§ VOTE 1. PAY, ETC., OF THE AIR FORCE
§ Motion made. Question proposed,
§ That a sum, not exceeding £49,070,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Air Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958, in addition to the sum of £47,550,000 to be allocated for this purpose from the sum of £240,000,000 voted on account of Air Services generally.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
Perhaps it would be helpful if, at this stage, I explained to the Committee the composition of the net total of £487,650,000 provided in the Estimates, of which £240 million has already been granted by the Vote on Account. The £487½ million is about £10 million more than Parliament voted for the R.A.F. last year. The figures for both years take account of receipts of aid from America, and of deutsche-marks from Germany. Before deducting these receipts the total of Air Votes last year was about £525 million, and the total for the current year, which is now presented to Parliament, is £506 million.
Therefore, although the money which Parliament is being asked to vote for the Royal Air Force is £10 million more than last year, the true expenditure covered by the Estimates will be less by about £19 million.
Briefly, the reason for this is that we shall be saving on the pay of Service personnel because of reduced numbers, and on petrol and oil because of changes in the size and shape of the force. Although the number of civilians will be lower, we shall need a little more money because of pay increases.
Expenditure on aircraft and stores will be less than last year's Estimate, although the not total of Vote 7 is greater, mainly because of the reduction in receipts of American aid. Expenditure on the works 1187 programme will be a litle above last year's Estimate, but we are expecting larger receipts from the United States for work done on their behalf, so that the net total of the works Vote is somewhat lower.
After two defence debates, a Defence White Paper and my Estimates Memorandum, I hope that hon. Members will have a clearer knowledge of the Royal Air Fore; of the future. We have tried not only to look ahead, but also to give the House as much information as we possibly can. It has long been a favourite taunt of the Opposition that we never tell them enough about the R.A.F. I hope that I shall not be criticised on that score this year.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said in his speech on 16th April that he was putting a five-year plan to the House. I will try this afternoon to show the Committee what we are proposing to do in the first of these five years towards getting the Royal Air Force working efficiently in its new size and shape at the end of this five-year period. Hon. Members will appreciate that it takes time and skill to adjust such a large organisation while keeping it at maximum efficiency; and, also, that the threat with which the R.A.F. will have to deal will itself be changing from year to year.
The foundation stone of the defence of the West is the possession of the nuclear deterrent to global war, and the ability to make a contribution to it is, in turn, the foundation stone of the defence policy of the United Kingdom. This contribution is most important, and its price is by no means excessive. It has been said that we are devoting too much of our defence expenditure to the deterrent, but I can assure the Committee that we are neither starving our forces in other spheres to produce a British deterrent nor are we devoting the greater part of our research and development effort to it. In fact, of the whole of the defence budget, the V-bomber force will this year absorb only about one-tenth.
The build-up of our force of Valiants has been completed. The Vulcan O.C.U. is already operating and squadrons will soon be forming. The Victor O.C.U. will form later this summer. The means of delivering the 1188 nuclear deterrent will remain the V-bomber force for a long time, and the V-bombers will, of course, continue to play their part after the ballistic missiles have entered the Service. There will be for many years a similar complementary situation with fighters and surface-to-air guided weapons. But all this is looking some time ahead.
In this coming year the aircraft with which Fighter Command is equipped will be steadily improved. The number of Hunter 6s in the day fighter force is growing larger, and by the end of the year almost all our day fighter squadrons will be equipped with them. Similarly, in the all-weather force, the proportion of Javelin squadrons is building up, and the development of the P.l is going well.
The air-to-air guided missile, Fireflash, has started full-scale Service trials on the Swift 7. The purpose of these trials is both to work out the tactics for using air-to-air missiles and also to get practical experience in the handling of such weapons. In this way, the entry of the next air-to-air missile, Firestreak, for which substantial orders have been placed, will be made easier.
Although acceptance trials of this weapon will not start until later in the year, it has already been tested in research and development firings in Australia. These firings have shown how effective the weapon is; several target aircraft were shot down at a variety of heights. When the weapon comes into service and is fitted to Javelins and to P.l.s it should greatly increase the killing power of our fighters.
I want to make it quite clear that for as far ahead as we can see we shall want aircrew in the Royal Air Force as well as operators of guided weapons. Air power has many and different applications. For some roles the guided weapon, as it becomes proven and manufactured on a large scale, will be increasingly effective. For others, the manned aircraft, with the added flexibility that the human mind offers, will have the advantage. Quite apart from the transport and maritime roles this will be particularly true in overseas theatres, where mobility is so important.
In the 2nd Tactical Air Force, which will play its part as an element of the shield forces of N.A.T.O., and in our contributions to the Bagdad Pact and to the 1189 South-East Asia Treaty Organisation we shall continue to rely on manned aircraft. By their flexibility they also offer a swift and economical way of contributing to the defence of our Colonies and Protected Territories.
We must, therefore, keep the time scale of events and the nature of the tasks to be tackled very much in mind. We must remember that the whole process of change is an evolutionary one, in the course of which we must find what is operationally and economically the best answer for each of the many tasks the Royal Air Force has to perform. The R.A.F. regards aircraft and guided weapons as complementary ways of bringing air power to bear.
I should now like to turn for a moment to the control and reporting system. Paragraph 18 of the Memorandum mentioned a streamlining of the United Kingdom radar defence system. This system has changed beyond recognition since the days when radar was first introduced as a defensive weapon. Even the first major re-equipment of the radar system, in 1950, had to depend on a wide variety of specialised single-purpose equipments.
But the technical progress of the last five years has revolutionised and, for once, simplified the problem. The heart of our latest radar defence chain is a high-powered radar which acts both as an early warning and as a control radar. Instead of the previous rather complicated organisation, the commander of the defensive forces can now have before him an instantaneous picture of threatened attack some hundreds of miles before our coasts are reached.
These technical developments have had an important effect upon organisation. The number of radar stations we need to keep is smaller, and the operational machine can be made both simpler and more effective. New plans on which we are working will result not only in a reduction in the number of sites and stations which we have to maintain, but in a large reduction in the manpower needed, coupled with vastly improved radar cover.
And we have not nearly finished. Our defensive system must not only keep up with the ever-developing threat, but must 1190 be able, in the coming years, to provide long range early warning for the operation of our guided weapon defence.
So much for the deterrent and its protection. Let me turn now to one of the most important tasks of the Royal Air Force—to provide mobility for the three Services. The reduction in our overseas garrisons and our other forces overseas has placed greatly increased importance on the central reserve. Air transport is essential to this whole concept. All three Services have for some months been engaged on a study of the air transport forces needed.
There are three requirements. The first is for long-range movement; the second for movement within theatres; and the third for movement within a tactical area. These three requirements call for different types of aircraft. For the first task, the main load will fall on the Britannia 253. This will be our first really long-range transport aircraft designed to carry troops and freight. Thirteen of these aircraft are on order, and more will be ordered. The first aircraft will come into the Air Force next year.
For the present, we must rely on Comet 2s and on the Hastings. Eight Comets are already in Transport Command, and the other two will be delivered very shortly. This Comet squadron is about the same size as B.O.A.C.'s former Comet I fleet. And do not let us ignore the Hastings, because it has been in service for some years. This very reliable aeroplane can carry 44 troops over a stage length of 1,500 miles and has a very useful freight capacity. As the Britannia enters service the Hastings will become a medium-range transport, in which role we plan to have several squadrons for some years. The Comet, with a slightly greater range than the Hastings, will, of course, remain in the long-range force. It has already flown well over 1 million miles in the R.A.F., and is well liked and trusted.
For the second task—movement within overseas theatres—we shall rely largely on the Beverley, supplemented by the Hastings squadrons. The Beverley will be used for deploying forces within a theatre, for parachute and supply drops, and for normal movement of supplies. Over short distances, it can carry a load 1191 of nearly 20 tons. It can carry more than 90 troops over medium distances. Hon. Members may have noted, a few days ago, that a world record was achieved when a single load of 13 tons was dropped by parachute from a Beverley. A large number of these aircraft are on order, and the third squadron is now forming.
We also need a number of smaller aircraft for movement within the tactical area, for example, some twin-rotor helicopters. And the twin Pioneer will supplement the single-engine Pioneers which have already done so well in overseas theatres.
The expansion of Transport Command began over a year ago. Most of the increase in the Command's capacity will come from the introduction of bigger and faster aircraft and we have already gone a long way. If the capacity of the Command is measured simply in terms of passengers carried at any one time, there has already been a twofold increase in the past twelve months. This growth will continue and we hope that in about three years' time the effective air transport capacity available to the Service will be nearly three times what it is today.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Could the right hon. Gentleman give us some figures? He talks about the squadrons of Beverleys. I understand that the number of planes in a squadron varies. Can he inform the uninstructed among us as to the number of aeroplanes?
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. Member has described the aircraft in Transport Command, but he has not mentioned the Valetta.
§ Mr. Ward
I was coming to the Valetta.
In discussing Transport Command, we must not overlook the importance of maintaining a strategic reserve of airlift in the field of civil aviation, which is done, as hon. Members know, by giving civil charter companies contracts for regular trooping for all three Services in peace- 1192 time. The tragic crash of a Viking aircraft engaged on air trooping for the Services on 1st May has led to a number of Questions in the House, and I think it will be helpful if I make a general statement on air trooping. It is, however, impossible to do this very briefly, and I hope that the Committee will bear with me.I am sure that there is no disagreement with the view that the routine movement of troops between the United Kingdom and overseas stations should be carried out largely by air. This policy gives flexibility and allows a more economical use of manpower, which would otherwise spend long periods in transit. Apart from a small number of ad hoc movements which have been undertaken either by Transport Command or by the Corporations, and apart from the carriage of individual passengers on scheduled civil air lines, the policy of the Government has been to invite the independent civil operators to carry out the air movement task.Under this arrangement, Transport Command is free to concentrate on its operational role of being ready to provide air movement support for the Services. The Corporations are able to concentrate on the highly competitive task of operating world-wide scheduled services. And, last but by no means least, the trooping work is of great value to the independent companies, whose civil opportunities are necessarily limited. At present, the carriage of military personnel represents about 65 per cent. of their passenger-carrying activities. ''This is the policy, and I should like to elaborate one or two points about it which will be very much in the minds of the Committee today.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
May we make it quite clear, so that we know what we are discussing, that the nationalised Corporations are not invited to tender? Are they, in fact, forbidden?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I know the position myself, but I wanted it made clear. Are they forbidden to tender for long-term trooping?
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The right hon. Member went a step further than that. He indicated that they were not invited to tender for trooping because it was their business to look after the flying of competitive civil aviation.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
Does my right hon. Friend recall that when B.O.A.C. used to tender for this work it undercut the civil operators with the taxpayers' money?
§ Mr. Ward
I was saying that there were one or two points about this policy which the Committee would like me to mention. The first concerns safety. All civil trooping aircraft are subject to the same statutory safety regulations as other civil aircraft of whatever ownership. Each individual aircraft has a valid certificate of airworthiness issued by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, and is subject to the provisions of the Air Navigation Order.
Before a contract is let, the operator's proposed method of operation, routes, crew qualifications, navigational facilities, loads, etc., are all examined in great detail and approved by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. The standards are exactly the same as those applied to British European Airways and the British Overseas Airways Corporation and are, in fact, above the standards required by Statute. And it is the practice for a Royal Air Force officer to make periodic 1194 in-flight inspections of the operations and methods of the various contractors undertaking trooping for the Services.
The independent operators have a good safety record. Since 1951, when they first started to operate trooping contracts, these companies have carried well over 600,000 passengers, and during that period there have been five accidents involving loss of life. I shall have more to say about the independent operators later.
The safety standards of Transport Command are also very high. Happily, this Dispatch Box is made of wood. Since 1951, on the routine movement of passengers on scheduled services between theatres, they have carried approximately 100,000 passengers. In addition, there have been many ad hoc trooping flights. Over all these flights the only fatal accidents were one at Lyneham, in 1954, when one member of a Valetta crew was killed, and the accident to the Beverley, at Abingdon, in March this year. I should explain that the Valetta accident at Aquaba, in April, was to an aircraft not of Transport Command, but of the Middle East Air Force.
The second point which I should like to discuss concerns the type of aircraft used by the independent operating companies on trooping contracts. It has often been argued that safety would be improved if more modern types of aircraft were in use, but I do not believe that this is true.
Accidents are not confined to the older types of aircraft. I should like to remind the Committee that considerable numbers of D.C.3s., Argonauts and Stratocruisers, which are all as types more than ten years old, are still flying with our Corporations. Moreover, as I have already said, all aircraft used for an air trooping task, irrespective of age, have to satisfy the stringent civil safety requirements common to all types. The Service Departments fully recognise the need to maintain public confidence in the aircraft which are used for trooping, particularly as troops and their families do not have the choice of the type of aircraft in which they fly.
At the moment, regular trooping is carried out almost entirely by Hermes, Vikings and D.C.4s. Although they are not new, these are all very well tried and reliable aircraft.
1195 The suggestion has been made that there should be an inquiry by an independent committee, drawn from outside the Royal Air Force, the Civil Service and the aviation industry, into the present policy on military air transport and air trooping, and I have, of course, discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. The Government, naturally, give careful consideration to any suggestion on a matter of great concern to the House or the public, but, having carefully examined this proposal, we must reject it.
The Government accept full responsibility for its policy in all matters, and is answerable not to any ad hoc committees of inquiry, no matter how independent or distinguished their members, but to Parliament. This House has itself precisely the function of searching into Government policy through the various methods of debate and question available to it.
I have today given the Committee a full account of the Government's trooping policy. If hon. Members wish to make further inquiry, then my right hon. Friend and myself are, of course, at their disposal, and I shall listen very carefully to any points which hon. Members may wish to make.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
What the right hon. Gentleman has been saying seems to point to a Select Committee of this House. Obviously, we are not in the position, as a House as a whole, to hear the evidence. If he feels that it is the function of Parliament, surely a Select Committee should be appointed for that purpose.
§ Mr. Ward
That is a matter of Government policy and it is the function of the House of Commons to probe Government policy and satisfy itself that their policy is right. There is every opportunity for hon. Members to do that. In this case, my right hon. Friend and myself are satisfied that no purpose would be served by the establishment of an independent inquiry.
Let me say emphatically that the Government completely reject the suggestion that our trooping policy is directly or indirectly endangering life unnecessarily. People should think more seriously before making such serious charges which cast the gravest reflections upon the com- 1196 petence and responsibility of British air transport companies and upon the safety and reliability of British aircraft. We reject completely all such imputations. I have already given the Committee some explanation of the air safety standards which we require in the operation of trooping flights by the independent companies.
Moreover, examination of the findings of air accident investigations entirely vindicates the confidence which the Government have in the safety standards we require for air trooping, in the efficiency with which air transport operators, whether the Corporations or the independents, implement these requirements, and in the aircraft themselves which are the subject of present criticism.
Now, I do not want to give the impression that I am in any way complacent about a matter in which we naturally all feel concern. But I have examined the safety record of Transport Command and there is no deterioration whatever over the last six years in the records of either the Valetta or the Hastings. Indeed, there is some improvement. My right hon. Friend has analysed the records of the independent air lines and the Corporations and has authorised me to say that they are both most satisfactory and bear favourable comparison one with another.
Naturally, we very much want to bring modern aircraft, such as the Viscount and the Britannia, into the trooping field not because there is any question of the safety of the older types, but because we want to take advantage of the greater economy, speed and other operational advantages, including passenger comfort, of the more modern ones. For this reason, we should like to let contracts for longer periods than we have so far been able to do, because civil operators can only finance the re-equipment of their companies with modern types if they are given a guarantee of their use over a reasonable period.
But the difficulty is to forecast, on a sufficiently firm basis, our long-term trooping requirements. And this difficulty is particularly great at the moment, when all three Services have the task of working out their probable trooping needs in the light of the new size and shape of the forces.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman considering allowing the Corporations to tender competitively with the independents, because that might be a fairly short way of bringing in more money and aircraft?
§ Mr. Ward
I am coming now to that point.
We are examining at the moment the future of the three Britannias which are being built to the order of the Ministry of Supply. As the Committee will know, these aircraft were ordered for use on trooping, particularly to the Far East. We hope that in spite of the cuts in the size of the forces it will be possible to provide a task on which these aircraft can be employed and we intend to invite tenders from the independent operators for these tasks in the very near future.
§ Mr. Strachey
Not from the Corporations. Can the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point of the Corporations?
§ Mr. de Freitas
Surely, yesterday, the Leader of the House, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, said that the Secretary of State had been dealing with this matter. Surely he is speaking for the Government and not just for a Department?
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
As there are a number of hon. Members who want to take part in this debate, would it not be better, Sir Charles, if the debate could proceed other than by question and answer all the time?
§ Mr. Ward
Yes, new ones.
I apologise for dealing with this matter at such length, but I know it is very much in the minds of hon. Members. Let 1198 me now get back to the R.A.F. I have shown how the quality of the deterrent and its protection is steadily improving, and how we are increasing the mobility of all three Services.
I should now like to turn to manpower. In the debate on the Vote on Account I tried to show the Committee how we were approaching the problem of the use of manpower in the Royal Air Force. I explained the various ways in which we were trying to reduce our requirements for uniformed manpower and, at the same time, to build up the regular element of the uniformed manpower which we needed.
There are, however, certain important points which I would like to say a bit more about today. In the first place, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, in outlining the Government's future defence policy, said that as a preliminary estimate he thought that the three Services together might have a surplus of between 5,000 and 7,000 officers and about the same number of warrant officers and N.C.O.s. This was, of course, an overall figure.
There is still a lot of work to be done in calculating our precise manpower requirements for the next few years and I cannot at the moment give detailed figures of surpluses. But I can say with confidence that the R.A.F.'s share of the total figure quoted by my right hon. Friend will be appreciably less than one-third of the total. This applies not only to officers, but also to warrant officers and N.C.O.s.
To those who, regrettably, will have to leave the Service prematurely we intend to give fair compensation. And we shall, of course, do all we can to reduce the effect of premature retirement by applying it, where possible, to those who are already approaching the end of their career. We realise, also, the importance of letting people know how they stand as soon as we possibly can.
Looked at in the longer time scale, this problem of premature retirement is a temporary one for the period of rundown of the R.A.F. and is necessary in order to get the correct balance of ranks throughout the Service. The new policy does, of course, depend greatly on the success of our recruiting and we are most anxious to increase our new entries in order to build up a balanced force for the future.
1199 When I spoke in March on the Vote on Account, I gave the House some idea of recruiting trends up to the end of 1956. I said then that there had been a definite improvement in Regular recruiting, both in men entering the Service from civil life and in men already in the Service signing on for longer periods. I am glad to say that our figures up to the end of March show that these improvements have been maintained.
I wish I could say the same about the Women's Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, because about one-third of our airwomen leave the Service each year, we are not recruiting enough women to maintain the force at its present strength. There seems to be a false impression that we intend to disband the Women's Royal Air Force. On the contrary, we are most anxious to recruit more women for it, especially in certain trades for which they are particularly well suited, for example, radar operators and other trades in the C. & R. system, photographic interpreters, M.T. drivers, cooks and clerks. We are, I may say, making a special study of methods to improve women's recruitment, because as the number of National Service men in the Royal Air Force declines we shall rely even more on the Women's Royal Air Force to fill these important trades.
Taking the force as a whole, we are now as well manned, both overall and as between particular trades, as we have been at any time since the war. In the advanced trades in the aircraft and armament engineering trade groups, for example, we are 100 per cent. manned with Regulars, while even in the radio-engineering trade group, which has proved of especial difficulty in the past, manning with Regulars—and, again, I am talking about advanced trades—has gone up from 76 per cent. to 82 per cent.
While examining every possible method of improving the recruiting of Regular men and women, we are also paying close attention to the various ways in which we can do a given job with less manpower.
§ Mr. Wigg
The recruiting returns for the quarter ended 31st March that we get from the Ministry of Defence are not in the Vote Office, I regret to say. Would the right hon. Gentleman be good 1200 enough to say whether this is a favourable trend by comparison with the same period last year or with the comparable quarter in 1956? Comparison with last quarter may be deluding, as it always goes down before Christmas and up after Christimas.
§ Mr. Ward
These figures are a comparison with the same period last year. We have not seen the April figures yet and, since Easter fell in April, they may show a drop.
I have previously explained to the Committee how we were organising and introducing work study techniques into the Royal Air Force. Until recently, much of the work of the Director of Work Study lay in building up and training a work study force, and in showing commanders and their staff just what work study meant and the results it might achieve. Now, much of this essential preparatory work has been completed. We have made an encouraging start with work studies of a number of widely differing air force activities. Some have been related to the most humdrum tasks and others to the most vital activities of the Service. Of course, both classes of study are important to our all-round efficiency.
We have, for example, studied the work load of an equipment section and the organisation of various small domestic activities. At the other end of the scale we have now completed studies of the servicing of several of the main types of operational aircraft resulting in greater economy and efficiency. There is, of course, still a wide field to be examined, and new problems will undoubtedly arise in which the application of work study techniques will be valuable. For example, the methods of supervision and control, aircraft freight handling and signals traffic, will all be studied as soon as trained men are available. Indeed, one of our problems is the priority we should give to the various possibilities.
All this work will supplement our normal process of seeking economies in organisation and establishments. As I said in my speech on the Vote on Account, our efforts in the past year through work study and other methods of control have already produced a saving of nearly 10,000 posts.
1201 Much of our success in recruiting an all-Regular Air Force will depend upon trying to make life in the Service a little more agreeable. For this reason I should like to say something about the progress we have made in improving station administration as the result of the "personal services experiment" at the R.A.F. Station, Benson. The idea was to eliminate petty restrictions and to improve personal and domestic conditions.
We have been able to introduce many improvements and to remove many irk-some restrictions. For example, airmen are now normally paid in their sections instead of at a central pay parade. Colour-hoisting by sections in rotation has been substituted for regular morning parades. There have been changes in such matters as arrivals and clearances, booking in and out, permanent passes, reporting sick, and drafting during weekends. In the field of personal and domestic conditions we have had to take action to relieve congested accommodation, do away with double-tier bunks and speed up the dining service.
At a number of large stations officers have been appointed as families' agents. They handle all the needs and problems of married airmen and wives, arising from Service life. They have proved a success, and we have decided to introduce them generally. There is no doubt that the general level of morale and contentment as well as the
efficiency of a station can be raised without any adverse effect on discipline. I am confident that the action we have taken will bring benefits to the Service as a whole.
Besides trying to make life in the Service more agreeable, we must also see that both officers and airmen can enjoy a reasonably settled home life with their families in married quarters; and if they are posted abroad to a place where they cannot have their families with them, at least they must know that their families will not have to fend for themselves at home.
At the end of the war, we had 6,700 quarters. Since then, we have built over 16,000, and nearly 3,000 more are under construction, both at home and overseas. During this financial year we expect to spend nearly £3½ million at home and rather over £1 million overseas. Generally 1202 speaking, we shall then have completed the bulk of the requirement.
There are, of course, some places overseas where it would be unreasonable to build because of local conditions. At the same time, there are a number of stations at home with married quarters, where our numerical needs have changed. Fortunately, these two difficulties offer a solution to each other. If officers or airmen are posted overseas, and cannot take families with them, we can offer them any excess married quarters on a station at home. While we cannot house all the "grass-widows" and the families, we can do a good deal to mitigate their discomforts and the anxieties of members of the Service in this way.
However, it is not only for married men that we must provide adequate living conditions. The quality of our single accommodation has long left much to be desired and we have devoted to its improvement as much of our resources as we reasonably can. In this year, we propose to spend upon domestic accommodation, other than married quarters, just over £5 million at home and £1½ million abroad.
To sum up, the Government's policy depends largely for its success on recruiting enough Regulars to get rid of National Service while keeping an Air Force of a size capable of fulfilling its many tasks at home and overseas. This can only be done in two ways: first, by the strictest possible economy in manpower; and, secondly, by making life in the Service as attractive as possible.
I have tried to show how we are tackling these two important problems. I feel confident that we shall be successful in achieving our aims. All change is a challenge. The Royal Air Force has seen many changes in its history, changes not only in the equipment it has used but even more dramatic ones, in the nature and importance of air power. The Royal Air Force, therefore, welcomes the challenge of the new prospects which lie ahead. It welcomes them because the spirit of the Royal Air Force is the spirit of adventure. It welcomes them because they represent new and stimulating developments in operational and technical methods.
I feel confident that the Royal Air Force will evolve ready and capable to 1203 deal with its future tasks with all the high enthusiasm and skill that have always marked its great record.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I share with the Secretary of State the belief that the Royal Air Force can meet the challenges. I only wish that it was properly directed to enable it to do so.
We on this side of the Committee are grateful to the Government because they have adopted so many of the suggestions we have made in these debates in the last year or so, but, in considering these Air Estimates, I must remind the Committee that all the ballyhoo which heralded the White Paper has had the effect of putting a smoke-screen between the Service as it is today and the general public. The effect of the White Paper has been to take public attention away from the Service as it is today with the waste and inefficiency there is in it and to concentrate attention on the press buttons of the future.
What is the position of the Royal Air Force today compared with last year? Last year there was, not general agreement, but a great deal of agreement that, compared with the threat it had to meet, the Air Force was weaker than it had been at any time in the last twenty years. I think the only change which has come over it since then has been the strengthening of the striking force by the beginning of the delivery of V-bombers. It is no use having V-bombers unless they can be protected from being knocked out by an adequate early warning system, and fighters and missiles. On that I found the Memorandum and the speech of the Secretary of State disappointing.
I think something has been gained by the fact that we have had this debate and the Memorandum after the White Paper and the defence debate. In the White Paper and the defence debate, the Government tended to stress the nuclear deterrent and to play down conventional weapons, whereas in the Memorandum alternatives of nuclear and conventional weapons are allowed for. I welcome the point of view that we should not go so far along one path as to find it impossible to have an alternative route. In Bonn, the Foreign Secretary has been explaining that by "deterrent" the Government mean conventional as well as nuclear 1204 weapons. On Saturday in the Daily Telegraph, this was stated:When Mr. Selwyn Lloyd told the N.A.T.O. Foreign Ministers in Bonn on Thursday that Britain ' based her whole defence on the deterrent, they naturally assumed he was enunciating Mr. Sandys' atomic strategy.Their reaction was so unfavourable that the Foreign Office spokesman, who had accompanied the Secretary of State, asked correspondents to correct the official N.A.T.O. summary of the speech by cutting out the word ' whole'.Mr. Lloyd himself was more ingenious. After all, his words were on the tape recorder.So he rose to tell the incredulous Ministers that by ' deterrent' he had not meant what the word has universally come to mean today, namely atomic retaliation, but any kind of retaliation whatsoever.We have certainly come a long way since the statements of the Government in the defence debate. Of course, this is much nearer what we regard as the saner second thoughts about having conventional forces.
I was amazed that no answer was given in the Memorandum, nor by the Secretary of State, to the questions on American guided missiles which I asked the Prime Minister in the defence debate. The Americans openly advocate the use of local manpower in defence so long as the decisive control is kept in their hands. They have developed a 1,500 mile guided missile. This is the obvious place to use it. There is an agreement by which our Government is to set up and maintain the United States guided missiles with our skilled men while the Americans will have the control over the warheads, without which they are useless. It would make the missiles far from useless to us if they were handed over to us under two conditions. This is the point I put and on which we ought to have an answer. Those conditions would be that, first, the warheads were stored under U.S. control but on the end of the missiles, and second that our forces, not the American forces, should keep the guided missiles fed with the data and information to direct them to the target we selected. In other words, we, not the Americans, would direct the line of flight. What chance is there that those conditions will be agreed to?
On this point about targets, what liaison is there between our Bomber Command, the United States Strategic Air Force and S.H.A.P.E. in the pre-selection of targets? Without close co-operation there might be chaos. What machinery is there for selection and allocation? 1205 I welcome the indication given by the Secretary of State that the Benson experiment has been a success and that there were many points on it which were being applied and others which are to be applied to the Service. If we are to pre-pare for an all-Regular Service, there have to be many big changes. I do not think there is enough sign that the Government are prepared to make such changes. For example, obviously where there are no conscripts to peel potatoes it would be an appalling waste of manpower to have Regulars or civilians doing that work. The Air Force must get out of the habit of thinking that they have a source of cheap labour on which they can call. Mechanical potato peelers will be needed, and the Air Force must also use more prepared foods.
