Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 148,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1964.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Hugh Fraser)
As hon. Members will have observed, the net total of Air Estimates for next year amounts to about £503 million. Allowing for the transfer to Civil Estimates of about £50 million, this is very close to the figure in the original Estimate for 1962–63.
I think that the Committee's attention need only be drawn to two matters regarding the figures at this stage. First, the form of the Estimates is, perhaps, unfamiliar as it has been modified in line with the revision of the Civil Estimates introduced last year. This, I believe, is an improvement. Secondly, as responsibility for construction and maintenance of most R.A.F. works and buildings will rest with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, the cost of these will in future appear on his Votes.
Accordingly, to keep the Committee fully informed, I have asked my hon. Friend to particularise and to deal with these matters in detail later in the debate. My Department will, of course, remain responsible for formulating Royal Air Force requirements, but not, in the main, for their execution. If, of course, there are any other points hon. Members would like to raise at which this new layout can be improved for the future, I hope that they will draw my attention to them during the debate. For, given three Services, I am sure that the House will wish to use some form of parliamentary pro- 654 cedure such as we embark upon this afternoon as its instrument of scrutiny and analysis of military management and expenditure.
On the double and, perhaps, overoptimistic assumption that hon. Members have read both my Memorandum and attended or perused the defence debate, I hope that I will be forgiven if I attempt to steer a middle course, avoiding both the tedious repetition of what has already been stated in this excellent document or indulging in some of the wider arguments or important statements made earlier in the week.
As I see it, the purpose of this debate is to adjudge the rôles and performance of the Royal Air Force within our overall defence concept and to evaluate its future long-term equipment and requirements. It is both a progress report and a forecast over the five to seven-year cycle of events that is needed for bringing new equipment into squadron service.
This, of course, is our annual exercise. But this year it is of perhaps especial importance: first, because of the cancellation of Skybolt; and, secondly, because of various doubts expressed about manned aircraft and the reappearance, in spite of the Government's stated belief in the three Services and decisions on two new major aircraft for the R.A.F., of those military, if mainly literary, recidivists who would decentralise and dissipate air power as was proposed in the 1920s and 1930s.
We try to look ahead for five years. Who, five years ago, would have prophesied that, within one twelvemonth, Russian units would have appeared in Cuba, Chinese troops would have invaded India, it would have been announced that Marshal Malinowsky proposed shortly to inspect Russian installations in Indonesia and that the Russians could launch a missile firing satellite? Who would be bold enough to define what, five years from now, will be the limit of the spread of atomic weapons, or the repercussions of a crisis in Chinese-Soviet relations, or the full and total military implications of space?
It is against that background that I open this debate on the Royal Air Force. Both in our alliances and in our own 655 defence, air power by its mobility, flexibility and versatility, makes a unique contribution. To use the fashionable phrase, it offers the maximum number of options, at the earliest point in time, and often at the lowest cost. These arguments, of course, apply to all air forces. For us, with our worldwide commitments and limited finances, the manned aircraft has, through its multiplicity of function, an overwhelming advantage.
This afternoon I would like to discuss the Royal Air Force's capacities under three heads: in the defence of this country, of our alliances; and in its world rôle. Those are somewhat arbitrary divisions of an air power which is and must be essentially unitary. V-bombers from this country can be deployed to Aden in under 12 hours, a fighter squadron from this country can be deployed to Germany within three hours, but I hope that these divisions will serve.
Within the overall N.A.T.O. concept, and in so far as our defence can be isolated from that of N.A.T.O., the defence of this country falls primarily on three Royal Air Force Commands—Bomber, Fighter and, of course, Coastal. I should like to say a word about each of these.
The issue of the strategic nuclear deterrent has recently been debated—a few days ago and earlier in the year—and I do not wish to go over the same ground again this afternoon. I would, however, briefly remind the Committee of certain aspects of our policy so far as it concerns Bomber Command. The Command will continue to provide our strategic nuclear striking force for some years until Polaris submarines come into service with the Royal Navy.
To maintain the effectiveness of this force, we are continuing to re-equip the front line with Mk. 2 Vulcans and Mk. 2 Victors. These have a substantially improved performance over the earlier marks. The Blue Steel stand-off weapon is now in service and squadrons will be progressively re-equipped. Tests with this weapon on the ranges in Australia have shown very satisfactory results. Thus up to about the mid-'sixties the programme is as planned.
The decision to cancel Skybolt will, however, inevitably mean that towards 656 the end of the period and until the Polaris fleet is in being, the powers of penetration of the bomber force will gradually diminish as the strength of Soviet defences grows. To increase its effectiveness at this stage we shall introduce improved navigational equipment and more powerful and much more varied electronic countermeasures.
Moreover, we are developing for the V-bombers a nuclear device originally conceived for use with the TSR2. These measures will give the force a wide choice of offensive tactics. Additionally, in the latter part of the period, the TSR2 itself will come into service. The high performance of this aircraft, particularly at very:low level, will present a very difficult problem to any defences. With its large radius of action, the TSR2 will be available to supplement our strategic nuclear striking power both before and, if necessary, after the introduction of Polaris.
I know that some hon. Members opposite have implied that the strategic capability of the TSR2 has, so to speak, suddenly been invented. This will not do. Hon. Members opposite have not been doing their homework on this matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) referred to this strategic capacity in answer to a Question as early as November, 1960, so that hon. Members can see that this has not been recently invented. In its very early conception, this aircraft had built in a strategic capability.
Mr. Frederick Malley (Sheffield, Park)
May we get this clear? If it was designed as a strategic aircraft, why, when first put to the House in the 1959 White Paper, was it described as an Army support weapon? It could not have been a very good Army support weapon if it was a strategic strike bomber.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is a very complex and advanced weapon with considerable versatility which includes both strategic and tactical capability.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Now that it has ceased to be an Army support weapon and has become a strategic weapon, is it also to be assigned to N.A.T.O.?
§ Mr. Fraser
If the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will bear with me, he will see that this aircraft has several rôles, one of which is strategic and another of which is tactical. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell that to the 1922 Committee."] Hon. Members opposite will find that to restore some sort of order in their own party is even more complex than it is in the 1922 Committee.
I turn now to Fighter Command. At home, the main threat has steadily swung over from manned aircraft to missiles. The station at Fylingdales, which will complete the chain of stations in the ballistic missile early warning system, will come into operation this year. But oven in the missile era we shall need fighters to prevent reconnaissance, to identify and intercept intruding aircraft, and to deter and prevent the jamming of our radar system. For these tasks Fighter Command will be equipped with progressive developments of the Lightning, including the introduction of the collision course weapon Red Top.
Matching these developments in aircraft performance, new radars are being brought into operation with more powerful equipment for detecting and tracking aircraft, especially in conditions of extreme jamming. These air defence radars have been so planned as to fit into an overall system for providing radar cover over this country for the control of both military and civil air traffic.
Because of the change in the threat and to make the best use of our fighter capacity we have decided to reorganise Fighter Command. All routine administrative matters will in future be handled by the Command headquarters, while three new sectors will be set up to handle day-to-day training and the actual conduct of operations under the general control of Command headquarters. These three sectors will cover Scotland, the North and the East of England. I only regret that this change will mean abolishing the famous groups which fought the Battle of Britain.
Coastal Command, of course, works in very close co-operation with the Royal Navy and with the naval forces of our N.A.T.O. allies. For maritime operations we rely on the Shackleton. The performance of the aircraft itself and its complex 658 equipment for the detection and destruction of submarines are being steadily improved. Although in these days of high-speed jet aircraft the Shackleton may give the appearance of being somewhat elderly, it has shown itself to be admirably fitted for the task and has performed with conspicuous success in exercises with N.A.T.O. and S.E.A.T.O.
Of all the N.A.T.O. contingents, our Maritime Patrol Force is second in size only to that of the Americans and in quality second to none. In the past year our Shackletons have taken part in as many as 17 N.A.T.O. or national exercises and operations.
A great deal of thought has been given to the aircraft to succeed the Shackleton. The characteristics of the aircraft can be fairly easily defined. What is less easy is to anticipate the nature of the equipment which it will have to carry. Research into improved methods of detecting and destroying submarines is extensive and continuous both in this country and with our allies. It is one of those fields, like that of electronic counter-measures, in which a silent and secret battle is constantly waged between the scientists investigating offensive and defensive techniques.
In addition to its military rôle, I would like here to pay tribute, and I am sure that I do so on behalf of the whole Committee, to the rescue activities of the Command which, with forces of other commands, have achieved magnificent results in recent weeks in conditions of difficulty and, often, of peril.
I would now turn to the R.A.F.'s contribution to the various alliances to which this country is party, to N.A.T.O., to CENTO and to S.E.A.T.O., and to the protection it affords where the special interests of this country or of our friends are menaced, as they have been recently, in Kuwait in 1961 and in Brunei last December. The Royal Air Force contribution to N.A.T.O. is substantial and includes the Valiant bombers based in this country with an all-weather strike capability; the strike, reconnaissance and air defence squadrons which form part of the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force in Germany; the whole of Fighter and Coastal Commands, as well as reconnaissance elements based in this country 659 and in Malta. This is a formidable contribution.
Moreover, we have, of course, announced that we are prepared, on appropriate terms, to assign the whole of the V-bomber force to N.A.T.O. in accordance with the intentions expressed in paragraph 6 of the Nassau Agreement.
For CENTO we provide the Canberra force based in Cyprus, which can use both nuclear and conventional weapons, and will shortly be rearmed with AS30. In addition, we have a Maritime Reconnaissance element in the Middle East. In S.E.A.T.O. there is no formal assignment of forces in peacetime, but close co-operation with the other S.E.A.T.O. forces is practised. I wish particularly to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the close links established with our allies in South-East Asia were demonstrated by the detachment of a Hunter squadron to Thailand last summer.
Membership of these alliances is not merely a matter of joint planning, or of formal designation or assignment of forces. Behind our garrison forces, there is the capacity for swift central reinforcement by commands at home.
The importance of the strategic nuclear deterrent is such that it sometimes tends to obscure the other functions of Bomber Command.
Before leaving the subject, I should just like to remind hon. Members that the V-bombers are capable of delivering with great accuracy, and in all weather conditions, a very substantial weight of high explosive, between 10 and 20 tons per aircraft. Bomber Command also has a small but highly efficient strategic reconnaissance element capable of providing both conventional photographic and radar cover of vast areas in a very short space of time. Finally, the Command provides a tanker force for air-to-air refuelling, which already plays a vital part in our mobility plans for the Royal Air Force.
Outside Europe there will be a continuing need for fighters in the conventional interceptor rôle and this will remain for many years; especially when one considers the growing potential of aircraft in areas in which we may be, or could be, in conflict. It is part of Fighter Command's task to reinforce the air 660 defences in overseas theatres as required, and as hon. Members will know, we carry out frequent practices using flight refuelling techniques. For the protection of our main bases overseas we also plan to introduce the Bloodhound 2. This will be coming into service early next year and it will then, as it is used for training here, also be available for reinforcements overseas as the need arises.
There are two further matters of especial importance to our worldwide rôle. I refer to our transport forces and the new techniques of short take-off and vertical take-off and landing. I believe that the development of both is essential to our flexibility and especially so in overseas theatres. There is little point in providing transport aircraft if one does not also provide the combat aircraft to protect them and the troops they carry in transit or on arrival. For the support of troops the possibilities of dispersal through vertical take-off techniques have not yet been fully evaluated. But I am certain that they show immense promise. Our movement capacity has been greatly increased in recent years and this trend will continue. We are building up a transport force of very high quality and details are given at some length in the memorandum which hon. Members have before them.
Summing up, we have placed in service the following new aircraft in the last 24 months: 5 Comet 4s, 30 Argosies, 20 Whirlwinds and 15 Belvederes. As the Committee now knows, a decision has been taken to replace the Hastings and Beverley with an aircraft based on the AW681 and this will have a vertical take-off potential. I recognise that the development of a specialist aircraft of this size for military use is bound to be expensive when there is little likelihood of its civil application. But it must be remembered that without a tactical transport of this sort to move the ground forces and their equipment into the immediate theatre of operation it would be necessary to set up a land line of communication which would be far less flexible and infinitely more costly. It is in terms of flexibility and versatility that I turn to the Canberra and Hunter replacement.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to say anything more as to the capabilities of 661 Transport Command regarding Army installations and troops, or is he proposing to leave that to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to refer to when he presents his Estimates?
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
This matter of the Transport Command is of considerable importance. Recently, it was announced—I think by the Secretary of State for War—that we were to abandon sea trooping arrangements. Is it possible to ascertain—I do not know whether it can be done now—whether any saving has been effected as a result of abandoning sea trooping arrangements and relying on air trooping arrangements? The Minister used the term "less costly". I do not know in what connection. If it is in this connection, is it possible to provide statistics?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am sorry. I used the term in the operational sense, lines of communications in an operation. Without a vertical take-off transport aircraft which could get to the advanced theatre of operations, we should have to construct land lines of communication which would be more costly from the point of view of numbers and so forth.
The question which was asked by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) was reflected also in the question of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). Questions regarding the actual numbers to be moved could probably best be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. I can say that in the design of these aircraft our two staffs keep very much together and this design of OR351 is a joint Army-Air Force design to meet that requirement. Nearly all the heavier material which my right hon. Friend would want to move could be moved by this new aircraft.
§ Mr. Fraser
I think that questions about the actual trooping should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, as the largest number of troops are from the Army. There is a clear policy laid down that the use of Transport Command is primarily for operations or military exercises. Transport Command does do a certain amount of movement of individuals, and fills in the gaps. But 662 mostly, trooping is carried on either by contract by the charter companies or by the national Corporations.
§ Mr. Fraser
By the charter companies.
In considering the successors to the Canberra and the Hunter aircraft, both of which are doing, and have done excellent service, we have had in mind the need for high performance and hitting power and, more particularly, the ability to operate without elaborate airfield facilities. Since the last war the growth in aircraft performance has called for ever longer runways and more elaborate airfields which tends to restrict and endanger the deployment of tactical forces. We are determined to break away, and to break out of the rigidity imposed by the need for 2,000 or 3,000 yards of concrete.
I referred earlier to the strategic capability of the TSR2 and hon. Members who follow these matters will be familiar with the general characteristics of this aircraft. The characteristics to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee especially are its long range and its ability, despite its size, to operate from grass or semi-prepared surfaces. These two factors will give it remarkable flexibility, particularly in tactical operations in support of the Army.
I am sorry that the hon Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is not present. The other day he suggested that the TSR2 would not fly. I believe that it will be flying within the next 12 months. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not present for other reasons. But, as a close student both of racing and of defence matters, he is perhaps—as I see racing is shortly beginning again—paying more more attention to Ruff's Guide to the Turf this week than to Aviation Week.
The same thinking has inspired our decision as to the Hunter replacement. For ground attack and close support of ground forces, the advantages in the ability to take off and land in really short distances or, if necessary, vertically will be revolutionary. The Hunter replacement will be based on the Hawker P1154, concept. Hon. Members may have seen the remarkable demonstrations of the Hawker P1127. I think that everyone who has seen it must have been impressed by its extraordinary versatility. The 663 Committee will recall that, with the Americans and the Germans, we are building a small batch of P1127 aircraft for evaluation purposes, but for operational purposes an aircraft of greater performance than P1127 will be necessary.
When, even today, so many countries dispose aircraft in the MiG 21 class, it is plainly essential for the Hunter replacement to have a good supersonic performance so that it can carry out its tasks in the battle area and be capable of some air defence capacity. We have, therefore, decided that the Hunter replacement should be based on the P1154, which will have the manœuvreability demonstrated by the P1127 but with the much higher performance.
These two aircraft—the TSR2 and the Hunter replacement—will enable us to maintain a contribution to the N.A.T.O. tactical air forces of a quality second to none and will form the backbone of our worldwide tactical striking power for the support of ground forces in limited war.
§ Mr J. Cronin (Loughborough)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the TSR2, can he tell us, even in the vaguest way, something about the range? He now says it is a strategic aircraft which, presumably, means it can reach the capital cities of any possible hostile countries.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am not going to reveal the real range of this aircraft, but it has a strategic capacity, which, of course, implies a considerable range. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and some of his Friends will come to Weybridge and see some of the demonstrations when it is flying.
§ Mr. E. Lubbock (Orpington)
Without revealing the range of the aircraft could the right hon. Gentleman give us a definition of "strategic range"?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am sure that if the hon. Member has a map he can work out the ranges involved in our ability to deploy a strategic force against a possible Russian threat.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
Might not we be permitted to consider what it has to do with the Opposition, who themselves wish to get rid of the deterrent altogether? In those circumstances, the question of range seems to be utterly academic.
§ Mr. Fraser
The efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite are directed towards keeping their party together by trying to denigrate every effort that this party is making.
I would now like to say a word about manpower. The last National Service man has now left the Royal Air Force. We now have an all-Regular force and, as hon. Members will see from the table at Appendix HI to my Memorandum, we have a very high proportion of airmen serving on engagements of nine years or more.
With the ending of National Service we are also planning a major change in the career structure for airmen and airwomen in the ground trades. The present arrangements have been in force since 1951. Under these arrangements ground tradesmen are divided into two categories—skilled and advanced. Skilled airmen are promoted to N.C.O. rank by selection. In the more advanced trades, however, many have the choice of promotion to N.C.O. in the ordinary way, or of progressing up the technician ladder on which promotion depends on time and the passing of trade tests.
This structure was well suited to a mixed force of Regulars and National Service men, but it is less satisfactory for an all-Regular force with increasingly complex equipment. Management and skill have tended to become divided and it is no longer satisfactory to separate the supervisory function of the traditional N.C.O. from the producer function of the technician ranks.
From 1st April, 1964, we are introducing a new and simpler structure under which there will be only one kind of career in each trade and advancement will depend on a combination of skill and supervisory ability. This will be better suited to today's needs and will lead to a more efficient use of skilled manpower. These new arrangements will be announced to the Service and my hon. Friend may say more about this when he winds up the debate. I have arranged for a copy of the explanatory pamphlet which is being issued to every airman to be placed in the Library. I should, however, emphasise that no airman will find his pay reduced when the new structure is introduced.
The young man considering a career in the Royal Air Force now knows 665 something of the tasks of that Service and the way in which they are being met. He will, however, wish to be reassured about the future of the Service, particulady if he is considering a flying career. At present, our aircrew recruiting is going well, but from some of the things he reads and hears today he may have gained the impression that following the cancellation of Skybolt the R.A.F. will become little more than an air transport force with functions ancillary to those of the other Services. Nothing, as I have tried to show this afternoon, could be further from the truth.
