HC Deb 02 November 1955 vol 545 cc1014-5
31. Mr. D. Howell

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why, during the two years' National Service performed by Mr. B. E. Holland, and others, details of which are in his possession, these airmen received only nine weeks' training during the whole of their service; and what action he proposes to take to prevent any repetition of this abuse of National Service.

Mr. Ward

These airmen completed the full course of recruit training. They were then posted for duty as batmen and were trained as such "on the job." I cannot regard this as an abuse of National Service.

Mr. Howell

Does not the Minister regard it as most remarkable that this man, who has completed two years' service in the Royal Air Force, did eight weeks' initial training, and for the rest of his service of one year and 10 months did only one week's ground combat training, which he himself regards as farcical? Does not the whole of this make complete nonsense of the Government's case for two years' National Service?

Mr. Ward

No, Sir. I cannot accept that view. These boys did the normal recruits' course, and they also had trade training to fit them for a particular and necessary job. Naturally, the length of trade training must vary according to the duties which the man is to carry out, but because he is selected for a trade which calls for only limited training, or for training on the job, it certainly does not mean that he is being wasted.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the Under-Secretary state whether it is the case that, out of the two years, as is alleged by my hon. Friend, there were actually only nine weeks' training? Is this a fact?

Mr. Ward

I have not checked up definitely. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have looked into the case of Holland, and I understand that this man did eight weeks' recruits' training and a week's training while on the station in combat duties. That concerns Holland. Certainly I will look into all the others, if it is felt to be necessary, but the instructions are quite clear on the matter.

Mr. Morrison

It is curious, but I was afraid the Under-Secretary was going to say that, notwithstanding the Question on the Order Paper, he did not know whether the facts were one way or the other. As he now admits that, in respect of Mr. Holland, it was eight weeks plus one week of actual training, does he really regard that as satisfactory out of two years' National Service?

Mr. Ward

I must agree that as much general service training as possible should be given to everybody. Whether one thinks that a week would be enough or not is a matter of opinion. This is a matter which is left to the discretion of commanding officers, and the task of every station varies. I am quite prepared to look again at this matter and see whether these people who are not concerned with general service but are doing special jobs of this kind should do a little more general service, but it does mean taking them off their jobs for the time being, which means that the task they are doing has to run light to that extent.

Mr. Strachey

Does not all this really bring home to the House and the Under-Secretary the fact that the Royal Air Force has now become so technical a Service that it simply finds the greatest difficulty in using National Service men at all and that the system really does not fit the Service any longer?

Mr. Ward

With great respect, I think it shows exactly the opposite—that these men are kept so fully employed that it is difficult to find time for them to do general training.

Air Commodore Harvey

Does not my hon. Friend recall that five years ago National Service men were sent to fight in Malaya with only eight weeks' training?

Mr. Howell

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.