§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, recognising the growing importance of providing mobility for air and ground forces considers that there is need to re-equip Transport Command with more modern aircraft and urges the importance of close cooperation with civilian operators in order to ensure the most effective use of national resources.There is a certain element of rough justice in the fact that I was successful in the Ballot and therefore have the privilege of moving this Amendment. For some time past I have had grave doubts whether the intervening Amendment is an ideal form of procedure. I will say no more about it now, except that for many hon. Members on both sides of the House the normal flow of the debates on the Estimates is not always helped by the sudden appearance of an intervening Amendment. If this should be the intervening Amendment to end intervening Amendments in debates on the Air Esti- 1786 mates, some of us would not be too unhappy, but I hope that it may not be the quality of my speech that will have that result.
My Amendment is, I hope, not out of the proper run of a debate upon the Air Estimates. After all, Transport Command is a most important section of the Royal Air Force. Particularly at this moment, when so many events in the world are making absolutely clear the importance of mobility, it may not be a bad thing that we should concentrate discussion for a short time on one part of the Royal Air Force which is as closely involved in mobility as is Transport Command.
My Amendment seeks to raise three main points: first, the tasks of Transport Command; secondly, the means for fulfilling those tasks; and, thirdly, the very important question of how we can be certain that the most effective use is made of all available national resources in fulfilling the basic tasks of Transport Command.
Fighters and bombers are obviously specialised aircraft, but the aircraft required for Transport Command's normal functions would seem to be aircraft which could be used for other purposes and would undoubtedly have civilian application provided that in the early stages of development the possible civilian application was properly borne in mind. That is why I have stressed, at the end of the Amendment, the need to make the most effective possible use of the national resources in meeting the needs of Transport Command.
The Amendment is bound to a certain extent to be exploratory, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm whether certain assumptions that I have had to make are more or less correct. We know a certain amount at present. The aircraft available for Transport Command are, so far as I have been able to discover, the Hastings and the Valetta—
§ Mr. Maclay
I shall come to that in a moment.
We know from the Defence White Paper and memoranda with the other Estimates that there will shortly be the 1787 Comet, the Britannia and the Beverley, That is what we know.
Might I for a few moments try to do some guesswork about the jobs which Transport Command is called upon to do? I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I narrow my remarks to the functions of Transport Command in the cold war or, possibly, limited war. I do this against the background of a good deal of ignorance. It seems to me that the same aircraft which are required for Transport Command under cold-war conditions are probably those required for limited-war conditions under any definition of limited war which has emerged from recent debates.
I am deliberately leaving out what Transport Command might be called upon to do in the lamentable event of a nuclear war. My reason for doing so is that it seems to me at this stage that there must be a great deal of conjecture as to how, in the event of a nuclear war, the available aircraft resources of the country would be marshalled and put to the most effective use. I would just ask the Minister to comment upon whether the problem is being fully studied at the moment. I think it is premature to try to raise it in detail in this debate. Consequently, I shall confine my remarks to the cold-war functions.
It seems to be reasonable guesswork, certainly after listening to the debates of last week and studying the various White Papers, that the first well-known function of Transport Command is to fulfil certain communication tasks, which are described in one phrase as "Route transport work." There is an element of casualty clearing in that work, but I think that one of the obvious functions that one must assume is that of route communication; that is, flying between certain definite points, carrying special equipment and Air Force personnel.
Secondly, Transport Command has been called on in the past to provide an airlift for emergency operation, and it could be called upon to do so in the future. What I have in mind in that respect is, of course, an operation like the airlift to Cyprus. Then there is the additional demand for the services of Transport Command, which emerged 1788 from the Memorandum with the Army Estimates, to provide an airlift for the mobile brigade which is to be permanently available at short notice for moving to any quarter of the world. Finally, there are the aircraft required for parachute operations.
At the moment it seems that there are only the Hastings and Valettas available to fulfil all those tasks, plus, in the case of the Cyprus airlift, Coastal Command, which was called in to provide Shackle-tons and make up the airlift. Before the debate ends, a certain amount may be said about the use of Shackletons. I shall not at this stage do more than question whether the Shackleton is the best plane for the purpose, although one must remind oneself that emergency operations are emergency operations, and if one is to have a Transport Command which is reasonably economical in the use of national resources, it will be necessary, when an emergency happens, for emergency steps to be taken, and one cannot expect all the facilities which one would normally like Transport Command to have at its disposal. I hope that in the course of the debate we will learn a little more about the suitability of Shackletons in these conditions. At the moment they are certainly useful in an emergency.
Then again, we know that in the fairly near future we shall have the Comets, Britannias and Beverleys. I am very glad that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has the same interest in the Prestwick Pioneer that I have. They are a very fine Scottish product. The single-engined version is already well-known and seems to some of us to be a very interesting aircraft with a great future for certain purposes. It should be remembered, however, that the speech of the Secretary of State for War contained the remark that there had never been any question of the single-engined or twinengined Pioneer being a Transport Command plane. There had never been any question of Pioneers being the aircraft to provide the lift for the mobile brigade. They are support planes to be used tactically. If I am wrong, I hope that I shall be corrected. In the debate last week I was puzzled by hon. Members confusing the Pioneer with the type of aircraft that would be needed for communications purposes over long distances and also needed for providing mobility for the 1789 "fire brigade," to use the new term. There seems to have been some misunderstanding. To those of us who knew something about it and who are interested in the success of the Prestwick Pioneer, it seemed "cockeyed" to believe that it could be an aircraft to fulfil the functions of the Britannia.
If I am right in the assessments that I have so far made about the tasks of Transport Command and the aircraft available to fulfil those tasks, two questions obviously emerge. The first is: when will the new aircraft be available. At the moment we have Hastings and Valettas plus Coastal Command. Comets, Britannias and Beverleys are forecast as becoming available for normal Transport Command use at varying intervals over the next two years.
We do not know—and possibly it would not be right for the Under-Secretary to tell us—how many are to be available and when. However, we should like to be assured that these new aircraft will be coming forward in sufficient numbers to fulfil the basic purpose of Transport Command roughly within the next two years. It is always difficult to know how far one can go, from the security aspect, in these matters, although in the case of Transport Command I should not have thought that security had the same importance as some other matters. It would help if we could be told when the aircraft will be available.
The second question is, where will they fit in? I know that the Hastings is a general-purpose plane and seems able to do a great many things. But the Hastings are beginning to get on in years and I think that I am right in saying that they have been in service since about 1947 and are no longer really modern aircraft. We also have Valettas, and I hope that we shall be told a little more than I have been able to find from the White Papers about the uses to which the Valettas can be put. I am sure that its relation, the old Viking, is beginning to disappear from civilian operation. B.E.A. is gradually withdrawing them from its services, although it is still using a few. The Valetta is normally an aircraft in continuous use by Transport Command, and if we could be told a little more about what its use is and whether any substitute for it is contemplated, we shall have a clearer picture of how Transport Com- 1790 mand will look in the next three to six years.
In trying to fit these planes into compartments, it is not unreasonable to guess that the Comet II will be the communication plane and that the Britannia will be the plane to give mobility for emergency operations and will presumably be the aircraft that will lift the highly mobile brigade now being formed. One of the troubles is that the Memorandum on the Army Estimates which deals with this independent brigade uses the following words:We have therefore selected one independent infantry brigade to be earmarked for such tasks and the Air Ministry have agreed to supply a flight of light aircraft to support this brigade as soon as it becomes available.The question is what the words "as soon as it becomes available" qualify—the flight of light aircraft or the brigade? That is why there has been a good deal of conjecture about what the words really mean.
Perhaps we could be told whether not only the brigade, but the aircraft are available or, if one of the two is not available, which it is. We have seen the movement of troops to Cyprus, under emergency conditions carried out very effectively, indeed, with the aircraft at present available to Transport Command and Coastal Command. Is it considered possible, with the present availability of aircraft, that Transport Command can make a fair job of handling the mobile brigade?
§ Mr. Maclay
That is the question, whether we have to wait for the Britannias?
My next point is about the Beverley. I find it difficult to place. I understand that when it comes along it will be an aircraft able to take heavy lifts and also able to carry a fairly large number of men. But the type of life and the loading arrangements of the Beverley suggest that the aircraft was originally designed, not for the mobile brigade, but rather to give logistic support to major operations. We want to know whether the Beverley is really a suitable aircraft for Transport Command's needs as they now emerge in present-day conditions. I believe that the range of the Beverley is fairly good, as is its lifting capacity. I 1791 shall have more to say about the Beverley when dealing with the question of making the most effective use of available resources. Can we be told how the Beverley will fit into the general scheme of Transport Command's modern tasks?
I do not wish to get into the realm of broader policies in this debate, but one cannot avoid questioning the scale of the parachute operations which are likely in conditions of cold war or in a limited war. One wonders what aircraft in the long-term control of Transport Command will be used for parachute dropping. So far as I know, at present the Hastings fulfils this function. Clearly, the Britannias or the Comets are not likely to be used for parachute drops in the future. Is it intended that the Hastings shall continue to be used for that job, or is another type of aircraft in contemplation which would be suitable?
I seem to have put a great many questions, but that appeared to me to be much the most useful way of discovering what is in contemplation for this extremely important part of the Air Force. It seemed right to make certain suppositions and to try to see whether one could fit the known planes and new aircraft to the suppositions about tasks which I have been making.
I wish now to come to the latter part of the Amendment which deals with the effective use of our resources. As I said at the beginning of my speech, practically all the aircraft required for Transport Command are capable of civilian application and can be used for civilian purposes. One therefore poses the question, is it practical, in conditions of the cold war, when economy is extremely important, for Transport Command to have under its own control more than a percentage of its total requirements for the various functions which I have endeavoured to describe?
It may well be that in a period of emergency we should call on civilian operators using similar planes. That could be done under some arrangement which should not be too difficult to arrive at. One could even imagine some kind of Transport Command reserve, an auxiliary squadron made possible by the co-operation of independent operators working with the nationalised corporations. I know that that kind of idea presents all sorts of problems, 1792 including the immediate availability of aircraft and certain problems of security, though I should not have thought that security was as serious an issue as that of the availability of aircraft.
I believe I am right in saying that some years ago the experiment was made of having some kind of transport squadron standing by, recruited partly from the independent operators and partly from the nationalised operators. It would be interesting to know whether that experiment has gone on. Or has it been dropped, and, if so, why?
Regarding availability, it would obviously be difficult for independent operators or nationalised operators to have particular aircraft available at particular points at a given moment. The same problem must apply to Transport Command, and there must be difficulty in gathering a collection of aircraft to fulfil an emergency function. I know that there is the added difficulty that civilian operators might have aircraft which were being used on contract and other forms of work, and that there would have to be a penalty clause for breach of contract. But these are all obvious difficulties, and it would be useful to know whether careful study has been given to the possibility of calling on civilian operators to make up the requirements of Transport Command, rather than keeping an excessive number of aircraft available to Transport Command, full use of which may not be made in normal conditions.
That brings me to my final point about the economic importance of the effective use of our national resources in the planning and production of new planes. A number of hon. Members have touched on this point, and have raised the question of the contact between the demands of the using Ministry and the manufacturer. I would go a stage further in dealing with Transport Command. If it is agreed that the type of aircraft required is a common user aircraft which would have a civilian as well as a military application, it seems to me that in the early stages of development the civilian operator should be consulted to see whether, from the very beginning of planning and development, a dual-purpose aircraft could be produced.
The only function which seems to present serious difficulties in this respect 1793 is that of the aircraft required for parachute drops. I understand that the requirements for efficient parachute drops produce a rather awkward plane. The size of the door, the size of the aperture, becomes rather a nightmare to the manufacturer, who has to produce an aircraft which may be of little use to a civilian operator. If the civilian operator were fully consulted at an early stage, however, perhaps there might be some compromise on either side, which would mean that the manufacturer could design and produce a plane which would be much cheaper in the long run, because it might be capable of being sold to civilian operators all over the world.
There is some reason to doubt whether that has been the practice in the past. Clearly, that does not apply to the Britannia and the Comet, but one would like an assurance that careful thought is given to this matter when consideration is undertaken of the future requirements of Transport Command and new types of aircraft. The kind of charge made against the Services on these occasions is that while there may be a certain amount of consultation in the early stages, the military requirements receive too much attention and by the time the aircraft emerges it is almost useless for civilian purposes.
I have tried to raise a number of purely practical problems which are relevant to the Estimates we are discussing and the Amendment which I have moved.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have one suggestion to make in support of the last point which my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) made, and one question which I wish to put to the Minister. My first point is quite simple; it is whether we are giving sufficient stress and placing sufficient importance on the need for co-ordinating military and civil specifications. Over the last year it seems to me that there has been one predominant example where there has been a failure to produce either a military or a civil type of aircraft, and a certain amount of money has been spent on the military version. I do not wish to raise old issues which have been settled—perhaps rightly or perhaps wrongly—but that is an example where I feel that there might 1794 have been much more co-ordination at an early stage, not only between the manufacturer and the Service user, but between the manufacturer, the Service user and perhaps the independent civil operator, both in this country and abroad.
It seems to me that if we take the example of shipping, there is a certain continuity of interest between the Commonwealth operators and operators in this country. In my opinion we might well have consulted, and may now consult, the civilian operators throughout the Commonwealth to try to get an agreed form of development. It may be that the Services want to put winches in an aircraft, and to have special means of strengthening the aircraft so that heavier equipment may be carried.
Perhaps the phrase we have heard so often is true. Perhaps we are trying to do too much. Perhaps the Services should not now be asking for aircraft which can transport heavier materials than need be transported in time of extraordinary emergency. It may be that we do not need to transport heavy vehicles; it may be that, instead, we should have bases throughout the Commonwealth which would have supplies of these vehicles, in which case all that we would need to do would be to move personnel from the centre of any strategic reserve to the point where they were to be used.
I make a plea for more co-ordination between the manufacturer, the Service user, the civilian user and the Commonwealth operator. I make this plea because Transport Command and various Services at present seem to want very rigid specifications, and want to have built into aircraft all sorts of equipment which will only add to their weight and reduce their efficiency. Transport Command and' the Services should reduce the amount of equipment for which they are asking.
I should like the Minister to state-whether we have closed our minds for all time to the development of the flying boat. It may be that we cannot proceed with the idea, but it seems to me that the flying boat might well be the answer to our need for providing cheap travel in the civilian sense, and a large space for the transport of Service equipment. It may be that we have dropped this matter for so long now that it cannot be carried through any further. I merely ask if we have in fact arrived at the point where we say, "No 1795 more flying boats" and cast this matter out of our minds for all time.
It seems to me that the flying boat is one of the best means of communication throughout the Commonwealth, able to connect us with the Mediterranean, the Near East and through to the Far East. It may be that that is a channel of communication to which we can look in the future.
I end by sustaining the plea put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West for more co-ordination at an earlier stage in drawing up specifications for Service and civilian operators.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I also hope that the Under-Secretary of State will deal with the question of the flying boat. I do not pretend to know the answer, but since so much of our influence has been due to our being a maritime people, the flying boat would seem to have some significance.
I welcome the Under-Secretary of State to the select group of those whose first office has been that of Under-Secretary of State for Air. I cannot say that I wish him a long and happy tenure of office, but I go as far as I can in welcoming him.
I agree that Transport Command should be strengthened, and I hope that the Beverleys, Britannias and Comets will come along more quickly than is at present forecast. I also hope that there will be an improvement in the trooping conditions in aircraft supplied by contractors. A better standard in trooping in transport aircraft should be insisted upon. Women and children use these aircraft as part of the ordinary movement of troops and their families and, too often, these aircraft are not pressurised. The very least we could do for the comfort of wives and children would be to pressurise them all, I also hope that in dealing with the contracts for troop transports the Government will reverse their deplorable decision and allow the nationalised corporations to tender. It was wrong of the Government to prevent competition from the nationalised corporations. If they were allowed to compete we should have a much higher standard in the whole matter of trooping.
I do not expect an answer from the Under-Secretary of State immediately, but when he replies to the main debate I 1796 hope that he will say something about the accident figures for Royal Air Force Transport Command; for the Corporations who have engaged in transport, and also for the charter companies who have engaged in transport. I am very grateful to the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) for raising this subject. I am sorry that many hon. Members have been so occupied with other problems, which face us all, that they have not been able to speak in this part of the debate. The question of Transport Command and trooping is something which the Government cannot afford to overlook.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I rise only as a result of what has been said in this debate upon the very interesting topic of Transport Command. I went over to Duxford airfield on the Saturday on which we celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, where I saw a wonderful display of the latest jet fighters. The Hunter was very impressive to look at, when I could see it. I could not always do so, because it flew so fast. Towards the end of the display there was a demonstration by the Cambridgeshire Regiment which was recently changed into a paratroop regiment. A Hastings aircraft was cruising round, in marked contrast to the other aircraft which I had seen, if only because it moved so slowly.
The important point occurred to me as a result of that demonstration, that there may be room for even more training than is given today to pilots in Transport Command acting in co-operation with paratroops. It so happened that in this display the dropping ground for the regiment was upon ground which was slightly higher than that over which the main display had taken place. In this instance I believe that the pilot had calculated that he should fly at a certain height above sea level, and he did so most admirably.
Unfortunately, it is rather important that paratroops should be dropped at a certain height above the surface of the ground, and the fact that the ground upon which these troops were to be dropped was rather higher than the surrounding land caused them some complication, in that they were not able to do various things which they normally have to do with their parachutes before they actually hit the ground. They were able to get them open all right, but they have to 1797 make a certain amount of compensation for drift, and also have to sort out their equipment, and unless they have time to do so between leaving the aircraft and hitting the ground there are likely to be accidents when they do finally land. On this occasion there was one accident, although it was not desperately serious.
I mention this matter because it seems to me rather important that Transport Command should not merely have the right aircraft but should have sufficient opportunity to co-operate with paratroops whenever it can. I hope that nothing I have said today will injure relations between the Cambridgeshire Regiment and the local stations of the Royal Air Force, which are as good as they possibly can be. That is a point in favour both of the Royal Air Force and the Cambridgeshire Regiment.
A few years back I remember that great dissatisfaction was felt with the type of aircraft made available, especially in respect of rear loading. It is absolutely essential that paratroops should have aircraft with rear loading facilities. I know nothing about aerodynamics, but my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) mentioned flying boats, and it has always seemed to me that the tail of the flying boat cocked itself up in the air more than did the tails of other aircraft. That might be very advantageous for paratroops, if they have to land on or near islands. No doubt this is a matter which raises a great many complications in design, if only from the point of view of keeping aircraft watertight.