I hope also that something will be done to improve cooking. My hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who visit Air Force stations from time to time always have this point brought to their attention. The complaint about food is regular, but it has to be looked at. Only a few years ago the Secretary of State for Air, when he was Under-Secretary, pointed out how difficult it was to deal with the food problem. He said that in an East Anglian station a cook who made cauliflower mornay received a severe rebuke for making it taste of cheese. I know that is not to everyone's taste, but improvements have to be introduced.
If there are no conscripts, where is the Service to get store clerks and pay section clerks? It cannot; so there must be mechanised accounting and a greater use of electronic devices. Not only can computers be used for pay but also for stock recording and calculating. Only a computer could work out this problem of seniority which is baffling personnel staff officers today. The problem is put in this way. If the crew of a spaceship travel to the nearest star and return at a speed of half the velocity of light, the journey will take seventeen years—they are all long-Service people. However, according to Sir George Thomson, to the crew it would be only 14½ years, and the loss of 2½ years of seniority in those circumstances would be particularly galling.
Seriously, the use of these devices—I am now talking about computers, not spaceships—could be enormously labour-saving and directly money-saving in the 1206 long run. I wish that the Air Council would hold a meeting this week at Olympia, where there is an exhibition of instruments, electronics and automation taking place. The Air Council knows what can be done with machines in the air, 1 hope it will learn what can be done with machines on the ground; otherwise, it will be faced with this problem of being unable to have an all-Regular Air Force.
An all-Regular Air Force must also have better public relations. The Air Force will have to show that it is serving the public, because the public are becoming tired of Air Force secrecy, built up by the Government, I am convinced, as part of a considered policy over the last few years to hide from the taxpayer and his representatives how little defence there is for his money. With an all-Regular Air Force, secrecy will become far easier, but far more dangerous to the Service in the long run.
If there is to be good public relations, I suggest that there should be a new approach in the Air Ministry. Last year the then Secretary of State asked several hon. Members of this House—I was lucky enough to get an invitation—to visit Germany and the Air Force stations there. The trip was most extraordinary. We were taken by a Valetta aircraft to Germany. But when we got there, instead of the Valetta taking us round, a bus was laid on to take up from station to station. On the first day we spent so long on the road admiring the countryside—because the bus was fitted with a governor which limited its speed to about 30 m.p.h. —that we arrived at the station far too late to see the exercise which we had crossed the Channel to see. Then the conducting officer rightly decided that we should abandon the bus and travel in an aircraft. Meanwhile, the crew of the Valetta had gone on week-end leave, as they were entitled to do, because we were not using the aircraft. So two smaller aircraft were called in to take us round, with the result that, at a very much greater cost to the public, we were able to see something of the Air Force in Germany during that visit.
In fairness, I should say that I was greatly impressed by what we saw and by the officers and the men under their command. We were well entertained. No wonder the recent Punch cartoon of a 1207 guided missile landing on an airfield was so well received by members of the Air Force, because the caption to it was,Anyway, chum, we won't have to buy it a drink.The volume of the Air Estimates this year covers the usual wide range of subjects. The chief difference is that now it costs 9s. 6d., whereas when we were in office it cost 5s. But the details are much the same, though some may seem strange in a modern righting Service. In the Index under "A" we find, "Animal feedingstuffs of", and "Animals, purchase of" and under "B" we find "Banker's, commission of "and under" C "we find," Chimneys, sweeping of ". We learn that "Animals" includes camels, those unguidable weapons operated by the R.A.F. at Aden. On pay, when we reach the stage at which we get the information that the Chief of the Air Staff and the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Department each get nearly as much as the total salaries of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary combined, we realise that there has been a considerable change in recent years in rates of pay. Of course, that is not peculiar to the Air Force and the Air Ministry.
The old favourites are still there. There is still 3d. a day for trumpeters, and it does not matter how often they trumpet. But if they accompany a divine service they get 2s. 6d. for each performance, and there may be several performances on a particular Sunday. I am not seeking an explanation of these anomalies, but I wish to know the answer to two questions. First, on page 8 of the Estimates we see that, although the Air Force as a whole is to be smaller by 17,000, the officers of Air rank are not reduced in number at all. The number remains at 240. Why? The second question to which I should like an answer is how it is that the Government, according to the information on page 116, are spending £12 million more this year on airframes and exactly the same amount appears on the same page to cover guided weapons. To those two matters I should like an answer, but not necessarily to the others.
The Memorandum is unlike the Estimates which, as I say, are in common form. The Memorandum is very sketchy indeed. It has many references to the tried and true principles of air defence. 1208 These undefined principles are used from time to time in the Memorandum to justify the present structure of the Air Force. There is one other point on which I must confess that I am completely baffled and on which I should like some information. In paragraph 11 of the Memorandum, under the heading of, "The Development of Nuclear Air Power", it states:An atomic bomb was dropped from a Valiant taking part in the trials at Maralinga last October. It fell within 110 yards of the aiming point.Let us accept at once that that is remarkable bombing. But when writing about atomic bombs, what is the point of stressing this distance of 110 yards? Has it the slightest significance when the area of devastation is so vast? I am completely baffled about why a distance of 110 yards is mentioned. The only thing that I can think of is that the Air Ministry is planning to use atomic bombs for marking out racecourses—two bombs to a furlong and four bombs to a quarter-mile, or something like that. It is so inexplicable that I wonder what is the meaning. I am sure it has had the advantage of puzzling the Russians very much.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am delighted to heat that. I accepted that at the beginning. But it came after a statement about "stocks of nuclear weapons", and so I thought it had some relation to atomic weapons. I am delighted to hear that there is nothing of that, but I know it baffled many people besides me.
In the defence debate last Monday, I referred to the possibility of amalgamating the chaplains branches. Almost anything said in this House is capable of being misunderstood. I received an indignant protest against the amalgamation of the Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish branches into one polydenominational organisation. Of course, as hon. Members may have gathered, I was referring to the amalgamation of such branches between the three Services. This incident is relevant. A few years ago, after an air crash in difficult country in which both soldiers and airmen were killed, two Church of 1209 England parsons, one in Royal Air Force uniform and one in Army uniform, had to be flown out by helicopter to conduct the funeral service. There does not appear to me to be any sign in the Memorandum, or in the speech of the Secretary of State, that an amalgamation of the branches is being studied. Yet, unless the defence White Paper and the debate on it are to be ignored entirely, that will have to be studied.
I wish to know from the Government that they are working urgently to prevent over-lapping and duplication between the Services. I understand that the new Army units will be armed with exactly the same weapons as the Royal Air Force, the same ground-to-air missiles. If that be so, what steps have been taken to prevent the duplication of procurement, storage, maintenance and, of course, the operation of these weapons?
We cannot have overlapping between these two Services, as appears to be inevitable, unless something is done now. During the year, I stressed at this Dispatch Box the importance of the maintenance by the Army of simple aircraft like the Auster, which is used by the Army in A.O.P. exercises. That has now been agreed. But is there any truth in the suggestion about the possibility of the Army going further and seeking to maintain aircraft even as large as the Pioneer? If so, we are in danger of setting up an Army Air Force, which we cannot possibly afford.
Although I was encouraged by the appointment of Air Marshals Tuttle and Morris to their particular jobs with the new weapons, I was distressed to read in the papers that the coming of guided weapons had been greeted by an Air Ministry statement that there was no reason to expect startling changes in the R.A.F.'s career or trade structure. How can this be? How can the structure of a Service which was designed for manned aircraft not be drastically changed to meet the training, maintenance and operational needs of guided weapons? Manned aircraft needed a structure so different from the Artillery that different trades, different ranks, different skills, and indeed a completely different Service, were eventually set up to operate manned aircraft.
Can it be that there is a danger of conservatism in the Air Force, so that it is thought that what was good enough in 1210 1940 is good enough for 1960? I hope that this is not so. I note, too, that in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State, in paragraph 59, he says that the new weapons do not foreshadow sudden changes, either in the type of officers needed, or in the pattern of their careers. If the present doctrine is that these new weapons can be snuggly fitted into the present Air Force structure, the Air Force is headed for a lot of trouble of its own making.
The Secretary of State dealt with some of the criticisms made of air transport, but I was extremely disappointed by his intervention. Let us take it this way. In spite of the lives lost in the disasters to York aircraft, it took intense pressure in this House and in the Press to compel the Government to change their policy in using these aircraft for trooping. Yesterday, the Leader of the House gave me the impression, and no doubt some of my hon. Friends, that the Secretary of State would be dealing with the problem today much more than departmentally. In his speech, the Secretary of State seemed to me to fall away from that. In fact, in reply to an intervention, he said that something was not his responsibility but was a matter for the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
That may well be so. I see that the right hon. Gentleman confirms it. This is the only occasion that we could have to get to the bottom of the subject, and if that intervention meant that this matter is one for Government policy and not for his Department, it makes it difficult for us to discuss the matter. Surely, our criticism is directed not against the Air Ministry only but against the whole of the Government's considered policy in using private operators in this way and the types of aircraft which they may have. It is the whole conception of the policy, which is much bigger than a departmental matter.
May I make some points for the consideration of the Government? The first point is, are we doing as much air trooping and air transport as we should? Last year, the Under-Secretary gave a figure of 57 per cent. trooping by air. I should like to know what the figure is today.
The second point is the obvious one— who is to do that trooping? What proportion is to be done by Transport Command, what proportion by the nationalised Corporations and what proportion 1211 by private operators? We must have fair competition between the Corporations and the private firms. We know that the standards set for the one and the other are the same, but we must also have, for long-term trooping, the Corporations being able to compete in their tenders against private operators. I believe that the country would benefit if private operators were given some of these contracts, provided that they are fair tenders under fair conditions. The country would benefit. I do not think it is right that the whole practice and mystique, if it is, of air operation should be confined to the Corporations, but the terms must be absolutely fair and equal.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Would the hon. Gentleman equally say that the Corporations should hand over some of their scheduled routes, or does he want to kill the independents altogether?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I thought the whole point about air trooping was that it was not done on scheduled routes.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the Corporations should be allowed to carry out trooping flying? Supposing they were. Does he want the independents to go out of business, or would he recommend that the Corporations should hand over some of their scheduled services to the independents so that they could build up a merchant fleet?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I would be quite happy for them to have some, but it does not affect the point we are discussing, which is trooping by private operators. We have lucrative routes and less lucrative routes, and, if they wanted good routes they would have to take the bad as well. They could take the Scottish routes.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am certainly not advocating any policy by which the private operators would be operating the profitable routes and the public Corporations would have to take the others.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am alarmed at the suggestion that private operators should be allowed on the Scottish routes, because I travel on them myself.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I will resist the temptation to take the debate up to Scotland on this issue. We are discussing trooping.
The third question is one which must worry or concern all of us who are interested in the problem of air transport and air trooping. How are the aircraft, which are so expensive today, to be obtained? Must there not be centralised procurement for the R.A.F., the nationalised Corporations and the private operators? I want to know what the Government are going to do to achieve this. We certainly cannot tolerate any form of subsidy, direct or indirect, to private operators, because I do not think that, after the experience of direct or indirect subsidy which aircraft manufacturers received for so many years, the public would now be in any mood to give them to private aircraft operators
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to suggest dispensing with any subsidy to the Corporations?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I was talking about direct or indirect subsidies, and I do not know to which subsidy the hon. Member is referring. I am talking about public money going to private persons. What it comes to is that we repeat our demand for an inquiry into these matters, because I found the speech of the Secretary of State most unsatisfactory.
Now I want to deal with the separate subject of the movement of the strategic reserve. Every newspaper commentator who read the White Paper has questioned the ability of the Air Force and of our air resources generally to move the Army's strategic reserve. The Memorandum and the Secretary of State's speech on the subject have not changed my views about it at all. The Secretary of State knows what I think. If these resources cannot move the Army's strategic reserve, does it not make nonsense of the basis of the White Paper, because the whole plan depends on the ability to move the strategic reserve?
We have reached a position in which the Foreign Secretary at Bonn throws the nuclear deterrent out of the window, metaphorically speaking, while here the Secretary of State for Air throws out the whole conception of the movement of the strategic reserve. Thus it appears that 1213 two of the most important points in the White Paper have been abandoned.
I pointed this out to the House a year ago, and asked the Government to look at it. I said that the whole conception of aviation in this country, in its long-term running, was being neglected by the Government. We all know that it is the engineering industry, and not such industries as cotton, that is the basis of our economic future. Within the industry it is aviation which provides the most valuable opportunity we have of exercising our inventiveness and skill.
In design, in development, in production and in operation of aircraft we have a great opportunity. However, we know that during the past twenty years the aviation industry has been underwritten, directly and indirectly, by the military departments. What is to happen when that underwriting is withdrawn? What is to happen to our civil industry when that basis is taken away? I ask the Government to set up a most penetrating inquiry into the industry's whole future, because we cannot just blunder on, as it were, without realizing—
§ Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford) indicated assent.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is with me. I know that he is active on the Air League which has set up a private inquiry under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Miles Thomas. That inquiry may be valuable, but it lacks the force of a Government Commission, and lacks the power of securing important witnesses.
This is such a big matter that I draw the Government's attention to the Finletter Report. That the terms of reference would be very different, but the level of the inquiry should be similar to that of the Commission set up by President Truman ten years ago under the chairmanship of Mr. Thomas Finletter. That Commission held several hundred meetings and examined more than a hundred witnesses. I mention that inquiry because nine or ten years ago, when the Prime Minister spoke for the Opposition on the Air Estimates, he spoke with great approval, not only of some of the findings of that Commission, but also of the manner in which it had worked.
Apart from such an inquiry, I wish that the Government had someone, some 1214 senior Minister, who would keep an eye on all the paper in the Departments and the Cabinet Committees which deal with aviation. We know how many Departments there are that deal with the subject, and many of the right hon. Gentlemen in charge of those Departments are now present. In the Labour Government, by chance, Sir Stafford Cripps happened to be extremely interested in aviation, and he performed that task. I think that such a task is important because, in such a new field as this, the dangers of departmentalism are great, and will become greater when the Service Departments are reluctant to spend money on anything which appears to them not to be directly related to the problems of the day.
Perhaps I may give a personal experience. Ten years ago, when comparatively young and inexperienced, I was Under-Secretary of State for Air. Egged on by the Treasury and by some of my officials, we nearly made such a mistake. I was to visit Japan to see our occupation forces there, and I was to pass through a small country east of Suez. In our maintenance units there were many scores of obsolete aircraft. They may even have been Gladiators, but at any rate they were very old. Some of the officials in my Department and in the Treasury wanted me to try to sell those aircraft to this small country and, being optimists, thought that we might get either gold or dollars for them. If they had been sold, the Treasury would have been delighted, the Air Ministry would have been delighted—everyone would have been delighted, because the proceeds would have come in as receipts and would have made the Department's budgeting much easier. But what a disaster it would have been to the future of our export industry. In the minds of those small countries out there we would have been associated for a decade with those obsolete aircraft.
The Military Committee of Western European Union has given a most stinging rebuke to the Government for their lack of consultation on defence matters, and for their presentation of the defence cuts in such a take-it-or-leave-it manner. What particularly worries me is that, when we have to rely so much on our allies in Europe for our defence—they rely on us, too, but in the particular field of early warning we have to rely on 1215 them—we cannot afford to treat them like this.
After a series of debates on the technical aspects of defence, there is always the risk that the House may forget that the object of the exercise is not just to have an Air Force, but to have an Air Force with which we can eventually arrive at a stage of considerable disarmament. Every day we read of new suggestions in this direction. The Russian suggestions are made very cleverly and receive much credit. The Western suggestions are less cleverly made and look to the outside world halting and reluctant. The Government are a bad offender. Even when they do reduce our forces, they get no credit from the world for disarming; but succeed in acquiring the greatest discredit from our allies.
When we consider the fundamental proposals, from whichever side they come, we find that if they have one underlying feature it is inspection and control. On the aerial side of inspection, it is extremely important to realise that. I commend the leading article in The Times a week ago. What are the Government doing to provide us with the means to take part in these open sky patrols? If we have the aircraft, the skill and the equipment, why is nothing said about it? It really is most important. If we have not got them—why not?
I agree with the remarks with which the Secretary of State ended his speech. The Royal Air Force is a great service. It would work gallantly for us in war. But its chief job must be to keep the peace. It must be ready to work for us and the whole world in controlling disarmament by aerial inspection.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) has raised a whole variety of points—everything from chaplains to cauliflowers—and I do not propose to follow him at length. He did, however, refer to two matters I shall touch on, namely, recruiting and public relations, and to that extent I am very glad to be able to follow him this afternoon. Having been fortunate enough to be able to intervene in the earlier debate on Vote A of the Air Estimates, I do not now propose to do more than raise some general points 1216 which, in a sense, are the natural consequence of the major changes proposed for the future of the Service.
The first point concerns the attractiveness or otherwise of the career which the Royal Air Force of the future will be able to offer to the young man of today. This is important because, as the Secretary of State has said this afternoon, in what I thought was an admirable statement, it is upon the extent of the recruiting that we shall be able to undertake during the next four or five years that the success of these new plans will largely depend.
I suppose it was really inevitable that a good deal of uncertainty would arise when these new plans were announced. I must confess, however, that I was surprised at the strength of the wrong impressions which have been gained from the announcement. I was glad that my right hon. Friend this afternoon went to some length to endeavour to put these opinions into proper perspective. Undoubtedly, there is in the country still a good deal of misunderstanding, and a fairly widespread opinion that, in the course of the next five or ten years, the conventional aircraft will be out and, with it, the flying career which has always proved so great an attraction in the Service.
§ Mr. Lucas
I think that 110 yards was an extremely good shot. I did not at all agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Lincoln about that. It is a very good point to put in the Memorandum. It is remarkable to think that this weapon could be dropped with such accuracy, presumably from a height of 40,000 or 50,000 feet.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I hope I made it clear that I was doing nothing but giving the greatest praise for the accuracy of it. I only wondered what significance it had in relation to an atomic bomb.
§ Mr. Lucas
Even so, apart from what the hon. Gentleman meant, I still think it reasonable to give credit where credit is due.
As I say, there is still a good deal of misunderstanding about the future of the Air Force as a career. Many people think that conventional aircraft will be 1217 out in five or ten years, and, therefore, the attractiveness of the Service as a career is reduced. The fact that this opinion is unsoundly based does not really matter. It is of no great consequence that informed opinion knows very well that there will be flying jobs in the Service for perhaps another fifteen or twenty years; the important point, in my view, is that this impression has been gained. It is there, and we must face it, whether we like it or not. The truth is that the Air Ministry during the next year or two will have to dispel it if we are to get the type of recruit we want for the future plans which have been announced. In short, the Service will for a time have to sell the fact that now more than ever—I profoundly believe this—the Royal Air Force can offer a worth-while career to the youth of the country.
§ Mr. Paget
Does not the hon. Gentleman feel that the fact that faith is being broken with a number of officers and senior N.C.O.s reaching the apex of their careers does the utmost possible harm from that point of view? Even if it be an expense to keep them on when one has not a job for them, one will not get the recruitment if one breaks faith with the people who have been engaged.
§ Mr. Lucas
I am coming to that point which the hon. and learned Gentleman raises. I will gladly answer what he has said.
This state of affairs will, in my view, really demand a public relations job of the first order. I agree here with the hon. Member for Lincoln, that the publicity and advertising which will have to be undertaken by the Service will be most important. It is something which should be treated almost on a commercial basis. It may well be that we shall have to spend a much larger sum on this work than we have been accustomed to do in the past, and I see that this year the Estimates in this respect are, in fact, going up. I am quite sure that we shall have to pay attention to public relations if the Air Force is to sell itself to the youth of Britain in the future.
Having said that, let me add that, as one who has been a fairly consistent critic of the publicity arrangements of the Air Force in the past few years, I am bound to say now that I think these services 1218 have recently shown a great improvement. Much more vigour, life and imagination is being put into Air Ministry publicity than in the past, and I should like to say to my right hon. Friend that this is a very welcome improvement. It is an improvement which will have to be sustained over the next few years if the Air Force is to persuade the British people, parents, school teachers, and indeed the youth of the country, that there is still a worth-while career in the Service.
I now turn to the future of those who themselves have no future in the Service, and here I come to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). This is a real and pressing human problem. It is, of course, absolutely right that those whose careers in the Service are being terminated should be appropriately compensated; no one would dispute that. But what is very much more important, in my view, is the need to get these men resettled in jobs in civilian life. This is not going to be at all easy. It is one thing to agree to pay what amounts to compensation for loss of office, but it is quite another matter to find for men, at the age of 40 or more, with no commercial or business experience behind them, worth-while occupations in civilian life which offer reasonable expectations.
We must face the fact that commercial companies take a fairly hard and realistic view about these things. They are, I think, not interested just in offering promising employment to officers or warrant officers leaving the Service, perhaps at the age of 40 or so, whose main experience has been restricted to administration and the handling of men, however worthy and notable that may have been. It is understandable that companies should take that line. To do otherwise would often be to upset the personnel structure of an organisation.
My feeling is that the Government have a very definite responsibility to these men and to their families to help them to make a fresh start, in what really amounts to the middle of their lives. It is one thing to make a new start at 30. It is quite another matter to have to start again at 40 or more.
I do not believe that Governmental appeals to employers in business, commerce and industry will be sufficient. It 1219 will not be enough to leave this problem to resettlement boards, to appointment boards, or departmental and inter-departmental committees. That is not really the way to handle it. What is needed, in my opinion, is the establishment, under an outstanding chairman, of a small group of five or six men who are themselves leaders in industry and business. They would be able to consider these problems and talk in language which can be understood to the chairmen and managing directors of the companies to which these redundant personnel will be turning for their employment.
Further, I am not at all sure that, in addition to the establishment of such a select group representing industry and commerce, it would not be an advantage if the Service itself began a special series of courses to assist those in their last year or two in the Service to get to know something of the workings of industry and business, the structure of companies, and the organisation of trades unions, and so on. I agree that this could be no more than a start, but it would, at least, provide something—a preparation for these men for their employment in civilian life. Properly conducted, with the right kind of syllabus and good instruction, it would, at least, offer a form of preparation for those who will be declared redundant. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will be able to say a word in comment on that.
I make these points because I have recently seen at first hand an example of the kind of problem we shall have to meet. I apologise for detaining the Committee for a few moments longer, but I should like to illustrate this particular point, in answer to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. A friend of mine, a wing commander in the Air Force, decided quite recently that, rather than face the uncertainty of the next two or three years, he would leave the Service now, or very soon, and make a fresh start in industry. He is a man of more than average ability, who served with great distinction not only on the operational but also on the staff and the administrative sides of the Royal Air Force. He asked me whether I could help him to get into a particular group of companies which he fancied and which manufacture on a world-wide scale. There was no 1220 question of his wanting to go into the company halfway up or wanting the promise of a seat on the board within the first year. There was none of that sort of thing. He was prepared to start low 'provided he had the chance to work up if he proved himself.
I wrote to the chairman of the group, who happened to be a personal friend of mine, and put the case to him. In conjunction with his personnel officer, he took great trouble to see whether a suitable place could be found for this man on the administrative side of the organisation. In the end, he had to tell me that no vacancy could be found. Hon. Members may think that there is nothing extraordinary in that, but the reason he gave for not being able to find a vacancy for this officer serves to underline the extent of the problem which we will be facing.
He said that the recent experience of the company showed that its managers nowadays had to be found from those who had come up the hard way, through the technical side of the business. Their experience is that no other training is sufficient if an individual is to make the pace in one of the top managerial positions in competition with the graduates of the technical colleges and schools, the universities and so on. He added that it had been found to be not only unfair, but unkind, to promote anyone who was not really qualified merely because he was known to be a thoroughly good chap or anything of that sort. That was not enough in these days.
I do not think one can criticise such an attitude; but this is the problem that redundant personnel will be facing when the time comes for them to leave the Service. Some, of course, will be more fortunate, as they always are. They will slip easily into appointments offering prospects in the general run of business where technical qualifications are not so important, but they will be the exception rather than the rule. It is with the majority that I hope so much the Government will be realistically concerned.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I count myself fortunate in being called in this debate, having sat for two days through a defence debate behind a number of Privy Councillors. I venture to believe that, although this debate lasts for only 1221 one day, it will perhaps improve in consequence. There are some things which need to be said not only about the Royal Air Force and the Air Ministry's policy, but about the defence policy of the country as a whole.
It has become a fashion for defence debates almost to be turned into foreign affairs debates. In defence debates, Member after Member has delivered the speech which he could not deliver in the previous foreign affairs debate.
What the House and the country have now to face is the important and simple point that behind defence there is the reality of the right amount of firepower in the right place and at the right time. If it is not there, and we go into Suez, all sorts of things happen and we come out again. That was the formula which I applied to the Suez operation last year. We have got to evolve a technique, and we have not evolved it yet. While discussing the broad principles at the foreign affairs level, at some stage in the operation we must see defence as a whole as a technical problem. If it cannot be solved in debates in this Chamber, we must think along the lines which my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) has so often indicated: we must have something like a defence committee.
It is an obvious piece of nonsense to discuss the manpower policy in the Service or the problem of resettlement, as indicated by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), for the Air Force alone, for it concerns all three Services. They are all concerned with the problem of manpower, of mobility and of transport. Indeed, in every one of the Service debates—Army, Navy and Air Force—reference is made to aircraft. Equally, reference is made to shipping. In my judgment, there must be a horizontal functional division of the subjects rather than a vertical division as between Services.
I read the Defence White Paper with great interest and eagerness. I was very glad to see in it some of the things that I expected, but as I read it the tang of the sea crept into my nostrils. I could hear off-stage soft music—" A life on the ocean wave "—and the slamming of the door as the last military adviser, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, left the Minister of Defence when he approved the White 1222 Paper. There never was a bigger sell-out to a Service than in the Defence White Paper. I do not, however, intend to transgress the rules of order and will come back at once to aircraft.
The Minister of Defence has decided— I say this in all honesty—very bravely to tell the country the one simple fundamental truth that these islands are no longer defensible. There is no longer such a thing as a defence policy. The Navy, not to be outdone, gets rid of its battleships, which it does not want anyway, and goes in for a policy of small aircraft carriers. If we are to have small aircraft carriers, what sort of aircraft are we to put on them?
The two main developments in nautical research, one of which was taken over from the Air Force because the Air Force would not have it, are the D.H.110, now the Sea Vixen, and the Scimitar, formerly the N.113, of which the Navy has a couple. These aircraft weigh 15 tons apiece. The Americans, with all their gigantic resources in comparison with ourselves, have turned to an aircraft, the A.4D, which weighs 7½ tons. So poor old Britain, because of the influence of Earl Mountbatten, is landed with a policy of small aircraft carriers and big aircraft weighing 15 tons apiece while the Americans, with 65,000-ton carriers, put on aircraft weighing 7½ tons.
I am not technical, but I think that this is slush, absolute balderdash and nonsense. What it means: to say is that a smokescreen has been put up. We are told that we are to have broken-back warfare and that we are to have the deterrent, but that we must have a Navy, at all costs, even though it costs £300 million a year.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear". He is an excellent public relations officer for his Service, but I am not concerned only about the Navy. I am concerned about the country's defence as a whole. I should have thought that at some stage the House of Commons would look at defence as a whole and not allow the Navy to get away with its policy.
I have tried to do my own homework, as I always do. I know very well that 1223 if I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, or the Secretary of State for Air, I shall be given the old, old answer that the information cannot be given on security grounds. Therefore, I have worked out in detail every project which is in the course of manufacture at present, secret and otherwise, because this information is well-known to every air attaché- in London. The only people who do not know are Members of Parliament and the poor mugs outside who pay the Bill.
I see no reason why they should not know because this is the starting point. If we are to have an air policy it must be one not only of the manufacture of the deterrent but—and this is the real test —the capacity to deliver the deterrent and strategic reserves sufficiently mobile to be taken to the point of danger when danger arises.
