be done. That is why I am drawing the attention of the House to this subject today. Agricultural production under the present Minister of Agriculture has vastly improved in recent years. Only the other day we were told that we now have 400,000 more cattle than a year ago, more sheep, 11 per cent, more pigs, and that our cereal production is greater than ever before.
All that is going along very nicely, but we cannot be content. On many occasions I have said that there is so much capital in the farming industry that we must make every possible use of it that we can. We cannot just let it lie idle. Not only must we make use of it, but we must keep it there in case of war, when, more than ever, we shall want homegrown foodstuffs because of the difficulty of getting supplies from overseas.
I have always been in favour of no-waste campaigns, and I have advocated in this House the better use of our common land. But we have, as well as common land, our airfields, and I think that we could do a good deal in the way of producing a little more on them than 1430 we are doing at the moment. It is difficult to get exact figures concerning the acreage taken for airfields, but I do not think that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will contradict me when I say that it is about 170,000 acres. It is also difficult to get exact figures about how much of the land used for airfields is under cultivation. I understand that the figure is about 80,000 acres, or, roughly, 50 per cent. That is the figure which the Under-Secretary of State gave in reply to a Question last year.
A 50 per cent, use of our airfields for production is not enough, and I ask my hon. Friend to look into this. Not only should more of this land be under agricultural production, but that which is already under production should be made to produce more. In reply to a Parliamentary Question just over a year ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Air said that this subject was being examined very carefully, that the President of the Airfield Board and the Ministry of Agriculture were getting together in an endeavour to solve this problem. I have never seen any report on this matter, and I do not suppose that any has ever been produced. If possible, I should like my hon. Friend to say whether this body is functioning. Is it a committee or just the Minister of Agriculture, or who is it? What have they done, because there seems to be much to be discussed between the two Ministries? I wish to make some suggestions which might be useful to that committee. First, with reference to airfields that are in everyday use. I think all hon. Members will agree that for obvious reasons it is very difficult to have arable crops growing on airfields, and to have cattle or sheep grazing on them owing to the danger to landing aircraft. It is even difficult to have hay crops on them. But I am not quite certain that all those reasons are completely obvious, because aircraft are much heavier than they used to be.
They are meant to land on concrete runways, and, provided a margin of error is allowed for on each side, I am not sure that the Under-Secretary could not have more crops of wheat and oats growing on airfields. I do not think it would be so seriously dangerous to any aircraft that did not happen to land exactly on the runway. Indeed, such a crop might act as a buffer. I am not technically 1431 expert on that point, never having flown an aeroplane, but it is a matter which might be considered.
For the purpose of my argument, I am going to suppose that these arable crops are not very suitable for planting on airfields. That being so, the obvious solution, is, of course, grass drying. Short young grass is the kind that is liked for airfields, and it is also liked by the grass driers. Hon. Members will realise that grass drying requires a lot of expensive machinery. That machinery includes cutters, carriers, and the actual machinery for drying the grass.
It is very difficult to get farmers to spend the necessary money at the moment because they are not given long enough leases. They are told that they can have the crop for a few months ahead. If they were given a long lease—for several years —they would then be far more inclined to put up the money for the necessary equipment.
I understand that some airfields cannot get rid of their grass. I urge my hon. Friend to see whether he cannot give the farmers in the neighbourhood longer leases in order to encourage them to supply the equipment. I am distressed at the prospect this year, because the situation regarding grass drying has changed rather drastically. Since the Government have managed to import more and varied foodstuffs, it is exceedingly difficult to sell grass cubes or grass meal for the simple reason that they have so much to compete with. I read in my farming papers only this week that there are 30,000 tons of last year's crop remaining unsold at the present time.
What is the Air Force going to do about that situation? It must get its fields cleared, and I suggest that this year it may have to lower the rent or the charge which it makes to farmers for the privilege of clearing the grass. The R.A.F. may even have to give them the grass free of charge, or even pay them to take it away. One other suggestion is that it might pay the Air Ministry to fertilise the fields. Basic slag or some other phosphatic fertiliser could be put down and would perhaps produce a better and more valuable crop, thus encouraging the farmer to get his crops from there.
If nothing is done, the situation will become serious. We shall not only have 1432 a loss of food but the airfields themselves will suffer. The Secretary of State for Air could do quite a lot to solve this problem. He could go to the Minister of Agriculture and say, "I anticipate that we are going to have great difficulty in selling our grass for grass drying this year. Would it not be possible to add grass-drying products to the First Schedule of the Agriculture Act, 1947; in other words, to give guaranteed prices for grass products?" I should like this to be done to help the farmers, because I know that some farmers in my constituency have set up grass-drying plants and are going to find the situation very difficult in the future. The Air Minister will want to get rid of his grass, and if he can persuade the Minister of Agriculture to give a guaranteed price he will be half way to achieving what I want him to do.
The alternative, as some Socialists would suggest, would be for the Air Ministry to spend the money and do the work itself. I do not believe in that. The result probably would be a large loss, and the taxpayer would have to pay. It would be much better to guarantee the price and let the farmers do the work. This is a big problem, which concerns 20,000 acres: that is the estimate of the area used for grass drying at the moment.
To summarise, more than 50 per cent, of the land used for airfields must be cultivated. Longer contracts must be given to farmers to encourage them to undertake grass drying, and the Minister of Agriculture must enable grass drying to become a paying proposition.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
Why does the hon. Gentleman object to Government money being used to make good a possible loss if it is handled by the R.A.F., while agreeing to Government money being used to give a guaranteed price in order to guarantee the farmer against any loss?
§ Mr. Williams
There are two different ways of doing this work, and I do not like to see Government Departments running these things. I would much rather see them encourage the farmer to do it in an efficient way by ensuring that he does not make a loss.
I want to pass on to the subject of airfields which are not used for regular flying. Some of them are only used for 1433 week-end flying, and some are only used for exercises, chiefly in the summer months. If we are going to get the best production out of these airfields, cattle should be grazed on them when they are not in use. The arranging of this should be left to the commanding officer of the airfield, the man on the spot. This cannot be done from Whitehall. If the commanding officer were a farmer or the son of a farmer keen on farming, he would soon get the local farmers to bring their cattle on to the airfield during the week and take them back to their own holdings during the week-ends. He might make a charge of so much a beast. I believe that if some trouble were taken, farmers would use these airfields when they were short of grass.
In the case of airfields which are used for exercises, arrangements could be made for the farmers to have an early crop if the airfields are used late in the summer; and if they are used early in the spring the farmer could arrange for a late crop. This is essentially a job for the man on the spot, and I suggest that the Undersecretary should give instructions to commanding officers of airfields to see what they can do in this direction, to plan ahead and, wherever possible, to fit in grazing whenever these airfields which are not used regularly can be used for this purpose.
Then there are airfields which are not used at all for flying, and there is a considerable number of these. These airfields are really in reserve in case of war, and we must have a full-blooded farming policy with no restrictions whatsoever. Here again, it is essential that long leases are given to the farmers. Of course, there might have to be a proviso that the airfields should be returned at once in the event of war, but I do not think any farmer would object to that because he would receive suitable compensation.
If the Air Ministry finds that it is unable to let its land, I suggest—and here I am going a little near a method that I was not very keen on just now—that in this case the Air Ministry might become landlord. A very good job was done at a place called Overton Heath near Marl-borough. There was a former aerodrome of 238 acres. The agricultural executive committee and the Commissioners of Crown Lands got together and spent £5,000 on it, which worked out at about 1434 £21 an acre, and they converted all the huts, hangars and other places on the airfield into good farm buildings and cottages. I feel that was a job well done.
Where the Air Ministry is unable to let its own airfields, it might consider spending a little money on converting them. Some of them are used for storage. In that case the Air Ministry might be able to find somewhere else to store the contents so that the hangars can be converted into farm buildings.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brix-tori)
Has the hon. Gentleman any figures to show how many of these disused airfields or hangars are already choc-a-bloc with grain which the Ministry cannot sell?
§ Mr. Williams
I said "if possible." If storage can be found somewhere else, so much the better. There are many instances where that cannot be done, and in that case the Air Ministry should try to let out the land as best it can without the buildings.
To sum up, I want the Under-Secretary to look into this problem of airfields which are used only occasionally, to give instructions that these arrangements should be made locally and that wherever possible stocks should be grazed there when the airfields are not being used for flying. The airfields never used for flying should be let out on long leases to encourage good farming. They should be converted for farming and the stores removed where possible.
I want to make one last plea to the Under-Secretary to see the Minister of Agriculture and discuss the matter of a guaranteed price with him. Since the Conservative Government came into office, the Government Departments have worked with a far better team spirit than before. There is not the jealousy in the Departments that there used to be. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will persuade the Minister of Agriculture to give a guaranteed price for dry grass cubes and meals. He will thus be helping not only the farmer but himself as well.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. G. Williams) has pointed out the necessity for increasing agricultural 1435 production, especially from airfields. We are all familiar with the necessity of increasing exports from this country to buy the food and raw materials we have not here and cannot produce here. We have to buy a large quantity of wheat and meat abroad, quite apart from other things; also animal feedingstuffs. If by producing more animal feedingstuffs in this country we can reduce the amount we have to import, or produce more cattle and especially more wheat, that will be of real help towards our balance of payments problem. During the war we were only too familiar with the necessity for increasing agricultural production, but I sometimes think that in these days of peace we rather forget the urgency with which we grew food of every kind during the war.
Probably this country enjoys the best grazing in the world, with the possible exception of New Zealand. In the summer most farmers are embarrassed by the vast amount of grass available in the lowlands and on the marginal land, and on the hill farms as well. Our great problem is to produce winter feed for the cattle when there is little or nothing outside for them, and here the airfields can make a very valuable contribution.
As my hon. Friend said, the R.A.F. fields probably amount to about 170,000 acres, of which, I imagine, about half are let to farming of one kind or another. I believe that the Under-Secretary of State realises the importance of this, because I learn from reports I have had from many quarters that the co-operation between station commanders and farmers is very great. However, we must remember that the supervision of production of food is only a small sideline of the station commander. It is not his main purpose, and we wish tonight to emphasise that side of his duties.
It is difficult to get accurate information about the amounts of crops produced on the different airfields. The only figure I have been able to find is that about 20,000 acres are let for grass drying and that they produce some 35,000 tons of grassmeal or grass nuts a year. Some people may say we ought to have more information about other crops, but I would emphasise the fact that the farmers have suffered for many years from the enormous number of forms they have had 1436 to fill up, and I would assure the House that they do not wish for any more.
It is because grass drying is so important and offers such immense possibilities that I would say a few words about it now. About 35,000 tons of grassmeal are produced on the airfields of the R.A.F. That is a very important contribution, as will be better understood when it is realised that the production in the whole country is probably only 224,000 tons. This industry has grown very rapidly. Its output amounted to only 60,000 tons in 1947, produced by 250 units. That has grown to 224,000 tons in 1952, produced by 800 units.
Airfields are particularly suited to grass drying because they usually have fairly large expanses of grass altogether, and the grass can be collected and dried very near to the site of production, which is a very important consideration. There are, generally speaking, three alternatives in the conservation of grass. My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of hay, but that is not applicable to airfields. There is the possibility of silage making, but that is too heavy, too bulky and too costly to move after it has been made.
Dried grass, however, does offer very great possibilities. It retains about 80 per cent, of the nutriment it had in its grass form, which compares with only about 20 per cent, retained by hay. That gives some idea of the immense food value of this feedingstuff. Probably the normal output of fairly good grass would be at the rate of about 50 cwt. an acre with 17 per cent, protein content. That would give about 8 cwt. crude protein per acre, which is very high indeed. Wheat, barley and oats, with their straw, give about 3 cwt. or 4 cwt. crude protein per acre. It will be seen that dried grass gives more than twice the crude protein per acre compared with other crops.
There are three types of airfield the R.A.F. have at the present time. The first category is fully operational, where it is obvious that only a comparatively small acreage could be let off for grass drying. Then there is the third category of satellite airfields which are used at weekends or for occasional landings. Of those, probably a fairly substantial amount of land could be let. Then there is the fifth category, of airfields which, I am told, are entirely let off for agriculture at the present time. It is the 1437 second and third categories that undoubtedly offer great possibilities.
As regards the value of this land, I am told that the R.A.F. lets the operational airports at the rate of about £1 per acre and the non-operational airports, that can be farmed in a more general way, at the rate of £2 an acre. If the R.A.F. does not let the grass for cutting, the stations have to do it themselves, and instead of receiving £1 an acre rent they are put, I am told, to a cost of about £6 an acre to cut it themselves; and, of course, the grass is not saved, so there is no set-off against the expense. I am also told that on airfields from which jet planes are flown there is a danger of fire if the grass is cut and left on the ground. It may be that in the future land unlet, and cut at the expense of the station, will cost very much more than £6 an acre, if the station cuts the grass itself.
I hope that, if it is difficult to get people to take this land for grass drying, the Under-Secretary will see that by some means it is put to a productive purpose. It is most essential that we should have food from these airfields. I suggest that the Minister considers giving longer leases. In some cases this would lead to the provision by the farming community of fencing, water supplies and equipment which it is not worth while doing at present.
I urge the Under-Secretary to take a personal interest in this matter, because I feel that the Royal Air Force can make a big contribution towards increasing the supply of feedingstuffs for our livestock. If he could instil into the minds of station commanders a personal interest, it would be most helpful, and he would be doing a national service.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I am sure that all hon. Members who represent big agricultural constituencies are very much indebted to the hon. Members for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) and Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) for having moved the Amendment. Hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies can be very formidable on matters of agricultural policy, but they are apt to forget that they must keep a very vigilant eye on other legislation as well.
1438 I am disappointed that neither the Minister of Agriculture nor his Parliamentary Secretary is here to support us in what must be a challenge to the Service Ministries. I do not know about England, but certainly in the case of Scotland I have a feeling that the responsible Minister is far too weak, timorous and hesitant in defending farming interests against the Service Ministries. This applies especially to the Army, not so much to the Navy, but certainly to the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
The hon. Member will be in order so long as he limits his remarks to the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall certainly do so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I shall deal with the agricultural position in the case of the other Services on the appropriate Estimates.
This is a very important matter as it affects the farming community, especially in Scotland, where we have a very large acreage of agricultural land which, from the point of view of agriculture, has become sterilised because of the extortionate demands of the Service Ministries. The Service Ministries have enormous powers and can grab land. It is true that there is the formality of some kind of inquiry, but the farmers and the agricultural community know that when they are up against the Service Ministries they are up against all-powerful people who have the final say.
The two hon. Gentlemen opposite have performed a very useful service in stating the claims of agriculture and farming as against the demands of the Air Ministry. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich described most authoritatively how land could be better used.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must point out to the hon. Member that the Amendment does not deal with the claims of agriculture as against the Air Ministry. It is concerned with better use being made of airfields for agricultural purposes.
§ Mr. Hughes
I humbly accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was merely following what I thought had been the argument of the two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. I certainly believe that these airfields could be more usefully employed in the interests of the nation by growing more food, even if for the time 1439 being they are in the hands of the Air Ministry.
I wondered just where the two hon. Gentlemen were getting to when they were advocating that the Air Ministry should use the land for the purpose of growing more crops. I am not so sure that the development of airfields for agricultural purposes is the best method of bringing about nationalisation of the land. However, I certainly agree with the argument that the land would be better used in the interests of the nation if it were employed in growing more food instead of being used for the various activities of the Royal Air Force.
The farmers in my constituency are very anxious that this land should be developed. We have in Ayrshire three examples of land under the auspices of the Air Ministry which is not being properly developed.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the land about which the hon. Gentleman is talking is under the auspices of the Air Ministry, that is all right, but I am afraid that the hon. Member is straying rather far afield.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am still dealing with the airfields, and I presume that, having heard the point of view of agriculturists on the other side of the House, I am entitled to put the point of view of the farmers of Ayrshire. The debate can, of course, be circumscribed within very narrow limits, and if I am to be circumscribed within the narrowest of narrow limits, I shall not be able to put the point of view of my constituents.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman certainly is circumscribed by the terms of the Amendment. He cannot, therefore, put the general point of view of his constituents about agriculture in this debate but must await another debate.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was not developing the sort of argument that I should develop in the course of an agricultural debate. I was leading up to the view which prevails in the farming communities of Ayrshire about three very important airfields, Prestwick, Heathfield and Turnberry.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Profumo): The hon. Gentleman put down a Question the other day to my hon. Friend about Prestwick.
1440 I presume that he did so without realising that it comes under the Ministry of Civil Aviation and not under the Air Ministry. It is not a Royal Air Force airfield. The Amendment deals with the Royal Air Force and not with civil aviation.
§ Mr. Hughes
That has absolutely nothing to do with the matter. The Question about Prestwick dealt with the—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If Prestwick comes under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, it does not come under the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Hughes
If everybody were not so anxious to interrupt me, I should probably be able to explain. Hon. Members seem to feel that I am marshalling some kind of formidable argument behind an argumentative smoke-screen. My Question about Prestwick Airport had nothing at all to do with the point. This is a diversion on the part of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. I do not know whether he realises—he ought to know it—that at the present time Prestwick Airport is a base at which American Air Force personnel operate, presumably under the auspices of the Air Ministry. Does the Minister challenge my statement that there are American Air Force personnel at Prestwick?
§ Mr. Profumo
I merely thought, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you might wish me to point out to the hon. Member that the Amendment deals with the Royal Air Force and the Air Estimates and that Prestwick Aerodrome comes under the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I was waiting to see whether the hon. Member developed his argument within the realms of the Royal Air Force and not within the realms of civil aviation.
§ Mr. Hughes
I presume the Minister knows that the American Air Force personnel are there. If the Minister does not know they are there, I can assure him that they are there.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It does not appear to me to matter whether they are there or not. We are concerned here with the agricultural use of airfields which are under the jurisdiction of the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am painfully and tortuously trying to get to the point, 1441 which is that the R.A.F. have control of a certain part of Prestwick Airport which is being used for American military operations when it could be more advantageously used for the benefit of agriculture in Scotland. Will you tell me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether I have reached the right spot now?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As I understand it, and as I pointed out to the hon. Member, Prestwick comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Therefore we are not concerned with it on this Vote. We are concerned with those airfields which come under the jurisdiction of the Air Ministry, and with the agricultural use of the airfields, and with no other agricultural purpose.
§ Mr. Hughes
It remains a mystery to me. Are the American personnel there under the auspices of the Ministry of Civil Aviation or of the Air Ministry? We have a Minister who should know something about it.
The small American detachment there come under the Air Ministry—[hon. members: "Hear, hear."]—but the Ministry of Civil Aviation is responsible for the maintenance of the airfield.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If it is true that the airfield comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, it clearly cannot be dealt with under this Vote and under this Amendment.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
If the airfield is under the control of the Air Ministry but is occupied by the United States forces, may we assume that it is within the terms of this Amendment?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes, if it is controlled by them. I rely for my information upon what the Minister said, and if the fact is that the airfield is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, then it does not arise on this Amendment. If it is under the jurisdiction of the Air Ministry, it does arise on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Hughes
The strategic operations involved in speaking on this Amendment are infinitely complex. I have the assurance that I am accurate in thinking that the personnel of the American Air Force are within a certain number of 1442 square miles of Prestwick Airport. If we have now reached the stage at which the Ministry of Civil Aviation appears to be responsible, I can only deploy my arguments about the airport later in the debate.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
Will my hon. Friend allow me to tell him that there are British Royal Air Force officers at Prestwick engaged in meteorological work?
§ Mr. Hughes
I want to voice the apprehensions of my agricultural constituents against the encroachment of the Royal Air Force upon agricultural land, and to argue that my constituents would be infinitely relieved if the Royal Air Force evacuated these airfields and if ordinary agricultural activity were carried on in the area.
I want to move from Prestwick and to consider the possibilities of Turnberry and Heathfield, where the same controversy has arisen. Agriculture should, in the broad sense, have priority over the Royal Air Force because it is in the interests of food production in this country that airfields, or parts of airfields, should be relinquished by the Royal Air Force. That is my view, not only from the agricultural point of view but from the broad national standpoint. The R.A.F. should be ejected from the airfield, and the people who should decide whether any particular airfield is to be used in the interests of the nation and of agriculture should not be the Air Ministry but the agricultural executive committees in the counties.
I am in difficulty in putting what I thought to be a perfectly simple point before the House. If this discussion is to be narrow and circumscribed, I am sure that hon. Members did not know that when they drafted the Amendment. I am handicapped, but I can show resentment on the part of my constituents by voting for the Amendment in the Division Lobby.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
If I were to follow closely the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I might find myself adding an epitaph to the "Comedy of 1443 Errors"; I would be out of order and would fail. It is a little easier for me to keep in order than perhaps it was for him, because in my constituency there are a Royal Air Force command headquarters, two permanent operational R.A.F. stations, and two aerodromes under the control of the Air Ministry, which are being occupied by the United States Air Force. I hope that I shall have a little easier passage than did the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Renton
During the war, and as a mere soldier—a somewhat flatfooted soldier—I had a very great admiration for the Royal Air Force, especially when they were in the air. It always seemed to me that, when they were on the ground, they were a little bit at sea.
I desire to place on record, from experience in my constituency in the last eight years, the fact that the position is now quite different. I would pay my tribute to the high standards of administration, as well as of efficiency and morale, of the R.A.F. personnel in my constituency from the commander-in-chief downwards. Station commanders and all ranks under them have excellent relations with my constituents. That has been largely due to the fact that station commanders have had some security of tenure in their appointments. They have been allowed to remain there a reasonable time, at least 18 months as a rule. It is very important that, as tactfully as possible, we should suggest to the United States Air Force that, if they wish to maintain the same reputation for good relations with local people, they should keep their station commanders there for a reasonable period as well.
§ Mr. Renton
Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, I hope—it is nothing more than a hope—that I am leading up to an argument which is relevant to the Amendment. My argument is this: R.A.F. personnel are splendid at flying, but may not make good farmers. Therefore, I agree entirely with my hon. Friends' proposal, and with the methods which they have suggested should be
1444 followed, for carrying out greater food production on R.A.F. aerodromes. A colossal acreage is concerned in this matter.
In answer to a Question which I put last May, the Under-Secretary of State for Air said that there were then 170,000 acres occupied by aerodromes in this country, and that about half of that acreage was available for cropping. That was last May. Since then the number and size of aerodromes have very considerably increased. Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) pointed out, this is a very big problem, a large amount of land is involved and should not be wasted. It must be cropped somehow.
R.A.F. personnel cannot be expected to do this job themselves, but in the neighbourhood of most aerodromes there is no dearth of farmers to do it for them. But farmers cannot be expected to do the job with the sort of contracts which many of them have so far been given by the R.A.F. One farmer in the neighbourhood of an aerodrome in my constituency was expected to take what is, admittedly, only a few acres under an agreement by which he was subject to one month's notice. Whoever heard of trying to farm under those circumstances?
I suggest that at least one year's security of tenure is necessary, and preferably longer. If there is that degree of security of tenure, and, if it is perfectly plain—and here I differ slightly from the hon. Member for Tonbridge—that it is the farmer's responsibility, not only to crop the land, if it is a grass crop, but to do everything necessary, including the application of fertilisers, and if the county agricultural executive committee keeps an eye on the position, the R.A.F. can be left out of it. I suggest that is the best way.
If we are to have a R.A.F. organisation set up, even for distributing fertilisers, one can well imagine what will happen. Somebody will be appointed at the Air Ministry specially to supervise the job; there will be a fertiliser officer or agricultural officer in every command and group headquarters—all with their clerks, cars and telephones. Finally, at the station, some "Pilot Officer Prune," the chap who is always given the odd jobs, will be expected to see that the job is done. We must avoid that.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
There will also be a very large fertiliser department at the Air Ministry to supervise this.
§ Mr. Renton
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had paid the attention to my words which I had hoped they might deserve, he would realise that I mentioned that earlier. But I have no doubt that his conversation with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire was much more engaging.
It is clear that something must be done, not only so that we may have the extra food, but also because it is very disheartening to farmers in the neighbourhood of aerodromes to see land—and land sometimes which has been taken from them—utterly neglected.
There are two types of lands which could be cultivated or cropped; and we want to keep those two types distinctly in mind. First, there is that land close to the runways which, from the technical flying point of view, has to be carefully considered, so that nothing is done on it which would endanger aircraft. The limitations on the cultivation or cropping of that land are rather severe; and it may be that, as often as not, it is a question merely of cutting the grass in due season.
But there is a great deal of land away from the runways—tucked away in corners of aerodromes, and sometimes quite close to buildings. For defensive reasons, the Royal Air Force rightly disperses its buildings; and that in itself involves waste of land. Sometimes the land is used quite rightly for playing fields, but not all of it; and land not so used could and should be cropped.
Assuming that we get plenty of land being actually cropped on R.A.F. stations, what is to be done with the crops? I would suggest something which may prove a measure of economy, especially in the first year or two of any more intensive cultivation than goes on at present. It is that crops taken from that land should be as far as possible consumed on the station itself. Like all the Services, the R.A.F. is very fond of bulk purchase contracts. That involves waste and results in the food not being so fresh when it reaches the station. I should have thought that every crop of potatoes taken from a station should be used, first and foremost, on that station. I have great pleasure in adding to the thanks already 1446 expressed to my hon. Friends. I hope that they have sown seed on fertile ground.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) ended on a note to which I shall refer in a moment—the production of food for use on the station itself. I think we all agree that the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) should be thanked for tabling this Amendment. I agree with most of what he has said, but I ask him to reflect for a moment on his conversion from doctrinaire Conservatism and freedom from controls to the guaranteed price of the controlled economy. To my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I would say that if I do not follow him in and out of Prestwick it is because I am not so clever as he is. and I should get out of order.
We should examine this matter in the light of the fact that, although the Service will be 14,000 smaller in the coming year, the food bill is almost exactly the same. The way to get the maximum use of an airfield is by cultivation for the station itself. I shall deal with the other point in a moment, but that I believe to be the more important one. I have always found it a grand sight at the R.A.F. annual agricultural show to see the vegetables, fruit, etc., produced at stations all over the country and at those in the Far and Middle East.
At home and abroad some units make good use of the land and others do not. Perhaps the most remarkable farm in the Royal Air Force is at Habbaniya, in Iraq, where the desert, through irrigation and hard work, has been turned into a cool, green, lush and highly productive oasis. As the hon. Member for Huntingdon mentioned in another connection, the key is the continuity of the station commander, officers and N.C. Os. interest in food production.
When I was Under-Secretary of State at the Air Ministry I used to preside at regular food production committee meetings to discuss this matter. Let us be frank about it. At first some of the air marshals were not too keen to come and discuss the problem, but gradually their view changed as it became clear that the food drive was good for morale, good for public relations in an agricultural area 1447 to see the land being well used and was also good business. Between 1947 and 1950 the value of food produced, and sold at R.A.F. stations rose three fold—from £90.000 to nearly £250,000. I hope that the Under-Secretary can give us the latest figures, because, with a more stable Air Force than we were able to have in those years, the figures should be much better. I assume that the profits still go towards the Royal Air Force amenities on the stations.
I agree that we could use these airfields for grass drying, to a less extent for silage, and to a still less extent for cereals. They are also of some use for grazing. Grass drying is the most productive use, and the waste food of the station can be used in pig breeding and keeping. I have seen prize-winning pigs bred at Royal Air Force stations. Only a few years ago— I am not sure whether it was at the Royal Show—the Royal Air Force won a major award with, I think, a Large White.
R.A.F. stations are isolated communities of hundreds or sometimes thousands of people, and every day there is a production of swill which is admirably suited for pigs. There are so many agriculturists in the Chamber that it is not necessary for me to remind the House that a pig consumes human food, and, since all Royal Air Force cooks have not had the good fortune to be trained at Halton, some unpalatable rock cake and watery cabbage may well find its way into the pigs on the stations.