To such a young man I would say three things. First, the job that the Royal Air Force has to offer is abundantly worth while. It is no less than the prevention of the outbreak of war by the maintenance with our allies of effective air power, or, if limited war should cone, to arrest its spread by rapid reaction.
Secondly, I hope that I have shown this afternoon that the main rôles of the Royal Air Force remain no less important in the future than they have been in the past. They are, I repeat, strike, both strategic and tactical, nuclear and conventional; air defence; reconnaissance; close support; maritime operations and air transport.
Finally, the great virtue of air power is that it offers speed and flexibility to a degree unparalleled in the other elements. In its short fifty years of life the science of military aviation has developed far more rapidly than any other branch of warfare in any comparable period. I believe that it will go on developing at a pace dictated by the continuous improvement in technical performance. The implications of vertical and short take off and landing which I have discussed earlier this afternoon are but one illustration of this. No swifter way could be found, I believe, of squandering resources than to dissipate the control of air power in penny packets as an adjunct to other military functions. The history of military aviation has confirmed one abiding principle, that if we are to exploit these characteristics of speed and flexibility the control of air power must be exercised by a unitary, specialist and professional air arm.
666 I am confident that this country will continue to need the services which only a unified air arm can provide. I am confident, too, that the Royal Air Force alone can fulfil this need, and will fulfil it in the future with that high standard of efficiency which is its proud tradition.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
On a point of order. I should like to ask, Sir William, what your intention is about calling the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster)? At what stage is it to be called if it is in order?
§ The Chairman
The Amendment is perfectly in order. Whether it is called will depend on the course of the debate and whether the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) wishes to move it.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I am sure that it will be the wish of the whole Committee that I should congratulate the Secretary of State for Air on his first presentation of the Air Estimates. I am wondering whether he will present any more, not because I think that there will be a change of Government between now and this time next year, but because I wonder whether there will be any Air Estimates. I do not think that there will be a change of Government because it seems to me that the Government are showing the same speed and enthusiasm about going to the electorate as a schoolboy, detected of crime, shows in going along the corridor to his headmaster's study. I suspect that when the meeting takes place the answer of the electorate will be similar to that which the headmaster usually gives.
As I say, I do not anticipate any enthusiasm for an election, but I wonder whether it is proposed in the reorganisation to do away with Service Estimates debates. I very much hope that that will not happen. They are very important, not only because of the opportunities and privileges which they afford hon. Members, but because the Service itself should feel that it commands the attention of this House at least once a year. Although the Secretary of State may lose the title of Secretary of State in the reorganisation, I hope that the identity of the Service will be preserved 667 and that there will be a senior Minister in the Ministry of Defence responsible for the Service who will be answerable to this House and also able to meet hon. Members. I hope that our very proud tradition of the right of Service men to go to his Member of Parliament will continue and that we continue to meet the Minister, take deputations to him and correspond with him on the Service man's behalf. I very much hope that these characteristics will be retained in the reorganisation.
I should like to welcome the presence of the Minister of Defence. We say very hard things about him, and probably will continue to do so, but it is worth noting that he has shown great courtesy to the House, both in the defence debates and by his presence today, which is in marked contrast to the behaviour of his predecessor. I hope that he will be able to spend a good deal of time listening to the debate so that he becomes more intimately aware of the views of hon. Members on the Service problems which we try to develop in these debates.
I wish to pay my tribute to the efficiency and record of the Royal Air Force. We yield to no one in our admiration of the Service, and I hope that it will not be argued, as sometimes it is, that when one takes a political view different from that of the Government one is trying to get at the Service.
Like many hon. Members, I have had the opportunity—and we greatly appreciate this—of going on visits arranged by the Secretary of State to Royal Air Force units at home and abroad. I think that on these visits we have all been much impressed with the standard of efficiency which we have seen. We should like, through the Secretary of State, to thank the units concerned for the very great trouble which they take to give us the maximum information and to thank them for the hospitality which they invariably show.
I am sure that it is the wish of the Committee that we should pay, as we sincerely do annually, a tribute to the Royal Air Force for the errands of mercy at home and abroad which they carry out, often at great danger and peril to themselves, throughout the year. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey that to the units concerned on our behalf.
668 I agree with what the Secretary of State said about the purpose of Estimates debates. These are not occasions for a reiteration of the great strategic arguments, but I cannot agree with him that the only function of these debates is to assess the rôle and efficiency of the Royal Air Force. We must do more than that. We must look at what the Government are doing, or are failing to do, for the Royal Air Force, and assess to what extent the Government are doing what the Royal Air Force can reasonably expect them to do. The issue broadly turns on the question of manpower and on the other big question with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt at some length, namely, aircraft and equipment.
First, on manpower, I assume that the increase in pay which the Royal Air Force and the other Services should have had a year ago will be paid from 1st April this year and that there will be no more nonsense about letting down the Services on the pay commitment. I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation of that.
I notice that the number given as the strength of the Royal Air Force—and the regular adult males are the ones who really count in this calculation—is 129,200 as against the 132,600 which it was estimated this time last year as the figure we should reach. Does this mean that the Secretary of State has failed to recruit the number which he expected to recruit during the year, or is this a calculated Government decision to cut down the size of the Service? It seems that the Government have not made up in Regulars what has been lost by the 5,000 National Service men. Since the National Service men have left the Royal Air Force, I am sure that it would be the wish of the Committee to pay tribute to the tremendous work that they have done over the years, especially in the technical branches.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary will enlighten us about what is meant by the vague phrase in the Memorandum "Progressive reduction of forces". It is time that the Government were much more candid with the Committee about the problems of particular trades and shortages in the Service. We all appreciate that one cannot look at the total figure of any force, whether it be Army, 669 Air Force or Navy, and think that, because one has reached the target figure, one has a balanced force.
I was very disturbed last year to read in the Memorandum that more officers were needed for the technical branches, more doctors and dentists were needed for the ground branches and that shortages in the clerical and domestic trades were greater than expected. The Secretary of State's speech does not remove our anxieties on these matters.
What is meant by paragraphs 84 to 89 of the Memorandum? Here we have such phrases as:Recruitment of pilots and air electronic officers was slightly below the desired rate".Later, we read:… there is a continuing need for more professionally qualified engineers".We are then told:… it is not easy to recruit scientists and technologists.Under the heading "Airmen" it is stated:There is a temporary deficiency in certain trades, notably the Wireless and Teleprinter Operators, Nursing Attendants, Police and some unskilled assistant trades.We then come to what seems to me to be the high mark of complacency:These shortages do not seriously impair operational efficiency".What does "seriously impair" mean? Obviously, it does not mean that no planes can fly, but surely we should have had some explanation about these vague phrases from the Secretary of State. I am sure that they must cause concern to those who are desirous, as I know he is, that the Royal Air Force should be at maximum efficiency.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal wish these points when he winds up the debate. I am not disturbed about this at the moment. Certain special categories should be dealt with, but overall we are not here talking about high deficiency rates—99 per cent. or anything of that kind—in trades.
§ Mr. Mulley
We shall listen to what the Under-Secretary of State has to say, but for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is not disturbed about this is not a sufficient answer. Many things have happened in this country which have not 670 disturbed the Government Front Bench, but they have caused great concern to all manner of people in the community.
I am sure that the Royal Air Force will be concerned about this. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, so much depends on the technical trades, on electronic engineers and on the servicing of planes. The more sophisticated the planes become, the more we depend on these skills. One wonders whether, behind our pilots and flying crews, not only here but in other parts of the world, there is the necessary skill not only to meet the day-to-day working and training programmes but to give them the necessary back-up if, heaven forbid, we should have to use them in action.
I wonder, too, whether the Under-Secretary will tell us from which R.A.F. trades at the moment it is impossible or forbidden for a man to buy himself out. I wonder whether he will tell us, also, how many airmen were involved in the long queue of people trying to become Parliamentary candidates as a means of getting out of the Service. Normally, we have understood this to be an Army problem, but I am wondering whether that is so, and whether there are not many airmen who may be seeking Parliamentary honours in this way. Perhaps, the hon. Gentleman will give us the figures.
Now I should like to look at the aircraft and equipment provision for the R.A.F. This, of course, is not only a matter for the Air Force, but is of great interest and vital concern to the many workers in the aircraft industry and also to communities in which those aircraft works are situated. Obviously, no one would suggest that we should buy aircraft for the R.A.F. simply to meet an unemployment situation in a particular area, but I think that the industry is entitled to ask that there should be some planning, a forward look, in the arrangements for transport aircraft and other military aircraft that would permit the industry to arrange its affairs rather better than has been the case in the last years.
I would suggest that the idea of forming a Ministry of Aviation has been a lamentable failure. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, when he was doing rather well at the Treasury, resigned. The failure he was at the Ministry of Aviation, however, seems to 671 be the way to success, and I hope that he will not make such a hash of defence that he will get higher up the ladder.
We really must look much more carefully than we have in the past at the relationship between civil and military aircraft and the problems of the industry, because year after year we get a list of planes about which people are thinking but there seems to be no real forward planning on what we should buy; and during the last five years £1,150 million have been spent on aircraft and equipment. The Secretary of State told me last week that 35 per cent. of this sum had gone on Bomber Command, 25 per cent. on Fighter Command and 10 per cent. on Transport Command. I am wondering where the other 30 per cent. went, because on the face of it that seems a little difficult to understand.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
Although I seem to have lost the paper on which I had written figures, roughly there were commands like Overseas Command, commands in the Far East and the Middle East, and so forth. I will show how this other percentage falls out. The figures are quite clear. If the hon. Gentleman will ask another question I will give full details.
§ Mr. Mulley
We must clear this up, because when a figure is given for the cost of planes presumably the allocation to Transport Command covers planes in England, Germany, or anywhere else. It is the same with Bomber Command. If that is not so, then the sooner the Minister of Defence looks into the accounting at the Air Ministry the better.
I think that it would be valuable if the Under-Secretary could deal with that point in replying to the debate tonight. Although we have heard less of it today, I think that there is a great contrast in the Government's policy, about which they make grand speeches relating to our global responsibilities, and what they have done to provide mobility for our forces. I do not think that the Navy can fulfil the mobility rôle. I think that that is principally a rôle for Transport Command of the R.A.F.
If one looks at the activities of the only other global Power, the real global Power—the United States of America—one sees what it has done and is doing 672 in terms of provision of transport aircraft. One of the first things that President Kennedy did when he took office was to increase the order for transport planes, particularly the C130s. I understand from evidence given to Congressional Committees recently that Mr. Macnamara is to treble the expenditure on transport planes in the next financial year and is aiming to have an Air Assault Division with 320 planes of its own assigned to it.
The Howze Committee, in the United States, which reported last year, said that in the next five years, if it is to meet its global commitments, the United States should increase its transport force from 1,650 to 5,450 planes; and we know that 132 of the Starlifters—C141s—are coming into service in 1965. Each will be capable of taking a payload of 38 tons for 4,000 miles.
What is the total capacity of our own Transport Command in comparison with the United States? Quite clearly, we cannot hope to get anything like it has, but surely 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of its capability ought to be within our range if we have these global responsibilities. As I understand, we have fewer than 200 planes in the whole of Transport Command, of which 40 are Twin Pioneers and Pioneers, very small planes that can go for a short range, with a few soldiers, which cannot be counted as transport planes at all.
I have tried to work it out and I suggest that the total capability of Transport Command is either to carry 1,500 tons for 1,500 miles or to carry about 400 tons for 4,000 thousand miles. In fact, in the whole of Transport Command we have something like the capability of 10 C141s in a strategic global rôle and I wonder what the Government are doing about it. Where have their priorities gone over the years if they have let Transport Command get into this situation with all our global responsibilities in the world?—because it may not always be possible to fly men into the equipment which is handily and tidily stowed ready to pick up. One may need to move people to a situation in which the equipment is not there and we have no strategic freighter capability at all.
We have, in an emergency, the provision in the 1949 Act whereby civil aircraft can be taken over, but there is not 673 that much civil freighter aircraft available. In many cases, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the floors of the civil planes would need to be strengthened if they were to be used to carry heavy equipment. Even now, when we get down to increasing the transport force with the OR351, that is a tactical and not a strategic aircraft.
The other question, of course, is how long it is to be before the AW681s come into service. It has been suggested that that will be in 1968, but I doubt whether it will he before 1970. The Government must be candid with the Committee and tell us what their difficulties are on this. Is it the case that they have not yet any idea of what engine is to be put into the plane? We have talked about V.T.O.L., but do the Government know what V.T.O.L. they are to have?
Is it to be in all the planes? Is it not a fact that the V.T.O.L. system the Government put their money on—the Hawker system for the P1127—will be of no use whatever for a transport plane? Is not that the case? Is it not the case that the Rolls-Royce composite power system has had to be cut because the firm had no support from the Government? It has gone into the Balzac, the French Mirage prototype.
Is it not likely that, as a result of the procrastination of the Government, although we have led the world in V.T.O.L., when the first operational planes come along with V.T.O.L. they will not be British planes and there will not be a British part in those planes? We need to know what the Government are doing and the way they are letting down the aircraft industry, because a review of the history of military and civil aircraft reveals that we have always led the field until it has come to the time when the Government came into it somehow or other. In the end, we have missed the boat and other countries have got the advantage and the orders, whether it was Boeings with the civil aircraft or in the military field.
I believe that Rolls-Royce—a great firm—is in great doubts about its future. The Government have been two years on the OR351 project. I ask the Government to make up their mind about the engine that is going in. It would seem that the Spey engine, which has been proved in other aircraft, might be suitable.
674 I ask the Government to get on with the job of at least getting more transport planes. The Government should study the problem of what they are to do between now and 1970. We have 10 Belfasts on order. They are the only strategic freighter aircraft that the Royal Air Force will have. I know that the Royal Air Force, for reasons which have never been clearly explained, is very much against the Belfast. However, the Service must clearly think that the Belfast is of some use, otherwise 10 would not have been ordered. I know that it is an extremely ugly design, but one of the best work-horses that the Royal Air Force has ever had—the Beverley—is also a very ugly plane. I wonder whether the Government ought not to have some more Belfasts, if they can be delivered, to meet this gap between now and 1970, when, anyway, the Hastings/Beverley replacement will only be tactical aircraft.
We have heard little lately about the Avro 748. How many of these are on order? When will they come along? How many of the AW681s are we to have? How much are they to cost? We have been told by the Minister of Aviation that they will cost £2 million each. Presumably that is for a rather big order. If, by chopping and changing, the Government come down to 10, as they have with the Belfast, how much each will the AW681s then cost? When we are asked to pass an estimate for £500 million for the Royal Air Force, we as a Committee are entitled to know the answers to these questions.
There is the same sorry story in relation to Bomber Command. Last year, most of the speech of the then Secretary of State, who is the present Minister of Aviation, was concerned with telling us how wonderful Skybolt was to be and with chiding hon. Members on this side for doubting whether it would ever come into existence. If the right hon. Gentleman refreshes his memory, he will find that that occupied about half the then Secretary of State's speech on that occasion. We were accused of being anti-Air Force for expressing these doubts. I hope that by now the Government will at least have explained clearly to Bomber Command that it is the unilateral decision of the British Government that Sky-bolt should be cancelled.
675 We all know that there were no technical difficulties about Skybolt which were not known three years ago. In fact, I understood from quite reliable sources in the United States that Skybolt was coming to a proven stage and, consequently, if it was not stopped from their point of view very soon it would have been very difficult indeed to have stopped it going through.
We all know that the Minister of Defence put up a wonderful show here in London by fighting for Skybolt, but when he got to Nassau he did not want Skybolt. It is quite clear—it is written in the Bahamas Agreement—that the Government did not want Skybolt even if the United States generously went on to pay half the development costs. It may well be the right decision not to have Skybolt, but at least the Government must explain to Bomber Command that it is their decision.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as is his custom, wants to be fair. He must recognise, if he is fair, that even the American high officials—at least, so I was informed a few weeks ago—are now not saying that Skybolt was dropped for technical reasons. It was dropped because they thought they had other weapons—because they had so diversified. It is not the British Government's fault. Hon. Members opposite are trying to be very clever about the Skybolt issue. They never wanted it to work. They do not want anything British to work. We all know that the fact is that the British Government had no alternative. It was a political decision, taken by the Americans, not by Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Mulley
The decision to cancel Skybolt for the American Air Force was properly an American decision, but, as is stated in the Bahamas Agreement, which I ask the hon. Gentleman to read, the President of the United States made an offer to continue the Skybolt development and to pay, without commitment, half the costs. I made inquiries and found that, in fact, if it had been wished we could have moved Skybolt and developed it here, providing employment and electronic "know-how" for our own industry.
676 However, the Government decided not to have Skybolt. I do not criticise that decision, but it is a little hard when they try to use us as the scapegoats for the decision they themselves took and try to pretend that it was not their fault that Skybolt went. They would have been much better off if they had taken our advice and not gone into the Skybolt contract at all.
I say this and make a big point of it, because it is necessary to accuse the Government of playing politics in the matter of the provision of aircraft for Bomber Command. I only hope that when the TRS2 does fly, and its capabilities are known, we shall not find that the Royal Air Force has been deceived for the convenience of Ministers in their relations with their back benchers. I cannot see how a plane which was designed and presented to the Committee five years ago as an Army support plane can, without modification—the Minister of Aviation has said that there have been no modifications of a serious character—suddenly become a strategic strike weapon. It may be—let us hope and believe that it is—a very versatile plane, but I doubt whether it has this strategic capability. I only hope that the Service is not being deceived as part of a game of politics, because the Secretary of State will have a lot to answer for if that is so.
§ Mr. Mulley
The wonder bomb that is to go with the plane—has it a range of 10 miles? Is it a fancy way of describing the L.A.B.S. technique which the Air Force developed with such great skill for the Canberra? Is it just a tactical rocket, because the TSR2 is not only a tactical plane—it has a tactical armament as well? We shall see when the time comes, because according to last year's Estimates the plane was to be fitted with an AS30. We want to know why this has been dropped. It has gone to the Canberra, we are told. Is it not going to the TSR2 now? If so, why has this change of plan not been explained?
§ Mr. H. Fraser
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. The AS30 is a conventional weapon. It has no nuclear capacity.
§ Mr. Mulley
It would not be a bad idea if we went in for a few conventional weapons on our planes. What about the AS33, which, I believe, has a nuclear capability and has an improved guidance system? Are the Government going to get that? We have not been told what they are doing about Bomber Command. Although we are told that the Navy and the Air Force have got to work together now on aircraft, we find that the Navy is going ahead buying Bullpup. Would this have been a suitable weapon for the Air Force? Why do they develop a separate capability?
