HC Deb 04 March 1954 vol 524 cc1361-428

3.36 p.m.

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

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

The Air Estimates for 1954–55 are for a net total of £491,640,000, which is £6,360,000 less than the net total approved for the current year.

In 1954–55, provision has been made for mutual defence assistance by the United States of £45,360,000, as compared with £50 million in 1953–54. The decrease in the total provision without allowing for aid is, therefore, £11 million. The comparison between the two years is a very difficult one, and it is dealt with fully in my noble Friend's Memorandum which accompanies the Air Estimates, and, of course, in the Estimates themselves. The main point is that we expect to spend more on aircraft, armament and fuel in 1954–55 than in the previous year, but there are large decreases in the provision for other types of equipment and stores and for works services.

The slight dip in our total estimate is likely to be followed by a rise in 1955 and in 1956. Since the war, the proportion of the defence budget spent on the Royal Air Force has risen steadily, and, as the White Paper on Defence explains, still greater emphasis will be placed on the Royal Air Force in future. This opinion of the importance of air power is shared by our American friends, who have decided to buy a substantial number of British aircraft for the Royal Air Force, as an addition to what we ourselves can afford during the next few years. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence has already expressed Her Majesty's Government's appreciation of this generous decision, which will result in a very welcome addition to N.A.T.O. strength in the air.

The pre-eminent place of the Royal Air Force in our defence programme is now well established. My noble Friend and I and our colleagues on the Air Council are very conscious of the responsibilities which, with the Ministry of Supply, we now bear for making our programme a success. We have, I know, the support of this House and of the country in our efforts.

The House will wish to note that these Estimates include, for the first time, provision for the atomic weapons which are now being delivered to the Royal Air Force. None of us is under any illusion about what the advent of atomic warfare means to this country. The threat to which we are exposed is appalling. But we shall not reduce this threat by abstaining from arming ourselves with atomic weapons and the means of delivering them. On the contrary, to arm ourselves with these weapons is our best chance of safety, because they are the best way of preventing another war happening.

In a world in which atomic weapons exist, conventional weapons, important though they are, cannot have the same influence on the decision between peace and war. It would be as if a man tried to protect himself against a pistol attack by arming himself with a life-preserver. Only a powerful force of atom bombers can sufficiently impress on a potential enemy the suicidal folly of aggression. Of course, we have the might of the United States Air Force behind us and until now they have provided the deterrent. Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong for the Royal Air Force to stand aside and contribute nothing to the offensive and really decisive part of allied air power. The Air Force has unrivalled experience and its contribution can be of unmatched quality.

The first of our four-engined jet bombers is, as the House knows, the Valiant and the first production Valiant has already flown. All our preliminary preparations for this new force are now well on the way to completion. They have necessarily covered a long period. As ever, they started with Air Staff studies supplemented by the work of scientists and technicians in research and design. Then there has been all the work entailed in adapting and improving airfields and in preparing the crews who will fly the V-class bombers in squadron service.

We have now made financial provision for some of the aircraft to be delivered during the coming year. No doubt there will still be some technical difficulties to overcome. In an undertaking of such magnitude, that is only to be expected, but I can assure the House that there will be no delay which we ourselves can foresee or prevent.

The development of the Vulcan and the Victor is going well and we hope that they will not be far behind the Valiant. These, of course, are more advanced conceptions than the Valiant and they should reflect in their operational performance the results of even further technical progress. The increased height, range and speed at which they can fly should add a great deal to our striking power and to the difficulties of the defence. The long-range medium bombers shortly coming into service will be two and a half to three tunes more effective than their 1945 counterpart in altitude, speed and range. Moreover, for short range they will be able to carry a very heavy bomb load, and even without atomic bombs they will be able to inflict heavy damage on communications, dumps and concentrations.

As the V-class bombers come into service most of the Canberra squadrons will be converted to the heavier type. Meanwhile, the Canberra, which is already proving a first-class aircraft in squadron service, is most important to us for two reasons. First, it makes a valuable contribution to the strength of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, so V-bombers will not entirely displace the Canberras of Bomber Command. The Canberra squadrons will continue to give direct support to S.A.C.E.U.R., and will also be employed on reconnaissance.

Secondly, the Canberra is providing Bomber Command with essential experience in the handling of high flying jet aircraft and is giving bomber crews the confidence which comes from early conversion to modern types. This means that first-class crews will have been specially trained to take over the medium bombers as they come in. We shall have saved time in converting pilots to jet bomber operations and in training navigators to find their way over great distances at heights previously unknown to them.

I must not leave the subject of Bomber Command without a brief reference to the Washingtons. The loan of these aircraft by the United States filled a serious gap in our striking power at a time when the Lincoln force was small and our jet bombers not yet available We shall always be grateful for this help, though the last squadron of Washingtons has now been converted to Canberras and the aircraft themselves are being flown back to the United States.

On the defensive side of our preparations, a most important step has been taken by the re-equipment of the first squadron in Fighter Command with Swifts. There has been much natural and understandable impatience about the time taken to introduce these modern aircraft into the service. I can assure the House that we at the Air Ministry have been no less anxious to receive them. Indeed, my noble Friend has kept a most careful and continuous watch on their progress and development. But there have been setbacks which could not have been foreseen, and they have served as a continuous reminder to us all of the immense number of new and difficult problems which these fast aeroplanes have brought with them.

The House already knows that not only are prototypes of a new supersonic fighter under construction, but that 20 pre-production aircraft have now been ordered. My noble Friend considers it most important that this aircraft should reach the Royal Air Force at the earliest possible date, and that the disappointment and delays that have hitherto been liable to beset us should, so far as possible, be avoided.

Accordingly, we have arranged with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply for this pre-production order, which we all agree is the method most likely to achieve the result which we want. These pre-production aircraft will serve the interests of our two Departments, and their cost will be shared in agreed proportions between the different Departments. They should speed up development work and save the Royal Air Force time in test flying.

To return to the immediate future, the Hunter is due to take its place alongside the Swift in Fighter Command this year, and the development of the Javelin is going well. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the all-weather Javelin. Modern bombers and their equipment have much increased the advantages enjoyed by the attacker. We therefore need for our defence, aircraft capable of operating with high performance in all weathers. The Javelin should be able to fly and fight at a height of over 50,000 feet and to have a speed of between 600 and 700 miles an hour; and at these great heights and speeds it will be a fighting weapon equipped with modern armament and modern radar capable of finding and attacking the enemy in all conditions.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Does it work at night?

Mr. Ward

Yes, indeed. An aircraft of this kind has the great advantage of flexibility. When the Javelin is in service many new tactical opportunities will be opened to us which should greatly improve the quality of our defence by day and by night.

During the coming financial year we shall nearly double the size of our existing night fighter force and we shall bring in a new mark of Venom. Moreover, more than half this Force will be fitted with a new form of search radar which will enable our fighters to detect enemy bombers in an air space more than three times greater than at present.

In the day fighter rôle we now have in Fighter Command a number of Sabres given to us as military aid by the United States, and they will do much to improve the quality of our strength while we are re-equipping with our own British swept-wing fighters. More than half our regular day fighter force will consist of British swept-wing fighters by this time next year.

But the effectiveness of the re-equipment of Fighter Command would be much reduced if the country's radar system did not advance with tihe performance of modern aircraft. The modern bomber has been increasing its performance relative to the fighter since 1940. This means that the fighter has less time to intercept before the bomber reaches our coast, and such a disadvantage can only be offset by the very rapid recognition of the bomber by radar. And, of course, we must remember the weapon which the bomber may be carrying.

Fighter control is equally important. In 1940, enemy bombers had an operational ceiling of only about 20,000 feet and we could put our fighter pilots within sight of their targets with a comparatively simple form of radar, but now the immense operational ceiling of modern bombers makes it imperative that control radars should not only be able to look much higher, but should be able to assess height and position more accurately because there will be so little time in which to make an interception.

Ground control of formations and of individual aircraft must be more and more flexible. Scientists are continually working on improvements, and as these are discovered and developed we are bringing them into operational use. Indeed, by the end of the next financial year we shall be able to direct about twice as many formations of fighters against enemy bombers as we can now.

The first command to complete its expansion and re-equipment, both of which are virtually finished, will be Coastal Command. We have ordered some more Shackletons of an improved design and performance and these will increase even more the range and endurance of our shore-based aircraft.

To sum up the first part of my speech, the recent development of the Air Force has been on two main fronts: the expansion of the front line and the preparation for new and more advanced aircraft coming in. It is true that expansion is not yet wholly complete, but we are concentrating already more and more on quality. The history of air warfare has shown very clearly the advantage which quality has over mere numbers. Within our financial limitations we shall continue our policy of strength through quality and hitting power, rather than sacrifice this in an attempt to achieve weight of numbers. For example, because of the immensely improved cannon which the Hunter and the Swift will carry, the rate at which the day fighter force as a whole will be able to hurl high explosive against the enemy will be increased by more than nine times in the coming year.

Moreover, the quality and the hitting power we aim at must be instantly available if war comes. Traditionally, this country has depended on time to bring its industrial strength to bear in war, but it would be vain indeed to delude ourselves that in a future war we could buy time. Right from the outset our survival would depend on our readiness during the first days of war. The Prime Minister has already said that in a future war the main decisions might come within the first month, or even within the first few days.

I think we must be careful not to misunderstand what has been said about the possibility of a period of "broken-backed war." We could only play our part in such a war provided we had surmounted the first shock successfully, so we first have to do everything possible to prevent a war happening and to prepare to take the shock of it if it comes. That is the urgent and the essential thing and it must be our No. 1 priority.

We must also plan for the state of affairs which might arise if war is prolonged beyond the intense opening phase, but our needs for these two possibilities are by no means mutually exclusive. Indeed, preparation for the first phase includes a great deal vital to the second —it is a question of priorities and putting first things first.

But quality and readiness are expensive in money and in skilled manpower and we have to make sacrifices to achieve them. We must concentrate on what will be of immediate use to us on the outbreak of war, and do without a lot of things which are not. For example, we are having to reduce the number of reserve aircrew we keep under training and to give up the attempt to train in peace-time those who cannot be brought up to operational standard until well after the war has started. This helps us to pay for providing, in the squadrons and outside them, larger numbers of aircrew who will be fully trained and ready to take their part in the battle.

That brings me to the subject of regular aircrew and to the personnel side of the picture which is every bit as important as the equipment side. By the end of the present financial year, we shall have trained 2,800 pilots, navigators and air signallers compared with 2,900 during the previous year. Once more, we are most grateful to the Canadian Government, who will have trained about 260 pilots and 600 navigators out of this total.

However, we are still having great difficulty in finding enough aircrew of the high quality we need. Unfortunately, the rate at which candidates for aircrew training have been coming forward during the past year has dropped from 14,000 in 1952 to 7,000 in 1953. It has halved. This is a serious position and, unless there is a considerable improvement, we shall not have the numbers of trained aircrew that we need in two years' time.

It is difficult to say with absolute certainty whether one factor more than another is responsible for this decline. It may be that the attractions and the opportunities in the Royal Air Force are still not well enough appreciated, or perhaps there is a mistaken view that manned aircraft are already on their way out, which is certainly not true. The guided weapon will supplement the piloted aircraft, but it is unlikely that it will ever supplant it.

I think the main reason may be that the Royal Air Force, in common with the other Services, is in keen competition with industry, commerce and the professions for the young men of the very high quality that it needs today, and this is the problem to which we must direct our energies.

It would be no answer to relax our standards. Four or five men in a V-class bomber will be in control of one of the most intricate, powerful and expensive products of the aircraft industry and might, in war, have the opportunity to turn the tide of events within a few hours by their ability, courage, fitness and resource.

One of the chief problems my noble Friend and I face today, therefore, is to get enough of the young men who are blessed with these qualities into the Royal Air Force. We have taken several definite steps to try to persuade them to come in. First of all, we have introduced the Cranwell Scholarship Scheme, which I told the House about last November. The first response to the scheme has been good but it is too early to make a final judgment. For the first competition we had over 300 applications and these came from 216 different schools of all types and from all over Great Britain. We are planning for 40 per cent, of the future vacancies at Cranwell each year to be filled by these boys.

Secondly, we have revised our old short service commissioning policy. For a start, we intend to change the name "short service commission," which is now a misnomer. It immediately suggests a temporary job for a few years, after which one has to start looking round for something else. This is not true now, and under our revised policy will be even less true in future years. Before the war, when the needs of the R.A.F. were much smaller and economic conditions in this country were different, the short service commissioning scheme served us exceedingly well and produced valuable officers many of whom are still serving.

Today, however, things are different. The youth of today, and his parents, rightly take the long view. If he knows that he has ability and the other qualities I mentioned he expects a worthwhile career and he wants to start on it as soon as possible. The Royal Air Force has such a career to offer, and we have now modified our plans to ensure that any young officer joining the Service can take the fullest possible advantage of it.

In future, all officers coming into the General Duties Branch, except through Cranwell or the universities, will come in initially on a 12-year direct entry commission. That is what we shall call it in future. They can, if they want to, leave the service any time after eight years, but most of those who want to transfer to a permanent commission will be able to do so, either in the General Duties Branch or in one of the other branches, and they will have excellent opportunities to make a good and a useful career.