First, let us deal with the actual projects, military and civil, in the course of manufacture at present. My first category is Government military projects and my first division those in development. Eighteen Blackburn N.A.39 have been ordered and none built. Then there are the Handley Page Conway-Victor, a few ordered and none built; the Avro Vulcan improved version, few ordered and none built; helicopters: Fairey Rotodyne, a heavy type, two ordered, one built; Bristol Sycamore light helicopter, 150 ordered, including the civilian version, and 130 built; Westland-Sikorsky S-55 Whirlwind (Medium), 100 ordered, including the civilian version, and 80 built; Bristol 192 Patrol Transport, 30 ordered and none built; Westland Wessex (Heavy) 30 ordered, none built; Saunders-Roe Skeeter (Light) 130 ordered and 25 built.
We now come to missiles—de Havilland Firestreak (Air-to-air), many ordered and few built; Fairey Fireflash (Air-to-air), many ordered and many built; Bristol Bloodhound (surface to air ram-jet), many ordered and few built; Armstrong-Whitworth Sea Slug (ship to air), many ordered and few built; English Electric Surface-to-Air Missile, many ordered and few built.
As to the actual types in production, these are the figures: Vickers Swift, 180 ordered and 140 built; English Electric Canberra, about 900 ordered and 800 built; de Havilland Sea Vixen, D.H.110, 1224 the all-weather fighter which is the pride of the Navy, 78 ordered and 4 built; the Scottish Pioneer, light tactical transport, few ordered and few built; Scottish Twin Pioneer, light tactical transport, few ordered and few built; Hunting Percival Jet Provost (Light Trainer), 200 ordered and none built; English Electric P.l.B, 250 ordered and 4 built. Vickers Scimitar N.113, 120 ordered and 3 built; Fairey Gannet (Anti-submarine), approximately 150 ordered and 100 built; Handley Page Victor, 75 ordered, 15 built; Avro Vulcan, 70 ordered and 30 built; Avro Shackleton 3, a reconnaisance plane, 30 ordered and 2 built; Blackburn Beverley (Transport), 56 ordered and 28 built; Hawker Hunter 7 (Trainer), over 100, including exports, ordered and two built; Folland Gnat F.l, 5 ordered and 2 built; Gloster Javelin, 177 ordered, 130 built; Bristol Britannia, 13 ordered, none built; D.H. Sea Venom, 800 ordered and 750 built.
We come now to the research section where there have been no cuts. Two thrust measuring rig No. 2, flying bedsteads have been ordered and two built; Short SC1 (vertical take-off) two ordered and one built; English Electric Fighter, few ordered and none built; Bristol Fighter, 10 ordered and none built; Avro Stand-off Bomb, few ordered and none built; and the de Havilland I.R.B.M. is still in the study stage.
Then there are the military projects sponsored by private firms. These details are very interesting, because they show what the industry itself thinks of the future of the fighter. One or two Hawker Hurricane (Strike) aircraft have been ordered and only a quarter built; Armstrong-Whitworth 650 (Transport), one or two ordered and a quarter built; Folland Gnat 1/2/4 fighter, 52 ordered and none built; de Havilland Vampire T.55 (Trainer), over 850 ordered and 850 built.
Among the civil projects with some Government support there are the Percival Pembroke (Light Transport), 121 ordered and 101 built; Vickers Vanguard (Medium Liner) 20 ordered and none built; D.H. Comet 4 (Liner) 20 ordered and none built; Bristol Britannia Orion (Liner) a few ordered and none built; and, finally, the Bristol Britannia itself, 55 ordered and 22 built.
1225 The civil projects not supported by the Government are the de Havilland Heron (Light Liner) 120 ordered and 105 built; de Havilland Dove (Executive Transport) over 500 ordered and 496 built; Vickers Viscount (Medium Liner) 379 ordered, 195 built; Handley Page Herald (Light Liner) two ordered and one built; West-land Westminster (Heavy Helicopter), one ordered and none built; and, finally, the Aviation Traders Accountant (Light Liner), one ordered and half built.
Now we come to the cancellations. Long before the White Paper on Defence was issued, enormous cuts were announced. There were to be cuts right, left and centre, with Is. off the Income Tax, a saving of £400 million and heaven knows what beside. The total amount of cancellation for the aircraft industry at present is the Avro 730 Mach. 2 bomber and the Avro 731 scale model.
I do not blame the Secretary of State for Air for what has happened, nor do I blame the Minister of Defence who, with great courage and speed, has focussed on the central truth that these islands are indefensible. The Government have taken the decision to defend them by the deterrent and, of course, what is implicit in that is the means whereby the deterrent can be delivered. The theory, of course, is that it will be delivered in the immediate years ahead with the V-bombers, the Valiant, the Vulcan and the Victor, and they will eventually do the job through the stand-off bomb when it is developed.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend has given figures which, if accurate, the Government will have to answer. May I ask what authority he has for these figures? Are they obtained from sources which are available to other hon. Members or are they secret?
§ Mr. Wigg
No, there is only one quality needed in the compilation of these figures which I sometimes wonder whether my right hon. Friend possesses. It is diligence. It requires no public school education. It comes of practice, of working at it day and night. If one does that over a period, the picture can be built up.
I made the information available to Ministers before this debate, but I am not asking them to confirm it, because even if they only denied it they might claim that they would be giving something away. But this is a picture that is 1226 available to anybody who cares to take the trouble. It is the picture of a programme which cannot possibly be carried out, and the villain of the piece is the Navy. The Navy, with its present policy of heavy aircraft and small carriers, is quite incapable of ever giving value for money.
Now I want to go on with the evidence. I repeat that I am not blaming the Secretary of State for Air. This was done at great speed, but I would have thought that in his speech today we would have had some indication of where the cuts will come. Because if the cuts do not come —if the programme I have read out is to continue—the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brentford and Chiswick is even more right than he said. At the present rate there will not be an Air Force beyond the lifetime of anyone now serving in it, because to carry that burden and that programme of development is clearly beyond the economic capacity of this country.
I want now to move on to the immediate reaction which I thought would come to the Defence White Paper. As I have said, I think that the smell of the sea and the influence of Lord Mountbatten runs right through that Defence White Paper. I only wish I had had the opportunity to say so during the Defence debate. What happened? We had to wait until the day after the publication of the memorandum of the Secretary of State for Air, on which I congratulate him. Likewise, I congratulate him on his speech today. The right hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to realise that I do not say things unless I mean them.
The reaction the next day was very interesting. The House was not sitting so I had to buy all the newspapers, which was terrible, but there was the reaction. By gosh, if any group of people can play the political game, it is the Air Council. One sentence stated that they were not going to be shot down too easily, that they were going to strike back. It was said that the Air Force was going to develop a programme of missiles—and I quote the words—" second to none". That was the report of the Press conference in the respectable paper I take, and on which I congratulate the Air Council. It was a wonderful counterattack. All it said was, "Our missiles are going to be second to none."
1227 If my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) wants to learn about defence, he should start his apprenticeship in the library of the American Embassy where there are wonderful things to be learned. I wish we published here a similar document to one first-class study I found there because then there would not be so much nonsense talked in this House. It was a study of air power. There were hearings before the sub-committee of the Air Force on the Committee of Armed Services of the United States. One section, given over to the study of air power, dealt with missiles. Another discussed where the V-2 went wrong and discussed details of American missiles.
The sub-committee was asked for information about whether the Soviets were ahead and there was a reply under one heading, which read:Information indicates Soviets ahead. ' What I was trying to bring out in questioning you, was the fact that, based on national intelligence furnished this committee, and based on what I knew before from the National Security Council, I believe the Soviet is well ahead of us in this field'.So we have the Air Council, through its public relations officers and through its Press conference, telling this country something which is clearly untrue, because the Prime Minister has told us that the American missiles are several years ahead of ours whilst the Americans are saying, on oath, before a Congressional Committee, that the Russians are ahead in this field.
When the hon. Gentleman replies tonight at that Box will he put his hand on his heart and say on his word of honour—[Laughter.] I am sorry that hon. Members think this is a subject for laughter. It is extremely important. My approach to it is that although we are now a second-class Power, we need not be a second-rate Power. We will be second-rate only if we refuse to face the truth. It is idle nonsense for the Press conference or the Air Council to say that there is any possibility in any foreseeable period of our taking the lead in the missile field.
§ Mr. Wigg
Again, I ask, if the Prime Minister tells us that we are five years behind, and the Americans say that the 1228 Russians are ahead of them, where must we be? We are only at the beginning of a stage of development. It is no use the hon. Gentleman asking why.
Hon. Members should take a little trouble. It is no use trotting out stories of missiles and telling me that the D.H. Firestreak air-to-air or the Fairey Fire-flash are first-class missiles, because they have been fired over Woomera. One is infra-red and the other is a beam rider, and anyone who takes the trouble to discover the facts knows that these missiles can be jammed. It is the simplest thing in the world.
Therefore, whether it is 110 yards 40,000 miles, or 40,000 feet, or any other number of feet, that is unadulterated nonsense which can only deceive the person who says it. He must be deceived if he is an honest man or he is flagrantly intending to deceive the public, and I do not believe that.
I therefore commend this report to the hon. Gentleman who interrupted. If it is not in the Library, he will find it at Grosvenor Square. He will see there in detail that the United States is determined to catch up, but that we are behind the Soviet in this field, and that we, on our own admission, are behind the Americans, so where do we stand?
It only underlines the fact that this country is indefensible, but that does not mean to say that it cannot defend itself. It will not be able to defend itself, however, nor will it be able to afford any defence unless it brings its defence policy down from the realms of space fiction to the realms of reality.
§ Mr. Wigg
My hon. and learned Friend cannot expect me to tell him unless I stay here all night. He ought to be grateful for all the trouble I have taken, for I have done the homework he ought to have done. If he would do it, he would have the same source of information as I found. In the meantime, I prefer to keep my sources of information to myself. 1229 That is blunt, but he ought to know that I am not prepared to say publicly what are my sources of information.
I now turn to another central aspect of the Government's policy, the problem of the central reserve. As I understand, that is to be situated in this country. The central reserve is to be a force of some hitting power, capable of putting out what are called "brush fires", and of being conveyed overseas at short notice. There are those of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, whose views I do not share, who think that this country has the capacity to be able to go in and out. That is unadulterated tommy rot, as I hope to be able to demonstrate. Here again, for my evidence I turn to American sources. Let us see what the Americans can do in this respect. Let us see what they have got and what we have got.
The subject of airlifts, of capacity to be able to collect bodies of troops at short notice, has been under investigation in the United States. I have here two reports of great length which give in detail the numbers of American aircraft available, their gross weight, their pay load, their speed, their fuel load, the number of crew, and what they can carry. As I have said, this question has been investigated before a Congressional Committee, and I shall read part of the report because it has a great bearing on the problem confronting this country.
Again I say that the British Press have sold the missile line in saying that vast sums are to be saved, conscription is to be abolished, that we shall press the button and the music will go round and round, and that every Soviet bomber flying within thousands of miles will drop to the earth. That is one picture. Indeed one headline read, "Missiles will save us." There is to be a central reserve, picked up on a magic carpet, taken over to the local inhabitants, who will say, "Yes, sahib." Then it will come back, and everyone will be happy.
Let us have a look at the evidence before the Congressional Committee:MR. DEANE: If a division had to fight with conventional weapons in a place similar to Korea, would it have to be transported and supplied by the Navy, and if so, does not that affect the degree of mobility of the Army?SECRETARY WILSON: The combat elements with light equipment can be transported and initially supplied by air, but the heavier equipment would have to be transported by the 1230 Navy and as a practical matter the sustained supply support would also be provided by the Navy. Airlift is distinctly premium-type transportation which is used only where necessary. This problem is taken into account in our planning and deployments.MR. SIKES: I am afraid that we cannot at this time airlift divisions from one part of the world to another. That would seem to be the type of mobility that the American people have been led to believe we are talking about.So the American people, like the British people, have been led up the garden path.
What does Admiral Radford say? He says:We cannot airlift a division with full equipment from one part of the world to another, and there is no prospect that we can do so in the immediate future. I think the American people have been misled in some of the statements that have been made publicly.I continue with the quotation:MR. SIKES: IS mobility actually still tied in the main to ship transportation for the larger units?ADMIRAL RADFORD: Well, if you are talking about personnel and personal equipment, and certain light equipment, we can lift that. If you are talking about a division complete with all the heavy equipment, then that heavy equipment would have to follow by sea. It is up to the Army to develop their capability for mobility in that respect by the design of new equipment. Then there are other considerations in connection with this general discussion of mobility. In the first place, you have to know where you want to lift things. There arc certain places in the world where you will not have any airfields and would have to build them. Are you going to lift them in an area where there will be opposition to their landing? If so you would have to put in aircraft to cover the landing, and that would take time.MR. SIKES: In other words, Army mobility of the type the average American may have been led to believe to exist is still something that is largely in the future; it is not the actual picture?ADMIRAL RADFORD: Well, I think there has probably been a lot of misinformation on the subject. We have better mobility today than we had ten years ago, and ten years from now we will have better mobility. But there are still certain factors that are going to be difficult to overcomeMR. SCRIVNER: That is one of the reasons that you have pre-positioning of supplies; is that not correct?ADMIRAL RADFORD: That is correct.'Then the following exchanges took place:MR. SIKES: There has been a growing awareness, of course, of the need to have task forces available to move rapidly to put out ' brush fires' in various parts of the world, 1231 and to encourage and assist our weaker allies. Some months ago this country was informed of a movement by air of a regimental combat team to Japan. I understand that movement required almost all the available military air transport; is that correct?GENERAL TAYLOR: I was not responsible for that move at the time so I did not check to see how much was left over when it took place. I would describe it as a rather major effort on the part of the Air Force to provide the transport.Now let us see what transport is available to the Americans for this purpose. They have 506 four-engine transport planes immediately available. In addition, they have 300 four-engine transport planes available at 48 hours' notice. Therefore, for the purpose of a "brush fire" operation, the Americans have 806 four-engine transport planes available. In a moment I will come to what we have, but do not let us go too quickly.
Let us now turn to further evidence that was given on this subject. General Wheeler gave evidence for the Army. He defined the Army's requirements as follows:The Army is concerned with two types of airlift—tactical airlift and strategic airlift. Tactical airlift is needed for airborne assaults; that is, a combination of parachute-drop and air-landing of combat troops to seize a military objective. Strategic airlift, on the other hand, relates to the long-range movement of troops and supplies from one area to another wherein the troops are not normally engaged immediately in combat. For the tactical airlift, the Air Force provides us with the C-119 and C-123 type aircraft shown here, the C-119 normally for the parachute element and the C-123 for the follow-up landing, which may be on unimproved airfields. For strategic air movement, a larger type of aircraft with greater range and greater load capacity, such as the C-124 shown here, is utilised.General Wheeler added that the C-119 and C-123 carry 42 parachutists each, and the C-124 carries 112 parachutists or 200 infantry soldiers for landing on the ground. He went on to say:The airlifted tonnage for the division going to an area such as Europe is in the neighbourhood of 5,000–6,000 tons …I hope that hon. Members will note these figures—whereas the tonnage for the division going to Saigon is about 11,000 tons.General Wheeler also said:The Army and Air Force have worked out a plan for moving the 5,000-ton division to various areas of the world. However, the movement of the 11,000-ton division, the unit which could engage promptly in combat operations in an undeveloped area."…1232 This gives a slight idea of what we should need.… has not been worked out. This latter study is now being undertaken on a joint basis. In order to lift one 5,000-ton division, practically the whole of the available Air Force transport capability would be utilised.I would emphasise that to move one American division, not to engage in immediate combat, to an area such as Europe would take the whole of the transport which the United States has in effective use in reserve. Yet we have Ministers of the Crown coming here and telling us in debate after debate, with no denial from our own Front Bench or from any other part of the House, that a central strategic reserve is a military possibility. I say it is nonsense. It is nonsense in the face of this American evidence which is available to any hon. Gentleman who cares to take the trouble to find out the facts.
I now turn to what we in this country have available. Let us imagine that we need to transport an 11,000-ton division to an undeveloped area of the world, a division which has to be available for immediate combat. What are the weights involved? Here again, if any of my hon. Friends have doubts about my figures, I shall be happy to supply them with the sources.
Take the movement of a parachute battalion—not a division—without its parachutes. Hon. Members will have noticed the difference in the figures—112 parachutists to 200 infantry soldiers— which is explained by the fact that the parachutists carry much lighter equipment. The movement of one parachute battalion less the weight of the parachutes means an initial lift of 225 tons and a supply of 90 tons daily. If hon. Gentlemen want to know what is involved for one brigade, it works out at 1,035 tons and a supply of 90 tons a day.
What aircraft have we available at present? There is the Beverley, which was evolved for a quite different purpose. It was an end-of-the-war close support tactical aircraft. I estimate its lifting capacity to be 11½8 tons. The Britannia will take 15,000 lb. with a range of about 4,000 miles. There is the Hastings which will take about 6½2 tons. There is also the Valetta, which the right hon. Gentleman promised to mention in his speech, but forgot. There are six 1233 squadrons of Valettas. I do not know their future, but they have a lifting capacity of 2½5 tons. The right hon. Gentleman said that we have 10 Comets. I will not argue about that; that is near enough. We have a couple of squadrons of Beverleys and four squadrons of Hastings. What, in the name of goodness, with our building programme, is the use of talking about lifting a strategic reserve in the face of that evidence from American sources? What we want to do is to be our age and show that we can face the facts as they confront us.
It is very interesting, looking through that American evidence, to see quite clearly how honest, honourable, competent men started off in just the same way as the Minister of Defence and many romantics on this side of the Committee. They wanted to save money and men. They said. "Here is an aeroplane which takes a couple of hours to get to Paris. Call it a day and we can move a division starting at breakfast and have it flown over by lunch." It is more complicated than that, as the Americans have found, even with their gigantic resources and even in putting out "brush fires."
Now they are talking about pre-positioning. That is why we held Basra before the war and that is why we wanted the Suez depot. If we are thinking in terms of a number of hot spots, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was thinking of the possibility of trouble in Bahrein, if we want to put out a fire in Bahrein, we want a couple of fire engines there, because we could not fly out the fire engines even if we could fly the firemen.
That is why I read out the list of projects and the American evidence, to show that beyond any shadow of doubt those who talk about our being second to none with guided missiles and who say that we are able to transport a central reserve are talking nonsense. We have to get back to the clear and honest thinking which was done by the Labour Party —and I say that as one who, for the last two defence debates, did not vote with my party; and I will not vote for it again when I think that it is wrong, but I will vote for it when I think that it is right—when Earl Attlee produced the White Paper in 1946 on the central organisation of defence.
1234 There was nothing very spectacular in that, nothing which would inspire many Press conferences, nothing which would get many headlines, but it was honest thinking and the recording of the experiences of the last ten years. That is what I have always striven for in the House. I do not believe that defence will get many votes for either party. I have always striven, because I do not believe that there is any solution to the problem on a one party line, to show that the quicker we take this problem out of politics, the greater will be our influence in the world.
The Suez adventure broke my heart because I believe that, bad as we are— and some of us are terrible, including myself—on balance, we have done more good for some parts of the world than has anybody else. If our influence is not there—be it military influence or spiritual influence; and those words do not come easily to me, as hon. Members know— those countries will be worse off.
Because I have always taken that line, I have the right to say again today— although it will be regarded by some of my hon. Friends as being a bit weak-kneed and sloppy to talk about an all-party approach—that I do not know who will win the fight, but I know who will lose. We have had defence debate after defence debate, Service debate after Service debate, with attempts to snatch political advantage. First, there is no political advantage to be snatched and, secondly, there is no solution to the problem in that approach.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman will pardon me if I raise the subject of manpower. Paragraphs 47 to 52 of the Defence White Paper made me believe that the Government were playing a little politics. I have always held the view that National Service in some form was vital to the Air Force above all Services, vital, of course, in terms of a pre-emption on some of the scarce technical skills. A great prize is to be won if the country can get rid of National Service, but it must not rid itself of National Service at the cost of making nonsense of what it is trying to do over the whole defence position.
I must draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the debate on 2nd November, 1955, when the present Foreign Secretary was, in passing, one of 1235 our Defence Ministers. He defended National Service in that debate and he made a very important point. He said that of the Royal Air Force's 69,000 National Service men, 45,000 were in advanced or skilled trades. That is a very big number, indeed. I should like to have heard from him today how that gap is to be filled, because the Defence White Paper glosses over that subject.
Having said that the Government have decided not to get rid of but to plan on the basis of no further call-up, the Defence White Paper says that if voluntary recruiting fails to produce the numbers required the country will have to have some form of compulsory service to bridge the gap. Over the page, where they hope no one will read, in paragraph 52 the Government pose the problem of quality, but the real problem is posed in the last sentence, that of obtaining sufficient recruits to man the branches which will have the less popular duties.
Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure that if National Service is completely abolished he will be able to recruit the hewers of wood and drawers of water in the Royal Air Force? I do not think that he will be able to recruit the men of high technical skill, nor do I believe that he can get the men to do the unpopular tasks. It was not only paragraph 47, but also paragraph 52 of the Defence White Paper which convinced me that the basis of the Government's manpower policy is, in fact, the selective draft. I think that they would be very wise, and here again I differ from my own party, and shall continue to do so on this subject, if I think that my party is wrong.
The Government are taking an enormous gamble, for I do not believe that the Army can get within a thousand miles of filling the gap. I think that we shall hear the Secretary of State for War announce next Tuesday what should have been the first step, but he will announce it last. He will announce the abolition of my old friend the three-year engagement. It will be "Cheerio" next Tuesday night, but he cannot even begin to recruit his Regular Army of 150,000 until he does that. The sheer mathematics of the situation take charge.
The real danger comes for the Royal Air Force. The Navy is all right, but the great danger for the Air Force and 1236 Army is that I may be wrong, but not completely wrong. I think that the gap in the Army will be 50,000. Of course, the Government have played their cards with marvellous skill and I congratulate them. If they win the next Election, they will have a mandate for re-enacting the National Service Acts, or introducing a selective draft. If the Labour Party wins the next Election, it can either reintroduce the National Service Acts, which the Conservative Administration will have allowed to lapse, or introduce a selective draft. One of the two, brandy-balls or nuts.
Supposing the gap is not 50,000, supposing the gap of technicians which the Royal Air Force wants, a gap which is now largely closed by National Service men, manages to fill half the gap, so that the gap is 20,000 or 25,000 in the Air Force and in the Army 25,000 or 30,000, does the right hon. Gentleman think that either a Conservative or a Labour Administration will have the guts, in those circumstances, to introduce a selective draft when the gap is as narrow as that? Of course not; what they will do is gamble. The National Service Acts will have gone. They will gamble on recruiting improving, hoping that by advertising campaigns and the like they will be able to close the gap.
That brings me back to the logic of all this. The logic of defence does not lie in clever resolutions, or in the ayes exceeding the noes, or in the noes exceeding the ayes. The logic of all this is to have the right fire power at the right time in the right place. If the Army has a gap of 20,000 and the Air Force has a gap of 20,000 technicians, if the day ever comes when the future of the country hangs in the balance, then the right fire power at the right time in the right place will not be there, and the responsibility for that will not belong to the gallant men who pay the price with their lives; it will belong to the cowardly Members of the House of Commons who have not got the guts to face the situation as it really is.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, North)
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is to be congratulated on having managed to make a speech which would have put into the shade any intervention which he would have resented by 1237 any Privy Councillor had he been here. He is also to be congratulated on making a speech of the length and, perhaps, the calibre which we are accustomed to have from Privy Councillors on his side of the Committee.
The first sentence of paragraph 47 of the White Paper refers to the ending of the Canadian scheme for training N.A.T.O. personnel. During the Second World War I had the great privilege to spend a relatively short time learning how to manoeuvre an aircraft about the Canadian skies. I can never forget the impression I received of the hospitality and the efficiency of that country. It is right that when this scheme comes to an end a small passing tribute should be made to the role which the Canadian nation is playing in the defence of the West.
The hon. Member for Dudley rather looked at the problem of the Air Estimates in total isolation and as unconnected with the matters dealt with in the Defence White Paper. That seems to me to be wrong. There are two important things, amongst others, to which we must pay some attention in this realm of defence. The first is economy in manpower and money, and the second is the need for greater co-operation between the three Services.
It may be that there is some justification for the attack upon the presentation of the White Paper and the reaction which it evoked in Europe, but it is worth while, purely for the record, to state the percentage of the national product which various European countries spend on defence. Although there may be some justification for criticising the way in which the White Paper was presented, we can get a better balance and sense of what is being spent by each nation if we look at these percentages.
I know that percentages can be misleading, but the figures reveal the real truth, to some extent. France spends 66 per cent. of her national product on defence; Holland spends 5½8 per cent.; Italy, 4½1 per cent.; Belgium, 3½6 per cent., and Britain, 8½2 per cent. Although the presentation of these cuts may not have been as perfect as one would have liked, it is plain at least that we are not lagging behind in the proportion of our national product which we devote to the defence of the West.
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, but the hon. and learned Member will recognise that it is no use spending so much of our national product that we make it impossible for our economy to churn out the wealth upon which our defence depends. It is inevitable—and I thought that this was the plight in which the party opposite found itself so often— that we have to strike a balance between production for civil and for defence purposes.
§ Mr. Williams
It may be that other economies are possible—but that is not the point I am making. I am saying that although there may be grounds for criticising the presentation of the White Paper, it is clear that we are in no way lagging in respect of the contribution we make towards Western defence.
I have referred already to the need for greater co-operation between the various Services. That point was also referred to by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). The Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates for 1955–56 referred to the food supplies of the Armed Services. I merely call this Report in aid as evidence of the need for co-operation between the Services in their planning and their approach to the issue of economy.
In this Report, which as far as I understand has not yet been acted upon, there were two recommendations which seem to me to be worth while. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I refer to them briefly. The first says:at the same time as reviewing the size and siting of the strategic reserves, the Ministry of Defence committee should consider a joint purchasing, storage and supply service for the food supplies of the Armed Forces …A little later the Report says:The Treasury should review with the Service Departments the possibility of securing economies through the joint use of cookery schools and their equipment.I do not propose to dilate upon either of these points. I shall say no more as to joint cookery schools or the cookery 1239 of joints, or to joint purchasing and storing, except that if we wish to secure further economies not just within the limited aspect of the Air Estimates but over the whole defence field we must press this co-operation between the three Services.
The Defence White Paper and the Air Estimates have created in the minds of many people concern about the future of pilot—the human being himself—and whether he has any future in the Service. The initial reaction to the Defence White Paper was that there was no longer any future at all for the pilot or for the aircrew member. Much of that lost ground has been reclaimed as a result of the way in which these matters have been presented since, but the point needs to be further amplified that there is a considerable future for the human being in the air.
Bomber Command, which is staffed by manned aircraft, has a future of at least ten years, and the same is true for Fighter Command. Whether or not guided weapons and missiles are successful, there will be a traditional tactical use in such situations as occurred in Aden and Malaya. In addition, pilots will be necessary for transport work far into the future. The impression given by the Defence White Paper that the life of the pilot was limited is totally erroneous, and it should be dispelled in a greater degree in this debate.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) is of vital importance for those people who will feel obliged to leave the Services—those who will find no further opening. The Government must create some special machinery for bringing the people concerned together, perhaps through the Ministry of Labour, with advice from the Trades Union Congress and also, perhaps, from employers' organisations, so that the 40-year-olds who are coming out will find it possible to take up worth-while employment which has some future.
I now turn to the question of air transport. It is perhaps worth while making a passing reference to some of its recent history. In recent years in these air debates there has been a clamour for the provision of greater mobility for the Services. I have sometimes thought that 1240 hon. Members have been casting their minds ten years ahead when, in fact, it has been impossible to make provision for what was needed 12 months hence. However, when the Suez Canal was nationalised in July last year I got the impression that those who were expected to provide air transport for the Services did their job effectively and efficiently, and in complete satisfaction to the Service Departments.
I would mention very briefly the increase in trooping work carried out by the independent air companies and by Transport Command. I do not think that any serious criticism has been made of the work done by the Transport Command and the independents in the period immediately after 26th July last year. Then came the Suez venture, the result of which we all know.
