HC Deb 06 November 1958 vol 594 cc1188-207

7.8 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Draft Air Force Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th October, be approved. The procedure for prolonging, year by year, the life of the Air Force Act is precisely the same as the procedure under which the Army Act is annually renewed. The House will not, therefore, expect me to embark on a detailed explanation. Briefly, the Act will expire at the end of this year unless, in accordance with Section 224, Her Majesty provides, by Order in Council, that it shall remain in force for a further twelve months. The Order has to be laid before Parliament and approved by an affirmative Resolution of each House. After four successive Orders in Council, of which the Draft Order we are now considering will be the second, there will be a full-scale review of the Act by a Select Committee, and then further legislation will be necessary.

I wish, first, to say a word about the Act itself. During the 22 months it has been in operation it has worked more smoothly, and the experience of the past year has confirmed our debt to the Select Committee which was responsible for reviewing the Act which it replaced. Some of its provisions have not yet been tested, but we are now out of what I think we might call the transitional period and can begin to claim that it stands up to the test of time extremely well.

I wish to deal with one or two points which were raised when we debated the Order in Council last year. On that occasion the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) paid tribute to the historical introduction to the Manual of Air Force Law. He asked whether it would be possible to publish this as a supplementary pamphlet so that it could have the widest possible circulation within the Service. This has now been done and the pamphlet is available to any Member of the Royal Air Force who asks for it. We think that it will be of real value in keeping alive interest in the earlier history of the Royal Air Force and pride in its traditions, and we are grateful to the hon. Member for his suggestion.

The hon. Member for Dudley also asked whether we would consider the publication of some annual statistcs about medical treatment and so on, and about the educational certificates which men gain while they are in the Service. On the first point, I think he had in mind the Annual Report on the British Army which was published before the war, but there is no R.A.F. equivalent. We had been considering how far we could provide the kind of information for which he was asking. There is a regular Report on the health of the Royal Air Force and the Women's Royal Air Force, and I am arranging for copies of this Report to be placed in the Library.

Statistics on education are rather more difficult to produce. I am informed that to produce them would entail a great deal of extra work at a time when we are making rather special efforts to cut down the administrative staffs as much as we can. For this reason, I have reluctantly concluded that we ought not to undertake to produce regular figures which, if they were to be of any value at all, would have to go into considerable detail. Nonetheless, if there is information which hon. Gentlemen want to have on particular aspects of these subjects I shall, of course, be happy to supply it.

Thirdly, I had the pleasure of hearing the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, and particularly the point about the administration of justice in the Army. Hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Dudley, showed great interest in the matter. I have one or two similar figures which I hope will also interest the House and which will go some way towards meeting the request which was put last year by the hon. Member for Dudley that we should produce figures about courts-martial.

I take the year beginning on 1st October, 1957, and ended on 1st September last, during which the number of men court-martialled totalled 672. During the same period, the average size of the Royal Air Force was 191,000, which gives us an average of 3.5 men court-martialled per thousand officers and airmen. This afternoon, hon. Gentlemen listening to similar figures for the Army asked how those figures compared with previous years, so I have armed myself with the figures for the Royal Air Force covering the same period in 1956–57. During that time 743 men were court-martialled which, with an average sin of the Royal Air Force of 228,000, gives us an average of 3.25 per thousand officers and men.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Could the right hon. Gentleman, without taking too much trouble, give us a breakdown of those figures so as to show what the majority of the men were court-martialled for?

Mr. Ward

I will consider that question as I always like to consider suggestions made by the hon. Member. I do not think it will lead to any particularly valuable conclusion, but I will see how much work it will entail.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

One of the things which strikes me is that the Royal Air Force figure for courts-martial seems to be 80 per cent. higher than that of the Army. The incidence of courts-martial in the Army is about 2 per cent. less than those given for the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Christopher Boyd (Bristol, North-West)

They are much more high-spirited people.

Mr. Ward

My recollection is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War did not give a breakdown into the percentage per thousand.

Mr. Wigg

During his speech the Secretary of State for War offered to give us figures later on, and the Under-Secretary of State duly gave the figures. to us.

Mr. Ward

I will certainly look into that point. It will be interesting to know how the two Services compare.

