HC Deb 20 June 1955 vol 542 cc1079-112

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wills.]

5.48 p.m.

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

The points which I wish to raise in the debate have already been outlined by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air during the debate on the Air Estimates, and he referred to them again in answering a Question which I put to him the other day.

I feel that the key to the difference of opinion which may exist between my hon. Friend and myself lies in the statement which he made in his speech that it is wrong to think of surface-to-air guided weapons as improved guns. The point I want to emphasise in this discussion is that, whatever the nature of the weapons which are to be forthcoming and whatever their capabilities, it is essential for the home defence of this country that there should be an anti-aircraft organisation of some kind in being all the time. May I make it clear, in passing, that I do not want to press my hon. Friend to give any information about weapons which are on the secret list?

During the last six months we have had the proposals for the complete disbandment of Anti-Aircraft Command. With those proposals I am in full agreement; in fact, I ventured to raise the matter a considerable time ago and I am very happy to feel that my right right hon. Friends have now come to the point of view I put nearly two years ago. We have had the complete disbanding of the organisation of Anti-Aircraft Command and the R.A.F. is now responsible, under my hon. Friend and his noble Friend, for the ground-to-air defence of this country.

I submit that it is not enough to say that the new type of weapon is not an improved gun. I think there is a certain contention in the matter. It is necessary to have a clear idea as to what organisation it is intended to establish in place of Anti-Aircraft Command. Anti-Aircraft defence is defence of the home citadel the importance of which has been reiterated time and again in this House. I know my hon. Friend entirely agrees with that. This evening I want him to develop a little more the reasons why we have not been given a more clear indication of the type of organisation which the Royal Air Force now proposes to put into being to replace Anti-Aircraft Command and to provide the necessary anti-aircraft defence of the country, which, I submit, is essential, and which, I think, is generally agreed as intended in the White Paper on Defence.

I wish to press my hon. Friend for answers on three separate issues. The first is the operational control of the organisation, the second the nature of that organisation itself, and the third the character of the organisation with the very important question of the morale of those it is intended to recruit and place within it.

To get the matter into correct perspective, I think it reasonable, as we have rather more time now than normally we would have in an Adjournment debate, to go back to a consideration of the organisation we had during the war. The Air Ministry, through Fighter Command, was responsible for the operational control of all anti-aircraft defence. However, control so far as the guns were concerned was exercised through the very considerable network of Anti-Aircraft Command, which has just been disbanded. The reason for that disbandment is quite clear. First, the antiaircraft gun is not capable of dealing with the supersonic threat. It is not capable of dealing with the rocket and, therefore, to maintain a very expensive structure, with many guns involved, is, quite clearly, not a sound proposition at present.

Secondly, and this is equally important, the whole of the network of reporting, both inwards and outwards and of control, involves such a time lag that it cannot cope with the very much increased supersonic rate of speed in any attack which might be expected. Therefore, I entirely endorse, as I am sure all hon. Members will endorse, the decision to remove Anti-Aircraft Command. The fact remains that there are still some antiaircraft regiments of the Royal Artillery and those regiments are being trained primarily for action in the field force. My hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that they may be used in the defence of the home front. We have done away with the mechanism of control through Anti-Aircraft Command. How are those units to be controlled in the event of their being required to operate on the home front in a swift emergency? As I see it, at the moment there is no organisation and no rules. Therefore, if they were required to operate I suspect that there would be an element of confusion in the whole proceeding.

That brings me to the difference of opinion between my hon. Friend and myself about the guided missile not being an improved form of gun. I believe that, technically, it is an improved form of anti-aircraft instrument. The point I would make very strongly tonight is that Anti-Aircraft is an operational theatre of war and cannot be left vacant without any form of replacement. The experience, knowledge and operational procedures—particularly technical procedures —and technicians who have been operating in Anti-Aircraft Command must not be allowed to be scattered and wasted in a way which, at present, I think there is a tendency for them to be wasted.

That brings me to the second point, organisation. The take-over of the responsibility for anti-aircraft was, I think, a little precipitate. I say this humbly, because I am not in possession of all the factors on which the Government acted in this matter. I am certain that it was right to hand over this responsibility to the R.A.F., because, if we are to have one control in this sphere, obviously it has to be in the hands of the R.A.F. It would have been better if, first, the Royal Air Force had been put into the picture in double harness with the Army. Then the Army could have been slowly eased out, leaving the new form of organisation completely under the control of the R.A.F. in situ ready to take over the new weapons when they were forthcoming and ready to take over straight away existing weapons which, in my opinion, are the basis for any consideration for new types of anti-aircraft defence measures.

That has not been done and I ask my hon. Friend to tell us whether it is intended, despite the fact that the new weapons are not immediately available, to set up the organisation in order to receive them when they are available. I should have thought that there was a very sound case for bringing the R.A.F. very much into the anti-aircraft picture without any further delay. It appears to me that a blank exists. I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared to say that it is intended to fill that blank. I suggest that the R.A.F. Regiment is best equipped to carry out this new rôle but that, of course, is a matter of policy for the Secretary of State for Air.

I make the suggestion for this reason. We all know that the R.A.F. is a proud, progressive service with a great tradition which, perhaps, puts a little higher premium on those who wear "wings," namely, those who operate in the air. What I am a little nervous of is that the new arrangement whereby anti-aircraft defence is to be handled by the R.A.F. may well mean that those who handle it do not stand quite so high in the R.A.F. scale of things as the anti-aircraft gunners did in the Army scale of things when Anti-Aircraft Command was a very considerable organisation, playing a very considerable part in the Army structure.

I should have thought that particular attention ought to be paid now—not at a later date—to the building up of this particular arm of the R.A.F. To give it a position of its own, the R.A.F. Regiment, which is a young service with plenty to build on and plenty to build for, should have been given this particular duty so that to a certain extent it could be independent of the normal R.A.F. structure. I am not, however, qualified to advise my hon. Friend. I merely seek advice and express to him my feelings about this problem.

Therefore, I am grateful for the opportunity of dealing with this specific aspect of defence. It is a limited one but is extremely important, and I hope we may hear that the whole of this new organisation is not to wait for the weapons to come forward. Despite what my hon. Friend has said, the weapons are only a development in anti-aircraft technique. At present, there are far too many people who have considerable knowledge but who are not being taken into consultation and whose knowledge is being lost to the Service as a whole. I believe that if my hon. Friend looks at this matter again and gives us and them rather fuller information, it would be in the best interests of the Service as a whole.