During that venture and, perhaps, even shortly before, there was a suppressed feeling of irritation at the long time which was taken to build up our forces in the Middle East. I do not completely understand the reasons for this length of time, but I think the Secretary of State would probably agree that if there is any blame for it, none, or very little, of the blame should attach to the two elements on the air transport side, Transport Command and the independent companies. Out of that irritation which existed through the summer months because of the delay in the build-up came a demand for an increased and perhaps even an inflated Transport Command.
Here we come to the need to find some balance between a large Transport Command, capable of meeting some of the needs of mobility, and economy. There must be some interaction of those two. We must be sure about the safety of our communications while not so burdening our economy with aircraft which, for most of the year, will be doing no work, that we break the economy itself.
This question of the balance between the need for a large Transport Command and the ability to pay for it requires a decision which rests on the shoulders of the Secretary of State. It is not an easy decision to take because, inevitably, Transport Command must contain large and remarkably expensive aircraft. One does not buy Britannias at the cornet shop. They are large and they are expensive, and in the very nature of 1241 Transport Command they will be aircraft which will be used to only a small degree Utilisation of aircraft in Transport Command is inevitably low and, in terms of economy and efficiency, the economy will be wasteful and the efficiency will be slight.
In addition, it is perhaps inevitable and no slur on the people themselves that the pilots who engage in Transport Command will have rather less experience than their counterparts in civil aviation. After all, if a man is flying for only 300 or 400 hours a year, he cannot possibly have the experience of a man who is flying twice or even three times that number of hours. It is inevitable that in Transport Command there will be rather less experience to the hand of the people concerned than is the case with their counterparts in civil aviation.
There has been a good deal of talk about the trooping contracts, largely connected with an extremely unfortunate accident which took place earlier this month. I think it is extremely regrettable that the impression has been gained that certain hon. Members have tried to make party political capital out of this tragic and extremely unfortunate accident. It is extremely regrettable that this occurred, because the record of the independent companies and of Transport Command on trooping is one which is not and should not be a matter for party capital. That certain hon. Members opposite should have taken it upon themselves to say that this action proves that trooping should be handed to the Corporations is carrying political bias a little too far.
I think it has been agreed that the independent companies do a very good job. Perhaps before I say too much about this, I should disclose that I have a certain personal interest in one of the independent companies which in fact does no trooping.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
We all have a personal interest in the success of the publicly-owned Corporations. There is nothing at all surprising that we should want these Corporations to be allowed to compete on equal terms with the independent companies for trooping contracts.
§ Mr. Williams
There is a certain difficulty, which the hon. Member recognises, 1242 in understanding what is meant by "equal terms," because there can be no equality when the provision of finance is so much simpler, easier and cheaper for a Corporation than for an independent company.
§ Mr. Williams
I thought it had been accepted by the House that the trooping contracts were suitable to be put out to tender by the independent companies. If the Opposition disagree with this they must come quite clean and say, "We do not believe in the maintenance and continuation of the independent companies at all". There is a role to be played by the independent companies. In these trooping contracts they have a very small and, in fact, the least lucrative section of the market. I do not think anyone would disagree, if he could shed his political bias, that these companies are efficient and experienced, that they employ experienced personnel on both the technical and flying sides, that they are competitive and that many of them have new aircraft on order.
I understand that some criticisms which were made about trooping work were along the lines that the companies were using old and obsolescent aircraft. I do not accept this. As my right hon. Friend said, quite clearly when aircraft such as Dakotas and D.C.3s are used we can hardly doubt the safety of such aircraft The companies are in the process of providing themselves with modern aircraft, which I hope will be placed at the disposal of the Service Departments when the time comes.
In this connection, the issue of long contracts is important, if the Service Departments are to be provided with transport at a reasonable price and with the modern aircraft, which I believe they want and certainly should want. I refer in this respect to a letter printed in The Times yesterday, written by the Chairman of Airwork. There was a reference to the need for longer contracts. The Secretary of State referred to that this afternoon and, with great respect, I think he evaded one point of importance which was brought out in that letter. It is possible to place long contracts for sea trooping. If that is so, I cannot understand why it is suddenly found to be impossible 1243 to place a long contract for air trooping. It seems to me that there is a slightly split personality on this issue.
I understand that it is recommended that the Corporations should be allowed to tender. We can never be certain on this point, but I feel that if they were to tender we should find that their price was considerably higher than the tender price of the independent companies. There is, however, something which is much more important. The Corporations are interested in finding work for their aircraft in the off-peak periods, in the winter months, in the months when they have not the weight of traffic which they have in the summer months. Does anyone suggest, even from the other side of the House, that trooping can always be done in the winter?
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member is wrong. As long as there has been a British Army there has been a trooping season. Its beginning coincides with the breaking of the monsoon in India. The reason trooping now goes on all the year round is that we have National Service. If we got rid of National Service we should get back to a trooping season.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member is older than I am and has an experience which dates from before the war of sea trooping.
§ Mr. Williams
In the case of air trooping, these peaks and costs should be levelled out so that there can be a constant flow throughout the year. If there is some difference of opinion on this issue, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State could help to clear up the point. It seems to me that at the moment hon. Members opposite are asking the Cor- 1244 porations to do something which is not in their interest. If this work is to be of benefit it must be done the whole time, whereas the Corporations wish to obtain it simply to fill in the troughs in their present utilisation.
§ Mr. Benn
We have listened to the hon. Member's argument, which is a great deal more detailed than that given by the Minister in dealing with this point. I understand him to say that the Corporations have a lot of aircraft available in the winter when they are not being used for other purposes. Apparently he would still prefer those aircraft to be idle than that they should be made available for trooping, with a general economy to the nation.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman must recognise that one cannot give a trooping contract for six months. It must be for a year or something like that. In fact, it should be for a much longer period than it is at the moment. There is no purpose in pursuing this matter further. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can clear up the details later.
My main purpose in having spoken at some length on this question of trooping is because it seems to me that there is the necessity to reconcile the two interests to which I referred earlier in relation to Transport Command. They are the safety of our lines of communication on one side and, on the other, a reasonable measure of economy in not investing too much money in aircraft which will be used only very rarely throughout the year. That is one of the problems to which I cannot see the answer. I am quite sure, however, that it is necessary and wise from the point of view of the State to rely on something outside the Royal Air Force for the provision of transport aircraft for the movement of troops throughout the year.
I believe that the Defence White Paper is a considerable move ahead from last year. The Defence White Paper tied to the Air Estimates and the Memorandum seem to approach the technicalities of defence, as well as the issue of expenditure, in a much more realistic way than has been previously the case in the short time that I have been in the House. I welcome the White Paper and welcome, in particular, its application in the Memorandum to the R.A.F.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) in the details of the controversy about trooping, because he knows far more than I do about it. I agree with his opening remark that we should not treat the Memorandum and the Air Estimates in isolation, but in relation to the Defence White Paper.
I would go a little further and pick up a remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who complained that defence debates were often turned into foreign affairs debates. I think that he himself, if I may say so, is an outstanding example of a man who cannot see the wood for the trees. He is an extremely good forester; he can tell one everything about the barks and the parasites and everything else about a tree. But he cannot see the connection between defence and foreign policy. Yet that connection is one of the basic aspects of the situation on which, in the view that I shall put forward, there is national unity.
The Minister of Defence, in his speech on 13th February, pointed out that we cannot make large defence reductions without a change of policy. The Leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Attlee, as he then was, in a defence debate in the House before the war, expressed his agreement with the then Prime Minister on the other side of the House in the following words:The Prime Minister, has rightly said that you cannot separate foreign policy from defence, and we do not separate foreign policy from defence. Defence is the result of foreign policy. Very often defence proposals show what is the reality of a foreign policy, and it is so in this case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th March, 1936; Vol. 309, c. 1843]That was in March, 1936.
I think that the Air Estimates and the Defence White Paper bring out this very fact, because the defence commitments and arrangements set forth in those documents depend upon the postulates of our foreign policy and make certain assumptions which arise from our foreign policy. I shall not go into that for the moment. I shall deal with the main issue in the Air Estimates and in the Defence White Paper. The Air Estimates, in paragraph 10, say:The first aim of our defence policy is, in conjunction with our allies, to prevent global1246war. The achievement of this aim will continue to depend primarily upon capacity for nuclear retaliation.The Memorandum goes on to explain the rôle of the Air Force, pending the development of ballistic missiles, for delivering the nuclear deterrent.
This point, which is the basic point of our whole defence policy and which centres on the air arm, was emphasised also by the Minister of Defence, both in his speech of 13th February and his speech in the recent defence debate, where he used very strong language on the need for preventing a war and seeing that it never happened. The Defence White Paper puts the same point, as follows:It must be frankly recognised that there is at present no means of providing adequate protection for the people of this country against the consequences of an attack with nuclear weapons. This makes it more than ever clear that the overriding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war rather than to prepare for it.I agree very heartily with that sentiment. But it is typical of the confused thinking on this issue that the point is put in a sentence which is practically a contradiction in terms. It is a contradiction in terms to say that…the over-riding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war rather than to prepare for it.After all, military planning is preparation for war, and preparation for war is military planning. The whole of this defence policy of the nuclear deterrent, so-called, is simply the old, old policy, the old hoary exploded fallacy: if you want peace prepare for war.
In the past, those who propounded this nostrum at least had the honesty to deride and condemn the whole idea of permanent peace and to argue that, sooner or later, war was inevitable. So it is if we rely on preparing for war to prevent war, because what we prepare for is in the end what we shall get, as common sense suggests and history proves. In the old days, when we could still fight a war, the whole idea of preparing for war was to make reasonably certain that we would win it if it came, and in the meantime we could use the threat of force to carry our point against the other fellow in the game of power politics.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
Surely that is not quite true. Little countries 1247 like Holland and Denmark that prepared for peace before Hitler overran them did not get the peace they prepared for. One does not necessarily get peace by preparing for peace.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
When we have a world in which the great Powers are relying on preparation for war, the little Powers become pawns in international affairs and it is more or less an accident who overruns them first. I am dealing with those who are responsible for the present arms race, and saying that if we rely on it to preserve peace we shall get what history shows we always get, only with this basic difference that we have no hope of fighting a war or winning a war.
The next time war breaks out humanity is exterminated. Man's destructive power has outrun his capacity to survive. We have run to the end of the line in this business of preparing for war. It is the end of the line and all change. The Government are like a mad engine driver and fireman who will not realise that they have reached the end of the line and are still trying to raise steam to reach the next station. If they go on they will either blow up the engine or crash it into the buffers, or both.
It is true, of course, that the Government have from time to time paid lip service to the only way out of this, which is political action to reach disarmament agreements and negotiated settlements. But they remain wedded to policies which, in fact, make any agreements or settlements impossible and maintain any attitude of sterile intransigence on these matters.
Take the question of abolishing hydrogen bomb tests. In the face of the growing evidence and the growing disquiet, the Government go on minimising the dangers of radioactive fall-out, Strontium 90 and genetic damage to future generations. They are enacting, on the scale of cosmic tragedy, the part played by the mayor and town council in Ibsen's play, "An Enemy of the People." If Ibsen had written his play today, I suppose that the mayor and town council would have denounced the enemy of the people as a Communist and a fellow traveller for pointing out that the radioactive waters on which they relied as a health resort for bringing money to the town, were contaminated by sewage.
1248 When it comes to doing something about getting an agreement to abolish tests, the Government maintain their stubborn refusal even to try to get an agreement separately from, and in advance of, a general disarmament agreement, despite the fact that they have been urged to do so not only by the Opposition but by large sections of public opinion and by the Soviet Union. They have at last been forced to produce as a diversion what is really only a "twopence coloured" way of refusing to abolish the tests, namely, their scheme for registering bomb tests and having impartial observers present, and so on.
The whole operation reminds me strongly of an incident in my earlier days when I was an official of the League of Nations Secretariat, at Geneva. I was on the Social Committee of the League of Nations, where many nations were concerned with the social evil of prostitution.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. H. Hynd)
Would the hon. Gentleman try to relate his speech a little more closely to the Air Estimates?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I am relating it to the hydrogen bomb tests, which are part of the Air Estimates. The hydrogen bombs are to be carried by aeroplanes. The bomb to be dropped on Christmas Island is to be carried by an aeroplane or by several aeroplanes. In the incident I was about to relate by way of analogy there were two schools of thought. One said, "Abolish this thing. Prohibit it." The other said, "No. The proper approach is to register prostitutes and to license the brothels." There is more than a suggestion of that kind of rather unsavoury diversion about the scheme for registering bomb tests and providing observers, instead of facing the issue and trying to get an agreement to abolish the tests even before we get a general disarmament convention.
If the Government really believe that some form of control is necessary, let them suggest that form of control in connection with a scheme for abolishing the tests. That is one thing they will not do. The Government are committed in Europe not only to a "long haul," as the Defence White Paper says, in piling up nuclear weapons, but to a policy, through N.A.T.O., of atom bombs all round, spreading the horror to many nations.
1249 I will now leave Europe, the Far East and S.E.A.T.O. aside and deal a little more closely with our obligations, mentioned in the Air Estimates and in the Defence White Paper, for the Middle East. The phrase used in the Defence White Paper is that the Royal Air Force, carrying nuclear weapons and based on Cyprus, is necessary for use in the Middle East, not only for the security and defence of those countries but for dealing with what is calledCommunist encroachment and infiltration.The phrase used in last year's Defence White Paper was to deal withCommunist subversion even when masquerading as nationalism.The original text from which those phrases spring and from which this obligation stems, was contained in paragraph 5 of the final communiqué on the Bagdad Pact, in November, 1955, when the present Prime Minister was present as Foreign Secretary. The crucial paragraph reads:The five Governments in Council re-affirmed their intention, as provided"—
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
On a point of order. This matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the Air Estimates.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I was following the hon. Member's argument. I cannot say that it was out of order, but I cannot see a very close connection with the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Thank you, Mr. Hynd. The Air Estimates quite definitely include the obligation to use aeroplanes in the Middle East under the Bagdad Pact. It is an obligation under the Bagdad Pact on which we are operating, and it reads as follows, in paragraph 5:The five Governments in Council reaffirmed their intention as provided in the Pact and consistently with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, to…work in full partnership …to defend their territories against aggression or subversion.That is the phrase which equates subversion with external aggression, and says that we are entitled to resort to military action to support any ruler of any Bagdad Pact country to defend his territory in dealing with either eventuality, as an exercise of the right of collective defence under the Charter.
I still feel that there is something obscure about this situation, and I have 1250 been asking a number of Questions in the House of Commons to elucidate the nature of the military obligations that the Government have assumed in the Middle East and are prepared to discharge with the help of the Royal Air Force, even with the help of nuclear weapons, and, in particular, so-called tactical atomic weapons.
My first Question was on 11th February to the Foreign Secretary, when I asked him:In view of the reaffirmation by Her Majesty's Government of its intention to defend the territory of Iraq or Iran against subversion, as provided in paragraph 5 of the final communiqué by the Council of the Bagdad Pact of 22nd November, 1955, whether he will give an assurance that he will oppose the use of British forces in any circumstances for armed intervention in the internal affairs of these countries, even at the request of their Governments.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a speech which would be more appropriate to a debate on foreign policy or defence. I must ask him to relate his remarks to the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
According to the Air Estimates White Paper—I will quote the relevant words—Apart from its contribution to the nuclear deterrent and the N.A.T.O. shield, the Royal Air Force must be ready to deal with trouble elsewhere. For this reason the Royal Air Force makes its contribution in the Middle East to the Bagdad Pact and in the Far East to S.EA.T.O. and the A.N.Z.A.M. defence organisation. It is also responsible for providing the air power needed in limited overseas operations, for the local defence of British colonies and protected territories, and for providing assistance to the civil power.In the Middle East, as also in the Far East, our policy remains to provide small air forces of high quality, ready to receive reinforcements from the United Kingdom in emergency.In other words, when I am discussing our military obligations under the Bagdad Pact, and the nature of those obligations, I am discussing an obligation for which the Air Estimates say we shall use the Air Force. I will limit my speech very strictly to that point.
The reply I got to my Question on 11th February was:There are many other ways than armed intervention of defending a country against subversvesoin.…There is no provision in the communiqué" to which the hon. Gentleman refers for armed intervention to deal with subversion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 957; Vol. 564, c. 907.]1251 I got a similar reply from the Prime Minister, on 11th April, denying that there was any obligation to resort to armed intervention. On 27th February, the Minister of Defence took a different line. He was asked a Question by myself and by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The Minister of Defence then said that we had a military obligation to deal with any rising alleged by the ruler of a Bagdad Pact country to constitute Communist subversion. If we had no such obligation, this matter would not figure in the Estimates or in the Defence White Papers. He said that it was for the Governments of the countries concerned to decide whether or not a rising in their territories constituted Communist subversion.
I pondered as to the nature of this obligation, and wondered whether this seeming contradiction between Ministerial statements and what seemed like a flat denial of the military obligations referred to, and which form the basis of this section of the Air Estimates and the Defence White Paper, did not rest simply on a play on words. I had used the word "armed intervention" and the Government used the word "defence". If so, this is only a quibble and we are still faced with the fact that the Government appear to have assumed an obligation to be ready to use tactical atomic weapons to help to suppress a popular rising in any Bagdad Pact or S.E.A.T.O. country whose ruler seeks our help and describes that rising as constituting Communist subversion.
If so, we are committed to policies of counter-revolutionary intervention and Charter-breaking aggression which would be opposed by the party on this side of the Committee and large sections of opinion in the country. At best, it would land us in another Korean War, and at worst it would trigger off another world war. I should be obliged if the Government would make it clear that they have no intention of intervening in the internal affairs of other countries and that if there is a breach of the peace in the Middle or the Far East they will not engage in little wars, but will refer the matter to the United Nations and deal with it on the basis of the Charter. I should be happy to have some clarification on that.
1252 My final point on this White Paper and the Air Estimates, as against what I regard as the larger lunacies to which I have referred, is the insensate folly of our going on manufacturing the hydrogen bomb. The argument for doing so, as the reply of the Prime Minister in the House—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member has had rather long rope and is now going on to discuss foreign policy and matters which are not the responsibility of the Air Ministry, which is what we should be discussing this evening. I must ask him not to discuss general policy over the hydrogen bomb.
§ Mr. Benn
May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Hynd, because the Ruling you have given is extremely important and will affect the course of our debate? We are discussing the Air Estimates and the whole purpose of the Air Force in modern circumstances, according to the Estimates, the Memorandum and the Minister, is to deliver the nuclear deterrent. If you are ruling that it is impossible for hon. Members to question the wisdom of having the nuclear deterrent, the debate is being drawn very narrow. I hope it will be possible for hon. Members to raise questions about the validity of the deterrent, if they think it right, as a means of preserving peace.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Further to that point of order. I do not wish to discuss policy in general, but the narrow issue of whether or not it is a good idea for this country to manufacture the hydrogen bomb, on the postulates and in view of the facts put forward in the last White Paper and accepted in the Memorandum on the Air Estimates.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member will have noticed that I have not attempted to be narrow in my definition of what we should be discussing, but when he gets on to discussing foreign policy in the Middle East, general defence policy, and now the policy of manufacturing the hydrogen bomb, I think he is going outside the scope of the debate on the Air Estimates. If he wants to discuss the use of the hydrogen bomb by the Air Force within limits which he will recognise, that is all right.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I think that the hydrogen bomb should not be used by the Air 1253 Force and that is the point to which I shall address myself. If we attempt, either through the Air Force or by ballistic missiles, to deliver hydrogen bombs, if we attempt even to manufacture and keep hydrogen bombs for that purpose, we are courting destruction without achieving that equality of position which, on 5th March, the Prime Minister said was the main object in manufacturing a hydrogen bomb.
The other argument made for it is that if we do not have the bomb ourselves, if the Air Force is deprived of the hydrogen bomb, we are unilaterally disarmed. But the Defence White Paper has pointed out that nature has unilaterally disarmed us and, however much we may spend on the Air Force, we are still far more vulnerable and have far less capacity to manufacture or deliver hydrogen bombs than either of the two big world Powers. We can make only a modest contribution compared with the United States, so we do not gain equality that way; we are already unilaterally disarmed.
In any case, as most rearmament is unilateral, depending on the political judgment and economic necessities of the countries concerned, there is no reason why measures of disarmament should not also be governed by political judgment and economic necessities. In fact, the present Defence White Paper and the Air Estimates have been criticised in some quarters—notably in N.A.T.O.—as constituting a measure of unilateral disarmament by this country. The present Government—I heartily approve of their doing so—cut down the original Labour estimates of £4,700 million in three years by about £1,000 million. The Russians have also gone in for some unilateral disarmament. There is nothing wrong with unilateral disarmament, provided that it is based on sound political judgment and a sober and realistic view of our economic position.
There was another argument which suggested that we might find ourselves in a position in which, in a dispute with the Soviet Government, if we could not use our Air Force, or whatever means we had for delivering hydrogen bombs, because we had none, we would be at a disadvantage and have to turn to the United States, who, in that case, might refuse to back us up. That, of course, 1254 assumes that our case would be so bad that even the United States would counsel us to compromise and give way rather than to hang on to whatever our position was. The United Nations, in that case no doubt, would be doing the same. But it is further assumed that our intransigence would be so great that we would still want to use the hydrogen bomb rather than compromise.
That seems so far-fetched and unreal that it may be dismissed as a serious reason for keeping the hydrogen bomb. Even more far-fetched is the idea that we must keep it as a threat to back an independent foreign policy—
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
On a point of order. I submit, Mr. Hynd, that most of the remarks of the hon. Member are quite out of order in connection with the discussion of the Air Estimates. Most of the remarks are obviously cottoned on to something which is not the subject of discussion in this Committee.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I have done my best to keep the hon. Member in order. I gather that he is on his final point, in which case I hope that he will not take it too far.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Yes, Mr. Hynd, I have come to my winding-up remarks.
We have to face three basic facts. The first is that this country is no longer a first-class military Power. We can still be a first-class influence in the world, but we are no longer a first-class military Power. It is no use attempting to give ourselves the airs of one by spending a lot of money on the Air Force and hydrogen bombs. It is rather like trying to keep up with the Joneses by saying, "They have a Rolls-Royce and are looking down their noses at us. We should buy a motor-cycle, to impress them." We do not achieve social equality that way.
The second point is that in any case the hydrogen bomb has put the whole game of power politics out of court. No one can play it any more. We cannot use it, with the help of the air arm or otherwise, as a threat to destroy the human race, in order to get our way against the other fellow.
The third and final point is that the whole of this attitude is misconceived 1255 because it misunderstands the fundamental nature of the problem against which we are trying to defend ourselves. It identifies social and colonial unrest with Communism, and Communism with Soviet aggression. It thereby turns into a military threat what is, in fact, a social and economic challenge. We have to realise that we cannot, by piling up air forces and hydrogen bombs, add a cubit to our diminutive military stature, but that we can, by taking thought and freeing ourselves from the reign of fear, gain a position of leadership for peace in the world.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) on some of the things he has said, but I have no doubt that if I did so I should be out of order. I rather suspect that some time ago he prepared his speech for a foreign affairs debate and was, like many of us, unfortunate, and has made full use of that speech today.
To get back to the main debate, I want in my opening remarks to deal with trooping, which is, I think, a most important factor. I go some way in agreeing with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in believing that it is the one part of the defence White Paper and of the Memorandum about which I am not really happy. Nevertheless, the Opposition ought really to be frank with the House and the country, and make clear what they are about in relation to trooping.
Do the Opposition want to build up for us a merchant service of the air or do they not? The independent companies have had little enough given them. Here I should say that I am a director of an air charter company which carries motor cars across the Channel, but not of an air trooping company. The Corporations have all the advantages. Dollars are made available to them when they require to buy United States aircraft. They have had loans in the past at cheap rates of interest, and many of those loans have been written off. And let us be quite honest about this. Many of the Corporations' aircraft today are far from modern. The Argonaut is a real old shake-a-back. It rattles and it is noisy, 1256 and I think that most of us would try to avoid it. I believe that the Hermes is probably an infinitely better ride.
Do the Opposition want to take away the last bit of work from the independents altogether, because this work is all that is open to them? My recollection is that when B.O.A.C. used to tender for this work it was able to undercut and, in fact, fly at a loss. That paid the Corporation. in a way, because it kept the aircraft in service and met the overheads. The independents were not able to fly at all, and consequently could not build up a business or buy new equipment.
When the Corporations had Hermes aircraft, which they later sold to the independents, they were operating them at a rate of about 1,600 to 1,800 hours of utilisation a year. The independent companies get 3,000 hours a year out of the same aircraft. Great credit is due to them, but I think that, with air trooping, we want good aircraft. When I say "good", I mean pressurised aircraft. It is quite wrong to fly families over long distances in unpressurised aircraft.
I hope that the Opposition will approach the matter on a broad basis. Nobody is attempting to take away anything from the Corporations. The amount of trooping flying is a small fraction of the ton-miles flown by B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. on their world-wide routes, and it seems to be small-minded and niggling to tack this whole issue on to one unfortunate accident two or three weeks ago. Fortunately, the safety record of all our operating concerns—the Corporations, Transport Command and the independents—is very good, and although the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) says that he would not want them to fly him to Scotland it may be that they probably would not want to take him.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
There used to be a privately-owned aircraft flying from Prestwick to London and for a long time I was the only passenger. Ultimately, it went out of business because it could not compete.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
That may be so.
To get back to the main part of the Memorandum, I think that it is a realistic document. Before, we have had White Papers—even in the days of the Labour 1257 Government—full of clichés and generalisations—that goes for successive Governments of both parties—which have really told us little or nothing of what is going on. The White Paper today may not tell us a great deal, but it is not bound up in a lot of words which mean little.
The White Paper is slightly confusing in that it does not give a clear picture of the future. I suppose that the Government are in a position where they are not able really to crystal gaze to that extent. It is also clear that we can no longer rely indefinitely upon the United States or upon the United Nations for the defence of this country. I shall try to explain why as I go on.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary on winning the battle on the issue that the Air Force should be responsible for missile business, for which it is the most qualified Service. When competing with the First Sea Lord, Lord Mountbatten, it does the Air Force great credit. I subscribe to what the hon. Member for Dudley said about the noble Earl. Lord Mountbatten is a tough customer to deal with, and I have great fears that he is really seeking to build up the Navy. I am sure that, had he not been in office, the Navy would not have had such a big slice of the defence cake as it has been given in the White Paper. But that is the Navy's business.
We cannot determine our foreign policy unless we have our own megaton bombs. I would not be out of order in talking at length about the bombs, because this is an Air Force responsibility. We have to have them, and I wish that hon. Members like the hon. Member for Gorton had made a similar speech when, within ten days, about a month ago, the Russians exploded four of these bombs. But not a word of protest did we hear, nor did we hear of journeys to Moscow. On the other hand, we have today had 40 minutes of it in an Air Estimates debate. I look on it as sheer propaganda.
The Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State have made some courageous decisions. It is very easy to criticise them, but they are courageous decisions, because the whole of the country's defences are at stake on the policy con- 1258 tained in these White Papers. It is useless wrecking our economy to have a big Air Force, Navy and Army, because the wheels will not turn round. They all have to be provided for from the profits of industry and by the manual toil of workers, and we must really spend our money wisely. Whatever we vote, we have to get value for the money.
Here I criticise successive Governments since the end of the war, because we have not had value for money. Hon. Members opposite say that we must have a strong Transport Command, but it is they who, about a year before the Korean War, cancelled and cut down contracts for transport aircraft. Then came the Korean War, and they completely lost their heads. They re-ordered everything again—expected industry to get the wheels turning overnight—and ordered about 1,400 Canberra bombers. What for? I do not think they knew, because, when this Government came in in 1951, the number was cut down to about 700 or 800. Does the hon. Member for Dudley want me to give way?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
So the Opposition must search themselves a little when making that criticism about transport aircraft—although it does not help the situation five or six years later.
The balance between hot and cold war requirements is reasonably dealt with, but I am concerned about the problem of conventional weapons. That is where the Government have taken a risk. For example, I am told that the Americans are building three new supersonic fighters, as well as all their missiles and other things. We are not building any other than the English Electric P-l, which is only partly supersonic. The Russians, we are told, are doing exactly the same, building masses of submarines. Is this country to be left out on a limb? If we are to spend £1,400 or £1,500 million a year, shall we within a matter of a few years find we are unable to defend ourselves or make our proper contribution to Western Europe, with our allies and the Americans, and that it is all a waste of money?