As to range, there was a big argument about whether the Air Force should have the Buccaneer on the ground that the TSR2 and the Buccaneer had a comparable capability. We all know, because we saw it demonstrated at Farnborough, that the Buccaneer has to be flight-refuelled; in fact, one has to send a couple up on a mission in order that one of them will have enough fuel to reach the target. Is this what is meant by the TSR2 having a strategic range? Any plane will have a strategic range if it is refuelled enough on the way, but it is not the best way of carrying out a strategic function. The right hon. Gentleman should come clean about this.
What is the actual meaning of the assignment of Bomber Command? We have been told that it has been assigned to N.A.T.O. Is it under SACEUR's command, or is it still under the command of the Minister of Defence? Is it there under SACEUR for a tactical or a strategic rôle. What exactly is meant by this very unclear statement in the Bahamas Agreement about the assignment of Bomber Command to N.A.T.O.?
There is the same story in regard to fighters, a story of planes that may be coming along some day. The P1154, the replacement for the Hunter, may be an excellent plane, but when will it come? Is there not great trouble with the engine development? May we be given any sort of date when we shall have these planes, not on the drawing board but in service with the Royal Air Force? That is the question that interests the Royal Air Force: when will it have the planes?
678 Why is Redtop, the air-to-air missile for the Lightning, being developed for the Air Force while the Navy is to buy Sidewinder? I understand that Sidewinder I.D has about the same capability as Red-top and it is much cheaper. Surely, if integration is to mean anything, the Navy and the Air Force should have the same weapons for the same kind of job. I hope that the Minister of Defence is paying some attention to this. It was said in last year's Defence White Paper that this would be done and that there would be integration on weapons between the Services.
Now, Coastal Command. The Shackle-ton has done a wonderful job, but is there any plan for its replacement? Even the most suitable and wonderful plane cannot fly for ever. With all the time it takes to get plans out of the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Aviation or the Ministry of Defence—wherever the hold-up takes place—there ought to be plans now for replacing the Shackleton because of the important rôle of Coastal Command. Why should we always wait until the year after these things ought to be done?
This is all a saga of paper plans. The only benefit likely to come from reorganisation, as far as I can see, is that all the muddle will be in one building. I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Air, to be fair to him, has any say at all at the moment in what planes the Royal Air Force has, or will have. It may be that the Minister of Defence decides it all. Between the three of them, the Ministers ought to work together sometimes and think of what kind of planes the Royal Air Force wants and decide how and when it shall have them.
There is a total lack of planning. The Minister of Aviation—the present Minister no less than his predecessor—has been a disaster for the nation. Following the general attitude of the Government today, he gives the impression of acting like Mr. Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. Quite apart from the terrible cost to the taxpayer, these prevarications and procrastinations do great disservice to the very fine body of officers and men we have in the Royal Air Force.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
Could I ask the hon. Gentleman a question, 679 or put him right on some of the information which he seems to have acquired somewhere?
§ The Chairman
I am a little unhappy at the hon. Member's suggestion that he should put another hon. Member right. Certainly, he may ask a short question.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member made some rather slighting references to the rôle of the Twin Pioneer. Does not he know that these planes have played an invaluable part in the jungle and the desert, where no proper airfields were available, and that they are most highly regarded by the Air Ministry?
§ Mr. Mulley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I should not wish it to be thought that I was criticising these planes in any way. I know of the great rôle which they play and I only wish that the Army had a lot more of them. The point I was making arose out of an assessment of the capability of the Royal Air Force to carry freight over ranges of 1,500 and 4,000 miles. Even the most ardent admirer of the Pioneer would not suggest that it was suitable for that particular function.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his first speech introducing the Air Estimates.
I enjoyed the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), but I thought that the second part was just one long moan and grizzle about very little. It occurred to me that he was following the instructions of his new leader and trying to score points regardless of where they hit. That will not get him very far. I know that he is at heart a great enthusiast for the Royal Air Force, and I am sure he can do better than he did in the latter part of his speech.
The hon. Gentleman offered criticisms about manpower in the Royal Air Force. If he reads the Memorandum, he will see all the facts set out there. On 1st April, 1963, the strength will be 143,500. Last year, it was 148,900, and on 1st April next yeas it will be 137,200. It is explained that these figures have been brought about by economy in manpower, 680 the disbandment of the Thor squadrons, and so on. I take it that this is going according to plan. Perhaps, when my hon. Friend replies, he will tell us a little more about manpower in the Service and haw it is going.
I should like to know more about the recruitment of pilots, or the lack of recruitment of pilots, and of air electronic officers. This is a very important part of the Service, and it is said that the numbers are slightly down. To what extent will this affect the manning of aircraft in the future?
The hon. Gentleman talked about the aircraft industry being let down. The aircraft industry has been completely reorganised in recent years. The airframe manufacturers have merged into two groups. Experience in this short time has shown what a wise decision the merger was. There can now be a greater impact in the development of British projects and things cango forward rather more quickly than hitherto. I do not consider that the industry has been let down at all. A tremendous total of orders has been placed during the past few months which will provide quite a lot of work in the years to come both in production and in research and development.
The hon. Gentleman referred to engine troubles in the P1154. This is an aircraft which will take off and come down vertically. Of course, there are troubles. There are troubles with every new piece of equipment, be it airframe, engine, or anything else. With our fine scientists and engineers behind these projects, the teething troubles will be sorted out, as they always have been. We are not lagging behind in vertical take-off in fact, we are leading the world.
§ Mr. Mulley
I do not wish unduly to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate his great knowledge of these matters. My point was not that there are engine troubles or whatever it may be. I was speaking of the great delay before the industry is given the go-ahead on this kind of development, with the consequence that the Royal Air Force has to wait so long for a plane which, since the Hunter is becoming less and less valuable as time goes on, is urgently needed for the ground attack rôle now.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I agree that all these things are required urgently; but 681 they have to be phased. I have no doubt that it is better to wait for a few months to do the design stage of the P1154 properly and get things right than to rush into something which will cost more money to put right later.
I want to refer to the co-ordination of the Services which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence mentioned earlier in the week. Everyone—the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and many others—is claiming that it is their invention. In fact, ten years ago I made a speech making the same suggestion that something should be done to get the three Services closer together, and I have tried to make almost the same point annually, that in these days it is very important that the three Services should be, not completely integmted, but very much closer together. One regrets the change, but I think that it is necessary.
I hope that the identity of the three Services on a unit basis will not be disturbed. For example, I hope that the Air Ministry will have a close liaison with the aircraft industry on its new project. Work has sometimes been hampered in the past by the Ministry of Aviation claiming that right. Technical officers of the Air Ministry have had to go round to the back door to bring about that close liaison which is essential with the factories making the equipment.
But the important thing is that when four or five Ministers are living under the same roof there should be one individual in charge of accountancy. If we are to have the annual argument of how we are to divide up the cake, it will not get anyone very far. I think that we have to have the Board there, working very closely together, standing in for each other, playing each other's rôle whenever possible. It was hinted by the right hon. Member for Belper earlier in the week that the Royal Air Force should be taken over, possibly by the Army. The hon. Member for Belper must do some homework on this, because of all the crazy ideas I have heard in this House that just about takes it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper was not advocating that. I think he merely referred to 682 an attempt made after the First World War.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I must qualify what I said—I was not in the Chamber at that time—but I understood that he hinted at it, or that the Navy should take it over. But I think that it is very wrong to make these broad suggestions without really considering the implications. We have in the Royal Air Force men trained to a "T", and to suggest that their whole career should be upset by the speech of one Privy Councillor in this Chamber is, in my view, most regrettable.
I shall try to make clear in my argument the value of the Royal Air Force as I see it in the years ahead. It is highly specialised today, if not more so than either of the other two Services. Skybolt has been referred to several times in recent weeks and earlier this week. The United States cancelled Skybolt, in my opinion, because it no longer answered her needs. She did not want it any more. I think also that she did it partly with her tongue in her cheek to get Britain out of this business as far as she could. This was the impression which I got in the United States. It was certainly not because of technical failures. I was assured of that by an Assistant Secretary in the Pentagon. He said, "I regret that we ever took that line".
The weapon was going extremely well. According to the Douglas people, it was going as well as any other at that time. After eighteen years in this House, I have never felt so strongly about anything as the dropping of this weapon. It was a tragedy. I am not anti-Navy. I am just as pro one Service as I am another. In this case Bomber Command and its highly trained people have been paid for—the bill has been paid. But of course we would have been wrong to have gone ahead with President Kennedy's suggestion to develop this weapon in Los Angeles—6,000 miles away—and the dollars pouring out. We should not know where we would end—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Certainly, I would have liked to have seen a British effort and to have seen it done in Britain. I will explain why. Bomber Command has 683 still a mighty hitting power. Do not let anyone underestimate the capabilities of Bomber Command even today or in the next two years. I have never read any report of Mr. Khrushchev belittling the strength of what Bomber Command could do; if he had had a case we would undoubtedly have heard about it by now. Why is it that hon. Members opposite—I am afraid I lost my wool just now—so often denigrate British efforts? The TSR2—hon. Members opposite tried to run it down—is the most remarkable project that British engineering has ever faced, and they are very nearly home with it.
It seems to me that Britain in these days has to a great extent to look after herself. We do not know what the state of the Government will be in the United States in 1970. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or in Britain."] Hon. Members opposite think they know, but they may have another think coming in a few months time. Polaris is a credible weapon today, but would it be in ten years time, if the numbers remain at four, which I think is a ridiculous number? We want ten or twelve to make it credible. The Soviet, we are told, have at least 500 submarines. They are manufacturing nuclear-propelled killer submarines, and I can see these three or four submarines of ours which might be at sea being tracked and tailed and they would not have any freedom whatever.
We have also to think, whatever the Americans and the Russians are doing, about what the French are up to. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made a powerful speech the other night about the lack of contribution by the French to N.A.T.O. That is so, and I think that it should be said. We are always being accused of being 4,000 or 5,000 troops down in the Rhine Army, but what have the French done in the last ten years? They have had hardly a soldier there; they have been either in Indo-China or in Algeria, and I think that it is most unfortunate that the French have not made a greater contribution to N.A.T.O.
The French antics, if they were to continue, might well bring about a United States withdrawal from Europe. It may well happen. I think that Britain has to be prepared not only to have its conven- 684 tional forces but also its own deterrent. We cannot decide to drop or bring on a deterrent overnight. It takes many years to build an effective deterrent, and once we are out of the business we shall be out of it for a very long time.
As I see it, the crews in Bomber Command are today more highly trained than perhaps any other men in all our Services, probably the most highly trained in any Air Force in the world. They will have the TSR2 to look forward to. Little is known about the capabilities of the TSR2—for obvious reasons we shall not be told the range—but I am assured by those who look into these things that the TSR2 has a remarkable range and it has a strategic rôle, and at least we shall have highly trained men to pilot it or monitor it, as the case may be. A weapon like the TSR2 can be moved across the world in a few hours, literally to Australia or anywhere else by air refuelling, and it has a conventional rôle as well. In fact, the British Army could not go into serious battle without a weapon like the TSR2. It could not battle without it. When one thinks of the Polaris bill, which may well be £400 million, and what we could do with that in our own industry if we decided to have a fleet of TSR2s, one realises what could be done by our own efforts.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
No, I do not necessarily want both. I have made my case clear time and time again on this issue. We should have either a British weapon, or buy it from America, and my view is that we should have a British weapon.
I am told that in the TSR2 we have probably a three-year lead on the Americans in this type of aircraft. If we have—and I believe that we have—why cannot we come to some arrangement that we sell this equipment to the United States? At present, it is a one-way traffic. We spend the taxpayer's money buying Boeing 707s, but the Americans even stop the small Bonanza Airlines buying a few One-Elevens to operate on internal services. It is incredible that allies should go to such lengths to stop trading together in armaments, all the more so when usually the new thinking on aircraft and equipment like the TSR2 comes from this country.
685 It is the late 1960s and the 1970s which will be the difficult period to cover. By 1970, an altogether new situation may have arisen. Crews may well be flying 30 or 40 miles up in the air space, between the atmosphere as we know it and the real outer space. Twenty-five to 40 miles up, where the air is thin and lacking resistance, enormous speeds will be obtained and aircraft will go round the globe by centrifugal force and land at an airfield.
Who would have thought a few years ago that this was a possibility? It is a real possibility. It is being done partially by the United States and the Soviet by winged aircraft which will return to base, which are not expendable like the ordinary form of missile. That is one of my reasons for asking where we will be in eight or ten years' time if Polaris is dropped.
I should like to see Britain forging head in that direction and developing equipment which play a large rôle commercially and as a military weapon. There are many advantages for this type of aircraft over missiles. It is mobile and flexible and in the last resort it can be recalled from its mission.
In the question of arming our country, it is essential that we diversify our weapons as much as we can afford to. I do not want to see everything being put into one weapon. By diversification, the enemy defences will be confused and tens of thousands of technicians occupied in their air defence system. The critics say that the cost would be too high, but the United States and the Soviet have spent vast sums of money on air space development work. I do not doubt that much of the "know-how" is available to scientists and people in touch with each other. I hope that we can hear more about this from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence. I hope that in the months ahead he will interest both himself and other Ministers in it and will get everybody thinking about it.
We have been told about the P.1154. I should like to know whether this aircraft will have a strategic capability and will not be merely a replacement for the Hunter. What additional rôle might it have? Most aircraft can be stretched and I imagine that this one will be. With the developments which I have outlined, it seems to me that R.A.F. Bomber 686 Command will constitute a continuing effective deterrent to any attack for many years ahead. It could inflict an unacceptable degree of destruction and its very diversification provides security to a great extent.
In the Defence White Paper, paragraph 15, page 68, states thatThe Royal Air Force will also continue to bear its responsibilities for maritime operations. Much effort is being devoted to the problems of submarine detection and destruction. For the longer term, studies are also in progress of the characteristics required in a replacement for the Shackleton.It goes on to state, on page 70, thatThe modernisation of the Shackleton and its anti-submarine equipment continues. Exercises indicate that effectiveness against modern submarines will be significantly improved as a result.I should like to know more about this, because it has a great bearing on the strategy of our Armed Forces. We are told one thing by the Navy and another by the Air Force and I understand that much knowledge is available and work is being done. To what extent is detection improving? After all, we are an island and we have to think in terms of the Merchant Navy bringing food and other supplies to this country. With other countries having large fleets of submarines, we are very interested in detection, let alone what might happen before Polaris is available. I should like to know more about this.
In the Far East, I had the pleasure last year of visiting some of the bases with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park. We had an interesting and enjoyable visit, but we saw some transport aircraftBeverleys—at Singapore and there were only four or five of them. They looked "tired" to me and we were told that they would be supplemented by the Argosy. Reading the Memorandum, I find nothing about the Argosy yet being in Singapore to supplement those aircraft. Can we be told something about this later today?
What is the serviceability of these old aeroplanes? Has the existing radar system been improved or renovated? I was told that if the Army had to move up to Vietnam or somewhere in that region, at least 92 lifts would be required by a Beverley to transport the radar, which means that the Army would not have any radar. I should like to be given assurances about this.
687 References have been made to the errands of mercy by the Royal Air Force. These should not be regarded simply as little things that happen from day to day. During the past year, they have been real errands of mercy. Food was flown to the famine-stricken areas of Tanganyika. Supplies were sent to Iran after the disastrous earthquake and to the flood victims in East Pakistan and Africa. Supplies were flown to India when the trouble with the Chinese flared up. The Shackleton located the "Flying Tiger Constellation" and many passengers were rescued way out in the Atlantic and survivors brought ashore by helicopter. The Air Force is always ready to render this service.
Do not let us underrate what the Air Force and the manned aeroplane can do for the country. If we let Bomber Command run down, a great many hon. Members will live to regret the day that the decision was taken. There is a school of thought in America at least that there is a real rôle for the manned aircraft in its development form like the TSR2 and others.
I pose one question. Suppose that Britain did as so many hon. Members opposite suggest and gave up the deterrent as an example. Would the Chinese give up their ambitions and would General de Gaulle give up his developments? I do not think that either of them would. I cannot see the logic of the argument. I know that many of us in the House of Commons disagree about these things on matters of conscience but I believe that Britain must keep its weapon. I am simply disturbed about what type of weapons we keep. We must be in a position to defend ourselves alone if necessary. Then the deterrent will not be used.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the very fine Service which he represents—he is today the senior Minister—and I wish the Service well in the great part which it has to play.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
It is always a pleasure to hear speeches made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). He has such an extensive and wide knowledge of the subject that I am usually in agreement 688 with most of what he says. I agreed with a large part of what he said today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), in his admirable speech, said that a few of us had visited Royal Air Force bases in the Near and Far East. I was one of those who visited those bases, and I feel, therefore, that it would be ungrateful of me if I did not intervene in the debate and show an interest in these matters. Although I am grateful to the Secretary of State and to his colleagues for our visits, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that if my remarks are not entirely laudatory that does not indicate any lack of appreciation for my visits.
In these debates, it always rests with the Opposition to investigate the activities of the Royal Air Force and to try to assess whether the country is getting good value for its money and whether the Royal Air Force is providing the security and the defensive value that the Memorandum suggests. It should be emphasised that if we speak critically we in no circumstances wish to give the impression that we are in any way critical of the personnel of the Air Force.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park, the hon. Member for Macclesfield and I in all our visits to Royal Air Force bases have been extraordinarily impressed by the efficiency of the officers, N.C.O.s and airmen. There is no doubt that as a body of men the Royal Air Force is second to none as a fighting force. Any criticisms that we make must be directed purely to the rôle that the Service is given and to the weapons with which it is equipped.
I turn first to Bomber Command, which according to the Memorandum still provides us with a strategic nuclear deterrent. We know that the United States is greatly decreasing her bomber force and greatly decreasing the amount of money that she is spending on it. We also know that the Soviet Union is adopting the same attitude. Paragraph 9 of the Memorandum adds some weight to this view, because it says that the fighter strength is being reduced in our country because the threat is now largely from missiles and not the manned bomber. If other countries are to 689 a large extent giving up or reducing their manned bombers, I think that we must carefully investigate why we are continuing to maintain our V-bombers at a peak level.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I do not want to quarrel too much with the hon. Gentleman, but is it not a fact that the Russian strategic bomber force has always been relatively small? She has a number of tactical bombers, but her strategic force has always been a modest one. There is no question of reducing it.
§ Mr. Cronin
I accept that the Russians have devoted the majority of their bomber force to tactical use with the Army. Nevertheless, I emphasise that Russia's strategic development is being concentrated now on missiles and not on bombers. Such strategic bombers as she has have been reduced in number.
We have to investigate carefully the value or: Bomber Command as a strategic nuclear deterrent. Concerning the V-bombers, I think the first thing which impresses one is that they are to a large extent a first-strike weapon. The V-bomber can only take off from long, prepared, concrete runways and requires elaborate maintenance and servicing. It can take off from only a limited number of air stations, and those air stations may be obliterated by a first-strike attack. It seems probable that in the event of a first-strike attack very few V-bombers would be able to get off to fulfil their mission against the enemy.
