§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. NIGEL BIRCH'S STATEMENT
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Nigel Birch)
I beg to move, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.
The Air Estimates for 1956–57 call for the expenditure of £479½ million. In addition, there is a sum of £38 million in appropriations for aid which is our share of the most generous aid given by the American Government. The net total is smaller than the estimates for 1955–56 but the expenditure is likely to be considerably greater than it was in that year.
I should like to start by saying something about the shape and kind of Air Force we need to fit in with the priorities in the White Paper. I shall then go on to speak of the supply of aircraft, guided weapons and equipment generally and I shall end by saying something about manpower economy, training and administration generally.
The first two things I want to speak about were discussed at some length during the defence debate. There were many extremely good speeches in that debate, particularly on the supply of aircraft. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is not present because I was going to pay him a compliment. I thought his speech was extremely good. I agreed with a great deal of what he said—not with all of it by any means, but with a great deal. I am sorry if I have to give him a rough answer now, but his speech was answered at considerable length by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and I do not propose to go over the same ground today. I hope I shall be able to cut down my speech a little as I am afraid we have got off to a slow start in this debate.
When we are considering the effectiveness of the deterrent, I think it might sometimes be worthwhile to put ourselves in the place of a potential aggressor. No aggressor is likely to start a war unless 1725 he can be confident that he is going to gain by it. He cannot possibly gain by a war if his own country is subjected to nuclear bombardment. Therefore, provided the free nations have the bomb and the means of delivering it, no aggressor is likely to start a war unless he is confident that he will be able to knock out all the means of retaliation before that retaliation takes place. There is never very much comfort to be had in thinking about nuclear wars, but there may perhaps be some cold comfort in reflecting how difficult a task it would be for an aggressor to knock out all the bases available to the free world simultaneously.
It is just for exactly the same reasons that our V bombers are not only our contribution to the deterrent, but also our best hope of defence if war should come, simply because our best hope of defence would be to knock out the bases from which we were being attacked. Therefore, it is a fact that the V bombers must have the first claim upon our resources, but the bases from which our bombers operate must be protected. It is no good having bombers which can be surprised and destroyed on the ground. That calls for an up-to-date early warning system tied in with the Continental early warning system and the whole forming part of a modern defence organisation. By "a modern defence organisation." I mean the Metropolitan Fighter Force, and missiles when we have them.
If we have that sort of a defence we shall not only be protecting our bases, but also providing what protection can be given to the civil population and what warning can be given to them in the event of an attack. I believe, and always have believed, that this deterrent will be successful. I believe it will certainly be successful provided we can keep a depth to our defence. We cannot organise this kind of defence unless the N.A.T.O. line can be held in Europe and our contribution to holding that line is the Second Tactical Air Force in Germany. That also I think should rate as a deterrent in Germany. I believe this will be successful, but, as was pointed out quite often in the defence debate, the fact that it will prevent a global war does not mean that it would stop the cold war or that we can necessarily avoid every limited war. Therefore, preparations to meet cold and limited wars must have second priority.
1726 Not all cold wars call for high performance aircraft. The kind of operations carried out in Kenya and Malaya do not call for high performance aircraft at all. In fact, it may be true to say that the older the aircraft are the better they are, but that is not the case in a limited war such as that in Korea, where only the best type of aircraft was good enough. The Middle East Air Force and the Far East Air Force are primarily organised to deal with cold and limited war, but both those air forces are small. It is important that we should be able to reinforce them quickly in case of trouble, and we do, in fact, carry out frequent exercises to see that our squadrons and their backing are sufficiently mobile to move quickly enough to deal with those sorts of situations.
Glancing ahead for a moment, I believe that for the cold and limited war we shall always need aircraft, fighters and bombers, and whatever the development may be in guided weapons and however sophisticated they become, they can never take the place of aircraft for that sort of task. Indeed, the more sophisticated guided missiles become, the more they are necessarily tied to an elaborate ground radar system. The air alone, of course, cannot deal with everything. In many cases troops are required, and that is where Transport Command comes in. I shall say very little about Transport Command now as that is the subject of the intervening debate on an Amendment, which will be discussed later.
The only point I want to make about Transport Command now is that its object is rapid use in emergency and not for regular trooping. There have been two recent examples of emergency action. One was the move last Autumn of an infantry brigade to Cyprus and the other was the move this year of part of the Parachute Brigade, also to Cyprus. There was something slightly new in that last move in that all the heavy equipment went in Hastings of Transport Command and the troops were moved in Shackletons of Coastal Command. There has been some criticism, very naturally, about moving troops in Shackletons, which are very far from comfortable aircraft in which to travel. Having travelled in one myself, I can speak from experience, but emergencies are not comfortable things. Very careful long-distance exercises were 1727 carried out some time before this operation to make sure that carrying troops in Shackletons was a feasible proposition, and, in fact, the move took place with complete success. Air trooping in cold war is a new task for Coastal Command, and I hope that it will be an infrequent one. The fact that troops can be carried in Shackletons in an emergency is an uncovenanted benefit for which we should be thankful.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
In view of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, that the purpose of Transport Command is not to move troops other than for emergency operations, is the concomitant of that decision that the work should be done by private charter companies?
§ Mr. Birch
As the right hon. Member knows, both under the late Government and under this Government regular trooping contracts have all been carried out by private companies.
I was saying that Shackletons of Coastal Command have a rôle to play in a limited war, as indeed had the flying boats in Korea, but the main task of Coastal Command is to back up the Navy and the navies of our N.A.T.O. Allies in a global war. The Royal Air Force has many varied tasks and, no doubt, from time to time, they will change in accordance with alterations in our strategic priorities, but a point on which I should like to lay emphasis is that for hot and limited war only the best equipment is good enough. The more powerful the weapons, the more complex the equipment, the more important that is.
The complexity and cost of modern weapons and the increased power of the weapons mean that we certainly cannot afford, and probably do not need, an air force of very great size, but what we have must be first-class. We must have first-class aircrews, first-class ground crews and long-service Regulars to keep them flying. I cannot foretell what will happen about National Service or whether we shall be able to get an all-Regular force.
As far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, we have been extraordinarily fortunate in our National Service men. We have had wonderful service from them and many of them have brought to the Royal Air Force skills which it would have been difficult to do without. It should 1728 go out from the House how grateful we have been, and are, to them. Having acknowledged that, however, if I were asked "Would you rather have an all-Regular force if you could get one?", I would, of course, say "Yes" every time.
I now turn to the men and to the machines, and will speak about the machines first. This is a matter which, very rightly, concerns the House deeply. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply dealt with it at length last week.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
What is the present state of Regular recruitment to the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Birch
I shall come to that later. I am dealing with the machines first. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply dealt with this matter fairly fully. He acknowledged all the extremely painful delays and disappointments that we had had. He also said a certain amount about the things that have gone right. He spoke of some of the reasons why things had gone wrong and he spoke about some of the things that we are trying to do to put them right. I do not want to go into all that again, but there are a few things I should like to add.
The V bombers are the spearhead both of the deterrent and of defence. Therefore, they are far more important than anything else. I believe that the prospects for the bomber force—the really vital force—are not discouraging. We already have squadrons of Valiants, and they are building up at a fair pace. From our experience of it so far, the Valiant looks like being an excellent aircraft. For the tasks we want it to perform, we believe that it is now as good as anything flying in Russia, and, possibly, as good as anything flying in America for the same job.
Coming along behind the Valiant is the Vulcan, which we hope, with some confidence, will be in squadron service this year. Both the Vulcan and the Victor are superior in performance to the Valiant, and both of them have a considerable development potential. We already see ways by which their performance in the later marks can be appreciably improved. So much for the V bombers.
The tactical or light bomber is, of course, also important both in global and in limited war. We are proud of the Canberra and it has done us well. It has 1729 broken a lot of records and the Americans have done it the compliment of using it in their Air Force. We believe that it is better than its counterparts on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The Canberra, too, has a certain development potential still left in it. And so I say that the bomber position is not at all discouraging.
I now turn to the fighter position, which is not so encouraging. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply spoke about the Hunter and its gun troubles, which still persist, and I do not want to repeat anything he said, but while I am on the subject of fighters there is something I should like to say to the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson). When I was speaking about fighters at the time of the Korean war, I said something about our fighters being non-operational. What I meant was that not having swept-wing fighters at that time, our fighter force could not have participated in the war in Korea in the same way as the Sabres and the MiG-15s did. I did not mean that Fighter Command was non-operational or that it was not well trained or capable of taking on the bombers that might come against it. If anything I said could be misinterpreted, all I can say is that I am very sorry. So much for the Hunter.
For night and all-weather protection, we are relying on the Javelin. The Javelin has had the usual maddening delays and setbacks, but we have it in the Service now and we are forming the first operational squadron. There has been a rather backhanded gain in the delay in that owing to the delay in the airframe, we have been able to use the later marks of engines, and more powerful engines, in the aircraft now being delivered. Therefore, the first batch—when we have got them—will be better than they otherwise would have been. The intention is that the Javelin will, in due course, carry the second generation of air-to-air guided missile, about which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply spoke last week.
One considerable advance in the technique of fighter defence is that we have re-equipped our early warning system round our coast with new types of radars. The tie-up with the control and reporting systems on the Continent has also been very much improved. These new radars and the new liaison with the Continent 1730 were tried out in exercises this year. They worked extremely well and came up to every hope that was pinned upon them.
As the speed of bombers constantly increases, however, so it becomes increasingly vital to get greater range for the early warning system. For this purpose, we are now installing in Germany the same type of radars as we have round our own coasts. These will be operated by the Second Tactical Air Force. The information from these radars will be fed into our own system. By this means, we shall get considerably longer notice for our fighters, for our bombers and also for our civil population.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does the Minister recall that several right hon. Gentlemen opposite made fun of the infrastructure some years ago, but are now boasting of it?
§ Mr. Birch
I do not think they were making fun of infrastructure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) did not care for the word when the right hon. Gentleman first produced it in the House; he said that he would meditate upon it and consult the dictionary. Of course, the whole infrastructure programme was vital and we have carried it on exactly from where the right hon. Gentleman left it off. In putting up the new system of radar, we have had a lot of generous help from the Americans and some of the components in the system are of American origin.
Before ending this part of my speech, I should like to speak about surface-to-air guided weapons. Some hundreds of full-scale rounds have been fired and a production order has been given for sufficient surface-to-air guided weapons for full-scale trials, but we want to be extremely careful before taking the plunge. We want to be certain that they suit our guidance system and that they can deal with the aircraft that might be sent against us when they are in use.
One point I should like to stress is that in the nuclear age it is no use shooting down bombers over our own country. The whole training of Fighter Command is directed to shooting down 1731 bombers out to sea. The old conception of area defence is completely out of date. The long-range surface-to-air guided weapon is a difficult one to develop and its development will take time. Some of those developed in America are short-range weapons which would, in effect, not be of very much use to us.
§ Mr. R. R. Stokes (Ipswich)
Is this ground-to-air weapon of British design or of American design in which we have manufacturing rights?
§ Mr. Birch
It is of British design. I am still talking about machines. The quality of our maritime reconnaissance force in Coastal Command will be improved this year by the introduction of the Shackleton Mark III. This is a larger and more comfortable aircraft and carries more anti-submarine devices. I will not speak about the new equipment for Transport Command because the Under-Secretary will be dealing with this when he comes to the intervening Amendment.
I now turn to the question of manpower about which the right hon. Gentleman was asking me. Recruiting both for aircrews and for long-term Regulars has not been good during the past year nor has it been good in the Women's Royal Air Force. It is far too early to say what the effect of the new pay code will be. The first reactions are good. It would, however, be very foolish at this stage to make any kind of prediction, and I certainly shall not do that. There are however other moral and material things which are important besides pay. There is pride in the Service and pride in wearing the Queen's uniform. On the material side, I doubt if there is anything that makes a greater difference than married quarters. That is something in which both sides of the House have taken the most active interest.