Pig breeding could be increased, and if the Royal Air Force applied to litter testing and recording one-tenth of the ingenuity which it applies to aircraft testing and instrument development it would shortly develop a true Air Force type of pig. It would not be blue, or anything like that, but it would certainly be aero-dynamic. The whole trend of production in bacon pigs is towards the long, lean and streamlined type of animal, as beautiful as the fuselage of a Comet. We should have an aero-dynamic animal, with the one difficulty that the undercarriage could never be retractable. The livestock profits go to the amenities of the station, including such things as new television sets, pianos, swimming baths and squash courts. The road to these lies through the pig sty, rather than through 1448 any other factor in food production on R.A.F. stations.
§ Mr. Renton
Would the hon. Member agree that there is frequently a magnificent pig production but a complete neglect of the land on Royal Air Force stations?
§ Mr. de Freitas
That can be so.
I was asking the Under-Secretary if he could give figures showing whether or not the increase which occurred between 1947 and 1950 had been continued. Those figures referred not so much to pigs as to fruit and vegetables. I also said that I thought that the best possibility of food production was in pigs, and I still think so. I do not say that it should be the only activity, but it seems to afford the best opportunity for future development and for providing increased amenities for the men on these stations.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
I wish to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary to one or two brief points. I do not suggest that officers on air stations, with their many other onerous and technical duties, should be sidetracked on to duties which are not entirely necessary, but it might be worth while drawing the attention of station commanders to the fact that where station officers have an agricultural interest or background it might be as well to appoint them, in a semi-official rôle, as agricultural liaison officers, to meet and discuss problems with neighbouring farmers and to see whether the needs of the station could be dovetailed into those of the surrounding agricultural community.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) that it is impracticable to use the land at air stations for agriculture, but I suggest that, with an intelligent use of electric fences, quite large areas could be put to strip grazing. I would also suggest —and here I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow)—that silage could usefully be made on air stations. My hon. Friend mentioned it only very briefly. His complaint was that silage is bulky. Of course it is, but if we consider the process from the very start, the grass is cut, and it has to be carried to the pit or silo, and the problem of its carriage there is no 1449 greater or less than that of its carriage to a grass drier, and I cannot see where the disadvantage of bulk arises.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The real difficulty is that the grass which is used on aerodromes is not juicy enough. When it is in the silo it is too dry and it does not ferment properly.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
That difficulty could probably be overcome by watering it at reasonable periods. It has also been suggested that the grass could be fertilised, which might be conducive to a growth which is more suitable for silage, but I do not want to get into highly technical arguments on that point.
Some years ago I had an interesting experience, the details of which I should like to pass on to the Under-Secretary, although it may be a little impracticable as a suggestion. On one air station that I visited there was a rich growth of grass, well cut and short, and in patches, usually along the edges of the concrete strips, there was a most remarkable crop of wild mushrooms. I was told that one of the reasons these mushrooms grew so profusely was (that foam had been used on aircraft fires and that it was rich in nitrogen. The resultant crop of mushrooms was very rich indeed. I believe that mushroom growing, although profitable, is a very chancy business, and I therefore do not suggest that the R.A.F. should go in for mushroom growing on a large scale.
Air stations are not necessarily permanent. The needs of defence and the strategic and tactical requirements alter, the types of aircraft in use alter, and in consequence one often finds that what was in full use as an air station a year or two ago may be out of use tomorrow. Where this occurs, one of the greatest difficulties for farmers is the rehabilitation of the land.
Naturally, there must be concrete strips and concrete bases for the hangars, and no doubt other large areas have to be concreted for large buildings where heavy weights are carried on the ground, but there are a great many ancillary buildings which have these massive concrete bases but which I am quite sure do not need them. Someone in the Air Ministry responsible for the design of these air stations could consider this aspect of the matter, which is only a small 1450 aspect. I am sure that many of the smaller buildings could be made with a more portable form of flooring which could easily be removed when the need for the buildings comes to an end.
Those are the only points which I wanted to cover, apart from the fact that the Air Ministry is getting into great difficulties over the length of the leases offered to farmers for the land on air stations. I should like to underline that point, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I want briefly to call my hon. Friend's attention to the great need of storage for grain. We want an immense storage capacity ready to take the grain with which the combines are flooding the market, and in almost all corn-growing areas there are large hangars which are entirely disused, which have good concrete foundations and which could be converted into storage at very little cost.
I have already had correspondence with my hon. Friend about an airfield in my part of the world. A neighbouring farmer, a former colleague in the House, wants to buy one or two of the hangars to convert into grain silos. I am sorry to say that from the answer I have had so far it appears that these hangars will be sold away from the aerodrome. I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that he should give further thought to this matter and see whether he cannot respond to the application which my former colleague has made to me, asking me what I can do to help him to get one or two of the hangars.
Such hangars would certainly be of great use to the agricultural community. They would also help the Chancellor of the Exchequer considerably, because if he has to make deficiency payments for grain, based on the price which it will realise when grain is poured on lo the market in the autumn, then the claim on the Exchequer will be very large. If the grain could be stored in hangars on these aerodromes, it could be held off the market, not only at a profit to the farmer using the hangars, who will get a difference of £5 a ton from harvest to harvest, making it worth while to store the grain, but also at a profit to the Exchequer, for the higher the price the farmer gets the lower will be the 1451 demand on the Exchequer. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will give this matter consideration.
§ 8.34 p.m.
My hon. Friends the Members for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) and Middle ton and Prestwick (Sir J. Barlow) have raised a matter of interest to every hon. Member, but particularly of interest to those with agricultural constituencies and interests and those who have airfields in their divisions. Before I deal with the detailed points which have been raised in the debate, perhaps I may be allowed to speak generally for a moment or two. There appears to be two quite separate propositions to consider. First, that the Air Ministry should keep to the minimum the amount of good agricultural land which we take for airfields, and, secondly, having taken such land, we should make the best possible agricultural use of it.
I can assure the House that we take the greatest possible care when planning the development of an airfield or the extension of an airfield to keep our demands as low as we can. To ensure this, we work all the time very closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, the county agricultural executive committees and all the national and local agricultural interests.
During the war, when most of our airfields were developed, we had a liaison officer from the Ministry of Agriculture permanently attached to the airfields board to ensure that, in so far as Service needs allowed we did not put airfields m areas of special agricultural value. Of course, we are not entirely free to go where we like. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge pointed out that the deployment of our airfields is based very largely on strategic and tactical considerations, and many of them are centred in the Eastern counties, which contain much of the best agricultural and arable land in the country.
After the war, when we were sorting out the airfields, we gave up those of most value to agriculture, and the officer from the Ministry of Agriculture, to whom I have referred, was still available to us. Now, although we have not a full-time liaison officer, the Ministry of Agriculture has appointed a member of its 1452 Department to whom all new airfield projects are referred in the very earliest stages of planning so that the agricultural interests, including any disturbance of the established agricultural pattern, can be fully covered from the start. To go a stage further, as soon as it becomes clear that we no longer need an airfield which we are using, we dispose of it, and those grass airfields which are not State owned are derequisitioned. We make a point of taking as little land as we possibly can and of holding on to it only as long as we really must.
At this point, it may be as well to have a look at exactly how much agricultural land we control. The latest figures, up to the end of 1953, show that about 176,000 acres of airfield land are still in the use of the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force. These figures exclude land which is not strictly airfield land but which is used for some other purpose, such as ranges. This land is generally not very good agricultural land, and most of it is only useful for sheep-running.
Turning to the second proposition-that having taken the land we should make as much agricultural use of it as possible—of these 176,000 acres about 93,000 acres, or rather more than half, are available for agricultural use. Forty-one thousand five hundred acres are available for unrestricted agricultural use, 26,000 for grass farming, 23,000 for grass drying only and 2,500 for unit farms and gardens. The balance of 83,000 acres cannot be used for one reason or another. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge did, I think, feel that this acreage was rather too high and that we might be able to make better use of it.
Most of the 83,000 acres is not used for very good reasons. For instance, the land may be paved for runways, taxi tracks or hardstandings. It may be covered with buildings or hangars, or it may lie in positions which it is impossible to farm regularly without danger to aircraft or interruption to the flying programme; or it might be the sort of land which is unsuitable for agriculture- for example, heathland.
For airfields in full flying use, the Ministry of Agriculture, as several hon. Members have mentioned, regards grass drying as the most practicable agricultural 1453 proposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich mentioned the figure of 35,000 tons of dried grass a year. I do not recognise this figure, and I do not know where my hon. Friend got it from. The 1953 production of dried grass from Royal Air Force airfields was a little over 17,000 tons.
From the Air Ministry point of view, grass drying is most suitable, because in any case we should have to keep the grass cut ourselves. As the cutting is done under the direction of the air traffic controller, the interference with flying is very little, if at all, greater than it would be if we did the job ourselves by normal maintenance of the airfield surface.
We would, therefore, like very much to extend the amount of grass drying which is done on airfields, and we would like also to help the grass drying industry, which, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is passing through a difficult period. The plant, however, is expensive and the demand uncertain. It has been very poor lately because of the long spell of mild weather up to Christmas, which prolonged the normal grazing season. Therefore, it is not easy to extend grass drying at airfields or even to let the land which was can make available for this purpose.
We let the land at low rates varying between £1 and £3 an acre, according to the quality, and we have tried to give operators a better security of tenure by giving fairly long contracts of up to five years. Hon. Members have talked about leases. Of course, there is no question of a lease. All that the dryer needs is a contract allowing him to come on to Air Ministry land to fertilise the grass and to cut it. We have now tried to extend the contracts for this to at least five years.
There is not much more that we can do to help, because, as has been pointed out, grass drying on airfields is only part of the grass drying as a whole, and any help which would be given to the industry would be done on a national basis. For example, guaranteed prices would not be a matter for the Air Ministry. But I give my hon. Friend the assurance that I shall discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and get his views on it.
Ever since 1941, all station commanders have had instructions to make available for agriculture all their land which 1454 is outside the area covered by paving or buildings or which, possibly, is sterilised by flying or other operational needs. Both ourselves and the Ministry of Agriculture keep a close watch to see that these instructions are complied with.
In case there was any doubt, in 1952 and again in 1953 a special survey was made by my Department in collaboration with the Agriculture Departments. The survey that we carried out covered two aspects: first of all, the general principles governing the agricultural use of airfields; and, secondly, it examined in great detail the agricultural use made of each airfield under the Ministry. It was agreed at that time that ploughing, which until then had been forbidden within the perimeter of an airfield used for flying, could be allowed within a limited number of selected areas.
It was also found that by some modifications to flying instructions we could reduce in some places the width of the grass safety margin to runways and perimeter tracks. Safety margins differ with commands, and I will not weary the House with them, but we have been able to achieve some modification, although that has been in special cases. In this way we did achieve slightly fuller use of land, but in spite of this exhaustive survey only a few hundred acres more were found available for agricultural use, showing, I think, that we were not wasting farm land.
So far I have dealt with airfields in flying use and only land within the perimeter track of such airfields. That leads me to consider airfields which are not in regular flying use and land outside the perimeter tracks. Airfields not in regular use are mainly used for storage purposes, and we have allowed unrestricted cultivation on all but paved areas except where the stores are explosive. Clearly we must have consideration for the regulations dealing with these stores. We cannot remove the paved areas; it is precisely because they are there that they are useful to us for storage, and also the cost of moving them would be out of all proportion to the value of the land that would be restored to agriculture by so doing.
We have removed all the restrictions possible on land outside perimeter tracks, and they are now limited only to restrictions needed to guard against fire risk 1455 from the blast of jet engines, which are as much in the interests of the farmer himself as of the Royal Air Force. But there are inevitably bits and pieces of awkwardly shaped land outside the perimeter tracks but within the unpaved area which would be quite uneconomical for ordinary commercial farming. This land we use for the unit farming and gardening scheme. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who took a close personal interest in it when he was at the Air Ministry, mention this scheme.
Although the acreage used in this way is small compared with the total area used for agriculture, it is intensively cultivated and produces fine results. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said that although the Royal Air Force were splendid flyers they were not good farmers, but when I have given him the figures of what we produce he may be induced to change his view. There are now about 150 farms covering 2,500 acres in all, and the latest figures for a full year are as follows: in 1952 12,600 pigs, 6,700 tons of vegetables, 25,000 dozen eggs, 4,800 head of poultry and 530 tons of grain were produced. Really I do not think the Air Force are such bad farmers.
No, I do not think I can, but a Question on that could be put down on the Order Paper, of course.
We do not use land for unit farms which can be let to farmers. Units pay rent for their land to the Air Ministry and, as the hon. Member for Lincoln said, they finance their farms from non-public funds. Labour is provided either by civilians who are paid from non-public funds, or by airmen employed outside their normal working hours. Some units may employ an airman as a supervisor, in which case non-public funds bear the extra cost of his paid acting rank or they may employ a special civilian.
1456 Apart from their contribution to home food production, unit farms and gardens contribute largely to the welfare of the Royal Air Force. They provide fresh food for the station, and the proceeds of the produce sold off the station help considerably with the financing of station activities. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Royal Air Force Horticultural Show and the Annual Competition show that these unit farms and gardens reach a high standard.
Finally, I was asked to see what could be done to bring into cultivation some marginal land on airfields such as scrub and heathland. I am afraid that there is no money available from Air Votes purely for agricultural improvements, and all we can do is to make the land available to anyone who cares to improve it.
One hon. Member raised the question of safety and the use of land for wheat near runways. Unfortunately, corn crops grow too high for safety, and even grass must be kept down to four inches. Corn crops would grow over two feet in height and that would constitute a hazard to flying. In addition, land for cereals must be ploughed and this would be unacceptable; and there is a fire risk when the straw is drying.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon said that although the R.A.F. were splendid in the air, they were a bit at sea on the ground—
§ Mr. Renton
That was the impression they gave during the war, but I added that they seem to be much better now.
It surprised me a little to hear that the Royal Air Force had flying boats as far inland as Huntingdon.
My hon. Friend raised the question of long leases for farmers. Of course they would like a tenancy rather than a licence for less than a year. We give some tenancies and if possible we shall give more, but we cannot do that where we are not the freeholders. There are other difficulties. If a farmer has a tenancy we cannot control his tenancy as we may need to, and he would acquire rights to compensation if we took back possession. We are, however, looking into the matter. If we can give more tenancies we shall do so.
§ Mr. Renton
The point is not only the length of the agreement or the tenancy.
1457 but the length of the notice to quit. I mentioned that there are some contracts under which the notice to quit is only one month and that is quite hopeless from the fanning point of view. I asked my hon. Friend to see to it that the notice to quit should always be a much longer one.
I will look into that point. I have not had a chance to look at it yet, but I think that my hon. Friend was right and that we do give short notice.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) spoke about an airfield. I am sorry that I cannot answer for Prestwick, because the maintenance of it is a matter for the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, but I assure him that my right hon. Friend takes as much interest in that matter as we do and is just as keen on it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman clear up one point? The American Air Force is presumably at Prestwick. Is it there under the auspices of the Minister of Civil Aviation? Where does his Ministry come in?
The point is which Minister is responsible for the maintenance of the airfield, and this case is not one for my Department. It does not mailer whether we have a detachment on the airfield or not. We are not responsible for its maintenance. The hon. Member did not name a Royal Air Force airfield in Scotland in the course of his speech, and therefore I have difficulty in answering him, but I do not think that Scotland is as badly off as England in the matter of land taken for airfields. Certainly Ayrshire is not as badly off as Kent, for example, and Turnberry, which the hon. Member mentioned, has been de-requisitioned.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) spoke of liaison between commanding officers and local farmers. Whenever I have visited airfields I have always found that the relations between the commanding officers and the farmers have been excellent. The commanding officers have gone out of their way to establish liaison with the local farmers and indeed they have been encouraged to make the best possible agricultural use of a station. The best way to do that is to keep on friendly terms with the farmers and therefore I think that my hon. and gallant Friend can be reassured on that point.
1458 My hon. Friend the Member for Leo-minster (Mr. Baldwin) spoke of the storage of grain and referred to a hangar which an ex-colleague of ours wanted. Although we could not make that particular hangar available, we gave him Information from which he should be able to obtain another.
I have now been able to arm myself with the value of agricultural produce for which the hon. Member for Lincoln asked. The value of the food grown in 1952 on farms and gardens was £403,000.
I very much welcome this debate, and I assure the House that my noble Friend is as keen as any hon. Member that the Royal Air Force should take as little and as possible from agriculture and should make the best possible use of it.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
It is the greatest impertinence on my part to rise at all, as I have not been in the Chamber during the greater part of the discussion, but, just as I was coming in a few moments ago, I heard the Minister making a statement which was so contrary to the actual experience I have had in my constituency that I felt moved to rise to make a few points in contradiction of what he said.
The point which the hon. Gentleman was making, if I understood him correctly, was that whenever the Air Ministry finds that it has a little land which is requisitioned and of which it is no longer in need, no one could be in a bigger hurry and scurry to get rid of it and derequisition it. In relation to that claim, my experience with regard to Gravesend airfield is a little interesting and, I think, instructive. I understand that the airfield at Gravesend performed a very useful service during the war. An aeroplane or two may have landed some time between the middle of 1945 and the present day, but for all practical purposes, it is true to say that it is unused.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not know whether the hon. Baronet has looked at the terms of the Amendment. They deal with the use made by the Air Ministry for agricultural purposes of land which it holds.
§ Sir R. Acland
That is the very point I am making. Sir Rhys.
All the time, because of the failure to derequisition land so promptly as the 1459 Minister has been suggesting, this land. or such parts of it as were not derequisitioned earlier than when I became the Member for Gravesend, has been put to use which has been much less than its agricultural value. I hope that my story is not irrelevant to this subject. The land was completely useless as an airfield for two and a half years. Yet, in the very first "surgery hours" which I attended in my constituency in 1947, two brothers came to see me to ask if I could get a bit of the land back from the Ministry for them to farm it. I said that of course I would write the letter, although honestly I could not expect results.
I shall paraphrase the reply, but I think I could find the actual letter and it would be found that I am not distorting it at all. I got a letter from the Air Ministry saying, "Tut, tut, we never knew that we had this piece of land. We will derequisition it." That was done in about two weeks' time. That bit of land, I am glad to say, has been producing marvellous crops ever since.
It has been pointed out that this Amendment deals with the agricultural use of airfields. The hon. Member has just admitted that we derequisitioned all the agricultural part of Gravesend airfield some time ago. The on'y part that is not derequisitioned, I think he will agree, is covered by buildings and could not be cultivated.
§ Sir R. Acland
The Minister has only heard the first part of the story.
The next part of the story was in 1949, or it may have been in 1950. Two boys came to see me because they wanted to fly model aeroplanes and had found a nice big empty space where they thought they could fly them. But they were turned off because this land was requisitioned by the Air Ministry. Some officials told them to get off. They asked me to write a letter to get this land derequisitioned. I wrote the letter and, lo and behold, the Ministry came back with the same reply, "Oh dear me, we have still some of this requisitioned land. We will get it derequisitioned as quickly as possible." It was derequisitioned in about four or five weeks.
I consider these to be perfectly proper activities of mine. After all, when asked 1460 by a Constituent to see if some land can be derequisitioned which could quite usefully be derequisitioned, one ought to try to do something for the constituent. It so happened that both these actions on my part, and the consequent actions of the Ministry, were to the detriment of an engineering firm with premises in the near neighbourhood. So here is the curious ending of the story. This very firm came to me only a fortnight ago and asked if I would help them by writing a letter to the Ministry to ask for the derequisitioning of the last little bit of the land which has not been used for Air Force purposes for nearly nine years.
It is true that a great part of this land is covered by buildings which would have to be sold, demolished or taken away before it could be again used for agricultural purposes. But again I received the same reply from the Ministry—"Oh dear me. We did not know we had this land under requisition. We are so glad that you have brought it to our notice, and now that you have done so, we shall be glad to derequisition it."
I really cannot allow the hon. Baronet to get away with that one. He knows very well that we have been negotiating with the owners for some time. The difficulty is that we cannot agree upon a price. That is all.
§ Sir R. Acland
If serious negotiations have been going on for nine years, I suggest it is a little strange that, only three weeks after the Air Ministry receives my letter, it takes the obvious step of putting up the buildings for auction to see what price they will fetch. I cannot accept the story that the Ministry has been negotiating for nine years and then, by a coincidence, has reached this decision within three weeks after the factory owner asked me to take steps to get the last bit of land derequisitioned.
I would invite the Minister to get some ferret to go through his files to see if there are any other similar cases where land is still requisitioned because no one has taken the trouble to write to his Member of Parliament asking him to investigate the matter and to get it put right.
§ Mr. G. Williams
In view of the very great care with which my hon. Friend has gone into the whole question, and the consideration which he has given to it, 1461 for which we are extremely grateful, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I am glad that there is no necessity for me to follow the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) particularly as I am anxious to present my own arguments, and, if possible, to beat the time of the previous eight speakers on the Estimates, who each spoke for more than 11 minutes.
At the outset I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the way in which he has introduced the Estimates and for the attention which he gives to the many points put to him by right hon. and hon. Members. It is no easy matter to sit alone, without the assistance of the senior Air Minister, to make three speeches in a single debate on these Estimates and to pilot them through the House. I was impressed by the fact that last year, after making a detailed winding-up speech, he wrote to me, and no doubt to other hon. Members, to clarify and give further information about matters referred to during the debate.
It is paradoxical that, despite the rapid advancement and changes in the scientific implements for our Air Force, and despite a change in the conception of air power and methods of defence, so many of the speeches made in recent debates on the Estimates remain apposite today. I welcome the interest and emphasis now placed on the value of air power as the major force in any build-up for defence. The Statement on Defence indicated that we have a significant contribution to make to both the technical and the tactical development of strategic air power, and it also spoke of the build-up by the Royal Air Force of a force of modern bombers capable of using the atomic weapon to the fullest effect. This shift of emphasis, and the now accepted recognition of the truth of attack being the best method of defence will be applauded by all of us who have always believed in the vital necessity of building up an attacking 1462 force capable of destroying at the source the enemy's means of offence.
Though our progress in the development of guided missiles continues, I think that for some years their necessity will be to supplement and not to supersede the piloted plane. Consequently, our system of full training of pilots is as essential as ever. In this respect I would make a passing reference to the closing of the Air Training Group in Southern Rhodesia and to the last of the civil-operated reserve flying schools. Both groups have been of inestimable value in the training of pilots, and they will be remembered with gratitude and with affection. Southern Rhodesia was for seven years a home from home for many of our pilots, and the reserve schools operated for a longer period.
Despite our shortage of pilots, we must not relax our standards. I remarked the reassuring note that the higher standard of selection has resulted in a lessening of aircraft wastage rates; and the Undersecretary of State spoke today of the necessity to maintain quality. I also welcome the recent decision to order as many as 20 of the latest supersonic fighters instead of the usual two. This will be welcomed, particularly by many of us who have been concerned at the previously slow rate of development of new types.
The Estimates as a whole this year are reassuring, with the emphasis in the right place. If they are not completely satisfying it is because it is not physically possible to go any faster. Nevertheless, I suggest that my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State have a serious responsibility to see that they secure full value for the considerable amount of money to be spent in the coming year, not only in construction and production but in the spheres of maintenance and personnel.
It is not always easy at once to secure the maximum use of new entrants to the Service, but there have been many cases in which much time has been wasted by National Service men and those called up for refresher training. There has been quite a number of cases—too many cases, indeed—of square pegs in round holes. I know only too well the difficulties. I know, too, that many allegations cannot always be confirmed, but this is a matter to which my hon. Friend must give special attention.
1463 I am sure he will forgive me if I refer to one case which I reported to him. One of my constituents, a young man training for secretarial duties and doing a certain amount of typing, was very anxious to continue that type of work in the Service. My hon. Friend informed me that as my young constituent had not passed the necessary examination he would have to become a cook. My hon. Friend did satisfy me to the extent of saying that if this young man would, some time in the future, take another examination and was successful, he would allow him to re-muster. But the significant part of the story is that in less than a month, and before the young man could take the examination, I had a letter from my hon. Friend to say that he had already re-mustered him and allowed him to do his ordinary work because as a cook he was no good at all.
Will the Minister also consider taking as many A.T.C. cadets as possible into the Royal Air Force for their National Service? Many cadets who have not obtained their proficiency certificate by the time of their call-up have been refused by the Royal Air Force. This rejection can have an adverse effect on recruiting for the Air Training Corps, and can be discouraging to those who are doing excellent work in the movement.
I should like, in passing, to mention that No. 78 Squadron, the Wembley Borough Squadron, was founded 15 years ago yesterday—on 3rd March, 1939—and is one of the founder-squadrons. Since then more than 750 young men from Wembley and district have passed through the squadron, and another 750 have been absorbed in two other Wembley squadrons. It is interesting to note that the first squadron register includes the name of a cadet who on that first day in 1939 began an unbroken record of service which continues today. That is only one example of the value of the movement to the Royal Air Force.
Those of us who have for many years pressed for increased progress in the Royal Air Force will derive some comfort from this year's Estimates, the review in the White Paper accompanying the Estimates and the comprehensive review given by my hon. Friend May we continue on these lines, increasing the tempo of development all the time until 1464 with the undoubted assurance of world peace, we can devote all our energies to the peaceful pursuit of modern flying and to reducing the distance of all outposts of the world to the hourly hop.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I observe that the Under-Secretary of State for Air has gone for very well earned refreshment. I hope I may be permitted in his absence to express my thanks for the most human and most flexible way in which he has dealt with individual problems, not one but many, throughout the year. We may have—indeed, I shall have—some criticisms directed at the manner in which Royal Air Force policy has been carried out, but we can congratulate the R.A.F. upon having the good fortune to have such a competent and painstaking Under-Secretary. Indeed, it is a matter of happiness to be able to congratulate it upon its good fortune when we consider the array of Ministerial misfortunes upon the Government Front Bench at Question time.
I was very glad to hear about the £3,000 bonus scheme for officers of the R.A.F. After all, what is the national investment in a pilot officer? What sum do we arrive at by dividing the cost of Flying Training Command and its material by the number of trained pilots turned out? My guess is that the investment in each pilot is not much less than £100.000. It must be a figure of that order. Thus, we invest £100,000 in a man, and we then put him in charge of a machine which is worth at the minimum £50,000 and at the maximum several hundred thousands of pounds up to nearly the million mark. It is ludicrous to economise in getting the best material, when we are going to spend so much on it and put it in charge of vast sums. Any economy there is misplaced.
What has happened to the heavy Lincoln bombers that went to bomb Mau Mau in the Aberdare Mountains? Have they killed the Mau Mau yet? Have they killed some cows? Have they killed some monkeys? Have they killed—what? To bomb savages dispersed in mountains and forests must be the most friovolous use that has ever been made of a major heavy bomber effort.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I can assure 1465 him from recent experience that one of the main facts, a fact that is very widely recognised, is that the Lincoln bomber has chased them out of that forest, which is the primary reason for bombing them.
§ Mr. Paget
It must seem one of the most staggering things. I should have thought that the competence that the Mau Mau have shown in avoiding the ground forces should have been evidence of better intelligence than to be frightened at bombs in a forest area of that sort, which must be among the minor risks of every-day life. I find it impossible to conceive that it was the heavy bombers that moved them out of those thousands of square miles of mountain and forest. It is a ridiculous suggestion, and I hope that that sort of frivolous use of air power will not be tolerated.