Exactly how good a career will depend, as in any other profession, on their ability, but they will all get retired pay at the end of it. Those who want to go out after their 12th year will get a £3,000 tax-free gratuity to help them resettle in civil life. In this way, we hope to attract more high quality officers while, at the same time, raising the general level of experience, and making a considerable saving in training costs. Thirdly, as the House knows, increases in pay are being given to the middle rank officers who are likely to be the hardest pressed by family responsibilities.

Turning now to ground personnel, our total numbers are just about equal to establishment, but there is still a lack of balance between the various trades and a general lack of experience amongst our advanced tradesmen. I am glad to say that during the past year, we have managed to improve the balance a little, but we still have a long way to go.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

Would the hon. Gentleman clear up the point whether this £3,000 is to include the amount that was payable under the arrangement for short-term commissions?

Mr. Ward

If a man goes out after eight years he receives £1,500. If he goes out after 12 years he gets £3,000 and the amount is graded in between.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

How old will he be then?

Mr. Ward

I was saying that we have managed to improve the balance a little, but we still have a long way to go. We have, therefore, considered most carefully how to persuade the Regulars we have, and particularly the apprentice-trained men on 12-year engagements, to extend their service or to re-engage.

Under the measures announced in the White Paper on Service Emoluments, we shall now be able to offer our N. C. Os. and technicians greater inducements to prolong their service and to give greater recognition to long service, skill and experience. These new measures will, I hope, help to counter the pull of civil life and not only persuade more of our Regular tradesmen to stay on, but encourage some of the experienced Regulars who have gone out to come back to a worthwhile career in the Royal Air Force.

There will be increases in pay ranging from 3s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. a day for advanced tradesmen—technicians, N.C. Os. and warrant officers—engaged in the servicing of aircraft and air equipment; and increases ranging from 2s. and 4s. a day for other advanced tradesmen and for N.C. Os. for lesser trade skill. Furthermore, so that all ranks will receive some tangible benefit to encourage them to remain on in the Service, the existing increments of 6d. a day paid after five and 10 years' service will be increased to 1s. a day in each case.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

Has the hon. Gentleman examined how these improvements compare with improvements that have been introduced in the other Services? I understand that they are supposed to be on all fours, but close examination reveals that one Service appears to come out of it rather better than the Royal Air Force. The hon. Gentleman can guess which one.

Mr. Ward

Our attention has been drawn to what I understand is an error in the White Paper which shows that an Army warrant officer receives a good deal more than a Royal Air Force warrant officer. In fact, that is not so. It only appears to be so because the Army have added something which we also give, but which we have not shown in the figures. I assure the hon. Member that it is only an error in the White Paper.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Ought we not to have another White Paper?

Mr. Ward

There is not much time before five o'clock.

In addition to these pay increases, four new measures are being introduced which will improve the career of technicians within the 1950 trades structure. First, a new rank of master technician has been approved and these master technicians will be employed in selected posts which need a high degree of technical ability and experience. Secondly, there will be more rapid promotion in the lower technician ranks. Until now it has taken a junior technician 15 years to reach the rank of chief technician. Now he ought to be able to do it in 12.

Thirdly, an airman who can qualify for the rank of junior technician on entering the Service will be eligible for promotion to corporal technician after two years. Finally, a small number of specially selected aircraft apprentices will be trained to corporal technician standard and may be promoted to that rank after one year's productive service at a unit.

The present schemes for re-enlistment, extension and re-engagement bounties are being continued until further notice and, in addition, we shall give a new bounty of £100, also tax free, to certain specially valuable men who undertake to serve on after the 22-year point until the age of 55. A re-engagement bounty of £75 will also be given to airwomen with effect from 1st April next.

The number of women joining the Women's Royal Air Force is still top low. It is difficult to understand why this should be, because the R.A.F. offers such a wide variety of interesting jobs for women. We should like to double our present intake. We have done our best and we hope that the pay increases, which will, of course, apply proportionately to the Women's Service while the re-engagement bounty of £75 applies, and the new Victor Stiebel uniform will attract some more recruits.

Mr. Shinwell

Why not make men more interesting?

Mr. Ward

I am sorry that this is rather like an Air Ministry order, but it is important.

I have already touched on Reserve aircrew. As the House knows, the new concept of the probable nature of a future war and our need to concentrate our resources mainly on the things which will be of immediate use to us on the outbreak of war, means that we can only afford to give refresher training to those aircrew reservists who have qualified operationally and who have not been long off operational flying and, also, that means that this training must be done at Service units.

For ground reservists we are about to introduce a scheme of Reserve flights under which officers and airmen will be allotted to specific R.A.F. stations at home, which will generally be their wartime stations and at which they will do their training in peace-time. The merits of this scheme are that we shall be able to call up reservists more quickly in an emergency, that the stations concerned will be able to operate on a full war footing during major exercises and that reservists will get to know their war stations under conditions which they will find on mobilisation.

It will also mean that we shall call up and give useful training to perhaps twice as many reservists as we trained this year. Each of these Reserve flights will include all classes of the reserve, volunteers, ex-Regulars and National Service men, and it will be identified by name with its war station. As far as possible, members of these flights will be drawn from reservists living reasonably near their war station.

We hope, by this scheme, to build up an esprit de corps among reservists and to increase their interest in the work and social activities of the station to which they will belong. But, to ensure the complete success of the scheme, we shall need a number of skilled reservists who no longer have any training liability—for example, Class G reservists—and we shall make a special appeal to them to join the R.A.F.V.R. and do some continuous training with Reserve flights.

Plans are also being made, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence told the House, on Tuesday, for a number of reservists who will not be needed for Royal Air Force duties immediately on mobilisation, to be trained in Civil Defence duties and to be mobilised for Civil Defence duties in an emergency.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

What is to happen to the other National Service reservists who have a Reserve liability and are not to be called up for Civil Defence training? Do we understand that only 30,000 at a maximum are to be called on for Reserve training and the rest escape their Reserve liability?

Mr. Ward

I have just announced this new Reserve flight scheme. I do not want to mislead the hon. Member by saying that we shall be able to call up 100 per cent. Class H reservists. As far as I can see, it will be 70 per cent, more Class H and 30 per cent, more Class E reservists. The other point to remember is that this Reserve flight scheme is being introduced in four phases. I am talking now only about phases 1 and 2. There will be phases 3 and 4 coming after, with which I am not concerned for the purposes of the coming year. I am not quite sure what it will add up to. The hon. Member is quite right in saying that there will be a substantial number of Class H reservists still left and not called up, but that is a matter which I hope we can debate separately and not now.

To sum up the second part of my speech, we have still got our difficulties both in aircrew and long-term Regular airmen, but we hope that the measures which I have described will go a long way towards improving the position in the future. In these manning problems it is vital to anticipate events and to see the dangers ahead and this we have tried to do. Meanwhile, we are by no means despondent. The work of the Royal Air Force has not suffered unduly up to date and the hours flown by all operational squadrons have increased during the year toy 20 per cent. Taking jet aircraft alone, the flying hours have increased by 40 per cent, and the fatal jet accident rate has decreased by 26 per cent. This continues a satisfactory trend: the jet accident rate has been steadily decreasing since jet aircraft came into service and the decrease between 1947 and 1953 has been 58 per cent.

Never in military history can there have been a situation in which the pace of the technical development of weapons has placed so great a premium upon judgment and imagination than is the case in air power today. To be prepared over a long period means that much money and effort must be devoted to research and development. It is imperative that we should retain a strong technical lead at all costs. Only in this way can we offset our smaller numbers.

We must look ahead as far as possible when we are planning our requirements. Naturally, the further we look the greater must be the element of conjecture, but already we can see a pattern of requirements for the next 10 years or so taking shape. Developments in both aerodynamics and engine design on which we are now working give promise of advances in performance far beyond those which we thought likely even a year ago.

We intend to take the fullest advantage of these developments to plan our defences along the right lines. They are essentially based on the fact that with the achievement of supersonic flight, performance can be increased so much that the kinetic heat generated at these high speeds can become a dominating factor. Beyond the sound barrier one can already see the heat barrier.

We shall soon have a glimpse of the next generation of fighters and be able to demonstrate an aircraft capable of supersonic speed in level flight. As I have already told the House, the 20 pre-production aircraft we have ordered should help us to perfect this new fighter as quickly as possible and to develop all the ancillary and electronic equipment necessary to make it into an effective fighting weapon.

The development of supersonic flight will, in due course, bring with it the problems of metallurgy and kinetic heating which I have mentioned, and it is only by studying these that we can get a clearer picture of the ultimate limits of manned aircraft. We may well find that these limits are very high and that in the same way as the sound barrier has been overcome so we can overcome the problems of the heat barrier.

The introduction of guided weapons. both offensive and defensive, will obviously be affected by what we think are the ultimate limits of manned flight but we shall certainly need weapons to meet the diverse problems of protecting the United Kingdom against a supersonic attack in whatever way it might be launched. We want ground-to-air weapons which will not need a lot of expensive sites all over the country and which will have all the flexibility of the fighter. Indeed, the performance and rate of climb of future fighters with their new equipment will be such that they will be virtually piloted, guided weapons and we hope to devise a system of defence capable of handling both types.

The House will have noticed that throughout my speech I have returned over and over again to the importance of quality. I have done so deliberately because I think quality must be the key-note of any general summary of the Royal Air Force today. The front line strength is still increasing, but it is now generally true that the main emphasis is on rearming with the most up-to-date aircraft and their associated equipment. The various types of aircraft which have come into our squadrons over the last year or so have paved the way for building up a well-found modern Air Force. Now we are reaching the stage when, by the highest technical standards and within our economic ability, we can look forward to seeing the results of our longer range plans.

There will still be difficulties to be overcome, but not greater than those which we have successfully overcome before. The Royal Air Force has lived a life of continual change since it was formed in 1918, and succeeding generations have bred flexibly-minded officers, well able to handle both the operational and Air Staff problems of the Service. They are quite used to new obstacles.

I have touched briefly on some of the main problems both human and technical, which face us at the present time. We set our sights high and we insist on bringing the latest results of research and development into use wherever they can improve the effectiveness of our defence. We ask for officers and men of a quality which matches the best of our equipment. Thus, in a way, we set ourselves some of our most difficult problems.

But I do not think that the House would have it otherwise, for if we accepted lower standards we should be failing to recognise the part which air power can play in world affairs and failing in our duty to provide, within our resources, an Air Force which is not only worthy of the men and women who serve in it but a powerful influence for peace and freedom.

Mr. Shackleton

I thought the hon. Gentleman was proposing to refer again to a particular point which he had said he did not wish to debate fully now. I do not think that the House is clear about the facts that he gave them. Can he tell us what percentage or what numbers of Class H Reserve are to be employed on Reserve duties; in other words, how many will be called up each year? We gather that there is some increase. The hon. Gentleman referred to Class G, which is not the point at issue; it is Class H.

Mr. Ward

I did not refer to Class G but to Class E. I was referring to the Reserve flight scheme and I said that phases 1 and 2 of that scheme would enable us to call up about 70 per cent, more Class H men and 30 per cent, more Class E men than were called up this year. Hon. Members can work it out for themselves. If we called up 8,000 this year, I think the figure was 8,000—

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

It was 8,500.

Mr. Ward

Then we should call up 70 per cent. more. Then there are phases 3 and 4 to come and Civil Defence in addition to that.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does the Minister accept any responsibility at all for guided missiles?

Mr. Ward

Of course I do, but at present they are at a stage where they are still the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

I should like, first, to congratulate the Under-Secretary on making a safe landing, because I happen to know that he is having trouble with his vocal engine. He has certainly carried through his task with his usual grace and courtesy.

Since we debated the Air Estimates last year the Government, for the first time, have faced the country clearly and unequivocally with the fact that another world war would involve the use of atomic weapons of all kinds. In the terms of the White Paper atomic attacks would be made, lasting a relatively short time, but inflicting great destruction and damage. In these circumstances the White Paper rightly stresses the vital rôle of the Royal Air Force in national defence. It also rightly stresses that our defence policy is based on the prevention rather than the waging of war and that in the task of preventing war the Air Force has the major deterrent rôle.

If the Royal Air Force is to carry out its responsibility fully and effectively I suggest that the country must face up to the following essential conditions. First, the springboard for enemy attack must be kept as far as possible from the shores of this country. Secondly, we must have a powerful bomber force. Thirdly, we must have powerful fighter forces available both in the United Kingdom and in Western Europe. Fourthly, there must be effective and comprehensive radar cover both across Western Europe and round our own shores so that we can get the maximum warning of enemy approach. Fifthly, we must not lag behind in the design, development and provision of guided missiles for defensive purposes.

On the first condition, looking at it from the point of view of air defence, the N.A.T.O. active forces in Western Europe are a vital factor. They constitute not only a barrier, but provide that additional degree of early warning which is most important to our air defence. On the second condition, I agree that a strong and efficient force of medium jet bombers, as the White Paper says, is of the greatest importance both for our own security and for the defence of Western Europe.

