Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 180,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1960.
§ 3.33 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Word)
The net total of Air Estimates for 1959–60 is about £491 million. This is about £20 million higher than we are spending in the current year, including the Supplementary Estimates of about £4 million. The largest increase is in the Vote for aircraft and stores. Here, gross expenditure is up by £9 million compared with the original estimate for the current year, and receipts are down by £8 million, giving a net increase over the Vote as a whole of £17 million. Deliveries of guided weapons are a big factor in this increased expenditure.
Appendix A to my Memorandum shows the broad distribution of the expenditure. I thought that this diagram might give a quick picture of where the money goes. Hon. Members will see that personnel costs absorb some 42½ per cent. of the total expenditure, that is, pay, food, accommodation, welfare, and so on. I do not complain about this. It is right that our defence forces should be well paid and well looked after in every possible way. So, this year, there is an increase in the cost per head of uniformed men and civilians. Apart from higher pay and salaries, it will cost an additional £1½ million to implement the Grigg Committee's recommendations.
Since I introduced the Air Estimates last March, the Royal Air Force has seen a year of considerable progress. There have been improvements in efficiency and readiness; squadrons have re-equipped and important decisions have been taken about future aircraft and weapons; and good strides have been 630 made in Regular recruiting. All this is not only most encouraging, but is, indeed, essential to the success of our long term policy. A smaller all-Regular Air Force must have the best possible equipment, officers and men of the highest quality, and squadrons trained for instant action.
During the year, the power of Bomber Command has been greatly increased by the build-up of the V-bomber force and the delivery of many new Victors and Vulcans. It will be increased even more by the later versions of these aircraft which will have a better ceiling, longer range, and, above all, the great advantage of being able to carry the powered bomb.
Development of both the aircraft and the bomb is going ahead very well. A full-scale weapon has been carried on the aircraft and tested aerodynamically, and there have been successful experimental launchings of models. During the coming year test launchings of a full-scale version will begin. We are most grateful to the Australian Government for their help and co-operation.
But as the size and power of Bomber Command grows it is increasingly important to protect it from possible destruction on the ground. There are two sides to this protection problem so to speak, an active and a passive defence. Fighter Command provides the active element, while the passive element is built into Bomber Command's operational plans under which the V bombers are organised to operate from dispersed bases and to be kept at a high state of readiness.
We are steadily improving this state of readiness, and the technique of getting four aircraft airborne within six minutes of a signal being passed to the crews in their dispersal accommodation on the airfield is now practised by all the V-bomber squadrons Our procedures are designed to keep the crews in a high state of readiness while still being reasonably comfortable, and without excessive physical strain.
Apart from the strategic bomber rôle, there are several other most important rôles of V-aircraft, about which I should like to say a word. First, we have available to meet the requirements of all three Services a small but very valuable force of reconnaissance Valiants, which 631 we plan to re-equip with Mark 2 Victors. If our aircraft cannot get the reconnaissance information they need by visual or by photographic methods, they can get it by radar, which is effective by day and by night, and in all weathers.
With our present radar equipment we can take pictures which enable, for example, airfields to be identified and runways accurately measured. And with the even better equipment which is being developed for the Victor we should, under favourable conditions, be able to make an estimate of the number of aircraft assembled on an airfield.
The Victors wild be able to cover an area equal to the whole of the Mediterranean in a single radar reconnaissance sortie by one aircraft, and they could give a count of the total number of ships in the area Again, for example, a radar map of the area of the size of the United States could be made in one sortie by only four aircraft.
Secondly, as I mentioned in my Memorandum, V-bombers will be replacing the Canberras in those Bomber Command squadrons which are allocated to Saceur for tactical work. Not only will this strengthen the hitting power and the all-weather capability of Saceur's forces but it will, in turn, enable us to replace the earlier type Canberra B.2s in the Middle East with the improved Canberra B.6s which will thus be released from Bomber Command.
Thirdly, flight refuelling equipment for the Valiant has been developed. A number of aircraft have been fitted as tankers and Bomber Command are conducting trials with them. At the moment we are using Valiants both to deliver and to receive fuel in the air; but, later on, we shall use them to refuel Vulcans and Victors as well.
This tanker force will have two main tasks. Flight refuelling will increase the radius of action and thus the operational flexibility of the V force, and it will also assist in overseas reinforcement by other types of aircraft. Future aircraft such as the Lightning, the A.W.660 and the T.S.R.2 will be able to receive fuel in the air and thus be ferried over long stages.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the longest range which they would be able to travel with refuelling?
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
With regard to reconnaissance aircraft, is radar working through cloud now satisfactory?
Yes, it is satisfactory by day and night and in all weathers.
The fourth basic task for strategic Bomber Command is that bombers can be used at any time in a conventional rôle in support of our overseas garrisons.
Finally, V-bomber aircraft on training flights overseas are proving themselves ambassadors of good will in many countries where the aircraft have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. In May, last year, I had the opportunity to see for myself the immense impression which two Vulcans made upon the people of Brazil and Argentina and the extraordinary enthusiasm with which these "strangely shaped and beautifully manœuvrable bombers" as one of Her Majesty's representatives described them, were received.
Let me now turn from V-bombers to ballistic missiles. As the Committee knows, the first such missile to be handled by the R.A.F. is the American weapon Thor. The progress we have made with this project is remarkable. During the last twelve months, we have carried out, with great success, a large and complicated building programme for the Thor sites. Thanks to the generous help of the United States Government, many officers, N.C.O.s and airmen have received basic training on the weapon in America.
We have now formed our first Thor squadron and we are carrying out operational training on the weapons. This in itself is a very considerable programme with new techniques, complicated handling procedures and a vast amount of new supporting equipment to be mastered.
633 So much for Bomber Command. Now let me discuss air defence. The primary rôle of Fighter Command is to maintain the validity of the deterrent. But as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has pointed out, the greater part of Fighter Command would still be needed even without this rôle. This is largely because the fighter squadrons form an essential and flexible reinforcement for overseas commands. Manned fighters are also needed to investigate unidentified aircraft and to prevent hostile reconnaissance and jamming over and round the United Kingdom.
This year the Javelin squadrons in Fighter Command will be equipped with Firestreak, our first operational air-to-air guided weapon and the performance of the Javelin itself will be improved. Squadrons of Javelin 8s will be introduced in the next few months. This version has the reheat engine, which gives a better operational ceiling and time to height.
Surface-to-air guided weapons now form part of our air defence system. The first Bloodhound squadron has been formed, and deliveries of the weapon are building up. Steps to develop its full operational capability are under way. One of the biggest tasks is to fit guided weapons into the air defence system as a whole. Some of the problems which arise are, for example, the allocation of targets between guided weapons and fighters; the control of air space to avoid fighters crossing accidentally into the guided weapon area; or to allow fighters to pass safely back through such an area on their way home after a sortie.
These are difficult problems, but the first large-scale trial took place in the air defence exercise last autumn and the results were most encouraging. I visited our first S.A.G.W. station last month and was very impressed with the quality of the equipment and the training progress.
Transport Command has been much in the minds of hon. Members lately, and it might be helpful to the Committee if I outlined the transport picture over the next few years. I shall, of course, be talking not only about Transport Command itself, but also about the local transport forces based permanently overseas in the Middle East Air Force, in the Arabian Peninsula Command and in the Far East Air Force. The graph 634 at Appendix B to my Memorandum shows the build-up in our transport resources over recent years.
Our Britannias are meant primarily to carry men and equipment of all three Services over long distances in emergency, although under normal conditions we shall use them in a variety of ways. When they come into Transport Command—and we hope to get the first one next month—we can limit the Hastings to tactical and theatre transport rôles and the Britannias will take over the long-range work. They have strengthened floors, and will, therefore, be able to carry a considerable quantity of freight.
What, then, is the case for a special strategic freighter? It rests primarily on the need to move large and costly items of equipment quickly in time of emergency. We have selected in the Britannic 3 an aircraft which will be able to carry such items of military equipment, now under development, which it would either be impracticable or too expensive to stockpile overseas; an aircraft which can operate over the longest stages that we can foresee; and one which will have good take-off and landing characteristics.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
Before the Secretary of State leaves that point, will he help the Committee a little more? As he knows, there has been a certain amount of controversy about the Britannic 3 as against the other designs available. Can he tell the Committee what were the characteristics of that air-craft which, in his view, made it superior to the other designs available?
I do not think that I could do that in the middle of my speech. Many characteristics were carefully considered. Each aircraft had its own advantages and all I can say is that after very careful consideration we chose this aircraft.
I would prefer to go on with my speech. This aircraft is able to carry all the equipment which the Army wanted it to carry over the stage ranges which we wanted to cross. It will do the job admirably.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I agree that it may 635 confuse the pattern of his speech, but may I ask him whether the Under-Secretary, when winding up the debate, will give us some of the characteristics which led to the selection of the Britannic 3?
I am grateful to the hon. Member. That would be helpful, because there are many other characteristics which would take a long time to go into now.
I was saying that, apart from the strategic freight lift, we also need a tactical transport force for carrying supplies and for operational movements, including the dropping of parachute troops within overseas theatres. In the Arabian Peninsula, for example, our military units are almost completely supplied from the air. To improve tactical mobility, we are ordering the A.W.660. While this aircraft will not have as great a carrying capacity as the Beverley, it will operate over longer ranges with a better speed and cruising altitude, and it is, of course, pressurised. It should be available for squadron service in two or three years' time.
This complete programme will mean a very considerable expansion in our transport force, but all our experience in recent months shows how valuable it will be to all three Services.
I have already touched upon the work of some of the overseas commands when talking about tactical transport aircraft, but hon. Members will see, from the map at the back of the Air Estimates Memorandum, the great variety of work carried out by the Royal Air Force in theatres overseas. The small but versatile tactical air forces in the Mediterranean area, in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Far East enable air power to be brought to bear in a variety of ways. They provide air support for our troops on the ground and a basis for reinforcement either from this country or from other overseas commands. For example, during the past twelve months, 32,000 troops have been airlifted in the Far East, and 12,000 sorties were flown in the Arabian Peninsula, mainly in support of our troops on the ground in the Aden Protectorate.
In Aden last summer, we carried out trials to see whether the Hunter, the Gnat or the Jet Provost was best suited to replace the Venom in the ground attack rôle in that theatre. The trials showed 636 that our standard fighter, the Hunter, with small modifications, can adapt itself most satisfactorily to the difficult local conditions, and so we shall shortly be introducing Hunters into squadron service in the Arabian Peninsula Command.
In the Far East and Aden, we shall be introducing the Bristol 192 helicopter for the short-range tactical airlift of troops. The first few aircraft will shortly be going through evaluation trials. Heavy tactical airlift is being supplied by the Beverley in both these theatres.
Looking further ahead, a most important step is the recent decision to develop the T.S.R.2. The Committee might like me to explain the reasons for this decision and the rôles and characteristics of the aircraft. Quite apart from our deterrent strategy, the Royal Air Force must also have an aircraft able to intervene decisively in local conflicts, to contribute to SACEUR's shield forces to provide Army support and to give tactical hitting power to the overseas alliances to which we belong.
In any limited conflict overseas, the first task of the Air Force must be to deny the use of the air to the enemy. For this purpose, we must have an aircraft which is capable of destroying enemy air forces on their bases. In the mid-1960s, this will be no easy matter, because we must assume an enemy air defence based on high performance fighters and possibly surface-to-air guided weapons. The Canberra, which has done so well throughout its long R.A.F. life, will no longer be equal to the task. Its speed will be inadequate, even in the comparative safety of low altitude, and, equally, its low altitude range is limited.
What, then, must be the basic features of the T.S.R.2? It must be able to carry a useful bomb load, have a radius of action of at least 1,000 miles. This range implies flight at high level for a considerable part of the time, and to survive at high altitude the aircraft must be able to fly at high supersonic speed. At the same time, it must be capable of flying at around the speed of sound at low altitude. It must also be able to use short runways with unprepared surfaces; to carry the navigating and bombing equipment to enable it to find and attack accurately tactical targets by day and by night in all weathers; and to give Army support in a variety of situations.
637 Remarkable technical advances will enable this new aircraft to take off on operational missions using as little as 600 yards of runway, and it is clear that the electronic equipment for accurate navigation, bomb-aiming and reconnaissance can be developed, although it presents many problems.
This combination of characteristics will certainly be unsurpassed and possibly unequalled in any aircraft known to be in the design stage today. The result will, I am sure, be an aircraft which will be just as admirable in its generation as the Canberra has been, and just as flexible in its variety of uses.
I have sketched out some of the very wide range of tasks which the R.A.F. is carrying out. Against this background, it is most gratifying to note that the flying accident rate last year was the lowest ever recorded.
It might be appropriate at this moment to say something about two aspects of the Royal Air Force's work which bear closely on this subject and are too often forgotten in these debates: those of air traffic control and of search and rescue.
The problem of air traffic control is a particularly difficult one in a country like ours, where the control has to cater for high density air traffic; for widely differing types of flying; and for aircraft of very different standards of performance. If all these varied activities are to be safely and satisfactorily fitted into the limited air space available, the air traffic control system must clearly develop in step with the growth in aircraft performance. There must be, and, in fact, there is, close consultation between the Departments dealing with both military and civil flying.
These are general principles. Hon. Members might well ask what, in practice, we are doing to apply them. Let me give three examples. We are making increasing use of both military and civil radars to control aircraft across certain busy airways and into airfields in areas of high traffic density. We are examining, with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, the use of R.A.F. radar for controlling aircraft above the level of airways, and we are introducing improved systems of centralised control to coordinate traffic in areas where there are several busy military airfields close together.
§ Mr. Beswick
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject—I am sorry to interrupt him—may I say that once before he told us about co-operation with the civil control authorities, and he left the House in some doubt what they were after. Could he make quite clear whether it is proposed to have a combined civil and military radar control—positive control—of both civil and military aircraft in certain areas of the country? Is that the objective or not? I could not understand, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, whether that is so.
That is the objective, and I am now having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to see how we can work this out. Meanwhile, we are making available more Royal Air Force radars to control both military and civil aircraft.
To complete the picture of air safety precautions let us look briefly at search and rescue. World-wide, during 1958, the R.A.F. flew nearly 1,800 hours in over 150 sea-air rescue incidents, involving military aircraft, civil aircraft and shipping, during the course of which 62 persons were rescued or assisted. During the same period this organisation was called upon 173 times to help in civilion emergencies—for example, drowning persons, capsized or disabled craft, cliff and shore incidents, and so on, and 57 persons were rescued or assisted.
In the United Kingdom the R.A.F. mountain rescue teams were called out 29 times to help people involved in aircraft incidents or mountain accidents. These are necessarily bare statistics but embodied in them are many fine examples of skill, perseverance and daring.
Before I touched upon accident rates and air traffic control I was stressing the great variety of tasks carried out by aircraft of the Royal Air Force all over the world. It is clear that these tasks will continue, and that aircraft will be the best means of fulfilling the vast majority of them. The recent decisions to order three new types of aircraft for the R.A.F. should be convincing proof of this.
I should like to emphasise at this point that no man of the right standard wishing to join the Royal Air Force for flying duties need have any fears about what it has to offer him. To man the aircraft of the future we shall need many officers 639 of the highest quality, for as far ahead as we can see, and officers joining the Royal Air Force now for flying duties will provide one of the main sources from which the future leaders of the Air Force will be drawn. However, while we have been reasonably successful in getting the number of cadets we want for Cranwell, we have not been getting all the pilots, navigators and air electronics officers we need on short service and direct entry commissions. Although there will be no shortage of aircrew to man the front line for the next two or three years, we must get the recruiting rate up soon if we are not to get into serious trouble.
Aircrew is our main recruiting worry, but there are other groups where we should welcome a big improvement. One is the tradesmen for servicing and operating our electronics equipment. If, as we must, we are to keep abreast of the latest developments in electronics—both for manned aircraft and ballistic missiles—we have got to have enough young men with the enthusiasm and intelligence needed to maintain and operate the equipment which a modern air force uses. We cannot outbid every offer made by industry where the same tradesmen are scarce, but we are able to provide a splendid training and a rewarding career for the sort of men we need Another place for improvement is the W.R.A.F. I have often stressed, in this House and elsewhere, the importance of the contribution that women can make to the Royal Air Force. Today, the Women's Royal Air Force is about 4,500 strong. This is not nearly enough, and although we recruited 20 per cent. more women last year than in 1957 we still need many more. We have already improved pay, pensions, uniforms and accommodation, and we are seeing what more can be done—for example, extending the opportunities for overseas service which is very popular.
I believe that there are many women who, for one reason or another, are unable or unwilling to accept the general posting liability of a normal Regular engagement, but who would be eager to serve in the Women's Royal Air Force provided that they would not have to move away from home. We have given a great deal of thought over the past year to this possible 640 additional source of recruitment, and I am now able to announce the introduction of an entirely new "local service" scheme to enable girls to join the Women's Royal Air Force and yet continue to live at home.
More details are being issued today but, broadly, we intend introducing this new scheme in the first place at 24 stations in Bomber, Fighter, Technical Training and Signals Commands. We shall start enlisting recruits immediately after Easter, but any time from tomorrow onwards we should welcome inquiries at the stations or recruiting centres concerned.
On the whole, recruiting to the R.A.F. is going ahead very successfully. The detailed figures and diagrams that I have had added as appendices to this year's Memorandum give substantial evidence that we shall achieve our all-Regular 135,000 target by 1963. What is particularly encouraging is the sustained flow of recruits to initial engagements of nine years or more—the 1958 total was about 50 per cent. up on the 1957 total. We now have 42.1 per cent. of our strength serving on these long-term engagements, as compared with only 16.2 per cent. in 1953. The satisfactory recruiting trend in 1958 has so far been maintained in 1959. The figures for January show that about twice as many men were recruited on engagements of five years or more than in January, 1958.
With the coming of the all-Regular uniformed forces we shall have to rely to a greater extent than before on civilians for certain tasks. During the past year we have converted about 5,000 posts from Service to civilian manning in various trades, including clerical and accounting work, store-keeping, signals and radar, and domestic trades. We hope to make further progress during the coming year. Although all these posts have been converted from uniformed to civilian, our total civilian labour force has not been increased. On the contrary, it has been reduced by about 6,000 in the last twelve months, and we expect it to be reduced by about another 3,000 in the next twelve months.
Last year I referred also to the possibility of introducing automatic data processing systems. We are expecting to place an order within the next few months for a computer system to deal with the pay and records of our civilian 641 staff and employees in the United Kingdom, and this system, which is to be located near Manchester, should be in operation within two years. It should lead not only to manpower economies, but also to greatly increased efficiency.
I want to say a word or two about our works programme. I have already briefly referred to the building programme for Thor. Construction work for the first squadron has been completed, and that for the second squadron is almost finished. We are also making good progress with the building programme for surface-to-air guided weapon stations. Airfields are being improved for the dispersal of the V-bomber force and to take the Lightning. We are also improving airfields in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Mediterranean and in the Far East.
We have, also, a large programme of work on domestic accommodation. We are very much alive to the importance of providing up-to-date domestic accommodation at permanent stations at home and abroad, and we are doing it in several ways. As the R.A.F. contracts, we move units from stations in temporary construction to stations in good permanent construction; and buildings which are not up to current standards are being modernised. We are also pressing on with with our married quarters programme. In 1939, we had about 7,000 married quarters. Now we have nearly 33,000 and, in addition, about 7,000 furnished houses and flats have been hired for use as married quarters.
Eventually, we shall have about 47,000 quarters, but it will take several years to reach that figure. The construction programme is going ahead as quickly as money allows and in the meantime, to help meet the shortage of married quarters, we are extending the present hiring scheme.
I have tried to give a brief survey of some of the high-lights of our programme. In certain places I have, of course, been looking further ahead than the coming financial year. But I am sure that it interests hon. Members to hear about our forward thinking. In each Estimates' speech one is inevitably carried ahead by the bow wave from the previous year. But to talk of future equipment does not mean that the Air 642 Force is poorly equipped today. Quite the contrary. Let me sum up briefly.
In Bomber Command, we have an effective deterrent ready for action. In Fighter Command, we have day and all-weather squadrons capable of defending the deterrent bases against attack by manned aircraft, which is still the main threat. In Transport Command, we have nearly doubled our lift since 1951. In Coastal Command, we have a versatile anti-submarine force equipped with aircraft as good as any in service in N.A.T.O. maritime forces today. Overseas, the Royal Air Force is operating from dozens of airfields with 15 types of aircraft, ranging from the Pioneer to the V-bomber.
Let us not forget that the efficiency of all these forces depends basically on the qualities of the officers and men who fly and support them. They have always served the R.A.F. wonderfully in the past. I have every confidence that they will maintain their great tradition.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
The Secretary of State has, I think, just broken a record by being the first hon. Member to have presented seven Air Estimates. I congratulate him upon it, but I must add that seven is a big number and, naturally, I hope that it will be his last.
Parliamentary criticism has always been a great advantage to our Services. A German historian wrote of the First World War, "The German General Staff fought the English Parliament." Today, I think we have to reckon with the fact that the value of Parliamentary criticism is impaired, unless we are careful, by the modern attitude to security and by the increased complexity of weapons. This and the time scale for the development of weapons make it all the more important for the Services to give to Parliament at least as much information as, for instance, the United States Services give to their journalists.
Unfortunately, we have not such a procedure. So, at this time of the year we have, together with the snowdrops, a White Paper, a Memorandum and the speeches. But we have had a very thin White Paper on Defence, a more interesting but not much more encouraging Memorandum from the Secretary of State, 643 and his speech today. Much of the equipment which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, in spite of what he said in his last few words, is not here but on order, or to be ordered.