6.1 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Hon. Members are grateful to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) for raising this issue, which is, however, much wider than the rather technical points that he put before the House. The whole question behind it is the defence of this country in the light of the developments of modern warfare.

Although the hon. Member, from his experience of the last war, has given us some very interesting reminiscences and dealt with interesting points of organisation, yet I feel that this is a subject that the House must discuss at much greater length. We are indebted to the hon. Member for every opportunity which gives Service Ministers the chance to explain what is being done for the defence of this country against air attack in a possible future war.

At Question Time, I raised the question of what kind of defence we really have and what state the Royal Air Force is in compared with the air force of the country which is our potential enemy. In the debate on the Address, I listened to the very interesting speech by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing). His speech seemed to me very significant—indeed, sinister—because if all that he said about the developments of the Russian air force is true, this country is lagging far behind.

At Question Time, I was only able to ask a question as to what information the Government had about the new Russian bombers, which are the bombers which, presumably, will attack this country in the event of a future war. I was rather brushed aside by the Minister, who did not seem to think that it was the job of our Ambassador in Moscow to keep in touch with the developments of the air force of the Soviet Union. I do not know where the hon. Member for Hendon. North got his information, but he certainly seems to be much better informed than either the Foreign Secretary or our Ambassador.

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

It is all printed weekly in "Aviation Week."

Mr. Hughes

I am much obliged to the hon. Member. I shall certainly pursue my researches into "Aviation Week" before the next Air Estimates are debated. In the meantime, let us see the type of aeroplanes around which the hon. Member for Harrow, East, who initiated this Adjournment debate, presumably wishes to organise defence.

The hon. Member talked about the Anti-Aircraft Command. What kind of bombing force has the Anti-Aircraft Command to face? The hon. Member for Hendon, North will excuse me if I quote rather extensively from his speech of last week. It was a very important speech. Apparently, I am the only person who has treated it with the respect that it deserves.

The hon. Member for Hendon, North said: I want to direct attention to something which happened before the General Election and to draw one or two conclusions from it. I refer to the May Day fly-past of the Russian air force. This is always an event of tremendous importance to the Russian people. It is an occasion when the rest of the world, and particularly those interested in defence, examine the new weapons which are shown and try to draw conclusions from them. The Minister pointed out at Question Time that our Ambassador did see the fly-past on May Day in Red Square. On one occasion I saw a fly-past. It lasted about a fraction of a second and I was not able to make much of it. But we have been told by the hon. Member for Hendon, North that In that May Day fly-past were seen some of the most advanced aircraft that have ever been produced. They were seen, not singly but in considerable numbers. Surely, this is strange, because we thought that Russia was a very backward country and that Communism was extremely inefficient. But here we have the statement that to the surprise, apparently, of all the foreign observers on the Red Square, out of the blue came Russian aircraft which seemed to be infinitely superior to anything that the Royal Air Force has produced. That is a reflection upon the Minister and upon the Minister of Supply.

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

I heard my hon. Friend's speech. He never said anything about the Russian aircraft being superior to those of the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Hughes

The Minister will be able to give categorical contradictions later. I have here the hon. Member's speech, and that is the speech that alarmed me. He said: They are aircraft which are at present not matched by any in large-scale production in this country and hardly matched by any in the United States of America.

Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)

That is good enough.

Mr. Hughes

Yes, of course it is. Surely, if they are not matched by any in large-scale production in this country the evidence is that we do not have such aircraft to the extent that is presumed to be necessary. The quotation I have made from the hon. Member's speech shows the point that I am making. The fact is that the hon. Member does not get up to contradict the Minister.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

He will do so now.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I am sure that the hon. Member would agree that we must compare like with like. I was comparing the Russian four-jet bomber with a British four-jet bomber. I was not comparing a Russian four-jet bomber with the performance of the latest British fighter. Those are the two aircraft which have to fight it out one against the other. I was merely comparing bomber against bomber and fighter against fighter. Of the Russian jet bombers which I mentioned, 10 or 12 were seen. That is not the very large-scale production which the hon. Member has suggested.

Mr. Hughes

I had better continue my researches into the hon. Member's speech. If he was not alarmed, what was his purpose in making that speech? Surely, it was not for my edification.

The hon. Member said: I speak of some 12 four-jet bombers of extremely advanced design which were seen then for the first time. It is true that a prototype flew in a previous year, but it was then felt by the free nations that it might take a very long time to develop it, to put it into production and produce it in sufficient numbers to form a squadron. The hon. Member went on to say: As I say, on this occasion 12 four-jet bombers were seen flying over Moscow. That is extremely revealing as showing the tremendous progress Russia has made in solving scientific and production problems. This was under Communism. The hon. Member continued: At the same time a fighter, MIG 17, was seen in very substantial numbers. Here we have a supersonic fighter which is the equal of anything we are producing here. This is indeed an indictment, and the House and the Under-Secretary of State must be indebted to me for having listened to the hon. Member so that I can now produce what he said and so give the Under-Secretary of State an opportunity of answering it.

The hon Member went on: There is also a report that the Russians now have an all-weather fighter and a turboprop bomber of advance design in full-scale production. I would not ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—whom I see on the Front Bench—to comment on these developments at this stage. The hon. Member was giving the Under-Secretary of State notice, and he was giving other Ministers the necessary notice, too. I am sure that the reports are being examined and conclusions being drawn from them. Those of us who are not technical experts, who are merely laymen in these matters, would like some reassuring statement from the Under-Secretary of State, if this is indeed what has occurred, if there has been this tremendous development of the Russian bomber force. The Under-Secretary of State cannot now say that he has not had notice of these matters because he has had a week to think them over, and he has now this debate, which can last until 10.30 p.m., in which he can prove conclusively to us that the hon. Member for Hendon, North is merely an alarmist and that the Russian air force is not the formidable weapon of modern warfare that, in the debate on the Address, we were told it was.

The hon. Member went on to say: Russian technicians have produced aircraft of very advanced design, with engines of terrific thrust. I am talking not of engines with 10,000 1b. thrust but, perhaps, even of 20,000 1b. thrust, which puts them in a world-beating class. None of these things would have been achieved if Russia had not paid tremendous attention in the last decade to the production and training of scientific personnel. This, too, under a Communist Government.

It is very difficult to get exact figures, but it seems that for every thousand head of population Russia has 10 whole-time scientific students, the United States approximately one-third of that number, Switzerland about one-tenth and the United Kingdom one-twentieth. This augurs extremely ill not only for our future in defence, but for our future economic stability, exports and prosperity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 316–7.]

