That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 272,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956.
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I understood, Mr. Speaker, that it was your Ruling that the discussion this afternoon should cover the whole of the field which would be covered by the Air Estimates themselves, and that we should not be confined to discussions on particular Votes.
On the last occasion on which we discussed the Air Estimates, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, in the final speech which he made early on Friday morning, made one or two statements which I should like to examine this afternoon. I think that we were all glad to know that there had been this substantial percentage increase—I think the hon. Gentleman said 35 per cent.—in the front line strength of our fighter force. I know that the hon. Gentleman will not object to my reminding him that probably the whole of that increase is accounted for by the fact that the late Labour Government procured between 200 and 300 Sabres from the American and Canadian Governments, which have now been put into squadron service.
The hon. Gentleman also indicated that the night fighter force had been increased by 175 per cent. That is a very substantial increase, which I am sure we all welcome, and, subject to the urgent importance of re-equipping our night fighter force with more modern machines, such as the Javelin, I for one do not seek to 1463 derogate from the satisfaction which the Under-Secretary of State must feel at this improvement.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to Bomber Command, and stated that practically the whole of that Command was now equipped with jets. Of course, those jets are Canberras. It does not signify that Bomber Command is a strategic Air Force, because I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State will agree with me when I remind him that the Canberra, as an interdictor machine, is not part of the strategic air force, and that until we get the V-bombers we must realise that the strategic air force is a matter for the future.
While I am dealing with V-bombers, I wish to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether, in view of the fact that we are so rapidly approaching the next phase of air development, namely, the supersonic phase, we are developing a supersonic bomber. None of the V-bombers is supersonic, although these bombers are very nearly so. Are the Government developing such a bomber?
In his speech, the Under-Secretary dealt with the problem of dispersal. Looking at it from an operational point of view, I think that it was most satisfactory to learn that the Government were attaching the highest importance to dispersing our strategic, and no doubt our light bomber, squadrons, in view of the extreme importance of preventing anything in the nature of a knock-out blow if ever we get into another war. The hon. Gentleman, however, said nothing about the bomber squadrons of the United States Air Force which are stationed in the United Kingdom.
Do the plans which are being made for the most effective system of dispersal apply also to the United States bomber squadrons at present stationed in this country? I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is just as important to prevent knock-out blows against the bomber squadrons of our ally as it is to take those precautions for our own squadrons.
Yesterday, President Eisenhower stated that America was developing various small nuclear weapons for tactical purposes, which, he also stated, were fast assuming a conventional character. He 1464 further indicated that they would only be used in a major war against strictly military targets. We have been told that the Royal Air Force will be equipped with similar weapons for tactical purposes. Can the hon. Gentleman say whether it is the policy of the Government that these tactical weapons also should only be used against military targets? I should have thought that this was the kind of problem which very strongly underlay the need for the closest form of co-ordination and joint planning between the United States and ourselves.
Can the hon. Gentleman also say whether any provision is to be made, or is being made, for underground hangars and storage, especially at the main bases of our bomber squadrons? It seems to me very important that, as far as possible, not only should storage be placed underground, but that hangars should also be similarly constructed.
I now turn to the question of fighters. Last year we had a discussion about the provision of light fighters for N.A.T.O., and questions upon the subject have been raised from time to time. Has any decision yet been taken about the provision of these fighters for N.A.T.O.? We know that, in addition to the British Gnat, there are at least two types being developed in France. We do not seem to be able to get any information about the present position. Has N.A.T.O. come to any decision in the matter? If so, which type of fighter is it proposing to order?
Another question arises in connection with the fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons which were formerly stationed in Egypt. There was quite a substantial number of such squadrons. What has happened to them since the agreement was made with Egypt for our withdrawal from the Canal Zone? Where are those squadrons now stationed?
On Vote 7, "Aircraft and Stores," I wish to raise the question of ammunition. I find that during the past three years £83 million has been provided for ammunition, and that another £28 million is to be provided for the coming year. What is the explanation of such a large expenditure? There has not been war; our fighter and bomber squadrons did not take part in the war in Korea or in any other part of the world. It is true that bomber squadrons have operated 1465 upon a limited scale in Malaya and Kenya, but what is happening to this vast accumulation of explosives and ammunition which has cost about £110 million over the last four years?
Can the Under-Secretary say whether the sum of £28 million for this year includes provision for nuclear bombs with which the Royal Air Force is now to be equipped? I do not know whether he will be able to say whether the cost of the nuclear bombs is to be borne by the Air Ministry, but surely the responsibility for their storage will be that of the Royal Air Force. Assuming that that is so, I should have thought that the public was entitled to an assurance that the storage of nuclear bombs would not involve any danger of explosion, or the release of radioactive substances. Can we be assured that these bombs will be stored in such conditions as will prevent them from being in any way dangerous to public health and welfare?
The production of atomic and hydrogen bombs, apart altogether from their possible use in war, raises questions of considerable public importance. I understand that nuclear bombs cannot be exploded by fire or spontaneous combustion. In other words, they must be detonated to cause an explosion. I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us whether that is so and, in any event, whether he is satisfied that every possible precaution will be taken in the storage of these deadly weapons so as to prevent any harm or danger to the public, even in times of peace.
On Tuesday night, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised the question of the use of reservists. During the debates upon the Air Estimates last year, the Under-Secretary indicated that about 20,000 out of a total of 124,000 reservists would be called up each year for training in Reserve flights. On Tuesday he told us about those men who were to be called up for training in mobile columns, and said that there would be about 15,000 in 1955, and that that number would be increased to 30,000 in subsequent years.
That seems to be an entirely different call-up from the one relating to training flights. What has happened to the scheme which he announced last year in respect 1466 of such flights, which I understood were to be affiliated to the squadrons stationed here? I should like him to tell us whether that scheme is in operation and, if so, that it was merely through an oversight that he failed to tell us about it the other night—or whether that scheme has been scrapped because of the introduction of the new scheme in relation to mobile columns required for Civil Defence.
In the debate upon the Air Estimates on 4th March, 1954, the Under-Secretary indicated that about 17,000 men would be called up in the first two phases of the Reserve Flight Scheme. I suppose that the balance of 3,000 would be called up under what he referred to as the R.A.F. Regiment Scheme. I should like some information on those points, because on Tuesday night he said that only 8,000 men were called up last year, and I should have thought that most of that number would have been called up for training in the radar chain. Perhaps the hon. Member will deal with these points.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend referring to the reservists to be trained for home defence measures, or some other body? I have been trying to follow what he has said. On Tuesday, the Under-Secretary talked about training 10,000 men a year instead of 15,000, and about having trained 8,000 last year and being able to train 7,000 this year, but these were men to be trained in fire fighting and home defence measures. Are those the same men to whom my right hon. and learned Friend is referring?
§ Mr. Henderson
That is my point. First, they are Class H reservists—men who have done their two years' full-time service and then have a Reserve liability for three and a half years, with a maximum of a fortnight's training a year. What I want the Under-Secretary to tell us is whether the Government have given up the Reserve Flight Scheme and are concentrating upon providing personnel from the Class H Reserve for these mobile columns.
It is not clear whether the 8,000 who were called up last year were in connection with the Reserve Flight Scheme or for some other purpose. I am asking the Under-Secretary to tell us why they were called up last year, and whether the 10,000 to whom my hon. Friend has just 1467 referred relates to the mobile columns or whether they are to be called up for the training flights.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
Perhaps I can clear up that point right away, as it may be referred to by subsequent speakers. The 8,000, which I mentioned last Tuesday, have nothing whatever to do with the Class H people who are being trained for Civil Defence. The 10,000 is the modified figure, which was originally 15,000, and the figure 7,000 is the number out of the 10,000that we have to train this year.
§ Mr. Henderson
So, to get the position quite clear, the Reserve Flight Scheme has been modified and in future, instead of the 17,000 being called up, as was suggested in March of last year, about 8,000 will be called up.
§ Mr. Henderson
Will the Under-Secretary deal also with the E reservists? Are they to be involved in any of this training? The E reservists are those who serve for three years. Instead of doing two years and 3½ on the Reserve they do three years' full time and 2½ years' Reserve liability. Are they to be called up and get any training?
One other point seems important in present circumstances. The Government have now accepted the principle of equal pay for equal work. In the Royal Air Force, which has a large number of women members, 8,000 or 10,000, many women are serving in highly-skilled trades, but they receive only three-quarters of what their male opposite numbers receive. I find that a male junior technician receives 14s. a day and 1468 a woman junior technician 10s. 6d. I am not raising this point in any spirit of criticism. This was the position during the days of the Labour Government; but since then the principle of equal pay for equal work has been accepted by the Government for those who are in their employment.
I have never been enthusiastic about this differentiation. It seemed to me that a woman in a trade doing the same job with the same skill as a man ought to be given the same rate of pay. I remember visiting, during the days of the Berlin airlift, a station in Germany, where I found a woman corporal engine-fitter. She was extremely efficient, as efficient as any of the male fitters who were working in the same hangar, yet she was receiving only three-quarters of what her male colleagues were getting. There is a story told of a Royal Air Force sergeant, who was asked by a Minister what he thought of the three women tradesmen who were working under his control. He replied that he did not think too much of them because they worked too darned hard. I do not know whether this is typical, but now that the Government have accepted the equal-pay principle it is inconsistent that such women should not receive the same pay as men.
I would make one reference to the political angle of defence. The Royal Air Force has the primary responsibility for the defence of our country. In my view, public opinion accepts the hydrogen bomb as the basis of our policy of deterrence. I am sure the Under-Secretary will agree with me that that fact alone imposes a greater responsibility upon the Government. The fact that public opinion has accepted this new, frightful weapon of the hydrogen bomb only increases the expectation and demand that everything possible is done to secure the abolition of all weapons of war.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
What reason has my right hon. and learned Friend for saying that public opinion welcomes this weapon?
§ Mr. Henderson
I think that my hon. Friend has not listened to what I said, which was that, in my view, public opinion accepts the hydrogen bomb as the instrument, the basis, of the policy 1469 of deterrence. My hon. Friend is entitled to say that, in his view, public opinion does not accept it. All I am saying is that, in my view, public opinion does. It does not mean that we seek ever to drop a single hydrogen bomb. It is a misunderstanding of the policy of deterrence to suggest that this is our intention. Our hope, our aim and our policy are, not to carry out war on a more efficient or deadly basis than hitherto, but to prevent war. The sole and fundamental objective of the policy of deterrence is to prevent war. All I am saying is that this imposes greater responsibility on the Government of this country, whatever party it may represent, to secure the abolition of all weapons of war.
Although I support the policy which is expressed in these Air Estimates I believe that defence forces constitute a negative solution of our international difficulties. The positive solution depends upon securing a settlement of the outstanding political problems that divide the world. Therefore, there is greater responsibility upon the Government to secure world-wide disarmament. I do not know what is happening in Lancaster House, but I would express my personal agreement with "The Times," which suggested the other day that the Minister of Defence should be there.
I would like him to be there and his opposite numbers in Russia and the United States to be there. The Minister of Defence should not only be concerned with the building up of armaments but with getting agreement to remove them. If my premises are right, there is an urgent need for a political conference at the soonest possible moment and at the highest level. We cannot afford to wait too long.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
I do not think that any of us on this side of the House will quarrel very much with what the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) has said. He commented on the subject of equal pay. I think that while we agree with him in principle, we should go very slowly and carefully on this matter because there are many aspects in Service life which are not comparable with those in civilian life, particularly when women might be involved in the front line, and 1470 so on. This matter needs very careful consideration, and I advise my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary not to give a hurried decision.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way he has conducted his part of this debate. He has made many speeches in one day, and, as a result, there has been little time for him to answer all the questions which many of us feel should have been answered. I can fully understand the reason why he has not been able to do so.
The other day I referred to the difficulties of educating children of Service personnel, and, unfortunately, my hon. Friend did not refer to the matter in his reply. I would ask him to give it priority consideration, because since I mentioned it in the House the other day I have received a number of letters which have indicated that there is more hardship than I at first estimated.
I heard of a case of one officer of medium rank who is trying to educate his son, not at an expensive public school, but to give him the best education he can. He could not complete his son's education in this manner, so he retired from the Service, commuted his pension in order to continue the boy's education, and he hopes to get another job.
Officers of all ranks and senior N.C.Os. run into debt, and have been doing so for many years, and I fail to see how we are to get the right type of men into the Service when they learn that although it offers an attractive life and that it has an element of adventure, when they are married and have families they will run into all the difficulties of movements, changing their homes and educating their children.
The Government must appreciate the necessity for providing education allowances for personnel in the Services. There is the 1944 Education Act, but those in the Services are completely deprived of benefiting from that Act, while everybody else is entitled to benefit from it. If it is good enough for members of one service, say the Foreign Service, to receive allowances amounting to £120 a year free of tax, I fail to see why an allowance should not be given to those in the Fighting Forces who have many more moves than those in the Foreign Service. I do not expect an immediate reply, but I hope that my hon. Friend 1471 will, in the coming months, consult his noble Friend, go into this matter at the highest possible level, and make a statement. I am sure that that would stimulate recruiting all round.
May we be told a little more about how the Royal Air Force Cadet College at Cranwell and the Apprentices' School at Halton are doing? Cranwell is the breeding ground for future Chiefs of Air Staff, and we should like to know what percentage of boys are passing the examinations and have been nominated, how they are progressing, and general information about Cranwell and Halton.
Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, I should like to know something more about the Air Force Reserves. The other day we were told something about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but I do hope that in what may be a transitional stage we shall not sweep away all the Reserves, like A.A. Command, without making some use of them. Personnel who have been trained in one job may very well carry out a conversion course and be useful in another job. Many of them—not all, of course—like to do their annual training and feel that they are rendering a service to their country. No reference was made to the Royal Observer Corps, a great body of men.
§ Mr. Beswick
Nevertheless, it is inaccurate to say that no reference was made to the Observer Corps.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I meant that no reference was made by the Government. The hon. Gentleman is in opposition and he is only expressing an opinion, like the rest of us.
I should like information about the Royal Observer Corps from the Government, because it is doing a great job of work, and if A.A. Command can be dispensed with, I am wondering, with aircraft flying at great heights of 50,000 feet and above, what use the Observer Corps will be. It may be there is some use for it, but we would like to be told.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton that we must have this deterrent of the 1472 hydrogen bomb. Nobody likes it. It is a hideous thing, but as we are going through this transitional stage from the ordinary type of aircraft to jet propelled aircraft and hydrogen bombs, we must have this force and we have got to see that the money is well spent and that the people in the force are highly trained. The better trained they are, the greater the deterrent effect.
Coupled with that, we must make every effort to ensure that talks take place at the highest level. Speaking for myself, I believe that we shall only get peace through strength. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) may disagree with that point of view, but I believe that that is the only way that we shall get real peace—if we are strong enough to stand up to the other side and argue the point, knowing that none of the countries in Western Europe will be over-run. When dealing with a bully you have to be tough.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I beg my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the Government to go ahead with their plans. The foundations are laid. The results are coming forward very quickly, and I have every reason to hope that by this time next year the Air Force will be in a stronger position to play its part in the defence of the free world.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) supported my plea that the position of the Royal Observer Corps should be clarified. When I mentioned this matter last Tuesday, I was speaking from memory and without figures. I have since refreshed my memory, and I see that it was promised in 1950 that 75 per cent. of the establishment of the Royal Observer Corps would be established civil servants. At that time, the total number involved was 57, of which 42 would, therefore, be established.
But now that their importance has been recognised, to the extent that the number to be employed has increased to 83, by some sort of pettifogging process of reasoning the total number to be established was pegged to the original figure, 1473 although I believe that after representations were made it was agreed that seven more should be established. I am suggesting that it would be fair to adhere to the original undertaking, namely, that 75 per cent. of the personnel in the Royal Observer Corps should be established civil servants.
I have asked once or twice in this Session about the security arrangements with regard to aircraft. I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield misunderstood some of the questions I put, and suggested that I was trying to clamp down on information that was given to the public about our aircraft. Quite the contrary. I should like all the information possible to be given to the British people about our aircraft, their performance and other matters. But the fact is, as the Under-Secretary knows, that under the D notice procedure of Admiral Thomson's Press Committee a voluntary restriction is accepted by the Press in this country on the publication of classified information. What I have been submitting to the Under-Secretary, and also to the Minister of Supply, is that, whereas most of the reputable journals have abided by the regulations under the D notice procedure, there are certain magazines and newspapers that do not do so.
I asked the hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that the procedure is working satisfactorily, and he told me that he was so satisfied. He paid a tribute to the editors and the journalists concerned. Although that tribute was very well deserved in the overwhelming majority of cases, it still remains the fact that the honest and reputable public-spirited editors are being penalised because one or two of their colleagues are getting away with the publication of items of information. This information almost certainly will be in the possession of others, but they loyally restrict its publication. I should like to know whether the Under-Secretary could give an undertaking to look into this matter again. I want to see as little restriction as possible, but if we are to lay down restrictions let us administer them efficiently.
