HC Deb 03 December 1957 vol 579 cc307-26

7.59 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Charles Orr-Ewing)

I beg to move, That the Draft Air Force Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November, be approved.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I wish to call your attention to the fact that 40 Members are not present.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

We cannot have a Count at this time. It is not the time for a Count. It is between 7.30 and 8.30.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The House will be glad to know that my introductory speech will be short, partly because I am not clear even at this stage exactly what it is in order for me to say, and partly because the Air Force Act is modelled very closely on the Army Act and we have spent nearly five hours in debating that Act thoroughly. Therefore, I will just summarise the position.

As the House knows, the Air Force Act, 1955, came into force on 1st January, 1957. It expires at the end of this year unless continued under Section 224 of the Act. This Section lays down that Her Majesty may, by Order in Council, provide that the Act shall remain in force for a further twelve months. The draft Order in Council has to be laid before Parliament and to be approved by an Affirmative Resolution of each House.

We are now concerned with the first draft Order in Council, the Draft Air Force Act. 1955 (Continuation) Order in Council, 1957, arising under the Act. Its purpose is to continue the Act in operation up to the end of 1958. I do not think that any hon. Member will say that it is controversial.

The Select Committee which reviewed the old Army and Air Force Acts gave a great deal of thought to the alternatives to the old procedure under which those Acts were extended or renewed annually by an Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill. The Committee was concerned about the opportunities for obstruction and consumption of Parliamentary time afforded by the old procedure, but was anxious also that the opportunities for debate which the old system allowed should not be lost, and that the new Acts should be kept up to date by review at reasonable intervals.

It therefore devised, I think at the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—to whose work, in this respect at least, I am glad to add my tribute—the present system under which only four successive Orders in Council are permissible, legislation being necessary in the fifth year to extend the life of the Act. The Government have already explained that their intention is to arrange that the next five-yearly review should be carried out by a Select Committee. I only hope that the next Select Committee will be as successful as the last and that the Act can be brought up to date as necessary.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I deputise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). I am sure that the House will join with me, as it did with the Secretary of State for War, in sending good wishes to my right hon. Friend and expressing regret that he is unable to be here today.

I do not imagine that this debate will occupy a great deal of time, because a lot of the ground was covered during the debate on the Army. I will follow the example of the Under-Secretary of State for Air who, with commendable brevity, discharged his duty to the House in moving this Motion. I will deal with one or two points that arose earlier and will try to relate them to the Air Force.

I think it right that in dealing with this matter the Minister should pay attention to the background of the Order which we now have to consider. We are all familiar with the great piece of Parliamentary work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in achieving a complete revision of the Service Acts by tabling the Amendments in 1952. In the course of the earlier debate we have gone over the changes that have been brought about.

It is important that the new procedure which we are adopting of an annual continuation order should safeguard to the House the things which it has most valued since the Bill of Rights, its control of the Army. We are lucky in having to guide us today not only the wisdom of Mr. Speaker and his deputies but also a new edition of Erskine May, which was published after the new Army Act had been published.

I will, if I may, and just for the record—because I attach very great importance to the procedure that we are initiating—quote two passages from Erskine May. I refer to page 742 of the new edition. There is a section on the Army and Air Force Acts which begins: The consent of Parliament necessary to legalise the raising and keeping of a standing Army within the United Kingdom in time of peace was for many years so intimately connected with the grant of supplies to the Crown that Bills which gave that consent were limited to one year's duration. Later, at the very end of the same section, the new editor of Erskine May points out that by the procedure laid down in the legislation of 1955, that is, of course, the Measure whose continuation we are now discussing, the Commons reserve to themselves the power of determining whether a standing Army shall be kept in being in time of peace. Therefore, when we debate this Order we debate not only the detailed questions to which I propose in a moment to direct attention, but also the continuing under the new procedure of our traditional right over the whole question of the control of the Armed Forces.