1259 I ask the Secretary of State: are we to be solely dependent upon the Americans for delivery of our nuclear warheads beyond the Victor and Vulcan bomber stage? If we could have an answer to that, it would be helpful. What assurance have we that the Americans will continue to provide us with ballistic missiles of the various ranges required? There might be a new President and a new Government in the United States, with a complete change of front.
We are always told that under American law they are unable to give us all the secret information they would like. If we are real friends and allies, it is time that the law of the United States was changed. As I understand it, we give everything we have got; we pass on everything from this country to the Americans. They have complete freedom to take all our secrets, knowledge and "know-how". We may be smaller, but in many ways we are better. Even today, practically all the jet engines flying in aircraft of the United States Air Force are of British design. They may be called the Curtis-Wright or the Packard Mark X, or whatever it may be, but the basic design emanated from this country. The Labour Government, I know, sold the licence, but we did not get enough dollars for it. I put a Question down about that seven or eight years ago. We got poorly recompensed for it. The Americans ought to give us much more information about these things, so that we can save money and put up a better defence.
As I see it, when the Russians have a missile which will reach the cities of the United States—New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago and so on—the Americans will be no longer interested in Britain and Western Europe. That may sound unkind, but why should they be? They will be fully occupied with their own affairs. Let us pray that it will never be used—I do not think that it will ever be used—but at the moment, until Britain has got the weapon, we are at a complete disadvantage vis-à-vis the United States and Soviet Russia. All that the Prime Minister is asking is that we shall be allowed to carry out some comparatively small tests, and then we shall be in a position to bargain. In 1914, the major weapon of the day was 1260 the dreadnought, and Britain was supreme. In 1940, we had a very fine Fighter Command, and that, too, was supreme above our shores; it won the day. Now we have this new weapon, and for Britain not to have it would make us fifth-rate. We must have it, to bargain not only with the Soviet Union but also with the United States. If we had had V-bombers sitting on our airfields last autumn the Americans and the Russians would have viewed the situation very differently from the way they did.
Hon. Members opposite who tell themselves that we can disarm and set an example do not seem to realise that we are a small partner and the example ought to come from one of the bigger Powers. Let us remember that, if we are to disarm, there must be disarmament with conventional weapons as well as with nuclear weapons. We shall face grave risks in this country if we disarm in nuclear weapons and let the Russians and the Americans build any amount of submarines and military aircraft.
The change from conventional to guided weapons must be a gradual process. It is no good trying to get there overnight; indeed, we could not get there overnight. But I am afraid that there will be a gap in the middle when the manned aircraft is more or less out of date and we find that our missiles are not fully developed or suitable or ready. There may be a gap of three or four years when Britain will be unable to defend herself.
As regards the V-bomber, I have a responsibility as deputy chairman of the company making one of them. It is often said that these aircraft are late. That is agreed. Of course, the step forward in advance from the Canberra to the V-bomber has been tremendous. I would say that the Americans have nothing like them or as good; nor, as far as I know, have the Russians. They are absolutely-supreme, in altitude, range and speed. Troubles have arisen, but they have been overcome. When Britain has these squadrons later in the year, we shall have something of which we can indeed be proud.
I hope that the Government will try to make their decisions more quickly. In regard to the aircraft with which I am concerned, I had a meeting with Government officials in January last year, and 1261 we got the answer about a month ago. I imagine that the delay was due to the White Papers being rewritten and defence being thought out afresh; but, if we are to give value for money, we must get on with the job. Otherwise, weapons are out of date by the time they arrive. I have no doubt that the Treasury is the nigger in the wood-pile. We need a strong Minister of Defence who will stand up to the Chancellor. If the money is voted by Parliament, let it be wisely spent, and let there be quick decisions.
It occurs to me that, while building these bombers, we are now having to buy civil aircraft, the Boeing and so on, from the United States. The Americans, on the other hand, harness the civil and military sides together and out of their defence programme they get civil aeroplanes. Sir Miles Thomas some four or five years ago, when Chairman of B.O.A.C, referred to this in his annual report. I mentioned it in the House at the time. He said that he was going to see what he could do about making use of the money spent on the V-bombers for civil aircraft. Unfortunately, that was never done. Had it been done, we might well today have British jet airliners flying commercially across the Atlantic instead of watching the Americans coming along to do it. I hope that this will be looked into very carefully, because many millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are involved and it seems that we could get better value, instead of leaving someone else just to find his way along. It requires great co-ordination between the military and civil sides.
We are told that the manned fighter and bomber will disappear within about ten years. I think the comment with regard to the fighter is quite right; it is lethal only for about 7 per cent. of raids which might come over. But I am concerned at the Americans building these additional fighters. I know we shall get only a fraction of them, but I am afraid that if we were attacked, not by nuclear weapons but by more highly specialised conventional weapons, we should be at a disadvantage.
Here, I would say again to my right hon. Friend that I think it was wrong to wash out the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. For the next eight or ten years there will be a rôle for the fighter in attacking parachute aircraft which might come 1262 over. The Auxiliary Air Force would have been right for that. We see in the Estimates that the money saved by cancelling the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is comparatively small, nothing like as much as we had been led to believe.
I am concerned also that the supersonic bomber has been cancelled. As far as the supersonic bomber is concerned, I do not entirely agree; it may have been the right decision to cancel the project, but the research and development of that aeroplane should continue for two or three years until we see the pattern of the future rather more clearly than we do today.
§ Mr. P. Williams
There is, surely, another reason why it should go on, for the civil application of the supersonic bomber also.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
That is a very good point, although I would mention to my hon. Friend that much of this work can be done with scaled-down models. Nevertheless, the wind tunnel work and research should continue without going on with the full project.
Now I come to Transport Command, in which I am really concerned about the position today. We have been told that we have the Comet 2s and the Beverleys, although we do not know how many. The Beverley is a new aeroplane and has given teething troubles. Fortunately, they have been overcome, but we do not know its range. We have the Hastings, and 13 Britannias will begin to come in the latter part of next year. We are in this position partly through decisions of the Labour Government, when they cut down contracts for transport aircraft, and I should have thought that we need every independent airliner that we can lay our hands upon. It is vital for us to have them.
Consider what happened at the time of Suez. All the aircraft, military, civil and Transport Command, did a wonderful job, not only in transporting our troops out but in bringing families home from Cyprus, Libya, and so on. I am not in the least happy about the build-up of Transport Command. It amounts to practically nothing.
If we are to have the reserve force in Britain, which must be moved probably thousands of miles overnight, the proper way to do it would be to have a reserve 1263 of aircraft, not necessarily in Transport Command, where for various reasons it would be impossible for them to have a high utilisation; millions of pounds worth of equipment would be sitting on the ground doing nothing for part of the time. It is far better to have aircraft with the two Corporations which they could use for freighting. Both Corporations are well behind on freight services. Let them have freight aircraft and let the independent operators have aircraft, on a rental basis, which could be called in at 24 hours' notice in the event of a national crisis. We probably would not get 100 per cent. availability, but we might get 70 per cent. Other aircraft in the Commonwealth countries would proceed to their duties in the same manner, in the same way as ships at Aden, for instance, at the outbreak of hostilities were armed with guns and took on military stores. The same thing could be done with civil aircraft.
I know that this is not entirely the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but the Government must look at the whole position afresh and satisfy both sides of the House that more will be done about the transport aircraft position. It is unsatisfactory. Even the Defence White Paper did not tell us anything which we did not know previously. As for the hon. Member for Dudley and his figures this afternoon, I do not know where he got them all. I disagree with some of them. I know that he quoted the Herald. He was wrong in that instance. He said also that there were not any Provost jet trainers. I think he is wrong on that one. I do not think he will be giving much information away to the foreign air attaches in London.
I shall conclude my remarks by asking my right hon. Friend, together with his colleagues in the Government and the Cabinet, to look into the question of the surplus officers and senior N.C.O.s who will leave the Service. We are told that Treasury will be generous. It is no good giving a young officer £500 or £600 if he has been in the Service for a short time. He would simply buy a sports car and get through a lot of the money. What he wants is something to look forward to in the form of security and not simply cash.
1264 I should like to see a strong committee set up with industrialists—men like Lord Chandos, for example, who has the political experience and is well versed in industry—and trade unionists and others to advise the Government how we are to resettle these men both at home and abroad. If we fail to do this, we shall ruin any chances of recruiting men in the future. It will not be easy in any event, but it is imperative that these officers and senior N.C.O.s be resettled properly so that they are able to have a chance to make a success of their lives in civilian life.
In the short time that the Air Force has been a Service it has won great traditions. It has always acquitted itself well. I am confident that, provided it is given the right equipment and the right decisions are made, the Air Force will play its part in the future. I hope, however, that the next thing we shall be told, within twelve months, is that we are really getting on with integration, at any rate of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I am sure that money could be saved and that we would probably get more recruits and a more efficient service if we made it into one great Service, rather like the Marines. It is not a question simply of combining the chaplains, the doctors and so on. By eliminating much of the overlapping that exists, we could save manpower and a lot of money. We must face this question and make a start soon, but it can be done gradually. There is no need to make vast decisions overnight.
I would suggest combining the two cadet colleges, Dartmouth and Cranwell. This would be an initial step in getting the young men coming out of their training with a similar outlook. There is nothing very difficult between flying one aircraft or another. After a short course, the students would be able either to land a bomber or to land an aircraft on an aircraft carrier. These machines are much easier to fly than those of 20 or 30 years ago. I wish my right hon. Friend every good fortune with the Air Force and I trust he will ensure that we get our fair share of what is going with the other Services.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
It has been my pleasure to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) in many debates on 1265 the Air Estimates. I still find that he is caught up in his own contradictions. For example, he said that we must have a strong bomber force so that we can bargain in foreign affairs with other Powers which have the H-bomb and the aircraft to deliver it. Then he illustrated his argument by saying that if we had had 100 V-bombers ready to fly at the time of the Suez business, things would not have worked out as they did. As far as I can make out over the Suez business, the threat to this country in the note from Mr. Bulganin was not from V-bombers, but from rockets. The hon. and gallant Member's argument does not apply to that.
Does the hon. and gallant Member seriously think that we would be prepared to go into a bombing war with the United States of America? If the purpose of having 100 V-bombers is to tell the United States that we are prepared to drop bombs on them, there is no popular opinion in the country that would endorse the idea of our going into a bombing war with the United States and threatening an ally.
I would, however, agree with the hon. and gallant Member in this. Since the whole conception of air warfare is to be revolutionised, I believe that we have a duty to the young men who have undertaken these careers on the assumption that warfare would be static for about ten years. I certainly do not wish to see the young air pilot or mechanic who has gone into the Air Force during the last ten years have his career ruined as a result of disarmament of any kind. I should like to see jobs provided and I am quite sure that they could be found in a developing civil aircraft industry. They could be developed in civil aviation.
If Lord Chandos is called in to help in the committee which has been proposed—I think that the suggestion is a good one—these young men might be employed in the electrical industry of Lord Chandos. I certainly do not want any Service man to be penalised or to suffer in any way. I want them to open out new careers in serving the nation, not as part of the Armed Forces, but in what, I believe, is useful civil industry. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member and I agree on that.
1266 The purpose of these Estimates is to grant the Air Ministry approximately £480 million, which is an enormous sum, at a time when the demand is for a reduction in national expenditure. This enormous sum of money involves 230,000 men, employed directly for the Royal Air Force, which also employs behind it an industry of highly skilled engineers and behind that again a large number of technicians and scientists. I want the technicians, the skilled engineers and the scientists to be employed in something which I believe would be of benefit to the nation, whereas I believe that now they are working in a cul-de-sac.
As the Government realise in their White Paper, as a result of the scientists' inventions war has become impossible as a method of international politics. I hope that we shall taper off this expenditure in such a way that we shall absorb this skilled labour and personnel into useful, constructive industry which will raise the standard of living of our people.
In passing, I should like to point out that there has been an enormous waste, at least since 1951, when we embarked upon the great rearmament programme. There has been an enormous waste in expenditure by the Royal Air Force on bombers and fighters and the whole paraphernalia of war, which so quickly becomes obsolete as a result of the development of new weapons. In dealing with the defence White Paper the other day, the Economist said that £4,750 million of what it called the Attlee rearmament programme had gone down the drain.
I believe that that is so, but I fear that the Government, instead of realising the facts about the development of warfare, are now to switch over to rockets and guided missiles and that in another five years or ten years we shall reassess the position and discover that, as a result of the advance of science, a further £4,000 million has probably gone down the drain.
I can already see the money going down the drain in Scotland as a result of the switch-over in policy, to which reference is made in the Air Estimates, as represented in the guided missile range in South Uist. The Memorandum on the Air Estimates states:The largest works project before us is the Inter-Service Guided Weapon Establishment in the Hebrides.1267 It has been reported in the Scottish newspapers that the expenditure on this project will be £12 million. That is an enormous sum of money. It means taking away labour to develop this rocket range and exactly the kind of materials and personnel needed in solving the housing problem in Scotland. I regard this sum of £12 million to be spent on a rocket range, when we are cutting down expenditure on housing, as wasted national expenditure.
Let us consider what this range means. I do not believe that as a result of this establishment in South Uist we shall be any safer in Scotland. I believe that it will bring new dangers to Scotland, because presumably, as the Secretary of State for Air used to explain so frequently in years gone by, the purpose of our bombing force is to bomb the rocket sites and guided missile ranges on the other side. Immediately South Uist came on to the map, as a result of this statement made by the Air Ministry, Moscow naturally began to take an interest in the Western Hebrides, and on the map in the headquarters of the Russian Air Force the Russians put a little flag on a potential target somewhere in Scotland.
The purpose of these ranges and of the Air Force is to bomb the other fellow. Therefore, for the first time in history, South Uist has become a military objective. The Reformation has not yet reached South Uist, but we are to have the advance of civilisation with this grand new rocket range. Suppose that the Russians, from a strategic point behind the Iron Curtain, from Eastern Germany, or Poland, directed their missiles at South Uist to knock out the little site there. These missiles are by no means perfect. The calculations may go wrong and they may fall short or go the wrong way, as some of the missiles have done in the United States, and land in the wrong places.
I have to remember that South Ayrshire may be between South Uist and the place from which the Russians fire their intercontinental ballistic missiles, from Eastern Germany or Poland. They may fall short. I am quite sure, Sir Charles, that you too have an interest, as you represent North Ayrshire. These missiles might drop on North Ayrshire instead of South 1268 Ayrshire, which you might regard as more unfortunate still. They might cross the whole industrial belt of Scotland and, as the accuracy of these missiles is not perfect, we might have bombs dropping on Glasgow, or Edinburgh, or even on Dundee, which is represented in this House by a former Secretary of State for War.
I have no reason, therefore, for being jubilant about the development of a rocket range firing these guided missiles. I do not regard it as an asset, as the Secretary of State for Air appears to regard it in his Memorandum. I regard it as a definite liability. I am not enthusiastic about it at all. In these days, when the range of these rockets becomes greater and greater, by the time the Americans and the Russians are able to fire at each other across the oceans, this rocket range will have become obsolete. I do not regard it as wise expenditure and that is why I am critical of it.
It is quite true that to a certain extent there is something in the idea that the H-bomb and the A-bomb are deterrents. It works both ways. The people who plan military operations, whether they be in the Pentagon, or in London, or in Moscow, or perhaps in Bonn, in a few years' time, must realise that this will mean mutual suicide if it begins. I believe that that is generally recognised on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
When the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield says that he has not heard any criticism of the Soviet Union exploding its H-bombs in Siberia, I ought to remedy that and say that, as a pacifist, I object to the explosion of H-bombs and A-bombs anywhere, because it is a menace to humanity. I believe that the nation that took that stand, whether it be the Soviet Union or the United States, or this country, would be definitely giving a lead to humanity. I want a lead to humanity to come from this country, because I cannot see any long-term justification for us continuing in what I call the nuclear arms race.
In 1951, our programme was based on the assumption that in three years we would catch up with the Soviet Union and then we would be in a position to negotiate from strength. I remember Mr. Woodrow Wyatt arguing from these benches that in 1954 we would be in 1269 such a position that we would be able to sit down with the Russians and argue with them from a position of strength. It has not worked that way. The arms race is not likely to go that way, because Russia has a new generation of technicians and young scientists. I am not in possession of any technical information, but from the statements that have been made in this debate it appears likely that the Soviet Union is further advanced than the United States of America.
I have been a student of the U.S.S.R. for a long time. I first went to the Soviet Union in 1929. I have watched the development of Russian industry since that time and I have watched an agricultural, peasant nation becoming a nation of skilled technicians. What is interesting in the Soviet Union today is that this younger generation is extremely interested in technology and is abreast of us in aerodynamics, in atomic science and in all the new developments in scientific affairs throughout the world.
I have seen the young scientists in the universities of Leningrad, Moscow and Tiflis. I am impressed by the new Russian generation, and I believe that is the testimony not only of amateurs like myself but of scientists who have visited the U.S.S.R. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) recently made a speech in which he called attention to the advance of Russia in the technological sphere.
I do not see how we will catch up with that, because Russia has a bigger population. They are very serious young people there, and if we continue to develop these different weapons I do not understand how we shall win the arms race and be in a superior position to the Russians. I can see a position, in five or ten years' time, when it will be definitely established that Russia has developed another new generation of technicians, and when we shall recognise that we are not advancing in the arms race but are falling behind. There are a large number of people who speak with authority who believe that this is the state of affairs today.
Two years ago, I travelled in a Russian carriage with a Russian airman, and it was interesting to try to understand the point of view and the psychology of that young man. He had all the different arguments that are used by his counterparts here. They say, "We do not intend to go into 1270 a nuclear war. We want a powerful Russian air force. We want the H-bombs and the A-bombs in order to act as a deterrent to the West."
Here we are, two great nations who, in the last war, fought side by side. We are each spending an enormous amount of money and we are using our young brains in introducing these deadly instruments of war. Russia cannot afford it any more than we can, and I believe that intelligent people in Russia who are at the head of the Government there realise that we must, somehow or other, meet together and end the arms race. If we are not to commit mutual suicide, if we are not to destroy each other in a hydrogen bomb war, in the economic interests of our countries we must cut down armaments and agree to a measure of disarmament.
I believe that that is behind all the Russian diplomatic moves. I do not accept the theory that Russia now wants to dominate the world. There may have been a time when some of the people who followed the Stalinist ideas believed that it was possible to dominate the world by military might. I do not believe that that is the position today. I believe that every diplomatic move which comes from the U.S.S.R. is dictated by fear of war in the nuclear age. And from that mutual fear, I believe we should do everything possible to discuss disarmament with the Russians on that basis.
I do not see the slightest possibility of either East or West getting anywhere until we decide that the nuclear arms race is a danger, not only to ourselves, but to the rest of the world. That is why I am not enthusiastic about what is said in paragraph 12, in page 4 of the Memorandum:Preparations are well advanced for the trials of megaton weapons to be held in the Pacific. The Royal Air Force is making a leading contribution to the task force now based at Christmas Island.Of course, the Minister takes pride in that because it is a Government decision but I do not take any pride in it. I much regret that the Foreign Secretary attributed the criticism against the Government policy of exploding the H-bomb to Communist and fellow-travellers. I have so often been called a Communist and a fellow-traveller that I am used to it. I regard it as a normal term of political abuse and, although it is not 1271 true, I accept it. Yet I would rather be called a Communist and a fellow-traveller than be insulted by being called a Conservative.
I have always been a leading opponent of the Communist Party in this country, which opposed my coming into Parliament, and I am a fellow-traveller with anybody who wishes to travel on the road to peace. But there are certain people who object strongly to being told that they object to these tests which are being organised under the Royal Air Force because they are inspired by Communists, and the Canon of St. Paul's points that out.
I do not know how far the Minister supports the propaganda of the Foreign Secretary. I do not know whether he will go so far as to assert that His Holiness the Pope is a Communist or a fellow-traveller because he is critical of the H-bomb tests and has remarked that… instead of wasting effort in a terrifying and costly race towards deathwe should combine for using atomic energy peacefully.
I believe that strong criticism of the policy of the Government would come whether there had been any Communist Party or any Daily Worker in this country. I believe there is growing here the common-sense point of view which realises that in the interests of humanity we ought to end the H-bomb race, because otherwise humanity faces a war of extinction.
We were told by the Minister that the Royal Air Force had the spirit of adventure. I wonder what he really means by that. What adventure can there be for a young man going into the Royal Air Force for a career at present? He may be one of those young men on whom we spend £45,000 to train as a bomber pilot. If he is not to be used to drop bombs, he faces ten years of useless inactivity. If something does go off and he sets off in his V-bomber to bomb Moscow, or wherever the Soviet High Command happens to be, he must know that he will come back to a country which has also been bombed. Consequently, it is a question of either boredom or suicide, and I cannot see any spirit of adventure to attract people into the Royal Air Force at present.
1272 In our last debate the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield argued that in five years' time there would be no need at all for pilots because then it would all be guided missiles. If I were twenty years old, and thinking about a career, the prospect of enlisting as a bomber pilot would not have great attractions for me. In any event, by temperament I am far more combative and pugnacious than to accept the discipline of the Royal Air Force or any other Service.
We talk about targets. What will the targets be? It is all very well to talk about the targets being international Communism. It is all very well to think that the target might be Moscow. If it is thought that we can solve the problems by bombing Moscow, Leningrad or centres in the Urals, that is understandable, but suppose the Russian rocket ranges and airfields—as they probably are—are situated in Poland, Hungary or Germany. Are the targets to be centres in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or any of the other places which it may be our object to liberate? Are we to offer the people there the possibility of being wiped out by rockets carrying atomic warheads?
It is little wonder that in Germany there is criticism of the Government's policy and that eighteen well-known scientists at Gottingen University have said that they are not going to produce atom bombs or H-bombs. I believe that that is the only outlook that can possibly save humanity.
I have spoken on variations of this theme for a number of years, and I suppose I shall continue to do so, but time is on my side and not on the side of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman is rapidly becoming more and more obsolete. His ideas and the political ideas for which he stands are being made more and more obsolete by the march of science. I pay him the tribute that I believe that when he is obsolete he will recognise it and will be prepared to serve his country in a more useful way.
I would wind up the Royal Air Force. I would recognise that the whole thing is obsolete. I would put our gallant young men into civil aviation. If the young R.A.F. men are transferred to civil aviation they will find a career there. We should use the bomber and fighter aircraft factories to produce the civil aircraft which would gain for us markets through- 1273 out the world. If we abandoned the policy of the bomber, the rocket and the guided missile and produced aircraft useful for civil work, I believe that we could absorb the labour, skill and technical knowledge of the younger generation, which would be utilised far better in that way.
So I want to wind up the Royal Air Force just as I want to wind up the Royal Navy and the Army, and I want to make of the gallant new generation citizens producing something useful for the world, something which will raise the standard of living of people throughout the world and bring peace to the world.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I agreed in great measure with some of the things that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said earlier, but when he said that he would wind up this and wind up that I was beginning to wish, if he will forgive me for saying so, that he himself had wound up a little quicker.
I am not an expert on air matters, and I have never previously spoken in a defence debate. I am prompted to speak today only because paragraph 23 of the Memorandum states that the first R.A.F. missile station is now under construction at North Coates in my constituency and that it is to be got ready for actual trials by 1958. Naturally, my constituents are interested, and I think it only proper that I should ask some questions on their behalf.
Before I do that, I should like to say that I was interested in one thing said by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). He commented that the taxpayers were getting little defence for their money. I agree profoundly with that.
There are four matters to which I want to refer. My constituents in this quiet little village are taking the new development philosophically and saying, "If it increases our risk, so be it." However, they are asking some practical questions that I wish to put to my right hon. Friend. It has been rumoured in the district that a great new guided missile range is to be built as far down as Theddlethorpe. There may be no truth at all in the rumour, and I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend can say something on that point.
1274 There is also the fear that around the small North Coates station a great new building programme will start, and the local farmers are, naturally, wondering whether they will lose more good agricultural land to the Royal Air Force. Already certain ancient, traditional roads have been taken from the villagers along the foreshore, and they wonder whether they are to lose any more roads.
Finally, they ask whether the North Coates station, which is likely to be the guinea-pig for this great development, will grow from a relatively small Royal Air Force station into a really big establishment.
My constituents have never said a word to me about fears which I thought they might have had. If I might be allowed to reminisce a little, I cannot help thinking of what happened forty years ago when I was serving with the 18-pounders in front of Passchendaele. Behind us was a railhead. Every now and again the Navy would bring up some vast 13.2 naval guns and fire so many rounds, and then they would hitch up the train and take them away. Then we poor lads with the 18-pounders had to sit there waiting for the German 8-inch shell which would try to hit the naval guns which were being taken away. I remember that on one September day in our battery we were seven times given the order "Every man for himself".
I wonder on behalf of my constituents, although none of them has said this to me, how far they are likely to get what may come back if the worst should happen. That is a fair question to ask. It is prompted by what was said by the Economist last week. It said:… the urgency of disarmament has been driven home in the German mind by Mr. Bulganin's brutal warning that atomic war would turn Germany into a cemetery.Will my lovely old English village of North Coates be turned into a cemetery? If Western Germany is likely to be turned into a cemetery, what will happen to my constituency? That is a fair question to ask those responsible. I have always thought of London as the finest bomb target in the world, an absolute sitting duck. I remember that during the last war the R.A.F. sought out the V.2 launching sites in the most rural areas of Germany and bombed them mercilessly. Will something like that happen to my 1275 constituents in North Coates? I want to know what additional risks they are taking.
If I may digress at this stage, I marvel that so many Jamaicans have left their lovely island, with its security and beauty and weather, to come to this country with its cold, damp, bitterly beastly weather, and sit in the centre of the most risky city in the world. If I were one of them I would buy a ticket back home tomorrow before it was too late.
The second point I want to make is that tonight we are voting nearly £600 million for the Air Force. The gross total estimate is £595 million. I know that it is now dinner time, but I have been staggered to note that for the last two or three hours only about twelve Members on both sides of the Committee have been present. I hope that those interested will forgive me, but if it had been some case of a supposed injustice to a black man in the centre of Africa the place would have been crowded; but tonight we are spending £600 million—
§ Mr. Wiggrose—
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Gentleman has taken far too much of the time of the Committee—of public money and there has been hardly any interest at all.
I want to put my second point from the taxpayers' point of view. It is vital that somebody from the back benches should ask whether we are getting value for money. I do not think we are. There will be an expenditure of £595 million on a maximum number of officers and men of 240,000, which will be a dwindling number. Each man will therefore cost us under this Vote £2,500 a year, even though he is only pealing potatoes. This is in a time of peace, with not one shot fired in anger, with the cost of war not included in the Vote. I begin to wonder whether it is not time in all our defence Departments to have somebody really economically minded.
Again, the Economist last week said:The three service ministries have now published their belated Estimates for 1957–58, together with the usual memoranda explaining them. They have prompted the cynical comment that the Air Ministry does not seem to have read the defence white paper, that the navy has read it but is determined to pay no regard to it, and that the army thinks merely that the white paper's implications are for parliamentary discussion.1276 When, on one Estimate alone, we are sanctioning an expenditure of £600 million, that is not good enough. I agree that it may be cynical. It may be clever newspaper writing, but there is too much truth in it for my liking. On other occasions both sides of the Committee will be demanding taxation reliefs, saying that we pay for far too much in taxation, but we shall continue to pay far too much in taxation while we vote £600 million with an empty Chamber like this.
The Economist said last Saturday:The R.A.F.'s main predicament is that it must carry on with the programmes which— like piloted aircraft—have now only a short useful life.I want to ask about that. My right hon. Friend has suggested that that is untrue. I have read the Economist every weekend for nearly forty years, and I find that the Economist is generally a very sound and sensible paper. Is this "short useful life" for two years, ten years or twenty years? What is really meant? We are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Ward
My hon. Friend must bear in mind in all this talk about missiles and rockets and so on that that is only a comparatively small part of the R.A.F. It is concerned with those weapons, but overseas especially the R.A.F. has wide responsibilities in transport and so on in which it needs to continue to fly aeroplanes.