At the end of the war, there were 6,700 married quarters in the Royal Air Force at home and abroad. Today there are over 21,000, and another 5,000 are under construction or already contracted for. Although not everybody entitled to a quarter can get one at once, I think that it is true to say that the back of the problem has been broken. We can all take satisfaction in that. The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) had a lot to 1732 do with bringing in the first Armed Forces (Housing) Bill, and I had the privilege of getting through the House a subsequent Bill which increased the amount of money which we can spend on these things. All that I can say is that it is working, that we are getting the quarters and that the position is much better than it was.
But it is not much good having a house if one has to move out of it directly one has got into it. There is no doubt that frequent postings have been very trying since the war. This is called "turbulence in the Royal Air Force, as the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) will remember. A certain amount of turbulence is inevitable in Service life. For example, every time a new V bomber squadron is formed, different categories of aircrew and different tradesmen are needed on the station where it goes, and therefore turbulence to a certain extent is unavoidable. But it has got better in the last few years, and a number of practical steps have been taken.
Postings within commands have been reduced to a minimum, that is to say that, provided efficiency is maintained, airmen are not posted around simply to adjust some temporary or slight fall in the manning level. Nowadays it is possible for a key man to stay up to five years at one station, and it is also possible for airmen serving abroad to opt to prolong their tour of duty. Another thing which has proved useful is the practice of asking an airman after he has finished a period of training, or after he has re-engaged or has returned from abroad, to what area he would like to be posted. We have found that it has been possible to put about 45 per cent. of airmen into the areas where they want to be. That, I think, has been something valuable and something to mitigate these various troubles.
§ Mr. Birch
I think that it is two-and-a-half years. As well as getting and keeping the men and encouraging them to re-engage it is vital not to waste them. Therefore, I want to come to the question of saving manpower. One ought to bear in mind that if the Royal Air Force had not got the men they might be helping the economic strength of the 1733 country, and the obligation not to waste men is particularly binding at a time when there is National Service.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have often asked for an inquiry into the length of National Service and we have refused on the ground that that must be a responsibility of the Government. But we have always encouraged, as, indeed, did hon. Gentlemen opposite, limited inquiries into specific subjects. There have been five such inquiries into the Royal Air Force since the war and in four of these w?, have been fortunate enough to have the assistance of businessmen, trade union officials, or both, some under the late Government and some under the present Government.
Two of these inquiries are mentioned in the Air Estimates Memorandum, both of which were presided over by Air Chief Marshal Sir Leslie Hollinghurst, who recently retired. The second of these Reports, which deals with the servicing of aircraft, has only just been received, and I am not in a position to make a statement about it today. Action has been taken on the first. The first Report dealt with group and command headquarters at home. The view of the Committee was that too much administrative work was done in group headquarters, which led to duplication because the work was done once at command and once at group, and the committee was therefore of the opinion that there were too many groups in administrative commands at home. As a result of this Report, two group headquarters in Maintenance Command have been abolished, with the saving of manpower elsewhere. Two hundred and fifty officers, warrant officers or civilians of officer status have been saved and there have been 250 airman posts also saved.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
If this is the Committee in which the Chairman of Woolworths took part, why was he not kept on that Committee?
§ Mr. Birch
I think that he took part in connection with the second Report which I am not now discussing, but I may be wrong on that. He certainly gave very valuable assistance indeed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like me to thank him on his behalf for the work which he did.
1734 We have also had a valuable Report on the administration of the Air Training Corps, which was presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor) and which will in due course, I think, be of great assistance to us.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the membership of the Committee, will he say if there has ever been a Service committee upon which Mr. F. C. Hooper has not served?
§ Mr. Birch
Mr. Hooper has been very generous with his time, and, again, I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like me to convey his thanks to him.
Leaving these committees aside, we really have no need to call upon a committee before we get down to the work of saving manpower. That is a job which goes on all the time, and by far the most imaginative and effective work which is now going on in the R.A.F. has nothing whatever to do with any outside committee at all.
The application of scientific methods to the manpower question has been pioneered by the R.A.F. For many years we have had an Air Ministry Manpower Research Unit, and the object of all this scientific method has been not only to save manpower, but also to adjust establishments in a highly-technical and rapidly changing Service. The Air Ministry Research Unit in the past has done good work, much encouraged by my noble Friend Lord De L'Isle and Dudley and the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton.
In general, the inquiries have been directed to specific points, catering or whatever it may be. We are now extending these inquiries into the whole life and work of a station, and not only the specific aspects of it. One experiment is looking into first and second line servicing of the operational aircraft. It has been found that there can be a considerable saving in manpower, provided that two conditions are fulfilled—that the supervising staff is slightly larger and that we have the number of tradesmen with the correct skills. That has worked well and resulted in some considerable savings.
There was an interesting experiment at Benson airfield. It was designed to find out what were the main reasons why 1735 airmen did or did not re-engage. One of the interesting discoveries made was the desire to have the technical and administrative wings on the airfield broken down into squadrons. There were flying squadrons, and the suggestion was made—experiments are going to test it—that it would be a good thing to have technical squadrons, signal squadrons, engineering squadrons, and so on, so that the relations between officers and men would be far closer. It has been found that this arrangement helps to improve morale as well as efficiency.
We are now testing out these various conclusions in a much bigger way, and a special staff has been set up at the Air Ministry, called the Manpower Utilisation Committee. The job of this Committee is to work out the application of these principles to operational airfields, remembering, of course, that the different Commands all have different problems because they have different types of aircraft.
There was a good deal of talk about "bull" last week, and a good deal of talk about it by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), but all that has nothing to do with the Royal Air Force. It has not been a very exuberant growth of the Royal Air Force. What we are doing now is to send senior staff to make special studies of work methods not only in the Air Force but in industry. In this we have had the very valuable help of a number of young National Service officers with honours degrees in scientific subjects of various sorts, who are helping to work out all these techniques.
There is nothing at all dramatic about a work study. It basically involves meticulous recording of detail and then drawing right conclusions from the data. I believe that the experience drawn from industry can have the most solid and substantial results in saving manpower and in increasing efficiency.
We are also strengthening the higher direction in the Air Ministry in this respect. We have appointed an air vice marshal who will take up his appointment at the Air Ministry next month to press on this work studies business and when the air vice marshal takes up his command he will have taken a work study course in industry and will come 1736 back to draw all the threads of the studies together, and press on the work.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
What has been done about the possibility of maintaining the work done by civilian firms outside? Some statement on that was promised, but we have not heard any more about it.
§ Mr. Wigg
This is an imaginative proposal, on which, I am sure, the House congratulates the right hon. Gentleman. Will he be good enough to see that the results of this study are made available to the Minister of Defence, so that he can force them down the throats of his reactionary brethren at the War Office and the Admiralty?
§ Mr. Birch
I know that the hon. Gentleman always takes a fatherly interest in the Secretary of State for War, and, no doubt, if my right hon. Friend fails to notice these things, the hon. Gentleman will point them out to him himself.
As I was saying, these studies cover the whole work and life in a squadron. They cover everything from the servicing of the aircraft to the personal services the airman receives in such matters as getting rail warrants or his pay. The House may be interested in one or two details.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us the figures of recruitment last year for the Regular Air Force?
§ Mr. Birch
I do not keep them in my head, but I will certainly give them at the end of the debate.
I thought the House would be interested in one or two details. At the present time, when an airman arrives at a new station he has to fill in a lot of forms and visit a number of offices, but it has been found that by centralising the organisation an airman can get through in two or three hours what it used often to take him two or three days. For instance, it was found that centralised pay 1737 parades took up to an hour of an airman's time in a week. Now it has been found perfectly possible for an officer to pay his section while it is on the job and lose no time at all. Another matter on which a great deal of work has been done is on the layout of stores, equipment and spare parts. We have astronomical numbers of spare parts in the Royal Air Force. By work studies it has been found possible to cut down very much the time taken by airmen in issuing equipment by getting the stores racked in correct order.
These examples which I am giving are small improvements in themselves, but they add up to a very considerable saving in manpower, and I believe that they are means of improving morale. I want to make it quite clear that they are still experimental, but we are beginning to apply them at stations in every Command, and I am confident that they will enable us during the next two or three years to save some thousands of posts. Personally, I am determined to push on with the work with all possible vigour.
I cannot deal with the whole question of training, but there are one or two aspects of it about which I should like to say a word, particularly about the higher technical training of officers, because technical training is the subject of an Amendment, which will not be called, in the name of the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams). There was a time when it was possible to hope that with advancing science some things might become simpler, and that hope has not been altogether in vain, because I believe it is still true that it is easier to maintain a jet engine than it is to maintain an advanced type of piston engine. But, considering all developments as a whole, things are getting more complicated all the time—for instance, bombsights for bombing from great heights or in cloud and darkness, new navigational devices, new airborne interception devices, and, most recently, the most difficult problem of the lot, the problem of the guided missile.
The most obvious consequence of this increase in complexity is the need for very highly trained technical officers. A number of things have been done in respect of it. The first is the Technical Cadet Scheme, open to young men with the General Certificate of Education at the 1738 advanced level in physics and pure and applied mathematics. Those cadets start by spending a year at the Royal Air Force Technical College at Henlow. Then the scheme splits into two, some of the cadets remain at Henlow and receive permanent commissions at the end of their course while others go on to a university as officers.
The first group of cadets to complete their three-year course at Henlow finished last year, and the results are extremely satisfactory. Nearly all of them obtained the Higher National Diploma in electrical engineering. Officers who are training by the other method, that is going through the universities, are still reading for their degrees. There are fifty-one officers at the universities, thirty-six of them at Cambridge, reading for the mechanical sciences tripos, and others at Oxford, Bristol, Glasgow, London and Southampton.
In addition to the technical cadet scheme, a number of serving officers take post-graduate training as technical officers. In particular, there is a post-graduate course in guided weapons which has been running for some time. A number of officers who have been through this course are now serving in the research and development branches of the Ministry of Supply.
But however good our technical officers may be, and they need to be very good, the real backbone of the Service is and will remain the general duties officer. We want the very best men we can get at Cranwell. Cranwell has already built up a great tradition of leadership and the present Chief of the Air Staff is the first Cranwell cadet ever to hold that appointment. Recently, the period of training at Cranwell has been extended to three years, for two reasons. The first is to enable the cadets to finish their training on jet aircraft. The second, which I rate as equally important, is to ensure that they have a good general education as well as a purely technical one.
I should like to say a few words about operational training. We attach great importance to training involving trips abroad, because we are most anxious that our squadrons and their backing should be able to move quickly. Canberras have carried out practice moves to the Middle East and Far East. There was exercise 1739 "Beware" in the summer, which tested out the new radars and co-operation with the Continent. It was highly satisfactory. Maritime reconnaissance training, of course, goes on all the time.
Accidents always get plenty of publicity, but it is right to see things in proportion. The accident record over the past year has been a very good one. The accident rate in 1955 was the lowest since 1935 and this in spite of the fact that more jet flying was done than ever before. The first eighteen months' experience with the Hunter has also been good. Over this period it has had a better accident record than the Meteor, the Venom or the Vampire had during a similar period of their service lives. I do not want to tempt providence and I make no prediction. All I put before the House is the simple fact that on the whole things are tending to get better rather than to get worse.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
Is my hon. Friend referring to figures for aircraft which are written off or for fatal casualties to personnel?
§ Mr. Birch
Fatal accidents per 10,000 hours.
Most of what I have said about training has been about the training of officers. One of the things which has most impressed me on going back to the Air Ministry has been the skill and determination with which the problem of skilled ground crew has been tackled and largely solved. It has not been an easy time—a time when just those skills that are most needed in the Royal Air Force are so scarce in industry. However, the job has been tackled and, I think, has been done very well. No one can go round Royal Air Force stations in this country without being most deeply impressed by the feeling of what wonderful quality we still have in our aircrews and our ground crews.