Mr. Orr-Ewing

A pretty good speech.

Mr. Hughes

That speech should be taken in conjunction with what the hon. Member for Harrow, East said in his speech today, and if these are the facts, then all this talk about the reorganisation of Anti-Aircraft Command to deal with these supersonic bombers, the fastest in the world, and the rockets, is beside the point. The hon. Member has completely under-estimated the problem of defence in the modern age. Other countries are treating this matter much more seriously.

I want to deal with the interjection of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) at Question Time today. In a supplementary question he said that the Russians had learned because they had received Rolls-Royce engines from this country. That is a curious state of affairs, is it not? Here is our potential enemy, the enemy we are arming against, the enemy always held up to us as the greatest threat to this country, and a firm like the Rolls-Royce company is exporting engines to them to give their bombing force superiority. If the Rolls-Royce company is spending its time helping to equip the Russian air force bombers with the best Rolls-Royce engines, that is a matter which should be inquired into.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recall that the export of these Nene engines was undertaken by the Government he supported between 1945 and 1950. We of this party were highly critical of the proposal to send 54 Nene engines to Russia. We are still critical of that. Certainly that was a blunder for which the Labour Government, which the hon. Member supported, bear responsibility. I do not recall that at that time the hon. Member raised any objection to the supply of those engines.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Member has a very short memory. Not only did I object to that, but I objected to the whole paraphernalia of the Air Estimates, one after another.

Really, this is a very lame excuse indeed. We have had two General Elections since the time of which the hon. Member speaks, and it is not good enough for the present Government and their supporters, including the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield with his supplementary question today, to explain everything by saying, "Oh, look at what the Labour Government did from 1945 to 1950." This is 1955. [HON. MEMBERS: "But that is what the Labour Government did."] If it was wrong to export Rolls-Royce engines to the Soviet Union in 1946, then instead of merely criticising what the Labour Government did, the first thing this Government should have done when they came into office in 1951 was to have stopped sending Rolls-Royce engines. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is what we did."] The logic is unanswerable.

We have drawn for us this picture of this most powerful air force equipped with Rolls-Royce engines, but hon. Members opposite have not prevented those engines from going to Russia. Presumably, there are certain financial interests not unconnected with the Rolls-Royce company that would not be particularly anxious to stop sending the engines.

There are trends of thought here which should be pursued to their logical conclusion. If the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is so proud of Rolls-Royce engines, and believes that they are the reason why the Russians have superiority, somebody should be indicted for treason for equipping the Russians with them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There might be a very large assortment of people in the dock. However, the responsibility in 1955 cannot be laid upon the Opposition. The Opposition have had nothing to do with this business since 1951. There has been a true-blue, patriotic, anti-Bolshevist, anti-Communist Government since that time—and here they are boasting that certain Rolls-Royce engines are equipping the Soviet Union's air force.

Mr. Ian Harvey

The hon. Gentleman has had his fun and we have enjoyed it, but the fact is that those Rolls-Royce engines that were sent to Russia were sent only under the Government—I will not say the hon. Gentleman supported but to whose party he belongs—and none has been sent since.

Mr. Hughes

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not quite as innocent as that? The Rolls-Royce company must have known that the engines were going to be sent to Russia. They were surely not smuggled into Russia in some sinister way by the Labour Government? Obviously, the Rolls-Royce engines were sent to Russia with the knowledge and the connivance of the Rolls-Royce company. That is the point.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

They were made by the Rolls-Royce company but they were sent to Russia under the direction of the Minister of Supply at the time, and the then Minister of Defence supported that. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).

Mr. Hughes

I must confess that I made some attacks upon my right hon. Friend when he was in office, but I missed this one.

However, here we have the inescapable fact that Rolls-Royce technicians, and organisers of the Rolls-Royce company, supplied these engines willingly, and the engines were exported to the Soviet Union, so hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot complain now if the Soviet technicians, about whom the hon. Member for Hendon, North is so fulsome in his praise, have improved on them. The argument of the hon. Member's speech was that the Soviet Union had spent so much money on improving the Rolls-Royce engines of the bombers that she had now built the most formidable air force in the world.

What are these trifling criticisms of the Ministry, however, in the perspective of the problem of the defence of this country? We have become the most dangerously situated country in the world, and we do not seem to be preparing for attack by one of the most powerful air forces in the world. America is doing better than we are. At Question Time today I asked a Question about air-raid precautions in the United States. I was very interested, because obviously if the menace of the Russian bomber force is so great we should be doing more than pottering about with anti-aircraft battalions in this country. We ought to have something on the lines of what the United States organised last week.

I tried to press the Government today in order to discover whether there had been any reports from the British Ambassador. We were told over the wireless and in the Press that there was a civil defence exercise in America, that President Eisenhower and his military advisers had left the capital to take refuge in some place three hundred miles away from Washington. Surely, that should be of some interest, and I wanted to know whether the British Ambassador had furnished us with a report, and what part he had played in the exercises.

We were told in the Press that the assumption of the United States civil defence authorities was that Washington had been obliterated, and apparently the British Ambassador had been left in the obliteration. This exercise is the sort of thing that America is doing—not pottering about wondering about Anti-aircraft Command and small things like that. We are told in the "New York Herald-Tribune" that President Eisenhower directed government operations today from this secret mountain hideaway after 'fleeing' from a sham nuclear bomb attack which theoretically razed Washington. Apparently the President had not great confidence in the Anti-aircraft Command, of the United States. We are told that, The President arrived at the relocation center by automobile late yesterday afternoon—six hours and five minutes after leaving the capital as sirens wailed the approach of 'enemy' bombers. … He also went on nation-wide radio and television briefly to tell the people: 'We are here to determine whether or not the government is prepared in time of emergency to continue the function of government so that there will be no interruption in the business that must be carried on'. We are supposed to be in a more dangerous position that the United States. This country is the aircraft carrier of Western Europe. It has become the base of the American Air Force. America is 3,000 miles away, but we here have nothing like the preparations which have been made in that country.

Whenever we ask the Home Secretary about Civil Defence we receive vague assurances which do not convince anybody; but in this report in the "New York Herald-Tribune" we are told: Serious and even somewhat grim about it all, the President spoke from an army tent erected at the relocation center. About all that can be written about this emergency White House is that it is located in a woody, mountainous area within the 300-mile radius from Washington in which the President and 15,000 other Government employees scattered yesterday. The report concludes: This rehearsal of sudden colossal devastation and death was the biggest of its kind in history, embracing 50 cities on the mainland and in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone. With Mr. Eisenhower into hideaways within a 300-mile radius of Washington went 15,000 key government officials. Left behind were Congress and the Supreme Court, the other two branches of the Government"— and the British Ambassador. The British Ambassador will not be able to find the latest instructions of President Eisenhower as to what the policy of his country is likely to be.