In this connection I cannot understand the phraseology used in paragraph 11 of the Defence White Paper. It says: The primary deterrent, however, remains the atomic bomb and the ability of the highly organised and trained United States strategic air power to use it. Then come the words which I find it difficult to comprehend: From our past experience and current knowledge we have a significant contribution to make both to the technical and to the tactical development of strategic air power. If it were only a question of our past experience and current knowledge, surely, that could have been placed at the disposal of N.A.T.O. without our having to build up a separate and very expensive medium bomber force of our own. The real reason why a bomber force is an essential element in our national defence is much more cogent and substantial than the one indicated in the White Paper.

While the fullest co-operation of the United States Air Strategic Command is essential to N.A.T.O. air strategy, there must be targets such as V1 and V2 sites which we might consider to be of the highest priority—especially if from those sites VIs and V2s are being hurled on our cities—but those targets might not have the same priority in the overall air strategic plan.

During the last war there were legitimate differences between us and our American allies both about bombing priorities and strategic concept. There was the difference between the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt and between British and American war leaders about whether we should strike at what was called, in the graphic words of the Prime Minister, the "underbelly of the Axis." They were legitimate differences, and we must face the fact that, if ever the catastrophe occurred again, those differences might recur.

Moreover, the United States Strategic Air Force may well have become so deeply involved elsewhere that it could not afford to take on targets which it would be vital, in the interests of our national security at any rate, to attack from the air. I do not think that we should put all our bombing eggs into the copious American basket. But while I consider that we must build up our own strong and efficient medium bomber force, equally I consider that its number should be related to our economic capacity and to the fact that there will be alongside it this powerful strategic United States bomber force.

In any event, the days when we saw the skies filled with 1,000 bombers from Bomber Command are past. It may be that in the atomic age they are unnecessary. The Under-Secretary referred to the expensive V bombers which cost about £500,000 each—perhaps a little less or more, according to the fluctuation of prices. These bombers, even if relatively small in number—perhaps 100 or 200—would have a much greater weight of attack than 1,000 bombers had in the last war. Even if this were not so, in assessing the numbers of medium jet bombers that we require we must take into account the numbers which will be available in the United States Strategic Air Command.

I should like to refer to the decision to return the Washington. I am not happy about it. I have never been happy about it. I do not disagree with the reason given by the Under-Secretary why we returned these bombers. It was intended that we should have this mixed force of Lincolns and Washingtons, which would begin to drop in numbers as we received the V bombers.

We have not yet received the V bombers and we have got rid of a fair number of squadrons—a substantial number, to use the jargon which I used in my time and which the hon. Gentleman insists on using today—of Washington bombers. It is true that they are obsolescent B29s, but they are just as good as the T.U.4 which the Russians possess and which is merely a copy of the B.29, perhaps with some improvement. The hon. Gentleman knows my views. Even though we are glad to know that the international tension is lessening, I think it was a great mistake for us at this time to weaken our bomber force before we had received our V bombers.

I know that we have a strong force of Canberras, but they are light bombers which have not the performance even though they have greater speed. I can only hope that the optimism shown by the Minister of Supply is justified. I wel- come the statement he made recently and I hope that we can reduce the period by what I understood to be about 12 months. I hope he is right. He knows more about recent developments than I do, but I was a little surprised to hear that statement. If we have to build up this primary deterrent as our contribution to the medium jet bomber forces of N.A.T.O., the sooner we get the V bombers into squadron service the better. On the other hand—

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I just want to make it clear that in the statement that I made a few days ago, I was not talking about the V bombers. The V bombers are already in production, so there is no question of cutting short their development period. That is very largely past. I was talking about supersonic fighters, and the fighters of the future.

Mr. Henderson

I accept that, of course, but it does not affect my point that during this interregnum the V bombers are not likely to be in service in any numbers for some little time, and that, in the meantime, we have got rid of our Washingtons.

On the other hand, I am doubtful whether a powerful bomber force is likely, necessarily, to have an increasing effect on the cold war by making less likely events such as Korea, as stated in paragraph 12 of the White Paper.

I hope it will be so, but it must be remembered that the American superiority in atomic weapons did not stop the Korean war. Indeed, atomic bombing would have been opposed by most of America's allies on the ground that it would have resulted in an extension of the war. In my view, it is one thing to have the power to launch the massive, retaliatory attacks referred to by Mr. Foster Dulles, and quite another to take the decision to use them, especially in connection with a local conflict.

I now pass to the third point, the need for a powerful modern and efficient fighter force based partly in Europe under N.A.T.O., and partly in the United Kingdom. Just as our ground forces are our first line of defence in Western Europe so, I suggest, from the point of view of air defence, is the existence of the allied air forces in the northern, central and southern sections, and the more effective its co-operation with the fighter forces of our allies, the greater will be the security of our own country.

None the less, it is vital that our home-based fighter strength shall have the numbers and the quality of machines to which the hon. Gentleman referred in order to constitute an effective shield against enemy bombers. There, again, N.A.T.O. plays an important part in our national security. Many people who are supposed to be experts make the mistake, when writing in magazines and newspapers, of assessing the potential strength of the air forces of this country, and, indeed, of the land and sea forces of this country, without having regard to the overall pattern of N.A.T.O. defence, of which we form a part.

It is no secret, for example, that American fighter squadrons, equipped with the latest fighters, are stationed in this country today and form part of its air defences. There is no doubt that in an emergency their numbers will be considerably increased. Therefore, in dealing with fighters and bombers, we must constantly bear in mind the contribution being made in these respects by our American allies. If it were ever proposed to withdraw these squadrons, then, in my view—and as I have said on previous occasions—this country would be faced either with inadequate defence forces or with even greater expenditure than it faces today.

We have been told by the Undersecretary that this year will see a steady increase in the rate of re-equipment with Swifts and Hunters. I understood him to say—and I hope he will not mind my saying that this was the only piece of information in the whole of his speech— that the night fighter strength would be doubled. This is most disappointing. It is three years since they were ordered, and it is evident that the policy of super-priority has not been as effective as the Government expected.

Another matter which has received a great deal of publicity in recent months— I am not interested in a particular type of plane or in those responsible for it— and in which our European allies are taking a great deal of interest, is the question of a light fighter.

Mr. Sandys

Light fighter?

Mr. Henderson

Yes, sometimes described as a light fighter-bomber. N.A.T.O.'s interest, I believe, is due to the fact that this year there will be two British types flying.

Mr. Shackleton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the Minister of Supply what a light fighter is? Obviously, he has not the faintest idea.

Mr. Sandys

I do not think it is necessary for the hon. Gentleman to interrupt in that way. I was not quite sure whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman said "light" or "night" fighter. That was the only difficulty.

Mr. Henderson

If we are all agreed about it, perhaps we can now get on.

N.A.T.O.'s interest in a small jet fighter, smaller, lighter, cheaper and faster than the heavier modern jet fighter, is due, I understand, to the fact that its principal role would be ground attack, although its projected performance would seem to indicate that it might well be a formidable weapon against bombers.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

If we have any.

Mr. Henderson

I express no view as to what would happen in combat with heavier fighters like the MIGs, but, obviously, in a mixed fighter force, we should have to have heavier fighter types as well. The great advantage of this fighter is that its cost is only about one-third that of the Hunter. I understand that its landing run would be about one-third of that required for a heavy jet fighter, about 1,000 yards, or less, as against 3,000 yards required for the heavier type, and that whereas the heavier fighter requires a concrete runway costing hundreds of thounsands of pounds, such a light fighter could be flown from temporary landing grounds using, perhaps, the P.S.P. type of wire matting which was so successfully used during the Berlin airlift.

Another great advantage is that it takes only about one-third of the time to produce. According to the information given by those responsible for these two designs, I understand that delivery could be made in large quantities in a much shorter time than that required for heavier types. It has been suggested that they could be produced by 1956 at the rate of 50 a month.

Could not some of this £80 million, which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence told us the other day is to be received from America, be earmarked for the provision of this light type of fighter? I am not expecting the Under-Secretary to commit the Government today on matters of this sort, but I would earnestly impress upon him the desirability and the importance of the Air Ministry, in association with our other allies of N.A.T.O. and with our American friends, considering the merits or otherwise of this light fighter. As I say, there can be no question of it superseding the heavy fighter, but it is certainly a proposition worthy of the most serious consideration.

During the defence debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said that the United States Government were placing orders to the value of £40 million for aircraft and ammunition during the current financial year. This, he said, would enable us to increase the front line of the Royal Air Force beyond what we could have managed out of our own resources. In particular, we shall be able to impose materially our support for General Gruenther and our contribution to the air forces under his command.

Does this mean that orders will now be placed to the value of £196 million as against the £156 million set out in Vote 7 of the Estimates? Are the aircraft provided by the Americans to go to the 2nd Tactical Air Force or are they to be reserved for building up Fighter Command? Will the Under-Secretary undertake to give consideration to using a proportion of this money to order the light fighter if it is considered a good proposition?

The fourth condition to which I referred was the need for effective radar cover to provide ample warning. It is a trite saying that radar constitutes the eyes of any air force, and it is of the greatest importance that we should be satisfied that there is effective radar cover right across from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean. I know that this is a national responsibility, that our own responsibility is restricted to the radar cover that we consider essential in Western Germany, which I imagine is mostly therefore of a mobile character. Is the Under-Secretary satisfied that good progress is being made in the provision of static radar stations which are essential if we are to have this effective cover right across Europe? In other words, is there any air defence at all that is of any practical value?

Speaking of the United Kingdom, is any progress being made in finding a counter to low flying? We know that the equipment that was in use during the last war was not able to counter low flying. We also know that it was possible for enemy aircraft to come in from the north and the west across the sea. Are any steps being taken to establish an effective radar cover on the sea? Has consideration been given to the provision of radar ships? These are vital matters which can only be dealt with on occasions like this, and I should like the Under-Secretary to make a statement. I do not want merely a general statement that everything is going along very nicely; I should like him to deal with some of these specific points. Is the Department considering measures for covering the sea approaches to this country, as well as the approaches across Europe itself? I suggest that radar ships might be well worth considering.

The fifth condition to which I referred was the need for guided missiles. The importance of electronics has been stressed before, and I do not wish to stress it again. We are told that guided weapons have reached an advanced stage of development, that our air-to-air weapons will be first to come into service, and that the ground-to-air weapons will follow. But it is also said that they will not arrive in numbers for some years. Can we be told something about the position of the supply of rockets and pilot-less planes? We are told that the American Air Force has several squadrons of what they call Matadors—V.1s or pilot-less planes—and presumably the Russian Air Force also has a supply of them.

Are we working on an antidote? I imagine that we have not one as yet, but I should like to know whether we are working on an antidote to the V.1 and the V.2. We must all accept the fact that there is no absolute defence against some of these modern forms of attack, but what is expected of this or any other Government is the assurance that everything possible is being done to develop as great a degree of defence as possible.

Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)

I have been following my right hon. and learned Friend's argument very closely. He has listed five conditions, and in each case he has referred to deficiencies and asked for increases in expenditure. Is he in favour of increases or decreases in this Estimate?

Mr. Henderson

I have not said anything about increases or decreases. What I have postulated are the essential basic conditions for building up an adequate system of air defence, both active and passive. I have not sought to translate it into terms of finance, and I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman should go out of his way to try to put me in a position of taking a line which he knows I do not intend to take.

Mr. S. Silverman


Mr. Henderson

The veil of secrecy which I was accused of putting up in 1951 has, I am afraid, become an iron curtain, solid and impenetrable, because there has been nothing in the Under-Secretary's speech this afternoon which has given us any indication of the front line strength of the Royal Air Force, except his statement that the night fighter force has been doubled.

The Memorandum states: During the coming year there will again be an increase in the size and effectiveness of the front line of the Royal Air Force… The re-equipment and expansion of Bomber Command will continue during the next 12 months… Coastal Command's re-equipment and expansion has continued. Further expansion will take place in the coming year… The 2nd Tactical Air Force on the Continent … is completing its re-equipment with Venom fighter/ground attack aircraft in place of Vampires. … Transport Command is carrying on its diverse tasks. Last year, when I referred to the Under-Secretary's failure to be more forthcoming, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), who I am sorry to see is not in his place—[hon. members: "He is ill."] I am sorry; I did not know that. He interrupted me on the ground that the Under-Secretary had been in office for only 18 months. He and his colleagues have now been in office for 30 months. Surely the time has now come when they should give the House and the country some indication of the build-up of the Royal Air Force.

Will the hon. Gentleman not follow the example that I set in my last Estimates speech, in 1951? True, I dealt with percentages, but this is an example which could be followed by the Under-Secretary. I said: …it may be of some assistance to the House if I relate the present fighter strength to the fighter strength of the Royal Air Force in 1939. On this basis I can say that its world-wide fighter strength is already today greater than it was in September, 1939…. I do not see that there is anything funny about this. The Secretary of State for War seems to think it is a joke. He should wait until I say a few more words, and then he will see whether it is a joke. I also said: I would say that the present front-line strength of the Royal Air Force is more than half as great again than it was when I first presented my Air Estimates in March, 1948."—[official report, 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 243.] I am putting forward a serious argument. I know the figures, the right hon. Gentleman knows the figures, and he knows that what I am saying is correct. I said that the front line strength of the Royal Air Force in 1951 was half as great again as it was in 1948 when I first went to the Air Ministry. Surely the Minister could work out a percentage and tell us how much greater it is in 1954 than it was in 1951.