My hon. and right hon. Friends have complained that there has been no comprehensive statement of the Government's strategy against which we can judge the rôle of the Services, so we have to debate these Estimates in an unreal political vacuum. I have many criticisms to make and a few kind words to say. For example, I must be critical of the Government's long delay in ordering transport aircraft, because that delay will be felt for many years to come.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight) indicated assent.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I see that the hon. Member agrees with me, and so, I know, do many other hon. Members on his side of the Committee. I have said that I must criticise, but I must also praise where it is due. For instance, I give as an example the technical efficiency of Bomber Command today. I shall resist the temptation of claiming too much credit for the decision made by the Labour Government about the V-bombers First, my criticism about the delay in the ordering of aircraft. The Secretary of State has done something to sort out the confusion in the transport field by distinguishing between tactical and strategic, but there are points which still remain unanswered. Last year he said that he was in consultation with the War Office about a successor to the Beverley. I do not know the result of that consultation. Has it been decided merely to continue the Beverley? I am not clear, because he was careful to say that the Argosy did not replace the Beverley.
The Government's delay in making up their minds will inevitably leave us short of carrying capacity, especially in freight. I draw attention that the emphasis throughout the Memorandum—where charts are produced and figures given—is on the passenger volume.
The Secretary of State referred to the Argosy. It is in production in its civilian version. Why could not the Government have ordered it earlier and shortened the 644 period when we shall lack air lift? We shall hear later this evening about the essential characteristics of the Britannic 3 and why it was preferred to the HP III, the VC 10 and others. I can remember as long ago as the autumn of 1957 reading a very detailed article in the Aeroplane or Flight about the Britannic 3. It is not as though the Government had not had the opportunity of making up their minds earlier.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman referred to the ordering of the Argosy. My recollection is that the Government ordered it not many weeks after the prototype had made its first flight.
§ Mr. de Freitas
My point is that the civil version is in production, and I should like to know from the Under-Secretary when the actual order for the Argosy for the Air Force was placed. That is the central point. I will refer to it again in a moment.
Incidentally, in the production of this aircraft and the development and production of the T.S.R.2, the Government must look most seriously at the danger of the contractors investing in capital equipment, charging it up to the contract and then paying it out to the shareholders in one way or another in bonus shares. I advise the Government to study carefully the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report, published a day or so ago. This racket must be stamped out if we are to have the efficient aircraft industry that we deserve.
My second major criticism of the Government's failure is in tackling the problem of integration of the Services. Let us take for example, Coastal Command. In 1959 what should be called in question is the very existence of two of our fighting services. The question which should be debated in Whitehall is whether the Air Force should exist or whether the Navy should exist. I will not go into that now. But surely there should not be fighting between the Services on a matter which was a great struggle of the 1930's. It is fantastic that is should be so. Whatever the pros and cons, I cannot conceive how it can be wise to have two land-based air forces instead of one.
In 1955, in another place, the Secretary of State said definitely there would be no 645 change. In July of last year the Under-Secretary of State told me that the Air Ministry was extremely interested in Coastal Command. In January of this year the Secretary of State gave a curiously worded answer to a supplementary question which I put to him. He said he was sure that I would not want him to comment. I put the question to him because I wanted him to comment. I can only conclude that his comments on this controversy would have been most unparliamentary. Why is there this controversy? It is one of those real sea mysteries, like the mystery of the "Marie Celeste"—coming from nowhere and disappearing into nowhere.
What is the progress in integration since the White Paper of last July? There was the sensible idea of one Service working for another on the "most efficient user" principle. I am not referring to the highly dangerous idea, which is also brought out in the White Paper, of the Minister of Defence taking over certain functions and, in certain circumstances, creating a fourth Service. For the last two years we have pointed out that, sooner or later, all three Services would be operating similar missiles. Today that is very near. There are Bloodhound, Thunderbird, and Seaslug. Let us consider where the activities of the Air Force and the Army overlap. What is the real difference between Thunderbird and Bloodhound? I am told that there is a tactical justification for having both. I am told that Thunderbird has a short-range low altitude and mobility. That may be true, but it is odd technically, because Bloodhound has an air-breathing engine which would inevitably limit its ceiling.
1 read with surprise a reference by the Minister of Defence to Bloodhound as a rocket. I have always believed the right hon. Gentleman to be an authority on this subject, but Bloodhound is certainly not a rocket. Has there been confusion about this? What is the difference between the two, and what is the next stage? There is a reference in paragraph 20 of the Memorandum to Bloodhound being replaced eventually by "a more advanced weapon system." The Defence White Paper refers to "a more advanced weapon." As to Thunderbird, there is a reference to "a more advanced version." But what has been said to 646 justify what appears to many people—certainly to me—a a dangerous overlapping between the two Services?
My third criticism is about the way in which the Air Force is becoming increasingly top heavy. In 1957 there were 272,000 men and 240 officers of air rank. In 1959 the figure of 272,000 drops to 180,000, a reduction of nearly 100,000, but there are still 240 officers of air rank. Just after the war, in 1945, there was one air officer to every 2,200 men. Today, or up to the middle of last year, there was one air officer to every 717 men. Could it be that "Air Commodore Parkinson" has taken over command at the Air Ministry and that his law prevails? As I remember, Parkinson's Law was that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Apparently, the Air Ministry version is, "Air officers expand so as to fill the chairs available for occupation." The Air Force is becoming more and more top heavy. The simple question is, why are the same number of officers needed for an Air Force which is 100,000 less than two years ago?
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
May I help my hon. Friend by suggesting that it is in order to balance the number of admirals in the Navy?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I know that there is a great deal of inter-Service rivalry on this matter, and I recall that one of my hon. Friends who is at present in Moscow, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), has referred to the number of admirals in the Navy as being enough to sink a battleship—if we had one. But we have to tackle the problem in relation to the Air Force, where it is serious.
My fourth criticism relates to Thor. One day I suppose that the Thor sites will be familiar in the countryside and be as fantastic as the Martello towers. The change of thinking on the part of the Government is welcome. As late as last May and June the Minister of Defence referred in the House to these missiles as being a valuable contribution to the Western nuclear deterrent. It was not until last December that the Secretary of State for Air explained that they were deployed for training purposes only. That is the line which is now taken by the Government. That is a version more in 647 accord with the true value of the weapon, but the situation is confusing to the public.
The United States Air Force do not think that this is what is happening at all. Our Allies think in the same way as the editor of Aeronautics would appear to think, which, after all, is one of the most important journals in this field. The editor refers tothe employment of members of the Royal Air Force as loaders for the United States Air Force missiles.As to the attitude of the United States, a year ago we had a debate about Colonel Zink and his reference to them as operational missile units. We had the statement of General Schreiver, who again referred to them as operational, and a fortnight ago the Washington correspondent of the Observer referred to these missiles as being operational. I have seen a transcript of that part of the Press conference of the American Minister of Defence on which this statement was based, and in it there appears no reference at all to them being used for training. Clearly the Americans believe them to be deployed operationally. As I say, I welcome the conversion of the Government to the point of view that they are for training purposes. But what a pity that did not come earlier and that it was not made clear from the beginning.
My fifth criticism has been made time and again. Once we start thinking of static warfare it influences our whole line of thought. For all the lip service being paid to cold war mobility, I cannot see any sign of new thinking about the application of cold war mobility in relating air movements and installations and ground equipment such as tanks.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is a pertinent question which I hope my hon. and learned Friend will have an opportunity to put in his speech during the debate. That is a dilemma which I did not think it necessary to underline, because it would mean referring again to points which have been raised in speeches made from this 648 Dispatch Box during at least three debates in the last 15 months.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The answer is still to come.
There is still the question of how air transport is being ignored. While realising the difficulties of transporting equipment, we are still not giving enough thought to tanks being in one place and the men being brought to them by air. Men are easy to transport. I feel that behind all this there is still the underlying idea of a knight in armour going out to battle. The man must not go out in his tank; instead we should have a situation in which the tanks should have been deployed already and the men moved to them.
My sixth criticism is of Blue Streak. In the Memorandum the Secretary of State says that "the development of the British ballistic missile Blue Streak is proceeding." We must not confuse research into space for the development of science and engineering with the defence potential of this missile. I learn that Blue Streak is admirable as a space research device, but its military application is doubtful. It may have many advantages as a device for space research: De Havillands, the main contractors, have wide experience; and the Rolls Royce development of the rocket motor is apparently far ahead of the United States motor, on which it was based, just as their Spery gyroscope is ahead of ours. Also for space research, liquid fuel has not the diadvantages that it has in critical military operations.
I accept the possible military use of a space rocket as a space orbiting bomber fixed over a target, but I have not been told anything which could lead me to believe that such a weapon could be developed from a liquid-fuel rocket on the lines of Blue Streak.
If it were to cost £20 million or so a year it might be justified as a scientific research project, but it should be made clearer to us what is happening. There may be considerable direct and indirect benefits from this as a scientific research project, but that is not what it purports to be. It is offered to us as military equipment. The indirect benefit would be the continuation of first-class 649 scientific work, which depends upon opportunities in the field of new discoveries. Definite practical benefits could flow from it. For example, long-range weather forecasting or the use of satellites as repeater stations for long-distance transmission of short waves.
I believe there are advantages on economic land engineering grounds in having such a project, if the cost is about what I have mentioned. If we do not compete it will be the first time since the Industrial Revolution that we have not taken the lead in a major engineering revolution, and we shall thus serve notice to the world that we are packing up. There are always the by-products to be remembered. The Schneider Trophy led to enormous developments in aero-engine exhaust valves.
If we do not have space engineering we shall not be able to keep our most able young scientists in this country. They will emigrate. Already they are going. The Minister of Supply told us last week that we were short of scientists. A year or so ago Professor Lovell told me that he had just come back from a conference in Washington at very high level, in which nearly half the American Government team was British-born. I regard the Blue Streak development as a scientific and engineering venture, but I am not convinced that it is on the right lines militarily. I would like to know what it is doing in these Estimates.
The Secretary of State made a serious remark about the shortage of air crews. He said it would give grounds for concern in two or three years' time. We must recognise that the White Paper of 1957 has had a lot to do with it. It discouraged the idea that there was a rôle for manned aircraft and for men to operate them. The emphasis was on push buttons, and that has done enormous harm. It is now recognised that we need manned aircraft and must have the crews to fly them. If there is increased emphasis on this and on opportunities for flying, I do not think there will be difficulty, unless the Air Ministry is too high in its educational standards.
I do not want to be misunderstood, but the Air Ministry may have to face the fact that a lot of education may have to be done inside the Service, and that what they have to go for in selecting a candidate is one with the right qualifications who 650 shows ability to be educated within the Service. On the shortage of ground officers to which the Secretary of State referred, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will deal with this problem later. I merely express surprise that there is no technical officer on the Air Council and that the Commander-in-Chief of Technical Training Command is not a technical officer. Surely the time has come when these technical officers should be recognised?
The Secretary of State made a most welcome announcement about the Women's Royal Air Force and the new scheme. I must again point out that one of the reasons why we are in such a serious position is the White Paper of 1957. In nearly 20 paragraphs on manpower and manning there is not one reference to the women's services. It was extraordinary. I have been told that school career mistresses have been advising girls not to think of the women's services. The 1957 White Paper was given much publicity, and the women believed that there was no future in the Services for them.
We can still get the recruits if the Air Council will give a real chance for overseas service to women who want to travel, will emphasise that in some trades women are naturally better qualified than men—for instance in radio operating—and will dress women as women like to be dressed. If the women want frills, let them have them. The uniform must have some regard to current women's fashions.
My next criticism has been raised before, and is on the Benson experiment. In 1957 the Secretary of State took a great deal of credit for the fact that he would be introducing a number of reforms by removing petty restrictions to help recruiting. We were surprised when the Grigg Committee later reported that some of the reforms had been "quietly dropped". I suspected that the Air Council was trying to conceal something, and everything that has happened since then has confirmed that suspicion.
Last month the Secretary of State told us that the Inspector-General had been investigating the Grigg Committee's allegation that many of the reforms had been dropped. He did not refer to it in his speech today, so I am certain that the Under-Secretary of State will do so. Petty 651 restrictions are just the thing which deter men from joining the Royal Air Force.
Fortunately, there are very few R.A.F. stations which have a bad reputation for these restrictions, but it is curious how one keeps cropping up. I have referred to Medenham before. It was with sorrow that I read last month of the case of a Regular airman who was sentenced to 56 days for running away from the station. His defence was that he had been made to do humiliating and menial household duties. That makes it all the more important to stop these petty restrictions if we are desirous of stimulating recruiting.
I want the Air Council to study what is being done in foreign Air Forces, such as the Swedish, to let airmen live in a more civilian way. The Royal Air Force must break away from the camp attitude, pretending that the Royal Air Force is a sort of old-fashioned Army. It must allow people to live off the station if they want to and to cycle to work, as their civilian brothers do, as long as they get on the job in time. Only in that way shall we be able to recruit against the counter-attractions of the civilian market.
With the exception of the Benson experiment, these criticisms are directed at the Government and statements of Ministers and not at the Air Council. The Air Council seems very much to blame on the Benson matter, but we shall hear about that later. On the other hand, the Air Council has been busily engaged throughout the year in organising to defend the country and also in fighting a great battle against the Minister of Defence. On the whole, the Air Council has had a pretty good year and the Minister of Defence has had a bad one.
I welcomed the Secretary of State's reference to showing the flag. I welcome the policy of taking our aircraft on training flights abroad. The commercial possibilities are enormous. The Secretary of State has a responsibility for our aircraft industry. I have referred before to the Air League committee of inquiry and asked the Government for an investigation into the future of the industry. Each year we have seen more and more the need for a fundamental study. During the last year we have seen the passing of the buck between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply at Question Time and 652 otherwise. The Secretary of State is a potential customer of the aircraft industry and must treat this matter seriously, otherwise as the years pass he will have no alternative but to operate American aircraft and missiles.
As to the commercial possibilities of this showing of the flag, here I come to a point I was going to make when the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) rose. It can be no accident that as soon as the Air Ministry announced a substantial order for Argosies, the dam broke and the American Riddle Airlines, an all-freighter operator, ordered a fleet of Argosy 650s. We must not be afraid of using R.A.F. transport fleets as a means of showing our commercial fleet.
The Secretary of State mentioned his trip to South America with Vulcans and Comets. I think I am right in saying that it was almost exactly at that time, or just afterwards, that the final decision was taken in South America to order Comets from this country for commercial use. I cannot think that it was merely coincidence. We must not be afraid of showing the flag in this way because, after all, we are a nation of shopkeepers and the fighting Services depend on the strength of our economy.
When the T.S.R.2 comes along I trust the Air Council will not leave it to the Ministry of Supply and the firms to show it off. If it is anything like as good as it sounds from the few sentences we have heard, the Air Council will have a duty to do so and will be glad to do it. We must not forget that last year the aircraft industry exported about £150 million worth—in exports, not licences—more than 10 per cent. of our engineering exports. We know they are unusually beneficial because they need little imported raw material. They are an export of our two greatest home-produced assets—brain power and skilled labour.
The S.B.A.C. has calculated that every aeroplane exported is worth £15 to £18 sterling per lb. weight, which is fifty to sixty times the value per lb. weight of a motor car. I am sure the Minister of Defence will welcome the initiative of the Air Council in showing the flag. Although he may have forgotten them, his famous words on redundancy in the aircraft industry are reproduced on the wall of many a trade union office. He 653 told the House less than two years ago that there was little fear that people displaced from war production would not find other productive work because of the expanding economy of the country.
I have a question I wish to put as a result of a visit I paid on Tuesday to the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham with the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. Since Shrivenham is in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State, I am sure he will agree that it is a first-rate institution. I ask him to deal with these points when he replies to the debate. What have we in the Royal Air Force which corresponds to that institution? Secondly, what is the policy for providing advanced education at university standard to officers in the Service? Thirdly, what is the policy of the Royal Air Force for providing a short scientific course for general duties officers? I wish to comment on the third question particularly.
I was much impressed at Shrivenham by the infantry officers who were being given a three months course, either before or after going to the staff college at Camberley. The Army has understood the need for a changed attitude among the non-technical officers towards science and technology. In one laboratory I saw a young officer in a white coat measuring the thickness of metal with a geiger counter. There is, of course, every protection against radiation. We were wearing white coats and white boots over our shoes. I noticed that under the white coat of this officer was a kilt. I noticed hanging up outside the hall his sporran, but he had his skean dhu with him. No doubt he was taking no risk of his sporran becoming radioactive whatever happened to his skean dhu. However that may be, it was a symbol, and a very important symbol. Here was an officer of a distinguished fighting regiment learning something of the scientific language of the age in which we live.
We have come a long way since the time when Professor Bush could say of the First World War that the Services looked on scientists either with forbearance or contempt. We must go further and stamp out any attitude of mind which makes the traditionally fighting branches of the Services proud of being scientifically illiterate. There are not many of them left, but there are some even now 654 who say, "I know nothing about that old boy. That is a matter for the plumbers or the boffins." Of course officers cannot be expected to know everything, but they can be taught respect and forbearance and also the language of the scientist. I want to know what the Royal Air Force is doing to achieve this among young G.D. officers. I am not suggesting that all should have a scientific course or would benefit from it, but the outstanding ones, who are likely to go to the top, should have such an opportunity.
I follow this by asking a major question. I am glad to see that the Minister of Defence is here. Will the Secretary of State consult his Service colleagues to see whether there is a danger in the way in which science and technology are being taught in the Services causing duplication of institutions and of precious instructing staff? There is the major question, for which I am not asking an answer now as it is a subject for study, but there is the distinct question about the young general duties officer on which I should like to know the policy.
I have commented on the achievements of the V-bomber force. I stress that when I see the remarkable achievement of being placed ninth and twelfth of the 164 picked crews competing with the Americans. Thanks to the Secretary of State, with other hon. Members I went to North Coates in Lincolnshire to see the Fighter Command station where there is the surface-to-air Bloodhound. They have been working there for some months and I wonder whether we could know a little more as to how the experiments have justified the decision to have these units in Fighter Command working with manned fighters. The Secretary of State touched on that, but I should like to know if the decision has been found to be justified.
Can we be given more information concerning control over the launching of missiles? I am not naive enough to think that political control over launching is the whole problem: in the autumn of 1956 we were involved in a very dangerous enterprise under direct political control. That was a political decision on Suez. But I am sufficiently worried about having ultimate political control—as all people living in a democracy must be. I want to be certain that there is such control by the Government and the 655 Minister on the press button. It is too big a subject to go into now, but I shall be grateful for anything we can be told.
The Secretary of State referred to air safety. I join with him in congratulating the Royal Air Force on the sea rescue and mountain rescue which they have undertaken during the last year. It is a great achievement. What has been done on another aspect of air safety, which the Secretary of State did not mention? I refer to experiments into facilities for taking off and landing in bad weather, especially in fog.
In referring to civilians and the use of civilian labour, the Secretary of State said in the debate an Air Estimates last year that he had been experimenting on catering and some catering was to be done by civilian contractors, some by directly employed civilian labour and some by N.A.A.F.I. I do not know whether any definite conclusions have been reached. I should like to have all the information possible on that.
I do not know what the standards of catering are today. When I visit stations they appear to be good, but I received a letter only the other day from a constituent which says:I have two sons in the R.A.F. One is at Swinderby. He says the food is smashing. I have another at Manby, and he says the food is lousy".She asks me to ask the right hon. Gentleman why, and I do so. I have no evidence to substantiate this, and I cannot judge the taste of these two men. One may prefer sausages and H.P. sauce and the other may like nothing but lobster thermidor. This sensible constituent of mine, with two sons on Regular engagements in the Royal Air Force, has taken the trouble to ask why, because it is obviously worrying her. They have been comparing notes over the weekend. How is the right hon. Gentleman able to maintain standards within the Air Force.
In the last half hour I have made a number of criticisms, I have said that most of the difficulties have flowed from Government decisions and Government statements. But I have also criticised the failure of the Benson experiment, which seems to be the fault of the Air Council. I have also asked a number of Questions.
I must end by saying that in the last year the Air Force has taken a terrible 656 beating from the Government. Fortunately, the Air Force has been established long enough—but only just long enough—to have survived as a fighting force. The men and women of the Air Force can look forward to the future with confidence, knowing that the country recognises their unique rôle in defence and that, whatever integration or amalgamation of the Services comes about, there will always be a place in our defences for their special skills.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am always glad to follow the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). I have done so on two or three occasions in the last eight or nine years in these debates. He has played a consistent part in them and although, as today, I usually find a few points on which I disagree with him, on the whole I always gain the impression of him that, behind the façade of opposition, he has the interests and the future of the Royal Air Force at heart.
I disagreed slightly with his remarks this afternoon about cold war mobility. I agree, of course, with the importance of it, but in the last two or three years a substantial improvement has been made in the mobility of the Air Force. The hon. Gentleman was fair in most of the points which he made, but he was scarcely fair in that one.
Several of the hon. Gentleman's other points were soundly based. I agree entirely with him that the performance of Bomber Command in America, in competition with the United States Air Force was very worthy of note, I am glad that he mentioned it. As for the other points he raised, I shall, I hope, deal with some of them during the course of my remarks.
To anyone who has followed these Air Estimates debates over the last nine or ten years the picture for the Royal Air Force today must seem at least more hopeful and definite than at any time in the recent past. We are told that two-thirds of the planned rundown of the Service has been completed. It is possible to see very much more clearly the likely structure and form of the Service during the next quarter of a century.
This is encouraging, because I do not suppose that the Royal Air Force has 657 gone through a more difficult period in the whole of its history than it has during the last three years. The talk of contraction, the revolutionary changes in weapons, the uncertainty hitherto of the future of manned aircraft, the retirement of some of the great wartime names in the Service in their 'thirties and 'forties and other factors have contributed to produce a situation which, to say the least of it, has been far from favourable to the Service.
The more one thinks of the uncertainties and difficulties which have faced the Air Force during the last few years, particularly in the last two, the more certain one becomes that, but for the combined and determined efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Dermot Boyle, the picture today might have been far less encouraging. But now that it is possible to make a more definite assessment of the British air component, there are one or two features which deserve comment. My mind goes back to the principle which was enunciated by the late and great Lord Trenchard in a letter to The Times in 1951. The Committee will agree that no one possessed a greater foresight in the matter of air power than Lord Trenchard. There was nothing that he did not know about it. Certainly, he had the ability to see more clearly than most the fundamental long-term requirements of air defence. This is what he wrote:The vital, overriding defensive measure to prevent war and in the event of war to win it, is an overwhelming, unchallengeable Air Force of long-range machines.Weapons and phrases have changed considerably since those words were written, but the principle has not altered. Today, in the absence of an overall comprehensive and controllable disarmament agreement, the thermonuclear deterrent is widely accepted as the prime instrument of world security. If one accepts that thesis—I quite understand that some hon. Gentlemen opposite may not, but the majority will—and if one also accepts the fact that manned aircraft and the missile, operating in parallel, alongside each other, must form the basis of the Air Force for a number of years to come, one has to concede that the present policy and thinking of 658 the Royal Air Force are soundly and properly based.