§ Mr. Osborne
It is because I can get these explanations that I think it is important that these points should be brought out. If I may, I shall continue to quote what the Economist said, because these things seem to be common sense and, if we can get answers to them, we shall be doing a service to the country. It said:… the thing Mr. Sandys must guard against here is any tendency to try to make those useful lives uselessly longer.I do not care who is head of a Defence Department, he will have under him professional men whose own personal interest without criticising them unnecessarily, is to make useful lives uselessly longer. The Economist goes on:The fact that the net air estimates this year are to be £10 million higher than last year is not, however, a sign that the R.A.F. is craftily avoiding the axe; it reflects the parallel deliveries of the old and the new weapons which will continue for the next few years.1277 For how many years will the R.A.F. have the older weapons and the dying types of equipment, while the newer ones are being evolved? For how long shall we be carrying two types? From the taxpayers' point of view, that is very important.
§ Mr. Osborne
I agree with that, and my father 50 years ago taught me that it is stupid to blow down an old bridge until one has built a better one. At the same time, he would ask how long it would take to build the new one. That is a fair question. How long are we to spend maintaining the old one while constructing the new? From the taxpayers' point of view, it is important to know, because we are paying twice. I should like to see the Parliamentary Secretary, not looking after the technical interests of his Service, but being the watchdog of the taxpayer. His job is to see that we are getting value for money, not trying to find some new forms of spending money.
My third point is about Vote 8, "Works and Lands", under which we are asked to provide £75,720,000. I take it that that is for houses, workshops and so on on the various aerodromes. How much of that work is being done upon a cost-plus basis? Is more being done on that basis than is necessary? Of all ways of manufacturing or doing anything the cost-plus way is the most evil. It is the most wasteful. It is bad for the men; bad for the employers— bad for everybody. Is somebody in my right hon. Friend's Department keeping a close watch upon what is being spent there?
As I go from my home to my constituency in North Lincolnshire, I pass many aerodromes. Today, I see houses, halls and various buildings being constructed, and I wonder if, when the new policy is established, many of those aerodromes will be required. They may be redundant. If we are to depend upon missiles it follows that a number of aerodromes throughout the country will not be required.
Again, as I travel backwards and forwards I see the old aerodromes which 1278 were used in the last war, a little over ten years ago, looking derelict. Valuable property that must have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds is being allowed to rot. Out of this £75 million is my right hon. Friend building houses and places which will not be required in a few years' time? Many of the places I have referred to are built in very isolated parts of the country, where no real economic use can be made of them. I wonder if someone is looking into that side of the question.
In that connection, I should like to make one suggestion. A few miles from where I live, in Leicestershire, at Wymswold, there is an aerodrome which was closed down last week. It is now upon a care-and-maintenance basis. This is not an isolated case; this sort of thing must be happening in regard to various aerodromes all over the country. Wymswold is an equal distance from Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. Instead of allowing an aerodrome like that to rot and decay could not my right hon. Friend turns it over to civil concerns? Could not this one be turned into a civil airport? Manchester and Birmingham are already becoming overcrowded, and the demand for civil air transport, especially to the Continent, is growing. Is somebody looking into the question of these superfluous aerodromes in order to see whether they can be used for civil purposes rather than be allowed to decay and waste the taxpayers' money?
Why does not my right hon. Friend have the same power, vis-é-vis the Ministry of Supply, that I understand is possessed by the Admiralty? I understand that when the Admiralty buys it does so largely for itself, and it does not bother about what the Ministry of Supply says. But the Air Ministry, whether it likes it or not, has to deal through the Ministry of Supply. I have a feeling that there is an immense amount of duplication and waste.
I have been looking at the Civil Service List, and there are two facts that I want to place before the Committee. I believe that the Ministry of Supply has outlived its usefulness and that it is a gigantic and wasteful Ministry which should be closed down. I have discussed this matter with men in the Forces and in the factories, and I have, perhaps wrongly, come to the conclusion that the Ministry 1279 of Supply is an unnecessary hindrance between the manufacturers and my right hon. Friend's Department as a buyer, and that we are keeping hordes and hordes of highly-paid officials whose jobs are just not worth doing.
§ Mr. P. Williams
My hon. Friend must be a little careful about this matter. Surely what he is now recommending is that the Ministry of Supply should be broken up and that there should be three separate segments, one in each of the Service Departments.
§ Mr. Osborne
No. I am too old a bird to fall into that trap. If under the new policy we are to have one supply Department for all defence matters, I say that there are many men whose work comes within this Vote who are superfluous. That is true of the Army and the Navy. There are far too many. I suggest that anyone who is interested in economy should look at the Civil Service List. He will see that the amount paid to the various officials are staggering. We should look into the amount of overlapping which goes on.
I will give the Committee a few examples which I discovered last night. In the List there are 81 pages of closely typed names of highly paid officials in the Ministry of Supply, earning salaries between what many hon. Members would regard as the princely one of £6,000 a year for permanent officials down to an amount just above what the ordinary Member of Parliament receives in respect of hundreds of lesser officials.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member has said that he is a wise old bird, but he is not being very wise now.
§ The Chairman
I was not questioning the correctness of what the hon. Member was saying, but this is not the time to say it.
§ Mr. Osborne
I bow to your Ruling, Sir Charles, and if I am out of order I will sit down.
Under the Vote that we are now asked to agree to there are provisions for salaries to be paid to men doing work which I believe is being duplicated. 1280 Surely that is pertinent to the Vote. If it is not my last point is wasted and I will resume my seat.
Under this Vote we have to find the salaries of twelve senior principal officers in the Air Force who are each receiving £2,300 a year. In the Ministry of Supply there are twenty-nine officials doing the same job. Surely I am allowed to ask whether there is not some duplication and, if there is, as taxpayers we should see that that duplication is removed. There is also provision for payment of the salaries of thirty-two principal scientific officers, each receiving £1,950 a year. In the Ministry of Supply fifty-seven officials are doing the same thing.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am surprised that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) should intervene. Surely he has transgressed every law. I hope the Committee will agree that the point that I am making is serious and sound. We are affected both as industrialists and as taxpayers by this matter and it is a point which ought to be made. We are providing the salaries of 137 senior experimental officers at £1,530 a year by this Vote. There are eighty-eight in the Ministry of Supply doing the same job. Since I must not go too far into these figures, may I give a few more and then draw the moral which I wish to draw? Under this Vote there are 41 principal scientific officers drawing £1,950 a year. There are 446 in the Ministry of Supply doing the same job. It is fair to ask whether there is any duplication. If there is, why not cut it out?
§ Mr. Osborne
Let us hope that at the next General Election that will be put right.
There are thirty-five senior scientific officers drawing £1,345 a year on this Vote and there are 319 in the Ministry of Supply. Under this Vote there are twenty-two senior exerimental scientific officers drawing £1,530 and there are 468 in the Ministry of Supply.
From the point of view of industrialists and taxpayers, this is important. Private industry, which has to produce the exports by which we live, needs experienced scientific and technical men, and they are the scarcest men we have in this country. To waste them, if there is waste—and I am merely asking the question—is a double sin, for not only are they using taxpayers' money wastefully but they could much more usefully be employed in industry.
Would my right hon. Friend look into this to see whether there is any duplication and waste? These are highly trained men, and I make no accusation against them individually. I am criticising the system. Would it not be possible to get some of these men into productive industry on the scientific side in order that we can better compete in the world's export markets.
I hope, Sir Charles, that on reflection you will feel that I have not been out of order on this point, which I think is very important. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into it.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in his comprehensive examination of the Air Estimates, but I should like to refer to an important point which he made about the derelict Air Ministry airfield near his home, when he suggested that some good use might be made of it. We understand that the diminishing need for bomber and fighter aircraft during the coming years will make the closure of more and more Royal Air Force stations inevitable. The trend of events is shown in paragraph 66 of the Secretary of State's Memorandum, in which he says that the 1282Holdings of land and buildings have been reduced. Fifty more airfields have been declared surplus; requisitioned land is being reduced by 1,000 acres a month.I should like far more information than that from the Government on this important question, because the closure of these airfields will have far-reaching implications, especially in certain areas of the country. These airfields occupy a very big acreage, they employ a substantial number of civilians and they make a large rate contribution to the local authorities in whose districts they are located.
May I give one illustration from my own constituency, namely, the Royal Air Force station at Valley? This station is undoubtedly one of the finest in Great Britain. In saying that, I have the support of the Secretary of State himself, because, on 27th January, 1954, as reported in HANSARD, at col. 1940, the Secretary of State, then speaking as Under-Secretary of State for Air, said:No one would argue with the hon. Gentleman when he said that Valley is a good airfield. It is. It has three long runways, the longest of which is 2.000 yards, and it has adequate radio and other facilities. It is well known for being relatively free from fog."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1930.]This airfield was used extensively by the United States Air Force during the war. This is what the commanding officer said about it in 1945. I say this with apologies to hon. Members from Scotland.I cannot understand why all the fuss is being made about Prestwick being the best point for a transatlantic air service. It has nothing on Valley. There are much better weather conditions here to start with and Valley has much better travelling facilities to London. If the Americans had anything to do with it, we would make Valley that terminal. It is one of the best airfields in England.Since that time, a considerable amount of money has been, and is being, spent at Valley by the Air Ministry in the provision of housing facilities and other amenities. What a tragedy not only for my division, but for the country as a whole if, through lack of planning and foresight by the Air Ministry, a first-class airfield like this went out of commission.
The question that arises is: what is the future position of Valley and of other similar R.A.F. stations in this country in the light of the Government's new policy? I think that the Government should make their future intentions more clearly known 1283 on this subject and in as detailed a manner as possible.
What is to become of the civilian staffs who become redundant if these airfields are closed? In the defence debate on 16th April, the Minister of Defence was asked about the position of redundant workers. He said:I myself do not see that there is much fear, with the expanding economy of this country, that people displaced from war production will not find other productive work." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1957; Vol. 568, c. 1775.]That may be true of some parts of the country. But it is really not good enough. We cannot just dismiss the problem in an off-hand way like that.
In my own area, for example, there is, and has been for a long time, substantial unemployment, and if a large number of civilians were declared redundant it would create new difficulties and add to our problems. I should like the Under-Secretary, when replying, to make the Air Ministry's intentions clear. Could he say —I think that it is something which the Committee should know and is a reasonable question to ask him—how many airfields is it proposed to close down during the next twelve months? Can he say how many airfields it is proposed to close down during the next five years? The Ministry by now surely must have a detailed plan.
it is only fair to ask that the maximum advance notice of the closure of R.A.F. stations should be given not only to Service personnel who will be affected, but also to the civilian employees who will have to find alternative work, and to the local authorities which have co-operated with the Air Force authorities and will lose a very valuable rate contribution as the result of the closures. Will the Minister also say what is the Government's policy about the thousands of acres of land which will be made available as the result of airfields being put out of commission?
I read an extract from paragraph 66 of the Memorandum which states that requisitioned land is being reduced by 1,000 acres a month. That is a tremendous number of acres in twelve months, and this will be going on from year to year. I think that it is right that the Minister should say, in the national interest and particularly in the interests of 1284 agricultural production, precisely what is happening there.
Lastly—here I am thinking of airfields, which have outstanding facilities like Valley—what consultation is the Minister having with the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation on the question of joint user and total use by civil aircraft? This is, I think, the point which the hon. Member for Louth had in mind. The demand for safe and fog-free airfields, on the West Coast in particular, will grow during the coming years, and there should be some understanding between the Secretary of State for Air and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation upon the potential and future use of these airfields.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to these questions which I have raised. If he can do so, he will remove a real anxiety from the minds of many people who are concerned about the future.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
The Secretary of State for Air referred this afternoon to the importance of mobility in the strategy of defence, and the need for our Air Force in the future, in its smaller size, to be prepared. He referred, also, to the strategic reserves in civil aviation.
What we want in civil aviation is as large as possible a strategic reserve to meet the revised needs of the country, at the least possible cost. In the Memorandum which accompanies the Air Estimates, under the heading, "Air Transport", there is the following statement, in paragraph 45:In all our plans we are, of course, relying upon the most valuable resources of civil aviation to assist in emergency.At this stage, it might be desirable if I stated that I am chairman of one of the largest independent air operators in Europe and that in assisting the Government over the last four or five years we have carried about a quarter of a million troops and their families to various parts of the world.
If these valuable resources of the independent sector of civil aviation are to be relied upon in an emergency it is of the utmost importance that the contracts which are given to the independent operators should be reasonably long and provide for a steady supply of work 1285 from month to month. Unfortunately, that has not always happened in the past. We simply cannot have a large organisation, with aircrew and aircraft, more than fully occupied one month, and, a month or two later, without a contract and with aircrew and aircraft standing idle.
The organisation necessary for carrying troops to the Far East can only be built up steadily over a period of time. There is need to organise the route and on the route such things as spares, handling staff and crew shipping. We cannot have all these facilities fully occupied one month and disused the next. I urge that if there is to be a let-down in these contracts it be done gradually, and not by sudden large contracts or sudden stoppages, which create dislocation and inefficiency.
The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) criticised the Government's policy in granting contracts to the independents and denying to the Corporations the opportunity of quoting. He said that the nationalised Corporations should be able to quote on equal and fair terms. The Committee should be reminded that the Corporations carry quite a large number of troops and their families on the scheduled services, quite apart from ad hoc trooping. The criticism of the Government was that there ought to be opportunity on equal and fair terms for the Corporations to tender, but that is not possible.
I think hon. Members on both sides of the Committee now realise that if a manufacturer is to be successful in the export market it is essential that he should have a good home market in which to sell his goods. The same is true of the nationalised Corporations. They have a steady income and a steady source of work in the scheduled services which they operate. They can cover overheads and are kept reasonably occupied.
For the most part, the independents are denied such a source of steady work. If this paragraph in the Memorandum means anything at all, it must mean that if the strategic reserve for civil aviation is to be flexible and of the best, there ought to be as broad a basis as possible for independent operators to work on. If they are denied the operating of scheduled services and we want them to 1286 exist at all, they must have a steady supply of trooping contracts. If we do not want that, well and good, let the Corporations do it, but then we shall never have any independent services of any efficiency or size at all. If they found that their aircraft were not wanted they would dispose of them and cut their organisations to such small bits of charter work and bits and pieces of flying as they could carry out. I submit that that would not be to the national advantage, nor suit the taxpayers' pocket.
In spite of the fact that the independent operators do not have the same advantage as the nationalised Corporations in extensive services, nevertheless the price paid for trooping is very keen. The taxpayer gets very good value for his money. For instance, payment for Far Eastern trooping contracts runs out at a little over half that of the B.O.A.C. normal fare—between half and two-thirds.
A little earlier it was said that it would be a good thing if the nationalised Corporations could enter this charter market, particularly in seasonal times when aircraft were surplus. B.O.A.C. do not have such seasonal operation, except perhaps in the Atlantic service; it is with B.E.A. mainly that there is seasonal operation with a surplus or shortage of aircraft. Aircraft vary for the different jobs they have to do, and particularly for the distances on which they are used.
I do not know whether hon. Members have had a chance of reading a very interesting paper issued recently by the Chairman of B.E.A., Lord Douglas, in which the various types of work that turbo-jets and jets can do over different distances is shown. Though B.E.A. did, during the winter season, have a surplus of aircraft that does not necessarily mean that those aircraft are either suitable or available for the long-distance carrying on troops. Therefore, the possible potential of being able to use aircraft in that way is not, on analysis, nearly so attractive as it might seem at first sight.
Hon. Members opposite might say that if the independent operators are carrying these troops at such a cheap and competitive price it is, perhaps, at the cost of safety. In view of the anxiety which has been expressed as a result of the recent accident, I should like to say that that is not within my personal knowledge. 1287 The directors and chief executives of the independent operators are continually flying along the routes in the aircraft, and with the crews, seeing that everything is satisfactory.
It may be that there is a sense of obsolescence about the aircraft, but I would say that because an aircraft is, perhaps, obsolete it does not mean that it is not safe. As the Secretary of State for Air said, there are in existence today Dakotas and other aircraft ten or fifteen years old which are operating with extreme safety. I suggest to the Committee that an obsolete aircraft is probably far safer than a new type which has just come off the production line and has not had the thorough testing which the aircraft in continual operation has had over many years.
§ Mr. Rankin
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that any new machine is put into operation on a civil air line without being thoroughly tested before it is used.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Some years ago we were talking about this question of obsolescence and safety. I then said that I would far rather fly in a certain aircraft which was then ten years old than in a Comet. That was before the Comet disaster. Hardly were those words out of my mouth than we had those Comet disasters.
I say now that I would, any day, rather fly in an aircraft with all the "bugs" out of it, an aircraft which has been thoroughly tried and tested in operation for years, than go in a new aircraft which, although it has had its prototype tests and all the safety trials and tests humanly possible has, nevertheless, still to be proved over the years in actual service. I think that that is an indisputable fact. Therefore, I think that we should be quite clear that it does not mean that because an aircraft is obsolete its parts are not continually changed. In the checks 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s new parts are always being put in.
If any hon. Members are interested, perhaps it might be possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange for them to pay a visit to my own company's maintenance works at Stanstead. We are very proud indeed of them. There, people can see the thoroughness and care with which 1288 the maintenance is done. They can see that exactly the same care is taken in maintaining aircraft there as takes place at the B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. maintenance places. I issue that invitation, through my right hon. Friend, to hon. Members to come to Stanstead whenever they like to see what goes on there.
I welcome the fact, made clear by one observation made by my right hon. Friend in his very interesting discourse, that the need for long-term contracts or the purchasing of new aircraft is appreciated so that finance may be found. If, in shipping, a twenty years' contract can be got, I cannot understand why something similar should not be possible in the air, Recently, a trooping ship costing millions of pounds has been launched and is ready for use, and all that has been done on a twenty years' contract.
If that can be done at sea on a twenty years' contract, I cannot for the life of me understand why contracts should not be given in the air, not for twenty years—of course not—but for one-third or one-quarter of that time, perhaps five or seven years, sufficient to write off the bulk of the depreciation of the aircraft, which is, of course, one of the main charges and one of the most important costs in the operation of aircraft.
The Secretary of State for Air explained how it was not at the moment possible, in trooping, to give long-term contracts, because of the Britannias coming along within a year or two. Quite clearly, long-term arrangements could not be made. But I should like to remind my right hon. Friend that Hermes aircraft were bought by the independent operators for trooping purposes, and, indeed, to assist B.O.A.C. which was replacing its fleet at the time. These Hermes are now in process of having new spars put in, and other modernisation is taking place. In other ways, they are being maintained and improved, and they will, of course, be excellent aircraft for a number of years to come.
The Secretary of State needs no assurance from me that independent operators can in the future, as in the past, continue to play a vital part in the mobility of the Services, provided that there is continuity of work on a long-term basis. That can be arranged in various ways which satisfy the strategic need and, which is really very important. 1289 give value to the taxpayer for money spent. If greater opportunity were given to the independent operators to operate scheduled services in collaboration with the nationalised corporations, they would be still better placed to answer any call which may be made upon them by the Government to satisfy Service needs.
At this particular time, when the impact of the new policy outlined to us in recent months is very much in the minds of people in the Services, it is important that every effort be made to convey to school boys and headmasters that there is still a great future for the young in the air. There is still in our country a love of adventure; there is still a longing to overcome difficulties, whether on the water or in the air.
For that very reason, many people would very much welcome it if the Under-Secretary of State for Air, in his reply tonight, could say what is to be the future of the Air Training Corps. This organisation, which I was privileged to direct for a couple of years at the vital time in the war, has, since its inception, borne the hallmark of enthusiasm among its members. It has provided a splendid opportunity for keenness and zest, an opportunity for the young to develop their hobbies and to be inculcated with discipline and citizenship.
Here, surely, is the tool ready-made in the hands of the Air Ministry to show, through the Corps, that in the years to come there are still great opportunities for the young in the Air Force and a future for enthusiasm. I hope that when my hon. Friend replies, he can give us some good news about what is being done for the future of the Air Training Corps.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
This has been a remarkable debate, but the last speech by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) has made it more remarkable than ever. There have been four back bench speeches from the Government side. Three of the Members who have spoken have either been the chairmen of or connected with independent airline companies, and, quite rightly, they have declared their interest, but none of them so blatently put forward the interests of his own company as the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, who came tonight with 1290 a speech which was thoroughly disgraceful.
We are concerned, on behalf of the general public, with the reorientation of the whole of our defence policy. During the last seven years we have been carrying a burden in taxation and arms greater in proportion to our resources than any other nation, including the United States. It has placed us at a great disadvantage in manufacturing for export markets and in the development of things that we so vitally need at home.
At the very moment that the Government decide that the burden can no longer be carried, when they redraft their policy, reorganise the Departments and begin to make long-needed economies to relieve the hard-pressed taxpayer, someone of the calibre of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone pleads a special case for his own industry against a policy which has been advocated by the Minister on his own side to save the taxpayer's money.
The House of Commons was not made for that kind of thoroughly disgraceful speech, and the hon. Member should think again before he makes another like it. Democracy is a precious thing which has grown up over four centuries, and I am only sorry that many more people are not present tonight to listen to the debate and that many more Members have not attended it. We are dealing with £500 million of the taxpayer's money. It is not the fault of the taxpayer that hon. Members tonight are not paying the attention that they should, but it is our responsibility to see that that money is properly apportioned.
We have had several years of colossal waste in the aircraft industry. I commend to the Minister the Report on the Supply of Military Aircraft. Let him study it long into the night and realise the vast sums of public money which have been wasted on research and development over the last ten years because of competing interests among manufacturers and between the Services.
In this structure, the new Minister of Defence must decide whether he is to be the strong man vis-é-visthe Service chiefs, otherwise there will be no saving. In particular, the Secretary of State for Air has the most responsible job of all the Service Ministers. On issues of 1291 national safety alone, his is the greatest responsibility. He must get absolute value for every £ he spends now that we are undergoing a phase of change in our aeronautical and weapon development.
We are passing quickly from the era of the manned aircraft. Perhaps the next ten years will see the end of it. We have reached a stage with the V-bombers—the Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan—at which the optimum performance has been reached. Probably the English Electric P.1 will be the acme of the manned bomber. Then we go on from there to guided weapons, air missiles and so on.
It is with these factors that we should be concerned, because there is one paradox about this Report on the Supply of Military Aircraft. It was produced at a time when it could no longer do any good. The money had been wasted. It had been spent. It was all over and done with and had gone down the drain. It may be that we shall have scientific and technical developments out of the spending of this money, but the developments will bear no relation to the money wasted.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) spoke of the Ministry of Supply. I agreed with a great deal of what he said, but the great danger is that if we abolish the Ministry of Supply we shall get into a position where the Service Departments will begin to order for themselves, and that will be far more expensive and wasteful. Therefore, whether we have a constricted supply or not should be a matter for the Minister of Defence and that Minister must be the kingpin if savings must be made.
We are dealing not only with shortages of money and manpower but with competition for the available national resources in industrial and scientific manpower, and we have not these resources to spare. It should not be the responsibility of the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for Air to apportion orders for aircraft or guided missiles in the future to the wide variety of firms that have catered for this need in the past. There must be consultations from now on and specialisation and centralisation, even if it means near-monopoly conditions for some industries. It must be done. No longer can we have every Tom, Dick and Harry supplying these needs, often on a 1292 cost-plus basis and making handsome profits. All that must go, because we are dealing with competition from American industry with its capital and manpower and its investment programme sixteen times greater than ours.
Anybody who knows anything about the machines required in modern British industry to manufacture aircraft and supersonic guided missiles knows that the procuring of machine-tools for such a programme is beyond the capacity of any ordinary firm, even if it could raise the capital in the market, which it could not do without a Government guarantee. The Minister of Defence should concentrate on not more than twelve firms in the country to do the job. In electronics the concentration should be even greater, and not more than six firms should be employed. There is not the skilled manpower and the brains available for more. We should not sub-divide the industry further because the Services are calling for scientific and technical manpower on the same basis.
I am grateful, as are all hon. Members and, I am sure, the whole population, for the record of service of the Royal Air Force in the last war. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and I are on very friendly terms, although we disagree on many things. He advocates with great courage his policy of pacificism, but after hearing his speech today, I ask him to remember that his right to be allowed to stand in this Chamber in a free democracy and express his opinions has been won for him by the countless graves of members of the British Armed Services all over the world. They have died for the free expression of opinion. Although I admire my hon. Friend's courage in putting his point of view, I ask him never to forget that.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I recognise what my hon. Friend says, but I make my statements in order that thousands of millions of others may not share the fate of those who have died.
§ Mr. Tomney
I appreciate the hon. Member's sentiments, but I do not appreciate his motives. I think he was too soft towards the Russian aspect. If we look back to the Potsdam and Yalta Agreements and to the Berlin airlift and to what happened in Hungary, we ask ourselves who forced us into the position 1293 we adopted? The answer is that the Soviets forced us into that position. That must be admitted by any reasonable person. We did not do it on our own free will. We undertook what we did because we were forced into the position.
§ Mr. Tomney
The allies, and in particular the Americans, were the people who disarmed most after the war. The Russians kept 5 million or 6 million constantly under arms. They have not yet demobilised that number, and in my opinion they will not do so. If anybody places any credence upon the good intentions of the Soviet, he has only to look back on what happened in Hungary last October. That was a cardinal lesson for the rest of mankind.
If we take the view that the whole of Central Europe should be neutral, and that there should be a development of ballistic missiles, with hedge-hopping from here to Russia by way of those neutral areas, it should be realised in the light of the Soviet action last October that the Soviets will never willingly release their grip on the satellite countries of Western Europe.
§ Mr. Hughes
Does my hon. Friend really think that countries like Hungary can be liberated by armed force or by atomic weapons?
§ Mr. Tomney
It is to the credit of the Hungarians that they tried to liberate themselves by armed force, but they were held down and were forbidden freedom by superior, physical, brutal force. They thought that the time had come to liberate themselves by force of arms, but the weight of opposition against them was so great that they could not achieve it.
The changes in the structure of the R.A.F. in regard to manpower and technical and scientific requirements for industry, and the competition there will be, will mean a re-casting of the whole pay structure of the R.A.F. The Americans have been smarter than ourselves in this respect. They have realised for a long time that the engineering branch of their air service is just as important as their flying branch—the people they call their "glamour boys". Their promotion and career prospects, 1294 their rank and pay and conditions have always been equal to the people who carry out the combat flying in the American Air service.
We must do something like that, and do it quickly. We must re-orientate the whole of the R.A.F. intake and make it possible for careers to be advertised and offered to technical and science graduates from industry and from the colleges, so that they know that, on the basis of a guided weapons programme, they will be assured for many years to come, of a good future, of good salaries, of good promotion conditions and pensions. We have not done it yet, but we must do it, because the day of the former gallant flier is passing fast. We must make sure that at this stage we offer inducements to people to take part in the Services where we need them and chiefly in the engineering branch.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
This rather goes back to something which the hon. Gentleman was saying earlier about economising in expenditure. Would he not agree that, whilst we may be able to economise in manpower and in material, what will be achieved, if we serve the purpose he is now putting forward, is to save money? May it not be that in order to get the standard we want and to ensure a Regular Air Force or any of the other Services, we may have to pay more than we are paying now?
§ Mr. Tomney
That is right. Not only that, but we shall find out that we will have to pay salaries comparable with those paid in private industry, and it will be a good bargain because we shall get the best men.
The Report on the Supply of Military Aircraft should be read by every hon. Member, because it is a classic. The Estimates Committee took over fourteen months to produce it. It was work carried out behind the scenes by diligent Members, outside the public eye, out of the limelight. The most valuable work done by hon. Members in this House is on the Accounts and Estimates Committees and is not in the public eye. It is a fascinating document which at this stage has arrived too late. The cream has already been whipped away by the Exchequer, and the expected savings cannot now be made.
1295 We should remember the amount of taxpayers' money spent on research. In one instance £22 million was spent on the prototypes for sixteen aircraft which never got into the air. That research had to be carried out. We must also remember the independent airline companies which have sprung up using obsolete aircraft, aircraft which were in use during the war. Independent companies of that type are not capable of carrying out the task of transporting our troops. Our troops need to be carried at the speed of the fastest bombers to the areas where they may be required. The independent air companies can make up their minds that they must confine themselves to freight trade.