It is important that the Air Ministry should realise that some of the equipment which has to be carried by paratroops is a great deal heavier than that which could comfortably be carried in some of the other types of aircraft now in use. The Cambridgeshire Regiment is a gunnery regiment. The better the guns the more complicated will be the problem of providing the paratroopers with adequate exits from the aircraft. If we are to keep paratroopers as an essential part of our striking force I hope that the aircraft available for them will be far more up-to-date and far more suited to military use than the Transport Command aircraft which my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier in the debate, in which it has been 1798 customary to carry infantry about the world to their various tasks.
The former would be an essential part of the tactical striking force, dropping men by parachute, whereas the other provides a means of transport and uses orthodox methods and runways on which the aircraft can land. I hope we shall have an assurance that the Air Ministry feels the need for a certain section of Transport Command to be in perpetual readiness to carry adequately the troops who are part of our main striking force. I hope that civilian co-operation will be forthcoming for transporting the ordinary infantry troops in aircraft which will land in the normal way and that the Government will take steps to ensure that there is always aircraft available.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) and his supporting colleagues have spoken of the difficulty of getting new aircraft for Transport Command and suggested that we should devise a dual-purpose machine which would serve both military and civil needs. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) reminded us of the little discussion that we had on the subject a few months ago.
The point is of interest to me because I am a regular user of civil air transport and have always regarded safety as being the first characteristic in the building of a civil machine. I am not thereby implying that speed and safety are necessarily in conflict, but I would draw attention to paragraph 43 of the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for Air. It notes:There has been a further decrease in the fatal and major accident rates during 1955 despite the increased complexity of the aircraft now in service. The major accident rate for all types of aircraft is the lowest recorded for 10 years and the fatal accident rate for jet and piston-engined aircraft combined is the lowest recorded for 20 years.We have read that with interest and with a certain amount of relief. I hope that the Under-Secretary will have something to say about it. There is a common impression that major disasters to Service machines are very much greater in number than those to civil machines. The reason why we do not hear so much about disasters to Service machines is that they seem to be regarded as merely the risk of the trade.
1799 A Service disaster occupies a small corner in the newspaper, but disaster to a civil machine is headline news. Unless there is something unique about a Service air disaster, the news always appears as a little note in the Press, as something which we might expect to happen. Therefore, it does not get the same amount of attention as a civil disaster. Somehow or other, speed is regarded as having something to do with disaster.
§ Mr. P. Williams
There is no underrating of the tragedy of a Service disaster, but it usually involves one aircraft and one person whereas a civil aircraft disaster involves a number of people.
§ Mr. Rankin
It was in my mind that it is very often a training aircraft that crashes, with only one or two persons. Nevertheless, the important thing is that the disaster takes place. From a superficial view, people feel that the faster a machine travels the greater the danger of an accident.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
These arguments are more relevant to the main Question than to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Rankin
I Was speaking from notes which I made during the speeches of the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. What I was developing seemed to arise from what they had said. I have always opposed the idea of the dual-purpose machine that seemed to be advocated from the Government benches. Speed is not necessarily related to the possibility of disaster, but, nevertheless, it is difficult to satisfy the requirements of both those who use civil machines and those who want to use military machines.
§ Mr. Maclay
Many of the tasks performed by Transport Command are very comparable to those done by civilian operators.
§ Mr. Rankin
Nevertheless, even with Transport Command aircraft it is absolutely essential that they should move between the point of take-off and the point of landing as speedily as possible. That is an essential characteristic of those machines, whereas the characteristic of the civil machine must be that it shall move as safely and as economically as 1800 possible. It seems to me that in designing a civil machine to serve the dual purpose the element of cost comes in. Therefore, the question of fares comes in, and we tend more and more to limit the civil machine to a smaller passenger group.
I hope that the Minister can assure us that speed and safety are not in conflict, and when I talk of speed I am talking of big speeds. I know that the Viscount can travel at a very high speed indeed. As a matter of fact I came from Glasgow this morning in 1 hour 10 minutes, which shows what speed means to us on that route.
§ Mr. Rankin
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I may catch your eye later, but that is the point I wanted to make. As accidents seem to occur more often on the military than on the civil side, I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Minister that in the civil machine the speed will not be achieved at the expense of safety.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Christopher Soames)
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) on choosing the subject of Transport Command for this intervening Amendment. I knew that he felt it was a pity if such an intervening Amendment should cut too much into the main debate, but certainly Transport Command is a vital part of the R.A.F. and this little debate within the debate has enabled us to concentrate, to highlight, to bring out into relief, this part of the R.A.F. which is very important and becoming increasingly so, and which normally, in the course of an Estimates debate, would not, perhaps, get the attention that it deserves.
From the way the debate has gone I think that it would be convenient if I were first to talk about the functions of Transport Command, then to say something of the aircraft that we have today and hope to have in the future, and then to talk about civil transport—whether the aircraft are available in civil transport and see to what degree there is co-operation between the military and civil sides of aviation.
1801 We cannot have in all parts of the world all the forces either for the R.A.F. or for the Army, that we need for garrison duties, and military thought has turned more and more to a strategic reserve which in times of emergency can be carried with the greatest possible speed to any troubled area. How would one define the rôle of Transport Command? First, I would say that its duty is, in an emergency, to carry a given number of troops to any given place throughout the world, and not necessarily on scheduled routes. Therefore, its standard of training must be very high.
§ Mr. Soames
And as quickly as possible.
Secondly, it must consist of aircraft which are able to carry very bulky and heavy weights of military equipment. Thirdly, if our air power is to be widely dispersed—as modern thought rightly demands that it should be—we must be able to reinforce our operational squadrons in the Middle East and the Far East, if need be, and provide in a time of emergency, all the backing which they need operationally—which is considerable. Lastly, Transport Command must be able to lift airborne troops and to maintain them with supplies by air drops.
All these tasks of which I have been talking up to now are tasks of an emergency, and I think there is a certain feeling that perhaps the aircraft in Transport Command are not properly used. One hon. Member asked what was the use of having aircraft sitting on the ground for use in such an emergency, and said that surely it should be possible to use the civilian transport for that role. Indeed, I would quote a passage from the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) in the defence debate. He then said:I do not believe that large quantities of aircraft of that nature can be kept in Transport Command just sitting on the ground, idly waiting in case one day they may be wanted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 1078.]What sort of jobs do these aircraft perform in quieter times? A lot of time was taken up during the last year in providing logistic backing for our rocket and guided weapon experiments at the Woomera Range in Australia. That 1802 involved about six round trips per month. We are hoping to be able to lessen the amount of work which has been done by Transport Command and to give more to the civil side on that particular run, because it is becoming a standard, scheduled run. There are, of course, certain trips where there is a security aspect, and those will have to remain within Transport Command.
Then there is aero-medical evacuation from overseas theatres. That is a task for Transport Command. It is of the greatest benefit both from the point of view of the men and of the Services. Obviously, from the point of view of the man himself as a casualty, the quicker he gets back to this country the better, and from the point of view of the Services it lifts the load to some extent from the medical services. One of the main reasons for doing that work by Transport Command and not by the civil side is that military airfields are used, the machines carry military doctors, there is military staging overnight, and military nurses—it is a complete military operation.
Then come the liaison and training trips of Bomber Command. For instance, when a squadron of Canberras recently went to Nigeria when the Queen was there, and flew quite a long distance in Africa, they had logistic support from Transport Command.
§ Mr. Soames
I have not the figures.
I turn next to the rôle of training. There are all types of training, including continuation and route training for Transport Command itself. There is training for the strategic force, which involves co-operation between the Army and the R.A.F.; and there is parachute training. Transport Command does all the parachute training for the Army.
So much for the type of job which Transport Command is doing on a day-to-day basis, What sort of aircraft are we using for these tasks, and what sort are we to have? Transport Command has undergone little change in the last three years. It still consists of Hastings for the strategic long hauls and Valettas for the short hauls, but in order to meet the new concept of a strategic reserve 1803 which is highly mobile we are on the threshold of a three-year re-equipment programme. Between March this year and March next year Transport Command will be joined by Beverleys and Comets, and we shall to some extent be running down the force of Hastings. Between March, 1957, and March, 1958, they will be joined by more Comets, and in 1958–59 the Britannias are due into service.
§ Mr. Soames
The Comet II
I wish now to say a word about these aircraft and how they will fit into our operational requirements. First, the Comet, Following the accident report on the Comet and examinations undertaken by the Royal Aeronautical Establishment, a number of Comet IIs are being strengthend and modified. They have still to pass a number of tests but, provided they do so, they will start coming into service during the coming twelve months.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman said that a number of Comet Ifs were being strengthened. In what way?
§ Mr. Soames
The floors are being strengthened in order to carry freight. They will carry light freight and passengers, but we have to strengthen the floors in order that freight can be put into the aircraft. They will carry about the same number of passengers as the Hastings, but we shall get considerable advantage from them because they travel three times as fast. Although the number of passengers is about the same, the aircraft will in fact, over a suitable run, be able to carry three times as many passengers in a given period as the Hastings.
§ Mr. Rankin
Only the floor is being strengthened? No more strength is being built into the airframe?
§ Mr. Soames
We see no necessity for building more strength into the airframe, in view of all the examinations which have been carried out at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment. The aircraft have been modified in so far as the accident reports demanded modification for them to be able to fly at all, but, apart from the floor, there is to be no special strengthening for military purposes.
§ Mr. Beswick
These fuselages had already been built at the time of the unfortunate accident to the Comet I and at the time of the test at Farnborough and it was as a result of this test that we understood that some strengthening of the fuselage was to be carried out. My hon. Friend is asking whether that strengthening which is to go into the new Comet Its is to be put into these fuselages being built for service?
§ Mr. Soames
I was talking from the point of view of military work as opposed to civil work. The only strengthening that we are to do is to the floors.
We had hoped to welcome the Beverley into service at the end of 1955. There were some development difficulties, but the first Beverley will be joining Transport Command exactly a week from today, and the first squadron will be formed during this summer. It is a strange-looking aircraft. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) talked about an aircraft with its tail cocked up in the air, and the Beverley's tail is cocked up very high in the air. It is a strange-looking aircraft but it will be extremely useful, for it can carry very bulky equipment and a very heavy load. It will be able to carry up to 36,000 lb., but on a 1,000-mile trip it will be able to carry 26,000 lb. I cannot give the exact figure, but it will be able to hold over 90 passengers and it will be able to hold 72 parachutists and their equipment.
The Britannia, which is coming into service in 1958–59, will be the Britannia 253, and it will be able to carry both passengers and freight. It will be able to carry some 100 passengers over a staging of 2,500 miles.
What will be the results at the end of the three-year re-equipment programme? To what extent shall we be better off? In terms of numbers of aircraft, we shall have half as many again as today, but perhaps I might put the figures in the crude and simple form of the number of passengers which could be carried. Not only passengers are concerned, but freight as well, but for easy comprehension it would be best for me to use the figures for passengers.
Transport Command, half as big again as today in numbers of aircraft, will be able to carry three times the number of 1805 passengers it can carry today, and it will be able to carry them at considerably higher speeds. Let me give an example of what that means. When two battalions of a parachute regiment and brigade headquarters were recently moved to Cyprus, they were moved by 52 aircraft and the move took forty hours. That reflects the greatest credit on all concerned; it was an extremely efficient operation showing skill and a high degree of co-operation. When the three-year re-equipment programme has been completed, however, Transport Command will be able to do a great deal better than that. If we wanted the same move over the same distance, carrying the same number of troops in forty hours, then instead of taking 52 aircraft it could be done with five Britannias. Alternatively, if we wanted to put the whole force on to the move and get the troops out there in less than forty hours, using the whole of Transport Command as we then intend it shall be, it could be done within a day.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
When we get greater speeds will there be any greater comfort for the troops who are to be carried in these aircraft? There certainly ought to be more comfort than that provided for the boys who left for Cyprus.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman is referring to the Shackleton. There is nothing uncomfortable about a Hastings aircraft, but the Shackleton is admittedly uncomfortable. I had a look at one not long ago, fully loaded with troops, and nobody would pretend that it was comfortable. I did not mention it, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about it in his opening speech. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard him, but he covered the point fully. Although nobody would deny that the aircraft is uncomfortable. I do not believe that the measure of discomfort, bearing in mind that it would be called on only in times of emergency, outweighs the extremely valuable asset which we are glad to have in the Shackleton as a reserve of military transport until the three-year re-equipment programme has been completed.
Another question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West was whether the Air Staff, when ordering aircraft for transport, consults sufficiently with civilian interests. That 1806 obviously is in order to see whether the requirements of the civil and military kinds can be met together. That is a most important matter, for one wishes to avoid overloading and, to the extent which we can, a factory tooling up to produce a comparatively small number of aircraft.
I will refer quickly to the aircraft that we have and are to have. The Hastings is a very close relation to the Hermes, the Valetta is a very close relation of the Viking, and we know that the Comet was a civilian aircraft. The Beverley was originally conceived as a civilian aircraft. The firm which produced it thought there would be a commercial application for a plane with the operational capabilities of the Beverley, able to carry heavier freight over quite long distances. For our use it has been adapted a lot since it was originally conceived, but, as the first of these aircraft are just due to come into the Service, it is too early to say that it would not be suitable for civilian interests. We have to see what the reaction would be from the commercial world.
We are taking only a very small number of the Britannias which are being manufactured. There is also an operational requirement for a medium-range general purposes aircraft to replace the Valetta. Before the design stages our operational requirements were sent to the principal manufacturing firms to see whether the aircraft could be modified to meet their requirements and at the same time to meet our needs. Those inquiries are going on. I cannot tell the House what will come of them, but I think that shows that we have tried to meet the civilian interests. Not only do we appreciate the principle which was raised, but we also apply it.
The flying boat was mentioned by my Hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) and also by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). There is no thought in our minds of using flying boats for Transport Command. We were asked whether we considered that the days of the flying boat were over. That is not for me to say, but Transport Command has no plans for acquiring or using flying boats.
A question was asked about the Prestwick Pioneer, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend. There was a certain misunderstanding in the House as 1807 to the duties of the Pioneer. It is not a Transport Command aircraft in the sense of transporting large numbers of troops from A to B, but is a purely tactical aircraft, which is now being used in Malaya. Our plan is to have some in the Middle East and some in the Far East, under the command of the Middle East Air Force and the Far East Air Force, and also to have some in this country. We are relying on the single-engined Pioneer and are also looking at the twin-engined Pioneer—which has been flying for quite a while; but no decision has yet been reached whether it should be ordered, and in what numbers.
I now turn to the question of civilian aircraft. The hon. Member for Lincoln asked why B.O.A.C. was not used. He knows well that it has been Government policy for a long time to use private companies for air charter. There was a debate on that subject in the House. From the point of view of the Government it is considered to be of the highest value to have a reserve of civil air transport aircraft within private companies. The more that can be built up and the more jobs we can offer them, the more they will grow and the more we shall have a reserve of transport aircraft to be used in case of emergency.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Of course I am complaining that that is Government policy. I knew it was. I entirely agree that we should have this reserve of civil aircraft, but they would be more efficient if they were allowed to have competition by tendering with the Corporations.
§ Mr. Soames
There is considerable competition in tendering. Competition in tendering for trooping is probably the keenest of any form of air transport tendering under present circumstances. The Air Ministry is responsible for the charters for all three Services. The longest contract is for three years. We should like to be able to do better. We know how important it would be and to what an extent it would help the industry if charters could be given for a longer period and if we could look further ahead, but we have to strike a balance to enable the industry to plan ahead and at the same time to keep an eye on the amount of money being spent. We do not wish to make a contract with a firm for which 1808 we may not have a requirement when the time comes.
When inviting tenders, preference is given to the more modern aircraft. Safety standards are laid down by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. They are just as stringent for trooping as for carrying civilians. In fact, we provide an additional safety factor which is not incumbent upon us by statute in any way. We provide in-flight inspection by R.A.F. officers, who travel on the trooping planes to ensure that the full safety standards are observed.
It may interest the House to have a few figures about trooping. In 1954–55, 172,000 troops were carried by air, compared with 121,000 carried by sea. Of that 172,000 92 per cent. were carried by charter companies and only 8 per cent. by Transport Command.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Member says that is not good, but indeed it is good.
We do as much trooping as we possibly can with the air charter companies. Wherever we get scheduled flights for which we can foresee regularity over a long period ahead, that should be done by civil industry and not by Transport Command. I was saying earlier what Transport Command did and how it fills the gap of its utilisation with trooping. The long-term regular requirement is, and should be, met by the civil firms.
§ Mr. Rankin
Can the hon. Gentleman give the figures as between the independent charterers and the Corporations?
§ Mr. Soames
Virtually all trooping is done by the independent companies except that the Corporations tender for ad hoc trooping. The long-term contracts are not tendered for by the Corporations.
The hon. Member for Lincoln asked about accident rates. In 1954–55, 439 million passenger miles were flown by the charter companies in trooping, and only one passenger was injured. During 1955–56, the mileage was only slightly less and there was no injury whatever until the terrible disaster in Malta a few weeks ago. I cannot give the accident rate for 1809 Transport Command, but it is very small indeed.
My right hon. Friend asked whether it would not be a good idea to train auxiliary transport squadrons from the air charter company personnel and aircraft. This possibility was tried and was found not to be a success, for two main reasons. First, we had to keep aircraft in this country for weekend auxiliary training when they could have been doing a useful job in trooping. Secondly, it was not a popular suggestion with the men that they should be asked to do the same thing at weekends as they were doing during the week. For anyone who works in an office in London, it may be very agreeable to spend the weekend with an auxiliary fighter squadron; but when somebody who spends his whole week doing maintenance work on aircraft with his company is asked to do exactly the same job at weekends, not unnaturally the idea is unpopular. The scheme did not work, and we have decided not to go ahead with it.
To sum up, there would appear to be three distinct military uses for transport aircraft. First, they have to provide for the mobility for the strategic reserve. Their second rôle is in air trooping; and thirdly, they fulfil sporadic, miscellaneous tasks of a military character. As between Transport Command and the civil air transport industry, Transport Command's first task is to be ready at all times at short notice, with, if necessary, during this intervening period, support from Coastal Command Shackle-tons, to move our strategic reserve wherever it may be required. During the year it fills up its time by indulging in the sporadic, miscellaneous but highly important tasks of a military character which I have outlined. The civil air charter operators concentrate on air trooping, but can in an emergency be called upon to help move the strategic reserve.
The record of Transport Command since its inception in 1943 has been excellent. Its crews are as highly trained and skilled as any in the world. It has already rendered great service, and the House may be sure that its future record will match up to its past. I hope I have dealt with the Amendment sufficiently for my right hon. Friend to feel justified in withdrawing it.