Mr. Ward

It would be very misleading if we did that. I tried to make it clear in my speech that we were concentrating on what I called strength through hitting power and quality, rather than strength through mere numbers. Numbers today as compared with numbers in 1939 would be meaningless, and hitting power could not be shown in that way.

Mr. Henderson

I am prepared to agree, having regard to the greater performance and speed of the Hunter or the Swift as against the Vampire or the Meteor, that the odds are very much in favour of the Hunter or the Swift. I think, however, that it would be some advantage to us to know.

The Under-Secretary of State has been quite frank about the fact that some of the bombers and fighters that were ordered in the time of the Labour Government are only now just coming to the squadrons. In the four years since the rearmament programme started the country has provided something like £500 million for the production of aircraft. In spite of the slow delivery of Hunters, Swifts and Valiants this is a vast expenditure even allowing for under-spending, and I should have thought that it must have produced considerable numbers of aircraft of one kind or another, even allowing for the slowing down for the reasons stated by the Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. S. Silverman

Would my right hon. and learned Friend allow me to put a question to him? I assure him that I ask it in all friendliness, and with no desire to embarrass. He and I the day before yesterday, and all of us on this side, voted against the Government's Statement on Defence on an Amendment which said in express terms that the Government were spending too much. It is not an unfair thing to ask my right hon. and learned Friend to say, before be concludes his speech, whether the Air Estimates ought to make a contribution to any reduction, and, if they ought to make such a contribution, what the contribution ought to be.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman can draw his own conclusion from this statement: whatever may be the position with regard to the total of all the Service Estimates I am not satisfied that we have yet reached the peak point of expenditure if we wish to have an adequate Air Force and adequate air defence. It is possible to say that without contradiction of that Amendment. The Army Estimates and the Navy Estimates can be reduced, perhaps, but I am speaking now from the air point of view. I said last year that sooner or later some Government in this country would have to grasp the nettle of the allocation of finance between the three Services. It does not means that because we have not reached the ceiling of expenditure on the Royal Air Force we necesarily want to raise the sum total of all defence expenditure. There must be an allocation within what the sum total is.

Mr. Silverman

I am quite content. We can wait for a contribution from my right hon. and learned Friend or others of my right hon. Friends when we come to the Estimates for the other two Services.

Mr. Henderson

Fair enough, and the hon. Gentleman can put the same question to them.

I was interested in the statement of the Under-Secretary of State about the provision of the £3,000 bounty for aircrew. Pilots and navigators, I take it. And after 12 years' service. Here, again, I must be critical. It was a great mistake to stop the training of National Service men as pilots and navigators. In 1950 to 1951 we were working on the assumption that, broadly speaking, the training of National Service men would give us the requisite number of aircrews, pilots and navigators. Those I came across were extremely good, compared very favourably, except in experience, of course, with their Regular counterparts. One of the difficulties that the Royal Air Force has today is the shortage of pilots and navigators because it ceased to train those young National Service men, and that was a great mistake.

I very much welcome the increases in pay for tradesmen that were announced in the White Paper issued by the Minister of Defence, but I am quite sure that the Under-Secretary of State would be the first to agree that even increases of pay are not in themselves the solution to the problem of ensuring a happy and contented Service. We have to consider not only increases of pay but also the problems arising out of too many postings, and the failure to get married quarters, and all those troubles and worries of many serving men, officers and other ranks, about securing adequate education of their children. All these problems are of equal importance with the problem of pay, and should be so treated if we are seeking to build up the Regular content of the Royal Air Force, or indeed, of the other two Services.

As to the reservists, the impression I got from the Under-Secretary was that in addition to the 30,000 to be employed by the mobile columns of Civil Defence the best part of another 20,000 would be called up for training in these special training flights. If my arithmetic is correct it rather looks to me as if out of 140,000 National Service reservists in the G and H Reserves the Air Ministry is catering for only about 50,000.

Mr. Ward

I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to get it wrong. His figure of 140,000 includes, I think, Class G men, and so on.

but his figure of the best half of 20,000 is only of H Class men, so he is not comparing like with like.

Mr. Henderson

The H Class men, the National Service two-year men, who have served two years and passed into the H Reserve, have been coming in for what is now the fourth year. Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree with me that the number of reservists in the H Class must be well over 100,000?

Mr. Ward


Mr. Henderson

Well over 100,000.

Mr. Swingler

It is 124,000.

Mr. Henderson

Yes. I said, well over 100,000.

I am suggesting that even if one is generous in one's computation the mobile columns and the special training flights cater for not more than 50,000. Indeed, some of those going into the training flights, as I said, were volunteers from the D Reserve, which has nothing to do with National Service. I ask the Undersecretary of State to correct me if I am wrong, but I am suggesting that with the various proposals the Air Ministry is catering for, roughly, and at the most, 50,000, including those in the mobile columns, out of, roughly, 130,000. Is that right?

Mr. Ward

If we are talking only about the H Class and nobody else, that is probably about right.

Mr. Henderson

Yes. It is a very important point because it is quite impossible, in my view, to justify a situation in which Army reservists are compelled to do their part-time training while those who are fortunate enough to be put into the Royal Air Force do no training at all, and I think the Government will have to face up to this problem. I know it is no use calling people up just to kick their heels about on a station, but there is this problem that in the National Service Act, 1948, we imposed a liability for call up to the Armed Forces of the Crown.

Section 1 lays it down that that includes service in an auxiliary force. In Section 34 is the definition of "auxiliary force." I do not think that this ought to be settled merely on legal grounds, but I imagine that the Government are going to bring in amending legislation, are they not? I can find nothing in the 1948 Act or any subsequent Act that justifies the transfer of these National Service men to the mobile columns of Civil Defence.

Mr. Wigg

About the 30,000, when they have been called up for mobile training, are they to be called up every year afterwards—the same 30,000? Are the H Class men to be called up every year, and the same 30,000 to get training, and then 17,000 or 20,000 more of the Class H men?

Mr. Ward

I can certainly answer for the Class H men in the Reserve flights. I am not quite sure about the Civil Defence point. Perhaps hon. Members will leave the matter there for the moment and allow it to be dealt with at the end of the debate.

Mr. Henderson

Is a firm undertaking being given on behalf of the Government —I hope there will be no dubiety on this point—that it is intended to introduce legislation to amend the National Service Acts?

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

There will be amending legislation.

Mr. Henderson


Mr. Birch

During the present Session, I hope.

Mr. Henderson

Finally, I wish to express a personal view. I am extremely doubtful whether another world war would be restricted to conventional weapons. I do not believe that either side would accept defeat by conventional weapons and not use any atomic weapons that might be in their possession. In my view, therefore, there will either be atomic war or no war at all.

If there is atomic war, then, as is stated in the White Paper, the backs of both sides will be broken in a relatively short time, and it is difficult to see how any nation with its back broken could carry on any war, conventional or otherwise. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that the West should develop, within its economic capacity, its deterrent force to the point at which it will really be an effective deterrent. We can then hope that no nation will contemplate or undertake aggression that will lead to a world war in which its back will be broken, that all Governments will be prepared to settle their disputes peaceably and that an international, all-in system of security will be established which will speedily get rid of the crippling burden of armaments.

Meanwhile, in building up the Royal Air Force, we are forging a vital contribution to Western defence, an instrument—this is agreed and accepted by both sides of the House—not to make war but to prevent war. While I agree with the Prime Minister in seeking peace through strength, in my view world peace will be built on surer and more enduring foundations if it rests on the pillars of mutual confidence, friendship and cooperation rather than on amassing weapons of destruction and threatening the very foundations of our world society.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)

I am very glad to have been called so early in the debate. It gives me the opportunity of paying my tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air for the most competent and lucid way in which he presented his statement. The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) said that it was time the House had a statement about the progress of the Royal Air Force. We have had a very fine statement this afternoon, and, on behalf of my hon. Friends as well as myself, I thank the Under-Secretary for it.

In the first part of his speech, the Under-Secretary dealt with what might be described as the material side of the Royal Air Force, that dealing with equipment and technical and scientific development. In the second part he passed to the personnel side and the difficulties there.

I was very surprised and not a little shocked when I heard my hon. Friend refer to the tremendous drop which has taken place in the numbers entering the Royal Air Force as aircrew during the last 12 months. If I noted his figures correctly, in 1952 14,000 entered the Service for aircrew duties and in 1953 7,000. The Under-Secretary went on to say that, unless there was an improvement, there would not be sufficient aircrew two years from now.

Mr. Ward

Might I get the records straight? I said that candidates coming forward for aircrew duties have dropped from 14,000 to 7,000. That is slightly different from referring to them as those who are entering. The proportions are not the same.

Mr. Taylor

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that explanation. Apparently, the position is not quite so bad as I imagined it was.

Mr. Shackleton

Would the hon. Member for Bradford, North be kind enough to repeat what his hon. Friend has said, because the Under-Secretary directed his remarks towards him and I did not hear what he said?

Mr. Ward

I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I will say it again. I merely pointed out that what I said was that the candidates coming forward for aircrew duties had dropped from 14,000 to 7,000 and that that was slightly different from saying that they were the ones who had been accepted.

Mr. Taylor

We were thrilled to hear about the tremendous progress that is being made in the supply of equipment and aircraft. The story that we heard made us feel more secure than we have felt in that direction for some time. [Interruption ] The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) may have his reservations, but, if I remember rightly, he was not in the House when the statement was made by my hon. Friend. If he had been here, it might have changed his point of view.

Mr. S. Silvennan

The hon. Member is right. I did not hear the statement. However, I have read the papers and the Estimates very carefully, and I am bound to say that the more I hear about modern air warfare, especially after hearing my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) say that there will either be no war or an atomic war, the more I feel that the last thing in the world which is increased by such statements is the feeling of security.

Mr. Taylor

"Security" is a very wide term. I am sure that defence is the first consideration of Her Majesty's Government in that connection.

One is tempted to make a comment about the tremendous achievements which have been made in the scientific and mechanical field, but I propose to deal only with one specific difficulty that is apparent in the Service in relation to the education of children of officers, warrant officers and senior N.C. Os., and, indeed, of other ranks, who are subject to frequent postings.

The Education Act, 1944, contained provisions enabling local education authorities to make grants for the education at boarding schools or other schools where fees are paid of children whose parents are in the Services. I have examined the Regulations made under the Act and I find them comprehensive and clear, but there is one word in the Regulations—"may"—which affects their whole interpretation. The Regulations dealing with the payment of grants by local education authorities for the education of children whose parents are in the Services are permissive and not mandatory upon local authorities. Consequently, in practice very few authorities have done anything about it. I believe that the only authorities who have yet made grants of this character are the Surrey County Council and the London County Council.

This difficulty is far-reaching. It applies to all the three Services in a greater or less degree, but to the Royal Air Force in a greater degree than to the other two Services, because officers and senior N.C. Os. are more liable to frequent postings in the Royal Air Force than they are in the other two Services. The situation has, in fact, now become most acute, and is one of the main contributory reasons for the lack of suitable people entering the Service, particularly for the commissioned ranks.

This problem is having a serious effect —and evidence can be produced to show it—on the morale and efficiency of officers who have children and who are placed in this difficulty. Comparing the situation of a Service parent with a civilian parent, we find that the anomaly becomes most marked. The ordinary private citizen is entitled under the various Education Acts to free State education for his children. He can demand it. He is usually living in one place for long periods and can assert his right with the local authority. In the case of the Royal Air Force, there is a larger proportion of officers serving overseas than in the Army.

It might be of interest to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for me to remind him of the number of children involved in this connection. The total number of officers' children between the ages of five and 15 in the Royal Air Force is 13,000. If we add to that number the airmen's children, the number becomes 120,000. Efforts have been made to solve this problem over a very long period. There have been many Service and inter-Service committees sitting on the problem, but no solution has yet been found.

The strength of my case lies in the fact that the machinery exists to solve the problem, if it is applied. The State has assumed the obligation of providing free primary and secondary education for all children, according to their needs, but in practice and because the peculiar difficulties in which the officer, warrant officer, or senior N.C.O. in the Royal Air Force is placed by having frequently to change his station, he is denied his rights under the law.

It may be said that the children could be sent to a day school, but in practice that does not work out. There are difficulties, in the first place, in getting a child into a day school at short notice. The effect on that child's education of constant moves is serious indeed. I believe the cases are common of children of 14 years of age who have been to six or eight different day schools. I should like to read to the House an extract from a letter which was sent by a Service wife to a retired Air-Marshal. She said: I am the wife of a Royal Air Force officer and am at present taking a course which will enable me to get a job so that I may supplement my husband's meagre income and meet the costs of our children's education. After 15 years of marriage and 'following the flag' I do not think I can be blamed if I occasionally indulge in a little self-pity and ask myself whether our sacrifices have been worth it. We have no money to speak of, after setting up over 16 homes and paying out over £2,000 in furnished rents. We have no settled home of our own and have never even unpacked our wedding presents. Our children stand no chance of passing State scholarships after being in eight schools in less than five years and losing the grounding in arithmetic which only a continued education can give. Constant moves, including living abroad, has been attractive, but where are our friends? We have even lost touch with our ain folk. That letter is typical of many which have been written on this subject. The whole matter transcends the question of whether the State does it or the Air Ministry does it, because the harm done to children's characters and temperament by this restless sort of life is very considerable indeed.