We need aircraft of the quality of the Comet and the Britannia which have been ordered and are on the stocks. If necessary, they must go alongside that part of the fighting forces which will represent the spearhead for protecting our liberty. Especially in wartime, we must not entrust the trooping of our men to any types of aircraft other than the best. In this connection, the Minister should press on and refuse to be sidetracked, no matter what pressure is brought upon him by private enterprise airlines. He should have a co-ordinated air trooping policy making use of the best passenger planes available, even if it means duplication of pilots in B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. or even if it means dual use as between those airlines. We cannot afford to run the risk, should trouble break out anywhere in the world, of not having the best types of aircraft to take our men there as quickly and as safely as possible.
I was disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman's speech. His responsibilities are greater than those of any of the other Service chiefs. He will have to fight hard for what he wants, because on him there is a great responsibility towards the taxpayers and also a great responsibility with regard to the defence of these islands. In his dealings with the other Service chiefs and the Ministry of Defence, he should go all out for what he and his Department believe to be correct having regard to the responsibilities of the R.A.F. There will be greater and greater competition among the Services for fewer and fewer funds. I believe that the R.A.F. is the shield upon 1296 which the ultimate defence of our country rests.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to give these points consideration, because they are important in relation to recruitment of scientific and technical manpower and the quality and availability of aircraft. He must make sure that his Department gets an even break with the other Services.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford)
With the exception of an hour, I have sat in the Chamber throughout this debate. I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), because, whether one agrees with him or disagrees with him, his thoughts are certainly objective and based on the right plane.
I disagreed with the hon. Gentleman on one or two issues, but before I deal with them, I should like, as we are discussing the Air Estimates, to express my personal admiration of what the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State have done during the last year, which has been, I consider, the most critical and difficult year in the history of the R.A.F.
The situation is still difficult and critical, because, as a result of misguided propaganda on both sides of the Committee—and almost every speaker in today's debate has contributed to the misunderstanding—the idea has suddenly grown up that because of nuclear development, because of guided missiles, we can afford to throw the R.A.F. overboard. God help this country if that occurs.
I can assure hon. Members, from a lifetime spent in and with flying and making aeroplanes, that we are a very long way from being out of the air age, out of the age when we need manned aeroplanes. I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his maximum effort to see that grave mistakes are not made.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
By both sides of the Committee, because throughout the world there has grown a sudden conception that because of guided missiles and the explosion of a few hydrogen bombs we are out of the air age. We are not; we are only beginning the air age.
I can assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and 1297 other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that whatever guided missiles are at this moment in production in the U.S.S.R. or the United States of America, we shall need, for another fifteen years, a strong, dependable and balanced Royal Air Force; and God help this country if we have not got it.
Before I forget, I want to say something which, short of the hour I was out of the Chamber, I have not heard mentioned. That is the brilliant and very wonderful work done by the Air Training Corps. For the next fifteen or twenty years, as during the last war, the Air Training Corps, in its training of the youth of the country, will be doing the most wonderful job of work and, whatever develops in the Air Force or in the rest of the Armed Forces, I hope that the Secretary of State will make quite sure that the youth of Great Britain will take to the air exactly as they took to the sea in the past 400 or 500 years.
I want to tell the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, from a considerable amount of personal knowledge, that although we have much propaganda about guided missiles, and although one hon. Member completely misled the entire Committee with arguments about Russian explosions when his whole argument might have been more suitable to a foreign affairs debate, few hon. Members on either side of the Committee are aware of the fantastic harm which has been done by the explosion of four Russian hydrogen bombs in the last fortnight. How many of them have related the fact that the whole of Russian industry is now to be decentralised from Moscow, merely because of the fear of the gravest mistake the U.S.S.R. has made in its history?
Whether the United States of America or Russia is strong or powerful, if peace is to be preserved in the world, if ordinary decency among nations is to be preserved, it will depend on the British Commonwealth having a balanced Air Force ready to go to any conceivable place at any given moment of the 24 hours with a sufficient strength to put down a local small "fire".
Most of the Committee know already that total global war in 1957 is unthinkable. But a total running away 1298 from responsibility is one of the evils to which the Western world is gravitating. It does not realise that, if we do not preserve a strong Air Force, bit by bit there will be Communist penetration, by force majeure. A few moments ago the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North referred to Hungary and the United States. When we consider what happened in Suez, and the association of the air arm with the Navy in Cyprus, and what has happened since, I am sure that no hon. Member on either side of the Committee would like the Secretary of State for Air to risk our country's future by failing to see that we have a responsible Royal Air Force. I challenge any hon. Member opposite to deny the truth of that.
Guided missiles are as much in their infancy as were the D.H.9 and the Morane Parasol, in 1917. Twenty years from now guided missiles will take our post from London to New York in less than an hour. But if we pin the security of our country or the peace of the world upon guided missiles now we shall be committing political suicide. I have spent much time in Washington, and I know Russia very well. I can say that the biggest fear which exists in the world today is not of the explosion of a hydrogen bomb, but the question which Power can move all over the world in the shortest possible time and win the economic war.
There are perhaps three major things to which we should devote our attention. First, there is the Royal Air Force Transport Command. I was in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) when he said that the Government should hold an independent inquiry as to what we should do. If we assert that total global war is unthinkable in this century we must decide what we are going to do. We have to create what is virtually a police force which can be sent from London to any part of the world in less than 24 hours. We must also devote some attention to the development of Transport Command by the utilisation of flying boats. I am sorry to say that respective Air Ministers have neglected this question over the years. As events are developing, with high costs of long runways and aerodromes, that is a vitally important matter.
1299 As we develop the backward places of the world, and the British Commonwealth—Malaya, Singapore, or any other place any hon. Member cares to mention—we must use the world's waterways and not its arable areas. At the moment, there is no policy whatever for flying boats.
For many years, I have been associated with the Guild of Air Pilots of the British Empire and the Air League of the British Empire. We have spent at least twenty-five years, even from the days of the Hon. Freddie Guest and Sir Sefton Brancker, trying to accept the responsibility of bringing the people, whether in Australia, New Zealand or Canada or here, to accept that if world war in unthinkable, as we all know it is, and if we are to have sanity in the world, then the lead must come from this House.
This is a vital responsibility which we have accepted for 300 years. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire may smile, but I can assure him that I am right. I can assure him that the one hope of the Russian peasant on the steppes, just as it is the one hope of the farmer in the Middle West of the United States, is that this House will face up to the responsibilities of leading the world to sanity. There is a police force in this country, but it is not ours. We do not need hydrogen bombs but we need a powerful force of the air, with pilots, with training schools, with Transport Command.
One of my hon. Friends was criticised when he said that he was connected with a private air company. I have no interest to declare, except outside this country, but I say unhesitatingly that neither B.O.A.C. nor B.E.A., nor both—nor, indeed, all the private airlines combined—have even begun to tackle the problem which the British people face in the world. In Africa alone, we have more responsibilities than all the private enterprise firms in this country could even begin to fulfil.
I do not know what the Government's final plan will be when the Minister of Defence telescopes the Air Force and the Navy. But one thing I do know, and I state it to every hon. Member: if we destroy the British aircraft industry, if we fail to keep the brains in the British aircraft factories at work, if we deny those factories the orders which they are entitled to receive, whether they are at 1300 Hatfield or anywhere else, if we do not keep enough aircraft in the air and enough equipment to train our youth and to bring the coming generations to understand the air, then we shall be throwing away the inheritance which this House has had for 600 or 700 years.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North said that he believed we had come to the end.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
The hon. Member suggested that we are approaching the end. I think we are approaching the beginning. If there is to be any sanity in the world, if we are to be responsible for leading the backward races and allowing States like Ghana to develop, if the scourge on the conscience of the world is to be removed, we must have aeroplanes flying into every corner of the world without fear or favour. The only way to ensure that is to see that the Minister gets the Vote in full and in plenty so that we can have a strong R.A.F. I hope that the Committee will see that he gets it.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones), is the first speaker in this debate who has suggested that we should disband the R.A.F. I do not understand where he gets that idea from.
§ Mr. Osborne
It was the hon. Gentleman's colleague the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) who made that statement, when the hon. Gentleman was out of the Chamber.
§ Mr. Craddock
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire is well known for his views and I can well understand that he is likely to say that. I am not criticising him for saying so, because if we develop the type of mind in this country in which we have all to share the same views we shall not get anywhere.
I want to refer to the Minister's speech, which had a slight connection with this debate. The recent speeches to which I have listened have wandered so far and wide that I cannot think they had very much to do with what we ought to have been discussing. When the Air Estimates were introduced today, I was a little disappointed to discover that instead of their 1301 fulfilling the promise made by the Minister of Defence, a short while ago, that we were to have a reduction of costs, the Estimates had gone up from £477 million to £487 million, an increase of £10 million.
Perhaps there is a reason for that. Of the three Services, I would say that the Air Ministry was most likely to develop at the expense of the Army and the Navy. It is clear that this kind of development is taking place in almost every country. They are, naturally, developing their air forces. But to have a figure placed in front of us which increases the cost of the Air Force during the next twelve months by £10 million is something which should cause us deep concern.
§ Mr. Ward
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to get this straight. In fact, we are spending rather less on the Royal Air Force this year than last year. The Royal Air Force itself will spend less, but rather more is coming out of the Exchequer this year than last year because we are not getting quite so much aid from the Americans.
§ Mr. Craddock
I notice, of course, that American aid has fallen by about £29 million during the current financial year as compared with last year.
The Minister of Defence submitted to the House, only recently, a plan for reducing the personnel of the Armed Forces and reducing the cost which most hon. Members and other people in the country are complaining about. To have to carry, this year, another £1,420 million for defence purposes is an extreme figure, in my opinion, and something which the economy cannot bear. That is not only my own opinion, but the opinion of many hon. Members on this side of the Committee and, I think, some on the other side and by very many people in the country.
Furthermore, I would like to see the plan mentioned by the Minister of Defence worked out in a very much more practical manner. I hope that it means something more than words, and that we shall get something to assist the old-age pensioners. It is a most serious thing that we can only give our old-age pensioners a miserable pension of £2 a week and can, at the same time, afford to estimate nearly £1,500 million for defence purpose.
1302 I have heard from many hon. Members that the strength of the R.A.F. has to be kept up. I can understand that, but it is also dangerous because, as we have already been told, in the event of a future war H-bombs and A-bombs would be used. While we are considering these Estimates, it should be high Government policy to consider taking steps with U.N.O. to bring about pacification with the big Powers so that we can have a lessening of the tension from which the world is suffering so much today.
One could argue that we have had trouble even within the British Commonwealth and that force has been used. My particular point is that until we can take force out of politics and out of the narrow nationalism which it assists in creating, we shall not find a solution by reason and argument, which is our objective. I do not think it is possible ever to settle differences between States by force and by war. It has never happened yet, except for a temporary period, and then we had to have further wars.
While we are considering these Estimates not only must we give consideration to the particular Service, but must consider most seriously the steps we have to take to preserve our people and mankind from devastation by the H-bomb.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
We have had a long debate and, in many ways, a remarkable debate, because we have been voting a great deal of money and, although we have not had a large attendance in Committee, a number of very important points have been brought out. Before I even attempt to deal with those, I should like to express what I am sure is more than a personal view about the rôle of the Air Force. It is that the Air Force does not exist, should not exist and cannot exist to provide contracts to independent contractors either as manufacturers of aircraft, or as those who are providing trooping facilities or any other ancillary services.
In saying that, I am not in any way running down the no doubt very useful work done by those who get Air Force contracts. We are here as representatives of the taxpayers—every one of us—but, to listen to some of the speeches made 1303 tonight by hon. Members who spoke about the industry in which they have experience and, quite rightly, declared their interest, it was a disgrace that they spoke as if the purpose of the Air Force was to provide for them, their firms and those who work for them a living which somehow the community owes to them. I say this because I feel that, if the word were to go out that we were maintaining our expediture at this very high level with that idea in mind, it would do enormous damage, not only to the Government and the whole Parliamentary institution, but to the cause of the United Kingdom abroad.
There are many other ways of looking at the Air Force. Some of the best speeches, if I may say so, have been made on the running of the Air Force itself. The Secretary of State made a very interesting and, I think, important reference to the work that was going on in his Department to get economy and a better humanisation of relations in the Air Force, better married quarters, better facilities for recruiting the right sort of people—all terribly important things if the Service is to have high morale, as it must.
I want, if possible, to talk almost exclusively tonight about the reason why we have the Air Force, about the defence policy the Government have introduced, and the way in which it must be applied through the air services. We have been fortunate this year in having a large number of defence debates. We have had the three Votes on Account, two days on the Defence White Paper, and now we are at the beginning of three more days on the Estimates. All this began with the statement, made when the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) took over as the Minister of Defence, that it was necessary to have a fresh look at our defence. I wish to read extracts from two of the opening paragraphs of the 1957 Defence White Paper with which I am in complete agreement. Paragraph 3 runs like this:However, the time has now come to revise not merely the size, but the whole character of the defence plan … it is now evident that, on both military and economic grounds, it is necessary to make a fresh appreciation of the problem and to adopt a new approach towards it.1304 Later the White Paper says:It has been clear for some time that these scientific advances must fundamentally alter the whole basis of military planning.All I want to do this evening, as best I can, is to try to turn my mind to these problems and to ask the Government to probe their intentions, to see whether they have really thought this new defence programme through. I shall not say anything much about the economic burdens, because that is rather outside the line I propose to take, but I want to confine myself to this challenge of the new weapons, I shall try to avoid so far as I can the follies which have been very rightly pointed out by many hon. Members of supposing that the press-button age has already arrived.
We are discussing tonight the central theme of the Defence White Paper, in that of the three Services the R.A.F. is the only one with striking power. The Navy may have a function, although many of us doubt it, and obviously there has always got to be the Army, but the Air Force is the senior Service today in every sense, in that it is the Service which controls the nuclear deterrent. It is our duty to probe the policy which lies behind this nuclear deterrent.
I hope that in winding up the Under-Secretary of State will not confine himself entirely to the small points made about plastic mackintoshes now supplied to the Royal Observer Corps or the fact that members of the Women's Royal Air Force, over the rank of sergeant, are to get a new issue of underwear. We are trying to discuss the overall defence policy. I want to refer to the two tasks which were laid down in the Defence White Paper by the Minister of Defence. This has been the basis of his policy. The right hon. Gentleman said in the White Paper that the two main tasks that confronted the British Forces were:
Those are the words that he used, and my speech follows that division.
- (i) to play their part with the Forces of the Allied countries in deterring and resisting aggression;
- (ii) to defend British Colonies and protected territories against local attack, and undertake limited operations in overseas emergencies."
The newspapers have been full of the fact that the Minister of Defence wrote his own White Paper. I congratulate 1305 him on it and wonder whether the Secretary of State wrote the Memorandum that we have before us today. I do not know whether he would indicate by a nod or a smile or some other sign that that is right. At any rate he signed it and, if he signed it, he must have read it. Therefore, I am entitled to say that I am not at all satisfied with it.
In comparison with the Memorandum on the Navy Estimates and with the Memorandum on the Army Estimates, I think that the Air Force Memorandum is very unsatisfactory. The Navy Estimates do give a complete record of the ships now in service, including something more imaginative than I have ever seen before —little diagrams of the Fleet, showing all the units which are available. The Army Estimates provide a map of the world showing where all the British troops are.
When we look for details of the Royal Air Force, we come across such a priceless phrase as this in paragraph 13:The ability of the V-bombers to cover large distances quickly has been amply demonstrated.I must say that if the only information made available by the Secretary of State is that these new V-bombers can cover large distances rapidly, I congratulate him on maintaining a sense of wonderment about aviation matters which really should have disappeared after the flight made by the Wright brothers.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Perhaps I might tell the hon. Gentleman that his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who is by no means complimentary to right hon. and hon. Members on this side, this afternoon went out of his way to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his presentation of the Estimates and on the clear White Paper. Therefore, there seems to be another split in the party opposite.
§ Mr. Benn
It would be a curious ruling of the Chair, or of any hon. Member, that all of us on one side have to agree about every little detail. I went out of my way to pay a sincere tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his presentation this afternoon, but to give us seven pages of this sort of muck in return for £500 million to be spent on the Air Force is pretty poor quality. This is no criticism of the Minister. It has, no doubt, 1306 always been done. The Minister says "No one cares." That no one cares what I say is a perfectly fair point to make, and in that case I am grateful to him that his manners conquer his opinion in that he is in the House at all—
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not like to go on record with his last expression—" seven pages of this sort of muck ". I give him the opportunity of withdrawing it.
§ Mr. Benn
Hon. Members opposite are being very solicitous tonight, because they are helping me first to correct what may have seemed a disagreement with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and secondly, to withdraw what I have just said about the phrase, which I will repeat. It says:The ability of the V-bombers to cover large distances quickly has been amply demonstrated.I repeat that such an account of the work of the bomber force is not of a quality that should be presented to those responsible for voting the money.
There is another phrase, with which I shall deal in a moment, and which is even more serious. It is:The principles of air power as exercised by the Royal Air Force remain unchanged.After what the Minister of Defence said in the Defence White Paper—with which I absolutely agree—that there must be a fundamental re-examination of defence planning, to get that from the Department, if not from the Minister himself, is really very poor quality. At any rate, I want now to examine, if I have not annoyed the House too much, the actual function^ of the Royal Air Force, first in deterring, and secondly in resisting aggression.
May I begin by trying to examine something which I do not think has ever been publicly examined in this way, and that is what constitutes a deterrent? If I may try to analyse it, I would say that there are three elements in a deterrent. First of all, there should be a one-sided and limited fear by the potential aggressor. Secondly, there should be time sufficient for threats to be used and to warn him. Thirdly, there should be certainty of punishment.
To give an example of an effective deterrent, I will cite the deterrent exercised by the Chairman and Mr. Speaker 1307 on a Member of Parliament. There is a one-sided fear of you, Sir Charles, in that we cannot hit back; a limited fear, in that you cannot do anything to us except impose the rules of order. There is time and warning given to us of our misbehaviour, in that you often say, "I must ask the hon. Member to withdraw," before you get Mr. Speaker out of bed and the Leader of the House moves, say, my suspension. There is certainty of punishment in that I cannot kick back because I am not able to stand against the sword and authority of the Serjeant at Arms. That is essentially a deterrent, but, if one looks at the deterrent as we use the term now, there is not a deterrent. Looking at the matter as it applies to the world situation today, one finds none of those conditions fulfilled.
First of all, the fear, so far as there is fear, is mutual and unlimited, not one-sided and limited. We are not only afraid of each other, the United States and the Russians having the same mutual fear that we have for both, but our fear is unlimited and goes to the point of total distrust. Secondly, there is no time element left in modern planning. I will refer for a moment to a sentence in the Macmillan Defence White Paper, in which it was said that, of course,The enormous power of nuclear weapons is such that in war the outcome of the first few exchanges would be of critical importance. Great advantages would probably flow from surprise and from the first assault.If we think this true, we are bound to come to the conclusion that the first thing that the hydrogen bomb has done is to remove the ultimatum from the machinery of power politics. An ultimatum now invites immediate response. Let us suppose that we were tomorrow to get an ultimatum from the Soviet Government saying, for instance, "If you do not within 24 hours disband N.A.T.O. we shall rocket you in London", it would be our bounden duty, on the basis of the defence policy we now adopt, not only not to comply or comply and collapse but, if we were not going to do the latter, to fire the rocket at once and not wait for the 24 hours to elapse. Once the time element is taken away, the possibility of ultimatum is removed and it is arguable whether the hydrogen weapon provides one with a bargaining counter at all.
1308 Thirdly, there is no certainty of punishment. This is very serious. Since the man who. strikes first has such a tremendous advantage, it is almost inevitable that a man seriously planning aggression would so plan his operations that the opportunity for retaliation is reduced to a minimum. Looking back over the history of the deterrent during twelve years, I want only to say that, in all the circumstances, I think the House would be well advised to consider our position and see whether, in fact, the argument is as valid as we would like it to be.
What has been the position over the last twelve years? Quite simply, in terms of atomic power, there has been a steady increase in Soviet strength at the expense of Western Strength.
§ Major Legge-Bourke indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Benn
Yes, that is my view; I may be wrong, but I should like to develop the point. We had all the big armaments and big conventional weapons and the Russians had no atomic weapons at all. In 1945 the Americans had the atomic bomb and steadily developed it. Then the Russians got the atomic bomb, with the result that there was, as it were, a position of semi-balance. Then the Americans got the hydrogen bomb. Next the Russians got the hydrogen bomb. We got the atomic bomb, and we got the hydrogen bomb. The missiles are building up. But when the day comes—I do not know how far off it is; a year, two years or ten years —when the Russians have the inter-continental ballistic missile with hydrogen warhead, though it may be said that we shall be then no worse in balance, that day will see the peak of Soviet relative strength compared with us and what has obtained over the last twelve years.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I could not disagree more with the hon. Gentleman. I only wanted to say that the most dangerous period we have lived through— thank God we are through it—was when the worst weapon of all was the atomic bomb and the Russians had it.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite entitled to say that. But the Americans had the atomic bomb at that time. I am merely saying that we are now reaching a new period when both sides will have the ultimate weapon and the ultimate means of delivering it.
1309 If the argument is now projected into the future and it is said that the greater the mutual fear the greater will be the deterrent, let us consider a situation which is at the moment in the realm of space fiction. Next year, the Americans will be releasing their first earth satellites in connection with the Geophysical Year. I have only read of this in the newspapers. I understand that a satellite will go round the world every two or three hours for two or three weeks. Surely, nobody would say that that opportunity will escape the generals as a military potential. We may very well reach the stage in twenty-five years' time when these satellites will be going round all the time. Men will have their fingers over the buttons in Moscow, Washington and London and if anybody misbehaves, the deterrent on all sides will be released. I should not feel as happy under those circumstances as I do at the moment.
I leave the question of the deterrant. What I have tried to do is to open the mind of the House and to see whether we are entitled to be as complacent as we are about the operation of the deterrent. I come now to the situation which arises if the deterrent fails to operate—that is to say, the problem of resisting aggression itself, the global war.
Defence thinking on this question has altered considerably over the last few years. In 1954, Lord Alexander of Tunis, in his last Defence White Paper, came out with the theory that there would be an immediate exchange of nuclear weapons followed by the broken-back warfare. Anybody who has followed defence will remember that doctrine of 1954. It was in operation at the same time as the Dulles doctrine of massive retaliation.
I year ago, however, when Lord Monckton, as he now is, was Minister of Defence, a different view was expressed. No doubt hon. Members will remember the Defence White Paper of a year ago, in which the statement was made that there was a likelihood that at the beginning the line would be held by land, sea and air until the nuclear counter-offensive had broken the back of the enemy assault. That was a slightly different doctrine, which one might call the doctrine of graduated deterrents. I do not know whether Lord Monckton would have said that that was what he was advocating, but that was the doctrine.
1310 Now, we come to the new 1957 doctrine. I am not making fun of the change. It is an intensely difficult problem, but there has been a change. Now we come to the view expressed by the present Minister of Defence who, in the defence debate on 16th April, said:what I am almost sure about is that when we get a head-on collision between the Soviet Union and the United States, involving the defeat of and domination by the one of the other, it is quite unrealistic to imagine that that kind of conflict can be decided by anything short of the whole works."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1957; Vol. 568, c. 1768.]This is what I call the "whole works" doctrine. I am not saying that it ought to be. I am putting the view I expressed in March, when I took part in the Estimates debate, that the idea of graduated deterrents is absolute self-deception.
In those circumstances, supposing that the Minister of Defence is right—and, I believe, he is—what is the rôle of the Royal Air Force in the global war once it begins? It is perfectly obvious in view of the military knowledge we now have that whether we are able to get missiles quickly or not, the intention must be to fight it as a missile war.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State still thinks that I should not be expressing views or asking questions, but I want to ask him about the missile agreement. If there is to be a rôle for the Royal Air Force in a global war, everything will depend on the conditions which Slave been laid down for the missile agreement.
First, do the warheads that the United States Government propose to keep under their own control include the homing devices? There may be a simple answer, but I should like to know whether in addition to making our own warheads we have to make our own homing devices. Secondly, can we be told anything about the development of our own warheads? It is important that we should be told. Thirdly, does the supply of the Thor—I am not speaking of the warhead, but of the Thor itself— to the United Kingdom come under the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement of 1950? The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) shakes his head. I do not know whether he is referring to my question. It is an important point, for the reason that I am trying—
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member was shaking his head, and naturally I wondered whether he was disagreeing with me.
In the debate on the Bermuda talks, the Prime Minister told the House with pride that he had got the missiles, and he indicated that they would be made available to us and we should be able to make our own warheads. But if the missiles are made available to us under the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement, although we may be allowed to have them, just as we are allowed to have the rifles and all the rest that we get under American aid, or whatever it is, we shall be bound by treaty not even to fire the missiles without the permission of the United States Government.
The Agreement states:Neither contracting Government, without the prior consent of the other, will devote assistance furnished to it by the other contracting Government to purposes other than those for which it was furnished.Although there would be nothing to stop our using the missiles, because American troops would not be controlling them, under the provisions of this Agreement, signed and honoured by this country, it would be in law impossible anyway for us to use the misslies except under conditions in which the Americans would let us have the warheads.
It is important that we should know exactly what the arrangements are. The Prime Minister has said that he had a better deal than did Lord Attlee. I frankly doubt that. Lord Attlee obtained an agreement by which Americans came to this country with their bombers and they would not use them without our consent. Now we find that the Americans are supplying arms to our troops and we cannot use them without their consent. The position can be compared with that of a man who is nervous of burglars and calls in a neighbour. Under the the Attlee agreement the neighbour has the gun but promises not to use it unless his friend gets really worried, but under this Agreement the neighbour not only has a gun of his own but controls the other man's gun as well and says, "You cannot shoot the burglar unless I think he is dangerous." [AN HON. MEMBER: "A poor analogy."] The nuclear deterrents cannot be used without the permission of the 1312 United States, whereas, under the old agreement the American deterrent could not be used without the permission of the United Kingdom.
We come next to the practical problem of global war. The Minister of Defence has said that it is impossible to defend people and we must confine ourselves to defending the bases of the nuclear deterrents. Is it that we cannot defend the big towns or that the Government says that the big towns are less important than the North Coast missile bases? Obviously, the Minister does not think that the towns are less important than the nuclear bases.
No Minister would deny air defence to London because he thinks it is not important. The answer is that we cannot defend London, and if we cannot defend London, how can we defend the nuclear bases? These are questions which people who read these documents are bound to ask, and we have had no answer to these questions. We are told very gaily that there will be an atomic missile and that if the Russians fire something at us or send bombers over, we shall use atomic missiles to repel them. I do not know whether that is safe, but it is worthy of question.
Finally how much time is available once our control and reporting system picks up a missile on the screen? All these missiles are supersonic and they travel at many times the speed of the fastest aircraft. If our wonderful control, and I have no doubt that it is wonderful, picks up the missile, is there any time at all in which to reach a decision about what we should do? The White Paper on Defence says quite clearly in paragraph 17 that:…a would-be aggressor should not be allowed to think he could readily knock out the bomber bases in Britatin before their aircraft could take off from them.Either we should have to stop the aggressor from getting his aircraft off the bomber bases, and I think that even the Minister of Defence would say that that would be optimistic, or we should have to scramble our own bombers with H-bombs aboard them. Therefore the position we are in is that there is a complete abandonment of political control of the hydrogen bomb.
Obviously, the Cabinet will not have time to reach a decision after the control 1313 and reporting system has picked up the rocket. They will not be able to decide whether we ought then to unleash war on Moscow. The Secretary of State is not in a position to decide. Parliament is not in a position to decide and, of course, I am not suggesting that Parliament should be called into special session to reach a decision of this kind. I am only alerting the House to the policy which is presented to us by the Government, the implications of which ought really to be thought through.