May I also point out to the Under-Secretary of State that at present a good deal of the information available to the Royal Air Force, or to the Services 1474 generally, is put into the common pool in Paris in the N.A.T.O. committees? The security arrangements which are maintained by the member countries of N.A.T.O. vary considerably. A good many of the leakages which have taken place originated in the Press of the N.A.T.O. countries. Information has been given by British representatives to the committees in Paris, and some of the other countries have not felt themselves bound to observe the same kind of security arrangements as we try to observe in this country. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State would consider it worth while to look into that aspect of the matter.
There is one other source of leakage, and probably the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield can bear me out in this. Today, some of the British manufacturers try to sell their products abroad, and they send out performance figures to potential customers, marking such information "Secret and confidential." After a month or two, a good deal of the information so sent out finds its way into the Press of foreign countries. I have reason to believe that a good deal of the information appearing in the American Press has found its way there through that channel.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I think that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. In the case of civil aircraft one is entitled to send out any information one likes. So far as military aircraft on the secret list are concerned, I assure the hon. Gentleman that he is quite wrong in his suggestion, according to my knowledge of the subject.
§ Mr. Beswick
I respect the hon. and gallant Member's knowledge of this matter, but it so happens that I do not believe that he is any better informed than I am on this particular point, because I have taken a good deal of trouble to get at the facts. Even in the case of civil aircraft, engines are sometimes embodied which have a military purpose and a good deal of the information relating to the engines, although used in the civil types, is restricted and the editors in this country observe those restrictions, whereas the American Press do not observe them.
1475 While I have the opportunity, I, too, would like to pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for the courtesy and good nature with which he has conducted these debates. In saying that, I should like to contract his good temper with the attitude shown by his colleague the Minister of Supply, when he was dealing with some of the criticisms made about aircraft manufacture in this country.
I think that the Minister of Supply was arrogant in his attitude to the House when he dealt with the aircraft position. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was provoked."] It may be that he was provoked, but, even so, a Minister speaking from that Box might well set an example to the House, and I feel that on that occasion the Minister did not set an example which should be followed. Moreover, the pity of it was that a good many of the reasonable criticisms which were made did not receive the constructive consideration which, I should have thought, was owed to the House.
The Minister of Supply made a good deal of the present day complications of aircraft. For example, he told us that the modern bomber requires 1,000 radio valves, whereas during the war only 50 were needed, and that in the modern fighter there is six miles of wiring, whereas only two miles were required during the war. All that is absolutely true. Any hon. Member who heard or read the very interesting and informative lecture by Mr. Woodward-Nutt to the Institution of Production Engineers will be able to give a good deal more evidence on the same lines.
What we have not heard from the Under-Secretary of State or from the Minister of Supply is exactly what is being done in the rationalisation of these requirements to take into account the additional complications of the modern machine, and whether, in the future, ordering is to be done much on the same pattern as it was in the days when machines were so much simpler to construct.
I understand, for example, that the industry now has to provide no fewer than 30 different gear boxes for the one Avon engine, so varied is the list of requirements put out, mostly by the Air Ministry. The Under-Secretary of State would be rendering us a service if he would tell us what is being done to 1476 rationalise even more of the requirements of his Department in the field of aircraft.
Having paid tribute to the courtesy of the Under-Secretary, I would say that there were possibly two occasions on which he departed from the very high standard which he had set. I would not say that he came down very low beneath that standard, and it was a very high standard, but there were two occasions when I think that he failed to maintain it. One was when I asked him about the future use of the Comet aircraft. I thought that the Under-Secretary was trying to hide something.
The hon. Gentleman said that there was nothing mysterious about the purchase of the Comet aircraft by the Air Ministry. I never suggested that there was anything mysterious, but I felt that we were entitled to know in much more detail the arrangements under which the Comets are being bought. The Under-Secretary said that he could not give this information until the aircraft had been given a certificate of airworthiness. To the best of my knowledge and belief—and again I appeal to the experience of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield—military aircraft do not require a C of A. I feel that that must have been an excuse put forward on the spur of the moment and not provided for him after consideration by the Department.
Moreover, the hon. Gentleman said that the machines would not be used until after they were strengthened. I understand that the machines which are going to the Royal Air Force are the eight or, at any rate, seven of the eight which have already been built as far as the fuselages are concerned. There can be no question of strengthening these eight, otherwise they might as well all be rebuilt from scratch. If they are not to be strengthened, may I again ask the Under-Secretary of State what is to be the operational use of these machines?
While I am on this point, and lest it be thought that I am opposed to the use of jet aircraft for the Transport Command of the R.A.F., may I say this: if there is one Command whose claim for more aircraft can be justified it is Transport Command. I should have liked to hear that some other aircraft were being made available for that Command because, whatever we may think of certain 1477 of the tactical or strategic ideas of the present Government, mobility will be the essence of events in the future and the more transport aircraft we have available in this country the better. Whereas we have these great Blackburn Universal freighters, and the V 1,000s coming along in the future, we want machines in between—some machines with longer range and greater carrying capacity than anything the R.A.F. now have.
I take the opportunity again to ask the Under-Secretary if it is now quite final that the Princess flying boat will not be used. Surely we could have found some use for these magnificent flying boats. We were told, in the first place, that it was a matter of engines, and I believe the manufacturers were badly let down by the engine manufacturers. We have been told that they are now to be cocooned until new engines are available. Can the hon. Member say whether any effort is being made to give any priority at all to either the Proteus engines or the B.E.25s for future use in the Princess flying boat? I am thinking especially for use by R.A.F. Transport Command.
There was another occasion on which I thought the Under-Secretary was a little less than frank about the matters with which he had to deal, and that was when we came to the question of Fighter Command. In the defence debate there was a good deal of argument about when this country or the Western allies would use thermo-nuclear weapons. As I have previously stated in the House, I am against the use of thermo-nuclear weapons. I think that they are evil and that their use can in no instance justify the end which it is thought to attain. But, having said that, I am still entitled to discuss the policy which has been laid down by the Government.
As I have said, there was a good deal of controversy about the circumstances in which this weapon would be used by Britain and the United States. Field Marshal Montgomery has laid it down that they would be used in any attack against any of the allies in N.A.T.O. That statement was confirmed by the N.A.T.O. Conference in December last year. When the matter came up for discussion in the House, the Minister of Defence ultimately watered it down a little. He said that not in all circumstances should we use thermo-nuclear weapons and that there may be a minor 1478 incident which might well be settled by diplomatic means.
I can understand that there may well be a minor incident in some part of the world which we should try to settle by diplomatic means, but what I cannot conceive is any incident affecting the defence of this country which, in any circumstances, could be called "minor." I cannot conceive that we should ever have an attack upon these islands which we should endeavour afterwards to solve by diplomatic means. Any attack on these islands must mean an all-out attack. It must mean, therefore, an attack against which we should use thermo-nuclear weapons; otherwise, the whole policy of the deterrent goes by the board altogether.
If I am right in what I am saying—and I invite any hon. Member to show me that I stand a chance of being wrong—and if an attack upon these islands must mean the use of the thermo-nuclear deterrent, what I now ask the Under-Secretary of State is this: what is the purpose of all these fighter aircraft? I am not saying that we should have no fighter aircraft. I am asking, what is the purpose of Fighter Command in this situation in the defence of this country?
Various things were said both by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and the Under-Secretary of State about the valuable purpose which even the Venom and the Meteor could serve because the Russians have only TU 4s. One of the most extraordinary things about any controversy concerning Soviet Russia is that whatever they say we say the opposite. If the Russians say that they have the hydrogen bomb, we say that they have not. If the Russians tell us that they are not arming Eastern Germany, we say that they are. We never seem prepared to accept statements made by Soviet Russia.
If I may give an illustration of the extraordinary perversity of the Western allies in this matter, I would instance the case which was quoted by Mr. Stuart Symington in a speech which he made recently. He said that when he was Secretary of State for Air for the United States someone brought to him a photograph of the MIG.15. He had been informed by his officials that the Russians had no aircraft like the MIG.15 so he took this photograph to the defence 1479 chiefs-of-staff and said, "This has been secured. What have you to say about it?" They carefully and thoroughly examined the photograph and gave him the considered view that it was a fake which had been put together for propaganda purposes.
A similar case occurred when no less a person than the Secretary of State for Defence in the United States said that the Russians had no jet bomber capable of making the two-way journey to United States soil. Two days later one of the very lively American magazines published a photograph of such a machine. Again, its existence was denied by the chiefs-of-staff—but, subsequently, the Russians flew such a machine at one of their Red Square demonstrations.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
My hon. Friend has mentioned me in this connection and he might have made it clear that in the major debate I certainly did not confine my remarks to the statement that the Russians had only TU 4s. It is on record that I went on to say that not only had they TU 4s but that they had TU 39s—a twin-engined jet bomber of very great performance—and that there was reason to believe that the TU 37, which compared, as I said, with the B.52, probably the best bomber in the world, was possibly coming off the production line. I was, therefore, not postulating that the only threat with which Fighter Command had to deal was the TU 4.
§ Mr. Beswick
I quite agree that my right hon. and learned Friend did not confine his remarks. He ranged over a wide field and talked of various possibilities. But he said that our fighter forces would be able to deal adequately with the TU 4, and my point is that I cannot imagine any occasion on which the Russians would make what one would call a half-hearted or half-cock attack on these islands with TU 4s. If they were to make any attack at all it would be an all-out thermo-nuclear attack against which, presumably, we should retaliate.
The question which I ask—and I am trying to be helpful here, and I invite the Under-Secretary of State to be—is, for what purpose do we envisage the operational use of the different types of fighter aircraft in the quantities in which they are now being ordered? I cannot 1480 see that it is any use at all for us to think we shall be able to deal with an attack by warding off 100 per cent. of any of the Russian jet aircraft with the conventional type of fighting machine. I do not think that is within the realms of possibility.
What annoyed me a little about the Under-Secretary's speech, if I may say so, again, I hope, in good humour, was that he said in terms that to query this policy of the R.A.F. or the words of his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply was to be unpatriotic.
§ Mr. Beswick
Yes. The hon. Member said that it was doingunnecessary damage to the public confidence and may well undermine public support for what is now generally accepted as the most important part of our defence policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 646.]What does that imply? It implies that we are going contrary to public policy and that we ought not to do it. What I am saying is that the hon. Gentleman ought to treat this Assembly as being a little more adult than that.
I will not bore the House, but I have quotations here from no fewer than three air chief marshals all saying very much the same sort of thing as I am saying. They have written in responsible journals laying it down as their view that in the present circumstances there can be no defence. Indeed, in the defence debate the Prime Minister said that we can have no absolute defence against the thermonuclear weapon. In those circumstances, what useful purpose is served by the Under-Secretary telling us in the debate on the Air Estimates that we ought not to query Fighter Command?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
In the light of what the hon. Member is now saying, can he explain the reason for the wholesale attack on Her Majesty's Government by the labour Party a few weeks ago for not having got the most modern fighter machines in full-scale production?
§ Mr. Beswick
In the first place, the noble Lord might have noticed that I did not take part in that full-scale attack. The second point is that I can conceive of an argument for spending money and getting 1481 machines and of an argument for not spending money and not getting machines, but I cannot conceive of an argument for spending money and not getting machines. To that extent, I think the contributions of my hon. Friends were justified.
I come back to the main question, which is, in what kind of circumstances does the Under-Secretary envisage us using fighter aircraft for the defence of these islands?
§ Mr. Beswick
I am saying, in my own words, what Sir John Slessor said, that national suicide would follow thermonuclear war. Sir Ralph Cochrane, in a most impressive letter to "The Times," put it this way—that there could be no possibility of us preventing an enemy inflicting "mortal harm" on this country in an all-out thermo-nuclear attack. In my view, an attack on this country can in no circumstances be a minor attack; it must be a major attack and must mean, therefore, a thermo-nuclear war on both sides. In that situation, I cannot conceive of the use of Fighter Command.
As I understood the intervention of the Under-Secretary of State, he says that we might not be able to bring all of the attackers down, but should bring some down. If that is his argument, would he explain it in greater detail to the House? He has said we have an adequate defence—he has said we have machines capable of defending these islands—does he mean, when he talks of defence, that we could bring down probably 5 per cent. of the attackers, or 10 per cent.? If that is what he means he should tell the House. If he does tell the House that is what he means, I say that 10 per cent., in modern circumstances with an enemy armed with thermonuclear weapons, is no defence at all.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Will the hon. Member say what the percentage was when his party formed the Government and ordered these fighters?
§ Mr. Beswick
I know that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield can do better than that. I am trying to put some reasonable questions. The answer 1482 to the hon. and gallant Member is perfectly obvious because, three and a half years ago, although it was theoretically possible to manufacture the hydrogen bomb, it had not, in fact, been developed. That is the complete answer to the hon. and gallant Member.
I was trying to make myself absolutely clear to the Under-Secretary of State, so that there could be no excuse when he replies to the debate and we shall get an absolutely complete answer. Does he mean a 5 per cent. defence, or a 10 per cent. defence? What does he imagine constitutes adequate defence in modern terms?
Having put those questions, I end by putting this as my view. We ask questions about the Royal Air Force and I always feel some reluctance in doing so because I know there are men engaged in the Service whose job it is to do the best they can with whatever equipment is given them. I think that sometimes it rather looks as if we were criticising those men. I want to make it clear that insofar as I am in contact with the Royal Air Force at present I have never seen it in better heart. I wish the Service well. I am sure that the men in it will try to carry out whatever policy they are expected to carry out, but we are entitled to go into the policy laid down by the Government of the day.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I cannot quite follow the line of argument of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). He surely would agree with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) that fighter aircraft are to be employed as best may be, no matter what the cargo of the bombers and no matter what, initially, is the percentage of bombers which can be caught and shot down. Even in the late war only a proportion was shot down, but that was no reason for us to throw in our hand.
I cannot see the argument—whether the bombers carry atom bombs as they did when the party of the hon. Member was in power, or whether they carry hydrogen bombs from which this country would suffer far more grievous damage, or whether they merely carry high explosive, as in the late war—that we should not try to prevent them reaching their targets.
§ Mr. Beswick
Whereas that is an argument which conceivably might be put by the Under-Secretary of State, the fact is that the Prime Minister has told us on his authority that in the event of an attack on this country the answer would be the deterrent of all-out thermo-nuclear attack to wipe out the enemy.
§ Dr. Bennett
That makes it quite obvious, as I think it is generally agreed in this House, that there would be all-out thermo-nuclear attacks in both directions. That still does not mean that we should confine ourselves solely to counter-bombing work with thermo-nuclear bombs. It leaves us with the right, and surely the duty, to destroy, deflect and deter bombers with thermo-nuclear weapons coming to this country. If they are dropped into the sea because fighters are after the bombers, that is a part of successful fighter defence.
The hon. Member made a point touching on a matter about which I was hoping to make a simple observation this afternoon. He mentioned the dispersal of our bomber forces. The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton also mentioned this question and the hon. Member for Uxbridge spoke of the Princess flying boats. I would hate to acquire the reputation, which, I hope, I have not already acquired, of having a "bee in my bonnet," notably about the flying boat because I have spoken about such aircraft before. But there is one role which would incorporate use of the flying boat which I do not think has been sufficiently ventilated in this House, and it does not concern the Princess.
As a part of our defence policy the exercise of strategic air bomber power from sources which could not be easily counter-attacked should form part of the strategic bombing picture. That appears to have been applied to the Navy in the use of carriers in what I think are called battle groups to deliver nuclear attacks on enemy held territory. It seems to me that if we are accepting that point of view we are accepting something which is very far short of what there could be in offensive potential and very much over what we could possibly stand in the risk of loss.
We must think of other ways of delivering atom or hydrogen bombs from sources which cannot be easily counterattacked. If we are to use carrier groups, 1484 or carriers, to attack hostile territories, we are compelled to use very small aircraft which, by their very design, must have much too short a range when carrying a bomb big enough to do any damage. We would have to have two more carriers to defend with fighters, the carrier containing those small bombers, and probably two or three more guided-weapon ships or cruisers and perhaps 17 destroyers. That would add up to about £100 million worth of equipment to deliver very small punches over a very small distance. If it is the policy of this country that such strategic action should take place from the sea, I beg the Government to think again in terms of delivering punches, and not from those exceedingly vulnerable carriers.
I am quite convinced that flying boats of a modern type must be developed. The Americans have been making immense strides. Instead of having short, flat, squat flying boats which we are accustomed to seeing, they are making them long and narrow. The Martin Seafarer is now about to fly at about the speed of our V bombers. When we discover, as we must soon discover, the secret of applying nuclear power to aircraft it seems absolutely certain that it cannot be applied to aircraft operating off runways, but must be applied to boats. Therefore, it seems to me that there are several contributory arguments why we must give more attention to having flying boats for this strategic bombing purpose.