I am grateful for the way in which Mr. Speaker and other occupants of the Chair this evening have approached the question of the limits of order. Perhaps I may adapt the police caution which is used for criminals and say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that any words you may say may be taken down and used in evidence against us. Your Ruling today will decide how far Parliament may be able in the future to discuss these matters.

I want to issue only one caveat to the House. We should be very careful, in preserving the forms of our Parliamentary rights and privileges as we do today, not to forget the reality, which is that, in modern circumstances, the control of the weapons of the Army has now passed from this House and, indeed, even from the Cabinet itself.

Lest I be thought to be out of order even in referring to this matter, I would ask the House to look at Section 177, which gives power of command to anyone who Her Majesty may decide should be in command of our Armed Forces. Presumably, that power of command is that which commits our Air Force, as part of N.A.T.O. forces, and therefore takes the actual decision on peace and war from this House. It would be out of order for me to pursue that line but we should not forget the realities of modern war.

I should like briefly to put some practical questions to the Secretary of State for Air who, I believe, will wind up the debate. During the 10 or 11 months in which the Act has been working, has he experienced any difficulties, and particularly, is he accumulating these snags in preparation for the quinquennial review, which is still four years away? Since Parliament is deprived under the new procedure of the right of amending the Air Force Act every year, it is all the more necessary—I am sure that this is being done by the right hon. Gentleman and his Department—that snags encountered through experience should be put by in readiness for the quinquennial review.

I would ask a practical question about the problem of redundancy as affecting officers under the new defence procedures. The new defence arrangements mean, for many distinguished serving officers, the premature determination of the career which they chose, and it is appropriate, under the provisions of the Act, to ask how these redundancy arrangements are working and whether the Minister has any statement to make about them.

I come to a question which has occupied much attention today and must rightly be in the minds of all hon. Members, and that is the problem of recruitment. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley proposes to address the House again, if he should catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley) indicated assent.

Mr. Benn

I very much hope he will, because he speaks with such very great authority on recruitment. I therefore will not go in detail into the figures. The published figures made available on 8th November and today show that the short-term engagements are falling heavily and that the only sign of an upward trend is in the long-term engagements. Perhaps the Minister will say something about this matter.

I should like to add some ideas of my own about the general problem of making Service life attractive, which has been the subject of so much comment in these debates. I begin with a reference to the so-called Grigg Committee which has recently been set up. Some very unkind things have been said about that Committee and it is undoubtedly true that the problem of making Service life attractive has been left for far too long uncared for. For all that—the fact that it is late, and so on—I think there is value in this Committee. I believe the one particularly inspired appointment, if I may pick one out, is the appointment of the editor of the Daily Mirror to serve on the Committee—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I hope he will not pursue the question of the Grigg Committee too far, for that is a matter for the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Benn

A great proportion of its work deals with enlistment and terms of service, and I very much hope that it will not be inappropriate to deal with it, as part of the Act is concerned entirely with the question of getting people into the Services.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The General recruiting arrangements can be discussed, but the question of the Grigg Committee is one affecting the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Wigg

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As the Order before the House has exactly the same wording as the Order dealing with the Army and as the Chair on the occasion of that discussion certainly allowed me to make substantial reference to the Grigg Committee, would you reconsider your Ruling and in doing so bear in mind that the gentleman in the Civil Service who has been appointed to act as Secretary has been drawn from the Air Ministry? Therefore, the question is particularly applicable to this Order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

As I understand the position, detailed reference to the Grigg Committee would not be in order on this occasion.

Mr. Benn

I certainly did not propose to go into details of recruitment, but into the general problem of getting people into the Services, which has been the subject of a great deal of discussion earlier.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I only suggested that, as it was not in order to go into detail.