Behind all this are the realities. None of the questions that are being put to the Minister comes anywhere near the realities of the problem. I should like to see the House discussing the realities. Last week we had a speech from the Foreign Secretary which contained the usual platitudinous phrases. He told us in one sentence that the Government's policy was negotiation not force, and when we waited for an explanation of that rather curious statement he went on to say that it meant negotiation from strength. But here are the facts about the so-called attempt to prevent the bombing of this country by enemy aircraft.

One of the strongest air forces in the world can inflict incomparable destruction which could knock us out within about a week. We have been told over and over again that half a dozen H-bombs could destroy our industrial life, yet in a debate on the Adjournment we are talking about pottering anti-aircraft defences. I do not think that the Government will be doing their duty until they tackle this most important problem.

We should be devoting far more time to discovering whether the Government have any real policy to prevent the destruction of the country in the event of an atomic attack. We have not got anywhere near that point. He should have something more substantial than mere references to the technical points which have been raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, East.

6.27 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I am not going to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) metaphorically into the stratosphere and discuss the weighty considerations which he raised. I am sure that he must have caused the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) some alarm by developing on such a large and, indeed, cosmic basis the theme which the hon. Member introduced. That does not mean, of course, that the points which my hon. Friend raised are not matters of the gravest possible concern. I hope that by the time all hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate have spoken, the Under-Secretary of State for Air will have equipped himself with the necessary information to enable him to deal in some fashion with the points raised by my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East has raised on one or two previous occasions the subject to which he has referred in this debate. Like the hon. Member, I was associated in some degree with antiaircraft defences during the war. It is, of course, the policy of the present Government to abolish Anti-aircraft Command as we knew it in those days. I have no objection to abolishing anything which has become out of date or does not meet the needs of the present situation, but what I do object to is abolishing something like Anti-Aircraft Command, however outmoded it might be in some respects, without putting something in its place.

On the narrow issue, the serious business of the present situation is that the Government have decided to abolish Anti-Aircraft Command but have not devised any kind of machinery or organisation to take its place. The hon. Member for Harrow, East was quite right in suggesting, even at the cost of imperilling his future prospects in the Conservative Party, that the Government have in this particular sector of our defence created a vacuum, which, of course, must be an additional source of danger in the security arrangements.

The hon. Member referred to the rôle that the R.A.F. Regiment might be able to play. He did not have time or it was not his intention on this occasion to refer to the better use that could have been made of the Territorial Army officers and men who did a good job in anti-aircraft defence during the war and in the years after it. They are being pushed into all sorts of other activities where, perhaps, the skill and experience which they have acquired are going to be wasted.

There is one other matter on which I have had correspondence with the Under-Secretary of State for Air and to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Harrow, East. It is this wastage which he suspects is taking place in allowing some of these people who are civilians and who are highly skilled in radar and electronics to leave the R.A.F. and go into civilian employment. When the Government want such men they will find them extremely difficult to get back. That will be an additional source of weakness in the anti-aircraft defence of this country if it is still to be dependent in the future upon the development of radar and electronic devices.

I know that the matter is under careful consideration by the Air Ministry and with the interests concerned. I hope that that means that a device will be arranged to prevent the loss of these highly qualified people through their departure to private industry, for if a crisis arises there will be a rush by the Service Departments to get these men back. That will be an additional source of delay and confusion at a time when more urgent matters have to be considered.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to deal with the large and important issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. The House is entitled to be told what the Government have decided to put in the place of Anti-Aircraft Command and when the new organisation is to operate. A very legitimate question has been raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, East, and the House is entitled to the fullest possible information.

6.35 p.m.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

Like the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), I deplore the vacuum left by the abolition of Anti-Aircraft Command. I agree there is an enormous field of electronics to be investigated, and I should like to say that Portsmouth has probably the best electronic experts in the country. It is very desirable that industry should come to Portsmouth and use the electronic brains which are there instead of, as is happening at present, having them exported to other cities to meet the demand made by industrialists.

The country needs these electronic experts very badly and if they are concentrated in a particular city like Portsmouth, which suffered so badly in the war, they would be available for the Territorial Army at any time instead of being scattered all over the country. What is required is for industrialists to set up their factories in Portsmouth where these electronic experts are available. One has already done so, and I hope that others will be ready to follow that example. That is all I have to say on this subject.

6.36 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I agree that this is a very important debate. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) was indeed fortunate to get an Adjournment for about four and a half hours to debate such an important issue.

I was rather surprised that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) seemed to attack my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) about the supply of Nene engines to Russia in 1945 and 1946. It is a frightful reflection upon Britain's aircraft industry that, after having had Nene engines before the Russians, it is so far behind the Russians now that the Russians are able to produce a four-engined bomber that completely outclasses anything in the West.

Does that mean that Rolls-Royce have done nothing to better this engine or that nothing has been done to evolve a better engine based on the Nene? What have we done? Does it mean that Russian scientists and technicians are superior to ours? That seems to be the case, because it is not so long ago since there was an offer of £20,000 to any Pole or Russian who would fly to the West an undamaged MIG fighter. Apparently what we cannot produce with brains we will buy with dollars or sterling, if we can.

That is a serious reflection upon our scientists and technologists. I sometimes wonder whether there is a sort of vested interest in a contemporary product which is reducing good profits and the development of which is prevented because it is felt that the expense of new designs is unwarrantable when a company is doing so well out of it. I do not know whether that is a factor in the aircraft industry, but I know it did prevail in British industry between the wars. A brake on technological development and better designing was that an existing product was producing ample reward and there was no need to indulge in the expense of research for a new product. But, as I say, it is a serious indictment of the aircraft industry that the Russians have developed out of the Nene engine a type of engine far superior to anything that we have developed from it.

I do not know whether this is correct, but I am led to believe that an aircraft, flying low, cannot be picked up by radar. I do not know what flying low is, whether it is a 100 or 200 feet. I did, however, see a film called the "Dam Busters" and in it seemed to be a new device to enable planes to fly over water at, I think, 60 feet. When the lights from two lamps underneath the aircraft were synchronised the aircraft was 60 feet above the water. I do not know whether any device has been invented to enable aircraft to fly consistently between 100 and 150 feet above the earth. If that could be done, they could not be picked up by radar.