One must now examine the arrangements which back these principles and see whether they are adequate and justifiable. It is necessary to do that in this new phase. Thus I come to one or two points of criticism, which I assure my right hon. Friend are made with good will and with the intention of being constructive. In a Defence White Paper four or five years ago, it was stated that if we were to preserve the strength of the British economy we could not expect to have all those items of armament and equipment which, ideally, we should like. That is fairly obvious today, although it was not so obvious then. It is, indeed, a truism now. But I wonder whether, in our single-minded desire to establish the thermo-nuclear deterrent, we are not underplaying to some degree the necessity of providing the Royal Air Force with the conventional means of dealing with the small local skirmishes that are, unfortunately, so much a part of the world scene today?
My right hon. Friend has said that the Hunter is to follow the Venom as the ground-attack aircraft in which the Service is to put its trust. On the other hand, though I do not know whether these figures are correct—to me, they seem very large—I have seen it suggested in quite reliable quarters that the French, in North Africa, have between 500 and 600 helicopters in operation, whereas we, with comparable commitments, have no more than, perhaps, a tenth of that number. Surely there is some inference to be drawn there.
Are we really thinking right through this problem of the needs of the Air Force—radar, weapons and aircraftwise—having in mind local operations? Obviously, as we cannot have everything we need and we have to put first things first. But if I am one of those optimistic people who think that world peace will be secured, at any rate during this century, then equally, I believe that we have, very regrettably, to face a continuation, during a similar period, of the sort of operations that we knew in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Aden. Are we giving sufficient thought to our requirements in circumstances such as these? I ask that, bearing in mind the thinking, and the most valuable work 659 being done at the School of Land Air Warfare, at Old Sarum. That establishment is making a most valuable contribution.
Again with the reduced strength of Fighter Command, is it the intention to base any fighter squadrons—and here I refer only to pure fighter squadrons—permanently in the vital area of the Middle East? A couple of fighter squadrons, pure and simple, one, say, in Cyprus, and another in Aden, would have considerable advantages in a critical theatre of the world. I know that the Royal Air Force is much more mobile today that it was, and that squadrons can move almost overnight from one part of the world to another; but from the point of view of mobility, prestige, and the need constantly to maintain radar and communication services in this Middle East theatre at a very high level, I cannot help feeling that some permanent detachment might be valuable.
Now I turn to the question of establishments, and here I realise I am on very controversial ground. Can we, nowadays, when we are reducing the size of the Service and looking for all sorts of economies, continue to justify the maintenance of units like the Central Fighter Establishment and the comparable Bomber Command Development Unit? Nobody appreciates better than I the value of the work done by the Central Fighter Establishment in the last ten years. Certainly nobody has less desire than I to "knock" that Establishment, because I was one of the four officers sent to form its forerunner in 1943, by the late Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory. It served remarkably well during the last two years of the war. Therefore, in criticising the Establishment, I do so with good will, and in the hope of being constructive.
Many instances can be given of the contribution that the C.F.E. has made to military aviation in the last ten years, and there is, in my opinion, no better example than that of Wing Commander Bird-Wilson with his development flying of the Swift and the Hunter before they came into full operational use. It will thus be understood that I do not wish in any way to denigrate the great achievements at West Raynham.
Having said that, when Fighter Command is so much reduced in squadron 660 strength, I must question the justification of maintaining this costly unit. Would it not be possible to earmark a first-class squadron of Fighter Command for just that sort of work now being undertaken at West Raynham? Such a squadron, a little corps d'élite, could well be entrusted with whatever development flying will be required in the future. I do not think that there will be a great deal of it, and that is one reason why I question the wisdom of our keeping the C.F.E. in existence much longer. Again, such a squadron could form a study group, charged with the responsibility of assessing and developing air tactics. That would be cheaper, and we should, I believe, lose little by it. We did a similar thing in pre-war days, and I am not aware that it was noticeably unsuccessful then.
Exactly the same arguments could be applied to the Bomber Command Development Unit, and, in a modified way, to the R.A.F. Flying College at Manby. The College does excellent work, it offers a fine course, and I do not doubt the contribution it has made to the Royal Air Force; but I have always felt that its output was very small in comparison with its overheads. My figures may be wrong, but I believe that not more than 50 officers go through the course each year. In the face of all the changes that must flow in the next few years, can we really afford a unit of such small output? The policy, however, seems to merit a searching and critical examination.
On the flying side, let me end with a suggestion. While recruiting for the Royal Air Force continues to go very well indeed, the intake of aircrew falls far below expectations. This was referred to by the Secretary of State and by the hon. Member for Lincoln. It must be obvious that there are two prime reasons for this. First, there is the very natural apprehension of parents about accidents in the jet age, and the consequent dissuading of their sons from entering that branch of the Service. Secondly, there are—or were, hitherto—the uncertainties associated with a flying career in the Service, in view of all the weapon changes which are taking place.
But surely we are in a much better position now than at any time in the last three years to meet these apprehensions. As my right hon. Friend has said, the accident rate has taken a most 661 encouraging downward turn—nothing heartened me more than to hear that—while the promise of a flying career has become much more definite and plain than it has been for some time past. We will require manned aircraft for as far ahead as we can see, and perhaps even further.
Politically, it is not very fashionable just now to talk about the value of advertising based on selective market research, but those of us who apply such principles in business appreciate their worth in the creation of what my advertising friends call—in a quite hideous phrase—"the brand image of the product".
The "brand image" of a flying career in the Royal Air Force will have to be given a new look if the present recruiting problem is to be mastered. Fears of accidents and doubts about the future must be overcome if we are to meet the difficulty. Therefore, I would ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the uses to which his advertising appropriation for this year is to be put. It could very well be that an intelligent and objective advertising campaign, properly conceived and presented, would provide some of the answers to the aircrew problem. If it is left unsolved, or if an attempt is not made to solve it, it may well extend and bring new and much more serious problems in its train.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I followed the speech of the Secretary of State with great interest. He always discharges that part of his duties in such a pacifist manner that I feel that it must sometimes irk him to be so closely associated with a Ministry engaged in the destructive process of war. I was cheered by some of the things he said. I was glad to hear of the work done by the Royal Air Force in sea rescue and mountain rescue. I would happily see that type of work very much expanded.
I was disturbed to find that the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation are still arguing about the problem of the control of aircraft when in flight. The right hon. Gentleman said that discussions are still going on. This problem of having airways for civil machines first came before the House nearly seven years ago, when we took a decision to isolate the flight of the civil 662 machine from interference by military aircraft. The next step was to seek to establish some form of joint control near the airports, so that there would be less chance of accident than had formerly been the case.
It is somewhat disappointing that, after this long period, the discussions, however difficult they may be proving, are still only continuing. No conclusion has yet been reached in spite of the fact that the need for a system of joint control for the lining up of aircraft, and so on, when they approach airports is more necessary today than it was even seven or eight years ago because the airways are now so congested. I hope that we shall very soon hear that a satisfactory conclusion has been reached on a system of control.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman because, during his régime, airmen are to have raincoats. This is really rather startling when one thinks back to the battle which preceded this great victory. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) suggested that if we were to bring more women into the Air Force they should be allowed to choose the fashion in dress which they would like to wear. I agree with that. Now that airmen are to have raincoats, will they too he allowed to choose the style of raincoat which they would like to wear? Young men are just as sensitive to fashion as are young women. [Laughter.] There is nothing so funny about this as hon. Gentlemen seem to think.
I first raised this matter nearly four years ago, after a visit which Members from both sides made to the Second Tactical Air Force. There, I was approached about this matter. The men pointed out to me that they could have greatcoats to protect them against the cold, but no raincoats to protect them against the rain. When I raised the matter in the House, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor rejected the claim outright because, he said, it would cost from £1 million to £2 million, plus £1 million for keeping the coats in order during any given year. What a sad financial state the Air Ministry's finances must have been in in those days!
It was pointed out that airmen could buy coats, and the reason that they did not want them was that they had no choice in the style of coat which they were being asked to take.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
We would all agree that it is a great advance that airmen should have mackintoshes, but does the right hon. Gentleman really think that members of the forces should be allowed to choose whatever style of clothing they like? If it is right for the mackintosh, why not for the uniform, the haircut, the tie, or anything else?
§ Mr. Rankin
I am, of course, dealing with a particular garment which is used only on particular occasions. As I said, young men want to make certain choices. Nobody suggests that the colour of the coat should not be the same. But young men look to the style. That was the point which they made to me over four years ago, that they would like to have some say in the style of the coat they were being asked to wear. I do not know whether it is just a "hand-out" now of any type of coat. That was the objection which was made by them and voiced by me at that time. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) could not have been present when I raised it. However, I congratulate the Minister on having achieved this great reform.
The Minister spent a good deal of time, as he was bound to do, in telling us what we must do to equip the Royal Air Force and what it, in turn, must do when equipped. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln did not seem to be very thrilled about all the things that the right hon. Gentleman had done in equipping the Royal Air Force. He seemed to think that, in some respects, it could be brought still more into keeping with modern needs. However, taking what the right hon. Gentleman said about all the weapons, machines, and so forth, which it now has, it seems strange to me, if the Air Force was so highly equipped as he told us today it was, how they managed to make such a mess at Suez just two years ago—
§ Mr. Rankin
What was it there for? We have heard from the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) that the Air Force wants to be brought up to date to deal with these minor affairs. Where was the up-to-dateness then?
The hon. Gentleman is quite unfair and unjustified in saying that 664 the Air Force made a mess at Suez. It did the most admirable job and it did it by using the V-bombers in a conventional rôle, thus proving beyond doubt the flexibility of our Bomber Command equipment.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Major Legge-Bourke)
I would remind the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) that we are discussing Vote A of the Estimates for the coming year.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry to go so far back, Major Legge-Bourke. I was not suggesting that the R.A.F. had made a mess of Suez, but that the Government had made a mess of the use of the R.A.F.
There is another point which I have raised in the House on one or two occasions and which has not had a very satisfactory outcome. In his speech, the right hon. Gentleman referred to our world-wide commitments and the need for having airfields here and airfields there so that we might, when the time comes, if it ever does, be fitted to carry out those commitments. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman about something which is now under way. Ceylon has decided that we can no longer have a base or staging post in Ceylon. Consequently, we are now building a staging post in the island of Gan.
According to a speech of the Prime Minister of Australia, in Melbourne in February last year, Singapore is the great centre of our military, air and naval effort in the Far East from which we are prepared to "go it alone" if necessary. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman still accepts that policy in Singapore. We must have contact with Singapore and a staging post somewhere between Aden and Singapore so that our aircraft can get there safely and without undue trouble. We have, therefore, chosen Gan.
What is happening in Gan just now should concern the right hon. Gentleman. The Maldive Government claims that it has territorial integrity and that we should enter the island of Gan only by the consent of that Government. We are not doing so. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us under what right the R.A.F. are in Gan at present, and why a staging post is being built in the island for the R.A.F. without the consent of the Government of the Maldives. As we proclaim our belief in the democratic 665 way of life, I hope that that is a point to which the Minister will direct his attention.
I would much rather the hon. Gentleman addressed his question to the proper quarter, which is the Commonwealth Relations Office.
§ Mr. Rankin
I have addressed this question not only to the Commonwealth Relations Office, but also to the right hon. Gentleman. I raised the matter on two different occasions. It seems to me that the Minister is concerned in this matter. Surely we shall not ride roughshod over the rights of other people in erecting our staging posts, which may be necessary to us but which are not necessary to them.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can help me here. As I understand, it is normally legitimate to discuss air policy on the Air Estimates, but if it is a question of discussing expenditure which is carried on some other Vote it seems to me that that would be out of order.
The answer simply is that the R.A.F. is constructing a staging post at Gan for the use of R.A.F. aircraft, but all the arrangements with the Maldivian Government are handled entirely by the Commonwealth Relations Office and not by me. I could not possibly answer any of the hon. Member's questions.
§ Mr. Rankin
I recognise that. This is one of the difficulties in the way of hon. Members seeking to find out the facts of a situation such as this.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
If the hon. Gentleman looks up the records for the past five years he will find that it is clear that an agreement has been reached. Would he explain to the Committee whether or not he wants the R.A.F. to have a staging post, in view of the difficulties in communications?
§ The Temporary Chairman
Whether the hon. Gentleman wishes it or not, it would not be in order for him to discuss it if the expenditure involved is not carried on the Air Force Vote.
§ Mr. de Freitas
On a point of order. I am reluctant to intervene, because I can see the point of hon. Members. Surely, if the money which is being expended on 666 building this airfield in Gan is voted by us, then we can raise in the House questions about the construction of it. If the construction is slowed up or accelerated in any way by acts of local people, surely that is relevant for discussion.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Of course, it is relevant under the appropriate Vote, but if the expenditure is under some other Vote than the Air Ministry Vote, then it is not in order to discuss it now.
The Air Ministry is paying for the constructional work; I am not saying that it is not. But I am not prepared to enter into discussion with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) about affairs which are surely the concern of the Commonwealth Relations Office, not mine.
§ The Temporary Chairman
So long as the hon. Gentleman confines himself to discussing the amount spent under this Vote on that matter, then I think that he would be in order. However, if he is discussing relationships with other Governments in which the Secretary of State for Air has no influence, then I think that it is out of order.
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope that I recognise that quite fully. Expenditure is being incurred by the Air Ministry in the erection of this staging post; the right hon. Gentleman does not deny that. It is surely in order to ask whether the Air Force entered the island to erect that staging post without giving any consideration whatsoever to the wishes of the Maldive Government.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I have ruled that the relationship with the local people is not a matter for the Secretary of State for Air. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss expenditure on the actual work, he is entitled so to do if it is carried on this Vote. He is not in order in discussing relationships with other Governments.
§ Mr. Rankin
I will get on to another point, but I hope that I shall get on to it without the instructions of the right hon. Gentleman. He may be in control of the Air Force on the political side, but he is not in control of me.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that I am in charge of order in this Chamber at the moment.
§ Mr. Rankin
The right hon. Gentleman is usurping your function, Major Legge-Bourke, with the consent and approval of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and his hon. Friends. The point is quite clear that the Royal Air Force has entered into the island of Gan without the consent of its Government.
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope that the Secretary of State will have some competence to answer my question. When that staging post is finished, will all those who are working on it, mostly islanders living in Gan, simply be sent back to their former agricultural occupations or will the right hon. Gentleman assume some sort of interest in them and give them jobs with a better wage level than that of their former occupations? The right hon. Gentleman must realise that if he does not act wisely at this point, he may run the risk of turning Gan into another Malta. I am certain that that is something he does not want to do.
I was interested in the statement by the right hon. Gentleman that Bomber Command was an effective deterrent. I know that he followed it with a qualifying statement in which he said that it would be combined with the missile. As the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) said, many people hold different views about the use of the missile. I am not the only one who holds other views and it is pertinent to state them.
The Scottish Co-operative Party, which is the political expression of the Cooperative movement in Scotland, recently declared in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament. That was an important decision, because it reflects the agitation and the fear which is present in the minds of many people outside the House of Commons when they think of the bomb and its possible consequences.
That fear was reflected in a recent episode on television, when people were given the impression that a raid was taking place and certain things might happen. This statement was broadcast 668 and I use it to try to emphasise the extent of the fear which exists:The Prime Minister has called an emergency defence council meeting and has asked us to broadcast the following statement: Fear is our greatest enemy, not bombs"—not the bombs that the Royal Air Force will be carrying—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member must realise that the Secretary of State has no responsibility whatsoever for what goes out over television unless he himself arranges for a particular programme. That has not been established by the hon. Member. Unless he can establish it, it must be out of order.
§ Mr. Rankin
I imagined, Major Legge-Bourke, that the Secretary of State might have some responsibility, which I thought he assumed during his speech, for the missile, whether projected from an established base or carried in an aircraft. I assumed that the right hon. Gentleman had some responsibility for that. I wanted, therefore, to show that the use of that missile was creating fear in the minds of the people. I merely wanted to quote the statement that was made without necessarily attaching to the right hon. Gentleman any responsibility for the broadcast.
§ The Temporary Chairman
If the hon. Member wishes to keep in order, he must not raise matters which are not the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Air.
§ Mr. Rankin
I will accept your guidance at that point, Major Legge-Bourke, and put to the right hon. Gentleman one or two points about his statement that Bomber Command provides an effective deterrent. When he uses the words "effective deterrent", what exactly does he mean? Does he mean that it is a deterrent so effective that it will prevent war? Does he mean that if war should come, it will effectively protect the people? If not, will he tell us during this debate what he means by those words "effective deterrent"?
Surely it is realised by the Secretary of State and by all of us here that we are all potential victims of radioactive dust, every one of us. Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that he has an effective deterrent in the bomber or in the missile, for both of which he has responsibility, which will prevent that happening?
669 I am certain that the Minister does not believe that, nor does any hon. Member sitting behind him believe it. The deterrent does not exist. Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Khrushchev, who is as intimately connected with this aspect of the problem as every one of us here, said that the bomber was already out of date. Despite that, however, we are this year investing £200 million in it. Since the present Government came into power, we have spent £4,000 million in seeking to secure a defence which, the right hon. Gentleman knows, we do not possess. I challenge him to say otherwise. That defence is not provided by the Air Force—it cannot be—for the simple reason that there is no defence against the bomb.
If we are to get a defence, it is not along the lines that the Secretary of State has indicated. It is along other lines, lines on which, unfortunately, I cannot touch because I would be ruled out of order. I would, however, say to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he will agree, that our best defence is the type of foreign policy that we pursue, the type of foreign policy that will make friends of the islanders of Gan, friends of people like the islanders of Malta and friends of people all over the world.
If we achieve this, we can reduce our commitments. That would enable us to enter into disengagements which would narrow the areas of contention and make it less and less necessary to use aircraft and bombs to preserve the peace that is bound to escape us so long as we rely upon the measures that the right hon. Gentleman has been putting before us today.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I found it difficult to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin).
§ Sir A. Harvey
I can quite understand that, because frankly I do not think that they held water. The hon. Member criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air for ordering bombers, but the Russians are building larger bomber forces every year.
§ Mr. Rankin
But would I have been more in order if I had brought in the Russians? I am quite prepared to bring them into the argument if I am allowed.
§ Sir A. Harvey
I will not pursue that matter. I was criticising the hon. Member's remarks.
The hon. Member made the fantastic suggestion that men in the Royal Air Force should buy their own raincoats of any design they liked, provided that they were of the same colour. How did he think that men all over the country could get coats of the same blue? What an Air Force it would look if the hon. Member had his way.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Member is not being as fair as usual. I never suggested that they should buy the raincoats. As far back as 1956 I was asking in the House that the Government should give them to airmen, but they refused. I have never said that they should buy them.
§ Sir A. Harvey
I am sorry. I must have misunderstood the hon. Member, though my recollection is that he said that they should be allowed to buy them.
§ Sir A. Harvey
During the past year the position of the Royal Air Force has improved enormously. A year or two ago many of us were very worried as a result of the publication of the 1957 Defence White Paper. I am not criticising my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence. It needed somebody like him to start from scratch and be prepared to vary and adjust the policy as time went on, but there is no doubt that the 1957 White Paper has not been strictly adhered to, and I am glad of that. Fifteen months ago it seemed that no more fighters would be ordered, and one could visualise Fighter Command itself being abolished. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air has 671 won that battle and that we are to have a strong Fighter Command.
The next point that concerns me is that the scientists, for whom I have great respect in Service matters, have become a very strong body and are frequently inclined to overrule those who are looking ahead not to twenty years from now but to the immediate future of five years or so ahead. Those are the men in the Services themselves. With great respect to Sir Frederick Brundritt, who has had a long and distinguished career in the service of Her Majesty's Government, I should like to ask why he was Chairman of the Defence Policy Committee, with the Deputy-Chief of Air Staff and the Commander-in-Chief, Fighter Command, under him.
It seems to me that the practical men should have been in charge of that Committee. It is all very well for scientists to look far ahead. My experience of dealing with scientific people is that provided they are supplied with the money they will go on inventing indefinitely. One must have somebody prepared to put the brake on and get orders placed and have these inventions put into service. If the scientists had had their way, and catastrophe had occurred in the meantime, we should have had little with which to defend the country.
When is the surface-to-air guided weapon likely to come into operation? May we be told, in broad terms, how accurate it is likely to be? We have been told that the Soviets have ballistic missiles in considerable numbers. They are also building up their bomber force in considerable numbers. But I doubt whether the Soviet missile has the accuracy to knock out the missile sites in this country. That is something which we must analyse, and we must consider the part which the Royal Air Force must play in our defence. The only weapon capable of penetrating the defence is the stand-off bomb which can be released 500, 600 or 700 miles away from the target.
§ Sir A. Harvey
I was making the analogy between the stand-off bomb and the inter-continental ballistic missile. I understand that the stand-off bomb would probably be more accurate. I do not know. One can only listen and read.
§ Mr. Paget
I know that the hon. Member is very expert in these matters, but I have always found it difficult to understand the advantage to us of the standoff bomb. I always feel that the aeroplane which can manœuvre has a better chance of getting through defences and avoiding them than has a stand-off bomb.
§ Sir A. Harvey
The hon. and learned Member may well be right. The answer probably is that we need both.
The point I am making is that in all this there is a strong case for the fighter. In all history there has never been a defence that was 100 per cent. effective. It certainly was not so in the Battle of Britain. We know that from the number of German bombers which were shot down over our own territory. Surely the object of air defence is to sow the seed of doubt in the enemy's mind. We may not be able to shoot all his aeroplanes down, but to leave the gate wide open makes it easy for attack. The enemy might succeed in attacking our missile bases if we do not have a fighter force, and he might thus prevent our making a counter-attack.