Mr. Benn

I should hate to think that the tablets of stone handed to the Chair were more restrictive in the case of the Air Force than of the Army. I greatly regret that Members of Parliament have not been used as members of any Committee investigating the question of Service life. The earlier parts of speeches made by the Ministers today have been of fulsome praise for the Select Committee which, under the leadership of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), examined the working of the Act. It seemed rather curious after all those tributes to what in practice was a Parliamentary Committee working side by side with a Departmental Committee that there should be no thought of incorporating hon. Members of this House and associating them with the work of this new Committee.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State would be willing to consider this or make recommendations for it to be considered, as Members of Parliament are closely and intimately concerned with these problems and one might say that in their constituency capacity they act as welfare officers. I should be very much surprised if hon. Members were not quite as well able as people doing public opinion surveys to give useful ideas, which could be put into the Bill, on these general problems of making Service life attractive.

I fully accept what has been said this afternoon—that this Act is not the key to the problem of recruitment. The sergeant-major who wants to be unpleasant does not need the Air Force Act, nor does the flight sergeant or warrant officer. Similarly, the air officer who tries to protect himself will find that the least effective means is the Act. The barrack room lawyer is not completely safe from the bullying of the non-commissioned officer or the commissioned officer. The problem is not so much bullying as being behind the times in one's psychological approach. That pay is an element has been mentioned, and conditions and accommodation are of course important, but the main element is that the job should be attractive and interesting. There is plenty of experience to show that recruitment for the most dangerous and difficult jobs, like those in submarines, or as air crews, or parachutists and so on, where conditions may be appalling and worse than those in which less exciting work is done, is not at all difficult. The real problem—I speak from a limited war-time experience—is what to do about the unavoidably dull jobs and how to create for the men asked to do those jobs a feeling that there they are worth while.

I do not pretend to know what the answer to this is, but I feel that an answer may lie in the principles which underlie the industrial approach. I want to be careful here because I do not want to say anything which would be unfair to serving or non-commissioned officers, but so far as possible I want to contrast the modern approach of management with the traditional approach of the Services. The first thing that comes to mind is that if one asks an ordinary personnel manager how to get the best out of a man he will say that the answer lies in being sure that the man always knows exactly what he is required to do and why he is required to do it.

On the whole, the Service tradition is absolutely the opposite of that. Whether it is the opposite now, in modern circumstances, to the extent to which it used to be I do not know, but it is certainly the general view of men that when a man is embodied in uniform the man in charge will think he can get more out of him if he does not tell him the reason he is required to perform this or that service. That is in complete contrast with modern industrial practice.

The second thing the modern man-manager will say is that if one wants to get the best out of a man it is better to ask his opinion, because in the field in which he is an expert he will possibly be richer in ideas than the supervising officer, but that is not the common Service approach. I was highly delighted and very surprised to discover that the Army had already begun to use the public opinion poll three years ago to find what factors influenced men in deciding whether to re-engage or not. The Under-Secretary of State for War was too cagey to give the results of those inquiries, but it was the first time, I am informed, that public opinion technique had been used with Service men. I should like to sec this new Committee, or any Committee set up to examine the problem of recruitment, investigate the question of how far we can apply modern psychological techniques to the Services.

Thirdly, the difference between Service and civilian life is that most civilian managers will say that a man will give of his best if he is given the widest possible rein to use his own initiative and decision and is not "mucked about" in his job. Although I have no doubt that in the Services initiative is a highly prized quality and must remain so in the case of air crew and some very specialised jobs, it still remains true that in many jobs a man in uniform feels more supervised and controlled, not only when doing his job but in his daily life. The difference lies in the feeling one has in civilian life than one is respected as a person and individual. Eccentricity is welcomed and somewhat admired, but in the Services in the past it has not been possible, or thought possible, to recognise the existence of these divergencies.

Those are some of the elements which I very much hope will be investigated as part of the general review of the Air Force. Reference was made—and I would not entirely rule it out—to the rôle of idealism in the Service man, the man who joins because he believes that it is a worth-while career. I always feel that possibly "idealism" is not the right word to use, because it is more than just idealism. In many cases it is a political consciousness of the rôle which a person performs in the Service.