The Service parent can send his child to a day school and move him from school to school as he moves from post to post. He can split up his home and leave his family in one place while he lives on the station in mess, and so on, for years, over the whole of his Service. He can send his children to boarding school at crippling expense. But there is only one effective way of dealing with the matter; that is, by seeing that the intentions of the law, in the shape of the Education Act, 1944, are carried out and that his child is sent to a boarding school.

The Surrey County Council, which I mentioned earlier in my address, finances 600 pupils at the present time at board ing school, and out of that number 22 have parents in the Services, I am told. The Middlesex authority sends 620 children to boarding schools, and out of them 15 have Service parents. It is impossible for the Royal Air Force to provide boarding schools in sufficient numbers to deal with this problem. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State and his noble Friend to consult the Minister of Education to see whether means can be devised of persuading local authorities to take a more realistic view of this matter and to bring into effect those Sections of the 1944 Act, and Statu tory Rule and Order No. 666 made under the Act, enabling them to make grants for this purpose—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and,40 Member being present

Mr. Taylor

I have outlined the educational difficulties facing Service parents. Their difficulties are not the easier to bear when one remembers that such provision is made in the Civil Service. There the principle recognised is that financial assistance should be given for the education of children of officers posted abroad. The 1949 Report of the Joint Committee of the Civil Service National Whitley Council was accepted and put into practice by the Treasury.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

If the hon. Gentleman would allow me. I also was told about this, and I am most interested in it. I am not in any way opposing the hon. Member's suggestion, but can he tell the House whether or not those who joined the Civil Service did so under the impression that they would never be sent abroad? That would make a difference, because the Air Force Service man enlists for service anywhere. I intervene in the friendliest possible way, but I wonder if he has that information?

Mr. Taylor

That is rather a question of detail, and I cannot answer. I know that the principle that educational grants should be made to servants of the Foreign Office who serve abroad was accepted by the Treasury, but I am very sorry that I cannot answer the detailed point put to me.

Under the Civil Service arrangements, £75 a year is paid for the second and each subsequent child put to boarding school; £25 a year in respect of children living with a guardian, and £50 for the first child where no other arrangements are practicable. If those allowances are justified for the Civil Service, they ought to be justified for the Royal Air Force and the other Armed Forces of the Crown.

Another anomaly—which is rather amusing—is that when members of the Works Department of the Air Ministry itself are posted abroad they also receive the educational allowance. If that section can receive the privilege, surely the fighting part of the Service should also receive it.

The noble Lord the Minister of Defence, speaking in another place on 3rd February, 1954, said: With regard to the expenses to which officers with children of school age are put in connection with educational costs, we realise only too well that if the education of children is not to suffer by reason of the frequent moves to which the head of the family is liable in the course of his Service career, provision must be made for the boarding education of the children. We are most anxious to help in this matter, but I can assure noble Lords who have studied the problem that it is not at all an easy one to solve. It is a complicated problem, and I will not go into it now. There are, however, many citizens of like standing in civil life who find themselves in exactly the same position, although not always to the same extent as the married Service man, who, owing to frequent changes of station, and what is called displacement or movement, finds himself in rather more difficult circumstances in regard to the education of his children. Many of the Service man's difficulties stem from the fact that nearly all the Services are overseas and are committed to various obligations in different theatres of war. One really cannot believe that those conditions will exist for ever, or for very long; and when we can secure an easing of tension, and an easing of some of our world-wide commitments, which we never had before, and can bring some of our Service people home then many of these difficulties with which we are now faced will disappear. If I may borrow an old saying from Scandinavia, "While the grass is growing the cow is dying." This House should really do something to relieve the difficulties of these officers. We cannot wait for an easing of our world commitments. I am sure that for many years to come we shall have to maintain the Royal Air Force. If we wait for an easing of our world commitments, we shall continue to lose valuable men from the Service and discourage those who might come into it, because of this difficulty, which, as family men, they have to face.

5.36 p.m.

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

I will not follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor), interesting though they are, and new, I think to the House. I will support him by saying that the education of Service men's children has always been a very great problem but I think that the solution may be by increasing the pay and the emoluments of personnel as referred to by the Under-Secretary of State today. They will then be brought more or less into line with their contemporaries in civil life.

The Air Estimates must of course, be considered against the 'background of the Government White Paper on Defence. I must say that, in general, I found that a very readable document. I agree with much that it contains, and particularly paragraph 16, which states: Still greater emphasis will have to be placed on the Royal Air Force because of the need to build up a strategic bomber force and because of the importance of guided missiles in air defence. I am in the fortunate and pleasant position of having pleaded with this Government, and previously with the Labour Government, to build up our strategic bombing force. The necessity of that seems to be now agreed, but I want, if I can, to persuade the Government to go even further along this road of offence.

The building up of Fighter Command, the emphasis on new fighters, fighter aerodromes and radar screens is all for defence. Offence, in the past has been left in the main to the United States of America. To get the problem in its proper perspective we must acknowledge that there is today no adequate defence against supersonic aircraft, and certainly no defence at all against the guided missile. There may be some defence in 10 years' time, but today there is none. I am sorry if I appear to be contradicting the Under-Seoretary of State for Air in what I thought were his slightly optimistic comments on the possible success of fighters.

If we do not plan on that assumption, we shall be wasting money; worse still, we shall not be using our manpower to the best possible advantage. We have had to play for safety during the last eight years. War has been close —uncomfortably so. We have now to build up our defence against this new type of war about which hon. and right hon. Members have today been speaking. Only by doing so can we possibly avoid the very war we are planning to fight. Defence is no deterrent to modern war. Only the power of retaliation can be that, and neither the Army nor the Navy have that power.

The most important factor of this problem is the provision of the right kind of manpower for the Royal Air Force. The question is how we are to attract that manpower into the Royal Air Force and keep it there. I agree that the Government have gone some way by increasing pay. I never thought that more comfortable quarters or kinder sergeant-majors were the right answer. They never began to touch the problem. But there is an even more important problem than that of pay, and that is overseas service. I speak with a certain amount of knowledge, having served and held commands overseas.

The officer and airman we want in the Service today is of marriageable age, and he wants to enjoy a normal married life. Sufficient married quarters overseas have never been provided for all the married officers and men of any Service. That applies especially to the Royal Air Force. I stand to be corrected by the Under-Secretary, but I should say that not more than 20 per cent, of married officers and 10 per cent, of married men can ever live in married quarters overseas at one time, and even that percentage is possible only in places such as Gibraltar and Malta.

I would ask the Minister to consider a proposal which I put to the previous Under-Secretary of State for Air in the Labour Government, whom I am very pleased to see in his place. I suggest that we should finish with married quarters overseas for the Royal Air Force. If that is accepted there will be, firstly, a considerable economy in the manpower now required for the transportation of families, the hospitals and schools overseas, the construction of houses and bungalows, and the embarkation staffs at the Air Ministry and ports. All that work will be finished.

Mr. de Freitas

My hon. and gallant Friend has been kind enough to refer to me. It should be known that he is in a minority of one on this point. Newspaper reports became a little confused, owing to pressure of space, and it was reported that I, as Under-Secretary of State for Air, had advocated that there should be no married quarters overseas and that no families should follow their men out. I received a mass of very abusive letters after that, and we did not feel that that report contributed in any way towards the solving of our recruiting problem.

Group Captain Wilcock

I am very surprised to hear that; but it is time that this married quarters question was cleared up. It is a "phoney" business. Only a small number of families can be accommodated in married quarters overseas.

I have a counter-proposal. I am not against families being together; far from it. I deplore the separation of families. But the provision of married quarters overseas is not the solution. Instead of married quarters overseas, it would be better if every married man were sent back to the United Kingdom within 12 months of leaving it. It is not necessary to extend this proposal to single men. They do not suffer any hardship from being overseas for two years; indeed many of them want to extend their overseas service. My proposal deals with quite a small category of men, who are now being dealt with in quite the wrong way. Moreover, good would result from a policy such as I have suggested, because we should then have to introduce a really efficient air trooping system.

Mr. Entrys Hughes

Would my hon. and gallant Friend carry the argument further and say that he is in favour of all American married men going home?

Group Captain Wilcock

I cannot speak for the American Air Force. I should prefer to speak privately to my hon. Friend on that subject. I was making the point that the military and civil transport aircraft that will be necessary will be the very same aircraft— manned by the same crews—that we shall require in order to move our troops in time of war and, perhaps, to bring freight and food into this country, which may make all the difference to success or failure in a future war. Let us bring the married people home. Let us not pretend that we can provide married quarters for all the married men who go overseas, rather let us build up air fleets to transport them home after 12 months service apart from their families.

In considering this question of manpower, the technical aspect of the Estimates will be dealt with by other hon. Members. One reason we are not getting sufficient recruits may be the absence of reasonable prospects of a career. Pay has been low compared with civilian standards, but the Government have dealt with that; the separation of married men from their families has been a deterrent to recruiting, but I have made my suggestions to remedy that. And now we must try to provide a career which is not a succession of sharp curves.

In the years between the wars it was quite common for an officer or an N.C.O. to hold his rank for up to eight years, and that is becoming the tendency in relation to officers in the Air Force today. It is very difficult to avoid, when we have so many changes of policy, the re-armament of aircraft, changes in types of aircraft, and alterations in commitments. It is difficult to work within proper establishments, and quite impossible to plan a reasonable career for either an officer or a man.

There is also a solution to this problem. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for War has left the Chamber. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will not be startled at my suggestion for overcoming the problem. It is a very simple solution. It is amalgamation, fusion or merging of the Army and the Air Force. That is a thing which must come. It is now being studied in the United States, and I should like to see it studied here. I am not suggesting that it should be introduced immediately, but we should start giving some thought to the matter.

Our manpower is not used in the tanks or as pilots, but in the hundreds of thousands of people behind the tanks and behind the pilots. It we want economies, that is where we must look for them.

Incidentally, I should have fought this proposal tooth and nail in the past, because the Air Force was then considered the junior Service and such a proposal would have retarded its growth and development. But that is not so today.

Today we see money being allocated very fairly between the three Services. It is true that money is allocated to the Royal Navy for such senseless purposes as large aircraft carriers which are destined, during a war, to be camouflaged and placed somewhere in a northern port out of the way of air bombing. Equally, a lot of money is being spent on heavy armaments for the Army, and in my view that defeats the role of the modern Army which above all should be mobile.

I turn now to the question of Reserves. Previously I have joined issue with the Under-Secretary of State on this matter. Briefly, I believe that the entire policy of the Air Ministry or the Government, or both, on Reserves has been not only wrong but tragically wrong. We had a well-trained and relatively economical Reserve oraginsation up to 18 months ago, and then the Government, presumably on the advice of the Air Council, decided to break it up. They broke up the Reserve flying training schools—30 of them— through which the Volunteer Reservists of the Air Force at least met together, talked aviation and did a little flying.

As a result of the Government's policy, we now have excellent pilots and navigators on the Reserve who have nowhere to go for training, apart from their annual training, and who never see each other or an Air Force unit unless or until they are called up for annual training. I do not think that has been a very clever policy. Furthermore, it has taken away from the Government and the Air Ministry the training facilities which existed previously. The Under-Secretary told us that Canada had provided 200 trained pilots this year.

Mr. Ward

Two hundred and sixty.

Group Captain Wilcock

The Reserve flying schools could have provided 500 or 1,000 in one year, as they did before, and they could have provided jet training. There is nothing at all startling in the Canadian contribution. I am sure it is very useful, and we should be thankful to the Canadian Government for giving these facilities, but this training has been accepted by the Government at the expense of a training organisation which has now been lost to this country.

Mr. Ward

I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not overlook the strategic advantages of training pilots in Canada.

Group Captain Wilcock

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There are, of course, strategic advantages, but let us then carry the policy through to the logical conclusion and put all our training in Canada or Australia, not just the training of a few pilots.

Mr. de Freitas

Or Southern Rhodesia.

Group Captain Wiloock

We have heard that a considerable number of Royal Air Force Reservists are to go to Civil Defence. Better they should go there than do no training at all, but it is very sad if we are planning a Royal Air Force for this country which does not require Reserves in the case of war, apart from a very few. Who has suggested that everything will be over in a few months if another war takes place? If that is thought to be so, surely we do not need an Air Force at all.

In fact, the White Paper categorically says the contrary. It says that we must make preparations for both types of warfare, and if that is the case we must have adequate and well-trained Reserves. The Royal Air Force Reservists in the last war were the pilots who filled the gaps in the Battle of Britain. In the last war they were needed before 1941. By 1944 every available pilot had been used and we were trying to get material from the Colonies and from India. The barrel had been scraped clean. This question of Reserves is therefore very important indeed and it would not be right for the Government to say that no provision need be made for calling up Reserves beyond those needed for manning the squadrons immediately war is declared.