A manned fighter force is essential. The surface-to-air guided missile has a limited range. What defence is there against the stand-off bomb? If we have it, obviously it is being developed in other countries. I should like to know what the Government think about that. Cannot the surface-to-air guided weapon radar system also be saturated?
Are these things being considered? Are we confident of our defences? It will be several years before these instruments of war are perfected. I am concerned about the defence of Britain in the immediate years ahead and what we have to show for all the money that we have been voting.
If the scientists' advice had been taken, Fighter Command would have been stripped of its equipment. As it is, the Command could operate 200 miles in depth, well beyond what I imagine will be the range of a ground-to-air weapon, and fighter planes would certainly thin 673 out any attacking bombers. We are told that the Lightning will probably be the last manned fighter that we shall see. That has certainly been said broadly, if not in those actual words, on many occasions. Are the Government studying the possibility of a follow-on fighter?
I will refer to recruitment for a moment. The Royal Air Force has built a fine tradition since 1919. Over the last three or four years officers and N.C.O.s have faced many uncertainties as to their future, as to the stability of their Service and the possibility of their own commands being abolished. In fact, far too much politics has been brought into the R.A.F., and to some extent into the other Services as well.
If the right type of officers are to be provided for the R.A.F., parents and schoolmasters must be convinced that it offers a career for young people. It has been said that the V-bombers, the last of this vintage, have been ordered, and the same is said of the Lightning fighter. So a boy at school today, contemplating sitting an examination for Cranwell, and looking ahead, will say to himself, "These aircraft will only last eight or ten years and I can only see ten years of active flying in the R.A.F., apart possibly from Transport Command and Coastal Command."
A statement, reassessing the future should be made by the Government. I am convinced that there is a rôle for the manned aircraft, in some form or other, as far ahead as we can see. The bombers can be taken off the airfields in a few minutes, dispersed and made safe from enemy attack. I believe, therefore, that they can play a dual rôle. I do not agree that they cannot carry the deterrent. If they can carry hydrogen bombs effectively, they can also carry high explosive bombs to deal with local war, apart from being used in any nuclear war, which we all hope will never come.
I hope, therefore, that the Air Ministry will have this point in mind when it considers making a statement on the aircraft which are not being ordered. We must convince our young men that there is a career for them in the R.A.F. If the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) is adopted, and it is a good one, a really good advertising campaign could be carried out by a highly-paid, first-class 674 man, bringing in the point that there is a career in the R.A.F. for our young men. My personal view is that we shall need them, because the Air Force will be needed. People who speak in terms of the Navy and the Army and say that the Royal Air Force is dying, are making a great mistake.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend is not here, but I will put my next point to the Under-Secretary of State. Is insufficient attention being given to the future leaders of the R.A.F.? This is an important matter in any Service. As another generation comes along, and there are premature retirements, we may be short of men at the top capable of leading and of arguing against the politicians and of putting their case strongly. I have been told by people close to the Service that, without denigrating men who have specialised in staff duties, men who have been staff officers for many years and have not had active command are stepping into really big jobs in the Royal Air Force. Is that a good thing? I do not think it is. Yet some of the more recent promotions to higher rank have astonished some of the men at the middle level.
Now a word about pay. Many improvements have been made, but there are still one or two anomalies. One concerns the middle seniority, in which men are not nearly as well-off as those at the top or the more junior officers. One example is that when a group captain has served three or four years and is promoted to air commodore, he gets 1s. a day extra. It is ridiculous to promote a man, give him a thick stripe on his arm and only an extra 7s. a week. The same occurs in the case of a station commander. He is a man with great responsibility, but receives only 5s. a day entertainment allowance. I am not suggesting that a station commander should be given a large sum of money for this purpose, but he has to entertain visiting officers and others, and this point should be looked at so that a young married officer is able to entertain suitably for the occasion.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend, and also my hon. Friend the former Under-Secretary of State for Air, the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing), who has now gone to the Admiralty, on their work in steering the Royal Air Force through an extremely difficult period. In conclusion, I wish 675 the new Under-Secretary the best of luck in his job, which I am sure he will do extremely well. The R.A.F. is a great Service and I am very proud to have been connected with it over many years. I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends well in any troubles they may have, but I believe that we have a good, loyal Service which will be a credit to Britain.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) has made, as he always does, a number of valuable suggestions about and criticisms of the Service which he knows well, and I am happy to be able to follow him in this debate. He has beside him a friend who has also become an institution in these Air Estimates debates. Personally, I am sorry to think that this is the last Air Estimates debate in which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) will take part.
§ Mr. Beswick
Then the hon. Member may change his mind and come back; but at the moment I understand that this is his declared intention, and for personal reasons I would regret it.
Reference has been made to the stewardship of the Secretary of State for Air, and I too thought the story he told us today was one of the best in his seven years of office. I hope that after these seven years he will get the "seven year itch" and will be moving on, and I have no doubt that everything that can be done from this side of the Committee will be done to see that he does so.
Having offered all these congratulations, I feel I should offer good wishes to the new Under-Secretary of State for Air for a pleasant, if short, term of office. I should like to tell him that he comes into a Department which since the war has built a good reputation for personal relations. The way in which individual personal questions raised by hon. Members are dealt with by the Air Ministry reflects credit upon all concerned. It is because of this that I venture to make a criticism about one case which I had occasion recently to put before the Secretary of State for Air.
Reference has been made to premature retirements, to the "golden bowler 676 scheme" as it is called. That was a generous scheme; indeed, some people think it was over-generous. A lot of money is being spent on it and large commitments are involved. As a result heavy expenditure is incurred on compensation, and in consequence I am inclined to think that the Air Ministry is being niggling in small matters. I think it is being penny wise and probably pound foolish in some cases involving the retirement of personnel.
The case I put before the right hon. Gentleman was of a man in my constituency who has been associated with the Central Band of the Royal Air Force since it was founded 40 years ago. He is as proud of that band as anyone else and has done as much towards the administration of its affairs as any other person associated with it. For 50 years he has been a civil servant, 40 of those years being spent with the band. He wants to stay on for another 85 days in order to qualify for the maximum retirement pension under the civilian insurance scheme.
So far, the Air Ministry has turned down his application to be allowed to stay on for these 85 extra days. These individual cases are talked about throughout the Service and do much harm since they create ill-will. There is much criticism which does far more harm than the occasional praise which might be justified. I have written to the Secretary of State about this matter and I hope that the Under-Secretary will call his attention to the case again and that it will be reviewed favourably.
I know a good deal of what happens in the area of Uxbridge R.A.F. station. Although this man has been told that he has to go on the ground of economy, the station has been invited to fill a vacancy by local recruitment and difficulty in getting a suitable person locally has been experienced. In such a case, I cannot understand the policy behind the refusal to allow this man to continue for the maximum retirement pension, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this matter again. There are other cases and on one of them I have written to the Under-Secretary, and I hope that we shall be able to talk about it privately on another occasion.
Having made those detailed and constituency points—and I am proud to say 677 that my constituency is closely connected with the Royal Air Force and its affairs—I now want to follow something said by both the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick and the hon. Member for Macclesfield. Both spoke of priorities and of getting first things first.
It is my view that in the Royal Air Force and in our defence policy generally we have not put first things first in the last few years. We have based our defence policy on an entirely wrong premise. As hon. Members know, I have always taken the line that it was wrong for this country to adopt the theory of massive retaliation. I have been against the nuclear deterrent, for many reasons, including what might be called the moral reason. I think it wrong that any one individual, any one human being, should make plans to wipe out the rest of humanity.
However, I am not here to argue the moral case, especially in a debate on the Air Estimates. I intend to refer to the military aspect of this policy. It is my belief that we use some words so often that we tend to fool ourselves about their true meaning. I think that we are fooling ourselves about Civil Defence, for instance. It is said, apparently with seriousness, that we shall evacuate 12 million people in the event of attack. There is not a single hon. or right hon. Gentleman who believes that it is possible to evacuate 12 million people from one part of England to another, and yet this suggestion continues to be made as though it were feasible.
Similarly, we speak of the nuclear deterrent and of massive retaliation and the need to have the deterrent ready for use. But we never get down to cases and to examining what those phrases mean. Last year, the Secretary of State spoke of the destructive capability of the V-bomber force. He said that it could destroy the Russian cities. He painted the power of the V-bomber force in glowing terms, and I have no reason to doubt that what he said was true. That is the deterrent.
I have seen one of these weapons detonated. I have seen detonated a weapon which in 1945 killed 100,000 people. It was a bomb with the equivalent of 20,000 tons of T.N.T. To kill 100,000 people is a considerable deterrent. I 678 do not think that Mr. Khrushchev or any other Russian would lightly embark on any policy which would involve the destruction of 100,000 people in any Russian city. That was the penalty which we could inflict upon him by the use of one of the earlier atomic bombs dropped from one of our aircraft.
It may be, and I would accept that it is, a necessary deterrent, but we continue to pile deterrent upon deterrent. We are told that our American friends now have a bomb which is equal to all the explosive power dropped by all the aircraft in all the years of the Second World War. The Americans are now operating not from one airfield, as did the B.29 in 1945, but from bases all round the Soviet Union.
On these islands, we have our own Air Force bases also capable of despatching thermo-nuclear weapons. I cannot understand the claim that our additional weight of destructure power adds anything to the deterrent which the West now possesses.
§ Mr. Burden
If the hon. Member is right, surely we get down to a position where the atomic bomb which was dropped at the end of the war would be no greater a deterrent than the bullet fired from the early machine-gun. If that is the case, I find it difficult to understand why hon. Members opposite should have welcomed the production of the atomic bomb when they were in power.
§ Mr. Beswick
—I invite him to continue to do so. For my part, this is not a party matter and I do not here speak as one putting forward the policy of his party. This is a matter which we should discuss together since it is something about which no one can be absolutely certain. There is nothing to be gained by avoiding discussion of the subject.
I was saying that at that time we had a deterrent and I have tried to compare that deterrent with the overwhelming weight of the deterrent at the disposal of the Strategic Air Force of the United States. I am saying that it is absurd and ludicrous and that we are fooling ourselves when we say that our additional 679 destructive capacity adds anything to the deterrent which the West now has at its command.
§ Mr. Paget
Has my hon Friend seen the latest statement of Hanson Baldwin to the effect that if 1 per cent. of the first wave of the American attack got through, every major Russian city would be destroyed and more than one-half of its population killed? What in the world is the point of our adding to that?
§ Mr. Beswick
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) once said, "You cannot be deader than dead". We can destroy and virtually obliterate the human family by means of the weapons and machines at the disposal of the United States.
There are two reasons why it is a mistake to add to that destructive capacity. I have been interested to see that among American military experts and military commanders and retired and uninhibited generals, there are those who think that it is a mistake to have American rockets and American Air Force bases in the United Kingdom. I, too, think it a mistake. It is absolutely mad to select this densely populated and industrialised country as a centre of air bases for the Strategic Air Force. It is quite wrong. I doubt very much whether we should ever have agreed to go on if it had been discussed in the very beginning, before it became a fait accompli. To add to those bases of the strategic force the Thor missile bases seems to me to be adding madness upon madness.
I just cannot understand how those responsible have convinced themselves that there is likely to be any greater reluctance on the part of the Russians to embark upon a military adventure because we have some Thor missile bases here, in addition to the bases of the Strategic Air Force. Therefore, I say, that we get the worst of both worlds. I could understand a policy of integration. I could understand it if we had come to some arrangement or agreement with the United States in which we made a contribution to a common military force, but we claim that this force is independent. The Minister of Defence was emphasising the other week that our bomber force was an independently operating unit. He did not respond to my challenge when 680 I asked him the circumstance in which this unit might operate independently. Of course, he could not answer, and there is no one in this Committee who could answer that.
§ Mr. Burden
On a point of order. Would it be right to say that we are now discussing the Royal Air Force Vote, and that we are not discussing the American forces in this country?
§ Mr. Beswick
I am discussing the fact that we are spending a lot of money in providing equipment in this country which I think is duplicating the contribution already made by the United States Air Force. That is my case. I suggest to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) that he is making a mistake if he thinks he can separate this from the consideration of the problem of air defence. These matters are being discussed by people outside. Why should not we discuss them in this Committee? Let us look at the position sensibly.
I have said that we are duplicating the effort already made by the United States Air Force, and I go on to say that, as the result of duplicating that effort, we are not contributing the kind of deterrent which I think this country ought to be contributing. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to detail the sort of thing which I think ought to have been provided before now for the R.A.F., I will endeavour to give him examples of what I have in mind.
I rose to make these remarks following what was said by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick about priorities. I would have said that the first priority of this country, with its special responsibilities all over the world, was in transport aircraft. We ought to have decided much earlier than this that we have to provide efficient transport aircraft for our troops in the Army. Yet, we have left that right to the last; that is to say, that priority, which I think ought to be at the head of the list, comes right at the end. Now that we have made a decision about the Britannic, there are many people who still feel that it is not Service interests which have been consulted, but that there are other political reasons for the decision that has been 681 made. That is one example of the aircraft that ought to have been provided for the Royal Air Force, but which in fact has not been provided.
Will the hon. Gentleman please tell the Committee what the Labour Government did about that between 1945 and 1951?
§ Mr. Beswick
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know why we did not order the Britannic, I would say that it was only in 1948 that the orignal design of the machine which has now been ordered was put on the drawing board. Originally, it was the M.R.E. 175, which was not drawn up until 1948, so that it was not possible for us to order it. We left it to the right hon. Gentleman, who, 11 years later has ordered this development of the M.R.E. 175. However, let us leave that for a moment, because I want to come to some other matters.
The Secretary of State, whom I have been praising earlier, must not resent these criticisms. He called attention to the fact that we have now 15 types of aircraft abroad, and that is mentioned in the Air Estimates Memorandum as proof that equipment is available for the R.A.F. From my experience of air operation, I would say that the best company or the best Air Force is that which operates on the least number of types. That is the one which can always operate much more efficiently and much more cheaply if it cuts out unnecessary duplication of types.
Among the 15 types of aircraft which we now have at bases overseas are many machines which are quite obsolete. I see that Valettas and Hastings are mentioned, and that we still have Dakotas. This is not a thing about which we should be proud—that we are still operating a lot of old aircraft, and that we have had to take on such machines as Pembrokes for the R.A.F. Had we had the priorities in the right order we could have had these transport aircraft in the first place, before we started constructing missile bases for the Thor.
I want to say a few words in passing about some of the other considerations which enter into this matter. I have spoken about priorities in the R.A.F., but I think there are wider priorities which we have to take into account. The right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), who is a former Minister of 682 Defence, mentioned some of the things which he thought ought to have been given priority when he spoke in the course of the defence debate.
My criticism is this. I want to see a Royal Air Force which is capable of carrying out the sort of duties which will fall to Britain in the modern world; and, in my view, those duties do not include the possibility of waging, independently, a global nuclear war. Therefore, I put right at the bottom of the list of priorities, so far as the R.A.F. is concerned, the nuclear deterrent.
I believe, however, that this country has a responsibility—and we have seen recently just how quickly this responsibility can arise—in many parts of the globe for dealing with localised disturbances. Therefore, I should have thought that the first priority of the R.A.F. is to have transport aircraft available which can transport our troops to any one of these troubled areas. As a matter of fact, in the Estimates, we have put this one at the bottom of the priorities.
Reference was made earlier to the number of helicopters at the disposal of the French Air Force. It was said that our French friends have 600. How many have we got in the R.A.F.? That is the type of machine which might well be invaluable in the sort of operation in which we might be involved.
Therefore, my criticism is not that the Secretary of State has failed to provide the goods in his seven years' stewardship. I say quite sincerely that I think that the morale of the Royal Air Force is higher today than when he first took over. His interest in his Department and the work of the Service equals that of any former holder of his office, and I congratulate him upon that fact. I do not criticise him for having failed to deliver the goods; he has been more successful than either of the other two Service Departments. My criticism is that he has ordered the wrong goods. He has got his order of priorities wrong. But that is not his fault; it is the fault of the Government.
I still feel that there is a purpose and a rôle for the Royal Air Force to play. I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield that we will have that rôle to play for a long time ahead. We shall need many skilled personnel in the Royal 683 Air Force, but we should be given the opportunity of reconsidering our total defence policy, so that it can be moulded nearer to the shape that I have tried to indicate.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I disagree absolutely with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). I fully appreciate his anxiety to avoid a nuclear war—we are all most anxious that that should be avoided—but I believe that those hon. Members who think that a nuclear war could be avoided, or not endanger this country if we unilaterally abolished nuclear weapons, are quite wrong. The history of the world has shown clearly that weakness does not beget defence; on the contrary, it invites attack.
I go further and say that if the hon. Gentleman believes any large-scale war which is likely to be started in future could be fought without the threat of the nuclear weapon, and that we should not have to face that threat, he should advocate, in his present mood, that we should completely disarm unilaterally.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Member speaks about weakness. Was there anything more humiliating than the weakness displayed by this country during the time of the Suez operation, or when we tried to supply our troops in Jordan but had not sufficient transport aircraft available?
§ Mr. Burden
I do not agree with the hon. Member, but, in any case, that argument merely reinforces my point of view. If there is weakness when we have defences, how much worse would it be if we followed the hon. Member's argument to its logical conclusion and had no defences or forces at all?
The hon. Member says that he is against the nuclear deterrent because it is wrong for any country to embark upon a policy which could wipe out other countries. I agree with him that that is wrong, but if we abolish the nuclear deterrent that does not mean that it is abolished altogether from the world. It is still there, in other hands, and the only way to remove fear from the world is to get agreement by all the Powers who have it to stop using it, destroy the stocks 684 and set up proper systems of control and supervision to ensure that it is not manufactured by any country. That is a much more sensible point of view than the one put forward by the hon. Member and others who think like him.
It is extremely difficult to follow the hon. Member's general grouping of priorities. He agrees that we have a right to defend our possessions; indeed, he said that the first priority today should be the provision of transport aircraft, to carry troops to local areas of trouble, where we may have to carry out obligations which include the use of troops. It is obvious that such troops might have to go into action, and the hon. Member is living in a dream world if he thinks that when the nuclear weapon is in the hands of other people, but we have not got it, we shall not be inviting the use of atomic weapons against us if we send our troops on military adventures in other countries. The hon. Member should think again about that. I would also remind him that whenever our troops are sent abroad on these limited exploits the party to which he belongs almost invariably reacts most violently and says that we have no right to do these things, which he now agrees are sometimes necessary.
There is a great deal of concern among hon. Members and the public about the future of the Royal Air Force. That is understandable, because there has been so much talk about the nuclear weapon; the relative importance of the guided missile and ballistic rocket that it has caused many people to wonder whether the Royal Air Force, as we knew it in the past, has any future. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend was able to say that much of the tradition, work and equipment of the old Royal Air Force will have its counterpart in the Royal Air Force of tomorrow. But my right hon. Friend must go a great deal further than he has gone today if he is to succeed in convincing young men of the type who, in the past, went into the Royal Air Force for a career, that the Air Force of tomorrow will offer comparable opportunities.
The career potential of the Royal Air Force must be made clear. In the past, it has attracted young men because it offered an adventurous and rewarding career; because it gave young men 685 opportunities for an individual expression of their talents which was not freely available in the other Forces or in civilian life. If we are again to get into the Royal Air Force the type of man that we had at the beginning of the last war—the man who fought the Battle of Britain, and who flew aircraft on the great bombing operations and reconnaissance sorties—we must somehow show him that opportunities still exist. A public relations officer of the type suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) might be a very good investment.
But we must go even further than that. I do not believe that the exact pattern of the future can be read at this stage. The sooner scientists, the Chiefs of Staff, and others responsible for future strategy, can come together and determine a pattern, not only for the immediate years ahead but for the next ten or fifteen years, the more certainly we shall be able to plan for the future. It is clear to me that the threat presented by nuclear weapons cannot be removed unilaterally. The only way that it can be removed is by agreement between the great Powers to abolish their use and accept conditions of control and examination to ensure that it is suppressed.
What, in the meantime, is the relative position of the ballistic rocket and guided missile and of manned aircraft? My view is that so long as the nuclear weapon is held to be an offensive weapon, or is likely to be used as such by any nation, the only real defence against it is to ensure that there is the widest possible circle of similar weapons in the hands of countries who wish to deter aggression and have no thought of aggression themselves Then it would be clear to any nation which contemplated launching this weapon on the world that it would suffer from immediate and terrible reprisals.
If massive retaliation is known to be possible, I do not believe that any nation would dare to risk an attack, and, eventually, we should secure the agreement which we all wish to achieve. Therefore, in the pattern of our defence it is essential that, in addition to whatever manned aircraft we may have, and until such agreement is reached, we must also 686 have atomic warheads in the form of ballistic rockets and guided missiles.
Whatever may be the future for weapon-carrying aircraft there is certainly important work for manned aircraft in the sphere of photographic reconnaissance. Adequate photographic reconnaissance will be necessary both before agreement is reached on the abolition of atomic weapons and after. They could be used to ensure that the production of the atomic weapons was not proceeding, and thus assist in operating an efficient system of control.
The British aircraft industry is of vital importance to our economy because of its great export potential. Last year, overseas earnings amounted to £150 million. There is concern now in the industry because of the fear of a fall-off in Government orders. If the future of manned aircraft is as secure as we have been led to believe today, the industry should be told that planning for the future flow of new types of aircraft is proceeding, so that a floor can be created from which the industry may exploit its commercial possibilities at home and abroad
There is another aspect which needs examination. Many of us accept that the function of the Ministry of Supply has, to a great extent, disappeared. Whatever is done about aircraft for the Services it is clear that a great deal of research will have to be undertaken in the aircraft industry in order to obtain the type of aircraft which we need. There is always considerable reluctance on the part of the Treasury to grant money for research in any industry. But I am of opinion that much of the research undertaken in the production of weapons could properly benefit many of our ordinary industrial firms. Instead of continuing with the work of the Ministry of Supply, which I consider an outmoded Department, the Government might consider setting up a Ministry of Research and Technology to co-ordinate and canalise the vast amount of scientific research now proceeding. The dividends from such a Department would be enormous, particularly in the sphere of atomic research.