The death of Lord Trenchard marked the end of an era in the Royal Air Force, and perhaps the appointment of a Cranwell Chief of the Air Staff marks the 1740 beginning of a new era. The old era saw the glories of the Battle of Britain. Let us pray that the new era will see the still greater glories of peace preserved.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I entirely agree with the last words of the Secretary of State. The main aim of the Air Force today is, of course, to preserve peace. It is the most important point that we have to consider. I shall try to follow the right hon. Gentleman's speech in its shape, dealing with weapons and manpower, but I confess that I found the speech very disappointing. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman must have exhausted himself in the defence debate last week.
I was amazed to find that the Minister had not with him the figures of Regular recruiting about which he was asked. When it is realised that the basis of so much of the defence debate turned upon those figures, it is surprising that the Minister did not have them at his fingertips. They are relevant to the whole question of National Service.
The background of the debate is the sad fact that today we have an Air Force which, I am told time and again by people who have some connection with it, is less effective today in relation to the threat which it has to meet than it has been at any time since 1938. If the principal effort of the Air Force is to maintain the nuclear deterrent, we must have the V-bombers and their successors, and we must have the ballistic missiles to succeed them. It is extremely depressing that the best the Secretary of State can say about the V-bombers, let alone the others, is that the position is not discouraging. If we have the nuclear deterrent and we have to have our bombers, then, of course, we must prevent those bombers and the ballistic missiles from being destroyed on the ground. That leads to the provision of an early warning system and of missiles and aircraft to destroy the enemy bombers or missiles.
Besides having the nuclear deterrent force and other aircraft and missiles to prevent the deterrent force being knocked out, we must also have conventional manned aircraft for use in regions where there is no elaborate radar control system, and we must have conventional aircraft in the shape of transport planes.
1741 All this adds up to the minimum requirement. If we start with the deterrent and then have a force for policing or transport, they all amount to a formidable requirement on our production and design and development resources. There is, of course, the further major problem that all our scientific manpower in this respect, as in all spheres of science, tends to the production of quality—Nobel Prize winners in the extreme case—and to fall away badly in numbers at the lower level. This technological weakness is alarming. A White Paper has been issued at last on the subject, but that is not the topic of debate today. However, we have to take account in this debate of this shortage of scientists and technologists and industrial potential. If we are to take account of it, we must do three things.
First, we must increase the supply of scientists and technologists. That is a matter for debate on another occasion. Secondly, we must reduce unnecessary demands on our limited skill and materials and resources. We all know that there is a very limited supply of trained technologists in this country; otherwise why was the White Paper published last week? Obviously, therefore, we must emphasise greater concentration of our demands, and the first thing which follows from concentrating our demands and reducing them to a minimum is that we must rely more on our Allies and not duplicate their work.
Thirdly, we must do something about our aircraft industry, which is not working efficiently. In a leader on 18th February, The Times complained that in spite of producing failures each year many aircraft firms have contrived to show record profits. I quote:The broad answer seems to be to increase the rewards for success, and the penalties for failure, in development work.I was surprised that the Secretary of State did not apologise and explain how it was possible for us to have reached the stage in which in one year in this decade we are spending less on the Air Force than on either of the other two Services. The word "shortfall" has been used in the White Papers and in debates. That word is the jargon of failure. It is not an answer. It is the failure of the Government, because this is their responsibility.
1742 The fact is that private enterprise in its penny packets of small units of design, development and production has failed to deliver the goods. What do the leading people in the industry say? By "leading" I do not mean only those who do well out of it, but those who design, develop and produce successfully. They want some concentration. First they want concentration of brains for design and development, and then concentration of manufacturing capacity.
How much concentration is adopted? Sir Roy Fedden wants three engine firms and six airframe firms. Lord Brabazon wants four firms. The fact is that, in any discussion of the Air Force and the money we are asked to spend on it, we forget that the ordinary sanctions of private enterprise have failed to work and that the inefficient firms are still properous. What are the Government going to do to roll up the inefficient firms which are wasting valuable resources and money? We cannot afford the present wastage.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Would the hon. Gentleman say that Short Bros. and Harland Ltd., which are Government-owned or, in the majority, Government-owned, are more efficient than the other firms?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am not saying that. I am discussing nationalisation. I am putting a point with which I hope the Minister will agree: that we have limited capacity in design and development and yet our units of design and development and production are smaller and more munerous in this country than in the United States. I am not suggesting how this should be tackled, but I am saying that the problem is recognised, and I want to know what the Government will do to solve it.
Having looked at it from the point of view of the industry, it is right that we should look at it from the point of view of the Air Ministry. How much is the Air Ministry contributing to this shortfall? Is it not being conservative in regarding this problem as that of the production of aircraft rather than as the production of weapons systems? By that I mean the means of conveying the weapons and fire control. Is there not dangerous conservatism in thinking in terms of aircraft as an end in itself? Is it not time that we studied the American 1743 Air Force procurement system and put in its proper perspective the aircraft as merely a means of conveyance?
Last year, and also this year, when the Hunter was under attack because of its guns and because it could not carry air-to-air guided missiles, the reply of the Ministry was that it flies beautifully. I know it does. I have been told that by people who have flown it. But that argument is a symptom of a dangerously conservative trend of thought; firstly, because such a statement should never be the answer to criticisms of a weapons system; secondly, because it makes me afraid that there may be a certain amount of flying perfectionism in the Air Ministry, which may be a factor in what is undoubtedly a lack of combat weapons today.
I will give an illustration. I have heard people criticising the Valiant saying that the engines were inadequate. Yet, as far as I know, its engines have exceeded everything set for them. I have heard American pilots criticising the B.47 as being difficult to fly, and particularly difficult to land. Any perfectionist would have rejected that aircraft, but in its hundreds, and perhaps in its thousands, it has carried and carries the nuclear deterrent of the West. Daily it flies, and it is still very difficult to land. Paragraph 70 of the Defence White Paper states:Particular emphasis is being placed on the development of the ballistic rocket as a deterrent to aggression.What is our position on ballistic and guided missiles? Are we not behind the United States and Russia, and is not one of the factors the fact that we have the traditions of a pilot's Air Force? I will return to that point in a moment.
I should like to have some information about ballisic missiles. What does the reference in paragraph 70 mean? I hope that we shall not try to go into production and development of the intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 miles. It would be fabulously expensive. The Americans have been doing this for years at a gigantic cost. On the other hand, are we not going to develop the intermediate ballistic missile with a range of 1,500 miles as a successor to the successor to the V-bomber? If that is so, it makes sense. I hope it is so. 1744 Are we going to try to develop antiaircraft missiles and anti-missile missiles like the United States Bell Aircraft Company under Mr. Dornberg, who invented the V.1 and the V.2? I hope not. We cannot afford to do so. We must rely on our Allies. On the other hand, I read in Flight about the de Havilland infra-red detection air-launched antiaircraft missile. If we are ahead there, then it is right that we should pursue that line of development.
I should like to have it made clear that the Government are considering the general principles and that we shall not overlap at any time with the United States Air Force, unless we have special need for a different weapon or where we are at present ahead in development. I am thinking of the V-bomber, which we ordered because we had a special need for it. Where we have gone some way, and look like being successful in design and development, that work should not be thrown away.
I have referred to the United States Air Force, but I really meant the United States Forces, because the United States, in view of its size and resources, can afford more than one flying service and their keen competition. I well know how keen that competition can be. During the war I spent six months attached to the United States Air Corps and six months attached to the United States Naval Aviation. An incident occurred which reminded me of the competition which the Americans have but which we cannot afford. Someone at the Air Corps officers' club said that the Jap Navy had a fighter faster than the United States Army Air Corps had. A normally very placid major got extremely worked up and shouted, "What are we going to do about it?" He returned to his normal state of mind only when it was pointed out that it was the Jap Navy, not the United States Navy, which had the faster fighter.
As I said, the Americans can afford the luxury of three Services, but we certainly cannot. I suggest that we should really begin studying—I am not asking for more than that—the amalgamation of the Navy and the Royal Air Force. The problems are, of course, great. What worries me is that in a few years' time when the Navy's rôle and importance have been reduced there may be an malgamation hurriedly, it may not be the 1745 joining together of two equals, and we may have lost a precious national asset, the traditions of a very respected Service, the Royal Navy.
The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) has always taken a keen interest in navies. I was delighted the other day to hear about an incident at Potsdam in 1945 when the right hon. Gentleman was discussing with Stalin and President Truman what should be done with the German Navy. The right hon. Gentleman said that it should be sunk to the bottom of the sea because it was unclean and steeped in infamy. Stalin suggested that it should be divided between Russia and this country. The argument continued for some time, and then Stalin said, "You like compromise, Mr. Churchill. Here is a compromise solution. Let us divide the German Navy, and then you can sink your half."
I want us to press on with missiles for several reasons, the obvious one being because of greater defence. Another is that I am anxious, as I think we must all be, to rid our countryside of the huge concrete runways. One of the advantages to be derived from these dreadful weapons—we have to be careful about claiming any advantages from them—is that they can pop out of holes. I would sooner the holes were in the frozen wastes of Greenland or the desert wastes of North Africa, but, wherever they are, holes in the ground are better than concrete runways. I look forward to that stage as representing one of the few advantages that we shall derive from such weapons.
I have stressed missiles because I believe that the pilot-minded Air Ministry has been inclined to neglect them. I will not go too far on this, because I said at the beginning of my speech that, of course, we need manned aircraft and manned fighters particularly, not only for operation in areas where there is no elaborate warning, control or radar system, but in case the enemy at any moment should develop a formidable jamming system which acted on our missiles so that they either went dashing off to the moon or came back to base. We must have the safeguard of some manned fighters, but where do we get our manned fighters? Surely we must admit that today we are years behind the United States in fighter development. Have they not 1746 already hundreds of supersonic fighters? Surely the point is that with regard to fighters we must now look to our Allies.
In his speech the right hon. Gentleman went from weapons to manning, and I should like to join in what he said about Sir Leslie Hollinghurst's committees. They have certainly been of great help. I have suggested at one or two points that a factor contributing to the Government's failure to provide adequate weapons is the attachment to old ways of thinking of how one goes to war. In this case, the thinking is that it is piloted aircraft in which one goes to war. We have had this before in military history, and I will not labour it. For long the cavalry refused to believe that the horse was only a means of conveying a man with firepower. The cavalry got to the stage of thinking that the horse was an end in itself, and it refused to believe for a long time that there were other and more effective methods of conveying fire-power.
I have heard it said in many trials that I have followed during the last few months, "Well, it is a pilots' Air Force." Everyone knows that that was the saying used in the war by navigators and other aircrew. This time the phrase was used by people who were thinking of guided missiles.
It is our duty to try to strike some balance between the enthusiasts on either side, for neither side is completely right. We must think of this as a manning problem of the future. We must begin thinking today—I wonder if the Government are—of the relationship of the air officer to the ground officer. It has not been a real problem before, because all the men in high command have been former aircrew, and at any moment there were many men in the flying branches who were the heart and soul of the Royal Air Force, and they had considerable prestige.
What about the future when there are very few officers who fight in the air? A piece of jargon used in other debates in this House, on education and so on, is the phrase "parity of esteem." We have to meet the point that ultimately the press button officer will feel no more inferior to the few who fight in the air than the gunners have felt towards the infantry. We must think about this.
1747 For instance, no brainy candidate for a commission in the Royal Artillery was rejected merely because his eyesight was not perfect. Can the Royal Air Force afford to refuse a brainy and otherwise outstanding candidate for press button warfare merely because his eyesight is not perfect? This is an example of manning problems on which we must have some information. I will take this one to the extreme to show the sort of adjustments that we shall have to make in manning the Royal Air Force of the future. When I was at the Air Ministry I saw a fascinating study of the relationship between the skill of a pilot and his early activity in the swimming baths at Cranwell. It said that if a young man who was a good swimmer had never on his own accord had the urge to high-dive and had, in fact, not done so, it was usually found afterwards that he was not a dashing and enthusiastic pilot. I can understand that. The abandon and zest necessary to do that showed certain qualities of the sort required for flying the aircraft of that time.