One has to consider next what would happen to the small proportion of V-bombers which left their bases to drop nuclear weapons on the enemy. Tremendous progress has been made in surface-to-air guided missiles. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Air would agree that we have produced a superb one, the Bristol Ferranti Bloodhound. The Americans have a similar type of weapon, and the Russians, who are not behind with this weapon, have paraded their missiles in Red Square.
These surface-to-air guided missiles have ranges of between 30 and 50 miles and an extraordinarily high degree of accuracy. I think the Secretary of State for Air will agree that they have more than 90 per cent. kill. In fact one missile, the American Nike Hercules, has 690 succeeded in hitting another missile so high is the degree of efficiency obtainable in these missiles. I suggest that the small proportion of V-bombers which went into enemy territory would have great difficulty in getting through to their targets because of these accurate guided missiles.
In addition, we know that the Russians have several thousand fighter aircraft. A substantial portion of these are Mig 21s, which travel at supersonic speeds and at more than double the speed of the V-bombers. One cannot help feeling that the proportion of V-bombers which survived a first-strike attack and got through to Soviet territory would have a difficult time with these clouds of fighters which would attack them. Even the Chinese have been producing more than twenty-five Mig 17s every month in their own country since 1955. They, too, must have a formidable fighter force. It seems, therefore, that the value of the V-bomber as a strategic deterrent is running down very rapidly indeed.
Bomber Command is, nevertheless, an efficient force from the point of view of a conventional rôle. It could be used in a tactical rôle, and it probably could be used in a nuclear rôle against an unsophisticated enemy, though I can hardly imagine it being used in such a rôle. But as a nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union, or even against China, it seems to have very limited possibilities.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I apologise for not having been present to hear the whole debate, but I think the hon. Gentleman must realise that when he talks about interception this depends to a tremendous extent not only on the efficiency of the aircraft itself, but on the radar screen, which is highly technical and necessary for proper interception, and I doubt whether the Chinese are quite so sophisticated in that sphere.
§ Mr. Cronin
I accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but I am sure he will agree that there is no doubt about the efficiency of the Russian radar arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman's intervention brings me to the next point, which concerns some rather vague statements in the Memorandum. In paragraphs 4 and 5 we are told that the V-bombers have 691 had their efficiency increased by improvements in their navigating equipment, in their electronic counter measures, and by the provision of this special new nuclear weapon. I know that the Secretary of State for Air does not want to commit a breach of security in this House, but these statements are a little puzzling. I was under the impression that the highest degree of precision in navigation had been achieved by bombers years ago, and it is difficult to understand what revolutionary change, or even substantial change, can be brought about in the navigating equipment of bombers. Either a bomber knows where it is or it does not, and a long time ago bombers knew where they were when they were on mission. But perhaps we can have some further information on this.
The Secretary of State for Air is perhaps not prepared to tell us about these electronic counter measures, and for that reason we have no idea what they are. We are told that there are certain important improvements, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot tell us what they are. We must therefore take his word that the V-bombers are now more efficient. This is far from reassuring.
The same comment applies to these special nuclear weapons which are fitted to the TSR2. The TSR2 promises to be an admirable tactical strike aircraft. I say "promises to be" because it has not yet flown, and we must reserve our judgment on that ground, because in the past the Ministry of Aviation has produced promising aircraft which did not fly either because they were cancelled, or because they were found unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield that the TSR2 is a superb tactical aircraft as far as one can assess the situation at the moment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park pointed out, this aircraft has now been promoted to a strategic rôle and one cannot help feeling that the Government, with the best intentions, might have some political bias for promoting it to this rôle. They are in an awkward position about the cancellation of Skybolt, they will be in an awkward position when there is a missile gap when the V-bombers go out of service, and it may be that from a political point of view it suits the Government to dis- 692 cover a new strategic weapon. The TSR2 has never been suggested as a strategic weapon in any Government document until this year. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will correct me if I am wrong.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) when he was Minister of Defence referred to this in 1960. The strategic capacity of this aircraft was referred to again in 1961 or 1962.
§ Mr. Cronin
These references were of a very vague nature. The Committee can form a judgment only on what has been written in the Memoranda on the Air Estimates and the Defence White Papers—in the days when we had Defence White Papers. In none of those documents has it ever been suggested that the TSR2 is a strategic nuclear bomber. The TSR2 can obviously carry a nuclear weapon, but the essence of a strategic bomber is that it can carry a nuclear weapon in a strategic rôle—in other words, drop a nuclear weapon on a principal city of a potentially hostile country and come back.
Earlier in the debate I asked the Secretary of State whether the range of this aircraft was sufficient to give it a truly strategic rôle in those terms and he declined to reply on the ground of public interest. His hon. Friends applauded him for saying that. But the whole purpose of a strategic deterrent is that a potential aggressor should be made aware of the fact that it can obliterate his principal cities. It is highly desirable that he should be made aware of this. The United States are only too happy to announce the ranges of their strategic weapons. Although they may not give precise details, they are always willing to say that their B.52s can obliterate the principal cities of Russia, Siberia and China, and that their intercontinental missiles can do the same thing.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Do the Americans say that they can do this before the aircraft or missiles in question have ever flown?
§ Mr. Cronin
I do not want to get away from my main point. This is an interesting diversionary tactic on the part of the hon. Member for Macclesfield which he no doubt learnt when he commanded Royal Air Force formations in the war. We must not escape from the main point, which is that every country—including Russia—which produces a nuclear strategic weapon announces to the whole world its capability and that it can do the job of obliterating the principal cities of its opponents.
But, although he declares the TSR2 to be a strategic weapon, the Secretary of State is too coy to say whether it can perform a strategic rôle. Why? Surely it is not going to be of such great intelligence value to the Russians for the world to announce definitely whether this aircraft can go to Moscow, perform a strategic mission and come back.
§ Mr. Cronin
Come back—that is the point. I put it to the Minister that no security is involved here. Nobody wants him to announce the exact range of the TSR2. All that we want to know is that the aircraft can carry out a strategic nuclear rôle, in other words, can drop nuclear weapons on the principal cities of a potential aggressor and return. No breach of security can be involved in that.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Is the hon. Member saying that if the Minister affirms that this aircraft can get to Moscow nobody can calculate the distance from here to Moscow and thereby discover the range of the aircraft? Is that his proposition?
§ Mr. Cronin
All we want to know is whether it can get to Moscow and back again. If it cannot, then it cannot be a nuclear strategic weapon. It is as simple as that.
The Secretary of State would be quite happy to confirm that the V-bombers can get to Moscow and return, but he is not prepared to say that the TSR2 can. I suggest the reason is that this aircraft is not a strategic nuclear bomber and that 694 it has no strategic rôle. This leads one to the conclusion that what has been written in the Memorandum to the Air Estimates is misleading—and misleading in an extremely improper way. If the Minister wants to deny this he can do it simply by saying that the TSR2 can attack the principal cities of a potential aggressor and come back.
§ Mr. Cronin
As my hon. and learned Friend says, it is very doubtful whether the TSR2 could get there, unless it were provided with some refuelling facilities on the way. Operationally, that would seem to be very improbable, certainly over Russian territory.
I do not want to press this matter too far. No doubt the Under-Secretary will give us some further information on the subject. Perhaps I should have said that I hope that he will give us some further information—because in the last two Air Estimates debates he has made the Under-Secretary's speech in the context that no debate had taken place before it and did not answer any of the questions which were put to him. On this occasion I hope that he will announce the essential fact whether or not the TSR2 is a truly nuclear deterrent—if only for the honour and reputation of his Government.
I want to refer briefly to some of the commands that I visited with certain hon. Members. These commands would seem to have a somewhat limited value, except as taking-off places for Vbombers—and we have already dealt with that question. In Singapore there are some Canberras, which are strike aircraft. The Canberra has a radius of action of about 500 miles, in other words, the ability to get to the target and return if it is not much more than about 500 miles away. If we take a map of the Far East and put the point of a pair of compasses on Singapore and describe a circle with a 500-mile radius we find that the circle encloses entirely friendly countries. I want to know whether the Canberras in Singapore can take off from air stations in other countries and make attacks on potential aggressors.
The same consideration applies in Cyprus. The Canberras there certainly cannot reach any potential aggressors, 695 unless they come only part of the way back, and land in intermediate countries. It is very important for us to know whether there are proper logistic facilities for these Canberra squadrons to take off from the airfields of friendly countries in the neighbourhood of Singapore and Cyprus and also Aden.
I want to say a few words about Fighter Command. According to paragraph 9 of the Memorandum, fighters still have a rôle to play in preventing reconnaissance, investigating unidentified intrusion into our air space and deterring or preventing attempts to jam our warning systems by intercepting the hostile jamming aircraft. But what can a fighter do under these circumstances? It is obvious that a ship can stop another ship simply by hoisting the International Code signal telling it to heave to or suffer the consequences, but what happens when one of our fighters meets a suspicious aircraft flying over our territory or over one of our bases?
I have talked to various fighter pilots about this problem, and they seem to have been given no useful instructions. Let us suppose that the other aircraft contains a Chinese or a Russian pilot. How does a British fighter pilot indicate to him an order to get out of our territory? How does one order him to land? What action can be taken by our fighter aircraft when they are dealing with some intruder or some aircraft which has no proper purpose in the area in which it is found? That seems an important question.
I move on to the question of the P.1127, and the P.1154, the vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. In this the rôle of the Royal Air Force has been exceptionally unfortunate. The Secretary of State should have had the grace to blush when he referred to the desirability of the P.1127. This was developed some years ago and the Royal Air Force took no interest in it. At a time when the Royal Air Force was declining to take an interest in the Hawker P.1127 no fewer than nine American companies had offered to buy it. It is also the case, and I have this from a first-hand source, that the P.1127 was developed 75 per cent. with United States money. In other words, it was developed privately and at first received no backing at all from the 696 Royal Air Force. I hope we shall hear something about that because, the Royal Air Force cannot claim much credit for the development of the P.1127.
The P.1154 will no doubt be an excellent aircraft, but it is a long way from flying. In marked contrast to the delay and vacillation of the Air Ministry, the French ordered a prototype V.T.O.L. aircraft, the Balzac, which flew last year. From modifications and tests of that aircraft it is certain that the Mirage IIIV, the equivalent of the P.1154, will be the first in the air, the first operational vertical take-off and landing aircraft with really powerful strike capabilities. This is an unsatisfactory situation for our country and for our aircraft industry. A revolutionary development in fighter strike aircraft has taken place in spite of the Air Ministry and with no help from the Ministry until it was obvious that it would be a winner.
The same consideration applies to the SC1, developed by Short Bros. and Harland. I see that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) agrees with me. The SC1 with Rolls Royce engines was developed some years ago. With the same indifference as it showed towards the P.1127, the Air Ministry declined to go further with the SC1. The result has been that the French have bought the rights of the Rolls Royce engines of the SC1 and are now developing and going ahead fast with them in the Mirage IIIV, this important development in which the Air Ministry declined to take an interest. The Secretary of State for Air should be very careful about speaking in a manner in any way to the slightest extent laudatory of the Government about vertical takeoff and landing aircraft because the Government record in this matter has been extremely bad.
I now wish to say a few words about Transport Command. I can only re-echo what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park in his admirable speech. The Royal Air Force now has no efficient strategic freighter. There is no way of flying bulky, heavy equipment for long distances, 2,000 miles or more. The only strategic freighter at the moment is the Britannia, which has too narrow a cargo cross-section. It can be loaded only from 697 the side and only from a special ramp. The Royal Air Force is at present completely deprived of an efficient strategic freighter.
In tactical freighters the situation is nearly as bad. We have the large, lumbering Beverley, which is going out of service. The Secretary of State and the Minister of Aviation, however, produced, like a rabbit out of a hat, with tremendous enthusiasm, the culmination of Operational Requirement 351. It would be very helpful if the Committee were to investigate what happened to Operational Requirement 351. The Minister of Defence, who was the last Minister of Aviation, will have knowledge of all this. Operational Requirement 351 was a requirement to provide a tactical freighter for the Army. It had to carry 35,000 lb. over a certain distance, more than 2,000 miles, and land on a runway in 1,500 feet over a 50 foot obstacle.
The points were thrashed out by the Army and the Air Force in conjunction throughout most of 1960. At the end of 1960 the requirement was finally decided and specifications and tenders were invited. Four tenders were made in May, 1961, so the cards were on the table by then. Between May, 1961, and now all that was necessary was for the Air Ministry, the Army and the Ministry of Aviation to decide which to choose. I hope that the Under-Secretary can give us an idea why it took two years to make the decision. That seems an extraordinarily long time to come to a decision over something which had been thrashed out during the whole of 1960.
Why was there this extraordinary delay? I suggest that this is intolerable vacillation and indecision on the part of the Government. This is the sort of thing which brings the Government into disrepute in every field of public service, and this is a particularly important one. The Government have decided on the Armstrong Whitworth 681, an admirable aircraft, tailor-made for the requirements, but why should there be this delay? The Government must produce some very definite explanation about this, because it must be an appalling example of inefficiency unless there is a clear-cut reason which can be announced from the Dispatch Box tonight. There is no question of security here. We should be told why it took two years to make this decision.
698 The Committee ought to consider next what the decision involves. All that the Minister of Aviation has decided is to have a design study. Not a single worker is to be employed for the next nine months, not a single riveter or electrician or engineer in Coventry will do an hour's work on the project. This is purely a matter for the design department. It is useless to pretend that some big achievement has been attained in reducing unemployment. It is simply a design study which is to take place in certain design offices. The Government in about nine months might decide not to have the Armstrong Whitworth 681. They have this option. If they are exceptionally fortunate in the General Election, they might decide to cancel it, but nothing in this decision is producing any extra work now and nothing to indicate that we shall have a tactical freighter aircraft in the near future.
These points need very serious consideration and careful answers in this debate. The Committee is entitled to know the reasons. We have a superb body of men in the Royal Air Force and an organisation of matchless efficiency. One gets the impression that it is hamstrung all the time by being given the wrong rôles and the wrong equipment.
These are very serious points, and I hope that the Secretary of State will appreciate that we in the Opposition have no other consideration except to improve the efficiency of the Royal Air Force and to maintain the security of our country. We should like some answers to these points, and certainly some better answer than has been attempted so far.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir Norman Hulbert (Stockport, North)
In following the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) in the debate, I make only one comment to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and that is that when he replies I hope he does not publicly announce the range and the performance of the TSR2.
I must make the usual intimation of my interest in the aircraft industry. My right hon. Friend is one of our smaller customers. When I first entered the House, the Air Estimates were a fraction of what they are today. The Secretary of State was a member of the Cabinet and hon. 699 Members opposite voted against the Service Estimates. We have proceeded far from those days. Today we all admit that we have seen a very major reduction in the status of the Secretary of State and of the Service Chief of the Royal Air Force.
Whether we like it or not, Service Ministers of the future will play a very small part indeed. They will be the administrators of their Departments under the general direction and policy of the Minister of Defence. Likewise, the Chief of the Defence Staff will be all-powerful. I am sure that a great many hon. and right hon. Members must deplore the speech of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) the other day when he was criticising—most of us thought very unfairly—the present Chief of the Defence Staff. Admittedly Lord Mountbatten is a Member of another place, but it was as Chief of the Defence Staff that he was being so severely criticised, and it is in that capacity that he is unable to defend himself.
The right hon. Gentleman said:I do not care very much for the gentleman myself … I do not think that he is of much value to the Minister of Defence…although I understand that Lord Mountbatten is alleged to be responsible for initiating the idea of reorganisation, I hope that if we are to have a Supremo the right hon. Gentleman will manage without Lord Mountbatten."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 279.]If many hon. Members had the opportunity of giving a fraction of the service to the Crown which Lord Mountbatten has given they could well be proud of themselves.
In the triumvirate White Paper a great deal is said about the consolidation of the Services, but little or no mention is made of the unification of the non-effective services—the medical, educational, and so on. There was there a great opportunity for inter-Service co-operation which has been attempted in the past but has never met with success because of inter-Service jealousy. If the Fighting Forces can get together, surely the doctors and the schoolmasters can do the same.
In the part of the White Paper which refers to the Air Force, slight reference is made to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Those of us who have the honour to serve in that branch mourn its virtual demise four or five years ago, but we 700 all admit that flying an aeroplane today is such a technical matter that there is really little or no opportunity other than for a full-time air officer. But I think that the Air Ministry might examine other aspects of our reserve forces and see what use could be made, on an auxiliary, territorial or part-time basis, of vast numbers of men and women who have some experience of Service life in the Royal Air Force and who would be available still to do many of the jobs which their age does not debar them from doing.
The White Paper also refers, again briefly, to air traffic control. This country is small. That is one of the reasons why there is so little private flying here today, which is again a great loss, because in the old days it provided a magnificent avenue for getting people air-minded and for the training of pilots in the ab initio stage. But it seems to me that if we are talking of co-operation there is a great opportunity for complete integration of the civil and the Services air traffic controls.
Transport Command has grown very greatly in the last few years. It is not long since I made a speech in the House about that Command when the Chief of Transport Command had the rank of only an air vice-marshal and the aircraft at his disposal were pitifully few. Today all that is changed. We have an Air Chief Marshal as the Commander-in-Chief now, and in spite of what some hon. Members think we have really first-class aircraft in service.
Many of us, and especially those who have had the opportunity of visiting the Short Bros. and Harland works in Belfast, are disappointed at the decision to give the new transport aircraft to other manufacturers. Short Bros. and Harland is certainly in a peculiar position. It is almost 100 per cent. Government-owned. It is located in an area where unemployment is the highest in the United Kingdom, and for from my own knowledge the firm has a first-class design team and a band of several thousand loyal workers. We can only hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation will keep his promise—as I am sure he will—and ensure that Short Bros. and Harland receives its share of the sub-contracting work for the new transport aircraft.
701 The White Paper refers to the errands of mercy which the Royal Air Force has carried out, and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) has reinforced it. In the climatic conditions of the last few weeks, aircraft of the Royal Air Force and especially helicopters of the Royal Navy have rendered yeoman service. Many civil helicopter pilots flying the same types of aircraft have also played their part.
My right hon. Friend referred briefly to manned aircraft and emphasised—probably not strongly enough—that they are to continue in service. That statement cannot be too widely known, because the belief that we are abandoning aircraft and are concentrating on rockets must inevitably have a very bad effect on recruiting for the Royal Air Force.