Every hon. Member will welcome the opinion expressed today by my right hon. Friend that the future for manned aircraft is secure for some years ahead. I hope 687 that everything will be done to encourage young men of the type which joined the Air Force of yesterday to come into that Service today. One of the reasons which may have prevented such young men from joining the Service is the feeling that the pattern of the old Royal Air Force which meant so much to the youth of the country might disappear. We are glad to know that it remains and will continue.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
So many hon. and gallant Members have taken part in this debate that I, not having served in any of the three Services, feel rather like a Sassenach in the Scottish Grand Committee. It is pleasant to see the Secretary of State for Air being so conscientious and spending so much time listening to the debate. Last week, when the House was discussing the Defence White Paper, the Minister of Defence seemed purposely to be excluding the Service Ministers from the debate. The right hon. Gentleman opened the debate and made the winding-up speech for the Government, and the only other Minister allowed to speak was his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.
It seemed that the Minister of Defence wanted that two-day debate to himself. So much had the right hon. Gentleman been under the influence of the Service Ministers, and particularly the Secretary of State for Air, that he meant to have those two days on his own.
The Secretary of State for Air has been only too predominant, particularly since the "Operation Prospect" conference and the decision on the T.S.R.2. It is registered, also, in the Air Memorandum, which is riddled with comments showing that the era of missiles is regarded as being almost on us. The Minister of Defence put out this idea in the past twelve months, with an obvious effect upon recruiting for the Royal Air Force. The Secretary of State so riddled the Air Memorandum with those comments, saying how much the Air Force regretted this, that it is obvious there has been terrible bickering behind the scenes, particularly between the Air Minister and the Minister of Defence. There may have been resignations proffered, possibly by the Secretary of State for Air and some members of the Air Council, and they may have driven 688 the Minister of Defence eventually over the brink. He could no longer stem the tide and he allowed the T.S.R.2 to go forward.
Departing from that, may I say how grateful I am to the Secretary of State and his Department for allowing me and some of my hon. Friends to visit the Second Tactical Air Force in Germany, to visit Wyton, one of our model air stations, and also North Cotes. I was very much impressed. When I went to the Second T.A.F. I was very impressed with the alertness and efficiency of the crews operating the radar screen. It was frightening, but very reassuring. There is a 24-hour round-the-clock watch by our radar scouts. I do not think that it is a very pleasant task, working underground, operating those machines under artificial light, and so on, the hours they have to work, and cut off for many weeks, according to their station. I was very impressed with their efficiency and the job that they are doing.
It was the same at Wyton. The Secretary of State has a great deal to be proud of in the young, obviously intelligent and very capable young officers that are now operating these new techniques, the joint system of radar and missile detection. It augurs well for the future of our defence. The Minister does not seem to have had a great deal of difficulty in getting the right type of man for the job and they enthuse any Members of the House of Commons who visit this station.
I come to my main criticism. I have criticised on these lines all along. I am not yet satisfied that the T.S.R.2 is necessary. We could have developed the N.A.39. I would have thought that the Minister was satisfied with the modification to the N.A.39 to enable it to come early into operation, say, by 1961, and to bridge the interim period between the manned aircraft and the coming era of the missiles. The Minister of Defence has been correct in his appraisal of the situation. We have the modern V-bomber force, built to carry the necessary nuclear deterrent and then, coming on to the horizon, we have the stand-off bomb which, added to the V-bomber force, would have bridged over the interim period when the missiles were coming into production.
Instead of that, we have decided to go ahead with another fleet of manned 689 bombers, the T.S.R.2, which may well cost between £50 million and £60 million. We cannot possibly receive them before 1965, by which time the T.S.R.2 may be dated, anyway. It is a very interesting analogy. The Avro-Arrow, of Canada, has just been dropped and 14,000 men have been thrown on the scrapheap. The aircraft industry has been slowed down considerably. The Avro-Arrow has proved to be capable, in flight and in tests, but has been tossed on one side in favour of the Bomarc S.A., which is now coming into the Canadian defence system. The Prime Minister of Canada specifically stated that the Avro-Arrow has been dropped because missiles are coming along fast enough and that, by the mid-'sixties, the fighter will not be required, anyway.
I wonder to what extent our T.S.R.2 may have affected the decision on the Avro-Arrow. Perhaps the Minister will give me information on the extent to which N.A.T.O. has taken an interest in the T.S.R.2 and whether it has shown sufficient interest so that orders are coming in. The Canadian Government, having seen a potential market disappear, have accelerated their decision in respect of the Avro-Arrow. I am very much against the production of the T.S.R.2. For an extra £10 million we could have modified the N.A.39 and done a worthwhile job. It has been specially developed to fly at zero level, which means low level flying, so that it can evade the radar screen. It would be most useful to the Royal Air Force, and we could have had it in production by 1961. Then we would not be waiting until mid-'sixties.
I shall be very much obliged if the Under-Secretary of State will say precisely why the N.A.39 was turned down. I can think of two defects. One was its take-off and the other the range of the aircraft, but both of those defects could have been overcome, the first by rocket take-off, and the second by booster petrol pumps. Had we given more consideration to the development of the N.A.39 we should have saved a lot of money, about £50 million or £60 million, and would possibly have had the aircraft ready in 1961.
My hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mt. Beswick) were pessimistic, to say the least, about 690 defence against missiles and the nuclear bomber, but with the radar research that is taking place, and the infra-red detection and missile interception coming to the fore, I think that adequate defence will be built up. It is time for defence to come to the fore and offence rapidly to lose its lead.
My hon. Friend was groaning about the deterrent itself, but I think that we have passed the peak there. We have developed a weapon of sufficient magnitude, and we are now satisfied that we can develop any greater weapon. Research and development are needed, both in the field of actual battle and by the Air Force, on smaller critical masses so that we can have warheads for atomic artillery and smaller military weapons that can be more easily carried and that will evade the radar screen. Therefore, I am not as pessimistic as some of my hon. Friends about defence against missiles or bombers carrying atomic weapons.
I must say something about our own radar screen. There is now talk—I am referring only to Press reports—about the Americans wanting to build radar stations in this country mainly for their own defence and not for the defence of this island. The stations would give them sufficient warning of the arrival of missiles against America. I feel some misgivings about the forward scatter stations because of the power of the high frequency beam. If the Americans should contemplate building any of these forward stations here, particularly for their own defence we ought to be aware of it now.
I see that it has been said that during the past twelve months the Royal Observer Corps has had to man 1,500 stations in this country, and it is to be responsible for the detection of radioactive fall-out. The Air Ministry could do a worth-while job in peacetime in this way. The Under-Secretary ought to tell us to what extent these stations have been developed. Have we the network of 1,500 stations? To what extent are we getting staff of the Royal Observer Corps to do the job? It could be a useful exercise.
During Questions today my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) asked the Prime Minister about some reports of medical officers of health who are worried about radioactive fall-out in this country. If some Royal Observer 691 Corps men could be used to conduct a survey throughout the country, using their geiger counters, and so on, to find precisely what radioactivity is being registered at the moment, that would be an exercise which would be of great help in the event of war. It would also be wise, if this were done, to have a report on the matter, because one of our great difficulties is that, in spite of the fact that the Medical Research Council is conducting research into this question, not enough information is given to the public. I believe that many of the present fears could be allayed.
The Minister has the Meteorological Office under his jurisdiction. I see that that department is the only one in the country interested in fog dispersal. I am not satisfied that we are doing sufficient in this respect. Year after year many people die from the effects of thick fog. Many aircraft and train accidents occur and there is the slowing down of productive effort. I do not think that this Committee would object if the Minister asked for an increase in the Vote so that a little more money could be applied to the Meteorological Office for fog dispersal.
Answering a Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), the Secretary of State for Air said that the Meteorological Office was conducting a small fog dispersal survey over some built-up areas. I should be obliged if we could be told what areas are involved and if more expenditure is contemplated on fog dispersal. Every year we complain of fog taking toll of the life and productive effort of the nation, yet we sit lackadaisically on one side and allow the trouble to continue.
I was surprised that the Minister did not make any comment at all about discussions taking place to merge Fighter Command into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We have asked Questions about this and not been able to get much information. I thought that some comment about it might be made in the Memorandum on the Air Estimates. I hope that the Under-Secretary, in winding up the debate, will say something about it. Most of the points I have put are of a minor nature, but nevertheless they are not very often raised, and as this is the only opportunity to raise them I should be obliged if they can be replied to by the hon. Gentleman.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
I do not propose to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), except to say that I do not share his optimism or faith in the static nuclear deterrent which he expressed when discussing the rôle of the Royal Air Force for the future. At the end of the war it was generally believed by leaders of all Services that in any future war the Royal Air Force would be the first line of defence for this country. That view was expressed by Viscount Montgomery and leading spokesmen for the Navy as well as the Royal Air Force.
It has been a great shock to me when viewing the Defence Estimates of the last few years to find so much emphasis placed on the nuclear deterrent as opposed to manned aircraft. I have expressed these views on more than one occasion. I am glad to see that, in the Defence Estimates this year and in the Air Estimates, at last the Royal Air Force is again taking its place and is to play its proper rôle in the defence of the country. I am also very pleased to see that we are getting some new aircraft. In spite of the claims the hon. Member made for one type of aircraft against another, I am convinced that the Govern-men and my right hon. Friend are right in ordering the T.S.R.2 for our future defence.
For many years the question of transport aircraft has been raised. I have been hammering at it and trying to impress on the Air Ministry the importance of transport aircraft for the future. Only now is the important rôle which transport aircraft must play in the future defence of the country, and in global defence, beginning to be realised. Transport aircraft are absolutely vital.
The Government are quite right to order the Brittanic, but I want to know if it is just a holding aircraft and if they are thinking of an aircraft to succeed it. If so, this is the time to state the case and to say what type of aircraft they want. Obviously an aircraft with a speed of only 350 m.p.h. is not one to meet the future requirements of the Air Force. If it takes seven years to build an aircraft, it is only right that the Government should be thinking of a successor to the Brittanic. That is also of vital importance to the aircraft industry because it 693 has to think ahead and make plans for development of new types.
There has been a great deal of discussion on the subject of personnel and aircrew. I agree that the R.A.F. has gone through a difficult period since the war. It has had reconstruction, integration and all kinds of policies thrust upon it and also the cutting down of staff and numbers. I am not surprised that there is a great deal of apprehension today in the Service about the future of young men who want to make a career in the Service. I hope that apprehension will be dispelled as a result of this debate. I hope that the Minister will take heed of the advice of hon. Members that a recruiting campaign should be embarked upon and emphasis put on the fact that there is a future rôle to be played by the Royal Air Force for many years to come.
Realising the global responsibilities of the Royal Air Force, I cannot see that it will be possible for this country ever to rely on the static nuclear weapon to defend our commitments. Even for the defence of this island, I do not think a "Maginot Line" would be sufficient. Throughout the globe we must be mobile and have manned aircraft. What type of manned aircraft there should be depends entirely upon the rôle we have to play. It is absolutely essential that we should not abandon the fighter or the bomber and we should definitely order far more transport aircraft than we have at present. As has been pointed out, transport is essential and will play a very important rôle in the future of the Royal Air Force.
Having studied the Air Estimates, my view is that the R.A.F. today is too top-heavy. There is far too much money spent on personnel of the wrong kind. If we are to encourage young men to enter the Service, there must be some prospect that they will receive promotion in due course. We Shall not get a startling increase in recruitment while we have so many senior ranks hanging on to their appointments and blocking promotion. Every Service has always had that problem. We had it after the First World War, and we have it now. It is very hard on senior officers to have to enter civilian life, but the sooner they do it the better chance they will have of finding employment which will suit their capacities.
694 I have recently met many senior officers in the Royal Air Force, as well as in the other Services. They are comparatively young men. They complain that they find it very difficult to fit themselves into civilian life, because there is no employment for them. That is because they have arrived at the age when employers will not accept them into their industries, though a good many have been successful. Some of these officers are extremely able. If the policy I advocate is adopted, younger men will be encouraged to enter a Service where promotion is more rapid.
There is a wonderful opportunity for the Royal Air Force today to obtain young men who are technically minded and who up to now have received their technical training in the aircraft industry. Practically every aircraft manufacturer in the country has had, and still has, an apprentice school which trains apprentices up to quite a high standard. As many of these firms today are being integrated, and some will disappear according to the policies laid down by the Government, what will happen to these young men? There is a wonderful opportunity for them to continue their training, or to receive equal training, in the Royal Air Force. The number of boy entrants has risen considerably in the last year or two, but there is scope for a great many more. This is a wonderful field from which to recruit them. In this age it is essential that we should have technically trained young men who can take the place of the scientists in the future. The Royal Air Force is a wonderful recruiting field for potential scientists of the future.
We have had complaints from the aircraft industry about the delay which takes place between the decision to produce a new type of aircraft and the date when the order is given. This problem should be considered very seriously by the Government. Today the industry is supposed to take technical and financial responsibility for the development of its aircraft. It involves a very high expenditure. The industry cannot afford it unless it has some orders in hand, because the design staffs have to be retained in employment. Without design staffs we cannot have aircraft.
In dealing with the integration of firms, the problem is how to fit the technical and design teams together when they always work as teams. I am told that it is 695 very difficult to integrate teams. Many of them have to be disbanded. The problem is to reorganise them in different ways, without losing them altogether, which is happening in a great many cases. We are losing some of our best design staffs to America and other countries. We cannot afford that.
If we are to have an aircraft industry in this country, it must be looked after. The Government do not fully realise the responsibilities they have. About 250,000 men are employed in the industry. It is realised that there has to be a reduction in that number. It should be done slowly and the industry should know what future there is for people engaged in it, just as new entrants should know what future there is for them in the Royal Air Force.
I urge the Government to appreciate that it is important not only to issue White Papers and mention that certain types of aircraft will be, or are being, ordered. If we are to have aircraft at all, it is important that orders should go out to the firms which are to build them. They should be given time to plan for the future, because it takes about seven years to produce a new type of aircraft. I have urged this on the Government many times before. I hope that it will be borne in mind after the Estimates have been discussed.
We are spending a large sum of money on defence. We will find it very difficult to justify the expenditure to our constituents, unless some effort is made to reduce the number of personnel involved, especially the staff personnel employed in the Air Force today. It is not enough to reduce the numbers of the lower ranks, while retaining senior staff.
Therefore, I impress upon the Government the importance of making some reduction in the staff and bureaucracy of the Royal Air Force, as well as in the junior ranks and technical staff. Everyone in the country today is watching the amount of money spent and the fact that there is supposed to be a reduction of 100,000 men; yet we have so many air marshals and air vice-marshals. My complaint applies, not only to the Air Force, but to the other Services as well. It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the number of very senior officers is kept within reasonable limits.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I find myself in agreement with the final remark of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald), that it is extremely difficult to justify the very large sums for which we are being asked today. In all probability one could cut these Estimates by about half, without in any way detracting from the security of this country or its power. During the debate on the Army Estimates I expressed the view that the Army was asking for far too little. The Air Force is asking for far too much. A great deal of what we are being asked to vote today should be devoted to making the land contribution of N.A.T.O. effective.
I want, first, to deal with our independent deterrent. The one argument that cannot be advanced in its justification, but one that was advanced somewhat vaguely in the defence debate, is that it is needed as a contribution to the American effort. The American effort has reached the point at which, if 1 per cent. of their first wave got through to target, all the major cities of Russia would have gone and half the population of Russia would be dead—with 1 per cent. of the first wave.
In addition, the Americans have reached a state which they describe in terms of what they call over-kill. They say that they have 20 times the over-kill—which means that everyone in Russia can be killed 20 times over—but that this is not sufficient as a counterforce. It could utterly destroy Russia, but it would not be sufficient to prevent Russia getting in a counterblow. To add to things that have reached that size is obviously a fatuous exercise.
Equally, it seems perfectly plain from our point of view that the very modest deterrent that we are creating is not a counterforce; that is to say, it is no part of its purpose—it is so plainly beyond its capacity — to destroy the Russians' capacity to respond. Our counter-deterrent is justifiable only on one ground—that we retain for ourselves a capacity to do a greater injury to Russia than any benefit that she could gain at our expense. That can be the only justification that makes sense.
Let us see how that arises. The basis of the deterrent is its effect on the mind 697 of the enemy. Its effectiveness depends on its credibility; on what the enemy believe we can do. If one uses it, it has failed, because it has not deterred. Let us just think, in terms of credibility, where our capacity lies, realising that if we use it we are dead. Neither the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, nor the Minister of Defence, nor anybody else, has for a number of years pretended to suggest that these islands either are or can be defensible against atomic attack. Therefore, the use of the deterrent would mean, not necessarily that every single Englishman was dead, but that all our important ports and cities would be heaps of rubble.
In what circumstances would people believe that we would invite that? The first circumstance in which they would believe it would be if it had happened to us. That is to say, if an atomic attack was launched on us we could hardly suffer greater evil by replying to it, so our deterrent would be a credible one against a major atomic attack on these islands. Secondly, it would also be credible against a submarine blockade of these islands, because I believe, and I think that the Russians would believe, that if we were taken to the point of starvation we would respond, while we had it in our capacity—and whatever the circumstances—by attacking the submarine bases of the enemy.
Thirdly, it would be credible in terms of actual invasion. In other words, possession of our independent deterrent, in a sense, re-creates the channel. If the N.A.T.O. defences broke down, the major deterrent might well not be brought into force. Let us recognise that, because, as the Russians develop a greater power to injure the Americans, the Americans may become less and less likely, in the face of any threat other than one to their actual frontiers, to respond with the deterrent. In fact, we get atomic stalemate.
Where the justification of our independent deterrent arises is in the case of an atomic attack on us, or an actual invasion of these islands. That being so, what are the conditions in which we should think about the deterrent?
The first condition, which we can put right out of our minds, is that of getting in the first blow. We will never be in a position to get in the first blow, because, 698 for us, that is not part of the function of the deterrent. For us, the deterrent is simply an instrument of vengeance. It is an instrument through which we say to the Russians, "We know we cannot prevent you from injuring us, but, if you do, you'll get it." The deterrent can be used only after the enemy have acted.
It is for that reason that Thor, in my opinion, is such a wildly absurd instrument for us. For us, it is absurd to have a deterrent that is totally vulnerable, and one that we know for absolute certainty must cease to exist before the only conceivable occasion in which we would use the deterrent could arise. Thor is not a deterrent, but an incitement — a temptation.
There is very little more to be said for Blue Streak. It is true that Blue Streak can be put down on to the earth—it is not as surfacely vulnerable as Thor—but the fact that Blue Streak is the justification of the retention of Fighter Command at least involves the admission that it is vulnerable, and, if it is vulnerable—and so little has to get through when we are dealing with these weapons—I do not believe that any Fighter Command we can build up can defend Blue Streak.
An hon. Gentleman opposite said that defence is never 100 per cent. successful. In the last war, a defence that was 10 per cent. successful was entirely effective—no air force could go on taking punishment at that rate. A defence that was, I think, between 4 per cent, and 5 per cent. successful won the Battle of Britain. Can one really expect a defence that would have to be getting near to 100 per cent. successful to be able to defend these launching sites? I do not believe that we can. In fact, the justification of Thor and Blue Streak has nothing to do with defence at all. 1 believe that we are going in for these two weapons simply to provide our friends in America with a talking point.
The real reason for our doing it is to enable our friends in America to say, "Look what the British are doing for us. Look at their contribution. We must do the things which Britain wants us to do for them." Within the context of the curious assault which the American forces make upon the mind of Congress, that may be a worth-while operation, but, if that is the operation—it is the only operation which can conceivably justify Thor— 699 why on earth kill the talking point by saying that it is only an exercise? When the right hon. Gentleman said that, the Americans who had been making Thor a bull point were furious; they had been very seriously let down.
Our capacity to deliver the deterrent depends on our V-bomber force. I believe that our V-bomber force is always likely to be more effective than any fixed-base rocket on these islands can ever be. We are dealing with a psychological weapon. Our purpose is to provide something about which the Soviet general staff cannot advise the Russian political chiefs, "We can guarantee to you that we can stop it". As regards Blue Streak, the Soviet general staff may well be able to say that they can guarantee that they can knock those points out. They may even be able to say, since a rocket goes up and has to come down on a predictable path, that they can pick it up on the infra-red, they can know its course, and intercept it. I very much doubt whether they can ever say that of the manœuvrable bomber.
The advantage of defence since the last war, when one required only a 10 per cent. efficacy as against nearly 100 per cent. which one requires today, is apparently the efficiency of the ground to air missile. I am not a technician, but I imagine that such a missile can home on one of two things; it can home on mass by radar, or it can home on heat by infrared. Cannot the manned bomber jink and discharge things which will be picked up on the radar? It was tinfoil in the last war. Can it jink and discharge things which create the heat on which the guided missile homes? Is there any real reason for believing that the manned bomber, which has the power to jink, to turn and to manœuvre, can ever, as to 100 per cent.—and it must be very nearly 100 per cent.—be stopped by any static defence? I very much doubt it.
I do not see any great point in developing the stand-off bomb After all, the stand-off bomb is nothing but a pilotless aeroplane launched from a piloted aeroplane. The speed, where interception comes in, does not seem to count for very much today with missiles, and I should myself have thought that the manœuvrable manned aeroplane was a good deal more likely to reach its destina- 700 tion than the unmanœuvrable bomb. I believe that, for a considerable time, at least until we reach the stage whore we have a manœuvrable and virtually invulnerable rocket, that is to say, one mounted on the submarine—which is a good way off yet—we can safely rely upon the V-bomber and the low-level bomber, which will be even more difficult to stop, to do our deterrent job.
It is said of the low-level bomber that its range is inadequate. I do not see why. We are not a counter-force. We do not have to hit everything in Russia. All we have to do is to put ourselves in a position in which we can do more damage to Russia than any advantage she can obtain. If we are in a position to take out 50 Russian cities, the 50 nearest the frontier, that is quite adequate for our purpose. We need to be in no better position than that. Therefore, range does not seem to me to be all that important.