I was much struck on an occasion during the war, when I was an A.C.2 travelling in a troopship from the United Kingdom to South Africa, at the very stern treatment which we received from the commanding officer when it was proposed that we should have a meeting the subject of which was, "The world we are fighting for". I am afraid that I was partly responsible for organising the meeting, and I was summoned by the O.C. Troops to his office and told that under no circumstances were politics to be permitted. To me, the case for the war was a political case.

One has to be very careful—one can carry it too far—in the Services not to eliminate that amount of self-thinking which is bound to include politics and which is an essential part of the personality, the individuality and the idealism of the individual serving man.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister on the way in which he introduced the Order and the House on the way on which the new procedure was adopted. I very much hope that some, at least, of the questions which I have put to the Secretary of State will be answered in his reply.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

The reminiscences of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. South-East (Mr. Benn) of his early days in the Air Force recall to my mind my first contact with the Royal Air Force, back in the dawn of history, as one of my hon. Friends puts it. It was in 1922, and I was suddenly ordered to Constantinople, in the emergency of that time. I found myself on the good ship s.s. "Eboe" and found that the officer commanding the troops was Squadron Leader Tedder. I had been brought up on a diet of, Army discipline, but there I found the first distinction between discipline and "bull".

Subsequently, in various periods of my service I served with the Royal Air Force. For three years, in Iraq, I was attached to the Royal Air Force. I found that there was an absence of the strict, easy-going recognisable discipline which exists in good units of the Army and that one tended to swing from what the troops called "blimey" to "gorblimey". One never knew quite where one was, because it changed with changing moods. I later came to reflect on this. Perhaps it was inevitable in a force organised as the Royal Air Force is organised. It has to do a job and it must have a different approach.

When we sat on the Select Committee, therefore, and when we were considering whether we should have a separate Army Act and a separate Air Force Act, I was all in favour of a separate Air Force Act and of trying to look at the problems not through Army eyes but through Air Force eyes. The Army is different from the Air Force and the Air Force is different from the Army. This does not mean that one is better than the other. They are different and are doing different jobs.

How far that difference can go can be seen when one looks at the Royal Air Force Regiment. I have a soft spot for the Royal Air Force Regiment. I believe that if the Government had had a little more guts the Royal Air Force Regiment might have saved our position in the Middle East at the time of the dismissal of Glubb Pasha. It would be wrong for me to go into strategy, or to delve too far into the situation in the Middle East, but I have a feeling that if the R.A.F. Regiment had been up to its job and if the Government had had some guts and had put the R.A.F. Regiment, in the Hastings which were available, into Mafrak the linchpin of British power might well have held and we might have avoided the Suez disaster.

Unfortunately, the R.A.F. Regiment is not what I should like it to be. I do not want to turn it into a Guards regiment, but I wish the men in it would get their hair cut and would get creases in their trousers and would get smartened up. I do not mean smartened up in terms of the Guards depôt but smartened up in terms of R.A.F. discipline. The point I wish to make, however, is that what I want and what we have is an Air Force Act to tackle Royal Air Force problems.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Before the hon. Member leaves the point about the R.A.F. Regiment, I should draw his attention to some of the very smart displays which they have given, not least at the Royal Tournament. They have set an example there which I am sure he would agree is second to none and which has been quite as good as that of the Brigade of Guards. I have seen these men, interviewed them and inspected them in this country and in most parts of Europe, and I have always found them to have a first-rate turnout. I am sure that the House would not wish it to be placed on record that the R.A.F. Regiment is anything but the best.

Mr. Wigg

It would have been better if the hon. Member had held his peace. This shows how unwise it is of the Government to put "Smart Alecs" in the Service Departments. The hon. Member always makes capital, strikes the Box and goes for the obvious. This was the downfall of the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) in his early days in the War Office, but he has learned a lot since then. He, like the hon. Gentleman, can be compared to a pike on a frosty morning; he goes for the first thing that glitters and takes it hook, line and sinker.