§ Mr. Maclay
In view of the eminently encouraging nature of the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary from the Dispatch Box, on which I am sure the House would wish me to congratulate him, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I wish to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on his first appearance at the Box. Up to now, he has not had much to answer. There seems to be a general tone of unanimity and agreement on both sides of the House, which I propose to disturb. As we wish to test the mettle of the hon. Gentleman, I intend to give him the real case against spending something like £479 million this year on the Royal Air Force.
What is the background to all this? We have heard a good deal during this debate of a pleasant new catch-phrase—" delivery of a nuclear deterrent." When anyone wants to defend indefensible things he calls them by pleasant names. From both sides of the House we shall have this catch-phrase repeated again and again until it is debunked. I want to do a little to debunk it. Why not call it by its proper name—an arrangement for the dropping of hydrogen bombs on other people?
Hydrogen bombs or atomic bombs are for dropping on great cities, massacring women and children, dislocating industry and creating havoc, anarchy and ruin throughout what is called the civilised world. That is the purpose. We use this nice little phrase, "delivery of a nuclear deterrent," as if it were a real and pleasant fact. What is the background? We are supposed to be arranging to deliver a nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union, and for that purpose we are spending almost £500 million on the Royal Air Force. It is part of the gigantic arms race between East and West.
We are no longer thinking of the arms race in terms of cruisers or dreadnoughts or armies; we are thinking of the ability it wipe out each other. How much nearer are we in this country getting to this objective? If we are going in for an arms race, it can only be justified on the possibility of our winning it. There is no 1811 sign at all in the Air Estimates this year, or in the Defence Estimates which preceded them, that we are in any way nearer winning the arms race in the delivery of a nuclear deterrent.
For many years, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) and I have been present at the debate on the Air Estimates. We have talked about the possibility of our catching up with the Russians. How nearer are we to catching up with the Russians than we were when we embarked on the rearmament programme after the war? I have here the international supplement of the New York Times which asks:Are the Russians winning the arms race?It goes on to make comparisons between the military efforts of the United States and of the U.S.S.R. We presumably do not come into this because our activities are more or less insignificant. But we are part and parcel of this international production of a nuclear deterrent, and we are only justified in going on with it if there is some prospect of success.
In the New York Times supplement there is an article written by the military correspondent which says that the U.S.S.R. has actually caught up with and may overtake the arms race against the United States. So we do not appear to be in it. At the same time, we are spending an enormous amount of money and an enormous amount of our industrial organisation is being used not for the real economic purpose of the survival of this country, but in preparing these bomber forces. We are sacrificing the real industry of the country for the production of the bomber.
I have frequently heard the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield talking about the need to improve our civil aircraft, but the more we devote the energy and technical resources of our industry to this bomber business the less we are able to use material, labour and technical resources for our civilian industries. While we are taking away from the production of civil aircraft men and material and making them produce bombers, which the hon. and gallant Member said will be obsolete in fifteen years' time, we are losing a great potential market and losing the race with the United States for the production of civil aircraft.
Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member has obviously not studied all the American papers. The Boeing 707, ordered in quantities as a bomber, is now being developed as a trans-Atlantic aeroplane.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have papers here telling the full story of the struggle between the bombers and civil aircraft on the other side of the Atlantic. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member would seriously challenge the statement that the United States now claims that it is ousting this country from the civilian aircraft markets of the world. Across the pages of Newsweek is the story of the battle of the Americans for the international market in civilian aircraft. We are losing that battle and moving forward into an age of unemployment because we are making bombers instead of concentrating our industry and resources upon civilian aircraft.
If we are now spending so much of our energy on bombers, what will happen to the industry in a few years' time? When bombers become more and more obsolete we shall be faced with the fact that our resources have been used on the wrong things. We shall be moving forward into unemployment as a result of concentrating so much of our present energies on building a nuclear deterrent which the United States already possesses. When America has now so many air bases in the world and could smash Russia to pieces in fewer than twenty-four hours, what on earth is the use of our producing the nuclear deterrent as well? I have not heard the answer to that question. I hope that we shall hear it from the Government tonight.
§ Mr. P. Williams
Has the hon. Member ever thought of the possibility of Britain following a slightly different foreign policy, though perhaps only marginally different, from that of the United States—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It would not be in order to discuss the foreign policies of the respective countries.
§ Mr. Williams
May I ask whether the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) thinks it possible for us to think in terms of different policies throughout the world unless we have the deterrent ourselves?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not going to be drawn into that argument. I am moving steadily towards my objective along a very narrow tightrope. I wish only to dispose of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. P. Williams) in one sentence. It is that India has not the nuclear deterrent, that she is not spending £500 million a year on atomic bombs and that she appears to be influencing the affairs of the world as much as we are doing.
I am still asking the indecent question in these debates, how much do these things cost? I have been asking it for years and I am always put off. How much do these bombers cost? I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, how much does the Victor bomber cost? One estimate I have heard was £600,000 or £500.000—at any rate it costs over £400,000. I will sit down if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give me the approximate figure.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Well, I have heard £800,000. Perhaps we are nearer the figure now? I may be underestimating the cost of the bomber, but if my original figure is correct, that one of the Victor bombers costs £600,000, then a large number of them is more than this country can afford.
I am afraid that we are building up a formidable vested interest which year by year will be producing all sorts of arguments why the £500 million we are spending every year should remain a static figure—the sacred cow of the rearmament argument. We should read what they are doing in the United States of America. In that country they are trying to face up to the aircraft industry. Apparently there are some people in the United States who, like myself in this House, raise questions in Congress, asking if it is not time that we applied economy to the huge sums paid every year to the aircraft industry. I have in my hand a copy of a technical paper called Aviation Week. In a column called 1814 "Washington Roundup," a paragraph headed "Profits Investigation" states:Public hearings on military aircraft contracts and profits will open 15th February before the House Armed Services Investigating Subcommittee headed by Repve. Edward Hebert…The fifteen airframe manufacturers will appear first.That is what we should be doing in this country, bringing fifteen of the biggest companies producing aircraft, and making the biggest profits, before the Public Accounts Committee and having a most searching investigation into their ramifications and influence.
Air Commodore Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that this is exactly what is happening before the Estimates Committee at this moment?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Then I shall look forward with interest to its Report. It is one of the subjects on which there appears to be a great lack of information for hon. Members of this House. The paragraph continues:…the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Armed Services…is reviewing a comprehensive report on defense contract policies and profits…The committee staff launched a study after Mayhorn, in a House floor speech, announced a 'gloves off' investigation of defense profits and declared that ' they have in some instances reached supersonic speeds '.I think that the aircraft profits in this country have also reached supersonic speeds. The paragraph ends:The taxpayer is being taken for a merry ride.The hon. and gallant Gentleman and I had an interesting encounter in an Adjournment debate in which he dealt with the profits of his company. I shall not deal with his company tonight—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The day after this debate, there appeared in the Daily Express an account of the profits that were being made by a company which makes aircraft for the Royal Air Force. In its City column on 9th December the following statement was made:Air pioneer Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith pushes the earnings of his Hawker Siddeley engineering and aircraft group through the profit barrier this morning, reporting them at a lofty £13,830,000.1815 This was the day after our debate. The Daily Express said:What profits! They are a record in the life of the Hawker firm and a clear £4,377,000 up on last time's intake.I hope that all this will come before the Public Accounts Committee.
§ Mr. P. Williams
For the sake of accuracy, would the hon. Gentleman agree that at least half those profits are made in Canada?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
It does not really matter if they are made in Canada. If they are made in Canada, we can accuse the firm of taking a vital industry away from this country, and we can also accuse it of putting up its factories in Canada because the Canadian Government does not extract as much taxation from its profits as the British Government does.
The Daily Express went on:…with such a hefty profit under his belt, it is not surprising that Sir Thomas does his shareholders proud. First, he ups their dividends by equal to 7 per cent. at 17½ per cent., putting £468,000 of extra jingle in their pockets.It is time somebody spoke up for the taxpayers of this country. It went onThen he plans a dip into past profits for £11,644,700 to hand round one share free for each now held, provided the Capital Issues Committee agrees to the idea. The extra cash Sir Thomas hands round to shareholders might well be the curtain-raiser for a bout of cash-raising later on.This is only one illustration of a very powerful vested interest which carries on incessant propaganda in order to keep up the Air Estimates of this country. The Daily Express went on:For he plans to jack up the Hawker's capital by 12,000,000 pound shares. Allowing for the plough-share "—I cannot say what that means—that would leave a reserve pool of 4,700,000 shares unissued. And that would be enough to pull in around £11 million allowing for a bit of bait "—we are supplying the bait—on last night's closing price of 65 per cent., up 4s. 6d. on the bumper dividend and profit news. If Sir Thomas does decide to call on shareholders for some extra cash, they will certainly find it for him. For Hawker's is one of the bluest of Britain's blue chip companies. You can sleep soundly in your beds at night if you hold its shares.This country's air industry has come to fulfil the rôle which the Royal Navy fulfilled before the war, when enormous 1816 profits were made out of dreadnoughts. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is not interested in dreadnoughts. He is not interested in the Navy. He wants to wipe out the Navy. A new vested interest has arisen, and the industry should be carefully scrutinised during every one of these debates.
The Minister spoke in his introduction about the German tactical air force. Do the Government really think that it is wise to bring German pilots, who shot down British and allied machines in the last war, to train in this country? Even if they do, is it not rather hard on the relatives of people shot down by these same pilots that these pilots should be publicised in this way?
I hold in my hand a picture of two German pilots who are photographed drinking at a bar. The background is a large array of different kinds of bottles and underneath we read:Old Fighters New Team. Two former Luftwaffe pilots bend elbows with Royal Air Force instructors who will check them out on jets to coach the new German Air Force. Together with a third Luftwaffe trainee they claim to have shot down 500 allied aircraft.We are so short of pilots that we are now employing the murderers—at least, that is what they were in the last war.
Air Commodore Harvey
Would not the hon. Member agree that it is equally wrong for the Soviet to train pilots of Eastern Germany?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. and gallant Member has got my alignment wrong. I am a pacifist. My indictment is of all military organisations. That is my reply it the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that he has made an excuse for that particular activity of the R.A.F. What guarantee do the Government have that these gentlemen, when trained in modern aircraft, modern jets and modern bombers, will not be used again to shoot down British pilots, or perhaps drop the atomic bomb on this country? How can we be sure that Germany will be on our side in ten or fifteen years? When this sort of publicity is spread throughout the world—and it has been in British and American newspapers—it is an insult to the people still mourning the dead of the last war. The hon. and gallant Gentleman might use his influence to prevent this sort of thing being spread about the world in an effort to show that we are making progress.
1817 How can we say that these pilots—and the Germans are now moving towards their own independent line in foreign affairs—will not be manning the new air force, the tactical air force, of a new Nazi Germany in another five or ten years? We shall then notice on the Air Estimates that the aircraft companies will have plenty of propaganda. They will say, "Now that there is a formidable German air force, we have to build still more bombers and still more fighters to be prepared to deliver the nuclear deterrent."
Air Commodore Harvey
On a point of order. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is a long way from Vote A. He seems to be discussing foreign affairs and the Ministry of Supply Vote and nothing to do with the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As I understand it, what he is now discussing is the training of German pilots in this country and he is objecting to that on the gound that it will need greater manpower in the Air Force later on. His argument is certainly very remote, but I cannot say that he is quite out of order.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I shall shortly leave this subject, because it appears to be sensitive, but when one has a photograph of German pilots in R.A.F. uniforms, which is presumably circulated with the permission of the R.A.F., and when some of our money is being spent in this way, I must protest.
We will leave Europe for the present and go to some of the colonial areas and to the rôle of the Royal Air Force in the Colonial Territories. The Secretary of State for Air spoke of the rôle of the Royal Air Force in Malaya. According to the communiqués we hear over the wireless, that rôle is to bomb the bandit hide-outs. What are these hide-outs that the Royal Air Force is out to bomb? I have a description of one of the Royal Air Force targets. It was published in a Welsh paper called the Aberdare Leader by a soldier who saw it. He described a cave which was one of the hide-outs that the Bomber Command bombed. He states:In the biggest cave we found a bandit foodstore. There were 300 lb. of rice, 90 lb. of brown sugar, some flour, 20 tins of condensed milk, ink, copy books, haircream, perfume, uniforms, oil, and five huge rolls of 1818 material for making uniforms. Stamped on the material was something I wouldn't have believed if I had not seen it, ' Made in Cardiff.'After years of activity by the Royal Air Force, the bandits are still able to get an enormous amount of material which we have kindly supplied to them. The final paragraph says:Giving an idea of the amount of the captured stores, Teddy says in another letter that it took two hundred men two trips to empty the cave. And there were forty photographers on the spot to watch them do it!That is the other side of the activities in Malaya. But every year for years and years I have heard from Ministers about the activities of the Royal Air Force in the cold war, and we have heard about how successful they have been in Malaya. As a result of those years of bombing in Malaya the bandits seem to have been able to accumulate a lot of material. I wonder when this bombing in Malaya is to be effective, because we are told that the war is still going on in the jungle and there is no sign of it eventually coming to an end.
I wish to ask about some of the statements made in the Memorandum to the Estimates. There is one which I thoroughly understand. In page 5, paragraph 26, it states:In the Middle East there has been much activity.That is obviously correct, but the R.A.F. does not seem to have been very effective in a place like Jordan. When we turn over the page we are told:In Jordan, R.A.F. Units will continue to give all the help they can in developing the Royal Jordanian Air Force.I wonder whether that is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government?
In a weekend paper I read a description of a squadron, or a certain number of Vampires being handed over ceremoniously to the Jordan Government. The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) saw it. I should like to know whether we are to continue sending Vampires to Jordan or whether we are to ask for them back? Perhaps somebody will explain how much these Vampires cost. In due course, shall we find that they are being used to shoot down aircraft possibly despatched from Cyprus? We should be told what will be the future rôle of the Royal Air Force in Jordan and the Middle East.
1819 Then we go on to Cyprus. The Memorandum states:In Cyprus the operational facilities have been heavily taxed but the airfield facilities in the island are being greatly improved by the new base at Akrotiri.What will be the future of the Royal Air Force in Cyprus? Will we stay their permanently, in face of a hostile population? Will it not be a very difficult situation for the Royal Air Force? Are we to assume that we shall continue spending such sums as this £29 million on barracks and airstrips in Cyprus, when we have not the money to build schools and houses at home?
Paragraph 35 of the Memorandum says:During Her Majesty The Queen's visit to Nigeria, a Canberra squadron carried out a training and goodwill tour of the West African Colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and the Gambia.I understand that the Canberras are now more or less obsolete, so they were sent to Nigeria to impress the black population, if the Royal Air Force can get this information out of its statistical department, I should like to know exactly how much was spent in sending these Canberras for a quick, two-seconds flypast before Her Majesty? Was that really worth while? Can it be justified on the ground of any military operational necessity? After all, we are a poor country, so we are told. During the Service debates we have had a moratorium upon injunctions to economise, but if the condition of the country is as serious as the Chancellor of the exchequer says it is, I suggest that the Royal Air Force should try to cut down this kind of ceremonial expenditure.
Paragraph 47 refers to an inquiry which was conducted into a certain section of the Air Force. It was carried out by Sir Leslie Hollinghurst—who was Chairman—and its other members included Mr. F. C. Hooper, Managing Director of Schweppes Ltd., and Mr. S. V. Swash, until recently Chairman of F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. Could not this inquiry be extended throughout the Royal Air Force? I am all in favour of Woolworths, because it sells consumption goods. This inquiry resulted in the officer establishment of higher formations in the United Kingdom being decreased by about 15 per cent.
1820 In paragraph 49 we find that a committee, with the same chairman, and also including Mr. Hooper, but excluding the representative of Woolworths, has carried out another investigation. Instead of the Woolworth's representative we have Mr. Crawford, President of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives and Deputy Chairman of the British Productivity Council. He happens to be a very keen and businesslike Scotsman, and I am quite prepared to co-opt him on to my proposed investigating committee.
So we go through this amazing Memorandum, in which we find that:Regular recruiting has declined and the strength of regular airmen and airwomen fell from 157,400 at the beginning of April to 142,800 in December and may be down to about 139,500 in March.I am wondering about the young man who reads the literature published by the R.A.F. and who might read the debates of this House. He discusses in his own mind the possibility of becoming a bomber pilot, and he asks himself, "What will happen to a bomber pilot in the next war?" Everybody knows that immediately war comes the nuclear deterrent will work both ways. The man who is piloting a bomber from this country will know, if he has any imagination, that he is inviting a bomber from the other side to blow his own home and country out of existence. Is it to be wondered at that we cannot get recruits for the R.A.F.?
Exactly the same line of reasoning applies to the Army. The Government are carrying out an enormous campaign to stop inflation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer tells the British Productivity Council and the organised trade union movement, "Don't be greedy. Be sober." At the same time he is setting an example in the White Paper. The organised trade unions can point to it to justify their wage demands. The White Paper leads us straight to inflation. In the case of the R.A.F., we have too many Ministers chasing too few men.
Finally there is a paragraph which affects us in Scotland. It says:A most important commitment now before us is the guided weapons range in the Outer Hebrides. A detailed survey is now in progress and in developing the range we shall do everything possible to minimise the interference with local interests.How much will that range cost? We have been told in the Scottish newspapers 1821 that it will cost £15 million. How can we justify an expenditure of £15 million on a rocket range in the Outer Hebrides when we cannot afford hospitals, and are cutting down ruthlessly and remorselessly on expenditure for the social services?
I know we shall be told that we have to do this in order to be in line with America. The presence of American Forces is welcomed in this Memorandum. There are some at Prestwick and they have brought a social problem with them as well. My challenge is that this coordination of the R.A.F. with the American Air Force, and the presence of the American Air Force, are making this country dangerous.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
On a point of order. Provision is made in the Estimates for the accommodation of American Forces. We are building houses.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is a very different matter from the point raised by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The Memorandum says:Without deducting American aid.Presumably a very large sum of money has been taken into account in preparing the Estimates. However, I will not labour the point.
I challenge the conception that the presence of the American Air Force has resulted in our greater safety. In his introductory speech last week, the Minister of Defence told us that in the event of a nuclear war we would have 12 million evacuees to deal with. How can it be said that we are protected when we know that this country might be destroyed, and become a mass of atomic rubble a few hours after a declaration of war? I hope that the House will subject these Estimates to the most searching examination. When it does, I have no doubt at all that it will find that at this time of economic strain and economic crisis this sum of £500 million to be spent on the Royal Air Force is too big a burden at the present time.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I hope that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not follow him in his round-the-world tour. As a matter of fact, I could take him up on the point about the American bases in this country. They were authorised by his own party when in office.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If the hon. and gallant Member looks at HANSARD he will see that I challenged it then.