On appeals, in the calendar year 1957, only four appeals went to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, and all were rejected. During 1958, there has been only one such appeal, and it is at present awaiting hearing by the court. Without looking more carefully into how these figures compare with the other two Services, I think the figure 3.5 per cent. per thousand which I have given reflects considerable credit on the standard of administration of justice in the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I understood that it was 3.5 per thousand, whilst the Army figure was just under 2 per cent. In that case, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air can claim a great deal more credit for the Air Force than he has done.

Mr. Ward

I do not remember exactly how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War put his figures, but mine are certainly per thousand, and they reflect credit on the administration of justice and upon the legal authorities.

Now I turn to recruiting. Section 4 of the Act discusses terms of enlistment. The recruiting picture as a whole is undoubtedly much better than it was twelve months ago. What is particularly encouraging is the way in which the figures have kept up in the past three months when there is usually a seasonal trough. The satisfactory figures for September, announced only two days ago, will have been noted by hon. Members.

Looking at the first nine months of this year and comparing them with the figures for the same period in 1957, we see that more than 16,000 apprentices. boys and airmen have come into the Royal Air Force on Regular engagements. This is 2,700, or about 17 per cent. more than in the same period in 1957. Of course, as hon. Members will appreciate, it is important not only to compare the number of men joining on Regular engagements but also to take the length of engagement for which they sign. Here the figures are even more striking. More than 4,000 men have entered for nine years or more so far during 1958, and that is twice as many as entered during the same period in 1957.

I do not like forecasting because I think it is dangerous, and because it is almost impossible to judge exactly what factors may affect recruiting in the next three years. Provided that our current recruiting level is maintained we shall get enough men to produce the all-Regular Force which we have laid down by 1963. I would however say a word of warning, of which the hon. Member for Dudley is well aware.

Our success, encouraging though it is, is not being distributed equally through all fields and all skills. In more than half the trades we are getting all the men we want. In fact, if the present trend carries on we shall reach the stage of having a surplus in certain trades unless we take restrictive action. In certain other trades we are still running short and tending not to get enough people of high enough quality. These all show a shortage, but none is very serious. One way to help to solve the problem is to reduce the number of people we need in those trades. We can only tackle that by such measures as work study, civilianisation and so on, and we are doing that as far as we can.

The figures I have just given refer to recruiting from outside, that is to say from civil life. But it is of interest to look at the figures for internal recruiting, that is to say men already in the Service on either National Service or short-term engagements who wish to stay on and prolong their length of service. These figures are interesting from two points of view. Firstly, of course, there is the direct contribution they make to the all-Regular Force in so far as those who extend their service to after 1963. But it is just as interesting to study the trend of these figures because they help to indicate the feeling within the service about a career in the R.A.F. And so they are, in an indirect way, a commentary on the attractiveness of life in the Royal Air Force to those already serving. Looked at from this point of view the figures are encouraging.

Perhaps I could quote a few examples. For the first nine months of 1958 the number of airmen in ground trades who extended their length of service was 9,351. This is an increase of 31 per cent. as compared with the number who prolonged their service in the comparable nine months of 1957. Furthermore, if we look at the airmen who are on 3, 4 and 5 year engagements, we see a very promising trend. In the first quarter of 1957, of those airmen who were due to complete such engagements 9 per cent. asked to prolong their service. This percentage has steadily risen in successive quarters and is now running at about 16 per cent.

The general effect of this internal recruiting is that it is a most valuable source of airmen on longer engagements. On the 1st January of this year they made up 36 per cent. of the total ground strength of the R.A.F.; by the end of September this year the proportion had risen to 46 per cent. and the actual numbers had increased by just over 7,000. I need hardly stress that it is on the longer service airmen we depend for our senior N.C.O. posts and our advanced technical skills. I hope I have not overdone the figures. I suggest they indicate that those who have tasted life in the R.A.F. like it and that the proportion who extend increases significantly with the length of time they have served.

What conclusions can I draw? I suggest that there are three. The Act which we have before us tonight is working well and lays down satisfactory principles for the personal administration of the Royal Air Force. Secondly, the Act over the years, coupled with the very high standard of leadership throughout the history of the Royal Air Force, has built up a tradition of good conduct. Thirdly, the recruiting figures which I have quoted show that the conditions of service laid down for the Royal Air Force are continuing to prove attractive and I am confident that these conditions of service should work admirably for the Regular Royal Air Force to which we are moving ahead so well, and to which we look forward.

The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.