According to my knowledge of geography, the land between the Ural mountains and the Midlands of Britain is flat, so that aircraft could fly low all the way over and, therefore, could not be picked up by radar. If that is so, how are we to stop them by ground-to-air missiles? I cannot visualise a missile which could destroy aircraft flying at 600 or 700 miles an hour 200 feet above the ground.

Mr. Ian Harvey

I do not want to enter into a technical argument, but an aircraft flying so low could not safely drop any atomic or nuclear weapon with any degree of accuracy or without blowing itself up.

Mr. Bence

That is interesting, but if such an aircraft set off from the Ural mountains, flying at 200 feet, when it reached the coast of Britain it could at once rise to a greater height, and how could we get our equipment switched round in time? It would be too late, because the hydrogen bomb would have been dropped, and, although we might kill the man who dropped the bomb, there would be no defence of our people.

We were told during the last war that the Japanese had suicide men who volunteered to pilot their submarines into British battleships, committing hara kiri in the process. We do not know that the Russians could not get volunteers to fly high-speed bombers at a height at which they could not be picked up by radar until they reached the Norfolk coast. Then they could rise to 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 feet before dropping the bomb, knowing well that they would be destroyed themselves.

Nothing I have heard will convince the people that the Government have any proposals for defending us against a hydrogen bomb attack. Some of us remember the composite pictures in the illustrated magazines, in 1938, of huge nets stretching across the sky from balloons. It was said that no aircraft could get through these nets. I remember the arguments in a factory in Birmingham. We said, "They will never get through that lot. An aeroplane has only to hit that to crash." We know what happened. The balloons went up—and so did the buildings in Birmingham. The balloons did not seem to make any difference. That was one method. Another was the "Queen Bee," a pilotless aeroplane. Then there was the "Magic Ray," which would pick out an aircraft and bring it down by stopping its magneto or some other electrical part.

Then the war came, but none of these things existed. They were all part of a fairy tale and the balloons were useless. No, I cannot believe that the Government are doing anything to prevent the civilian population from being destroyed should we be engaged in an atomic war. I do not say that they ought to be able to do something, because I do not believe that the scientists and engineers have an answer to this tremendous weapon of destruction.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

There is only one: stop manufacturing it.

Mr. Bence

But we have to get the other people to agree. It is the other people who matter—

Mr. Shurmer

We are always in the right; they are always in the wrong.

Mr. Bence

Let us be fair about that. It is the people in other countries who make it who will drop it on us, so we must stop them making the bomb.

Mr. Shurmer

We must stop making it ourselves.

Mr. Bence

That would not necessarily stop them. If we want to stop the manufacture of hydrogen bombs the nations of the world must get together and compromise on their ideas. Do not let us assume for a moment that there is no need for compromise because we have a defence against the other person's weapon, for we have no defence. The Russians have no defence against our bombing them and we have no defence against the Russians bombing us. People are hoodwinking themselves if they believe that they have a defence against this weapon. That is why all this haranguing is going on, all this talk of arguing from strength, when, in fact, they are all arguing from weakness.

There was a cartoon in one of the daily papers—

Mr. Shurmer

In the "Daily Express" this morning.

Mr. Bence

—showing two people talking from strength, each with a revolver pointing at the other's chest. We are all talking from weakness, because if we can smash the other fellow, and he can smash us, it is no defence.

Brigadier Clarke

Before the First World War there was a Geneva Convention to prevent the use of gas. As a result there was no gas used by this country and we had no defence against it; but gas was used by the Germans and there are many people today suffering from lung trouble because it was used. In the Second World War, we had a defence against gas but it was never used. If we abandoned the hydrogen bomb, which is what I think the hon. Gentleman was defending, we would stand a good chance of being bombed by it, whereas it provides a good defence for this country if we have it to retaliate with. I therefore suggest that the hon. Gentleman should not throw away the defence he has got, since he suggests that no other is any good.

Mr. Bence

I am not suggesting throwing any defence away. I am arguing that to have a weapon with which to destroy the other fellow is no defence against our own people being destroyed. The hydrogen bomb is not a defensive weapon; it is an offensive one.

Brigadier Clarke

It is a deterrent.

Mr. Bence

It is a retaliatory weapon to be used if the other fellow uses his, it is not a weapon of defence. We are making the point that there are no plans and there is no possibility of defending our civilian population.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire spoke of President Eisenhower going to a mountain hide-away, 300 miles from Washington. Let us work it out. We could go to Ben Nevis. Fort William is a lovely spot. I dare say the nation could be run from there, certainly that is about the nearest point. The Isle of Man is 300 miles from the centre of population, but that would be difficult because of the water in between. No, I cannot see how it would be possible to maintain the necessary social cohesion in this island if half a dozen aircraft got through.

Surely no one would contend that if 50 or 100 aircraft were in the air, half a dozen would not get through our defences. I remember that in the "Dam Busters" 15 or more aircraft set off from a base in this country and only three or four were shot down. The rest got through and burst the dams. They were four-engined Lancaster bombers, and now the hon. Member for Hendon, North is talking about supersonic bombers flying at 20,000 or 30,000 feet.

Does anyone really believe that if 20 of these bombers started off from Russia and they were not picked up by radar until within ten miles of our coast, some of them would not get through? If 50 such bombers started, only one would need to get through to the southern counties and the southern counties would have "had it." Where does the defence of the people come in? There is no defence at all.

We should probably destroy the aircraft, but what is the use of that? It might give some satisfaction—if it can be called satisfaction, though it is none to me—to think that at the same time as that bomber arrived here one of ours also arrived over there. It would give no satisfaction at all to me to think that the people of Moscow were being killed at the same time as the people in London. I cannot see that there is any possibility at all of evolving a system of defence against such weapons.

What are we to do in this country? Surely, if the Government are really concerned about this question, if they believe that there is a possibility of war and of this country being bombed, if they want to protect the civilian population, there are two things they could do. First, they could build deep shelters all along the Clyde, for what is the situation there? There are huge oil storage tanks along the river, which now extend even up to Gareloch, and if anything happened in that area a frightful situation would result. The Clyde would be on fire, and it would be impossible to use any boats at all to get people away from Glasgow, and this would apply all the way to Gareloch.

What are the Government going to do about these people? Leave them there living in their tenement houses and houses built with four-inch bricks? If the Government are really thinking of defending these people, they need not only ground-to-air missiles, but something that will give these people reasonable defence while the job is going on. The Government should be preparing deep shelters up in the Kilpatrick Hills. As I suggested once before in a debate on the Navy Estimates, we ought to have more aircraft carriers up there, capable of taking 5,000 or 10,000 passengers out of Glasgow and the industrial area as soon as war broke out, so as to get the people away as soon as trouble started.