The co-operation of the Army and the Royal Air Force in the design of transport aircraft can no doubt be copied in other aspects of aircraft production. After all, a transport aircraft is required to carry naval commando units, Army units and Royal Air Force personnel. The requirements in that respect are precisely the same. Similarly, the requirements for helicopters are the same, as indeed are requirements concerning certain other communications work.
My right hon. Friend spoke as a very junior member of the defence team. We all hope—and I am sure that he will do his best to see that it is fulfilled—that the value of the R.A.F. is kept uppermost and that the Air Ministry will not allow itself to be further diminished in efficiency and power.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert) will forgive me if I do not follow him, except to say that all of us on this side express the wish that the Royal Air Force and its personnel maintain the integrity and quality they have always had in the past. People in these islands, and in many other parts of the world, have a great admiration for the qualities of British pilots and British aircraft over the last twenty years. It would be wrong if any one gave the impression that there are many deprecations of these qualities.
702 Do not let us hesitate to admit that the problem of equipping the services in this modern age is a very difficult one indeed. When I read that an American aircraft designer, with a machine still on the drawing board, claims that it will have a range of 3,000 miles, I say to myself, "That is typically American". No British designer with an aircraft still on the drawing board would say that the ultimate product would have a certain range or power. One can only give an estimate. It is the same with cars. I see that a car which is not yet even in production has been advertised as doing 45 miles per gallon with a cruising speed of 70 miles an hour.
Designers of aircraft are not designing only for one aircraft to be built or even for only two or three. If a machine is to be designed for the Royal Air Force, it must be one which can be manufactured in quantity by one's industrial base. I remember, as does the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), an aircraft which came off the drawing board and had every prospect of being a winner. The prototype was a good performer. But when it came to the production line there had to be so many modifications to fit production techniques that it proved to be a failure. I believe that the hon. Gentleman flew one of these planes early in the last war.
The design has to meet production techniques. It is no good attempting to equip the Services with aircraft which cannot be mass produced in a war situation. They must be mass-produced if they are to be any use, and semi-skilled labour must be able to do the job. It cannot be done by hand. The first prototype is made by hand, as is the first frame in experimental departments, but thereafter the job must go on the production line.
Where are the industrial bases of our aircraft industry? There is one in Belfast. Admittedly, a small labour force of a few thousand is being kept together there. Whatever is manufactured in Belfast, an industrial base for producing aircraft should be maintained there at a very high and efficient level. How do the Government intend to do it? It certainly should be done.
In Scotland, we have 136,000 unemployed. In the Fort William and Fal- 703 kirk areas there is the aluminium industry, and 85 per cent. of what goes into an aircraft is aluminium alloy. On Mon- day, we asked how much of the production for the Royal Air Force was done in Scotland, but we were told the Secretary of State has no information as to where the things used in the Royal Air Force are produced. That seems to be a crazy situation.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield talked about Skybolt and Polaris. He said that he would prefer to expand our industrial base and create our own instruments of defence rather than buy them from someone else. I agree with him and that we can do it in this country. During the last war many light engineering companies were encouraged—indeed, almost compelled—to build shadow factories in different parts of the country. I remember one that was built in Wales. I was then a tool maker and I was supposed to go there, but I preferred to stay in Birmingham. The shadow factories that were built throughout Britain were designed to produce entirely military goods for war use, but, through the techniques of their operation, they were able easily to turn over to the production of goods for international commerce.
Our defence services require highly technical pieces of apparatus and massive products. I believe that 6,000 to 7,000 different components go into an air frame, with its mass of diaphragms. The motor car firms, like the engineering companies, pressed tool and stamping manufacturers all over the Midlands and the South make all this hardware for the aircraft industry—yet the aluminium is brought from Falkirk in Scotland. I am suggesting that a lot of this hardware for the aircraft industry—about £80 million worth—could be obtained in Scotland.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I cannot follow the hon. Member's point. Is he suggesting that we should build another aircraft factory in or near his constituency? I understand that the problem in that industry today is that it has too much capacity.
§ Mr. Bence
The hon. Member has not understood my argument. Perhaps I should explain it in more detail. The hon. Member for Macclesfield made the point that the aircraft industry had 704 been rationalised into a few very large units. These large units are not manufacturing institutions as such. They are really big assembly plants, for they assemble all sorts of hardware bought from all sorts of sub-contractors from many parts of the country.
They may buy injectors for engines from Simms, of Hendon, pressings from Fishers, of Birmingham, clocks from Smiths, Lanarkshire, and crankshafts from Beardmores. These components are purchased and assembled in these plants. Even Rolls-Royce, in Hillingdon, and Larkhall, in Scotland, are assembling jet engines while the parts which go into them are made by Balfour Marine in London and are despatched to Scotland. I have been suggesting that many of these big plants are just assembly units and not manufacturing units.
This equally applies to motor plants. Many of them buy out from sub-contractors and, like the aircraft industry, assemble the hardware. I am suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for equipping the Air Force, placing orders, and so on, should consider spending more money in Scotland. The hon. Member for Stockport, North asked for more money to be spent at Messrs. Short Bros. and Harland, in Belfast. I am now suggesting that more should be spent in Scotland.
Over the last forty years we have seen what happens when a small factory gets an order for, say, 2,000 or 3,000 pressings or machine parts a year. That can often help in the development of the company. This is particularly true of the motor industry in which small manufacturing units are able to expand their output. The techniques which go into the production of aircraft components can be used to produce components for washing machines and many other goods. Many firms like Cliffords not only produce aircraft components, but lots of other things.
I once worked in a plant in which we made aircraft components, parts for washing machines and typewriters. This sort of thing happens regularly in industry. When hon. Members study the Report of the Estimates Committee they should realise that when witnesses were questioned they said that it was helpful 705 to British industrial, producers if Government Departments enabled them to keep up a steady productive flow, for that helped them in their productivity costs.
Many industries in Scotland, like engineering, are already very much in existence. Many more could be established and the existing ones reinforced if the Government placed more contracts in the development districts. This applies to the North-East Coast, but I will not develop that point because hon. Members have already spoken about the North-East and Northern Ireland.
We have had a lot of discussion about the TSR2 and its range. I realise that the prototype, perhaps armed with dummies, may fly and that an idea of its range will be established. I also appreciate that its exact range will not be published. It seems that the Americans try something out and immediately say, "It is capable of 5,000 m.p.h." and that is that. It is also typically American. We are not nearly as rash. We like to make certain of our facts before making them known.
I must express surprise that anyone should be willing to talk in terms of bombers leaving these islands in a war and returning. This is amazing to me, for I would have thought that if a bomber left with nuclear weapons aboard the best instructions its pilot could be given would be, "Drop your load and get off to Australia, or somewhere like that; do not come back here because we will not be able to service your aircraft."
§ Mr. Bence
I recall the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) making a speech some years ago in which she said that if anything happened here and we got bombed we would fight on from Canada. Thus it is worth inquiring whether the range of our new projects will enable the aircraft to reach its destination and then be able to get back to some other British territory to carry on the fight.
§ Mr. Bence
War is dangerous.
The most important thing is that in designing an aircraft we should ensure that something really reliable is produced; that exaggerated claims about its 706 performance are not made and that the industry which is necessary to keep it in the air—the industrial base—is spread throughout the country.
This reminds me of the success we had with the Spitfire during the last war. We all recall how we began that war; ill-equipped and without the necessary industrial base to keep what aircraft we had in the air. Fortunately, we got the Spitfire, which proved to be a winner. Those conditions may not recur and it is important that the industrial base is well dispersed and that we are not placed in the sort of situation in which we found ourselves in the years immediately before the last war.
Most important, we must not put something experimental into service. We must examine everything in detail, remembering that what is bang up to date on Monday may be obsolescent by Friday.
No matter who governs the country, so long as the nations arm themselves with this sort of equipment it is purely academic to argue about whether money is being wasted, because, although £10 million may be spent on producing the finest aircraft in the world, a winner with a 20,000-mile range, a potential opponent might have devised a means of shooting it down as soon as it leaves the ground. Let us be careful about how we tackle this problem of our air defences.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
When the debate began, there were about 40 hon. Members on this side of the Committee and no more than 18 on the other side. Since then, the numbers on both sides have dwindled considerably and yet, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air said, we are dealing with something in excess of £500 million worth of taxpayers' money, and the object of these Committees of Supply is to ensure that the interests of the taxpayers are properly safeguarded. I hope that the taxpayers are pleased with us today, or at least those who have taken the trouble to come here.
Very rapidly these Estimates debates, particularly for the Armed Forces, are becoming a public scandal, because so few hon. Members take the trouble to turn up. The security of the nation is involved, and items including the biggest individual Votes with which we have to deal in the course of the Parliamentary year are discussed in these debates. I 707 know that it is never an attractive practice to start running down the show which one is in oneself, but if we are to have unified control of defence it will be even more important that we do not go on repeating what we have been doing in the last few years—turning up only in tens when we should be here in hundreds.
I join with those hon. Members who have congratulated my right hon. Friend on introducing his first Air Estimates. Whatever be the future of the Ministerial set-up, it is important that we all realise, as everybody here knows, that my right hon. Friend has his heart in his job and wants to do his best for the Service for which he is now responsible. It is sometimes appropriate that the Secretary of State for Air should not be a former airman. It is sometimes a very good thing not to be in a position of being able to be accused of having a past vested interest in the Service for which one is responsible.
I would never make a farmer Minister of Agriculture, or a soldier Secretary of State for War, if I had my way. It is very important from the point of view of the taxpayers that they know that whoever is in charge of this, or that, or the other, Department is someone without any vested interest and, therefore, not apt to forget what the taxpayers' needs are.
I have said on many occasions—and I am glad that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is here, because I have said it in his presence once or twice—that we are not spending enough on defence. We are spending on defence 7 per cent. of our gross national product, but the United States is spending approximately 14 per cent. of its. To me, this country will always be in greater danger than the United States and we ought, therefore, always to be able to justify greater proportionate expenditure on defence here than in the United States.
I am not saying that we ought automatically to bump up our expenditure to 14 per cent. of the gross national product, but when the newspapers, as over the last few weeks, talk of the increase in the actual number of millions of pounds which we are spending each year, they do the greatest possible damage in the 708 public mind by putting a totally false emphasis on the amount without taking into account what it represents in terms of the nation's capacity to protect itself.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the percentage of our gross national product which we spend on defence is still higher than that of any other member of N.A.T.O. except the United States?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I accept that without dispute. I would certainly say that every N.A.T.O. country might well make a bigger effort and I am not suggesting that it should not. What I am saying is that the special position of Britain in the world is such, both strategically and because of the inevitable threats which must always surround us, being where we are that we could justify to the taxpayers spending on defence a greater proportion of the gross national product than other countries might be able to spend.
Coming more closely to the Estimates than so far, we have to make very sure that we have a Royal Air Force which can carry out its necessary role in the three capacities which my right hon. Friend mentioned today—defending these islands, fulfilling our overseas Commonwealth role, and honouring our obligations under alliances. We have to do all those things and I am convinced that the Royal Air Force has an immensely important part to play for as far ahead as we can see. I am also convinced that the manned aircraft will have an increasingly important part to play and that the importance of rockets and ballistic missiles and so on will diminish as the years go by.
We have to face that a manned aircraft can be controlled and brought back again, or turned round, or stopped, and that that is not always so with a rocket. It is extremely important that we appreciate that the more sophisticated weapons become, the more important it is to ensure that the men are in the right place in this sophisticated system. I am certain that in terms of air power that will always mean that there will be a place for manned aircraft for as long ahead as we can see.
I want to devote most of my remarks this evening to discussing something which I raised in an intervention in the 709 speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation in the debate on defence two days ago. When I did, my right hon. Friend promptly referred me to my three right hon. Friends the Service Ministers. I was referring to the whole subject of customer representation in the various projects which have to be developed.
The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire,East (Mr. Bence) cannot have read a report to which I wish to refer, the Report on "The Management and Control of Research and Development", commonly known as the Gibb-Zuckerman Report, which deals with the whole question of how to control expenditure on research and development for defence purposes. The Report discusses other matters, but in Chapter 7 says something which any hon. Member who wants to make sense of the subject of defence expenditure on research and development would be well-advised to read.
The hon. Member suggested that it was impossible to say what the range of an aircraft would be before it was tested, but the operational requirement presupposes that an aircraft must be able to go a certain distance, or it would not fulfil the operational requirement. Anybody who tenders for the operational requirement deliberately tries to meet several factors, of which the range of the aircraft is only one.
§ Mr. Bence
The hon. Member is on a different point. Under the continuing research and development which goes on at different stages, at the test bench level and at the drawing hoard level, there is a calculated estimate of what the aircraft will do. Admittedly, when it comes to the contracting stage and to the placing of orders and the demanding of something and the demanding of performance, what the hon. Member has said applies, but I was speaking of the person designing the aircraft.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Those who are better versed in the production of aircraft than I am would say that one of the things at which one can usualy make a fair guess is how far the aircraft will be able to fly. That is at the design stage.
I mentioned the Gibb-Zuckerman Report in my intervention in the speech of 710 my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation two days ago. Paragraph 192 of Chapter 7 says:An immense responsibility rests on the shoulders of these officers"—that is, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff and, under him, the Assistant Chief of Air Staff in charge of operational requirements—and they cannot, in our view, fully discharge this responsibility, bearing in mind the great complexity of modern weapons and equipments, without experience of scientific and technical as well as operational matters".The next paragraph of the Report, paragraph 193 goes on:We therefore share the disquiet expressed by the Select Committee on Estimates, which recently reported on the Headquarters organisation of the Admiralty, about the short tours of duty of senior officers in these responsible positions. They are generally so short that it is most unlikely that any single officer will have the opportunity of seeing a major project pass through the more important stages of its development. Lack of personal continuity in the higher positions from which operational requirements are controlled is bound to have its effect on much of the research and development designed to meet the requirements of the Services.The Report went on to recommend that the matter be urgently reviewed.
I approached my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation who immediately referred me to the three Service Ministers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to say something about this, because I am quite convinced that the Report of the Gibb-Zuckerman Committee is right. It follows very nearly the argument advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) during the defence debate. If we are to have this unification in the Ministry of Defence it is very important that in that Ministry we should have a secretariat well-known in Whitehall which is really versed in all these things and expert.
Although I suppose that it is more of a Treasury than an Air Ministry matter, may I say that the more we go in for a unification project the more we shall have to pay for having a special form a Civil Service or a set-up which is separate from the rest of the home Civil Service to deal with defence. I will not elaborate that because the point is not particularly relevant in this debate. 711 But we are dealing with the management of public money whenever we discuss the Service Estimates.
I am quite convinced that my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West, was right when he said that the set-up now being visualised must involve the disappearance of the Supremo over the three Chiefs of Staff. I hope that my right hon. Friend, while he is in charge at the Ministry, will take this view. I am sure that if we visualise a Ministry of Defence with a Minister and the three Service Ministers below him, with 'the Minister of Aviation, as a sort of quadruplet of Ministers below the Ministry of Defence, it is absolutely essential that the Minister of Defence should be able to go straight to the Chiefs of Staff.
I hope that the Chiefs of Staff will have direct access to the Minister of Defence. It would be very unusual if the Minister of Defence went behind the Secretary of State for Air to the Chief of the Air Staff without letting the right hon. Gentleman know. I should think it desirable that we should not have an additional Supremo over the three Chiefs of Staff.
We cannot make sense of the Air Estimates without bringing in the Ministry of Aviation. I do not know whether hon. Members have tried to find out what our aircraft cost every year and how they are paid for, but to do so one must inter-relate the Ministry of Aviation Vote with the Air Ministry Vote. Here I wish to make a particular plea to the Government in respect of procedure for future years. We cannot make sense of these figures unless we have the Ministry of Aviation Vote to examine when we are discussing the Air Ministry Vote.
I do not know whether it is realised that at the moment we have not got the Ministry of Aviation Vote for the next financial year and can only compare last year's Aviation Vote with this year's Air Ministry Vote. I hope that before we have the Estimates next year we shall be provided with the Ministry of Aviation Vote for the same year.
I have tried to conduct an experiment. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State knows the answer, but according to the Ministry 712 of Aviation Vote last year the total purchase of aircraft amounted to £344 million from that Department of which the Air Ministry accounted for £234½ million. In other words, there was a balance of about £110 million. So far as we can see from the Air Ministry Vote this year, about £225,200,000 will be spent on aircraft, although it is difficult to know whether weapons are included in the total.
If we go on to see what the Ministry of Aviation spent on aircraft for the Air Ministry we find that in the Vote it amounts to about £205 million; I have rounded off that figure. Therefore, somewhere there is a discrepancy of £29 million and I defy any hon. Member to find it by looking at the Estimates together. The reason is the Ministry of Aviation presents its figures in a manner different from that of the Secretary of State for Air. I am not blaming either Ministry. Either system may be the better. But unless they are inter-related, and seen to be inter-related, it makes it impossible for hon. Members to carry out their duties on behalf of the taxpayers. We do not know how the money is being spent.
There is this extraordinary bulk agreement to which I have referred in other years and which is more clearly set out than used to be the case, and I thank whoever was responsible for that. It may be that this £29 million is derived from that discrepancy, because in one case the period dealt with is nine months and in the other twelve months. I am drawing attention to this matter because I think that it illustrates the importance of getting the three Service Departments and the Ministry of Aviation together under the same head.
I believe that the arrangements announced by the Minister of Defence during the defence debate are along the right lines for that reason above all others. I do not think that we can ever hope to make sense of the research and development expenditure in relation to defence unless we have one of the principle spending Departments on behalf of the Armed Forces under the same control, and the only way to do that is to bring the Ministry of Aviation in with the Ministry of Defence.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I appreciate that, and it leads me on to something else which I had intended to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) and I served for about two years on a Committee which produced just before Christmas a Report called "Science in Industry". Hon. Members on this side of the House and some knowledgeable scientists from outside published this Report, which went into the question of the inter-relationship between defence and civil spending on research and development.
I will not make long quotations from the Report, but we came to the conclusions that there is a need for a closer relationship between defence and civil spending on research and development. We did not suggest that a defence project should be deliberately arranged to provide a civil result as part of the total result. But we think that there should be a closer inter-relationship between civil and military to ensure that a good idea, which might not be of much use to the Armed Forces, might be used to the full from the civil viewpoint. An amalgamation of the Air Ministry with the Ministry of Defence would provide an opportunity to improve the position. If we can bring the Ministry of Aviation in as well, it would enable a closer relationship to exist between civil and military research and development. For that reason, again, I welcome it.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Will it make very much difference to the state of affairs which existed between the wars, when the Air Ministry was responsible for all aircraft development? In view of the somewhat unhappy results which flowed from that period, I wonder whether my hon. Friend thinks it wise that the Ministry of Aviation should be under the Ministry of Defence.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
One can always take any argument to a reductio ad absurdutn. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should go too far in this way. From what my hon. Friend has just said, I think that it would be too far.