Perhaps the crowning strategic point of my argument is that a large flying boat, nuclear powered, is, to a very large extent, its own base. It can hide in creeks and operate from the most remote places. Its runways certainly cannot be destroyed while it is in the air. It has all the advantages of difficulty of discovery, whereas if an aircraft, by scientific methods, can now detect a submerged submarine, surely it would not have much difficulty in finding a group of three carriers, five cruisers and 17 destroyers.
The flying boat can operate from un-discoverable places and be the elusive dispersed strategic bomber force which seems to be envisaged in operations from the sea. Therefore, whether the Air Ministry should administer these things or not, we should now, not having done much about it in the recent past, give 1485 much attention to developing high-performance flying boats and, if necessary, let the Navy run them. I feel that this is a task which should supplant that of the carrier.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Maldon)
I want to raise a matter rather different from those which have been discussed so far in this debate; but it is a matter which comes up from time to time in Parliament, and it is as well that the true position should be restated, as it has been, by successive Governments.
I refer to the right of Service men to communicate with their Members of Parliament about Service problems and grievances. I raise the question today because it so happens that there have recently come to my notice two cases—one in the Royal Air Force and one in the Army, which I shall seek to raise later, on the Army Estimates—in which this right has been infringed and in which there appears to me to be an element of quite serious victimisation of the Service men who have sought to avail themselves of it.
Before I deal with the specific case of the man in the Royal Air Force, I should like to make two qualifications of what I want to say. First, I fully accept the official position that it is preferable that the usual Service channels should be used, at any rate in the first instance, for raising grievances in the Services. Obviously, hon. Members of this House do not want to be flooded with all sorts of grievances, some of them, perhaps, frivolous, which could be perfectly well disposed of in the units and stations concerned.
I accept that position, but it does seem to be necessary every now and then to reiterate that there is, despite that, this absolute ultimate right of the Service man to communicate with his Member of Parliament, because that right is so often doubted or queried. All of us will have met constituents—perhaps National Service men—who say, rather vaguely, "Well, 'they' told us we were not allowed to write to our M.P.s," or words to that effect. It is difficult to pin it down, but that idea does get around sometimes.
My second qualification is that I want to pay a sincere and strong tribute to the Under-Secretary of State himself for the extraordinary amount of personal atten- 1486 tion that he has given to the particular case that I am raising.
§ Mr. Driberg
I quite agree. This case, however, is exceptional. It dragged on for seven or eight months, in the course of which the hon. Gentleman and I exchanged perhaps dozens of letters, long and short, including two inordinately long ones from him which were very welcome.
In the end, the hon. Gentleman actually sent a senior officer from Whitehall to the unit in the Middle East to investigate the situation regarding my constituent. I regard it as a great tribute to our system, to the Air Ministry and to the hon. Gentleman, that it should be possible for one individual airman's grievances to be investigated as thoroughly as that, and I have no hesitation in paying this tribute to the hon. Gentleman.
As the Under-Secretary will know, the case to which I am referring is the case of Senior Aircraftman Michael Jukes. I give his name because I have his permission to do so and because, unfortunately, he is now about to leave the Royal Air Force. After all this trouble was cleared up, he recently applied for training as a pilot, which would, no doubt, have involved a commission had he been successful. His application was forwarded with a favourable recommendation from his present commanding officer, but, unfortunately, he was failed medically and so he will be leaving the Royal Air Force. This is a great disappointment to him, because he loves the Service, despite the unhappy incidents to which I shall be referring.
Incidentally, in case hon. Members opposite may be in any doubt about the particular airman concerned, I assure them that he is not the type of man whom they would regard as a mere troublemaker or agitator, because before going into the Service he was an ardent and active member of the Young Conservatives in my constituency.
It was in May last year that this matter was first brought to my attention, not in a letter from my constituent directly, but in a letter from his mother, who lives in my constituency, at Witham, Essex. It was brought to me in that indirect way 1487 because Jukes had tried to put up a number of grievances about conditions at his station in the Canal Zone; had had no success in doing so; and had then been informed by his commanding officer that he—the commanding officer—could not give him permission to write to his Member of Parliament about these grievances.
Of course, there is a double fallacy in that statement. In the first place, such permission is not needed since there is an absolute right; and, in the second place, the commanding officer certainly had no right whatever to refuse the permission. I realised that the investigation of the other, substantive grievances would take some time, and I thought it as well to clear this constitutional point out of the way at once. Accordingly, I put down a Question, to which I got a Written Answer on 16th June, asking the hon. Gentleman whether he was aware of this refusal of permission to communicate. The hon. Gentleman replied:There are recognised Service channels through which men and women of the Royal Air Force can take up their problems with higher authority. Nevertheless, it is a well-established practice that Service men are free to write to their Member of Parliament if they so wish, without seeking permission from their commanding officer, provided there is no breach of security. It is clear that in this case there was a misunderstanding and we are reminding commanding officers of the true position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1954; vol. 528, c. 144–5.]That Answer was supplemented by a letter which I had a little later from the hon. Gentleman, in which he said:While Jukes's commanding officer is adamant that he did not actually refuse Jukes permission to write to you but told him that he could not grant him permission, I do not think he would deny that refusal was at least implied. However, I am satisfied that there was a genuine misunderstanding on the part of the commanding officer and I think you will agree that little would be gained by pursuing the matter any further, particularly as all commanding officers have now been reminded of the true position.I am rather glad that the hon. Gentleman took that step of reminding all commanding officers. This does show that the gravity of the matter was appreciated by the Air Ministry.
Unfortunately, that was by no means the end of it. From this time onwards my unfortunate constituent was subjected to what I can only describe as persecution. There was a series of quite 1488 trumpery charges against him, on one pretext or another. They culminated in a court-martial at the beginning of September. I shall go into the circumstances of the court-martial in a minute or two, but I may say now that Jukes was convicted at that court-martial, but that the sentence was one day's detention, and that that conviction has since been quashed. So it is evident that he was not a very heinous offender.
However, perhaps the most disgraceful feature of the whole proceedings is that false information about what was going on in this unit was supplied—I can only conclude that it was deliberately supplied—to the Air Ministry and to the Under-Secretary of State to pass on to me, obviously in an endeavour to cover those responsible for the malpractices, for the abuses, whatever it may be, and for the persecution of my constituent, as I maintain it was.
This is provable, I think, if one compares two letters sent to me by the Under-Secretary, one on 14th July of last year, the other on 24th December of last year. In the letter of 14th July the Under-Secretary rebutted almost all the allegations and complaints made by my constituent on major matters and on minor matters. I would not deny that some of the matters of which my constituent complained would seem to us comparatively trivial, but anybody who has been in the Canal Zone will know that in those pretty unpleasant surroundings even quite trivial irritants can be magnified and can cumulatively contribute to bad morale in a unit. Anyway, in the letter of 14th July almost everything that my constituent alleged was denied.
There is a very different picture in the letter of 24th December, the second paragraph of which reads:As you are aware, I had Juke's case completely reinvestigated. The new investigation was a very thorough one carried out by a senior Royal Air Force officer from my department. It is clear from his report that, due to a number of administrative errors, I was misinformed on two of main issues in dispute and I hope you will accept my sincere apologies for misleading you by passing on this inaccurate information.That was very frank and very handsome of the hon. Gentleman. It is what one would expect of him, or for that matter of any Minister who stands at that Box, whatever party happens to be in power. None the less, it is surely quite 1489 wrong that, even if the explanation is wrapped up in the euphemism of a "number of administrative errors," any of Her Majesty's Ministers should be put in the galling and humiliating position of having to retract in extenso previous statements made to a Member of Parliament who has raised quite serious allegations.
I cannot possibly weary the House with a recital of all the grievances, all the complaints, all the allegations. I shall mention merely one quite minor one, because it is brief and because the comparison is easily made. In the original letter of complaint which his mother passed on to me, S. A. C. Jukes referred, inter alia, to the food, a quite frequent cause of complaint as one knows. He said:The food we sniff at, nibble at and finally reject is cooked with equipment which was condemned as obsolete on all other Royal Air Force stations in pre-war years—I think, 1937.In his letter of 14th July the Under-Secretary said:As regard Juke's allegations about the food and the equipment with which it is cooked, an examination of the minutes of recent station mess committee meetings has shown that there have been no serious complaints about the food. The equipment used in the R.A.F. mess at Ismailia and throughout the Canal Zone is standard.That is the letter, hon. Members will remember, which threw down most of what my constituent said. It is the letter glossing over all the complaints, the letter in which the Under-Secretary was misinformed. In the letter of 24th December, on this same point, which affords an easy comparison, the hon. Gentleman said:Jukes also complained about the food and the equipment with which it was cooked. My investigating officer visited the kitchens of the Sector Operations Centre and found them to be quite efficient, although much of the cooking equipment is rather antiquated. Two excellent large electric hot-plates and three new tea urns have now been provided, with another three or four to follow, which should help to improve the service.Then the hon. Gentleman added, with, perhaps, a rather cautious note of optimism:There was a choice of three main courses at the midday meal, which looked very good to the investigating officer.That is just one minor example, as I say, of the extraordinary difference between the two letters that were sent to me by the Under-Secretary in July and in 1490 December, and it shows how important it is that these complaints should be thoroughly investigated and thoroughly thrashed out. It is most unfortunate that when an aircraftman has the tenacity and the guts—if I may put it—to write to his M.P. he should, therefore, be victimised, as I feel certain that this man was in this case.
It was in August that the court-martial proceedings were set in train. I was, naturally, greatly concerned to learn from my constituent—and from friends of his, other men serving with him, who also wrote to me to say that they thought that he was being victimised—that he was under close arrest, awaiting court-martial. In view of the unhappy general situation on this station, I got in touch at once with the Air Ministry and asked the Under-Secretary to make quite sure that the court-martial was conducted properly and that proper arrangements were made for Jukes to be represented adequately at it. I am glad to say that the Air Ministry did intervene energetically and ensured that he was represented by a qualified barrister, who flew out there to appear at the court-martial.
However, there seems to have been, I am afraid, no limit to the vindictiveness with which my constituent was treated, because then another extraordinary action was taken. They actually posted home one of my constituent's defence witnesses, whom he wanted to appear on his behalf at the court-martial. I have no doubt at all that this was done deliberately in order to prevent him from giving evidence. It is a very serious statement to make, but I make it advisedly, having considered all the circumstances and having since had an opportunity of talking them over in great detail with the man concerned.
Jukes wrote and told me this, and I again got in touch at once with the Under-Secretary. This was another point, unfortunately, at which the hon. Gentleman was misinformed by the unit, because he wrote back to me to say that Jukes had not asked for this witness until after he had left for home, being due for demobilisation. This turned out not to be true—though I have have no doubt that the fact that he was nearly due for demobilisation was made the pretext for posting the witness home.
1491 The matter is summed up in the Under-Secretary's letter of 24th December, in which he writes:The second occasion on which Jukes thought he was being victimised was when Corporal Bee, his Defence witness, was posted to the United Kingdom before he could appear at Jukes's court-martial. You will recall that in my letter of 22nd September I said that Jukes had not asked for Corporal Bee to be called as a witness for the Defence until after Bee had left for home and that we could not therefore arrange for Bee to appear. This statement, I am sorry to say, was completely inaccurate. Corporal Bee had been asked for by the Defence and he was actually available to give his evidence on the date first set for the trial, 20th August. He was a National Service man and was due for release on the 7th September, which meant that he had to leave for the United Kingdom by the 3rd September. When Jukes's court-martial date was put back there was a discussion between the unit and the responsible Group Headquarters on the advisability or otherwise of keeping Corporal Bee back"—I ask the House to note this particularly—As they"—that is, the unit and Group Headquarters—thought that Bee was merely going to produce evidence which would prove that Jukes was not detailed for the specific duty, his presence as a witness did not appear to them to be essential. They finally decided that they would not be justified in keeping him in the Middle East beyond his discharge date. But Jukes, in fact, wanted additional testimony from Bee. Jukes later submitted a petition against conviction and De L'Isle"—that is, the Secretary of State for Air—has decided that the conviction is to be quashed.This surely indicates a most reprehensible conspiracy against justice for this airman. Group Headquarters and the unit took the responsibility upon themselves of deciding which defence witnesses would be necessary to him. In fact, it was not even true that Corporal Bee could not have given evidence at that court-martial and still be home in time for his release. The court-martial took place four days before he was due for release. He could perfectly well have been kept back and flown home, as many men are flown home from the Middle East. I regard this as one of the two most disgraceful features of the whole case—the other being, as I said, the general policy of trying to protect those responsible by supplying false information to the Under-Secretary—
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Has my hon. Friend considered whether there has not been contempt of court here? It has been laid down many times that a court-martial stands in the same position as a civil court. If it can be proved that this witness was removed from the jurisdiction of the court, I should have thought that there might be at least a borderline case of contempt of court.
§ Mr. Driberg
My hon. Friend suggests the possibility of a question of contempt of court here. I hope that the Under-Secretary will make some reference to that when he deals with this matter in his speech.
However, I should explain to my hon. Friend that all this happened at the end of August and the beginning of September, and I did not know these details until I received them in the Under-Secretary's letter at Christmas time. By then, it was a little late—particularly as, in the main, my constituent had been cleared: the conviction had been quashed and the matter fairly happily cleared up, so far as my constituent was concerned. But I agree that the point made by my hon. Friend may very well be important.
§ Mr. Swingler
Has the Under-Secretary reported to my hon. Friend about any action taken against the senior officers who supplied the hon. Gentleman with false information, or interfered with judicial processes by removing a witness? I understand from the letters that they admit that they supplied wrong information to the Minister and that, using their own discretion, they removed a defence witness who was known to be required. Did the Under-Secretary report that any action was being taken?
§ Mr. Driberg
No, the hon. Gentleman did not, but I feel fairly certain from the terms of the letter sent to me that the matter would not have gone unnoticed. I will not say more than that. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary wants to say more when he replies. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), I cannot claim that the officers concerned have admitted supplying false information. They have, in effect, been convicted of it by the results of the visit of the senior investigating officer, but that is covered by the euphemism… due to a series of administrative errors.…1493 Perhaps it is thought that they were led into this series of errors by loss of memory due, perhaps, to the heat of the sun in the Middle East. It may be that the Under-Secretary will also deal with the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.
This case, although only an individual case, seems to me to be one of considerable gravity and to illustrate an important constitutional principle and perhaps a principle of justice. Although it has been cleared up, thanks to the Under-Secretary, and although S.A.C. Jukes is now, on the whole, happy about it again, the thing that still worries me a little is that there may be a number of similar cases in which, perhaps, the airman concerned has not the exceptional pertinacity, independence and courage which I certainly attribute to Jukes.
I am not for a moment suggesting that this kind of thing is widespread. On the contrary, I think that it is, happily, rare in the Royal Air Force and in the Army. But I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that these rare cases should be brought to light and thoroughly investigated. There may be similar cases in which the airman, having made one try at it, does not pursue the matter but merely relaxes into sullen acquiescence, when he is told by a commanding officer similar to this one that he is not allowed to write to a Member of Parliament without permission.
§ Mr. Wigg
Is my hon. Friend aware that, if the facts he reveals are correct, an offence has been committed under Section 27 or 40 of the Army and Air Force Act in that an officer has knowingly and wilfully suppressed material facts? I thought it was relevant to let my hon. Friend know this, so that he can discover whether, in fact, proceedings have been taken under those Sections.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his interjection, and I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary will deal with it.
I merely want to add that the Air Ministry is responsible for protecting airmen in these admittedly very rare cases in which it has become necessary for a man to exercise his constitutional right; I am glad that the Under-Secretary has done so in this case, and I hope that he 1494 will reaffirm that right as vigorously as possible, so that it may be known throughout the Royal Air Force.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I only wish to refer very briefly to a matter which goes somewhat wider than the one with which the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has just been dealing. I am sure he will not think it discourteous of me if I do not follow him, because he was dealing in some detail with a special case. But I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that all the cases about which I have had to write to him on behalf of constituents serving either as National Service men or on some other engagement have been dealt with most scrupulously, most fairly and in detail by the Air Ministry. I think it is the general opinion of the House that these matters are treated carefully and properly by the Department.
The matter I want to refer to is the new plan for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. From what I can see of it, it is probably just about the best which can be devised in present circumstances. The squadrons are going to keep their Meteors and Vampires, and they are going to be linked with Regular squadrons in the Air Force. Thus, the most proficient and experienced pilots will get experience in flying the latest types of Service aircraft.