I cannot myself imagine that the Russian general staff will ever be able to advise the Kremlin that they can prevent injury by either the V-bomber or, still less, the low-level bomber when it comes. If they cannot give that advice, our deterrent is effective.
The one important thing about our deterrent is that it should be invulnerable. It is no use having the deterrent if the act which one wishes to deter can destroy one's capacity to deter it. That is precisely the criticism of Thor. Much the best way to do it is to keep one's bombers a long way away. They ought not to be in England. I believe that they should be in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, even, if one likes, in such places as Gan, St. Helena, or the Falkland Islands. It is not our business to anticipate anything. We have only to establish our capacity for vengeance. So long as that capacity is there and invulnerable, the Russians will know the consequences of doing the things which are desperate, past redemption, for this country. That is the sort of dispersion which our deterrent ought to have.
If that be the policy of this country as regards the deterrent, the most important thing for our security is to realise that a general atomic attack on this country or, indeed, the blockade of this island—which may be accomplished by the destruction of the ports much more 701 easily than by the submarine fleet—is something which we may be able to deter —I hope we can—but we certainly cannot conduct such a war. We cannot defend our physical existence against this sort of attack. We all know that. It is, therefore, extremely silly to spend the limited sums which we have available on activities which can become operative only after our destruction.
This, in very large measure, both in the Navy Estimates which we shall come to and in these Air Estimates, is what is happening. I can see no point in our developing these counter-missiles, the ground-to-air missiles. They cannot help us and we know it. That is a task which is simply "not on". Let us face that and build up what we really need, namely, a force in Europe, with N.A.T.O., which is capable of holding the Russians at a sufficient distance, and by other means, rather than bring ourselves into the atomic war which nobody has more interest in avoiding than we have.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I think that 95 per cent. of the Members of this House, including the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), agree with the need for a deterrent, but I was rather surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman, who, from time to time I regard as a reasonable man, repeating all the arguments of the nuclear disarmament campaign—that our deterrent is no use, that to add to the United States' deterrent is fatuous, and that Thor is wildly absurd. Surely a substantial part of our N.A.T.O. defensive system must be in ballistic missiles. If that is accepted, it would be ridiculous to push the bases for ballistic missiles right back to the North American continent, where they would be almost innocuous. We must have ballistic missile bases in this country within a reasonable mileage of Russia.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The point is that they are part of the deterrent and I think that it must be agreed that they should be within a reasonable distance of Russia.
702 Also, I do not share the hon. and learned Gentleman's confidence in the manœuvrable plane. Suppose that one had to drop an H-bomb on Stalingrad, for example, I cannot conceive that any V-bomber which we have at the moment could do that without getting into Russian territory. Therefore, the V-bomber force must have its limitations and it must be supplemented by the ballistic missile which is now being developed.
I have come to the conclusion that there has been altogether too much propaganda in this country against the use of ballistic missiles. There was the trouble at Swaffham, and further disturbances. There is the feeling among the public that there is something extremely dangerous in developing these missiles, particularly the Thor.
I should like to deal with two or three arguments that can be used in favour of developing the missile. I do not think that it is generally appreciated what an advantage it is to have a practically noiseless offensive weapon in the middle of our territory rather than a very noisy one. I spend my summer holidays in the county of Norfolk, and the noise of the bombers, both American and British, flying over by day or night is extremely disturbing to the population.
It would be rather a restful encouragement to have rather fewer bombers, and have noiseless weapons, even if they are on a static site. [An HON. MEMBER: "I hope that they never go off."] They certainly do not make any noise in training. Let us hope that they never will go off. If they are used in training, then there is one considerable advantage, and that is that we are not risking our manpower in operating or flying these weapons as we are in aeroplanes.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton and other interested parties have raised several times the argument that a static site is extremely dangerous because it can be pinpointed and would be bombed at the outbreak of war. I do not believe that that is true, and it is not at all likely. How can a rocket, fired from a distance of 500 miles, be at all accurate within a few miles? It certainly will not be accurate enough to make a pinpoint attack on such a small site as a static ballistic missile site. An enemy is much more likely to go for built-up 703 areas and towns, just as happened in the last war.
During the last war, although Norfolk and Lincolnshire were studded with bomber and fighter stations, those counties were two of the safest counties to live in because the airfields were such relatively small targets that the German Air Force did not bother to attack them, except occasionally. The major attacks were launched on the towns. I venture to predict that if there were another war—let us hope that there will not be—nobody would bother about trying to attack these small sites, which would be very difficult to find and which, to a certain extent, would be camouflaged.
Having left the point about the Thor missile, which has had an unnecessarily bad Press in this country—surely it must be a part of the whole of our defensive system—I should like to make a plea on a totally different subject. It is very necessary to keep up the morale of our forces. Morale is a part of any battle. We should make psychological warfare a part of our future force on land, sea and air. It is, after all, a part of intelligence. It is a part of those attack weapons which may possibly have to be used in a cold war or, indeed, a hot war. I do not think that psychological warfare should be left entirely to the Foreign Office. We should be prepared with intellectual weapons, just as we are prepared for military action with our military weapons.
I do not often intervene in these debates. In fact, I think that it is only the second time that I have done so. I have no real interest in the subject, except that I follow the fortunes of the Air Force with a certain amount of affection, having had a brother in Fighter Command for many years before and during the war. The Air Force is still a great force and has a great future. It has a great future particularly because it has the task of deploying ballistic missiles and training in missile ballistics which I believe will be the main keeper of the peace in the next generation.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I hope the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) will forgive me if I do not follow him, except to say as inoffensively as I can that I think that his 704 picture of the effect of the nuclear weapons which might be used in a global war struck me as both naive and old-fashioned. The idea that Soviet rockets will go for urban concentrations rather than military objectives seems to me very illusory and shows that he has not very much understanding of the extent of the devastation which can be wrought even by some of the less highly developed of these weapons.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I think I have as much understanding of the situation as the hon. Member. I was merely trying to counter the argument, which has been put forward in this Committee and about which one reads in the Press, that it is no good our developing a deterrent on a ballistic missile site because such a site would be knocked out in the first stages of a war.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I disagree totally with the hon. Member, and I warmly support the point of view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
I intervene briefly to draw attention to Royal Air Force activities and installations in two areas which I have recently visited and, perhaps, to introduce a controversial note into a debate which, on the whole, has been non-controversial. I apologise for having to do so, the more particularly because I wish to say at the outset that my own relations and those of my constituents with the Air Force stations in their neighbourhood, and more particularly with the Transport Command station at Lyneham, have been excellent. We who hear and see a good deal of the work done at Lyneham in particular have the highest admiration and respect for the officers and men engaged in transport work from there and elsewhere.
I have recently been in Cyprus and the Middle East. I want to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to his installations and the activities of his Service based on Cyprus, covering the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, and based on Aden, covering the Arabian Peninsula. I followed my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton in everything he said about dispersal. I would say that this applies not only to rocket bases on the north-east coast of 705 England but to R.A.F. stations in places like Cyprus.
There are three possible uses to which the R.A.F. installations and facilities in Cyprus could be put, theoretically at least. They might be used in a global war involving hostilities with the Soviet Union, they might be used in independent British military action taken without the support of our N.A.T.O. Allies in the area, or they might be used in connection with colonial police action of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). Taking those three possibilities in turn, everything that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton said about the rocket stations seems to me to apply to Royal Air Force bases in Cyprus.
Not long ago, with my right hon. relative the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), I was discussing questions of disarmament with Mr. Khrushchev, who devoted part of his talk with us to describing the precautions he was taking to put out of action N.A.T.O. installations around his frontiers. No doubt part of his purpose was to impress upon us the military strength of the Soviet Union. He said, "Of course, I have only to press the appropriate button and off will go a series of rockets and deal with N.A.T.O. installations in Turkey, Greece, Italy, North Africa, the United Kingdom and elsewhere." However much one allows for propaganda motives in talk of that kind, it surely must be painfully true that in a global war Soviet bases, either, perhaps, in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas, or possibly in Bulgaria or other satellite countries, could quickly put the whole of the island of Cyprus out of action and that there could be no less appropriate place on which to base a bomber force or on which to site rocket installations than a small island with few other facilities in such close proximity to the Soviet Union.
Therefore, it seems to me fantastic to imagine that the airfields at, for example, Akrotiri or Nicosia would be of any value in a global war. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, may be able to tell us whether it is seriously thought that either rocket-launching sites or bomber bases in Cyprus could be valuable in those circumstances.
I turn now to the secondary functions for which the Secretary of State may con- 706 sider that the bases in Cyprus and in Aden could be used. There is the possibility of independent British military action of the kind that we saw at the time of the Suez campaign and there is the possibility of colonial police action. In that connection, I was very much depressed to hear the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick refer to the possibility that for the next forty or fifty years we might be engaged in the kind of operations that we have seen recently in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and elsewhere. I hope that that will not be the case.
Taking the first of those two secondary considerations—the possibility of independent British military action in the Middle East area on the lines of the Suez operation—I should have thought that everybody in this House, whatever his political opinion, and everybody in the Air Ministry, however senior, must by now have written off the possibility of that kind of operation ever being repeated. Therefore, it does not seem to me that discussion of the usefulness of the bases in Cyprus or in Aden in connection with that kind of action is relevant to modern conditions.
Not long ago we were told about agreements reached with the Greek and Turkish Governments and with the Greek and Turkish representatives from Cyprus by which we were to be given British sovereignty over areas of Cyprus which contain Royal Air Force installations. I cannot believe that any paper agreements which may be reached in due course on that basis can have any more validity than the arrangements we made with Colonel Nasser for the protection of British military installations in the Canal Zone.
It is fantastic to imagine that in adverse political conditions on the island of Cyprus, or if our relations with neighbouring countries—for example, Turkey—were to go wrong, the R.A.F. and other military installations on Cyprus would be any safer than those in the Suez Canal area, whatever paper agreements we might have made in regard to them. Indeed, the only circumstances in which R.A.F. installations in Cyprus could be used would be in the context of friendly co-operation with at least some of the neighbouring countries.
At present, we have excellent relations with Turkey, relations which, fortunately. have improved as a result of the recent 707 settlement of the Cyprus problem. In those conditions, we have available to us on the mainland of Turkey, and, for that matter, in Crete and in parts of Greece, facilities which in many ways are superior to those in Cyprus. If, however, relations with Turkey were to deteriorate to an extent to which those facilities would no longer be available to us, Cyprus itself would become totally indefensible also. Therefore, I beg the Under-Secretary when he replies to say something about the long-term considerations of the Government in connection with the R.A.F. installations in Cyprus. I beg him not to commit us to vast expenditure in building up facilities which I believe to be of very doubtful military value indeed.
Much of what I have said about Cyprus applies also to Aden and the surrounding area now used by the Air Force. My belief is that far from building up our military commitments in that area the real job, which we must tackle quickly, is to study how we can liquidate the remaining British military commitments in the whole of the Middle Eastern area, including the Persian Gulf, and, I would say. liquidate also our political commitments as they are at the present time.
I do not believe that we shall be able to secure much longer our oil supplies in Kuwait and our economic relations with the other small States in the Persian Gulf on the basis of present political and military arrangements. Frankly, I think we shall be very fortunate if we get away without a major flare-up in Kuwait for two or three more years. We must put our relations on an entirely new basis to defend our real interest, which, of course, principally centres round British oil supplies. In that context, I hope that in the Arabian Peninsula we shall not build expensive, independent British military installations which will turn out to be valueless in any set of circumstances that I can see this country having to face.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has said, and particularly with his theme on not building permanent installations all over the world, on which I have added my humble voice on many occasions in this Chamber.
708 I have always felt that the one thing that must be borne in mind in the Royal Air Force is mobility. Immediately we get away from that consideration, and think in terms of bases, we get into trouble. I have been interested to hear contributions from several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas).
I should like to add my word of regret and to say that we shall miss the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick in the House of Commons. We have been quite a team in debates and I shall be very sorry not to see this very gallant officer in his place.
The Secretary of State for Air has spoken well for the Royal Air Force, as he always does. He and the chiefs of staff, senior officers, and people in the aircraft industry, all speak as though we must have a Bomber Command and a Fighter Command, while all the time they know at the bottom of their hearts that both are completely out-of-date. Bomber Command is out-of-date, because the rocket is here. Indeed, twelve years ago it was here in London and could not be stopped; and we know very well that it could not be stopped today on its way from the Continent and the near-Continent. We know that the rocket with a nuclear head could reach Russia just as Russian rockets could reach us here. Therefore, Fighter Command, against these diabolical inventions, is really powerless.
Although I support arguments in favour of Bomber Command and Fighter Command for the very same reasons as does the Secretary of State—because I want to see a good Air Force—we all know that neither Bomber Command nor Fighter Command can fight in a conventional war today. They can fight only against a Power that has the same type of aircraft. It would be fantastic to put up supersonic fighters against a country in Africa, or in near-Asia. It would not be useful at all.
It is fantastic to talk of using these aircraft in so-called conventional wars, because within 24 hours nuclear weapons would be used. No country will use V-bombers or supersonic fighters armed with conventional weapons when nuclear weapons are being used. We come back 709 to the fact that the person who presses the button for the rocket is the one who matters now. We cannot get away from that decision. When the first rocket dropped on London in 1944, it was the end of Fighter Command as such. I dislike saying that, but it does not mean that the Air Force is finished and that there is no career for those who enter it.
My criticism is that the Government and the Minister are neglecting the much more conventional type of aircraft, which, incidentally, are much more difficult to fly than the supersonic aircraft. I mean the helicopters and transport aircraft. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) made great play of this, and he was quite right. We should have an Air Force capable of carrying large numbers of people quickly in modern aircraft, which, incidentally, are very nearly as fast as modern war aircraft. The performances of the Comet and the Britannia are first-class, although they could not be put against the modern fighter and bomber. We want these transport aircraft to move troops and to move the sick and wounded. If I had a criticism to offer tonight, it would be that we are neglecting that type of aircraft and that no small aircraft are being built in this country today.
The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary must realise this, because they are pilots themselves. It is alarming that the aircraft industry is producing these fighters and bombers in such numbers, because there are not the large profits in the civil—and much fewer civil—aircraft that can be made.
I ask the Secretary of State to give consideration also to the question of reservists. We know his feelings towards the Royal Air Force and that we are in good hands in having him at the Ministry, but, although he may have had his reasons, he has neglected the reservists and the type of pilots that we want in an emergency. All his thoughts seem to have been for the man who flies the jets, the man who must have a 4,000-yard runway, and he has been rather blind to the more normal type of operation.
It should be brought home to the personnel of the Royal Air Force who are confused about their future that there is a future for them in the more conventional and, incidentally, the more interesting type of flying. They are discussing 710 the question of when they are likely to have Comets and Britannias and other good transport aircraft. The Secretary of State knows that they talk about these things in the messes. They are very interested in flying a good transport aeroplane. They must be told that they have a future in the sphere of civil aviation when their service in the R.A.F. is over. That is the way to get recruits for the aircrews of the R.A.F.
Finally, I should like to make a suggestion which may sound odd. In making it, I am looking in particular at the Under-Secretary, who was previously at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. I have a feeling that if we had a Ministry of Aviation which contained the Royal Air Force and Civil Aviation, we would get somewhere. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is a part of the Ministry of Transport—an important part, but only a part. The Royal Air Force is a fighting Service. I acknowledge that straight away, but they are closely allied today and both could be much more efficient under one Ministry. There is no reason why the meterological and the flying control services should not be under one head. There is no reason why more aerodromes should not be used by both civil and Air Force pilots. As it is, today many aerodromes in this country are not being used at all because they have been given up by the R.A.F., which has no further use for them, and no one else is interested.
The Minister knows that I feel strongly about Hendon not being used. The same is true of other aerodromes in this country. I do not think it fantastic to suggest that there should be one Ministry responsible, because probably the most important function of the R.A.F. in war would be to bring into this country reinforcements from the Colonies and Dominions and also food; that is, of course, if there is a conventional war such as we can visualise. After all, we would not have an Air Force if we were planning on the lines of a nuclear war.
Therefore, I say that the Ministry should do two things. It should give greater consideration to the ordinary conventional type of aircraft and pilot. Those should be encouraged and the flying clubs should be encouraged. The esprit de corps we used to have should be encouraged. It can be obtained just 711 as easily by flying Tiger Moths as supersonic bombers. Secondly, there should be closer liaison between the R.A.F. and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to try to knit together the facilities of each.
Having had a long association with the R.A.F., and also being an airline operator, I am in a special position to see the terrible waste of facilities through the lack of liaison between the civil and the military sides. It would be easy to knit those two together, so that every civil pilot felt that he could land on an R.A.F. airfield and every R.A.F. pilot knew that he could use the control facilities existing for airline pilots. Today, however, there is confusion because that liaison does not exist. An Air Force pilot going out of Northolt to fly through Europe tomorrow cannot use all the civil air facilities unless he gets special permission to do so.
These things are worth consideration. Those two matters I have mentioned are very dear to my heart and, I am sure, to that of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Ward indicated assent.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The task that falls to me falls rather earlier than I had anticipated, and it may well be a demonstration of the good will that the Royal Air Force has in this Committee. I do not think we should underestimate this position. The Secretary of State for Air will appreciate that the R.A.F. has probably had a better year than he has had. As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, he started the year with "Prospect" and a row in the House over it because he did not use his blue pencil. He finished the year with the Malcolm Clubs, and this time the trouble was that he used his blue pencil in relation to broadcasts
The R.A.F. enjoys not only a measure of good will in the House of Commons but of confidence in the country. In the past five years it has lost about 100,000 men, it has been subject to tremendous upheaval and re-deployment, and to a revolution by the introduction of new missile weapons, with all the consequences this has had on established concepts and established careers and established commands. Yet such is its resilience that it has survived and come through and is still 712 a very efficient unit for the purpose that is accepted by this Committee.
It shows, too, the considerable fighting qualities—or should we say the in-fighting qualities—of the Air Council that it has brought the R.A.F. out of this gloom. The sands of uncertainty have settled, and as the din of inter-departmental battle dies we get a much more reassuring picture of the R.A.F. today than we had a year or two ago. It certainly has not entirely settled all the misgivings. We heard some today. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) is not entirely convinced that everything is right yet. There are some misgivings also about the narrowed rôle of the equipment and about the balance of man to missile in Fighter Command, and there is still acute controversy. This we should appreciate. There has been acute controversy, which has been given expression from this side of the Committee, on the question of how best we can deter. It should be made clear that there is no doubt as regards the R.A.F. policy for these islands. Our job is both to deter and to defend. Where we break company with the Government is that we want to deter and not to provoke; we want to defend and not to endanger. These two things, we think, lie in the decision in relation first to Thor and then to Blue Streak.
I do not think it is too late for the Government to think again about this matter, and it may well be desirable to think again. I feel that we would still be able to deter, and better able to defend, if we delayed any decision on hurrying along the road to push-button warfare. One of the things that has come out of this year of progress, as the Secretary of State for Air said, is that we are beginning to drag our feet now towards push-button warfare. That is a good thing. There have been second thoughts, there have been clarifications of our policy, and it may well be that the consequences not only of what was written and what was said, but the impression that was allowed to gain ground two years ago, have had a serious effect upon the R.A.F. I will come back to that point.
Anyway, there is no doubt that Fighter Command has a future; in fact, I begin to wonder if it has got anything else when I read paragraphs 17 to 20, which relate to it. I call them Somerset House paragraphs because there are so many 713 "wills" lying around. There is a "will" in almost every line.The Lightning, which has now flown at twice the speed of sound, will meet these requirements …".It is not here yet.It will carry Firestreak…A number of Javelin squadrons will be re-equipped. …These marks of Javelin will carry Firestreak.More Bloodhounds surface-to-air guided-weapon stations will become operational …".That depends on how many are operational at the moment. It is thus reassuring that if all these "wills" are implemented, there will be a future for Fighter Command.
I want to refer to costs, a subject which has not been mentioned today. In the coming year, the cost of the R.A.F. is to be £490 million and, allowing for amounts in the Civil and Revenue Estimates of other Departments, the actual figure is £498 million. The R.A.F. is the most expensive of the three Services and, in view of the changes being made and to take place, the costs merit some investigation.
It is said that there are three kinds of lies—lies, damned lies and statistics. it is said that in the coming year it is hoped to reduce manpower in the R.A.F. still further, to 172,400, a reduction of exactly 23,000 men. The increase in cost is £23 million. Thus, there is a decrease in manpower of 23,000 and an increase in cost of £23 million. I do not know whether we can afford this economy much longer, because in order to save 1,000 men we have to spend £1 million. I hope that we can have some reassurance on this.
Some congratulation is due to all concerned with three of the Votes we are discussing. Last year there was a considerable reduction in expenditure, and this year there is some increase, mainly of two Votes, which increased last year as well. No one will have any comment to make on the increase of pay, but there is an increase in Vote 10, for non-effective services, and in that for the Air Ministry, which some cynics might suggest should be included in Vote 10.
There has been some criticism—I do not know that it was entirely justified—of the top-heaviness of the "top brass" in the R.A.F. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) mentioned it 714 at the beginning of the debate, and there were echoes from the Isle of Wight and other places. I hope that the Secretary of State will take this matter seriously. A fair comment on political standards in this country is provided by a study of the Estimate for the Air Council. That shows that the person who is least well off is the man responsible for the whole lot, the Secretary of State.
I wonder how many people realise that the Air Council is under the direction of a man responsible to Parliament and the country for the efficiency and well-being of the whole Service and yet the least well paid of the Air Council. Whoever is to blame for the increase in the cost. of the Air Ministry, it is not the Secretary of State, and yet it is he who has to answer for it.
It is an interesting indication of the changes occurring in the Air Force that the tendency shown by Vote 7, to which I referred last year, has continued. It has increased to £213.8 million. Within that, there is a decrease of £6.25 million for what a few years ago would have been considered the most important and vital aspect of keeping the Air Force up to date, air frames and aero-engines.