§ Wing Commander Bullus:
I think that the whole House always finds that the hon. Member's incursions have such consistency as to be really entertaining, and sometimes there is real sincerity there.
§ Wing Commander Bullus
Very often he may indulge in blarney, but I recognise that behind it there is a deep sincerity. As I say, I hope that he will acquit me of discourtesy if I do not follow him in the very many points that he has raised. I do follow him in his tribute to the new team on the Front Bench and I wish it every success in the huge task it has. For my part, I hope that it will be there for many years, even if the hon. Member for South Ayrshire cannot subscribe to that view.
In each post-war year the growing importance of the Royal Air Force among the Armed Forces has been emphasised, but a series of difficulties in the last twelve months in the production and development of necessary aircraft has been, to say the least, disturbing. This is reflected in the considerable under-spending of the Services. I have no intention of attempting to apportion criticism—with many of my hon. Friends who have spoken this evening I think it is the system that is at fault—but I am concerned that we should try to profit from the lessons provided.
Militarily, I think we have been fortunate not to have suffered for our lack of aircraft, and with the constantly changing concept of any possible future war the saving of the moneys is probably a blessing in disguise—as no doubt the hon. Member for South Ayrshire will agree—but we must overhaul and perfect our organisation at once so that the aircraft 1823 come through quickly from the manufacturers. While this country has a fine reputation—almost unequalled, I would say—for top-class aircraft, are we not aiming—at a time when urgency should be the keynote—at too great a perfection in the manufacture of our aircraft? Are not too many persons concerned with making modifications to our aircraft? Should we not learn something from the Americans and, at a certain stage of production, freeze our modifications—with the exception of the safety modifications—so that we might have more rapid delivery? We cannot have unlimited flexibility and the urgent delivery of aircraft. A speed-up may mean losing some of our excessive flexibility. It is paradoxical in our democracy that we need someone in authority with the powers of a dictator to direct the supply of our necessary aircraft. Lord Beaverbrook occupied such a position in the last war.
§ Wing Commander Bullus
But the planes came through quickly and we owe much to the fact that he was head of that great Department.
We must cut out some of the stages which are causing delay. It is essential that specification, design and production in this country should be organised on the basis which reduces to a minimum any and all possibilities of indecision and delay. This also applies to the speeding up of the production of our guided missiles. One suggestion is that there should be an even closer association of selected Service pilots with new projects from the early stages. Those pilots should fly the aircraft at the same time as they are being flown by the manufacturers' and the Ministry of Supply test pilots. Surely much more could be done in this sphere.
Above all, we must cut out these huge conferences at which anyone with the slightest authority insists on his own pet modification. I understand that the major difficulties of the Hunter have now been overcome and that the destructive power of the aircraft's cannon is without rival. Let us get as many of these aircraft as possible to the squadrons as quickly as possible. Let us get them serviceable, cut out some of the lesser modifications and get them into service at once, because for some years they can be of real use in Fighter Command.
1824 We require urgently a limited but first-class fighter force for what is possibly a limited period. I say "limited period" in view of the ever-changing concept of any possible future war. I feel that we should concentrate rather more on the larger aircraft, for the time will come, with the tailing off of the rearmament programme, when we shall have the problem of maintaining highly skilled labour and specialised design teams at full strength. With this point in mind we must have regard to future markets for our aircraft.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) called attention to Transport Command. It is obvious that we must have a good fleet of transport aircraft, but they are an expensive item and we shall need to exercise imagination in getting the maximum use from them. Could we not hire them to the private charter companies at reasonable and attractive terms on condition that they are available to Transport Command at specified times? The hiring charges could be graded according to the short or lengthy period of notice of requirement. The companies' own aircraft could be added to the pool. This would ensure a fleet of aircraft when required by Transport Command and would also ensure that we should get maximum value from our aircraft and that the public who pay for them would be able to travel in the latest aircraft at what should be reasonable fares. Freight charges, too, should be reasonable.
Could we also develop a scheme of cooperation with industry for the interchange of technicians? At last in this country we are paying real attention to the necessity of training many more technicians. Perhaps the R.A.F. could borrow technicians regularly from industry for a stated period, possibly for five years. Such interchange could be of benefit both to the Service and to industry. One suggestion is that an R.A.F. officer might visit universities and technical schools and colleges trying to secure recruitment to this branch of the Royal Air Force.
Finally, may I ask the Under-Secretary three questions? Will he say something about the progress of the jet training programme for the Royal Air Force? How has the jet Provost behaved in the valuation trials? Those trials have been taking 1825 place and I am sure the House would be interested to know the results. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also give some information about the Miles 100 project.
In most of our military provisions we must work in close association with the Canadians and Americans. Even with a wonderfully equipped and modern Royal Air Force our best and surest deterrent to our would-be adversaries is the close association of the English-speaking world to resist the evils and horrors of a future war.
§ Mr. Stokes
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I want to raise this issue with you. Surely the custom of the House is that speeches are to be made and not read? I interrupted the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) but you did not take any notice. Mr. Speaker. I do not blame you for that, but that speech was read and might just as well have been handed to the OFFICIAL REPORT. Surely it is against the rules of debate that we should have to put up with the intolerable practice of hon. Members reading their speeches practically verbatim?
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought the hon. and gallant Member was speaking from a very full note, not actually reading his speech. Sometimes careful preparation of a speech and its reduction to headings does have the merit of abridging the performance, but the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is quite right; it is quite contrary to the practice of the House for speeches to be read.
§ Mr. Stokes
Further to that point of order. Can we have your assurance, Mr. Speaker, that in future you will discourage the reading of speeches.
Air Commodore Harvey
As the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has raised this point, does he recall that only last week in the defence debate I observed him reading his speech just as much as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Wing Commander Bullus) was reading? May we have a Ruling. Mr. Speaker, regarding the Opposition Front Bench?
§ Mr. Stokes
Before you reply to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wish to say that I should be glad to hand over my 1826 notes to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey). If he can make any sense between my notes and the speech I delivered he will be very lucky.
§ Mr. Speaker
Obviously I cannot adjudicate on that because I did not have the good fortune of hearing the speech of the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), but what I have said about the custom of the House is correct.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
In each of the past two years I have been privileged to visit some of the stations of the Royal Air Force and to be an observer at air exercises. It is because of those experiences that I venture to make a few remarks on the Royal Air Force on the occasion of the consideration of the Air Estimates.
I would say at the outset that I found when I was visiting Royal Air Force stations that the efficiency of the Air Force is very high and that the morale of the personnel is excellent. I feel sure that we have a formidable Air Force, which is a deterrent to war. It is a Service which would give a very good account of itself in the dreadful event of another war. I have been pleased to hear it stated during the debate that the Royal Air Force, although the junior Service, has superseded the others in importance in the defence of our island. The hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus), who emphasised this point, might be accused of being biased, having himself served in the Royal Air Force, but I think that if the defences of our island are examined in an unbiased way, it is now generally agreed—I hope it is agreed—that the Air Force plays the most important part in our defences.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to one or two problems that I have observed when visiting R.A.F. stations. The first, which was touched upon by the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North, is the problem of having sufficient technicians in the Service. The hon. and gallant Member put forward the rather original idea of an interchange between the Service and industry, and no doubt the Minister will give it consideration. As an example of the problem, I wonder whether the establishment for 1827 flight mechanics in the Air Force is filled? When I was visiting Air Force stations, officers were naturally and rightly reluctant to reveal the actual figures. I am not sure whether this establishment is filled.
There is no doubt that we have far too few technicians. The Government's proposals for technical education as outlined in the White Paper are a move in the right direction and will eventually help in solving this problem. Of the proposals for technical education, I would merely say in passing that I am sorry the Government did not introduce them earlier and that I doubt whether they have yet gone far enough. Nevertheless, they are a step in the right direction.
The technicians that we have must be shared between industry, on the one hand, and the three Services, on the other. There are competing claims on technical manpower to meet Service and civilian needs. Fortunately, Service life appeals to quite a number of technicians, but disadvantages are felt by some people in Service life. There is, for example, the upheaval of posting. Particularly is this felt by married Service men who have to move their homes and families, and there is the problem of the education of their children. Many of the technicians in civilian life have a sense of greater individual freedom and can establish a permanent home at an earlier age.
To attract technicians in sufficient numbers into the Royal Air Force in the face of these difficulties, the pay must be sufficiently high. The new rates will be helpful, but I warn the Minister that if industry finds itself short of technicians the rates of pay in civilian employment will probably be raised so that industry may have the number of technicians it requires. Consequently, the Minister may find himself short of technicians in the R.A.F. and once more having to put up the pay.
There is this competition for technical manpower between industry and the Services, and this is a matter on which I hope the Minister will keep very careful and constant watch. I hope that he will do that because of the importance to the Air Force of those people who are responsible for the maintenance of aircraft. I was glad to hear in the earlier part of the debate a warm tribute paid to these men 1828 of the Royal Air Force by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) who himself has a distinguished flying record.
I should like to remind the Minister of a point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) about the feeling of frustration that exists among some of the N.C.O.s in the Air Force. Some have reached the limit of possible promotion within a comparatively short time, and it is important that these men who cannot hope for further promotion during the remainder of their Service life should have attractive increments of pay. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury gave an example when he spoke of flight sergeants who had served for sixteen or seventeen years and who had little or no hope of attaining warrant officer rank. I would ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that the increments of pay for that type of N.C.O. are adequate.
Another point which I was very pleased my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury raised, and which I should like to underline, concerns the complaint which we have heard about N.A.A.F.I. prices at Air Force stations in Germany. We heard exactly the same complaint when we visited Army units earlier last year. When we spoke to N.A.A.F.I. managers about these complaints we were, of course, told of the additional cost of transport and of insurance. That is understandable but, nevertheless, the wives of Service personnel complain about N.A.A.F.I. prices in Germany. It can be pointed out to them that tobacco and drink are much cheaper there than in this country, but their reply is that it is the husbands who benefit by these cheap prices and the wives have to pay high prices for essentials.
I would suggest that the only way to overcome this difficulty and to remove this grievance is to grant an overseas allowance. I assume that the Government feel that they cannot afford that allowance, otherwise it would have been granted. I believe that in the Army, service in Germany does not count as overseas service, and there is no overseas allowance. In the Air Force I understand that service in Germany counts as overseas service but there is no overseas allowance. It would be no more than just to these families of 1829 Service officers and men on the Continent of Europe if they were granted overseas allowances to meet the higher cost of living which they experience there.
A further point to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister is the anxiety that some of the families of Service men abroad feel about the housing difficulties which they will encounter when their service comes to an end. I was told by a number of officers and non-commissioned officers in Germany that they would like to have their names on a local authority's housing list, possibly that of the local authority for the area in which the husband or wife was born, or that for the area chosen because they expected to find employment there. I was informed that many local authorities frown upon the suggestion that Service personnel should be allowed to have their names on a housing list. I should like the Minister to consult with the Minister of Housing and Local Government on whether a suggestion could be made to local authorities that they should accept Service personnel on their housing list while the men are in the Forces.
Those are some of the points which I should like the Minister to be good enough to examine. I had the honour of serving in the Royal Air Force during the war and I am very grateful to the Ministers concerned for allowing me to visit R.A.F. units recently. I find that the R.A.F. today is very different from the one in which I served during the war. I suppose that the differences have come about because of the different and more modern types of aircraft and weapons. The general impression which I have gathered is that while the R.A.F. is certainly not the largest air force in the world, it is a fighting Service which in the quality of its aircraft and of its personnel is second to none.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Sir Norman Hulbert (Stockport, North)
In addressing the House on air matters, I must, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), make the usual declaration that I have some interest in the aircraft industry as an aircraft constructor. First, I should like to say how very welcome were the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Batley and Morley 1830 (Dr. Broughton). To have a tribute paid to the Royal Air Force by anyone in the House is always a pleasure, but a tribute from the hon. Member is a particular pleasure.
Last week we had a general debate covering all aspects of defence matters and the manufacture of aircraft. Tonight, therefore, I do not propose to say more than a very little about the manufacture or supply of aircraft. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, in his very brilliant speech last week, announced the intention of his Department to cut down the number of categories of aircraft which are to be made. It is a very wise decision. Certainly, so far as military wing aircraft are concerned, it is welcome because the manufacture of those aircraft is a specialised science; and the industry today is not too well off in experts who understand the design and manufacture of helicopters.
Tonight I do not propose to deal with one or two of the earlier speeches. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) devoted a large part of his speech to the daily routine order sent out by a station commander concerning batmen. Possibly there are some station commanders not so wise as others, and there are some hon. Members of this House not so wise as others. Therefore, it is particularly unfortunate that at this time, when everybody is doing everything they can to get Regular recruits for the Royal Air Force, the hon. Gentleman should devote most of his speech to trying to hold up the Service to ridicule.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It is not holding up the Service to ridicule to make perfectly valid points of maladministration or the wrong approach to a problem. We are elected to come here to make such criticism.
§ Sir N. Hulbert
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has served as Under-Secretary of State for Air, that this is the annual debate on the Air Estimates. However, I submit that there are more important things to discuss than whether half a dozen airmen do or do not act as batmen at one special function.
Neither do I propose to reply to the world tour of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I should like to assure the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who is no longer 1831 in his place, that I do not propose to read my speech tonight. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was handicapped, in making his opening speech, as are many of us in the House in a debate of this nature, by the restrictions of secrecy. There is much that my right hon. Friend could have told, and which I know he would have liked to tell, the House but he was prevented from doing so for security reasons.
I want to devote two or three minutes to the question of manpower, and to ask my hon. Friend, when he replies, to assure us, if he can, that he is satisfied with the intake at Cranwell, Halton and Henlow. If we do not get that intake we shall not have an efficient service in the future. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that enough is being done amongst parents and schoolmasters to bring the attractions of the Royal Air Force to the notice of their children or to their teachers?
I go about the country but I find very little good propaganda emanating from the Air Ministry in an endeavour to get boys to join the Service. I believe that the time of the big poster, "Join the Air Force and see the World" is past, and that a great deal more could be done by personal contact through the schools, the universities and the parents, and, at last but not least, contact through hon. Members of this House.
From time to time the Air Ministry invites parties of hon. Members to visit R.A.F. establishments. The trouble is that my right hon. Friend invites the same party each time. He invites hon. Members whom he knows have some interest in the Royal Air Force or in aviation. I suggest that he should invite hon. Members who, so far as he knows, have never exhibited any interest in the Royal Air Force or in air matters.
Today, as a result of the White Paper dealing with pay increases, the Royal Air Force offers an attractive career to boys and men. I do not think that the present conditions of service have been sufficiently brought to the notice of parents and schools and universities. Today we need the cream of our youth, not only of this country but from the Colonies and Dominions which have not their own Services. All who have read the White Paper dealing with Service pay will agree that the pay code now compares very 1832 favourably with earnings in industry. Besides that, the Service offers a lifelong career with good prospects, pensions at an early age, and an opportunity to learn a trade or profession which still stand men in good stead when they leave the Service and return to civil life.
The Services should be grateful to the members of the Air Council to the Sea Lords and members of the Army Council who have fought the Treasury for years—fighting almost a losing battle—with the object of securing adequate pay for Service men and women. They have had a very considerable success. My only regret is that the new pay code has been deferred for four or six weeks, presumably so that the Treasury could save a paltry £7 million.
Today the Royal Air Force offers young men a wonderful opportunity and many "perks" unobtainable in civilian life, and its advantages should be brought to the notice of parents more than they are. I do not know who is responsible for the Air Ministry publicity or propaganda for recruiting, but, frankly, I do not think very much of it. If it is done inside the Air Ministry, it is a crazy scheme. It would be ludicrous for an officer, no matter how distinguished, running a bomber group suddenly to be brought into the Air Ministry to try to undertake public relations or publicity work of some kind. Propaganda and publicity for the Royal Air Force should be done by experts, money should be spent on it, and it should be done well.
Hon. Members have already spoken about Bomber Command and Fighter Command. I want to say one or two things about two other commands, one of which, Transport Command, was dealt with in a broad sense in the debate on the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay). I do not know what the Air Ministry or the Air Council really think of it does not rank very high, for whereas the other operational commands are commanded by an air chief marshal or an air marshal, an air vice marshal is considered good enough for Transport Command. That is no reflection whatever on the, distinguished officer who is now its air officer commanding-in-chief, but it is an indication that if we are not very careful we 1833 shall find Transport Command as the Cinderella of the Royal Air Force.
We know that it is to Transport Command that the Air Ministry will look to carry our strategic reserve to any part of the world where trouble breaks out. The world position does not seem to be any better, and Transport Command today has not an adequate supply of aircraft. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) that aircraft should be provided from charter companies. Transport Command must have an adequate supply of aircraft of its own, and when it needs additional aircraft, it must obtain them from the operating companies, B.O.A.C. and the others. I am sure we were all depressed to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air say, on 29th February, that it will be about three years before Transport Command gets any Britannias.
I want to say a word about Coastal Command, which is pretty low in the Air Ministry's priorities. Coastal Command is to be a part of the Air Force which will protect our sea lanes in an emergency. The Royal Navy has not the aircraft to do that. We hear from Ministers and Service chiefs that in the event of a thermo-nuclear war 12 million or more people will be evacuated from somewhere to somewhere. We do not know where, but wherever they go they will have to be fed. We cannot feed ourselves. Food has to be brought into the country, and our sea lanes have to be protected, and it is Coastal Command which has to protect them. That is no reflection whatever on the Royal Navy.
There are two other matters to which I want to refer. The Air Estimates show that the Queen's Flight is maintained at the Royal Air Force Station, Benson, by Transport Command. That Flight today consists of out-of-date Vikings and one Heron. I have heard it asked in foreign countries where aircraft of the Queen's Flight have landed, "Why on earth let your Sovereign and the Royal Family fly around in out-of-date box kites?"
I should like to suggest to my right hon. Friend that the Queen's Flight, not only for the comfort of Her Majesty and members of the Royal Family, but for the prestige of not only the Air Ministry but the aircraft industry, should be equipped with the latest, best, fastest and more 1834 comfortable aircraft which the great aircraft industry can provide. The cost would be comparatively small, but its prestige value, not only in the Commonwealth to which Her Majesty has made so many air tours, but in foreign countries, would be invaluable.
I hope that when my hon. Friend, whom we all congratulate on his promotion and appointment, replies, he will be able to deal with some of those points which I have raised. I hope they are regarded as being of a serious nature and as meriting the attention of the Air Council. I have put them forward in all seriousness.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sure that all the criticisms of the Air Ministry put so well by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert) will be warmly reechoed from this side of the House. I hope that during the debate hon. Members on his side of the House will make equally pertinent criticisms.
