Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 203,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
On a point of order. May I ask, Sir Charles, whether it is your intention to call the Amendment standing in my name, to reduce the Vote by 1,000 men, and, if so, at what stage?
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
The net total of Air Estimates for 1958–59 is about £467 million. This is over £20 milion less than the comparable figure for 1957–58. But the true saving is considerably greater. In the first place, our appropriations in aid are less. There is no United States aid in these Estimates. We have allowed £7½ million for the receipt of Deutschemarks towards the cost of the Royal Air Force in Germany, and this is less than last year. As the Committee knows, N.A.T.O. is still discussing how to meet these local costs.
Secondly, there have been within the total some increases in expenditure. For example, the recently announced improvements in pay, allowances and certain conditions of service will cost an additional £11 million on Air Votes in 1958–59, and £5 million is to be found for the special compensation payments under Command 231 to officers and men prematurely leaving the Service. There will 34 also be rises in the prices of equipment and supplies. So the true saving compared with 1957–58 is in all about £57 million.
This saving has been achieved in several ways. We are spending less on aircraft, though we shall be building up the deterrent with Victors and Vulcans and introducing the Mark 7 Javelin for its defence. The decrease in expenditure on aircraft is partly offset, however, by increased expenditure on armament, ammunition, missiles and weapons of all kinds, including the first production deliveries of Firestreak and our first surface-to-air guided weapon—Bloodhound.
We are also providing less on works. This is primarily because we have completed most of the work on the main V-bomber force and the radar chain while the programme for work on guided weapons sites of all kinds is only in its opening stages. But this smaller provision does not mean that we shall overlook the importance of providing the further improvements in accommodation and married quarters which are so important to help us to build up an all-Regular force.
There have been considerable reductions in both Service and civilian staffs. The Vote A figure in these Estimates is 203,000 compared with 240,000 in 1957–58. The number of civilians in Votes 3, 4 and 8 is estimated to total about 107,000 on 1st April this year compared with nearly 115,000 on 1st April, 1957. Where have these savings come from? Partly from front-line reductions which we have been making mostly in Fighter Command and 2nd Tactical Air Force and partly from the rundown of National Service intakes which brings with it economies in overheads.
We are also continuing to reduce the number of separate R.A.F. headquarters. Those which have been recently closed or will shortly be closed comprise groups in Fighter Command, Technical Training Command and 2nd Tactical Air Force, the Air Headquarters, Ceylon, Air Headquarters, Levant and Air Headquarters, Singapore.
I also hope to make reductions in the size of the Air Ministry. I have set in hand an internal review of the organisation of my Department and its 35 relationship to subordinate formations to consider what changes in organisation and reductions in staff will be possible over the next few years. In the short term, however, the work created by the programme of reorganising and re-equipping the Royal Air Force will prevent us matching the rundown of the Royal Air Force with the rundown of the Air Ministry on a corresponding scale. Nevertheless, I aim to reduce the Air Ministry Headquarters staff by about 500 by the end of the year.
Throughout the R.A.F. outside the Air Ministry we expect, during the coming year, to save a further 2,000 civilian posts. However, we must realise that if we are going to meet our commitments in the future with a smaller all-Regular, uniformed force we must rely on many essential tasks being taken over by civilians. We cannot have it both ways.
What we have to be clear about is that the two aims, although different, are complementary. We are seeking opportunities to employ more civilians in posts which are at present Service-manned, while, at the same time, we are trying to find means of employing fewer staffs in the posts which are already civilian-manned. During the last two years we have been able to civilianise about 3,000 posts, industrial and non-industrial, and yet reduce civilian strengths, world-wide, by about 10,000.
There are obvious limits to the extent to which civilians can be substituted for officers and airmen, but at the moment one-third of our total Service and civilian manpower requirement is met by civilians; and I do not think that we have yet reached the limit to which we can extend this process. It is important to realise, as I am sure we all do, that these staffs are not wholly or even mainly engaged on administering the Royal Air Force. Most of them are part of the Royal Air Force, working alongside airmen with a sense of loyalty to the Service that is widely appreciated.
The search for organisational economies is being carried out on a large scale and over the whole of the activities of the Royal Air Force. Much has been said in past years about the introduction of work-study into the Royal Air Force. All commands now have their trained work study staff, and over 1,000 officers 36 have been through short courses so that they can make the best possible use of these specialised and trained teams. Improvements in efficiency and savings in money, manpower and materials are beginning to result.
Looking further ahead, there are other more radical measures which we are considering. One major long-term possibility is the introduction of automatic data processing into our supply and pay systems—what, in common parlance is, I think, called the electronic brain. We hope that this will bring down the manpower bill besides producing a cheaper supply system by reducing the amount of equipment in store and in transit.
Various other experiments are also going on in this field. For example, I am setting in hand an experiment at three R.A.F. stations, the first putting all their catering out to civil contract; the second catering by the use of directly employed civilian labour only, and the third catering by the N.A.A.F.I. When we see the result of these three experiments over a reasonable period we shall be able to judge whether any of them is cheaper and better than our existing methods.
In previous speeches introducing Estimates—and this, I may say, is the seventh which I have had the privilege of introducing; six R.A.F. and one Navy—I have dealt first with the operational side of the Service and left the manpower side to the end. This year, however, I am going to reverse the process and talk first about our chances of building up an all-Regular Air Force by 1962. The appendices to my Memorandum are designed to help hon. Members in getting a clearer picture of recruiting trends. Perhaps I might say a word or two about that now.
The recruiting of officers is, on the whole, satisfactory. Although the numbers coming forward for aircrew duties have been falling, the numbers we need for these duties have also fallen, so it unlikely that we shall have any real anxiety about filling our aircrew establishment for several years ahead. The exception to this is navigators. This is worrying, because of the important part which the navigator plays in the modern bomber crew. In some ways he has a more difficult job than the pilot himself. We have been trying recently to emphasise his equal footing with the pilot and are making some navigators captains 37 of aircraft. As the Committee knows, navigators are now trained at Cranwell, and we must do all we can to increase the interest of young men in this form of air crew duties.
Speaking of Cranwell, not only has the number of cadets coming in been kept at a satisfactory level but their quality has continued to rise. These good results have been greatly helped by the Royal Air Force scholarship scheme, which provides a large part of the Cranwell entry. This scheme also provides cadets for the technical college at Henlow, where the recruiting position is also good. After their first year, some of the Henlow cadets go to a university to get an engineering degree and, in 1957, 15 of them got honours degrees. Incidentally, one of them was an ex-apprentice from Halton.
Turning to airmen, the Committee will see by the appendices to my Memorandum that the numbers and percentages of Regular airmen serving on long service engagements of nine years or over have been steadily rising from about 35,000 in 1950 to about 65,000 by the end of last year, and the entry of apprentices and boys last year was 25 per cent. up on that for 1956. These, of course, are the important men, and the ones we want to get in the largest numbers.
Our authorised ceiling is to have a force of 135,000 Regular officers and airmen by the end of 1962, excluding members of the Women's Royal Air Force, apprentices and boys. At the present rate of recruiting we shall have 120,000 by the end of 1962, and would reach the total number by 1965. We shall, therefore, have to increase the present annual intake. But it is already large enough to maintain a force at a level of 135,000, once we have built up to it.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I should be much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would confirm that the figures that he has been quoting are based upon the average of the last nine months and not the last two or three months.
§ Mr. Ward
That is true, but I looked at the figures for January and February before coming here, and they are continuing to rise at about the same rate.
The question is: can we accelerate the build-up sufficiently to complete it by 1962? Personally, I am optimistic that 38 we can, and I believe that the further inducements announced in Cmnd. 365 will help us to do so. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence that we should not try to bribe men into the Armed Forces. Nevertheless, it is equally true to point out, as he did, in the defence debate, that we would be making it impossible for ourselves if the earnings in the Service, including the amount provided in kind, fell far short of those in civilian life.
Now we have these improvements, and we must concentrate on increasing the attractions and reducing the drawbacks of Service life. There are many ways in which we can do this, and we are giving attention to them.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the percentage of recruits to the Regular forces among National Service men? Is the trend upwards or downwards?
§ Mr. Ward
The number of National Service men that we are taking in is going down all the time. Therefore, that will affect the number transferring to long engagements. I will ask my hon. Friend to give the actual figure later.
Judging by letters which I get from Members of Parliament, a considerable disincentive to recruiting is the frequency of postings. This is also one of the most difficult problems to solve. But it should become easier with the ending of National Service. In spite of the difficulties, we have succeeded in reducing the number of postings by introducing such measures as the "key personnel" scheme, which allows a percentage of N.C.O.s and airmen to be left on the same station for periods up to five years. We find that the higher an airman's rank the longer he is likely to remain at the same station.
There is the question of careers. Nowadays, a young man considering a career in the Service looks very carefully at his prospects and assesses his chances of promotion, so that in streamlining the Air Force we have taken particular care to provide proper opportunities for promotion.
Finally, we all receive plenty of criticisms about uniform, and I am glad to be able to announce several improvements. A smarter walking-out dress, in worsted cloth, has already been introduced for 39 Regular airmen on long-term engagements and from April all Regular airmen will start to get it. There is also to be a free issue to Regulars of raincoats in blue-grey gabardine, in addition to the greatcoat which they already have free. An up-to-date hold-all will eventually take the place of the kit-bag for carrying a man's kit, and these things help to improve conditions in the Service.
I must not end this recruiting section of my speech without mentioning the tremendous contribution which the Air Training Corps and the R.A.F. sections of the Combined Cadet Force are making towards providing Regular recruits for the Royal Air Force. We intend to encourage the cadet forces in every way that we can, and in the coming year we are to introduce a number of important improvements. Six new weekend gliding schools and one additional full-time gliding centre will be opened. Cadets will be given flying experience in Chipmunk aircraft.
The present A.T.C. uniform will gradually be replaced over the next four years by a battledress. From 1st April officers, warrant officers and instructors whose voluntary services make the existence of the air cadet forces possible, will be able to recover their travelling expenses in full instead of only in part.
To sum up this part of my speech, we have been seeking economies behind the front line and will continue to seek them by greater efficiency in organisation and methods. I am very hopeful that we can accelerate the build-up of the force and can increase the contribution made by the Women's Royal Air Force. Here, the reduction in the present differential between men and women's rates should help to encourage recruiting. I am confident that as a result of these measures, by the end of 1962 we shall have a sound all-Regular force.
Let me now turn to the operational side of the Royal Air Force. A good deal was said during the defence debate about the nuclear deterrent and the means of delivering it. I am not going to continue that discussion now, but I should like to make two points about the bomber force. First, in view of the doubts expressed during the defence debate about the effectiveness of the powered bomb, I must make clear that 40 we are developing a long-range version of it.
The second point is that, having examined most critically the length of time which the V-bomber force is likely to remain an effective deterrent, bearing in mind the increasing power of the enemy defensive system, I am quite certain that we can rely on the V-bomber force to remain highly effective, certainly until it is supplemented by the British intermediate range ballistic missile. Even then, it will still have great value, and the two threats, the manned bomber and ballistic missile, will set the enemy a much greater problem than either one of them would in isolation.
In considering this we must remember the enormous problem which the Russians face in defending their frontiers, besides the flexibility of the manned bomber and the various methods of attack we can employ to keep the enemy guessing. The later marks of V-bomber will have considerable advantages over the earlier versions because of their greater range and their equipment with the powered bomb, which will give them a wide choice of approaches to a given target. Furthermore, their increased operating height will make them less vulnerable to enemy defences.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
Having told us, contrary to what the Minister of Supply said, that the V-bomber force is to be both effective and not so vulnerable as we have been given to understand, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why—if we have this effective force and we have the missiles as well—the United States force is still required in this country?
§ Mr. Ward
I should have thought that the answer to that was quite clear. The larger the deterrent the more effective it is and the more likely we are to avoid another war starting. I, for one, welcome the help that the Americans are giving us in this country.
For our own defence, we are improving the performance of our fighters and their weapons system as well as introducing the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile. So long as the main threat to these islands is from manned bombers—and there is no evidence yet to suggest that this is not so—the manned fighter, 41 with its guided weapons, range and inherent flexibility, supplemented by the surface-to-air guided missile, should be well able to meet the newest types of Russian bomber and to discharge its primary task of defending the retaliatory force from destruction on the ground.
This year will see the introduction of the Mark 7 Javelin and the Firestreak missile which goes with it. Later, the Javelin Mark 7 and Mark 8 will be given reheat to extend their effective lives and the P.1 will come into Fighter Command.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman has just made a remarkable statement which, I think, requires elucidation. As I understand, he said that the main threat from the potential enemy—he did, I think, mention Soviet Russia—was from manned bombers. Does that mean—I do not know whether it is so, but that was the statement—that the threat of which we have heard frequently, that Russia can launch rockets against this country and cause devastation, is, within the knowledge of the Air Ministry, incorrect?
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
The right hon. Gentleman was talking about the P.1 and I did not quite hear what he said. I wonder whether he would mind repeating it.
§ Mr. Ward
I said that we are introducing the P.1 into the Air Force in due course. Its performance will be improved by having electronic computing equipment to tell the automatic pilot the place in which to intercept the bomber. And so, during such an interception, the human pilot will be acting as a directing brain mounted in, and a part of, a highly developed form of guided weapon.
This year, also, surface-to-air guided weapons will move one stage nearer towards taking their place in the air defence system. The service trials of the Bloodhound system will begin at North Coates within the next few weeks. This does not mean that we shall be firing 42 the weapon from there. That will continue to be done from the Welsh ranges at Aberporth. But it does mean that we shall test everything in the complicated control systems including the various radars involved, up to the actual point of firing the weapon. From these trials we shall draw up a Service doctrine for the handling and maintenance of the missile, and its co-ordination with the manned fighter defence system. So much for the deterrent and its defence.
But Bomber and Fighter Commands are by no means the only operational Commands in the Royal Air Force. For example, last autumn I had the opportunity of visiting the Middle East Air Force in Aden and the Far East Air Force in Singapore and Hong Kong and I was able to see for myself some of the work being carried out by these two Commands. I would like to say a word or two about them.
In Aden, I landed at several of the small airstrips in the Protectorate and had conversations with the local rulers. It was a most valuable experience because I was able to hear at first hand about the anxiety and fear in which they and their tribes live because of continuous raids across the frontier. I learnt, also, about the considerable material losses they suffer from the destruction of their crops and their livestock.
In addition, they face the difficulty of keeping their tribesmen loyal in spite of hostile threats and bribes. Every one of them told me how grateful he was for the support which the R.A.F. is able to give so quickly. All this gave me a very good background against which to judge the value of the work of the squadrons based in Aden, and particularly some knowledge of the difficult country in which the movement of ground troops is necessarily slow, laborious and prone to ambush.
I do not think that it is generally realised how much flying is done by these Aden squadrons. In the first two weeks of this year—two weeks only—for example, they made 14 air supply sorties in Beverleys and 31 in Pembrokes and Pioneers; 71 troop carrying and communications sorties in Valettas and 160 in Pembrokes and Pioneers, in addition to operational strikes by Venoms, and reconnaissance in a variety of aircraft, including helicopters.
43 These figures help to bring home to us how much more difficult it would be to maintain peace and order in the Protectorate and uphold the authority of the local rulers to whose loyalty we are so indebted if we did not keep there a balanced air component which can quickly provide support for any type of operational emergency which may crop up.
In the Far East I was able to visit all the R.A.F. units on Singapore Island and talk to many of the aircrews both from this country and from Australia and New Zealand who are supporting the Malayan Government's campaign against the terrorists. Again, it was much easier to appreciate their work after seeing something of their difficulties. One could not fail to be impressed not only by the flying that they do over this impenetrable country, but by the excellence of the training given to them in jungle warfare, survival and escape.
I was also much struck by the standards of accommodation, welfare, sport and entertainment facilities which are provided for the airmen in Singapore. These stations are some of the best in the Air Force, and even the trying climate—and it is trying—does not dampen the high morale and general contentment which the many advantages of Service life in this theatre bring with them.
Singapore is ideally situated as a tactical centre for our forces and it will be the long-term base of the Royal Air Force in the Far East.
§ Mr. Ward
Long-term, too. Canberras have already been introduced into the Command. We are replacing the Sunderlands with Shackletons, and the Valettas with Hastings. We will be replacing the Venoms with modern fighters. In this way we shall be greatly improving the effectiveness of the Command without increasing its size. And, of course, the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces are doing a valuable job in Malaya; the Royal Australian Air Force will make their main base at Butterworth next year.
The aircraft with which we are strengthening overseas commands will, of course, eventually have to be replaced. 44 This is a long-term problem. It varies from rôle to rôle with the length of life and performance of the aircraft. The committee might like to know the broad lines on which we are thinking.
The Canberra has several years of useful life before it, but we see a clear and continuing need for a strike and reconnaissance aircraft in overseas theatres. We are, therefore, considering the performance which could be offered by types already under development or by the designs put forward by industry in reply to the general operational requirement issued last year.
In the fighter field we plan to continue our existing policy of equipping overseas theatres with the aircraft designed for the R.A.F. at home. And we are, of course, considering the extension of this principle to surface-to-air guided weapons, where appropriate. In the transport field we are in consultation with the War Office about the eventual successor to the Beverley.
To sum up the second part of my speech, we are not only steadily improving the quality of the nuclear deterrent and its defence in order to prevent global war, but we are also improving the quality of that equally important part of the Royal Air Force whose duty it is to deal with localised outbreaks of trouble which might develop into something more serious both in the Middle East and Far East.
Before the war, the all-Regular Royal Air Force was a small one. Since then it has grown greatly in its military importance and its public standing. This year is the fortieth anniversary of the birth of the Royal Air Force, and I am proud to say that on 1st April next we shall have the honour of entertaining the Queen and Prince Philip, and other members of the Royal Family, to dinner at Fighter Command to celebrate this birthday.
We are confident that the rôle which the Air Force has to play in the future is no less important than the great and honourable rôle it has played in its forty years of life. All the signs are that the young men of this country recognise this fact and are coming forward to ensure the successful build-up of the new all-Regular force which I know will be well worthy of its gallant predecessors.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
It is always a pleasure to debate with the Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary because they know their subject and are interested in it. I listened intently to the speech of the Secretary of State. The Royal Air Force does not exist in a vacuum. Its task is to carry out the policy of the Government or to be ready to do so. We do not approve of that policy.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have certain demands which are relevant to today's debate and which arise out of Government policy. I will mention them. We believe that the Government must suspend thermo-nuclear tests, must reverse their policy of allowing bombers based in this country to carry nuclear weapons on patrol, and must not allow work on missile bases to begin until summit talks have been held. Let us look at the two last of these demands in detail.
The policy of allowing bombers based in this country to patrol with H-bombs helps to keep tension between the West and Russia higher than is necessary. Consider, too, the consequences of just one mistake. We know what happened in the case of Rotterdam. It was a mistake—a mistake in reading a signal—but the city was destroyed. Captain Liddell Hart has recently pointed out in an article how a major who got drunk alerted the whole of East Anglia during the invasion scare in 1940.
The policy of patrolling with H-bombs has been wrapped up in a strange way. The first we heard about it was, indirectly, from a general, speaking at a Press conference in Paris. We then learned, after a series of Questions in this House, that the Government have made no arrangements to train Civil Defence teams and fire brigade teams to deal with aircraft which crash when carrying nuclear weapons. Yet the Government admitted as recently as last week that local authority fire brigade teams may be called out to such crashes in the course of their duty.
I will not elaborate this point, but there seems a most extraordinary attitude on the part of the Government to bombers carrying nuclear weapons on patrol. It is in the same slap-happy mood as the case we heard of last week, when an 46 R.A.F. officer pleaded with a court not to take a driving licence away from a corporal after he had been convicted of drunken driving because his job was to drive vehicles on which were hydrogen bombs.
I ask the Government forthwith to forbid any aircraft based in this country from carrying nuclear bombs on patrol. There would be three consequences. It would be a real contribution to the safety of the people in this island. Secondly, it would lessen the risk of a war being started by accident and, thirdly, it would be a public recognition that the Government did not believe that we stood on the brink of war.
The second point we insist on is that the Government should change their policy on the American missiles. In the defence debate we argued that it was wrong politically and militarily. In this debate I shall concentrate on the military argument. We have yet to hear anyone except Ministers saying that these missiles are of any value whatever.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am in great difficulty about this matter. As my hon. Friend knows, I am against the Opposition's missile policy. I think that it is unrealistic. What I cannot understand is how my hon. Friend can stand at the Dispatch Box and demand that the Government should do nothing about missiles when his right hon. Friend advocated the use of the thermo-nuclear deterrent in Berlin, which must inevitably involve the use of the Corporal. In the Army Estimates debate there were no objections to the Corporal, which carries an American warhead.
§ Mr. de Freitas
If my hon. Friend had listened to my right hon. Friend when he spoke in the debate it would have made it easier for him to understand the matter. Secondly, my hon. Friend should listen to me while I develop my argument. I am against these missiles because they are a lot of junk and a waste of money.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Will the hon. Member allow me to develop my argument?
I am against them because they are junk. The Minister says that the £10 million is nothing much. It is true that it is not so much as he got away with 47 over the Swift, but that required a Select Committee and a great deal of hindsight to hold the Department to blame for many more millions. Here, without any idea of hindsight, we are being asked to agree that £10 million should be wasted. That should be stopped. Furthermore, the installations which will be built for these missiles will be useless when our own missiles come along, because ours are to be launched from underground, or under the sea.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I do not know whether these weapons are junk or not, but, supposing that they are junk, why is it so important for the sake of facilitating negotiations with the Soviet Union not to have them before the summit talks?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I wish the hon. Member had followed the political argument deployed during the whole two days of the defence debate. Here I am on the narrow technical point. I believe that they are junk. That is my firm belief, based on the technical information I have. The Government do not believe they are junk, but I do and I have said so.
§ Mr. de Freitas
How do I know what the Russians believe? The hon. Member has a high opinion of my knowledge, but I do not run a private secret service system. I hope that hon. Members will now let me get on with my speech. I have been deflected on to a very important issue, but a side issue. One of the real faults is that the Government have let themselves in for this. It is also a sign of static thinking to work on these lines.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Duncan Sandys) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I see that the Minister of Defence does not accept that, but to bring in these missiles before the manned aircraft needed to be replaced by unmanned weapons is taking a very great risk with the efficiency of the Air Force.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Unlike manned bombers, these weapons are essentially static. The Maginot Line was static 48 and the basis of these weapons is the same. The use of ground-to-air missiles in a Maginot Line defence of the deterrent bases is even more static. They cannot be used in the same way as fighters in other parts of the world. They can[...]be useful if the enemy attack over the area in which they are deployed. The Minister has gone in for these [...]are not effective, they are[...] of money and this concentration o[...], missiles has contributed a great deal [...] the failure of the aircraft policy itself.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The right hon. Gentle man is perfectly right, but I was asked to give an illustration of why they were static. I then went on to refer to the missiles which, according to the Government, are to be used in a defens[...] ground-to-air rôle. They are even more static. I will return to them when I de with the question of Lincolnshire.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is different. That was not a place where missiles were to be used for ground-to-air defence. It would be confusing if we brought in [...]Western Isles here, because it was conceived of as a training ground only.
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member should not go on repeating over and over again that we are concentrating on these missiles. We are spending £10 million on them out of £467 million in the Air Estimates. The hon. Member must keep a sense of proportion.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is a fair point. I will keep a sense of proportion, but I was asked why I was against this policy[...] because it is a waste of money, and a Select Committee is not required to discover this, as it was in the case of the Swift.
Neglect of a proper aircraft programme has been the result of the continual changes in Government policy. The Minister has imposed a very important rôle on the Royal Air Force, that of moving the strategic reserve. But where are the transport aircraft to do that? 49 Surely we should be able to do far more than was possible at the time of "Operation Quickstep," a few weeks ago. Surely that was not a success. It showed up the [...]ack of transport aircraft. We have [...] the stage when we must know more than that 20 Britannias are on[...]
§ [...] Secretary of State for War (Mr. (Christopher Soames) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The Secretary of State for War does not agree, but we should have more information in view of the attention given to it in previous debates.
Here I agree with something that the Secretary of State for Air said when he referred to the necessity for conventional aircraft overseas. Of course, there must be development of a replacement for the Canberra. I know that Mr. Khrushchev has said that we can put our aircraft into museums. No doubt he has done this with some of his. But he still has 20,000 [...]nventional aircraft left. Any of those aircraft could be handed over to small countries and could be used on many different fronts.
[...]hought must be given now to the Development of a replacement for the Canberra. This development takes many years. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman paying lip service to the fact that [...]lexibility is necessary. Surely it is essential to provide the means by which we have flexibility in air power, and one of the ways of doing so is to have aircraft of a type like the Canberra for use overseas.
What is to be done to develop something to succeed the Canberra? I am interested in it for two reasons. First, for the arguments, which I have given and which the Secretary of State has given before, of the need for conventional aircraft generally. Secondly, because under any plan for disengagement and disarmament a modern aircraft with some of the Canberra's characteristics is needed for reconnaissance and aerial inspection. Yet what sign is there of a replacement for the Canberra? Will the NA39 be anything like this? Has it the speed to deal with aircraft like the MiG.17? What about range and its capability to use airfields which do not have the colossal 3,000-yd. runways that we have here at home?
50 We have been too long in the dark about the battle between the Minister of Defence and the Air Council. It is time we knew what resources are to be allotted on the aircraft side to meet the requirements of the Air Force if the rôle of the Air Force is as it appears from the Minister's speeches and the Memorandum. It is no use saying that the P.1 could be in operation in due course. Anything can happen "in due course". That is no indication whatever of when the aircraft is likely to be operational.
Returning to the ground-to-air missiles, I speak not only as a member of the Opposition Front Bench, but also as a Lincolnshire Member. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned North Coates and it is referred to several times in the Memorandum. The public should be told more of what is happening there, because great confusion has been caused. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be no test firing from North Coates. The mechanical equipment would be tested and the doctrine would be worked out there. That is understandable. The Government, however, have allowed the idea to grow in many of these areas that anything concerning a missile base is highly dangerous.
There was even confusion, which they recognised, about what was to be done in South Uist. Confusion is one of the reasons for the real alarm—that is the only word to describe it—among the people in the countryside of Lincoln-shire. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I assure the Committee that this alarm exists.
There is a Motion on the Order Paper which complains of the excessive concentration of missile bases in this part of the country.
[That this House protests strongly against the recent decision of the Minister of Defence to concentrate the proposed American missile bases in the eastern and midland counties, in view of the previous declarations that these bases were to be dispersed along the whole eastern seaboard of England and Scotland and also because of the immobility of these bases compared with bomber sites and the relative density of population in that area.]
I take these to be the Thor bases. I do not know whether my hon. Friends 51 who tabled this Motion are justified in believing that there is such a concentration, but I know that they are justified in complaining that the Government have succeeded in confusing and distressing the people by not explaining what it is all about.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
The hon. Member has spoken about the alarm in a certain part of East Anglia. I rather doubt whether the more phlegmatic people in the North of England would behave in quite the same way. Is the hon. Member suggesting that farm-workers are decamping, that property owners are selling their property and that people generally are leaving the district? What exactly does he mean?
§ Mr. de Freitas
Several of my hon. Friends will be explaining what is happening in their areas concerning property. I assure the hon. Member that if he represented a constituency, as I do, in Lincolnshire, the evidence he would have from correspondence and personal contact with people who are not normally alarmed about such things is overwhelming. It is obvious that there has been misunderstanding and that something has gone badly wrong in public relations in not giving the people an explanation. It is up to the Air Ministry to put this right. This feeling exists and I ask the hon. Member to accept it as a fact.
In answer to an intervention by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), I gave it as my view that the Thors were junk. This makes it all the more important that we should be reassured about the effectiveness of our V-bombers. The Secretary of State for Air, I understand, has had something much more encouraging to say about the V-bombers than the Minister of Supply said during the defence debate. In fact, there was no point of contact whatever between their two statements.
What is the truth about the Victor? If, as the Secretary of State said, the Victors are coming into service, surely we should know a little more about them. Year after year, almost as long as I can remember, the Victor has been coming into service. We must know more about these aircraft. If people are to be reassured, they need to be convinced that we are being given more than the usual annual statement that this is the most 52 effective and most promising aircraft. The right hon. Gentleman must take into account the fact that the Air Force has reached a stage in relation to public opinion at which misunderstanding can so easily arise.
I mentioned South Uist in another context. It was never intended as an operational station, but as a training station. It has suffered from constant changes in Government policy. Let me recall the history. First, it was so urgent that the crofters had to be bundled off at the shortest possible notice. Then, everything was thrown into reverse. Think of the waste of time and effort, not to mention money, that was involved and the really unnecessary disturbance of the crofters.
Last year, the Government were talking about integration in the Services. Apparently, there has been a change, because hardly a word is mentioned about it this year. If we think in terms of an Air Force which, in future, is going over to missiles, it is of the greatest importance that the Air Council should be thinking of integration with the other two Services. We are about to reach a stage when all three Services will be operating similar missiles. What is the man who operates missiles to do all day once the drill for missile maintenance is worked out? The boredom will be appalling. Surely, the key is that similar missiles will eventually be operated from under the sea by the Navy and used by the Army in an anti-aircraft and traditional artillery rôle. All three Services will soon be operating the same type of missiles.
It is difficult to say that airmen should suddenly be made into sailors or soldiers, but that is because we are all victims of traditional thinking about our separate Services. What we must realise is that if we are to get the men who will do these jobs, which are bound to be boring after they have done them for a while, they must have greater scope and opportunity than sitting on an airfield in the corner of East Anglia or Lincolnshire. We must begin thinking in terms of these men being seconded for service with the other branches of the Armed Forces. We must seize these opportunities for thinking in completely new terms about the structure of the forces. The younger generation of officers and men is ready 53 for far bolder steps towards integration than anybody on the Air Council appears to believe.
The Secretary of State referred to his visit to Malaya and what he saw there. In Malaya, last summer, I saw the men of the Lincolnshire Regiment in action in the jungle and heard all of them, from colonel to private, say how much they owed to the support and evacuation services provided by the Air Force. They were doing a job on the ground which could not have been done by the R.A.F., and they could not have done it unless the Air Force had been there. They were completely dependent, the one on the other. This is not integration. It is co-operation. I quote it to show that a great deal is being done. But the men in the Services are ready for more, and much more prepared for it than the members of the Air Council appear to be.
One of my pleasant duties before these debates is to read through the complete volume of the Estimates. I have previously drawn attention to the fact that the price is continually increasing, though it is the fact that it is free to us, and that is a great perquisite. As usual, I find a number of fascinating items in the index, such as dogs, dopes, drugs, drums, rain-making and rat-catching.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to his visit to Aden. I do not know whether he has anything to do with it, but this is the first time there has been no reference to the purchase of camels. I do not know whether it means that a different technique has been adopted in Aden, and whether there is now a Sand-cat, along the lines of the Sno-cat. I notice, too, that visiting parsons are to receive less money, but there is to be more pay for a Deputy Director of A.I.D.; that is, the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate, in case there is any misunderstanding.