Whereupon Sir Charles MacAndrew, the Chairman of Ways and Means, took the Chair as Deputy-Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I should like to thank the Minister for his kindness in considering the suggestions I made last year and also to express my appreciation that he has been able to accept them. Perhaps I might also say how glad I am to hear from him that progress in recruiting in the Royal Air Force is so satisfactory. It is true that it is a very different problem from that in the Army. It is not so much a question of numbers, but, in the long run, of its share of the scarce skills for which it will have to rely more on its own people than on people from civilian life. I know that I am pushing at an open door, but I think that, in general, is the policy.

The real excuse for my detaining the House now is that during the course of last year I had considerable correspondence with officers in the Royal Air Force interested in recruiting. This struck me very forcibly because there was such sympathy and understanding and a desire to acquaint themselves with the difficulties. Some even came to see me at the House—not, of course, from any political point of view—to discuss this problem. I was very much impressed by their approach and the feeling that officers of some seniority were worried about some of the subjects which worry the right hon. Gentleman and, if I may say so in all modesty, myself. In this life the first stage in finding a solution is to find out what is wrong. There was not any hidebound, old-fashioned, Colonel Blimpish approach, but a really sympathetic understanding.

I was so impressed that I thought I would seek this opportunity of mentioning it because I feel that the future of defence in this country lies much more with the Royal Air Force and newer traditions enshrined in it than with the older Services. I say that in no carping spirit, because members of my family before me and the generation to come along have been and are soldiers. I honestly believe from what study I can make of this problem that this country has to look increasingly to the Royal Air Force and the intelligent and sympathetic approach to a young man's problem is so heartening that I feel I should pay this tribute.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

Since this is an occasion when it is in order to discuss matters such as recruiting, administration and equipment, I should like to take the opportunity for a moment to follow to some extent the comments of the right hon. Gentleman on these matters and to deal with a particular aspect, that is, the conditions of airwomen, especially overseas.

I had a very unfortunate constituency example of what can happen when the administration is not quite so good as the right hon. Gentleman in his concluding sentences claimed it to be. One of my constituents joined the Women's Royal Air Force at the age of 17 and, while stationed in Germany, was eventually given permission to live out of camp in civil accommodation with an American airman on the ground that she was going to marry him. The American airman concerned undertook a Regular engagement so that he might stay in Germany and, if was understood, marry her. The rest of the story is not quite so happy.

It is that on pressure from the United States authorities the young airman did not marry the girl because it had been alleged that she had had Communist associations, which, I think, is a quite fantastic and baseless story.

Now the American airman pays a contribution to the upkeep of his child to the girl, who was discharged from the Royal Air Force when she was pregnant, at the age of 20. That must be regarded as a most unfortunate occurrence because someone took the very heavy responsibility of allowing the girl to live out of camp. Someone was convinced that everything was in order and that the marriage was going to take place. I should have thought it was a little doubtful, a bit "cagey", that officers should empower other ranks to live out of camp with some other person of the opposite sex in civilian accommodation merely because they felt satisfied that eventually they were to be married.

I know that the right hon. Member has immense faith in the working of the administration, because a letter which I received from him a couple of days ago offered quite the flimsiest explanation I have ever received from a Minister of the Crown in reply to a constituency case. He brushed the matter aside and said, "We do not do these things". I asked him whether he had any means of finding out what investigations had been made by the American authorities and he replied: I do not see that it would be appropriate for me to comment on the policy of the United States authorities. I did not ask him to comment upon it; I asked for his help, and it is administrative help which has been lacking in this case.

The standing of the R.A.F. loses on both grounds, in the first place because of the obvious weakness in allowing this situation to develop and in the second place because it will now get around among United States airmen that it is no good getting themselves engaged to girls in the W.R.A.F. because that Service is obviously riddled with Communists, unknown to the authorities, who investigate neither their political background nor their domestic difficulties.

I do not want to amplify the example, but I should like a little more detail in reply from the Minister in dealing with my original representation. If he is not willing to investigate cases more thoroughly than he investigated this case, then I think it is clearly in order to raise the matter now, because it raises the question of the Minister's suitability to be answerable to Parliament for the working of this Act.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I have attended many Air Force debates in my time, but I can remember no debate in which so little interest was taken in the R.A.F. by hon. Members opposite. We have almost reached the stage when we might say: The boy stood on the burning deck Whence all but he had fled; It does not appear that there is much interest shown by Government supporters in discussing the R.A.F. when the only occupants of the Government benches are the Secretary of State, his Parliamentary Private Secretary and a Government Whip. Presumably both the Parliamentary Private Secretary and the Government Whip would not have been there had they not been compelled to be there. This shows a lamentable lack of interest in the R.A.F. I am glad that we have not reached a stage at which only the Minister and I are exchanging views in a dialogue between us.