We read the White Paper with great interest. The first point which struck me was in connection with what appears on the back page. I suppose that in this case, "…the last shall be first." I note that this White Paper is printed and published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office and then I see that it can be obtained in London. W.C.2. London, W.1, and London, S.E.1, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester, Bristol. Belfast—everywhere except Glasgow.
The hon. Member has been talking about propaganda, and the stupid propaganda of the Air Ministry. But here is published a Memorandum which can be obtained almost anywhere, in all the big cities except the City of Glasgow. Then we come to the statement:or through any booksellerand so Glasgow comes under "any bookseller." That is adding insult to injury. Glasgow cannot be treated in that way. That is not good enough. We must remember that one of the earliest air squadrons was the City of Glasgow Air Squadron. It is quite wrong to treat the City of Glasgow in the way it has been treated by this Ministry which has been condemned so eloquently by a very able and competent Government backbencher, one who knows what he is talking about, because he and I have this 1835 common interest. That condemnation will be endorsed by the great City of Glasgow to which I am proud to belong.
§ Sir N. Hulbert
I have not condemned the Air Ministry, I have tendered helpful advice. May I ask the hon. Gentleman if in fact Glasgow is now the capital of Scotland?
§ Mr. Rankin
No, but it has most of the capital in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman said that he had offered helpful advice. I called it very good criticism and we will leave it at that. However, he dealt with the question of propaganda and the fact that the Ministry was failing in putting forward service in the Air Force as an attractive career. I was interested to notice that there is an increase of about £23,500,000 for improvements in the pay, allowances and non-effective benefits of the Service personnel and so on. That is an interesting fact, but I do not know whether it will encourage people to join the Air Force. It is interesting, because evidently those who are in the Air Force were not getting sufficient pay.
That is endorsed by a newspaper, a copy of which I hold in my hand. It is called the Daily Mirror. We are told in today's issue that "day airmen are night bakers." Are we to understand then that the men who join the Royal Air Force have to become night bakers in order to get enough money to carry on their daily life? That is what the Daily Mirror tells us.
§ Mr. Rankin
Well, most hon. Members have been guided by what they have read in the Memorandum. I am quite sure that if this is not true the Minister will tell us so. It is said that this newspaper has the biggest daily sale on earth. It says that airmen on a certain R.A.F. station are working a 12-hour shift in a bakery and then going straight on duty the following morning. If that is true, is it not a shocking thing? If it is not true, will the Minister tell the Daily Mirror 1836 where it gets off? According to the newspaper, some Air Force men admit that they take "pep" tablets to keep awake. Does the Ministry supply these tablets to the men after they have been working all night in the bakery?
§ Mr. Rankin
I am making the speech, not the hon. Member. He must wait. The airmen concerned include sergeants and corporals, and some bakery workers say that they are earning up to £12 a week. Has the Under-Secretary heard that? If so, I hope that he will say something about it later.
This is happening at Hornchurch, which, the newspaper says, is an R.A.F. Station in Essex. A Royal Air Force corporal who is married and has children said:I've worked at a bakery. Quite a lot of the lads have. Once I did two nights on the trot. It nearly killed me.What is the use of drawing young men into the Royal Air Force if we are going to put them into the bakeries to work all night? Little wonder that the Ministry cannot get sufficient men to enter the Royal Air Force. The corporal to whom I have referred also said:I felt terrible during the day time and just couldn't keep awake to do my work.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am glad to see the Minister shaking his head. I hope he will correct the statements made by this newspaper, because they are very serious and cannot be regarded as the good type of propaganda which he wants to see the Air Ministry carrying out.
According to the newspaper some reply has been made by an Air Ministry spokesman. Who was the spokesman? Time and again we read in the Press of something having been said by a "Foreign Office spokesman," or a "Ministry spokesman," or a spokesman belonging to some Government Department or another. Who is he? In this case was he speaking authoritatively, and 1837 on behalf of the Minister? Did the Minister tell him to refute what was said in this newspaper? According to the report, the Air Ministry spokesman said:Broadly speaking the Air Ministry has no objection to men doing part-time work providing their Service duties do not suffer.According to the Under-Secretary's spokesman the Ministry has no objection to Royal Air Force men working in night bakeries. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to put the Daily Mirror in its place—I shall be glad to hear him—and to assure us that these startling and alarming accusations are without foundation; and that the Air Ministry spokesman was not speaking with the authority or even with the knowledge of the Minister.
On page 6 of the Memorandum, in paragraph 28, I read:In Jordan, R.A.F. units will continue to give all the help they can in developing the Royal Jordanian Air Force.Is that still true since Glubb Pasha has been kicked out? Are we to take it that, despite the fact that Britain, under the expert guidance of the Tory Government, is losing her status and grip in the Middle East, we are still to train and develop the Royal Jordanian Air Force and help them to use more accurately the twelve Vampires which we presented to them a fortnight ago? If so, this is altruism of a very high quality. It would be interesting to know, whether, after the statement which the Prime Minister made at the Dispatch Box today, the Air Ministry is still going to train and develop the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
In paragraph 35, we are told that there has been a certain amount of ceremonial during the year, and that Canberra Squadrons have gone to Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, British Guiana, Trinidad, Barbados, the Bahamas, Antigua, Grenada and St. Kitts. No one will quarrel very violently with ceremonial. I suppose it performs some useful purpose.
At the weekend the French Foreign Minister delivered a speech which must have been very alarming to the Government. It indicated that, some time ago, the French had been invited to take part in certain ceremonies in the Gulf of Siam but declined to have anything to do with them. The French Government said, according to their Foreign Minister, that 1838 the money which was to be consumed would be much better spent in aiding the undeveloped territories of Asia and so seeking to compete with the show that Messrs. Bulganin and Krushchev had been putting on in recent months. Instead of being applied to naval manœuvres the money would be infinitely more useful to France and to the West if it were invested in the development of the underdeveloped parts of the earth.
However useful ceremonial may be, exactly the same type of criticism can be applied to these visits by the Air Force. How much money was consumed, and could it not have been put to a better purpose? I am certain that it could. The Minister would do well to note what the French Foreign Minister has had to say about these useless military displays at a time when a great mass of people are looking, not for further displays of militarism but for more food to eat. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] It may be news to hon. Members opposite to know that out of every three people who die today there is one who dies in the Far Eastern part of the world from sheer lack of food—sheer physical hunger. I, therefore, say that the money spent on these displays would be much better spent in seeking to bring a better type of life to those parts of the world.
I hope that I am not seeking to raise needless criticisms, but paragraph 67 of the White Paper which says:The building of married quarters, both at home and overseas, continues satisfactorily.scarcely harmonises with paragraph 69, which says:The withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, coming on top of the redeployment from the Canal Zone, has increased the accommodation difficulties in the Middle East Command, particularly in Cyprus, and building in the island has been delayed by the disturbances.
§ Mr. Rankin
That is what the White Paper says and the hon. Member will see, if he refers to the document, that I have read from it correctly. It says:…building in the island has been delayed by the disturbances,To me it seems a little difficult to reconcile those two statements. Those difficulties may increase. We hope, for the sake of the country and of those concerned that they will not increase but will 1839 be smoothed out. Quite frankly, it is very difficult to believe that this will happen under the present Government.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) in his efforts in describing, or in his reading out of parts of the Daily Mirror about two-timing and baking and one point or another. Neither do I want to go into the problem of training the Jordan Air Force, which will, I am sure, go on despite the present difficulties that we are having in that country.
§ Mr. Yates
It will be used extremely well, I am sure, under the Treaty arrangements.
I have one question to ask and one request to make to the Minister. They both concern The Wrekin division of Shropshire. Does the Air Ministry intend to close down the R.A.F. M.U. at Cosford? If so, I should be very glad to know. Would the Minister consider in future, for the convenience of hon. Members, whether the Air Ministry could inform an hon. Member when a large unit in his division is to be closed down? Constituents ask us about such matters and it is unfortunate if we are unable to tell them anything.
I am grateful for this opportunity to put that question and that request to the Minister.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert) and I have followed one another in these debates for several years. He is concerned about the R.A.F.'s methods of publicity and thinks we have not the right type of people with the right techniques doing the publicity work. Surely the best publicity for the R.A.F. comes from the men who are called up into it. If he wants to find out why the R.A.F. is not obtaining recruits, he need not go to a publicity expert. He should ask those who have been in the R.A.F. for two years and who, despite all the blandishments and all the improvements, decide that they will stay no longer.
If we are to introduce the improvements necessary to get the required num- 1840 ber of volunteers, I suggest that the best and wisest approach is through the people who are called up for two years or who have signed on for three years and who, at the end of their periods of service, refuse to sign on for longer.
One of the most amazing things about the debate, as about all debates on the Estimates, is that if everybody's pet theory were adopted, then despite the colossal amounts which we are already to spend—£479 million—those sums would have to be considerably increased. I listened with amazement to some of the speeches, particularly some from hon. Members opposite, in which demand after demand and suggestion after suggestion was made which, if put into effect, would raise these Estimates to catastrophic dimensions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) was surely justified in bringing before the House the complaints of those who had been called upon to do batmen's duties, because they were the complaints of people who had been in the Service, and if they are not to be listened to, then we are never likely to get the number of recruits we require. Far from it being a most improper and unworthy speech, I thought that my hon. Friend did a service to the R.A.F. in bringing forward the legitimate complaints of those who had from time to time been called upon to serve as batmen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) raised the question of those who are serving in Germany, and indicated that, because of prices there, some were having rather a difficult time. I remember that in the Estimates debate last year, when the independence of Germany was pending, I asked what was to happen to our Forces stationed in Germany when German independence was granted, because at that time our troops, as occupation forces, were receiving certain concessions, and there was a danger that those might be withdrawn when the Germans obtained their independence.
I was assured and the House was assured that that situation would be watched closely and, if the economic position of our troops in the new circumstances was worsened, the War Office would give consideration to granting an overseas allowance. To my amazement 1841 today, my hon. Friend said that the Royal Air Force in Germany was looked upon as having an overseas posting but its members were not getting the overseas allowance. But in the case of the Army, it is a home posting, and the troops do not get an overseas allowance. It would be nice to know how it is that one may have an overseas posting and at the same time be denied the accompanying overseas allowance.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of the natural anxiety of those who, having made the Forces their career and whose period of service is about to terminate, find that there will be no home available for them. He asked whether or not the Air Ministry was getting in touch with local authorities in order to get some special consideration for those men, who, after giving service to the country, find they are right at the bottom of the housing list.
Perhaps the Secretary of State could get into touch with the Minister of Housing and Local Government and suggest that he should give local authorities a special subsidy in order that the legitimate grievances of these people could be met. I know it might be argued that that would increase the Estimates, but that is one purpose for which I am quite prepared to see a substantial increase in these Estimates, so as to provide decent homes for these men.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
What I want is a special allocation and for that special allocation the Minister should give a special subsidy. These men would be in a special category, and there would be no need for them to have priority, because they would be looked after by the Minister when he gave the special subsidy.
Tonight we are discussing a bill of £479 million. As always when we discuss the Service Estimates, we are considering this bill without any relationship to our economic position. This big bill scarcely fits in with the gloomy picture which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was painting a week or ten days ago. He indicated then that it was very necessary, in order to maintain our economic stability, that here, there and everywhere there should not only be cuts, but a slowing up. It 1842 seems that with whatever other Departments the Chancellor may have succeeded, he has certainly not succeeded with the Air Ministry, because the bill now before us is one of the biggest of all the Estimates for the coming year.
I noticed that when the Comet crashed the shares of de Havilland made a catastrophic drop. I should like to know how much Government money was spent on finding out why those two aircraft blew up, and whether any of the costs were charged to de Havilland's. Certainly we have solved that problem, and everybody should be very glad that we have done so, but because we have the profits of de Havilland's will continue to go up; the shares will continue to rise, and I think we are entitled to expect that de Havilland's should have made some contribution.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman's reference to de Havilland's relates, surely, to civilian aircraft, and has nothing to do with the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I was about to stop the hon. Gentleman. His present argument does not arise on these Estimates.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Is the expenditure at the research station at Farnborough not included in these Estimates?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
At any rate, the money is going to the aircraft industry and we ought to be entitled to find out whether it is making any contribution.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I will gladly get on, but if there are a lot of interruptions we shall be here for a long time.
Next I wish to refer to the Swift. It must be at least eight months since I first asked the Air Ministry the amount of compensation paid for the cancellation of orders for the Swift; about two months ago I asked a further Question in the House, and still the matter has not been settled. Surely the Ministry ought to be able to tell us how just how much has been paid for the cancellation of that contract. The War Office can tell me what it has paid for the cancellation of its 1843 contracts, and we ought to know from the Air Ministry what it has paid for the cancellation of orders for the Swift.
I am sorry that I was not in my place when the Secretary of State opened this debate, but I have done the next best thing, and that is to read on the tape what he is supposed to have said, from which I gather he made several interesting comments. I welcome the fact that he is now determined to get a better Transport Command, and I hope that it will lead to more comfort for the troops than was enjoyed by those who were packed like cattle when leaving this country very recently to go to Cyprus.
§ Mr. Soames
I really must interrupt the hon. Gentleman. "Packed like cattle" bears no relation whatsoever to the facts. I have been to see the aircraft, the Shackleton. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever seen one. It is a long, very thin aircraft. I do not pretend that it is comfortable, but those travelling in it are not close together, they are scattered about different parts of the aircraft. They have not all got comfortable seats to sit on, but, while I would have said it is uncomfortable, "packed like cattle" is very far from the truth.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
According to Press comments, there were three or four times as many troops packed into one aircraft as there would have been had they been ordinary passengers flying with an ordinary civil line.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Why not? That is the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and then they wonder why the boys do not join up.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
They do not accept them. They are forced into it. Fifty per cent. of those boys were National Service men. The hon. Gentleman says they accept the conditions. They have no option; they are compelled to do so.
We are entitled to say that in those circumstances the best possible provision should be made. What was to prevent the Air Ministry from getting hold of one or two passenger planes and taking 1844 those boys to their job with as much comfort as possible? They certainly cannot expect much comfort in Cyprus. The least we could have done was to hire one or two Viscounts or other planes and take them over in comfort.
Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member will at least agree that if they were not travelling comfortably the journey did not last very long. At the time of Abadan, when the Labour Party was in power, men were packed like sardines in an aircraft carrier on a journey which took nine days.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I agree that it is a shame. At all times we should consider the comfort of these people. So, as long as they are treated in this manner, how many of these National Service men, when their two years' service expires, will offer to remain in the Forces for the six or more years which the Minister would like them to serve?
The Minister spoke of methods which were being introduced to ensure early warning of attack in the event of war. I wonder how serious the Minister is when he speaks of a reasonable warning. According to the Shields Gazette, a very reliable newspaper, Dr. Gordon Shrum, a rocket expert, told the annual convention of the International North West Aviation Council that there would beno escaping from the inter-continental guided missile bombs of the future—a ' future' only five years distant. A guided missile could be developed that would cover 3,000 to 4,000 miles in an hour and drop a hydrogen bomb within 100 yards of its target.I also read only a matter of weeks ago that Air Vice-Marshal K. M. Guthrie, President of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association, speaking in Quebec on 18th January, saidIt is not necessary for the enemy to bomb the principal cities in a country to destroy that nation. A few bombs strategically dropped would suffice to wipe out all form of life. Everyone would die from radioactive particles.Those two men should know what they are talking about. In the light of what they say, it seems to me that the Minister, in his statement, refused to face realities. Certainly it is refusing to face realities to believe that in a war of that kind there will be the slightest possibility of evacuating to safety 12 million people. Of all the nonsense that has been talked in this House for a long time, the greatest 1845 was when the Minister of Defence talked about evacuating 12 million people in a nuclear war. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not yet told us where they would go, but most of us know, and most of us will be going with them.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
According to Dr. Shorm, we should get six minutes' warning of an H-bomb raid. That, again, is important in the nuclear age. I suggest that if these are the forecasts of the experts, these men who are devoting their lives to it, much of what we have been discussing this afternoon is about as relative to the situation in which we are living as would be bows and arrows.
However, I am glad to say that light is beginning to dawn in the darkest places, and I shall call to my aid the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who, speaking in January this year to the Northern Area Conservative Women's Advisory Committee, said that hesaw the principal threat from the Communists as lying in the fields of political subversion and economic penetration.I have always taken that line.
I have never believed that the Communists would wage a war of submarines and planes and bombs and guns and tanks and the rest of that sort of paraphernalia. I have always believed that they saw it as a struggle for men's minds rather than for men's bodies, and they will win it through men's stomachs, because if during the last six years we had devoted one-tenth of this expenditure to the development of the backward areas and to filling empty bellies, we should not have been facing, in the Middle East and Asia and Africa today, the difficulties and problems with which we are confronted. I am positive that if we are to win the great struggle being waged now between East and West, we shall do so only by shifting a substantial part of our present expenditure from military preparations to social and economic purposes.
This year, of course, there is no hope of that happening, but as the policy of the gentlemen in the Kremlin begins to unfold, I think we shall come to realise that that is where the challenge must be met. I hope that when that time comes we shall gladly pass for that purpose 1846 £500 million with the same readiness as we are passing it tonight for the purpose of military preparations.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
I want to examine the question of the nuclear deterrent which figures so prominently in the Air Estimates and in the Defence White Paper in connection with our strategy, and particularly in connection with the rôle of the Royal Air Force. I do so because I believe that the nuclear deterrent—the so-called great deterrent—is in serious danger of becoming a great cliché. It is a concept which is used loosely and glibly to cover several different meanings and to make easy and, I believe, false and dangerous assumptions in a good many cases.
The Memorandum on the Air Estimates states:As explained in the Statement on Defence, 1956…the foundation of our strategy remains to build and maintain, in conjunction with our American allies, an effective nuclear deterrent. Air defences are an essential complement to the deterrent.The Defence White Paper says very much the same thing, but I want to emphasise it:The primary task of the Air Force continues to be the build up of the V Bomber Force and its associated stock of nuclear weapons, which together will provide our main contribution to the Allied deterrent.As currently used, the word "deterrent" is a blanket term covering three different ideas. The first is the straightforward idea that by piling up enough nuclear weapons we shall make the other fellow afraid of starting a war and think twice before committing aggression. The second concept slides over into the idea of effective defence in case of war, which is also dealt with in the Air Estimates Memorandum and the Defence White Paper. The third is that of using the threat of nuclear war to hold the ring, to prevent interference with a little war that may have been started or sustained as a result of our using conventional arms in order to deal with what we decide is Communist infiltration or subversion in some other country.
As to the first use, the idea that by piling up hydrogen bombs we can deter, in the sense of preventing a war, the first question to ask is: can we deter an accident? Can we, by piling up hydro- 1847 gen bombs, prevent a war started by inadvertence? That is a very serious danger.