Once more I ask this question. Although the Service is becoming smaller, the number of air rank officers remains at 240. I fully understand the argument that the more technical a service, an enterprise, a business or an institution becomes, the more top direction it requires and the smaller the amount of unskilled labour. I accept that point, but is the Air Ministry 54 really justified in having the same number of air officers for 203,000 men as it did for 272,000 men two years ago? if it is the fact that this is the ratio that we may expect, why does not the Air Ministry cash in on it in its advertising?
Twenty years ago, when there were 83,000 in the Service, there were only 45 officers of air rank. Anyone joining the Royal Air Force today, therefore, has more than twice the chance of becoming an air commodore than his father had twenty years ago. Why not the slogan, "There is more room at the top"? Why not say that every recruit has "scrambled egg" in his knapsack?
I know that the Secretary of State is worried about women's recruiting and that the Grigg Committee is sitting. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned uniforms. If he wants to get women recruits, surely there is much greater scope for a change here. Why dress up women to look like men? Surely that discourages women from going into the Service. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] No, not all of them, it is true. But I am sure that if they could be given a smarter uniform, and if it was given a more feminine touch, many more women would join the Service. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should co-opt Mr. Hartnell, or Mr. Stiebel, or, since N.A.T.O. is important, M. Dior's successor to see what can be done.
Incidentally, on this matter of clothes, I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies to the debate, in the early hours of the morning, or whenever it may be, could give us an indication of the value of clothes, fuel, travelling and other services given free to an airman or airwoman? Can he tell us what these are worth as tax-free additions to pay? I know that they cannot live on them, but they must be of some significance today, when the cost of clothing and fuel is so high.
It is clear from all that we read and hear that the Royal Air Force is doing its job well, and that it has had many successes during the year, whether it was in keeping down the accident rate or in flying a single-engined aircraft over Antarctica. Our quarrel is not with the Royal Air Force, but with the Government's policy, and we have asked that this policy be changed. I have drawn the attention of the Secretary of State to 55 three of our demands which are directly relevant to the Air Estimates. First, the suspension of H-bomb tests. Secondly, the forbidding of aircraft based in this country from patrolling with nuclear weapons. Thirdly, the cessation of work on preparing the bases for the American missiles. These, we believe, are three important steps towards a change in the climate of opinion in the world and towards our ultimate aim—controlled international disarmament.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I hope that my "feathered friends," if I may call them that, or rather those who wear wings, will excuse a "penguin" for waddling into the debate, but this is the first time I have had the privilege of taking part in a debate on the Air Estimates.
I should like to begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air on having twice the number of hon. and right hon. Members opposite to listen to him at the beginning of his speech than had my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War when he introduced the Army Estimates last week. It strikes me as rather extraordinary that, when the well-being of a Spanish deserter is being considered, the House should fill up, but when the Army or the Royal Air Force are under consideration there should be an extremely thin attendance.
If I may take up a point which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), both at the beginning and again at the end of his speech, may I say that I, too, live in East Anglia? I would certainly say that it is not accurate of the area I know to say, as the hon. Gentleman did, that there is very great anxiety about the decision to install rocket bases there. Even if it is true in Lincolnshire, I am sure that it is not true of the whole of East Anglia, and I personally doubt whether it is true of Lincolnshire either. In general, the reaction to this decision from all thinking people, and especially from those who remember the years between the two wars, is one of relief that we are keeping as up to date as possible where the deterrent is concerned.
If a moral issue arises in this context at all, outside the moral issue whether 56 war is right or wrong, I would say that of all the immoral and, perhaps, amoral propositions put forward, none is more so than the suggestion that we should shelter under the protection of somebody else, simply because we do not like the idea of making, having or operating things which they have invented.
The hon. Gentleman made three specific proposals. As I understand them, they were, first, that we should not proceed with any further tests of the H-bomb; second, that we should not proceed with the preparation of the bases until the summit talks have taken place; and, third, that no bombers carrying H-bombs should be allowed to fly over the United Kingdom. What can possibly be the effect of that? It would seem to me, first of all, to make it highly questionable whether the air crews who would be responsible for operating the hydrogen bombers, in the event of disaster coming upon us, would be quite so well-trained as they would otherwise be. That seems to be the first result of the hon. Gentleman's policy.
Some of us have read not so very long ago the observations of some extremely highly-placed American air officers which rather indicate that the American Air Force has plenty of scope for improving its training already. Do we now want it to have even bigger scope? Is that likely to impress the Soviet Union with our resolution to resist the sort of policies which it tries to carry out on defenceless people? It really seems absurd.
Ought the installation of the bases to be put under way before summit talks? My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said just now that, if the hon. Member for Lincoln was really arguing that the projectile, the I.B.M., which we are to have is, in fact, junk, one cannot really see that it makes very much difference. My own feeling is that for us, as politicians, to say that we know more than those who advise Ministers in a scientific capacity about what weapon is junk and what weapon is not junk is nonsense. We in this Committee are politicians, mainly responsible for deciding policies and trying to ensure that the administration which is supposed to carry out those policies is working efficiently.
When we enter the realm of the technicalities involved in such things as 57 rockets and aircraft design, it is quite ridiculous for us to say that we know better than all the top-level advice which Ministers themselves have. I agree that the hon. Gentleman has a perfect right to say what he said, if he wishes to, but I still regard his argument as irrelevant and ridiculous. I say that simply because I do not believe that he or I or any other Member of the Committee is capable of judging, against all the evidence which Ministers have, on matters of this kind.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It might seem a small point, but I should like to have it correct on the record. I did not say it of all aircraft carrying hydrogen bombs over this country. I said "on patrol", because, of course, we accept that they have to be flown to the bases, and we accept that they are on the bases. That is most important. My second point is that, of course, the whole burden of our argument was that the Minister's decision on the Thors was a purely political one and, in fact, a personal one, contrary to all, or nearly all, the advice he received.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
It seems that the only possible argument the hon. Member for Lincoln or anybody else can produce to show that it is an unwise political move is the suggestion that it might be an immoral one. So far as the scientific and technical wisdom of the decision is concerned, it is ridiculous to suggest that the Minister is no better judge than I myself or any other hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to question it, but all he is now saying is that it is a political decision. If he questions it for that reason, he can be criticising it only on moral grounds. Were his argument to be followed, the result would be far more immoral than the present decision, because it would mean that we should be relying upon other people in the meantime while we were holding up the project here.
The main point I wish to make relates to the quite remarkable position of this country vis-à-vis the rest of the land in the world. If one divides the sphere in half so that the United Kingdom is at the top of one hemisphere, one finds that the greater part of the land of the world is included in that hemisphere. The United Kingdom has, in fact, land centrality in the world. There is no 58 doubt that this geographical fact has had an enormous bearing on the position of the Commonwealth and of this country vis-à-vis any other country of the world. I have here a map showing the two hemispheres which makes it quite clear. The United Kingdom is seen in the middle of the left-hand hemisphere upon this map, the hemisphere containing practically all the land in the world. The only part left out is Australia, Antarctica, and the islands of the Southern Pacific. Singapore, also, just comes into the half which is mainly sea.
It is clear that our future must depend enormously upon the control we have over our communications. The position we have held in the past has been almost entirely due to that. If we go back in history, we find that the position occupied by any of the great empires has always depended upon its having control over communications with the main part of the civilised world as it then existed. When those empires lost control of their communications, they ceased to exist.
The decision to ease up on the development of military aircraft will have an enormous effect, in future, upon our control over our communications, unless something else is done too. I am not in a position to judge whether or not the decision to cease making manned bombers after the V-bombers is a right one, but I agree with the hon. Member for Lincoln that, in considering the problem, one must look a great deal farther ahead than next year or even the year after that. We must look 10, 15 or 20 years ahead. If we are to keep up to date, it is absolutely essential that research and development should go on incessantly. If research and development are interrupted, inevitably somebody else will tend to overtake us in the hiatus.
I believe that we are at grave risk of this happening soon, if it is not happening already. There is no doubt whatever that we still have in this country men as capable of keeping us up to date as the scientists of any other part of the world, but they can do it only if the money is there and if the research is allowed and encouraged to go on. While I appreciate that it may be necessary to divert some of this activity from military—in other words, from Air Ministry 59 supervision—to civilian control, I maintain that, if the work is to be done in the best interests of the country, the strategic aspects of it must at the same time be considered. In other words, the grand strategy of the country depends upon our communications, whether those communications be military or civil.
My proposal is a quite simple one, although, I am afraid, it is a very expensive one to carry out. In whatever set-up for the future we decide upon in the development of manned aircraft, be it military or civil, it is absolutely vital that the defence departments have a very big say in the development. Even if they, that is, the Ministry of Defence, the Air Ministry, the War Office, or the Admiralty, are not paying for it through their respective Votes, they must still be brought into consultation the whole way through. They are the people who will be most qualified to speak about what is in the best interests of our country's strategy.
One admits, of course, that those most likely to know about what civilian passengers would like or what industrial concerns would like in the way of freight transport would be the big air corporations and the smaller charter companies. What I am by no means certain about—it would be a great encouragement to have some reassurance on this—is what arrangements, if any, are now in train for ensuring that the development of aircraft in future is a joint effort, so far as requirements, advice and scientific knowledge are concerned, on the part not only of the civil air lines, the airframe manufacturers and aero-engine manufacturers, but also of the Service Departments.
I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, quite naturally, is of the opinion that he has enough on his plate without adding any more to it. I am sure that we all have a very deep respect for the enormous courage he has shown in taking the decisions which he has had to take. We may not agree with all of them, but they have been taken with the utmost courage and after considering all the evidence from the many sources available. It would be a great pity if my right hon. Friend were to be reluctant to retain an interest in the development of manned aircraft for the future.
60 I touched on this subject in a speech that I made during the debate on the Loyal Address at the beginning of this Session. Since last summer I have been studying some of the problems which our designers seem to be up against. Of all the interesting articles that I have come across, none has interested me more than a series which appeared in the magazine Flight in 1954. The articles were written by Mr. J. W. Fozard under the heading "The Supersonic Fighter." I will certainly not attempt to take the Committee through all the details of those articles, because they contain many mathematical formulae, many graphs, curves and ratios and other mathematical terms, but I should like to quote one or two extracts from the articles which I think would be worthy of my right hon. Friend's consideration, and I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend, having heard them, agrees with my conclusion. I will quote, first, from the article which appeared on 10th December, 1954. It states:The greater the sweepback that can be impressed on them by the geometry of the wing, the smaller will be the component of the free-stream velocity affected by the shock-wave and thus the smaller will be the energy losses.Later in that article Mr. Fozard stated:This reduction of wave drag is the first and the most vitally important step along the path to sustained supersonic flight.Later on still, Mr. Fozard stated:The largest single component of drag in the transonic and supersonic regimes is the wave drag,"—the wave drag is the wave of air, the equivalent of the bow wave of a ship—The art of drag reduction is concerned almost entirely with arranging the geometry of the aircraft so that the intensity of the enveloping shock system is at a minimum.Again, in the same article, Mr. Fozard stated:The formidable aerodynamic, structural and manufacturing difficulties implicit in such wings, particularly if in addition there is more than a token amount of sweepback, are unlikely to permit for a number of years the development of a supersonic wing which is entirely satisfactory from all aspects.So much for the first article.
I now come to the second article which was published on 17th December, 1954. It stated:The wing drag and the fuselage drag together account for approximately two-thirds 61 of the total drag. It is obvious, therefore, that by concentrating his attention on these two component the designer can expect the most fruitful resifts from his labours.There is one further quotation I wish to make from the last article which appeared on 24th December, 1954, in the same magazine. It stated:Due to the extreme difficulty of attaining a satisfactory solution to this fundamental problem, we may expect in the future a wider range of more specialised types of aircraft, each achieving the maximum operational efficiency within its particular band of speed and altitude. The question of how this essential multiplicity of types can be reconciled with our national economy is beyond the scope of this article; but there can be no doubt that such compatibility must be achieved if we are to retain in the future our present position as a major air power.I am very sorry to have had to burden the Committee with those somewhat technical quotations, but I have done so because the conclusion to which those three articles have led me is that if it were possible to design an aircraft which could vary its geometry we might very well overcome a great many of the difficulties referred to by Mr. Fozard.
I have had correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence On the matter and I have taken the best expert advice available to me. In a letter which the Minister of Defence wrote to me on 12th August, 1957, he concluded by saying:The problem of variable geometry aircraft continues to be of interest; but for the reasons given above, the arguments in the note you sent me do not appear to be valid in their entirety.To describe variable geometry as "of interest" is an understatement of some magnitude, because, if an aircraft could be designed with variable geometry so that at all heights and speeds it was at maximum geometrical efficiency, it would overcome an enormous amount of the difficulty. Looking ahead 10, 15 or 20 years, we have to think in terms of twice the speed of sound and of flying from London to Australia, a distance of 11,000 miles, non-stop and of travelling over the sea the whole way. If we take the great circle line we find that we go over an enormous part of Soviet territory, to get to Australia. If we take the rhumb line we find ourselves going right across the Middle Eastern territory of Arabia. As we already know, considerable dispute is at present going on in the United Nations about the sovereignty of the sea. If we 62 can find a way of flying non-stop from London to Melbourne at two-and-a-half times the speed of sound we may overcome the greatest difficulty. The distance is something over 11,000 miles.
The journey from Britain to the farthest side of China and return is a distance of, approximately, 12,000 miles. The distance from Britain to the end of the industrial belt of the Soviet Union is approximately 6,000 miles, I we could design an aircraft to fly these distances at these fantastic speeds in one hop we should save a great deal of money. Recently a survey was made of an alternative route to cover this journey. It was made some time ago by Air Marshal Sir Richard Saundby and it involved a great number of intermediate stops. It was something on the line of what B.O.A.C. is already running. I think Sir Richard Saundby visualised flying from London to Melbourne calling at Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Aden, Singapore, Port Darwen and then to Melbourne. That is a distance of 10,800 miles. Short-range aircraft would put in at the Maldives between Aden and Singapore.
Are we to spend vast sums of money in building acres of runways and enormous installations knowing quite well that if war came they would in all probability be unusable, and that as much time would probably be involved in refuelling as it would if we designed aircraft to travel non-stop and direct over the sea at the speeds of which I have been speaking?
For that reason I feel that, whether we look for this development at the moment mainly in the civil field, it is of vital strategic importance. May we have an assurance that there will be no temporary hold-up, however short, in the research and development of manned aircraft for the future, bearing in mind the position of this country geographically to the rest of the world and the fact that every empire of the past that lost control of its communications sooner or later ceased to be an empire? For that reason I hope that my right hon. Friend will give this matter attention.
I appreciate that part of what I have said might be capable of answer only by breach of the Official Secrets Act, but if my right hon. Friend is able to give an undertaking that he has given great thought to this matter and that every possible effort will be made to 63 avoid a standstill, I shall go away from the debate considerably relieved. I know only too well that, the moment one enters the sphere of science, opinions start to differ and that sooner or later the super-experts start disagreeing with each other. It is up to my right hon. Friend to take advice from those he knows are the best; but I hope that he will always bear in mind the opinions of those who have been proved right in the past before he takes the advice of those whose opinions have never been put to the test. If he does that, he will find plenty of talent available.
I must make it clear that I have no personal interest whatever in any aircraft manufacturing firm. I have said what I have said entirely on my own responsibility and not at anybody's request, and it is the result of inquiries I have made over the last six or seven months. I find extremely serious the great decision to stop developing manned military aircraft, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give consideration to the suggestions I have made.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
We are now in the final stages of our defence discussions this year. There is no doubt that there is great public interest on this matter. I am not sure what impact our discussions have had upon public opinion, but there is growing public concern, and this is likely to continue.
My fundamental views on this subject spring from two facts. There will not be a satisfactory outcome of our defence difficulties unless there is honesty of expression, whatever right hon. and hon. Members on either side may feel in terms of political expediency. Irrespective of party, they have a duty to give their honest opinions. I have always tried to discharge that duty, and I propose to continue doing so. I believe that unless the truth is told and appreciated this country will face the most serious difficulties, because we are dealing with problems which it is not possible to solve through resolutions, never mind how clever. With defence problems, one ultimately comes up against the fundamental fact of the right amount of fire power in the right place at the right time. If it is not there, disaster faces the country which ignores that fact.
64 The second fact, which I have stated many times in the House, is this. It is not a dishonourable thing that we find ourselves in the second half of the twentieth century no longer a great world Power. This is a matter of history. When the American and Russian armies met in April, 1945, as Sir Lewis Namier said in the last paragraph of his recent book, at that moment the German "preponderance in Europe had reached its term and the influence of Europe—which includes this country—had passed its supremacy in the world." It seems to me to be a matter of honesty of expression on the one hand and, on the other hand, the determination of all parties in this House, irrespective of the consequences, to honour our pledged word. We live in a world of mistrust, with two gigantic nations with the overwhelming power to maim each other and everybody else. We have a part to play if we are the honest brokers. We must base our policies upon economy of force and not upon economies in terms of cash—one does not use a sledgehammer to do a job which could be done with one's thumb. But when this country enters into an obligation, even if the party in opposition does not accept it, that obligation must be honoured.
Frankly, I dissented from the policy of German rearmament because I did not think the decision rested with us. I thought that it rested with the Germans. I was brought to boiling point when the Government, with the support of hon. Members on this side, committed this country to the maintenance to the end of the century of land forces in Europe and a second tactical Air Force, because I knew that that promise would not be met. Now we find ourselves finding excuses to run away from it. The promise having been given, although I objected to it, I think we should stand by it, and I will stand by it, despite the political implications involved.
Unless we accept this principle, what hope is there for us? What part can we play? We cannot match the power of the United States or the Soviet Union. We need a breathing space and trust. We need honesty of purpose and honesty of policy. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made a point in his speech on the defence debate. He said that there 65 was no difference between either side in the House.
§ Mr. Wigg
I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon—very little difference between the two Front Benches.
I have been considering the policy on the bomb, and I want to talk about the bomb with particular reference to the Army. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, on his return from the United States, gave a Press interview, in which he said:But the fact that we were in a position to use it"—that is the bomb—had a great influence on the United States policy and made them pay greater regard to our point of view.The Leader of the Opposition was interviewed on television in Panorama on 3rd March. He was asked by Mr. McKenzie:But do you feel that Britain should still have the nuclear weapon in order to influence American policy?In answer, he said:Yes, we certainly do feel that. We believe that it is necessary to retain this in order to make our influence felt in the world in the hope, of course, of getting all-round disarmament.Both parties are committed by the statements of their leaders to the policy of having the hydrogen bomb for the political purpose of influencing American opinion and not, primarily, for a military purpose.
One of the difficulties which one tends to forget when thinking about the desirability of having the bomb is that having the bomb is not all the story: we have to have the means to deliver it. This is where many of my hon. Friends have gone astray. The Labour Party decided by an overwhelming decision to reject a resolution calling upon the Government not to manufacture or to use the bomb, but not a word was said about delivery. Here again, both parties are committed to the policy of getting rid of the V-bomber force. Last year in paragraph 61 of the White Paper, the Minister of Defence said that he did not propose to go on with the supersonic manned bomber and that he proposed to get rid of it. Now let me read what was said by my right 66 hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). It was a party political broadcast, so he spoke therefore with the full authority of the party. This was on 30th March, 1957. He said:First of all, let's decide there will never be a new fighter, a new manned fighter, after the present ones available in time. And let's stop that playing about, trying to produce new planes—they're only costing us a lot of money—they never fly. Secondly, let's he equally clear that the present generation of bombers, manned bombers, the V forces—V-bomber forces, we call it, will be our last manned bombers too—they'll carry us on for quite a number of years and let's finish playing about trying to produce a supersonic bomber with men in it. and let's put all our efforts there into producing missiles, missiles of our own with the heads on….That was the Labour Party's policy a year ago.
I am, as it were, a poor old soldier trying to understand and trying to think of these expressions in terms of real things. Both parties are committed to the bomb for political purposes. Both parties are committed to the abolition of the fighter. Both are committed to the V-bomber being the last manned bomber. Both are committed to the missile, and both are presumably committed with the head on. That is why I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). I dissent from this policy. He leaves out of account the fact that here, without protest from my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), we have a statement that the Army is to have two regiments of the Corporal, one to be deployed in Germany this year, but with American warheads. Those American warheads are of 100 kilotons—equal to 100,000 tons of T.N.T., or five times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
That is not all the story. In the defence debate we had one of the most remarkable statements I have ever heard from the Front Bench. I had not been very well, and it nearly put me back in bed. I refer to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. West. He said:If the Russians, with conventional forces, were threatening the existence of, or actually attacking, the Western garrison in West Berlin, we should not at that first stage dream of starting to throw H-bombs on to the sources of Russian power in Russia. At that first stage, obviously, we must meet a conventional Russian aggression at a limited point with allied Western conventional forces.67 My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said:In Berlin? How?and my right hon. Friend replied:In West Berlin, We are there nowMy hon. Friend then asked:How can we do it?and my right hon. Friend replied:Of course we can do it. If the Russians attack the West Berlin garrison with two divisions, that garrison must defend itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 654.]My right hon. Friend is a great expert in defence. He has been Secretary of State for War. He stands at the Box and asks that three British infantry battalions with no support arms of any kind, with one American regiment with no support, should take on two Russian divisions. The three battalions are very famous; the first, known as Pontius Pilate's Bodyguard, 1st Battalion, Royal Scots; the second, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers; and the third, 1st Battalion Border Regiment. I say to my right hon. Friend: that is not war; it is murder.
My right hon. Friend then goes on to argue that the conventional forces are already there. Have we come to a point where right hon. Gentlemen, speaking to the world, are so irresponsible that they say that the Western garrison in Berlin is quite considerable and that the conventional forces are already there, without taking the trouble to inquire? I telephoned the American military attaché to confirm this statement. I also telephoned the War Office. I knew what the battalions were, but I thought to myself, "He sees all the generals; he should know." But I thought I would verify the facts. Three battalions are asked to take on two divisions.
My right hon. Friend goes on to say:The conventional forces that we have in West Berlin might be overrun as, of course, the Russians could do by raising their stakes. They could do that in two ways, either by sending in a number of divisions which we could not match, or by beginning to use tactical nuclear weapons. That would be if the Russians were determined to go on. I do not think that if they met resistance that it is likely that they would do that, but let us take the worst hypothesis, that they did go on and raised their stakes and attacked with nuclear weapons or with overwhelming conventional forces—it does not matter which. Do we, 68 even at that second stage, do what the Minister of Defence has suggested, start chucking hydrogen bombs at Moscow? Of course we do not. At that second stage, it would be madness to do that. But if the Russians had raised their stakes up to that point, then, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said, we, too, must raise our stakes and we should be driven at that point to use tactical nuclear weapons. Having been driven to that, hon. Members might ask what the chances would be that the Russians would not go the whole way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 655.]I was astonished at what my right hon. Friend said, but what is to follow is infinitely worse. If my right hon. Friend goes to the Box and advocates the use of tactical atomic weapons, weapons five times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb, one would have thought he would have asked himself what was involved. We have three British battalions with no support arms. Who would be the first casualties if atomic tactical weapons were used in Berlin?—those three battalions, of course, and at least 60,000 civilians.
What are the methods whereby one can use a tactical nuclear weapon? There are only two. There is the Corporal, which we have not got. It is not yet deployed. If we do not use that, we use either the Valiant to convey the tactical atomic weapon or the Canberra. If my right hon. Friends likes to interrupt me, I will give way. Paragraph 37 of the Air Estimates Memorandum says:The Canberras in the Second Tactical Air Force and in Bomber Command are being given a nuclear capacity.They have not got it at the moment. There are 29 squadrons of Canberras in the United Kingdom; there are three squadrons of B(1)6s and B(1)8s with the Tactical Air Force, and four squadrons of the B.3 and the P.R.7. I do not want to give any secrets away, but this issue is of such fundamental importance that this point needs to be made. Only the B(1)8's have a nuclear capacity. That is the meaning of that paragraph. I repeat—The Canberras in the Second Tactical Air Force are being given a nuclear capacity.So, in effect, we have not got a tactical nuclear capacity at the present time unless we use the V-bomber force. What in the world is the purpose of coming here and talking such nonsense? We know it to be nonsense.
69 Even worse than this, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), writing in the Daily Mirror, asked right hon. Gentleman one simple question. He did not get an answer, so I will ask the same question. Is he speaking for himself, or is he speaking for the party? I will willingly give way even now to hear an answer. Of course, the truth is that he is speaking for himself, as he speaks on every issue of defence, without thought, and with regard only to his own political convenience.
There is a logic in all this. It beckons one on. One starts by equivocating on the three-year engagement; then one finds oneself driven into a corner by the Government's manpower policy; then one has to go for the hydrogen bomb; then one has to try to pretend that paragraph 12 means something different to meet one's own political argument; then one has to argue about tactical atomic weapons.
But it is not all the story. Let us have a look at the situation in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West would use the hydrogen bomb. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper, in his party political broadcast on 30th March last year, told us precisely the circumstances in which he would use it.
The argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is that paragraph 12 is something new. I tried to make the point, and I think I established it successfully, that there was nothing new about this. Field Marshal Montgomery said the same thing in 1954. He said the same thing in 1956. General Gruenther and General Norstad said the same thing. I do not want to weary the Committee with too many quotations. If hon. Members will take the trouble to read all the White Papers on Defence, they will find the same thing said over and over again.
After all, I do not need to look to authorities. Let us have a look at what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper said only a year ago. He said:I can envisage a situation in which we might want to threaten—and after all the value of the deterrent is the threat. If we ever bomb each other with a hydrogen bomb, 70 the future may not matter awfully much. The value of it as a deterrent—as the threat of use—and I can well think there could be situations—for instance, supposing 500 Russian submarines were at sea, they might be attacking our vitals as a sea-girt island, whereas they might not be regarded in America as attacking theirs.The interlocutor interrupted and the right hon. Gentleman went on:And I want to use it then—I might want to threaten it, yes.There we have it. The right hon. Gentleman would want to use or threaten to use the hydrogen bomb if 500 Russian submarines were at sea. I regard it as utter and complete nonsense because, of course, both parties have got themselves into this jam. They have both agreed—I beg pardon for repeating the point—on two fundamental points. Then they reach the point, quite regardless of any military consideration, that they are committed to a policy of missiles. Because if we manufacture the hydrogen bomb but deny ourselves the means of delivering it with manned bombers, what other method can we use of delivering it but the missile?
I have looked up the American authorities on this point. I trust I shall be forgiven if I weary the Committee by reading a very considerable number of American opinions, because the Committee must take into account that, although we have decided not to go on with manned bombers and although we have adopted these policies, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States have.
I established the point in the defence debate, and I am not going to weary the Committee with the actual figures again, that the Americans have 1,600 B47s comparable to our V-bombers. I have checked our V-bomber figures again, and I will modify what I said. I said 240 were ordered and 160 produced. Now, 160 have been produced, but I am prepared to believe that 260 have been ordered; 77 Victors, 75 Vulcans and 108 Valiants.
The point is that the Americans are committed to five generations beyond us, to the end of the century. But what are the Russians doing? I did not give the Russian figures before. They have got the Bear, the 4-engine turbo-prop, and the Bison, a 4-engine jet roughly equivalent to the B52. Maximum production 71 of the Bison and Bear is about 300. I am now told that they will have about 570 by the middle of 1959, as against the Americans' 430 B52s. The Russians are, in fact, stepping up their manned bomber policy at the very time we have said good-bye to ours, and the Americans are also going ahead.
Let me say what American opinion is on this point. This is the former Defence Secretary, Mr. Wilson:No one has at any time said that the day of the manned bomber is completely passed.The Assistant Secretary to the United States Air Force, Mr. R. E. Horner:We do not anticipate that there is going to be a clear cut line of decision when we will no longer build manned aircraft and everything thereafter will be unmanned.The former U.S. Air Force Secretary Quarles:We are certainly not (phasing-out manned aircraft) and I have never heard of any military man suggest we are even approaching it. It is in my opinion remote enough that we ought not even to talk about such a thing at this time.General Twining, the Chairman of the J.C.S.:I think that what the Secretary said is 'correct.Admiral Combs, the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff:I think for many, many years to come we are going to have manned aircraft.Admiral Davis:There is no substitute in sight for the small manned aircraft.General Flickinger:I submit to you that there is no such thing as an unmanned system.Mr. Robert Gross, President of Lock-head's:We are concerned, and deeply so, over the danger of precipitate reliance on missilesJ. H. Kindelberger, North American Board Chairman:Manned bombers would be required through 1970.F. O. Detweiler, Chance Vought President:Forecasts on when ballistic missiles will be operational are over-optimistic.W. C. Collins, Northrop President:Until we have more knowledge of the potential of missiles for strategic warfare the manned bomber will be the mainstay of a mixed bomber-missiles force in which bombers and missiles will supplement each other.72 General R. McC. Pate, Marine Commandant:I think it would be unwise to make this (missile and antimissile) effort at the too-great expense of conventional weapons and forces.Air Force Chief White:We will require a high-performance manned aircraft for a great many years to come.The former U.S. Air Force Secretary, Senator Symington, who also presided over the inquiry into the Air Force:People have been misled (over missiles).General Tacon, T.A.C. Director of Operations and Training:The A-missile as it stands today has some very severe limitations.The Director of the Navy Guided Missiles Division, Admiral J. E. Clark, before a Congressional inquiry:No, Sir. (I do not contemplate now a period of time in which the missile will supplant the interceptor.)Army Chief General M. Taylor:There is a current rôle for the interceptor aircraft in the next years to come.The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Burke:I think missiles will displace some of the functions at short ranges for manned aircraft.The Commander-in-Chief of the Swedish Air Force:The missile threat should not now be exaggerated.Admiral Radford:For the foreseeable future witnesses did not consider missiles as a replacement for manned aircraft. But it was universally conceded that they are, and will be, an essential addition to total airpower … I myself am not as optimistic as some of the research and development people about the dates on which we can expect these missiles.
§ Mr. Wigg
All those statements were made in 1957 or 1958, so every one is of recent date. I have gone to all this trouble, and I have wearied the Committee, because this issue is of fundamental importance. I hold the view that this country has already passed the point of no return. I believe that if, for example, major operations on the Korean scale broke out, we could not overnight get the Canberras and the Hunters we ordered then and launch a rearmament programme.
73 We are in danger, and I think the danger is acute, of reaching the point where the aircraft industry of this country is finished. If a mistake has been made by either Front Bench this country will indeed pay the price. That is why I have gone to the trouble of dealing a little roughly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, but, goodness knows, he deserves it. I have not yet finished with him, because irresponsibility of this kind exacts a price not only from him, not only from the three battalions in Berlin, but from this country and the things it stands for.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I interrupt my hon. Friend, because we want to be clear about what he is driving at. He has furnished a great deal of information to the Committee, but is his case this: that we have failed to produce the conventional weapons, including the V-bombers, the supersonic bombers, on a large scale which for some years to come, in the event of trouble, would prove effective? Does he also contend that they would prove effective as a deterrent? Is that his case?