I can understand the Minister being pleased that he is attracting a large number of recruits to the R.A.F. That is his job. He wants the biggest Air Force that he can get and he wants to see discipline and the organisation at the best possible level. We know that he has always had the interest of the R.A.F. at heart, and in that respect he is entitled to take pride in what he has accomplished, but I feel no satisfaction in the fact that a large number of young men and women are joining the R.A.F. I think that too many recruits are joining it.

Who are these young men who are being recruited into the R.A.F. as a result of what must be an enormous sum of public money spent in advertising in the Press of this country? Nearly every day I pass down the Strand, where I see an enormous organisation, which must cost a considerable amount of public money, which exists to enlist young men and women into the Air Force.

I am not surprised that the Minister has his recruits, but I wonder what is the outlook of the young, ambitious recruit to the R.A.F. who joins for nine years. Surely anybody who thinks in terms of modern aircraft knows that every day a silent revolution is taking place in the manufacture of aircraft. It is possible hat these young men will be trained to fly aircraft this year which will be obsolete next year. What kind of planes will these nine-year recruits be called upon to fly in nine years' time? I do not know.

I do not understand what purpose there can be in attracting recruits, many of whom are skilled engineers, from work in civil industries which is essential for their future development and for the economic development of the country. What is the use of attracting these young men into the R.A.F. from useful industry when, as I think, the R.A.F. is a dead end?

I do not expect the Minister to agree with me, because this is repugnant to everything for which he stands, but I remember the debate on the Air Estimates when the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said bluntly that he would not allow his son to enlist in the R.A.F. because the R.A.F. is finished, or words to that effect. At; he present rate of scientific development, I should say—speaking purely as a lay-man and without any technical knowledge—that in nine years' time the Vulcans, the other V-bombers and the fighters will be obsolete. They will be as obsolete as the Canberras and as a good many of the aircraft which paraded at Farnborough, or in the ceremonies in connection with the Battle of Britain.

We are spending a great deal of money on enticing people into the Air Force when the Air Force has ceased to have much relevance to modern defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred to the Air Force as if it were defending this country, but we are in the age of guided missiles—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

The hon. Member is going far beyond the terms of the Motion.

Mr. Hughes

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-speaker. I was trying to obtain from the Minister his view on what is the future of the men who have been enlisted into the Air Force on a nine-year engagement. I tried to look a little further ahead.

I believe that there is no future for the young people who are being recruited into the Air Force on nine-year engagements, that a good deal of public money is being wasted and that in nine years' time the whole paraphernalia of the R.A.F. will be as obsolete as are those aircraft which we used ten years ago.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) rather than that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) about the importance of the R.A.F. now and in the future.

I believe it is time that the Air Force debate did not tag along behind the Army debate. Much of what is said is common ground, and there is no reason why the Government should not put the Air Force Act down for debate first next year, with the Army Act debate to follow. The present procedure is merely a hangover from the time when the Air Force was a minute Service of comparative unimportance. I hope that some action will be taken to put this right in future. Perhaps it could be arranged alternatively, with the Army first one year and the Air Force first the next year.

If I mention Grigg, it will be merely a slip of the tongue, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I am following, as far as I can, the actual Air Force Act. At the beginning, we have the reference to recruiting, the terms and conditions of enlistment and the terms and conditions of service. We were all interested in the figures that the Secretary of State gave, and I have two questions I wish to put on them. Unfortunately, I have mislaid the figures for the year and I have not them here; I have only the figures for September, for the three-year engagement. I notice, in the figures I have, that there has been a large increase in recruitment under the three-year engagement. If I do not say it, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley will, no doubt, next year or at another time say it. Are we relying too much on the three-year man?

My second question relates to apprentices. Of course, at first sight, it is good that there should be so many apprentices, but is the Secretary of State watching carefully the problem that, with a smaller, Regular force, prospects of promotion may be less? All of us know men, able men, who became group captains in the Air Force but who had spent nine years as corporals. They had come in as apprentices and, because there was not adequate promotion, it took a large expansion in the Service to bring them to the rank to which they were fully entitled and which they were able to hold as group captains.