This scheme seems to me to be based on the premise that all the 20 Auxiliary squadrons are equal. While that may be the fairest, I am not at all sure it is the most practical assumption to work on. My view is that these squadrons vary considerably. It is probably only to be expected that they should, because some of them draw on areas of much larger population than others. It seems reasonable to suppose that there should be some variations in standard.
But my criticism of the scheme, if I have one, is that it tends to be based on the standard of the least proficient squadron. I do not like to talk about Auxiliary squadrons in the sense of the least proficient, because they have done a wonderful job and have maintained an extraordinary standard throughout the years, winning the admiration of us all, but it does appear that the very best of them are to be kept down to the level of the least proficient.
1495 I am personally of the opinion—and I know this is a view shared by some in the Royal Air Force—that a few of the 20 squadrons cannot without undue risk to the pilots, fly the latest type of aircraft. With their limited experience, and particularly with the comparatively small amount of flying they are able to do, it would be open to risk and to question to let them fly the Hunter, but I am equally sure that a squadron like 601, one of the best which can draw on a much wider area of population than most, could easily manage the latest fighters. I contend that this scheme tends to be based on the principle that the speed of the convoy must be the speed of the slowest ship. I am not sure for that reason whether it will ultimately prove to be the best that can be devised; but for the moment, I agree, it probably is the most practical.
Nevertheless, I think that in the long run it would be wrong to assume that these squadrons are going to remain equal, and that therefore we should continue to do the same for all. If in the future a commander-in-chief thinks one of these squadrons to be capable of re-equipment with the latest type of fighter, then I feel the case should be considered on its merits. It might very well set up keenness and competition among the squadrons to do so.
I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) had a very good point in the debate last week when he mentioned the light fighter. He suggested that selected squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force might very well be equipped with this aircraft. I understand that the trials which have taken place with the earlier type of light fighter reveal that it is very promising, and I think that the point could well be borne in mind by my hon. Friend.
But the part of the scheme about which I am most doubtful is that which suggests that these squadrons should be linked with Regular squadrons. I have no doubt that on paper this is probably all right, but I believe that the serviceability of the Hunters is such that it might well prove extremely inconvenient for Auxiliary pilots to be flying them at the week-ends. I do not know what a flight sergeant would think who went on a 1496 week-end pass on Friday evening leaving in his flight five or six serviceable aircraft and found on his return on Monday morning that there were only two or three fit to fly. I wonder what his views would be. I do not think they would be very complimentary.
I assume that some of the regular ground crews will have to be kept behind on Saturday and Sunday to help service these aircraft. I do not know how they will feel about that. I think it would be very unwelcome to some of them. No, I really feel there will be difficulties in this plan which perhaps cannot now be foreseen.
However, the important thing is that these squadrons are going to be kept together with their great and enduring spirit. To my mind, it would be quite unthinkable for them to be used in any other way than in Fighter Command. The suggestion, for instance, that they should be converted into Transport Command squadrons is quite wrong and unimaginative. Their spirit is essentially the spirit of the fighter squadron and it would be wrong to misuse it. I hope this is not a rigid plan, but one which will be open to change as the months go by. If it is to be so regarded, then I think that it will prove to have been well conceived.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Like the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), I should like to pay my tribute to the Under-Secretary for the scrupulously fair way in which he deals with personal cases. I have submitted a few to him, and I know from the way he dealt with them what great care and attention he devotes to them. It is for that reason that I hope he will be able to say something quite specific about the allegations and charges made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), who has quite clearly established that the Minister was supplied with a false picture of the situation in which these grievances arose, and that senior officers have admitted that they attempted to interfere with the evidence of a witness at a court-martial because they said they thought he was not required.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) showed, an offence has been committed under the Army and 1497 Air Force Act and under the Air Force Disciplinary Code. As has been said, this is a rare kind of case, but we want to ensure that this sort of thing is dealt with properly and fairly. So I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to say that disciplinary action is being taken against those responsible so as to ensure that this kind of thing cannot generally occur.
I do not want to take up a great deal of time, but I want to refer mainly to two matters. There has not been much reference during these debates on the Estimates to the actual matter of estimating. Last year I raised this subject on the Air Estimates, and I want to do so again because it is particularly appropriate. One of the practices which has grown up in the last few years and which ought to stop is that of over-estimating by the Service Departments, and the Air Ministry is the worst Department from that point of view.
Hon. Members will have studied the figures in a written reply given by the Minister of Defence to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley on 28th February this year. The Minister of Defence revealed what had actually been spent by the Service Departments in the last four financial years compared with the estimating which had been presented and approved by this House. Though there was a good deal of controversy last year on the subject, we had not got accurate figures. The accurate figures have now been given by the Minister of Defence for the three financial years, 1951 to 1954, and they show that the Service Departments as a whole over-estimated their requirements by £700 million.
The figures show that over the last three financial years the Service Departments over-estimated the production capacities of the Services by over £1,000 million. The 1951 estimate for the three-year production programme for £2,800 million and, as the Minister of Supply said last year, it was unrealistic. That was conceived principally for the Royal Air Force. At the end of the third financial year it resulted in an expenditure of £1,700 million and in the kind of chaos disclosed in the White Paper on Aircraft Supply.
My point is that it has been continually the practice to over-estimate and that the practice has not stopped. Last Budget 1498 day the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to announce that the Defence Departments had over-estimated or under-spent by £132 million in that year. What do we find in the most recent Defence White Paper? We find in paragraph 55 that the Service Departments will be considerably under-spent in this last financial year. The Service Departments have still not learned the lesson and they still ask this House to approve Estimates that are quite beyond their production capacities. Only when scandals come to light and many questions are asked about the lack of aircraft are we able to discover this.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
But the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has been telling us, in effect, that he is delighted that those large numbers of aircraft have not been produced because they could be of no effect against the hydrogen bomb.
§ Mr. Swingler
That is the point I want to make, because it shows how wrong it was to conceive these Estimates, and how wrong it is to go on approving them. Today the noble Lord will be asked again to approve an Estimate for the Royal Air Force on the same basis and of almost the same character as we have had in the last three years. What has been the lesson of the last three years? The lesson has been that those responsible have tried to do too much and have achieved too little. It is a good thing that they have achieved too little because, if they had managed to spend all this money, a great deal of it would have been wasted. What conclusions should we draw? The conclusion we should draw is to cut down the Estimates, to stop the over-estimating—
§ Mr. Beswick
Will my hon. Friend make it clear that I did not express any delight at this muddle? I simply said that in the future, with a little better planning and a little better policy, we might avoid some of it.
§ Mr. Swingler
I agreewith my hon. Friend and with the comments made in the Conservative Press on the White Paper on Aircraft Supply. All those comments led to only one conclusion, that there has been a persistent attempt to spend too much money, to try to do too many things, to have a multiplicity of design, with the result that we have neither managed to spend the money nor buy 1499 the aircraft. If the Service Departments had estimated better and had spent a little less money, and had streamlined both estimates and production, they might have achieved much more.
I am criticising the continuance of these Estimates because, on the surface, it does not seem to me that the Air Estimates presented to us this year are much different either in character or scale from those we have had in the previous three financial years. Therefore I suspect that next year the Chancellor will be saying precisely what he will be saying this year and what he said last year, that the Estimates have been under-spent, that once again Parliament approved Estimates although the money could not be spent because the Service authorities budgeted for too much.
This matter should be looked at in the light of the experience gained in the last four financial years of extravagant overestimating—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly, that is in the Government's own White Paper—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Swingler
I welcome the increased interest. I was concluding—when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) interrupted—on the point that I believe these Air Estimates should be more severely scrutinised in the light of the financial and economic experience of the last three years, because I suspect we are continuing the process of over-estimating and under-spending.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
May I ask my hon. Friend whether the picture he is painting of over-estimating has not taken place precisely in that period regarding which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been sending to the Departments special circulars calling attention to the necessity for care in estimating, for economy and, if necessary, for the dismissal of men engaged on important jobs, so that there should be economy in the expenditure of public money? Is it not precisely in those three years that there has been this terrible over-estimating of which we have had an account from my hon. Friend?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) has dealt only with the last three years. Perhaps he will deal with the two previous years when the Labour Government were in control? He will find that even then, although the amounts were not so great, the money which was voted by Parliament was not spent.
§ Mr. Swingler
I welcome that intervention, and I agree that I have not gone back over all those years. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may be right, in which case that reinforces my point I am making that point only in relation to the last three years, because they are an outstanding example of fantastic overestimating. Nobody can get away from that. On all sides it is now admitted that the programme devised for all the Services in 1951 was a fantastic overestimate, an over-strain of the productive system. This is a persistent tendency in the Service Departments, particularly with the increasing cost of modern weapons, and it needs to be severely criticised, because that is one of our jobs in this House. One of the themes of the Chancellor in his Budget speech was that we must have definite relief from the defence burden, and it seems to me that the Service Departments have not made their contribution.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Would not my hon. Friend agree that this huge expenditure on armaments is largely the cause of the inflation and of the economic and financial trouble which led to the recent difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ Mr. Swingler
My hon. Friend is constantly trying to persuade me to get out of order, but there are others who wish to speak and, therefore, I will leave it to my hon. Friend, who is well-informed and capable of answering the question which he has just posed to me. I want briefly to turn to a subject of much greater importance.
The point is that so far in the debates on the Estimates this year the Service Ministers have produced no satisfactory answer whatsoever on the subject of conscription. We still want to know from the Government Front Bench what the arguments are now for continuing the elaborate and expensive apparatus of conscription and for not cutting down on the 1501 call-up. We want to know this particularly from the Royal Air Force.
Let us take the position of the Royal Air Force. One of the great arguments for our system of conscription was that we must have masses of reservists. What is the position of the Royal Air Force in relation to reservists? The Royal Air Force does not want them; it has too many of them and does not know what to do with them. The Under-Secretary is embarrassed by the fact that the Royal Air Forces does not want to train the reservists which it ought to train under the National Service Acts. However, the Royal Air Force has no use for them and it shovels them into Civil Defence, the mobile defence columns, fire fighting and anything else which has nothing to do with the Royal Air Force.
The elaborate training system for recruits is a millstone hanging round the neck of the Air Ministry, and it does not want it. The Royal Air Force can deal, according to the Under-Secretary, with only 10,000 in a year of the 136,000 who ought to be trained. The Reserves position is becoming an embarrassment to the Air Ministry, and it will not now argue in favour of conscription because of the need to have masses of reservists.
The second argument relates to commitments. Where does the Under-Secretary stand on that subject? Is it the argument that the Royal Air Force has more commitments or fewer commitments since last year? Have the commitments increased or decreased over the last two or three years? Are we to take it that the tension has become greater, or has it become less? According to the defence White Paper, the commitments of the Services are alleged to have been reduced. Consequently, there should be a smaller call for conscription on the grounds of our commitments.
The third point is that the Ministers are pledged to reduce conscription, and the pledge has become due for fulfilment since the end of the Korean war.
§ Mr. Swingler
We had a bit of an argument about this the other night, and so I have brought along a copy of HANSARD for 15th September, 1950, when the period of conscription was increased 1502 from 18 months to two years. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are in an extraordinarily partisan mood today; apparently they are concerned only with party.
I maintain that the leaders of the two major political parties in this country are pledged now to reduce the period of conscription from two years to 18 months. The pledges were given on 15th September, 1950, at the time when the period of National Service was extended because of the Korean emergency, and they were clearly given. If hon. Gentlemen opposite doubt it in respect of their party, let them look at column 1505 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 15th September, 1950, and read the speech of the present Lord Chancellor, then Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who persuaded the Liberal Party to withdraw its Amendment to limit until the end of 1953 the extension of conscription to two years. He said:If there were any doubt, if any great party in the State had not pledged itself to get rid of this increase as soon as possible in view of the international situation, I could understand the difficulty of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.He was referring to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies).But we are all agreed on this point. It is our common desire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1505.]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I am not sure about this and would like some guidance. Would it require legislation to reduce the period of National Service, or would it not?
§ Mr. Swingler
I understand that the period could be reduced by a statutory order, and that the passing of a Bill amending the National Service Acts would not be required.
I could read other extracts. Hon. Members should read that debate. A pledge was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who was then the Secretary of State for War, and that was followed up by the present Lord Chancellor who was speaking for the Conservative Party to persuade the Liberal Party to withdraw its Amendment to restrict the time during which the extension of conscription to two years would operate. Both of them pledged themselves and their parties to reduce the period of conscription in the light of the international situation, 1503 which at that time referred to the Korean emergency. It was the Korean emergency which was the argument for extending the period.
Hon. Members opposite appear to forget that the reason for the extension was the Korean hostilities and the extra commitments of that time. That is why I now argue that Ministers must take the matter seriously. The Korean emergency has been brought to an end and our commitments have been reduced. Consequently, the pledges come up immediately for consideration. We require very much more serious attention by the Service Ministers during the next 12 months to the problem of how they are to reduce the length of service if the public is not to be double-crossed.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I want to take up the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) on two points.
The first point concerns National Service. I feel certain that all hon. Members are anxious to reduce the period as soon as possible, but there are only two ways by which it can be done. One is by increasing the rate of Regular recruiting and the rate at which men will sign on for extended service, and the other is through a change of heart on the part of the Soviet, which would mean less anxiety in the world, fewer commitments for us to meet and, consequently, the possibility of having smaller Armed Forces.
I would remind the hon. Member that since the debate on National Service to which he has referred, although the Korean conflict has been settled, we have had the invasion and overrunning of Tibet by the Communist forces; the Indo-China incident, with all its anxieties, and it may not by any means be over yet; we have the Formosa trouble; and we have received threats in the West as well as in the East. Until a change of heart is shown by the Soviet, not only in words but also in acts, it would be very unwise for this country to let down its defences.
I also want to take the hon. Gentleman up on an astonishing criticism that he made of his own Government's policy. The hon. Member was not in the House at the time, but his Government—correctly, I think—after the Korean invasion placed large orders for aircraft. If those 1504 large orders had not been placed, we should not have had any aircraft today.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It was correct at that stage to place those great orders in an effort to have this country defended. When one places orders for aircraft, and particularly for new weapons, there will always be teething troubles. Anyone who has any knowledge of industrial processes and organisation will bear me out in this. It has taken longer to bring the new, complicated aircraft into service than was anticipated, and that has meant fewer progress payments to the firms and under-spending on Estimates. It still is essential to place the orders in advance in the hope that the aircraft will be delivered in the year in which one hopes that they will be delivered.
§ Mr. Swingler
Does the hon. Member agree with the "Daily Telegraph" which, in speaking about the White Paper on the Supply of Aircraft, said that the effect of the programme over the first three or four years was simply to put too great a strain on the aircraft industry and not to get the best results?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am coming to that very point. If the hon. Member had been here during the debates on the Air Estimates last week, he would have heard this point being dealt with very thoroughly.
I think that we have spread our orders too widely and that over the next few years we have to cut down the number of projects which the Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm are backing. It is not only that we have the whole of the bomber, coastal, transport and fighter aircraft programmes, but superimposed on that we have the guided missile programme, which has to be able to meet both the Navy and Air Force demands. There is also a large helicopter research and development programme which is important to all three Services.
There is a good deal of substance in what was said this afternoon by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. It has been said by many people with greater weight from the Front Benches in recent debates. I should like my hon. Friend to deal with this point when he 1505 replies, or to write to me on the subject. That is whether there is some co-ordination between the Services in the helicopter development programme and in the guided missile programme.
We read that the Royal Air Force is to be responsible for the ground-to-air guided missiles, but these will also be badly needed by the Navy. It is obvious that we cannot have two types of guided missile. I hope that we may have some assurance that there is close liaison between the two Services so that we will have one type of ground-to-air guided missile which will be used by both the Royal Air Force and the Navy.
Hon. Members on the other side have spoken for so long that I will not take up too much time of the House. We have had one speech of 27 minutes and others of over 20 minutes, and there were several interjections in the last speech which no doubt made it longer than the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme had intended.
I should like to deal with one matter to which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) referred. He thought my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply was too strong in his defence of the aircraft industry. I should like to point out that my right hon. and learned Friend was answering what we on this side felt to be a very irresponsible speech by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) in winding up the debate for the Opposition on the previous evening. The hon. Member had been making statements which we did not believe to be accurate but which had received tremendous publicity in the American Press. The headlines there had said, "Ex-Minister said Royal Air Force has no fighters, or bombers, only those we have given to them." If the American Press knew him as we know him, perhaps it would not have put the same value on his statements. Since the statements had been made, it was surely up to my right hon. and learned Friend to refute them vigorously and thoroughly, and he did that from the Dispatch Box.
Another topic I should like to raise is that we have not heard in these days of debate anything about the Air Training Corps. I hope that my hon. Friend will think it worthwhile in next year's Memorandum to deal with this very important problem. These young men 1506 are vitally important to the future of our Air Force. At the moment there is a dearth of Regular officers returning to act as instructors to the Air Training Corps and a lack of enthusiasm. If that situation does not improve, we will not have the enthusiasm in the schools which will stand us in good stead when pupils leave to go into the Royal Air Force.
