HC Deb 27 March 1957 vol 567 cc1137-8
35. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Air why it was decided that training in current affairs should no longer be compulsory in the Royal Air Force unless commanding officers consider this to be necessary; and in what proportion of the Royal Air Force stations in the United Kingdom and on the Continent of Europe this compulsion is exercised.

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

The earlier scheme of compulsory instruction for airmen in their first or second year of service proved impossible to work without loss of operational efficiency, and was modified on the recommendation of the R.A.F. Education Advisory Committee. Under the arrangements introduced last January instruction is to be provided for all officers and airmen, but I cannot yet say how far it may be found necessary to make attendance at the lectures compulsory.

Mr. Johnson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Wolfenden Report on National Service stated that the young man of today will not present himself voluntarily to the education officer and that pressure is necessary? Is it not most necessary to adopt some system of compulsory education so that the young man may at least know why he is serving where he is, and, indeed, why he is serving at all?

Mr. Ward

We have this obligation very much in mind. Unfortunately, the earlier scheme of compulsory education in working hours simply did not work. After a full-scale review, the Education Advisory Committee concluded that the scheme could not be made to work if operational efficiency was not to suffer, the reason being that men in undermanned trades were constantly unable to attend classes because they could not be spared from their work. The new arrangements are a good deal more flexible, and I think that, for that reason, we may hope they will be more effective.

Mr. Snow

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in the immediate post-war period a great deal of hostility was directed towards the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, chiefly in Conservative circles, which makes the remarks of the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) all the more pleasant to hear?

Mr. Johnson

If it is so difficult to do this in the Royal Air Force, can my right hon. Friend tell me why a compulsory system is used in the Army and in the American Forces?

Mr. Ward

It will, of course, still remain compulsory at some stations, but it is too early to say how many stations will be able to keep it compulsory and how many will not.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there has always been opposition from Regular officers to this kind of education in the Forces? Will he use his influence in getting the matter reconsidered?

Mr. Ward

I will certainly make a note of the hon. Member's point.