I would recall a leader in The Times of 28th November last, saying that the nuclear weapons…with all their horror, have made a great war all but unthinkable, even if anyone were mad enough to plan one…Yet the risks of an accident, or a miscalculation, or a rash move, remain fearful.There are also, of course, the famous words of Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, speaking at the Royal United Services Institution on 21st October, 1954, when he said that at any moment either side, in trying to win the cold war, might, without meaning to, start a world war that neither side wanted. What that means has been illustrated graphically by Mr. Dulles' famous metaphor of mastering the art of going to the brink of war without getting into war, which is all very well as long as one can refrain from tumbling over. The history of the balance of power and arms races, however, suggests that sooner or later somebody does tumble over, that, in fact, it is part of the statecraft of the balance of power that it is impossible to preserve peace permanently and that sooner or later there will be a war.
I pass from the idea of the hydrogen bomb as a preventive of war, which is invalidated by the danger of war coming by accident, to the second idea. Can one deter fear? Supposing that, in fact, the main motive on both sides is fear, that neither side wants a war and is afraid that the other fellow is going to attack it, will the piling up of arms on both sides diminish that fear or aggravate the fear and the suspicion accompanying it?
One may recall Lord Grey's memoirs "Twenty-five Years," in which he summed up the results and lessons of the arms race that ended in the First World War and said that the piling up of armaments in itself ultimately made war inevitable. It brought not a sense of strength and confidence but fear and suspicion, fear of the other fellow's growing strength. Earl Attlee, on 14th March last year in this House likewise made the point that fear was the main driving force behind the foreign policy of both sides.
1848 A far more striking testimony to the same effect was made by General Douglas MacArthur in January last year. He said:The agony of the cold war is kept alive by two great illusions. The one, a complete belief on the part of the Soviet world that the capitalist countries are preparing to attack them; that sooner or later we intend to strike. And the other, a complete belief on the part of the capitalist countries that the Soviets are preparing to attack us; that sooner or later they intend to strike, Both are wrong. Each side, so far as the masses are concerned, is equally desirous of peace. For either side war with the other would mean nothing but disaster. Both equally dread it.He went on to say, and this has already been quoted in the debate, that the piling up of arms on both sides may in the end precipitate a war by what he called "spontaneous combustion." That brings us back to the point about a war starting by accident.
I believe that in the first sense in which it is used this term "deterrent" is a snare and a delusion. We cannot deter an accident. So long as we rely on an arms race to get peace, peace is constantly at the mercy of an incident. Sooner or later it is certain to be destroyed by inadvertence, by someone like Mr. Dulles peacefully playing Russian roulette—or should I say anti-Russian roulette—with hydrogen bombs. The "deterrent" creates fear and suspicion and a sense of insecurity. We cannot prevent a war by a race in hydrogen bombs. We have to do something else, or something more than that.
Let us take the second meaning of this word, "deterrent" where it slides over into the concept of effective defence. Here again the Statement on Defence suggests that such a defence is possible in the case of this country. It states:For some time to come the manned fighter must continue to provide the backbone of our Air Defence system. The fire power and lethality of fighter aircraft will be markedly increased by equipping them with air-to-air guided missiles…Although manned fighter aircraft and their weapons will improve, the surface-to-air guided weapon may well in time play a predominant part in Air Defence. A production order has been placed for these weapons for trials with the Air Defence system. Because of the area of destruction of nuclear weapons close defence of vulnerable areas is an outmoded concept. Our aim is a guided weapons system which can break up enemy attacks before they penetrate over the coastline and which can be integrated with our fighter defences.1849 The Secretary of State for Air emphasised the point that it is no use shooting down over this country an aircraft equipped with a nuclear weapon, and that it would have to be shot down well out over the sea. In that connection he emphasised the importance of defence in depth and in particular the importance of holding the lines occupied by N.A.T.O. in Europe. General Gruenther has reported, however, that he cannot hold the lines with the forces available. That was a point brought out during the debate on the Army Estimates.
In any case, there already exists a medium-range rocket capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and that can cover the full distance between this country and Eastern and Central Europe. That seems to cancel out defence in depth in one step. I do not see why the possibility of robot planes carrying nuclear warheads, and if necessary guided by a piloted plane somewhere in the rear—experiments on those lines have been tried—should not be launched by the enemy, very meanly no doubt, at a time when the wind is blowing our way, and if they were shot down at 40,000 or 50,000 feet over the sea I do not see what is to prevent the radio-active fall out from sweeping over this country.
In fact, I believe that this whole paraphernalia of defence, the pretence that we can evacuate 12 million people goodness knows where, and that we can put up any kind of effective defence once a war with nuclear weapons breaks out, is sheer make-believe and utterly unreal. I would recall what I have already mentioned in connection with the Army Estimates, namely, the report of the air manoeuvres held by N.A.T.O. last summer. These manoeuvres were held to test the possibility of defence against a full-scale aerial attack with nuclear weapons. It was calculated that in such a case the war would be short and horrible, and that so far as we were concerned it would be all over in forty-eight hours. In other words, either we prevent a war or we are wiped out, after the war starts, in a few hours or at most a few days. There is really no other alternative. And a balance of power sustained by a race in hydrogen bombs will not prevent a war; it will sooner or later make war inevitable.
So much for two of the three meanings of "deterrent" in nuclear strategy. The 1850 third meaning is even more dangerous, namely, the threat of nuclear war to hold the ring and prevent interference by China or the Soviet Union while we wage little wars with conventional arms, or otherwise intervene by armed force in the internal affairs of some country in South-East Asia or the Middle East which we consider to be menaced by Communist subversion—which means that it is menaced by social revolution or some kind of internal upheaval—or carry out the policies to which we are committed on paper, to help liberate some East European country from its existing régime.
Since nuclear strategy is carried out in close association with the United States, and the Government have already publicly committed themselves to it, this third interpretation means that we should also be involved in the American threat to use the nuclear weapon if China should try to finish its civil war by recovering possession of the Chinese islands of Quemoy, Matsu and Formosa, now held by the Americans or their protégés.
This is the most dangerous meaning of the term, because it suggests a readiness to resort to nuclear weapons in order to back armed intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. This is the way in which N.A.T.O. has been interpreted by the Foreign Secretary, on 12th December last; it is the way in which Article 4 of the N.A.T.O. Treaty is interpreted in connection with interference in the internal affairs of other countries where we believe there is Communist infiltration or subversion. Article 5 of the Bagdad Pact, Article 4 of S.E.A.T.O. and the Defence White Papers of last year and this, all tie us down clearly to this use of the nuclear weapon in order to threaten a nuclear war to back our dabbling in little wars for the purposes mentioned.
For those three reasons I reject and repudiate the whole conception of the deterrent, in all three ways in which the term is used in the Defence White Papers and the discussions which have taken place on our defence and foreign policies.
I should also like to question our own position in relation to this nuclear strategy. The Defence White Paper, for instance, says that our contribution to the Allied deterrents must be:commensurate with our standing as a world Power.1851 Frankly, I think there is bitter irony about this statement, at the present time, when our whole policy of building up positions of strength is collapsing in the Middle East, has disappeared in the Far East, and is crumbling in Europe. It is far more realistic to say, as Earl Attlee said on 18th November, 1946:No one is foolish enough to suppose that this country can measure up in armaments either against Soviet Russia or the United States of America."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1946; Vol. 430, c. 586.]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I have not heard the whole of the hon. Member's speech, but he now appears to be dealing with a far wider issue than those issues which are before the House.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I am coming back, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the question of the hydrogen bomb, which is the centre of our nuclear strategy.
I was saying that Britain, by making a handful of H-bombs against the trainloads in the United States and the truckloads in the Soviet Union, cannot, as the White Paper suggests, qualify for being treated on an equal footing as a world Power with those other two States. To think otherwise is a tragic delusion, and only underlines and emphasises the fact that if we are to be tested by our capacity to manufacture or resist hydrogen bombs, we are literally a third-rate Power; if our capacity to manufacture them, and to resist attack by nuclear weapons is to be the criterion, then we are mortally vulnerable and hopelessly inferior.
But why make that the criterion? Why not establish our position in the world by formulating our own terms for making peace, through re-valorising and implementing the machinery of the United Nations in Europe and in the Middle and Far East? We are closely associated in nuclear strategy with the United States—but that cuts both ways. In the New York Herald-Tribune recently there was an article by the two crack Washington correspondents, the Alsops, expressing alarm as to what might happen to this nuclear strategy association if Britain suffered an economic collapse, which it was feared might happen because of events in the Middle East depriving us of oil, and which might, they said, mean the advent to power of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. 1852 Bevan). This might, they believed, be followed by a collapse of the nuclear strategy association between this country—which would be followed by France—and the United States. This would deprive the United States Air Force of eighty per cent. of its striking power since it could not have its bases in this country or Western Europe.
We cannot claim equality by our association with the United States in nuclear strategy. But if we linked the continuation of that association with agreement on proposals for settlement, that is, made joint defence commitments conditional upon a joint policy for making peace, we should again become a first-class factor in world affairs, and should be listened to, not only in matters of strategy, but also in matters of how to end this mortally dangerous arms race by political agreement with the other side.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
In this debate there has not, I feel, been a sense of realisation of the enormous and costly expenditure which we are embarking upon and which we continue to embark upon. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) has just referred to the effect of this expenditure in its attempts to deter by fear, and I cannot but think that if we continue at this rate year after year, building up an air defence which is costing, according to the White Paper, £479,500,000, then surely we shall reach the position where sooner or later our own people, as well as those in Europe, will become neurotics under this fear.
I do not want to detain the House for long, but I should like to mention some items of expenditure in the Memorandum which do somewhat concern me. Reference has been made to the American bases, and I think it was the hon. Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) who mentioned as justification for them the fact that it was under a Labour Government that they were established. He mentioned that as though the fact that they were established under a Labour Government made it right that they should be continued now. Some of us—my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and myself included—did not agree at the time with that step being taken.
1853 My feelings were somewhat similar to those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who referred on a number of occasions to the danger there was to our country when used as an aircraft carrier. On 28th March, 1950, he told the House:We must not forget that by creating the American atom bomb base in East Anglia we have made ourselves the target, and perhaps, the bull's eye of a Soviet attack. On 28th March last year I said in Parliament if, for instance, the United States had a stock-pile of 1,000 atomic bombs—I take the figures as an illustration merely, I have no knowledge of any sort or kind of what they have—and Russia had 50, and we got those 50 fearful experiences far beyond anything we have ever endured would be our lot."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February. 1951; Vol. 484. c. 630.]During the debate on the Army Estimates I pointed out that the Manchester Guardian had recently stated that the Americans had nuclear material sufficient for 32,000 bombs and Russia had the material for 10,000, while we had sufficient material to make enough bombs to blast every city off the face of the earth, and probably every large town as well.
Paragraph 7 of the Memorandum says:About £24,000,000 is included for works for the United States Forces, including £3,500,000 for houses to be financed under the arrangements set out in the Supplementary Estimate for 1955–56. Provision is made for the recovery of about £19,000,000 as the United States contribution towards costs incurred on their behalf.Mention has been made of the generosity of the United States, but quite frankly I cannot see why we should have to contribute a sum as large as that. I speak as the representative of a city which has more than 60,000 families in need of houses, and I do not know how we shall ever solve the country's housing problem so long as we continue with this kind of expenditure, which somehow or other we have come to accept almost as a matter of course. I object to such expenditure, and I resent that we should agree to its continuation.
The Minister, in his opening speech, did not give me much assurance on how, through the strategy that he is advancing, we are to be secure. One of my hon. Friends referred to a remark the Minister made, and which I noted. He said that in the nuclear age it is no use shooting down bombers over one's own country. 1854 Perhaps the Minister will tell us where we ought to shoot them down.
§ Mr. Yates
If that is done what happens if the wind is blowing in our direction?
The late Stanley Baldwin said the bomber would always get through. That brought the argument, "We have our defences." Nowadays only one or two bombers need to get through. We have no means to shoot them down if they get over this country. It seems to me to be a fatal policy, and it is no use trying to convince the people that there is safety in it. The question has also been raised where 12 million of the population are to be evacuated to, especially in view of the effect of the bomb explosion in March last year. The damage and loss of life which would have resulted over perhaps 170 or 190 miles would have made it impossible to carry out any kind of evacuation plan.
If the Minister does not entirely go to sleep, I should like him to take note of these points. The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) raised the question of manpower and its waste, and the putting of square pegs into round holes. I visited Cardington Camp, a reception centre, and I was not impressed by the reception which I received. I took with me a representative of the Electrical Trades Union, who had complained that the selection was not fair. After that visit and after talking to the group captain there, I would question whether we are justified in increasing the group captain's salary to the point suggested in the salary increases.
Men were at that camp for a week to be fitted with uniforms and to be more or less graded and selected. The first thing I saw at the camp was a number of Royal Air Force men standing on oak chairs cleaning windows. I asked why they were doing it. I was told, "Of course, they only have a week here, and it is difficult to find sufficient work for them to do." I then asked, "Why on earth should they be standing on new oak chairs in order to clean windows round the hut? "Nobody could give me a satisfactory answer to that question. I can only suppose that there were no ladders or steps in the place.
I was certainly impressed by the great attention given to men desiring to go into 1855 the various trades, but I was very surprised to find that many apprentice electricians in civilian life—some of whom had been deferred until the age of 21—were not considered suitable to become electricians in the Royal Air Force.
I examined the method of selection, and found that at least 50 per cent. of those who passed the test and were accepted could not be placed as electricians. I also learned the extraordinary fact that the number of men wanted for the various trades changed from week to week. That state of affairs creates dissatisfaction among those who sign on for longer periods. When they find that they cannot get into their chosen trade, they feel that they have had an unfair deal.
Though I think it objectionable that men should be asked to perform domestic duties, I must say that when I visited the Bridgnorth Camp I did not find that the duties generally of batmen were unpopular. Strange as it may sound, I was told of a National Service man who knocked on the selection officer's door one morning and said, "Sir, I wish to become a Regular." That was a bit of a shock to start with, but when the officer asked him what he wanted to be, the man replied, "I wish to be a batman." The officer said to him, "You want to become a Regular in the R.A.F. and you wish to be a batman. Why do you want to be a batman?". Back came the reply, "I have read in the papers about batmen being dressed up in wigs. I am very fond of theatricals, and I wish to become a batman." Generally speaking, the men like performing the duties of a batman, though I am not suggesting that they enjoy wearing wigs.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I had a batman stationed with me and he became a very close friend of mine. I know what he thought about some of the duties he was compelled to perform.
§ Mr. Yates
If my hon. Friend had a batman stationed with him, I hope that h, served him very well.
I only want to make this point because it is no use our being unfair. We cannot 1856 reduce National Service by cutting out duties which have to be performed by somebody anyhow. It is most important to try to put men into the right jobs. At the camp at Bridgnorth I found a sheet metal worker from Glasgow who is now a typist, a bricklayer from Birmingham who is now a gunner—as a bricklayer he had been deferred until he was 21 years of age—and another bricklayer who was a cook.
It is most extraordinary that, especially in the R.A.F., so many bricklayers become cooks. One airman complained to me about the food. He showed me some kind of sloppy mixture and asked, "What do you think about that?" I replied that it did not look very appetising, and he said, "I think it was prepared by one of the bricklayers in the cookhouse." There is a lot of building in progress in the Army. I do not know about the position in the R.A.F., but I do not understand why so many bricklayers are made into cooks. Surely, we should be able to find them work for which they have been trained and which, of course, would be very profitable. I should like the Minister to consider this question of putting men into the right jobs.
I turn to the subject of wages. It was, of course, necessary that the men should be given better wages; but the National Service man is given an increase of only 6d. a day. When one considers the position of the National Service man one must agree that that is not very much of an improvement. When one considers the wages of the higher ranks in the R.A.F., it seems that the higher one goes the better pay one gets. A group captain. such as the one to whom I have referred, starts at £5 a day, which is an increase of £1 from £4 a day. A group captain with six years' service in that rank has an increase from £4 9s. to £5 15s. It is a little unfair that the man at the bottom should always be in such a poor position.
The Minister seems to be amused. I suppose that to him it is amusing that the ordinary National Service man should get an increase of only 6d. a day.
§ Mr. W. Yates
By the hon. Gentleman's analogy, should the porter get the same wage as the engine driver?
§ Mr. V. Yates
I am bound to say that there are differentials, but not quite to that extent.
If ever the principle:To him that hath shall be givencould be applied, it would be applicable to the small increase that is now proposed.
Mention has been made of time wasting. I support my hon. Friend who asked for a further inquiry into the nature of discipline and duties. In my opinion that aspect is just as bad in the Royal Air Force as in the Army.
I wish to ask a question about health in the Royal Air Force. I made reference to this matter when we were discussing the Army Estimates, but I did not then quote an article which appeared in the British Medical Journal. On 6th August last, that journal referred to the large number of discharges from the Army on psychiatric grounds, and in the same article there was a reference to the R.A.F. The article said:In the Royal Air Force in 1951 the picture is somewhat different, but the highest place for invalidings out was again what is described as mental disorder, being 21 per cent. of total invalidings.The article went on to state:In the Women's Royal Air Force mental disorder accounted for 43 per cent. of the final invalidings.I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing about that, and what is the cause of that mental disorder, I know that in the Army there is a great deal of explanation, but I am not sure of the cause in the Royal Air Force.
I should like these points to be carefully considered by the Secretary of State, but it would be almost impossible to expect the present Secretary of State or the Government to appreciate that the colossal expenditure now being supported and continued is a danger to the cause of peace. I believe that it is, and that sooner or later we shall come either to a serious conflagration or we shall be obliged to adopt a diplomacy which will scale down armaments and not build them up to a point where we create fear and, therefore, the conditions, of a possible very serious world conflict again.
1858 I do not believe that the House has appreciated the serious nature of this expenditure, but we shall do so in course of time. I hope, therefore, that there will be further examination. If we must have armaments—if the Government feel they must have nuclear bombs and bombers to drop these horrible weapons upon the world and feel that is the only way to secure peace—at least they can examine some of the expenditure which is causing such dissatisfaction among those who are having to serve and particularly among the civilian population.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
I want to speak only briefly at this late hour. I listened to the Secretary of State, who gave us a great deal of detail about the progress of new bombers, made references to the increase in pay and so forth, and tried to paint a nice picture. That is all very well, but I look at the problem in this way—does all that provide a solution to our troubles? Quite frankly, I do not think that it is the answer at all. I do not say we can do without security forces—we are bound to have them in this uncertain world—but I am concerned with the question of the amount we spend.