I am horrified to hear the story put before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) about what happened overseas to a young woman in the W.R.A.F. How on earth did it happen that she was given permission to live out in these circumstances? I am not at this stage so much concerned about whether the Secretary of State should comment on the views of the United States authorities on her political reliability. I am directing my remarks to the Service's treatment of a young girl, apparently under twenty at the time, who was allowed in those circumstances overseas to live out.

The Women's Royal Air Force can provide people suitable for certain trades such as signals operating, and I understand that that is one of the trades in which the Secretary of State and the Air Council foresee shortages, or at any rate, more difficulty in meeting requirements. Has the trade structure really been studied, and have the regulations on such things as shift working been modified so as to give the greatest possible opportunity to members of the W.R.A.F. to take on this type of work?

Mr. Ward

To which particular trade is the hon. Gentleman referring?

Mr. de Freitas

I was thinking of any work in signals or communications, which is not highly skilled, which can be done by a girl.

It seems a staggering thing that the size of the Women's Royal Air Force shrank last year, and I should like to know what the prospects are now. It is a sad fact, too, which we cannot ignore, that much of this unfortunate reduction may have been the result of the offhand way in which, two years ago, the Minister of Defence dismissed the Women's Services, not even referring to them at all in his White Paper of 1957.

I cannot go far into this subject, but it is obviously right that, if we are to tackle women's recruiting, we must look at it in a way which is not traditional in the Air Force. For instance, we cannot expect uniforms to remain the same for more than a year or two. Women's fashions change, and the women's dress has to change somewhat in accordance with it. This does not apply to the men's Service. There must be an entirely different conception in stock-holding and contracts for women's clothing. Also, are we right in having this five-day probation period for women?

Food and accommodation must affect recruiting. As regards food, is it not stupid to refer to the odd stations where there may be ten items on the menu for lunch and give them a great deal of ballyhoo and publicity? What we must do is provide a good basic standard. As regards accommodation, we can say that some of it is very good. I have seen it at stations like Waddington. We must bring the old accommodation up to the standard of the new.

Is the type of discipline suitable to a modern technical Service. On the whole, the evidence is that Royal Air Force discipline, and the way it is carried out, is about right; but all the Acts of Parliament in the world and all the debates which we may have in Parliament are far less important to discipline than the standard of the average Service policeman. We know that, in civil life, as the general standard of education has risen, so has the standard of education and intelligence of the average policeman; he is a better type of person. The "flat foot" has largely gone in modern police forces. Has the same thing happened in the Service? It is the standard of education and intelligence of the Service policeman which is really behind the discipline which we have to consider. I am not referring to officers, because they do not come in at this point; I am talking about the man on the job.

There are one or two other points which I could not help noticing as I went through the Air Force Act, thinking of what had happened during the time it has been in force. For instance, there are the provisions about aliens. I have not given the right hon. Gentleman notice of this question. I did not realise what a short debate this would be, so that there may be certain questions he will not be able to answer off-hand. How many aliens are there? We had many in the Royal Air Force; for instance, there was a number of Poles. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) often discusses the possibility of taking in aliens from, let us say, a country like Italy, or other citizens of our N.A.T.O. ally countries for certain technical trades. I wondered what the policy is for the Royal Air Force.

Section 44 and those Sections which go with it relate to public money and public property, and I have a question there. Has the Air Council delegated enough power under the Act? Is there enough opportunity for delegation of power to non-commissioned officers in the handling of money? Large civilian companies and organisations find no difficulty whatever in allowing junior clerks to handle very large sums in pay packets. Is it not a problem that, as a result of the Air Force Act and various Regulations, only officers in the Air Force may handle money? One of the consequences of senior N.C.Os. not being able to do it is that one cannot abolish the pay parades, which everyone agrees should go. They are completely out of place, especially in a Service like the Royal Air Force. Is there not a point in the Act which prevents a really modern system of pay packets, such as there is in civilian life? Is this not one of the reasons for quietly dropping some of the very important recommendations of the Benson experiment?