If the hon. Member had given some thought to it he would have wanted to get rid of the Royal Tournament idea. He would have wanted to get rid of the annual flummery of the Horse Guards Parade, when the Queen troops the Colour. I very well remember sitting with my daughter outside Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day and seeing this wonderful display. The crowd cheered and hon. Members came along and said how marvellous it was.

Scratching my head, I asked myself, "How many chaps are left in the cook house? Whom is this intended to deceive? If the Armed Forces are putting on displays for television, this is magnificent—but it is not war." I am sure that it did not deceive the Soviet Military Attaché. We should get rid of all this pipe claying nonsense and the flummery which goes with it. War is a serious business. This country is not broke, but it is nearly broke. It can provide only enough money for the real thing, and that is seen not in how the hon. Member and his family clap their hands at the Royal Tournament but in whether there was enough air transport for Suez—and there was not. There was not enough air transport when Glubb Pasha went. I hope that the hon. Member will now leave House and resign before he talks any more arrant nonsense.

I was turning, before that absurd interruption, to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East had to say. I am sorry that he was ruled out of order on the subject of the Grigg Committee. It is not for me to challenge the Chair. The Chair gives its Rulings, I have my opinion, time marches on, and we shall see. When my hon. Friend spoke about the Bill of Rights he was clearly out of order, because the Bill of Rights has nothing to do with the Air Force. It has to do with the Army, of course, and I spoke about that in the Select Committee. If my hon. Friend looks at Chapter 2 of the Queen's Regulations for the Royal Air Force he will see that The power is vested in Her Majesty by Section 2 of the Air Force (Constitution) Act, 1917, to make orders with respect, inter alia, to the government of the Air Force. That paragraph, which is, I understand, an enactment of this House, accounts for the substantial difference between the Royal Air Force and the Army. One of the things that I cannot understand—I wish the hon. Gentleman would tell me—is the point at which the line is drawn between exercise of prerogative and provivision by Statute.

I look at the opening words of the Air Force Act and of the Army Act and find that they are to make provision for the Air Force and for the Army. Then we find in both Acts that which makes it clear that the power of command is vested in the Sovereign, and under the Act which constituted the Royal Air Force we made it clear that its government is vested in the Sovereign, i.e., through the exercise of the prerogative.

But I cannot find out, though I have consulted what authorities are open to me, including the opinion, which I greatly respect, of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), who was the Chairman of our Select Committee, as to where this line is drawn. I do not think that it has any practical effect, but it is an academic exercise and is very important for the guidance of the Chair when deciding what is and what is not in order.

I do not want to delay the House long, but I thought that I should be failing in my duty were I not to mention one or two matters. I have already paid tribute to the way the Army has done the preliminary work. I said that it was clear that once the Army and Air Force Bill became law that was only part of the job, and that it had to be carried into effect. The Army has produced an admirable Manual of Military Law, and the Air Force has produced an excellent Manual of Air Force Law. I have given the Army my praise, and have said that I only wished that all Army jobs were done as well as that.

The Air Force Manual is, if anything, better, because pages 1 to 22 contain a most valuable, and, I found, thrilling—historical introduction. I would go further. My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) said he wondered whether the Manual of Military Law was available to other ranks. Times have changed, and while I quite agree that there are not many other ranks who would pay 15s. for a copy, I should have thought that copies were available in the unit libraries—not to train barrack-room lawyers but so that the men could read all about it.

At the same time, I would say to the Secretary of State for Air that in the interests of the morale of the Royal Air Force he would be very wise, indeed, to make this publication available in units. The first 20 pages are much better than lots of the slush turned out by the Services to push their cause. The historical section is admirably written, and whilst I have almost lost the thrill that youth has, it gave me a thrill to read that history of the Royal Air Force and, for a moment, to be reminded of the gallantry over the last forty years of the officers and men who served in its ranks.

Both Services can be very proud indeed of the work that has been done. I do not know enough about the existing administration of the Royal Air Force or how it compares with that of the Army, which is my first love and about which I know a little more, but this is a first-class job of which the Royal Air Force can be proud.