In conclusion, I want to ask some questions about the rearmament of Germany. What is the position to be in the air? Are we and our allies to say to Germany, "You may form 12 divisions but you may not have your own air support"? If so, can we enforce such a decision? I suppose there is no graver problem today than that of German rearmament and its consequences. We all need to give it very great thought. Has sufficient thought been given to the air side of the problem? Are the Germans to be allowed to build jet engines? Are they to be allowed to develop their civil air fleet? Are they to be allowed to develop flying clubs and aerodromes? Will the divisions which we believe they will build up have the air support of German squadrons?

These questions must be answered, for they are very important to the future peace of Europe and, possibly, the world. I agree that they are embarrassing questions, but it is better that they should be answered now and that there should be an agreed policy on these matters rather than that every time we hear that the Germans have built an aircraft there should be a crisis, or every time we hear that they are operating squadrons there should be another crisis. Can the Undersecretary of State find time in his reply to deal with this vital question?

5.59 p.m.

Wing Commander N. J. Hulbert (Stockport, North)

I must, in accordance with the custom of the House, declare my interest as an aircraft constructor.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the way in which he presented the Estimates today? It is always a great pleasure if a Minister who introduces the Estimates can claim to have served in the Service about which he is speaking, and my hon. Friend, in particular, has that advantage, because he served not only as a Regular officer but also in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force with great distinction.

The Estimates that we are considering today total some £500 million. That is a remarkable figure. When I first entered the House of Commons about 18 years ago the total Budget for that year was less than half as much again, only about £800 million, whereas we are spending today five-eighths of that on one branch of the Services. It therefore seems all the more remarkable that on this occasion there are so few hon. Members present in the Chamber. It is not a question of there being less than 40, apart from those who adorn the Front Benches, it is merely about a dozen.

Mr. Shackleton

There are more on this side.

Wing Commander Hulbert

This appalling figure of our Estimates today not only reflects the great increase in the cost of raw materials, in wages, in payment for men and women in the Services, but also high-lights the complexity of modern aircraft and all fighting weapons. I believe that the cost of the electronics in a modern aircraft today exceeds the total cost of a complete aeroplane 15 or more years ago.

The Royal Air Force is today organised as our first striking unit. It was improved in the last war and it is going to be improved again if, as we all hope will not happen, another war should come upon us. Apart from being our first striking unit, it is also the most necessary adjunct to our other lines of defence or attack. Army-air co-operation reached its zenith from 1940 to 1945. The advancing armies of Lord Montgomery were covered and prepared for in advance by what became known as the "Tedder carpet." Therefore, in the opinion of the vast majority of people of this country, money spent on the Air Force today is money well spent.

I should now like to turn to one or two of the statements in the White Paper and to some of the observations of my hon. Friend the Under Secretary. The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) referred to training overseas. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary why it has been decided to stop training in Rhodesia. Is it owing to the cost, lack of suitable aircraft, transport of aircraft, or what other reasons, because we all have the most happy recollections of R.A.F. pilots in the Dominions throughout the war? We all deplore the closing of the Reserve training schools, because, although most of us agree that that was inevitable, these schools have in the past made a great contribution to flying training command. It may well be that as a result of the technical advance in training and the complexity of modern aircraft they cannot now fulfil a useful purpose. In the Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates, reference is made to the various exercises which have taken place during the last year or two —R.A.F. exercises in conjunction not only with the Army and the Royal Navy, but with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Powers. Many have taken part in those exercises, and I should like to testify to their usefulness and effectiveness.

I was only able to take part in them through the assistance of what is known in this House as the usual channels and the co-operation of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton). These exercises have, in my opinion, been extremely useful to reservists. They have enabled many officers and men to keep in touch, even if remote, with developments in the Service, although, inevitably, the few days we are able to spend with these units have some disadvantages. I was very pleased to hear the Under-Secretary inform the House of the Air Ministry's proposals to form more or less homogeneous units of either squadron or flight strength to keep the reservists together.

Following our training of reservists, there is the continuing problem of the National Service man who is called up into the Air Force, and the job that he has to do. All hon. Members have had letters, and will continue to get them, of men in the Service who have riot been put in what they consider to be the job commensurate with their merits. I agree that in a technical service like the Royal Air Force that is a very difficult thing to avoid. But I think that possibly more could be done by way of selective boards or individual interviews for some of these men to ensure that during their two years' training they are doing something akin to what they have been trained for in civil life, or akin to the career which they hope to follow when they leave the Royal Air Force. I think that if more could be done to bring about that happy state, our correspondence would be reduced.

As regards the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, that is to some extent regarded as the little Cinderella. Thus the Auxiliary Air Force has comparatively few squadrons and is comparatively few in numbers, and in some ways is not getting a fair crack of the whip, although, in the last year or two, much has been done by way of encouragement in certain aspects, particularly by using overseas squadrons for annual training, which has been a very wise and far-seeing policy that has done a great deal to help.

I do not think that this is the occasion to go too much into the grievances of individual squadrons. My hon. Friend knows that the County of Middlesex Squadron, which had a very good reputation throughout the war, has through bureaucratic red tape and the dead hand of the Treasury not had any town headquarters since its original headquarters were bombed in 1941 and 1942. Many senior officers in the Air Ministry and my hon. Friend have for long past hoped that that Squadron's housing problem would be dealt with, and I trust that what I have said this afternoon will be a little encouragement to them and a further push to the Air Ministry.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred in his speech to the accident rate with jet aircraft. Whenever a jet aircraft crashes, be it with fatal or other results, it gets the headlines in the newspapers. Little or nothing is done by the Air Ministry to counteract these statements. We welcome what the Under-Secretary said today, but I hope we shall not have to wait until next year's Air Estimates before something else is done. I know all the difficulties about security and the unwisdom of disclosing the number of accidents, their ratio to the number of hours flown, and so on, but the Air Ministry could do a great deal to allay anxiety in the public mind if more frequent statements rebutting some of the statements that are made on the accident rate could be made either in this House or by other means.

What is the attitude of my hon. Friend's Department and of the Services to the further development of helicopters? Since the war, the attitude of the Air Staff has been, quite properly, to push ahead with all speed the production of bomber and fighter aircraft. By doing this, however, work on the ancillaries of these necessary instruments of war has to some extent been neglected. Possibly recent thought has changed somewhat, because Coastal Command have made use of helicopters, although I do not know their numbers. More recently, operations in Malaya and other parts of the world have put the helicopter in a different and more useful light.

When operations started in Malaya, I believe that the Air Force could produce only four Dragonflies. Shortly afterwards the number had trebled, and in due course the Royal Navy stepped in with its helicopter squadrons, to the envy of the R.A.F. I think it can be said that the Service is being forced to become more helicopter-minded, not necessarily by its own desire, but by the march of events. The Army is certainly more helicopter-minded than the Air Force. I should be out of order in discussing today the activities of the Army in that way, but aircraft—

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

Is it not a fact that the Army has no helicopters and has none on order? I am not saying that that makes the Army any better than the Air Force, but is that not the fact?

Wing Commander Hulbert

I could not tell my hon. Friend what helicopters the Army has on order, even if I knew, but it is the policy of the Army to think more on the lines of helicopters than it has been the policy of the Air Ministry.

The time has come when the Air Ministry or its suppliers, the Ministry of Supply, must decide whether the Service is to be helicopter-minded. They have to decide whether we are to develop helicopters or will depend on American helicopters and buy them when necessary and devote our resources to other types of aircraft. All I hope is that very shortly the Service Staffs will crystallise their ideas and raise their operational requirements, so that those firms which are interested in helicopter development will be able to forge ahead and count on the co-operation and the real willingness of the Royal Air Force, and thus ensure that Great Britain takes the lead in this new and latest development in airmanship.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

The hon. and gallant Member for Stockport, North (Wing Commander Hulbert) began by reminding us that we were discussing a bill for more than £490 million. I wholeheartedly agree that this is an appalling burden on the citizens of the country and is something which the few Members present in the House ought to subject to prolonged and searching scrutiny. Last year we were presented with a bill of £500 million for the Air Force and, as is usual, we were told that it was the absolute minimum of expenditure for the Service, and that it was vital that that figure should be voted.

To me, the first striking feature of the White Paper is to find that the sum of money which was voted last year has not been spent. The first striking phrase of the Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates is that once again "production has not come up to expectations." We are told that the sights were set too high, and therefore, although we cannot yet be told how much of the money that was voted has been spent, we know that both for defence as a whole and for the Air Force in particular, not all the money which Parliament voted will have been spent.

That is referred to in paragraph 20 of the White Paper on Defence, which says: This underspending is due to a variety of reasons which have affected the Royal Air Force in particular. One of the major causes was the considerable adjustment, by way of rephasing or elimination, which had to be made in the production and works programmes as a result of the review foreshadowed in last year's Statement on Defence. To describe the 50 per cent, cut which has actually been imposed on defence production as a whole in the last three years as an adjustment, by way of rephasing or elimination, is a masterpiece of understatement.

Three years ago, there was projected the great rearmament programme, for the Air Force in particular. Great emphasis was laid upon the need for a huge arms production programme and very expensive weapons in order to build up the stockpiles as a deterrent against foreign aggressors. The defence programme for the three years from 1951 to 1954 was a programme of production worth £2,800 million, calculated at 1950 prices. It was projected that £2,800 million would be spent on production as a whole, and a substantial proportion of it was intended for the Royal Air Force.

How much money has actually been spent? We do not know precisely, because we have not the figure to the end of the financial year 1953–54, but we know from Ministry of Defence figures that less than £2,000 million of the projected £2,800 million production programme has been spent. If this calculation is translated into 1950 prices, which ruled when the programme was planned, in terms of numbers of aircraft and quantities of equipment, we find— again, I quote from official Ministry of Defence figures—that the programme is worth £1,480 million.

So it will be seen, taking the proper comparison of £2,800 million worth of equipment at 1950 prices, that what has actually been spent from 1951 to 1954 on production represents practically a 50 per cent. cut. The Under-Secretary of State for Air can tell us to what extent the Royal Air Force has been cut back, but I do not call that a considerable adjustment, by way of rephasing or elimination …

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I want to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he advocating that we should continue to produce obsolete equipment even if new designs and new equipment are coming forward? Does he suggest that we should have continued with all the orders which the Labour Government placed in the emergency of 1950?

Mr. Swingler

At the moment I am not advocating anything. I am giving facts, and I think that the facts, when analysed, and showing what happened in the past, are the most important starting point for considering the level of expenditure in the Royal Air Force in the future. If we go on year by year without analysing what has happened in the past, we see that each year production has not come up to expectations and that we are setting the sights too high. Then we set them a little bit higher for the next year so that we are not getting anywhere, nor are we getting value for money, nor are we getting defence equipment; but we are aiding and abetting the disorganisation of the economy of the country.

There was an attempt to spend £2,800 million, which could not be done, just as there has presumably been an attempt to spend what Parliament voted last year for the Royal Air Force. The Minister found it was impossible to spend that amount, so "production has not come up to expectations." The sights were set too high, so that there has to be a readjustment of the production programme "by way of rephasing or elimination."

The first conclusion which I draw from this analysis is that, whereas it is true that over this period the production programme in real terms has been cut by nearly one-half, the total expenditure in real terms has not been cut by anything like one-half. It has, in fact, according to the analysis by the Ministry of Defence been cut by about one-quarter. When we bring down what has been spent of the original £4,700 million of the total defence programme at the beginning of 1951, it turns out that in terms of 1950 prices, about £3.400 million has been spent. So the scaling down has been of the order of 25 per cent.

The production part of the programme for all three Services—and this is particularly important to the R.A.F.—has been, in fact, scaled down proportionately very much more than the expenditure upon manpower and other things. Therefore, one of the first things that has got to be considered is either that the plans that were made then were extremely incompetent and the balance between what was planned for production and what was planned for manpower was incorrect; or else there is something wrong with the balance now, because production has been scaled down simply because that production could not be achieved. It was not up to expectations inasmuch as the economic capacity of the country would not stand the production of that much equipment. While that expenditure has had to be scaled down, the expenditure on pay, administration and manpower under the National Service scheme has not been scaled down.

Mr. Shackleton

I am very interested in the figures which have been given by my hon. Friend, but I wonder whether he can relate them specifically to the Royal Air Force? He has been giving them generally, but I should like to have them for the R.A.F.

Mr. Swingler

I am sorry that I have not got an actual figure for the Royal Air Force.

The figures I am giving the House come from an answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) on 2nd March, 1953. They were for the total defence expenditure analysed in two parts. On the one side there was the expenditure on personnel and on the other side the expenditure on production. But I am asserting, considering the substantial proportion of the production programme which was for the Air Ministry, that it must be quite obvious that the general proportions in the scaling down of total defence production and manpower must apply to the Royal Air Force.

Mr. John Sfrachey (Dundee, West)

These figures are very interesting, but I believe that my hon. Friend is actually under-stating his case. I should like the Government to correct him if he is wrong, because it would be useful to get the matter right. As I see it, the figures actually show a total cut in real terms of the Defence Estimates as a whole, when we have allowed for the difference in prices of about £1,270 million, but the cut on the arms production side was no less than £1,320 million, so there was actually an increase of about £70 million on the personnel side. There was no cut at all on personnel but an actual increase. Of course, I may be wrong in my figures, but that is how I read it.