However, there is an increase of £13 million, for armament, ammunition and explosives, which particularly relates to guided weapons, and the inevitably related matters of radar, radio and electrical equipment. Those items amount to £84 million, nearly 40 per cent. of the whole Estimate. That is an indication of the change in the Air Force, even though that change may have slowed down.
The Secretary of State was somewhat too optimistic in glossing over the position of Transport Command. He could have been more fair when referring to the chart at the back of the Memorandum if he had reminded us that it is related purely to passenger transport. It will be no good if, in 1960, we are able to move 150 million passengers, more or less doubling our capacity, if we are not able to supply those passengers, soldiers, with their equipment, vehicles and so on.
It may be as well to get this straight now. The Britannia takes equipment and troops at light scales of equipment in the same aircraft. At the moment, heavier equipment is stockpiled at various places. We do not need the 715 Britannia until 1963 simply because it will not be until then that the Army will have its new equipment, mainly electronic equipment for its surface-to-air missile, the missile itself, and so on. Those will then be coming into service for the Army and, as I said in my speech, it would be impracticable and very costly to stockpile that sort of equipment since it deteriorates rapidly and needs many people to look after it. That is the sort of equipment which we will carry in the Britannia.
§ Mr. Ross
That may be so, but when in February, 1957, the Minister of Defence told us about the new look for defence, the one thing he stressed was the requirement of a strategic reserve of air transport. We have not got it. Let us look what happened. This is not just a matter of ability to do it, but ability to do it quickly, in relation to the number of men to be shifted and what they need to have with them. How long did it take to transport to Cyprus two parachute brigades? Let us remember that they were carrying very little equipment, because the equipment was already stockpiled over there. It took eight days.
That eight days included getting the troops together, having the inoculations done, and all the things the Army had to do. It had nothing to do with the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Ross
I am glad to feel that the Air Force could have got the men there more quickly, but I feel myself that in many of these emergencies we shall not always have all that time. This lack will still continue until we get these new freighters, both strategic and tactical, which we have been promised in this Memorandum. I think that that is one of the most serious features of the Memorandum.
The other point is on the question of recruitment. I think we should congratulate the Secretary of State, because he has done pretty well in recruiting, but it is not just a question of getting men but of getting the right men. When we get an advertisement, as we do in the Press, with a heading of this sort—" The World in Their Stride with the R.A.F."—and, on the left-hand side, as a more or less special effort, "Only Manned Aircraft can do the 716 Job", we next find a quotation from this year's White Paper with these significant words:This clarification of defence policy follows recent orders of new aircraft.If it was necessary to clarify defence policy, and it was two years after it was declared, the responsibility for this lack of aircrew recruitment rests entirely with the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State himself. He must bear the burden of this, because if this impression was wrong, his publicity department and that of the Ministry of Defence—and we are spending a fair amount of money on the Central Office of Information, about a quarter of a million pounds, on publicity—should have caught up with this a long time ago. It is not going to be easy, and this is the disturbing feature of an otherwise satisfactory recruitment picture—the failure to attract entrants to direct-commission aircrew.
We are told in the Memorandum that redundancy is now completed and that the future of manned aircraft is assured. I should like to know what more is to be done, because I do not think this will be enough to attract the men. We have had the benefit of the Grigg Report, which makes it clear, and I agree, that it will not entirely be a matter of pay increases which will solve this difficulty. We have already had them, and we still get the continued shortage.
I would have preferred that today the Secretary of State had spoken more about the career structure and told us whether or not, after his reflections on the recommendations of the Grigg Report, he had decided to make any changes. He will recollect that he was worried less about resettlement and what happened after a man had been "demobbed", and that he thought there would be many changes of the career structure within the Service itself. I do not think we have had enough consideration of this question of accommodation, and that we might be told something about it by the Under-Secretary.
I should have liked to have heard a little more about what have been the effects on recruitment of the changes that are to be made in the educational allowances. This is one of the things we are glad to see. Not only have the educational allowances gone up, but there 717 appears to have been a greater participation by men as well as by officers in these available allowances. In the case of officers, they have gone up from £179,000, to £500,000, and there were, of course, very considerable increases. They went up to as much as £150 for the first child and £175 for the second. In the case of airmen and airwomen, allowances for the education of their children went up from £31,000 to £90,000, which is a threefold increase. I think that the figure last year was £12,000, so that it is a very considerable increase, but I drew attention last year to the gap which there is there. When we consider the vast number of airmen, as compared with the number of officers, it is surprising that there should be this tremendous gap in the acceptance of these allowances for the education of children by airmen in comparison with officers.
One other thing struck me in the Grigg Report. It was the statement that no child should get a worse education because its father was in the Services. When I read these figures, and when I appreciate that children boarded out and accommodated in a boarding school have £150 a year, and other children placed in the care of guardians and attending day schools full-time receive £50 a year, and when we appreciate, as obviously is the case, that it is the airmen who are taking advantage of the second type of allowance, it offends all my Scottish educational principles and my egalitarian prejudices.
We are told that no child should get a worse education because his father is in the Services, but, as a Scotsman, I say that no child should get a better education because his father is in a higher rank than the father of any other child. This is the perpetuation of a distinction in education which is offensive to democratic feeling in this country.
The Grigg Report suggested some way out other than allowances and suggested the examination of the possibility of providing accommodation for children in hostels near towns related to particular schools; that is, of course, local authority schools I should be glad if we could have the benefit of being told by the Under-Secretary of any changes or additions which have been decided upon in regard to this problem of education.
718 One problem which will affect all the Services is the growing importance of electronics and the mechanical aspect. I am glad that there has been formal recognition of the importance of this branch, as well as of the branch to which it is allied, namely, the signals branch, which is promoted to the new Signals Command. That is a welcome step. I do not approve of the place in which the Minister has put it in his Memorandum, but I must be careful about this. I know that he is sensitive of any criticisms of his literary brain child, but I thought that it merited an earlier mention—certainly earlier than Oman. Can the Minister tell us what is involved in this upgrading of the signals branch to Signals Command? Will it have any effect on the signals branch personnel employed by other commands? Is it really an upgrading, or is it just a change of name and nothing else? Has it been given this name merely to improve its status?
Time after time we have heard that the early warning system is something upon which our ability to deter and defend will depend, but no information is given about this in the Memorandum. I do not know the reason for that, but this question is so important that it should never be neglected. It is all very well to talk of being able to scramble Bomber or Fighter Command in six minutes, but how many minutes shall we have? The number of minutes will depend upon the early warning system. Can we be given any information about this?
I hope that the Minister will not think that our thirst for knowledge is prompted by idle or malicious interest, any more than we think that his withholding of information is due to perverse stubbornness. We are anxious to know about this matter, but we are quite prepared, if necessary, to accept that he cannot give an answer.
It is clear that the new pattern we are building up for the Royal Air Force will not make it a cheap Service, even though we shall continue with the run-down to the 135,000 figure. I wish the Secretary of State had told us exactly what will be the financial outlook for this Service—or is he not worried about it? Over the past weekend we had our memories jogged by the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, which reminded us of past experiences in relation to the costs 719 of engines and airframes. We are told what happened about the Comet IV and the Avon R.A.29 engine, and we are not too happy to read in the present Memorandum that one of the promised aeroplanes—the Lightning—is to be equipped with a completely new weapon system, even before it has been produced with the original weapon system.
Does this mean that a major adaptation will have to be made? If so, what will it mean in terms of delay and additional cost? We must think seriously about the question of cost, and I hope that the Minister will take every care to ensure that the cost of developing this aircraft is kept down.
We have a tremendous amount before us. In paragraph 18 of the Memorandum we are promiseda guided-weapon system of even greater performance.That is an air-to-air missile. Paragraph 20 tells us that:It has been decided to develop a more advanced weapon system for later use by the R.A.F.That is a surface-to-air missile. We have the Blue Streak. It has not yet been delivered, so it is not in the Estimates. There is not a penny in the Estimates in respect of the Lightning or the Firestreak, or in respect of the other two items that I have mentioned. We have the new order for the T.S.R.2, but there is not a penny in the Estimates in respect of that. We have the Argosy, and there is not a penny for that, and we have the Britannic, as well as all the other developments which may be contemplated.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman must recognise that in some of the cases he has quoted progress payments are made. They are not shown individually. That may not be so in the case of the Argosy, but regarding the Lightning I imagine that progress payments have been made.
§ Mr. Ross
Progress payments are made by the Ministry of Supply, but not by the Air Ministry, and that is what I am talking about. These amounts will appear one day in the Air Ministry's Estimates, and I should like to know the size of the bill with which we shall be presented in the future, because that will have a vital effect on the provision of equipment and 720 our ability to modernise the Force. That is relevant to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) regarding the T.S.R. 2.
There is no doubt that we must take into consideration not only the need for all the things we should like but also the necessity for exercising prudence and reducing the demands on the taxpayer so far as possible. I should like to know whether in future Estimates the outlook will be better than at present. I was not entirely joking when I drew attention to the fact that we have made a reduction of 23,000 men and increased expenditure by £23 million. That is a serious matter, and I wish to know whether attention has been given to the financial future of the Service.
I am trying to follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman, but it is rather confusing when at one moment he complains that we have no new weapons and the next that we are going to have them because of the expense which will be incurred.
§ Mr. Ross
I am not complaining. I am drawing attention to the fact that it will inhibit our ability to do other things we may wish to do. If these commitments are entered upon too hastily, we shall be prevented from carrying out other desirable developments later on.
I referred earlier to the difficulty regarding the development of Blue Streak. I think I made clear that I should be glad if we had not got it and if we still had the money which was expended uselessly on what has been euphemistically called training in relation to Thor. I am pointing out that this Memorandum contains a considerable amount of financial dynamite, and that we must watch our step regarding the things we demand. The tone of speeches made by some hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to indicate a desire for more various Commands.
Regarding recruitment, it will not be easy to get the men, but having secured them, how do we propose to employ them? There is to be a considerable economy in the use of manpower, and I should like more information on that subject than is contained in the Memorandum. There has been some reorganisation in one command, I think it is Bomber Command, and I should like to know how that has worked out. Was 721 any resistance shown to this reorganisation? Will it be extended to other commands? Since we cannot always get the right tradesmen, what has been done within the Royal Air Force to train the type of tradesmen which the Service requires? That is important.
When answering that point, could the Under-Secretary of State tell us what is being done about the Air Training Corps, which is often neglected but is very important for recruiting? We have a flourishing branch of the A.T.C. in Kilmarnock. Where could we find a better field for recruiting than that? The right hon. Gentleman will not find doctors or dentists there; they are one of the vital scarcities of the Royal Air Force. Could he tell me something about that?
There is a lot more I could have said, especially about publicity. Royal Air Force publicity is not nearly good enough. The public is entitled to know more of what the R.A.F. is doing, particularly when we read that there were 12,000 sorties in Oman and the Aden Protectorate. I do not entirely agree politically with many people about these matters. I was in Oman just over a year ago. It is a wonderful retreat from this world. There you still find a place where people salute the British flag and streets which are not paved with Coca-Cola tops, which is rather strange for the Middle East.
You also find a very charming people whose friendship with this country has lasted for a long time. We have only to look at the walls surrounding picturesque Muscat to see the signatures of ships that have come in from the Fleet and of certain of the other arms of the Services. We should therefore like to know what has been happening in Oman and the nature of the operational sorties there.
It is easy to under-estimate the importance of this work. This is one of the trouble spots of the world. I say in all sincerity that the job that the R.A.F. is doing is to help to stabilise the country and give us time to reach more mature political settlements in that part of the world. No one should under-estimate our demonstration of our willingness to respect our treaty obligations as a stabilising factor.
722 I would remind the Committee of the men who are sweltering out there. I disagree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who wound up the debate on the Army Estimates the other day. He said that the worst weather in the world is in Malaya. I spent a long time in Malaya when I was in the Army during the war, and I know that the weather in Shaiba and the weather in the Arabian Peninsula is far worse than anything in Malaya. Can the publicity department tell us how those fellows are faring and let the world know what they are doing? We would certainly appreciate it.
I am tempted to say something about what is now called "astronautics", a science which has become respectable. Has it become possible for Britain? There is tremendous pressure upon us to launch out into the politics of space, but I should like to think we might possibly do it. There was a time, in February, 1957, when I thought we were going there. I felt that the Minister of Defence had deliberately destroyed the Army unit to which I belonged during the war, the Highland Light Infantry, in order to amalgamate it with the R.S.F. and give it a new title. I thought he wanted the initials "R.S.F." to establish the Royal Space Force, and that was why he wanted to get rid of the Royal Scottish Fusiliers. If we must journey into space, let us not impoverish the earth to do so. Let us play our part in research so far as we can, but I think we should keep it in proper perspective, the perspective of our responsibilities and limitations. If there is to be a journey into space, let it be not a British excursion but an international excursion.
On the whole, I think there is more reassurance in relation to the Service this year than there was last year, and we look forward to another year of progress for the Royal Air Force.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Airey Neave)
The great value of this debate tonight has not only been the general good will shown towards the Royal Air Force, but the number of very different aspects which have been raised about its rôle in a most constructive fashion by all hon. Members who have 723 taken part. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) on what he said and the important questions he raised. There are a number I shall try to answer tonight and a number upon which it is difficult at this juncture to give a considered view, but I may be able to do so later.
May I thank hon. Members who have referred to my new rôle at the Air Ministry and also those who have congratulated my right hon. Friend on the steady progress the Royal Air Force has made at the time of this, his seventh Air Estimates. Hon. Members have always shown their good will to the Royal Air Force. They have been glad, I think, to hear my right hon. Friend describe the past year as one of considerable progress and to hear the way in which he has also mentioned the improvements in its efficiency and readiness.
In the defence debate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply described the Royal Air Force asa deterrent force, but not exclusively; it has",he said,a conventional rôle, too."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 1321.]That is a good short description of the part it plays in our modern problems. This question of the deterrent was fully aired during the defence debate, as hon. Members will remember, on 26th February, but I wish to repeat two things which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said on that occasion. He made the point that the British contribution, as he called it, was greatly welcomed by the United States and by those in the best position to judge its value. He also made it clear that in his view the possession by this country of an element of nuclear power might, in certain circumstances, be a decisive factor in preventing war by miscalculation. I wish to remind the Committee of that.
§ Mr. Beswick
As the hon. Gentleman is about to leave that point, perhaps he will be good enough to make good the omission of the Minister of Defence, who failed to tell us the circumstances in which this country would be called upon to use the deterrent independently of the United States?
§ Mr. Neave
If he reads the speech and the interventions that were made, I think that the hon. Member will find that that point was most thoroughly dealt with. I have today to deal with Royal Air Force problems, but I have mentioned that matter because, clearly, the Royal Air Force has a dual rôle and we have to consider all aspects of it in the debate on these Estimates.
The tasks which are mentioned in the Memorandum must be carried out all over the world. As my right hon. Friend has told us, they are likely to continue and it is his view that aircraft will be the best means of fulfilling the vast majority of them. I shall, therefore, concentrate now, in this part of what I have to say, on the officers and men who will form the Royal Air Force of tomorrow, their recruitment and conditions of service. It is essential, first, to emphasise once more our great need for aircrew.
I was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), and by hon. Members on the opposite side, to say something about the recruiting problem. We are all right for our immediate needs. that is to say, for the next two or three years, but we need a great improvement in the recruiting rate of the general duties branch. It is very important that young men and their parents should realise that there is a great career ahead for those who wish to fly.
We have said that in our Memorandum, but I hope that the Committee, which has considered the question tonight and which has always been conscious of the vital position of the Royal Air Force to the defence of this country, will agree that this message should be more widely known. I am most grateful to hon. Members on both sides who raised the point.
For the young man who is fit to fly there are tremendous opportunities and a life of adventure. I was asked to say, in view of this, what the position is in regard to new aircraft which are coming forward and which are to be ordered. I will deal with them in detail when I come to them. New types of aircraft are to be ordered. Some are already on order, but not yet in service. To fly them we shall need officers and men of the same qualities as those who have sustained the Royal Air Force in the past forty-one 725 years, and we shall need them as far ahead as we can see. While aircrew is our principal anxiety—
§ Mr. Mason
The Under-Secretary of State has used the phrase, "we shall need them as far ahead as we can see." Hon. Members, particularly on the other side of the Committee, have referred to this. Precisely what does that phrase mean? Has the Air Ministry in mind the development of more aircraft, perhaps another generation of manned fighters or manned bombers after the present ones have had their useful life?
§ Mr. Neave
The hon. Member should examine the map at the end of our Memorandum and see the different parts which the Royal Air Force must play now, and clearly must play in the future, in a limited war. My remark means that, in the foreseeable future, there will be a need for aircraft, and, therefore, there will be a need for officers and men to fly them. The deterrent and the different rôles of the Royal Air Force is a complex problem. It is difficult for one to be precise on exactly what will happen in the distant future. The fact remains that it is our view that many tasks will have to be performed by manned aircraft.
I will now leave aircrew, because the hon. Member for Kilmarnock raised some interesting points on recruiting not relating to aircrew.
§ Mr. Beswick
Before the Under-Secretary of State leaves aircrew, as he has a very special and recent knowledge of the requirements of the civil aircraft industry, will he tell us whether, in view of the new lease of life in the R.A.F. for manned aircraft, the civil aircraft industry still hopes to look to the R.A.F. as a means of recruiting civil airline pilots, or has that hope of liaison between the civil aircraft industry and the military been given up?
§ Mr. Neave
While aircrew is our principal anxiety we are also concerned about tradesmen in the technical fields, particularly in servicing and operating electronic equipment, and about the Women's Royal Air Force.
I should like to refer to certain other recruiting aspects. First, officers normally enter ground branches on short service commissions. In 1958, the entry for the equipment, secretarial and medical branches was generally sufficient for our immediate needs, but we fell short of our requirements, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock mentioned, in the technical, educational and dental branches.
We have, therefore, had to take certain measures. A new short-service commission entry has been introduced for the technical branch. This will take in men who have the educational qualifications we need, but who are not qualified technically. They will come in for periods of from five to eight years, and we shall give them technical training. Naturally, men who already have technical qualifications will still be eligible, and both categories will have the chance of permanent commissions later on.
The Committee will recall, from Questions that have been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson), that there is a special problem in providing a satisfactory career in the education branch. We have that very much in mind at the moment, and we shall be communicating with my hon. Friend about it.
I was asked about figures for education allowances, which are referred to in the Estimates. The figures for this item in the Estimates represent the extent to which the officers and airmen are expected to take advantage of the new rates. Officers and airmen receive exactly the same allowances, under exactly the same conditions, and the rates now introduced, including those for privately-boarded children, are those recommended by the Grigg Committee.
Mention has also ben made of the need for a new dental cadet scheme, which we are introducing. There have been serious deficiencies, which we foresaw, in our requirements for dental officers at the end of National Service. 727 Our intention is that suitable applicants coming either from civil life or from within the Service should receive university training for a dental degree at the expense of the R.A.F. The first cadets will begin their training in October of this year.
Several hon. Members have referred to the technical branch, and perhaps I should mention another method by which young men can enter it. Cadets of ages between 17 and 19½ are trained for permanent commissions at the R.A.F. Technical College, at Henlow. In view of increasing needs on the technical side, we attach particular importance to this method of entry. The numbers and quality of the cadets entering Henlow in the past year have been satisfactory. Moreover, the academic standard of the cadets at the College has been good enough to allow us to arrange this year for more than the usual number to take a university course. I think that we may claim good progress there.
Mr. right hon. Friend has already mentioned the improvements that have been made in the recruiting of Regular airmen in general. He pointed out that about 9,000 men, or 41.2 per cent. of all Regular recruits, entered as apprentices or boys, or on other long-term engagements of nine years or more. I believe that hon. Members will receive that information with satisfaction.
I have referred to our anxiety over recruiting for the Women's Royal Air Force. We recognise the important contribution that women can make towards the R.A.F. My right hon. Friend has spoken about the local service scheme, but perhaps I may be allowed to refer to one or two other matters in this connection.
We are improving not only the pay and accommodation for women, but especially their uniforms. A few years ago we had a new uniform, designed by a well-known designer, which we think is suitable, and which is meeting with general approval. We are making other changes in women's uniform, including a new hat, on which tests are finished, and a summer blouse which, I think, will be acceptable. All these improvements should produce a new uniform that will be both smart and feminine—
§ Mr. de Freitas
The key to the problem is that the hon. Gentleman has said that a few years ago we had a distinguished designer design the uniform. Is not the important point that very small stocks of women's uniforms should be kept? It should not be a matter of saying that a few years ago the designer designed the unfiorm. The designs must be roughly in keeping with modern fashion tends among women.
§ Mr. Neave
There is the matter of cost, of course. However, I will note what the hon. Gentleman says.
My right hon. Friend has, of course, announced the local service scheme for women. Notices are now going out about that. We hope that it will attract a number of women, who, for one reason or another, are not able to leave home and yet still want to join the Service. We hope to recruit these local service airwomen to those trades where we may expect it to be difficult to obtain enough civilians or recruits for normal engagements. There will be certain jobs which they will be able to do, which, we hope, they will find interesting.
I have spoken at some length about recruiting, because of its importance to our plans for an all-Regular Air Force. I want now to turn for a moment or two to general conditions of service. As a newcomer to these debates, I must pay my tribute to the work of the Grigg Committee. The Committee has, through its Report, directed our attention to many features of Service life which are necessary to the welfare of the men and women who make up the Royal Air Force. We agree with most of its recommendations, and many are already being carried out. Some require further study.
Paragraph 135 of the Grigg Report says that the results of the Benson experiment, referred to by the hon. Member for Lincoln in particular, which was designed to reduce Service restrictions to a minimum, have been quietly dropped at some stations. My right hon. Friend answered a Question about this from the hon. Member for Lincoln on 28th January. We have no intention of dropping any of 729 the changes introduced by the experiment, but mast of those which have been made we have left to the discretion of commanders.