I ask my hon. Friend to give some direction so that we shall not be too petty in combing through allowances, travelling allowances and other small compensations which are given to instructors for the immense amount of time and enthusiasm they give. There is nothing more discouraging, if one is prepared to help, than the idea that every time one claims 2s. 6d. for a meal or transport it will be cut to 2s. 3½d. It makes one feel that the Air Ministry is not as enthusiastic about this project as one would wish.
Finally, what is my hon. Friend doing to see that the Air Force is sold to public grammar and secondary schools so that some of the best boys will be recruited when they leave? I have said before—and I still feel it most acutely—that the best regiments in the Army have talent spotters who take the trouble to go to the schools, see the masters and ask if they have any bright boys who have not made up their minds what they will do. They encourage them to go into the Rifle Brigade, or the 60th, or the Guards, or whatever it is. Is the Air Force doing this sort of thing? The Air Force is dependent not only on Cranwell but on the public and grammar schools for its recruits. I hope that we will pay considerable attention to the A.T.C. and the schools so that we will have the leadership in the Air Force that we will require in the future.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I want to deal with a point made by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) on the subject of the Auxiliary squadrons, and also to take up a point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) in the debate on the Air Estimates. I think that the Under-Secretary should give us some indication of his policy about the light fighter. We have heard very little 1507 about it in the debates on the Air Estimates this year.
The light fighter is an ideal piece of equipment for the Auxiliary squadrons. Nobody has made any suggestion that the light fighter should replace other fighters in the Royal Air Force. The suggestion is that they should be in addition to the other fighters. The Under-Secretary knows that there is a good deal to be said on behalf of some of these light fighters—particularly the Folland Gnat—and that a very good case has been made for its fine performance and its air worthiness.
Not the least important part of the case is its cheapness. Its cost is only about £25,000 compared with the £100,000 or so for the more expensive and more complicated type of fighter. Another argument is that we continue to have more and more complicated fighters and other aircraft and it will be increasingly difficult to find technicians to service and maintain these highly complicated aircraft. The great shortage in this country today is of highly skilled and qualified technicians. There is a shortage of them in the factories and in the Services.
If we had a situation in which these fighters and bombers had to be used in war, it would be terribly difficult to find enough technicians to maintain all these highly complicated but no doubt desirable machines. We might find ourselves in difficulties, if we did not have some light fighters. I understand from those with experience in Korea that the highly complicated American fighters could not be serviced, because of the shortage of technicians. They were frequently used without making use of all their highly complicated radar equipment and so forth, because they could not be maintained. It is no good spending a vast amount of money on these very fine aircraft, if one knows one cannot maintain them in combat.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will see to it that some sort of decision is made about the light fighter in the future. I do not think that it matters whether it is the Folland Gnat or any other type, but we should have a light fighter in reserve.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
I should like to know why my hon. Friend thinks the light fighter is 1508 especially suitable for the Auxiliary squadrons. Does he think they will be easier to fly, and does he think that the Government will be able to produce light fighters when they cannot produce other aircraft?
§ Mr. Ward
That is not the whole point. We have not reviewed arrangements for the Auxiliary Air Force because the men are unable to fly modern aeroplanes—they are perfectly capable of flying them—but because they are not able to give enough of their time to flying those aircraft to their limit under combat conditions, and particularly when working with the extremely complex system of defence which we have now. It seems to me that that argument applies to any type of aircraft, heavy or light.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Yes, I follow what the Under-Secretary is saying. I am not trying to make any attack on him this afternoon about this matter. But I think it important to arrive at a correct decision about this point.
I understand that the amount of time one can actually fly one of these machines before it has to be serviced is greater. One can get more flying hours out of it than from the more expensive and complicated aircraft in the same period of time. Also it is easier to learn to fly, and therefore, from that point of view, more useful for the auxiliary squadrons.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
The hon. Gentleman would agree that the serviceability of a fighter must depend very largely on the engine? The Orpheus engine has not been put in the Folland aircraft, and until it has, it is not possible to say what is the serviceability.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The point I am trying to make is that we should be looking to the future and not relying exclusively on the more complicated and expensive types of fighters.
I am not saying that the Government should immediately buy 500 fighters of one particular type, but I hope we shall hear that they are looking to the future and exploring the possibility of the light fighter. I believe that at one point the Air Ministry was on the verge of ordering some prototypes. I am not saying that they should be ordered from this particular firm, or from some other firm. It does not matter from where they are ordered.
I wish to refer to the suggestions continually made by hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), and the Under-Secretary himself, that we have been engaged in some malicious campaign to denigrate the aircraft industry and the Royal Air Force, and generally to run down the air defences of our country, when there has been no justification for such a campaign.
It would seem that the Government, or the Ministers representing various Government Departments, have not been reading their newspapers. This had nothing to do with my hon. Friends and myself in the first instance. The "Daily Express," the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Telegraph," the "Manchester Guardian"—
§ Mr. Wyatt
—have all been saying very sharp and severe things about the Government over the last few months with regard to aircraft. They have said it with vehemence and regularity. It is all very 1510 well for the Secretary of State for War to intervene with his sneering observation that these newspapers have no military correspondents—
§ Mr. Wyatt
I quite understand the position of the right hon. Gentleman. Any newspaper which approves of Government policy at any given moment is well equipped with expert knowledge; but any newspaper which may censure the Government at any given moment has not the necessary expert advice and cannot know how good the Government are.
It is the oldest trick in the world. When any Government's shortcomings are found out, they say that the other side is unpatriotic and is running a campaign. The Under-Secretary of State has accused me of constant assertions and re-assertions and of uttering damaging untruths and half-truths. That too is one of the oldest tricks in the world. Every Government do it. If they are caught out, and thoroughly exposed, they say, "This is a campaign of untruths—how shocking, how abominable. It is all done for party purposes." So far as I am concerned, it has not been done for party purposes at all. It has been done because the Government had fallen down on the production and supply of aircraft.
They have made promise after promise since they came to office about the arrival date of these aircraft, but the aircraft have not been forthcoming. That is clear to everyone. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick has made several speeches on the subject—without being attacked by his own Front Bench—pointing out all the defects in the organisation and supply of aircraft. We have simply emphasised them, in an endeavour to wake up the Government.
It is all very well for the Government to say that all these things are untrue; and for Ministers, armed with the briefs which they obtain from their officials—because they do not know much about it themselves—to try to blame us. We have not the advantage of official sources of information, and we have to do the best that we can to find out what is going on. It is easy for Ministers to say, "Yes, but you have forgotten about a meeting which took place on 18th May, 1949, but we have the minutes here and we are 1511 going to read them out to you"—or some such statement of that kind. Anyone can do that, but it does not prove their case to be substantially right.
We have proved that our case is substantially right. Hon. Members on this side of the House have not been campaigning against the British aircraft industry or saying that it is no good. I do not say that. I think it is the finest industry in the world, and I think that we have the finest aircraft designers in the world. But the Government have not been putting the necessary energy behind securing the best types of aircraft and furthering these projects. They have not been organising their resources in the best way. I am very sorry that what I have said has pained and hurt them, but it is probable that it was a good thing to say it. I say that in the sense in which one says, "This is going to hurt you more than me."
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow)
East): My hon. Friend means, "This will hurt me more than it hurts you."
§ Mr. Wyatt
Yes, and with more ability.
He has admitted mistakes. In the defence debate he said that mistakes had been made. It is our job, as the Opposition, to point out those mistakes. I do not want to go over them all now, but it seemed one's duty to say things in public which might give rise to anxiety and alarm.This may give satisfaction in some foreign countries and cause distress and want of confidence in us in others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1282.]Those are not my words; they are the words of the Prime Minister when he was in Opposition, and which he used in this House on 16th March, 1950, when attacking the Labour Government for alleged shortcomings and deficiencies over defence. His voice carries far greater weight internationally than the voices of 1512 my hon. Friends on the back benches on this side of the House.
When the right hon. Gentleman thought he was justified in making that attack he did it in order, as he thought, to secure some efficient system of defence. We are certainly justified in doing what we have done, and, if necessary, we shall do it again next year, if the Government have not improved.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Speaking for myself and possibly for my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), may I say that we do not resent for a moment accurate and well-informed criticism. We resent statements like the statement that we have no transport aircraft, and that we ought to have. We remember that the Government of which the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) was a member—possibly quite correctly—cancelled the order for the Vallettas and Hastings, which would have been our standard transport aircraft today. Equally, the hon. Gentleman said that the Hunters could not fly in formation, which is totally untrue. We do not resent proper criticism but these are absolutely outrageous statements with no foundation in fact.
Then there were the allegations of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) about the Meteor, the N.F.11, being unable to fire its guns at high speed. That proved to be equally untrue, and the hon. Members surely cannot object if we resent that sort of thing.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) says that my statement about the Meteor was untrue. What did I say? I dealt with paragraph 40 of the White Paper, Command 9388. It contained the following statement:This country has an effective air defence against what any potential enemy is at present able to bring against us. By night, the most likely time for attack, we have a better defence than anyone else in the world.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," but let us examine it in detail.
When the Minister of Supply dealt with this proposition during the Defence debate, he did not base his argument on 1513 the fact that we had a better defence; he based it on the fact that we had a better defence system. He brought in the question of our radar defence and of our reporting system, but he avoided the argument in paragraph 40.
The hon. Gentleman may remember that I had a Question down about the F.86D of which, at the time that this came up, the hon. Gentleman opposite was not aware, because he asked whether I was referring to the F.86. On 10th March, the hon. Gentleman asked whether I was referring to the F.86 or to the F.86D. It subsequently transpired in answer to a question asked during the debate, that the Minister of Defence did not know that squadrons of F.86D aircraft were part of the defence of this country. He said that these aircraft were unsuitable for operating in our climatic conditions.
I then argued, with regard to the Meteor, that there was a restriction on its speed when its guns were fired. I did not particularise, but I asserted that there was such a restriction, and that there was trouble with the Meteor if its guns were fired at top speed. Indeed, I went further and gave the actual speed. Of course, the hon. Member for Hendon, North, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) got into the argument as well. They thought it monstrous and terrible.
Subsequently, the Under-Secretary of State for Air had something to say about it when winding up the debate. He said:I must admit that I was very disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 817.]I will miss out the complimentary parts, for which I am very grateful. The hon. Gentleman thought that I was schizophrenic because, on the one hand, I praised the R.A.F. and, on the other, hit out at it. That happened in the debates on the Army Estimates and on the Navy Estimates, and I regret to say that it came from the Under-Secretary of State. When one is attacking what the Government are doing, one is not necessarily attacking the Services. I pointed out then that it was far from my mind to attack the Royal Air Force. Indeed, I had striven to get it competent equipment.
1514 It is a clear issue. I asserted that there was a restriction on the speed of these aircraft. The hon. Member for Hendon, North and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield attacked me then, as did the Under-Secretary of State, who has done so again tonight. Will the Under-Secretary tell the House whether I was right or wrong?
§ Mr. Ward
Let us first of all get straight what the hon. Gentleman said, because he has not told us. He said:I say that that Meteor night fighter is incapable of firing its guns effectively at a greater speed than 330 knots."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 702.]
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. I was very careful not to particularise. Of course the Meteor can fire its guns, in the same way as can the Hunter. But if the Hunter fires its guns without a basket to pick up the links, the safety of the aircraft is endangered. Therefore, there is a restriction on the speed at which its guns can be fired.
The same is true in respect of the Meteor. When the Meteor has store tanks in the wing, there is a wind deflection, and, as a result, the Air Ministry has imposed a restriction on the speed. The hon. Gentleman knows that now, but I am not sure that he knew it at the time. When there are store tanks in the wings, the Air Ministry imposes a restriction regarding the firing of the guns. And rightly so, because when the guns are fired at top speed—I will not go so far as to say what might happen—the tanks are dented. Does the hon. Gentleman care to answer that?
§ Mr. Ward
Certainly. I was going to deal with the point in my winding-up speech, but perhaps it would be as well if I dealt with it now. I will start by repeating the statement which I made the other night, that the Meteor N.F.11 is capable of firing its guns effectively at all speeds, including top speeds. Let us get that clear.
What the hon. Gentleman is doing is to draw a wrong conclusion from a statement of the facts. In order to extend the range of the night fighter, these under-wing drop tanks can be fastened on to it, and then, if the guns are fired at very high speed, there is the possibility—and indeed there have been cases—of those tanks becoming dented. The hon. Gentleman knows that.
1515 There is absolutely no question whatever of the guns firing ineffectively or of the aircraft's performance being affected. It is only that the drop tanks themselves may suffer some slight damage. Therefore, purely for peace-time training purposes, and in order to prevent a lot of unnecessary expenditure on underwing drop tanks, we have told squadrons that they should not fire their guns at very high speed when these drop tanks are fitted.
That has no operational significance at all, and if the Meteor carrying the underwing tanks were in combat at very high speed, one of two things would be done. Either the drop tanks would be jettisoned, or, if they were not, they might get dented, which has no operational consequence at all. Finally, all pilots are given practice in firing their guns at top speed without the drop tanks in the normal course of training so that, if necessary, they can do it in wartime.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman wants to climb away if he can, but tonight I have caught him out, and also his hon. Friend. I regret to say that it is as plain as a pikestaff—if only the public and hon. Members on both sides of the House will read what was said, and the reply given—that when the hon. Gentleman replied to me on that date, he did not know that this restriction existed.
§ Dr. Bennett
Would the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) say that because motor cars are driven at 30 miles an hour in certain areas, it would not be safe to drive them at greater speed?
§ Mr. Wigg
Let the hon. Gentleman keep that argument for the local Conservative club. This matter is far too serious for that sort of argument.
1516 We have ascertained that the hon. Gentleman, not for personal reasons, but because his brief was a bad one, misinformed the House on the previous occasion. We have established beyond a shadow of doubt that we have F.86Ds and that the Government did not know this. We have also established that the Meteor N.F.11 has limitations, and that, because of those limitations—which I agree would not be imposed operationally—there is a limit, and has been, certainly for the past two years, on the speed of these aircraft, if they are fitted with drop tanks, when firing their guns.
I now come to the question of the difference between operational and peacetime uses of aircraft. Through the kindness of the hon. Gentleman, I was allowed to see the Hunter. It still has troubles, but I believe that it will overcome them. I was extremely impressed by what I saw—but there is no doubt that the link and the cartridge, when thrown out, endanger the safety of the aircraft, and that sooner or later baskets will be fitted to these aircraft to pick up both links and cartridges. When that is done it may be that the guns can be fired with perfect safety.
I also agree that if it were necessary today to commit this aircraft operationally the air officer commanding would be justified in so doing, and the gallant young men who have to fly them would not dissent from the situation; they would take up the aircraft knowing the risk involved and fire the guns operationally, even though they know that when the links come out the safety of the aircraft might be endangered. It is equally certain that when the N.F.11 fires its guns while it is carrying drop tanks a number of funny things happen.
I do not ask the hon. Members opposite to withdraw their remarks, but the hon. Member for Hendon, North has once again got caught out.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman pays so little regard to the rules that he would not know whether he was in or out. I dispense with him now. When I have more time in the future, I hope to deal with him in detail.
1517 I want to associate myself with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), namely, that all through these Service debates our objective has been to try to get the best value for our money. We have not an unlimited amount of money, and we should be failing in our duty as an Opposition if we did not do what we have done. We have tried to do it without seeking any party advantage. What better evidence can we have of that than what has been said by the Secretary of State for War, who knows everything? He has told us that there are no votes in the subject of defence. I accept that.
I do not want to denigrate any Service or piece of equipment; the one person I want to denigrate is the Prime Minister, because since 1945 his record on the matter of defence has been absolutely disastrous. Not only have his personal appreciations been at fault but, with the exception of the Under-Secretary of State for Air, he has made some lamentable appointments of Service Ministers. The greatest compliment I can pay to the Under-Secretary is to say that I recommend him very strongly for the post of Secretary of State for War—or perhaps he could combine the two Service Ministries. I hope that we have heard enough of this nonsense, and that he will now face up to the mess which has been left behind by the Minister of Supply.
One of the appalling things done by the Prime Minister was to move the previous Minister of Supply before we had a chance to get at him, and to put in his place a good lawyer—who is always very good when he has a bad brief. It is true that we have punctured the Minister of Supply in various matters, but he is new to the game and he has not done too badly. He will do a little better after he has had some training from us. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary will consult the Minister of Supply and ensure that the aircraft industry is not allowed to undertake more than it can carry. The great lesson to be drawn from the present situation is that we are trying to do too much with so little.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not be carried away by some of the fairy stories put out by various aircraft companies. It may be that the Victor has a great future; I hope that it has—I know 1518 that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield hopes that it has. I want to be absolutely certain, however, as I hope the Under-Secretary will want to be, that these various types of aircraft are exposed to the most searching investigation in peace-time of their capabilities and performance. If there are mistakes the aircraft manufacturer pays for them in cash, but the gallant young men who fly the machines pay for them with their lives.