I have only mentioned some of the difficulties of the present policy. In these circumstances what sort of reshaping should there be in the Royal Air Force? This point has been dealt with searchingly in the debate and I do not want, and I do not feel qualified on the information made available, to deal with it at any great length, except to say that I sympathise with the Minister in the struggle he is making to persuade people that they will still be flying in the Royal Air Force. Whether there is the same opportunity for adventure in the Royal Air Force in peacetime that there was in wartime, I do not pretend to know. I do know that the excitement of flying was in my mind from my earliest days as a schoolboy in the war until the time I was demobilised from the Air Force, and I would be the last to denigrate or write off the interest and passion of young British people in flying.
We must not make the mistake of thinking that the Air Force can only be of interest if it is flying the old aircraft. I detected in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) the idea that somehow we were all intended by God to fly by aircraft, and that if anything came along afterwards it would be a betrayal of 1,700 years of heritage. Well, aircraft have not been flying throughout the whole period of the House of Commons, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take too pessimistic a view of the possibilities of scientific advance.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? I said it would be a betrayal if we failed in our responsibilities in the air. That does not mean that we will still fly Bristol Beaufighters. We shall be flying something quite different in ten years' time from now, but they will still be manned aircraft.
§ Mr. Benn
Maybe they will. I should have thought I might have a reasonable chance of living until the day when I go to New York in a rocket. I do not know, but I should have thought it possible. However, the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that when the R.A.F. squadrons are equipped with these guided missiles, it will not be much fun for the people who are using them to discover that they cannot exercise a Bristol Beaufighter, and we have to get the kind of people in the Air Force who are willing to do the merely domestic job of maintaining a missile you can never fire twice, because once fired, it is gone, because I presume that many of them are once-for-all missiles.
I dispute the theory that the principles of air power as exercised by the Air Force are unchanged. That is exactly what the Navy said. They said that the introduction of the flying machine made no difference to naval policy, and it took the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" off the coast of Malaya to show them that they were wrong. The hon. Gentleman who represents the Service with such distinction ought not to give the impression that the Service is frightened of, and is incapable of applying, new principles of air power to a perfectly different situation where the old ones will not apply.
Now I turn to the second task laid down in the White Paper, and that is the task of what was called defending British Colonies and Protectorate territories against local attack and undertaking limited operations. Here we come to the same argument that I have been pursuing on the general question as to whether we can have a limited war even in these circumstances. The view of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence on this was clear. Incidentally I wish he would come into the Chamber so that if I were to ask him to nod or smile he could do so, instead of standing so coyly behind Mr. Speaker's Chair. His view is that the limited war is possible provided the interests of the big Powers are not involved. Frankly, I do not myself believe even this. In fact, if I may put it in a nutshell, the view I am putting to the House is that limited war is now out altogether, and I will give my reasons for it and will hope to convince the House.
These wonderful modern weapons that we have will rapidly get into the hands 1315 of everybody. If we are to follow the military "think through" to its logical conclusion, we shall see, as we did in the Manchester Guardian this morning, that the guided weapon industry now regards guided weapons as one of the most hopeful exports. I do not say that is wrong; it is inevitable. In no time at all Colonel Nasser will have guided weapons, either bought from the British or given by the Russians when they are out of date. Guided missiles and atom bombs will become out of date and will then be given by the French to Mr. Ben Gurion if they want to win another round in the Algerian war. We must not make the mistake if we are dealing with the Egyptians and similar people of thinking that we are dealing with people who will be beaten by us and can never use against us a deterrent of their own.
For example, take the Suez operation. The right hon. Gentleman may argue that the Suez operation proves that one can have a limited war. But how long did it last? Five days. What happened in the meanwhile? We got a rocket threat from Mr. Bulganin, which, whether genuine or not, had an influence, I warrant, on the Cabinet decision as to whether to go on or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Hon. Gentlemen may say that Bulganin's rocket threat had no influence, but it was sufficiently serious for Eisenhower to make a reply and say that if such a thing happened he would regard it as an attack on the United States. If it did not influence the then Prime Minister, many other sensible arguments were not then, in our view, influencing that Prime Minister.
We are grateful that the Cabinet had the sense to see that we could not run even the Suez war as a limited operation. I say "even the Suez war" with feeling. Let us remember that for 70 years Egypt was regarded as the preserve of Great Britain, and yet when we wanted to go back eight weeks after we had come out, the world began to take an interest. The Minister should not in any field of this kind believe that it is possible to have a limited war.
If we cannot have a limited war even in the overseas field, what is the rôle of the R.A.F. abroad in peace time? I look for my answer in the Defence White Paper of twelve months ago where it is 1316 set out with rather greater clarity than this year. I do not think any one would deny that this still represents Government policy. It is what I call the "Monckton doctrine." Referring to the R.A.F. abroad, it says:By their mere presence they can contribute to the stability of the free world and the security of overseas territories whose peaceful development may be threatened by subversion whether overtly Communist or masquerading as nationalism.The Air Estimates a year ago elaborated the doctrine and described the establishment of a new air command for the Middle East which was to be divided into two halves. One half covered Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, Libya and the Canal Zone, and the other Aden, Pakistan and East Africa. Let us see what has happened over the last twelve months to those areas. Let us take Cyprus first.
We are told that Cyprus is to be a nuclear base. When I heard the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who always moves me with his speeches, talk about his constituents, the simple peasants of North Coates, I envied him for being able to speak for his own people when they were threatened with the possibility of retaliation That is more than the Cypriots can manage. Cyprus is being made a nuclear base, but there is no opportunity for any Cypriot Member of Parliament in this House to make a speech like the hon. Member did.
§ Mr. Benn
If it were not for hon. Members in this House like my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough who take up such things, those people would go more or less unrepresented.
Now, at any rate, the Government have climbed down to Makarios. There will soon be a deal with Makarios. If hon. Members do not take my word for that, let them ask Lord Salisbury, for he left the Cabinet on that issue. Shall we be able in the long run to have a nuclear base in Cyprus? If not, are we being driven out by Communists or Communists masquerading as nationalists? Not at all. We are being driven out by the people of Cyprus. They are more effective in dealing with us there than even the Communists would be.
Look at Jordan. Glubb was sacked.
Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)
On a point of order, Sir Gordon. What has General Glubb to do with the Air Estimates?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I do not think the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has been out of order.
§ Mr. Benn
I am trying to develop an argument. If he does not like it, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam will probably be able to take part in the debate later, for we are not due to end until 11 o'clock.
Were we driven out of Jordan by Communists, or by Communists masquerading as nationalists? Anyone who thinks about it must know that we were driven out of Jordan because our relations with Jordan as a country were out of date and King Hussein was incapable of maintaining them himself. Let us take the examples of Iraq, Libya and Egypt. We were driven out at a critical moment, in a real sense, from all those countries. At the moment of the Suez operation, the Libyans said, "You cannot use your base against Egypt." The Iraqis said, "We will not go to the Bagdad Pact meeting if you are there," and the Egyptians took over the Canal Zone facilities. We have been driven out of every one of those areas without a shot being fired.
I have shown that in twelve months the whole basis of the R.A.F. occupation in the Middle East has been destroyed. It has been destroyed not by Mr. Khrushchev, but by a much more serious cause, that our foreign policy has not been based on a proper understanding of the relationship between Britain and the countries of the Middle East.
§ Mr. Osborne rose—
§ Mr. Benn
I am afraid that I cannot give way, because the debate ends at 11 o'clock and I must give time for a reply. I am flattered that the hon. Member should wish to chip in.
The Minister is entitled to say, "It is all very well being wise after the event, but what about the future?" I am grateful to the House of Commons Library and to many other people for helping me finally to locate our relationship with the Protectorates in Aden. I have never been in Aden, although I passed by it as an aircraftman second-class during the war. 1318 One's political grasp after an hour in Aden is not very great. I finally discovered, not in the House of Commons Library, but in the War Office library, a volume of treaties, which are still valid instruments, binding this country to the Aden Protectorates.
I have checked them on the telephone with the proper Government Department, and I find that I am correct in saying that these are the only instruments which link us to those Protectorates. They were signed in 1802 and 1905, and their wording would delight the heart of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, and is such that the hon. and gallant Member for Leicester. South-East (Captain Water-house) would not have to resign from Parliament if he knew that these Treaties still govern our relationships with the "wogs" in Aden.
§ Mr. Williams
As the hon. Member was so incorrect in his phrasing, he might at least withdraw his phraseology.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to British subjects as "wogs"?
§ Mr. Benn
I am trying now to develop the argument that our relationship with the people of Aden and of many other places is wrong and out of date. My view is that the present relationship between up and them is a white-wog relationship, and I am attacking the white-wog relationship; and if hon. Members opposite think that I believe that the people of Aden are "wogs", they cannot have been listening to the argument I have been trying to make.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I do not think that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has been out of order.
§ Mr. Benn
If we had had more about Aden and less about the independent air companies from hon. Members opposite, we would have got a little closer to the point.
I am now dealing with a volume of treaties and concessions which govern the relationship between this country and one, at any rate, of the Aden Protectorates. Abdali the Sultan of Lahej, in 1844, was forced to sign a document, and to say:I further bind myself, by oath, that … if I or other above-mentioned, either openly or by secret machination, protect any offender, and do not render entire satisfaction to the British, I freely and solemnly swear to relinquish all claim to the salary granted by the … Governor-General of India and declare myself perjured before all men.Articles 1 and 2 say that he undertakes in every respect to act honestly and amicably towards the British and to lend his utmost aid to support the interests of the British flag. That is still valid. It was signed in 1844, but it is still valid. [Laughter.] I agree that we ought to be laughing about this. When we say that there is trouble in Aden, we are, in fact, defending a series of agreements which, if hon. Members opposite read them, even they would say were really a little too old-fashioned to be defensible in modern circumstances.
§ Mr. Benn
If the hon. Member would relate to countries abroad what Magna Carta meant to the United Kingdom, he would join my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) in real activity for liberty and freedom.
I now want to deal with a point which, if anybody is looking for controversy, he will find amply satisfies him. I refer to a point which arises directly from the Air Estimates, namely, the passage boasting about the Suez operation. As 1320 one hon. Member dealt with the point it is fair that I should also do so. I shall try genuinely not to make my point in a provocative manner, although the thought is provocative. In my view, the British attack on Egypt was an act of aggression. I must say this because I have said it before, and it is the view of many people.
In those circumstances, what would be the position of a pilot, holding that view, who was told to take off from Cyprus and attack a position in Egypt? I thank God that no pilot came to me and said to me, "I agree that this is a breach of the Charter. What am I to do?" If I had dared advise him at all, I would have said to him, "You are an officer of the Crown and your duty is to your commanding officer. This is a political decision which has gone wrong. You must do your duty, but the remedy is in the House of Commons." It is an obligation of Members of Parliament to see that the remedy is in the House of Commons when an act of aggression takes place.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Air Commodore Harvey rose—
§ Mr. Benn
I will not give way at the moment, but I shall when I have finished this passage. I do not want to say anything which would not represent my sincerely held point of view.
There is only a political remedy for acts of this kind, which are in my view criminal acts of policy. I can only repeat—and in doing so I am expressing the view of my hon. and right hon. Friends—that sufficient evidence is available indicating criminal conspiracy to attack Egypt to justify the appointment of a judicial committee of inquiry to look into this matter. I say "judicial" deliberately, because the last thing that we want is political muck-raking. Certain charges have not yet been answered. When there was a suspicion of corruption in the Labour Government when they were in office, they' did not hesitate to set up a judicial committee of examination.
It is our view that our political responsibility will not be fully discharged until 1321 these charges have been examined and we see whether those right hon. Members who were responsible for our affairs at the time were being frank with the House in describing the circumstances which led them to move our troops into Egypt. I say that only out of a sense of duty to those pilots who, without question, did what they thought was wrong and evil, because their only opportunity for remedy lies in a politically active House of Commons.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman said something about giving advice to a pilot who refused to carry out an order in Cyprus. If my memory serves me correctly, it did happen to a pilot, who was court-martialled, had a fair trial and was punished. We have not heard the hon. Gentleman or any of his hon. Friends raise the matter in the House in the three intervening months.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman said that if such a pilot had approached him he would have dealt with the matter.
§ Mr. Benn
I said that if he had approached me I should have put these considerations before him. The facts of that case are quite different from the facts of the theoretical case that I am dealing with today, because there were other considerations, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows.
I apologise for detaining the Committee for so long, although a lot of time had been occupied by hon. Members opposite. In general, I do not believe that the Ministry of Defence has come to grips with the military revolution which has arrived as a result of the new weapon. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air has considered at all the part that the R.A.F. would play even in his own boss's new defence plan. Moreover, the political implications of this new defence policy are so enormous that in fact we have this year begun an argument which will go on long after these Air Estimates have been voted.
Three considerations come very much to my mind. First of all, had these 1322 atomic and hydrogen weapons been available to any of the great figures in history —Attila, Hannibal, Napoleon or Hitler— would they not surely have been used? Secondly, had they been used, would our civilisation be here today at all? Thirdly —and the most terrifying question of the lot—are we satisfied that we are so very different, in our wisdom and our civilisation, from those of whom I have just been speaking?
§ 10.32 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) will not expect me to answer a number of the points that he raised, because they seem to be of a very general nature, sometimes touching on foreign affairs. However, he managed to stay in order. I wonder whether his tremendous fluency might not on future occasions be matched with equal courtesy; if so, his points would be even more forceful and more acceptable to the House in general.
We have had a good debate. It has been a thin Committee, but that does not mean that good points have not been made all round. It has been a thin Committee because this is the second bite that we have had at the Air Estimates. I think I have heard every speech except one—and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman concerned—since 3.30. Sitting seven hours on the Front Bench makes me respect those Ministers and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee who, during the debates on the Finance Bill, sit here ten hours on end and yet remain lucid and deal with all the highly technical points which arise.
I have noted all the points which have been made, and, in particular, the constructive points which were made in the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who opened the debate for the Opposition. I hope to deal with several of those. I cannot deal with all the other individual points, but my right hon. Friend and I will study them carefully and will write to hon. Gentlemen where that is appropriate.
I will deal, first, with the points made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), in a valuable speech. I do not agree with the first part of his speech, but my right hon. 1323 Friend and I agree with every single word he said in the second part, relating to technical manpower. The future of the Royal Air Force depends on two streams of personnel, and each stream has to be extremely strong. One stream comprises aircrew, the other technical personnel. I suppose that in a minor way, the Secretary of State and I, as political heads, would represent those two streams, since my right hon. Friend has had very considerable flying experience and I have some technical knowledge.
Cranwell Cadet College and Henlow Cadet College deal with those two streams of personnel, and we have very much in mind the importance of the highest possible scientific and technical education. Many of the Henlow cadets, indeed, go on to Cambridge to get good degrees in engineering. They will be a valuable asset to the Air Force in the future.
The hon. Member for Lincoln raised an important point when he asked whether we were ready, should an "Open Skies" plan come to fruition, to carry out photographic reconnaissance. We have excellent aircraft in the Canberra and the Valiant, most suitable for photographic reconnaissance. Moreover, we also possess both the technical and other resources to enable these photographs to be correctly interpreted. Those hon. Members who have a knowledge of the Air Force in the war know that in this interpretation, often carried out by the W.A.A.F., we in this country were particularly strong.
The United States, I know, admired the way in which we could squeeze information out of photographs. The R.A.F. could, without any difficulty and at very short notice, play a useful part in any international air inspection team, since although the organisation we have was designed for military purposes, the inspection task is exactly similar to the military task. A single Canberra can cover an area of several thousand square miles in the course of a single sortie, and the R.A.F. reconnaissance force as a whole could cover a very large part of even so vast a country as Russia in a very short time should an "Open Skies" policy come about.
The hon. Member raised a point of equal value when he asked whether there 1324 was co-ordination in the selection of targets for Bomber Command, the Strategic Air Command and S.H.A.P.E. It is, of course, essential that there should be effective liaison between the United States and British strategic bomber forces, and as our ability to contribute to the deterrent increases, so does the importance of this co-operation. The Committee will not expect me to go into details; we do not want to give information to a potential enemy. I can say, however, that this is a field in which useful progress has been made in recent months. There is now close and continuing co-operation between the two Air Forces.
As for co-ordination with the S.H.A.P.E. organisation, that is one of Bomber Command's main responsibilities. Bomber Command has to make available some of its resources to the Supreme Allied Commander, and close liaison is maintained between S.H.A.P.E. and Bomber Command. In fact, a Bomber Command liaison unit is established at the moment at S.H.A.P.E. Headquarters for that purpose. I hope that that deals with that question.
The hon. Member asked whether the establishment in the Army of aircraft flown and maintained by the Army was, as it were, the thin end of the wedge, and whether we should have a separate Army Air Force. I can give him an assurance on that point. It was on the initiative of the Air Ministry that this function was taken over. It was felt that there were overlapping functions, and that it would be more useful if this one were taken over. There has been a mutually acceptable agreement, however, that this should concern only aircraft up to a weight of 4,000 lb. and no more. I think that it is a sensible arrangement which should produce economies and should certainly produce operational efficiency for the Army aircraft.
Turning to more mundane but extremely important matters, the hon. Member for Lincoln asked whether we were looking into mechanical and electronic accounting and modern ways of handling some of our administrative problems. The possibility of using electronic data processing systems for pay accounting and other routine clerical jobs has been examined most closely. I have no doubt at all that we shall be 1325 making extensive use of electronic methods in the R.A.F. fairly soon.
I think the hon. Member will agree, however, that this is an extremely complex problem. We have set up a working party to examine in what spheres automation of this sort could be applied. I would remind the hon. Member that when we apply it we may have to adapt our processes and general administrative organisation in order to make use of electronic methods. Moreover, we shall have the problem which industry has of training very highly specialised people to programme and feed the electronic brains with the necessary data. It is a problem which is receiving close attention, but I cannot pretend that it is one which I think will be solved very quickly because it needs considerable reorganisation.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Are we getting the benefit of the advice that the Canadians and the Americans can give us in this field? I believe that they have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars—or so they maintain—because they have stock-recording computers.
Yes. We have made use of the American experience. I cannot speak without notice of the Canadian. The hon. Gentleman is quite right; the United States has made extensive use of these devices. We have examined their results, and we have learned a lot about the matter.
The hon. Gentleman also asked why we showed a reduction in manpower in Vote A of 17,000 while the average number of air officers was about the same as it was last year. The Committee may be assured that the establishment of air ranks will receive the same close scrutiny and re-examination as every other element of the force. While we are pruning to save manpower we will look at all levels. My right hon. Friend has, indeed, made the point previously that we are examining air officers at every level, to see whether economies can be made. I hope that I have now dealt with the major five points which the hon. Gentleman raised in his opening speech.
The most general point raised by almost every hon. Member was transport, and not only Transport Command but the place of the independent air lines in the carrying of troops. My right hon. Friend dealt fully with Government policy on 1326 this matter and I have not much to add. One thing struck me forcibly: although we may disagree about the way in which the matter is handled, and about our policy on questions concerning the twofold approach to transport—Transport Command on the one hand and the independent airlines on the other—no one has yet made any criticism about the safety record either of Transport Command or of the independents. That is a matter of considerable merit and comfort, because people are worried about this matter. There was no criticism; it was felt that the standard of safety was as good as could possibly be maintained.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) raised a point on the decision that we should not go on with the supersonic bomber project. This decision was taken on one score only. It was the considered appreciation of the Air Staff that there was no longer any operational requirement for this type. I am sure that the Committee would agree that it would be wrong to continue work on a project which does not represent an operational requirement. This does not mean that all work in the research and development sphere of supersonic aircraft is abandoned; it still continues.
The second main general point was the anxiety—the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East mentioned it—even in the view of aircrews and pilots, at the almost emotional swing of the newspapers towards the guided missile and away from manned aircraft. The point was mentioned also by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), and in many quarters of the Committee. If hon. Gentlemen will study the White Paper they will see it made clear that there is a continuing operational rôle for manned aircraft. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, who is well-informed on these matters, asked whether it was true that in ten years there would be no further requirement. I am glad to be able to deny it.
We have to face the fact that guided weapons will take over most functions in only one Royal Air Force Command, that is Fighter Command. Bomber Command will continue, and it is being progressively equipped with the most 1327 modern types of V-bomber. The White Paper clearly lays down that the V-bomber force will continue; and there will be further developments of it. Fighter Command will be affected by the ground-to-air weapon, but Bomber Command is not likely to be so affected.
There is abundant need for pilots of the highest calibre for all our oversea commitments, for the maritime support forces and for our obligations to S.E.A.T.O. and N.A.T.O. and in the Middle East. All these forces will have a continuing need for many years for manned aircraft, because only manned aircraft can provide the flexibility needed to carry out the functions of that rôle.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
This needs clearing up. My hon. Friend has admitted that the rôle of fighter aircraft is limited and we have read in the White Paper that the manned bomber has a maximum life of ten years. Will he tell us what sort of a career there is for a man going in now? In fifteen years he will be 35.
I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend will find any statement in the White Paper that the manned bomber has a maximum life of ten years. It says that it will be supplemented by the ballistic missile, but, obviously, in the overseas rôle there may be years of use for the manned bomber. I am glad to have the opportunity of giving an assurance on that, because doubts are sown in the minds of young people. So far as we can see, in some rôles there will always be a continuing need for manned aircraft.
§ Mr. Osborne
Does that mean that because we are to have manned aircraft, what I call traditional defence, and also to produce the new defence, we are to carry two costs at once, and that the total cost will eventually be £1,000 million a year?
I was trying to allay the fears of parents who are recommended to send their sons into the Royal Air Force. There will be an increase in guided missiles in this country, but overseas, and in Colonial Territories, one can see a continuing need for manned aircraft for decades; and although the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said that he would be glad to travel from here to 1328 New York in a ballistic missile, I think he is in a minority of one. Most of us would prefer a pilot.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield all raised the question of resettlement of those who were surplus to the future pattern of the Royal Air Force. These questions obviously affect not only the Royal Air Force, but also the Navy and the Army to some degree, and they were dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service in the defence debate on 17th April.
The Committee will have noted the Statement of the Secretary of State that the R.A.F.'s share of this total surplus was appreciably less than one-third of the total quoted by the Minister of Defence in the earlier debate.. Resettlement of R.A.F. personnel, therefore, is likely to present a correspondingly smaller problem, particularly as many of those who will leave the Service will possess qualifications enabling them to be placed in civilian employment without very great difficulty.
Nevertheless, I was glad, as was my right hon. Friend, too, that this point was raised, because we are fully seized of the vital influence of this question on the whole future spirit of the Air Force. We are taking part in an examination of training and placing machinery which is being carried out by an inter-Departmental committee of officials, and we shall participate also in any measures for expanding these facilities which may be found necessary.
I noted with interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, suggested the appointment of an independent committee to look into the whole problem. They said that we should make use of industrialists, representatives from the trades unions, and others, to tackle the problem. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will gladly consider this suggestion. Indeed, I will draw his attention to the points which have been made in today's debate. I am sure that he will consider the merits of that useful proposal.
1329 It would, I think, be useful if we tried to get into perspective the number of people likely to be surplus to our needs. The pendulum of emotion which swung so wildly in the direction of guided weapons has swung a little far here also, and people have somehow imagined that there will be wholesale reductions. The facts are these. The present strength of the Royal Air Force, on the Air Estimates that we are debating, is 223,000. The figure five years' hence will certainly be a great deal less than that, but that does not mean that there will be a wholesale discarding of men who had hoped to make their career in the Service. On the contrary, of our present 223,000, 99,000 are National Service men or three-year Regulars, and they will be progressively moving out. Only 80,000 are on nine-year engagements or longer; there are, that is to say, 80,000 long-service Regulars.
The Committee will see that, far from cutting that 80,000, we shall, in fact, need to recruit more Regulars if we are to meet our commitments in numbers for the future of the Royal Air Force. I am glad to have that opportunity of putting it into perspective, because sometimes alarmist figures have been spread about.
The question of premature retirement arises only because, in certain respects, the manning pyramid has bulges. I hope that the hon. Member for Lincoln is following this; there is, of course, a manning pyramid, and in certain ranks there are bulges. Therefore, it will be necessary, in certain places, to run down the strength.
To shape the Air Force to its new tasks and size must take time. It has not yet been possible to calculate our needs precisely in both ranks and trades, but we fully understand the concern felt about it, and as soon as we can we shall be telling the Service, in general terms, where any cuts are likely to be made. It will then be a matter of notifying individuals affected and giving them as much notice as we possibly can. The Committee, and the Service, may be assured that this will be done at the earliest possible moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who does not often join our debates, but who joined in on 1330 this occasion most effectively, asked about the missile station we are building at North Coates as announced in the Memorandum. In particular, he asked whether the work was likely to expand and to draw off labour from farms and agricultural work in the area. I am glad to be able to assure him that we foresee no expansion outside the bounds of the existing R.A.F. station there, and the station certainly will not extend—we have no such plans whatever, and I do not know where the rumour came from— to the village which, I think, is called Theddlethorpe. The inhabitants of Theddlethorpe can remain easy in their minds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth then went on to suggest that some of our surplus airfields, in particular Wymes-wold, might be used for civil purposes. That is a very good suggestion. We have been approached by the municipal authorities in that particular instance, and if it should turn out that there is no further Royal Air Force need, or any other Government need, for this airfield, we will, after consulting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, certainly give careful and sympathetic consideration to selling it as a going concern for civil use.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) made the same point about surplus airfields in general, and asked what our plans were about the number of airfields that we would close in the next year and in the next five years. I wish our plans were firm enough to allow me to make a statement on that issue. I am sorry, but I cannot give him all the figures for which he asked. However, I can assure the hon. Member that when closure becomes necessary we do all we can to give the maximum notice to civilian staff, and also that we keep closely in touch with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation so that the question of taking over the airfields as a going concern for civil aviation may be considered.
The hon. Member praised Valley, and my right hon. Friend and I endorse what he said. It has very good weather—it is often open when other airfields are closed—and for that very good reason it is a master diversion airfield. One does not have to sing its praises to those in the Air Ministry, for we fully appreciate the value of Valley.
§ Mr. C. Hughes
Both the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman have been at very great pains to make it clear to the Committee that the future of manned aircraft at the end of ten years will be not in this country, but overseas. Does that not mean that there will be a radical cutting down of Royal Air Force stations in this country, reaching a bare minimum after ten years? Could we have more information about it?
I am not denying that there will be a cutting down. I am only saying that I cannot put the full figures in front of the Committee at this stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) referred to the Air Training Corps. I appreciate an opportunity to deal with it, because it is of very great importance. One of the most important ways in which we can hope to secure the skilled long-service manpower that is so essential is through boy apprentice and boy entrant schools. At these schools young entrants are trained to a very high degree of technical skill, which stands the Service, the country and them individually in good stead. We should like to see the numbers-there are about 5,600 boy entrants and apprentices—expanded considerably.
We are also most anxious to continue to develop our contacts with boys while they are still at school. I should like here to scotch the rumour that the Air Training Corps will close down. There is an abundant need to recruit boys, and the Air Training Corps will certainly not be disbanded. As Under-Secretary of State for Air, I am President of the Air Cadet Councils, and I can say that the Corps is doing a first-class job.
The picture that my right hon. Friend and I have tried to put before the Committee today shows the Royal Air Force facing a new era and new challenge with confidence and determination. I stress that this is without question the attitude of the Service itself, and particularly of its leaders. I have read that this plan is being forced through against the nineteenth century outlook of the "brass hats". That is a complete travesty of the truth. It is being welcomed as a challenge, as has every other change which has come about in the Royal Air Force. It is almost a paradox to say so, but the Royal Air Force has a tradition of change. There is always a new tech- 1332 nique or a new form coming along. We shall accept this challenge most readily.
It is sixteen weeks since I was appointed to my present post. In that time I have visited eighteen stations. I have visited four since the White Paper was issued. Everywhere, and at all levels, I found that the emphasis', which is the theme of the White Paper, on quality and flexibility has been most welcome. The feeling that we are going over to an elite, all-Regular Air Force has been welcomed by all ranks.
The Royal Air Force looks to the future not with regret and fear, but with enthusiasm and determination. The Committee may rest assured that the Service will continue to make a contribution second to none to the security of the nation and the peace of the world.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again— [Mr. Oakshott]—put and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.