Section 51 deals with low flying. Just how far is this a problem today, with modern high speed aircraft? There must be little opportunity or temptation for a pilot deliberately to "beat up" a town or village. I mention this particularly because over the last few years, in the two towns I know best, namely, Cambridge and Lincoln, where there are many aircraft about, there have been one or two occasions when it seemed to me that there was a prima facie cause for complaint, and I have complained to the Air Ministry about what seemed to me low flying. In each case, it turned out that there was a good reason, such as weather conditions, for the particular occurrence. What is the position today about low flying? Is it a problem today?

If we turn to Section 60—the Section under miscellaneous offences which deals with injurious disclosures—we come up against the problem of certain aspects of public relations. In areas where there are many Royal Air Force stations, there are always complaints by the local Press that they are not given enough information by the local R.A.F. commanders. It arises particularly in a county such as Lincolnshire. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that this Section is not too tight, preventing the local commander from giving information? Is it not a fact that the words used here—" without authority "—are too tightly construed?

We have to strike a balance between good public relations and taking the local people into our confidence, and the risk of real security. I am anxious to know if this Section is not too tight, and whether it does not have a bad effect on the whole. The Royal Air Force must get public support, as any Service must, and it is increasingly important as it becomes a regular service and will not have civilians in it in a few years. I hope the Secretary of State will look into this point.

Further on, in Section 84, there is a reference to courts-martial, and here I wonder if the Secretary of State has had a chance to clear up the points about courts-martial and the percentages, because I fear that the Army may be done a grave injustice if the percentage is as high as just under 2 per cent. whereas the R.A.F. figure is only 3.5 per 1,000. I hope that in the time that has elapsed since the little discussion earlier on the right hon. Gentleman has been able to clear up that point.

The last point I want to raise on the Act concerns Section 178, which deals with powers of command. I wonder if on this power of command and of attachment of naval or military forces, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the provisions are adequate today to cover the extensive co-operation with the other Services, and also how it will fit in with the Commonwealth services, especially when Canada has one Service instead of three.

The basis of our narrow debate today is discipline. During the last few years, thanks to the Secretary of State, together with other Members of Parliament, I have been able to visit different types of Royal Air Force units. It would be presumptuous for me to generalise from a few visits to different types of stations on the subject of discipline. But I can say that I saw nothing but evidence of good discipline. I support this Motion.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Ward

If I may try to deal with some of the points which have been raised in the course of this short debate, I will do so to the best of my ability. I will answer by letter any to which I have not been able to reply in the time available.

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), in a short speech in which he was kind enough to pay tribute to the quality of officers in the R.A.F. and their approach to their service, said he was anxious lest the R.A.F. would not get its share of the scarce skills available in the country. Our problem is not really in the skilled trades. I believe that we shall get all the people we want in the highly skilled trades. Our problem lies in the semi-skilled and unskilled trades, which, of course, are not nearly so interesting. It is this about which we are anxious, and not about the skilled trades.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) raised the problem of his W.R.A.F. constituent, about which we have already had correspondence. I told him in my letter, and I can only repeat now, that it is made quite clear that a girl of under 21 has to get her parents' consent to live out. Although I should like to refresh my memory, since it is some days since I read the case carefully, to the best of my recollection I think I can say that, in fact, the parents' consent was obtained in this case.

Mr. Parkin

Surely the parents' consent could only in these circumstances have been obtained on the recommendation of the R.A.F. Surely the R.A.F. would have investigated the circumstances and indicated them, or is the Minister seriously saying that if a parent writes in and says, "I should like my daughter to sleep with an American airman," he will permit it? It is nonsense. The R.A.F. must accept the responsibility for investigating the circumstances in the first case, and conveying to the parents of the girl what the circumstances were.

Mr. Ward

I do not accept without further evidence that either the parents or the R.A.F. knew that she was, in fact, living with this airman. That is quite a different matter. The matter which the hon. Gentleman raised was purely a regulational one—whether, in fact, the girl was allowed to live out. Under the age of 21, girls are allowed to live out with their parents' consent. Whether somebody goes to live with the girl or not is quite a separate point altogether. The hon. Gentleman really cannot lay at my door any blame for the United States airman changing his mind about marrying the girl. Good heavens, it is not the first time it has happened, and if, every time—

Mr. Parkin

That is a mean and unworthy statement. There is no justification for it.

Mr. Ward

—a United States airman changes his mind—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. We are getting very far away from the Motion.