We had a number of differences on the Select Committee, and on one or two points I managed to persuade some of my colleagues to take decisions which the Government resisted. We may have been right—there was one on forfeiture of pay—or we may have been wrong, but I believe that next year, or certainly the year after, the Secretary of State for War ought to tell us a little more how this Measure is working. I do not complain that that was not done today—a year is too soon—but in future years we should hear from the Government benches an account of how the Act is working.

I should like the Secretary of State to consider the publication of an annual report giving us some statistics about courts-martial, and the nature of the offences; some information about the educational certificates held by men on entering the forces, and about the certificates they gain while serving. I would like to have some details about hospitalisation. Here I am thinking of the kind of thing that was published before the war—not elaborate, but containing sufficient information to enable hon. Gentlemen who are not conversant with everyday life in the forces to get a picture, if they care to be diligent enough, of what is happening.

The purpose of this debate is not merely an academic exercise, not a political exercise in which the Government justify to the House of Commons the extension of their power to maintain an Army and an Air Force. It is something more than that. Dare I say that we are here creating a way of life? The Secretary of State for Air and the Secretary of State for War have a responsibility to the House of Commons for their Services, but each has a responsibility also to his Service for the House of Commons.

The House of Commons ought to take a much greater interest in what happens in the Services than it has done in the past. It is an absolute disgrace that the Army and Air Force Acts became as out of date as they were. Because they were in that state, the Government have been in great difficulties about recruiting. In the years when the Government did not care a damn about the Army or the Air Force, they got a much better Army and a much better Air Force than they deserved. In times of crisis, neither the Army nor the Air Force ever let the country down. But during the years there is a tendency to forget.

It is not only a matter of the Secretary of State for War or the Secretary of State for Air speaking for their Services in this House. The further important matter is whether each will be able to handle problems in his Department much more easily and better, looking his own officials in the face, and facing the Army Council or the Air Council, if he is able to say, "The House of Commons wants to know what is happening and is prepared to give me every backing in making life tolerable and of a character which will encourage men to come in, and, having come in, to stay in." That, according to my understanding, should be the mood in which we approach these problems today.

I do not complain overmuch. This is the first debate, and I think that we have done much better than we might. We have not wandered too far from the kind of principles and ideas that members of the Select Committee had in mind—a debate in addition to the Estimates in which we would discuss the code of discipline of the Services and a number of Service problems inside the framework of an Act. I am sure that we shall do better next year and in succeeding years. If the Secretary of State will help us by giving the maximum amount of information compatible with security, it would help us to help him to get the kind of Air Force we want.

8.38 p.m.

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

We are quite used to innovations in the Royal Air Force, and, by the same token, we are quite used to having teething troubles when we introduce innovations. It is, therefore, very refreshing indeed to say about the new Air Force Act that its introduction has been entirely without teething troubles, without worries and without difficulties. Of course, I realise that it has been in force for only 11 months. Perhaps, it is asking a little too much of it that we should be able to find out all the snags about it, if any, in that very short time, particularly as some of its provisions have not yet been tested. But we can say with confidence, I think, that we are through the difficult transition period, and through it smoothly and without trouble.

While congratulating the Royal Air Force on taking this new Service code in its stride, as it has done, I should like also to add my tribute to the many already paid to those to whom tribute really belongs, namely, the members of the Select Committee which did its task so well and, as I believe, forged a new and really efficient instrument for the control of the Royal Air Force in the future.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) asked if we were collecting snags and making a note of them against the day when we shall have another five-year review. I can assure him that we are. I believe that, so far, the cupboard is empty. If we come across any, we shall certainly note them.

The hon. Gentleman also asked why there were no Members of Parliament looking into the question of recruiting, and pointed out very fairly that Members can be useful in their constituency capacity in helping us to recruit for all three Services. I cannot deal with why there is no Member of Parliament on the Grigg Committee without wandering out of order, even if it were my business to do so, which it is not. I quite agree with him that Members of Parliament can and have often been in the past extremely useful in their constituencies in helping us with a problem of this kind After all, this is a common problem which we all want to have solved. We all want to sec the end of National Service, and we shall all regret very much if it is found impossible to end it in 1962. Therefore, the more help hon. and right hon. Members can give us in their constituencies and the more suggestions they bring to us about ways in which we can improve recruiting, the more pleased and the more grateful we shall be.