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) has said some extremely misleading things, especially when he talks about scaling down and a cut starting from the figure of £4,700 million. He takes that to be a correct estimate of what was possible, and then he assumes that any expenditure which has not taken place up to that full amount, which was the figure which the former Government thought of in rather a hurry, as some right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were Members of that Government know, is a cut or scaling down by the present Government. In point of fact, I think that the hon. Member put his finger on the answer to some extent when he said that it was possibly caused by in competent planning. There is no doubt the original figure—I am not blaming the Government which fixed it in rather a hurry, and I myself would not have used the word "incompetent" but I am quoting the hon. Member—that was chosen was wholly unrealistic, and it was quite impossible—

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

What a confession.

Mr. Crossman

My hon. Friend supported it.

Mr. Sandys

—to step up production at a rate at which the money could be spent in that time. Therefore, it is not fair to say that the whole difference between the £4,700 million and what has; actually been spent represents a deliberate decision of policy to cut or scale down our defence expenditure.

Mr. Swingler

I am naturally extremely grateful, both to the Minister of Supply and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) for their assistance in elucidating the facts.

Mr. Speaker

I have been a little puzzled by these recent exchanges. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) is talking about the whole rearmament programme and contrasting the production of munitions and the use of manpower over the whole programme. I think that is much too wide on the Air Estimates, and he must come to grips with the Estimates before the House.

Mr. Swingler

I am sorry if I have transgressed, Mr. Speaker, but I was simply using the figures as an illustration, and I started with a paragraph from the Defence White Paper of this year, which refers specifically to underspending by the Air Ministry, and the fact that the Royal Air Force production programme has had to be scaled down this year. I was using as an illustration in support of that the general figures in regard to the total defence programme, which, of course, includes the Estimates for the Royal Air Force, which have been affected part passu. The Minister of Supply ought to be careful about what he now says, because at the time the original expenditure was planned in 1951 for the Air Force, the Army and the Navy, those who said it was too much and ought to be scaled down were called some nasty names. If the Minister of Supply says that it was incompetent planning and that there was an attempt to purchase too much for the Air Force, he indicts his hon. Friends of incompetent planning now, because they have done just the same thing.

In the White Paper they admit that in 1953–54 we shall be spending less than we estimated because production has not come up to expectation. The White Paper says: Although our sights last year were thus set too high, we have in fact made good progress… etc. So here is the same kind of planning as we had under the £4,700 million programme; the sights were set too high and production had only come up to half the expectation in terms of planes and equipment.

There ought to be some inquiry into the planning of the Air Ministry so far as this production programme is concerned. Here is not a case of hon. Members on this side of the House saying, "You should take steps to cut the level of arms expenditure," because the facts are constantly cutting the level of arms expenditure. We are saying that the Government ought to reconsider the whole situation in order to relate what is being spent on aircraft to the productive capacity of the country, realistically to the economic needs of the country, and to what the engineering industry can do for exports as well as for the Royal Air Force.

That is what must be done to get a production programme that is sensible, properly adjusted, and that can be carried out and so that we can see that the money provided by Parliament will be spent without overstraining the economy of the country all the time. In fact, proportionately more and more money is being spent on manpower and proportionately less and less on production, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out. Therefore, the case obviously made out in this, the first Service Estimate which we are considering this year, is that the balance between production expenditure and manpower expenditure has been completely altered in the past three years from what was planned, and that there ought to be a stringent inquiry into that side of the picture.

At the same time we are told that we are planning for an atomic war, and these bills for larger arms expenditure are sold to the country on the basis of sensational phrases about the prime deterrent of the atomic bomb. Again, I must point the contrast, which some of my hon. Friends pointed out in the debate on defence, that whilst this is being done in the sphere of offensive in the Royal Air Force, those charged with the Civil Defence of this country have been deliberately instructed not to provide for atomic warfare. Evidence recently given on Civil Defence before the Select Committee on Estimates was that those charged with Civil Defence against atomic air attack have been told not to prepare for war but "to prepare to prepare for war," which is very different from what we are told in these Estimates and White Papers.

I am surprised at the complacency of the Under-Secretary of State for Air about Regular recruitment for the Air Force. Last year the Royal Air Force estimated that there would be 39,000 Regular recruits in 1953 but the result of Regular recruitment was to get 31,600, and we are now told that the Estimate for this year is down to 31,000.

I want to ask the Under-Secretary a number of questions about this matter, which is of vital importance. It is clear that the Service Ministers have overestimated the attraction of 'the three-year engagement and have under-estimated its disadvantage, namely, the swiftness with which it is over. If anything proves the case for establishing a thorough inquiry into the National Service scheme, and manpower in the Forces as a whole, it is the drop in Regular recruitment last year and the fact that the Services generally, and the Air Force in particular, have been compelled to lower their estimates of regular recruitment.

My first question is, how many Regular recruits does the Air Force really want, in view of the undertakings of leaders of both Front Benches that two years' National Service would be a temporary measure, assurances that were given as much by the present Home Secretary as by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in 1950? My second question is, how far does the hon. Gentleman think that the new pay increases will achieve those extra Regular recruits who could contribute towards reducing the National Service period? The story of the pay increase is a very curious one. The Retail Price Index has risen from 114 to 140 points since the last Forces' pay increase in 1950. It seems to me that there is a strong case for an all-round increase in pay in the Air Force. The Minister and the Undersecretary have not been able to get that, and their pressure on the Government for higher pay for some sections of men in the Air Force has been delayed because the Chancellor of the Exchequer was out of the country. We can see clearly why these pay codes could not be included in the Defence White Paper, it was because the head of the Treasury was out of the country and was resisting the granting of these increases.

Is the Under-Secretary of State for Air in favour of this multiplication of pay codes? As we look through the history of pay codes in the Forces, as much in the Air Force as in any Service, we see that all the time we have been trying to move towards their simplication and intelligibility. Now, however, as the result of a series of moves made in recent years, we are getting a multiplication of pay codes once again, which makes it more difficult for any man, N.C.O. or officer to understand where he stands in relation to the code. Therefore, we should like from the Under-Secretary some comments upon the application of these pay increases and an idea of how far he thinks they will stimulate Regular recruitment in order to enable the Air Force to meet the position about which the White Paper seems to be doubtful, namely, where the proportion of National Service men greatly decreases.

I also want to call attention to the question of Reserves, to which many hon. Members have referred. The handling of National Service Reserves in the Royal Air Force amounts to a grave scandal. One of the things required by those who have voted for National Service since the war—and I have voted on occasions for its continuance—is that it should be of universal application and applied equally to all. It is a very grave thing that certain sections of young men who are called up and who do their two years' service in the R.A.F. will escape further liability altogether when they complete those two years. Large numbers have done so already. Last year it was found that out of 100,000 National Service R.A.F. Reserves only 8,500 had been called up for any Reserve training.

The Under-Secretary has given us certain important information today about additional measures that are being taken to use the Reserves, but at most those measures will only employ 50 per cent, of the Class H reservists of the R.A.F.; the other half will escape liability altogether. That is a serious matter because it will lead, and is leading now, to great bitterness between National Service men, for it makes a great difference whether a man is called up for the Army, which employs 100 per cent, of its reservists, or is called up for the R.A.F., in which case he will probably escape the 15 days' annual camp and further training.

The Government must either face the task of revising the whole scheme for the training of National Service reservists so that it applies equally to all, or they must take steps to find employment for all the Class H reservists of the R.A.F. It is proved that there is actually a surplus of manpower at the disposal of the R.A.F. The fact that that Service does not want, cannot train and does not call up these men shows quite clearly what we have been saying—that there are surpluses of manpower at the disposal of the Armed Forces to which the Services cling, and that if the situation were properly inquired into the case for an immediate reduction of the period of National Service would be made out.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that this costly National Service scheme hangs like a millstone round the necks of the Services, just as much as it does round the neck of the nation. It prevents expenditure on other items on which expenditure is planned, the expenditure itself gets out of control, and there is no competent planning of how the amounts that are voted are to be spent. If a tithe of this money were spent in other directions so as to prevent military commitments instead of multiplying commitments for the R.A.F. and the other Services, we should be able to reduce the defence burden on the nation immediately. I hope that these points will be seriously investigated in Committee with a view to considering how we can reduce the burden.

6.44 p.m.

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

I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler). He kept saying, "This is becoming clearer and clearer" and I found it getting foggier and foggier the longer he went on. He appears to be so wedded to the idea of planning that he wants to make sure that we produce all the equipment that was ordered in an emergency, and he also wants to make sure that all the reservists are called up even though they are not required and there is nothing for them to do.

Mr. Swingler

This is fantastic. The equipment was not ordered at all but the House of Commons was told by the military planners that that amount was the minimum that ought to be spent on arms production for the defence of the country.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

At that time we were deprived of the honour of having the hon. Member in the House of Commons. He was temporarily outside. Large numbers of Meteors and Canberras were ordered because, at that time, they were the only types that were ready to go into production.

Mr. A. Henderson

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) apparently has inside information and he ought to complete the story, because if he knows part of it he should know the rest. He knows that in the early days of the three-year programme orders were placed for Canberras—which I did not appreciate were obsolescent—and for Hunters, Swifts and Valiants. Therefore, let us not have any suggestion made that the only orders that were placed in the early days of the three-year programme were for obsolescent machines.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am on the right hon. and learned Member's side. I am sorry if I did not make that clear.

I said that the right hon. and learned Member and his Government ordered large numbers of Meteor aircraft and some of those orders had to be cancelled subsequently. Equally he ordered Can-berras, which were not obsolescent. I did not say that they were. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. The Canberra was a new aircraft and was the only light jet bomber which was at that time of a proven design, but later on, in the light of the whole programme, it became necessary to cut back the Canberra order somewhat. That was perfectly logical. The Prime Minister was right when he said, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme did not take it to heart, that it is quite clear that one does not get arms if one never orders them. It was better to place these orders even though some had to be cancelled subsequently.

At our debates on the Air Estimates we generally see the same faces year after year on both sides of the House. On this side we miss that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), who is ill in hospital. On the other side of the House we have today seen some new faces, generally closely associated with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and naturally our debate is by that much enlivened. The same arguments are trotted out at these debates, though not always by the same people. On thumbing through the debates on the Air Estimates for the last four years, I wondered whether it would be necessary to think up a new speech or whether I could rehash one of my old ones, or one delivered by some other hon. Member.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Take mine for instance.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The hon. Member is quite secure. His is one speech which I should not plagiarise.

In 1951, I tried to draw attention to the need for the co-ordination of Western European defence, particularly radar, with our own as a means of prior warning of attack on this country. I said how important it was that we should have a closely co-ordinated scheme if we were to have an effective defence of our metropolitan area. I also asked that high priority should be given to air-to-air guided missiles.

The next year I dealt with the need for the guided bomb in order to economise on the number of aircraft required by increasing the accuracy with which we could place the bomb on the target. I also asked (hat the supersonic fighter should not be forgotten and I said that we should be very unwise if we missed the intermediate stage between the ordinary sonic fighter and the guided missile. I also remember arguing that light fighters should not be neglected, because they were cheap and we might have to have them in certain areas. They should be considered—particularly the rocket fighter.

Last year I mentioned the questions of air transportation and helicopters. It was in my mind whether I should start at the end and work backwards, or start at the beginning and work forwards, but I think that the last two points are as germane today, if not more so, as they were last year. If I devote part of my speech to them, I hope that the House will forgive me.

I wish first to attend to the good news we received from the Under-Secretary of State about the extra incentives which are to be given to Royal Air Force personnel to sign on for Regular engagements. I am sure that will be welcomed in almost all parts of the House. If I devote my words on this topic to the officer problem, I hope that it will not be thought that I am understressing and am not aware of the problem as it concerns senior N.C. Os. I do so only because one has to concentrate on one section. Perhaps the point about N.C. Os. might be taken up by someone else.

As our Air Force gets more and more technical there may be a tendency to feel that we do not need high-calibre leadership, but nothing could be further from the truth. The more technicians we have in the Air Force the more desperately do we need vital and wise leadership. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor), Air Force officers may suffer somewhat more than other officers in view of the fact that they are moved about all over the world on somewhat shorter postings.

Service life is a corporate existence, and we must make sure that not only the Service officer but his family are able to live at the same standard that he has to maintain. At this time, particularly if they have families and children of school age, officers are faced with an enormous problem in regard to the education of their children. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North has made this point, but I do not feel that it can be too heavily underlined.

Such officers have three choices before them when posted overseas. Either they may send their children to boarding school, which is horribly expensive and for which local authorities up to now have not been able to cater, or their children may travel around with them to overseas posts. In that case the continuity of the education is seriously disrupted and the children may have difficulty in getting through examinations and in getting good jobs later. Alternatively, they leave their wives and families behind and lead a bachelor existence for a large section of their lives.

We cannot neglect this problem. We shall never recruit the right chaps to lead the Air Force of the future unless we tackle it with courage. I should like the Treasury Bench to consider whether we ought to introduce some educational allowance to help officers serving overseas when their children are between the ages of, say, 10 and 17. I welcome the news that increased bounties are to be given when they leave the Service, but I hope very much that we shall not overlook their problems whilst in the Service. If we do so we shall not be able to recruit to the R.A.F.