May we not be entering a period in which the best press-button warrior of the future may be the man who climbs to the top of the high-dive, calculates mentally the odds of a "belly-Hopper," and then turns and walks down the ladder? It will need considerable adjustment for us in relation to the phrase "parity of esteem." It will be difficult, but we have to recognise that with different instruments at different times, different methods of fighting require different qualities. It will be a big adjustment for most of us here to make but we must be prepared to make it. I think we are all agreed that the increasing importance of brains and education must be reflected in the after education of officers and men, apart from more staff training. There must be more staff training constantly throughout an officer's career.
I welcome the announcement that there is to be an increase in the period of training at Cranwell and a higher standard of entry. I also welcome the increase in the number of entrants to the Technical Branch through Henlow and the universities, but there is still a long way to go before we compare in this respect with the United States Air Force. One of the great advantages in the United 1748 States system of the procurement of weapons is that in the United States Air Force are men from operational commands who can meet the engineers and designers at firms on nearly level terms at an early stage in developments. Unfortunately, that state of affairs does not exist in our Air Force today.
I want to refer to the Commonwealth strategic reserve in Malaya. I was interested to learn of it. I saw something of the work of the British Commonwealth Air Command in Japan. I wonder if we are applying the lessons that must have been learned there to the reserve in Malaya. Obviously, the administration of an integrated command is complicated, because of different laws. I remember how complicated it was in Japan, because there was nothing to prevent a United Kingdom based member of the Royal Air Force from marrying a Japanese girl, but, of course, the Australian Air Force man with the Australian racial policy was presented with a great problem.
The pay is also a problem. General MacArthur always put it as most important that in a closely integrated force pay and decorations should be the same. General Gruenther at S.H.A.P.E. does not feel it to be so important. He often cites the case of the Belgian major who happily works on the staff with less pay than that of the United States' staff sergeant outside his door. However, in a Commonwealth force, where there are the same ranks, the same language and the men are accustomed to the same institutions, it is important that there should not be different conditions. I wonder what the pay position is in the Commonwealth strategic reserve.
I have mentioned the disparity in wages between the Belgian and the American at S.H.A.P.E. We must recognise that, even in terms of the relationship between industrial wages and Service pay in the United States, the United States Air Force is higher paid than is the Royal Air Force. The new pay scale will help, but it does not meet two of the most important problems. It will help the bachelor, but it does not ease the problem of the education of children. The taxable education allowance for men in the Royal Air Force who face being moved about is nowhere near enough. I hope that the Government will look at that. It is particularly important. It is 1749 all very well for the Secretary of State to say that they are trying to do something about turbulence, but we have to face the fact that even if turbulence is reduced to the minimum, it will still involve a great deal of travelling in the course of a man's Service life.
I was struck by the Secretary of State's reference to scientific manpower research. I am sorry to say that I feel something more is needed in the Air Force, not only scientific manpower research, but a good deal of improved human relations. We must not forget that the Air Force grew out of the amalgamation of two old Services. It has taken a great deal of time for people to recognise—and it is not yet fully recognised—that the average tradesman in the Royal Air Force is not like the old soldier or the old sailor of our other two Fighting Services, and it cannot be expected to be so.
There must be no atmosphere at all of the officer-man relationship which exists in the other two Services. We have this when we come to maintenance work on large stations. If the Air Council in a body were to visit one of the large engineering firms in Lincoln, or in any other engineering city, it would see how skilled men work on a job without being shouted at and pushed around. Skilled men resent being pushed around, and it is necessary, in the different structure of the Royal Air Force, that they should be treated differently from the way they were treated in the past. Shop stewards and managements at all levels know how to deal with skilled men, and they have no nonsense about the officer-man relationship. One man can do a job better, or has more responsibility, and so he gets more wages.
I remember after the war visiting Royal Air Force stations all over the world and, wherever I was told by a W.O. admin, or a group captain admin., that they were doing fine because they were getting back to pre-war, my heart sank and, in every case, I found that the station was one which had very little future. We must recognise that as the country becomes a social democracy—particularly in a skilled force like the Air Force—there must be a change in the mentality of officers and men.
Instances of stupidity come to me weekly if not daily. My constituency happens to be in the heart of a lot of 1750 Air Force stations and people from other parts write to me. One case comes from Middleton St. George, and there may be other stations where this has also happened. Every airman, and probably every officer too, has been circulated with a Roneoed form on the contribution to the rebuilding of St. Clements Dane, the Royal Air Force church in the Strand. Everybody who does not want to contribute has to say, "I do not want to contribute to the rebuilding of this church" and has to sign his name. That is quite wrong. I hope that they will contribute, but it is impossible to expect that they should contract out like that, so that everyone in authority on the station can know that they do not want to contribute to the rebuilding of the church. That is a bad psychological approach to someone who may be a very worthy citizen and airman but who may be a Nonconformist, a Jew or a Roman Catholic who does not like contributing to Church of England churches.
Wing Commander Eric Rullus (Wembley, North)
Is it not a fact that this principle is known to hon. Members opposite?
§ Mr. de Freitas
It is a completely different point, and I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will give it the attention it deserves. The Air Force is trying to recruit people and is asking them to surrender certain things which they have in civil life. It is fundamentally wrong that if they do not want to contribute they should have to contract out in this way.
If these difficulties were removed and if the atmosphere of dealing with the Air Force were changed, we would get more recruits. More has to be done not only in looking for recruits and finding ways of attracting them, but of making certain that there is less need for recruits, first, by increased civilianisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has asked Questions about that. It is most important, because civilian overheads are very much lower. The Air Force does not have to worry about the teeth or morals of civilians. Civilians come, do the job and go.
One of the most serious complaints I have had in the last few months concerns 16 Maintenance Unit at Stafford. This is a Service-manned maintenance unit. The Lincolnshire branch of the National 1751 Farmers' Union sent someone to the station, because it had been circulated with a catalogue offering 800 blankets for sale by auction. He travelled from Lincoln to Stafford and was told that the blankets were all mutilated—every one had been cut down the middle—so that they could not be used in the civil market and hurt the blanket trade. That is not only an example of waste but of inefficiency in failing to inform people that the blankets were mutilated and useless. I hope that this will be looked into.
The second point I have to stress in reducing the need for manpower is that there should be a reduction in ratio of aircrew to aircraft required; and, of course, by recalculating the number of officers required in missile forces of the future. The enormous cost of training a pilot should be remembered. The Air Force must work for the rapid elimination of National Service and have regard to the number of men in the Technical Training Command who do nothing but training.
I know that the accident rate is going down; and I was glad to hear the figures quoted this afternoon by the Secretary of State. They were most encouraging. But we must recognise that the general public is more concerned than hitherto about accidents which do occur, because when a large modern aircraft crashes on a town or a village, great damage is caused. It is most important that the Air Force should handle the public relations better than in the past. I have a case in mind which I will not quote now, because other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, but it is a case which exactly meets that point. There the difficulty could have been settled by a better understanding of the point of view of the public. Inquiries should be held in public, except for those parts involving secret matter which ought to be dealt with in camera. This would promote greater confidence among the public.
I questioned earlier the policy of the Government in seeking to develop and produce missile aircraft which the Americans can do better than we can because of their greater experience. That is one of the most important matters to be considered.
The Secretary of State referred to the rôle of the Royal Air Force in maintain 1752 ing peace. One of the consequences of the nuclear deterrent is that if it be possessed by both sides the power for peace passes back from the general to the politician. Never again can a general advise a statesman that if negotiation fails he can gain his point by a short war. No victory can be gained, since there can be no victory in a nuclear war. The statesman will be able to make political compromises supported by public opinion. That means, that power has returned to the politician, so we must educate the politician in two ways; first, politically, and then technically.
Last year, for the first time, Members of Parliament from all the N.A.T.O. countries met in Paris, and they will meet again this year. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) was one of them. I believe that to be the first case in which military alliance has taken account of a political factor in the education of Members of Parliament. So far as technical education is concerned, we in this Parliament, like our Canadian colleagues, are in a difficulty, because constitutionally only Ministers have access to certain information. It is denied to their back-benchers and members of the Opposition. I can only hope that over the years we may find some solution to this difficulty.
Each one of us represents people who have contributed about £2½ million this year towards defence. Which one of us can say that we are getting value for money? We are asked to take very much on trust, and I and my right hon. and hon. Friends do not trust the competence of the Government over defence. The Government live too much in the past. If I have spoken so much about the future, it is not because I have three little boys who know all about space travel and who think that Jet Morgan should take over the Air Council, but because the Minister of Defence, the Secretary of State for Air, and the Minister of Supply, did not speak enough about it.
The Air Force is faced with the terrible problem of having to be ready today and yet build for the future. I have made clear that the Government's handling of defence has been deplorable, but nothing I have said should be regarded in any way as a reflection on the men and women of the Air Force. We are grateful to those men and women who take on 1753 what is often a thankless task by working in the Air Force so that we may be spared the disasters of war. I commend the thought to hon. Members that the chief task of the Air Force is to prevent war.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
We enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) and I agree with much of what he said. His speech was hardly at attack on the Government, and I propose to criticise one or two of the points which he made.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the perfection of equipment, and I agree with him. Too high a standard is set for many of the components put into an aircraft today, and not nearly enough attention is paid to standardisation. The hon. Gentleman also referred to eyesight. I consider that the required standard of eyesight for members of the Service could be relaxed when we are considering future requirements. I remember that twenty-seven years ago I was practically colour blind. The Royal Air Force medical service was using a coloured chart compiled by a Mr. Ishihara in Japan. It was difficult to learn this chart, but I sent to Japan for a copy and learned the various pages by heart and was thus able to fool the doctors for many years. I never had any difficulty in finding my way about at night, but at very low speeds. I commend my right hon. Friend to look into the matter of eyesight standards on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Lincoln.
The hon. Gentleman talked about tradition in the three Services, and I gained the impression that he thought the relations between officers and men in the Royal Air Force was not as good as in the Army and the Navy.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I did not mean to give that impression. I meant that the relationship between officers and men in the Royal Air Force today did not take sufficient account of the nature of the technical efficiency of the other ranks.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I take the hon. Gentleman's point so far as the Navy is concerned. I do not agree about the Army, and I think that in the Royal Air Force there is a good relationship between the officers and the men. They play games together and, generally speak- 1754 ing, the officers take a great interest in the men and their families.
The hon. Member for Lincoln also mentioned the question of education allowances. The Government have spent £60 million and have increased the pay of the Forces. We hope that will be an attraction, but the Government should have gone that much further by giving educational allowances which really mean something. To give £75 and £25 and then to tax those sums is not the way to get more men and to do away with the need for National Service. Not a great sum is involved, and I hope that the Government will look at this matter again and increase educational allowances.
I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on their appointments and to wish them well in their new posts. I hope that they will give the Air Force a lead from the Ministry—I will not say a political lead—which has not been evident for many year. I remember that before the war, in the time of Sir Samuel Hoare and Sir Philip Sassoon, the Air Force was put on the map. That atmosphere has been missing in recent years. Ministers should not be afraid to advertise themselves with the Air Force. They should count on public opinion in putting the Air Force forward as the No. 1 Service. It is the No. 1 Service today, and the sooner the Navy and the Army recognise that, the better it will be. That is not just a personal opinion; it is a fact.
The aircraft in the Service today are being flown as well as ever, if not better, and when we speak of the standard of the men, the quality, and so on, we must remember that the flying is of an extremely high standard. Those who saw the Royal Air Force formation at Farnborough last September must agree that the way the four Hunters were wheeled round the sky was nothing less than remarkable.