I have no confidence at all in ground-to-air missiles preventing bombers from attacking our industrial centres. I just cannot see how it can be done. If we have platforms built in Scotland in order to protect Glasgow, and rockets are discharged, who knows where they will land? They might land on London, in which case the people in London will want to know more about them. If the Secretary of State for Scotland agrees to some of these platforms for the launching of ground-to-air missiles being provided in the Kilpatrick Hills to the north of Glasgow, somebody will want to know where the missiles will land. They might even land in Birmingham, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) would be very worried about it. They might land in France, or in Brussels or somewhere else on the Continent.

What are these missiles? Are they capable of missing their target when they are fired? They are supposed to be homing rockets which, once they are discharged, are attracted to their target, but are they only to be attracted to a target in the air? To me, the whole thing is just eyewash, and, in my view, the general public will say that this is just another sort of trick to give the people confidence that, if war should come, they will be protected, in the same way as we had the "Queen Bee" and the "Magic Ray," which was supposed to pick out an aircraft and bring it down.

I am worried about the practical possibility of defending our people against air bombing, and the more I think about it and the more I face this problem of guided missiles, the more I am convinced that this is all too dangerous. I hope that after some of my hon. Friends have put their points to him the Minister will answer these serious questions. I hope he will tell us why it is that the Russians, who, supposedly, have not imported any Nene engines since 1945 or 1946, have evolved an aircraft engine far superior to anything which Rolls-Royce or anybody else has evolved.

I hope that he will also say whether the Government now have anything with which to replace Anti-Aircraft Command. Have they made any provision at all to prevent the bombing of this country, no matter how many aircraft may be sent against us, by hydrogen bombs? What proposals have they for protecting the people against such bombing, assuming that bombers will get through? That is what the people really want to know.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

It is not my intention to follow the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on this question of whether we shall be bombed from the air and what defence we are likely to have. While we have the Under-Secretary of State for Air here, I think it would be interesting to know why there is a certain discrimination in the acceptance of men for the three Services.

Why is it that some men who are called up and are desirous of entering the Royal Air Force are not allowed into that Service? I have in mind a case, concerning which the Under-Secretary will soon be receiving the correspondence, in which a young man was called up and wished to go into the Royal Air Force. Like many other young men, he went out with his pals and had a merry evening, as a result of which he came in conflict with the police. He was summoned and fined for a supposed assault: I suppose he was just arguing with the policeman. A couple of days after he had reached his R.A.F. station, this boy was politely told "We have no further use for your services here. Home you go, to await being called up into the Army."

I do not like this discrimination between the Services, because to my mind one is as good as another. They all do their share, and unless it definitely be proved that men are unfitted to do certain work that has to be done in certain sections of the R.A.F. or the Royal Navy, I do not think this sort of thing should happen. One very seldom hears of men being refused for Army service.

It is always said that the Royal Navy is the senior Service, but the R.A.F. has been arguing with the Royal Navy as to which really is the senior Service. It seems to me that the Army is not regarded very highly, or, at any rate, not so highly regarded as is the R.A.F. I wonder why it is that men are being pushed out from the R.A.F. and told, "You are not fit for the Royal Air Force; you can go in the Army."

There is another point which I wish to raise. I was astounded the other day—although I had some suspicions about this matter—when I heard that a man who had been called up for his National Service, medically examined and found to be fit for the Royal Air Force, had, when he reached the place where he was to be stationed, to go before another medical board, which found him unfit.

Is it not silly for the Ministry of Labour and National Service to have these medical boards passing men fit for a certain Service, and then, when the men enter that Service, they have to have another medical examination, the result of which contradicts that of the first? What a waste of time and money to have Ministry of Labour medical officers examining men twice, when we ought to have proper medical officers examining men and finally deciding whether or not they are fit for the particular Service in which they desire to serve.

The only question which should be the subject of investigation is whether or not the men are capable of carrying out the work that will be required of them in a particular Service. It seems silly that men should be given a medical examination and the impression that they are going into a certain branch of the Forces, and then, when they do enter, another medical board decides that they are unfit.

There are serious complaints about the time between the Ministry's medical examination of a man and his call-up. I have a Question down upon this subject for answer next week, and I hope that the matter will be gone into. Some men are lucky enough to be called up within a week or two of having their medical examination, but I have recently heard of cases in which men have had to wait six to nine weeks, and one man had to wait twelve weeks. That was before the railway strike, during which some call-ups had to be postponed because of transport difficulties.

While the men are waiting to be called up their home life, social life and industrial life are completely upset. A man awaiting call-up may be engaged in a very important job, and his employer may find it necessary, in view of the uncertainty, to give the man notice and get another in his place. Such a man is unable to make social engagements as he does not know the date when he will be called up. He may need to buy new clothes, and he is in a difficulty in that respect in that he knows that his life in the Services may well have some effect upon his measurements?

Why cannot the two-year period of National Service count from the day when the man has the Ministry of Labour and National Service medical examination? As the War Office and the Admiralty are not represented in the Chamber at the moment, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will think about the matter and tell us what he knows about the long period which often elapses between the initial medical examination and the call-up. I suppose it is a matter for the Minister of Defence, but I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider whether it would be worth while counting that period towards the period of National Service.

With regard to discrimination between types of men going into National Service, it seems to me that a man who is ready to enter the defence Services is, unless he has a particularly skilled or intricate job, equally fit and eligible for the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force. Yet many men seem to be pushed into the Army, which makes it look as if the Army is the lowest branch of the Services.

7.3 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I had no intention of taking part in the debate until I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) raise what I consider to be more important than any of the other matters which have been raised as to whether or not we have the right types of machines, whether Russia has better bombers than we have, and whether the Rolls-Royce engine has been developed more by the Russians than by Rolls-Royce. More important than types of engines is the manpower in the Forces.

We ought to examine what appears to be the growing practice of deliberately and purposely keeping in the Royal Air Force men, particularly National Service men, who, it is known, are undoubtedly unfit for any type of service. Recently there has been drawn to the attention of the House the case of an individual—his name is known; I shall not state it—who entered the Forces and was found to have something very much wrong with a foot. He was in the Forces for a very short space of time and was then discharged.