I come to the reference in the Defence White Paper to broken-back war. It said that we must contemplate a war which starts off with vast destruction by exchange of atomic weapons and then continues on a "broken-back scale" between devastated combatants. If I believed that, I would be with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He is the only man who has a sensible policy. If this is the real prognosis, no Government have the right to commit a nation to a war, the inevitable result of which, win, lose or draw, is the total destruction of the nation. Let us get this point perfectly clear. A man with a broken back cannot go on fighting, nor can a nation. Nor can this nation.
At the present moment the estimate is that the Americans certainly have not fewer than 5,000 atomic bombs vastly more powerful than those which were dropped over Hiroshima. The Russians may have anything from 150 to 1,000, and within a few years they will reach the 5,000 mark. That sort of armament means that the means of living, of importing, of moving, and feeding this country cease. Possibly the country may be recolonised, but as a continuing civilisation it ceases to exist. That is the very sort of thing which this defence policy is designed to prevent. Atomic war is its own answer.
1466 Once both sides have an atomic power it really does not matter in the least if one is larger than the other, because each possesses a deterrent which makes it absurd for the other to invite its use. I hope, as everyone else does, that we do not come to war. If we do, I am perfectly confident that the Americans and ourselves will not be lunatic enough to invite atomic bombs to be dropped on us and that the Russians will not be lunatic enough to invite atomic bombs to be dropped on them. The protection—and the only protection—which each side will enjoy will be the capacity to retaliate— a retaliation so dreadful that neither side will dream of inviting it.
The other consequence of the atomic age seems to be that never again can we have the lunacy of total war. We cannot again talk about terms of unconditional surrender or nonsense of that sort, because neither side in an atomic war dare drive the enemy to that point of desperation at which they throw all caution to the wind and start atomic retaliation. Every war must remain limited by that tremendous threat. Future war objectives can only be limited objectives.
When I say that atomic retaliation is the only defence to atomic attack, that is surely true. Russian bombers would have to go vastly further to America, where they have, and always can have, radar screens much further out than we can. I have seen the American's assessment of the danger, and the most optimistic estimate they make is that they might be able to stop 15 per cent, of Russian bombers coming over the Pole in daylight. That is their best estimate.
I say that no realistic estimate would suggest that we could stop anything like 15 per cent, of Russian bombers coming in daylight to any target they choose in this country, and that we are not in the least likely to improve on that. We talk about air-to-ground guided missiles. We may get there, but we are not there yet. When we are dealing in three dimensions I am confident that the one trying to get through will always have an enormous advantage over the one trying to intercept. The guided missile seeking to get through will always beat the guided missile which is merely attempting to intercept. This is a field in which the offence will always keep ahead of the defence—and the defence is retaliation, and nothing but retaliation.
1467 Faced in the strategic bombing sphere with that situation, and retaliation being the defence, a defence which is almost certain to be efficient because no one would invite retaliation upon these terms—unless a complete lunatic gets in charge somewhere, what are we really doing with these £50,000, or £60,000, supersonic jet fighters with their vast electronics and so on? No one seriously suggests they could intercept the bomber, even if it were to come. The bomber will come through.
What is the point of these fantastic machines—which, as they become faster and more efficient, become more and more useless for intervention in ground fighting—except perhaps, if they can see each other passing at that speed, to fight other and equally absurd fighters devised by the other side? These fantastic weapons are useful only against each other and, if unopposed, are able to do nothing at all.
This fighter race which is going on, with the production of faster and faster, more expensive and more electronic machines, has reached a degree of absurdity which makes it necessary for us to drop out of it and try to conceive the kind of war which alone we can prepare for. The only sort of war in which we can survive is one which is kept to tactical dimensions, and in which the atomic deterrent to the strategic use of the atomic bomb is efficient. If an atomic war arrives we are out of it; it does not matter much what we do.
What sort of weapon do we require for the ground war, fought, presumably, in Europe and Germany? In that war the atomic weapon will be used tactically. We, as a civilised nation, are bound to rely upon the superiority of our armaments if we are to survive. When I hear some of my hon. Friends talk about the desirability of universal disarmament, I always remember that if we had it the Russians would have far too many clubs. If we all disarm, the country with the most men is the one which will win a war. An industrially developed and civilised power can only survive against a more barbaric power by means of the superiority of its armaments.
Our superiority in armaments lies in the atomic field. As a tactical weapon.
1468 the atomic bomb must be used by us in the battlefield and not in the obliteration of cities behind the lines. Many years ago a conception was included in the Geneva Convention that bombardment should be confined to a battlefield and not directed towards cities which were not under immediate assault by ground troops. It is a perfectly we'l-established distinction, and one which I have not the smallest doubt would be drawn in practice, because of the dreadful consequences to both sides, if the contrary conception were adopted.
How is the Air Force going to intervene most effectively in that sort of fighting? It will certainly not do so by having a very few prodigiously fast planes which cannot do anything on the battlefie'd. We require a vastly greater number of planes which can co-operate and fight with the Army. In the progress of a war there always comes a phase in which weapons are developed to the point where practically nobody is fighting. At that point somebody produces a new and simple weapon which enables far more people to fight. That phase has occurred in wars right through history.
In the Air Force we have developed our weapons to the point where it takes about 600 men to enable one man to fly. That is the limit of absurdity. What we ought to develop is a much cheaper and simpler aircraft—an aircraft designed not to fly up into the stratosphere, but which is highly manoeuvre-able, perhaps with some armour, and really efficient at low levels.
What we need is an Army co-operation aeroplane to act as the artillery of the Army, perhaps to act as the atomic artillery upon the battlefield, and to act as the tank breaker, too. That is the sort of 'plane which we shall need in great quantities. We shall need to be able to operate it on simple airfields and to operate it fairly close up. We shall need it to be fairly simply replaceable. That is the sort of 'plane we should be developing instead of going in for the production of so few vastly expensive 'planes which will mean that when it comes to the land battle there will be no ah- arm which can effectively intervene at all. I suggest that it is along those more realistic lines that the Royal Air Force should think rather than along 1469 the lines of the "broken-backed" war in which we can have no interest whatever because we should not be there to take part in it.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am always glad to follow the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), whose contributions to these debates, however much I may disagree with some of them, are helpful and constructive. The speech which he has made tonight is no exception. I am also glad to be able to follow him because some of the remarks which he made are relevant to certain of the points which I want to make.
It is clear from the admirable statement with which the Under-Secretary of State opened the debate today that the factor which now dominates our defence policy is the Government's decision to build as soon as possible a force of V-class bombers. For those who, for some years now, have been advocating, both in the House and outside, the need for the establishment of a long-range strategic striking force as a prime deterrent to war, these Estimates are, I think, particularly satisfactory.
Indeed, judging from my hon. Friend's remarks this afternoon, we have come some distance, certainly on the grounds of policy, since that summer evening nearly three years ago when the then Under-Secretary of State for Air, Mr. Aidan Crawley, who is no longer in the House, told us:The fact is that in one very large sphere— that of strategic bombing—we have planned that, for the present, the Americans should undertake almost the whole of it."—[official report, 1st August, 1951; Vol. 491, c. 1523.]There is, I think, a little doubt that the Americans' decision after the last war to build up a strategic bomber force has been a most potent and stabilising factor in the world's balance of power. Perhaps at this point I might remind the House of some words spoken by a former United States Chief of Air Staff, General Hoyt Vandenberg, on 28th May, 1951:The British Navy, which was superior at one time to all the combined navies of the world, kept the peace for a long period. It kept the United States safe, as a matter of fact, for a long time. My hope is that the United States Air Force can be built up to a point where it can do a similar job for the free nations of the world.1470 In view of the co-operation and association which exists between the Air Ministry in London and its counterpart in Washington, it was not particularly surprising, two days after this utterance, to find these words of wisdom re-echoed in more detail in London by General Vandenberg's opposite number at that time, Sir John Slessor. This is what he said:I believe that British and American air power can ensure the peace of the world for another hundred years as British sea power secured it for a hundred years after Trafalgar.It is only now, as we look back, that we can truly appreciate the effect which the United States Strategic Air Command in the hands of General Curtis Le May has had upon the world scene as a deterrent to major aggression. I am not speaking of campaigns such as Korea, but major acts of aggression.
Now that we have ourselves determined to build up a comparable, if smaller, force, it is, I think, appropriate that we should tonight remember the foresight of the one man who has never ceased to advance and advocate the principle of the establishment of a strategic arm. Three years ago I had occasion to quote to the House a letter which Lord Trenchard had quite recently written to "The Times," and I feel that, in view of what has since happened in the way of development of aircraft policy, I should trouble the House with a very short extract from it.
This is what he wrote:The vital, over-riding defensive measure to prevent war and in the event of war, to win it, is an overwhelming, unchallengeable air force of long-range machines.I feel that now that Her Majesty's Government have wisely and sensibly accepted the principle of this policy it is only right that we should tonight express our acknowledgments to one of the leading authors of that policy.
I have only two other brief points to make. The first concerns the presentation of the Air Force; and here I should like to say to my hon. Friend that I have been much impressed during recent months by the improvement which has taken place in the appearance and general bearing of all ranks in the Service. A few years ago—and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr A. Henderson) will not think I am making 1471 political capital out of this, because I assure him I am not—we used to see some officers and airmen, off duty, walking about London and looking, if I may say so, anything but a credit to the Service.
There was, I think, some excuse for that then for it was at a time when there were large numbers of personnel awaiting their release, which is always unsettling; but it was a bad and unfortunate period for the Service and, I think, did it no good. Now, I am glad to say things are much better, and I think it is only right that we should say so and that the Service should know that we think so.
Anyone who saw the rifle drill and marching at Her Majesty's Coronation Review at Odiham last summer will not deny that this was, by any standard, quite outstanding. I think that the same can be said of the squad from the R.A.F. Regiment which performed at the Searchlight Tattoo at the White City last July. This question of discipline and bearing may seem insignificant by comparison with the expenditure of millions of pounds on swept-wing fighters and V-class bombers and all the other things which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton spoke about tonight, but its importance to the Service is paramount. I have always thought that the performance and capabilities of a squadron in the air were no better and no worse than its discipline and smartness on the ground.
Secondly, with the presentation of the Air Force is linked the question of Service publicity. I had occasion to refer to this matter a year ago, and I am afraid that I had some hard things to say then. I said that I thought the Service was not putting its case, which is an excellent one, across in the way, for instance, that the Royal Navy was doing with such commendable skill.
I always admire the manner in which the Admiralty presents the Royal Navy to the British nation. It is an object lesson for the other two Services. But things are better with the R.A.F. than they were in this respect, although this question of publicity is one which my hon. Friend should watch closely in the future. It is not the amount of space which is gathered in the national Press which matters; it is the positioning of that space and its content.
1472 I have been much interested in the photographs which have appeared in the daily Press and in the periodicals of this wonderful Royal tour of Australia and New Zealand. I have been looking at the pictures from day to day, and I have seen Army uniforms and naval uniforms. I have seen admirals and generals, soldiers and naval ratings, but I have seen very little of the Air Forces.
This may be outside my hon. Friend's province, and I do not press him for an answer tonight, but I wonder whether there was any prior consultation with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force to see what photographic coverage could be obtained for home consumption of the Air Force representation at all these events which we have been following with so much interest. This question of publicity and representation is of great importance, particularly to the question of recruiting, which all of us have in mind, and especially for the recruiting of aircrew.
I end with a suggestion. When Her Majesty returns on 15th May, I hope that suitable arrangements will be made for the Royal Air Force and, if they are available, squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, to stage a full-scale fly-past over London on that Saturday afternoon. If it is done, I hope the names of the formation leaders, the squadron commanders and the wing leaders will be given. This would be a mark of respect to Her Majesty which we all should welcome, and I believe that London would like to see it done.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I have never before sought to speak in a debate on the Air Estimates, but those who have listened to the speeches today will know that anyone in the House has a right to join in the debate whether he has technical knowledge on the subject or not, since we have been discussing matters which may affect the whole future of the human race. It may be a novelty in these debates, but it should not become a strange feature, that although we are discussing something which is obviously of supreme importance to this nation and to the whole world, it is quite possible for one hon. Member, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), to 1473 make a speech and to propose one theory to deal with the situation, and then for the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), who spoke after my hon. and learned Friend, to give a totally contradictory theory of the situation, and nobody, apparently, can notice the clash of argument that was taking place.
Although the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick said that he was intending to follow the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, he proposed that we should concentrate our efforts on a strategic bomber force and he welcomed the fact that the Government, apparently, were doing this; whereas the speech of my hon. and learned Friend revealed that this strategic bomber force was never going to be used and, in fact, we would use different kinds of weapons in a different kind of war.
I propose to come back to that main aspect of the matter presently, because I believe it is the main subject which we have the right to discuss in this debate. But there is another reason—
§ Mr. Foot
Yes. There is, however, a contradiction between my hon. and learned Friend's argument and that put forward by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick. My hon. and learned Friend then went on to argue that we must concentrate—he was not saying that we should do so entirely and spend any amount of money—on a strategic bomber force; but he said, as the main part of his speech, that we must spend a great part of our resources on the other kind of weapons which would be involved in a different kind of war.
The hon Member for Brentford and Chiswick, who followed my hon. and learned Friend, posed a quite different theory. He said that the peace of the world could be kept for 100 years by building up a superior strategic bomber force, but he did not make any reference to the other element involved. I propose to come back to that, because it is obviously the biggest argument of all with which we must be concerned in this debate.
There is a second reason why every Member of this House, whether he has 1474 technical knowledge of the Air Force or not, has the right to take part, and that is because of the financial implication of the proposition which the Government are putting before us. One hon. Gentleman opposite said that today we are spending on the Royal Air Force a sum which is not much less than the total Government expenditure on Great Britain some 18 years ago. That is one of the dramatic illustrations of the vast sums we are discussing in these Estimates, and it certainly gives us the right to examine them in the greatest detail.
The evidence presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) of what happened in the past three years surely gives us all the greater right to scrutinise very carefully the figures which the Government put before us. My hon. Friend proved conclusively that those who made the calculation three years ago were something over £1,000 million out in the total amount which was to be spent on the armed forces. They were also many millions of pounds out in the amount which they thought at that time was required to be spent on the Royal Air Force, but which they were not able to spend during the past three years.
When we see such an enormous miscalculation which can be made in the money that is asked for and the money that is spent, we have a right to look at these figures very carefully and to protest about what I would describe as the theory of "Give them the money, Barney" in dealing with defence expenditure, because that is really what those who have defended the position of the Government have, in some respect, argued. They have said that this is a figure which has been worked out by the military chiefs, and they argue in this way: "We must accept what they have done and, of course, the Government always tell us that they have scrutinised the figures with the greatest possible care. This is the absolute minimum which is required. It is, of course, much less than the military chiefs asked for in the first place, and, therefore, we should all be satisfied." The experience of the past three years gives us the right to examine these matters in much greater detail
We have also the right to examine the general strategy which underlies the Government's policy, and we have all the 1475 more right to do so because it is pretty evident from the debate which has taken place today and the debate which took place on the Defence White Paper that there is a big contract between the theory and the practice of the Government in this matter. The theory of the Government is concentrated on the building up of a large strategic bomber force as a great deterrent power. But even if we examine these Estimates I do not believe that that is the practice of the Government.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick seems very satisfied that the Government have come down on the side of the theory which apparently he has been advocating for some years, namely, concentrating altogether on the deterrent power of the strategic bomber force. Of course, the Government have not changed the figures so much in order to carry that put, and the theory of the Government in the matter is different from the practice. It may be some years hence they will be carrying out the theory.
What I want to examine, first of all, is whether that theory is correct and where it comes from. Of course, we all know where it comes from. There has been a much greater discussion about this matter in the United States of America than there has been in this country. The first official declaration of the new theory, which is supposed to underlie the whole defence programme of this country and of the Western Powers, was made by Mr. John Foster Dulles a month or two ago in what was described in the United States as "The new look defence policy." In other words, in some places they call it "a bigger bang for the buck "—more bombs and bigger bombs for less money. The hon. Gentleman was describing exactly the same theory when he said that the peace of the world could be maintained for 100 years if only we built up sufficient offensive power in the Anglo-American Air Forces.
As I have said, this theory was expressed officially by Mr. John Foster Dulles in a speech at the beginning of the year, when he said:The idea is to place more reliance on deterrent power and less dependence on local defensive power.He went on to say:To prevent Communist aggression we will henceforth depend primarly upon a greater 1476 capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our choosing.That is the theory. It may sound impertinent for me to ask it, because I am not an expert on these matters, but I want to ask whether it makes sense, because this policy is questioned not only by some of us in this House, but also by a large number of people in the United States.
Following the statement made by Mr. John Foster Dulles, when he announced this policy, opinion in the United States seemed for a few weeks at any rate to be numbed; people did not seem to realise what had been said officially on their behalf. Since then, however, anyone who has followed the debates closely will see that a considerable debate has been taking place in the United States as to whether his theory makes any sense. So before we start following this theory we should try to discover whether it makes any sense.
As some evidence of what has been said against his theory in the United States of America. I would quote first the well-known correspondent of the "New York Times," Mr. James Reston, who perhaps started the controversy on Mr. Dulles's statement in the United States by saying that it was a strategy which was potentially graver than anything ever proposed by any United States Government. He went on to argue that first it raises an important constitutional question because, if it is the policy of the United States to retort instantly with atomic power in places of the choosing of the American Government, it follows that either the President has to break the Constitution or has to go to Congress and ask whether he may have the right to drop the atomic bomb on the Kremlin. And if he did that, it might put the Kremlin on their guard and they might drop the bomb on Washington first.
It raises a considerable constitutional problem for us as well, because although in this country we give the Government power to act and have a discussion afterwards, we would keep the Government up very late at night, I hope, if they dropped the bomb and had the argument with us afterwards. Therefore, it raises a considerable issue about our control over the Government here and the control of the Americans over their Government if we 1477 adopt Mr. Dulles's theory on the literal statement of what he said.
There has also been a considerable debate in the United States Senate on the question of Mr. Dulles's theory. A large number of senators, many of them the senators who are most friendly to this country, if I may put it that way; or the senators who are most strongly opposed to Senator McCarthy, to put it another way; at any rate, many of the most eminent senators in the United States Senate have been attacking strongly a theory which has apparently been accepted with very little criticism by Her Majesty's Government. Let me give a few examples of what has been said in the American Senate on this theory.
Senator Henry Jackson recalls that in 1949 the present Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arthur Radford, told Congress:I do not believe the threat of the atomic blitz will be an effective deterrent to war or that it will win that war … in such a way that it can be followed by a stable, livable peace.Senator Jackson goes on to argue:If this was true in 1949, what about massive atomic retaliation at a time when we no longer have a monopoly of nuclear weapons?Senator Gore of Tennessee gives a concrete example of how impossible in practice it would be to apply the Dulles theory. He says:Let us suppose, for instance, that the Communist Party in Iran, through its native Iranian leaders, suddenly attempted to seize control of the Iranian Government with an armed movement‥ Do we start dropping atomic bombs on Moscow?… Would the Administration order atomic bombs dropped on Moscow in a case of a border clash between Bulgarian and Greek troops? … If so, World War III, the very thing which we have hoped to avoid, would be upon us. If we fail to retaliate would not this big new strategy be revealed as a big bluff?Senator Jackson asks a pertinent question about what is the attitude of America's allies towards this new Dulles theory of atomic deterrents. He asks if America's allies have been consulted on this new declaration of policy by Dulles. When the Minister comes to reply to this debate perhaps he will tell us what consultations took place prior to the declaration made by Mr. Dulles, which is accepted through the United States as being a statement of strategy of first-class importance.
1478 American senators are asking if we have been consulted and therefore I think that we have the right in this House to ask whether Her Majesty's Government were consulted before Mr. Dulles made this new declaration of strategy, which is so obviously the reason for the Government drawing up their White Paper on Defence. I could go on quoting several Senators who took part in that debate. Senator Kennedy described the new doctrine asA unilateral, world-wide Monroe doctrine for the atomic age.He went on to describe how impracticable he thought the whole theory was for dealing with the real situation which faces us.
In that debate in the American Senate there was only one spokesman, so far as I could discover, who got up to defend the Dulles theory. That was Senator Knowland. His main argument was that all the difficulties into which we got in the Korean war resulted from our not being able to bomb on the other side of the Yalu River and that that was the kind of difficulty we might get into in future. He claimed that the new theory is obviously designed to deal with that situation. I am not quoting his actual words but he said we had better trust President Eisenhower, because he believed in this new theory. But it was pointed out in the debate that three years ago President Eisenhower believed in quite a different theory.
To read that debate is to have great doubts about the Dulles theory, which has been adopted so uncritically by the Government in their White Paper. Suppose that after the war we had retained the greater deterrent power which we possessed for a period during the last war, backed by the possession of the atomic bomb. Suppose we had more atomic power at our disposal, would it have enabled us to deal with any of the post-war crises with which we had to deal, for example with the situation in Persia in 1946—
Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Can we take it, Mr. Speaker, that all hon. Members will be able to make the speeches on defence which they were unable to make on Wednesday, and can you tell us under which Vote this subject appears?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened to the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), 1479 and I thought his argument, so far as I heard it, was relevant to the question of Air Force policy and the provision of bombing aircraft, but he will understand that there are limits beyond which he is not permitted to stray in developing his argument.
§ Mr. Foot
I thought I was following very strictly the case which was put by the Under-Secretary when he opened the debate. The Under-Secretary referred directly to the parts in the Government White Paper which talk of "a broken-backed war"; and the broken-backed war would immediately follow, I should expect, on the application of this enormous deterrent power.
Therefore, it is really impossible to have a debate on these Air Estimates unless we are able to discuss whether it would be right for this country to adopt and to apply a new theory of the overwhelming necessity for deterrent air power, a new theory which has been discussed widely in the United States and which, from the White Paper and the Air Estimates, appears to have been adopted by this Government. I was saying in illustration that if in any of the post-war crises—Persia, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Indo-China, or Korea—even if we had possessed far greater deterrent power than we did possess—we did possess during part of that period the deterrent of atomic power not possessed at that time by the Russians—and if the Air Ministry had doubled the amount of money it expended, it would not have enabled us to deal with any of those situations.
If we had dealt with any of those situations by the application of overwhelming deterrent atomic power we should have started a third world war, and in none of those cases should we have been prepared to start a third world war by launching atomic attack. Therefore, if we assume the possibility that the kind of dangers with which we shall have to deal in the next five or nine years may at any rate be similar to the kind of dangers we have had to face in the last nine years, the change of strategy and the new proposals by the Government for concentrating on atomic deterrent power are irrelevant to the situation.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
I think my hon. Friend is spoiling a rather good 1480 argument by bringing in the fact that we did not or could never have used the atomic bomb to deal with incidents. The whole argument against the use of deterrent force is not to use it in incidents which occur in the world but as a deterrent against a global war.
§ Mr. Foot
I think that my hon. and gallant Friend has made the point that I was trying to make, so I shall go on to the next.
I do not believe that the building up of a huge atomic deterrent power is relevant to the kind of situation which we have had to face in the last five years and, to put it no higher, may not be relevant to the kind of situation we may have in the future. The question is whether we should concentrate so much on the strategic bomber force as the Government and the strategists of the Western Powers have been suggesting.
There is a different deduction to be drawn from this situation, and there are some people who are drawing it. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton, because he asked some very pertinent questions about the relationship between our Air Force and air strategy and the air force soon to be established in Germany. It is relevant to the argument I have been putting forward, because I want to make a further comment about the deductions made by some others who look at this strategy.
There are some people who carry the argument thus far, and it is different from the argument of my hon. and learned Friend. Some people say, "If you place so much reliance on deterrent air power and discover that because of what the other side is doing you will be losing a part of that deterrent air power because they may be catching you up, there is a very powerful argument on the grounds of sheer strategy, for a preventive war." I am not saying that that is the argument of my hon. and learned Friend; I know it is not. He says that once both sides have atom bombs they cancel each other out. But, unfortunately, everyone may not be so wise and cautious in these matters as my hon. and learned Friend. There are some whose opinions he may respect. I know his opinion about German generals and he must not think that all German generals think as he does.
1481 I would prefer his views to those of some of the German generals, and particularly the one whom I now' propose to quote, Herr Balder Zimmerman, who made a statement only a few days ago. Herr Zimmerman, who was General Zimmerman, and was chiefly associated with General von Rundstedt in the West, now has an official position in the Adenauer Government in Bonn. He has been appointed the publicist of the military manuals to be issued to the new German Army.
He held a responsible position in the last war and now he holds a responsible position in the Adenauer defence Administration. This is what he says about this problem of deterrent air power and how it may be used:As I see it, war is inevitable and the side which strikes first with all the force of atomic weapons will win. The future lies with whoever wages a preventive war.He goes on:The tension between East and West will continue indefinitely and will be broken only by war It would be foolish for the West to sit idly by until Russia has accumulated the strength to defeat the West by striking first. That is why the West, if it is to defeat Russia, ought to launch a preventive war, using all the atomic weapons at its disposal.That is a statement made by a person on Dr. Adenauer's staff who occupies an important and responsible position. He is openly advocating a preventive war.
§ Mr. Foot
The statement was made to a reporter of the "Sunday Express," a most eminent reporter.
It was printed in an article by an eminent journalist, Mr. Milton Shulman, who has written one of the best books about the Second World War and who is an expert on the subject. He quoted this sentence in an article he wrote in the "Sunday Express" last Sunday and it has not been denied. Indeed, there is some grisly logic in it—
§ Mr. Foot
I know that my hon. and learned Friend does not believe in it. But the argument he advances is not only in direct contradiction to the argument put forward by General Zimmerman but is directly contradictory to the argument 1482 of Mr. Dulles and of Her Majesty's Government, because in the White Paper the Government take quite a different view from that expresed by my hon. and learned Friend. He does not believe that in a Third World War atomic bombs would be used, but General Zimmerman and Dr. Adenauer and the Government believe that atomic bombs would be used. General Zimmerman goes further and says, "Let us use ours."
§ Dr. Bennett
Do I see that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) is carrying a copy of the "Sunday Express" in his hand and quoting from it?
§ Mr. Foot
If that was the purpose of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I can tell him that it is not a copy of the "Sunday Express" which I am carrying in my hand—it is a copy of the "Tribune." It quotes from an article which appeared in the "Sunday Express" last Sunday.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not have an opportunity to read the article, but, for some unknown reason, the editor of the "Sunday Express" removed the article after the first edition. But the hon. Gentleman can read it in the first edition of the "Sunday Express" last Sunday. If my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton will do the same, he will not only discover a great deal about German generals that he did not know before, but also about Dr. Adenauer.
In the same article there are quotations from Dr. Adenauer revealing what he said in December, 1951:However, our chief reason for wanting to enter the European Army is to be able to recover our Eastern territories.
§ Mr. Foot
However, when I read an article by one of the most responsible and brilliant journalists of this country. Mr. Milton Shulman, in which all these facts are revealed, then I think it is very foolish of my hon. and learned Friend to try to contravene them. As I said before, it is a fact that there is a grisly logic in it, because if we go on piling up deterrent power against deterrent power in an arms race, it is possible that someone on one side or the other may be mad enough to say, "Let us steal an advantage by dropping an atomic bomb first." It is no good my hon. and learned Friend's saying that that is an absurd notion of mine, because the Government are advancing the same view, and what I am trying to do is to consider whether the Government's view is wise.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. I am sure that it will be within his recollection that I said it was the United Nations who should have the power to do that, not any individual country.