I do not think that the pay code will do all that is required. A boy who is thinking of joining the Royal Air Force today as a member of an aircrew at the age of seventeen or eighteen will say to himself, "What will my career be in twenty years' time, when I am thirty-eight years old?" It will then probably be a press-button Air Force. In all probability, if such a boy has not a science degree, he will not be flying. I am affected by this question, 1755 because I have a son who is fourteen years of age. I do not want to put him off joining the Royal Air Force, but I have to ask myself whether he will have any real career as a general duties officer should he be commissioned in twenty years' time. I hope that the doubts about this matter which exist in the minds of boys and their parents can be put at rest.
I suggest that the Secretary of State smartens up the Service. Some of the officers today are not a great credit to this great Service. A few days ago I went along to pay my respects at the memorial service to Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Trenchard. If it had not been for him we should not have had a Royal Air Force. He had to fight hard to maintain it as a separate Service. Generals and admirals kept trying to get it away from him. That country owes him a great debt for what he did. At his memorial service, I thought that the turnout of many officers was quite deplorable—particularly in the case of the air marshals. Some of their greatcoats were the shabbiest things I have ever seen. [Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter. If the senior officers do not turn themselves out well, what can we expect from junior officers and other ranks?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman must still be tired after the debate which we had last week dealing with the Army.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider introducing a summer unform. I know that we do not get many hot Summers, but last year's was quite hot. Many aircrews now fly overseas in a matter of a few hours and they require tropical uniform. I should think that something could be done on the lines adopted in the United States Air Force.
Much has been said about the Hunter. I enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) last week. It was, in the main, a constructive speech, and was very much to the point, but I would remind hon. Members that the party opposite was in power when the Hunter's specification was written, including the provision of four 30-mm. guns. 1756 The truth of the matter probably is that the aeroplane is over-gunned. We cannot just throw it away; it must be persevered with and put right. If hon. Members opposite had been in power now I do not suppose that the Hunter's guns would be firing any better. I hope that hon. Members opposite appreciate that point.
It is also a fact that 140 different types of aircraft have been built since the war. Who put out the specifications to the factories? I believe that the party opposite put out about 80 per cent. of them, and many of them failed. I do not wish to try to minimise the mistakes which this Government have made—because they have now been in office for four years—but we cannot cut off a programme of development and production overnight. I advise my right hon. Friend to be quite frank with the House in regard to the Hunter. Is he satisfied that the aeroplane would not do better with a later mark of Sapphire engine? All these considerations will have a bearing upon exports, sooner or later, unless we can prove that the aircraft is satisfactory from every point of view, and not merely from that of flying.
I am told that the Swift is now a remarkably fine aircraft. I know that some people are now regrettting their cancellation of contracts. I have heard that said by Service personnel. I should like to know the real facts about the Swift.
The time has now come to look ahead and to realise that in fifteen years' time, perhaps, the bomber or supersonic bomber, as we know it today, will no longer be in use.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member may cheer, but someone may invent something which will cost more money and cause more lives to be lost. We now have the V-bombers, and we shall probably have a supersonic bomber to follow, but after that it will be a question of guided missiles, mainly ground-to-ground. The point that is worrying me—and which was made by the hon. Member for Lincoln—is our present lack of scientists and physicists. The Government's provision for training men for technical schools, which was introduced last week and which will cost about £100 million, will help in this respect, but that 1757 is a long term remedy, and we have to take immediate steps to remedy the situation in other ways.
I shall endeavour to explain how I think we should do so. First, I think that we are trying to do far too much in aviation. That has been standing out a mile for a long time. Something must be pruned. If it is, I think that we shall be able to improve efficiency in the long run. We have only a limited number of scientists, draughtsmen, aerodynamicists and development engineers, spread all over the country. There is now a black market in draughtsmen. Small firms are beginning to offer excellent inducements, including rent-free houses. This problem should be sorted out, because we shall not get the best out of industry if it is overloaded with development work.
The party opposite must accept its share of responsibility for getting us into this position. In its days it was far easier to get a development contract paid for by the Government than it is today. I have had some experience of this. I want to explain my interest in this matter. I am on the board of directors and deputy-chairman of a company which is making the Victor bomber. Many people tell me, "You are very late." Without giving away any secrets, I shall try to explain why we are late. I start at zero year. I am not giving any date, but zero year was obviously soon after the war.
In January of that year there was an invitation to (tender. In May, the tender was submitted, and in November there was an instruction to proceed for £50,000 worth of design work only. In those days the party opposite was in control. In the second year the company pressed for an instruction to proceed to construct. It was sufficiently satisfied with the design and was prepared to make the aircraft off the drawing board. Nothing happened in the second year. In the third year an instruction to proceed was issued for two prototypes only, for a very complicated aeroplane, with a very great risk of wrecking one. Unfortunately, one was wrecked, and all the development had to he done with the other one. Nothing happened in the fourth or fifth years.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
No order was placed for a number of aircraft. In the sixth year there was an instruction to proceed in respect of a small order which might later be cancelled six months ahead. In the seventh year the order was confirmed. Later in that year a second order was discussed, and a contract was arrived at in mid-Summer.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed with this history, I am quite prepared for him to ask questions when I have finished it. I am not allocating blame. I am giving figures and facts in order that the public may understand the difficulties which have to be faced in building aircraft. Bath Governments have their responsibilities in this matter; I am not excusing my hon. Friends any more than hon. Members opposite. Again, in the seventh year—in the time of this Government—there was a tender for a third order. At the end of the year the price was agreed.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
It has been agreed. If the hon. Member looks at his brief he will probably see what it was. In the eighth year a contract was issued. We are now negotiating for a fourth order.
How can a firm possibly keep its men happy and enable them to look to the future with some security when orders are issued in penny packets? One cannot possibly plan the production. It is necessary to order large castings, which are costly and complicated, and all the bits and pieces, in four driblets over about three years. It just is not good enough. My suspicion is that it is brought about by the Treasury. I am not blaming any of my right hon. Friends. The matter ought to be pressed home at the highest level by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence.
As far as the Victor is concerned, one aeroplane was lost during trials in Bedfordshire. The troubles have now been rectified. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty and I flew well over 50,000 feet. I would say that the Victor today can fly higher than almost any aircraft. There are far too many modifications coming not only from the Ministry of Supply, but from 1759 the Royal Air Force and from the firm itself. Somebody is required to watch over modifications and eventually to say, "This aeroplane has to be produced as it is, without any further modifications." I should have liked the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) to fly in the Victor. It would have been good for his education if he went up to 50,000 feet. Unfortunately, the idea was turned down by the Ministry of Supply. I do not know why.
§ Mr. Beswick
I appreciate that invitation, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman's reference to it might have been put in a rather different way. I think it was put in an offensive way. It would be good for the education of any Member of Parliament to fly at 50,000 feet.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I hope the hon. Gentleman does not think I wanted to be offensive. That is the last thing I intended. I did not think he had been over 50,000 feet. Any hon. Member would be educating himself in something new if he flew at a height of more than 50,000 feet. I am only sorry that the hon. Member for Uxbridge was not able to go.
I would like the Government to be able to give Members of Parliament more information about military aircraft. We can read about many of these developments in American magazines week after week. The information gets out of this country, although hon. Members and the public are not allowed to know. I hope the Government will give us more information.
I now come to the question of whether the system of ordering aircraft by the Royal Air Force is the right one. I do not think it is. I am not criticising my hon. and right hon. Friends or the Ministry of Supply. Nobody has been more active and alive on these problems than the Ministry, and that goes for its senior civil servants, who are a very fine body of men. I pay my respects to them. The system is wrong. Customer and supplier are separated from each other because an intermediate body is acting for them. The system does not work. It was brought in by the Labour Government after the war.
The aircraft manufacturers do not like expressing this point of view because they would be criticising the hand that feeds 1760 them. Many senior officers in the Royal Air Force do not like to do so because it means going into politics to some extent, and they have probably got far more sense than to do that. Nevertheless, something has to be done. The present system cannot go on.
I see only two alternatives. Either the Ministry of Defence must have increased legislative power to deal with ordering and allocating equipment, or the Air Ministry must take it over. I would prefer the Ministry of Defence to take the bold step of dealing with it, but rather than go on as we are today the Air Ministry should accept full responsibility. This method worked extremely well before the war. There was close touch between the Service and the manufacturers. Today the Royal Air Force have difficulties. There is an Air Chief Marshal at the Ministry of Supply. He is a very able man at his job, but that is not nearly enough, particularly when the Treasury is in the background delaying and querying everything that ought to be got on with.
A word about the construction of fighters. I do not think there is any secret today about our having at least twelve fighters in production or in development for the Royal Air Force and the Navy. There is no justification, considering the great shortage of technical men, of going on in this way. It would be far better to produce under licence an American or Canadian fighter. That is being done in Australia, where they bought the American rights of the Sabre, using a Rolls Royce engine. It is rather expensive, but they are doing an extremely good job.
If we did that, we should free several thousand qualified men, who are now producing fighters, for something more important on the electronic side of the business, air-to-air and ground-to-ground weapons. We must get busy on the electronic aspect; it is no use making modern bombers unless we can deliver them in the right places. We have to get more men out of the aircraft industry into the guided-missile section. I hope that we can develop co-operation with our American friends. In a recent Adjournment debate I discussed this question with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, and he assured me that there is co-operation. I know that, 1761 but there is not nearly enough. Much of our present troubles have been brought about by lack of co-operation between the United States and Britain. I beg my right hon. Friend to treat this matter of the Royal Air Force as of the utmost urgency. It is the one Service which can save Britain.
Far too much money is being spent on both the other Services. I was at Gosport last week where I saw a number of modern ships cocooned and lying in the harbour. Even if there were a war there would not be men to man them. It is about time the Government dealt with their Lordships and got some sense into this matter. The Government should also prune the Army to modern size and get on with the main deterrent. We all agree that, by and large, that is the weapon which will come. We should do all in our power to see that this deterrent is made worthy of us at the earliest moment.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. William Paling (Dewsbury)
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, so I shall be departing from the line followed very largely in the debate up to now. I agree with the closing remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey). There are snags, even in the Royal Air Force, in the provision of machines, etc.
In his speech, the Minister addressed himself to the development of first-class equipment of all kinds. No one will disagree with the principle behind that part of the speech. The great complexity of the machines and equipment for the Royal Air Force means that we must have counterparts to use the equipment, newer machines, faster machines, different types of weapons and so on. Men in the Air Force must be kept up to scratch and up to standard to grapple with new complexities that are certain to arise. We need first-class men for a first-class Service.
In the similar debate last year, I quoted from a number of letters grumbles and grievances sent by long-term Service men. Some had been in the Service 16, 17 or 18 years and had put forward, not only in letters to me, but presumably to visiting committees on several occasions, the grumbles they 1762 had about their terms of service and the way in which the organisation worked.
Since that time, I have had the pleasure—last September—of visiting the Second Tactical Air Force where I not only saw the work being done and the new machines and all that goes into the building up of the modern air force, but had the opportunity of speaking with some of the men who had written to me during the previous few months. More than anything else my visit emphasised in my mind that, while we are concentrating on building up the machines, we are rather losing touch with the organisation for looking after the machines when they are grounded.
We must realise that if we are to have machines which are capable of doing all that is planned for them we must have ground staffs capable of doing the maintenance work. That means having men not only capable but contented. The Department now has a number of letters which reinforce those which I quoted last year. A modern air force requires modern ideas and modern organisation. Not only must the ground staff be well trained but they must become conversant very quickly with the new types of equipment, so that they can deal at once with the new machines and equipment coming into use.
I wonder whether the organisation dealing with our ground staff, especially those men who are serving over a period of years, is up to scratch, or whether it is not a little outdated. Some of the men complain that they have been trying to get things going for a number of years but have not got very far. I do not think that the new pay scales will influence the grumbles that I have heard expressed on many occasions. One hears of non-commissioned officers—particularly fitters and the technical people generally—who have reached a certain stage of qualification and can get no further.