I read in the Press that this man will have an operation and that it is hoped that he will continue his normal civilian occupation. There has been some argument in the Press, and, to my way of thinking, this poor chap has not been fairly treated by the Press. It has been said—it has been hinted in this House—that he has had preferential treatment. It has been said that he has been discharged because he is a national figure engaged in some well-known sporting activity.

I do not know, and I am not going to pass judgment upon that, but it is strange that in some instances a National Service man is discharged because he has some disablement, which nobody but the Royal Air Force medical branch knows, which makes him unfit to do his service, when many other men, who on medical evidence available are far less fitted to serve, are retained in the Royal Air Force.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) has referred in the House to a man serving abroad who has damaged feet and has been excused all activity. He has also referred to a man who was born an invalid and has been more or less useless for any activity since he has been in the Royal Air Force.

I have supplied the Under-Secretary with details about a constituent of mine. Before the man went into the Royal Air Force, the medical authorities knew that he was physically incapable of carrying out the normal activity expected of a National Service man. Notwithstanding that, the man was taken into the Royal Air Force. He was excused all marching, drilling and sporting activities. He was even excused the wearing of normal Service uniform because it was found that he could not wear Royal Air Force boots: it was eventually suggested that he would have at all times to wear shoes. He was excused all lectures.

In fact, the man was kept in the Royal Air Force in order to make himself generally useful. That meant making tea. He had to go around doing any odd job in order to keep himself occupied. Hon. Members who have been in the Forces know what that usually means. It means that a man can do anything he likes provided that he hides himself away from the eyes of the commanding officer.

Since the man has been in the Royal Air Force his disability has been getting worse, although he has had several medical examinations.

Mr. Shurmer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Opera glasses are being used in the Gallery.

Mr. Speaker

No doubt the attendants will deal with the matter.

Mr. Lewis

My constituent was, and is, completely unfit for normal activities. He has had several medical examinations, and has even been seen by specialists; he has had four or five opinions about his disability, but so far no one has been able to tell him exactly what is wrong. He was told that he was to be issued with special insoles so that he could be fit enough to carry on the activity of making tea. The special insoles have made his feet worse and could have been obtained in any Woolworth's or chemist's shop anywhere in the country.

I suggest that the Air Force is deliberately taking in men who are known not to be up to the usual standard, and in some circumstances these men could do a much better job in a normal civilian occupation. The man to whom I have just referred happens to be a qualified instrument mechanic. When the Under-Secretary replies, I hope that he will seriously answer this point. He knows the details of the case. Surely it is far better, in the interests of the country, in the interests of the Air Ministry, and in the interests of this Service man and the rest of the Service men, for this man to go back to his job of being an instrument mechanic, a job which is essential for the life and well-being of the country, rather than stay in the Air Force, continuing to be excused drills, lectures and other activities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford has collected literally dozens of cases such as this. He has been in the Air Force and knows just how a man must feel, knowing that he is there as a passenger being excused all activity, because he is not up to it, while seeing his friends and colleagues getting on with the job. I shall not say that the man who was discharged was unfairly discharged. What I do feel is that there are many men, particularly in the Air Force, who should be back at their normal civilian occupation.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will have a personal investigation made of these dozens of cases of National Service men who have been taken into the Air Force just because the National Service Acts say that they must serve their period of time and because once the men are in the Service it is felt that a duty is owed to the Air Ministry at least to make the men fit when they are not fit.

I understood that the objective of the original medical examination was to see if a man was fit for service and if he was fit then he was graded and put into a branch of the Forces. If it is known before a man goes into the Forces that he is not fit, surely it is wrong to take him in the hope that by some experimentation, by supplying him with rubber soles, or giving him some help and assistance, he can be made fit to carry out normal duties. Unless something is done to keep out these unfit people, I am convinced that the Air Ministry will never have a satisfactory Service such as we knew during the war.

7.13 p.m.

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

May I bring the attention of the House back to the original subject of the debate, ground-to-air defence of the United Kingdom? I am very glad indeed to have this opportunity of trying to put this matter into its right perspective and to say something of the principles which are influencing us in our development of guided missiles and our plans for their development, production and operational employment.

The first point to make is one which has already been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey). It is simply that the methods of air defence which we knew in the last war have been made completely out of date by the performance of modern aircraft.

As my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary said in the debate on the Address, the Government decided that they were no longer justified in continuing to expend money and manpower on heavy anti-aircraft guns, because their effectiveness had been so radically reduced by the development of nuclear weapons and by the development of long-range aircraft capable of flying at very high speeds and very high altitudes. Therefore, I do not think that there is any great difference of opinion between myself and my hon. and gallant Friend about that.

My hon. Friend expressed his agreement with the decision to disband Anti-Aircraft Command and I well remember that he was advocating its abolition as long ago as December, 1953. The question is whether it was abolished prematurely. The answer must be in the negative, because if any system becomes out of date, it is absurd to continue spending money and manpower upon it, even though there may be no obvious replacement immediately available for it.

That brings me to the next question. What is the replacement for it? Some hon. Members, particularly the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) have spoken of a vacuum. If there is a vacuum, it must be filled. With what? Clearly, if guns have been made obsolete by the performance of modern aircraft, it is no good replacing guns with more guns. The answer is that they must be and are being replaced by a single air defence system in which some of our fighters will be manned and some will be unmanned and expendable. Of course, it would have been a happy coincidence if the reduction of our gun defences could have been accompanied by the introduction of the new surface-to-air guided weapons which will play an increasingly important part in our defence system.

As I have said, the disbandment of our gun defences was a necessary step on its own merits. The affinity of the guided weapon to the fighter is such that it is quite wrong, in spite of what my hon. Friend for Harrow, East has said—and I have the greatest respects for his opinions —to regard the guided weapon as an improved, but natural successor to the gun. The manned fighter and the guided weapon have this in common, that both can be directed to bring their destructive power to bear upon their target after they have left their airfield or launching station.

That is the difference between the guided weapon and the gun. With a gun, once one has discharged one's round, there is nothing that one can do about it. But one can guide the manned fighter and the guided weapon after they have left their launching station. The present disparity in range between the fighter and the guided weapon will be progressively reduced. I want to emphasise the point which I have made on previous occasions and which I am sure is at the core of the whole of this matter. It is that surface-to-air guided weapons must be regarded as an addition to the power of our fighters and not as a kind of gun.