§ Mr. Wigg
No, and although my right hon. Friend has every excuse for being confused, he must not try to spread it to me. My case is simple. I have not the expert knowlerge to be able to decide these things for certain, but I point out to my right hon. Friend that a decision has been taken, with the agreement of both Front Benches, to manufacture the hydrogen bomb, not for military but for political reasons, in order to impress the United States. Both Front Benches have agreed that the manned bomber, the supersonic bomber, should not function. Therefore, both Front Benches must find some means of delivering the bomb, so they go over to the missile. They are driven to the missile because there is no other method of delivery.
My own policy is simple. I stand foursquare with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East. I believe that at this juncture this country has an overwhelming opportunity to say to all the non-nuclear countries, "Look, we are not going in for a violent change of policy overnight." In other words, it is the argument put by the right hon. Member for Flint West (Mr. Birch), with incomparable ability. The argument is, let us call it a day as far as thermo-nuclear weapons are concerned.
74 I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for his intervention just now, because it reminds me of another point. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East became involved in an argument with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West about the amount we are spending. He settled for £300 million because he had applied the mathematics of the White Paper. I think that his figure was broadly right, but he was challenged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West. My hon. Friend should cheer up because my figures have been challenged in the past by my right hon. Friend. It is one hundred to one that my hon. Friend is right.
What right hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House have not spotted is that, once we are committed to the missile policy, if we have passed the point of no return and cannot, even if we want to do so, produce a supersonic bomber; if then we cannot produce aircraft inside a conventional concept, then we must have the missile and we are beckoned on into the bog up to our necks. This is the most expensive game of all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West may be right in thinking that it may not be £300 million now but £100 million or £150 million, but what will it be in two, three, four or five years' time?
That is the reason why I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, West resigned. He made what I thought was a patriotic and able speech, and he put my case infinitely better than I can put it. But I thought he was being very reticent when making the point that these were arguments which hon. Members could hold. I believe he was being kind because he was getting near the edge of security matters.
This missile policy is military and economic nonsense. I have risked boring the Committee because this is the fourth of our defence debates. I believe that one year from now will be too late. If that man who sits as Minister of Defence stays in office, one year from now this country will not be another Switzerland, it will not be another Sweden, it will be another Portugal.
I want to keep in order, if I can, Sir Godfrey. When we talk about thermonuclear weapons and about our power to hit, there is no comment from our Front 75 Bench and there is no comment from the benches opposite. According to a paragraph in the Explanatory Memorandum on the Army Estimates, we are to supply our Armed Forces this year with 36,000 FN automatic rifles. How many will be delivered? None. This country, this applicant for membership of the thermonuclear club, cannot afford to provide its infantry with an automatic rifle. What do the old soldiers in this Committee think of an Army that, for the next five to ten years, will have two sets of personal weapons, two types of ammunition? What kind of battles will be able to be fought with such weapons? Is there any senior officer here with any military experience whose gorge does not rise at the prospect? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to tell me how many will go to the R.A.F. Regiment? The R.A.F. will have an important rôle to play. What personal weapons have they got in the R.A.F.? Has the right hon. Gentleman troubled to enquire?
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course they have not. They have got the bolt action rifle with which I was armed in the First World War, and we talk about being a thermonuclear power and about impressing the Americans and adopting nuclear atomic weapons while the troops in Berlin have not an automatic rifle and no one says a word.
I do not want to go on too long—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] No, I am getting a little tired. I have been ill and it is an effort, but these things are important so I spoke in the defence debate against advice, and that is why I am saying them again tonight.
Now I want to deal with the fundamental question of manpower. Of course, it is very difficult in a democracy to stand up to relentless pressures and the urges to get rid of compulsory military service. The right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon was very revealing. He told us the position about manpower in the Royal Air Force. In his White Paper he states a very honest thing. He says that we are recruiting at a level which would enable us to sustain the number at which we aim, but he also says that we cannot reach that figure by 15,000 at 76 the moment. I interrupted him to ask whether the figures he was giving were based on the last two or three months or whether they were based on the average of the last nine months. The right hon. Gentleman gave a very revealing answer to that. He said his figures were on the basis of the January and February figures which he had just seen.
That was not the question I asked him. What I want to know is when the Royal Air Force figures really began to go bad. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. It was in October last. Here lies the mistake which has been made during the last ten years. It is a mistake for which the country is paying very dearly. We cannot have both a Royal Air Force manpower policy and an Army manpower policy. As soon as the Army gets rid of its three-year engagement and has a six-year engagement, as soon as the Army solves its own problem, there is a gap in the Royal Air Force.
That is what led my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West up the garden path. The right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) was mug enough to follow him. This is the basis of the great debate that we had in the House on 29th January, 1953, when both those right hon. Gentlemen fought for the credit about the three-year engagement. My right hon. Friend said that it was due to him. My right hon. Friend went to the War Office after having been at the Air Ministry and he thought that the Army problem was the same as the Air Ministry problem. I thought at one time that my right hon. Friend misunderstood the policy of only one of them, but he misunderstands both.
There are only so many people in the country who like a military life, and whether pay is increased or decreased, whether the conditions are bad or good, we may alter the number by a few per cent. but, in the long run, it settles down to the usual figure. With a little luck hon. Members can work the sum out. I have worked it out many times, and I have done it again. I can tell the Minister of Defence and my right hon. Friend what the answer will be. If they are lucky they will be not 15,000 short but 20,000 short in the Royal Air Force. and the Army will be about the same. There will be a total shortage of about 40,000 men.
77 My right hon. Friend found himself in a jam. Not eighteen months or two years ago but last July my right hon. Friend was faced with a new Measure, the Army (Conditions of Enlistment) Bill, which got rid of some of the longterm engagement men. My right hon. Friend never read the Bill. If he will look at the Committee proceedings he will find that I pointed that out to him. He thought that the Measure got rid of the three-year engagement. It did not do anything of the sort. It got rid of the long-service men.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Godfrey Nicholson)
I believe the hon. Gentleman is in danger of forgetting that we are discussing the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Wigg
Before the debate opened, Sir Godfrey, I took the precaution of consulting authorities in the House so that I should remain in order. I would point out that Command Paper 365 deals with the rates of pay and conditions of all three Services. Therefore, if in my enthusiasm I said "private" or referred to the Army itself it was only because of my service in the Army. If you wish, I am willing to speak in terms of aircraftmen.
§ Mr. Wigg
Then I will do so, but I would point out that it tends to confuse the rates of pay of one as with another. My argument is that the one policy covers all three Services.
There was bound to be an improvement in the Royal Air Force once the three-year engagement in the Army had gone. The fact that there has been an improvement is not to the credit of the Government or to my right hon. Friend. I have been arguing for six years that the essential preliminary to getting rid of National Service was to get rid of the three-year engagement and to have a six-years engagement.
My right hon. Friend found a wonderful panacea, £10 a week—"at the start" he said—and all found. He and I engaged in a correspondence in the Observer and The Times from which my right hon. Friend quietly and with discretion vanished. In the course of a few days he discovered that "£10 a week at the starts" did not mean "at the start" at all. It referred to the three-star man. 78 There was an astonishing admission on the part of the Secretary of State for War. He did not realise that the three-star man, the combatant soldier, gets his three stars only after eighteen months' service whereas the tradesman gets it after six months.
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes. There is the same situation there as between the general duties man and the tradesman. I remember the bitterness and feeling between men in the First World War as a result of those in the front line getting 1 s. a day whereas an R.A.S.C. man driving a vehicle behind the lines got 6s. a day.
The star system was introduced by the Labour Government—it was a very wise step—to link up the rates of pay of the combatant soldier and the tradesman. It was left to me to point out that to introduce £10 a week not for the recruit but for a man after he had done eighteen months' service was a new form of fishing. We caught the fish with a bare hook and then fed the bait to the fish after we had caught it. I expressed the view that this was a very novel but somewhat unrewarding sport and that we should not get many recruits.
I would remind the Committee that it is a very expensive bait. No comments have been made on this issue, but hon. Members should recall what it has cost the country: £16½ million in 1954, £67 million in 1956, and £33 million in 1958. These are annual sums. It means that we are spending more than £100 million a year for a policy which is bound to fail. Yet at the same time we cannot afford the sums of money required to provide our men with personal weapons. This is nuts. It is absolutely straight barmy and crazy.
It is not the whole story. The Minister of Defence, a very courageous and a very obstinate man—the key to his character is, however, that he is a singularly stupid man—regaled the House with a story about a private receiving £11 13s. a week. I watched my right hon. Friend. He nearly bubbled over with joy. He was a man transformed——
§ The Temporary Chairman
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are 79 discussing the Air Estimates, Vote A, and I hope he will restrict his remarks to that subject.
§ Mr. Wigg
Certainly, Sir Godfrey. I would point out that I am talking about Command Paper 365, and if I say "private" it can equally be "aircraftman", because rates of pay, rates of marriage allowance and ration rates are the same for both. However, I will talk about Vote A.
The Minister of Defence made the point that a private soldier, an able-bodied seaman or an aircraftman could get £11 13s. a week, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West was a man transformed. Here he had complete justification for his policy. Later on he went into it in great detail. He said that he had asked for only £10 a week but it was now to be £11 13s. However, I have had a little more service than my right hon. Friend has had, and I went away to check the figures. What do we find? I am astonished at my right hon. Friend. Whether it be recruiting, tactical weapons, personal weapons or aircraft, when will my right hon. Friend learn to check the figures given by right hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite, for they just reel the figures out and do not understand them. A little brief inquiry would have shown that the weekly pay of this airman, soldier or seaman was £5 15s. 6d., marriage allowance £3 17s., ration allowance £2 Os. 10d. He had eighteen months' service. His basic rate of pay as a recruit was £5 1s. 6d. The right hon. Gentleman has still to double that before he can take any credit.
This has nothing to do with the policy of giving increased pay. There is no short answer to the problem. Of course one ought to give good rates of pay. Of course one ought to be the good employer, and of course one ought to be concerned with barracks, accommodation, married quarters, rations and amenities in accordance with the needs and spirit of the times, but if anyone on either Front Bench thinks that he can buy his way out of this one he is wrong.
I want to read another letter which I had this morning—the original is open to inspection. It comes to me from the wife of a very senior officer. So incensed is she that she has sent a circular right, left 80 and centre. If my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire did it, he would be arrested for sedition.
§ Mr. Wigg
But I want my hon. Friend to have a little sympathy with this lady, a patriotic lady who is the wife of a senior serving officer. This is the result of the joint manpower pay policy of the two Front Benches. It has the heading:Don't put your son in the Army…She goes on:Dear Sir,Much has been made of the recent increases in pay to the services which we are told is for the purpose of getting recruits by improved conditions.Little or nothing has been said of a number of measures introduced also which in the case of senior married other ranks and officers will have the opposite effect.She gives the House details, but I will not weary the House with all these figures.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I hope that the hon. Member will remember that we are discussing the Air Estimates, Vote A, and I hope that he will do what I said.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
If my hon. Friend is right—and he has now said it three times without contradiction—in stating that the White Paper, which contains all these figures, applies equally to each branch of the Forces, what in the world does it matter whether he picks out somebody in one Service rather than in another? How does it make it out of order if the White Paper applies to all three Services?
§ The Temporary Chairman
It makes it out of order because I have said that it is out of order. According to the rules of the House we discuss the Vote on the Order Paper, and the Vote on the Order Paper is Air Estimates, Vote A.
§ Mr. Silverman
We all understand that perfectly well, but here is an illustration of how the White Paper works. If the White Paper works in that way for members of the Air Force, too, how can it be irrelevant to refer to it?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am not open to argument on this. Hon. Members must confine themselves to the subject of 81 the debate, which is, as I have said, Air Estimates, Vote A. Exceptions can be made for the purposes of illustration.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Further to that point of order. Inasmuch as Vote A of the Air Estimates refers to manpower and to the pay provided for manpower for the Air Force, if my hon. Friend instead of using the word "soldier" used the word "airman", would not that be in order?
§ Mr. Wigg
With great respect, before the debate started I went to great pains to consult senior officials in the House and the Chairman on this specific point. Of course, I am bound by your Ruling, but I point out that in the Secretary of State's Explanatory Memorandum itself marriage allowance, pay and ration allowance are mentioned. I am discussing the Memorandum and Command 365, which applies to all Services. I will endeavour to get within order. All I want to do is to give four simple figures dealing with specific points which cover all three Services. I give my word, Sir Godfrey, that the figures apply to the Royal Air Force.
The lady says that the increase in pay is £47 and the increase in the marriage allowance is £61. She says that as a result of Government policy she has to pay £80 in increased rent, an increased charge for fuel—because the concession of cheap fuel has been withdrawn—amounting to £20, while there is a decreased rebate as a result of the change of N.A.A.F.I. policy of £5, so that she receives £108 more and pays £105 more, resulting in being £3 better off.
Anybody who studies Command 365 knew that that was the answer. That White Paper, like the Defence White Paper of a year ago and the Defence White Paper of this year, are political documents. The Minister of Defence is a terrible jam. The "ceiling" cannot go too high. Therefore he has to find his increases while not allowing his Estimates to rise; so he does it at the expense of defence. He also has to make a drive to get more recruits, so he gives the increase to the six-year recruits, regardless of the effect throughout the Services. In the long run, there is only one answer to the problem of manpower, but the policies 82 pursued by both Front Benches are making the problem worse and not better.
I will keep the House for only a minute of two longer, but I want to say something which I have said many times before and which has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. There is no solution to the problem on party lines, because the issues cut right across party. There is agreement between the two Front Benches and there is agreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East and myself and others on these benches and some hon. Members opposite. As it is in the House of Commons, so it is in the country.
I make one plea. The Secretary of State for Air and I are old friends, despite political differences. I respect him and hope he respects me. I ask him to ask the Prime Minister to have a conversation with the Leader of the Opposition on the procedures involved in nuclear weapons being carried in aircraft flying to and from this country. That problem has got completely out of hand. The cause of it, of course, is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whose inept performance confused his own hon. Friends and hon. Members on this side of the Committee. He did not know what he was talking about and got himself drawn into all sorts of indiscretions. The facts are not at all as the public thinks.
Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are concerned lest pilots and crews get drunk and get into an aircraft with a bomb on board and say, "Cheerio, we are off to Moscow." The right hon. Gentleman knows that that cannot happen. I will not ask him to confirm or deny—he would be a fool if he did say; he should not confirm or deny matters of this kind—but I will say it. If an aircraft took off under those circumstances one thing has to happen before it can go to the Soviet Union—it has to refuel. Hon. Members have not taken the trouble find out about that, but it is the case with the supersonic B.52 and the B.47. We are now developing our own tanker techniques, so what I say will apply to our V-bomber; but the American supersonic bombers cannot complete such a mission without in some cases one re-refuelling, and in others two 83 or three. They would not begin to refuel over these islands, because they would be too near the Russian fighters before they finished. This question must be cleared up between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the benefit of the public.
I should like to see a procedure whereby all the Service Estimates were submitted to a committee appointed by the House. It would be committed to secrecy. It need not consist of Privy Councillors, because we are all bound by questions of privilege. Such a committee could hammer out the kind of details that I am talking about. If I am talking tosh—and I am as likely to be as not; I have only one pair of hands—I cannot help it, but I want to give the House the benefit of my researches.
There should be no differences upon questions of fact. Of course we may have differences of opinion, but we should be able to hammer out questions of fact. If we were rich and powerful, like the United States, we could have our Thor, Jupiter and Polaris and could have many systems of delivery. But we can hardly afford to provide the men in our forces with a decent personal weapon, so we must make sure that when we take a firm decision it is based upon the facts.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Helper would probably say that my quotation from his broadcast was a year old. But defence policies cannot be changed as a shirt can be changed. If we have a manpower policy for all the three Services it will have to be a policy for twenty years. If we introduce a six-year engagement it does not pay dividends before six years have passed, and if we plan a V-bomber we have to wait ten or twelve years before we see the finished product. We cannot afford to change our policy with all the ins and outs and changes of political opinion.
Some people might say that I was pleading for a coalition, but I am pleading for nothing of the kind. What has been borne in upon me in the hurly-burly of debate in the House for the twelve years that I have been here is the fact that there are no votes in this question. The public are not interested in defence. They do not care twopence about it, until they become scared—and fear is a very bad master. What we want is reason, and a proper examination of the facts.
84 I hope that the Government will make an effort, in co-operation with the Opposition, to see that before our next defence debate we correct mistakes if any have been made—and I believe that mistakes have been made. This country has passed the point of no return, and we may find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a way back.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Sir Norman Hulbert (Stockport, North)
Unlike my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), in the few remarks that I have to make I must declare an interest in the aircraft industry. I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon three things. First, I congratulate him upon his speech; secondly, for having been at the Air Ministry for so long—it has been a good thing for the Service to have continuity in its Secretary of State, and unlike the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I hope that my right hon. Friend will be there for a long time—and, thirdly, upon the efficient way in which his Department deals with the troubles of Members' constituents. His is one of the best Departments in the Government in this respect.
I do not propose to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Dudley, except to say that he treated his right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) rather roughly. I am sure that the sympathy of the other hon. Members of the Committee goes out to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) in his now having one further problem to solve.
In these days of Defence and Service Estimates we are used to talking in hundreds of millions of pounds. Such sums are ordinary and commonplace—a matter of everyday finance. When I first entered the House of Commons the total Air Ministry Vote was £20½ million; today, it is £467 million. The Air Ministry in London cost only £750,000; today, it costs £5¼ million. In the 1935 Estimates, our warlike stores cost £8 million; today, the figure is £200 million. I see that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is taking an interest in these vast increases—as well he might. We should all seriously contemplate these astronomical figures. Twenty-two years ago the pay of officers 85 and airmen totalled only a little over £4 million; today, it totals £100 million. In those days we had 33,000 men in the Royal Air Force; today, we have 200,000.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) is not in his place at the moment, because I want to refer to his speech. I was depressed by it, because it was so unhelpful. It does not help the Royal Air Force or the country to say that the equipment which our men have to use is junk. It certainly does not help recruiting. The hon. Member started off with the usual party phrases—"We are against the H-bomb," "We are against aircraft carrying the H-bomb for training purposes," and so on. It is unfortunate that he, who occupied the position of Under-Secretary of State for Air, should talk like that in these days.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I would suggest that the hon. Member thinks again about what my hon. Friend said. He made no statement about being against H-bombs, in the terms of the Defence White Paper; nor did he say anything other than that he was against patrols being carried out with the H-bomb.
§ Sir N. Hulbert
I listened to the hon. Gentleman very carefully, and I think that it is within the recollection of the Committee that the first few sentences of his speech took the form of yet another exposition of his party's line on general defence matters. I am sure that the Committee would like to know the present attitude of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and his party. We have heard what that attitude was last week, and last year, but it varies so frequently that we should like to have an up-to-date version from him tonight.
The hon. Member for Lincoln became very eloquent about the alarm caused by the establishment of missile bases, and told the Committee of the letters that he and other hon. Members had received protesting against them. I should be very surprised to hear that any hon. Member had received more letters about missile bases than about stag hunting or A.I.D. in recent weeks.
I now want to deal with one or two matters in the Air Estimates. At long last Transport Command has ceased to be the "Cinderella" of the Royal Air 86 Force. It has now got good, fast aircraft of the latest marks, including Comets and Britannias. Should war occur, Transport Command will be the most important flying and strategic command in the Royal Air Force. I am particularly pleased that at last Transport Command is taking its rightful position in the Service, because on many occasions in the House of Commons I have done everything I could to bring home to the Ministry the importance of Transport Command. Not long ago the Command had only more or less obsolete aircraft and they were few in number, and the Commander-in-Chief was an officer of the lowest rank of any command.
§ Mr. Beswick
Is the hon. Gentleman saying all this on the basis of the 20 Britannias which are coming to Transport Command?
§ Mr. Beswick indicated dissent.
§ Sir N. Hulbert
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but Transport Command has got Comets. A near relative of mine recently went to Singapore in a Comet, as a member of the Casualty Evacuation Service, and did the trip in 24 hours, amid surroundings of great efficiency and comfort.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Gentleman said Transport Command was to get some Comets. Does he know that there are more Comets coming to Transport Command—apart from the 11 it got from the Ministry of Supply, to suit the convenience of the Ministry of Supply?
§ Sir N. Hulbert
It has Comets for the Casualty Evacuation Service on the direct route from London to the East as well as for the round trip via Christmas Island, with which I believe the hon. Gentleman is familiar.
The Secretary of State referred to the increasing use of civilians in the Service and I attach great importance to this. It has been said that to use civilians in certain occupations is more expensive. I believe that members of the Air Council use airmen for work for which the 87 airmen do not get a return, and that may or may not be the case. But there are many trades and jobs in the Royal Air Force which could be done quite adequately by civilians. There is a psychological advantage about their employment.
A man who is employed as a motor driver or a tractor driver in civil life and is called up, put into uniform, and becomes a driver, whether he drives a lorry carrying an H-bomb or a car containing an air marshal, begins to wonder why he has been called up and why he should not be left in his civilian occupation where, perhaps, he was assisting in the provision of more food for the country. The argument does not apply only to drivers. There should be greater opportunities for the employment of civilians as telephonists. It is unnecessary to call up a man or recruit a woman and put them into uniform merely to operate a switchboard.
I wish to say something about the reserves and their pay and commitments. Whatever happens in the future the Air Force must carry a personnel reserve. I do not think that the members of the Reserve are treated as well as their status entitles them to be. Members of the Reserve are not promoted. If a man is called up to do training to fit him to occupy the post of a wing commander in an emergency, he is probably receiving only the rate of pay of a squadron leader; and the same applies in other ranks. I see no reason why a man who joins the Reserve as a flight lieutenant or a squadron leader should remain in that rank however long he remains in the Reserve.
What I have to say about retirement applies particularly to more senior officers—air commodores and air vicemarshals—compulsorily retired between the ages of 45 and 48, or those who elect to go at that age believing that they are more likely to get a job commensurate with the abilities than if they stay in the Service until they are four or five years older. Many officers have been retired, or told that they could retire, but no definite date has been fixed for their retirement.
A man may be told on 1st January or 1st April that he can leave, but finds himself kept for another three or six 88 months while someone higher up decides on his replacement, or whether his post is to be continued. The chances of an officer getting a good appointment under those circumstances are seriously jeopardised, especially if he is unable to tell his prospective employer the definite date when he will be leaving the Service.
Not only independent commercial firms, but the Federation of British Industries, run administrative courses for officers leaving the Services. I suggest to the Air Ministry that an opportunity be given for any officer during his last six months of service to attend these courses, or to take part in some way. There has been a great improvement in the administrative experience which Air Force officers have been able to obtain in recent years. A great deal has been done to ensure greater administrative efficiency as distinct from technical or flying efficiency, particularly in the Benson experiment, which was carried out with such success.
As was said by my right hon. Friend, the Royal Air Force is the youngest of the Services. It celebrates its fortieth birth day this year, when a great and signal honour is being conferred upon it. During its forty years it has had its ups and down. It rises to Olympian heights in time of war and reaches its nadir when Parliament starves it of money, aircraft and men. The House of Commons is responsible for that.
Let me tell the Committee a story. Not many months ago a wedding reception was held in the Palace of Westminster. The girl had married an officer in the Royal Air Force. During the party, somebody said to her, "You know, my dear, you thought you were marrying an airman. You are not. You are marrying a guided missile". Be that as it may, the future of the Royal Air Force does not depend upon guided missiles, wherever they may be situated, but upon men. The old Flying Corps and the present Royal Air Force had their successes with the "pushers" made of string and bits of bamboo, and with the 1939–45 Spitfires and Hurricanes. This spirit must continue with the Vulcans, Victors, Javelins and the other special aircraft and supersonic fighters of today. If the Royal Air Force is to carry on its great traditions it has to have not only guided missiles, but men.
89 Both the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary have served with distinction in the Royal Air Force. So long as they remain in their posts I am sure that they will resist the voracious endeavours of the other Services, or even of the Ministry of Defence, to take away from the Royal Air Force the position which is its right and the job which it wishes to do.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I beg to move, That a number not exceeding 202,000, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service.
This is not my minimum demand, but is the conventional Parliamentary method of criticising the policy of the Minister in charge of the particular Service. In doing so, I would make it clear that I do not speak for the official Labour Party. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I am one of the "unconventional weapons."
§ Mr. Hughes
Misguided if you will, but in course of time we shall see.
I would present to the Committee objections far more fundamental and definite than those put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). My challenge is to the whole conception of the Air Estimates as a policy of defence. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert) said that during his time in the House he had seen considerable increases in expenditure on the Royal Air Force. We always listen to him with great respect, because so much of his life has been spent in that Service. He stressed at the beginning of his speech the very great rise in expenditure in his time; I have been pointing that out now for a good many years.
This morning I came to London by air with my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin). I believe that there were twice as many people in that aeroplane as are in this Committee now listening to the debate. When I think of the £500 million which may be voted by the Committee on this occasion. I say, "Never was so much money spent by so few."
Five hundred million pounds a year is a very large Estimate. This payment has 90 been going on since the Labour Government decided to proceed with their rearmament programme. During the time of the present Government we have spent an average—sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less—of £500 million. Therefore, during the last seven years, we have voted £3,500 million for the Air Ministry. That is a colossal sum of money which I believe, from the military and the economic points of view, has been largely sheer waste.
What could we have done for the country with £3,500 million? We could have placed our civil aviation in an unchallenged position in the world, but we have spent it on aircraft which are now obsolete. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln talked about junk. He was referring to the American guided missiles, rockets, and the paraphernalia which the Americans are to send here, as junk. We also have a great mass of junk. The Economist two years ago, said of the original rearmament programme of the then Mr. Attlee that the £5,000 million of the original defence programme had gone down the drain. A very large proportion of the money has been spent on aircraft which are now obsolete.
I do not know whether hon. Members have read the very interesting interviews that Mr. Khrushchev has been giving to the American newspapers. Perhaps the most interesting was the one in which he was interviewed by Mr. James Reston, of the New York Times. Mr. Khrushchev was quite candid with him and with other military correspondents who interviewed him for the American Press. Mr. Khrushchev took up the position that bombers and fighters were now obsolete. Indeed, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) usually says the same thing in these debates, although he has not spoken today. We are all waiting for his contribution.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am sorry that he is not here. I have learned a great deal from the arguments that he has brought forward in these debates. In the last Air Estimates debate he argued that in fifteen years' time the Royal Air Force would be non-existent. He even said that he would not put his own son into that Service because of the lack of future of 91 a career. When we hear that Mr. Khrushchev and the hon. Member for Macclesfield agree on this point we are safe in saying that we are at the end of the era in which bombers and fighters were regarded as the essential weapons of war.
It might take a few years, but the fact is that the time has come when we should recognise that supersonic bombers, fighters, and all the craft for which we have been voting money in the last ten years, are obsolete. Looking back on that huge sum, I believe that it is so much economic waste. And when we have spent that huge sum of money we are in no way winning the arms race. The prospect of our being able to meet the Russians from a position of strength is nowhere on the horizon.
There is more to it than merely the argument about national expenditure. Throughout the United Kingdom there is a great surge of feeling against the H-bomb. It is not just a question of party politics; it is a deep fundamental realisation by the people that there is in this weapon imminent danger for us all. Mr. Frank Cousins has described it as "the idiot's weapon". I subscribe to that view, because a weapon of suicide is fundamentally an idiot's weapon. How is it to be delivered? It is to be delivered by the Air Force. I am not going to describe those who man the Air Force as idiots—I have every respect for them—but the description can be applied to a Government which proceed, as this Government' are doing, with this huge expenditure, in view of the way in which the world is developing.
At the Labour Party Conference, Mr. Cousins made a speech which expressed the view of the people much more definitely, much more clearly, much more sincerely and emphatically than the speeches which have been delivered from the Front Bench during our debates on defence. Mr. Cousins said:I would remind this conference that I am not regarded in trade union circles as an emotional man, but on this thing I am proud to be emotional. I have a six year old daughter—many of you are in the same position—and I will not compromise with anybody on the future of that child.I believe that an attitude of compromise to the H-bomb is absolutely impossible. 92 Mr. Cousins went on to say:We must say that this nation, of all nations, great or small, however we may like to think of ourselves, does not approve of the maintenance or manufacture, either by ourselves or anyone else, of this idiot's weapon. There is no compromise with evil.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Could the hon. Member tell us how Mr. Cousins went on to vote?
§ Mr. Hughes
Certainly. I have already explained it. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware of the mechanics of a Labour Party conference. I am quoting this as the personal expression of Mr. Cousins. Later, he did not have the support of the Conference. That is quite clear. I am putting it forward as an expression of view which, I believe, is that of millions of people in Britain. It was not just an emotional speech. A very large number of people are taking part in the campaign against the H-bomb.
§ Mr. Hughes
The number is increasing and the campaign has very powerful support in the Press.
Even if it were just an emotional approach, surely we are entitled to be emotional about the prospect of seeing a country destroyed and millions of people suffer in an atomic war. The meetings organised by those who object to the H-bomb are not emotional meetings in the sense in which they might be regarded as hysterical. At the weekend the Lord President of the Council mixed up pacifists with hysterical people. The least hysterical meetings I have been to are meetings of the Society of Friends. Sometimes they do not speak at all. They are certainly not emotional, yet the Society of Friends is the oldest pacifist movement in the country.
It is not emotional people who speak at these demonstrations all over the country. Earl Russell is an eminent mathematician and abstract philosopher. I have known him for many years. He is about the least emotional and excitable person I know in modern public life.
§ Mr. Hughes
Unlike the Lord President of the Council, and unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I am sorry that my right hon. Friend is not present, because in a speech he delivered in the House the other day, he said something rather disrespectful about Earl Russell. He talked about a "superannuated philosopher". The right hon. Member referred to the philosophy with which he was acquainted, including the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. I do not know what appealed to my right hon. Friend in Immanuel Kant, whether it was his Christian or his surname. Immanuel Kant wrote a book called "Perpetual Peace". I hope that my right hon. Friend will read that book and digest it. Then, perhaps, he will be able to answer Lord Russell on his own ground.
This is not an hysterical, emotional movement at all; it is a movement of very level-headed people. It has the support of a very large number of scientists, mathematicians, biologists, physicists, and people accustomed to thinking in terms of abstract formulae and mathematics. Not only from the emotional point of view, but also from the intellectual point of view there is strong criticism of the production of the H-bomb. There is a strong demand that the policy on missile bases should not proceed.