I have here the copy of a letter similar to many that have been sent recommending various men for a higher grade of category. One paragraph reads:He has had a fine career so far and his long period in the various categories of flight sergeant is because of his rapid promotion to temporary flight sergeant during the war. He is, however, at present 322 on the roster for acting warrant officer and there is, thus, no chance whatever of his early advancement other than by doing a fiddle' and letting him jump all those ahead of him—which, of course, we could not…do.1763 The attainment of a certain standard of qualification should entitle such men to some advancement. I agree that we cannot immediately advance some 322 men—according to this letter—to the higher rank of warrant officer, but in order to get more contentment is it not possible for the organisation to give some reward for ability reached in the course of work? We know that it is not as easy as some may think to give promotion, but when there are all these non-commissioned officers who have been trained, who are efficient and who have to deal with the day-to-day details of whatever may arise on an airfield, surely we can give them some inducement to do the job, and to keep them in a frame of mind happier than that which some of the letters seem to indicate.
When men with sixteen years' service say that they are no longer interested in the Service there must be something wrong somewhere. It is far better that these men should be seen and that they should be able to express themselves openly. The evidence should be sifted, and if there is anything in it we should find some sort of organisation that can satisfy the men's complaints. According to that letter which I have quoted, the chances of promotion are very remote indeed. That is only one letter of very many, all similar in character and every one from men who have served a long period in the Royal Air Force.
The Minister referred to wastage of manpower, and that is something which affects the new recruit particularly. The method of training is outmoded. We are a little behind there. We are spending too much time on technicalities, as though we were putting the recruits through a technical school, instead of getting them on the job as quickly as possible and training them by actual contact with it. In one case a lad is expected to know the content of steel and so on; he is expected to know how to file down a piece of steel to the "umpteenth" part of an inch, and spends weeks or months learning that process. I should imagine that most of the parts of our aeroplanes or of our airfield equipment are more or less standardised and that not once in a thousand times is a man required to spend much time filing down a bolt of a nut or a piece of steel to a particular thickness.
1764 The object of training is, in the first instance, to create an interest. In the National Service man, too, an interest must be created if we are to keep him in the Air Force. The vital importance of training is to see that the recruit acquires that interest as quickly as possible, so that he feels that there is something worth while in the Air Force and that he can enjoy being in it and doing the job. Nevertheless, when I was in Germany it was most apparent that there were many who are looking forward only to being demobbed.
There is something wrong if a young fellow cannot be so trained as to have some interest in his job, but let me quote an example—though this time not from Germany. A wood turner, a blacksmith and a silversmith—all three brought in as National Service men—wished while in the Service to follow some trade as closely akin as possible to their civilian work. They were all made assistant cooks. I am not allowed to use here the language which they used to describe their appointments. However, I think that we can get over such difficulties and snags.
Education is another subject. With our married quarters system in Germany—where the wives and families are living over there—the educational system seems to work extremely well up to about 11 years of age. After the children reach the age of 11 there is a great deal of uncertainty. In many instances the men, and especially the officers, have to make their own arrangements. The men often have to let their children be boarded at a school and pay for equipment and so on, which is a very expensive item.
I wonder whether any arrangements have been made during the last twelve months between the two Services—this applies to the Army as well—to cater for the children who are over 11 years of age so that they may continue their education as if they were at home. The Secretary of State for War made an announcement to the effect that it was intended to raise the level of education there to the standard of the London County Council education scheme. I wonder how far we have got with that scheme in respect of the two Services, and particularly the Royal Air Force. Parents are really worried about the problem.
1765 I saw one of the schools catering for children up to the age of 11, and I could not wish for anything better. After a long conversation with the headmaster I was satisfied that a good job of work was being done. However, it is no good just to have a good job of work done until the child reaches the age of 11 and then for there to be no proper arrangements for it to continue its education. I hope the Minister will pay some attention to this point.
I promised when I was in Germany to raise the question of living in Germany. The N.A.A.F.I. does not supply everything, and apparently it does not meet the needs of the ladies in respect of dresses, clothes for their children and ether things. If the women have to go into the German shops they find that the £ is worth only about 11s. 8d. This is a real grievance. I wonder whether some better organisation can be provided so that the families can be supplied with boots and shoes, clothing and the many other requirements of every-day life when they are living at foreign stations.
These questions are worthy of consideration. If some attention can be paid to them, no matter how trivial they may sound, I am certain that it will be to the good in the organisation of the Royal Air Force. If alongside the developments which are being made in modernising the Royal Air Force we can have a contented staff to deal with all the modern plant that we are assembling, I am sure that we shall be going a long way towards having a successful Royal Air Force.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), for he has made a most important point about the welfare of ground crews. Anyone who has any experience of dealing with them knows full well how important it is that they should be well cared for. I am sure that no one here will dispute what the hon. Gentleman said about that.
The opening speeches today, like many of the speeches we listened to in the defence debate last week, reflect something of the concern which is felt in many parts of the House at the development of our Service aircraft. The concern has not suddenly arisen. It has been with us for a long time, and it has been with us 1766 under successive Governments. It has arisen since we have begun to meet the problems of near-sonic and supersonic flight.
I wish, therefore, to say a word or two about the system which has been pursued since the war by successive Governments for procuring and developing our military aircraft. Here I should like to say how much I agreed with the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey). It is a system which for a decade has remained largely unaltered. Variations, adjustments and improvements have been made here and there, but the general pattern and structure has remained the same.
When I look at the record of the last ten years and the last seven debates on the Air Estimates, in which I have taken part, I can hardly say that it has been a noticeably successful system. In one particular it has put us at a great disadvantage. The Royal Air Force has, in my view, always been too remote from the manufacturer. In the late war it used to be a commonplace to speak of the superiority of British aircraft over those of the Germans. In some instances, and at certain times of the war, that was probably true, but at other times it was unquestionably false. Indeed, by the end of the war the Germans had taken the lead from us in the design and development of aircraft. If the war had lasted another six months or a year, the consequences of that lead might have been very serious for us indeed.
Sir, I have always thought it significant that after the war the United States went to such pains to probe and investigate the methods used by the Germans for procuring and developing their military aircraft. The Americans examined and re-examined the German system. Then they subjected their own system to the most intensive scrutiny. The result was a re-organisation of their own methods in which they were not afraid to embody the best of the German principles.
I am not one who thinks that everything the Americans do in this field is necessarily right—they have had their failures and we are apt to forget that—nor yet do I disregard the unquestioned advantage which they hold over us in the measure and extent of their resources. I do say, however, that we should be 1767 foolish indeed if we thought that money, materials and labour alone were responsible for the speed with which they are now developing their military aircraft, particularly the advanced "Century series" fighters. I think we should look very carefully at their system, as they looked unashamedly at the German methods after the war. I believe that there are several lessons for us to learn there.
One of the most important recommendations of the Ridenour Committee which was set up to probe the Americans' own organisation, was that the user commands of the United States Air Force should be brought into much closer contact with the United States' manufacturers. That is a most important point. As a result of it there was established, on 21st October, 1950, within the United States Air Force, the Air Research and Development Command. The purpose of that Command, as I understand it, is to act as a direct link between the United States aircraft industry, the Air Staff and the user commands. We have nothing like it in the Royal Air Force, and I believe that is a pity.
The task of A.R.D.C. is to sponsor, supervise and co-ordinate the development of new equipment and new devices for the conduct and support of air warfare. The policy of the command is to represent—this is very important—United States Air Force problems directly and squarely to industry and to maintain constant contact with the American manufacturers throughout the stages of development. What that organisation does, in effect, is to enable the United States Air Force to control its own destiny in immediate contact with industry. I believe that that is precisely what we want here today.
A new project is started. What is called "a project team" is set up by the command under a lieutenant-colonel who has under him a staff of highly trained specialist officers. That unit maintains direct contact with the project right throughout its life from the earlier stages of development until it reaches production; and even then the team still stays with the project. During that time the unit is constantly visiting the aircraft companies concerned and maintaining first-hand contact with the Pentagon, the Air Staff and user commands.
1768 Sir, I do not say that the United States achievements in providing military aircraft are alone the result of a system rather than the resources which support it; nor yet do I say that the organisation established there would, as it stands, necessarily be ideal here. But I do think it has been sufficiently successful for us to examine it in detail to see whether its primary principles may have some application for the Royal Air Force.
To my mind it is not enough to send out to the United States one or two representatives of the Ministry of Supply or the Air Ministry. It is not enough just to send out the Controller of Aircraft at the Ministry of Supply, although he is an able man, or the R.A.F. Principal Director of A.R.D. merely for a week and to make a report. What is needed, in my submission, is the establishment of an impartial representative committee drawn largely from British industry which could examine precisely and in detail American production methods and the system that the United States Air Force employs in developing and procuring its military aircraft. I should be very surprised if the United States would not co-operate in giving facilities for such an investigation. This would at least enable us to make an unbiased comparison between the American system and our own which would, of course, also come under the purview of the Committee which I have in mind.
The United States has developed the F 100 and is developing the F 102 and F 104 in substantially less time than it has taken the Royal Air Force to get the Hunter and the Javelin into operational service. Sir, it seems to me to be worth while to find out why.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
I hope that the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) will forgive me if I do not follow the points which he has made in his extremely interesting speech. It was a technical speech and I am not a technician; therefore, I do not intend to develop the arguments that the hon. Member put forward, except to say that, as a non-technical man, I found the speech extremely interesting. I know—by the attention which they paid—that many hon. Members with great technical knowledge found the speech of great value.
1769 I am concerned with the normal routine National Service men, the bulk of the manpower used by the Royal Air Forces. I confess that my interest in the doings of National Service men commenced last year when one of my constituents drew to my attention his difficulties in having been forced to be a batman—I should correct that, having volunteered to be a batman—in the Air Forces, and having to undertake many unsavoury duties, culminating in being forced to dress as a flunkey at a social gathering of the Air Force. That occasioned considerable interest at the time, but I have found since by correspondence—I have a mass of letters with me—that, although it may have been regarded as an exceptional matter which created exceptional interest, it was in fact a symptom of something going on in the Air Force.
This being the first occasion we have had on which to debate the matter, I do not therefore apologise for returning to what may be regarded in certain circumstances as ancient matters. I am not at all sure from the information I have that these malpractices and similar abuses in the Air Force do not continue today. In these days of inflation, when almost the whole attention of the country is devoted to our balance of payments problem and the pressing economic situation, the Services have a very special responsibility to justify the use of the money which Parliament allocates to them each year. No one decries the need for defence, at least I do not, but the Services are taking such a colossal proportion of the national income that if in any way they abuse it, they must assume great responsibility for part of the inflationary pressure and the economic crisis which exists at present.
I agree with hon. Members who have spoken earlier that we need integration. I would not stop, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), at integration of the Air Force and the Navy. In the event of a war being fought with hydrogen and atomic weapons I think we must go a great deal further and have integration of the three Services under the Ministry of Defence. I shall not follow up that argument, but I believe that is imperative if we are to have the maximum economy in the money the nation is spending. Therefore, I start by asking the Under-Secretary, what does the 1770 Air Force intend to do about the R.A.F. Regiment?
The R.A.F. Regiment, I believe, has not been mentioned so far in this debate, but it is using up a considerable amount of the money in the Estimates we are considering. It would seem that the duties of the R.A.F. Regiment would in future lend themselves to complete co-ordination with the Army. That is an added reason why we should give serious consideration to co-ordination of the three, rather than two, of the Services, which has been advocated today and last week in the defence debate.