§ Mr. Foot
We were discussing earlier the difficulty that might arise if the Dulles doctrine were to be put into operation, how it could be done under the provisions of the American Constitution. Now, apparently, it is to be decided by the United 1484 Nations. This does not make sense. If anybody is to drop the atomic bomb it has to be done by one side or the other trying to steal a march, and that is the wretched, tragic logic of what that German general said. It may be that some people think in that way. Indeed, it has been proved that some people do think in that way.
Before I go on with what some Germans think about this situation, I must say that I think we ought to have had more information from the Government about their plans for building up an Air Force in this country to fit in with their plans for building up an air force in Germany. It is reckoned that, at any rate to start with, the Germans are to have 1,700 planes.
The hon. Gentleman has not said whether he is speaking of the East Germans or the West Germans.
§ Mr. Foot
Yes, the West German air force. The simple question is how that is to be built up and fitted in with the various proposals of this Government, because we are left in some mystery about it all. Does the fact that we are to build up a German air force mean that we are to have more aeroplanes in this country or fewer in this country? Does the fact that we are to have a German air force as our ally mean that we have to spend more on building our Air Force in this country, or less?
We are in some doubt about this, because a week or so ago we were told by the Government that we must have a West German army to make ourselves feel safer. Presumably, if that applies to the 12 divisions, it also applies to the 1,700 aeroplanes that the Germans are to be allowed to have. Then we were 1485 told by the Prime Minister only a day or two ago that we must have a counterpoise of strength against this new military power to be built up in West Germany. How does it affect the Royal Air Force? What type of extra aircraft shall we have to build here in order to provide a counterpoise of strength against the aircraft that we shall build in Germany?
We are interested in the figure of 1,700 aircraft. Does that also come from the "Tribune," or is it from another source?
§ Mr. Foot
My previous quotation came from the "Sunday Express." The hon. Gentleman can look that up and check it. I cannot absolutely vouch for this without looking up the details, but I am almost certain that the figure for the number of aircraft was first given officially at the time of the Lisbon Conference. At the time when the 12 divisions were first mentioned, a figure for the number of aircraft was also mentioned. If the hon. Gentleman cares to take the trouble to examine all the statements which have been made by Herr Blanck of Bonn, he will discover that the figure was given by him.
If the hon. Member wants a further reference, there is a book in the Library on Germany by Mr. James P. Warburg, in which he will discover all the details, including the details of the discussions which took place between the American High Commissioner in Germany and the Bonn Government at which the figure for the number of aircraft to be allowed was fixed prior even to the Lisbon meeting.
The Government ought to know about it. If my figure of 1,700 as the number of aircraft that the West Germans are to be allowed under the original plan is wrong, we can be told so by the Minister. We ought in any case to be told, because it obviously affects our own military situation one way or the other.
We should also like to know from the Government whether the fact that we are to arm the West Germans with an air force as well means that we must have more bombers or fighters or whatever the Government work out to be the necessary counterpoise of strength to deal with the fact that we are to arm the West Germans. The deduction of the Prime Minister in the defence debate was that, if we are to arm the West Germans.
1486 we have to arm ourselves a bit more. There is some grisly logic about that. I have heard that question asked elsewhere by some other people.
The real answer is not that it is paradoxical for some people to suggest that West Germany should be rearmed while we disarm; the way to deal with the problem is not to arm the Germans. I am against arming either side. There have, of course, been efforts by the Russians to arm the East Germans, but the Prime Minister said in a speech a few days ago that it was interesting to note that in recent months there had been a reduction in the air forces of the Russians in those areas. That may perhaps be taken as partially relevant to the situation.
What are the conclusions to be drawn from the appalling lunacy into which the world seems to be thrust by the idea of competing atomic deterrent powers, from the kind of conclusions drawn by the German generals who want a preventive war, or from the conclusions drawn by those in this country who say that we must first make ourselves safer by arming the Germans and then arm ourselves a bit more in order to keep the Germans in order?
I am not an expert on military affairs, but it is time that a few people with civilian sense looked at these matters. It is argued by some people that the only conclusion to be drawn is that we must now concentrate on conventional weapons. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton revealed some of the dilemmas which confront one if that is the only deduction that one makes from the situation. The other main deduction which must be made from the situation is that if one has a crazy foreign policy it is very difficult to have a sane military policy for carrying it out. If we have a policy that we are going to take on commitments all over the world far heavier than we can bear, we can hardly blame the Service Departments for producing Estimates that do not really make sense, and we can go through a whole host of dilemmas of that nature which are presented to us.
These Estimates, like all the others we have had over the last three or four years, are not planned Estimates of the needs of the country, based on what this country can really afford. They are the Government's working out how much 1487 they think they can get away with, and coming along to the Committee and trying to push it through very quickly, hoping people will not examine it. Then, at the end of the year when they find that they have overspent the figure they put in, they will say, "That doesn't matter, because we shall probably be able to get a few more millions later on." There is no coherent policy on strategy ensuring an economy of defence policy for this country. Indeed, all the Estimates that the Government have presented, and in particular in these Estimates—
I have got the book to which the hon. Gentleman was referring and I find that it was published in 1946. Is the hon. Gentleman quoting a hypothetical figure taken eight years ago under hypothetical circumstances?
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman need not be so tedious. He has got hold of the wrong book. He will see that there was a book placed in the Library only a week ago discussing the whole German situation from 1945 to 1953. It is a book by a most eminent writer in the United States, and the hon. Gentleman will find it in the Library. He will find that this book was reviewed in the "Sunday Express" on Sunday. If he had not interrupted me about five times on facts that he had not got properly presented, we might have got on a bit better with the debate. The Government's defence strategy and Air Force stategy, meaning an intolerable burden for defence which they have asked this country to sustain, is based on a total misreading of the international situation.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is out of order for an hon. Member to read a book, whether it is to do with the debate or not.
§ Mr. Foot
I would much rather he read a book and let us carry on the proceedings. Whatever the book may be, I am sure that it will add to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge. It is a fundamental error of the Government's policy, revealed in these Estimates, and in the 1488 other Estimates, that they have been based on a misreading of the international situation. The Government have all the time sought to pretend to the country that their aim and their purpose was to prepare us and make the necessary arrangements to deal with a giant Soviet attack, a general military attack. That was the danger which was portrayed before us in 1951 and 1952, and indeed at an earlier date. That is still the main excuse for the heavy burden of defence which we are called upon to bear.
I do not believe that it bears any real relation to the facts. There is a danger from Soviet policies in many parts of the world. I believe that the Soviet Government seek in many parts of the world to grab areas which they can bring under their influence; they seek to stir up economic and other troubles for the democracies; and I believe that they will engage in many kinds of conspiracy all over the world. Many people go on from that to think that every disturbance that takes place in any part of the world is due to some Communist intrigue when it is due to nothing of the sort. There are great dangers from Soviet policy, but it is necessary to discover what that policy really is. It is no good burdening and defeating ourselves in preparing to deal with a Soviet strategy that does not exist.
Anyone who examines the history of the Soviet Union since the days of the Revolution will see that there have been only four occasions when the Soviet Union engaged in what might be regarded as a war of aggression. There was the case of Poland just after the First World War, and indeed the Marxist and Leninist deduction which was drawn from that war was that they should never embark on such a war again. Then there was the aggression against Finland in 1940, but that was certainly not a case of launching a major war. It was not a case of the Soviet Union embarking on a policy which might involve a general war with great and powerful nations. Then there was the case of Poland in 1940, when the Soviet Union acted with the German Government in the seizure of Poland. That again was certainly not a policy directed towards a general military attack. The only other case of aggressive action in a major war was the attack of the Soviet Government on 1489 Japan in 1945, which was taken in concert with us, and therefore we can hardly have any complaint about that.
Anyone who looks at the record will see that it has never been a part of the strategy of the Soviet Union to launch a general war in order to secure their aims. Indeed, the launching and the preparation for launching such a war would be contrary to all the theories of Marxism which they accept, at any rate, in part, because the theories of Marxism tell them—they may be right or wrong; they believe they are right—that the Western Powers are going to be defeated eventually by economic distress and the failure of capitalism to organise itself efficiently.
Therefore, I say that anyone who studies objectively the history over the past 30 years can see that the idea of a general Soviet attack involving a world war is not the primary danger with which we have to deal. But if we concentrate on trying to deal with the menace we can easily make much easier for the Soviet Government the successful implementation of their real strategies, because if we burden ourselves with this huge amount for defence, if we neglect, as we have been grossly neglecting, our preparations for our own economic future, if we cut down our capital investment, if we strip ourselves of the power to give effective economic aid to the backward nations in the world, then we will in fact be pursuing a policy which, however it may result in the end, will at any rate strengthen the precise strategy which the Soviet Government have pursued against us for generations past.
That is why many of us were very glad to see that on the debate on the Defence White Paper a Motion was put down against the Government, and that is why many of us wish to press these arguments further. It will only be when the Government adopt a wise foreign policy that they will be able to have a sane military policy at the same time.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I am sure we have all listened with some amazement to the discursiveness of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). I wish that the hon. Gentleman might have caught your eye two days ago, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when perhaps 1490 the subject, although still equally in order, might have been appropriate.
If the House will forgive me, I should like to bring the debate a little nearer to aviation. I should like to extend my warmest congratulations to the Undersecretary for having given an extremely good statement today so very well; in short, for having given us such great reassurance about our air defences—an assurance which for many years past I personally have been badly needing.
I feel, unlike the hon. Member for Devonport, that this is a very well balanced programme of aeronautical defence, one which on any logical consideration is clearly very necessary. In filling in the interim between the pro-pellor age and the push-button guided weapon age we have no alternative but to do what we are doing. My hon. Friend has put it across extremely well.
The two points I want to raise are matters which affect him and, in each case, another Department. The first concerns transport aircraft I cannot believe that the R.A.F. has as many of these aircraft as it would like, or that the requisite number is likely to become readily available in competition with all the other forms of aircraft which are needed for the other commands I would draw my hon. Friend's attention to a project which I am certainly not the first to mention, but which has a great deal of good in it and deserves close consideration. Some arrangement should be made between the Air Ministry, the other Ministries concerned, and the civil airline operators, by which a fleet of commercial aircraft can be kept in full operation, hired from the Ministry if necessary, but available on call when required for the use of Transport Command
I can see no other economical way in which the R.A.F. can be equipped with a sufficiency of transport aircraft for the jobs it has to do, not only for itself but for the other Fighting Services. I stress this point most strongly, and I would ask the Minister whether there is any prospect of any such joint arrangements being made with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Supply and the operators who might want to take up these aircraft and pay for them at a rate which would amortise their cost
My other point concerns the fact that both he and his opposite numbers in the 1491 Admiralty are having great difficulty over aircrews. It is a matter of old controversy in this House that the command of the air over the ocean is one which has to be shared between the Admiralty and the R.A.F. The Admiralty is restricted, as everybody knows, to the flying of aircraft from aircraft carriers and their corresponding shore stations. All its aircraft have to be suitable for flying from carriers. That means that they are nearly all single-engined or small twin-engined machines. The crews have a somewhat "dicey" time flying on and off these carriers, and after a rather short career of flying in this way there is nothing left for them but to become ships' officers, which means that they are assimilated into the other branches of the executive; they fire guns and other such things.
That seems to be the main reason why the Navy is finding it difficult to get a sufficient aircrew intake. As it is necessary for Coastal Command to go on flying these much bigger shore-based aircraft, which are doing a similar job. I suggest that it may be possible to bring about such a degree of integration of the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command that carrier pilots will be able to graduate to the larger shore-based aircraft for the latter part of their flying careers, to be passed permanently to the R.A.F. or, perhaps, ultimately to come back to naval service. The pooling of pilots in this way for these several and successive functions might very well cause a considerable diminution in the difficulty which both Services have to face in the recruitment of aircrews.
Those are the only points I wish to make. The fact that I have no other points of criticism is a sufficient testimonial to my satisfaction with the form of these Air Estimates, and I hope that the House will pass them in spite of the misgivings of the hon. Member for Devonport.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston. South)
Before I deal with what the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) has said, I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). I was interested in the arguments he appeared to be quoting about atomic policy from an American reactionary 1492 journal called the "New Leader," and I think it is worth while referring to the deductions drawn in the Senate by those who were, in fact, criticising the Eisenhower policy. Those deductions were that the American Government were wrong to place faith entirely in the atom bomb, and that so far from cutting the armed forces and the arms budget they should be increased. Indeed, they were also pointing out the need not to reduce the number of ground forces, and the logic of that argument is, of course, in direct contradiction of the argument set forth in the official Opposition Amendment on the defence debate this week.
I would urge my hon. Friend to consider this angle. It strikes me, and here I am entirely in agreement with him, that there is a danger in the policy of a deterrent force, but the alternative is the maintenance of what might be called defensive forces, which would involve the maintenance of the two-year period of National Service. I am not proposing to go further into that argument which might lead to a much more fundamental aspect, that of foreign policy. My hon. Friend is entitled to criticise the Government's foreign policy, but we are not in this debate concerned with foreign policy but with the defences that might be necessary in support of a foreign policy which may be wholly bad. I do not propose to follow that line. But I feel that, far from criticising the Government about the build-up of the atomic deterrent force, criticisms made in the earlier part of week were on the score that they were using out of date defensive forces.
Personally, and here I am at one with my hon. Friend, I think that the atomic deterrent is the most dangerous aspect of the general defence and foreign policy, and it is essential that we should regard air power as the ultimate weapon and then only as a deterrent weapon; but it should not be the main weapon in this period of the semi-cold war. I agree with my hon. Friend on the logic of the point that we should not rely wholly on the atomic defences but on the maintenance of adequate armed forces performing, in effect, a police role throughout the world. My hon. Friend would have an answer on the subject of present day commitments, and I would be entirely in agreement on that point. I fear that this debate has gone rather wide, but I felt 1493 obliged to make some comments on the remarks made by my hon. Friend.
I should like to offer one criticism, and I am sorry that the Under-Secretary has left. I sympathise with his having to do so. My criticism refers to the complete, or almost complete, absence of any mention of N.A.T.O. in the Memorandum. The Under-Secretary made some reference to N.A.T.O. himself: but in the Memorandum there is only an oblique reference. That is a consequence of the emphasis on the strategic aspect of air power, and it is unsound, because, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made clear, air forces have an important role to play as part of the N.A.T.O. defences. The Under-Secretary of State himself made that clear. None the less, the Memorandum shows rather clearly the thinking that is going on in the Air Ministry on this subject. More attention has got to be paid to the N.A.T.O. aspect.
In particular, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) referred to the need for a light fighter. Since the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence is present, I urge that as we are prepared in the case of the new supersonic fighters, in order to speed up production, to order as many as 20 prototypes, it would be in the interests, not only of this country but of N.A.T.O. as a whole, to order prototypes of the light fighters of a design which are already available in this country. The great difficulty has been the availability of a suitable engine, but I am told that there are one or two possibilities. With a little encouragement from the Government this project, which is extremely interesting, could be brought to a point where it could be adequately judged. I urge that this matter should be more fully considered.
I should like also to refer to another point, which has been raised by several hon. Members on both sides of the House, with regard to the use of the Air Force for transport purposes. One hon. Member mentioned the 20 Beverley aircraft that have been ordered. It may be that the Air Force and the Air Council, obliged to cut their coat according to what they hope they can get in the shape of money for their particular role, are not prepared to go into this 1494 field. I see no reason why there should not be a coherent plan building up over the years by which the great bulk of all trooping was carried out by air, so that if war should come we are in a position to send troops and their equipment wherever they may be needed. Indeed, this would seem to be the only logical development from the position in which we find ourselves, short of manpower and with widespread commitments.
A certain amount of trooping is, of course, done by air, but it has got to be an inherent and fundamental part of the whole of our strategical planning. Whether the charter companies are used or whether the Air Force does the work, I am not prepared to argue at the moment. I see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation is present, and I should be glad to argue about the subject on Monday. None the less, the fundamental principle is one with which anybody who is airminded will agree. I am quite sure that the Air Ministry would agree, and the only people who might object would be the Navy, because this proposal would make a further dent in their already further declining role in the event of war.
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham has dug out once again the argument about Coastal Command, and I see the force of his argument: namely, the need to provide an adequate career for Fleet Air Arm officers. The problem is very difficult. I fully agree, but I do not believe it can be solved by linking Coastal Command to the Navy. If the hon. Member's arguments are carried to a logical conclusion, the proper answer must be—I see grave danger in reopening the whole issue—that the Air Force will have to provide the aircrew for the Navy.
That was the system that existed some while ago before the Navy got its own independent air arm, and I do not think it was a satisfactory solution. It is a difficult matter, but I do not think we could consider putting any sizable part of land-based air power under naval control.
§ Dr. Bennett
I should not like anybody to think that I was suggesting that the administration or governing of either of those Services in any way should change hands. I was saying merely that it should 1495 be a matter of loans of individual members of aircrew to continue a flying career in very much the same medium.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am sorry. I may have misinterpreted some of the hon. Member's remarks, but I wanted to make that general point. It is one which could be investigated further, and it is perhaps unfortunate that there is this rather strong Service feeling which possibly prevents arriving at a sensible solution.
I will turn now to a point which has been discussed by a number of speakers. That is, the use of reservists. The Undersecretary of State was not forthcoming when he was telling us about the developments, the plans he had for making use of Class H reservists in the Air Force, but tantalised us by saying that he had two other plans which he was not going to bring forward at the moment. He might at least have given us a glimpse of what he is thinking about. It might be that some hon. Members have further useful suggestions to make.
We are faced by a fundamental injustice in the matter of call-up. It clearly is unjust that a man called up for the Air Force should have a greater chance of avoiding the disadvantages, from his employer's point of view, of subsequent annual call-up. The Air Force Class H reservist is in a favoured position compared with the Army reservist. The plan put forward is a step in the right direction. It would, however, be a grave error to call up men unless there is something for them to do. This matter must be considered further, and I am glad to see that the Government have been paying attention to this injustice.
There has been talk over the last two or three years of establishing local defence flights, or units, to man operation rooms, but in a number of cases they have not been organised. There is no reason why Coastal Command, and some other commands, should not have these reservist flights set up at once. I would ask whichever Minister is paying attention to this debate to deal with this point, because it is time that Coastal Command had such an organisation.
Another important point is the new incentive pay scheme for Service emoluments. There is evidence that the Air 1496 Force is not being treated as well as the other Services. I should like an assurance from the Minister that the Air Force is getting the same treatment as the Navy. There is greater need for inducements to get men to stay on in the Air Force. The Navy, by and large, has been for many reasons, partly tradition, more successful in getting the long-service Regulars it wants.
Then I must refer to the methods of recruiting officers in persuading young National Service men to sign on for three years instead of two. We realise that these officers are doing their best, but there is no doubt that a number of young men have agreed to serve for three years because of the rather rosy prospects of extra pay set in front of them, and sometimes have agreed to sign on for a longer period, without referring to their parents. I fully appreciate that the Air Force want to get men, but at the same time a certain amount of ill-feeling has been created as a result of these methods, and even more important, if it becomes widespread it may really do a disservice to the Air Force in recruiting regulars.
On the same point, I should like again to ask the Under-Secretary to deal with recruiting for the aircrews through Cranwell and other channels. Again, quite a number of young men are persuaded to give up their career prospects in civil life by the hopes of a good career in the Air Force without ever being told that a fairly high proportion of them are going to be failed on the way. So far it has not been considered in the public interest to give the numbers who are so failed. But I think it is only fair for a prospective employer to indicate to a prospective employee that the prospects of attaining the job for which he is training are not as rosy as appears at first sight.
Among cases which I have had was one of a young man who had given up his articles. He was training to be an accountant, and he was keen on a career in the Royal Air Force. But he was failed. Whether he was failed for right or wrong reasons is not the point. The point is that neither he nor his parents had any idea as to the number of people who were, in fact, likely to get through that course. That is a point of some importance.
1497 There is one small point, and that is with regard to uniforms. The cost of uniforms to officers today is a very serious factor indeed, and I have heard it suggested by a number of Air Force and Army officers that there is no reason why officers' uniforms should not be obtained through the equivalent of regimental tailors. This may shock some people, but it is worth noting that the Guards have their uniforms provided collectively by bulk buying, although there is individual attention to particular need. I would suggest that the same scheme might well be considered for officers in the Air Force and elsewhere. If it could be done it would probably put a number of regimental tailors out of business, or they might be willing to come into the scheme in some way. But a really important saving in expenditure could be made, for the benefit of junior officers in particular, who have very heavy expenses to meet.
I would conclude by returning to the original strategic note in which I followed my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. I believe there is a fundamental need for a bomber force as a deterrent. I believe, too, with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton that a fighter defence purely as a counter to atomic warfare is not likely to be very effective. If it is not 100 per cent, effective we can regard it as ineffective.
At the same time I would urge the Air Council and the Air Force to realise that, important though a bomber force is. —and it is important—it is particularly important that this country should have an atomic bomber force and not merely the Americans if we are to carry that moderating influence which we want to use with our allies which at the same time will be part of our general national forces. After the war we used to talk about a single Service. Today that idea, for many technical reasons, seems to have disappeared. But the Air Force has to play its r61e in support of the Army, in transporting the Army and the other Services in peace time and, only in the last resort, in war.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
When I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), I could not help but feel a certain amount 1498 of admiration for the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) for the courage and helpfulness he has shown throughout. I am sure that my hon. Friends on this side of the House are extremely glad that one section of the Socialist Party is united with us in seeing that there are to be no substantial reductions in the money that is being made available to the Air Force under the Air Estimates. The discussions we shall have next week in the debates on the Army and Navy Estimates ought to be rather entertaining, and it will be instructive to see whether the hon. Member for Devon-port, who I am sorry to see has now left the Chamber, will be prepared to support any reduction in the Royal Navy Estimates.
I felt that many of the remarks made by the hon. Member were most misleading, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) has gone some way in criticising them. Most people will agree with him that there is nothing that the Soviet wants less than a general war, and the examples which the hon. Gentleman gave us of where they have made limited aggression, support any theory one holds on this subject.
What I am certain Russia does want is the fruits of war without having to pay any of the penalties. One of the examples of the past which would show that the present Government are following the right policy is the deterrent effect of the United States squadrons from the Strategic Air Command that were brought here in 1948. The trouble is that when one is going in for a policy of peace by making it clear to a possible aggressor that there will be war if the peace is broken, one cannot be certain of being successful: one can only be certain of failure if a war breaks out. But in 1948 we had a demonstration that peace through strength would be much more likely than peace through weakness.
I support the remarks made by several hon. Members about certain aspects of our fighter force. I am getting worried about the cost of some of our fighter aircraft, and in some cases the demands that are being made by the Air Staff are being pitched too high. I remember that 25 years ago when I was in the Air Force we often used to make jokes in the Service about the demands made upon 1499 the aircraft industry by the Royal Navy when it was building up its Fleet Air Arm. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friends who have been associated with the Royal Navy will not think that I believe they have the same views today, but in those days they always wanted j machine with a speed of the fastest fighter available, able to carry a large number of people over an extremely long distance, and at the same time with a very low landing speed. They were so extravagant in their demands that it was not possible to get any engineering firms to provide them with the aircraft they required.
The position is getting rather like that today in the Royal Air Force, with radar and armament and all the ancillary equipment which the modern aircraft has to carry, and this is particularly applicable to some of the jobs that a fighter aircraft has to do. I am not criticising in any way aircraft like the Hunter and the Swift, which are absolutely essential for our home defence, but we should not blind ourselves to the fact that these aircraft will be available only in the event of war in very limited numbers because of their expense and the complication they present to constructors. I do not believe it is possible at the moment to get any Continental factory in Western Europe to turn out either of these aircraft, and it is essential, in considering our strategic requirements, that we should always bear in mind the importance of husbanding our supply of these expensive machines. If one accepts that, we have to consider what we are going to use from the fighter point of view in close support of our ground forces.
Bombers, too, have to be escorted to tactical targets, and there will be ground straffing and so on. The defence we should have to get through with our tactical bombers will probably be nothing like so difficult as tactical aircraft had to get through when attacking this country in 1940. As far as I have been able to discover, the Russian defence will probably be something like only one-fifth as numerous as the defences we had around our perimeter during the Battle of Britain. But it will still be quite a difficult defence for tactical bombers, and we shall need a less elaborate fighter than the Hunter for this sort of job. I regret that I can 1500 find no provision for this equipment in these Estimates.
As all hon. Gentlemen here who are interested in aircraft know, there is a fighter being developed and now being constructed in this country by the Folland Aircraft Ltd.—designed by one of our foremost designers, Mr. W. E. W. Fetter, who was responsible for the design of the Whirlwind and the Canberra—in an attempt to reduce by one-third or one-quarter the cost of the present all-weather fighter, and I am very critical of the attitude of the Air Staff to this machine.
§ Mr. Shackleton
In fact, some figures have been given by Mr. Fetter which suggest that at a later stage the rate of production can be increased five times, and the cost will be a great deal less than the one-third mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson).
§ Mr. Williams
I do not want to get into conflict with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it is certainly substantially cheaper. I think this aircraft may well be in the same position as the Mosquito, which was produced as a private venture and subsequently became of great importance to the Service during the last war.
The real difficulty is that the Air Staff is absolutely obsessed with the importance of the interceptor fighter. That aeroplane is, of course, extremely important to this country. It is the most effective aircraft that we have for our fighter defences, close as they are to our frontiers. But the United States of America see the fighter problem as requiring two different types of aeroplane. They say that not only do they need the interceptor, but also a type called the "air superiority fighter." The function of that aeroplane is to grapple with the enemy over the ground battle area, destroy their air force, escort their own bombers, and then join in as tactical aircraft.
This aircraft which has been designed by Mr. Fetter has attracted wide attention in the United States of America. It has already inspired companies over there to develop a similar aeroplane, and great interest has been shown in it all over Europe. I believe that unless more encouragement is given by the Air Staff 1501 to this aeroplane there is a grave danger that a similar machine may be built and developed in America. As a result of the success which will attend its development, there we may well find that, instead of a British fighter being built under licence on the Continent—with all the attendant advantages that it has as an additional export—the Continental factories may take over the American fighter.
The inspiration which is being given in the United States to that development of this brilliant young British designer will then bring benefit, not to ourselves, but only to America. I hope that my hon. Friend will very carefully consider this aircraft and see if it is possible to give some encouragement to the Falland Aircraft Company which is at present producing it.
I want to refer to the effect which the closing down of the Reserve schools is having on aerodromes such as exist near my constituency of Exeter We have to face the fact that they are being closed down. I myself am convinced that it is the right policy for my hon. Friend to follow. I do hope, however, that every effort will be made to make it possible for aerodromes such as Exeter to continue to function on a similar basis as hitherto. The loss of the Reserve school at Exeter is very serious and is going to lead to grave difficulty in keeping the Air Force running.
Another organisation which is continuing, though perhaps only for a few months, is the Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit. I understand that it is possible that this also may be closed; that it might be felt better to expand one of the other units carrying out this work, rather than keep that which is still operating in my constituency. I sincerely hope that that will not happen. It would be greatly resented locally. It would be a serious discouragement to a county which has always been famous for the manpower which it has sent into the Armed Forces of the Crown. It would also make it almost impossible to continue to run the aerodrome; if it goes there is very little left to operate from the aerodrome, except an occasional run by an airline to one of the Channel Islands. I hope that my hon. Friend will carefully consider any representations which may be made to him by the airport authorities in this connection to see 1502 if it is possible to allow them to continue in the future.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I wish to make a few observations about what I consider to be the main issue of this debate, namely, the question of whether this country should develop a strategic bomber force. That is the decision of the Government which has come to fruition this year. It is one which this House should debate, because it is of enormous importance to our defence policy and also to our economic policy. It will not be a cheap matter to implement such a decision. Even a minimum strategic bomber force would be enormously expensive, and therefore it is a decision which we must take with reluctance. I am bound to say that I am convinced that the Government are right and that we must develop an effective strategic bomber force, at any rate of a minimum size.