714 I am not suggesting that we should unify the whole control under one Minister. What I am suggesting is that there will be the Minister of Defence and three Service Ministers dealing with the Armed Forces and the general defence policy. Then the Minister of Aviation is being brought in and he will deal with the supply of aircraft for the Army and the Royal Air Force, and there will also be the civil side.
It may well be that the civil side will have to be hived off somewhere else. I hope that it will not. I hope that there will be a civil branch which, obviously, will not be fully au fait with all the top secrets. But I am certain that it will lead to a better knowledge of what is going on in the military field, which might possibly be of use to the civil field, and follow the recommendation of the Gibb-Zuckerman Report on it.
There is only one other thing I want to say and that is on the question of short take-off and landing or vertical take-off and landing. I myself believe that the future lies not in the vertical take-off and landing, but in the short take-off and landing. In previous Service Estimates debates, and particularly Air Estimates, I have taken an interest in these matters for some time past. My own belief is that always where one is doing vertical take-off one is bound to have the aircraft at some stage or another working at a dynamic disadvantage. I do not see how it can possibly be avoided. What I think is important is that one should always, if possible, make the aircraft fly at the right speed, at the right height and at the right aspect ratio the whole time, and that, means a great deal more variation in the geometry of the aircraft than we have known up to now. I think that we must go flat out for this.
We had a great advantage here some years ago when the present Minister of Defence, strangely enough, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was a cut in research and development which came at the wrong moment for a project which was then farmed out to N.A.T.O. They have spent about £200 million on it since, and, incidentally, the originator of the idea was given no credit for it. Now we are moving into fields far away from that of the original conception. What we ought to think about now is at what speed and at what 715 height we shall be flying at and what type of aircraft we shall be flying in ten, fifteen or twenty years' time. I am prepared to bet that we shall be flying at speeds up to thirty times, the speed of sound in a manned aircraft at heights over 200,000 feet above the earth's surface. I believe that we shall have people working all the week in Australia and coming home for the weekend.
When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, East and also the hon. Gentleman the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) talked about "coming and going" they showed no grasp whatsoever of the strategy of this nation, of the fact that we live on the surface of a globe, and we must think in terms of flying from A to B and having the target in the middle, and making sure that we always have these overseas bases, and implement to the full the policy laid down in the White Paper last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson)—the economic advantages of overseas bases with combined forces of the three Services in the right place at the right time in order to maintain our strategic position. In these Estimates, I believe that that is the direction in which we are moving. If my right hon. Friend wants any support for the continuing research into manned aircraft, he has it from me.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
It is agreeable to find myself approving one remark made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke). He said at the beginning of his speech that he thought it was a scandal that these debates, when we are voting so much money, should not be better attended. I entirely agree with him about that. Of course it is easier to say than to devise a remedy for it, but I think that if it contiues over a period of years, as it has for many years now, with very important debates of this nature being attended by such few Members of the House on both sides, it can do the greatest injury to Parliament. Therefore, I think Parliament should try to discover the reasons why it happens.
I am not saying it is due to somebody's wickedness or to some malevolent motive. 716 I think it is due to a combination of circumstances, but one of them certainly is the fact that a whole series of other Committees operate in the House of Commons which make it extremely difficult for Members of Parliament to attend debates in the House of Commons itself. Because that is one of the reasons it does not mean to say we should not try to devise a solution.
I certainly agree with what the hon. Gentleman said in that connection, and that brings me to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) who opened the debate. I am sure he did it out of the goodness of his heart, but he courteously thanked the Minister of Defence for being here. I do not think that Ministers should be congratulated for being here; I think they should be castigated when they are not. The Minister of Defence is paid to be here when we have defence debates, just as I am paid to be here.
§ Mr. Mulley
The reason why I drew attention to it was because of the extraordinary contempt that the previous Minister of Defence showed the House by never coming to the defence debates except when he was speaking. I wanted to encourage the new Minister of Defence into better habits.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member was encouraging the new Minister after his style and I was doing it after my style. I hope our combined efforts will secure the desired results. Nobody has ever thanked me for being here. Indeed, I do not see why they should. More often they have castigated me for being here than for being absent, but I think Members of Parliament ought to get it into their heads that one of their functions is to attend debates in the House of Commons. I think that would be a great and novel innovation in our constitutional arrangements and it would greatly assist to enhance the status of Parliament throughout the country.
I now come to the speech of the Secretary of State, who has had congratulations showered upon him. I do not see any reason, except for his speech, why I should not make it unanimous. However, I would like to warn him about certain things. When the previous Secretary of State for Air made his first speech from that Box he congratulated 717 his predecessor. I noticed today the right hon. Gentleman omitted to do so, and I think he was perfectly right. Possibly he has been doing the same thing as I have been doing, namely, reading the speeches of his predecessor. It may be that the new Secretary of State has read the last two speeches of the last Secretary of State for Air introducing the Estimates which persuaded him to start his speech with some philosophic references to the dangers of prophecy. I think he was wise, but the right hon. Gentleman should not really get so testy, as he did on one or two occasions, when my hon. Friends questioned some of the statements he makes. We have every right to question the statements made by Secretaries of State for Air. Some confident predictions were made by the Secretary of State about the performance of various weapons which are not yet in operation. When we on this side were a bit dubious about what was being said, the right hon. Gentleman almost took it as an affront.
The trouble is that we cannot believe what Secretaries of State for Air tell us. I do not say that offensively to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he is as truthful as continuance in the present administration enables him to be. But I cannot go further than that. It is not a very glowing compliment. My hon. Friend has already referred to the Skybolt fiasco. He referred to it very effectively. But we have a right to look at what was said by previous Secretaries of State for Air. As we are not quite sure whether to believe what the right hon. Gentleman said today, perhaps we should see whether there was any justification for believing what his predecessor said, because I dare say the same people produce the speeches.
During the Air Estimates debate on 8th March, 1961, it was said, according to the daily part of HANSARD for that date, No. 69:The missiles with which we plan to maintain our contribution to the Western deterrent —the Blue Streak and Skybolt—will be mounted on V-bombers.[HON. MEMBERS: "Blue Steel,"] No. Blue Streak was the great weapon in those days. I am talking about what was said on 8th March, 1961. I shall come to 1962 in a moment.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I think the hon. Gentleman referred to Blue Streak being mounted on a V-bomber. I do not think that can be right.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman must not quarrel with me. I am quoting what was said by the previous Secretary of State, and if there is any quarrel about the technical deficiencies of the statement the matter should be taken up with the Minister of Aviation and not with me. All that I am doing is to read HANSARD. It is a very innocent occupation, but it is sometimes very damaging to the Government. It says:The missiles with which we plan to maintain our contribution to the Western deterrent —the Blue Streak and Skybolt—will be mounted on V-bombers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 504.]I am sure that it is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman does not have to persuade me about that.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
No one is more amusing in debate in the House than the hon. Gentleman. He always takes me back to the days when I heard speeches in the Oxford Union, although I was not at the University. What the paragraph says is "Blue Streak"—and then there is a comma—"and Skybolt mounted on V-bombers". He knows that as well as I do.
§ Mr. Foot
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no comma here. He must not complain. All I am doing is to quote the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. This has nothing to do with the Oxford Union. There is no wit here, not a scrap. This is not conscious humour, it is unconscious humour, and it comes straight from the right hon. Gentleman. Let us bring the matter more up-to-date. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members to laugh now, but this was supposed to be serious when the Government said it last year, so let us see what they said.
On 12th March, 1962, the Secretary of State for Air began his speech by challenging my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). He asked, "Would he"—that is my right hon. Friend—"cancel Blue Steel?" Part of Blue Steel has been 719 cancelled, but not altogether. The next challenge was,Would he contract out of the Skybolt programme?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 904.]Only a bare 12 months ago that was supposed to be a most damaging question put to this side of the House by the Government Front Bench. The Government have contracted out since.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
I do not follow what the hon. Gentleman means by saying that we contracted out of the Blue Steel programme.
§ Mr. Foot
Apparently, there has been no alteration in the Government's Blue Steel programme, no alteration whatsoever in the slightest degree. If that is so, we shall have to check to see whether it remains true twelve months later. But there is no doubt about Skybolt. [Interruption.] That is what I am doing, and I am glad to have the Secretary of State's assistance. Together we shall correct the speech of his predecessor and make sure that we have it correctly on the record for the future.
The former Secretary of State for Air said much more about Skybolt. Not only did he take on my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, but he took on my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), now the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman said:The right hon. Gentleman"—that is, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton—in the reference which I have just quoted—which I think I have established to the Committee was inaccurate—cast doubts on the future of Skybolt. So has the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I am sorry that he is not present in the Chamber. Both right hon. Gentlemen intimated that Skybolt might not reach us. That is not the view in the Pentagon, or in the United States Air Force at present.It may be that that was correct then, but the Government should not be so innocent. The right hon. Gentleman later said:I can tell the Committee"—he had just said that he had been on a visit to the United States to see for himself—that we came away convinced that Skybolt will be in service on time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1962; Vol. 655, cc. 913–4.]720 I can understand the Government being innocent, and, perhaps, deceived.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) went very close to making a much more vicious charge against the American Government than I would make, because he went very near to saying that part of the reason why they cancelled Skybolt was that they wanted to interfere with Britain's maintenance of an independent nuclear deterrent, which is a very serious charge about the action of one ally towards another. However, it is not only a question of whether the Government were capable of finding what were the prospects of Skybolt when they went to America and sent missions to America. An hon. Member on this side who also went to America came back, as everyone now admits, with correct information when hon. Members opposite came back with incorrect information. But that is only part of it.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
May I put the record straight? The hon. Gentleman opposite came back with entirely wrong information. He said that Skybolt had been a failure on technical grounds.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman should read the speeches of his predecessor. I have referred to the reply made by the Secretary of State far Air to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton. The Secretary of State last year quoted what had been said by my right hon. Friend. The Leader of the Opposition said 12 months ago:When I was in Washington, a few weeks ago, I heard some of the discussions about the prospects of Skybolt, and I doubt whether the Minister can say, with his hand on his heart, that there is any certainty that it will arrive.The Minister then went on to say, with his hand on his heart, that he thought that it would arrive. It is no good right hon. and hon. Members opposite trying to wriggle out of this. The Government got the wrong information and the Opposition got the right information. But that is a very common phenomenon. If that is all that had happened, I should not have mentioned the point at all.
The point is that the whole of the Government's Air Estimates which were presented last year were based on this assumption, on their own claim. The Secretary of State said:This substantiates my claim that the Sky-bolt missile will be a valid weapon system 721 until well into the 1970."——[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 913–4.]That was the basis of the Government's V-bomber force a bare 12 months ago, and it is no good their denying it. Therefore, suspicion is cast when they come forward today, as they told us in the defence debate on Monday and Tuesday, and say that they have a quite satisfactory substitute for what 12 months ago they were saying was an absolute essential for maintaining our V-bomber force.
That is partly why the hon. Member for Macclesfield has such a strong case within his own area of argument. He wants an independent nuclear deterrent. I think that he is wrong in wanting it, but he really wants one and he does not want a fake. He says that we could have gone ahead with Skybolt in this country. That is correct, if we spent enough money on it. If all the claims that the Government make for the independent nuclear deterrent—that is that we can deter the outbreak of any war against ourselves; this is the claim that they make for it—are true, I do not see how they can honourably say that they will not continue with it on grounds of expense.
If the Government really believe that with an independent nuclear deterrent within our own control they can absolutely safeguard the peace of this country and ensure that no foreign Power ever dare attack us, they have no grounds for saying they will not spent £300, £400 or £600 million in order to obtain it. That is not sustainable. Therefore, the hon. Member for Macclesfield is perfectly correct in what he is telling the House and the country on this matter; and the Government are seeking, as we know, to conceal that.
We have never been told the truth about the matter in all these defence debates. I thought for a moment that the Minister was going to tell us. We never knew what happened over the Skybolt fiasco. When Mr. McNamara came to discuss it with the Minister of Defence, did the Minister say right away that he would rather have Polaris? Of course not. Maybe he had been listening to one of his predecessors saying it was no good anyhow, that it was not an invulnerable weapon. But we know from reports in these newspapers that are so 722 deeply condemned for publishing these things—and people may be sent to gaol when they do it—that when the original proposition was put that the Skybolt programme was to be abandoned the Government thought it a disgraceful proposition. They said that the Americans had deceived them and had no right to do it. We read how the Minister of Defence would make a great stand. But that collapsed very quickly, and we were soon told an entirely different story.
Therefore, I must say that if the House wants to know the truth of what happened about Skybolt they had much better listen to the hon. Member for Macclesfield than to what is told us by the Secretary of State. This is not a small affair. This is the weapon upon which the Government told us twelve months ago the whole maintenance of their V-bomber and deterrent force was to be sustained; a very important matter. Now the whole situation is altered and the Government come forward and say that we are better off than ever. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Many of the spokesmen from that side have said we are better off with Polaris than we were with Skybolt.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the V-bomber force, I think he will agree, if he studies the matter carefully, that what is said is that obviously with the loss of Skybolt there must be a diminution in that side of our defences.
§ Mr. Foot
That is quite clear, and I think in saying that the hon. Gentleman has been slightly more candid than the Prime Minister. I do not think that was the impression the Government tried to create in the country after the Nassau Agreement was signed; but even so he is putting it very mildly, because in fact the main weapon on which the Government were relying until a few months ago, until the Americans told them overnight they were not to have it—that main weapon—is gone.
It is not only the argument about how much faith we can put on what the Government have said twelve months ago that worries me. I remember when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and myself and others engaged in debates on Thor missiles a year or so ago many then said, some for technical reasons, 723 that whatever view anyone took about nuclear disarmament generally, the most dangerous weapons we ever had in this country were Thor missiles. The argument against them was overpowering. These were weapons which could only be used first.
We had a long and tedious argument from the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman trying to explain how Thor missiles might be used against manned bombers before manned bombers dropped bombs on this country, never taking into account, perhaps, that the Russians had rockets as well. Everyone knew that Thor missiles could only be used first and, therefore, we have argued for several years to get rid of them. Now we are getting rid of them, and good riddance, too. That will save about £4 million a year, as I understand, from the reply of the Secretary of State. It is all done very quietly, but I am sure the Government now understand that. I do not say that this is the only reason why they have been removed, but it would have been better if they had been removed long ago.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but during the period when we had the Thor missile it was of great importance. But every development eventually becomes out of date. We were perfectly right to have Thor missiles. I believe we are now perfectly right not to have them.
§ Mr. Foot
That is the kind of answer which casts doubt on everything else the right hon. Gentleman says. His view is that at the exact moment when he would like to get rid of Thor missiles on technical grounds we have done so; but he is still defending having them a few years ago. That casts doubt on his whole judgment in these matters, because anyone who had studied the matter could see for himself that Thor missiles could only be used first, and it is no good this country, of all countries, having a nuclear weapon, whatever may be the other argument against it, that can only be used first. During the Cuban crisis, if general war had broken out, one of the reasons why this country would have been exterminated would have been because of the presence of these Thor missiles, which were of no use to us anyway. Does the right hon. 724 Gentleman deny that? It is a very serious matter. Many of us have said that these weapons are provocative, anyhow, and that we should clear them out. The Government would not listen and have only been prepared to take them out when the Americans have insisted on it.
During this debate we have had a general argument about the independent nuclear deterrent, which is, after all, the main purpose for which the Air Force exists. I know that that is not its only function, but it is its primary function. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I know that the Air Force has other functions, but if his claims for the deterrent are as great as they have been no one can dispute that this is not the most important function of all. That is what he has been saying.
I have been waiting for hon. Gentle men opposite to try to answer the arguments put from this side in the two-day defence debate and today about the independent nuclear deterrent. I must say they very rarely attempt to do so, because they go on repeating the same thing. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield speaks on this issue, and I can understand his point of view. He says that we cannot trust the Americans for ever even if we can trust them now, and he is not too certain about that. The Government say much the same thing, although they phrase it rather more delicately than the hon. and gallant Gentleman; that however much we trust the Americans, we cannot trust them for ever. I can understand that point of view, and if I did not think these weapons were highly dangerous for other reasons, and if it were possible for this country to have a nuclear deterrent of its own which could defend us, I could see the argument. I do not trust the Americans all that much.
One of the troubles—and this was put very powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Jenkins) in the debate on Monday and Tuesday—is that for a country of this size, capable of maintaining a nuclear force of this size, it is an extremely dangerous kind of weapon. In one sense —a technical sense if you like, though it is more than that—if I might summarise the argument crudely, if we have huge nuclear armaments with the possibility of choosing between different 725 nuclear weapons and conventional forces, the possibility of our being forced to use the weapon first is much less. I concede that argument. Hon. Members opposite have never attempted to answer the point.
Always the British Government, because of their obsession about the independent nuclear deterrent, make statements which would be dangerous enough if they were made by the Americans but are infinitely more dangerous when made by spokesmen of a country like ours. Quite a number of people in the United States, arguing about these matters, say that it would be a very good idea to have a common agreed declaration between the Russians and themselves and everybody, if it could be obtained—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think he is getting close to turning the debate into a debate on defence. I must remind him that what we are discussing is the Air Ministry Vote. It is permissible to give an illustration, but to enter into a long controversy on the question of nuclear deterrents or not as a policy is clearly out of order.
§ Mr. Foot
With great respect, Sir Robert, may I say this? I cannot believe that an argument about the independent nuclear deterrent is out of order because, as I have already indicated, the debate on the Air Estimates twelve months ago was opened by the Secretary of State who began his speech by saying, "I shall devote the major part of my speech to a discussion of the independent nuclear deterrent". The bulk of the right hon. Gentleman's speech on that occasion was devoted to this. That was a debate on exactly the same terms as today's debate.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is all right on the technical aspect of the nuclear deterrent as connected with its delivery by the Royal Air Force. I must insist that we cannot turn this into a general debate on defence and open up the whole question whether the policy of the nuclear deterrent is right or wrong. We must discuss the nuclear deterrent in connection with its delivery by the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Foot
I hope that I understand the limitations, Sir Robert. I do not want to 726 go wider than the rules allow. What we are discussing is whether it is proper for this country to devote so large a part of its resources, and in particular its resources of defence expenditure, on an independent nuclear deterrent. That is certainly a central part of our argument. The hon. Member for Macclesfield has already covered—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
If the hon. Genteman confines his argument to Air Force expenditure, that will be in order, but we are not discussing the whole total of defence expenditure in this debate.