They are a specialised form of fighter and the operational techniques associated with them are most nearly related to orthodox fighter operations. Indeed, so far as we can see, the manned fighter and the ground-to-air guided weapon will continue to be complementary in air defence and it would be a mistake to suppose that we can foresee any decrease in our need for air crews of the highest possible quality to man that part of our fighter defences. It was precisely because we regard ground-to-air guided weapons and fighters as complementary that we decided to give the responsibility for these guided weapons to the Royal Air Force.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East spoke of transferring the responsibility. There was nothing to transfer. We have always had responsibility for the guided weapon. This decision was taken long before the decision to abolish Anti-Aircraft Command and independently of it.

Mr. Ian Harvey

My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I referred to the transfer of responsibility for ground-to-air defence and, of course, that was transferred, as he had indicated, from the Royal Artillery to the R.A.F.

Mr. Ward

Only a part of it—only the heavy anti-aircraft. The heavy antiaircraft guns disappeared altogether and The guided weapons were born in the R.A.F. There was no question of transferring them to the R.A.F. Of course, the light anti-aircraft guns still have an important part to play against low-flying aircraft, and these will remain, but their mumber is not great and it is not great enough to justify keeping the whole of the Anti-Aircraft Command structure.

The guns deployed in the defence of targets in the United Kingdom will continue to be controlled operationally as they have been in the past by Fighter Command through the sector operations centre which has in it the light Anti-Aircraft executive officer who is an Army officer in direct touch with the light antiaircraft units. The detailed system of control is well known and was in force before it was decided to disband Anti-Aircraft Command. There is, therefore, no reason at all why operational effectiveness should suffer in any way from the new arrangement.

To the men and women who manned Anti-Aircraft Command in the past we owe a great debt of gratitude. Indeed, no one appreciates more fully than the Royal Air Force the great contribution which these people made to the study of our air defence problems. If they have not been selected to man the ground-to-air guided weapons of the future it is only because these weapons set a completely nw kind of problem and require a different organisation. It is certainly no reflection whatever on their skill and devotion in the past. It is merely that the problems that we are now studying fall into quite a different category.

These problems are still the subject of intensive study and experiment, but it is already clear that we shall need large numbers of highly-skilled technical men, on the one hand, and men who are fully experienced in fighter operations, on the other.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that the same kind of air crew "types" as handled the manned aircraft will also be given the job of handling the ground-to-air guided missiles?

Mr. Ward

I was just coming to that.

My hon. Friend spoke of using the R.A.F. Regiment. I would sooner say this: that it does not matter in the least whether a man happens to belong to the R.A.F. Regiment or the general duties branch or even the secretarial branch. What matters are his qualifications. If he has the technical qualifications or the special knowledge and experience of fighter operations then those qualifications will be useful to us. It is quite wrong to tie down the operation of these missiles to any particular branch of the Service without specifying the qualifications necessary in the men we use.

Reference has been made from time to time to the position in the United States of America.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

The hon. Gentleman has dealt with defence against aircraft. Will he deal with defence against rockets?

Mr. Ward

I hope that I may be allowed to make my speech in my own way.

Mr. Hunter

I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to America.

Mr. Ward

I am, but I am coming back. I have a return ticket.

It is misleading to try to compare our position with that of the United States. They have to provide continental defence in depth. They are also richer. For their own purposes they have decided to develop and introduce a type of guided weapon system which is in some respects more akin to the gun defences which we know, and which they still retain, than to the sort of system which we think we want for the defence of these islands.

The object of the air defence of Great Britain, on the other hand, has always been to destroy the enemy bomber as far away as possible from our closely concentrated centres of industry and population. This is more than ever necessary in the nuclear age. As I said in my speech on the Air Estimates, the ideal is, by a combination of guided weapons and manned fighters, to try to bring bombers down well out to sea. I hope that that deals with the fear of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) that we might drop them on Glasgow or that the Scots might drop them on London. The object is to bring them down well out to sea.

Moreover, we must remember that the Americans started rather earlier than we did. As a result they have been able to put a weapon into service earlier, but, because we started later, and because our needs are different, we have had to set our sights higher and we shall take longer to achieve an operational deployment. Having said that, I should not like it to be thought that we have any reason to be ashamed of the state of our development.

The problems in so new a field are, of course, enormous. Apart from the warhead, there are four main elements to be dealt with in the missile: aerodynamics, propulsion, guidance and the control system. It is necessary to prove each of these elements separately by experimental firings. They have to be coupled up into a complete guided and controlled missile to be fired at actual targets.

Then, in addition to the missiles themselves, there has to be extensive development of radar equipment to control them. Radars and missiles must then be proved capable of operating satisfactorily as a system. But there is still more to it than this. With conventional types of weapon one can generally take for granted that when a weapon has been successfully developed it can be successfully produced.

One can also normally assume that a new weapon can readily be maintained and operated by Service units established for the purpose. But in so new a field as this it is necessary to start virtually from scratch in creating industrial capacity to produce the weapon and to prove that industry can produce not only reliable weapons, but ones which can be maintained and operated by the Royal Air Force under field conditions. Then again, the problem of training and developing new operational techniques is very clearly a different matter from adapting old techniques to suit an advanced type of a basically familiar weapon.

The development of these operational techniques is further complicated by the need to integrate as closely as possible our new ground-to-air weapons with our existing air defence system, and in addition the whole of our development and trials programme must be aimed at producing weapons which are capable of further development to meet advances in the performance of enemy aircraft in the foreseeable future. This has meant that we have had to develop these weapons along more than one line.

These are all difficult problems which must be resolved to enable the ground-to-air weapon to nose out the bomber and destroy it. Although we share the natural impatience of the House and of the public to see these weapons in full-scale production, I do not think we have any real reason for dissatisfaction with the progress we have made. Hundreds of full-scale rounds have already been fired. I myself visited the test firing range in Wales last week, and I was most heartened by what I saw.

There is, however, still much to be done. There is not only a lot of development work but a lot of research work to be done, and I would not pretend for a moment that we are likely to see any large operational development tomorrow or the day after. But provided that all goes well, there is no reason why our programme of development and trials should not merge into large-scale production for operational use by a steady and continuous process in the years which lie immediately ahead. As each new problem arises, it will be tackled by our scientists, and as the threat to these islands develops it will be tackled in new and up-to-date methods.

I was asked about the ballistic missile. I am certainly not in a position tonight to say what progress we are making—

Mr. Hunter

Does the hon. Gentleman admit that there is no defence against the atomic rocket?

Mr. Ward

May I please finish what I was saying?

I was asked about the ballistic rocket. I am certainly not in a position tonight to say what progress we are making to counter that dreadful weapon, but what I am saying is that we in these islands have the finest scientific knowledge and brains of any country in the world, and if a problem of that kind is soluble there is no one better than us to solve it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Eight o'clock.