I was impressed by the recent broadcast of the ex-Chief of the Air Force. Sir John S'essor, a very brilliant officer, whom I once had the honour to serve in a very humble capacity during the war. I was impressed by what he said on the military side. The political side of his statement is another matter. But on the military side, as I understood it. his argument is hard to refute. In his view, air defence today and so far as we can see in the future, is unlikely to be very effective.
I would not say that we should dispense with air defence, though interceptor fighters are very expensive. But we must face the fact that we should delude ourselves by thinking that air defence would be effective in any future major war. What constructive conclusion can we draw from that? The one drawn by Sir John Slessor is that the defence of this country in the air must largely depend on the possession of a deterrent air force, which could be nothing but a fleet of strategic bombers sufficiently effective to make a would-be aggressor pause.
If we take the purely N.A.T.O. view of the situation, there would be no cause for us to develop a strategic bomber force. If we think purely in the terms of the present alliance, the present balance of power and the present political situation in the world—if we believe it is certain to endure indefinitely— 1503 if each nation in the N.A.T.O. alliance specialised in a particular force, then the obvious case, often advanced, for leaving this highly expensive strategic bomber force to America would be impossible to answer.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
When the right hon. Gentleman refers to a strategic bomber force, does he mean a strategic atomic bomber force?
§ Mr. Strachey
Yes, indeed I do. We are developing these atomic weapons, and their most obvious use is with a strategic bomber force. I call it a strategic bomber force because the type of V.3 bombers which we are developing are now called medium bombers, but they play the role which the old heavy bomber played in the last war.
I am bound to say that, on balance, I do not think we ought to leave this vitally important military function purely to our allies. The military situation in the world is developing in a way which makes the strategic bomber not the only weapon in the world; it is not a unique weapon. We should not concentrate on that alone, but it is the central weapon of the whole of our defence force. It is tending, and will tend in future more and more, to play the rôle which the battleship played it the last century and in the early years of this century—the rôle of the essential weapon for this island, and which is, above all, important for our security. Therefore, I think it right to say that we could not possibly leave the development of that weapon to any ally.
I should like to quote Sir John Slessor's words on the subject. He said:We cannot leave to the United States the monopoly of this instrument of such decisive importance in the massive issues of war and peace.If I had used that phrase I think I might be accused of anti-Americanism, but I do not think Sir John Slessor would be accused of anti-Americanism. He has cooperated with them very closely indeed.
§ Mr. Strachey
My hon. Friend puts a gloss on Sir John Slessor's statement. I was about to say that I would not put any gloss at all on it. I would agree with his statement.
§ Mr. Crossman
As I understand my right hon. Friend, he says that if we have a choice, as we do, of priorities, he feels that it is more important for us to have strategic bombers than to have an adequate form of defence for the civilian population, because of the certainty that if bombers are used a number of the civilian population are bound to be wiped out. Since he advocates the use of the strategic bomber, and this involves destroying civilian life, why does he think it more important to have the bomber and leave the civilian population totally unprotected, as we do in this Estimate?
§ Mr. Strachey
The reason is simple, and I was just stating it. We must accept the opinion of the experts—and I have quoted one—that air defence today will never be very effective. We cannot neglect the defensive side, of course.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is still another aspect of the matter. But we cannot neglect the fact that, however many millions we spend on interceptor fighters and all the apparatus of air defence, such as radar screens and the like, and how ever many millions we spend on Civil Defence—
§ Mr. Crossman
Since there is no way of preventing atom bombers from arriving over this country, my right hon. Friend feels that for that reason we should leave the civil population without any defence. This seems to be an odd argument—that because it is certain that the bombers will get through we should provide no air-raid shelters for the civilian population. This puzzles me, in view of his statement that we must have strategic bombers. I do not see any point in having strategic bombers if, at the same time, we make certain that our civil population, which cannot be defended by fighters, is going to be left unprotected— because there is not enough money for both. If my right hon. Friend says that we should have strategic bombers and yet have no passive defence, I want to know why.
§ Mr. Strachey
My hon. Friend is now really suggesting, first, that we should leave the strategic bomber force to the Americans and, secondly, that we ought to have no defences in the air or on the ground against air attack. If he finds that argument a fantastic one, so do I; but no one in the House has put it forward except himself
§ Mr. Strachey
That is a perfectly fair question, and I was coming to that point next. The object of having a strategic bomber force is precisely the one which a dozen speakers on both sides of the House have mentioned—and one which I think my hon. Friend could understand quite easily if he applied his mind to it for a moment. It is in order that we can say to any foreign Power whose aggression we might fear, "You can attack us, despite our defences. You can no doubt do great damage to us, but you will suffer the same damage yourself." That is a perfectly simple argument.
§ Mr. Strachey
If my hon. Friend is willing to rely upon the Americans to provide it, that is another matter. I cannot vie with him in his pro-Americanism. I cannot go quite so far as he does. I do not want to be accused of anti-Americanism, and I should certainly never admit to it, but to put the whole fate of this country into the hands of the Americans—as my hon. Friend wishes to do—is going too far.
§ Mr. Crossman
This is an interesting discussion. I can assure my right hon. Friend that if he really thinks that a minimum bomber force—100 bombers, or whatever it may be—of enormously expensive machines in our hands and a gigantic bomber force in the hands of the Americans prevent us from being completely under the power of the Americans in the event of a war, he is simpler than I am. The moment we start the next war we shall be absolutely in the hands of the Americans. We shall depend upon 1506 them for our food. It is ridiculous to think that with the predominance of American military might we shall not be in their power in the event of general war.
§ Mr. Strachey
That is a reductio ad absurdum. My hon. Friend's argument is the perfectly simple one, that we should have no defence or weapons in this country but should rely on the Americans for everything.
§ Mr. Crossman
This is a part of a Socratic process of elucidation which divides us. Every country in Europe maintains the minimum defences it can, in order to get more American assistance. Everyone is doing the minimum he can in order to keep the Americans committed, because they know that the only effective defence of Europe consists of the automatic military commitments of the Americans to come to our assistance under N.A.T.O. That is why the Belgians, the French and other European countries try to humour the Americans into providing a thin red line across Germany. The Russians do not want to kill Americans, because they know they will get an atomic bomb on Moscow if they do. That is a more effective deterrent against war than our minimum force of strategic bombers.
§ Mr. Strachey
My hon. Friend has made a series of amusing speeches in the interstices of my few and pedestrian remarks. I am sure that we have enjoyed them very much, but they have nothing to do with the subject of defence, which we are discussing tonight.
§ Mr. Strachey
I have no need to wait for my hon. Friend's speeches. They come thick and fast. When his speech is being delivered he might have to wait for a few interjections from myself, but it is interesting that the frame of mind which he has worked himself is, I believe, that the present world situation will continue indefinitely. I do not think that likely. I cannot foresee the situation which this country will have to face in 10, 20 or more, years, but I think that, if the country is to have defences at all, by far the most important single defence will be to possess the deterrent of a strategic bomber force. Therefore, with the reluctance I expressed at the outset 1507 of my remarks, it seems to me right that we are building up a force of that character.
There is certainly one other task which the Royal Air Force has to face, and that is what used to be called, quaintly enough. Army Co-operation. It is a far wider task today, and is not a question of providing Lysanders for spotting for artillery or something of that sort. It is not the enormous task of providing the air component for the ground screen across Europe, which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) seems to think is drawn across Europe as a bait for the Americans, but has a rather more realistic purpose than that. It is the task of providing Army cooperation in limited wars and I think it is important that we should have adequate forces necessary to conduct limited wars, as the Korean war was conducted, without their spreading into a world war. That is an extremely important function. Perhaps it is mainly an Army function, but the Royal Air Force comes into it intimately. It seems to me that there is nothing in the Estimates to suggest how that function is to be met.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) may be right in saying that the highly elaborate and expensive interceptor fighters which we are developing in this country are not suitable for this purpose, and I would like the Under-Secretary to deal with it when he comes to sum up. We are promised the development of a delta-winged fighter by A. V. Roe, which they suggest will be suitable for this type of work. I do not know in the least the merits of the rival firms who are seeking to develop these aircraft, but something of the simple, cheaper and more robust type for that kind of work would have been very important.
Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport must realise that when he is asking for weapons of that sort—and he is right to do so—he is asking for another range of weapons which are very expensive. But he is right in saying that the country must have them, because they help to prevent what the Prime Minister called the other day the bickerings which go on between Powers without a world 1508 war turning into such a war; and it would be utterly disastrous if we had only the threat of a total war to use in those circumstances. Those seem to me to be the chief things which the Royal Air Force today is called on to emphasise: the strategic bomber force, which it has been decided to build up, and some form of aircraft for use in land operations, probably of a limited character; but, of course, these would be essential in the case of a major war also.
If we are to emphasise those two functions, we must find something where the emphasis must be taken off. That is difficult enough to find. Whether it is in the light bomber field or where it is, I do not pretend to know, but somehow or other we must keep even the Air Estimates within reasonable dimensions. It will be difficult enough to do it, but surely these Estimates must be kept, at any rate, from growing to an intolerable size. That can only be done by picking out the most essential of the tasks and putting our main emphasis on those, because if we try to be exactly equally strong in every field, we shall probably succeed in being strong nowhere. I know very well that I am raising more problems than I am solving, but it seems to me that those are the two fields in which the emphasis of the air programme today should lie.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Mr. I. Mikardo (Reading, South)
After the interchange to which we have just listened, and in which the provision of amusement was not altogether one-sided, I suppose my role will be to act as a sort of third force between my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I hope I shall succeed in doing that without suffering the usual fate of neutrals and intermediaries, which is to be kicked in the teeth from both sides.
Like some other hon. Members who have spoken, I am by no means an expert in military or Air Force affairs. Indeed, this is the first time that I have ventured to intervene in a debate on the Air Estimates. I do so only to ask a number of questions which occurred to my lay but inquisitive mind in the course of reading the Memorandum which the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air has presented with the Air Estimates.
1509 Before I turn to those questions and to an examination of the Memorandum, there is one point, not of any great importance and, perhaps, one which might even be considered by the House to be finicky, to which I should like to refer and which arises directly out of the speech of the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman referred to some of the developments which had taken place in the design and performance of aircraft and, in particular, with regard to their speeds. He made a number of references to supersonic speeds and at least one reference to breaking the sound barrier.
I wish the hon. Gentleman would not lend his prestige as Under-Secretary and as an Air Force officer to this unscientific twaddle, because he knows as well as I do that there is no barrier at all at the speed of sound, and that the speed of sound has no more significance in aerodynamics than any other speed at all. One does not break the barrier of 331½ metres per second at 176 centimetres of barometric pressure. What sort of barrier is that?
The fact is, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, that as speed increases, the compressibility of air increases; there is an increasing build-up of aerodynamic resistance, which after a while increases in parabolic measure. Then there is a point reached at which a change in type, as well as in quantity, in this resistance takes place. That point varies according to circumstances and the design of the aircraft, but wherever it occurs it has absolutely no relation whatever to the 331½ metres per second, etc., etc., which is the speed of sound. The only validity there is in the term is that which it had as the title of a film which, I am told by those expert in such matters, was reasonably amusing but was, technically, as scientific as Old Moore's Almanac. Please let us not have this popular, prostituted, armchair science when we are discussing serious matters before the House.
With apologies for having been somewhat pontifical, I pass to consideration of the Memorandum attached to the Air Estimates. I shall refer first to the passage in the Memorandum covered by paragraphs 5 to 9, in which the noble Lord confesses to a gross failure in his Department in the most brazen way, as 1510 though it did not matter a row of pins. No other Department of Government would ever be so brazen in writing a White Paper and saying, "We made a muck of this and a mess of that, and we totally miscalculated the other; but, what does it matter, it is only a few millions?" The Ministry of Education would never dare to admit errors of planning of this magnitude without a single word of apology and scarcely a word of explanation. The Ministry of Health and the Board of Trade, and other civilian Departments, would not dream of doing it, and if they tried to do so they would not get away with it.
The effrontery of Service Departments in putting forward, without a blush, their confessions of gross inaccuracy and waste of public funds never ceases to stagger me. If ever I suffered the misfortune to be a Minister, I would want to be the Minister of a Service Department, not because I know anything about the work of such a Department, or would be good at it, but because they are Departments where the only punishment likely to be received for gross errors is to be elevated to the other place. Let us have a look at these paragraphs. It is said:In 1953–54 we shall be spending less than we estimated, because production has not come up to expectations.The Memorandum does not say why. The Under-Secretary did not even bother to comment on these paragraphs when he opened the debate. Will he tell us, when he winds up the debate, why production has not reached expectations? What went wrong? Did the planners expect too much? If so, why are the planners not changed? If the reason is not among those, what was it? Again, it is said:Another factor which distorts the comparison is that the 1953–54 Estimates included a sum of about £13,000,000 for payments to contractors for work done on orders which were cancelled as a result of the change in the defence programme.That is wonderful planning. I cast my mind back to 1951 when a few hon. Members of this party, faced with the obiter dictum of the Defence Ministry, which said it had had things worked out for several years ahead, were met with the suggestion that they should not dare to call into question the oracles by which the Ministry spoke. It could 1511 well be asked whether they were not going to change half way, or whether they were sure that if they moved the figures from one side of the ledger to the other and put down the £ symbol with a figure and a lot of noughts, they could always convert those money symbols into men and machine tools, materials and equipment. When we asked this, we were told that we ought not to meddle with such matters, but it becomes increasingly clear that it was the doubters and not the pundits who were right on that occasion, and this elaborate build-up of this terrific armament programme was erected on hopes and not on a scientific estimate of whether the money could be spent. Indeed, three years later paragraph 9 admits that a considerable proportion of the money voted in 1953–54 will not be spent.
Here we are losing £13 million in the most wasteful of all ways. It sometimes happens inevitably that stuff is ordered which does not turn out to be of much use, and, indeed, sometimes it is not usable at all and has to be sold for scrap at a cheap price. But here there is a 100 per cent. loss. This money has been paid for orders which will never be put in hand, and the consequence is that we paid this £13 million in one year without receiving any material, usable or unusable, in return.
This figure of £13 million is a bit reminiscent of something. I tried to remember where I had heard that figure before. I had to cast my memory back a long way, to 1951, when it will be recalled that that was the amount of the charges which we were told we had to put on the Health Service, otherwise we could not pay for the Air Force and other constituents of our re-armament programme. That was the imposition that we had to put on the poor people.
But that breaking down of the principle of a great social service was made not to give us one more aeroplane, not to give us one more cannon for one more aeroplane, and not to give us one more bullet for one more cannon for one more aeroplane. That grave interference with an important constituent of a great social service was made in order to enable the Air Ministry to pay for orders which were never put in hand. That shows how wrong we were to rely on the evidence of 1512 the pundits. As I said before, when they juggle with sterling figures on bits of paper they think they are converting these sterling figures into materials and machines.
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) gave an interesting example of the way that sort of error is made. He had some scheme—I will not comment on its merits, because I am not expert enough—for having some sort of partnership in transport aircraft between the Royal Air Force and the civil airline operators. He clearly thought that all that was necessary was for the Undersecretary to provide the money and those transport aircraft would be there. It never occurred to him for a moment that the provision of those aircraft would mean competing for the same factory space, for the same men, for the same machinery and for the same capacity as the programme which the Under-Secretary, on his own admission, has not been able to carry out in the past year.
We cannot get away from this silly idea that all that has to be done is to vote the money and it will be turned immediately into materials. If only someone would teach the Air Ministry—because the evidence of paragraphs 5 to 9 of the Memorandum suggest that it needs teaching very badly indeed—that when it is doing its planning it ought to measure the load and capacity in industrial terms against each other, it would be a great help. If they do that, maybe they will not next year have to come along and confess to us that they were not able to spend the money for which they budgetted, that production has not come up to expectation, that our sights last year were set too high, and that they have had to spend millions of pounds for orders out of which not a single nut or bolt has ever been produced.
I pass from that subject to a question which I want to ask on paragraph 10 of the Memorandum, and about which I hope we shall have some information from the hon. Gentleman. I: deals with the arrangements between ourselves and the United States Air Force for new works and maintenance on the airfields, etc., and there is the somewhat cryptical note:A new agreement has been completed with the United States Government which provides for an extended programme of works 1513 services for the U.S.A.F. and for revised financial arrangements.Surely the House is entitled to know what those revised financial arrangements are? We are having this debate and later on, when we go into Committee, we shall discuss in greater detail these Estimates as a part of discharging our responsibility for being guardians of the public purse. Here we have undertaken to do certain work for the United States Air Force and to receive certain payments. Those arrangements may be fair, they may even be generous, but we do not know and we are entitled to know. Indeed, we cannot judge whether the Under-Secretary is properly discharging his responsibilities of guarding that part of the taxpayer's purse which is emptied into his lap unless and until we know something about the arrangements.
I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that there will be some part of those arrangements which it would not be in the public interest to disclose. It is quite clear that a Government would not disclose, and ought not to disclose, where and for what purpose money is to be spent, but even within the limitations imposed by that necessity we could have some information as to what percentage of certain types of cost is being borne by us and what percentage by the United States Government. From the figures given in paragraph 10 and elsewhere in the Estimates we can make some calculations of global appropriations, and we are entitled to some more detail which I hope the Undersecretary will give us, in addition to his cryptic sentence about what is contained in the revised financial arrangements.
Now I turn to paragraph 12, which ends:The continued search for economy in manpower has also contributed to the reduction.That is the reduction in total personnel. Why has the Air Ministry suddenly become so overburdened with modesty that they will not tell us some more about this? What form does this continued search for economy take? By how much has this search for economy succeeded in reducing the personnel requirements of the Service? Who is carrying it out? What part of the responsibility is it of what Departments and of what officers to search for economy in manpower? And where does it apply? Universally throughout the Service? Does it apply to aircrew, to ground staff, to adminis- 1514 trative Departments? Does it apply to the tail? Does it apply to the Air Ministry itself?
I do not know anything about how the Air Ministry works, but I have had a look at some of the information which is given about the Air Ministry itself in the Air Estimates. On the evidence of three or four pages of statistics I would want some satisfaction that the utmost economy in manpower is used within the Air Ministry. I am wondering whether this searchlight which is being applied to the Service as a whole has yet managed to penetrate the portals of the Air Ministry itself,
I see, for example, that in the typing and duplicating classes 594 shorthand-typists and typists require to look after them, one controller, seven chief superintendents, and 37 superintendents, which makes a ratio of supervision to operative workers of one to 13. That is very much higher than would be considered normal in similar types of offices in commercial enterprises. In the duplicating class we have 37 operators who have six supervisors and assistant supervisors. That is a ratio of one to six—a quite outstanding figure—and I observe that this is maintained over the period which is set out in the Estimates. I would like to know a bit more about this continued search for economy in man-power, and I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us more about it.
I come next to some questions which arise out of the ground staff work—the repair and maintenance of aircraft— about which I have a little knowledge because I have seen something of this work on civil aircraft, although I appreciate the problems are infinitely less complicated than in military aircraft. Nevertheless, some comparisons do remain. I see from paragraph 32 of the Memorandum that the noble Lord is worried about the substantial reduction in apprentice entrants, and he says that we are bound to suffer from that reduction which took place during the war, and from the very low rate of post-war entrants. I will tell him one other thing that he is bound to suffer from, and that is that he does not pay them enough. Although he and the other Service Ministers have been having a look at some types of pay and have made some changes in the last few days, I think he 1515 has been very remiss in not having a look at these apprentices.
The Under-Secretary, in his opening speech, quite rightly said that one of his troubles arose out of the competition from industry. There is no field in which competition is so keen as in the field of engineering apprentices. Competition for the best boys, who are the only sort who will master the complicated apparatus in the R.A.F., is very keen indeed. I see from Table D of Appendix II that first-year apprentices get 2s. 6d. a day, second-year apprentices 3s. 6d. a day, third-year apprentices 4s., and that at 17½ an apprentice can get up to £2 9s. a week and at 18 up to £2 16s. a week. There are certain other compensations, but I do beg the Under-Secretary to look at the market for engineering apprentices and ask himself whether he can possibly hope to maintain the intake with that sort of pay. So long as he does not get the boys in at that level, I put it to him that all the measures he has taken to increase the average length of service of tradesmen will not make good the loss he will suffer if the low post-war rate of intake continues into the future.
As paragraph 32 of the Memorandum suggests, it really is frightfully wasteful to start teaching to men in their twenties skills which they should have acquired in their 'teens. The hon. Gentleman proposes to spend a lot of money in increasing pay and so on. When he is distributing largesse I hope that he will look at this problem. The amount involved must be very small, and he will get better value for it per £ than for many of the other things now under consideration.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I must cut my remarks short, because obviously the Prime Minister has come to take part in the debate, and far be it from me to stand between him and the House. But there are one or two short points arising out of the Memorandum to which I want to refer.
With regard to the supply of aircraft, paragraph 45 of the Memorandum was clearly written with a forward look to the changed arrangements which the Minister of Supply announced a day or two ago. It says:With modern aircraft, development has to continue while the process of production goes on. This is the background to the delays in 1516 the deliveries of new types of aircraft and equipment to the Royal Air Force.…That is true, but it is by no means the whole story. I only wish that it were. The new arrangements for ordering a number of pre-production aircraft, instead of a couple of prototypes are, if I may say so, extremely sensible. They will go a long way to cutting out one of the two major causes of the long delay between conception and the aeroplanes rolling in mass off the assembly lines.
But it is not all gain. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the great trouble about that part of the pre-production process is the constant flood of modifications which come in from the Service users. That constant flood has two bad effects—and I know something about this because, at the other end of the scale, I suffered by having to put them into operation at aircraft factories. Apart from increasing the cost enormously, it slows up the period between conception and production. But what the Service users do not realise is that it plays absolute havoc with design and performance.
The designer studies all the latest findings of aerodynamic research, works out all the stresses, strains and compressibilities, and designs a grand new streamlined fuselage. The only thing he will not include is the nonsense of the sound barrier. Then first one chap wants a "bubble" on there, another wants a "blimp" stuck on there, and someone else wants a "bloater" stuck on somewhere else. Before they are finished with it that clean, streamlined fuselage is hung about like a Christmas tree, with bumps and knobs and bulges all over the place. Apart from adding to the cost and slowing things up, that ruins performance.
It was bad enough when those people who, with a fiendish ingenuity which might well have been directed to better purposes, were seeking out modifications at the rate of four a day, and when they had only the time which was required to produce and fly a couple of prototypes. But now, bless their hearts, they have secured production aircraft to muck about with, and will go on modifying till kingdom come. In the end we shall be faced with the same situation with which we were faced at a critical moment during the war. We shall have to decide either to have perfect aeroplanes—and not get 1517 any—or have aeroplanes which are not perfect. I beg the hon. Gentleman—and I speak in no spirit of carping criticism, because I applaud the decision which has been taken—not to think that it will be all profit. There will be some loss. If it will shorten the testing time, it will increase the problem of modifications which come up. We shall find more people flying the aircraft to produce their own ideas of what ought to be added to it.
As I have said, this is only one half of the problem. This is only one of the two major causes for the long period which we have between conception of design and the rolling of the aircraft in quantity off the assembly line. The other main cause is simply slowness and incompetence in the productionising stage; that is, the stage following the finalisation of design and consists of putting the aircraft on the shop floor. It is the stage involved in the making of raw material schedules, component schedules, in getting up tool schedules, requisitioning raw materials and ordering them and feeding the orders out.
This is the one sector of aircraft manufacture in which the British industry is most deficient and most inferior to our competitors in other countries. I ask the Under-Secretary, if his attention has not already been directed to it, to have a look at the analysis of this question made some while ago by the late Mr. Chester Wilmot. I do not mean his most recent series of articles, but one which he wrote some time ago on the difference in the phasing of aircraft production between this country and the United States.
That has a'ways been our great problem. I remember going to one great factory during the war. They were producing Halifax bombers and were in the most awful mess. The reason was that although they had been producing these aircraft for two years, they still had not been able to get from the manufacturers a complete list of parts. It is in the productionising stage, the preparation of raw material schedules and tool schedules, parts and component schedules, that we are desperately slow in the aircraft industry. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to obtain full value from the excellent change he has recently made in ordering, I beg him to persuade the Minister of Supply to turn his attention to this stage.
1518 I make one last comment—it is the comment of a layman—about these Estimates as a whole. I ought to be ashamed to confess it, but I have been in this House for eight years and this is the first time I have taken the trouble to go through the Estimates with a tooth comb. One thing about them that appals me is the amount of work, trouble, accounting, record keeping and personnel involved in charging and payment processes which amount to no more than taking money out of one Government pocket and putting it into another. I am staggered at the amount of inter-Departmental accounting revealed in this document. I am sure this applies to the Army and the Navy as well.
If somebody really wants to do what the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air calls a continued search for economy, he ought to make the Treasury fellows, who insist on this meticulous accounting of a penny taken out of one pocket and put into another pocket, come to heel and decide how much of it is absolutely necessary. Of course, we know that some of it is necessary, but I should have thought that as between one Department of Government and another, if they got a rough approximation of an item which is going to appear as a debit in one Estimate and a credit in another and therefore cancel out—if they could get a rough approximation of the expenditure on one man-hour, that would have been much more sensible than spending 10 hours to get an exact figure which is going to cancel out.
When I started going through these Estimates, I began to count all the items which are self-cancelling charges of that sort, and on which a great deal of accounting work must have been done, and when I got a third of the way through the book I lost count and gave up counting. There are dozens, and perhaps hundreds. Merely to illustrate this point, perhaps I may mention two examples. I assure the Under-Secretary that if he is really interested he will find many more.
In Vote 10. "Non-effective services" in respect of appropriations in aid. it seems that the Air Ministry sometimes lends some of its civilian personnel to other Departments. We are not told in this document who pays the wages whilst the man is lent to the other Department. Apparently they let that one go by the 1519 board. But what we are told is that the borrowing Department has to payan annual contribution towards prospective non-effective benefits … in respect of each civilian lent to them.Just imagine what a business this must be. Three men are lent from the Air Ministry to the War Office. It is necessary to work out an allocation of how much per annum has to be paid towards the cost of their pensions when they retire. One of them gets £695 a year; he is retiring in 27 years' time, and he is lent for 43 days. The other one gets £795 a year; he is retiring the day after tomorrow, and he is lent for 194 days. Really, one wants a slide rule and an electronic calculator. What does that all amount to? It amounts to the fact that when all is finished, the Air Ministry has got an appropriation in aid of £17 9s. 2d. and the Army has got a debit of £17 9s. 2d.. and it has cost £4 to calculate it.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am not making nonsense of it. That is why I said that it was a serious matter. It was not I who was laughing; it was other hon. Members who were laughing at me. I would not mind if it were on a capitation basis. That is the point I was making. Some of these charges are on a capitation basis. Some are on other forms of averaging or simple calculation, and that makes sense. I understand that. But this is not on a capitation basis. This is a charge in respect separately of every civilian.
I want to quote only one other example. On page 147 of the Estimates— under Vote 9—it says:Candidates selected for permanent commissions in the Royal Air Force Regiment attend the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Training fees are paid for attendance at this course and, unless waived under reciprocal arrangements, for attendance at other courses under the Admiralty, War Office, Foreign Office and Ministry of Supply.If my hon. Friend will turn to page 149 he will find that under the heading,Expenses relating to courses arranged under the General Education Scheme,1520 payment is made on a proportionate basis—which sounds a sensible arrangement—and under the next heading another is made as an Air Ministry share—obviously a global share—of the sterling expense of an education service for children of British service personnel and officials in Germany.If that can be done in the case of a large amount of money, why cannot it be done in respect of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst? Why must the Secretary of State for War send a bill to Lord De L'Isle and Dudley for the training of one boy for 73 days at 5s. 7d. a day? What sort of sense does it make? Nobody is richer as a result of it. The nation is poorer because of the work of the people who have to calculate the charge, send a chit to somebody, who enters it in a book and sends another chit back for somebody else to enter it in another book.