We are putting a lot into this programme of aircraft production. The Air Force is now the senior Service, and it is absolutely vital that the Ministers responsible shall not be influenced by any pressure from back benchers or by hotted-up Farnborough air displays, but will be absolutely ruthless and, if they are convinced that a contract should be cancelled, will cancel it. If they do that the one thing they can be sure about is that they will have the full support of hon. Members on this side of the House.
A few days ago I made an offer to the Under-Secretary upon the subject of security. That offer is still open. I shall go even further, and suggest to him that if he cares to ask me for names I shall give them to him—especially the name of an American gentleman into whose record it would be worth looking with very great care. It might be better for our security if he spent his time in the United States rather than making periodical visits here, because every time he comes here there always seems to be a security leak. I shall not say any more upon that subject. I referred to it in the debate the other evening. The offer I then made to supply what information I have is still open, and I shall supplement that information if the Under-Secretary wishes me to do so.
I know that the question of security is a difficult one, but I cannot see any reason why the people of Great Britain should be denied information which is available to other countries. The Hunter is a good aircraft, and it will become a better one, I have no doubt, but at the present moment it is on the classified list. Yet plans of the Hunter have been supplied to foreign Governments. I would bet long odds that photostat copies of those plans have already reached the Kremlin.
1519 I do not want to particularise too much, but I must mention that we have recently sold 15 Venoms to Iraq. Two have been delivered. That aircraft is still on the classified list. I do not understand that, because if these aircraft have been exported information about them is available. We have sold the Canberra to South America, and that aircraft is also on the classified list.
The whole question of security needs to be looked at. If planes are exported for the purpose of stepping up sales there is no need for the aircraft or engines concerned to remain on the classified list. By all means let us have security when it is essential in the interests of the country. If the Government decide that certain things must remain secret and others should be classified, let those be put on the respective lists, and let the rules be vigorously applied. For any breach, no matter whether it is on the part of a senior member of the Royal Air Force, a civil servant, a journalist, or even a Member of Parliament, there is a remedy which should be applied.
But do not let us have half measures. At the present moment we have a great mass of information which is described as secret but which is perfectly well known. It is talked about in the American Press and is known to all the air attaches in London, and the only poor mugs who do not know the truth are the British public, who pay the bill. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman, but when that happens the suspicion is bound to occur to us—certainly to my lion. Friend the Member for Aston and myself—that security is being used, not in the interests of the country, but in the interests of the Government. I certainly make no charges in this respect against the hon. Gentleman.
I conclude my expressing my personal appreciation for the competence and courtesy which the Under-Secretary has shown all through these debates. Although it would be much better if he were back upon the Opposition side of the House by this time next year, if he is still sitting upon the Government Front Bench I hope that he will do so as Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, or that he will hold an ever higher post.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
It is, of course, a new horror that confronts the Air Ministry when it discovers that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), in addition to spending 20 years in the Army as a warrant officer, spent three years in the Royal Air Force. If my hon. Friend continues to turn his attention to Air Force matters, it is clear that the Under-Secretary of State, in such short time as still remains for him on that side of the House, will have to be very alert indeed.
I should like to deal with a rather important point which was referred to briefly at the end of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, relating to security. It is impossible, in a debate on the Air Estimates, to cover this subject fully. The existence of N.A.T.O. has produced a completely different situation to that which existed in the past. The last war was in many ways much simpler and easier, from the security point of view, than other wars. We worked on the idea of sharing most things with our American Allies and telling very little to the other Allies.
Today we are part of a collective defence organisation, and it seems that even if our Allies who receive secret and classified information are continually breaching the regulations either in spirit or in fact, there is still an obligation on us, even to the disadvantage to the British people, to preserve as rigorously as we consider necessary those regulations. Once a piece of information is widely known there is clearly no point in leaving the information as "classified."
I expect that my hon. Friend for Dudley is aware that even the internal telephone directories in the Service Departments are classified, and rightly so, yet we may see them lying around inside any of these Ministries, and anyone can walk away with one of them in his pocket. I do not doubt that certain members of those Departments do walk out with an internal telephone directory in their pockets so that if they stay at home they can find out the number of a particular extension they may want to ring up, and not to draw attention to their absence. I do not commend that practice as a justification for declassifying the internal telephone directories.
1521 By the same token, I am not too happy about the idea that if foreign Powers have been the source of "leaks" of classified information we should automatically assume each time that, the horse having bolted, there is no point in leaving the stable door locked. We have an obligation to set an example in these matters. I am not disagreeing with certain points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, but I urge caution about them.
I turn briefly to some of the points that arose out of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). He dealt at great length with the case in which it appeared that the Under-Secretary of State had given very great satisfaction and out of which the Air Ministry came, by and large, honourably, having shown that it regarded the matter with full seriousness and a full sense of responsibility. The matter once again raises the tremendous difficulty that faces Members of Parliament on both sides of the House in dealing with cases that are brought to us, either by constituents or by people whom we know and who are serving in the Forces. Every hon. Member has such cases, sometimes from friends. Most of us do urge in the first instance that redress should be sought through the proper channels.
It is most important that commanding officers should realise that airmen and others have a right to approach their Members of Parliament. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State accepts that statement. In saying this I am not wanting to encourage that practice, but the position of a man in the Services is different from that of a man in civilian life. He is under discipline, is unable to change his job, and has no trade union to protect him. I am not suggesting that employers in industry, whether public or private, are necessarily better than commanding officers in the Air Force, but the position is different.
It is obviously difficult to know just how to steer a course. If opportunity can be found, I hope that this point can be explained, not only to senior officers, but to others in the Royal Air Force. I have frequently had arguments with my friends serving in one of the Services. They have said that if any man in their command ever wrote to his M.P. they would deal with him. That is a fairly natural 1522 reaction, but the justification for that right is shown by the case which was raised by my hon. Friend.
I have two other small points to make, which I will do quickly, relating to Vote I, under the subhead covering pay and conditions. I have raised this point before, but I am still told that the mess kit to be worn in different commands is extremely varied. An officer moving from one command to another is frequently put to quite unnecessary expense to suit the whims of the commander-in-chief. I urge the Under-Secretary of State to get this matter straightened out, so that officers are not put to the extra expense that many have to bear when they move from one command to another, sometimes within the same climatic region.
It is still too often the case that, on appointment to a job overseas, the man concerned finds when he gets there that the particular job has been changed, or that the officer concerned does not like the look of his face. Some of this may be unavoidable. I had a case recently of an officer who, at enormous trouble and expense to himself, shifted his family from school and moved to a new job. He did not want to go, and he came to me and asked if I would intervene with the Under-Secretary of State. I said, "You are a Regular, and it is clear that you have to do what the Service asks you to do." When he got out to the new post he found that he was not wanted. That was the second time it had happened to that individual.
I do not ask the Under-Secretary to reply about this specific case, but to take every possible step to prevent this sort of thing happening. At times it is quite disastrous to the lives of officers and airmen, who may find their married life subjected to a strain which is too great.
Turning to the question of the Reserves, I want to deal with the light fighter. There is a general question involved here, which I raised on a previous occasion, when I did not get an entirely satisfactory answer. I should like to know why men who are prepared to undertake responsibility and be called up in event of war, and for whom a place can be found as a war appointment, must automatically be withdrawn from such appointments at the age of 45.
1523 The Under-Secretary of State says that that is the result of a provision in the last National Service Act, under which liability to call-up for Z reservists in the Army and H reservists in the Air Force, ceases at 45. The fact that the obligation ceases—I think there is no statutory bar, but that is what I would like to know—should not automatically require the Air Force to remove from the list men who may be willing to fulfil their duties in the event of war. Clearly, if they regard them as unsuitable or too old or out of date or inefficient to fill these posts, they will remove them, but there should not be an automatic statutory bar.
I am sure we all know of people of great age who served in the last war with distinction. I know one officer in the Air Force who had the Matabele campaign medal and collected a D.F.C. in the course of the last war. He used to go to sleep in the aircraft sometimes when he flew as a special observer, but none the less he did a useful job in other rôles. Therefore, I urge that there should not be this automatic removal from the list of men who are willing to take on an obligation in war-time.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Yes, but there are people who may not be willing to take on the specific Reserve training obligation. They may have too many personal commitments, and they may hesitate to join the Regular Reserve for fear that in a particular year the period of training will coincide with an obligation of such a nature that they cannot ignore it.
Year after year officers have gone back to the Air Force, some of them with useful experience, and, on the whole, have probably done a useful job, but they will not assume the obligation of joining 1524 the R.A.F.V.R., although they are willing to do such training as they can and, if necessary, to serve in war-time. It has worked extremely well, so far as I can gather. At least, I have heard of no complaints. Of course, if it has not worked well, that may be a reason for imposing the age limit of 45. I urge that a more flexible approach be made to this subject. Perhaps I can confer with the Under-Secretary at another time and put the arguments in more detail.
I turn to the question of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I am in some difficulty in discussing the equipment of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and whether it should have a light fighter, because I have become increasingly doubtful of the value of fighters at all in preserving the peace of the world and the safety of this country. Incidentally, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) did not take it amiss when I suggested that he should stick to the rifle.
I have been interested in the light fighter for two or three years, and I believed, at the time when the matter was first discussed, that the Air Ministry made a mistake in not adopting it. But since then I have begun to have doubts, because such an aircraft is useless unless it is capable of finding its opponent. It does not matter whether we have the fastest aircraft in the world if it does not have the endurance and the capacity for hunting that a fighter must possess.
I presume that our main obligation in fighter defence—and I think we are chasing a mirage in thinking that we are going to find the answer in speed—must be primarily concentrated on aircraft which are fully equipped with radar and capable of finding a potential enemy in conditions of bad weather or at night. I cannot think that the menace to this country will be seriously reduced by providing the Royal Auxiliary Air Force with light fighters in the next few years.
Then there is the question of the use of fighters generally. I remarked in my speech in the main debate on the Estimates that the Air Ministry and the Government must follow the logic of their own policy, which is based mainly on the deterrent. I should like to know from the Minister—I do not expect a long answer—whether he thinks that a strong fighter force in this country would be successful in protecting this country from the drop- 1525 ping of the hydrogen bomb. If such beliefs are held, they are more likely to induce the type of mind which would launch this country into a war. In saying that, I am not for a moment accusing the Government of thinking that they can make this country so safe that they can safely embark on war.
I am convinced that there is no protection against the hydrogen bomb. I am convinced that the only possibility of achieving peace—and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) may hold this view—is either a full acceptance of the view that enslavement is preferable to death, which is a logical point of view, or the alternative point of view that we use and threaten to use the deterrent—in other words, that we threaten to blow ourselves up and the rest of the world too.
I do not believe that the fighter, any more than I believe the aircraft carrier or the Navy or any large section of the Armed Forces, can provide protection against the hydrogen bomb. I urge the Air Ministry to concentrate on carrying out the Government's policy, which must be to make the most efficient force possible, whether it be the bomber or the guided missile, for the delivery of the deterrent.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
In the last sentences of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) we got to the core of the problem of these Estimates. I am not concerned about the technicalities—
§ Air Commodore Harvey
For the convenience of the House, can the hon. Gentleman indicate how long he might be speaking on this occasion?
§ Mr. Hughes
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to go out, I should say that I shall speak for 12½ minutes and one-fifth of a second. But before he goes out, I warn him that I am going to refer to him, so he had better stay here and endure it.
I was going to say before I was interrupted that I am not interested in the technicalities of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I do not believe this country is interested in the argument whether the Labour Government would have built far more aircraft in a shorter 1526 time, better guns and so on, than the Tory Government have done. If we had a Labour Government in office at the moment they would have had the same beliefs, difficulties and bottlenecks, and I believe they would have had the same experts. I do not believe that a Labour Government would have been any more efficient than the Conservative Government in the production of aircraft or guns.
My approach to this matter is quite different. I entirely disagree with what is called the policy of the deterrent. That I believe to be fundamentally and morally wrong. It is wrong from every point of view. It is wrong for this country to build bombers to drop hydrogen bombs on the Soviet Union. I believe that the people of the Soviet Union are human beings. I do not agree with their system, but—
§ Mr. Hughes
Certainly I believe it. The reason I do not say it more often is that I have to keep within the limits of order. I have to criticise the Estimates of Her Majesty's Government and not those of the Supreme Soviet. If I were lucky enough to be in the Supreme Soviet, and lucky enough to be allowed to articulate, I should endeavour to put my point of view—probably unsuccessfully. That does not do away with my responsibility here. I happen to be a Member of a British Parliament, and I believe that it is fundamentally wrong and immoral to drop a hydrogen bomb or atom bomb on the civilian population of any country. If the Soviet Union drops the first atom bomb or hydrogen bomb, it is just as guilty of a crime against humanity.
The time has come when the hydrogen bomb is the enemy of all humanity. The development during the last few months has shown that the world's scientists, the world's politicians and the world's public men are rapidly coming to that conclusion. Much as I disagree with the Soviet Government and the Soviet régime. I believe that it is a crime against humanity to contemplate dropping a hydrogen bomb on the people of Moscow, the people of Leningrad, or the people of any part of the Soviet Union, who are the 1527 victims of what one hon. Member called Soviet "dictatorship."
Now I come to the question of how that affects me. I represent a constituency which is adjacent to one of the big airports. Every time I come here on a Monday I travel from Prestwick Airport, and I have done so for years. The thought of what might happen if this policy of the deterrent gets going terrifies me. Week after week, I have seen the numbers of the American Air Force personnel at Prestwick growing, and I am told that it is one of the places in this country from which bombers will go to the Soviet Union. What does that mean to us?
It means, whoever starts the bombing, that within 30 or 40 hours of the outbreak of war we can expect a hydrogen bomb on one of the principal targets in this country. I was told at Question time that one hydrogen bomb or one atom bomb over Prestwick would destroy everything within a radius of five miles. The Minister might have added that within a radius of ten miles there would be enormous partial destruction. That means that my constituency is likely to be wiped out.
I am not just a theoretical observer. I represent a very large number of people who live in this area and, however much I may object theoretically to Communism—and my constituents are probably not so interested in it as I am—I believe that they would rather choose Communism than suicide.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know the answer to that. When we say that this policy of the deterrent means sending bombers over there and bombers from there coming here, I say that is suicide. As a result of the policy of the deterrent and having American bombers in this area, it is now infinitely more dangerous for the people I represent than if the American bombers were not there at all. I say that, from the strategical point of view, the people in my constituency would be greatly relieved if the American bomber force were taken away from Prestwick and put in the Middle West of the U.S.A.
When the former Secretary of State for Air tells me that public opinion accepts 1528 this defence by deterrent policy, I do not believe that at all. There is no sign of public opinion being in favour of suicide. Public opinion is terrified. I do not believe that if every man, woman and child were faced with the alternative of living under some other system or being obliterated in an atom war that public opinion would decide in favour of this so-called policy of the deterrent.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I have followed my hon. Friend's argument very carefully. If the hydrogen bomb should prove to be instrumental by virtue of its horror in preventing world war, which is the view of a lot of people, would he still consider it a bad thing to prevent war in that way?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not accept the hypothesis put forward by my hon. Friend. If I believed that this thing would prevent war, I would have no objection to it. I believe that with both sides developing nuclear energy as a weapon, and with the enormous American Air Force, the enormous Russian Air Force and our Air Force, the world position is becoming infinitely more dangerous.
I do not know if my hon. Friend realises that he is out of touch with the leader of his party on this.
§ Mr. Hughes
In the debate on 4th April last year the Leader of the Opposition pointed out that the policy of the deterrent was a very questionable one indeed. I certainly believe that if the world goes on at the present rate, with each side making these bombs and projector weapons, we shall reach such a stage in the world that there will be panic and that someone in the Pentagon in America or the Kremlin in Moscow, or wherever the headquarters are, will become so frightened that the whole infernal machine will go off. That to me is the greatest danger in the world at the present time.
I only wish that the great ecclesiastics and leaders of public opinion in this country would look upon it from the moral and spiritual point of view. I know that it is not in order to discuss Christianity in this House after Prayers. but I believe that if we put into international policy the idea of overcoming evil with good we should be more nearly approaching the final solution of the arms 1529 race. As we are going on at present, we are to have bombers and supersonic bombers and guided missiles with such potentialities that the world is in infinite danger.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) asked certain questions—first, were the Government proceeding with the development of a supersonic bomber? I am not interested in the development of a supersonic bomber.