I noticed that even the Observer has been taking an interest in the controversy, which has extended to the University of Oxford. It has come to the conclusion that there is no substance in the idea that the H-bomb can be used as a bargaining weapon. Yesterday, the newspaper asked the question:Does the argument that Britain's possession of the bomb gives her a greater influence in negotiations provide sufficient reason for indefinite retention of the bomb?The answer was:No. There is no evidence that possession of the bomb has increased Britain's influence with Russia or the United States.The Observer does not take the view that a Foreign Secretary would be handicapped by going into a peace conference if he did not have the H-bomb. It does not take the view that it matters very much. It does not matter very much whether the Foreign Secretary goes into the conference naked or in a kilt, a suit of asbestos or a suit of many colours. 94 The idea that by retaining the atom bomb we are retaining the bargaining power of the nation is not one to which many well-informed people on the question of the relative positions of Russia and America can subscribe.
Tonight, we are voting for there being 202,000 men for the Royal Air Force. The whole idea is that at some time they will be prepared to drop the hydrogen bomb. We are training a very large percentage of these 202,000 men in all the latest techniques so that they can at some time, if necessary, drop the H-bomb on some part of the world. We have been told that it costs £25,000 to train one of these airmen.
As one hon. Member has pointed out, we get some curious sidelights on the human problem in the daily Press. There is, for example, the case of the corporal whose duty it was to tow the hydrogen bomb from one place to another and who was accused of being drunk. The wonder to me is not that any of the soldiers who think in terms of the hydrogen bomb and its future get drunk, but that any of them can remain sober, because at a signal from somewhere they will have to go up into their aircraft and fly away to somewhere behind the Iron Curtain—it may be Moscow, Leningrad or Berlin or Hungary, whatever point the strategic command thinks it necessary to attack—and they have got to drop the H-bomb.
We are told how much easier and safer it now is for the airmen to depart. What about their return? If they drop the H-bomb, nothing is more certain than that there will be retaliation. They will come back to a country devastated and destroyed. I do not wonder that so few people are joining the Royal Air Force. I wonder that anybody joins it at all, because it is nothing less than a suicide club, whose members do not have the opportunity of deciding. In Stevenson's story "The Suicide Club," lots were drawn as to who should commit suicide, but, apparently, the people who are to carry the H-bomb will have no option whatever. It is an action tantamount to suicide. When they come back, they will return to a country in which their wives, children and families have been destroyed, That is the stark realism of it.
I do not subscribe to the idea that that is worse than anything else. I do not 95 believe in totalitarianism. I believe that even if a country were subject for a time to totalitarian rule, it could survive and its people could live, but the very idea that we can defeat totalitarianism by the method of suicide is, as Mr. Cousins calls it, using the idiot's weapon.
In these discussions, a new word is appearing nowadays. It is the word "unilateral." Although they do not use that word, both sides agree with the idea. It is more respectable than it used to be, because the very economies that the Minister of Defence is imposing on the various Services are essentially unilateral. His purpose is not only military, but economic. He says, "You cannot spend more than this. The rest must go." That means a unilateral policy.
The Labour Party, I am glad to say, has come to the conclusion that its policy must be the unilateral ending of the bomb tests in the Pacific. I am very glad that the Labour Party has taken that attitude, but if we agree that the tests over the Pacific, involving danger to future generations, must be stopped and that we must take unilateral action to do it, I do not see how we can then logically support the manufacture of the H-bomb. There is no logic in it.
I believe that the sheer logic of events will make the Labour Party realise that the idea of unilateral disarmament is like the idea of revolution. It is a revolutionary idea. I do not remember who it was who said that revolution could not be stopped half-way. The logical attitude for the Labour Party now is not to say that it wants to keep the hydrogen weapon. We must abolish it altogether and face the alternative and face the consequences. I believe that the sheer pressure of events will ultimately mean that the Labour Party will be forced to take up this position.
I want to ask the Secretary of State one or two questions about the Scottish position. The idea of guided missiles first came into the headlines after the N.A.T.O. Conference. We were told that these missile bases were to be erected in Scotland.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of saying that, but I do 96 say that somehow or other, as a result of the N.A.T.O. Conference, it came into the headlines that there were to be bases in Scotland.
Why have there to be these missile bases in Scotland? I do not want them there and Scottish public opinion, ranging from the Moderator of the Church of Scotland to the Labour Party and the big Scottish trade unions, does not want them. Immediately that statement was made, there came a strong reaction in Scotland and I am very glad to say that we are not now to have these missile bases there; but I very much regret that they are to be built to the South, in East Anglia.
One of the explanations given by the Daily Express scientific correspondent was that if the missile bases were established in Scotland and aimed at Russia, at Leningrad or Moscow or some other big Russian centre, the missiles would have to pass over neutral territory and Sweden would object. I do not know whether these complications arise at all, but I should like to know why they are to be centred, unfortunately for my hon. Friends the Members for the Norfolk divisions and my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, in that part of the country. If the pressure of public opinion has anything to do with it, I hope that there will be a similar demonstration of public opinion there.
I think it was a German who said that these rocket bases would not defend us against lightning, but would attract it. I believe that that is so. I believe that if we proceed with them, we shall make this country even more dangerous than it is at present. I know the answer that will come from right hon. and hon. Members opposite. It is that if the Labour Party was right in establishing the bombers here, the logical consequence of that is the rockets, but, as I opposed the bombers coming here, they cannot bring that argument against me.
In the Manchester Guardian, on Friday, there was a quotation from a speech by Mr. Khrushchev which begins:Mr. Khrushchev has issued a warning that the Soviet Government will establish nuclear rocket bases aimed at the British Isles if the British Government permit the establishment of similar American bases on its territory.97 If the Russians fire rockets at this country, it will be a crime against civilisation. I have no brief for rockets of any kind, and I believe, too, that if rockets are fired from Britain against Moscow or Leningrad it is equally a crime against civilisation. We cannot commit a crime without getting retribution. To me, it seems obvious that if these rockets, with hydrogen bomb warheads, are fired against Russia, the result will be, as so many hon. Members have said already, the immediate destruction of this country. So I oppose this policy in the interests of millions of people who have no defence in the event of these things happening.
We are all interested in preserving the life of this country, and in all our actions we must keep in mind the necessity for working out a policy aimed at securing us from great danger. There is no greater danger than the menace of retaliation from the possession of these weapons and it is because this stares us starkly in the face that I wish that right hon. and hon. Members on my own Front Bench had taken a stronger attitude on this occasion.
The Foreign Secretary has told us that he believes that the Russians are prepared to fulfil precise agreements. The precise agreements are there, obviously. If the Prime Minister follows his proposal for a pact of non-aggression to its logical conclusion, I believe that the Russians would keep it. If it is put in precise form, as the Foreign Secretary says, I believe that they would keep it, because it is in their interests to do so. If, at the summit talks, the proposal were made that the Russians would be prepared to regard this country as neutral if we did away with our missile bases, I believe that the Russians would honour this obligation and that this would be the way to security for our people.
It is because I believe that this point of view needs to be expressed here emphatically, and with all the force that human beings can bring to argument, that I wish the Government to know that there is a strong, and, I believe, overwhelming, opinion in the country against the establishment of these missile bases. Even the Daily Express poll of public opinion says that there is a majority of people who are against the Americans coming here. I believe that that is true, 98 and if the Government want to test it, this is an issue that should be tested in the country.
Surely, the fate of Britain is far more important than other issues, even those of the Rent Act. It is a very great hardship for people to have to pay more rent, but it is a still greater hardship for them to have their homes destroyed so that they will not have to pay any rent at all. I wish that the Government would go to the country on this issue. The sands are running out, and the snows are melting away. The Government's political credit is very low. It is this discredited Government, this Government who cannot win a by-election and who know that there is a rising tide against them, who take what I believe to be a step towards disaster.
I say to the Prime Minister that if he has any doubt about public opinion, if he dismisses people like myself, Bertrand Russell and Frank Cousins as unpractical idealists who merely represent a small minority, let him test his belief in the country. Give those whose lives are likely to be at stake the opportunity of casting their votes. If that could be done, I should have no hesitation in saying that the result would be against the Government's policy, against the missile bases, and in favour of a constructive policy that would bring us wealth and peace.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am always glad to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), and I have done it several times. Indeed, I should like to say on personal grounds that I do not think these Air Estimates debates would be quite the same without him. My difficulty in following him is that his arguments always go very much wider than the ones which I wish to pursue, and I think that today is no exception.
However, I feel that his speech, to some degree, and certainly other speeches to which we have listened in this debate, have shown that the Royal Air Force today is passing through one of the most critical periods in all the forty years of its history. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas)—I am sorry he is not in his place—made a number of general remarks this afternoon with which I profoundly disagree on the issues of the cessation of nuclear tests and the 99 carrying of nuclear bombs by aircraft over this country, but he did make some important remarks about the question of manned fighters in relation to guided weapons, and I hope to try to deal with these in the remarks which I have to make.
As I say, I think that this is a really critical period for the Royal Air Force. Not only is the Service now involved in a process of contraction—never an easy one for one of the Armed Forces—but it is also facing and going through changes in policy which are at once more fundamental and far-reaching than any which the Service has yet known. Therefore, I should like to say at the outset to my right hon. Friend that I do not suppose that any of his predecessors in office has had to battle harder in the interests of the Service than he has had to do during the last six or eight months.
It is clear to anyone who follows these matters that to have achieved these Estimates, even in their present form, must have involved many hours of argument, often contentious and sometimes bitter. All this has by no means been lost on the Service. It knows the fight my right hon. Friend has put up on its behalf, and, I believe, respects him for it.
But if the last six months have been difficult for my right hon. Friend, they have been equally testing for the Chief of the Air Staff. On Sir Dermot Boyle has fallen a burden such as is not normally shouldered by one in his position during times of ordinary service or, indeed, during the easier days of expansion. Contraction and reduction are, however, very different matters, and in face of this process I believe that Sir Dermot Boyle's conduct and leadership of the Service and his judgment have insured for him a place among the great occupants of the office.
I must turn now to some criticisms of the policy which is being pursued in planning the air defence of Great Britain. Paragraph 32 of the Memorandum to the Air Estimates says:Our fighter strength has already been considerably reduced, and the planned rundown will be completed during the coming year.This raises very serious issues. The battle to prune Fighter Command is not yet over or won, and I feel that some examination of the problem at this stage may be 100 useful. I begin with one assumption, which I quite understand is not acceptable to all hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we must have the deterrent. Secondly, I assume that we cannot afford to have all the defensive air weapons which ideally we should like to have; something must go if we are to sustain our country's economy. If such a premise—a very moderate premise, I suggest—be accepted, then the question must at once be posed: in making these reductions, which, I think, are generally acknowledged to be inevitable, can we really afford to run down Fighter Command and, with it, the strength of our manned fighter aircraft until it has really very small significance?
I contend that at this stage the end of the manned fighter should not be in sight. In my opinion, the piloted defensive aircraft must remain complementary—parallel, if one likes—to defensive guided weapons for many years to come, and I shall try to show in a few minutes why I believe this is so.
Just as business in this country is getting more into the hands of accountants—hon. Gentlemen may or may not like that—so in defence, particularly in air defence, scientists are coming increasingly to dominate planning and policy. I say frankly that I do not like it. No one has a higher regard for the achievements of British scientists than I have, and certainly no one has more reason to be grateful to them; but to allow them to extend far outside the advisory capacity, in which, I believe, they are quite indispensable, and to permit their thinking to influence, if not to dominate, policy and planning today, is a highly questionable procedure.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
So far as my experience has gone, there are some scientists who would agree entirely with my hon. Friend's view. I feel that, in making that sweping condemnation of all scientists, my hon. Friend is overlooking the fact that many scientists believe that manned aircraft are more manœuvrable than the guided missile.
§ Mr. Lucas
Yes, I agree; I am much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. I am talking in general terms, and I believe that the tendency today is for scientists to have more and more influence on planning and policy. Their position 101 should be confined to advice. They have a great part to play in an advisory capacity, and I do not wish to denigrate them in any way. My general thesis is that their influence on policy and planning is becoming too great.
Right or wrong, I believe that it will take substantially longer to perfect the surface-to-air guided weapon than a good many of the more optimistic estimates now suggest. Even when we get them in their proved form they will have many limitations. So long as the Russians continue to develop and retain manned bombers—and all the indications are that they are increasing rather than reducing them at the present time—so long should we retain the manned fighter. To leave the Russians with all the advantages of flexibility which must flow to them if we deplete our fighter strength still further and rely mainly on guided weapons for defence, would be a very serious error in military judgment.
In any case, apart from the manned fighter, there is, as I understand it, no answer to the use by an enemy of photographic reconnaisance aircraft or the stand-off bomber operating beyond our shores outside missile or guided weapon range. Apart from the manned fighter, there is no answer to the stand-off aircraft designed to jam our radar warning defences. And if there is an unidentified aircraft—which today must assume an importance quite different from what it did ten or fifteen years ago—one will not suddenly be able to whistle up a missile to have a look at it in order to decide whether it is friend or foe.
There is a very serious question indeed. It is a matter of some significance that none of the three countries possessing the largest air forces—the United States, the Soviet Union, and Communist China—has yet given any indication that it proposes to dispense with the manned fighter. Furthermore, when one considers the commitments which can and do, unfortunately, arise overseas in smaller conventional operations, one is forced to the conclusion that to run down our fighter strength still further would be to deprive ourselves of an essential and wide-purpose weapon. One of the lessons of the Korean campaign was to show the folly of allowing the development of our fighters to fall below world standards, and I hope that we shall 102 not forget that lesson. And let me say at this juncture that whenever I think of the Royal Air Force's secondary tasks and rôles overseas I cannot help regretting that we did not go for the light Folland fighter, the Gnat, when the opportunity first knocked.
If a decision were taken to run down our fighter strength to a point where it ceased really to matter, this might well have a significant reaction also on the thinking and policy of the Governments of some of the N.A.T.O. countries, and if there ever came into being a movement within N.A.T.O. substantially to reduce Western fighter strength while the Russians continued with the use of manned bombers, then the consequences for the West could be very serious indeed.
Looking at the rundown of Fighter Command and setting it against the background of increasing naval expenditure, particularly the expenditure involved in the nuclear submarine, I cannot help being sceptical of the financial balance which is being struck between the two Services. To put it crudely, it looks to me as if the Royal Navy has "got away with murder".
To rely mainly on static or near-static defence and to allow many of the advantages of flexibility and manœuvre to pass into Russian hands would be to forget one of the first principles of defence. By all means develop the guided missiles and press forward with a missile programme with all the vigour possible, but we should retain the manned fighter as a parallel and complementary means of defence. I hope that the Secretary of State will do all he can to see that the P.1, when we get it, is taken right through its development stretch. I hope that it will not rest on the Mark I aircraft.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
We all know the hon. Gentleman's record and experience as a fighter pilot and, if I may say so, his very fine record, but is he not rather arguing as if the next war may be of the same conventional type as the last war? Is he not neglecting the fact that if this nuclear weapon in any form, either as a missile or in some other way, is used, the fighter and bomber aircraft will not be necessary?
§ Mr. Lucas
I disagree with the hon. and gallant Member. The theme that I am trying to develop is that we need the manned fighter aircraft as a complementary weapon to the guided missile. I am not saying that we ought to have one or the other. I say that we ought to have both. We cannot have everything that ideally we would like to have, but in the air defence of Great Britain we need the two, at any rate for some time ahead.
My final point relates to the replacement of the Canberra when this aircraft goes out of service. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to this matter this afternoon. Is it intended to find a successor to this aeroplane for use as a tactical bomber, or is it intended to use the medium bomber in a conventional and tactical rôle if that can be done?
The Royal Navy seems to be getting its hands on the Blackburn aircraft designated the N.39. The suggestion is that the Royal Air Force may be able to adopt it. Perhaps we could have some information about this tonight. Is this aircraft really going to prove to be sufficiently flexible to operate on runways and airfields overseas in the conditions which we know have to be encountered there? I have never before known the Royal Navy to develop an aeroplane which was even remotely usable by the Royal Air Force, so perhaps my hon. Friend the Under Secretary will give us some information about this this evening.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
I have waited a long time to make my few comments. I sat for fourteen hours through the defence debate to make two points about which I feel strongly—the nuclear-armed bomber patrols and the H-bomb.
I do not intend to follow closely the arguments of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). It is obvious that he has been in a fighter squadron and feels strongly about the rundown of this force. He emphasised that we should press on quickly with missile development. I hope that this is what the Government are doing and that they are spending some time in research into missile development to enable it to take the place of the fighter squadrons of the past.
I listened intently to the speech of the Secretary of State for Air and was 104 amazed that he made no mention of the nuclear-armed bomber patrols. This question has been exercising Parliament for a long time, and it should have formed part of his speech this afternoon. I intend to deal specifically with the dangers arising from the nuclear-armed bomber patrols and to suggest that they should end.
I was amazed at the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who I am sorry is not in his place at the moment. Indeed, I was shocked that he should have spent most of his time attacking our Front Bench. It was unnecessary. In our democracy, and particularly in our party, there is plenty of time to do that elsewhere. There is plenty of room for attacking the Government on this question of defence and on the Estimates.
I accept the reasoning that the rocket bases are a logical development of the nuclear-armed bomber bases, but I do not accept the argument that these surface missile stations are essential. Indeed, I do not see the necessity for them. I should have thought that the trend would have been from the nuclear-armed bomber bases to the underground rocket missile sites, instead of building these vulnerable sites on the surface. We could then have the supplementation of Polaris in the future. I should have thought that would be the logical development.
Why the rush to build defenceless and highly vulnerable missile bases on the surface, which will become obsolete in two years' time anyway, and at the same time create resistance in this country to the development of the underground rocket base, which resistance will spread to other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries? We shall be doing what the Russians have been seeking to do for the last ten years, namely, to undermine and severely damage the collective security of the N.A.T.O. alliance which we have steadily and patiently built up over the past ten years.
I can see no reason for the installation of the surface rocket base. It is no improvement on the deterrent force. Being sited on the ground, it is highly vulnerable. I understand that it will take at least four hours to fuel and fit the nuclear tip before the rocket can be launched, and in any event it has not been proved 100 per cent. successful. In 105 addition, it will cost £10 million, and it seems a sheer waste of money. When the Under-Secretary concludes the debate tonight I hope he will give some more information about this project. The amount of money spent on this project may represent a small proportion of the total moneys that we are being asked to vote, but nevertheless, it seems a sheer waste of £10 million.
As far as the megaton bomb is concerned, I notice that we are rapidly nuclearising the Royal Air Force and particularly the bomber force. I hope the Secretary of State is applying pressure on the Prime Minister and acquainting him of the necessity to get rid of this hideous weapon. That should be the priority in the minds of all members of the Cabinet. The next Summit Conference will decide whether this bomb is to be a weapon of warfare or not. If no international agreement is forthcoming to ban nuclear weapons, we might as well face the fact that nuclear weapons are here to say—atomic artillery, howitzers and all the conglomeration of weapons of war fitted with nuclear warheads. If this Summit Conference fails, we might as well face the fact that they are well on the way.
We are building atomic power stations in this country and we are exporting them. Every time one is exported, plutonium, which is the fissile material for these bombs, is produced. I congratulate the Government on their wisdom in the agreement which they have made with the Italian Government. There is a clause in the agreement which stipulates that all uranium rods used in the atomic piles must be returned to this country for processing, and therefore we keep the fissile material.
Every nation as soon as it starts building atomic power stations will have the necessary fissile material to build nuclear-tipped weapons, bombs, and so on. These weapons are in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and it is most essential that he should make the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister well aware how quickly developments are taking place. That is the pattern, and unless one believes in unilateral renouncement of nuclear weapons or in neutralism that is how it will develop.
I would bring the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the question of the 106 nuclear-armed bomber patrols and refer him to the White Paper, Report on Defence, Cmd. 363, paragraph 4, which deals with medium-range ballistic rockets and says:These weapons, against which there is at present no answer, could, from sites in Europe and elsewhere, dominate practically every target of importance in the Soviet Union. The possession by Russia of rockets of equal range will not for reasons of geography, afford her any corresponding strategic advantage. It would be of no use to her to attack Western Europe unless she could simultaneously knock out the vital strategic air bases in the United States. She could at present have no reasonable hope of achieving this with manned bombers, and it will still take her several years to complete the development of an accurate Inter-continental rocket and produce it in sufficient numbers. Even then, there could be no certainty of the success of an attack.If this is true, that Russia could not wipe out all our bases, why this insistence on flying the nuclear-armed bomber patrols?
Were not we told that they were started because we feared the Russians were now armed with nuclear-tipped missiles which might wipe out every base we have in the country and that we would have the nuclear-armed patrols patrolling overhead all the time so that we should have in the air a sufficient force ready to go to blast the Russian bases? This statement in the White Paper indicates that the Russians cannot do it. Therefore, there is no need whatsoever for nuclear-armed bomber patrols. The insistence on having these patrols may be a Pearl Harbour mentality typical of the Americans, but there is no reason why we should fall for it and allow bomber patrols to keep patrolling the skies with these nuclear bombs aboard. It should be the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to see that they are stopped immediately.
Let us have a look at the dangers. I say quite emphatically that these patrols are imposing greater danger upon our own people than any potential aggressor at the present time. There could be an explosion, with danger and loss of life following, equal to all the high explosive bombs dropped on London during the last war. The Prime Minister has admitted that an explosion could take place. It took many months of questioning before he agreed. Although he said many times that there was no danger, at least he did agree that it could happen. On 20th February he said:I believe the experts now put it at one chance in 3,000 million, and I think I was 107 justified in saying 'no danger' …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1958; Vol. 582, c. 1400.]Hon. Gentlemen opposite may nod, but it will be on their conscience if an accident does occur. We on these benches have spent many hours questioning the Prime Minister on this matter and he says that there is one chance in 3,000 million. It may be, but is it not possible that the accident could occur in the first hundred sorties rather than in the last? Is not that possible? It may be that over the period of time the chance may be only one in 3,000 million, but it might occur in the first hundred rather than in the last hundred.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
The question is how the hon. Gentleman can say that, unless we know exactly what the risk is and what the real danger is. So far as I know, nobody has ever told us exactly what causes the accident. We talk about the accident as though it is likely to happen, but we do not know just what causes it.
§ Mr. Mason
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. If he will wait patiently a little longer, as I have had to wait many hours in this Chamber, I will supply him with the answer.
Tory Members of Parliament have not accepted their responsibilities in this respect. They remind me of a mongrelised edition of leeches and spineless jellyfish clinging to the back benches and unable to move, and listening to the Prime Minister like a set of automatons not knowing what they are doing and not realising the dangers of the nuclear-armed bomber patrols. They may be aware of demonstrations in the country. Those demonstrations are not by a few Communists or a few fellow-travellers or disgruntled wranglers. The whole nation is incensed about these patrols.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
Did the hon. Member hear the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on the record of his own party?
§ Mr. Mason
Yes, I did, but I do not see the relevance of that to my speech. I listened to my hon. Friend. What he did was to attack my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) because of his contribution in 108 the defence debate. Neither my hon. Friend nor my right hon. Friend talked about the matter of nuclear-armed bomber patrols at all. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) ought to be aware of his responsibilities in this matter, with other hon. Members opposite. Every day and night nuclear-armed bomber patrols are going out, with the possibility that at any time there may be an accident.
§ Mr. Mason
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, because we are now eliciting a little information. Infrequent flights were mentioned by the Prime Minister. He did not say whether the flights were every day and every night. He just said "infrequent flights." That could be a flight per day. It is a possibility that there could be an accident daily. That could be frequent.
I draw attention to the statement issued on 14th February by the United States Department of Defence. This will prove that the possibilities are there. I refer to paragraph 5 of the statement, which says:By a nuclear explosion is meant a fission or fusion reaction creating a large explosive effect. Many nuclear weapons, however, contain some amount of conventional explosives, that is, chemical explosives similar to TNT. An accident such as the crash of an aircraft or severe wreck of a train carrying a nuclear weapon may cause this conventional explosive to detonate by impact or fire. In most cases "—let hon. Members take note of the phraseology of this statement on which the Prime Minister based his replies—the detonation of a conventional explosive represents the maximum damage that can happen and, of course, its effect is limited to the vicinity of the accident.It can happen. United States authorities can say that that can happen "in most cases". Where does the figure of one in 3,000 million come? Who is the mathematical calculator who decides that there is a chance of a possibility of an accident only so often? It is absolutely ridiculous. Moreover, hon. Gentlemen opposite know it, too.
What if an explosion does occur? Suppose there is a crash of one of these 109 nuclear-armed bombers, followed by fire. The bomb canister will break and the plutonium will oxidise and become radioactive and before decontamination teams can become available, and, depending on the strength of the prevailing wind, there is no telling how many miles around would be affected.
I quote paragraph 6 of statement of the United States Department of Defence:An accidental detonation of conventional explosives might possibly cause local scattering of nuclear materials in the form of dust. This would not be a fallout of fissionable materials, but unfissioned nuclear material could be spread locally, by wind or explosion. Such materials could be hazardous only if taken internally, as by breathing.The dangers have been established. There could be a bomb explosion. There could be a detonation of high explosive which would scatter radioactive particles. If fire followed a crash, then even without any detonation at all the plutonium contained in the bomb would oxidise and the radiation would cover an unknown area. These are facts, none of which can be denied. Knowing these very real dangers, how many hon. Gentlemen opposite support the continuation of these patrols? It will be on their consciences alone if a serious accident occurs. They should join our protests at these horrifying, dangerous missions and they should press the Government to stop them at once.
The hydrogen bomb is with us—very much so at the moment—but I think it will rapidly become obsolete. As the bombers go, so will the bomb. Missiles with nuclear warheads, automatically guided to targets, will gradually take their place. While, however, we have the bomb let us minimise the possibility of accident and miscalculation. Let us ground these patrols before a possibility turns into a calamity.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will advise his Under-Secretary that we want an assurance when he concludes the debate tonight. If we do not get that assurance I, at least, may be forced to vote against the Government and the course they are following, which means the continuation of nuclear-armed bomber patrols.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
Following that expression of political anger, rather more reminiscent of 110 the angry young men of the stage, I will take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who referred to the danger of hydrogen bomb patrols.
Whilst obviously no human being can say that the chance of accident or danger is totally absent, one must maintain a sense of proportion and balance about these matters. We must maintain some awareness of how many patrols are flown, how dangerous they may be or would be, and measure that minimum degree of danger against the danger of not having the deterrent and exercising so little influence in the councils of the world that the Summit Conference which we all want will be useless. If we are to achieve results, we must be in a sufficiently strong bargaining position to use our influence on potential enemies and present friends in order to influence the course of affairs.
§ Mr. Williams
I would have thought it was patently obvious. I recognise that there is a division in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to whether there should or should not be a deterrent. If we accept the premise of a deterrent, it follows that the only value of a deterrent is if it is effective. A totally ineffective deterrent is only so much waste of manpower, money, effort and energy. That is why, assuming the need for a deterrent, I hold that the need is not just to have aircraft and crews capable of flying, but to have aircraft and crews capable of carrying the deterrent and being at a moment's readiness, which in terms of an intercontinental ballistic missile age, means that they should be airborne and capable of doing their duty twenty-four hours in the day.
That is why I have never understood the lack of reality of certain hon. Gentlemen opposite who have failed to recognise that the American Strategic Air Command has, I should imagine, known its targets for five or perhaps even eight years. I would not be ashamed to think that our allies had that state of awareness. Indeed I tried to get from my right hon. Friend a few months ago a statement of his ambitions about the readiness of the Royal Air Force in this matter.
I want to make two quick references to points already made in this debate. The 111 hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) referred to the alarm in East Anglia. I queried him on that, and he said he had received a certain volume of protest. Naturally I would not hesitate to accept what he says, but I suggest to him that if there is alarm it may have been because of the political stimulus coming from such campaigns as "Ban the Bomb".
§ Mr. de Freitas
The type of people who have indicated to me their alarm are not at all the type of people who are influenced by such a campaign. These are quite different. Frankly, I believe they are mistaken; let me make that clear.
§ Mr. Williams
I am grateful to the hon. Member, because I thought that during his speech he slightly indicated that, perhaps unintentionally. I believe we should have from the Front Bench on this side of the Committee a clear statement of what dangers may or may not be involved in the building of a station such as North Coates. The more information the Government can give the people of this country on that kind of thing the greater will be the advantage.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
Is it not a fact that East Anglia has been designated as an evacuation area for civilians, and would not that account partly for the nervousness felt at the prospect of rocket bases being established in the area?
§ Mr. Williams
I should think the whole of Britain would be in an embarrassing situation were the policy of the deterrent to fail. Is it not the object of the exercise to have effective weapons capable of deterring the kind of conditions which the hon. Gentleman and I wish to avoid?
The second point was made by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). In a large part of his speech the hon. Gentleman seemed never quite to draw his remarks to a conclusion. The conclusion I would have liked to have heard from him was one of criticisms of the decision to drop the supersonic bomber. We have already heard my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) champion the cause of Fighter Command and the manned fighter. I believe it may well be a tragedy that we are dropping the supersonic bomber, for this has great commercial 112 application. It may well mean that we drop out of the race for the provision of supersonic transport aircraft. Because of what my hon. Friend said, however, and although it is a theme I would like to pursue if time were greater, I will merely say that we see the difficulty of the Government in reconciling all these different interests and yet confining expenditure within reasonable limits. We on these benches understand the difficulties. Nevertheless I express great regret at the dropping of this project for a supersonic transport aircraft, because it will mean a reduction in our ability to compete in this type machine for civilian operation in the future.
Now I will make a few remarks about manpower. I want to make a comparison, as I did in an earlier debate, between the number of people who are serving personnel and those who are civil servants. I have taken two years more or less at random, 1947 and 1957. In those two years I find that the number of serving personnel has declined from 284,500 to 227,900, a drop of 56,600, whereas non-industrial civil servants serving at home and abroad have changed from 24,907 to 27,113, an increase of 2,206.
One cannot, of course, draw hard and fast conclusions from taking two years in that way, and I recognise that the frontier between what is the job of a serving man and what is the job of a civil servant has altered over the years. Nevertheless a drop of over 56,000 in serving personnel at the same time as there is an increase of over 2,000 civil servants is out of proportion. However, I welcome the remark of my right hon. Friend that there will be an internal review of this matter in the near future. This may help to get a better sense of proportion in years to come.
§ Mr. Ward
I am very interested in this matter, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is taking it up. May I remind him that I also said in my speech that, whilst we were trying to dispense with a certain number of civilians and civilian manned units, we were at the same time trying to civilianise uniformed posts? These figures are a little misleading, because a number of the savings we have made in uniformed personnel and the increases in civilians are due to the fact that we have civilianised some Service posts.
§ Mr. Williams
That indicates, as I recognise, that the figures do not prove too much. Nevertheless, a drop of 56,000 from the one side and an increase of 2,000 on the other side appears to be a little surprising.
I should like to turn back to the question of movement of personnel. Some interesting figures come out if one compares the way that the different Service Departments behave. I do not think I should be out of order in mentioning the Army and the Navy, because obviously trooping movements come within the Vote of the Royal Air Force. The first difficulty is that the Navy, true to form as a reticent and silent Service, reveals precious little. It makes a comparison between sea and air conveyance of either naval or civil personnel, but makes no breakdown between sea and air movement. The other two Service Departments are rather more helpful and considerably more forthcoming.