It is a pity that the Secretary of State for War is not replying to this debate. I should like to ask him on what basis he charges for training Air Force officers at the Royal Military Academy. Does he charge at cost, or cost-plus? Does he make a profit out of the R A.F.? Does he go back to the Imperial General Staff and say, "Boys, I have done some good business this morning; I have made £2 10s. profit from training Air Force people. That will increase the Air Force Estimates and reduce the Army Estimates. I put in my thumb and pull out a plum and say, ' What a good boy am I'". Is it not time that we put a stop to this nonsense?
I do not say that it should all be cut out. I am not impugning Parliamentary controls, but I suggest that we should get a competent body—and I gravely doubt whether any Service Department is a competent body for this purpose, whatever else it may be competent for—to look into this accounting and see how much of it is worth while. If we did that we could save a great deal of manpower and clerical work.
This is an important matter. We have our differences about the level of expenditure on defence, and even about what form that defence should take, but one thing about which we have no doubt is that the obligation rests just as heavily upon Service Departments as upon any other Department to ensure that we get 1521 the best defence per £ sterling expenditure. This is one way in which we might increase the value we get, and I commend it warmly to the Under-Secretary.
§ 12.19 a.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I am very sorry to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) that the sound barrier does not exist. After the enthusiasm with which the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) referred to spit and polish in the Air Force, I thought that the sound barrier might have been polished. If there is no sound barrier. I suppose the Air Force is keeping everything shining for the odd ceremonial parade.
I want to deal with the question of the training of Air Force reservists. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to clear up the doubts about this matter which I have, and which some of my hon. Friends have, otherwise we shall have to pursue the subject on Vote A. Would he explain how many of the 124,000 Royal Air Force men on Class H Reserve will be trained in the present vear—whether it be calendar or financial; how many will be trained next year, and, if he can, although I do not press this, the year after? What we want to get is how many men will this year evade the obligation laid on National Service men serving with the Royal Navy and the Army, and whether the 70 per cent, step up on the 8,500 men trained in the last calendar year will be trained this year and next year, or will it be a different 17,000 or 20,000, or whatever the figure may be, who will be trained in 1954 and 1955?
Would the Under-Secretary also explain why it is necessary to introduce amending legislation to train Royal Air Force reservists in Civil Defence? As I understand it, these men will be called up and will serve under their own officers. They will be part of the Reserve, and the mere business of doing a job which will apply to civilian life does not alter their status. I understand that if they were going to be placed under the authority of somebody other than an officer holding Her Majesty's commission, it would involve a change. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be good enough to 1522 deal with that matter in a little more detail.
Would he also explain whether the policy of training a limited number of men in Civil Defence and a limited number of men of Class H is a settled policy, or whether we are to take it that the Government are to try to close this gap and restore the universality of part-time service for National Service men? Or has that been finally abandoned? Can we expect amending legislation to deal with this in another way?
I am sorry to have fired these questions at this late hour, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree we have tried to clear up this point, and it is absolutely vital that we should, before passing from Vote A, have a clear picture of the numbers involved, and what the policy will be in a short time, as well as an indication of the objects of the Government.
Now may I comment on the Estimates themselves? I hope that by next year the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have examined the form in which they are presented and will give us a lot more information. I hope he will take the example of the improvement in the Army Estimates. We ought to know the actual kind of engagement that is available, the length of Colour service and Reserve service. I would have thought that the Memorandum would have told us the number of men undertaking each of the engagements and the number of National Service men leaving each year.
We do not want to infringe on the security provisions, but we are told much less about the personnel arrangements of the Air Force than the Army has told us. Consequently it is difficult to judge how far the proposals of the Government's White Paper on Defence (Command No. 9088) and the problems they are intended to counter will be met by the proposals in the Air Estimates. Would the hon. Gentleman also tell us how much of the £16½ million it is estimated the increases in pay will cost in the next financial year will fall on the Air Estimates. I should also like to know how much of that sum which will fall on the Royal Air Forces is included in the present Estimates, or whether there will have to be a Supplementary Estimate at a future date. We should also like to know what the 1523 short-fall is, and what is the age problem that at present faces the Royal Air Force.
If the hon. Gentleman would look at the Defence White Paper of a year ago, he would find that there was an estimate of 39,000 Royal Air Force Regular recruits. In the event, all that he got was 31,600. Does the hon. Gentleman, as a result of the White Paper (Cmd. 9088), expect to increase that 31,000? Does he think that these inducements, applying only to people at present serving, will sugar the pill sufficiently to encourage a number of young men to undertake Regular engagements who would not otherwise do so? How many men does he hope to get as a result of the attraction offered in Command Paper 9088?
I apologise again for troubling the hon. Gentleman, but this is the first occasion that we have had any opportunity of getting a break-down of the proposals. The Under-Secretary will agree that if we let the opportunity tonight pass, the chance will not come again, because on the Report stage the Guillotine operates and we have to choose what we are going to discuss.
To sum up, we must by next year have a much more complete picture than we are getting at present. The security argument cannot be advanced, because we do not want more information than the Army Estimates and the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War give. If the picture could be supplemented tonight by this information, it would be advisable to give it. We want to know also where the hon. Gentleman stands today and where he hopes to stand this day a year ahead. If we could be given this information, it would considerably facilitate any subsequent discussions which we might otherwise need to have on Vote A.
§ 12.27 a.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
In following my two hon. Friends—I use the word "friends" in much more than its conventional meaning in the House— the Members for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) and Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I am in a little difficulty, because they, although in two rather different walks of life, are two men who are supremely technically expert on different aspects of the matter under discussion. Therefore, it may seem that T am introducing a break in the continuity of the kind of argument that my two hon. Friends have been address- 1524 ing if I bring the matter back to the issues of world strategy which were introduced so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot).
It is, however, that aspect of the matter with which I want to deal, because it is one which most seriously troubles me. I am concerned in case, out of sheer con-servative-mindedness—I use the word in no hostile party sense, but to describe the process which afflicts us all, even those who describe ourselves politically as Socialists—on issues of major strategy we are not committing blunders of quite, literally speaking, world-shattering magnitude. I should like to examine the situation as I see it, and perhaps hon. Members who follow me will be good enough to tell me where I am wrong.
The first proposition which I want to make is a very obvious one: that in the kind of world we are living in now, we cannot be absolutely safe against all risks. When I have heard the Government criticised from this side on the ground that they have not spent enough on preparing to defend the civil population from the horrors which would fall upon them in the event of an atomic war breaking out, I have felt that the Government would have been entitled to reply to that criticism that if one were to start now building such civil defence shelters as would see the civil population harmless through an air-raid on London, there would not be a farthing left for the kind of air warfare which has been conducted over the fighting fronts of Korea and the kind of warfare which might perhaps have to be conducted in 6, 12 or 18 months from now if, contrary to our hopes, another relatively minor conflagration of the type we saw in Korea were to break out.
Therefore, if we cannot be safe against all foreseeable risks, it seems to me to be enormously important to assess the many different kinds of risk which are likely to assail us, and so to behave and to deploy our necessarily limited resources as to reduce the totality of all the risks, not to zero, which is impossible, but to as little as possible. In making that calculation. I feel that the key sentence has been pronounced by the Government at the end of paragraph 5 of the Statement on Defence, 1954, where it is stated,… it is the Government's view that the continuation for a long period of the present 1525 state of cold war is now more likely than the outbreak of a major war on any particular date.That sentence is to me a milestone which a good many intelligent people have been able to foresee for a long time. I have described it elsewhere as the milestone which separates the cold war from the cold peace. Those, we know, are nasty terms to describe nasty things. We are addressing ourselves to a situation in which a prolonged period of cold peace is much more likely than the outbreak of the third hot war at any particular time.
Therefore we ought first of all to be considering what kind of struggle the cold peace really is, and what are the intentions and what is the strategy of our rivals. It is important to call them rivals and not enemies. It is not fair to call anyone an enemy. I always remember the letter of Benjamin Franklin to his London bookseller on the outbreak of the American war of independence, in which he said, "Dear Sir … You are now my enemy, and I am yours, sincerely, Benjamin Franklin."
It is a much more accurate description to speak of the leaders of the Kremlin as being our rivals. What are they after in the next half century? Their aims are different from those of any other conquerors from Alexander the Great, and before him, right down until the German Nazis of our own times. All these conquerors fought in terms of their own armed forces, whether on land or sea, and now in our century in the air, overcoming, mastering, and defeating the armed forces of their rivals or enemies so as to dominate, occupy, control, govern, annex, territory. But, to take a concrete example, when the leaders in the Kremlin think for a moment of Peru, in the next half century, I do not think they envisage the time coming when the Russian armies, navy and air force will go to conquer Peru. What they are thinking of, hoping for, planning for and scheming for is that at some time Peru will be governed by Peruvian Communists.
We are hoping against that happening, and we believe that we have good cause to try to prevent that process being achieved within this coming half century. But, in the light of that aim of the Kremlin leaders and their purpose in carrying it out, it seems to me that the major strategy of our defence planning— 1526 and this is equally true of the Air Force. Navy and Army—is little short of crazy, and tonight I want to offer some rather technical reasons for this view which relate particularly to the Air Force.
I very much regret that I have to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who is not now with us. I do not use the word "friend," in any conventional sense, but in a very personal way. I do not at all share his optimism about the long-range bomber always getting through. I think he is far too optimistic about the future potentialities of this weapon, on which we are now for the first time, according to the official Government statement, going to spend large sums of money, and which will reach an astronomical figure in the next decade in terms of sterling, man hours, raw materials, and so on.
I, too, have been reading the articles by Chester Wilmot, whose death we all so much lament. Particularly have I read the article in the "Observer" of 18th October last about the anti-aircraft guided rocket. His statements are to be interlarded with quotations from official sources. One can practically take this paragraph I am about to read from Chester Wilmot's article as being taken verbatim from statements of the Ministry of Supply's policy, hopes and intentions. It says:Further remarkable advances have been made "—quoting almost word from word from official sources—in the development of guided rockets which can tackle bombers flying as fast or even faster than sound and at heights above 50,000 feet and which no piloted aeroplane could hope to outmanoeuvre. They can travel at well over 2,000 miles an hour and can rise to heights greater than any bomber is likely to reach for many years to come.Then follows in the article speculation about the launching of rockets from fighter aircraft, and he can reach no hopeful conclusion about a defence rocket catching up with the aggressive rocket. Then he goes on:Almost identical claims have been made by General Omar Bradley, the retiring Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, on behalf of the new American anti-aircraft guided missile, which has been named rather optimistically after the Greek goddess of victory.I hope someone with a better knowledge of Greek than I have is not going to 1527 tell me she is called "Neekee," but it is "Nike." I am still quoting from this article:In the last eight years the U. S. Government has spent nearly 3,000 million dollars on guided missile research.One pauses there to think what that sum of money might have accomplished if it had been spent on something else, and it is heartbreaking. He continues:The Americans set great store by the Nike as an anti-aircraft weapon.And after some more passages in which he says—that for the next four years we shall, of course, need to supplement the guided rocket with the rocket-carrying fighter, he continues:Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic agree that it will be at least 10 to 15 years before defence against air attack can be entrusted to the guided missiles alone.Ten or 15 years is not a very long time in terms of the strategy of this contest between democracy and its rivals. And I ask the hon. Gentleman to check this with his scientific advisers. My belief— I have been briefed a little on this by somebody who is a good deal more expert on it than I am—is that in 10 to 15 years the guided anti-aircraft rocket will hit the long-range bomber 95 times out of 100. And although by then it will doubtless still be possible to drop atomic bombs upon Land's End or John o'Groats, I think it will be very nearly impossible for the long-range bomber to get to our vital centres of industrial production.
Someone may say, "Three rousing cheers for that. In 10 or 15 years we can enjoy immunity." But let us follow the argument. If we achieve this result in 10 or 15 years, it is about as sure as God made little apples that the Russians will achieve it in 15 or 20 years, if not sooner, and that again is a short time in the time schedule of this challenge which we are to meet for at least the next 50 years. And when that is finished we shall get this position, that the long-range bombers, which are stationed in Britain, in Canada to fly over the ice cap, or in Spain, or anywhere else, will not get through to the vitals of the Soviet Union. And correspondingly, the long-range bomber will not get through from the Soviet Union to the vitals of the United States of America.
1528 I think, though this is less certain, that we shall also find that the long-range bomber starting from anywhere in Europe will not get through to the industrial vitals of Great Britain. In other words, 15 or 20 years from now the threat of the long-range strategic bomber, on which we are beginning to spend our money, the potential use of it as a means for preventing the third world war by the threat that this is what we shall use against a rival who starts it, will be empty. And at the same time the medium-range aggressive rocket, which will not reach the vitals of the U.S.S.R. from anywhere in America, nor will it reach the vitals of America from anywhere in the U.S.S.R., will be a weapon with which the leaders of the Kremlin will be able to smudge out Western Europe or any part of it in any couple of hours that they may choose to do it, without the slightest prospect of any sort of reprisal.
I believe that an interrogation of our leading scientists today will produce the answer that the forecasts that I am making are, on the whole, more probable than any other technical scientific forecasts that can be made. Let us consider that in terms of the major, long-term strategy of this challenge which our rivals are throwing out. What is the kind of thing which will cause those rivals either to smudge us out, or not to smudge us out, at the time when they will have the scientific means of doing so if they wish. What will stop them? Would the House be surprised if I suggest that the only thing that will save us will be our popularity in the world?
I know it is a strange thing to say to those who are conservatively minded, but put yourselves in the position of the Kremlin leaders and consider this major world strategy, not in terms of bringing your armies, navies and air forces to the ultimate parts of the earth, but in terms of bringing about the establishment of indigenous Communist governments everywhere. Is it too shattering to our self-conceit to suggest that the Communists are relatively little interested in the 50 million people in these islands. They will have a very great deal more interest in the 1,500 million people in other parts of the world not now committed to either Communism or to American-directed N.A.T.O. countries.
1529 The Russian concern will be what, if they smudge out 50 million Britons, is to be the repercussion of these hundreds of millions who really matter from the point of view of the Russian attempt to impose Communism on the world. We have 20 years in which to act, and well did Herbert Agar say that the next quarter of a century may offer the last chance for the white race to join the human race. We have only this period in which to become so popular that to smash us out of existence would be an appalling reverse to Communist hopes of world domination, or we shall be so unpopular that when the leaders of the Kremlin decide to smash us the whole world will heave a sigh of relief.
I do not want to impinge on a Motion which stands in my name and the names of many other hon. Members, tout it occurs to me that if we are thinking of the strategy of the struggle that lies ahead, then how much more important it is to do the things that make us popular with these other people and to make them feel we are partners, comrades and friends, than it is to spend millions on building up a strategic air force which, in 15 to 20 years' time, will not be able to approach within 500 miles of any of our rival's targets which are worth aiming at.
There is a further point I want to make concerning the security of our Common-wealth; it concerns the defence of Africa—and particularly South Africa. It has always been an axiom of Britain's world strategy that it is important for us that the ports around the Southern tip of Africa shall be friendly to us; all the more so if the population in the neighbourhood of the Suez Canal is not as friendly as perhaps we should like them to be.
Consider the defence of Africa against aerial bombardment, in terms of the scientific predictions which I have ventured to make with, as I say, a certain amount of expert briefing behind me. On those terms the South Africans, and the Southern Rhodesians—or the Government of the Central African Federation—would presumably be able to make their vital strategic centres just as invulnerable from long-range air bombardment as would the leaders in the Kremlin or the Pentagon, or even ourselves.
1530 It would not be possible, therefore, for the Russians, by long range aerial bombardment to blot out Johannesburg, or the Wankie coalfields, or Salisbury or any such cities. But Africa is a very big place, and whatever may be the prospect of the anti-aircraft guided rocket, I do not believe that the South Africans or the Central African federationists will ever be able to put up enough rocket launching grounds to prevent Russian aircraft—if they were so minded—from flying over some parts of Africa and unloading something somewhere in the African bush.
I notice hon. Members laughing. Perhaps they think that it would not matter very much if a few atomic bombs were to burst in the African bush. At worst they think it would only wipe out a few unhappy savages who have done nothing to deserve such a fate. They may think that it would not greatly influence the strategic strength of the British Empire. Their laughter only shows how very little attention they have given to the strategical and tactical possibilities.
Supposing that the Russian aircraft did not drop atomic bombs, but released half a million hand grenades and revolvers by parachute in the bush 20 years from now. There is nothing strategical to prevent it, and judging from the trouble which we have had from a mere handful of Africans—possessing between them arms and ammunition insufficient to keep a company of soldiers in action for more than perhaps a week of moderate skirmishing—we would get a fair packet of trouble if, 20 years hence the whites are not all that popular in the Southern part of Africa. I commend this line of talk to Dr. Malan, Sir Roy Welensky and others.
§ Sir R. Acland
I have often thought that the great difference between Sir Roy Welensky and the members of the Fabian Society—in Sir Roy Welensky's eyes—is that he wants to keep the whites in Africa whilst in his view the Fabian Society wants to get them out. Until very recently—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think the hon. Baronet is getting a little beyond the Air Estimates.
§ Sir R. Acland
I am only offering considerations—extremely relevant to the leaders of one of the members of the Commonwealth and also to our Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and our Secretary of State for the Colonies—of major strategy for the long-term defence of the whole British community. I was pointing out that the white leaders of these parts have assumed themselves to be socially and strategically safe for at least two generations and, after that they do not care. Anyone who enters into serious conversations with these leaders and presses them up against logical conclusions will always find that they believe they will be safe for two generations and after that it does not matter. Two generations‡ On the calculations I mention, it could easily be less than two decades.
The point I am making is that this is a strange and entirely new form of challenge directed against us by our rivals. It has nothing in common with the military challenges which conquerors in the past have directed against their rivals. Quite apart from the question of morality, which I have not touched upon because it would be out of order for me to do so in a debate on Air Estimates; on the grounds of sheer self-preservation, defence, the security of our own Island and the way of life of the members of the Commonwealth, the fact of whether we are popular in the world counts as 10 or 100 to one against these considerations of whether we have the military fighting strength for the kind of war which is suggested in the White Paper.
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and, 40Members being present—
§ 12.59 a.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I am sorry that it was necessary to bring back to the Chamber many hon. Members who were undoubtedly seeking their rest in other places. It has been my good fortune to hear every speech made in this debate, and it was my misfortune to hear every speech made in the defence debate. I am sorry that no one who is an anti-conscriptionist was lucky enough to have caught Mr. Speaker's eye in the defence debate. I am glad that at last, after 12 hours of this debate, it has been 1532 possible for one who holds an anti-conscriptionist point of view to be heard in the House.
It has surprised me how wide is the field that can be covered under the guise of Service Estimates. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) who, in my opinion, made a highly relevant speech by an interpretation of the defence of the realm which was unusual but none the less very real, has added substantially to our deliberations. My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), who unfortunately has had to leave us, also stirred my blood considerably as he indicated the frivolity of many of the claims which the Government are making in these Estimates.
To me, this debate is a continuation of Tuesday's debate when Her Majesty's Opposition tabled an official Amendment calling for a reduction in the Estimates for the Armed Forces, recognising that we have not the economic strength to bear the military burden which we have sought to bear during these past years. We cannot discuss these Estimates in a vacuum. As has been clearly indicated by my hon. Friends, they can only be tested against the background of foreign, Colonial and economic policy. We have had a little of each of these—a lot, indeed, during the course of this debate.
I believe that the present Estimates, for the Air Ministry in particular, are based upon an unwise appraisal of the possibilities of war. I believe that a certain hysteria, which has affected the peoples of the world during the past few years, is still reflecting itself in our military Estimates. That the Estimates as a whole are too high, the entire Opposition apparently is agreed, and they—
§ Mr. Speaker
We are not dealing with the Defence Estimates as a whole. We are dealing with the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, Mr. Speaker. If you had allowed me a moment, I was about to say that while the Estimates as a whole are not being discussed tonight, none the less it therefore becomes the responsibility of Her Majesty's Opposition to say which of the Service Estimates are too large, since we object to them in their entirety.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have been here long enough today, Mr. Speaker, to realise that.
During the day it has been made perfectly clear that the defence force which we are discussing at present imposes too great a strain on our supply of technicians, engineers and materials that are available in this country. I think the Government have the wrong sense of priorities, and it reflects itself in the Estimate which is before the House. We are told by the Under-Secretary that this amount—£6 million less than last year, I believe—is essential for the defence of these islands. He made a passing reference to storing up atom bombs as though he were asking us if we would take two lumps of sugar in our tea, or three.
It makes me shudder when I think of the easy manner in which we talk about atomic warfare, and how we can go on so casually talking about "broken-backed" warfare after an atomic war has begun, when it is realised that broken-back warfare means that these islands would be broken completely and we should be one mass cemetery. In view of that, we might save a little of the resources which we are squandering in the military field, which is the field of the greatest waste of public money in the whole Government service.
I listened with the usual interest to the Prime Minister's speech the other day. He told us that whilst we had been rearming Russia had been disarming, and he went on to indicate that she nevertheless remains the most powerful State in Europe. But, if the available statistics are correct, she is seeking to build up a higher standard of life for her people. The Western Powers recognise that she is making an effort to improve the standard of life of her people, at the same time as we are.
§ Mr. Thomas
I can only accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and examine it in the light of the discussion we have had during the day. I shall leave that subject and turn to the question of conscription, which I presume is covered by the fact that we are discussing the Royal Air Force tonight. The Air Ministry has indicated that it does not wish to call up 1534 for part-time training the greats part of the conscripts who have already served their two years' National Service. This establishes a case for the reduction of the period of military service, at least in the Air Force.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not complaining about that. I thought that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was arguing against the period of conscription. It would require legislation to change that period.
§ Mr. Strachey
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, if we remember the legislation which we recently passed, it would require legislation to extend the period of National Service, but it can be reduced by a Resolution of the House, without legislation.
§ Mr. Speaker
As long as it is kept within due limits I cannot object to it, but I hope that the hon. Member will confine himself to the bounds of order, which he knows as well as I do.
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, Mr. Speaker—and which I thought I was observing. With due respect to you, Sir, I was seeking to make the point—which may not have been made as clear as it might have been —that some of the boys who serve in the Royal Air Force do not have to do any Reserve training afterwards. The boys who serve in the Army have to do it, and we make a mockery of the suggestion that conscription is the fairest way of getting the boys of this country to take a fair share of the defence of the islands.
I suggest that the Royal Air Force has indicated, and these Estimates indicate, that the Government's policy in this matter has broken down. These Estimates 1535 make nonsense of the speech of the Foreign Secretary the other day in which he suggested that the atmosphere of international affairs is easier, or at least no worse. But the Estimates indicate that the Government feel we must continue rearmament at the panic rate we decided at the time of the Korean war. For that reason, I think that these Estimates are too high.
We have been told from time to time, and indeed my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Arthur Henderson) said it today, as did the Under-Secretary, that we need all this so that we can negotiate through strength. I wonder what that means. It has been recognised as in order by the Chair during the day that these Estimates are before us so that we shall be strong enough to negotiate with Russia at the proper time. Apparently the moment when we can discuss matters will never come, because both sides are continuing to rearm. Not only are we increasing our Estimates, but the people with whom we might find ourselves in trouble are watching that their resources are improved.
I am disturbed that we can accept the prospect of an atomic war as easily as apparently these Estimates do. In paragraph 42 of the White Paper the Secretary of State refers to his pool of atom bombs which have been put in a safe place. I would not expect him to tell me where they are. All I hope is that they are nowhere near Cardiff or South Wales. I am sure they are nowhere near Scotland, but one thing is sure—they are in these islands, and we shall need them in a hurry when it comes to using them. There will not be time for arguing then. The whole business pains me more and more. There is a search after security which is illusory. The way of the militarist is inevitably the one that leads to war, and these Estimates are not likely to lead to real peace, but are Estimates which, unless some day we call a halt, will lead us once again to the battlefield of the entire world.
§ 1.14 a.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I want, even at this late hour, to return to what I consider the most important problem raised in the debate, that of the money to be expended on a 1536 strategic air force. I am well aware that on this I am speaking as a layman, faced by a block of Ministers and ex-Ministers above the Gangway on both sides, but on this subject I believe that laymen have as much right to speak as anybody else, because none of the reasons given for a strategic air force is a military one.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) quite rightly said that the case for a strategic air force had been given a classic exposition by Sir John Slessor. I should like to read Sir John Slessor's case to show that he is talking as a layman. He is talking about things I know about, not about things I do not know about. These are the two reasons that he gives. First:We have in this country a gold mine of knowledge and skill in technique, design, invention, aptitude and battle experience which we must contribute to the common cause.I take that sentence to mean, that we can make and fly the machines—we have the aptitude and skill to do so. But the fact that we can make the machines is no reason for making them. The selfsame skill and skilled men who could make these machines could be making civil aircraft and earning large amounts of dollars thereby. Therefore, this first reason which Sir John Slessor has given is no reason at all; it is merely a statement that we can do it if we decide to.
I was sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West did not read the second reason fully aloud, because had he read all the words it would have sounded less attractive. This is Sir John Slessor's second reason:If we want to remain a first-class Power, we cannot possibly leave to an ally, however staunch and loyal, the monopoly of this instrument.I have often said to the House that the greatest thing which has gone wrong with this country since 1945 is that it has sought to retain the pretension to be on the same level as America and Russia. What do the words "first-class Power" mean? They merely mean a Power which has a strategic air force; because there are only two Powers besides ourselves which have a strategic air force. We rate ourselves above France and Germany. We rate ourselves above every one of our economic competitors. We say that we must remain a first-class military Power: that is, we must have a strategic air force.
1537 I should like the House to observe that this argument, which has been praised so highly as the classic exposition of the case for a strategic air force, does not tell us that it gives us one iota of military protection. It tells us, first, that we can have it; and second, that if we want to remain a military power, on the level of Russia and America, we shall have to have it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West was a good deal more candid than Sir John Slessor, because he indicated the real reason why people wanted a strategic air force. It has nothing to do with Russia. It is an uneasy feeling that in negotiations with the United States of America we shall have a somewhat stronger negotiating position if we have atomic aircraft ourselves. I was very struck with how my right hon. Friend's words were in line and in harmony with the words of the Prime Minister, who explained to us that if we wanted to rearm the Germans, we must increase our own arms.
We see how expensive it is to have allies. Because the Americans have a strategic air force, we must have one, not as any protection of ourselves, but as a negotiating weapon against America. Because the Germans have got to be rearmed, we must increase our arms in order to have a counterpoise against the Germans. I would say as a layman that these arguments are not military at all. They are purely political arguments, arguments which can be assessed much better in this House than by Sir John Slessor or the Air Chiefs. We have the right in this House as politicians to take what is a political decision: whether or not to have a strategic air force.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said, quite rightly, when asked, that there will never come an occasion when the British atom bomb is dropped by a British strategic bomber whereas the Americans are not dropping theirs. Therefore, there is no military need for the thing. If we use the bomb, it makes absolutely no difference militarily whether it is marked "B" or "A," nor would anyone say that it makes any difference to our security whether the bomber which drops the bomb leaves from a British or from an American aerodrome in Norfolk. Therefore, 1538 militarily there is no difference. The sole issue in this major capital item in the Air Estimates is whether it is politically advisable to have this colossal expenditure.