The importance of our Air Force—and this was stressed by the Minister—in a future war appears to me to be as the main means of retaliation. The Air Force as part of our defence force means just that. In my opinion, all that is said about warlike action in the future is pure speculation. We do not know; we can only speculate, and upon such speculations we try to plan, but if anything happens, of course, what we have planned for may be quite out of date by then. What is true is that those countries which have the speediest and most destructive means of combat, whilst they may not win, will certainly cause most damage to life, property, towns, cities, animal life, vegetation and so on. To assess the air power and nuclear weapons of other countries is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
We are budgeting now for a sum of £479 million. Last Thursday and today we shall have budgeted for nearly £1,000 million, £20 per head of the population. That is a colossal sum, and if such sums are considered necessary, then it is time we considered the gigantic sum neces- 1859 sary to provide a solution so as to obtain peace and utilise the international machinery which has been established. In my opinion, that is just what we are not doing, yet that is the only way in which we shall go forward. We must at some stage remove the political asperities which divide the nations, and we must make a proper approach on the basis of understanding through negotiation. There is no other answer, in view of these extraordinary sums that we are called upon to expend year after year.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is now going into the sphere of foreign affairs and is not dealing with the Army Estimates.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
What I said was that the hon. Gentleman was dealing with foreign affairs rather than the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Craddock
I mentioned that the expenditure which we approved last Thursday and which we are asked to approve today amounted to a grand total of £1,000 million, a considerable sum of money. I cannot see that there was anything wrong, or that I was going too far, in making that suggestion.
I wish, if I may, to mention an address given over the air by Earl Russell in January of last year, when he was talking about the destructiveness of the H-bomb. He said that it was time that mankind stopped this quarrelling and got down to the task of reaching agreement by understanding, because if we had a third world war there would be no return; it would be devastation for combatants and neutrals alike.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is now going beyond the Air Estimates. This debate is concerned with the Air Estimates, and not with these general issues.
§ Mr. Craddock
I believe that the R.A.F. is associated with bombs and bombers.
1860 It has been said that 6,000 bombs have already been produced, 4,000 by the U.S.A. and 2,000 by the U.S.S.R. We have now started producing the H.-bomb when already there were enough in the world to destroy the whole of mankind and perhaps the universe as well. This is a very serious situation, and there is no answer to the problem in the Estimates or in the tremendous expenditure which we are undertaking. Therefore, we must do something other than try to build forces to match a strength which we cannot possibly attain. We can do it only in association with other Powers.
Incidentally, I notice that West Germany is to provide £9,500,000 of the £479 million Estimates, but it appears to me that the Germans have not agreed to make that payment. That is an extraordinary situation.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), I visited one or two R.A.F. camps last autumn. I found a certain amount of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions among the lower ranks. Something more should be done to provide accommodation for people in the R.A.F. I was surprised that the Minister said in his opening speech that a good deal had been done.
I have had correspondence recently from Gibraltar and from Gloucester complaining of poor accommodation. People in Gloucester are having to pay £4, £5 and £6 a week for temporary accommodation because the R.A.F. has not made provision for them. That is a great deal of money for R.A.F. men to pay for accommodating their families, and the payment continues for month after month. I ask the Minister to consider the matter further, because the picture is not as he described it today. It is a serious matter, and only this week I have had further complaints.
I found that at Leeming Bar the only cover which R.A.F. men had was a ground sheet. That is disgraceful. The Ministry should provide mackintoshes for them. People who are interested in the Forces talk about men being properly dressed. We hear of how raw recruits are kept in camp for three or four weeks until they have learned how to dress, yet here are men who are provided with ground sheets only. One group captain informed me that he had succeeded in getting pro- 1861 vision made for those on guard duties. But the people in Whitehall seem to me to be asleep, because although these mackintoshes can be obtained, it seems to depend on who asks for them and what pull he has. Matters should not be left like that.
I want now to talk for a moment about an unfortunate accident which happened at Pembroke Dock on 3rd March, 1954. I am sorry that I have not given the Under-Secretary of State for Air notice of this, but it has been the subject of correspondence between us. A constituent of mine, Sergeant Barraclough, was in a Sunderland flying boat which came down in the water after it had been airborne for only twenty-six seconds, and most of the men in it, including this man, lost their lives. Since then his mother approached me about this matter.
I cannot understand why it was possible for a boatman, some distance away, to row his boat to the Sunderland and collect three men, whereas a pinnace, a special rescue launch, was not able to go to the rescue of these men to save their lives and also the machine. I find that an order was given—
§ Mr. Soames
I see that the hon. Gentleman has the correspondence with him. My memory of the case does not tally with what he has said. The hon. Gentleman said that a private individual had rowed his boat. Is he sure that it was a rowing boat?
§ Mr. Craddock
A boatman with a boat—he did not row it—went to the Sunderland and collected three of the men.
It seems to me that nothing really effective was done to save the lives of these men, and in my opinion they ought to have been saved. Sergeant Barraclough was found drowned in the tail of the Sunderland. This matter ought to be cleared up to ensure that there is adequate protection and machinery for rescuing people who meet with such unfortunate accidents. I sincerely hope that the Minister will look further into this matter because it appears to me that the mother of this man is still dissatisfied with the replies which she has received from the Minister.
In passing, may I ask the Minister to bear in mind for the future the suggestion that relatives invited to attend an inquest 1862 of a man in the Forces should not have to pay their fares? In the case that I have just detailed, fares amounting to £7 had to be paid. Provision should be made for that purpose.
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
A number of my hon. Friends who have spoken have expressed their anxieties about the general foreign policy and defence policy of this Government, and when one looks around the world at present there is good reason for some of that anxiety. I expressed my own feelings on the general policy of this Government in the defence debate, and I stand by everything I said on that occasion. Today we are discussing the narrower point of the execution of that policy, and I want to see to what extent the present Government and the Air Ministry are carrying out that policy efficiently and economically.
First, it has already been noted that the Under-Secretary of State has made his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. Congratulations have been offered to him, and I should like to add mine. Perhaps I might also say that it is gratifying to find two Ministers answering for the Air Ministry in this House, which is a change from the experience of recent years.
I thought that the Secretary of State had a very gentle passage today, which was something of a change for him after his experience in the defence debate. He had to offer one apology which we much appreciated. I must say I thought it was rather a merited apology. I do not want to press the point in view of the apology that was made, but to say anything which could be construed as indicating that the Royal Air Force was non-operational when the Conservative Government took over responsibility for it was going very far indeed. It comes particularly badly from a representative of the present Government, for the fact of the matter is that since they have been in charge of our affairs our position, in relation to others, has worsened and not improved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) made a most telling point about the deployment of our resources in scientific manpower, not only in this country but in the N.A.T.O. countries as a whole. He pointed out that we have a shortage of scientific and technological manpower, and the position of the West, including the United States, when 1863 we compare it with the information that we have about the U.S.S.R., really makes it essential that we should take every possible step to get the most efficient deployment of such resources of technological manpower as we have at our disposal.
To that extent, and with that in mind, it seems that we must look again at the question of who shall make what as between the United States and ourselves. It is a most curious and sometimes amusing thing that when we discuss the possibility of our using American equipment, we, who are supposed to be the mature partners in these matters, are much more conscious of prestige and are much more touchy about these things than are our American friends.
After all, if we are thinking that they may conceivably be able to make some things better than we can, it is a fact that they are already producing under licence a number of our aero-engines, and today we were reminded of the fact that they are operating, under a different name, the Canberra bomber. Therefore, it does not after all seem a very revolutionary thing to suggest that there are some items of equipment, more than we have at present agreed upon, which might well be made on the other side of the Atlantic, and so enable us to conserve or concentrate the resources that we have here.
On the other hand, I must say that it is very difficult for hon. Members, without a good deal more information than we already have, to say what items this country should concentrate upon, whether upon fighters, bombers, missiles or what. In my view, there are very few hon. Members who are really in possession of enough information to enable them to make a proper appreciation of these things.
Perhaps I might at this point say a word or two about information. This is a matter which has been a bone of contention for a long time. I remember that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite made a great point of this when they were on the Opposition benches. If anything, we get less information now than we did then. The position so far as Members of Parliament are concerned, is intolerable. In the defence debate reference was made to the fact that hon. Members who have some connection with the Press find it easier to get information 1864 in connection with their work for newspapers than in connection with their work as Members of Parliament.
There is a great deal of information about our aircraft—I have a stack of it—which is classified and which is never given in this House. Yet it is entrusted to journalists. They have their own censorship arrangements, and in the main they respect the trust reposed in them. I believe that Admiral Thompson, chairman of the voluntary Press censorship committee is asking again that the members of the Press should voluntarily draw up some code of behaviour or rules of censorship with regard to the information which they publish on guided missiles. They have a good deal of information but it is not published. I say again, seriously, that some way should be found of giving a good deal more information on some of these matters to Members of Parliament than is now given.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), in a way which I thought at the time was unfortunate—though I am sure he did not mean it to be so—mentioned the private invitation which he had extended to me to fly with him in the Victor bomber. He said that the Minister of Supply thought it was a good idea, but later the security advice which he received was such that it was considered that no exception could be made for me as a Member of Parliament to have that experience. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has flown in the machine, but the Parliamentary representative for Uxbridge is not allowed to fly.
I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman went as a member of his firm, and there are probably hundreds of others in his firm who have the same information. But if the information could be entrusted to members of the firm, why could it not be entrusted to Members of Parliament? I think that when we give these security people the responsibility for drawing up regulations, they inevitably emphasise the importance of their own craft. I suggest that hon. Members should begin to think about these matters and seek ways and means of informing themselves more fully about them.
What we have heard today from the Secretary of State, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, contained nothing new. Even the phraseology was the same 1865 as that used last year. Anyone who has read the Memorandum which accompanied the Estimates got all the information that we were given today. Moreover, after listening and reading and taking some interest in these matters over recent years, I am finding it more and more difficult to accept at their face value statements which are made about some of our aircraft during these debates.
I have made no thorough research, but have taken at random some of the things said recently. Last year, for example, we were informed that the Seamew was well suited to our requirements and filled a gap in our maritime defences. The Sea-mew has now been scrapped, yet it was only a year ago that this House was solemnly assured that it was well suited to our requirements.
In the previous year, 1953, the Under-Secretary of State said that the Swift was the finest fighter in the world. Since then that has been scrapped. It should have been possible for the experts in the Air Ministry to see three years ago whether the Swift was to be a satisfactory aircraft or not. If there were any doubts at all—and there should have been, because doubts had been expressed by individuals who had had the responsibility of testing this aircraft; I knew there were doubts, as did other hon. Members—we should have been told. But we were told by the Under-Secretary of State in the debate on the Air Estimates that the Swift was the finest fighter in the world.
Then there is the unfortunate story of the Hunter. The Minister looked a little impatient when I said that he used no fresh terms, but he will recognise this phrase from the speech of the Under-Secretary in last year's debate:there are…restrictions on gun-firing. But…we are well on the way to curing this temporary defect.That is precisely what we have been told this year about the restrictions on the guns. The Government spokesman then went on to say:To say that the Hunter is anything but a success is…wrong."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 631.]Really, that is not treating the House seriously at all. This is not something for consumption in the country; it is information required by Members of the House of Commons, who are being asked 1866 to vote sums of money to pay for these aircraft.
I could go on. Coming to more recent times, the then Minister of Supply told my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), when he had some criticisms to offer about fighters, that he did not believe thatsingle-seat night fighters could operate in the climatic conditions around this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 878.]He solemnly stood at the Box and said that whereas, in fact, probably the only effective night fighters in this country at that time were three squadrons of United States Air Force single-seat F 86 Ds. I suggest that such statements are not treating the House of Commons responsibly. I shall not continue with the list, but I would say that instead of being given these glowing phrases about some of these aircraft we, as Members of Parliament, should have an opportunity of cross-questioning some of the experts about the hard facts.
I should have liked to hear something about air-to-ground missiles. We were entitled to hear something about that subject, but we have been told nothing at all today. What is the possibility of our firing missiles 50 or 100 miles from the target and guiding them on to the target by radar? Ought not we to know something about that possibility? What are the chances of our having to meet that kind of threat from the other side? If there is such a possibility, we should naturally want to ask further questions about the endurance of some of our fighters. A little earlier we were told that it was our objective to shoot down an attacker over the sea. Endurance is a very important factor in the question of interception out at sea.
Anxiety was felt in the country about the recent accident to some Hunters. I know that there were special circumstances in that case, and we shall look forward to hearing the report that we have been promised of the investigation into the accident. But, even if there were special circumstances, and even if there are later marks of Hunter with extra fuel tanks on the wings, can we be assured that those fighters can go out and intercept these raiders at 50,000 or 55,000 feet over the sea? If they cannot do so with their ordinary fuel capacity, what about 1867 refuelling? That is one of the most important matters in the Air Force today.
Are we doing anything about refuelling? These are matters of importance, about which we should know something before being asked to pass any opinion about the success or otherwise of the right hon. Gentleman's administration. The Americans are very forthcoming about this information. Why should the right hon. Gentleman consider that it is something about which we are not entitled to know? Are we doing enough to secure the refuelling of fighters or other machines in the air?
Vague general statements are made about ground-to-air missiles, and statements have been made about the desirability of another generation of manned fighters. We should be able to weigh that possibility against the information that is at someone's disposal about ground-to-air missiles. Not until we know those two sets of facts are we in a proper position to know if more money should be spent on another generation of manned fighters. We are told that there could be a supersonic bomber, and we are asked to vote money for that project.
But how far away is the long-range rocket or the ballistic missile? Not until I know that would I, personally, really be able to say that I would vote the taxpayers' money for another generation of manned bombers. Of course, I know that there are security aspects, but I sincerely believe that we overdo this security business in this country; that we use it as an excuse to cover up inefficiency and incompetence.
Then there is the matter of the warning system. I had not heard what an hon. Friend below the gangway has apparently heard concerning the extended warning given by the deployment of radar equipment on the Continent. The Secretary of State has said that this new equipment would give a substantially longer warning; but we ought to know something more about what that means precisely. During last week's defence debate I asked about that, but I had no answer. Can the Secretary of State give any more information? I ask this because we are told that 12 million people, as a matter of policy, are to be evacuated in the event of nuclear attack. That, as 1868 I say, is a matter of Government policy; therefore, what kind of warning can we expect? In what context are we discussing evacuation, apart altogether from the military counter-measures which will be required?
I should like to have said something about Transport Command, in which I have a considerable interest; but that has been the subject of special debate. However, could I ask if the Secretary of State could give some clarification of what he has said about the Comet II? I believe he told us that the Comet II would have a strengthened fuselage—that was a recommendation following the tests at Farnborough—although the only strengthening which the military version would need would be in the floor. I feel that there must be something more than that. Can he clarify that point?
The idea of Britannias for Transport Command is excellent, and I look forward to the day when they are in service. At the same time I shed a tear, and it is no crocodile tear, over the fact that, apparently, we cannot expect to see the Princess flying boat in service. I still feel that there is scope for this fine machine if only we give it the engines.
I do not see the logic of the Secretary of State's remarks about the need only to cultivate the independent operators if we need a reserve. We gave contracts to the independent operators, but to suggest that a reserve is not a reserve because the machines are owned by the two British air Corporations is something I do not follow. Surely it is a very valuable reserve.
I do not expect a reply tonight, but I should like to mention what has already been said about the standard of comfort and general safety of the independent operators' machines; we are told that that is ensured by inspectors who travel on the machines. I have, as a matter of fact, written to him this week—or it may be to the Secretary of State—about a case which has been brought to my attention. It is the case of the wife of a squadron leader who wrote to me from Singapore and said that she was ordered from her seat by one of these inspectors and had to spend most of her time to Singapore in what would be known on civilian aircraft as the ladies' powder room because there was no other seating accommodation available. Even if I 1869 do not get a reply this evening, I shall expect a reply to my letter.
The helicopter programme is to be cut. We have not heard enough about the other type of aircraft which is to replace the helicopter for the advanced work which the helicopter was going to do. The twin-engined Pioneer is being considered. If that requirement is being stated as an actual aircraft in the White Paper we should be doing more than considering the twin-engined Pioneer. If it is considered that in all circumstances the helicopter is not a satisfactory machine then perhaps the development of the Auster aircraft might be suitable.
Turning to the general supply position—the procurement methods for the aircraft—I must say I greatly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). In a most thoughtful speech, he put forward an idea which I hope will be most carefully considered by the Ministry. He gave us some figures about the time taken from design to squadron service of fighter aircraft in the United States—figures on which we should do well to ponder.
On various occasions I have myself raised the question of the length of time taken from design to squadron service of the medium bombers. The Minister of Supply has replied to some of those points on different occasions, and I must say that he has been most complacent about this. He challenged some figures which I gave of the time taken from the beginning of the design work to delivery of the B47 and B52. He maintained that on these machines the United States takes the same time as we do, namely, eight to ten years.
I wish to put on record some dates which I have here, and I hope that at some later date at any rate I shall get the Minister's observations upon these facts. I am told that the design work on the B47 began in December, 1945; that the first prototype flew on 17th December, 1947; that the first production aircraft was in June, 1950; that the first deliveries to the United States Air Forces were in December, 1950, and that the aircraft were in squadron service by mid-1951—a total period of 53½ years.
In regard to the B52—a more complicated aircraft—I am informed that the design work began in the winter of 1949–50; first prototype, 15th April, 1952; first production machine, 5th August, 1870 1954; first deliveries, August, 1955, and they were in squadron service by December, 1955—six years. It is no use the Minister of Supply just brushing me aside when I suggest to him that their times for producing these aircraft were better than were those of our own people, and I should like to have some observations from him about the accuracy of my figures.
Our times are not as good as those of the Americans, and whatever might be the reason, I am quite sure—I would say to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield—that the reason is not because the Air Ministry or the Ministry of Supply are tardy in giving production orders. I am quite certain that that is not the reason for the delay or for the extended time—I shall not call it delay—taken for the delivery of the medium bombers.
Air Commodore Harvey
Then I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that in the case of the American machines he has just quoted production orders had to be given at an early date, otherwise they would not achieve the time in delivery which he mentioned.
§ Mr. Beswick
Let us see what the hon. and gallant Member said. He went into it in some detail, and complained that he did not get his order for the two prototypes until the second year. I do not wish to spoil the case of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think he said that an order was placed for two prototypes in the third year, and that during the fourth and fifth year nothing more was heard. It was not for the Minister of Supply to say anything more. It was for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to do the work on the two prototypes. Then he complained that a third batch of production orders had not yet been received. And yet the first aircraft has not yet been delivered. In other words—
Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman has missed my point, which, was that if a comparatively small number is being ordered, why spread the order over a period for the same type?
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that orders were being given in penny packets. I am saying that we are dealing not in penny packets but in millions. It is difficult to place additional orders involving many millions 1871 of pounds before the aircraft has been proved a satisfactory machine.