My first point from the Estimates is that the R.A.F. spends more on air movement than on sea movement of personnel. From page 100 of the Estimates, I find that in the year 1958–59 the expenditure on sea passages for personnel will be £1,420,000, whilst for air passages the cost will be £1,570,000. This I welcome. It seems to show that the Air Force, at least, is aware of the value of air transport in moving people quickly and providing the provocation for the provision of aircraft to move the strategic reserve.
When considering the Army movements, however, the position is rather different. The amount to be spent by the Army for the conveyance of personnel by sea is £6,160,000, whereas by air it is only £3,580,000, or roughly only half as much. As I have said, the Air Force is to spend more on the movement of personnel by air than by sea. It seems to me that there is an unfortunate difference between the Departments, and I should have thought that the object of the Government should be to ensure that a rather higher proportion of the Army who move abroad should move by air.
I had understood that one of the lessons we had learned from the campaign at Suez was that we needed a strategic reserve and that we needed great mobility for it. [Interruption.] Hon. Members 114 opposite can laugh about Suez if they like, but it is worth while trying to learn some of the lessons of it. Surely, the Government have learned the lesson that the strategic reserve should be highly mobile. That being so, surely in peace-time they should do their utmost to move not merely 60–65 per cent. of the personnel by air but a much higher proportion. Looking at the figures for the Army, I suggest that they might well, with profit to the nation, be the other way round in terms of expenditure.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The hon. Member referred to page 100 of the Estimates concerning the cost of sea and air passages. My reading of it is that there is a very small reduction this year in the amount to be spent on sea passages, but a large reduction in the amount to be spent on air passages, which seems to indicate that the Air Ministry is turning away from air transport.
§ Mr. Williams
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I did not want to elaborate the point too much, but what the hon. Member has said reinforces my argument. The substantive point is that the Air Force does about one-half of its movement by air, whereas the Army does only one-third. If our objective is to have a strategic reserve, highly mobile, can we not get an assurance from the Government that in peacetime there will be a greater attempt to move both Air Force and Army personnel by air?
It is, perhaps, with some embarrassment that I now query the rôle of Transport Command. Certain hon. Members know that I have a connection with one of the independent air operators and yet again I disclose my interest. That does not, however, preclude me from having views on the operation of Transport Command. It may be that being close to air operations, one is prejudiced; it might even be that one is slightly informed.
The rôle of Transport Command is to provide the aircraft and the crews who can move the strategic command in time of emergency. I should like to follow what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) has said in two recent debates and to query whether it is reasonable, economic and efficient for Transport Command to carry through the provision of movement for the strategic reserve on the strategic level.
115 It seems to me that in air transport there are two rôles. One is the strategic movement and the other is the tactical movement. One is the movement from the major centres of the reserve to the points of dispersal and the second is the movement from the points of dispersal to the area of battle. I am not sure what should be the tests to decide who carries through this task, but I suggest that three tests should be applied. First, what is the most economic method of doing this? Secondly, what is the safest method? Thirdly, would it work in case of an emergency, which is really the final and most important test?
First, what is the most economic method of moving people about the world? Is it by Transport Command or is it through the agency of civil operators? If this task is to be placed on the shoulders of Transport Command, a vast capital cost must be shouldered by the nation. The Memorandum issued by my right hon. Friend refers to twenty Britannias. When they are to become facts, I do not know; they may one day become facts. Twenty Britannias, however, represent a vast capital investment for the nation. What will they do for most of the year? The likelihood is that both the aircraft and their crews will sit on their various undercarriages and that unless Transport Command is to be even more extravagant and wildly uneconomic than it is at the moment, the aircraft and the crews cannot possibly get in an adequate number of flying hours.
If, however, this task could be made available to the civil operators—and I do not want to get involved in arguments about the independents and Corporations this evening; we can keep that for another time—it is the sort of task which could be performed with greater economy to the nation than if the strategic movement were carried through by Transport Command. I have no doubt that commercial operators could probably find alternative work for these aircraft and get in the hours of flying and provide training for the crews as well.
The second test is the question of the safest method. It is because I feel that Transport Command will not get in the hours of flying—neither aircraft, nor crews—that I believe that the safety factor is bound to be lower than where 116 crews are flying 1,000 hours or more a year. If a pilot flies only 200 or 300 hours a year, his efficiency is inevitably lower and the safety factor less—and that is no criticism of the crews.
I come to the final question: would a method like this operate in case of emergency? I think that it would, and the test I take is that of the Merchant Navy in time of war when the Merchant Navy goes into the battle areas and the troopships, civil-operated and civilian manned, go into danger areas. I suppose that it can be said that flying is slightly different and that at least if one's ship is sunk one has a chance of swimming but that to be hit in mid-air is inclined to be mortal.
I suggest that that would not deter crews in time of emergency, because they would agree to fly into areas such as Cyprus should there be an emergency in the Middle East. If there were to be any hesitation about even that, it might well be overcome by attaching people to each of the Corporations or companies to operate aircraft especially on behalf of the Air Ministry, the attached crews to be at instant readiness in case of emergency.
Is Transport Command the most efficient and the safest method of providing for strategic movement in time of emergency? I rather doubt, if one could take costs on this matter, that they would show that Transport Command was as efficient as the methods I have suggested.
Our whole strategy appears to be built on the theme of a strategic reserve and high mobility, but there is one other requisite if the policy is to work. That is that there should be some idea of the bases and territories upon which we can rely in time of emergency. I have an especial interest in our position in Cyprus, and I query the Government's exact intentions about that island and the maintenance of our Air Force positions there.
There are five things which we need from Cyprus—airfields, port facilities, a radar screen—all round, I hope—control over the supply of power, and control over communications. Those are the things which we need from that base if our Transport Command and our Air Force, Army and Navy are to operate effectively. When one says that, the only word which sums up the position is "sovereignty".
117 That is why I hope, from the points of view of defence and foreign affairs and our relations with countries with whom we are allied, both in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and in the Bagdad Pact, and because of our interest in the maintenance of peace in the Middle East, that our position in Cyprus on both the defence and foreign policy level will be made quite clear.
If that position were to be lost to Britain, the consequences in the Eastern Mediterranean, for both the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Bagdad Pact, would be incalculable. Indeed, they might be much graver, much worse and much more dangerous than the consequences which flowed from the decision to leave Egypt a number of years ago.
I sum up in this way; our strategy depends on the strategic reserve and on the provision of an economic form of movement. It depends thirdly on the bases, the territory, upon which we can rely. If I can be convinced by the Government that those three points are secured, I would be happy about the defence policy and about the Air Estimates which we are debating today.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Ledger (Romford)
This is the first occasion on which I have taken part in a debate on the Air Estimates, although I have listened to the Estimates debates and to defence debates ever since I first became a Member of Parliament. I wanted to speak today because I believe that the time has come when those who feel vitally concerned for the safety of the people of this country should make their position quite clear. They should make clear not only that they accept responsibility for the safety of the people of these islands, but also how they accept that responsibility.
I cannot claim to be an expert and I cannot give facts and figures about aircraft, personnel and ballistic missiles in the way they have been given this afternoon. I was very interested to learn so many things about the Air Force and its personnel and weapons, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments. I could find nothing in what he said with which to disagree, but what he said had very 118 little to do with my reasons for wanting to speak.
I have listened closely to the arguments put forward by experts on both sides of the Committee. I had already come to a decision about the money we should spend on defence and the ways in which we should seek to promote a healthy economy, but I had not convinced myself that I was the only one who could be right. I realised that it was possible that there was information which would lead me to change my mind and I thought that in this Chamber I might hear that information.
However, having listened to the debates and to the experts, even to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I am even more confused on the technical issues involved—on the facts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley called them—but I am even more certain in my approach to the problem. My approach is that the money is ill-spent and that its expenditure is not for our defence but, on the contrary, it is placing us in considerable danger.
If I remember correctly, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley gave us many interesting facts and explained how my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) had been wrong on so many issues. He showed how recruitment had failed on the basis which my right hon. Friend had suggested—and, indeed, which the Government themselves had suggested—and gave facts and figures to show that our aircraft could not do the job which we thought that they were to do.
He created many doubts in my mind and I went a long way with him in his argument. However, where he failed me and the country, as did the Government and our own Front Bench, was in not coming to any specific conclusion, not telling the country exactly how to deal with the problem and explaining what the solution was.
§ Mr. Wigg
We cannot put forward a specific conclusion. One can only work towards trying to get to grips with it. I am sure that if we accept being a thermonuclear Power, we have to accept the obligation of grappling with the problem of thermo-nuclear weapons. I tell my hon. Friend quite frankly that I do not know the answer. That is why I pleaded for a 119 Committee of Members from all parts of the House, if need be in continuous session, to thrash out these problems.
§ Mr. Ledger
I thank my hon. Friend for that explanation. One of his distinguishing features is his honesty in these matters.
One of the problems which must be faced is that while we continue to spend these fantastic sums of money, and while we may accept the arguments put forward by the Government and our own Front Bench and other experts, they are no nearer a conclusion than they were last year, the year before, or even before there were nuclear weapons. They are only adding to the confusion in the country.
It is nonsense to suggest, as some hon. Members do, that there is no reaction to nuclear weapons in the country. Of course there is reaction. I receive many letters on the subject. It is true that those letters are not organised as were the "stag hunting" letters. These are letters from the heart, from people who feel really concerned. I feel concerned; that is why I felt it important that I should put it on record that I felt that this money was being ill-spent.
What is obvious from the purely economic point of view—and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley helped me in this—is that we are paying more and more each year for less and less defence.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing)
I think that we should get this matter straight. In 1952, we spent 10 per cent. of our gross national product upon defence. The figure has been falling ever since then, and this year we shall be spending only about 8 per cent. on it. It is not an increasing but a diminishing load.
§ Mr Ledger
I have waited a long time to take part in a debate since the last time I spoke—and I am surprised at the help that I am getting. My hon. 120 Friend has made exactly the point I am putting. It is a question of how the money is being spent. There appears to be a considerable amount of conflict between persons who concern themselves with defence.
I believe that the fact that we are getting less and less defence for our money has its effect upon recruiting. I was in the Armed Forces during the war. Not very long ago I gave a lift to a Service man in the Air Force and I said to him, "I expect that things are quite different now from what they were when I was in the Forces." I was an airframe mechanic. We thought at one period that we must have a guided missile, because for two years we did not see an aircraft, although we were a repair and salvage unit. We were quite convinced that there had been new developments about which we had not been told.
The airman told me that exactly the same situation arises in many instances today. Men in the Air Force are not doing the work for which they are trained. Many serving men, in all the forces, feel that they are very much the tool of the politician; that they are not serving the purpose which we used proudly to proclaim at one time, namely, the defence of our country. People do not believe that any more; certainly not Service men. From what I have heard this afternoon it seems quite obvious that, although there is some confusion as to how much we are changing the rôle of the Royal Air Force, it is becoming more and more an offensive weapon and less and less a defensive one.
I have heard many hon. Members talking about the importance of the deterrent. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South said that the only valuable deterrent was an effective one. Paragraph 25 of the White Paper says:The build-up of the Victor and Vulcan force, together with the success of the United Kingdom megaton weapon development programme, has greatly increased our deterrent power.Then we had the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who pointed out that most of these aircraft are not capable of delivering bombs of this type to a destination such as Moscow in one hop. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South will appreciate the confusion.
§ Mr. P. Williams
The point which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised was an interesting one, but it negatives the idea that drunken aircrews could get there without their aircraft being refuelled.
§ Mr. Ledger
The point was made that they could not get there in one hop. In paragraph 29, the White Paper says that the trials to see whether they can be refuelled have yet to take place. I cannot see that we can point to the possession of an effective deterrent, if we do not yet know whether or not the aircraft carrying the deterrent can get to the objective. There is some confusion on the question whether or not we have a deterrent and also, if we have, whether or not it can be used.
Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
It should not go out from the Committee that our V-bomber force deterrent cannot go to Moscow without refuelling. That is quite untrue. It can go without refuelling.
§ Mr. Ledger
I thank the Minister for putting me right, but I did not notice any challenge to my hon. Friend when he made the point earlier on. What he said will certainly go out with more force than what I am saying.
§ Mr. Ledger
It seems to me that the deterrent will rely for its full force upon an agreement between us and Russia to allow our bombers, after having dropped their bombs, to refuel in Moscow in order to get back to this country.
Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
In the interests of those people who have relations in Bomber Command, and on the question of the safety of the people who would deliver the bombs, it should be made clear that those bombers can go to Moscow and come back without refuelling.
§ Mr. Ledger
The people concerned will be very grateful for that information, but there seems to be a considerable amount of doubt in the minds of people who take these matters very seriously. It appears that they have looked into the matter and have found that the facts confirm what they thought.
My hon. Friend thought that our attitude to expenditure on defence should be guided to some degree by our obligations to our allies, and that is probably true but we are being dishonest to pretend that we can honour our obligations if, in fact, we cannot do so. In view of what we have been told about our ability to deliver this weapon, and the fact that we have been told that we are running down our conventional forces, we appear to be contracting out of our obligations. I do not say that Ministers are deliberately contracting out, but I think that economic circumstances are forcing us to do so. I am quite sure that the size of the programme required effectively to equip us with nuclear weapons of a size that would make them a deterrent would ruin us economically. We just could not provide them and, at the same time, claim that we were increasing or even maintaining the present standard of living of our people.
I do not believe for one minute that our influence will necessarily be decreased because we cannot maintain a highly efficient Air Force, or Armed Forces of any kind. We were told this afternoon that it was widely believed that when the forces of the U.S.S.R. and the United States of America met in Europe in 1945 the influence of the United Kingdom decreased considerably. From the military point of view that is probably quite true. Our influence, from the military point of view, has decreased steadily over the past few years.
Our attempts to arm ourselves with nuclear weapons must appear puny to the U.S.S.R. and the United States of America, but I do not believe it is necessarily true that our economic influence must decrease. It is a fact that we cannot develop economically and at the same time spend £500 million on the Air Force; particularly when the Government have made clear that the Air Force is no longer capable of defending us—that there is no defence at all.
123 I consider that most of this expenditure constitutes a threat to the safety of the people of these islands; it constitutes a threat, because we must appear to a potential enemy to be making preparations with our allies for some offensive action. I do not believe for one moment what was said about the size of enemy forces deciding whether or not we shall use nuclear weapons. I listened this afternoon to the talk about whether Russia would use two divisions or more; whether she would gain any particular advantage, and the statement that this would make all the difference to whether or not we use nuclear weapons. That is all so much nonsense. It is said merely to fill up the empty spaces of a speech. If we have nuclear weapons, we are committed to using them, because any prospective enemy, knowing that we have them, will believe that at some time or other we shall use them—and it will use them too. This sort of fear of each other is most likely to lead to war.
The Secretary of State gave the impression—I want the information about this to pass on to my constituents—that there was a running down of conventional arms in the Air Force. We have been led to believe that the main threat from behind the Iron Curtain is from nuclear weapons, but today the Minister said that the main threat for some time to come would be from manned bombers. I cannot understand why we are having a rundown of conventional armaments if the main threat for years to come will be from conventional armaments. There would seem to be some sort of contradiction.
It is bad for the country that those in charge of our defences should be carrying on what I believe to be a wrong policy and doing it in a confused manner. The Minister spoke of the future rôle of the Royal Air Force being as great as its rôle in the past. From what we have heard about the technical side of the matter, it seems to me that the rôle of the Royal Air Force will change completely, and that the whole conception of a man flying in an aircraft will disappear. That is how it appears. It is not my fault if later on there is some contradiction and it is said that we shall use conventional weapons for some time.
Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
My right hon. Friend was talking about the defence of this country when he said that our manned fighters would be supplemented by guided missiles. But in the overseas theatres and in this country there will be a need for manned aircraft, I should have thought, for the rest of this century, for transport and coastal rôles, for support rôles, for photographic reconnaissance and for many other rôles. I should not wish to give any other impression.
§ Mr. Ledger
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman really misunderstood me. We were not talking about aircraft for these other rôles, but about fighter aircraft.
In my constituency people have been very active over this question. They do not belong to any particular political organisation, but they have voiced their opinion, and they are opposed to the manufacture of nuclear weapons in this country. They have indicated quite clearly in letters to me that they think nuclear weapons morally and economically wrong. I feel obliged to pass on this information, not only to the Government, but to the members of my own Front Bench, so that they will know where I stand in this matter. Those constituents who have written to me are also opposed, as I am, to H-bomber patrols.
About eighteen months ago the civil defence organisation in Romford approached me because it had not been able to obtain the latest training manuals. I asked the Home Secretary and I did not get a positive answer, "Yes" or "No", about whether the manuals could be supplied. I wish to ask the Secretary of State for Air whether he has had any consultation with the Home Secretary about any special training for civil defence to deal with a crash in which an aircraft carrying an H-bomb might be involved. Is there any special training or service available in the areas where such a crash is likely to occur? If there is not, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that another decision should be taken, and that, until some sort of safeguard is provided, these patrols should not take place?
The Minister made clear that we should not get the subject out of perspective when discussing the question of rocket sites and in talking about the amount of money being spent on 125 nuclear weapons. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of £10 million. There is likely to be a snowball effect in this matter, and if during the next twelve months there is a considerable development in America or elsewhere we may be called upon to devote far greater sums of money to nuclear weapons than we anticipated. I think it wrong to say that we shall spend only £10 million. We must he hoping for considerable developments in this sphere.
Those of my constituents who have written to me on the subject think that we should not have rocket sites in this country, and I agree that they will attract a potential enemy. It appears to me that any war likely to start may not be of our making, but we shall be concerned in it. On behalf of those of my constituents who are interested enough to write to me on the subject, I must protest against this enormous expenditure of money. I remember the time when the Conservatives used to talk about one Minister in the House working himself out of a job. For the safety of this country I should like to see all the Ministers concerned with spending money on defence doing their utmost to work themselves out of a job.
§ 8.20 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I shall not follow the line of argument taken by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) to any extent. Most of his observations dealt with broader questions of defence, although they apply with equal force to the Air Force Vote as they would to other Votes. I had the good fortune to speak in the defence debate, so perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I do not pursue the general strategical and ethical issues which the hon. Member raised.
I was interested when he spoke of the number of people who had written to him from Romford on this matter. I assure him that a very large number of people in Croydon write to me, but, unlike the hon. Member, I am not under the illusion that these people are not organised. They are very highly organised indeed. The organisation has as its basis something very far from the Left of any hon. Member who sits in this Committee. The hon. Member told us that he was confused. I hope that he 126 will not think me rude if I say that that fact was soon evident from his observations.
I am not surprised, because no two Members of the Opposition have put forward even approximately the same point of view. First, we had the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who opened for the Opposition and stated very clearly the latest version of official Labour Party policy on defence and disarmament. He was followed by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who was absent from some of our previous debates. I am bound to say that he made up for anything he missed on the Army Estimates. He put forward a highly individualistic point of view which certainly is not the same as that of any of his Front Bench colleagues. Then we had the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) who, again, cannot be said to speak entirely in tune with the Front Opposition Bench.
One or two hon. Members made the same suggestion, that is to say, that some reform in parliamentary procedure is overdue to deal with these great issues of defence. When one looks around and counts the very small number of hon. Members who have found time to take part in this debate I think that the time has come for a measure of reform. We are discussing an expenditure of upwards of £500 million of public money. Whether hon. Gentleman take the pacifist line or take the opposite extreme, one of our conventions is that we are guardians of the public purse. We should take an active interest in the manner in which money is spent, although we may not wholly agree with the policy behind the expenditure.
I would turn to the official Labour Party policy. As I understand it, that policy differs at four points from the policy pursued by Her Majesty's Government, and two of those points are directly relevant to the Estimates now before the Committee. The first is the question of carrying nuclear weapons on practice patrols. There are two reasons for carrying live bombs in time of peace for practice purposes. The first is an operational consideration. If it is known that a proportion of the bombers from an operational base are liable at any given moment to be armed and airborne, that must reduce any temptation which a 127 prospective aggressor might feel to carry out a surprise attack.
We may think that this is a most improbable contingency, but we must remember that it happened to America at Pearl Harbour and that it led to consequences which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of our own people as well as those of Americans. We cannot be surprised if the Americans are a little nervous about this. Ever since the war it has been the American practice to keep a proportion of its units away from their bases, whether ships or aircraft. This point must have been known to Mr. Attlee and his advisers when the original permission to establish these bases was given.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
The point on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now speaking is a crucial one. The Americans believe in the possibility of a bolt-from-the-blue attack, but is it not a fact that before Pearl Harbour we were fighting the allies of Japan and were being helped by the Americans, and that there had been a state approaching war for a long time, a state of very bad relations? Is it not a fact that there has never been a case, beginning with Japan at Port Arthur, where an unannounced attack has not been preceded by very bad relations and threats of war? Is it not the case that as long as we have normal political relations and co-operation on the basis of the United Nations Charter, it is unrealistic to prepare against something as unlikely as a sudden attack without previous warning?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not think that that contention is supported by history. I recollect no warning being given of the Germans' invasion of Norway and Denmark, nor, again, do I recall that any warning was given either in the First or the Second World Wars of the Germans' advance through Belgium. Indeed, Hitler's technique before the Second World War consisted of a series of these surprise moves. Whether the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) believes that a surprise attack of this nature is likely or not the fact which we have to recognise is that the Americans think that such an attack is a risk. So far as I know—this point came out during the debate on foreign affairs, before we rose for the Christmas Recess 128 —this practice of exercising from time to time with live nuclear weapons has been going on ever since the bases were established.
There is quite a different reason why nuclear weapons are carried from time to time in peace-time exercises. Those hon. Members who, like myself, spent a great many years in one of the fighting forces will appreciate this reason, while perhaps hon. Members who served in those Services only during the war may not do so. All the peace-time experience of the three Services shows that it is necessary to exercise from time to time with live ammunition, no matter what that ammunition. It is necessary partly for technical and material reasons which I shall not develop because I think they are obvious.
What may not be so generally realised is that it is also necessary for psychological reasons. I can assure the Committee that if one never, or practically never, carries out exercises with live ammunition, even though it may be such things as we now regard as comparatively "harmless" like 600 lb. high explosive torpedo warheads, some officers and men come over all queer "when handling those deadly things for the first time. If that is true—and I assure the Committee that it was the case with high explosives—how much more true is it with megaton bombs?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not think that the Committee will expect me to answer for my right hon. Friends. Neither do I think that in the ordinary conduct of public business the Foreign Secretary would be the Minister normally expected to answer more or less "off the cuff" on technical questions like this. [HON. MEMBERS: "How do you expect us to know?"] I do not expect hon. Members to know, and if I had done so I might be disappointed.
The second point, a more important one, on which official Opposition policy differs from the policy of Her Majesty's Government, is the proposed standstill on 129 the projected missile bases in this country, a standstill which I understand the Opposition would like to see last until the conclusion of the Summit Conference. In considering that proposal, the first thing that the Committee should note is that there is no assurance that there will be summit talks. We all hope there will be, but we cannot be certain. In any case, whether those talks take place or not, the date at which they take place and their outcome are all matters which cannot be determined by Her Majesty's Government alone.
Consequently, a standstill such as the Opposition propose would be of indefinite duration. No one can say when the time will come when we could say, "We will now go ahead with the construction of these bases". Of one thing we can be certain. As the moment drew near there would be hysterical opposition, organised by the Communist Party in this country and supported by hon. Members on the Left wing of the party opposite.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The military consequences of any prolonged delay might be of a most serious nature. The reasons for substituting ballistic missiles for bombers are basically of a technical nature——
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
To be eventually substituted, on a long view.
The urgency of the change-over depends on how soon Russia will have developed her guided missiles to a degree of efficiency which will enable her to have a radical defence against our V-bomber force. We do not know when that will be. No one can say that with assurance. It may be that that day will not come so soon. If my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) is to be believed, it will not come so soon as the day on which the ordinary supersonic fighter will be able to deal with our subsonic bomber force.
If Russia were to develop a radical defence against our V-bomber force before those missile bases have become operational, and before the Americans have developed an intercontinental missile, from a military point of view she would 130 be able to dictate terms to the whole Western Alliance. That, I submit, is a risk we ought not to take.
It is imprudent to make political gestures about dates of commencing or completing these missile bases. It would be imprudent, even if it were quite certain that Russia had no such bases with missiles directed at this country now. There again, we do not know the position. We do know that in November, 1956, Mr. Khrushchev told Sir Anthony Eden that there were rockets ready to be fired at the United Kingdom. That presupposes that there were bases there then.
I am bound to say that the developments which have taken place since with the Russian satellites, and so forth, provide evidence which is not inconsistent with that degree of development of Russian long range rockets. On the other hand, only a few days ago Mr. Khrushchev told us, according to the Press, that Russia would start to construct missile bases, which would be directed at this country, if we started to construct our own. The only thing we can say with certainty is that Russian statements on this subject cannot be reconciled one with the other.
I wish now to turn to a somewhat different problem, an entirely different problem, but one also connected with missiles. Many hon. Members agree that missile bases, at least those being constructed in the United Kingdom, ought one day to be replaced by warships capable of launching missiles as an alternative. The reasons for that have been developed a number of times during these debates and I shall not repeat them. I am not tying this proposal to the development of Polaris, or even to submarines. I merely put it forward as a general proposition. It is a development which has long been foreseen.
This matter was actively discussed in informed circles in the Royal Navy long before I retired. I remember its being discussed at one big conference as far back as 1949. There is nothing new in the idea. My reason for referring to it now is that it raises the question of the relations between the Air Force and the Navy. It was something which I had in mind three years ago when, in my maiden speech in the House of Commons, I ventured to advocate a gradual merging between the Air Force and the Navy.
131 Indeed, after making that speech, I was asked to write an article in amplification; I did so, and I ventured on a little prophecy. Speaking of a future combined Service, I said:Looking into the future, there would be a rocket branch, partly seaborne and partly land-based. This branch would have taken over the rôle of the strategic bomber force.Provided that we accept the idea of an eventual merger between the two Services, it is perfectly logical for these missile bases to be included, as they are, in the Air Estimates, but if we do not look forward to an eventual merger it is highly debatable whether the missile bases should be included in the Air Estimates.
I am aware that it can be argued that because the Royal Air Force has hitherto provided the strategic deterrent in die form of bombers it should continue to provide it in its new form. I am also well aware that repeated definition of the rôles of the three Services has become an extremely popular exercise not only with staff officers, but also with politicians. There is, however, a great deal to be said for a more simple if somewhat more old-fashioned view, namely, that the rôle of the Navy is to fight at sea, of the Air Force to fight in the air and of the Army to fight on land.
If one accepts that viewpoint, the missile bases should have been included in the Army Estimates and it should be a function of the Army to provide and man them. I repeat that the present decision can only be justified in logic if we are to assume that, eventually, the air and the sea Services will be combined in one.
There are a number of steps towards that goal which could, I believe, be taken without in the least endangering esprit de corps and without offending any old loyalties. I do not propose to enlarge upon them now because they do not concern the Air Force exclusively and they would be more appropriate to a general debate on defence.
I wish, however, to say a word about the functions of the Ministry of Supply in relation to the Air Force. We are discussing Vote A of the Royal Air Force and a large number of the officers borne on the Air Force Vote A are, in fact, employed by the Ministry of Supply. Similarly, a note in one of the pages of 132 the Estimates explains that no less than £212 million of the money included in the Vote is to be paid to the Ministry of Supply during the coming year in respect of aircraft and certain warlike stores.
In addition, a considerable further sum must be being spent by the Ministry of Supply in connection with research and development for aircraft and similar projects. I am not clear that this ever becomes charged to the Air Force Vote, although it is relevant because the work is carried out by some of the personnel who are borne on this Vote.
I would ask the Committee to contrast for a moment the practice of these enormous sums which we vote to the Secretary of State for Air, but which are, in fact, to be spent by the Minister of Supply, with the naval practice under which the Admiralty have their own material departments, both for research and development as well as of production and supply, and which deal directly both with scientists on the one hand and industry on the other. I would say that most impartial people, who have experience of these affairs, have come to the conclusion that the Admiralty system is to be preferred, both on grounds of economy and of efficiency.
Most of those whom I meet have come to the conclusion that it is a mistake to go on interposing a civilian Ministry between a Service Ministry, such as the Air Ministry, and industry. We know that the reasons for this are historical. The original Ministry of Munitions was created because the War Office was unable to cope with the tremendous expansion in the First World War, while the original Ministry of Aircraft Production was also required to organise immense expansion, complicated by new and unforeseen fields of research.
Today, the Service Ministries are unlikely to lose sight of the importance of research and development, and, certainly, we no longer foresee the likelihood of prolonged war and the great production problems that go with it. Consequently, I find myself in complete agreement with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and also with other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who think, and have said, that in their judgment the Ministry of Supply has outlived its usefulness and is no longer required.
133 As a general principle, I should like to see those Departments in that Ministry which are at present dealing with air material return to the Air Ministry. There are, of course, special types of material of great importance which we know are common to all three Services, and missiles themselves are an excellent example. In their case, why should not the department in the Ministry of Supply dealing with them now be transferred to the Ministry of Defence, so that the payments in respect of missiles on a Vote such as this might go from the Secretary of State for Air to the Ministry of Defence?
I feel quite convinced myself that a reorganisation on these lines would not only save a great deal of money, but would also lead to very much higher efficiency. During the past eighteen months, the Government have made a remarkable start on reform and reorganisation of the Armed Forces. I sincerely hope, though, that they will carry the process a good deal further, and in particular, will move towards the goal of ever closer integration between all three Services.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) was at pains to deal with the diversity of thought which prevails on this side of the Committee, but I am sure that inadvertently it escaped his attention that not so long ago three occupants of major office in his own Government resigned their positions because they could no longer tolerate the policy of his Government. Before that, quite a significant number of important Members on his own side cut themselves off from active association with his party because of its policy on Suez, so that I am sure that he would find it rather difficult to sing the words of the Church hymnary which say "All one body we." They may be one body in appearance, but there certainly is a fairly large number of groups when it comes to close examination.
I want to find out from the Front Bench whether the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) was stating Government policy when he put forward the view that, if the deterrent has to be of any use, then it must be effective, and, if 134 the deterrent has to be effective, then there is no limit to its power. Is that Government policy? Was the hon. Member for Sunderland, South saying that this Government are now engaged upon a policy to produce more powerful and more devastating weapons of destruction than at present they possess? If that is their policy, there is no foreseeable end to it other than destruction for the race.
I am perfectly certain that the Government are not prepared to commit themselves to the policy the hon. Member for Sunderland, South stated, bacause they realise that a time has come when there must be a pause and an attempt to reconcile differences by methods other than the mere expression of the magnitude of our power. That is all that the Labour Party is doing now. As a matter of fact. if we look at the Defence White Paper, the Government do not dissociate themselves so much from that policy as the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon. North-East said.