In the Air Force there are, and have been for some time, growing complaints of an abuse of the use of manpower. The question of the use of batmen is a serious one, as was shown by the fact that when I tabled Questions on this subject last year the Government gave an undertaking to the House that in future no man would be asked to spend his time as a batman in the R.A.F. unless, in the first place, he signed a written document to the effect that he agreed to do so. I wonder why this medieval system of social priorities to officers should continue at all. There was great substance in the complaint I took up some time ago. I had signed complaints from many men at one camp, and from others in other camps, which I did not pursue because I did not want to make the matter too complicated. It may be remembered that the hon. Gentleman who previously was Under-Secretary of State for Air, in replying to me in a letter on that occasion said:The service expected from a batman employed in married quarters is the service due to an officer in the Royal Air Force in his capacity as an officer.That seems a most out-moded view. I do not agree at all that an officer, because he is an officer, has to be given a social status and a conglomeration of waiters and batmen. He could never expect anything like those conditions in civilian life; and certainly the country cannot afford it today.
Many of the men to whom I spoke had had but one month's training. I had letter after letter from men called up to do two years' National Service, who were placed in the R.A.F. and, after one month's training, they had no training for the rest of the period of one year and eleven months. Instead they were asked to do batman's duties, which not only 1771 included looking after the officer—for which there may be some good reason—but looking after the officer's wife and family, cleaning out dog kennels, fetching coal, taking children to school and even looking after relatives when they came to stay in married quarters in R.A.F. stations.
These are the complaints I have had submitted to me. I am not at all satisfied that in present-day circumstances the continued use of men in this manner is justified. I should like the Minister to say whether the three-man inquiry into the use of manpower in the Army, announced last week by the Secretary of State for War, will have its counterpart in the Air Force and whether there is to be a similar inquiry about how National Service men spend their time.
Not only have I had complaints from Service men about the stupidity of the tasks that they are called upon to undertake and about their lack of training in the Air Force, but since these matters were raised, I find that something similar obtains with civilian batmen. I have in my possession a classic order headed "Conditions of Employment" from the Commanding Officer of the R.A.F. Station at Debden, issued last October to civilian batmen who were employed at the princely wage of £6 15s. a week. I am told that some of them have been in difficulty because they have joined a trade union. The joining of a union in these circumstances was not altogether acceptable. Some of the men, I understand, are as old as 74 years of age.
I want to read part of these orders of the day to the House, because we are all anxious to increase the use of civilian labour in the Air Force where this can be done to help to dispense with the necessity for National Service. Dealing with batmen, the commanding officer said:Broadly speaking, you will be expected to do personal valeting for the officer (but not for his wife), and cleaning of the officer's bedroom, the living accommodation, bathroom, kitchen and lavatory.When, as is revealed on page 10 of the Estimates, we are spending £12 million on marriage allowances, I wonder why officers when living with their wives must have people, either National Service men or civilians, to clean out bedrooms, kitchens, lavatories and the like.
1772 The commanding officer adds:Where there are coal fires, you could be asked to make up fires and replenish fuel, and to stoke boilers during the day.It is quite permissible, therefore, at Government expense, for civilians to be employed to stoke fires for officers' wives. This is absolute nonsense.
According to paragraph 3,These are legitimate duties, as part of your terms of service. However, you may, if you wish, come to a mutual understanding with the officer concerned to forgo certain duties and undertake others. (For instance, you might agree to do some washing-up in place of cleaning the bathroom, or something of that sort.)This is an order of the day and not in "Comic Cuts." It continues:In view of this, I urge you to seek an interview with the officer(s) employing you as soon as possible, so as to agree exactly on what your duties should be. In this connection it is pointed out that the officer is the only person entitled to give you orders; although obviously, it will be more convenient for all if you will accept instructions regarding daily detail from the mistress of the house, provided they come within the terms agreed with the officer.In fairness to the commanding officer who issued this masterpiece, I must point out that he then states:You are not obliged to accept written orders from the lady of the house.Paragraph 4 deals with tips. It says:With regard to 'tins': you will realise that there is no obligation on the part of the officer to give you money over and above your wages. However, it is customary for officers to give a small monthly token acknowledgment of willing service. These will vary according to the service given, but I consider it reasonable for a batman who has given good service to get about 30s. extra a month.So we are having a scale of tips laid down. Willing service is worth 30s. a month. The notice continues:Thus a batman who was employed in two houses might expect to get a 15s. tip from each; in three houses, about 10s. from each. I must insist, however, that there is no compulsion about this, and that it will depend on the good relations between you and your employer, and the service you provide.And so it goes on. I do not want to read the remaining two paragraphs.
That the commanding officer of an R.A.F. station should issue an order of the day in those terms to civilian batmen in the year 1955 is fatuous and fantastic and I hope that the Under-Secretary will investigate it. A great deal has been said 1773 in criticism of the Navy in recent debates, but one thing to its credit is that it does not allow the system of officers' batmen—
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Christopher Soames)
It would be helpful to know exactly what the hon. Member is after. He has mentioned certain duties which batmen have to perform in married quarters. They are identical with the duties that batmen have to perform in officers' quarters where unmarried officers live. Does the hon. Member suggest that duties such as cleaning out the bathroom, brushing the stairs, and this, that and the other in the officers' mess, should not be done by batmen? If so, who should do them? Or is the hon. Member saying that a married officer should not have the same facilities of a batman as an unmarried officer?
§ Mr. Howell
As, according to the Estimates, the nation is paying considerably—to the tune of £12,515,000 next year—for the benefit of the man who lives with his wife upon the station, the wife of an officer should do what the wife of a managing director, foreman, administrative officer or Member of Parliament has to do: she ought to do a little of her own work. It is indefensible for the Minister to intervene in that way. There may well be occasion for assistance in messes where single officers live, but there is no case for it whatever in married quarters. It should cease forthwith.
This nonsense applies not only to the ordinary ranks in the R.A.F. It applies also in the officers' mess. All these things are examples of outmoded social class distinctions which, one would have thought, we were now trying to get rid of.
§ Mr. Howell
That is a particularly innocuous intervention, since the whole of our system of democracy is meant to show that we have a much better system than Russia.
Another of my letters is from a sergeant in the Royal Air Force. His great objection is to being forced to spend a considerable part of his time acting as a bar tender in the officers' mess. He is doing service as a bar tender in the 1774 officers' mess where drinks are sold, he says, cheaper than they can be obtained outside. I do not complain about that; but he says that this is a compulsory duty and that the only way in his camp—and he writes from a camp—in which he can obtain exemption from acting as mess caterer, which is the official title of a bar tender in the R.A.F., is to say that he is a Quaker.
When men join the R.A.F. they are asked, "What is your religion?" and most of them say, "Church of England." I think that it should be generally known that if they are to become sergeants and wish to obtain exemption from this sort of duty they must in future join the religious order of the Society of Friends.
§ Mr. Howell
It is quite pertinent for my hon. Friend to say that if they were Quakers they would not be there. The trouble in this case is that the commanding officer has not chosen that particular religious denomination. It appears clear that all these things, involving the officers' mess, the sergeants' mess, and the ridiculous duties of batmen, need investigation in much more detail than they have been examined hitherto.
On the whole, the Government are to be congratulated on the new Service pay awards recently announced. We on this side of the House hope that they will be an encouragement to recruiting, so that the Government can end National Service at an early date. Most of us on this side are convinced that National Service could be reduced immediately. In the R.A.F. it would appear that there is even less need for National Service men than in the Army.
There are one or two suggestions which I should like to make. I believe that one of the greatest difficulties in the way of getting men to join the R.A.F. is that they cannot get out of the Service. That may sound paradoxical, but in fact if we say to a man who joins up that the conditions are such that, except in circumstances in which he can buy himself out, he will not be allowed out until he has completed his term of service, we are not likely to get people to join the Service in the first place. I suggest that, while a fixed period of service should be 1775 retained, men should be able to opt out after giving, say, six months' notice that they wish to leave the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Howell
We might go a little beyond that. The fact that when people enter the Service they are committed to serve for several years is, I think, one of the greatest deterrents to recruiting. If people tell me that this would endanger our system of defence, I would say that perhaps the greatest part of the defence of our country lies in the police service, yet this system has operated in that service for 120 years, and we do not have a mass exodus of people from the police force. I hope that this suggestion may be given some consideration by the Minister.
If people thought that when they joined the Air Force they could get out in a reasonable time if they wished to do so, we should overcome one of the major obstacles to recruiting. I also think that Service personnel, notwithstanding the recent increases in pay, should have more say in the fixing of rates of pay in the Armed Forces, especially in the Air Force. There was some trouble in the police force in about 1926 when the police force had a trade union. I am not advocating a trade union for R.A.F. personnel, although personally I would have no fundamental objection to it. However, I think that we should have something in the R.A.F. on the lines of the police federation whereby welfare, pay and conditions could be subjected to constant review by people serving in the Air Force and whereby there would be the right for people on the job to have some joint consultation. Is it right that in 1956 the only people in this country who have no sort of joint consultation are members of Her Majesty's Forces?
§ Mr. Howell
That relevant intervention may not be strictly accurate. I believe that there is room for joint consultation over Parliamentary salaries, but for strategic reasons it does not happen.
On the question of leave, I think that we must treat people in the Forces with more imagination. Hitherto, leave has always been regarded as a privilege. One 1776 of the greatest stumbling-blocks psychologically when we want to get people into the R.A.F. is to tell them that they can have things only as privileges instead of as rights. We cannot push people around these days. We are living in the twentieth century and, apart from impending industrial difficulties, we hope to have full employment for a considerable time. It was against that background that the Government introduced their proposals. Leave should be given as a right and not as a privilege. I hope that these suggestions will be considered by the Government.
Finally, I want to refer to a matter which was brought to my notice yesterday and which I have not had time to consider in detail. It involves the problem of wastage in the R.A.F. It is about the removal of the R.A.F. unit at Church Lawford in Warwickshire—I apologise to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation if it is in his division, but no doubt he will be able to acquaint the Under-Secretary with the details if I am not correct—to the R.A.F. station at Wellesbourne. I am told that the scheme for building houses at the R.A.F. station at Church Lawford—which is costing several hundreds of thousand pounds—has suddenly been stopped and the whole operation is being moved to the other R.A.F. station.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Profumo)
As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned a case in my constituency, perhaps he will allow me to say that I know about it. This was a matter on which I was approached, and I immediately got into touch with the Under-Secretary. I should like the hon. Gentleman to know that the case is being investigated. I am wholly satisfied that there is necessity for the move which is taking place and for the building of houses at Wellesbourne. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a matter which I should have been able to look after in my own constituency had there been anything to be said about it.
§ Mr. Howell
I am obliged for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He is, however, a member of the Government and may be more easily satisfied on the matter. This is a matter in which public 1777 money is being spent and I am pleased to hear that the hon. Member has intervened. We are, however, entitled to ask why several hundred thousand pounds have been spent on one R.A.F. station and why, in the middle of the work, there has been this change of policy. Why could not there have been more foresight? The extravagance of the Armed Forces in manpower and in money, even in small matters, is of great concern to the House and the country, in view of the economic situation. We cannot afford to have waste. We cannot afford lack of foresight on the part of Government Departments, even if they are Service Departments.
If we must cut inflationary expenditure, the Government must properly account for every pound spent on the Services. There is a continuing waste in the use of manpower in the manner which I have already described to the House. I could have gone on al great length and produced a mass of letters giving examples of men who have gone into the Forces, have not been trained and have wasted their time on skivvying and doing batmen's jobs and the like.
Although I appreciate that it is of the utmost importance that we should discuss the technical aspects of the Air Force, such as whether the Hunter is or is not efficient and whether we are to have aeroplanes capable of carrying guided missiles, nevertheless the general question of the period of National Service and the proper utilisation of manpower in the Royal Air Force are also matters of great concern not only to the nation but to the individuals involved.
I took up with the Under-Secretary of State for Air the other day the case of a man in my own constituency who opted to join the Royal Air Force. He was a qualified man. He had stayed on at work until he was twenty-one and obtained a certificate and he hoped to become an electrician in the Air Force. I was told by the Under-Secretary that there were about twenty vacancies and fifty-six applications for jobs as electricians, and that man is doing no more than labouring in the Royal Air Force. Why should a man of that kind, whom the country so badly needs, be encouraged to go into the Air Force and then be put on labouring jobs? Why should there be a case such as the one which has already been mentioned 1778 in the debate of three men being put to do cook's work, the last job of work they would have been doing in civilian employment?