As my right hon. Friend said, we expect some adjustments to have been made locally. My right hon. Friend, as I think he told the hon. Gentleman at the vine, asked the Inspector-General for a further review of the position and, as a result of his report, we are considering whether we can make even further relaxations. But I emphasise that all this is part of a continuing process of trying to improve airmen's conditions and what my predecessor called the streamlining of station organisation.
Han. Members will recall that the Grigg Committee advised that adequate promotion was essential to the recruitment of other ranks. In the Committee's view, it was important, also, that there should be opportunities for commissions. Such opportunities are already given in the Royal Air Force, and there has been no lack of them in recent years. Men who originally joined as apprentices or boy entrants have proved themselves particularly well suited for commissioned rank. A good example of this is found in the technical branch. Almost 60 per cent. of all officers holding permanent commissions in that branch were originally apprentices or boy entrants. More than 30 ex-apprentices or boys now hold air rank and one of them is an air chief marshal today.
The last National Service man is due to leave us at the end of 1962. This means that the Service will need to be still more compact than it is now. We cannot, therefore, relax the efforts we are making to reduce our need for uniformed manpower to the level of an all-Regular force. We hope to achieve this result in a number of ways which are mentioned in our Memorandum. My right hon. Friend has referred to some of them. We are continuing to use work study as widely as we can. As hon. Members know, the object of that is the more efficient use of manpower especially in trades in which the recruiting of Regulars is likely to be difficult. There are other ways in which we hope to achieve this degree of economy which are mentioned in paragraphs 53 and 54 of the Memorandum.
We are putting out more work to civil contract. A certain amount of servicing 730 is already done in this way, and we are looking into the possibility of letting civilian firms undertake more of the servicing of aircraft and mechanical transport at non-operational units. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) asked me about civilian catering. My right hon. Friend said last year that we were experimenting with civilian catering. It is yet too early to tell whether we shall be justified in adopting any of the different ways now being studied. I think that the hon. Gentleman referred, also, to the cash system of messing which we have at home. We found it possible to extend that this year to stations overseas. This will give the unit catering officers a greater choice in selecting food supplies and planning catering.
My right hon. Friend mentioned our domestic building programme for the year, and I will add only that we expect to start work this year on 35 barrack blocks at stations at home. There will be improvements to kitchens and messes at eight stations; new messes and officers' single quarters at six stations; N.A.A.F.I. shops at five stations; improvements to airmen's clubs at four stations; and, in addition, a number of smaller projects.
My theme has so far been the improvements which we have been planning or carrying out in the general conditions of the Service. Since I previously mentioned the education system, perhaps I should say something further about the better facilities for study under our education system. We give every encouragement to Royal Air Force officers and airmen to continue and widen their education. Since 1953, when the scheme was started, some 37,000 officers, airmen and women have taken the examination for the General Certificate of Education of the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate. About 70 per cent. of these gained certificates, when the Committee will agree is a very satisfactory result.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock mentioned the Air Training Corps. I know that he and other hon. Members are interested in the Air Training Corps and also in the Royal Air Force Sections of the Combined Cadet Force. With the special need to recruit more aircrew and our increasing dependence on regular entrants, they have become more important. I am glad to say that the 731 number of cadets and standards of proficiency remain steady. In the year, we have opened five new weekend gliding schools and one additional full time gliding centre. One more weekend school should be opened shortly. We have also replaced the Anson aircraft which were used for cadet air experience flights with Chipmunks in order to improve the value of these flights. Furthermore, the flying scholarship scheme enabled, by the end of 1958, 2,310 air cadets between 17 and 19 years of age to learn to fly light aircraft solo.
Hon. Members will agree that these figures show that progress of which the Royal Air Force can be justifiably proud has been made. I have so far dealt with matters in which it is, I think, in every way to be congratulated, as hon. Members have already said. Criticisms have been made and perhaps in the remainder of what I have to say I may try to cope with some of the points that have been raised. I said that I perhaps could not deal with all of them and that in matters of great complexity and technicality it was difficult at this moment to give a considered view. I will, however, do my best.
First, the hon. Member for Lincoln and other hon. Members, on staff questions, suggested that the structure of the R.A.F. was top-heavy in the sense that there were too many officers of air rank. The fact that the number of officers of air rank remains the same as last year has been the subject of criticism, although the Service as a whole is now smaller. I should like to examine that criticism. The ratio of air rank officers to the rest of the Air Force on various dates was given to the hon. Member for Lincoln by my right hon. Friend in a Parliamentary Answer on 24th February.
There are, however, several points to bear in mind in considering these figures. I am sure that the hon. Member will look at them fairly. There are 240 air officers mentioned in the Estimates. It has previously been explained that these air rank posts cover not only those in the Air Ministry, in R.A.F. formations and for air attachés and missions, but also include a number of posts in the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Supply and, which is important, the international commands under N.A.T.O., which do not fall as a final charge against Air Vote. 732 In addition, the Commonwealth countries often ask us for officers to fill some of their senior posts, and are quite happy to meet the full cost.
To quote only two examples, over the past year we have seconded an officer as commander-in-chief of the Malayan Air Force and provided a commandant of the new staff college for the Pakistan Air Force. The number of posts of this type—that is to say, those which do not fall against these Votes—has risen from 29 to 34, but that is not the whole story. There is another category of air rank officer.
The recommendations of the Waverley Committee on the medical and dental services of the Armed Forces has led to an increase in the numbers of medical and dental officers who can now reach air rank as part of a planned career. The figure for medical and dental officers was 17 two years ago and is expected to rise to 23 next year. These additional posts tend to offset the reductions that we have been able to make in our establishments. The figures for posts chargeable against Air Votes, but excluding the doctors and dentists, have fallen over the past two years from 189 to 169—that is to say, posts chargeable against the Vote which we are discussing—in spite of the fact that air defence is becoming ever more technical and complicated. I have answered this question in some detail because the matter was raised by a number of hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) raised the question of units like the Central Fighter Establishment and the R.A.F. Flying College, which, he suggested, carried on their task at disproportionate expense. I assure my hon. Friend, since we are considering the question of staff economies, that we are constantly searching for ways of cutting non-operational units so as to concentrate our resources on improving the front line. For example, in Transport Command we have decided to dispense with the operational conversion unit for the Britannias, with considerable consequential savings. I could, and will, give my hon. Friend other examples of savings that we have been making and are trying to make.
A proposal which interested me very much in the opening speech by the hon. Member for Lincoln was whether the 733 Royal Air Force had any equivalent to the Royal Military College of Science, at Shrivenham. As I understand, the main function of the Royal Military College of Science is to provide training in science and engineering to degree standard for Army officers capable of reaching this standard, including officers selected from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
It can be said that for this function, although perhaps not for all functions, we have at least the equivalent, or are trying to get it, in the R.A.F. Technical College, at Henlow. I will, however, take note of what the hon. Member said. The problem interests me greatly and we will examine it. Through the technical education services, we are doing our best to achieve the results that the hon. Member desires.
In our discussion about the deterrent, we heard a good deal about the Blue Streak. I do not have time tonight to go into the technical problems—
§ Mr. Neave
If hon. Members wish, I will deal with it, but not, I hope, at too great length.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence explained the position quite fully in the Defence debate. He confirmed that we had chosen Blue Streak, a liquid-fuel land-based rocket sited underground. In making this choice we have considered a wide variety of operational factors—thrust, range, vulnerability, size of warhead, spare carrying capacity for various future developments and, finally, date of delivery. Blue Streak is going ahead.
There is one important aspect which I wanted to mention and I am glad to be able to say something about it in connection with the remark made by the hon. Member for Lincoln that we should invest more in space science. The hon. Member criticised us for adopting a liquid-fuel rocket. The Americans' main effort is going into the liquid-fuel missiles Titan and Atlas. The liquid-fuel rocket has greater thrust than the solid-fuel missile and, consequently, greater range.
We chose Blue Streak in preference to a solid fuel rocket on military grounds. The fact remains that Blue Streak's liquid 734 fuel motor has the thrust needed to escape the earth's gravitational pull whereas no existing solid fuel motor has power for space flight We cannot adopt more than one type, and for the above reasons we are adopting Blue Streak. I cannot add to that at the moment, but I have referred to the possibility that this rocket can escape the earth's gravitational pull.
My right hon. Friend has already described the progress made with Thor in this country. Last December he told the House, in reply to a Question, that missiles were being delivered to the R.A.F. for training purposes. The proving of the missile is proceeding according to plan. It has been suggested that we are changing our mind about Thor. The hon. Member for Lincoln made references to statements in the summer of last year that the weapon would contribute to the Western deterrent and he drew a contrast with the more recent statements that the weapons were being deployed for training purposes. There is no contradiction between the two statements. Initially, they are inevitably deployed for training purposes, pending satisfactory completion of tests in the United States, confirming specification and performance of the operational weapon.
§ Mr. de Freitas
This matter becomes more confused every day. We were just congratulating the Government on their wisdom in deciding that Thor was quite unfit as an operational missile and that it was being used for training purposes. Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that it is being used for training purposes but that soon, or eventually, it will become operational in this country?
§ Mr. Neave
In that case, I apologise. I may have misunderstood the hon. Member, but I thought that he was saying there was some inconsistency here and I was endeavouring to give an explanation 735 of the position in regard to Thor. I think that I have now dealt with that point.
The T.S.R.2 has been the subject of a good deal that has been said by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) in the Defence debate and also today. Judging from the defence debate, there still seems to be some confusion about the rôle of the, T.S.R.2. The hon. Member then insisted that it was a V-bomber replacement. I should like to give the facts. It is not a strategic weapon. It is in no way related to the supersonic bomber whose cancellation was announced in the 1957 White Paper.
The T.S.R.2 will certainly be supersonic, but it is to be a tactical strike and reconnaisance aircraft whose task will be to support the Army in the field. It is a Canberra replacement. The hon. Member also mentioned the N.A.39. The possibility of using it in this 'Ole was considered. to see whether we could avoid the expense of a new aircraft. By the time the Canberra has to be replaced we could have had either the N.A.39 or a new aircraft.
The hon. Member asked why we could not have used the N.A.39 for this purpose. It is a subsonic aircraft. The N.A.39 would have required substantial redesigning. We would not have got it any earlier. Moreover, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, high supersonic speed is an essential part of our requirements. For these and other reasons we concluded that a completely new aircraft, the T.S.R.2. was the right answer to our problems.
An important point was made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply in his speech in the defence debate, when he said that in the T.S.R.2 we shall have an aircraft designed to cope with limited war, in that it would be able to use limited runways. My right hon. Friend referred to that today and has given the basic features of the aircraft. That is all I have to say about the T.S.R.2.
There are one or two other matters which I will mention before I sit down. There have been a large number of reports in the Press from time to time about missile warning stations and about anti-missile developments generally. I can only repeat what my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Defence and Supply have already told the House, namely, that we are collaborating closely 736 with the Americans on this difficult problem.
Another matter which arouses the interest of the hon. Member for Uxbridge is the question of unified air traffic control. We are investigating this problem closely. In this country the geographical position, and, of course, the responsibilities laid on Ministers, require a different approach from that in the United States, where there is a Federal Aviation Agency. This does not mean that we are any the less aware of the importance of co-ordinating civil and military requirements, and in view of the previous position I held, I am well aware of that.
The method we have chosen in this country, which I am sure is the right one to meet our requirements, is that all aviation interests, both civil and military, work together within a jointly agreed policy and using jointly agreed procedures. I explained the complexity of the control system in an answer to the hon. Gentleman on 12th November last. We are making progress with this matter and we are working closely with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Barnsley—since we are on technical problems of control—about the forward scatter radio stations. Towards the end of last year this matter was raised in the House and the question of possible hazard was mentioned from the use of a new type of radio transmitter of the forward scatter type. The hon. Gentleman mentioned this again today. I am, therefore, glad to take the opportunity to repeat the assurance given by my predecessor last November, and to say that the stations will be so designed and located that no radiation hazards will arise to the general public. I want to make it clear, as he did then, that any radiation from these transmitters at the relevant wave length has a thermal effect only. There is no nuclear radiation whatsoever and we shall go through the normal procedure of consultation with the local authorities in regarding to the siting.
Turning to another aspect, hon. Members have mentioned Coastal Command and I will say something about its position today. The short answer about its future is that there has always been 737 speculation about the future of Coastal Command, but in only two years of the last twenty has the subject of the control of the Command not been raised in this House, and the officers and airmen at Coastal Command, naturally, do not enjoy that situation. I have nothing further to say today on that point except that we wish it well in all the tasks it does.
Coastal Command has had a number of its squadrons re-equipped with Shackleton 3s the latest Mark. The other squadrons will have their Shackletons modernised to an equivalent standard. The Shackleton is a powerful submarine weapon. It can carry all known or foreseen anti-submarine equipment and perform all the tasks demanded for successful operations with other N.A.T.O. forces in the sea areas around the United Kingdom and in the Atlantic. It is true that Coastal Command is smaller than it was, but so are many other commands of the Royal Air Force. Its equipment is none the less excellent and its efficiency high.
I will conclude with a reference to Transport Command, which has been the subject of much of the debate. The hon. Member for Lincoln complained that the Government had not made a clear statement about the Beverley replacement. The position as I understand it is that, as he knows, we have decided to introduce the A.W.660 into Transport Command. For several years yet there will be no question of replacing the Beverley, which we expect to continue in front line service, although possibly in reduced numbers. It is impossible at the moment to say exactly for how long. It is still too early to say where the Beverleys will fit until we know what the precise composition of the transport force will be. The hon. Member suggested that by delaying the order for the A.W.660 we had caused shortages in Transport Command. That cannot be right, as he will agree if he studies the graph at the end of the Memorandum, which shows the increase in the air lift which has been proceeding all this time.
In our view, the Britannic 3, the strategic freighter which has now been chosen for the Royal Air Force, has the range, capacity and runway performance we need. It also has civil possibilities. 738 Hon. Members will remember the statement made in the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence about it. I know that there is much argument over the respective merits of turbo-props and pure jet aircraft, but there is no doubt that the capital cost of the Britannic 3 will be lower than that of a jet aircraft of corresponding capacity, and it will prove economical to operate. Both of those points must appeal powerfully to civil operators. Moreover, in our opinion the Britannic should fit in well with the Britannias, which we shall be using for passengers and small items of freight.
I remind the Committee of the great work continued to be carried out by the Comet squadron throughout the year under review. A year ago, my right hon. Friend told the Committee that that squadron had completed 10,000 flying hours. We are now on the way to the second 10,000 hours. However, the R.A.F. does use civil aircraft extensively under charter for carrying both men and freight. Indeed, the bulk of our trooping is done by the independent civil operators. We recognise the value of that work. Last year civil operators carried 120,000 passengers on trooping flights and made 3,000 flights with freight.
I have spoken at some length, but I have shown a record of very great success and progress. I have tried to answer a number of criticisms, but I welcome and thank hon. Members for their congratulations to the Royal Air Force on this its 41st year, and I hope that they will now grant us this Vote.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I must draw attention to a most serious statement of the Under-Secretary, that the Thor, an unproved missile, has now been accepted by the Government as a potentially operational missile.
§ Mr. Neave indicated dissent.
§ Mr. de Freitas
That is exactly what was said. It is a serious thing, because during our debates on the Defence White Paper and in the debate today we did not attack the Government on this matter, and the Secretary of State and the Minister of Defence have avoided much criticism because of the statement made by the Secretary of State in December and in the White Paper when he said that it was being used for training purposes only.
739 If it is now regarded as a potentially operational missile—and we are told that it is—and as a contribution to the Western nuclear deterrent, then we will denounce it, as we would have done before, as a most wasteful expenditure of public money and something which has no right to be regarded as operational.
It is wrong that we should have this disclosure at the end of this debate and after we have had two days debating defence, especially after the right hon. Gentleman's statement of December last year and the description in the White Paper and in the Memorandum where it is said that the Thor is deployed for training purposes only.
The hon. Gentleman has got very excited about nothing. He knows the position perfectly well. Let me re-explain it now. I assured him almost a year ago that we would not handle the Thor in the Royal Air Force operationally until we were satisfied that its development at Cape Canaveral had reached a certain stage. The hon. Gentleman accepted that. That is still the position. The ones that are in this country are for training purposes only, and when the Thor missile is fully developed for operational purposes at Cape Canaveral it will come here as an operational weapon. It is quite simple.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The United States Air Force cancelled the contract for the Thor, and, therefore, the only Thors which can come here are those which have been produced before the testing at Cape Canaveral.
The Thor weapon for this island is still being developed at Cape Canaveral. Whether the American Air Force is having it or not, it is still being developed for the Royal Air Force at Cape Canaveral.
§ Mr. de Freitas
So we are getting operational missiles—Thors—in East Anglia, in spite of what has been said in the White Paper and the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum?
The hon. Gentleman is not even trying to understand. Let me have one more attempt at explaining it to him. The ones we are getting now in East Anglia are not operational weapons. They are training weapons. They are 740 weapons which we are using to develop the techniques and training crews, and so on. When we are wholly satisfied that the development of the operational weapon is complete in America, it will then come here and replace the training weapon. Is there anything wrong with that?
§ Mr. de Freitas
Yes, certainly, because the United States Air Force, which developed the weapon, regarded it as so unsatisfactory as not to accept it operationally.
That is quite untrue. The reason why the United States Air Force is not accepting it is that it does not need it, and that America is too far away from Russia. It is an intermediate range missile. It was only intended to be a temporary step towards the intercontinental missile. They are still proceeding with the development of the Thor for us and for Europe and it is quite untrue to say that, because the Americans are not taking it, it is no good.
§ Mr. de Freitas
What is the position with the other off-shore islands where the Americans could use it? What is the position in Formosa? The right hon Gentleman should know, because it is relevant. He says the United States Air Force, which developed these missiles, is not using them because of their short range, but this is the argument I used last year Are the United States Air Force, who are themselves operating in Formosa, because I have seen them operating there, using the Thor in Formosa? They are not.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
On a point of order. Does this really come under the Vote which we are discussing? My right hon. Friend has made it clear that the Royal Air Force will only accept these weapons when they have been proved to be satisfactory. As I understand, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell me if I am wrong, if they do not come up to scratch, we will not have them. It is perfectly clear. I do not see what Formosa and Quemoy have got to do with this debate at all.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Further to that point of order. This is sheer obstruction. The Secretary of State for Air justified the R.A.F. accepting the Thor missiles, which we say are unproved, on the ground that the United States does not need them. He 741 says that we shall be justified in accepting them when they are proved. He has said that the reason why the Americans are not using them is that they are too far away in range. I am saying that, where the Americans operate at roughly equal distance from a potential enemy country, that is, in the island of Formosa, the Americans are not using Thors, or are they? If not, surely it strengthens my argument, and if they are using them it strengthens the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He should know about this. because it would be evidence whether the Americans regard Thors as of any value, or are giving them to us because they are of no use.
I am not responsible for what the American Air Force uses or does not use. How can they use it in Formosa or anywhere else until its development is finished?
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend has said that if, and only if, they are proved satisfactory they will be adopted? That is the answer. They have not been accepted until proved, and until they have been proved they will not be taken.
§ Mr. Beswick
Can the Minister help us a little further? We now understand that if the Thor missile is eventually proved to be operationally acceptable we shall have these weapons here as operational weapons. In the meantime, we are spending a lot of money in building bases for the rockets. The Strategic Air Force of the United States is capable of completely destroying Russia and even the whole world. In addition, we have the V-bomber force, which is also capable of eliminating Russia from this globe.
In these circumstances, what is the justification for spending money on rocket bases here for a weapon which, in the event, may not prove to be operationally acceptable, and when we also have another rocket, the Blue Streak, for eventual use? What is the justification for this interim payment of money for the bases for a weapon which might not prove operationally acceptable?
From all the reports that I have received, I am sure that it will eventually be entirely satisfactory and accurate—and every time they test it it 742 is better. I have complete confidence that it will be operationally acceptable in due course.
I know how well the trials are going on at Cape Canaveral. The hon. Member must not think that the Government are a collection of idiots in this matter. These weapons will be an extremely good bargain as a contribution to the Western deterrent. The amount of money that we are spending on the bases is a very small proportion of their total value, and we are getting the weapons themselves free. Hon. Members opposite are getting much too excited about something which is quite well understood and has been made clear over and over again.
I simply cannot understand what all the fuss is about. A year ago I said that we would not accept these weapons until we were satisfied that they had reached a certain standard in their development. That does not mean that we cannot take some now in order to learn the technique, and in order to train our people. We know that as the new modifications are introduced to the following weapons they will replace the ones that we have.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I have nothing against accepting any sort of rocket or missile in order to learn the techniques concerned. That is a different matter. I hope that one day we shall have underground solid fuel missiles. What I am extremely worried about is the way in which the operational rôle of this weapon, which was played up a year ago, has been played down today, and only brought out tonight at the end of this debate, when it could have been discussed before.
We cannot go on discussing this matter for ever. I blame myself for not making the position clearer before. I hope that I have done so now.
§ Mr. Beswick
Would the Secretary of State now be good enough to answer my question? What additional margin of safety will be afforded to the people of this island as a result of accepting an expenditure of money upon bases for rockets which may not eventually prove technically acceptable? On the Western side, we have already got a Strategic Air Force which is capable, on the evidence 743 of the Americans and the Secretary of State himself, of obliterating Soviet Russia. In addition, we have the V-bomber force.
§ Mr. Beswick
Certainly, and I have not had an answer. The Minister has completely evaded it. I am asking him if he will be good enough to tell us what additional margin of defence will be afforded by the Thor rocket, which may or may not eventually prove to be operationally acceptable.
The time scale is the thing which the hon. Member will not remember. We have V-bombers now. The Mark II's are coming in and we know that they will last, well, a good many years—long enough at any rate to give us time to develop our own Blue Streak missile to come in after. That is simple enough, is it not?
That is the British deterrent, the British independent deterrent, 744 whether the hon. Member agrees that we ought to have one or not. Thor is something quite different, though the position regarding Thor is the same as that of the American bombers in this country. The rules about letting off the missiles are precisely the same as those which govern the bombers. We must not mix Thor either with the bomber force or with Blue Streak, otherwise we shall get confused.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 180,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1960.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.