§ Mr. Foot
It is a wonderful arrangement, Sir Robert, which only the ingenuity of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) could have discovered, that the Committee is entitled to discuss everything except the morality of the problem. I am sure that would be an arrangement entirely agreeable to the Government Front Bench, and possibly to my hon. and learned Friend too. If I stray into any question of moral principles, I hope that you, Sir Robert, will pull me up at once, because I know that it would be a monstrous instrusion.
§ Mr. Foot
I hope that I understand the Ruling, Sir Robert.
What I was seeking to argue was that the attempt to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent and to maintain this country as a nuclear Power interferes with the only means that we have available for making this country safe. In any literal sense of the word, this country cannot be defended with nuclear weapons. This country can only retaliate or deter. It cannot be defended with them. But the obsession with these weapons leads us into a series of attitudes which threaten the real possibilities of defending the country.
The other day the Prime Minister gave an example to the House in reply to a 727 Question concerned with whether we should give an undertaking that this independent nuclear deterrent of ours should never be used first. The Prime Minister's reply was this:No, Sir… I must repeat what I have said before. It seems to me very unwise to inform a possible aggressor in advance of the precise circumstances in which he can or cannot make an aggression without danger of retaliation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1963; Vol. 672, c. 1443.]I have heard the Prime Minister on a number of other occasions say that possibly the 1914–18 war broke out precisely because the other side miscalculated what would be the retaliation if they took certain actions. On other occasions he has said that it must be made absolutely clear.
One of the troubles about Britain being dependent on an independent nuclear deterrent and the Air Force means of delivering it is that it pushes us into the situation, as the Prime Minister apparently believes, of having to say that in certain circumstances we would use these weapons first, which is about the maddest statement ever made by a British Prime Minister.
There are many other reasons why I believe that the obsession of the Government in this respect prevents us from considering the only ways in which we can defend this country. The nuclear deterrent idea is the rusted nail placed near the compass which upsets the compass and can wreck the Argosy. This is a matter of the greatest interest to this country. Whatever other disagreements we may have, there is full agreement, for example, between myself and those on the Opposition Front Bench that it is in the supreme interest of this country that we should prevent by all means that we can the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nothing could be more dangerous for this country, above all countries—it is dangerous enough for the others—that these weapons should spread to other countries.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is again going too wide on this debate. I must ask him to restrict his remarks to the function of the Air Force in connection with the nuclear deterrent and not to branch out into the whole moral question of the use of nuclear deterrents.
§ Mr. Foot
In my opinion, the question of the proliferation of nuclear weapons is not solely a moral question. It is a political question and, in some respects, a technical question. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who argued that if we were to withdraw the money which we are asked to vote today and deny the Government their independent nuclear deterrent it would not have any effect oft China or France in their wish to have nuclear weapons. I can see the argument, although I think there are answers to it. The trouble is that the Government, in their obsession to get this money through for the purposes that the Secretary of State described today, leave out of account the much more important question of how we are going to stop the proliferation of these weapons to other countries. The question was asked in the defence debate, when every argument used by the Minister of Defence, supporting the steps which the Secretary of State asked us to agree to today, was one which could be used by every other country to support its claim to have nuclear weapons too.
Therefore, the Government's determination to pursue their policy of the independent deterrent affects in a whole series of manners, which I will not describe because I might conceivably be out of order, the initiatives which could be taken in foreign policy, which are the only initiatives which could save this country.
We cannot put the full case today, but the right hon. Genlteman must not be surprised if for a variety of reasons hon. Members suspect what he has told us, not because we think that he wants to mislead the Committee, but because the case for nuclear weapons is one which cannot be presented in full without exposing the whole folly and madness of it. Of course, added to that, the Government have sought time and again to conceal from the House what is the true situation of this country and its defenceless position. In the defence debate—this applies to the Air Force, of course—we had a most astonishing statement from the Minister of Defence:Looking at the equipment which these Services have today and looking at the equipment which I have outlined, I think I can say that never in peace-time in our history have we had Services better equipped or better disposed in the various theatres which we are considering to meet any threat which they may 729 be called upon to meet."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 36.]That is the claim of this country's Minister of Defence. It is absolutely nonsensical. Everyone knows that the military threat to this country in the form of the devastation which could be inflicted upon it is far greater than we have ever known in our history. It is not the fault of the Government. It is the fault of the invention of nuclear weapons. But what is the fault of the Government is that they make statements of this kind, which some people might take seriously, saying that we are equipped to meet any threat Which might come. Of course, we are not. We cannot be in the circumstances. So it is a gross deception of the people of this country for the Minister to say it.
That side of it is tragic. The other side of it is comic. If this is supposed to be the situation, why does the Minister of Defence, in one sentence, tell the House and the country that we are better equipped in every theatre to meet any threat which might come upon us, and, in the second part of his speech, say that he intends to change from top to bottom the whole system of defence arrangements which have produced that wonderful result? One would think that, if that were truly the situation, the Minister would say that he did not want a single change in the whole organisation of the Ministry of Defence because it is working so well.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is now going back again to a defence debate. I must ask him to keep in order and confine his remarks to the Vote before the Committee.
§ Mr. Foot
I accept your Ruling, of course, Sir Robert. I must say, with full respect, that I think that it would be a departure from what has happened in the past two or three Air Estimates debates if the debate were to be limited in the manner you have described. However, having said that, I accept your Ruling.
I say to both the Minister of Defence, who is not here, and to the Secretary of State for Air, who is, that I hope that they will try to describe to the country the truth about nuclear weapons, both the weapons which we possess and the injuries which this country might suffer. 730 I hope that they will do so, even when, of course, they disagree with us about the way to deal with the situation. If the Minister of Defence continues to make statements such as that which we had from him this week, then it will be proper to describe him not, as he once was, as a local difficulty, but as a global menace.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), I can understand some of the concern felt by the leaders of the party opposite lest by any chance he should get the Whip back and, perhaps, apply it to their backs instead of their applying it to him. It is always a very good entertainment to listen to the hon. Gentleman, but it is a great tribute to the people of this country that they do not pay much attention to what he says.
The hon. Gentleman made a great attack on what was said on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence. I hope that I am in order in referring to this, Sir Robert, because it does relate to the deterrent power of the Royal Air Force. My right hon. Friend was perfectly right when he said thatnever in peacetime in our history have we had Services better equipped or better disposed in the various theatres … to meet any threat…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 36.]That was demonstrated at Kuwait. It was demonstrated recently in the Far East. It is perfectly true. I know the hon. Gentleman's dislike of the Royal Air Force having a nuclear deterrent, and I know that he would like to wash it out.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the proliferation which is liable to take place in the ownership of nuclear weapons and thermo-nuclear weapons by other countries. There is one country just the other side of the English Channel developing a nuclear deterrent. Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest that it would be responsible if any Government in this country, not knowing what sort of alliances might be built up over the next thirty years, gave up all forms of nuclear weapons, when we have one such country right on our doorstep? Are we to take from the Royal Air Force its power to hit back or to attack 731 when there is this proliferation going on?
What influence should we have in foreign affairs in such circumstances? We should not be able to influence any worthwhile measure of disarmament, which, we all hope, may take place. The time may come when we can take a step to reduce the hitting power of the Royal Air Force and Bomber Command, but we should have no influence in those matters at all if we had no weapon of this nature. I hope that the Government will never give up the idea that we should have an independent nuclear deterrent.
I regard the outline of the reorganisation of the defence forces put forward by my right hon. Friend as the best proposal we have had since I have been in the House of Commons. I come now to something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). My hon. Friend criticised hon. Members—he referred particularly to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who is not here at the moment —for what they do to cause inter-Service friction. He said that the right hon. Member for Belper had suggested that there should be two fighting Services instead of three.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) came promptly to the assistance of his right hon. Friend, and, of course, he got it wrong, as usual. He said that his right hon. Friend the Member for Belper was, in fact, referring to the row which went on at the end of the 1914–18 war when it was suggested that the Royal Air Force of that day should be returned to and put under the control of the Army. Anyone who has read the life of the first Lord Trenchard knows very well that that was a threat which Lord Trenchard had to resist. If he had not done so, we should certainly not have had the independent Air Force which we had in 1939 and, with an Air Force concerned merely with close Army support, we should undoubtedly have been defeated.
In fact, the right hon. Member for Belper did say what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield alleged. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said:In the end there is an unanswerable case for two Services rather than three, whether one approaches it on a functional basis or not. 732 There will be one Service which will have the strike operation, one which will have the transport operation and one which will have the land duties to perform.Needless to say, hon. Members were in uproar at that, saying, "That is three". The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:There is a case for two Services rather than three. One may be the naval and flying force and the other the land force".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 320.]We are used to confusion from the right hon. Member for Belper. We know that he has had a bitter disappointment during the past few weeks, but I have never heard him quite so "good" as that. It is the most awful jumble of nonsense that I have ever heard, and it could do nothing but cause strife between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
It is this inter-Service strife which the Minister of Defence is anxious to see stopped and which anyone who has served in the Services wants to see stopped. Most of us regret very much what was done by some irresponsible officers of high rank—I will not say which Service they belonged to—to develop this friction between the wars. It did no good to the country and no good to the Services involved.
I support particularly the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence that the Chiefs of Staff should come directly under him. I think that is a very worth-while proposal and a great advance on the present system, where we have a Chief of the Defence Staff. We have had this threat for some time that we should have a Supreme Commander with the Chiefs of Staff under him.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he also, I think, is straying into a defence debate. He must relate his remarks to the Air Force and the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am a little disturbed, Sir Robert, about the narrowness of the view that you have been taking about the nature of the Air Estimates debate. I appreciate that we could not have a general foreign policy or defence debate, but hitherto it has been possible even to argue that the Air Force itself should be abolished—a view I never take—and give reasons of foreign policy, and so on, for it. If hon Members are suggesting 733 that there should not be certain expenditure, they ought to be allowed to develop an argument for that. I think that your Ruling may establish a precedent and perhaps very much restrict debates in the future. I hope that is not your intention.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am the servant of the House in this matter. What one wants to try to stop is a debate which is essentially related to a particular Service being splayed out into a general debate on defence or foreign policy. I must insist that the debate should not develop in that way into a full dress defence or foreign policy debate.
§ Sir A V. Harvey
Further to that point of order, Sir Robert. While I appreciate your Ruling, it seems that this may well be the last Air Estimates debate in this form and that my hon. Friend ought to be allowed, if I may say so with respect, to put forward his views on the system in this type of debate, whether it is this year or next year, because the Minister of Defence has said that he is seeking opinions from the House before he formulates his White Paper.
§ Mr. Williams
Sir Robert, I support you entirely, as usual.
I was just coming to the point when I was going to introduce the title of the Chief of Air Staff and I was about to plead with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air to use all the influence that he has to see that the Chief of Air Staff and the other Chiefs of Staff—I hope that I am allowed to mention that—are treated as equals and that, if possible, they should not in any way be subject to the authority of any Chief of Staff in the Ministry of Defence.
The most important thing about the Chief of the Air Staff and the other Chiefs of Staff is that they should retain access to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in the event of any disagreement between them and the Minister of Defence. I think that this is a vital matter for the country. We have developed the Chiefs of Staff Committee over many years and I think that it is quite right that if the Chief of the Air Staff and the Chiefs of 734 the other Services feel that the wrong advice has been tendered to the Prime Minister they should be permitted to attend the Cabinet and give their advice and sound the necessary warning. The danger of the other system is that we shall find the Chief of the Air Staff and the whole of the Royal Air Force under a Supreme Commander and that we shall have a system developing very much like the Ober Commando von Wehrmacht which, I believe, was the greatest contribution to Germany's defeat in the last war.
One other point which I wish to make in my very brief speech is the plea that considerable tact should be shown in the welding together of the three Services. I think that many of the titles that are used in the three Services, particularly the Royal Air Force, mean a tremendous lot to the people who serve in the Royal Air Force and I hope that we shall not see all of them disappearing. I should not like myself to see the supreme Minister for the Royal Air Force lose the title of Secretary of State. I should not like to see the title of the First Lord of the Admiralty disappear but that, of course, is outside the scope of this debate. But I think that if we are to permit one to remain, then all three should remain, and I am particularly anxious that the political head of my own Service should retain his high position in the political world, just as I am concerned that the others should also.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will have to face a very considerable number of difficulties in welding the three Services together. I am sure that such a welding is the desire of all officers in all the Services, especially those who have been to staff colleges, and to the Imperial Defence College. They are getting very tired of some of the inter-Service jealousy which has existed in the past. It causes great distress, especially among the junior officers. I think that we have had very great success in welding the Services together already. We have had a magnificent set-up out at Aden, where the future Chief of the Air Staff was a most popular Supreme Commander and did an extremely good job. I am sure that the Royal Air Force will be obsolutely loyal to any Supreme Commander from the other Services under whom it had to serve.
735 We must be careful not to destroy all the esprit de corps of the Royal Air Force. I should not like to see Cranwell disappear. I believe that I am the only representative here of that institution at the moment. It did a tremendous job in furthering the interests of the Air Force and building it up and it is a great compliment to this country that when one goes to the United States Air Academy, at Colorado, and by chance they find out that one has been to the Royal Aix Force College at Cranwell, they jolly well nearly give one the place.
It is designed very much on our setup. It would be a great tragedy if an institution like that were merged into a common cadet college. I think that it is essential that the officers of the three Services should continue to be trained in their own traditional colleges. It is when we get further up the ladder that one begins to wonder whether they should go on to a general list, retaining their rank, as general officers who can command any substantial force. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should see a squadron of guided missile destroyers commanded by a major general or an air marshal. Obviously, it must be commanded by a technical officer trained in the Navy. But I think that over a certain rank it should be realised that the officers concerned should all be available for a command in the joint Services, and I believe that an exchange of officers between the Royal Air Force and the other Services at the junior ranks would quickly foster a sense of unity.
My right hon. Friend has been courageous in introducing the White Paper and I think that in the end it will lead to a finer defence force for the country than we have ever had before.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Before the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) started to wander about the passages of the as-yet imaginary British pentagon, he said that one of the main reasons why it was impossible for us to give up the British independent nuclear deterrent was that General de Gaulle was developing one in France. That is a complete non sequitur, as the hon. Mem-Member will recognise if he gives the matter a moment's reflection—unless, per- 736 haps, he thinks that General de Gaulle might have used his force de frappe against us as retaliation for the appearance of M. Bidault on television.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
The hon. Member cannot get away with that one. The President of France is developing an absolutely independent power. It is not in the N.A.T.O. alliance. He is keeping it separate. It would be quite wrong for a responsible Government in this country to give up any force of a similar nature here and to rely on the protection of the United States.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Member has merely repeated what he said in his speech, that we should not give up our' own independent nuclear deterrent because General de Gaulle was in process of developing one himself.
As the hon. Member or Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) pointed out in his speech, one of the reasons for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is such a dangerous factor in the world today, is precisely the emulation to which we, in part, led General de Gaulle himself. It is certainly not true now that if we were to give up our deterrent, it would have any influence on General de Gaulle—I concede that—but might it not have been true a few years ago that if we had given up our deterrent, he would not have decided to spend all this money on one of his own?
Incidentally, I should thank the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale for attending this debate as he complained that no one hitherto had done so. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), who, unfortunately, is not in his place, that so few hon. Members have attended this debate, but I look upon it from a slightly different viewpoint from the hon. Member.
The hon. Member said that he would like to spend more on defence. I considered it a pity that a Minister could not follow the hon. Member and give him one of those lectures to which we are accustomed on the size of the cake and the number of slices into which it can be cut. The hon. Member should bear in mind that if he wishes to spend more on defence, he is automatically advocating a cut in expenditure in some other sector. He should tell his constituents exactly where he would make the cut. Is it in 737 education, in housing or in what? There is only a certain size of cake and it can be divided into only a certain number of slices.
The hon. Member spoke about research and was interesting on the subject of the connection between civil and military research in aircraft. Some of the various projects at present under way will have civil applications and some will not. I should very much like to see more work done under military auspices which could conceivably have civil application later. As far as I know, we are doing nothing whatever on the subject of boundary layer control, which could have far-reaching effects in reducing the cost of civil flying. Neither do we seem to be proceeding with the development of more efficient subsonic engines with improved specific fuel consumption, because the next generation of aircraft to be used by Bomber and Fighter Commands, at least, will have supersonic engines which I do not think will have a civil application. There is, of course, room for difference of opinion about this.
The Government are going ahead with the Mach 2.2 airliner and they could, I suppose, contend that their experience with the TSR2 engine will be useful in that direction and that the Mach 2.2 engine will be a later version of the engine which powers the TSR2. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) has spoken about vertical take-off and said that at some stage an aircraft which takes off vertically is working at a dynamic disadvantage. I do not quite know what he meant by that. People who intervene on technical subjects in these debates should have knowledge of what they are talking about.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
Does it necessarily follow that because the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) does not understand, my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), who made the statement, also does not understand?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I used to work in the aircraft industry and I have some experience of the manufacture of aircraft engines. Unfortunately, however, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely is not present, he cannot explain what he meant.
738 Both the hon. Member and his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield talked about the concept of aerospace. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely said that within ten years, aircraft would be travelling at thirty times the speed of sound and at altitudes of 25 miles. The hon. Member for Macclesfield also suggested that such a project might be advantageous from a military viewpoint. I do not think that either hon. Member can appreciate the cost or the technical difficulties involved in such a project. The Americans have spent vast sums of money on the X15, which is not of a type which is envisaged to take off from an airfield in this country go into orbit, fly around the world and return to its place of origin. Even the Americans are nowhere near that stage.
The X15 has an engine which fires for less than a minute, and reaches a height of 100,000 ft. It has to be launched from a bomber and then it returns in a glide to a base which requires an airfield 10 to 15 miles long. Even the United States, therefore, is a long way from the development of such a project as the two hon. Member described. I cannot see that such a project would have any civil application. It would be an utter waste of money for us, with the limited resources at our disposal, to embark upon such a project.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield talked a lot about the credibility of our deterrent, a subject on which I should like to say a few words. It is difficult for Members of the House of Commons to make a judgment on this question because, for security reasons, we are given only the sketchiest of inofrmation. We have to collect little snippets which are given to us by Ministers.
The Secretary of State for Air said in his speech this afternoon that the powers of penetration of the V-bomber force will gradually diminish as Soviet powers of interception improve. Later, in reply to a question, he said that the failure of Skybolt would mean a diminution of the value of that side of our defences. Why we are really in the dark is that we have no knowledge of the effectiveness of Soviet anti-aircraft missiles. Therefore, we cannot assess the truth or otherwise of Ministers' contentions that enough of the V-bombers 739 would penetrate those defences to deter that potential enemy.