I am in favour of tough negotiation with the Americans, but when we start on vast military expenditure solely because it is thought—
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I hope the hon. Member is not bringing me into this because, for what it was worth, I did not rest my case on political grounds. I endeavoured to base it on military grounds.
§ Mr. Crossman
The argument has developed further, because the military grounds on which my right hon. and learned Friend rested his case have been destroyed since he left the Chamber, and we are only left with political grounds. We all agree that it makes no difference militarily whether the bomb is marked B or A, or is dropped from a machine which flies from aerodrome X or Y in Norfolk.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am afraid that the hon. Member was not listening to what I tried to explain. What I said was that just as in the last war there were differences of opinion between Bomber Command and the American Strategic Command as to the order of priorities, so there might be similar differences. For example, if V 1 or V 2 sites were sending weapons into this country public opinion would expect the sites to be bombed. The American strategic force might be engaged in another part of the world. Therefore, we have to maintain our force.
§ Mr. Crossman
I would suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that no one really supposes that a large strategic bomber is the weapon with which to bomb V 2 sites over the Channel, though it might sometimes have had to be used in the last war because we were short in the tactical air force. But the medium bombers we are discussing are surely to be built to take part in strategic retaliation. I would say to my right hon. and learned Friend, that I can only believe what the Parliamentary Secretary tells us, which is that they are part of a force which will form our chief deterrent. That means, a force to bomb Russian industry.
1539 From that point of view it makes no difference whether the bomb is marked A or B, or whether the aircraft is British or American. I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary to explain a little more fully the case for this large expenditure.
I believe the House will agree that the main deterrent to Russian aggression in Europe is not the atomic bomb, but N.A.T.O.—the existence of an alliance which commits America to the assistance of Europe. It is no good to say that the main deterrent to Russia is the atom bomb. The main deterrent is the prospect of a long war, because they would find themselves involved with the U.S.A. Where the strategic bomber comes in is that the Americans regard this weapon as their main weapon. They have always believed in it. That is their contribution, or their main contribution, to the defence of the West. But it does not strengthen the deterrent if Britain has atomic bombers.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West suggested that the strategic bomber corresponds to the battleship of the 19th century. I agree; but we have not the same status in the world as we had in the 19th century. It remains to be seen whether Britain, with our present relative power, would have had a large battle fleet in the 19th century. We have to measure these matters in terms of what we can do.
We all know what the point is—to threaten the Russians; that if they move on land they will get an atom bomb on Moscow. That is the point of having these bombers, to dump bombs on Moscow if the Russians undertake local aggression.
This was the American theory before the Korean war, but I thought that had been exploded by that war. It was there discovered that it was not very easy to deter local aggression by strategic bomber threats because one's bluff is called. We saw a further example of that last month. Mr. Dulles made the threat that if anything happened in Indo-China a deluge of atom bombs would fall on China. It is now clear, however, that it is not the intention of the Americans to start World War III, and over Indo-China there has been a humiliating climb down because it has been made clear that the United States are not prepared to 1540 launch a general war because of local aggression a long, long way off.
All these things I thought we had learned from the Korean war, but the errors are all repeated in this White Paper and in the Estimates. We are spending millions of pounds on a deterrent which is not a deterrent. Nothing is more dangerous than to say to somebody whom we regard as our enemy: "If you commit any local action of aggression I will devastate you with atom bombs." If we do, either our bluff is called or we start a third world war.
With this weapon we put ourselves in a dilemma, which has been the curse of American strategy since 1945. Their whole strategy and way of thinking has been influenced by the possession of this weapon which has placed them in dilemmas as well as burdening them with the sense of guilt from which they are suffering today. It would have been much healthier for Western Europe if, despite what the Prime Minister says, America had not possessed this weapon, because, in fact, it has been the greatest weapon of Communist propaganda amongst the Asians and the colonial people, and it has caused more inhibitions and distracted debates inside the Pentagon than any other single item.
After 1950 the Americans started building a balanced force. They found that they had to have land forces. Previously they had scrapped the army altogether. This year, however, they say, in effect, "We are scrapping the army and going back to press-button war." They are unlearning all that they had learned in 1950. I regard it as a danger that we should be back in the position where the Russians can say, "We need not worry about this atom bomb because the Americans will never actually do it."
What makes me sad is that we are paying out millions of pounds to provide our little contribution to this deterrent which is not a deterrent to local aggression. Is anyone going to tell me that this country, supposing there were local aggression in Indo-China, would consent to the dropping of a Norfolk-based atom bomb on Moscow which would mean the destruction of London the next day? Every time we are brought up against this problem we say, "No."
1541 Apparently Korea has taught us nothing, judging by the debate we have had today. We are simply told we must have strategic bombers if we are to remain a first-class Power. If that is the definition of a first-class Power, I should like to cease to be a first-class Power in that sense of the word.
I will say something now to the Undersecretary about strategic bombing in Germany. I remember the time in 1940 when the Germans bombed Rotterdam and the genuine moral indignation in this country when that happened. I happened to be in charge of propaganda for Germany at that time and throughout the war. And I noticed the change.
In 1940 we thought it absolutely inhuman and a violation of every democratic right to bomb the centre of an unprotected city. Then we started preparing to do it ourselves. We started systematic plans, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West knows very well, for what was called dehousing, which meant deliberately not bombing military targets but systematically destroying working-class areas in German towns. That was the policy of Bomber Command, it was absolutely inhuman, and it culminated in Dresden when, quite deliberately, knowing that refugees were in the town, the bombing took place.
When I look at the money to be spent on strategic armaments, I remember how I watched the degradation of morale which took place between 1940 and 1945. In 1940 we genuinely thought that that type of bombing was a typical Nazi totalitarian thing, but by the end of the war we had developed it far beyond what the Russians or Germans had conceived. It is one of the most humiliating things that the Western democracies, who are the sanest and kindest people in their relations with each other in peace, are more utterly brutal in war than the totalitarian powers. There is nothing more brutal than strategic bombing, and when we sit here planning the strategic bombing of other countries by the atom bomb without a tremor, we forget that in 1940 we were fighting a war to stop that kind of crime.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I am following the argument with great interest, but it is outrageous to suggest that anybody in this House is planning this without a tremor.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am glad that we are having some tremors, because I did not notice them in certain speeches. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sensible."] I am arguing the sensible case. At the end of 1945 we had accepted strategic bombing as a recognised instrument of democratic war. I know that we did it because it was not so expensive in our lives—more people can be killed with the loss of fewer of our men by bombing than by any other form of war. That was an important consideration in the minds of the Americans in developing the atom bomb. But the vast majority of these lives destroyed did nothing to help us win the war. The strategic bombing of Germany prolonged the war because it stiffened German morale.
Now I come to 1950 and Korea. Automatically the United Nations in Korea regarded strategic bombing as a method of educating the North Koreans in democracy. The whole country was deluged. There was no sort of pretence that there was any distinction between civilian and military targets. Hundreds of thousands of people were bombed with jelly bombs quite automatically. I want the House to observe the way we felt in 1940 when we saw the Germans do it to Rotterdam and then the acceptance of this as a perfectly normal way of waging war in 1950. In my belief it lost us the war in Korea. For if there was any way of proving to the Asians that this was the white man coming to smash them up, it was the ruthless bombing of North Korea.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I am following the hon. Gentleman carefully. He is using a destructive argument at the moment. What is he going to put in its place which is constructive?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am coming to that. At present I am objecting to the use of millions of pounds of British money on bombers which can only be used to drop atom bombs, and I am arguing that it is ruinous for this country, not only economically but morally, to accept it. Because the atom bomb is merely the logical extension of strategic bombing. I am talking of strategic bombing as a whole. The atom bomb is cleaner in some ways, it explodes higher up, it is neater, but it is not different in kind. We are discussing whether we as a country gained by strategic bombing, by the 1543 enormous diversion of economic resources in the last war, by the hundreds of thousands of young men in the Air Force. Did we gain by it as compared with the use of the conventional type of weapons?
The Germans and the Russians are land Powers. They used their air forces in connection with their armies because they fought to win territories, whereas the democracies fight wars to destroy countries. In the first months of the last war, the German air attack was strictly limited to military bombing until 7th September. It was only when the invasion was postponed that they bombed London because they had nothing else to do. The Russians have never had a great strategic bomber force. They are concerned in wars to conquer countries, whereas the virtuous Anglo-Saxon democracies are only concerned to blow the enemy to bits until there is nothing left.
I remember entering Aachen the day after a 1,000-bomber raid and interrogating the Germans. Only one man had been killed, for there was only a battalion left in the town. But we had destroyed 2,000 houses in which our troops could have been billeted. Towards the end of the war we were constantly wiping out German towns because we had acquired the habit of destroying them. I recall the day before the war ended a raid was ordered on the Skoda Works Unfortunately we hit the brewery at Pilsen a 100 miles away, and I was told at the operations room that the target had been selected because there was nothing else left on the map.
I say to the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) that these things were accepted without a tremor. And now we hear the view that there should be a large capital expenditure on strategic bombers. There is not much of a tremor over that. It is a big decision. Think what we could do with that amount of money in terms of skill and labour. Think how many dollars we could earn. Yet we must forbear, to earn them in order to be a first-class Power, and to have one-tenth of the strategic bomber force of the United States and to feel nearly as good as the Americans. If one defines "first-class" in terms of strategic bombers, we are always inferior to the 1544 Americans. But I want us to be first-class by a different definition, where there is no sign of inferiority.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he is opposed to strategic bombing, but not to other forms of bombing?
§ Mr. Crossman
I think I am putting it fairly and objectively. First of all, whether I am opposed to strategic bombing or not makes no difference. The Americans will do it anyway. I am asking myself whether we should spend a large amount of money in contributing a minor ancillary force to the American strategic bomber force. I am arguing that, even were it moral to do that, there is no reason why we should ruin ourselves economically to do it in a small way which does not help the Americans significantly.
§ Sir Harry Mackeson (Folkestone and Hythe)
If I may interrupt. If we are going to spend any money on armaments the object is to kill men and the method does not matter, according to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Crossman
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not take offence, but that is what any German or Russian would call a militarily illiterate remark. The object of arms or aeroplanes is not to kill men but to occupy enemy territory at the minimum cost of life.
§ Mr. Crossman
The best use of arms is not to use them at all. The second best is to use them with the minimum destruction of any enemy territory which we want to occupy.
§ Sir H. Mackeson
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the object of a military operation is to secure the object, and that the method—whether killing men or occupying territory—is a minor matter? The hon. Gentleman is simply talking about the method of killing people. No responsible person wants to kill anyone at all, either by atomic or by other methods.
§ Mr. Crossman
I do not think that the hon. Member has listened very carefully to my argument. I was arguing about the different methods of warfare we 1545 should use; whether we should vote a large sum of money for a particular method of prosecuting war which will kill a lot of people—and a lot of civilians— and destroy a lot of things which have nothing to do with war.
That action does not enable one to occupy the country. It enables one to destroy much human life, and a great deal of property which might be of some use if one wanted to occupy the country. I say that people rather more rational than ourselves are concerned to leave the enemy's territory as little damaged as possible. The Germans were anxious to exploit France, and so were concerned to leave it undamaged.
It takes the Anglo-Saxon logic of the British and the Americans to say: "The first thing to do is to smash this place to pieces and later spend millions of pounds to put it together again." We first say that the Germans must be wiped out, and then we change our minds and spend lots of money in rearming the Germans. Part of the lunatic policy is this strategic air force. It epitomises the philosophy of total destruction, which was expressed by the hon. Gentleman who said the point of a war is killing people. But the point of a war is to win with the minimum casualties.
My last point is the old one to which we have to come back. Agreed that the Americans will use the atomic bomb. Of course they will. If they are going to use it, and if it is admitted that, in spite of the money we spend a lot of Russian atomic bombers will get through to Britain—as has been generally admitted on both sides—and if we fully support the Americans on this, how can it be justified to have no passive defence for our people at all?
If we are being serious about the "broken-backed" war by going ahead to build the weapons of provocation, how can we do nothing whatsoever for the most exposed civilian community in the world? That seems to me to be either the rankest inhumanity or bluff. We know why there is no expenditure on passive Civil Defence and the building of air-raid shelters—because no one can face the cost. People say, "The bombers are merely diplomacy to keep the Russians from war. The war will not come." If it is only diplomacy, I do not 1546 see why the British should ruin themselves with strategic bombers.
If we are really planning for a hot war, it is cruel to plan raids on Russia from this country and yet have not a single air-raid shelter here. In 1938 it was compulsory to have air-raid shelters in buildings. Now we have abolished all that and all the new buildings which are going up have no protection whatever. There is no legal compulsion to introduce air-raid shelters into new buildings today. The Government are taking no precautions whatever. We have populations in Liverpool, London and Glasgow—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has made his point. I do not recollect that there is anything about air-raid shelters in the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Crossman
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I think I am entitled to draw the implications from the creation of a strategic bomber force. We have been told that a strategic bomber force is the best defence. It has been pointed out that the presence of a strategic bomber force will not prevent hostile aircraft getting through to this country and dropping bombs here. Therefore I am entitled, in questioning these Estimates, to compare the types of defence, and to say that if we are spending millions on a strategic bomber force it is utterly irresponsible to leave the civilian population unprotected. But I have made my point and will not pursue it any further.
In my view, we should not have a costly passive defence. I think that decision is quite right. But I do not think we should have costly strategic bombers either. We should think in terms of N.A.T.O. and save our gold. We should think in terms of balanced land and air forces in Europe. We should give up this delusion about strategic bombers. It is demoralising Western democracy.
I regard the possession of the atom bomb by the Americans as one of the major factors in their demoralisation. It has split their personality. It has given them a sense of guilt and uncertainty. It first made them crazy through over assurance, because they thought they had a monopoly, and then it made them crazy through fear. Though the Americans have got it, that is no reason why this country should make the construction of an atomic bomber force a major item in 1547 the Air Estimates. It will add nothing to our military defence. It will not make us a first-class Power equal with America or Russia, but it will in turn bring us to moral degradation.
§ 1.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I was disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). As I said when I interrupted him on one occasion, it was a destructive speech. He went to great pains to say what we all know about the horrors and terrors of bombing. But when I asked him what he would put constructively in its place, he said he was coming to that. But he did not, and he left the question unanswered. If we have no deterrent bombing force, what do we put in its place?
So far as I could understand him, the hon. Gentleman said, "Let the Americans do our dirty work for us." If that is so, I do not think it is a sentiment worthy of the hon. Gentleman or of any hon. Member of this House. We have responsibilities and, if we think there is danger of Communist aggression, I for one am prepared to stand up to those responsibilities together with such allies as I can find.
§ Mr. Crossman
Let me put it in this way. There is no way in which our Parliament can prevent the Americans from developing atom bombers. All we are discussing tonight is whether we shall construct a stragetic bombing force to carry atom bombs. I am saying we should not spend our money on that. There are other things more important to do in terms of air strategy. The hon. Member says that is leaving it to the Americans. But they are leaving a lot to us. We have the whole military defence of the Middle East. There are a whole lot of things we do for them. Do we have to do this as well and ruin ourselves?
§ Mr. Roberts
I am addressing myself to the first three-quarters of the hon. Member's speech, when he was saying that strategic bombing as such was of very little use. Then lie seemed to end up by changing round completely and saying that it was of some use, but that the Americans should do it. That is why I was disappointed by his speech.
1548 I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and I think he was the first hon. Member, some four hours ago, to widen the debate to this extent. I was disappointed by his speech because he took an argument so far, in saying that as a deterrent strategic atomic bombing was ineffective, and then at the end of his speech he destroyed the whole of his argument by explaining how the Russian strategy would be to nibble one little piece of territory at a time when they thought they could get away with it. My answer to him is that a strategic atomic bombing force will be a deterrent for the future, because it will prevent Russia nibbling bit by bit.
§ Mr. Foot
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the Russians nibble a bit more of Indo-China, or a bit more of Europe, then he is prepared to agree to the use of a strategic atomic bombing force? If he says that he will not use it in order to deal with local aggression, then he is saying that it is not a deterrent.
§ Mr. Roberts
I was coming to that point. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Korea. I disagree with the suggestion that strategic bombing was a deterrent at the time of the Korean war. As an idea, it was in its infancy. In fact, there were few people who thought it was even practicable or possible. Therefore, I think it is correct to say that as a deterrent up till now it has been ineffective.
I now come to the point which the hon. Member for Devonport put to me. The danger which we are discussing now is one on a much larger scale than the aggression in Indo-China. The deterrent which I believe we are building up is going to stop a third major war. It is going to create the peace which we are all asking for. The responsibility which hon. Members opposite have to face is that if they take that deterrent away they are making the third world war, which we all want to avoid, more easy.
§ Sir R. Acland
Could the hon. Gentleman elaborate his argument in relation to one specific instance which is not all that hypothetical? What would he do with the atomic bomb if economic misery turned Ceylon Communist 10 years hence? It is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head like that.
§ 1.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have a very lively recollection of the first debate in which I opposed the Air Estimates. I was ruled out of order after having spoken about six sentences. My mistake was that in the Air Estimates I dared to mention the atom bomb. Your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, asked, more in sorrow than in anger—I think it was about this time in the morning—what the atom bomb had to do with the Air Estimates, and I replied, more in anger than in sorrow, that I thought it had something to do with the Air Estimates but that I must have been under a misapprehension and that perhaps it came under the Ministry of Transport. After that I was allowed to proceed for another half dozen sentences. Tonight we have been discussing the atom bomb on the proper Estimates, the Air Estimates.
I have been looking up the HANSARD report of that debate. The Minister waited very patiently for me to conclude my speech, with which he was not in entire agreement. He made two important points. One was that the Royal Air Force personnel were not looking smart enough. He objected to their looking like a lot of gangsters. I know he said that, because I agreed with him. I stressed the importance of preparing against rockets and guided missiles. He agreed with me on that point.
I went on to argue that the reason insufficient attention was being directed to this matter was that it was under the control, not of the Air Ministry, but the Ministry of Supply. It is still under the control of that Ministry. I know that the Under-Secretary has a great deal of personal courage, which I much admire, but I want him to summon the courage to carry that argument to its logical conclusion by saying to the Prime Minister, "We want to take the control of rockets and guided missiles from the Ministry of Supply." I should very much like to be present when he puts that point to the Prime Minister.
In his speech today the Under-Secretary talked about bombers and fighters going at these remarkable speeds and said that the fighters were going to go so fast that they would overtake and destroy the bombers, but when I asked him the question which I had put six years ago—how will the fighters stop the rockets?— 1550The skipper answered never a word, For a frozen corpse was he.Science is advancing, and we have reached the stage where we are spending enormous sums of money on these weapons, but there is still no answer to that problem. We now have faster-than-sound fighters and bombers, but nobody can say how the fighter will stop the rocket.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) remarked that it was out of place to introduce morality into an Air Estimates debate. I presume that it is, but I want to introduce religion. I do not know whether that subject is in order in this House only between 2.30 and 2.33 p.m., but I suggest that we should apply the ethics of Christianity to the Air Estimates. If we claim that we are a Christian nation and an example to the rest of the civilised world, there is surely something ethically, morally and deeply wrong in voting £500 million for aircraft that are mostly destructive without making some sort of examination of the vital principle of the Christian religion. I do not pretend to be a very orthodox churchgoing Christian, but I believe in the Christian ethic. When people say to me that Christianity has never worked, I retort with Bernard Shaw that Christianity has never been tried.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know whether it was Chesterton or Shaw, but that is my answer. I would suggest that there is a very strong body of opinion in this country that believes that the Archbishop of York, an eminent leader of the Christian religion in this country was right when he suggested in a recent broadcast that there was something wrong fundamentally, ethically and religiously with the idea of our using the atom bomb, or making it. I have seen Moscow, Shanghai, Pekin, Paris and most of the other capitals of the world, and I say that it is a crime against humanity and civilisation to make atom bombs.
I know hon. Gentlemen who have risked their lives as airmen, and I respect them for their courage and personality, but there is something diabolical in training young men to drop atom bombs on defenceless cities. We have no respect for the human decencies when we 1551 drop these bombs. We destroy women and children and institutions of all kinds. We destroy schools, hospitals, lunatic asylums and all life, diabolically, viciously, and I say that on those grounds alone I would oppose these Estimates.
It was said in that Book which is the foundation of the Christian religion:for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.He who takes the atom bomb is in grave danger of being destroyed by it. It was not the Russians who invented the atom bomb. It was the Christian nations, and they dropped it on the Japanese. Today we are having a discussion about the atom bomb, and the number of people who really think that the atom bomb was a Communist invention is surprising. It was the invention of the so-called Christian nations, and I submit that, if we are to base our strategy, call it long-term strategy or deterrent, on the destruction of human life in any part of the world, it will recoil terribly and destructively on this country.
We live in the heart of a great city. One atom bomb dropped in the centre of London would destroy the religious edifices with which we have been associated for so long. ie would destroy St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and many of the great churches in our city. I agree with Sir George Thomson, the Master of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, and one of the leading atom scientists, who has urged on the Government the need for announcing that the cities of the world shall not be bombed in a future war. If we once agree to that, we could reason it out rationally. Why should we not agree that there should be open cities? Paris was one during the last war, and it was occupied by the Germans. Berlin was not an open city; it was partially destroyed by British bombs.
Now that we have reached this kind of stalemate in the possible results of war, we should try to explore new ideas, and we should agree to open cities and open countries. If any one country should be an open country in the interests of the great mass of the civil population, that surely is a country in which we have 50 million people congregated into such industrial centres as we have in this country.
1552 I have spoken of London, but what would happen to the city of Glasgow, near which I five? I have a quotation from a leading scientist, Professor Oliphant, a great authority on atom war, who said:If an atom bomb was dropped on Glasgow, it would kill 50,000 people and seriously injure another 100,000, and completely destroy three square miles of the city.That was three or four years ago. And today the city of Glasgow is almost completely defenceless if one of these atom bombs drops. I have a report from the "Glasgow Herald" of only last week, which refers to the assistant chief constable, Glasgow, who is in charge of air-raid precautions in that city, which is much more congested in its centre than the city of London. Hundreds of thousands of people live piled together in tenements, in one-room and two-room dwellings. In this report, the assistant chief constable said that:If an atom bomb were dropped on Glasgow, it would be Scotland's bomb, and with all the resources Glasgow could not handle it.All this huge expenditure on the Air Force year after year does not do the elementary thing for which it was contemplated: it does not guarantee any sort of security to the civil population. I am not thrilled at the thought that we are building up a big, mighty atom bomb force for the purpose of acting as a deterrent and for bombing Moscow. Leningrad. Kiev or any of the great industrial cities. I have seen the Russian Air Force. I saw a good deal of it in flying across from Moscow to Siberia. There are far too many fast heavy aircraft there to give me any sense of assurance that if we do get a war, if somebody does press the button, we will not have the Russian Air Force wiping us out while we are attempting to wipe out Moscow and the other cities.
Last week I drew the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that America was making elaborate precautions against an atom bomb attack from the Russians. Sixty-five miles away from Washington they have spent £12½ million in making a special air-raid shelter so that the Pentagon would be safe and secure in the next war. What a curious thing it is that, while the Pentagon already has this wonderful air-raid shelter, proof against bacteriological warfare, gas warfare and atom bomb warfare, the cities 1553 of Glasgow and London, which would be in the front line, have practically no protection at all if war should break out.
I am very glad to see that in this Labour Party of ours there is a stand, and a determined and a growing stand, against these increased armaments. I am not so much alone tonight as I was five years ago. More important than any preaching or talk in the House of Commons, one thing that determines opinion is the march of events. I am glad that tonight opposition to this rearmament policy is growing, and that a very large number of people in the country would simply repudiate any suggestion made from the Labour Front Bench that we should spend more money on the Air Force. We want to cut expenditure on the Air Force, and we are going to do it. The time is coming when there will be a strong Opposition in this House which will cause the Government to turn their back on the policy of arming for war and will lead the nations forward to internationalism and peace.
§ 2.11 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I have been much moved by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). A year after the atom bomb was dropped on Horoshima, I looked on the ruins and was horrified. It is terrible tonight to be contemplating atomic weapons and their use; but I ask my hon. Friend, to understand that many of us who disagree with him do regard ourselves as Christians and lovers of humanity. I think I remember the instance during another Air Estimates debate when he was ruled out of order for discussing the atomic bomb. The reason was clear. That matter was not covered by the Estimates which were being discussed. Tonight we are considering Estimates which do cover atomic weapons.
I have been in difficulty, and I hope the Under-Secretary will help me, finding where in the Estimates expenditure on atomic weapons is covered. I should like to suggest to the Under-Secretarv, though it may perhaps be rather impertinent of me, that when he answers this debate, since he has already made two speeches, he should concentrate upon questions put to him by my right hon. and hon Friends who are present here.
1554 I ask him to answer the general point about strategic bombers, and I should like him to answer the more detailed points, such as the manning points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
In many ways, this debate has followed the usual course of an Estimates debate, in that hon. Members have pointed out the heavy cost, have criticised, and have asked the Air Ministry what is to be done with the money. Some of the speeches were rather more general and less tied to details of the Estimates. Last year I pointed out that we were about to enter a period when there would be on both sides of the Iron Curtain hundreds of atomic weapons, and secondly, that our ability to deliver them, or to defend ourselves against them, would be more important than having a stock of atomic weapons. We have entered that period, and I believe it is generally recognised in the West that we cannot afford to take full advantage of our technical and industrial superiority unless we can economise in the traditional weapons and organisations which are found especially in the two older Fighting Services. I said "especially" because even in a young service the dead hand of conservatism can be dangerous.
The first question I should like to put to the Under-Secretary is, how far is the Air Force looking ahead to prepare itself for the new age with new weapons? What, for instance, about changes in organisation? We know the history of the R.A.F. and how it inherited the squadron, both organisation and nomenclature, from the cavalry. It may have completely outgrown that today. The organisation we have may have been suitable to the aircraft of the last war, but is it necessarily suitable to the aircraft of the future? I want to know if the Air Council are considering the full implications of this change of aircraft on the structure of the organisation.
Secondly, there is an obvious question are the pilots and navigators getting enough preparatory training in high altitude flying to enable them to make good use of these highly expensive weapons which will be given to them? Thirdly, a difficult question. Is enough consideration given to the qualities and the future role of the general duties officers? In the summer I asked a Question as to which 1555 branch of the Air Force was going to man the ground-to-air missiles and I was told the general duties branch. That may be a good decision. I am not criticising it, but I wonder if its significance has been appreciated. Remember the emphasis that is laid on the eyesight of the general duty officers. Perfect eyesight is all important to an ordinary general duties officer, but those who play the role of an artillery officer do not need it. Is it not one of the factors which could be outweighed by intelligence, leadership, academic ability and many other factors? Is it certain that the Air Council is looking ahead to these developments in all these fields?
A number of my hon. Friends, like the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), have talked about the financial implications of this new atomic weapon. It must be considerable, and I hope the Under-Secretary has got the information as to where in the Estimates it is accounted for. But I will not press him any more if he has not got the information now.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and others referred to our front line being N.A.T.O. Last year in this debate I spoke early in the morning, just as I am doing now, and the same afternoon I was speaking in Bonn at a committee in the German Parliament House. There was nothing remarkable in that except it was so easy to realise how closely knit we are geographically, and how the Air Force role in N.A.T.O. is of the greatest importance to the security of this country.