I am not criticising the hon. and gallant Gentleman or his firm. I am saying that I am certain that the reason for the extended time in this country is not caused by delay in placing orders. There must be some other reason. I go no further than that this evening. It is because I believe there is some other reason that I support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick that there should be a much closer inquiry into the ordering procedure as well as manufacturing methods.
Air Commodore Harvey
Orders for two prototypes of each bomber are not enough. A modern aircraft cannot be developed on two prototypes.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting on to dangerous ground, so far as he is concerned. It is not for me to justify what is the responsibility of the Government. If he wants a larger number of prototypes ordered of aircraft costing, say, between £500,000 and £1 million, I would say that we have to be very careful about ordering three different types. If we are told that it is essential to order more than two prototypes we must cut down the number of types for which we place prototype orders.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) also discussed aircraft deliveries and the profit margin for the development contracts. He claimed, surprisingly, that the profit margin was only 4½ per cent. on development work. I suggest that it is considerably more than that in a great number of cases. Seven to 15 per cent. would be nearer the mark. That is on the capital employed. As I have tried to state on other occasions, the capital employed is not the capital belonging to the firm. It can easily borrow money on the strength of a Government contract at rates, even at present, of no more than 6 per cent. If they are getting an initial profit in addition to actual costs, of something between 7 and 15 per cent. on capital employed, no wonder that the returns of these companies at the end of the year are tantalising or provocative.
In view of the profits which have been turned out by some of the aircraft firms which are devoting most of their resources 1872 to the manufacture of aircraft, it is really not good enough for the Government to whitewash them in the way they have done. I know that there is an Estimates Committee considering the point now, and I hope that that Committee is getting all the information it requires.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln also raised a very important point when he spoke about the type of individual who will be needed in the pushbutton Service, as he called it, of the future. I think that most hon. Members will agree that there will have to be some adjustment of our attitude so far as the manpower of the Royal Air Force of the future is concerned, and I hope that the Under-Secretary is going to tell us a little more about the scientific training being given to R.A.F. officers of the future.
We were given the figure of 51 cadets who were going to the universities in order to read mechanical science. I wonder if that figure is large enough in relation to the need. I understand that this advanced training in engineering is being given only to officers in the engineering branch. It seems to me that in the future we shall have to give the general duties officer, the flying crews, much deeper training in engineering matters.
I must say that I have thought of that when, from time to time, we have heard the criticism that the so-called user is not brought into close enough relationship with the manufacturer. I do not want to belittle some of these officers, whom I know to be very fine men indeed, but I have sometimes thought that, even if they were brought into closer relationship with the manufacturers, they would not know what to say or do. Owing to the specifications of a modern aircraft, the type of training now needed before one can intelligently consider them is very different from that which the general duties officer usually receives.
As regards the G.D. officer in the Air Ministry, who has probably been seconded for a period of two years, I do not think that two years is long enough for him to get a grip on the problems involved in the procurement of aircraft. That is a specialised business, and that is why I believe that the Ministry of Supply has an essential part to play in the drawing up of specifications and the ordering of aircraft.
1873 My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), as well as the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates), made some relevant criticisms regarding promotion and welfare problems generally. I hope that some of the matters raised will be given careful consideration.
I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on this side of the House when I say that we have been impressed by the way in which the Royal Air Force has been ready to have outside investigation into the methods and organisation of the Service. I am certain that great improvements have resulted therefrom. On the other hand, when some of the human and administrative problems are concerned, and when I am told that a committee of scientists which was considering administration and organisation at the Lyneham station solemnly came to the conclusion and offered the recommendation to the Minister that if there were the right number of the right type of people the work would be done more quickly, I feel that we might just as profitably listen more closely to what has been said by some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House.
On the question of manpower, it is sometimes difficult to understand some of the cases of men who have wanted to sign on for a further term and who have either been discouraged in one way or another or have been definitely turned down. Such cases make strange reading against the background of this alleged manpower shortage.
I, like other hon. Members, hold a "surgery" in my constituency. On Saturday two former R.A.F. men came to see me. One was an officer who had worked his way up from A.C.2 to the rank of flight lieutenant in the secretarial branch. He had served for twenty-one years and had been awarded the M.B.E. He had played hockey for the Services team. Yet, when he wanted to sign on again until the age of fifty-five, he was turned down. It was said that he was not wanted. Only six months earlier he had been offered a permanent commission, but at that time his wife was very ill and he could not consider it.
I sent details of another case to the Under-Secretary only recently. It was of 1874 a corporal with eight years' service in the signals branch, where he had worked, I believe, as a teleprinter operator. He had come out into civilian life, had not liked it and had wanted to get back into the Service, but the authorities would not have him. I looked at his record. There seemed to be nothing against him, and he had been promoted to corporal. Why is it that in some instances it appears that there is a sort of blind prejudice working against the re-enlistment of these men?
The subject of batmen has been discussed by a number of hon. Members. We ought to look again at the question of National Service men doing domestic work when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints so rightly says, it ought to be possible, especially with the new pay code, for the families concerned to get their domestic assistance just as other families do, if they find that the work is too much for the lady of the house. That applies especially to Cyprus.
Only on Saturday—and, again, I have written to the Department about it—I was given details of a man who on enlistment was in Grade 2. He had had a serious operation after his call-up, and had been in the Service no more than twelve weeks when he was posted to Cyprus as a batman. Is it necessary to send batmen to Cyprus, anyhow? Cannot we find local labour there? If we are to send men, I should have thought that, in the special circumstances of the time, they ought to be fit men and not men such as this one, who is just out of hospital after an operation on his legs for varicose veins.
Several hon. Members have raised the question of education allowances in the Royal Air Force. This again seems to be one of those extraordinary pieces of obstinacy on the part of somebody in the Government. I think that £67 million is the figure for extra pay and allowances, and yet when we look at education allowances, which are recognised by everybody to be so important, we find cheese-paring.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln made a great point about the more mature men we shall need in the Service of the future. That is true of the men in ground trades and even in flying crews. I was most interested to read a report about one of the crack squadrons in the United States Air Force, which 1875 said that the average age of their pilots was 31. That is a most extraordinary development. The old days of Pilot Officer Prune have gone.
§ Mr. Beswick
No, fighter pilots. Of course, the bomber pilot will be no younger—probably older.
With the new machines we shall depend on the family man. If we are to have men of about 30 years of age, they will think particularly of their children. Several hon. Members have said that recruiting is not only a problem of pay, and it is not. I have found that the question "of the education of my children"—as they put it—comes up over and over again. We could probably have done more with less money in this respect than in any other in connection with recruiting. I do ask the Secretary of State to raise this matter again with the Treasury. I thought it was the Treasury—it must have been—that made the original decision, yet it is the same Treasury which has given these very generous pay and allowances. I think it should look again at the educational allowance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) raised the question of housing for ex-Service men. I think the Secretary of State should tell the Minister of Housing and Local Government that the circular which he sent to local authorities has not solved the problem of housing for ex-Service men. It is still a very serious difficulty, and must have a serious effect on the problem of recruiting. A man comes out of the Service and has no house and no possibility of getting one under the housing policy of the Government.
I wish also to raise the question of employment. An officer coming out at the age of 40 or 45 finds it difficult to get a position in civil life unless he has very special technical qualifications. I wonder if anything more can be done to help in that respect. I have known two or three people who have taken on some sort of a job, but not the kind of job they could have done in the light of the responsibilities that they previously had in the Service. There seems to be almost some prejudice against the Service man who comes out at 40 to 50. If anything could be done to help him, I am sure that it would help the Service generally.
1876 Much has been said about the Royal Air Force. I feel, as I said at the beginning, that if we are really to establish permanent peace in this world it has to be done more on the lines of disarmament than by nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, it is the policy to have a Royal Air Force until we get agreement on disarmament. Therefore, I should like to see a really active force and to feel that the people in that force have the sense of belonging to an efficient Service. So far as we can help in this House, we have a duty on those lines.
§ 12.27 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Christopher Soames)
We have just heard from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) a most interesting and helpful speech, in the course of which he asked a number of very pertinent questions. We would like to have time to study a number of the questions he put. My right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that he will look again into the question of the hon. Member flying in the Victor, and perhaps something more can be done about that.
I am sorry if I appeared obtuse on the question of the strengthening of the military Comet II. What I meant to say, and what I think I did say, was that the only extra strengthening of the military Comet over and above what was to be done to the civilian Comet was to the floor of the aircraft to enable it to carry the freight.
The hon. Member quoted some figures for the gestation period of American bombers, which I should like to look at and which would require time for study. He also asked whether it would not be advantageous if general duties officers were given more experience in the technical world. Of course, as we are moving into an ever more technical Service—with the use of the push-button, as the hon. Member called it, coming more to the fore—it is vital that the general duties officer, who forms the backbone of the Royal Air Force, should get as much technical knowledge and training as possible. That is being looked into with a view to considering to what extent it can be developed.
The hon. Member mentioned the employment of manpower, especially National Service men, and that question was raised also by the hon. Member for 1877 Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) and the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates). We do what we can to see that National Service men get into a trade which will fit in with their civilian professions.
The first R.A.F. station I visited when I went to the Air Ministry was Carding-ton, and I was most interested to see how this worked. It so happened that my going to the Air Ministry coincided with the end of the academic year, which is a most difficult time at Cardington, because that is when young men leaving school want to go straight into the Air Force; there is a flow of men, many of whom are in very high educational categories, and it is extremely difficult to fit them all into suitable tasks.
They are asked what they would like to do and can make five choices. They are put through various tests to see what they would fit into best, and the trades are classified in five grades. To take an example of what may seem an ignominous job that has to be done, and which takes quite a number of men, a cook is a Grade 3 job. I think hon. Gentlemen would agree that it is essential that cooking should not be considered a menial task, for the R.A.F. has to be well fed, in just the same way as the Army.
There are many trades in civilian life for which the R.A.F. would have no use as such. Leather workers have been mentioned, for instance.
§ Mr. Soames
Metal workers, of course, we have a use for, but there are a number of trades that the R.A.F. cannot use.
There are some trades in the R.A.F. which are much more popular than others, and for which there is considerable competition. There is a requirement for only so many National Service men in various trades, and the others have to overspill into other trades. After my visit to Cardington I was impressed with the way in which the R.A.F. makes every effort to fit men into suitable trades but the Service cannot guarantee that that can happen in every case.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Could the hon. Gentleman say how long cooks have been in Grade 3 category? I well re 1878 member mentioning this problem two years ago on the Estimates, at which time boys who had signed on for three years were told on getting to Cardington that they could be only cooks, administrative orderlies or gardeners on a three-year period, but if they signed on for four years they could be transport or flight mechanics, and so on, so the cook's grade must have been raised in the last two or three years.
§ Mr. Soames
No. There are certain trades which require a great deal of training, and a man wanting to train for such a trade is told that he must sign on for a certain length of time, so that we get some advantage from all the training given. That is the reason for putting men into those categories.
We had a most interesting speech from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who asked how many Regular recruits we had obtained during the past year. The figure for the financial year is not yet complete, but we estimate it to be 21,000, which includes aircrew as well as ground staff, compared with 26,000 for the preceding year.
We are not happy with that figure. We hope that the increases in pay will help to a very large extent to remedy this trend of lower Regular recruiting but, of course, pay is not everything in the Service. We are very much aware of the need to make the Service as attractive as possible. In my view, one of the first priorities is to make it possible for a man to have a full career in the Service if he wishes. The hon. Member for Uxbridge mentioned the case of a man who wanted to sign on until he was 55. If he will send me particulars of the case I will gladly examine it. It is vital that a full career should be open to a man and that he should not be forced to leave at the age of 40 or 45, perhaps without any experience which might serve him well in civilian life.
The hon. Member for Lincoln asked about "civilianisation." For a number of years we have been replacing men with civilians where it can be done without impairing the effectiveness and mobility of the Air Force. Three out of every ten men paid out of Air Votes are now civilians. We have gone a long way towards civilianising. We should like to go further, but the further we go the more difficult it becomes and we are 1879 coming to the hard core where it is necessary that the men should be in uniform. Civilianising has not progressed very far in this last year because we have been reaching that point, but that does not mean that we shall not continue to do, everything we can about it.
The hon. Member for Lincoln referred to the church of St. Clement Dane, and said that at one station men were placed in an embarrassing position by having to opt out of subscribing towards it. I have looked into the matter. The personnel at that station—and I know only about that one particular station—were asked to return slips stating whether or not they wished to contribute. I agree that this does not appear to have been the happiest way of handling the matter, but I am sure that it sprang only from an excess of zeal for raising as much money as possible for the church, and did not arise from any grave ills inherent in the running of the Service. I am grateful to the hon. Member for bringing the matter to my notice.
The hon. Member referred to the ballistic rocket—a very big topic. He asked whether we were making or were going to make the 5,000 miles intercontinental ballistic rocket which the Americans are making. What we are going for is the intermediate rocket designed to meet the requirements of geography with which we are faced. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence said last week, there are special and extensive arrangements for close collaboration between this country and the United States on the future of guided missiles. Ballistic missiles come within this arrangement. Limitations on information affecting the war-head are imposed upon the United States by their Atomic Energy Act, but, otherwise, we have the same collaboration in work on these ballistic missiles as we have on other forms of guided weapons.
The hon. Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) asked about the inquiry which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War announced in last week's debate on the Army Estimates. The inquiry will concern itself solely with the employment of National Service men in the Army. As my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier this afternoon, a committee under Air Chief Marshal Sir Leslie Hollinghurst has just completed review- 1880 ing the arrangements for servicing aircraft and other technical equipment, and this covers to a large extent the use to which our technical manpower is put.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the employment of batmen and suggested that in these days the service of a batman was an outmoded luxury. I really would not have thought that the provision of batmen on the scale of one to four junior officers could fairly be described in those terms. What worried the hon. Gentleman, I gather, was that any batmen should work in a married quarter, and the purpose of my intervention was, to find out whether he was interested only in that point.
Our view is that an officer living in a married quarter is entitled to the same service as an officer living in the officers' mess. We have issued firm instructions, and those that the hon. Gentleman read out with, I think, some intention to ridicule them, are the kind of instructions that are provided by the Service so that the duties of a batman do not go beyond what they should do. Those instructions are intended to be helpful, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to pursue the matter any further.
He also suggested that it would make conditions of service more attractive if airmen were allowed to claim their discharge at any time they thought fit. The hon. Gentleman thought six months' notice was enough, whereas the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) preferred a fortnight. The hard fact is that a Service cannot be run in that way. We have to plan to send a number of men abroad, and that cannot be done if they can give six months' notice at any time.
In cases of hardship, of course, we always consider compassionate discharge, and that can be immediate, without any notice. But it will not have escaped the notice of the hon. Gentleman that the new pay code which has been brought out recently puts great emphasis on long service, and the man who signs on for a longer time gets better pay than does the man who is only on short service. Similarly, as I said earlier, the man on long service has a greater chance of getting the trade he wants. I do not think that the House would think it right that a man should have all the benefits, in pay, trade and leave, of long service 1881 and at the same time be able to opt out on notice of a month or so.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing-Commander Bullus) asked about the Miles 100 and the Jet Provost. This arises from an experiment on whether pilots should be taught from the beginning to fly jets, as opposed to, the present system of flying piston-engined aircraft first and then going on to jets. The experiment is most interesting, and hon. Members will realise that we want to be certain that it is right before it is finally adopted by the Air Force as the means of training fighter pilots. However, if we decide to adopt what is called ab initio jet training, those aircraft which are available, of which the Miles 100 is one and the Jet Provost is another, will be considered by the Air Staff, who will decide which would be most suitable to order for the Air Force; and the Miles 100 will certainly get a fair examination.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) both made extremely interesting speeches about the technicalities of ordering research and development and the production of aircraft. We shall study with the very greatest care the suggestions which they made. It was interesting to hear from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield, who has had so much personal experience in these problems, what happened to an aircraft which he knows so well.
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) made a most helpful, and also most generous, speech which I am sure will be read with the greatest satisfaction by those serving in the Royal Air Force. If I were to pick out any particular point that he made, it would be one that was also made by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge, about housing Service men when their service is over. The House knows the steps that were taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to point out to local authorities what should be their responsibilities in the matter, in the hope that they would view the matter in the light which he wished. We have heard a good deal of comment in the debate 1882 that it is not working out in this way, and I am sure that that will be noticed by my right hon. Friend. I will certainly bring it to his attention, and I hope that he will perhaps be able to take some helpful action to bring about the desired result.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) asked about the maintenance unit at Cosford. I have obtained some information on this, and I can confirm that the unit, a civilian-manned aircraft storage unit, is due to close. The trade unions concerned have been told about it. My hon. Friend inquired whether we could ensure that Members of Parliament should always be informed before, or at the time of, the closing of a large unit. That is a most interesting suggestion. I do not think that it has previously been considered by Service Departments that Members of Parliament should invariably be informed. It is something on which no precise assurance can be given, because it is difficult to know where to draw the line—when an hon. Member should be informed and when it would not be necessary to worry him with it. However, it is a suggestion which we will certainly examine.
We had a most interesting speech on foreign affairs by the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus). Then we had from the hon. Member for Ladywood, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock)—and also to some extent from the hon. Member for Gorton—a lot about how it really was not worth arming at all and how the deterrent is something which is quite outdated now and how we are just throwing a lot of our money away. It has always amused me that that view should be held most strongly by those whom I have always considered to be the greatest students of the works of Marx and Lenin. I should have thought that they would have seen from those works how very necessary it was for the West to maintain a deterrent.
There is a tendency, which is by no means absent even in this House, to compare our present front-line aircraft with the types which other nations have in the course of development, rather than with those which they have in general service. This is to weight the comparison improperly against us. We must compare 1883 like with like, the present with the present, and not with three years hence. Other nations also have their development problems, and take time to re-equip their forces. The appearance of a new aircraft in a May Day fly-past over Moscow does not mean, any more than does a Farnborough debut, that it is in widespread squadron service.
Hon. Members will not expect me to attempt to embark on a detailed account of our assessment of the comparative merits of the Royal Air Force and those of a possible enemy; but I can assure the House that such an assessment, even were it confined to aircraft alone, and disregarded such vital factors as morale, training, skill, discipline, logistic backing, and all the other things which go to make an efficient fighting force, would reveal a much less sombre picture than many hon. Members opposite seem to imagine. When we survey the Royal Air Force as a whole, we may feel secure in the possession of an integrated fighting weapon which can hold its own in modern war with any force it may be called on to fight. It has its problems now, as it has always had, and always will have; but it remains a force in whose spirit and capability the nation can rightly have both pride and confidence.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]