The hon. Member for Bristol. South-East also spoke of the attitude of officers and N.C.O.s towards airmen in relation to the equally important problem of internal recruiting. I agree with him again. I am bound to say, from what I know of the Royal Air Force, that the officer-airman relationship is one of which we can be very proud indeed. I agree that it requires constant vigilance to make sure that it remains good. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very conscious of that problem too. I am grateful to him for the helpful way in which he put his points.

Let me say some further words about recruiting, because that seems to be the most important matter. Our task in the sphere of recruiting is twofold. On the one hand, we must recruit over the next five years officers, airmen and airwomen in the numbers, of the quality, with the qualifications and on the lengths of engagement we need to give us a properly balanced all-Regular Air Force. At the same time we must try to persuade substantial numbers to stay in the Air Force and prolong their engagements. We certainly have no inclination whatever to under-estimate the size of this task. It is a formidable one, but it is worth looking at carefully.

It is in the ground trades that the problem of recruiting is greatest. Our long-term aim must be to recruit an average of between 10,000 and 11,000 men each year, including about 3,500 boys and apprentices. This is only the rate of recruitment we need to keep the all-Regular force up to strength. While we are still building it up, we need, in addition to that 10,000 or 11,000 a year, about another 5,000 a year, mainly on three, four and five-year engagements. In addition to this, we must succeed in maintaining a reasonable rate of extensions and re-engagements. Although it is a formidable task, I do not think that it is by any means an impossible one.

We have heard a good deal about the anxiety over the fall in recruiting during the past few months as compared with the same months of last year. I appreciate that anxiety, and I do not for one moment pretend that we are not anxious, too. Even so, there are some very encouraging signs. For example, the drop in recruiting, as I explained recently at Question Time, has occurred mainly in the case of men undertaking the shorter engagements. The numbers coming in on the important long-term engagements, for nine years or more, show an increase over last year's figures. In the case of apprentices and boy entrants, who, after all, will be the long-term hard core of the future Regular Service, the number of apprentices is about 30 per cent. up on last year and the number of boy entrants is nearly 20 per cent. up. Indeed, the targets that we set ourselves for both these categories have been fully met.

The position is also encouraging in certain important groups of trades—for example, the aircraft and air engineering maintenance trades, in which we are within sight of 100 per cent. manning with Regulars. Another hopeful sign is the value we are getting in terms of recruits from the Air Training Corps. This year, over 40 per cent. of the total entry of apprentices and boy entrants was drawn from people who had served in the Air Training Corps. This is the highest percentage of ex-A.T.C. recruits we have ever reached.

Those are encouraging signs. Certainly, none of this suggests that the career which the Royal Air Force can offer is without appeal to the young men of today. What it does look like, however, is that the main difficulty in recruitment will lie in getting the recruits we need in certain specialist trades, such as signals and radar operation and also in the domestic and administrative trades. I believe that we shall have no difficulty in getting recruits in the interesting trades, but we shall, I think, have difficulty in getting them in the less interesting trades.

Turning to officers, it is significant that the number of candidates for entry to Cranwell is allowing us to keep very close to our target. Their quality has improved and we are beginning to feel the advantage of the R.A.F. scholarship scheme which we introduced in 1953. The first scholars from that scheme are now with us. The entry of cadets to the technical college at Henlow has also improved. This also reflects the benefits of the scholarship scheme, which now applies to Henlow cadets as well as to the Cranwell cadets.