§ Mr. Hughes
I know he did not ask me. He did not ask me those questions because he knows the sort of answer I should give. I cannot see that the arrival of a supersonic bomber or a super-supersonic bomber will make the position in the world any easier.
Another question which my right hon. and learned Friend asked is one which we might pursue to its logical conclusion. He asked whether underground hangars were being developed for the Air Force in this country. I wonder what sort of public opinion would be created in Prestwick if, at the cost of a very large sum of money, we proceeded to make an underground hangar for the benefit of the R.A.F. while, at the same time, there were no underground shelters for the civilian population. If we are to have a programme of underground hangars for £400,000 bombers—bombers which are to be piloted by men whose training cost £25,000—I wonder what sort of an astronomical bill we shall have to pay for defence in this country.
I believe that the economic arguments, the financial arguments and the moral arguments are entirely against this so-called "defence by deterrent" policy, and I believe that if we could discover what is public opinion in this country we should find that it had come to the conclusion that this country, at any rate, has nothing to gain by participating in the arms race. When the Government realise that and when the Opposition decide to bring the pressure of public opinion to this House, I believe they will find a big following of public opinion in the country which is thoroughly alarmed at the prospect which now confronts us.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
Year after year, for nine or 10 years, in the main debate on the Air Estimates, in Committee, and on Report, except for the two years during which I was at the Home Office, it has been my pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in these debates. My hon. Friend has been consistent; he has argued the pacifist case. It is, therefore, clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who is not in his place at the moment, completely misunderstood my hon. Friend when he made that intervention about the Russian Air Force.
As a pacifist, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, of course, applies his argument as much to the Russians as he does to us, and it is a complete misunderstanding of his case and attitude and of those, fortunately few, people who think as he does to drag in the case of the Russian Air Force. I believe that, fortunately, the vast majority in this country are not pacifists. I put a Question recently to the Minister of Labour and National Service and was surprised to find that only .2 per cent. of the National Service intake each year claimed to be conscientious objectors. That represents a very small number indeed.
I ask my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, and others who think like him, to remember this: those of us who support thepolicy of the great deterrent do so because we sincerely believe that it is the best means of preventing war. I will go further and say that many of us who support the policy of the deterrent believe that in doing so we remain Christians, and that it is in no way contrary to the Christian faith and belief.
At the beginning of my speech, I shall ask the Under-Secretary some detailed questions, and I shall explain to him why I am putting them now. I want him to consider, and to give me an answer to, this question of underground storage for fuel. The consumption of fuel by aircraft today is enormous, and although we are not thinking in terms of thousand-bomber raids—those have gone for ever—we have to recognise this demand. I quoted these figures last year: a Sabre uses 400 gallons of fuel in warming up and taxi-ing, whereas a Spitfire used about 15 gallons. The fuel must be safe from knock-out attacks, and must be underground, not 1531 only in this country but at our overseas V-bomber bases to which the strategic bombers would go for operations.
The second detailed point is on the World Meteorological Organisation. There is a grant for it in the Estimates. We understand that there are to be experiments in rain-making this summer on Salisbury Plain. Will observers from the World Meteorological Organisation be there? Further, if we are to have experiments in rain-making', why cannot we have them over the sea before the rain reaches this country, so that if they work, and rain is brought down, we shall have just a little sunshine, as an experiment, in the Western part of the country?
§ Mr. de Freitas
The prevailing wind and weather is from the South-West, and I am making it as easy as I can for the Government in this case. It is an experiment which might have a considerable future.
I ask these detailed questions now, and I want to explain why I do so. The Committee stage of these Estimates was very short indeed, and I believe that it is our duty to ask this kind of detailed question—such as, "What about so-and-so on page 118?" I am putting the questions at the beginning of my speech because, although the Under-Secretary has been in office for a long time, and within the limits of party differences has given us a great deal of satisfaction in the way in which he has dealt with these matters. I realise that in many cases he has to obtain information in order to give the detailed answers.
I have sought to draw attention to what I believe to be inadequacies in our procedure for discussing the Estimates. It is true that, as a result of agitation, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), we have improved our procedure, and more time is being given this year to a discussion of the Air Estimates, but there is room for further improvement.
I want to express a personal point of view, which I mentioned in other connections earlier. We ought to have a Standing Committee on defence, but not on the lines of the Estimates Committee. 1532 I cannot have made my suggestion sufficiently clear, otherwise it would never have been confused with the Estimates Committee. I want a Standing Committee on defence which would meet and deliberate in secret so that, over the years, a body of better-informed and, therefore, more constructive opinion on defence matters could grow up in the House.
Secondly, without going as far as that, I believe that we can do better even within our existing procedure. Should we not think of changing our procedure and abolishing the Amendment which is moved in the middle of our debate on the Estimates? What happens is that we are having a good debate, full of cut-and-thrust, and suddenly it is interrupted, as it was last year, for a debate on pig farming in R.A.F. stations. That takes us away from a good and lively debate. Another suggestion is for dividing our Committee time between the Estimates so that we have an opportunity of paying detailed attention to all these questions.
I recall that in the last half-hour of the debate the other day I asked why there was no indication in the Estimates of a European languages category between first-class interpreter and colloquial proficiency. That is the sort of detailed question which could not possibly be answered at the time, but we should have some opportunity of asking such questions.
The Under-Secretary has had put to him a number of questions which are true Committee points, and I will refresh his mind on some of them. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr.A. Henderson) asked about the E Reserve and—this is more than a Committee point—about the significance to the Air Force of the Government's decision on equal pay for women. Another detailed point was on the expenditure of ammunition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) asked further questions about Reserve liability and ages. If we had more opportunity for detailed criticism of that sort, I believe it would go a long way to meeting what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) requested—a searching examination to allow the streamlining not only of the Air Force but of the Estimates themselves.
1533 I shall recall a few of the points which have been put in the last few days in the three debates on these Estimates. I think that the case of the failure of the R.A.F. on manning has been better made out than the case on aircraft failure, although they are both substantial. But I am worried that the aircraft failures have received so much more publicity that they have masked the criticism on manning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and others have, throughout these debates, commented on the fact that the Government appear to be accepting National Service as a permanent feature. It is so easy to fall back on the National Serviceman. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in these Estimates, and in the speeches, it has been suggested that the Government accept that in the coming year the percentage of National Service men in the Royal Air Force will not decline, will not even stay at the same level, but will increase from 26 per cent. to 30 per cent.
A lot of criticism has been made about the frequency of posting. I live in Cambridge, and represent the City of Lincoln. I often travel by car between Cambridge and Lincoln. There are many Air Force stations in that part of the world, and I often give airmen lifts in my car. I have no hesitation in saying that the factor which discourages these young men—who have not yet got childrens' education and other problems to consider—from engaging permanently is that they have never had the chance of settling down in a station and seeing what Service life can be like.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) drew attention to a serious matter of persecution. Certainly he made a good case for using that strong word. I think we should have that matter cleared up, because the Air Ministry has always had a good reputation for the way in which it has dealt with the complaints of Service men put forward by Members of Parliament.
I can remember, early in my time at the Ministry, when an hon. Member wrote to me giving a man's address and a complaint. It turned out that the man was a deserter. Although we had his address my private office did not send it out of the Department because it protected a communication between a constituent and a Member of Parliament. I should hate 1534 to think that there is a stain on the Air Ministry in its treatment of men. There does appear to be one, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to answer the points made by my hon. Friend.
A considerable number of hon. Members referred to a problem on which the Under-Secretary has not answered thoroughly, that of education grants. Why is the Regular Air Force man treated differently from the man in the Foreign Service and even, I understand, differently from certain civilians in the Air Ministry?
Another failure which I think we have to recognise, and which hon. Members have recognised and mentioned, is the failure in regard to technical education. In these days, we have to reckon that we are, even with 50 million people, a small country compared with the United States and Russia. I quote them as two very large countries. We are desperately short of technicians for the Services and civilian work. Unless we can increase the numbers we have no future in defence, or even as a modern industrial country. It is no use overlooking that fact.
I am not suggesting that we should turn out fewer people educated in the arts or the humanities, but alongside those people we must produce a vast number of technicians. We can produce Nobel Prize winners and leaders in science and engineering, but we must produce many people for the middle ranks of industry and the Service. There is no sign of our doing it.
This is far more than an Air Ministry problem, but the Under-Secretary is a Member of the Government, and I hope that he will draw the attention of his colleagues—especially the Minister of Education—to all that has been said on the subject. I suppose that half the hon. Members who have taken part in these debates have mentioned this subject. The figures given by Sir Roy Fedden are dramatic. He said that the United States turns out each year 30 times as many engineers as we do, and Russia 100 times as many.
When I said that the manning failures had tended to be masked by aircraft failures because they were less dramatic, I did not mean to imply that the latter were not serious. My hon. Friends the Member for Dudley and the Member for Aston have made a feature of this, and have subjected the Government to severe 1535 criticism. It may be that the attack on the quality of aircraft has sometimes been overstated. I am not arguing that, but surely anyone listening to these debates and studying them would admit that on many counts not only have the Government been rightly indicted, but convicted.
I will take the example of the Swift, as everyone now admits that the Swift is no good. I asked why the Swift was not cancelled earlier, considering that the Hunter had all the makings of a first-rate aircraft. There was a substantial waste of money, I and others alleged, because the Swift was not cancelled earlier. I was told by the Minister of Defence that if the decision had been taken earlier it would have been the other way round—that production on the Swift would have been maintained and the Hunter would have been cancelled.
I believe it is too much of a coincidence that that argument should have been used because it was exactly the same argument used last year, or the year before, when I asked for an assurance that when the Government had decided which was the best of the V-bombers they would go all-out on production of that type. It was pointed out to me that if that had happened in the case with the war-time bombers it would have meant that the Government would have concentrated on the wrong type. It seems to be a coincidence that the argument should be trotted out again to justify the delay which I believe there has been in the cancellation of the Swift.
Many hon. Members, especially my hon. Friends, have referred to the relationship between the Ministry of Supply and the Air Ministry. I believe, especially in the case of the previous Minister of Supply, that the Government have been guilty of neglect of the aircraft side because the right hon. Gentleman was extremely busy on the ticklish job of denationalising the iron and steel industry.
Here I shall express a personal view. I have never thought it desirable that there should be a member of the Air Council who was Controller of Aircraft at the Ministry of Supply. That tends to obscure and rather to soften the blows there should be between the Air Ministry and the Supply Department. If the Air Ministry is not getting what it sets out 1536 to get the blow should not be softened by reason of the fact that one of the principal members of the staff of the other Ministry is serving on the Air Council. It cuts away Ministerial responsibility when one Minister should be going after the other to see that he gets the goods.
Even if the Ministry of Supply structure is basically right, the consumer, the operational Air Force command—especially Fighter Command—should have closer contact with the firms of manufacturers. I know that that is being done in the case of the Javelin; the Under-Secretary acknowledged that. I should like to see that, at other stages and in other types of equipment, as far as possible we bring the user into touch with the developer and manufacturer.
There has been criticism of lack of information on guided missiles. That is very important because it touches also on security. The journal of the Air League a couple of months ago said about guided missiles that it doubted whethersecurity is the real reason for the continued silence on these matters. If such doubts are unjustified the Government has only itself to blame.There has been an enormous amount of unnecessary secrecy on guided missiles, and the Air Ministry should bear that well in mind, not only now, but in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and others referred to the Comet, and its future in the Royal Air Force. It is a fair point, and I hope that we can have more information about it. Are the Comets to be strengthened? If not, for what purpose are they to be used?
I have referred previously to the Minister of Defence. Several of my hon. Friends have referred to the fact that the Prime Minister, when he took over defence, looked at it as if it were another exercise in the tactics of Omdurman, or something like that. It may be suggested that it is presumptuous for younger people, who have seen much less of the type of action of which the Prime Minister has had experience, to make such criticisms, but it is a valid criticism because the whole idea of an air force is a completely new conception.
1537 From the slogans that he used at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister gave no indication that he understood the Air Force. When he ceased to be Minister of Defence, he was followed by Lord Alexander; and now, the new Minister has not begun so very well. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) have referred to the Auxiliary Air Force. One of the first things that the new Minister of Defence did was to show that he had no conception of what the members of the Auxiliary Air Force stood for, and the spirit in which they serve. That was the impression that was formed, and I am not too hopeful that the right hon. Gentleman can abandon an old-world approach and face the implications of press-button warfare.
The basic structure and organisation of the Royal Air Force has not changed very much since gallant men went up in aircraft to duel and other gallant men went up, leaned over the side of their aircraft and dropped bombs by hand. The structure and organisation stood us in good stead during the last war, but in the age into which we are moving, much more rapidly than anyone forecast only five years ago—the age of the intercontinental rocket and of the 2,000 or 3,000 miles-an-hour rocket—what sign has the Minister of Defence given that he has paid the attention that he should to the structure of the Air Force of the future? I am confident that the Royal Air Force can adapt itself to any requirement, but that calls for really modern leadership and not what it has had, so far at any rate, from Tory Ministers of Defence.
There has been plenty of criticism—more than usual—in these debates over the past few days. There has been some praise, and it is right that we should give praise, on such matters as a reduction of the accident rate. Everyone—the Under-Secretary, the Air Council and all others—deserves the greatest credit for that. I am the last speaker in this debate on this side of the House, and all my hon. and right hon. Friends join with me in expressing our highest regard and respect for the men and women of the Royal Air Force.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
Let me start straight away, without preliminaries, to deal with as many as I can of the points which have been raised during the debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) began by speaking about the dispersal of squadrons from the Canal Zone. I said in the Air Estimates debate that from a concentrated base in the Canal Zone, the Royal Air Force were being transferred into a series of self-contained forces at important points in the Middle East area. This process is continuing, but it will not be completed for some time.
The need to provide new accommodation in phase with the withdrawal of squadrons from the Canal Zone means that it is difficult to give a simple answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, and, of course, there are security limitations on what I am able to say. The net effect, however, will be a large increase in the strength of the Royal Air Force in Cyprus and smaller increases elsewhere—for example, in Jordan.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised also the question of ammunition expenditure for the last three years and quoted a figure of £83 million for ammunition and explosives. It is true that this figure is the total of the provision in the Estimates for the last three years, but, as I think the House knows, there has been a shortfall in production. Therefore, that is not an actual expenditure figure. In ammunition and explosives, the shortfall has been mainly in the newer types of weapons, but production is now picking up and we have spent about £60 million on explosives of various kinds during this period.
The biggest items are bombs and aircraft ammunition, but the other items include rockets, light anti-aircraft ammunition, .303, grenades, mortar bombs, pyrotechnics and even things like engine starter cartridges, on which quite a lot of money has been spent. The House will remember that in the Estimates Memorandum for 1954–55, my noble Friend said that we were allowing for the first time for atom bombs; and today the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the money we had spent included atom bombs. The provision for atom bombs is included in Vote 7, but I 1539 cannot give details of the way in which it is included.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the supersonic bomber. I assure him that the Air Ministry is fully alive to the importance of developing a supersonic bomber at the earliest possible moment. However, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, as well as I do, supersonic flight creates a great many problems, particularly in the big aeroplane. Our supersonic fighter is already well on the way and we are developing other supersonic aircraft. These are necessary stages in the evolution of a supersonic bomber and we shall apply the lessons that we learn from them when it comes to building something bigger. Meanwhile, as I said the other day in my Estimates speech, the V-class bombers now coming into service are all capable of further development.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about arrangements made for storing atom bombs. I can only repeat the assurance, given by my noble Friend in the 1954–55 Estimates Memorandum, that the bombs are stored and transported in a partly dismantled state and there is absolutely no risk of an accidental atomic explosion at any stage.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Gentleman has made the interesting statement that the cost of these atomic bombs is to be found in Vote 7, although, naturally, he does not detail it. Does that mean the full cost of these bombs? When we come later to consider the report of the Atomic Energy Authority, can we take it that the economic cost, including the cost of making the material, has been paid for by the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Beswick
Is this a notional figure, or is it the estimated actual economic cost of making the bombs?
§ Mr. Ward
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton also asked whether United States bomber forces based in this country had dispersal plans like our own to guard against surprise atomic attack. I can say on this point only that the Air Ministry and the American authorities are in very close consultation about all that and upon strategic requirements as a whole, and we are already agreed with them about the necessary steps which we shall take, while at the same time safeguarding our own aircraft.
The question of the light fighter for N.A.T.O. was raised both by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and also by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). A N.A.T.O. evaluation team has been considering designs for a lightweight fighter. Naturally, we should welcome the adoption by N.A.T.O. of a British design. The reasons why the Air Ministry has not yet seen fit to order a light fighter do not necessarily apply to other forces in N.A.T.O., which may not have reached the same stage of development. I hope very much that they will order a British design, but I am afraid I have no information at the moment of what their decision is or is likely to be. It is important to remember that the Gnat has not yet flown. Much of the talk about the light fighter gives the impression that it has already flown, whereas it has not.