I want to turn to the question of "selling" the Air Force to young people. I am well aware that the A.T.C. and other organisations are making an effort to interest young people in Air Force matters. The best regiments have for a long time sent talent spotters round the grammar schools, public schools and universities to try to persuade people whose minds are not definitely made up to enter their regiment. I hope that the Air Force will not neglect similar procedure because the Air Force cannot afford to neglect it. If it worked through the masters in charge of the A.T.C. and housemasters of public schools it could find friends who might be able to put the opportunities which exist before pupils who have not yet made up their minds.

It should be remembered that particularly in the scientific grade there is enormous competition for the services of good young men. The Air Force needs them, industry needs them and the Civil Service needs them. If one goes to one of the universities about this time of the year one finds very large numbers of industrial firms trying to interview and offer jobs to people who will get their science degrees in June. When I was at Oxford last week I met an undergraduate who is about to take his finals. He expected to be interviewed by more than 20 firms and said he would not make up his mind until he saw what sort of jobs they were going to offer him. In this rush for the cream of scientific and other personnel the Air Force cannot afford to be left behind. I hope that it will do like these firms, otherwise it will be forgotten.

On the question of transport aircraft, it was good to read in the Defence White Paper that we are to form a strategic reserve in this country. This force, this pool, this mass of manoeuvre will not be in the centre of the area where it will be required. It will be on the western lip, on the western perimeter of the place where it is most likely to be needed. Therefore, it will be absolutely useless unless we have the transport aircraft to carry it to the parts of the world where it would be needed, and needed quickly.

As has been said in the While Paper, there are three tasks which the Armed Forces have to perform—defence in the cold war, discharge of peace-time obligations, and acting as a deterrent to and making preparation for a hot war. Those three tasks have two common factors. One is the need for adequate manpower to carry out all three. The other is the need for mobility so that that manpower can be carried to the part of the world where it is needed. One may economise in certain things but we cannot economise on transport aircraft. It is the one thing in which we cannot afford to economise, particularly in a country such as ours, which is short of manpower.

I see that some progress has been made in allowing the charter firms to grow in strength and have extra aircraft. The fact that they have carried no fewer than 100,000 troops to various parts of the world in the last year, particularly to the Middle East, is encouraging. I believe this is the sort of way in which the Air Force can most economically have a reserve of transport aircraft in the background. They can be kept there for use when required, and it does not mean that we have to man them up and pay for them all the time.

I also see that the Ministry of Supply has placed an order for 20 Beverleys—large transport aircraft—which, no doubt, will be very useful, but it is not a large number. I wonder why that order was not placed more quickly. I wonder whether it was shortage of money or whether, perhaps, no Service was anxious to carry it on its Vote. If the latter were the reason I wonder if the Ministry of Defence could carry the financial responsibility for transport aircraft. We cannot do without them. They are badly needed, not only for the Air Force, but for all three Services.

If that is so, surely the right Vote to carry the expenditure is not the Air Force Vote, but the Ministry of Defence Vote. I see that that Ministry has £24 million, much of which is devoted at the moment to the construction of airfields in Western Europe under the infrastructure plan. But that plan must be reaching its peak and perhaps next year expenditure on it will begin to fall. Perhaps next year the Ministry of Defence would find that the right time to do its proper co-ordinating job and to order equipment which is of common use and absolutely essential to all three Services.

Mr. Shackleton

The hon. Member is not suggesting that these aircraft should not be under R.A.F. control, but merely that there should be a bookkeeping arrangement?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am very glad that the hon. Member raised that query. I meant to imply that, of course. I am merely saying that the Ministry of Defence should carry this expenditure on their Vote, otherwise there may be a reluctance by the Air Ministry to order transport aircraft when hard pressed for money. I am absolutely certain of one thing. Our deterrent crust of ground troops in Western Europe is brittle and thin, and under those circumstances we must be able to reinforce them. We cannot do that in any other way than by transport aircraft.

I come to my last point—the use of helicopters. These are such useful craft that I am surprised that so little has been said about them in any of the Service Estimates or White Papers. They are needed to carry goods from the railhead, or straight from this country to a possible battlefront in Western Europe. They are needed to help to reinforce a fortress defence system which might be necessary at any time in Western Europe. They may be needed to carry troops across radioactive ground following an atomic bomb attack—such ground may be impassable for hours.

I suggest that they are needed to make our road convoys less vulnerable. A stream of lorries proceeding up a road is extremely vulnerable to air attack, but helicopters are much less vulnerable as they need not keep to the same route. They can operate in extremely bad weather and in darkness. I do not subscribe to the argument that they are so vulnerable that they could not be used.

Helicopters are needed, and have been used, in colonial wars, such as the war in Malaya, where they have proved their usefulness. It is astonishing to me that we have not taken that lesson to heart. I understand that the R.A.F. has a dozen or two on order. The Royal Navy, with that foresight which is sometimes shown by the Senior Service, jumped in first and ordered a dozen or two, which have been of tremendous value in Malaya. They proved themselves also in flood rescue operations in Holland.

Mr. Shackleton

That is only because they are the slowest aircraft that the Navy can get.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The Army, on the other hand, does not appear to have ordered any at all, in great contrast to the United States Army, which has more than 1,000 S.55 helicopters, each of which carry from six to eight armed troops. Yet in this country there is not one on order, although my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Wing Commander Hulbert) said that the Army is thinking about it.

It may be said that the Services are waiting until the twin-engined helicopter is developed. That is a valid argument in the sphere of civil aviation where supreme safety is needed, but it is not valid in the sphere of military aviation. If the United States can use a thousand helicopters and find them of tremendous value under operational conditions we certainly ought to have a few, and I am sure they would prove invaluable. I am glad that the Ministry of Supply report that it is carrying on with the twin-engined Pioneer, because we cannot afford to back only one horse in this matter of slow transport aircraft, whether it be a helicopter or a fixed-wing type.

Another point, which has also been mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) is the question of radar stations in Western Europe. He asked whether they are of an efficient and modern type. I would ask my hon. Friend if modern radar will be provided, not only in Western Europe, but also at our bases overseas. Is there modern radar equipment at Gibraltar and Malta, and at Cyprus, which is becoming increasingly important? Has such provision for all these places been allowed for in our plans for the future? It is no use thinking that we can fly fighter aircraft and a fighter defence system into that area unless we have previously laid the foundations and provided signal and radar services which can be used by the aircraft when they arrive.

To sum up the points I have made, I ask that the Government have another look at the difficulties which officers are meeting over the education of their children. I ask that the Air Force shall not neglect the time-honoured methods of recruiting personnel from the grammar schools and the universities, and that it shall try to attract some of the best people. I draw attention to the desperate need for transport aircraft so that our slender Forces may be carried quickly to the parts of the world where they are most needed. I ask that we should not neglect the helicopter or the twin-engined Scottish Pioneer, because I believe that there is a tremendous need for these transport equipments.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

I shall not detain the House for long, although I should have liked to pursue some of the interesting points raised by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing). It was rather unfortunate that, with his knowledge, the hon. Member confined his comments on education to the education of the children of officers. I should have thought he would have made a wider approach to the question and related it not to the circumstances of the parents, whether they be officers in the Air Force or anywhere else, but to the ability of the children and their potentiality. I would go further and say to the hon. Member that had I succeeded in moving a Motion recently on the expansion of technical education, I should have made the point that it might have been of great advantage to the Royal Air Force had we adopted a wider approach to technical education. The use of the helicopter in the Royal Air Force is an interesting subject. I thought the only people who were slow in making use of helicopters were the Post Office, but it seems that the Royal Air Force is slower in that regard. However, as I have promised not to occupy too much time, I will get to the particular point I wish to make.

Everyone to his trade, and as an old telegraphist I am especially keen on telecommunications. I wish to draw attention to Vote 9, Subhead A—Telecommunications. I notice that there is a net overall decrease of £840,000. There has been an increase in the telecommunications subhead of £582,000, and I take it that the full explanation of that is contained in the Explanatory Note on page 143: The decrease on this account is partly offset by the provision for the cost of telephone services in the United Kingdom for a full year, as compared with a period of approximately eight months … That explanation satisfies me.

On page 144 of the Estimates, we are dealing with more of that subhead. Item 1 refers to Telephone services in the United Kingdom other than special circuits and defence teleprinter network. I notice in this connection that there is a proposed increase in the Estimate of £345,000. There is nothing in the Explanatory Notes that satisfies me that there should be that increase. As far as I can see, this covers rentals charged by the Post Office for exchange lines, extension lines and private branch exchanges, telephone calls and so on. Although the Assistant Postmaster-General came to the House yesterday to convey one of the most unsocial decisions made even by this Government, that they intend to increase telegram charges, as far as I know nothing has been said about an increase in telephone charges.

The House is entitled to have some explanation about the £345,000 increase. Under Item 2 there appears to be an increase of £250,000 under "Special operational and administrative telephone circuits." The Explanatory Notes say that in the main that covers rentals and telephone and maintenance charges for the telephone networks, including cables and so on. It might be useful for the House, and certainly it would be for me, to know why the Minister wants £250,000 more as no increases are, proposed in telephone charges.

The most amazing feature, however, is that under Items 3 and 4 there is no increase and under Item 5, which deals with telegrams, cablegrams and radio services, there is actually shown a decrease of £13,000. We ought to have an explanation. I have already referred to the notification in the House yesterday that it was proposed to increase the charge for telegrams by no less than 100 per cent. This applies to commercial telegrams, Press telegrams, ordinary social telegrams, and life and death telegrams. Yet when I look at this Vote, which deals with telegrams and telegraph equipment, apparatus and so on, which is in daily use in the R.A.F., this is what I find. The Explanatory Notes say: ''The Post Office provides and maintains a teleprinter network connecting the defence Department and the formations and units of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. Rental and maintenance charges for the network are shared by the three Services. The provision covers the Air Ministry share of the charges." Those charges to the Air Ministry and the other Service Departments have not been increased. There is no suggestion in the Estimate that the Postmaster-General intends to charge the R.A.F., the Army or the Navy any more for the services which are rendered to them.

I know something about those services. Believe me, the Armed Forces could not function for five minutes without the efficient services provided to them by the Post Office in this country. Had I caught your eye yesterday, Mr. Speaker—and unfortunately I did not—I might have been able to put the security aspect consideration to the Assistant Postmaster-General.

I do not know anything at all about the R.A.F. I am not knowledgeable, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I have examined the Vote, and what it reveals is scandalous. We have a Government Department coming here and admitting that they have to rely upon the Post Office for their day-to-day communication services—the best services they can get—and they are undercutting on their prices.

The Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General have been working in a corner somewhere so that nobody knew what they were doing whilst they were plotting this attack on the users of the telegraph service. They dare not tell the R.A.F., the Army or the Navy that, as from 1st June, 1954, they would expect them to provide in their Estimates for another 100 per cent, on their telegraph and teleprinter services. They have been working behind the scenes and misleading the Services, misleading the Secretary of State for Air, the Under-Secretary and the Department as a whole and allowing them to estimate that their costs for teleprinter and telegraph services would be less by £13,000 next year than last year.

If I were the Minister I should almost be inclined to resign because of the way in which I had been treated. The R.A.F. have allowed the Postmaster-General to twist them all ends up on their Estimates. When I was in the Post Office many years ago I used to be concerned with Estimates. I know the care and attention which is required. I remember the time when if you were about 1 per cent, out in an Estimate you would be called to account. You, with your experience, Mr. Speaker, will know that what I am saying is true —

Mr. Speaker

It may be perfectly true, but I have had one or two doubts whether or not it is in order.

Mr. Williams

I shall not trespass upon your generosity any further. The Minister has been misled, and I hope that he will take it from this House to his noble Friend a message that in future when he is having Estimates prepared he should know not only about the larger elements that go into the Air Force, but also such elements as telecommunications and so on. Not only has the Assistant Postmaster-General misled the Service Departments in this matter, but in essence he has told the ordinary users of telegrams that they must subsidise the Armed Forces.

In other words, the ordinary men and women will have to pay a higher price for telegrams so that the Services can be catered for cheaply. This is essentially unfair. The only reason I spoke was to protest, in fairness to the R.A.F., on their behalf, against the conduct of the Post Office and the Postmaster-General in misleading them and allowing them to make a statement which is not true and which possibly they will have to cover by coming to the House with a Supplementary Estimate to overcome the deficiency. Above all, I spoke to challenge the Post Office that they are placing the burden of subsidies on the shoulders of people who cannot carry them. There is talk that the Government do not believe in subsidies. They take subsidies off food and other commodities in order to place them here, and let the little man carry the burden of the R.A.F.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I think that the hon. Member was quoting from the first paragraph of page 145 of the Air Estimates. May I refer him to the charges for telephone calls and for telegrams originated by telephone? Is there not, in fact, an increase of £350,000 in the Estimate under that item?

Mr. Williams

No. We are talking about an entirely different thing, and if the hon. Gentleman had a little more knowledge of the internal side of the industry he would never ask a question like that, which seems to show his elementary ignorance of the actual circumstances.