One reason that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South wanted a deterrent, a more powerful deterrent, was in order to influence our enemies and also our friends, as he put it. That seemed to me to be an ambiguous statement. I was wondering whether Mr. John Foster Dulles was included as one of our enemies or one of our friends. Can the Government give us any guidance on that?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that Mr. John Foster Dulles belongs in the category of friends from whom one prays God to deliver one?
§ Mr. Rankin
In yesterday's Sunday Express, a distinguished Member on the Government back benches described Mr. Foster Dulles as an obstructionist. Again, if there is such unanimity of view on the Government side, I ask whether those two hon. Gentlemen, the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, represent the views of the Government. Do the Government regard Mr. Foster Dulles at the moment as being an obstructionist in the attempt to get summit talks, to which the Prime Minister himself has committed his party and the Government? As a matter of fact, the hon. Member for Ealing, South went so, far as to say that it is time we took this 135 issue out of the hands of Mr. Dulles and put it into the Prime Minister's hands if the matter were to be successfully accomplished.
The search tonight has been for the deterrent. Of course, we are searching for something which we have always sought. We forget that when we seek the deterrent we are also making a challenge. In today's Press Khrushchev tells us that if our missiles are to be trained on Russia she will train her missiles on us. The deterrent to us is the challenge to him, and the challenge to us is the deterrent to him. It is in that light that we should view the matter, and we must realise that, viewed in that light, the deterrent has always failed.
In the New Statesmen for this weekend there is a most interesting article which seeks to enforce that lesson, pointing out that in the 1914–18 war we believed that we had the deterrent. We thought that our ratio of two battleships to every one that Germany had was sufficient to prevent a war, along with the new Army of 100,000 that could be expanded to 500,000 if necessary, plus the fact that we had the forces of France, Russia and Italy on our side; giving us a margin of 1½ million troops in addition to overwhelming naval supremacy. That was regarded as a deterrent sufficient to prevent the outbreak of war; but it was also a challenge, and war came. The story that has since gone the rounds is that we were not sufficiently prepared.
The same thing happened in 1941 when the Germans, despite the deterrent power of Russia and America, faced up to it; so that the deterrent, as has been shown within our own lifetime, is not necessarily a means of avoiding the outbreak of war.
I say at the moment that there ought to be a suspension of the nuclear tests and that we ought to stop the flight of aircraft carrying hydrogen bombs across our territory. In addition, I want to ban the missile bases altogether. Those are things that can and should be done at the moment, because unless they are done we shall reach the state which the hon. Member for Sunderland, South has indicated to be the logical conclusion. Therefore, I hope that when the Minister replies he will show that there is no difference between us on this matter.
136 Earlier in the day the Minister of Defence accused us of seeking to put an undue emphasis on the ineffectiveness of the missile weapon which we are said to be getting from America. I asked a question about this, but the Minister did not face it. He referred me back to what had been said in the winding up speech in the defence debate. When I looked up what the Secretary of State said in the debate, I found that he did not say anything that was helpful in telling us about the qualities of the Thor weapon. So I am entitled to put the question again.
Is it the case that this, which is probably to be the first of our nuclear missiles, has been tested on ten occasions; that it has failed to explode on five of those occasions; that it has never yet landed on the target area at which it was directed; that it has been rejected by the American Army, and that when it is fired there is absolutely no assurance that it will go in the direction intended? It may go anywhere. I read in a newspaper at the weekend that on one occasion when the Thor was fired it headed for the South Atlantic. It is just as well we have got these missiles away from the North of Scotland, for it might have struck terror among people of the South of England had they been fired in the North of Scotland and then headed for the South of England.
§ Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
My hon. Friend says that it is as well that they are not based in Scotland, and his argument is that we do not know in which direction they will go, so how does he know that if the bases are in East Anglia they will not land in Scotland?
§ Mr. Rankin
That makes it worse, does it not? However, my hon. Friend in interrupting me has reinforced the point that I was making. The Government must say something more definite about this than they have done so far.
The Minister of Defence told us that we should not exaggerate because only £10 million has been spent on the bases. It is not we who are exaggerating. It is the Prime Minister who went on TV and said that it was not the case that the missile would be used if a major conventional attack were made and that before the missile could be used, he said, there must be 200 Russian divisions marching across Europe and ordinary 137 bombs falling on London. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may shake their heads, but that is what he said. That was his first modification. Then he went to the Central Hall, for a Tory conference, and, as reported in the News Chronicle, made a further qualification. He said that the missile would be used only if the 200 divisions are still marching and if the ordinary bombs are falling on London and if rockets are also being used.
§ Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)
I was there and my right hon. Friend did not say anything about it.
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not know whether the hon. Member was there, but he may have been there and not been listening. I am quoting the News Chronicle, and it is not the only paper which reported the speech. However, if these modifications are wrong then tonight we should be told what is the Government's position with regard to this missile.
In the opening part of the White Paper we are told that the object of the Royal Air Force is to provide an independent contribution to the nuclear deterrent and to defence; to play its part in fulfilling our treaty obligations and to support our colonial and overseas policies. I will say nothing about the first object because, to some extent. I have referred to it, but I want to look at the magnitude of the second, which is, "to play its part in fulfilling our treaty obligations."
I suppose that our treaty obligations would take us to the Far East, to the Middle East, to Africa, to South America—indeed, all over the world. The R.A.F. has to play its part in fulfilling those treaty obligations, and yet all we hear about from the Front Bench opposite is economy. That is a huge task and can only be carried out by straining ourselves to the uttermost.
Secondly, the R.A.F. has to support our colonial and overseas policies. Before dealing with that, I will look at the element of cost. In the current year the Americans in their Budget are devoting 38,000 million dollars to defence. According to the Gaither Report, part of which was dealt with by the Editor of the Washington Post in an article a few weeks ago, America will have to spend another 20,000 mi lion dollars from now until 1970 in order fully to carry out all its 138 obligations. In other words, she will be spending 58,000 million dollars on defence, which is roughly equal to £20,000 million, two-thirds more than the total national product of this country.
That is the kind of financial climate in which we find ourselves. Obviously, from the Government's repeated statements in the defence debate in the Navy debate, in the Army debate and today, that is a pace of spending which we cannot match. Therefore, either we shall become hopelessly outpaced or helplessly dependent upon the United States of America. In either case—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, I do not see it in any other way——
§ Mr. P. Williams
The hon. Gentleman really must not get too depressed. We are the nation which only a short time ago held three different trophies for the speed record, we have built ZETA, and we have done a number of other things. We shall succeed provided the prophets of doom, like the hon. Gentleman, will keep quiet.
§ Mr. Rankin
With all respect, those are pygmy events compared with the world view we are supposed to be taking tonight. The hon. Gentleman knows well that those simply do not compare with the sums of money we are talking about tonight. We have reached the time when we must pause and see where we are going.
The third purpose enunciated in the White Paper is to sustain our colonial and overseas policies, and I want to look at that a little more closely for a moment or two. During these debates we have learned that Singapore is to be the centre of our defence in the Far East. Recently, on 18th February, I asked the Prime Minister what consultations he had had with the Government of Singapore before formulating the defence policy which is shown in the White Paper. If we are wanting to develop these parts of the earth on democratic lines, it would be natural to consult them. The Prime Minister's reply was that:The Governor of Singapore is naturally consulted on aspects of policy which directly affect the colony."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1958; Vol. 582, c. 1037.]It was the Governor and not the Government of Singapore that the Government were consulting, despite the fact that in the Queen's Speech we were told that a 139 Bill would be brought in during the present Session giving self-government to Singapore.
§ Mr. Rankin
That is the point to which I was coming.
In the Report of the Singapore Constitution Conference, it is stated thatHer Majesty's Government therefore proposed that there should be established some purely consultative machinery through which the United Kingdom and the Government of Singapore should consult upon and discuss all matters and problems affecting the Singapore Government arising from Her Majesty's Government's responsibility for external affairs and defence.According to the Prime Minister's reply on 18th February, however, that was not done.
That was risky in view of what is happening in Singapore at the moment. We know that at present it has a democratic form of government, but we know that at the elections in December thirteen out of fourteen of the People's Action Party candidates won their seats and that of sixteen Labour Front candidates, only four were returned.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I hope that the hon. Member will not pursue this too far. He is going rather far from the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am simply using that, Sir Gordon, as an illustration that if we are to have a defence policy for the Far East, with such responsibility as attaches to it, it must be based on sure political foundations, but because of the attitude of the Government that is not being done. Therefore, I direct the Government's attention to that fact and hope that they will have another thought about these matters and will try to lead these people along democratic lines. If we want their support in preserving democracy——
§ Mr. Rankin
I think that it is a fair point. The whole purpose of our debate is to secure the means which will defend democratic institutions. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had been to Singapore and Hong Kong. So have I, 140 and when I was in Hong Kong, I found that people were looking not for more aircraft or more bombs or more missiles, but for better houses, more schools and better social amenities.
When Sir Alexander Grantham, who was Governor of Hong Kong until December last year, retired, he condemned the Government in his farewell speech for having done so little to meet the refugee problm.
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope that I am not so far out of order as would appear. If we are to defend a particular system here and in cur Colonies, it is essential that we see that that which we seek to defend exists, and it does not exist in Singapore or in Hong Kong.
As I was saying, the former Governor himself drew attention to the fact that those aspects of democracy are lacking and lacking because the Government have failed to help to establish them. We are concerned with defending democracy, and the Government should do something about establishing it in those areas.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) has given one more example of the confusion which has been so evident on the Opposition benches throughout the whole of the discussion. He ranged widely, including references to the Colonial Empire, and I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I do not try to follow him, because I intend to deal with the subject under discussion—the Air Estimates.
In the White Paper on Defence there is the statement:Never in peacetime has the British soldier, sailor or airman had a more vital part to play. Never has he more deserved the respect and encouragement of all those who live their daily lives under his protection.Those are wise words and it is the duty of the Committee to try to see that the soldier, sailor or airman has the weapons with which to carry out the arduous duties which we impose upon him.
Today we are discussing the Air Estimates, and the rôle of the Royal Air Force in peacetime is varied and arduous. The Air Force has to defend the 141 country from air attack, to patrol the desert wastes, and to act in the form of a police force in areas where other forces cannot operate, and also to be able to transport troops and equipment from one theatre of operations to another at short notice.
What we are considering today is whether the Air Force is capable and qualified to carry out those duties. We are living in a time of a contraction of our forces and we ought all to sympathise with the Secretary of State for Air in his difficult task of trying, within the limits of the money allowed to him, to provide forces and equipment necessary for the Air Force to perform its duties. We have every sympathy with him. We know the fight that he has had to put up against the Minister of Defence and others who have been trying, to curb hind in his activities. We also have every sympathy with his chief of staff, who has had to face the same problem.
The Air Estimates have been cut by £20 million. That is not a very large sum compared with the total Defence Estimates, but it is some contribution towards economy. We are now told that in future the manpower of the Royal Air Force is to be about 200,000, and I was glad to hear the Minister say that he was optimistic that the Air Force would be able to man it entirely by Regulars. In spite of what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said to the contrary, I believe that it is possible for the Royal Air Force to do this. In spite of the fact that numbers are down at present, I see no reason why the Royal Air Force should not obtain the personnel it requires before National Service is terminated.
During the war the Royal Air Force had no trouble in obtaining recruits. As high a proportion as 95 per cent. of men, when called up, wished to join the Royal Air Force, although naturally all could not be accepted. Although the Royal Air Force may not offer so attractive or romantic a career as it did in the war, nevertheless it has a very important part to play in our defences, and if the proper course is pursued by the Air Ministry I see no reason why it should not obtain the required number of recruits.
Of all the Services I know of none which can give a young man a greater opportunity to learn a trade which will be useful to him in his future life. That 142 is why I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the R.A.F. is concentrating upon apprentice recruitments. Besides questions of pay, housing and uniform, there is the question—which I believe to be more important than anything else to a man starting a career in any of the Services—of what will happen to him when his Service career comes to an end. Even if he signs on for twenty years he will still be a comparatively young man when he leaves the Service, and he will want to know what his future is likely to be at a time when he is probably responsible for maintaining a wife and family.
In the Royal Air Force there are many trades which will be very useful to a man in civil life. He can become a qualified aeronautical engineer. The Air Force has engineer officers who are first-class engineers and who train their men in their profession, so that although they may not be able to qualify as first-class engineers when they leave they will have a sufficient knowledge of the subject to give them an opening in almost any branch of the industry.
Then there is the electronics section, in respect of which there has been a tremendous development in civil life, and which will develop even more in future. There is radar. The Air Force provides wonderful opportunities for men to learn the radar industry, which will provide them with great openings in the future. If the Air Ministry encourages young men to enlist early as apprentices, I am sure that the best type of recruits will be secured.
Among the other incentives, that of encouraging the A.T.C. and glider clubs was mentioned. I have raised the question of glider clubs on other occasions and I consider it important that they should be given more encouragement than they have received hitherto. It is an admirable way for young people to become air-minded. There are a number of gliding clubs, some of which are sponsored by individual firms. There is one in my constituency and it is a joy to me to see young people spending their leisure time at week-ends learning to fly. But it is an expensive sport and the Air Ministry should provide more encouragement for glider clubs. After all, Hitler built up his air force between the wars by means of glider clubs throughout the whole of Germany and it did not 143 take long to produce a first-class Luftwaffe, as we know to our cost.
During the debate on the Defence Estimates, I said that I thought the Minister of Defence was placing too much emphasis on the missile as opposed to the conventional type of aircraft. I still believe that. One type of aircraft, the S.R.177, was cancelled. It happens that it was built in my constituency, and I am sorry that it was cancelled. It had a rocket and other things which, so far as I know, no other aircraft has. Germany wanted it. Our own Navy wanted it, but that was not allowed, because too much money was being spent on other things.
I do not want the same fate to overtake the P.1. We are told that is the last interceptor fighter in the Royal Air Force. I want an assurance that the P.1. will not be cancelled, as some people would have us believe it will. Any modification to the P.1 may prove disastrous. Far too many types of aircraft have been ruined because of the modifications made to them. If we overload the N.1, we shall destroy its value as an interceptor fighter. I hope that does not happen and that one day the P.1 will appear in the Royal Air Force squadrons. That applies also to the Victor and the Vulcan. I understand that at present there are no Victor squadrons.
These views were expressed very strongly tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) and other people who know a great deal more than I do about the value of fighter interceptor aircraft, although I was for some time in Fighter Command. My hon. Friend was one of our leading aces in the war, and he holds the view that there is a future for manned aircraft in the Royal Air Force. That view is certainly held by many of my friends outside this Committee.
So many views have been expressed on the Opposition side of the Committee about the deterrent that I do not know where the Labour Party stands. The hon. Member for Dudley was taking his own Front Bench to task, and he accused members of it of all kinds of things. I want to know, and so do a great many other people, what official Labour Party policy is on the question of the deterrent. 144 We have heard so many confusing arguments that we ought to have the position cleared up.
Are we to understand that the Labour Party believes that we should not manufacture and test either the H-bomb or the atom bomb, that we should have nothing to do with hydrogen bombs at all, and should not have aircraft flying any ballistic weapon in the future? I should like an answer to these questions. I happened to look at television on Saturday night and I saw the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) explaining his policy to a panel of journalists. It sounded to me like a conversation from outer space.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I agree that it was Friday. For half an hour the chairman of the panel discussed Labour Party policy with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and boasted that he ought to know what the Labour Party's official policy was, because, he said, "I helped to write it". Yet the chairman and his panel were unable to discover the policy of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and a considerable number of his followers.
If he was unable to do so, how does the Labour Party expect us or the country to understand official Labour Party policy, especially when the hon. Member for Dudley, who knows far more about this subject than most hon. Members on the Opposition side of the Committee, admits that he is confused and does not know the policy of his leaders? It would be as well if they would clarify the matter. I hope that the spokesman who winds up the debate for the Opposition will enlighten us upon his party's policy with regard to the deterrent.
I do not apologise for raising again the question of research in the aircraft industry, because it affects the future of the Royal Air Force. Is the R.A.F. to go out of the aircraft industry after the P.1 is built and flying and other bombers are ordered and built? What is to be the future of the Royal Air Force? What is the position of the aircraft industry if it should be required again to produce 145 intercepter aircraft or bombers to defend the country? This is a very serious matter and very serious consideration should be given to it by Service Ministers. It causes very great alarm. The aircraft industry is a branch of engineering which has contributed more towards the development of engineering than any other industry in this country in the last 20 or 30 years.
If the aircraft industry is allowed to die, what will be the future for civilian aviation and for the R.A.F.? What will be the future of our export of aircraft and spare parts, which last year amounted to £115 million? These are questions which I hope the Minister is considering with his colleagues in the Government. I hope that serious thought is being devoted to them.
Reference has been made to the number of aircraft with which the Air Ministry has to deal in the transporting of personnel and the various jobs which Transport Command has always carried out. It is true that Transport Command has not many aircraft and that, in emergency, it relies very largely on civil aircraft to do the job for it. I do not think that is a satisfactory position. There are twenty Comets on order and there is no use denying that they have turned out to be first-class aircraft. They have flown hundreds of thousands of miles since they have been rebuilt. When Transport Command gets them, no doubt they will be of great value in trooping and other services.
I make no excuse for saying what I have said many times before. In my constituency there are three flying boats which have cost this country millions of pounds. They are excellent aircraft, which were ordered by B.O.A.C. for the Atlantic service, but the order was cancelled because New York harbour was closed to flying boats. Since then these aircraft have been lying idle in the Isle of Wight and on the mainland. I see no reason why these Princess flying boats—magnificent aircraft, as has been proved by the one which has flown—should not be provided with engines and used in Transport Command.
They are admirable aircraft for trooping purposes. They can carry over 200 troops with equipment and are designed 'to have a range of more than 5,000 miles, which no other aircraft has today apart 146 from certain types of bombers in the American Air Force. They could be used on the South American trooping services. I ask the Minister to consider this matter. The aircraft have proved to be well-built and serviceable. All they require is engines. Now that the amount of orders has been cut down it should not be difficult to get these aircraft into the air and put them to useful service instead of allowing them to lie idle, as they have been doing for years.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon staying in his post for so long. He has had a longer life in it than most Ministers have in the Department and has done his job very well. I wish him well for the future and hope that he will stay there much longer.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
If I were a Member on the Government side I would not make quite so much about the question of diversity of opinion on this side of the Committee. The fact that there is an honest attempt to get at the truth in defence matters is nothing of which to be ashamed. I suggest to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) that unanimity in these affairs is not enough. It is possible to get unanimity in a flock of sheep. There was considerable unanimity about the Gadarene swine, but it did not bring profit in the long run.
The issue now is so serious and there is such a degree of deep feeling in the country about these affairs that it would ill-behove us to expect that in this Chamber, on this vast complex of important matters, there would be two set opinions, one on each side of the Committee. If it were so, it would be a bad thing for the country.
I want, first, to raise three localised issues, which are none the less important because they happen to affect my constituency. In my constituency, there is the R.A.F. station of Uxbridge, which has probably the oldest and proudest name in Service history. I understand that in the forthcoming reorganisation the axe will not fall upon Uxbridge and that the station will, in fact, be expanded. Relations between the station and the Borough of Uxbridge are excellent, and I am quite sure that many people in the 147 borough will be pleased that this association is to continue. I should, however, like to ask the Secretary of State to what extent any expansion in the station will create housing problems in the district. We already have an acute situation and there will be people who wish to know whether in its expansion the Service will provide its own accommodation or will make an inroad upon the limited civilian accommodation that is now available.
That brings me to another local point. Also around my area, either just over the border or inside, we have no fewer than four United States Air Force bases. There is a headquarters at Ruislip and bases at Denham, Ickenham and West Drayton. Everybody admires the way in which the United States commanders have grappled with the inevitable social problems which have arisen in the area. Here again, however, we are up against the question of housing. I wonder whether something could not be done to lessen the demand made by American personnel upon the limited housing accommodation in the district.
It seems tactless, to say the least, that so many administrative and training personnel should be brought into a Metropolitan area which is so overcrowded and where the housing situation is so difficult. The bitterness creeps into this matter because the American Service men can always over-bid any British couples who are seeking to set up a home. Personally, I have always felt that the American Service man has every reason to feel bitter that he has been fleeced by some of the local landlords. But must we have a headquarters and a training establishment in an area of this kind?
The concern among my constituents is genuinely aggravated when they contemplate the potential operation of the Rent Act in October. Many people have come to me and said that they have offered £3 3s. a week for accommodation but that an American has eventually obtained it at £15 a week. If the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) thinks that this is all Communist propaganda, I would point out that a case was recently brought forward by the local Conservative agent and given great 148 publicity on the front page of the local newspaper in which these precise figures were used.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
On a point of order. What has the Rent Act got to do with the Air Estimates, Votes 1 to 5, which I understand we are discussing?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am rather doubtful how far the hon. Member can pursue this point, which seems to be on the borderline of order.
§ Mr. Beswick
I am not going to pursue it very much further, Sir Gordon, but I think that the accommodation of the Services does come under the Air Estimates. I am saying that we have a situation which does create a great deal of difficulty as between ourselves and the Americans, and I should like to see it grappled with.
It may well be that the numbers involved here are not very great. Maybe we have only to have one case and it goes like wildfire through the constituency. I wonder therefore whether the Secretary of State could give me any idea of the sort of figures that are involved here. How many American personnel are now compelled to go out into the civilian market and seek accommodation in and around my constituency, and, better still, can he give me any hope at all that the numbers involved are likely to be reduced?
There is one other point which I should like to make upon these Estimates. It concerns the use of Northolt Airport, which is also within my constituency. Northolt was given up as a civil airport because it was so near to the London circuit, and there has been considerable difficulty about the proximity of these two circuits, but, since it was given up by the civilian authority, it has been taken over by the military authorities. It is being used again, I understand by American aircraft, as well as British aircraft. I am also given to understand, though it seems absolutely incredible to me, that this airport is used for "circuits and bumps"—practice for Air Ministry officers as well as for communications work. I hope that we shall not have to raise in this House in future the question of some accident involved in the use of two airports so close together. It seems to me that, at a time when the speed of civil 149 aircraft is increasing so tremendously, when we are likely to have jet aircraft coming very soon, with speeds of 300, 400 or 500 miles an hour, it is quite wrong that we should have these two centres of traffic so close together.
Someone said earlier on that the R.A.F was blessed with an intelligent administration among the senior officers that had not previously been matched in the experience of the Royal Air Force. I should like to say that, as far as my own knowledge is concerned, I would agree with what was said in that regard. From what I have been able to see, I would say that the R.A.F. today, from the point of view of administration, organisation and leadership, is in as good if not better shape than at any time in its comparatively short history, and if any credit is due to the political head I give it to him readily.
The impression I have is that when one considers such things as aircraft maintenance, techniques of training, standards of catering or this tricky problem of combining discipline and individual freedom, this force will compare with any here or elsewhere now or at any time in the past. It may be that I have seen only the best stations, at Waddington, Odiham, Uxbridge and the Royal Air Force Flying College, as well as stations of the 2nd T.A.F. on the Continent. I have no doubt that there will be many airmen in canteens or hangars who, if they ever read HANSARD, will comment in expressions which are not entirely Parliamentary. I can well imagine the station to which one of my hon. Friend's referred—Medmenham—where they have parades on Saturdays, when chaps ought to be going off on weekend leave, disagreeing very forcibly. Maybe there will be some difference of opinion there, but by and large, even remembering the pre-war expansion, when the Service was a family affair in which everybody knew everyone else, I would still say, taking that into account, that the standard today, from the point of view of these considerations I have mentioned, is as good as at any time.
I want now to talk about what is wrong with the Service. Why is there any doubt or confusion as to the future of the Service. What criticism can be offered about it? The doubts that arise 150 about the Royal Air Force today concern its rôle and its purpose. That there is some doubt about it is borne out by the fact that the Service is itself organising "Operation Prospect" in the next week or two. I immediately give credit to the Air Council for grappling with the problem as it has, and I congratulate it for using intelligent and up-to-date technique in an effort to give not only to Service personnel but to the public outside an idea of just what is the rôle and purpose of the Royal Air Force today. But I doubt very much whether the effort will succeed. I doubt whether the Chief of Air Staff, for whom I have great admiration, will succeed in the task assigned to him.
One of the principal doubts in the mind of the general public, in the minds of those who know the Service, used to know it or who take an interest in it is that it is now admitted in official defence documents and elsewhere that there can be no defence of Britain today. Worse still, there is nothing in present plans or equipment, or plans for future equipment, to suggest that we shall ever again try to defend this country. There will never again be a Battle of Britain, only another Pearl Harbour.
§ Mr. Beswick
I am saying that there will never again be a Battle of Britain. We have not got the equipment. We are letting Fighter Command run down, and we do not visualise the possibility of warding off and repelling an invader as we warded off and repelled the invader in 1940. I am saying that there will not be another Battle of Britain but there is likely to be another Pearl Harbour. It seems to me that, by deliberate design, we are running down in almost every arm of the Service except the deterrent.
The Chief of Air Staff, who was formerly Commander of Fighter Command, will have a very difficult job in his "Operation Progress". I say that not simply because we are running down Fighter Command as we have, but because we have, as yet, no indication that there will be any fresh equipment for the sort of task which a Britain with a future will have to face. There was some indication that there may be a successor to the Canberra, but nothing has been 151 said about it until now. All the aircraft mentioned by name for stations overseas, except one, are obsolescent aircraft. What is the replacement for the Shackleton? What is the replacement for the P.1, which, if we are to have it, ought to be in the designer's mind and going on to the drawing board by now? The kind of aircraft which will be necessary for any localised incident in the future is not coming along. Everything, apparently, is being staked upon the deterrent.
This policy of concentration on the nuclear weapon is a crazed policy. I use the expression quite deliberately, and I will explain what I mean. There is in this country today a concentration of nuclear weapons per square mile greater probably than that in any other country in the world. No rational explanation has been given to the people of the country as to why this should be so.
Why should this country, this overcrowded, industrial country, have more thermonuclear weapons to the square mile than any other part of the world? The only answer that I got when I raised this matter earlier was that the deterrent ought to be as big as possible. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has spelled out in his own mind the logic of the reply which he gave me earlier today about the necessity for a greater deterrent. There have been in mankind's history so far two nuclear bombs dropped in warfare, and when we talk about the evil character of the Russians we should remember that those two bombs were dropped by the two most progressive and highly civilised Western Nations—ourselves and the United States.
One of those bombs killed 100,000 and the other killed 80,000 people. That is a lot of people, but the use was justified and consciences were salved because it was claimed that these two bombs ended a war and ultimately saved lives. I can understand an argument which says that we must be ready to stop a war or prevent the outbreak of a war by acting similarly or by being prepared to act similarly in the future. I can understand it if someone says to me that instead of a bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki we should be prepared to drop a bomb on Moscow and another on Leningrad as a sort of deterrent—indeed, if it were even said that the U.S.S.R. being a bigger country, we 152 should also drop one on Kiev and one on Kharkov.
It may well be said that that would prevent any irresponsible action on the part of the Russians and would stop them coming to the channel ports or whatever it is they are supposed to be contemplating. But that argument, which I think many people would find difficult to accept, has gone by the board. The policy concerned with those two bombs, which were only dropped after a serious consultation between heads of State and which caused pangs of conscience among people who had something to do with the matter, has now completely gone. Those bombs are old-fashioned. We are now dealing with weapons that are between 700,000 and a million times as powerful as the heaviest bomb we dropped on Germany. We are not even concerned with a defence policy which plans to drop one or two of these bombs which are between 700,000 and a million times more powerful.
There is not just one country which is ready to use this deterrent. We are now concerned with defence plans in which we have bases in Iceland, Greenland, the United Kingdom, Spain, North Africa, Cyprus, Crete, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Japan and round to Alaska. In all those places there are now United States bases where planes are ready to drop many of these bombs which are from 700,000 to a million times more powerful than the two bombs which were held to have stopped a war in 1945. But the most heavily concentrated of all these bases which the United States now controls is at the heart of the British Commonwealth.
I cannot understand the mentality of people who say that Britain, probably the most important and progressive country in all the Western alliance, should be the country in which are concentrated and saturated all these thermo-nuclear weapons. What is it for? In the last war no one dreamed of building a bomber base near a big city. It would have been considered lunacy. I suggest that it would have been the height of the sweetest of reason to have had a bomber base in Hyde Park in 1943, compared with having all these thermo-nuclear bases in the United Kingdom in 1958. As I say, it is not simply a question of having our own V-bomber force, about which we have been told so much today. We have 153 been assured that they are capable themselves of reaching the principal Russian cities with the nuclear deterrent, but we have not only the V-bombers but we have the B47s and B52s, and now we are to have these missiles.
Whenever the question of these United States bases in this country is raised we are told it was Mr. Attlee who first agreed. It may be that he was right at the time. After all, it was at the time of the Berlin blockade; but there were other different considerations which existed then which do not exist today. Today the United States have other bases. The range of their available aircraft enables them to deploy their squadrons all over the world. It is possible to site airfields in places practically devoid of civil population.
The American argument why the continuance of their bombers in this country is required is that their pattern of timing is such that they must be able to deliver a blow from Britain as well as from the ten or twelve other bases with which they have contrived to encircle the U.S.S.R. The British argument, as I have been able to understand it—and I have honestly tried to understand it—is not that if the United States squadrons were withdrawn it would weaken our defence. Nor that it would not really weaken our deterrent, because our deterrent would still be available for the United States although the bombers were based elsewhere, and in any case we have our V-bombers ourselves. No, the argument put forward in this country is that we would disrupt the alliance.
If that alliance is not based on some sort of rational thinking it is a pretty poor sort of thing anyhow. It is said by others that if the United States forces had to withdraw from this country we could not rely on their coming to our assistance if we got into some conflict with the U.S.S.R. Personally, I think the chance of coming into conflict with the U.S.S.R. would be greatly lessened if we did not have United States forces in this country. However, even so, if we are integrating our forces and this is an alliance, surely it is putting a queer complexion upon N.A.T.O. if we say they would not honour their agreement with us unless we had some of their stations in this country as well?
154 But the fact is that the United States are in N.A.T.O. to suit their convenience and not ours, and they get more value in terms of real defence from N.A.T.O. than do we, and I think it is about time someone had the courage to say as much. There is nothing to lose and a lot to gain by reviewing this agreement by which American bases remain upon our soil. Those who place the most reliance upon N.A.T.O. should be the first to argue that the alliance would be strengthened, not weakened, if the Royal Air Force assumed its proper place as the primary force in this country.
If I had to take this Press conference and direct this "Operation Prospect" these are the three things which I should like to say. First, that our people are as ready now as at any time in the past to defend our proper interests, and amongst these people there are more than enough young men ready to volunteer and play their part in the Royal Air Force. That is the first thing I should like to be able to say.