Mr. Ward

I will leave that point, anyway.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) talked about the number of recruits going into the R.A.F. for nine years and wondered what they were going to do. He said that, in his opinion, and I quote, "there was a silent revolution in the aircraft industry." He said, and I quote again, "Their profession is a dead end." My third quotation, of course, throws a great deal of light on the whole thing, for the hon. Member said, "I speak only as a layman, without any technical knowledge." If I may say so without impertinence, the hon. Gentleman made it quite clear that it is not only technical knowledge that he lacks in this matter.

I do not want to stray out of order by going into the question of the types of aircraft available to these men, because I do not think that it has very much to do with the Act. As I have been challenged, however, I feel that I am entitled to say that the hon. Gentleman really must not spread this idea that, in nine years from now, there will be no aeroplanes in the Royal Air Force. I have never heard such nonsense. There will be the new P.1 Lightning fighter, and the V-bombers will still be with us. Apart from Bomber and Fighter Commands, what about overseas commands? What about the Second Tactical Air Force? What about the Far East Air Force, or the Middle East Air Force, or Transport Command and Coastal Command? Are they all to die out? I have never heard such nonsense. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think more carefully before he makes such statements.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) asked a large number of questions about the Air Force Act, one g which was about the large increase in three-year engagements. He was worried lest we should be relying too much upon it. We have been taking a large number of three-year men in, of course. They were very useful to us in the days when we were glad to have anyone we could, and not only for that reason. They have been useful to us in that a large number of them have become four, five and even eight-year men before they are through Therefore, I do not at all regret our policy of the three-year engagement.

On the other hand, I am the first to agree with the hon. Member that the smaller we can make it in numbers the better, because we want to have long-term people. Therefore, we shall be reviewing the three-year intakes very carefully at the end of this year. But I want to emphasise that even though our recruiting figures look very encouraging and very good at the moment, we cannot afford to be over-complacent. There have been far too many disappointments about recruiting in the past to lightly throw away three-year engagements before being absolutely certain that we are home and dry.

The hon. Member spoke about the prospects of promotion for younger men. That has been very much in our minds. On that depends getting the shape of the Service right. As he knows, we have tried to do this by making redundant quite a large number of senior N.C.O.s and paying them the compensation due to them under a recent White Paper. In this way, as the number of men in the Air Force came down we had to make senior N.C.O.s redundant to provide promotion prospects for the younger men, and we shall do our best to keep the shape of the Service right.

The size of the W.R.A.F. was also worrying the hon. Member. We were anxious ourselves about it last year. It did decrease. We should like many more girls to come into the Air Force. We have suggested several improvements in their pay and conditions of service upon which I cannot embark in detail now without straying out of order, because most of them come under the Grigg Report. But on one matter which the hon. Member mentioned, that is changing the fashion of the uniform, we have decided to introduce a blouse instead of the collar and tie which the girls do not like. That is one example of the things we propose to do to help.

The hon. Member also spoke about food. I felt that he was a little unfair in suggesting that there was what he called "ballyhoo" about the food at specially selected stations. My best answer is to issue him a cordial, friendly invitation to lunch with me at any Air Force station of his own choice, with the minimum of notice. I will give him lunch with the greatest of pleasure if it will help to dispel the idea that the food is good only at certain stations and is bad at others. I assure him that there is a uniformly high standard throughout the Service.

With the hon. Member's permission, I will not try now to answer the points about aliens, and the delegation of money to N.C.O.s, pay parades, and so on, which he raised. We are doing a great deal about the last two, particularly the pay parades, and we have altered our procedures in recent years.

There is one point which I should like to mention about Section 60, and complaints from the local Press. That also has been very much in our minds. Since the war we have been able to make very considerable relaxations in our security arrangements. Immediately after the war there were some very stringent rules about not being able to give the station commander's name and the type of aircraft on the station in the same newspaper. All that has now gone and I think that on the whole the local Press can get what it wants if it is understanding and appreciates that the station commander is in a difficult position when talking to the Press. He is a serving officer and is very conscious of his security responsibilities. My experience is that, on the whole, the local Press nowadays is able to get a very good selection of what it calls human stories, the "local boy makes good" type of story, and any kind of angle it wants, except the things that affect security.

I assure the hon. Member that I will look more carefully into the comparative figures for courts-martial which he mentioned. I have been able to discover that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War spoke of something under 2 per cent. My figure, of course, was 3.5 per 1,000. I leave the hon. Member to work out that sum.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Draft Air Force Act, 1955 (Continuation) Order, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th October, be approved.