I was really shocked six months ago when I learned what was happening in the exercise held under the auspices of N.A.T.O. I want an assurance that that is not the condition of affairs in N.A.T.O. today. In this connection I thought the lion. Member for Brentford and Chis-wick (Mr. Lucas) and the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) were much too easily satisfied. It was said that we, the inventors of radar, were so far behind today that our radar system was really useless, and there were cases In the exercises where "enemy" planes came in low and were detected only 12 seconds away. There was 50 seconds' warning by visual observation, yet here, 1556 by radar, it was only 12, whereas in the American sector they had radar which was working.
The allegation was made six months ago, that the Sabres on which we relied so much were nearly all grounded because there were no helmets to be used with them. I would like to hear that this is not so. It was alleged that the communications broke down completely and that pilots sat at the end of the runways in many cases waiting for "scramble" orders which never came at all. It was alleged that -it was not the strong front line about which hon. Members have been so pleased, but a very poor show.
The hon. Gentleman and others mentioned the three V bombers. I am anxious that we should not make the same mistake with them as with the Lancaster and the Stirling and the Halifax. Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that he and the Minister of Supply will as soon as they know which is the best, go into production immediately on that one only, and not make the mistake that we made producing those three bombers during the war? That is a most important point, and I hope I can have that undertaking.
The Under-Secretary said in the middle of his speech that manning was as important as equipment. Last year and the year before I had complained that the Memorandum and the speech of the Under-Secretary had passed too lightly over the manning problem. The Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State had the good fortune to come into office after the best recruiting year since the war, and it appeared that they were led astray by this and not seized of the real importance of manning and the real problems that lie behind it.
But this year it is clear that the Secretary of State has awakened and has done something for the aircrew, something nearly as important as what my right hon. Friend did when he introduced the new trade structure and the three and four year engagements at regular rates of pay. I refer "to the Cranwell scholarships. I wish them well. We all do. It is an imaginative scheme and I only wonder what imaginative scheme the Air Ministry will now produce for the skilled Regular tradesman, because the pay is 1557 there, it is true, but something more is necessary.
As many hon. Members know, I represent the city of Lincoln, which is in the heart of a county in which there are many airfields. I am constantly having brought to my notice the difficulties of Regular officers and men in educating their children because they are moved from place to place. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor) mentioned it, and so did others. If it is true that there is a Civil Service precedent for meeting this cost, I should like to know, and if anything like that could be done to help to educate the children of Regular officers and men.
There is a point which I want the Under-Secretary to look at. I do not expect him to deal with it now, but I want him to challenge the whole basis of the aircrew to aircraft calculations for finding the requirement of air crew. May not the ratio be too high? In the case of the new bombers, is it not as high as 1:25 aircrew to 1 bomber. This is a difficult point which it is impossible to discuss at this hour of the morning, but I hope he will look into it. There is a human factor used at arriving at any planning ratio, and the fact is that senior officers are human enough to want to see more junior officers coming into the Service. If the calculations were done by a mechanical brain, the robot factor might well work out in favour of a higher ratio of bomber to aircrew. The manning problem in this expensive form of pilot and navigator training is difficult enough as it is, but it might not be quite so difficult if this investigation were made, because the ratio might be found to be nearer 1 to 1.
I would like to refer to what I said two years ago on the Estimates about the free falling bomb. I said then:If tens of thousands of man-hours go into the making of an atom bomb, the accuracy with which it is delivered is vital. If there were a small front-line bomber force, it would not necessarily be a weakness provided large resources of brain power and man-power were devoted to research development, production and maintenance, of devices capable of delivering the bomb with greater accuracy. I think I am right in saying that if bombing error is halved, the number of aircraft needed is divided by four. In other words I ask the Secretary of State to consider whether some of the resources of men and materials going into aircraft research, development and production could not be of greater value if they 1558 were put on to navigation and bombsight research, development and production."—[official report, 17th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2258.]I wonder what has been done since, for the basic problems still exist. Do we really know that these forms of scientific equipment are as advanced as our aircraft?
On page 6 of the White Paper there is a statement that less emphasis has been laid on the accumulation of warlike stores and equipment. That worried me, but I was even more worried when the Undersecretary told us this afternoon—or yesterday afternoon—that there was a reduction in the works Vote. The airfields having been extended, I always assumed that there would be a programme of construction of facilities for oil storage and distribution. Everyone knows that even in peacetime we use much more petrol and kerosene—more fuel—than before the war. But would not the consumption of fuel increase enormously in time of war? And is not the problem greater now that we have jets? I am told that, compared with a Spitfire, a Sabre uses 30 or 40 times as much fuel just to warm up and taxi. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us that he is satisfied with the arrangements made for supplying, not only ourselves but our allies with fuel? Is there any danger that the oil companies, because of their tank-age capacity and—I do not use the term in an evil sense—their vested interest in the traditional methods of distribution, may not prejudice the re-establishment and expansion by a large pipe system?
We all know that there was a pipeline system in the last war. We know that some of it is not in commission now. Will the Under-Secretary see if we cannot build up a supply system by the use of pipelines? One of the cheapest ways which has been pointed out to me —although I do not know if there are any snags in it—might be for the line to follow along the banks of the canal systems. Through the line not being buried that would save many thousands of pounds per mile. We have many thousands of miles of canals, some abandoned and some in use, radiating to all parts of the country. Will he look into that? It is of the greatest importance.
Each year in these Estimates debates a large part of our discussion is taken up with the training of Reserves. It has been 1559 the same this year. About five weeks ago I asked the Under-Secretary two questions as to the number of Class H reservists who had been called up, and the figures he gave have been used in this debate. Those of us who take an interest in Civil Defence had been expecting a considerable number of reservists to be used for the mobile columns. I must confess that what we have seen has been nothing but a patchy improvisation—almost as patchy as his announcement today about the Reserve Flight Scheme.
A really damaging case has been made against the Government's failure to make use of these Reserves. I was not present to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday—I was in a Standing Committee upstairs. But when I read the report in hansard I was amazed how weak that scheme was—to start in 1955 and eventually to train 30,000 men each year. That is all that is offered after this great delay.
I have been waiting—and I know the Civil Defence authorities must have been waiting—for such an announcement for a long time; ever since the present experimental mobile column got under way at Epsom. I never expected anything so weak as this. "The Times" this morning said:It is not the Home Office's fault that this source of manpower has not been tapped earlier. Negotiations with the Service Departments have been slow, and clearly an important point of principles has been conceded. Civil Defence has gained a victory …One does not have to have had experience of a Service Department, and of the Home Office to know what a tremendous concession has been made by the Service Department in this case. But, in view of the definite feeling of the House on the use of Reserves and of the necessity for Civil Defence, it is up to the Air Ministry to make this work. I hope we shall have an undertaking that that will be done.
My hon. Friends have made a formidable case against the Government. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary and the R.A.F. should have to suffer for this Government. But the indictment is there, and I shall mention only a few counts. Neglect of our vital front line at N.A.T.O., where our performance makes nonsense of our words: complacency 1560 about the manpower problem and the evidence now of the 16½ million scramble; the policy on Reserves; the failure of production and the failure of information.
As I speak officially for the Opposition, I wish to make clear that we believe the Air Force has done well to overcome so many of the problems presented by Government policy. We think the men and women in the Service should be thanked for the fine work they are doing for this country and for the peace of the world.
§ 2.37 a.m.
I hope I may be forgiven if at this late hour I do not debate again the value of the V class bomber as a deterrent, or whether there ought to be a deterrent or not. I think the attitude of the Government on that matter has been made plain.
I wish to refer to one point made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It would not be a proper debate on the Air Estimates without his contribution, and even if I have never yet been able to agree with him, I admire his sincerity, eloquence and wit. Paraphrasing a Biblical quotation, the hon. Member said that those who use the atom bomb shall perish by the atom bomb. Is not that precisely the deterrent power of the bomber? We hope the Russians will realise that those who use the atom bomb shall perish by it. Of course we share the abhorrence of the idea of using the atom bomb on anyone. We do not want to use it and we still think that our abhorrence may be shared by the Russians, which will have the effect of preserving the peace when other weapons have failed.
I will try to reply to the more important points which have been raised in this debate, although there were a great number of them.
§ Mr. de Freitas
At the risk of being considered impertinent in trying to suggest how the hon. Member should conduct his speech, I would say that if he will reply to those of us who are present and write to the others we shall be quite satisfied.
I think it would be fairer to reply to points which have been made by several hon. Members and not to 1561 bother too much with points raised by one hon. Member only. We will see how we go along.
First, I should like to say how much we on this side of the House, if I may say so with respect, appreciated the broad sweep and the acute penetration of the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson). We agree with him absolutely about the importance of air power and the efforts which must be made to bring the strength and efficiency of the Royal Air Force up to even higher levels than we have already achieved.
May I also say, on behalf of my hon. Friends, how much we regret that illness has prevented my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) from being here. [HON. members: "Hear, hear."] This is probably the first Air Estimates debate that he has ever missed since he has been in this House, and I am sure that he will be very sorry to have missed it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention to several matters of very great operational importance, some of which I am quite sure he knows, having been Secretary of State, would be quite impossible to answer in Parliament. There are, however, two points on which I should like to comment—the Washington and the light fighter. The light fighter particularly has been raised. The right hon. and learned Gentleman shares our view that we must build up a jet bomber force as quickly as possible, and I can assure him that one of the primary reasons for the steps that we have taken to run down the Washington force was in order to be able to increase the Canberra force more quickly in the immediate future and to help build up more quickly the jet medium bomber squadrons. We have done this deliberately, and we have done it after making a very careful study and balance of all the factors involved. When the results of our decision are seen, I do not think that we shall be proved to be wrong.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman and others, including the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and the hon. Members for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), all raised the question of the light fighter. This is a matter of very great concern 1562 both to the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply. There is always a conflict, in equipping a force, between the principle of going in for the best and going in for something less than the best with the idea that, since it will be cheaper, one can afford to buy more. I am sure it would be wrong for us to assume that the right thing to do would be to bat on our opponents' wicket.
However important it is for us to bring down costs in order to achieve a balance between our defence effort and our economic effort, we cannot ignore the fact that the mere weight of numbers will always be against us. We can never compete on the basis of numbers. But where we cannot match quantity, we can more than make up the gap if we go for quality. Here we are considering a problem where it may be literally vital to get the right answer, both for the defence of the country and of our forces on the Continent in conjunction with our allies in N.A.T.O.
I cannot give the House the details of all the practical considerations which we have to bear in mind in this matter, but there are one or two which I can mention as examples. From the point of view of economy, leaving aside operational efficiency for the moment, we have to decide whether it is best for the Royal Air Force to have a type of aircraft that has a good performance at all altitudes and in all kinds of weather. The question is: Should we choose a simple aircraft with limited armament, or a more complicated type with more powerful hitting power? This question of versatility is extremely important both for Fighter Command and for the Royal Air Force Squadrons in the Second Tactical Air Force on the Continent.
It is sometimes suggested that the light fighter would enable us to dispense with concrete runways, and that this would be of special importance on the Continent. It is perfectly true that there is a point in favour of the light fighter, especially in a tactical role, and if it turns out to be much lighter it will be able to manage with P.S.P. runways, but we cannot be certain about it, and in any case it is only one of the factors which we have to bear in mind. The penalty is that so long as an aircraft remains really light it is bound to be less versatile than the current types, and if we go in for it we must be prepared to sacrifice such qualities as range and hitting power.
1563 There is also the fact that the light fighter could not be put into service in the Royal Air Force until after we have completed equipment with the current swept-wing fighters.
Whatever are our views on the needs of the Royal Air Force and the best way of meeting them, we shall be very glad to give any advice that N.A.T.O. may seek from us. We know that S.A.C.E.U.R. has his own operational problems to consider, and it may be that some N.A.T.O. countries will feel that their needs are different from ours. Because we do not at the moment see the light fighter as a military requirement for us, it does not follow that we have no part to play in helping it as a N.A.T.O. project if they want it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman regretted that we had cut down the large intake of National Service pilots and navigators, and implied that this might be partly responsible for our difficulty in providing aircrew in sufficient numbers. I would remind him that it takes some 21 months to train a pilot or navigator up to operating standard, and a National Service aircrew could give very little productive service.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am sorry to take a different view, but unless something has changed since I was in the Air Ministry it should take only 18 months to train these men, leaving six months for productive service.
Productive service in a squadron is what counts. We are developing all the time, and now that we have the new Provost Vampire training sequence we are giving a 21-month period of training. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will therefore realise that it will be much less economical generally to rely on National Service pilots at the rate of 21 months each for training out of 24 than to try to get longer-term Regulars. Several hon. Members—including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor), my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) and the hon. Member for Lincoln—were worried about the education of officers' children.
All children, yes. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North was talking mainly about officers' children. Anyway, we will discuss them all.
§ Mr. W. J. Taylor
I mentioned officers' children as being the main class affected by this difficulty, but I included warrant officers, senior N.C.O.s and other ranks in my remarks.
I sympathise with those officers and other ranks who consider that these problems can be met only by sending their children to boarding schools. We are constantly looking for ways and means of improving the position, in consultation with the education authorities. Provision already exists under Section 81 of the Education Act, 1944, by which a local education authority may contribute towards the costs of boarding and education of any children if it is satisfied that such education is desirable. Under Section 6 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act,1953, it is a duty that the authority shall pay the whole of the fees where board and lodging are provided for the pupil at the school and the authority is satisfied that suitable education cannot otherwise be provided.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sure that the Undersecretary is not trying to mislead the House, but his answer is a little misleading. He is telling us what power the local education authority has got, and, with respect, we know that. The trouble is that many people who join the Forces and obtain a commission have no local education authority who will accept responsibility for them.
When both parents are abroad any authority with which they, or their children, are connected may accept responsibility.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sorry but the hon. Gentleman is not answering the point. A local education authority will accept responsibility only for ratepayers. If the officer or warrant officer is abroad he is not a ratepayer, and the same thing applies to a man in this country who is in married quarters. He is not paying rates, and no local authority will help him.
§ Mr. Taylor
It is not a question of a local authority accepting responsibility for a ratepayer, but for a citizen. Any citizen is entitled to free education for his child under whatever authority it may be.
All I can do, and all I am trying to do, is to point out the legal position. We have done all we can to bring these arrangements to the notice of officers and men, and I will certainly see if there is anything we can do to improve the liaison between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Education in this matter. Apart from bringing the legal position to the notice of those in the Air Force, there is nothing we can do. I hope that the recently announced pay increases, which were designed primarily to help people with family responsibilities, will go some way towards making things easier.
Now if I may come to the 124.000 Class H men about whom several hon. Gentlemen were interested. Last year we called up 10,000. and I announced that recently.
In November it was 8,500. In the whole year we called up 10,000. During the coming year we shall call up an estimated 17,000, mainly for training in the reserve flights.
I am coming to that. The scheme for training in mobile columns will require legislation. We do not expect to call up any men under that scheme in 1954. We are making plans to call 1566 up 15,000 men in 1955 and increase it to 30,000 in subsequent years.
What we are contemplating is that Class H reservists selected for civil defence training will carry out two periods of training, each for a fortnight during their three and a half years; so that although they will not necessarily always be the same people, they will be the same people twice in the three and a half years.
We have also in mind an extension of the Reserve Flight Scheme in the light of the experience gained this year—that is, what I have described as "Phases 3 and 4." Where a Class H reservist is a member of a reserve flight, he will normally be called up every year. Obviously, it is an essential part of the scheme that this reservist should be as, far as possible a local man, who lives near his war station, and he will be called up every year to take part in major exercises. We have also under consideration certain proposals for forming Class H reservists into reserve units of the R.A.F. Regiment and training them as such.
Having said all that, I do not want at this stage to forecast exactly what the total number of Class H reservists called up each year is likely to be when all these various schemes are in full operation, but I should be surprised if it was less than 70.000.
§ Mr. Swingler
Can the hon. Gentleman say how many of the 124,000 will be called up for reserve training during the-coming year?
I will try to recapitulate a little. There will be 17.000 on the Reserve Flight Scheme in the first two phases. There will be a few more under the R.A.F. Regiment scheme; I am only guessing, but I should think slightly less than 20,000.
I am anxious that the House should not be under a misapprehension on this, point. It is not part of our policy that every Class H reservist should be called up for training either as a member of a reserve flight or on civil defence duties in each of his years of compulsory part-time National Service. I do not believe that we could justify the cost which would be involved in training a reservist unless such training is directed to meet some 1567 quite specific requirement on mobilisation. I am a little surprised that this suggestion, which would certainly involve a considerable increase in expenditure and in the amount of the Air Estimates, should have come from hon. Members opposite. All the time they have been saying that expenditure on defence was already too high.
It goes without saying that the original purpose of the National Service Act was twofold: first, to enable the Services to man up their cold war requirements; and second, to provide the reserve that they needed on mobilisation. We have no option at the moment but to take in National Service men at the present rate to meet our current cold war requirements. The plain fact is that we could not keep our aircraft in the air without the help they can give us, not only on servicing duties, but in the supply organisation, on radar and wireless operating, and on clerical and administrative duties.
The hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) both asked what our ideal target was for the recruitment of Regulars, and how close we hoped to come to the target with the new inducements. I was asked also the principles on which the new rates of pay were settled, and whether the new pay code could be simplified. I do not want to be drawn into a discussion of ideals, but certainly if we could attract into the Service double the number of Regular recruits that we are getting now, and if we could keep in the Service twice the number of men who are at present extending their service at the end of their engagements, no one would be more delighted than myself.
As for the new measures, we certainly hope they will have a marked influence on recruiting. We hope, also, that they will bring people back into the Service; but by far the most important object is to induce men in the Service to increase their skill, and to encourage extension of service.
It would vary, would it not? I cannot go into it now. If the hon. Member really wants to know perhaps he will let me find out. It cannot be a fixed period.
The hon. Member did not raise it earlier. Had he done so I might have been able to get the answers.
I will see if I can give it at the end of my remarks. There is no reason to think that the new code will be more complicated than the present one, and I am sure it will be a better one.
Several hon. Members raised the matter of under-spending, and I think I ought to go carefully into this. Of a total money provision of about £240 million in the 1953–54 Estimates for our present year's production deliveries, we expect to be under-spent by a little less than £20 million; but this is only a forecast. Some of this under-spending is due to lower prices than had been expected when our estimate was framed. About £2£ million is due to accelerated deliveries in the latter part of 1952–53, which meant that we got in that year some equipment which our estimate had been assuming would be delivered in 1953–54. This acceleration was largely due to super-priority measures in the radio and radar field. We have also been able to save about £2 million on miscellaneous materials through reduction of our requirements and another £2 million on mechanical transport vehicles through establishment and other economies.
The remainder of our expected under-spending on production in 1953–54 is due to various set-backs during the year. These have mainly been on aircraft, bombs and ammunition, and radio and 1569 radar. To an extent, but a very limited one, this has set back our re-armament programme for the front line, and has had some slight effect on the provision of reserves. We have done all we could to clear these set-backs which, I am afraid, in the field of Royal Air Force equipment, will always be with us to a greater or less extent in any programme which aims at the provision of a wide variety of equipment which is also of the highest quality and performance, and of the latest design.
Estimates of expenditure always take account of such set-backs, foreseen and unforeseen, but it is almost impossible to forecast with real precision before the financial year begins what will be the total progress during that year on a production effort so highly complicated— particularly as the delivery of aircraft and other stores which we have on order at any one point of time stretches over many years ahead. The re-assessment of the requirement for the Royal Air Force Work services will result in a surplus of some £15 million in the present year, and lower prices of petrol are expected to save upwards of £2 million.
I promised to explain to the hon. Member for Preston, South in greater detail how it was that the R.A.F. does not come off worse in the new pay settlement than other Services as he feared might be the case. I think he bad in mind the Group X, Class 1 sergeant and above in the Army shown in Table V of the White Paper as getting 10s. 6d. a week more than R.A.F. technicians and N.C. Os. on the higher scale shown in Table VI. The fact is that advanced tradesmen in the trade groups responsible for servicing aircraft and air equipment from junior technician upwards to warrant officer will receive 10s. 6d. a week extra pay and in consequence will be at no disadvantage compared with the N.C. Os. in Group X of the Army.
Several hon. Members asked about the overseas radar screen, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North and the hon. Member for Lincoln, who asked whether we were installing new air defence radar abroad, especially in such places as Gibraltar, Cyprus and Malta, and they also asked about the provision of radar in Western Europe. I can assure them that we have 1570 ordered all the new radar that we need not only in the United Kingdom but also for every Royal Air Force theatre overseas where our fighters may have to operate. This includes the Second Tactical Air Force on the Continent and the Middle East and Far East Air theatres as well as the Mediterranean islands. We are also in consultation with the other members of N.A.T.O. about whether they need any of the British radar in the areas for which they are responsible.
Just one quick word about transport, because three or four Members raised that issue. Plans have been worked out in considerable detail for the use of the resources of the civil aviation Corporations in war. They allow for the maximum flexibility in the use of our resources in war, both for civil and military purposes. The structure of the Corporations would remain intact because that is clearly the best way to ensure the utilisation of our full resources and avoid a disruption which we could not afford.
§ Mr. Mikardo
If it is the case that the Royal Air Force in war are anxious to use to the full the facilities which can be provided by the Corporations, why is it that trooping contracts are now being consistently diverted away from those Corporations? Would not the sensible thing be to give them some practice in trooping transport instead of diverting the contracts from them to other people?
No, Sir. As the hon. Member well knows, these trooping contracts have normally been given to independent operators, who are carrying them out extremely efficiently. The volume of air trooping has risen during this past year and 54 per cent, of the personnel trooped to various parts of the world were carried by air compared with 49 per cent. in the previous year. Also 91 per cent. of all trooping movements between the United Kingdom and the Middle East were undertaken by air compared with 80 per cent, in the previous year, and it has been done with great regularity and great safety.
The hon. Member for Reading, South also asked me to amplify the statement in paragraph 10 of the Estimates. Memorandum that revised financial arrangements are being made with the United States Government about works service for the U.S. Air Force. I gave 1571 some details of these arrangements in the reply which I made to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Warbey) on 17th February this year. I said then that the capital expenditure on the U.S. Air Force construction in this country for the period 1951–55 will be of the order of £125 million and that we shall be making a direct financial contribution of £22½ million and, in addition, providing free of charge certain accommodation and facilities surplus to our needs. As for the cost of maintenance and of minor works services, all of this, with one small exception, will be borne by the U.S. Government.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) also asked about the R.A.F. share of the £16½ million for pay. He is right in assuming that a Supplementary Estimate will be needed in due course because these Estimates do not include provision for that amount. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and others were concerned about the presentation of the Air Force. We are most concerned ourselves about publicity, we have been giving particular attention to it, and the Air Council have now formed their Publicity Committee, of which I am the chairman, to try to improve the presentation of the Air Force to the world, and also other forms of publicity, and I hope that we shall see considerable improvement in the near future.
I am very conscious of the inadequacy of my winding-up speech. I know there are many points with which I have not dealt, but I can assure the House that I have made notes of all of them, that we will examine them closely at the Air Ministry tomorrow and that I will communicate with any hon. Member who raised any point which security allows us to answer. May I say finally what a valuable debate this has been and how much I have appreciated the atmosphere in which it has been carried on.
§ 3.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Maldon)
I am sorry to put the hon. Gentleman to yet further delay and trouble when he has been so extremely good in dealing with the various problems raised in this debate. I had intended to raise several points severally on specific Votes, but it seems in some ways more convenient to 1572 raise them now, while we are still on the general debate. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be a little patient still and will consider the various points that I want to draw to his attention, of some of which I gave him notice earlier in the day. These are comparatively minor points and fairly non-controversial, and probably fairly boring, so if hon. Gentleman opposite want to go out I promise not to call a count myself.
The first point I want to mention is one which I raised on Tuesday at Question time with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. It was a rather curious point that has not cropped up before I think, and it was brought to my attention by the local authority concerned. I could not get any satisfaction out of the Treasury by correspondence, and so it seemed reasonable to raise it at Question time. I asked the Financial Secretary on what grounds he had ruled that shops run by private concessionaires at the United States Air Force base at Wethersfield were not rateable.
This United States base although it is entirely manned by Americans now is, in a general sense, under the administration of the Air Ministry. It is still officially described as an R.A.F. base. The answer given by the Financial Secretary was:The premises concerned are held on requisition by the Air Ministry, and in accordance with usual practice rates are, therefore, not payable. The concessionaires referred to in the Question are operating for the United States Forces a service equivalent to that performed by N.A.A.F.I. in respect of Her Majesty's Forces."—[official report, 2nd 'March, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 1010.]I asked the hon. Gentleman to look at the matter again, because it does seem to me a bit hard on the ratepayers locally in that rural district that what are, in fact, perfectly ordinary private traders or shopkeepers working for private profit should be exempt from rates merely because of the accident that the ground upon which they happened to be operating is requisitioned land.
The Financial Secretary, when I put this point to him in a supplementary question, said that they were not really ordinary private traders but agents on behalf of the United States Forces. He added that the provision rests on a general provision of law that land held on requisition by Service Departments does not pay rates. That may be so, but I wonder if there are any exceptions to it and whether 1573 when that law was first promulgated this particular kind of situation was foreseen. It probably does not occur in many places, but there are a number of American air bases in England now, and I wonder whether there are a number of these shops operating which escape paying rates and are able therefore perhaps to compete rather advantageously with the ordinary local shopkeepers because of this fortunate accident for them.
The Financial Secretary said that they competed with shopkeepers in the sense that N.A.A.F.I. does on British stations, but of course that is rather different. N.A.A.F.I. is a non-profit making organisation, and these are traders operating for private profit. There is nothing criminal about that, of course, but it does seem a bit hard on the other shopkeepers in the neighbourhood who are, after all, paying rates. One or two hon. Gentlemen with whom I have discussed the matter have argued that no doubt the United States Air Force would charge a fairly high rent to these concessionaires, and if they had to pay rates on top they might not be able to do the job and: he service would not be provided. If that is so, I suppose that the United States Air Force wants them to do the job, that it is for the convenience of the U.S.A. to have them operating on the place. I should have thought that the U.S.A. might charge them a little less rent if they had to pay the rates, and it might be to the advantage of the local authority and the local ratepayers if some such slight readjustment could be made.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should consider whether the Air Ministry, which is directly concerned, could take the initiative—in consultation with the Treasury and the local authorities concerned, not only at Wethersfield in my constituency but various other parts of the country—to see if some slight relief could be given to the ratepayers, without in any way damaging the useful and necessary service provided for the American airmen by these concessionnaires at these bases.
My second is a quite different point. It would, I think, be in order on Vote II, but as I am speaking now perhaps I may mention it. I have a Question down for a few weeks hence to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence on the general aspect of this matter, but 1574 I should like some assurance from the hon. Gentleman tonight on the particular aspect for which he is responsible.
A few weeks ago there was a most unhappy and, indeed, tragic accident in Essex. A Member of a Sea Cadet force was accidentally killed during rifle practice, and some really rather disturbing facts emerged at the inquest. It was shown that the rifle with which he was being trained was a completely obsolete American weapon which came here during the war under Lend-Lease. It had not been properly proved or tested, and it was so very unsafe that it would go off merely if banged on the ground—as unfortunately it had been.
The general Questions which I am asking next month are about pre-Service units in general, but, to be on the safe side. I want to ask tonight whether the A.T.C. is properly equipped with reasonably modern weapons for training the cadets in the use of firearms. We want to be quite sure that no accidents comparable to that which resulted in the cadet's death will again happen—not through anyone being inefficient particularly, but merely because weapons which should not be used at all in 1954 are still being used in training these lads in the use of firearms.
On the last point, I can assure the hon. Member that all the firearms in the A.T.C. are tested periodically. Indeed, after this accident happened they were all specially tested. We found nothing wrong with any of them, so it looks as if it is all right. On the point which he raised about the rates, perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to look into it and to write to him.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]