Secondly, that this Service is equipped for any conventional attack that may be made upon our islands, and capable of dealing with local disturbances and threats to British interests overseas, and that in addition it is capable of striking blows sufficiently hard to deter any irresponsible attack on us, without in any way affecting or undermining the whole future of the human race, which is what the use of these nuclear weapons now means. Thirdly, I would say that these forces will be maintained efficient and ready, if required in alliance with others, until such time as our statesmen build the authority of the United Nations as a peace-keeping organisation.
I think that all people in their hearts—at any rate all thinking people—know that if we are to get a genuine, lasting peace, it will not come from this series of national nuclear armed bases but through some world authority. What we must admit also is that this dull, blind, stupid arms race, with more and more bombs with more and more destructive power, with missile bases being added to airfields, is corrupting our political attempts to get a settlement.
It is not simply our economic stability that is being undermined by the effort to keep ourselves a major nuclear power. It is not simply that our military purpose 155 is completely blanketed by the presence of the United States Strategic Air Force in this country. The most evil thing about the arms race is that it infects us with the virus which makes us believe that, if we can only keep on a little longer, if we can only get something a little more powerful, we can compel the other side to give in. That, I think, is the only explanation of some of the recent statements of Mr. Dulles. He genuinely believes that one day the United States will be in such a powerful position that the U.S.S.R. will be frightened by her military might and will negotiate on her terms.
The same kind of argument is the only explanation for the phrase in paragraph 4 of the Defence White Paper:… the overall superiority of the West is likely to increase rather than diminish, as a consequence of the advent of medium-range ballistic rockets.I would have thought it absolutely incredible that today anyone can talk about the superiority of nuclear weapons.
We must get the idea completely out of our minds that we can ever build a force so powerful that it will compel the others to let us have our political way. That time will never come, and the sooner we attempt to get a political settlement on the basis of mutual respect, the better. I personally believe that if the Royal Air Force assumed the rôle I have suggested, there would be a better opportunity of getting the right kind of political atmosphere here at home.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
In my limited and not particularly distinguished service with the Armed Forces of the Crown I was not aeronautical but amphibious, and if therefore I venture to address a few remarks to the Committee I do so with great diffidence, particularly as I am following the hon. Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), who is an expert in the technicalities of civil and military aviation.
I did not intend to intervene until I heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), who has since left the Committee. I make no complaint about that, but I took exception to his reference to some of the recent achievements of our nation as pygmy events. The hon. Gentleman seemed to include in that 156 description the great advances made by Britain in aviation and in atomic power. Surely it is true to say that at present the fame of our country is written large from Calder Hall to the Antarctic.
The hon. Member for Govan took us back a little into history, to the days before the 1914 war, the days when, I believe, people spoke of a two-Power or three-Power naval standard, which was to guarantee security and peace for Great Britain. He said that that was considered to be the deterrent, but it did not work and the war came.
I should have said that there is, no comparison whatever between those days and the present time. Today there is a deterrent. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), in his refreshing speech, spoke of the two giants which overshadow our sombre world, but, although that is true, and although it is true that we live under the shadow of these giants with their tremendous power of devastation, if not annihilation, it is also true that, because of the nuclear weapons and because of the deterrent, these giants are paralysed.
That means that manned aircraft and conventional armaments of any kind may prove not less, but more, important than before. I sometimes think that when the House of Commons addresses itself to defence matters it might give more study to those forms of warfare to which our potential enemies are more likely to resort in this period of paralysis—the war of ideas, political warfare, economic warfare, guerrilla operations, the stirring up of industrial unrest, of riots and rebellion in overseas territories.
It is sometimes argued against the deterrent from the other side of the Committee that neither side will use it because to use it is suicide. There may be some strength in that argument, but if one side possessed the deterrent and the other did not it would be a very different matter, because the side which did not possess it would live under the constant blackmail of the other Power. We remember in the Suez days the effect upon some people at the mere mention of the possibility of a rocket bombardment of this island from the Soviet Union. Therefore, if the deterrent existed there and did not exist in the West, it would be a very different state of affairs.
157 I do not agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge that to arm ourselves with the deterrent is a crazed policy. Nor am I at all sure that I agree with those people who say that it would be very dangerous for other countries to have these weapons; I believe they are going to have them in any case. I believe, although have no knowledge of these matters, that it is much cheaper to make a thermonuclear weapon than an atomic weapon. It is useless for the United States or ourselves to try to blackball any new entrant to the thermonuclear club. Even if other Powers possess deterrent weapons, I honestly do not think that will necessarily increase the danger. It may mean that it will be more and more widely accepted that thermonuclear warfare is impossible as an instrument of policy, and that nations will have to rely upon other forms of armaments and other kinds of forces.
Much has been said during the debate about the Thor, and it has been suggested from the other side of the Committee that the Thor is an ineffective weapon. I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will make a clear statement to the Committee—because the nation requires it—about the merits of this weapon which, I am sure, are much greater than remarks from hon. Members opposite would suggest. It is quite illogical for the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) to argue, on the one hand, that this weapon is junk and, on the other, that it should not arrive in this island before the summit talks. It will not have the slightest affect on the Russians for us to say in deference to their wishes that we shall not equip ourselves with the Thor.
Nevertheless, I do not pretend that I think that the terms on which we have accepted the Thor are entirely satisfactory. The Agreement presented by the Minister of Defence in the White Paper on the Supply of Ballistic Missiles by the United States to the United Kingdom will be accepted by the country, but I do not like all of it very much. It states that:All nuclear warheads … shall remain in full United States ownership, custody and control in accordance with United States law.I understand the position about the McMahon Act, but can my hon. Friend give us some hope of it relaxation? I 158 appreciate all the difficulties with Congress—there always are these difficulties—but I cannot help thinking that if the United States Administration were to make it perfectly clear to Congress that the containment of Communism and American bases in the United Kingdom depended on the modification of the McMahon Act, we should see some action in Congress.
It is not a satisfactory state of affairs and it is certainly not interdependence for one ally not to trust another with the warheads necessary for the weapon to have any effect. I note with pleasure that these words occur in the Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates:A British ballistic missile is also being developed on the highest priority.I say that not merely for reasons of national prestige, although national prestige is important, or for reasons of formal sovereignty, although I attach the highest importance to national sovereignty. I say that because I believe, to quote my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), that "we arm to parley".
The possession by Great Britain and her Continental neighbours of ballistic missiles of which they have full control is necessary before there can be any real disengagement in Europe. I sometimes wonder what we expect the Summit Conference to achieve. I do not agree with that idea of disengagement which has been put forward from the other side of the Committee. I am much more ambitious about disengagement. I want to get the Russians out of Europe—not only out of Eastern Germany, but out of other countries of Central and Eastern Europe which now lie under the Soviet thrall.
If any hon. Member opposite imagines that that is a provocative statement. I refer him to the offer made by Mr. Khrushchev, not once but several times, of a Soviet withdrawal from those countries of which I am speaking. But he also expects a corresponding Western withdrawal.
I think that we shall see this disengagement in time. It may be that as the intercontinental ballistic missile comes along we shall see a readiness upon the part of the United States and the Soviet Union to disengage, but this means that we have 159 to be up and doing. In Europe, and especially in this country, we must be very busy. We must see that we have the necessary conventional forces and the rockets. We must take the lead not only at the Summit Conference but in diplomacy. We must take the lead in forming an effective military system of sovereign European countries to keep Europe safe when the giants go back.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I noticed that in the last few speeches from hon. Members opposite there was a considerable amount of twitting of hon. Members on this side of the Committee both as to our alleged disunity and as to our alleged confusion of policy on this issue. There was also a twitting of my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) for having spoken in derogatory terms about British achievements. An interesting fact was that no sooner had the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) talked in terms of British achievements than he cited two examples which I thought would have been much better not mentioned. One was Suez, of which he was a very ardent partisan, and the other was the question of American sovereignty over the nuclear warhead in the ballistic missile.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I did not mention Suez as a British achievement. I was speaking of British achievements in the sphere of aviation, atomic power, and other matters. My reference to Suez came much later.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I quite agree; the hon. Member obviously could not have mentioned them all at once. His reference to Suez did come later. Nobody on this side of the Committee wants to say anything in the least derogatory about any British achievement, especially those which the hon. Member first mentioned. I merely say that it is a pity that he tacked on to them two other recent events which hardly added to British prestige in the world, militarily or otherwise.
I want to say a few words from the point of view of a potential consumer of radioactive dust—as we all are—and of a politician asked to justify as far as possible such measures as are alleged to be provided for our defence. Everybody 160 recognises that it is a basic human desire to have some means of physical defence and some tangible sign to show that if we are attacked we have some means of protection. Nobody disputes for a minute the right of the people to ask the Government that some sort of protection should be extended.
No one likes to feel naked, whether he is like the statesman who disliked going naked to a conference, or to feel he is going to war simply because the Government are too stubborn or stupid to go to a conference and to use the only method of achieving real defence, which is possible only by international negotiation, and disarmament, by political agreement. Nevertheless, the demand for defence and for visible signs of it remains, and it is our duty to ask whether, under the Estimates, the means of defence are being provided.
It is the duty of the Government of the day to prove that in spending the money which is being voted to them by Parliament they are justifying the trust placed in them. In a recent debate the Minister of Defence told us that the basic responsibility of any Government is to protect the lives and independence of the people. It is the duty of the Government to show that they are carrying out that basic and fundamental responsibility—I should think that it was the most important responsibility which the Government have. It is our duty to see whether they are doing so and whether the means that they are proposing to employ in spending the money voted by Parliament are adequate and suitable; whether they are pursuing the right policy with those means at their command and are in full control of that policy. If not, I think it is probably only right that we should be criticised for not ourselves suggesting the alternative policy, if we believe that their's is wrong.
There are two words which give one a sense of unreality in listening to this debate and other debates in recent weeks. One is the word "defence" itself, which has largely lost its meaning in the sense to which I alluded earlier; the sense in which people believe they will, by the presence of those familiar physical and tangible instruments, be protected by an Army, a Navy, an Air Force and the rest of it. That reality, such as it was, is gone. Nobody today in his heart believes for one minute that we should not 161 be misleading people if we suggested that by any expenditure of money we can defend them against thermo-nuclear attack. We know that there is no such defence, and it is wrong and wasteful to mislead people by pretending that there is.
The second thing that gives me a sense of unreality is when I am told that a Minister is wholly in charge of the development of defence within his own sphere. I think it true to say that now we have reached the point in the thermonuclear age at which there is no military or political purpose or aim for the achievement of which it would be worth while to plunge this world into war with the prospect of nuclear annihilation. I will go so far as to say—I may be charged with sowing disunity by so doing, but I hope that I shall not be—that even the protection of the lives and independence of the people of this country would not be achieved by the use of these most modern and most effective methods of attack and so-called defence. At the end of it all there would be no lives and no independence to protect.
It is not any longer a question of peace or war or a question of defeat or victory. It is a question now—as has been said so often that it has become trite—of suicide or survival. We are thrown back, therefore, on other means than physical attack and defence in terms of military weapons. We are thrown back on the political method. The sooner that this Committee, the Ministers, the Government and all concerned realise that and adapt themselves and their policies to it and take steps to engage in every possible method and opportunity of negotiation, the better for all concerned.
I am afraid that one aspect which has been worrying a lot of people in this country—this relates directly to the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman—is the subordination of foreign policy to defence policy. This has followed almost naturally on the development of new military instruments which are monstrously disproportionate to any political or indeed to any military aim, however worth while. These so-called instruments of defence have, however, now become integrated into the armies of all nations, and so far as one can judge, they have come to stay unless we reach political agreement.
162 I doubt whether any serious military leader would say that in the event of war these newest weapons will be used. To talk within the greater context of the "grey area" of conventional armaments, of atomic tactical weapons and the rest of it is to shy away—perhaps with a guilty conscience towards our people—from the reality that the big weapons in global war must be the most effective weapons and will, of course, be the weapons which will be used. The danger arises partly from the enhanced tension created by the military spokesmen themselves who very often speak a great deal too much about policy and about strategy, and are allowed by the politicians and the statesmen today to speak much too readily without any consequences whatsoever. We have had soldiers publicly debating defence policy, not only when representing this country abroad, but in N.A.T.O. They have also had this in America. Defence policy now dominates and is becoming identical with foreign policy; and the military mind has largely taken control over foreign policy itself.
Thus we find Field Marshal Montgomery pronouncing upon political matters of the highest order and General Norstad telling us that it was "absolutely essential from the military standpoint that the West German Forces should be equipped with atomic weapons", and ruling out "from the strategical point of view" the idea of a free zone in Central Europe. We have had these pronouncements one after another. We have found the military and naval chiefs of America criticising their own Commanders-in-Chief, their President and their own Government. We have heard Admiral Radford, General Harrison and others doing the same thing. We even find this assumption of control being put into practice, in the case of the as yet anonymous French officer who decided recently to "have a go" on his own private enterprise at massive retaliation at the expense of a little Tunisian market town. There we saw locally, with conventional weapons, something which it does not need much imagination to see happening on the much bigger scale with thermonuclear weapons in another bigger situation.
Several hon. Members mentioned Suez. No wonder the generals are becoming 163 ambitious politically when we find that the two self-styled, most civilised Governments of Western Europe, after sitting down and plotting and planning for two months, could make such a mess of a relatively small operation as Suez. No wonder the generals are ambitious to take over policy as well as the purely military side of things. They feel they could not do worse.
As international tensions heighten and the possibilities of war grow more serious, naturally the soldiers and airmen take over increasingly because they are the people who are our specialists in and who control and operate the H-bomb and the new missile bases. They are the new cadre that the Americans call the "missile men." They are almost a completely new breed and they are extremely powerful people. They are highly trained, first-class specialists of a very high order, with immense power which must be delegated and entrusted to them in many instances—long before actual war breaks out. There is a double danger becoming apparent. We find soldiers in charge not only of military matters, but to a large extent dominating defence policy, which has now become largely identical with foreign policy. Along with that, we have the missile men upon whom technically we have to depend, and to whom must be delegated a considerable degree of power and decision in the event of war, by arrangements made long beforehand.
It is not a case of waiting until the actual moment of being attacked. From all that has been said in recent months, the intention is clearly that there should be an agreement between America and the various countries with which she is making these bilateral agreements which are gradually disintegrating N.A.T.O. There must be agreement well in advance of action. When the time of action comes and war does break out, or what appears to be imminent war, the military men at the bases in charge must be able to take virtually instantaneous action with very little time for consultation with politicians in their own and other lands. Indeed, at that point, consultation from a purely military point of view, might become a hindrance, if not a danger. It is, therefore, difficult to go on believing all the reassurances that we have had that there will be broad political consultations be- 164 tween Governments and with N.A.T.O. and all the rest before any single bomber sets out or any missile base becomes activated.
In passing, it would seem, indeed, that consultation between, say, this country and the American Government before the missiles are actually launched from here, could only logically take place before an attack from this side. It seems an oddity, but it is logical enough that that should be argued. Otherwise, the question of consultation would scarcely arise after attack by, I presume, the Russians—we have been presuming all night that it is the Russians—once they had first attacked us.
Once that attack has taken place, if it does take place, it is automatic that once again the military shall retaliate as soon as the radar screens give the indications that missiles are travelling from the East to the West, and arguments as to who the real aggressor is can then certainly never arise. The United Nations will not come into that picture of split-second attack and reaction in nuclear war. Indeed, nobody mentions the United Nations in these debates when we are talking in terms of aggression, retaliation and instantaneous retaliation. N.A.T.O. itself would have no time for the political debate and consultation about which so much has been said and about which all the assurances have been given by the Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister.
Indeed, to talk about N.A.T.O. now as the Western shield is quickly becoming as unreal as to talk about defence as if it really meant defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) said only the other night that in the mouths of Ministers on the Government Front Bench, this word has become so swathed and smothered in confusion that, as expressed in paragraph 12 of the White Paper, it merely frightens people. My hon. Friend is quite correct. It has, indeed, become a discredited word.
N.A.T.O. itself is rapidly disintegrating into a scattering of bilateral military agreements between America, on the one hand, and individual members of what will virtually be ex-members of N.A.T.O., on the other hand. Their chief guiding concern under those agreements is not broad N.A.T.O. policy, because that, apparently, has ceased to exist. It is one 165 of the weaknesses and criticisms of N.A.T.O. that it does not have a joint, recognisable policy. These new agreements are almost entirely concerned with the siting of missile bases. The whole N.A.T.O. conference in May will, in fact, concern itself almost exclusively with the establishment of the missile bases.
As our defence policy now is developing these unlimited, fearsome means of making war, out of all proportion to any political or military purposes for which it would he justifiable to use them, the situation becomes more and more dangerous for all concerned.
It does not require very much to take all control of British military strategy completely out of the hands of the Secretary of State and his Service colleagues. The impulsive French colonel back from Algeria, an inflamed anti-Muscovite from Anatolia at some Turkish base, or an Italian officer with nostalgic Fascist dreams is all that we need, in certain circumstances, to set off the whole N.A.T.O. chain of attack at any moment in the event of the international situation deteriorating and the tensions becoming more heightened still.
We have to remember that in all this we are still not fulfilling the basic obligation which the Minister of Defence stated was the fundamental obligation of Government: that is, to protect the lives and independence of our citizens. Certainly, whatever the enemy is, whether it be Communism or Soviet Russia or any other enemy, we do not save ourselves from it by adding suicide to slaughter, by taking part in a nuclear war which still fails to give any protection to our people.
Reference has been made to American sovereignty and the missiles. Of course, this is something which has been in the minds of all hon. Members, and I think that my hon. and right hon. Friends have felt and expressed strongly a sense of humiliation at American sovereignty over what is, in fact, the chief instrument of British defence policy in the event of war. If hon. Gentlemen opposite do not feel a certain sense of humiliation in that regard, I suggest they think the matter over a little more carefully and for a little longer. We on this side have felt that, if these weapons are to come, then the least which can be demanded here is 166 what the French Minister of Defence has demanded for his country—that, in what may be an issue of war or peace for Britain, they should at least be in the hands of our own Ministers, however little we may trust them at times. It is no consolation that they should be in the hands of an ally who so little trusts us that it cannot persuade its own Congress to pass legislation which would entitle us to retain our sovereignty while maintaining the alliance.
I remember very well a speech by Mr. Attlee, as he then was, in which he cast some doubt upon where control lay on the other side of the Atlantic in these matters. He said:The Government in America are not really master in their own house … President Eisenhower makes a speech; shortly thereafter the Secretary of State, Mr. Dulles, makes a speech which strikes a rather different note. We do find on occasions that there is one policy being run from the Treasury, another by the State Department, and perhaps another by the Pentagon. A further point seems that the American tradition is to give their representatives overseas a freer hand than we give ours, and less direction. We found rather the same in the relationship, as compared with our chiefs of staff and our commanders in the field, between American chiefs of staffs and their generals in the field.He then went on to quote a number of examples from General Harrison and the rest. That brings me back to the point I was making earlier—the danger of allowing policy making to fall into the hands of those who are directly responsible for defence as military commanders and weakening the position and control of the Administration, whether in America or in this country.
In considering these problems, I want briefly to mention one point which has hardly been touched on today: I mean the sort of self-conscious, consolation or salving of conscience which people indulge in in speaking about the "clean" bomb and the "dirty" bomb. I should imagine that anyone who has the misfortune to come within a few hundred miles of either would not argue very much about degrees of cleanliness or dirtiness. But there are those who, perhaps to salve their own consciences or, perhaps, to conceal from themselves the hard realities of the situation, do talk about less harmful atomic tactical weapons, like the Corporal, as being an improved kind of smaller "clean" bomb. The purpose of the "clean" 167 bomb is to reduce the radioactive fall-out and to localise the effect. The purpose of tactical atomic weapons, as opposed to what are sometimes called strategic weapons, is to destroy more locally or only in the militarily effective area.
Somehow, I feel that those arguments are deceptively dangerous, because people are lulled into a curious sense of suicidal serenity, if I may call it so, into believing that if they can limit the fall-out and limit the type of weapon in nuclear warfare, they are doing everyone concerned relatively a good turn. There is that danger about the "clean" bomb argument, that those who think of using it have a sense of being slightly less immoral, even virtuous, and less dangerous generally than those who use the ordinary nuclear weapon. It is like arguing that it is all right to strike matches alongside a tank of petrol as long as one uses safety matches. I am afraid that it is poor consolation to those against whom they are used, and there is no borderline that is known to anybody's ingenuity between atomic tactical weapons in the field and the extension of their use into the wider and more dangerous nuclear province.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who has now left the Chamber, spent a great deal of time twitting the Opposition about ballistic missile bases and argued that they were merely a modern technical advance upon the bomb-carrying aircraft. That in itself may be true. His equation was broadly that the airfield equals the base area; the bomber equals the missile; the war head is equal to the H-bomb, and that therefore there is nothing worse happening than a little more technical progress.
The contrary could be argued to some extent—perhaps not convincingly—but it is always a satisfaction to pit some arguments against the generalisations which the hon. Member made, especially in the way that he put them tonight, in a manner derogatory to this side of the Committee. In fact, there is more than one argument; the bases with the missiles are wholly an offensive arrangement. They have no defensive value; whereas one can say of the airfields that at least they have the fighter force and to that extent they have a defensive value which the new missile bases do not have. There is also this factor, that the aircraft had to have 168 a human say-so before they took off. There was human control in flight and the possibility of human recall.
With the ballistic missile it is a different picture. There is a delicate and vulnerable system of electronic control which has been called "automated death"; and the phrase is not far out. It might easily have been called "automated suicide". These now international arrangements that guide, control and signal off, but cannot recall, are subject to very serious flaws. There is the ordinary human element of error in the signal. There are electronic errors. There are errors on the radar screen. It has been instanced by a high-ranking American airman that a meteorite travelling east to west might as easily be picked up by a delicate modern radar screen, which can make that mistake, and might electronically set off counter-devices against mistakenly assumed attack from hundreds of miles away. There are thousands of possible breakdowns in that electronic chain from Turkey to Britain; and there is no further human check upon the signal once it has been given and no possibility of human recall. Every country in N.A.T.O. is then in it both ways, as soon as even a technical mistake is made.
Ballistic missiles, compared with the bomber aircraft, have a complexity, a vulnerability and a fragility which do not all add up necessarily to a very good technical argument in their favour. People are apt to forget that there is a mass of elaborate technical equipment of all kinds—telecommunications systems, radar, electronic controls and all the rest—and, furthermore, being 60 or 70 feet above the skyline, the missiles are practically impossible to conceal. Even the American guided missile, Nike, has no fewer than 1,500 parts—condensers, fuses, switches, meters, motors, lights, signal controls, boosters, and all the rest of it. Any one or two of them can go wrong and can cause all sorts of mistakes and misfires.
Finally, there is the immobility of bases and the fact that they allow a potential enemy to pick out and pinpoint in advance for attack the places in which those bases are situated. The bases are not even like the widely advocated aircraft carriers or submarines, for they are not mobile and cannot move from 169 place to place; because not only a larger number of missiles but masses of highly vulnerable and delicate electronic and other equipment of all kinds must be shifted to service them.
I would ask the Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply to the debate, to give us a little information on two or three matters. First, I would ask for some sort of indication of what the land requirements of the missile bases are to be. Obviously, everybody will know, anyway, in a few weeks' time, when they are sited and planned, and to tell us would be giving nothing away to the enemy whatsoever. But the people on the spot, from the local farmer to the industrialist who might have sited his factory there had not a missile base been coming to the area, would be helped in planning ahead if they knew how they were to be affected.
We have been told that about 80 acres are required for a rangehead on an American base, and there will be largish areas required for stores, for fuel dumps, for electronic and radio equipment, and so on, space for accommodation and camps, and a certain amount of room for dispersal of all these things.
In addition to that we should like to know what the clearance area is to be. Are there to be protected areas such as we knew in the last war? There must be safety clearance areas around all the bases as well as the land required for the installations. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us about encroachment on civil liberties within protected areas, and what amount of land in toto will be affected?
Then can he tell us something about Civil Defence? If we set down these bases and create these new targets for attack, what will be the arrangement for Civil Defence? Who will organise it? Will it be left to local authorities or is the Air Ministry to be responsible for it? That is possibly the biggest question of all and in many ways the most important. I notice that Mr. Val Peterson, the Civil Defence Administrator of the United States, has said that in the event of an all-out nuclear attack nearly 50 per cent. of the population concentrated in the cities of the United States would almost certainly be killed. That estimate has allowed for the existence of deep shelters. Without those deep shelters the loss would be greater, he said. He said that 170 his estimate does not allow for the use of I.C.B.Ms. If they came on top of the existing threat, he said,You can throw civil defence out of the window.Will the Under-Secretary of State give some indication of who is to be responsible for Civil Defence and the reorganisation of it—all the local services, which will certainly not survive an attack of that kind?
All I have said does not indicate that those who hold these views on this side of the Committee are necessarily pacifists; but I do assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a new attitude, let him call it a new pacifism if he will, which has been growing up in this country for a number of years, and which certainly will not be dissipated by the sort of vague assurances we get from the benches opposite and the confusing statements of policy. It is not the traditional pacifism. It is a sort of survivalism, if hon. Members would like so to call it. It has no philosophy, except the philosophy that it is a pity for humanity to be bumped off universally when it is not even slightly necessary. Let us call it rational survivalism rather than pacifism. It is not a philosophy nor based on any morality necessarily, like the pacifism of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and others who have consistently held their views for many years, views which are well known to this Committee.
But more and more people are asking why they should be subject to this universal threat from both their own Government and the Government of any country which may attack us when one means to avoid it is still open. That is the means of political negotiation. Let Government take advantage of the opportunities which perhaps at this moment are more open to them than they have been for many years or may be for many years again. I hope the hon. Gentleman will persuade his hon. and right hon. Friends to try the other rational, civilised way, because it is the only method which can be tried except one involving universal suicide added to general slaughter.
Finally, I wish to ask a local question of the Under-Secretary. Honourable mention has been given to South Uist a number of times tonight. I will not 171 rub salt into the Under-Secretary's wounds. He knows the record of his Ministry in respect of South Uist. I do not think the record of any Ministry could have been worse. I have never encountered such a history of bungling, waste, extravagance and disturbance of British citizens—all to no purpose whatever.
I understand that the Ministry is being extremely niggardly in its dealings with the crofters and others whom it has displaced. It is working through the Scottish Land Court, which has a very notoriously conservative idea of the value of land and of the compensation for the disturbance of crofters and farmers.
Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
I think the body referred to would look after the public purse, but I ought to remind the hon. Member that many of the crofters were asking £2,000 an acre for this Highland land, which seems rather high by normal standards.
§ Mr. MacMillan
There is the case of Lord Lovat. There is also the case of Lochiel, one of the Scottish Highland clan chieftains, demanding £1,000 for a few acres from a man who built a ten-roomed house on a piece of marginal bog land. It must not be said that the crofters are greedy when we have the example of that chieftain, and that of Lord Lovat, by whom £100,000 was demanded in compensation for actual improvement of his fisheries by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. If we set standards, we must be consistent.
In South Uist the Air Ministry has dispossessed crofters and plastered cement over acre upon acre of good agricultural land in that area—things which never happened to Lord Lovat, and which, even if they had, would still not have left him bankrupt. Crofters have been put out of their land and homes, and they have a right for consideration to be given not only to the value of their land but to the value of their lost jobs and lost livelihood. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to be generous with the small people just as some other Departments have been much too generous with the big ones.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford)
I sat through the defence debate and I have sat through this debate, and for the sake of other hon. Members I will show a little consideration and telescope my speech for the second time in a fortnight.
Today we have indulged particularly in some pretty Maginot Line thinking, but out of this debate has come, for the second time in a week, a suggestion which I should like to support. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), as the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) did last week, has suggested that we should have a Joint Select Committee on defence. I should like to make it a Joint Select Committee on defence and foreign policy, because I am certain that the events of the next few months will be of such devastating importance, not only to this country but to the whole world, that it is essential that both the Opposition and the Government should have some joint ideas on the points on which we agree.
I fundamentally believe that in general the policy of the R.A.F. and the missile policy which we have been discussing today are fraught with untold dangers. Anyone who has been connected with aircraft, ballistics or aeronautical science knows perfectly well that a missile policy is merely a policy of larger guns with longer ranges. I think the hon. Member for Dudley would agree on that.
Not only have we passed the point of no return, but I think that the whole of civilisation has reached that point where—in a few months at any rate—it will be crossing the Great Divide. My reason for saying that is that an irresistible force is moving terribly quickly towards an immovable object. The only hope for peace left in the world is a strong Britain, with a constructive policy, knowing exactly what she intends to do. If it is left to the two giants we shall rush irresistibly towards war.
I do not think we want a summit policy; we want an economic policy for the world, for a start. I do not believe that the Minister of Defence and, apparently, the Secretary of State for Air, in accepting a missile policy, have counted what it means, because by doing so and doing away with a conventional Air Force we have embarked upon an objective policy of attack. Immediately we 173 accept a missile policy the corollary is that the only source from which we can expect war—the East—is automatically faced with the necessity to do the same thing, and it has done it already.
Any hon. Member is at liberty to look at the pictures taken at a parade in the Red Square in Moscow only a few days ago. They show missiles which make ours look completely out of date. The facts, as illustrated in Aeronautics for February, should be studied by everybody who is the slightest bit interested in the future of the Royal Air Force or the future safety of this country.
I would ask my hon. Friend to clarify one detail for me. On page 100 of the Air Estimates there is reference to transport. Are the Government spending less, in proportion, on air transport than on sea?
From my personal observation in Nagasaki and such places, I am convinced that neither Mr. Foster Dulles nor Mr. Khrushchev believes that there will be a world war, but I am certain that while humanity is talking about the hydrogen bomb the Communists are creating a creeping and ever-growing paralysis right across the world. We have only to bear in mind that forty-one years ago, to this very day, there was a meeting, in what was then called St. Petersburg, at which less than twenty-five Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Communists were present. Now more than half the world is concerned solely with the utilisation of the economies of all the countries behind the Iron Curtain to achieve world dominion.
In spite of the fact that the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) accused hon. Members on this side of being completely irresponsible, I do not believe that any Member who thinks about world conditions could be irresponsible. We are all seeking one permanent answer— peace for mankind—and that can be achieved only by the people of this island living up to their time-honoured responsibilities, because we are the centre of the world.
I believe that the greatest menace to this island comes not from the threat of the hydrogen bomb but from our failing to live up to our responsibilities in the Middle East, North Africa, the Far East and all those places where, if we abandon the Royal Air Force, we shall never be 174 able to fulfil those responsibilities. I trust that the Minister, who has done such a grand job since he first introduced the Air Estimates, will fight as hard as he can to maintain the R.A.F. at its highest standard.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham. Ladywood)
On a point of order. Does your decision. Sir Charles, to call my hon. Friend (Mr. Ross) mean that the debate is concluded and that hon. Members will not be able to exercise their customary power to question the Estimates before voting on them? A number of hon. Members on this side have not had an opportunity to do so, and if that is so I protest.