Until the Royal Air Force and the other Services cease to put square pegs in round holes they will not have the confidence of the public and will not solve their recruitment problems. I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will extend to the Air Force the inquiry which the Minister of Defence announced last week, in order that Parliament and the country may cease to hear of these ridiculous examples of men being asked to do jobs for which they are wholly unsuited and which the nation looks upon with complete distaste.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I hope in a few minutes, and certainly not in as long a time as has been taken by the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), to address myself to a number of matters mostly concerning economy. Before I do that, I should like to take up a point raised by the Minister of Supply during the defence debate and which has been mentioned again today by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). It is the question of the speed of development. The hon. Member for Lincoln quoted my right hon. Friend as saying that there should be more reward for success in development and more penalties for failure. This presumably covers not only the development of aeroplanes and engines, but of ancillary equipment such as the hydraulic, electrical, electronic and armament systems of aircraft.
If I address myself to this problem, it is only because I have some experience of it. I ask my right hon. Friend to examine the profit margins for research and development which industry now receives under the very strictly controlled costing arrangements of his Ministry. At the moment, the profit margin for development work may be as low as 4½ per cent., and that is not adequate to cover capital equipment and laboratories and frequently providing expanded factory facilities. All these things cannot possibly be done on a profit margin of 4½ per cent.
As our defence programme stands, some development will yield no production whatsoever, Some will yield a very small amount of production. and only a very small amount of development will 1779 yield large-scale production comparable with the scale in the last war. That being so, it is important to industry that there should be adequate rewards for development, otherwise highly-skilled engineers and project leaders are tied up on work which leads to little or no production. Therefore, I ask the Minister to examine this point.
On this occasion—the first in the six years on which I have spoken in the debate on the Air Estimates—I apologise to the House for the fact that I shall not be able to remain here until the debate is wound up. I am afraid that it is a discourtesy, but I am bound by a speaking engagement of six months ago which I cannot cancel at such short notice. I shall mainly concentrate my remarks on economy which might be made within the Royal Air Force. Even for this year, when this Service gets a smaller slice of the whole, £479 million is being spent on the Royal Air Force.
I want to concentrate first on the Air Force in relation to a hot war and the problem of equipping it; secondly, on its function in a cold war or limited war, and, thirdly, on the manning of the Air Force and questions of pay and allowances for its personnel. I believe that the whole House welcomes the announcement made by the Minister of Supply that the Government are going to prune a number of projects. We need to reorganise the method by which the remaining projects which we undertake are ordered and supplied. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) have made constructive suggestions in this respect.
I find that operational requirements as laid down by the Air Ministry tend to be too ambitious. The staff officers working at them do not wish to make any mistake and so they produce ambitious operational requirements which cost a great deal and which very often arrive too late. I believe that in the past—and this was particularly the case five years ago—there was a lack of liaison between the Air Ministry which frames the requirement, the operational command which has the experience and has to use the equipment, the Ministry of Supply and, finally, the manufacturer concerned. That was a long 1780 chain and the manufacturer was strongly discouraged from talking to the operational command and to the Air Ministry.
Matters have improved in recent years. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and his predecessor have broken down the resentment which used to exist. There should be no resentment whatsoever. The Ministry of Supply is only a co-ordinating and servicing Department supplying the needs of the Services. Manufacturers should be encouraged, as they are in the United States, to get as close as possible to the flying personnel and those who have personal experience of the equipment which has been ordered.
When an operational requirement reaches the manufacturer through the Ministry of Supply, the manufacturer often finds that he cannot meet the requirement in toto, but can perhaps meet 95 per cent. of it much more quickly and cheaply than if he attempted to meet it all. A reverse inquiry is then put to the Ministry of Supply which is informed of the position. The inquiry is passed on to the Air Ministry, then to the operational command and then back again through a whole lot of people who must interpret technical information and opinion. These difficulties can be broken down only if the user and the manufacturer are closer together throughout the period of development and design. I hope that henceforth we shall see that happening more and more.
It was once wisely said by a United States wag that in manufacturing armament equipment one needed to "simplificate" and add lightness. Certainly we need to "simplificate" much of the equipment ordered by our Air Force. Frills must be cut out, and not only frills but the constant modifications which pile up afterwards and which further delay our programmes.
For instance, I noticed an inquiry which went out from the Ministry of Supply recently for a piece of ground equipment. It was stated that this would be required to operate in an ambient temperature of 131° Fahrenheit. I wondered how often that temperature would be encountered, because the equipment would be more complicated and much more expensive, as well as more difficult to operate, in such a temperature. I sometimes feel that people find out the hottest temperature in any part 1781 of the world and then say that they must have all equipment able to operate in the middle of the Sahara Desert. We cannot afford to have equipment which is more luxurious and which has more frills than are absolutely necessary for meeting our commitments in this country and overseas.
I want to make three suggestions as to where the Ministry of Supply might look for economics. First, there is the question of specifications. I have raised this before, but I think that the Ministry is still a little too ambitious and rigorous. If the specifications of some equipment could be relaxed it could be provided more quickly and more cheaply.
Secondly, cannot the Minister consider the amount of detailed drawing information which the Ministry demands from the manufacturers? One piece of equipment with which I am concerned and of which only twelve pieces are required needs 18,000 detailed drawings in triplicate supplied to the highest standards. Anyone working in industry will bear me out when I say that there is the gravest shortage of draughtsmen. We have only to pick up any of the daily papers to see the large number of advertisements for them. Draughtsmen represent the bottleneck in getting our equipment quickly, so that if the standard of drawings can be relaxed, this should be done.
I believe that these regulations were drawn up when it was envisaged that 10,000, 20,000 or 100,000 of each piece of equipment would be required and when shadow factories were needed. That would be out of date in a nuclear war which perhaps we would start and finish with the equipment existing at the beginning. It is unrealistic to think that we would have time to put shadow factories into production, and therefore it would be wasteful to have large numbers of detailed drawings distributed over the country. Since this is a complicated matter, I suggest that my right hon. Friend should set up a committee with a knowledge of industry, as well as of his own Ministry, to discover how time and money could be saved in this respect.
Thirdly, could the Minister examine the accounting methods used in his own development establishments? No one wants to deny the development engineers good equipment, but I have it on first- 1782 rate authority that it is easy to buy new equipment costing several thousands of pounds, and one wonders whether in a period of economy requests for such equipment should not be carefully examined at a high level.
We have said that we will prune our projects and I want to underline the corollary of that. It seems that we are going to back some bad horses in some races. When I say "races," I mean that, presumably, we shall have one supersonic fighter, one supersonic bomber, one ground-to-air missile and one air-to-ground missile. I am afraid that some of those projects will not be successful, therefore we must face the fact that we are taking a chance. It is a calculated risk and we shall have to find our designs from overseas and from our Allies. After all, we now have Allies with the most advanced equipment in the world.
We have built up a tremendous aircraft manufacturing industry in Canada and a very able one in Australia, so if we find that our own designs are not coming forward as quickly as they should, we can look not only to our Commonwealth but also to our N.A.T.O. Allies. This applies also to Sweden, which is far advanced in this respect, and also to the United States. I hope there will not be any suggestion that prestige forbids this approach, because where defence is concerned prestige must come after the need for armaments of the best standard and design, wherever they may come from.
Now a word about the R.A.F. in a limited war, In opening the debate my right hon. Friend said that in a cold or limited war—
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Yes, in a cold war, the more old-fashioned aircraft was more successful in some ways. I endorse that view strongly and I ask my right hon. Friend whether we are looking ahead sufficiently, and whether we have some old-fashioned aircraft which would serve us in a cold war that may last ten or twenty years. We do not want to use Hunters in, say, Malaya or Kenya. In a cold war we want to use slow, simple and reliable aircraft which can be easily maintained and which can use short runways.
I should have thought that in a cold war the job of the Air Force would involve tactical air transport, long range 1783 air transport, photographic reconnaisance, tactical support of our troops on the ground and, particularly, psychological support—that is to say, leaflets, loudspeaker work and other weapons. I wonder very much whether we have ordered any aircraft which could carry out these roles in the type of work which may be with us for a long time to come. I am not asking that a new aircraft should be developed because I am sure there must be one somewhere in the world designed for that purpose.
It would be wrong in an Air Estimates debate not to mention the personnel in our Air Force. The latest figures I have give me some alarm at the growing number of civilians commanded by the military. I am not talking about civilians under a civilian contractor, but about civilians under the military. The latest figures show 162,000 male Regulars in the Air Force, 52,000 National Service men—that is about one-third—and 115,000 civilians directly employed by the Air Ministry. This shows that the civilians are more than double the number of National Service men.
We were all delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend has appointed a scientific committee to look into the utilisation of manpower. I hope that the terms of reference of this Committee will be extended so that it can consider the manner in which civilians are used, perhaps even covering the batman mentioned by the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints. There is room for improvement for productivity in that respect.
Lastly, may I repeat what I said last year? I say it again because I have had extra evidence since then. I am convinced that civilian contractors could run some of our home units and perhaps Western European units far more effectively and cheaply than could the Air Force. I refer particularly to units in Maintenance Command, Technical Training Command and Flying Training Command. Hon. Members who read the Economist know about Parkinson's Law. I am afraid that civilians under military command tend to increase in numbers. There was an increase of 15,000 last year in the numbers I have quoted.
Civilians under a civilian contractor are operated more efficiently. Since last year I have visited our Suez Canal bases 1784 now taken over by civilian contractors. That is the most difficult operation in the most difficult country in the world. I believe that they are doing a first-class job extremely efficiently. What can be managed under those difficult circumstances could be very well managed in this country. It is significant that the United States Air Force now has more than half its maintenance and training bases let out to civilian contractors. If the United States has found that more economical, I am sure that we would do so.
My last point concerns the well-being of personnel in the Royal Air Force. Like some other hon. Members, I think that the educational allowances are farcical. I cannot understand why the three Services should be singled out for educational allowances which are at less than half the rate paid to officers in the Foreign Service. According to the answer given to a Parliamentary Question, the total distributed in educational allowances between the three Services is £700,000 a year. There has just been a pay increase of £67 million, and yet the educational allowances will cost only £700,000.
It is terribly important that the allowances should be extended downwards to cover children eight years old. Continuity of education for children between eight and 11, when they take their examinations, is of vital importance to both the children and their parents. That extension in the case of the Air Force would cost probably an additional £60,000. It would seem that we are being most niggardly in this respect. I hope my right hon. Friend will reconsider the educational allowances, for they certainly do not match the generosity of the rest of the new scheme.
I should be glad if my right hon. Friend would also look at the limit placed on life insurance in respect of flying personnel. He has raised it from £2,000 to £4,000, but I wonder whether flight commanders, squadron leaders and wing commanders would not be much happier if they could insure their lives for a rather higher sum and know that if they lost their lives in operational service their families would be in reasonable comfort and the education of their children could continue. We have had a very encouraging debate. I particularly welcome the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend 1785 in which he said that we are really going to investigate the waste of manpower in the Armed Forces.
To summarise, I would first ask my right hon. Friend to look into the methods of ordering equipment, to ascertain whether they can be improved, and, particularly, to pay regard to the earlier speeches by hon. Friends of mine. Secondly, I would ask him to recognise that we shall have to buy designs from some of our Allies if we are to limit the projects which we back. Thirdly, I would ask him to examine the number of civilians and their efficiency under military command. Fourthly, I would ask him to look again at the educational allowances which have been introduced, and also at the limit placed upon life insurance.
I am sure that we can have peace, and peace at a reasonable price. It is not only a matter of safety of our overseas territories. We want to have adequate resources to invest in those territories and also to export. We can do that if we exercise rigorous economies in every one of our Armed Forces.