The hon. Member for Aston talked about the light fighter for the Auxiliaries. I intervened to say that there was a practical difficulty there. It is this. If we are going to order a light fighter we are presumably going to have it for defence against a nuclear attack, in which case it would have to be in immediate readiness. That is the limitation of the Auxiliaries. It is not a matter of skill in flying aircraft, at which they are very good indeed and always have been. That is an important thing to remember.
On the other hand, I should like to assure the House, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), who raised the matter, too, that we shall certainly keep the whole question of the equipment of the Auxiliary Air Force constantly under review, and if at a later stage, in relation to the threat at that time, we feel that 1541 the Auxiliary squadrons should be re-equipped with something more modern then we shall certainly see that they are so re-equipped.
§ Mr. Wyatt
The hon. Gentleman know that we on this side of the House have been attacked for having done what has been called great harm abroad to the British aircraft industry, but if the Air Ministry or the Ministry of Supply ordered prototypes of the Folland Gnat, or some other light fighter, it might be easier for the industry to get orders from overseas That would be a help to the British industry, which at the moment is handicapped in that it finds difficulty in persuading other countries with not so mud money to spend to buy it, because the) say, "Why should we buy it if the Royal Air Force does not?"
§ Mr. Ward
I quite see that point. I have informed the House before, in answer to Questions, that we are interested in the development of the Gnat, which will be a supersonic aircraft, and that we are following very closely and with great interest the development of the Gnat, but the Gnat as it stands now, that is to say as a prototype, which will be flown, will not interest us as a combat aircraft. It will interest us as something to play with and to learn from, but we could not order prototypes of it as a combat aircraft. I think that that probably answers that question.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the question of equal pay for members of the Women's Royal Air Force, with particular reference to the technical trades. Perhaps I should start by reminding him of the recent decision to introduce equal pay in the Civil Service over a period of years. That applies to non-industrial staff only, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not committed himself in any way about the industrial staff, whose wages are determined by the fair wages principle. It is true, of course, that it is to civilian industrial employees that women technicians of the Royal Air Force are comparable, but even if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had raised the question in relation only to the trade of clerk, I should still have been bound to refer him back to the argument which he himself used, that Service men may in the last resort have to handle arms, whatever their trade may be. The prob- 1542 lem of equal pay as it affects the Services is not an easy one, and I do not want to go further into it now, but I have taken careful note of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said.
I come to the question of underground hangars and storage, raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and also by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). We are putting our radar stations underground, as described by my noble Friend. That is because of the need to protect them against orthodox high explosive as well as nuclear attack; undergrounding gives useful extra protection. But hangars involve quite different problems. Underground hangars for large aircraft such as the V bombers would be prohibitively expensive and would not particularly help readiness. Dispersal seems much the better solution, because if we want aircraft available quickly we do not want to have to get them up out of underground hangars.
As to the storage of petrol, only a comparatively small amount of petrol is stored on the airfields. The bulk of it is transported to the airfields.
Several hon. Members have raised the question of the training of the H reservists. I should like to deal with it without being too long, for we have discussed it previously at some length. I should like to set out the position of our future plans, in order that we may have as little misunderstanding as possible in the future. Before I do that, let me just clear up the point referred to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) on Tuesday, which caused a certain amount of confusion—I am sure, quite unintentionally. I refer to the question of the 77 men who were said by the Minister of Defence in a written reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley to have undertaken part-time training during the past year.
I am afraid the confusion seems to have been caused by the fact that my right hon. Friend, quite rightly, set out his reply to the hon. Member for Dudley in the terms of the hon. Member's Question, but it is usual to talk about training not in terms of whole-time and part-time but, as I tried to explain the other night, in terms of continuous and non-continuous, that is to say a period of three days or more, or shorter periods such as of odd days and evenings. As far as I know, the question 1543 of non-continuous training for Class H reservists has not been raised before in the House. I have not raised it. I always realised that the number of people doing it was negligible, and I did not want to confuse the issue, and I have always confined myself to talking about people who come up for 15 days' continuous training.
As I explained to the House on Tuesday, the number of National Service men taken into the Royal Air Force each year is determined by some quite clear principles, the need to keep the Force fully manned to discharge its cold war task, to mount a deterrent force, and to keep air defence ready for instant action if necessary.
It was always foreseen that the Reserve which would be built up as the National Service men completed their service and passed into Class H would be larger—indeed far larger—than the Reserve which we should need to bring the Royal Air Force up to its war establishment in an emergency. As I have said on more than one occasion, we have set our minds firmly against the suggestion that every Class H Reservist should be called up for training purely in order to secure equality between individuals.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman is repeating the cogent argument which he put forward last year. No one on this side of the House has ever suggested that we should call men up unnecessarily. Equally, if the House of Commons has passed an Act of Parliament, the Act should be enforced or else amended. What the Government are doing is getting themselves out of a difficulty by administrative action.
§ Mr. Wigg
I entirely agree, for it was the Labour Government which passed the Act, but the Act was passed to fulfil a totally different purpose. The Government ought to look at the problem again. I agree that the Royal Air Force should not stuff itself up with reservists that it does not want. However, it is setting its face against a selective draft and yet having a selective draft at the same time, and we are getting the worst of both worlds.
§ Mr. Ward
They are working beautifully. The only thing that irritates hon. Gentlemen opposite is the fact that the Army calls up more reservists than the Royal Air Force does. I do not think that is a fault. The two Services are quite different. Because the Army calls everybody up, there is no reason why the Royal Air Force should do so.
§ Mr. Swingler
Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that an essential unfairness is involved here. It is a matter of chance whether a man who is called up goes to the Royal Air Force or the Army, but so far as concerns the obligation put upon him to do Reserve training there is a great difference. The Royal Air Force does not require men for Reserve training, although that is part of the obligation, but in the Army the call to Reserve training is almost universal. It is this which makes it inequitable.
§ Mr. Ward
The whole thing is a matter of chance. It is a matter of chance whether a man is medically fit to undergo National Service at all. When he goes for National Service, it may be a matter of chance whether he does his Service at home or abroad. It is a matter of chance whether he passes to the Reserve, and if he is in the Royal Air Force, whether he needs to be called up or not. There is a great deal of chance about the whole system.
§ Mr. Ward
The hon. Gentleman's sporting instincts are well known, but I think that would be carrying things too far.
1545 Where a man is earmarked for a post on mobilisation and needs the training, we call him up. Where we know he will not be needed for some time after mobilisation we do not call him up because we do not feel justified in spending money and efforts in doing so. Indeed, if we called up every reservist, as the hon. Gentleman recommends, we should need several more special training establishments.
Until 18 months or so ago, our policy was to call up individual men who were earmarked for posts in the war establishment and who needed Service training. We then decided to introduce a Reserve Flight Scheme. I announced that to the House last year. I will not worry the House with a description of it, but, briefly, the Reserve Flights are formed and trained on each operational station and members of each Reserve Flight know exactly where their war station is, and they are trained in the duties they will be called upon to perform immediately on the outbreak of war at the station where they will perform the duties. We tried this scheme first in Fighter Command, and it worked well, and it is now being extended to other operational stations.
There are two points that I should like to make about the Reserve Flight Scheme. It is a very considerable departure from our earlier policy and its introduction has meant a great deal of work not only for the Record Office but also for all the stations at which the Reserve Flights are being formed. Moreover, the training of the Reserve Flights is linked as far as possible with major exercises undertaken every year by the R.A.F.
The second point that I want to make is that our object is to form the most effective flight at each station, and in selecting men for each flight we want to pay regard to trade qualifications and experience and also—this is a very important point—to where the reservist lives, because we want him to be as near his home as possible. Had we done the thing in a hurry and just called up people to the Reserve Flights for the sake of calling them up, we should not have achieved this object. We should have had to take people from anywhere, and we should not have had the best possible scheme. There are people other than Class H men available in other Reserves 1546 who have the right qualifications and who live near these stations, and in those cases, naturally, we give them preference instead of calling up the Class H men.
For all these reasons, the Reserve Flight Scheme has taken longer to organise than I expected. I frankly admit that the estimates which I have given in the past of the number of Class H men likely to be called up have been over-optimistic. During 1954 we called up for training some 8,000 Class H reservists either under the Reserve Flight Scheme or for individual training under the earlier scheme. We could have called up more if we had wanted to call them up during the winter; however, we felt it would be very much better not to prejudice the scheme but to wait until the following year when major exercises were taking place so that they would have a much more realistic and useful training.
As far as I can see at present—I hope the House has not lost all confidence in my forecasts—we shall be in a position to call up about 20,000 reservists of all Classes for training in Reserve Flights during 1955–56. Of these, about 12,000 should be Class H reservists. In addition, some 6,000 Class H men may be called up for individual training outside the Reserve Flight Scheme altogether. It is important to build the Reserve Flights Scheme on firm foundations, and although I am doing all I can to get it going as quickly as possible, I do not want to prejudice the Scheme by calling up reservists before proper arrangements have been completed for their training.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman—
§ Mr. Ward
I am afraid I am taking a lot of time, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what they are doing if it will not bore the House too much. There were 67 airmen and 10 officers. Of the 67 airmen, 42, in addition to doing their evening training, also did their 15 days continuous training. The remainder of 1547 them did not. They did only their non-continuous training.
§ Mr. Beswick
Is it not the other way round? Should he not have said that in addition to doing their continuous training the 42 did their evening training? Was that voluntary?
§ Mr. Ward
It was entirely voluntary. The 42 did their liability for continuous training. The rest of them did not do their liability for continuous training because they were allocated to Reserve Flights rather too late to be included in the Reserve Flight Scheme. I do not know whether that covers the point. There were 10 National Service officers and 67 National Service airmen.
We hope to call up 11,000 of Class E in the coming year.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked about the number of established whole-time officers in the Royal Observer Corps. He has given the main figures. The scheme for the establishment of whole-time officers was introduced in 1951 when the strength was 56 and we were prepared to establish 42. Now the strength has increased to 83 and the established cadre for the present has been fixed at 53.
Under these arrangements we have so far been able to establish all those officers who are qualified and who fulfil current conditions about age and medical standards and so forth. In fact, there are still some vacancies and, as more officers qualify, we shall consider them for establishment.
§ Mr. Ward
The establishment for the moment is 53, but that is not a ceiling; it is by no means inflexible.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge also asked about security D notice procedure. I agree that the public should be told as much as possible about aircraft and engines within the bounds of security. The public has the right to know and our export trade should not be hampered in any way. But security has always to be borne in mind.
The Press Committee which the hon. Member mentioned does not actually decide the security of equipment. It only guides the Press on what can safely be 1548 published and the arrangement is quite voluntary. The Press co-operate extremely well on the whole.
§ Mr. Ward
I know. It is true that they do. We are reviewing the scheme with the Press as it affects our Department on aircraft and engines. Of course there are mistakes, but I do not think that they are widespread, nor do I think that any one newspaper consistently disregards this scheme. If the hon. Member examines the position, he will find that the mistakes have been spread over the whole Press and no particular newspaper is guilty of consistently disregarding the scheme. If the hon. Member has any case in mind, perhaps he will let me have the details. I am also willing to investigate any leakages brought to my notice either from manufacturers' booklets, as was suggested, or from N.A.T.O. sources.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge also said that I fell below what he was kind enough to call my normally high standard of courtesy in dealing with the Comet. I am sorry that he felt that, and I am sorry that he felt I had something to hide. I promise him that there was nothing to hide, as I said at the time. When I said that this aircraft had to have a certificate of airworthiness, I meant just that. It is true. It is true that a purely military aircraft does not normally have to have a certificate of airworthiness, but when we take a purely civil aircraft into service it is not uncommon to have a certificate of airworthiness, as we did in this case. We sent a Heron to the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington a little while ago. That was a purely civil aircraft and we got a certificate of airworthiness.
When I said that the fuselages of the Comets were being strengthened, I meant just that. The fuselages of these aircraft are being strengthened. A number of modifications are being introduced after the recommendations of the inquiry into the Comet. I think that what is being done by these modifications can fairly be described as strengthening. It is certainly not a complete rebuilding, and when the strengthening has been completed and we have a certificate of airworthiness we shall take the aircraft into Transport Command and there will be nothing whatever to stop them from carrying passengers.
1549 I will not pursue the question of the gearboxes for Avon engines. My information is that there are not 30 different types of gear box but 12. If the hon. Member for Uxbridge would like more details, perhaps he will get in touch with me.
§ Mr. Beswick
It was only an illustration of the general principle that the number of types we have in service are too many and the modifications are too many.
§ Mr. Ward
I quite agree, and we are doing everything we can to streamline our requirements in view of the complexitiy of modern aircraft.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) raised the case of S.A.C. Jukes. We have had a lot of correspondence on this case, and this gives me an opportunity of saying what I have said before in the House about men in the Air Force writing to M.Ps. The hon. Member for Maldon referred to the normal service channels, and we hope that airmen will use them, but there is nothing to stop them from writing to their M.Ps. That is a well established practice, and we have recently circulated all commanding officers reminding them of this position. We should certainly take a very serious view of any attempt to victimise a Service man for writing to his Member of Parliament. As the hon. Member said, Jukes's case brought to light a number of unfortunate points which, with the help of the hon. Member for Maldon, we were able to clear up. I can assure him and the House that we have done all we can to prevent a repetition of this kind of case.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) talked about underspending. He called attention to the under-spending of the Service Departments during the last three years. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has already given the House an assurance in the Statement on Defence that the experience gained in the last two years of the whole range of factors which condition the rate of defence expenditure has been taken into account in preparing the Estimates for 1955–56.
In our debates last year I pointed out that although we took every possible step to avoid setbacks in our rearmament programme, we could never hope to escape 1550 them entirely as long as we continued to require for the R.A.F. a wide range of equipment of the highest quality and performance. These difficulties must continue to exist as we progress to even more complex equipment.
I should be entirely misleading the House were I to claim that it is possible to forecast before the year begins the precise amount of money which will be spent on production and works services. But for the financial year just ending, we do not expect to find that we have substantially underspent. In general, we expect expenditure will prove to be nearer the Estimates than was the case in earlier years. Moreover, I can give an unqualified assurance that in framing our Estimates we have taken account of every contingency and drawn fully upon our past experience. Our aim is to present to hon. Members the most accurate Estimates that we can of the money which we shall need in the coming year.
The hon. Member for Dudley dealt with various matters. I will answer one, and that is the question of security. He said that security was prejudiced by the export of aircraft and the release of information about them. Before we export military aircraft or information about them, we weigh security risks carefully against the political, military and economic advantages to be gained. There are also arrangements for the security risks to be reduced as far as possible. Another factor is the time scale, and the release of information is phased so that the security risk is acceptable.
§ Mr. Ward
There are, of course, various arrangements, one of which is that we do not release all the information at the same time.
The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) said that he had approached me before about the difference between Commands and about men getting postings overseas to jobs which had disappeared. I cannot recall any previous discussion on these points, but 1551 if the hon. Member will give me details I will examine them. There was also the question of finding positions in the war appointments list for the elder officers.
Both the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Uxbridge—even if they did not actually say so—implied that it was not much good having a fighter defence any more. I cannot agree about that. If it is a waste of time to have fighters, why is it that the Americans and Russians are building up enormous fighter defences? The hon. Member for Uxbridge did not answer the question I put to him, that if we cannot shoot down 100 per cent. of the invading bombers, is it not better to shoot down as many as we can? He tried to say that I should come out with some kind of percentages of the numbers we could, or could not, shoot down. Obviously, that would be pure speculation on my part and I could not begin to do it.
As I understand it, the criticism is not that we cannot shoot down more than a certain percentage, but that we cannot intercept them.
§ Mr. Beswick
No, the criticism is that if we were intercepting or bringing down 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the attacking force sent over, either in one wave or as lone invaders flying at 50,000 feet—which is more likely to be the case—the 80 per cent. which got through would leave nothing to defend in this country, if they were carrying thermo-nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Ward
I do not wish to pursue the point, I merely wanted to register my disagreement with the points raised by the hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Lincoln referred to the question of language awards, which he also mentioned the other night. He said there was no award for language efficiency standards between the 1st class standard and colloquial proficiency, except for Chinese and Japanese. The present arrangements are not necessarily permanent, and we shall be prepared to re-consider them if the need arises for awards on intermediate standards. The hon. Member is not present and he will understand if I write to him in detail about the other points which he raised. He told me that he had to catch a train, and so I will write and clear up the other points he mentioned.
May I conclude by saying how much I appreciate the far too generous things which have been said about me in this debate and how grateful I am to hon. Members for raising the many useful points which have been raised tonight. What we all wish to do is to help to improve the efficiency of the Royal Air Force.
Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution, put and agreed to.