§ The Chairman
The House agreed at 3.30 p.m. that there would be two hours' extension and the debate must end at midnight.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Further to that point of order. Is it right that a sum of £500 million should be voted without giving hon. Members on both sides who wish to speak an opportunity to do so? I am a "new boy" here, but it seems to me to be quite out of order.
§ The Chairman
Of course, one of the reasons is that the speeches have been very long. On the other hand, the Opposition have done pretty well because they have had eighty-four minutes more than the Government side.
§ The Chairman
I can do nothing about that. If speeches are shorter I can get more in. My job is only to start them. If I could stop them, I would—but I cannot.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
There have been many times during the day when I wished I had been back in my usual seat at the right hand of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to join in some of the fray. I can assure my hon. Friends that I come here "not in entire 175 forgetfulness, not in utter nakedness, but trailing some clouds of irresponsibility" from the back benches which I still regard as my home. If anyone would like to finish that high-minded parody of Wordsworth, I know the rest of it.
I wish to make a plea arising from what has been evidenced in the last few minutes. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) kindly sat down at 11 o'clock to allow me to speak and had to truncate his remarks. Hon. Members on both sides were anxious to speak on matters of concern to them and their constituents, but they have not been allowed to do so. I really think we should reconsider this question of limiting the Estimates debates. It might well be only fair to the traditions of the House and to back bench Members to return to the timeless testing of the Service Ministers.
I think it was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) who last year drew attention to the fact that the fashion has been to extend the Service debates into foreign affairs debates. I congratulate him on going one better. Not only have hon. Members been able to deliver frustrated defence debate speeches, but he has been able to continue his personal debate with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey).
The debate all through has quite rightly echoed the deep public concern and anxiety over certain aspects of the Government's defence policy. We have had hon. Members on this side whose pacifist views are respected, and I hope we will not get a recurrence of this sort of sneering reference to extreme "left-wing tendencies" and suggestions that sincere speeches, such as we had from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) are concerned with anything other than the wellbeing of this country.
I have had the good fortune to know my hon. Friend since I was a lad about the height of this Table and he has never persuaded me, and I know that I would do no good by trying to persuade him. But we have equally had concern on this side with the direction which the Government's policy is taking in relation to the R.A.F. and its effect upon the whole aircraft industry. We have not 176 had criticism of the R.A.F.; indeed, we have paid tribute to the R.A.F. all through. It may be the youngest, but it is not the least glorious of our Services, and we on this side, too, applaud its achievements in peace and war in this. its 40th year.
The criticism has been related to Government policy. It places now more onerous duties than ever on the R.A.F. at home, overseas and in the Colonies. There have been complaints from the other side that there have been differing planes of criticism from the Opposition, and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald), having made such a complaint, then proceeded to disturb the complacent uniformity of unquestioning acceptance of Government policy from his own side of the House. Controversy on a matter like this is inevitable. It is not only inevitable, but it is necessary. Democratic criticism in the House in a situation like this, where we are dealing with weapons and policies which mean not just life and death but survival for the whole world, does represent a desirable and restraining influence on Governments. I regret that there is not the same kind of democratic restraint in other countries as we have here. If there were I should feel very much safer about these matters.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight asked me questions about Labour Party policy. I am sorry he is not now in his place. Insofar as I can explain it to some one who mixes up the days of the week and confuses history with policy, I will try to do so later on in my speech.
We are dealing with the Estimates on the basis of a Memorandum, a document of six pages for our enlightenment and guidance. The hon. Member for Watford asked for a committee. This is a very scanty document on which to ask the Committee to pass such a vast sum as £500 million. I appreciate that there is a clash between security and enlightenment, but surely we can do better than this. Hon. Members should not have to rely upon research, ingenuity, and persistence to elicit information.
§ Mr. Ross
I will come to the eleven shillings worth later. We shall not get a clear picture of the Royal Air Force from it. For the world's navies we have "Jane's Fighting Ships." For air forces we have to depend more or less upon my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley keeping up to date each year "George's Flightless Aircraft." So far as I know there is not a word in the Estimates about N.A.T.O. and it is dismissed in eight lines in the Memorandum. On "Works" there is meagre information apart from the finance in the Estimates. This item of £56 million is dismissed in a few lines——Runways at a number of airfields are being improved and strengthened. The surface-to-air guided weapon station at North Coates in Lincolnshire is nearly finished. Work on more stations will soon begin. We expect to be able to put all these stations on land already held by the Government.That is the extent of the information we have on the £56 million.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not call it concise. It is laconic, pre-emptory and highly unsatisfactory.
The Estimates show a welcome drop of £20 million in expenditure on recruiting to the R.A.F. We congratulate the Minister on his continued existence in the same office. He has had more experience than anyone in the Government in one particular Department. I say to him that this £20 million reduction would be more welcome if it were a token of increased efficiency in the Service. Or if it represented the elimination of waste and the "woffle" which has lead to waste in the past. Or if it indicated a relaxation of tension in the world which made possible a lessening of the defence effort. But it is a reflection of the change of pattern of defence introduced last year and a saving accruing from a reduction of personnel which is followed through into movements, petrol, works and so forth.
In Vote A we are told that apart from the reduction we are keeping 4,500 personnel for unforeseen circumstances. We are not told the break-up of this number, how many are officers and how many are other ranks. We should like that information and to know what sort of circumstances the Government have in mind.
The Secretary of State dealt in the greater part of his speech with the question of manpower, and rightly so. We 178 have heard for the first time of a target of 148,000 for 1962. if the question of manpower is not haunting the Ministry now it will shortly. At present we have 170,000 men. Of these, 40,700 are National Service men who will be going out before the target date is reached. Possibly all the 28,000 men with under five-year engagements will be going out before 1962. Since 1952, there has been a steady drop in those with five to eight-year engagements. I for one cannot share the optimism of the Secretary of State.
Admittedly the figures are not discouraging, but on analysis it shows that we shall have to make a tremendous effort to reach that target. I do not say that it is impossible, but when we consider the classification of recruits it is a matter for concern.
The Memorandum speaks about possibly being 10 per cent. short of the target by 1962. That is bad enough, but if within certain vital branches of the Service we have an even worse position—perhaps in relation to engineering specialists or technicians—it is very serious indeed. A 10 per cent. shortfall in the R.A.F. is serious enough; more than that in important branches would be disastrous to the well-being of the Service.
The Secretary of State spoke about pay increases, catering, uniforms, and other matters. These undoubtedly are important, but I do not think that in the long run pay is the real answer to the recruiting problem. It has been said more than once from both sides of the Committee that there are men to whom the life in the Services, particularly the R.A.F., appeals. The Services will get them no matter what the pay is. The fascination and attraction of the Services will draw them in. Generally speaking, when a man volunteers for the R.A.F. he is single, but the problem comes when he leaves the Service, when he may well be married. Family responsibilities are directly related to the fact that such men do leave the Service.
Could we, therefore, have some up-to-date information about investigations into the question of re-engagement and why men do not re-engage in sufficient numbers?
I feel that we have done something in relation to the petty irritations and the 179 disciplinary fads that can be tied to particular commanding officers. But we have not gone all the way yet. It would not be a bad thing for the Secretary of State to pay some unexpected visits to some stations to find out exactly what is happening. He may find that there is still room for more cleaning up here.
While we must continue to pay attention to the men in the Service, we should pay a little more attention to the wives and families. Housing is being improved, but more can still be done. Education is of importance to the married man. When one considers the amount of movement and posting which takes place, and the difficulties about overseas postings, I am not satisfied that enough is being done. When we look at this eleven-shilling volume, of which the Secretary of State seems to be reasonably proud, we find on page 16 that the educational allowance for 24,000 officers last year was £128,000. This year it has gone up to £179,000. When we turn to the 170,000 men, last year educational allowances were £12,000—one-tenth of £128,000. This year they are £31,000—quite disproportionate.
The limitation of these allowances to secondary education is in principle wrong. Some of the problems arise earlier than that, and this applies both to officers and men. From what I know of Service men and men who are overseas, no matter what the job, there comes a time when they have to decide about separation from their wives and families and about education. There is no doubt that the welfare of the family may, in the long run, have a bigger pull than loyalty to the Service. Loyalty to the Service can be maintained if we can properly attend to this task.
There is one other matter in relation to manpower and getting and keeping men, which is well worth looking at. Now, we are asking for specialists, for men with the highest educational qualifications, for the Royal Air Force, and we must get them if the Service is to maintain its technical standards. In that case, promotion prospects must not only be good but must be fair.
I recently read an "Open letter to parents of ambitious young men" from Air Marshal Sir John Whitley, which said: 180The R.A.F. has the prime responsibility for the air defence of this country. For young men, therefore, who are trained to tackle the problems of the air in the air, there will be more—not fewer—opportunities in the missile age … Quite apart from flying and its fascinating skills, there are the manifold duties of an officer to men under him, in staff, liaison and training jobs, and perhaps in high command.Is it fair unless we have a promotion system that offers equal chances to all? There have been difficulties and disappointments by some of the recent appointments in certain of the technical branches. The right hon. Gentleman must see that this matter is put right and that the right share of the top posts goes to the technicians in the new, modern Air Force, which is so reliant upon high technical skill, knowledge and training.
In the past, the Royal Air Force has shown itself capable of getting the men, treating them like men and keeping them; but today it is not just men, but the right kind of men, who are needed. One of the difficulties is that all Services are looking for the same kind of man. We were told last year by the Under-Secretary of State that as soon as the new defence policy was settled, we would start on integration, but no statement has been made about integration.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr Ewing indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Ross
After this debate, I will gladly look back to find which Minister said it. I assure the hon. Gentleman that one of them did. In any case, whether he said it or not, is it not time that he was thinking about it?
The facts are obvious. Industry, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are all competing for the same men. It is obvious that the Services, as a unit, should be attending to the possibilities of integration in relation to certain branches. The sooner it is done the better, because I doubt whether there will be enough to go round. Economy with and between the Services is certainly worth while.
I should like to say something of aircraft and stores, Vote 7, A, B and C. Here we have the financial evidence of the change from manned aircraft to guided missiles, both for defence and for attack. There is a 22 per cent. reduction for airframes and aero engines. This kind of thing must be worrying the industry considerably. Then, there is a 50 181 per cent. increase for armament, ammunition and explosives, due mainly to missiles and the like, which is worrying many people in the country.
This reduction for airframes and aero engines must relate to Fighter Command, because we have had the proclaimed expansion of Transport Command and there are also the deliveries of the V-bombers. These sums, however, can be no more than a guess of what a forecast is to be in the month of October. 'They are not really an Estimate at all. If these figures are correct, they point to an even speedier run-down of Fighter Command—I would say, with more speed than wisdom—and to the delayed re-equipment of the other commands.
The increase of 50 per cent. relates to rockets, bombs, guided missiles, ground defence weapons and all their gear. The Secretary of State today was not very reassuring about the gap, which must exist, in the defence of the country during the changeover or fitting in of the new pattern of missiles to the old pattern of manned aircraft defence. It may well be that we are running risks. It is not, perhaps, quite so serious at the present time, in a year of summit talks, but we should watch it carefully. The Memorandum is not very reassuring. In paragraphs 31, 32 and 33 it speaks about the new fighter, the P.1, and its associated air-to-air guided missiles. They are not being delivered; they are being developed. There is talk about firing trials of the Bloodhound, trials of a complete weapon system which are to start soon, and operational deployment after that. There are trials of the Thunderbird. It is all trial and development. There is a familiar ring about all this; it sounds like what we had in relation to planes. The country needs an assurance that we shall not muddle along through a waste of manifold projects, with very little of anything worthwhile and too much of the things which are ineffective.
As regards the deterrent, I do not really think that paragraph 30 fits in what has gone before in any sensible fashion at all. We are told in paragraph 27 that the continued effectiveness of the deterrent will be assured. That implies that the deterrent is already effective. Let us take that as right. If the deterrent is already effective, why run the political risks inherent in accepting this American ballistic missile? There are certain ques- 182 tions which ought to be asked about this. Is it desirable? Politically, no. Is it necessary? According to paragraph 27, no. Is it effective? My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) was not the only one to throw doubt on that. Is it ours? The answer to that is only too obvious.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) spoke about the halting of H-bomb patrols and seemed to think that we and everyone in the country should know what the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister did not know—that is, about American practice, psychology and fears, fears caused through Pearl Harbour. They do not want to take risks. Might I say here that we in Britain do not want to take risks? Certainly, there is nothing in the international situation to justify exactly what they are doing at the present time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-East said that our argument about the stand-still of tests was only a political gesture. It is a much more risky political gesture to proceed with these unnecessary, unsatisfactory and unsafe missiles that we have accepted.
There is little wrong with the Service which good administration would not put right. Doubts are expressed about the policy of the Government in relation to the Royal Air Force itself and the effect that has upon its three-fold rôle. We have opposed the defence policy not only today but time and time again—I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley—because of the dangers inherent in our over-reliance on the deterrent as an instrument of national and international defence. We on this side are concerned that, in this stalemate of terror which the Government are prepared to contemplate for a generation, the next step should be the right one. That step should take us nearer a Summit Conference, with a chance of success, and not take us towards that state of defence bankruptcy where the choice is between H-bomb suicide and doing nothing at all.
For that reason, we oppose this over-reliance upon the deterrent. We urge suspension of tests, and we want the stopping of unnecessary patrolling over our skies of planes carrying the H bomb. This is why we ask the Government not 183 to proceed with these unloved missile bases before a Summit Conference. We urge them to press on for summit talks. These Estimates, which trouble us, trouble all Governments. They mock the claims of modern civilisation. They are a measure of the failure of politicians, but they are a challenge to statesmen. Our motto should be, not "Reach for the skies" but "Reach for the summit".
§ 11.30 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing)
I think the Committee should congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) upon the very gracious way in which his maiden appearance at the Box was conducted.
The whole debate has been interesting, and we have had many constructive speeches. I am afraid that in the short time at my disposal I shall not be able to deal with all the 70 or 80 points which have arisen, but my right hon. Friend and I will write to those Members whose points we have not dealt with.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock asked a very sensible question on the subject of re-engagements. We realise that it is extremely desirable to get those who are already in the Air Force, who like and know the life, to re-engage. This is included in the terms of reference of the Grigg Committee, which is conducting a special investigation directed to finding out what is necessary to make people who are already in the Services re-engage. The outcome of that Committee's deliberations will be awaited with great interest on all sides.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has not been feeling well. His indisposition does not seem to have reduced the length of his speech, which I think broke most records. He raised the question of recruiting, and he suggested that after October our recruiting figures fell away. I should like to refute that suggestion, because I can find no evidence in the figures, which have been carefully examined, of any falling off in external recruiting from October onwards. The recruiting figures in the last quarter of 1957 were up in total on those in the previous quarter, and in particular were up on the important long 184 nine-year engagements. There has been a further modest improvement in January and February, although the effects of the recent pay and other improvements have not yet made themselves felt. Generally, there are grounds for optimism, as my right hon. Friend has said. So far from the 15,000 gap being increased, it can, we think, be substantially reduced, if not eliminated.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock also raised the question of educational allowances, and he drew my attention to the apparent discrepancy in the Estimates, in that officers were to receive £179,000 and airmen very much less. These allowances are paid to assist parents who, because they are serving abroad or are subject to frequent movement in this country, feel that it is better that their children should remain in one place so that their education may proceed uninterrupted. The conditions of eligibility are precisely the same for officers and for airmen.
Past experience has shown that a far greater number of officers take advantage of this scheme than do airmen; but even out of the airmen who do make use of the allowance, only a small number, compared with officers, send their children to boarding school. Allowances for education at day schools are naturally much lower than the allowances for boarding school education. It is for these three reasons that the payments made to airmen do not compare with those made to the officers. The hon. Gentleman will see, however, that there has been a substantial increase in the payments expected to be taken up by airmen, and that is a wholly healthy tendency.
The hon. Gentleman also gave me warning that he would raise the question of the eligibility of technical men for the highest posts in the Royal Air Force; and I feel, although the hon. Gentleman did not have time to do more than touch on that point, that he might like to know that the senior posts go to the best men, irrespective of branch. In fact, for example, the commander-in-chief designate of Maintenance Command is from the equipment branch, and he succeeds a general duties officer; and an air vice-marshal from the secretarial branch has recently succeeded a general duties officer as Director-General of Personal Services. This process will continue.
185 The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) asked whether we could give some news on the question of benefits in kind to airmen. Owing to the recruiting problems, this matter has had a good deal of discussion in the Press and in Parliament as well. It has been suggested, and I think it is generally endorsed, that pay is not entirely the answer to the recruiting problem. I agree that it is not by any means the whole answer. General conditions, morale, esprit de corps, the sense of doing a good job, an interesting and adventurous life—all these too matter enormously. The Grigg Committee, as I have said, is examining the question of what measures are needed as a further stimulus to recruiting.
Meanwhile, however, I think it is worth while pointing out that some of the things which a Service man gets are free and are not shown in the pay code. I acknowledge, as does my right hon. Friend, that there are disadvantages in a Service life, but I think it would be wrong to blind ourselves to some of the advantages.
An airman, if he is single, has no bills for meals, no bills for accommodation, no bills for heating. I doubt whether many civilians living at home or in "digs" manage to buy these items for less than a couple of pounds a week. The airman also gets on average over twice as much leave—paid leave—as the civilian; and he gets three free travel warrants a year to go on this leave. He gets concessional fares whenever he travels by railway. He gets free clothing, free laundry, and he does not have daily fares to and from his work. Even those last three items, I think most civilians would agree, cost the civilian something like 15s. a week. The airman gets opportunities for first-class sport and general recreation without having to pay subscriptions to sporting clubs, and he gets a wide variety of free educational, medical and other welfare services.
What all these benefits add up to in terms of cash value varies according to different people and different tastes, but I would hazard that there are very few civilians who get the equivalent for less than £3 a week, and I think it would be far more generally true to say £4 a week at least.
If the airman is married he gets an allowance which is quite unknown in 186 civilian life—marriage allowance. Under the present building programme he has a good and still improving chance of getting a married quarter at a reasonable rent; and there are no bills for furniture, because his quarter is furnished for him. Many of us in our constituencies have a housing problem. In my constituency of Hendon 2,000 people have been waiting since 1939 for a council house. A Service man's chance of getting a married quarter with reasonable speed is steadily rising. I think the difference between the Service man and the civilian in this respect is frequently most remarkable. We have now over 42,000 married quarters and official hirings. The ratio of these to the number of entitled Regular personnel is steadily rising all the time. To summarise, therefore, we must not under-rate the advantages in kind which a Service man gets from Service life.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—the hon. Member for Lincoln, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert), my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland. South (Mr. P. Williams) and others raised the question of air transport. I am not surprised, because with the streamlining of our forces, with the smaller all-Regular forces, the importance of air transport grows every single year. I think it was General Forrest who said that the problem is "to get there fastest with the mostest." We need that today, and that is why there is this general interest in air transportation.
I should make it clear that our potential military airlift comes from two quite separate main sources. Firstly there are the military aircraft, both those in Transport Command based in this country and those based overseas in the Far East Air Force and the Middle East Air Force; and secondly there are the aircraft available in the civil airlines—the independent companies, and to a lesser extent the Corporations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South asked whether we had the right ratio between Transport Command aircraft and the civil aircraft available to us. I think the exact balance between the two is a matter for military and strategic judgment; but the Service must have in its own hands, immediately available. a significant quantity of transport. We do not pretend that we could 187 ever aim to use that transport as efficiently as a civil operator would; but it is essential, if we are to meet the needs of the "fire brigade," that we should have it instantaneously available to us, before there is any question of diverting civil contracts or bringing civil aircraft back from airline work and using them in the military rôle.
Civil aircraft under charter to the Air Ministry are used extensively for carrying both personnel and freight. Last year they carried 105,000 passengers on trooping flights, as well as some 3½ million lbs. of freight. In emergency this capacity could be diverted from its routine tasks—I am talking now about independent air companies—to help meet operational needs. Over and above this, there is generally substantial additional civil capacity available for charter, the precise amount varying with the time of year—in summer civil aircraft firms are at a greater stretch, but in winter a large percentage of the fleet can be made available at short notice.
Most of the aircraft of the Corporations are normally engaged on scheduled service; but the Corporations also frequently have aircraft going through their proving trials and coming into service, or aircraft which have just left scheduled service and are now held in reserve. In fact, the B.O.A.C. Britannias which were coming into service were of inestimable value at the time of Suez.
The hon. Member for Dudley was troubled about how much lift is available from civil sources. The total potential airlift available from civil sources has expanded enormously since 1951. I will give the proportionate increases, and should be happy to show the hon. Member the figures in ton-miles. In that period the Corporations have about doubled their ton-mile capacity; and I am told that the capacity of the independent operators has risen four-fold in the same period.
On the military side also the expansion has been extremely large. The airlift potential of Transport Command has almost doubled since 1951. The "front line" now consists of 30 Hastings, 10 Comets and 24 Beverleys, of which four are at present detached in Aden. The transport capacity of the Middle East Air Force has gone up by 50 per cent. and that of the Far East Air Force by 188 150 per cent. since 1951. In sum, therefore, we can reckon on about twice as much airlift capacity in ton-miles for military purposes as was available to us seven years ago.
I have heard some criticisms about the type of aircraft which we are using, and even some suggestions that the Beverley is not an ideal aircraft. I would agree, and my right hon. Friend acknowledges, that this is a large and complex aircraft; and like all aircraft, it has had its teething troubles. However, Beverleys are regularly carrying freight to Germany and Cyprus, and last autumn in a tactical N.A.T.O. exercise at greater range than they had ever attempted before, they gave extremely satisfactory performances in dropping airborne troops over Denmark. In November and December they undertook a flight round Africa in order further to test their performance in strange countries, in hot climates and from airfields at high altitudes.
The Beverley has enormously increased our ability to lift heavy and awkward loads; for example, it has carried road-rollers and earth-moving equipment to Aden and complete helicopters to the Middle East from this country. It even took the Lord Mayor's coach to Helsinki. This aircraft has a long and useful life. We have twenty-four in the front line at the moment, and it will continue to carry the brunt of our heavy freight movement right into the middle 1960s. In due course a successor will be needed, and the Departments concerned are in close consultation—not just the Air Ministry but the War Office as well—in order to work out a firm operational requirement.
When the twenty Britannias come along they too will be extremely useful. We hope to get the first around the end of the coming financial year, and we hope to get delivery thereafter at the rate of one a month.
Finally, I must say a word on behalf of the Comet, because in Transport Command's hands it has proved itself to be a most reliable and efficient aircraft. The Comet Squadron has now completed about 10,000 flying hours. I recently met a Comet captain who had had breakfast in Singapore and had still managed to have dinner in his own mess at Lyneham on the same day.
§ Mr. Beswick
Are these twenty Britannias to be operated by Transport Command, or are these machines for which tenders have been received intended for civil operations?
These will be operated by Transport Command. The tenders are for the additional three ordered by the Ministry of Supply.
I want now to turn to a slightly different form of transport in which hon. Members have shown some interest, namely, helicopters. These are mainly cold war aircraft. We have heard a good deal about the R.A.F.'s task in the cold war, and it is right that we should discuss this; for, after all, if the deterrent policy succeeds, we may be primarily concerned with cold war operations for many years to come. My right hon. Friend has told the House something of what is being done in the Aden Protectorate, and by way of further illustration it is of interest that, this very day, presentations are being made to two helicopter squadrons in Malaya, in recognition of their outstanding work in anti-terrorist operations.
Last year I drew attention to the versatility of the fixed-wing single Pioneer in cold war rôles, and I am glad to have the opporunity of acknowledging the tremendous work being done by helicopters. These provide the other half of the very effective partnership built up for operations in the cold war. The helicopter and the Pioneer have different characteristics, and we therefore have to consider many factors in deciding which we should use. For example, the fact that in a typical case we have found that helicopters are roughly 20 per cent. more expensive both in capital and running costs must be borne in mind. We prefer to use helicopters only when it is absolutely essential to have vertical lift; but the two types of aircraft are complementary, and both have performed splendidly in the last year.
The Committee might like some details of the fantastic figures achieved by these two squadrons. No. 155 Squadron, equipped with Westland Whirlwinds, has, since the end of 1954, flown 15,000 operational hours and carried 50,000 troops. It has flown such different loads as tracker dogs, jungle rescue teams, parachutists, and even a variety of 190 animals, ranging from poultry to a baby elephant.
And Members of Parliament. The other squadron, with Bristol Sycamores, has carried nearly half a million lbs. of freight, and evacuated over 2,200 casualties. It has performed front-line reconnaissance and crop-spraying operations against terrorist cultivations and, at the other end of the scale, has saved many lives in flood and fire relief work.
Hon. Members have raised the question of the flexibility of our Air Force in the overseas rôle. I want to quote what Field Marshal Montgomery said in his famous speech to the Royal United Services Institute in November, 1954:It is clear from the strategy I have outlined that the dominant factor in future war will be air power. And that is my very firm belief. But like so many things we do we too often pay only lip service to this great truth. The greatest asset of air power is its flexibility.I think that we would all endorse that statement. Its truth has lost nothing of its force since then, because the aircraft of Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Coastal Command all possess, and frequently exercise, the ability to move overseas with the aid of Transport Command. Aircraft of all these commands can and do turn their hands to various cold war jobs; they are not tied to a single theatre, a single rôle, or a single type of conflict. This flexibility, which is pre-eminently a characteristic of the manned aircraft, means that we get a sort of bonus for the money we spend on equipping each home command for its primary rôle.
Perhaps I can give the Committee some brief examples. The Shackleton, which is primarily a Coastal Command aircraft for submarine-hunting and maritime reconnaissance, has in addition carried out troop-carrying and reconnaissance and ground support work in the Aden Protectorate. The V-bombers and Canberras, besides their nuclear capability, can carry useful loads of conventional bombs, as they showed in the Suez operation and in Malaya. They have also done work of real value in "showing the flag" in many parts of the world. In addition, single aircraft carry 191 out in total over 1,000 flights a year to overseas bases. These flights, which we call "lone ranger" flights, are an invaluable exercise in flexibility.
Surface launched guided weapons have of course their own enormous advantages, in that the disappearance of the need to carry the human frame into the air gives them outstanding performance. No great air Power—and we would all agree that Britain is a great air Power—can afford to neglect the potentialities of these weapons. The Royal Air Force is pressing forward with the utmost vigour in getting them into service.
However, it is important to realise that the advantages are not all one way. We need the flexibility and the economy of the manned aircraft as well as the performance of the guided weapon. This does not mean that they are rivals, as some of the talk one hears on the subject might suggest. The fact is that they are partners, each necessary to the full and effective exercise of air power. Their proportionate rôles will vary in different fields and at different times, but there will always be an important place for each of them, particularly for the manned aircraft.
We were asked what we intended to do about replacing the Canberra, and in particular whether we were to use the NA 39. My right hon. Friend explained that we are giving much thought to this. Naturally, we cannot reacts very quick conclusions. As regards the NA 39, speed is only one of many factors we must take into account before a choice is made. For example, range, and the ability to operate from short runways, also matter greatly. Any successor to the Canberra must be able to find and attack its target by night and day, with out ground aids. In fact, it must have "built-in" flexibility. Besides this, we must consider when we shall want the replacement, and when various possible candidates will become available. We are very conscious of the importance of this matter, and we shall reach a decision as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Mason rose——
I am sorry, I cannot give way. I have so little time; I was allowed ten minutes less than I requested. The question of Thor has been raised, and if I am to deal with it, I must take all the time that remains.
192 The hon. Member for Lincoln claimed that this ballistic missile was a "load of junk." That is not true. 'These missiles are certainly still under development; but the United States Air Force has placed a considerable production order for Thor, and these weapons are not cheap. I do not think the Americans would be spending money on them if they lacked confidence in the basic design. We are satisfied that when they are deployed in this country, they will constitute an effective addition to the deterrent power of the West.
The average Thor site—to answer the question of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan)—takes some 90 acres, including the safety area. They will be sited either on occupied or unoccupied airfields; and, since the average airfield runs to something like 450 acres, only a small proportion will be used.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) raised the question of the possible expansion of the R.A.F. station in his constituency. I can assure him that we have no current plans for such an expansion. I should like to deal by letter with the other points he raised about the United States Air Force units.
I will now turn to a subject about which we have heard a great deal from the pacifists, and we all recognise their point of view. This is the question of unilateral nuclear disarmament. One can respect the view, even though one disagrees with it, of those who put forward this thesis on moral grounds; but those who advocate it on political or strategic grounds are guilty of a host of fallacies. What single piece of evidence is there to suggest that a step of this kind would have any beneficial effect with the Russians? Let me remind the Committee of what Lord Attlee said, when he was Leader of the Opposition, in a speech at Oxford in March, 1955:If you want deterrents, you have got to use them. … I have never found that a generous gesture brought any response from the Russian side. They are a tough people. It is no good going to the Kremlin and thinking that you can read them the Sermon on the Mount.I should like to endorse that.
But even if, for the sake of argument, we say that perhaps if we take this step, somehow the Russians will follow us 193 and we will get general disarmament; even if unilateral nuclear disarmament did produce, by a sort of emotional chain reaction and in the teeth of all probability, universal nuclear disarmament, would we really welcome the sort of war that would still be possible then—and much more likely since the balance of deterrent power would have been completely upset? In our preoccupation with the appalling character of thermo-nuclear war, which no one under-rates, we tend to forget the real horrors of what is called "conventional" war. Attention has been drawn to the dangers of 200 Russian divisions; and the implications of conventional war extend with equal force to the air as well.
Even if the Russians assigned to Britain only a part of their bomber force, they could easily send against us more bombers than the Luftwaffe did on any single night during the last war—and each of those bombers could certainly carry five times as great a load as the average German bomber carried during the "blitz" against this country. This would mean that in spite of the heavy toll of bombers which Fighter Command would undoubtedly take, a determined attack could launch on us a high explosive bombardment much heavier than that which was made against London. Coventry, or anywhere else during the "blitz".
Those of us who lived in London during those dreadful days, and those of us who speak in this Chamber, which was completely destroyed by conventional bombs, should surely not deny that all types of bomb—whether conventional or nuclear—are horrible, and the sooner we can have a balanced disarmament, nuclear and conventional, and, on this occasion, with proper inspection, the better it will be for the future of this country.
In conclusion, I would say that the Royal Air Force will continue to carry on with its job, and I hope the House will grant us this Vote.
§ Mr. V. Yates
But cannot we ask the Minister to say something about the over-riding question that is troubling the Committee tonight—namely, the nuclear bomber patrols which are quite unnecessary, and on which the whole of this side of the Committee is completely united?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Edward Heath) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question, That a number not exceeding 202,000, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service, put accordingly, and negatived.
§ Original Question put and agreed to.
That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 203,000, all ranks, be maintained far Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received this day: Committee to sit again this day.