I do not want to minimise the difficulty of the task which faces us in recruiting—it would be unwise to do so—but there are, at least, these encouraging pointers to the success of our aims. Therefore, despite the size and complexity of the recruitment problem as a whole, and although there are certain important specialist classes in which the position is particularly difficult, there are grounds for hoping that by the end of 1962 we shall have achieved our aim of an adequate all-Regular force. Particularly gratifying is the high level of recruitment on the long-term commissions and engagements.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East also asked what progress we are making in operating the scheme of premature retirement by officers. I am glad that matter was raised, because it is very important and I welcome the opportunity of saying something about it.

May I remind the House of the basis which was laid down in the White Paper for the selection of officers and airmen for premature retirement? The White Paper said that once we had worked out the detailed composition and rank structure of the Air Force we would be able to determine the extent of the redundancy in each of the many branches within the categories or "bands", as we call them, where the surpluses would occur, and we would give officers and men an opportunity to apply to be retired. Further, we said that it would be our aim, as far as practicable, to select officers and men to be retired from among those who applied.

The first instruction to the Royal Air Force was sent out within a few days of the White Paper being issued. It was limited to redundancies which would arise up to October, 1958. There were two reasons for this. The first was that the most rapid part of the rundown of the Royal Air Force will be happening in the next 12 months. After that, the curve will be flattening out quite considerably. Secondly, we were much clearer in our minds about the precise requirements by rank and branch over the next year or two than we should have been if we had been looking a good deal further ahead. Therefore, we gave officers until 30th September to apply for premature retirement up to October, 1953.

We received about 1,900 applications. This figure included some officers who were not in the defined bands, but the bulk was made up of 40 per cent. of the total of the officers within the categories. These, of course, were the most senior officers within each rank and branch and therefore constituted the most likely field of applicants. There was nothing very surprising about that.

We have examined all these applications very carefully and we have decided that the total to be retired in this first phase, up to October, 1958, is about 1,000. It is a somewhat larger figure than we at first thought likely, but it is very small in comparison with the total officer content of the Service, and, of course, a large number of officers would be retiring in any case in the normal way. We depend upon a combination of both to achieve the rundown. We are anxious that officers should know as quickly as possible what has been the Air Council's decision, so as to keep right down to the minimum the personal anxiety and uncertainty that is bound to accompany any scheme of this kind.

We have already been able to tell several hundreds whether their applications have been approved or not, and we are hoping to tell the rest of the first phase by the end of this year whether their applications have been accepted or not. Hon. Members will remember that the White Paper said—and this is most important from the point of view of the long-term morale, contentment and efficiency of the Air Force—that, provided we were able to maintain the right balance of age, experience and special skill in each branch, we should try to limit our retirements to those who had applied.

I am glad to say that in most individual ranks and branches the number of applications received exceeds the number of retirements necessary. Therefore, we shall not have to retire compulsorily more than a very few officers who have not applied. Although this is only the first phase, it will be the biggest one, because the bulk of our rundown is happening in the next year. We are proposing to publish next spring a further invitation to officers to apply for premature retirement. This second phase will deal with redundancies arising between 1st October, 1958, and March, 1960.

I am afraid that I cannot give the House as much information about airmen because we gave them, in the first phase, up to 31st October to decide whether they wanted to apply. Their applications, therefore, came in a little later than those of the officers, and we are still sorting them out. The same rules applied. We defined the age groups and trade classifications within which we invited airmen to apply for premature retirement, and we hope to be able to tell them by the end of the year what the decisions have been.

Finally, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) drew the attention of the House to the introduction of the Manual of Air Force Law and asked whether this was avaliable to all ranks of the Royal Air Force. I am very glad that he did so, because it gives me an opportunity to pay a tribute to Dr. Noble Frankland who wrote Chapter 2, and I quite agree that it is beautifully written. It is available in the library on stations and I will consider his suggestion, which I think is a very good one, that Chapter 2 might be made available on a larger scale and in a handier form. I will certainly consider whether we can do that. I am quite sure that anyone who reads Chapter 2 of the Manual will feel as proud of the Royal Air Force as I do every time I see it in action.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Air Force Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th November, be approved.