I do not think that our deterrent could possibly have any independent value. It is so small that even if one accepts those contentions that a significant proportion of the aircraft would penetrate Soviet defences, they could be used only in a counter-value rôle, to use the American jargon. There are not enough of them to be used in the counter-force rôle of an attack directed mainly against enemy missile launching sites and airfields. It is inconceivable, therefore, bearing in mind this limitation, that we would ever dare to use the deterrent first. If we used it in a counter-value rôle, it would mean that we were leaving all the enemy retaliation potential intact. That would invite suicide, because the country would then be obliterated from the map. When people are discussing this subject, I think that they often forget that no one with these powerful weapons would intentionally start a war. This should be recognised.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield realises that the Western Alliance is meant to be an alliance based on teamwork. In fact, I know that he does not believe it, because in a previous debate on the Air Estimates he said:… I have very little more time for the Americans than I have for the Russians, because it seems to me that they make a lot of trouble for us …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 522.]That seems a curious attitude to adopt towards one's allies, and I look on this business of deterrents in this way, that the West must be a team, and in a team one has to give people different rôles. In a football team one does not expect the goalkeeper to rush up and play at centre-forward, or the centre-forward to rush back and play in goal. Therefore, in the Western Alliance as a whole it is useful for us to split up according to the resources which we have available and play our parts accordingly.
Our part in this must be a conventional one, because the Americans already have overwhelming nuclear forces, far more than we could ever have, even if we did what the hon. Member for Macclesfield wishes us to do—spend a very much higher proportion of 740 our gross national product on defence. We could raise it to 14 per cent., or to 21 per cent., but the level of our deterrent capability would still be an insignificant fraction of that of the Americans.
I have one or two questions to ask the Minister about his speech this afternoon. First, with regard to the TSR2 he said that a new nuclear weapon was to be developed which it would be capable of delivering. I think that the House ought to be informed whether this means that additional tests will have to be undertaken. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is listening to my question. I very much hope also that it does not mean that these additional tests have to be undertaken at a time when the negotiations in Geneva have come so close to reaching an agreement.
On the subject which has been much discussed this afternoon, that of the range of the TSR2, I must tell the Minister that I think it absurd to be so reticent, when, in the Memorandum on the Air Estimates, we are given, in paragraph 27, a statement of the range of the Vulcan V-bomber. It says that the Vulcan bomber made a non-stop record flight of 3,673 miles to Aden in 6 hours, 13 minutes. We are given not only the range of the Vulcan, but, with a little arithmetical calculation, we can work out its speed. I think that the Minister is being far too reticent about—
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
How does that give the range of the Vulcan bomber, unless it is accompanied by a statement that it would have fallen out of the air if it had tried to go any further? Secondly, that statement does not say what it was or was not carrying in the way of an armament payload.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It does not give that information, but it says it was a record flight, so presumably this is about the maximum it can do.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He may disagree, but from reading this I assume that this is its range with the minimum payload, because there must be many flights by Vulcans with varying payloads at different times. One reads in the newspapers about flights to Aden and to Cyprus, 741 and some years ago there was the flight which ended in tragedy when a Vulcan flew round the world. One was given the time of arrival and departure from each staging post. This shows how absurd is the Minister's reticence on this subject.
My next question is about the Fylingdales early warning system. Mr. Khrushchev has stated publicly that he has a missile which can go right round the world and attack us from the back door, as it were. I should like to be assured that the early warning system which we are developing in collaboration with the Americans is effective against missiles from whichever direction they come.
Next, the Minister said that the nationalised air Corporations were entitled to tender for trooping operations. I think that this must have been a slip of the tongue, but if it is true I am delighted to hear it, because the B.O.A.C. has a large number of Britannias which have been taken out of service and are sitting on the tarmac doing nothing. Moreover, it is in the process of withdrawing some of its Comets. I am sure that the Corporation will be delighted at the Minister's announcement.
I turn next to the AW681. This is bound to be an expensive aircraft. We do not know its specification, but I should like to know whether all the equipment which the Army wishes to be carried in such a freighter can be taken by the AW681, and specifically whether the opening in its fuselage is as large as that in the Belfast. The opening in the fuselage of the Belfast was designed specifically to take all the vehicles which the Army wished it to take. If we are now told that the opening in the fuselage of the AW681 is smaller, then that must mean that it will not do the job the Army wants it to do.
My final question is on the same subject. The Minister told me when he made this announcement about the order for the AW681 that it could be in service as soon as the developed version of the Belfast. I am given to understand that this is not true. I am told that the Belfast with the Transall type engine, that is, the Tyne IV with larger propellers, could come off the line in Belfast immediately following the 10 on order at the moment, and that, there- 742 fore, one could get this aircraft into service very much sooner than the AW681.
We are entitled to answers to some of the many questions which have been put this afternoon, and, in conclusion, I say that the reason for the poor attendance about which several hon. Members have complained is that we are never given any of the facts.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Turner (Woolwich, West)
I do not intend to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), but I shall come back to the comments he made about the performance of the Vulcans and Victors because I do not believe that one can read anything into the statement in this Memorandum. I have been looking at it, and it could have been a time record. It says nothing about it being a record for range, but I shall deal with that later.
I associate myself most closely with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). It seems to me that in the Royal Air Force we have made a speciality of the air delivery system. Obviously we get the best value for money in the presentation of our independent deterrent if we use it with a vehicle which we already have, and for this reason alone I believe that the V-bomber force with Skybolt was the logical development of our deterrent.
I turn now to the people who make the Royal Air Force possible, the men and women in the Service. I am sorry that the only mention of the Women's Royal Air Force in the Memorandum is contained in three short lines. The rôle of the Royal Air Force demands that it is constantly on the alert. This applies to fighters, bombers and transport planes, and it means that both here and overseas a large percentage of the personnel must remain on the stations. The part played by the Women's Royal Air Force, not only in the manning of various services which are essential to the development of our Air Force, but in the general social life of these camps when men cannot get out to enjoy the pleasures of nearby towns, is very important. Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will remember the visits that we have paid to these bases during the last twelve months. It 743 is very important to bear this matter in mind.
During the last year we have improved the standard of men and women in the Forces and have made it a thoroughly worthwhile career, but unless we can maintain the confidence of the people in the Forces by seeing that there is a future for the manned aircraft and the Royal Air Force, no matter what sort of integration of our defence services there may be, morale will drop overnight. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War have made it clear that in their opinion there is a longterm future for manned aircraft and all that goes with them.
I now turn to the subject of Transport Command. When I spoke on this occasion last year I criticised the Government because I felt that they had failed to take the necessary decisions at the right time in respect of our transport force. I am glad that we have decided to increase the order for the VC.10, because this is an essential aircraft. Little remains to be said, on the freighter side, about the Belfast. I merely say in passing that if it was right to place an order for ten of these aircraft it was essential to place one for twenty or thirty. During the months and years that lie ahead, when these aircraft come into service, we shall probably bless the fact that the decision was taken even to order ten—despite the fact that the Royal Air Force itselt may feel that they are rather slow—because they have a tremendous part to play in the strategic force that is essention for our Commonwealth commitments.
Can my hon. Friend give me any indication when he expects to see the Bel-fasts and VC.10s coming into serious service in the Royal Air Force? We seem to be in danger of falling down on this job. Unless we have the lifting capacity to transport a brigade in about twenty-four hours from here to Singapore, or upon a comparable journey, our strategic reserve may prove to be of little use.
The Royal Air Force seems to require a fast strategic freighter or transport, but I am wondering whether we could not at the same time make considerable savings in another respect. I know that much thought has been given to the need 744 for getting the troops into the aircraft, but everybody who knows anything about flying, military or civil, knows that a tremendous amount of time is wasted on the ground in getting the people to and from the aircraft. If we have the Belfast it may take a little longer to get our troops to the place where they are required, but we may be able to make tremendous savings through the rapidity with which we can get the people loaded on to the aircraft at the point of departure and then unloaded before proceeding to the scene of operations.
There seems to be no doubt that the Royal Air Force requires the replacements for the Beverley and the Hastings to start coming into squadron service in 1968. If they come in later than that there will probably be a gap in this form of transport in the Royal Air Force. The Beverleys and Hastings are first-class aircraft, and they have done a wonderful job. They have succeeded in meeting all the requirements, limited though they may be in range, and they have done extremely well. Pilots and crews like them. Now, at long last—and I believe that it is over a year too late—a decision has been made about the AW681, but as yet we have only a design study on it, and I would like an assurance that the Air Ministry believes that it will be in squadron service in 1970. I am seriously perturbed about the matter, because I feel that a gap will arise because, no matter how good an aircraft may be, there is always a certain amount of self-destruction. Now and again an aircraft falls out of the air, or hits an unexpected obstacle on the ground. We may find ourselves very short of this type of aircraft.
I was interested to read in the Memorandum that experiments have been made using the Arctic route to the Far East. I cannot see that any security reasons prevent an answer being given to my question whether this route, which is obviously better politically, because it does not involve travelling over other countries on the way to the Far East, shows a saving in time. If so, the development of this route should be carried out as quickly as possible.
We have heard a great deal about Coastal Command and the wonderful part played by the Shackleton in recent years. Nobody would deny that this 745 aircraft has proved to be first-class, and that the little black boxes inside it are doing a wonderful job. Here again, I appreciate that the Royal Air Force may not want to consider a replacement for the Shackleton until it knows what sort of equipment it will require—in case there is a break-through in under-water detection. This break-through may come about far more quickly than is expected, and the black boxes can be developed mare quickly than can the aircraft in which they are to be put.
We ought to give serious consideration to the sort of aircraft we are likely to require. I would have thought that it was not impossible to make use of already existing aircraft, in the military or the civil transport field, which might meet the necessary requirements. Many aircraft can be adapted to long-range work. We require a relatively slow aircraft, in modern terms, with an endurance of twenty-four hours or more. I would have thought that it was not beyond the powers of our designers and technicians to adapt an already existing aircraft for this purpose. Not knowing the type and size of the black boxes that we might require we should need an aircraft with a fairly large fuselage-carrying capacity, and we ought to be able to make use of an existing aircraft or at least one that is already on the stocks for this purpose. The defence of this country and of the Western world will depend largely on maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft if we are faced with a mass of hundreds of Soviet or other enemy submarines. We would be foolhardy not to have in mind an airframe replacement for the Shackle-ton even if at present we have to put the same black boxes into the aircraft.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I have been listening with the greatest interest and I share my hon. Friend's interest in this aspect. Has he any particular aircraft in mind for the adaptation he is suggesting? This is a very difficult problem facing the Secretary of State, and I am interested to know whether my hon. Friend has a particular aircraft in mind.
§ Mr. Turner
I have not a specific aircraft in mind, but, knowing the difficulty of the task of the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State in operating within a global sum, it seems that it 746 would be far cheaper if we could make use of some existing or potential aircraft which we envisage at the moment. I have no particualr aircraft in mind, but I thought this was a view which ought to be expressed. We need a fairly large number of these aircraft. As someone has already said in this debate, once we are producing something and do not have to bear the development costs it is not nearly such an expensive business.
I turn to the question of the Hunter replacement. It always seemed to me that we tailor-make our aircraft for the Royal Air Force solely to suit the Royal Air Force. We never have in mind any potential export requirements, whether it be to our N.A.T.O. friends or to other countries which might well buy our aircraft. On the other hand, the Americans often develop a less tailor-made aircraft, but they have in mind the possibility of selling it, not necessarily for exactly the same use, to other parts of the world.
It is essential in times of high expense in aircraft that British industry and the Government should give a little thought on how we can make use in the military export field of the aircraft we have. This comes into the question of the Hunter replacement. Most of the Hunter aircraft, or its replacement, will be used as a tactical strike weapon in defence of the Army in military operations, in many cases in under-developed countries where they cannot deal with sophisticated aircraft. It seems that any replacement must be kept as simple as possible, not only for our own Services, for if we were suddenly to move a squadron of Hunter aircraft or its replacement to a Far Eastern territory with very few facilities, it would obviously be much easier if the ground crews did not have too much complicated equipment with them.
I do not dispute the facts put forward by the Secretary of State in his speech today. I wonder, however, whether the development of the P1154 is not a too sophisticated aircraft for this job. I know how easy it is for a particular Service to say, "We must have this or that", but a Hunter replacement will mean fairly large numbers of aircraft, and I am not certain that we can afford an aircraft of a very high price to do this job. I should like to think that further consideration was being given to the P1127, or something not quite so 747 sophisticated as the P1154. I throw out this suggestion, although I know it will run counter to all ideas of the Service but it is something which we should bear well in mind.
We have heard much talk today and in the defence debate about the V-bomber force and the TSR2. It is clear that many hon. Members opposite have not done their homework as well as they should have done on the TSR2. It may be true that there are very few stated facts about it, but if we use the facts we have and look at the original requirements, I cannot see why anyone in the Committee should doubt that this aircraft has strategic potentialities. Hon. Members opposite have said, but I have not heard the Secretary of State say, that this aircraft was designed for a strategic rôle. There is no doubt, however, in my mind from what I have heard that it obviously has the range necessary to fulfil a strategic rôle.
Obviously we shall not have many of these aircraft because they are expensive. If one has to be flown from one part of our Commonwealth to the other it must have the range to go that distance. Therefore, when we find that through no fault of ours—whatever we hear from hon. Members opposite—that Skybolt is not available to us, it is necessary to make available what other "hardware" we have to assist in filling this gap. Because of the versatility of the TSR2, I believe it is now possible to use it for this purpose. In my view, the Secretary of State made no statement to the effect that it is solely a strategic aircraft or that it was originally designed for that purpose, but, because of its versatility, it happens that it has that ability. From all that one hears and can gather about this aircraft it is a very long way ahead of any other aircraft of this type available in the world at present. What is more important, it seems perfectly clear that there is no known means of defence against it.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who is no longer in his place, and other hon. Members have repeatedly in this debate and the defence debate written down and underwritten the value of the British independent deterrent, but such statements are made by people sitting here in this Committee. 748 What we have to do when dealing with a matter of this kind is to try to look at it as the Russians or any potential enemy would look at it. We cannot be certain that there is always a question mark in their minds. I do not blame them for doing this, but many hon. Members opposite—maybe unwittingly —tend to try to abolish and to run down the value of British aircraft and the value of the deterrent.
Yet there is not the slightest doubt that the Victor IIs and the Vulcan Hs are the finest bombers of their type available to any country in the world. Those of us who have spoken to leading members of the Royal Air Force who have visited America have found that they speak with great pride about how when they have landed one of these aircraft on an American airstrip it is not only fine to know that we have the best aircraft, better than the Americans have, but to know that the Americans know it as well.
I have just mentioned the question of considering what use we can make of our aircraft in export sales to other countries, and I come back to the point made earlier. It seems to me very wrong that here we have a great customer who is not prepared to admit that quite often we have a valuable and far better weapon in a particular field than he has available at the time. On numerous occasions we buy American equipment because it is most suitable for our requirements at a certain time, but how much of this buying takes place on the other side? How much of the Royal Air Force equipment, fine as it can be, have the Americans purchased in the last ten years? We lead in the TSR2 development, but have we seen any signs of the Americans offering to buy this aircraft, much as they may need it? There is every indication that the Americans now intend to go ahead and build a similar type themselves.
There is no doubt that a great deal of information passes between the Air Forces of the two countries, but unfortunately it is nearly always, it seems to me, a one-way traffic. Many of the brightest ideas in military aviation, and, for that matter, in civil aviation since the war have originated in this country. They have been taken up and developed by the United States even though at the same time we had just as good, if not better, 749 example of that aircraft already built and available here. This is something which our allies should remember. There is such a thing as admitting now and again that another country, though it may be much smaller, has the "know-how" in these things.
Finally, I make a plea to hon. Members opposite. They do this country untold harm by underating the value of our deterrent. Part of the deterrence in a deterrent is the mystery that may be wrapped round it. Part of the deterrent is the psychological battle to keep the other side guessing. Many questions have been put to my right hon. Friend today about the TSR2 and the new bomb which we have in mind. But it would be far better to let a question mark rest in the world. This makes for a great pyschological advantage in the battle to ensure that we have an efficient deterrent. It is the duty of the Opposition to criticise a Government for failing to provide the goods at the time when they feel they should be provided, but, at the same time, let us not underrate the first-class equipment we have and the first-class men and women we have serving and supporting it.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
The hoe. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) called to my mind a very big question mark which appears annually in the Estimates about espionage, which we are never allowed to question. There is simply a block sum allocated each year and it is never debated or questioned in the House. We accept it in all its mystery. We understand what it is for, but we do not know the details. My interpretation of the hon. Member's latter remarks is that he thinks we ought to do the same with these Estimates and that we ought to leave many questions unanswered and trust to the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. If the hon. Member thinks that we intend to play that game, he had better think again.
The hon. Member referred at the outset of his speech to the views of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) was quite right in commending the hon. Member for Macclesfield on at least his honesty in these matters, because he, and, presum- 750 ably, the hon. Member for Woolwich, West are very firm and strong supporters of the views of the Air League and, therefore, by inference highly critical of the Government's turnabout in the last few months.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West and the hon. Member for Macclesfield hold these views, because there can be no doubt that the Government shirk—and shirk rightly, in my view—the cost of a truly independent British deterrent, a home-made Skybolt. I was in America when President Kennedy made his television appearance to speak about Skybolt. At no point in that television programme did he say that it had been abandoned for technical reasons. It had been abandoned for cost reasons.
Therefore, when our Prime Minister went to Nassau and was faced with this choice, President Kennedy said, "You can have this if you are prepared to pay a big part of the cost of it." The Prime Minister refused that, because he was certain that he could return to this country and convince his supporters that Polaris was a very adequate substitute. This was the confidence trick which the Prime Minister was convinced he could pull off, particularly on his own supporters and, he hoped, in the country at large.
Mr. Turner: I thank the hon. Member for giving way on this point. I support the decision not to proceed independently with the continued development of the American Skybolt. I think that it was quite right, because I do not believe that one can develop an article in conjunction with a firm which is 6,000 miles away. Originally, I should have thought we ought to have developed our own Skybolt, in this country, but I agree with the Prime Minister's decision to abandon Skybolt when the Americans decided not to continue with it.
§ Mr. Hamilton rose—
§ Mr. Turner
I will give way in a moment. I do not believe that it was a question of money. It was a fact that we did not require it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman has made a second speech and I will hesitate before I give way to him again. having had that little experience.
751 The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Prime Minister came back from Nassau and produced something which, whatever else we might call it, is not an independent British deterrent. The two ends of the submarine will be made by us and the middle bit and the missiles by the United States. I am astounded that anyone in this country is expected to believe that that is an independent weapon that can be used by us independently in our own never clearly defined national interest. Surely one cannot sell that to an intelligent electorate.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) rushed off to see the Minister of Defence. They intended to have a showdown. But what happened? The chocolate soldiers marched in and were so beguiled by the Minister that they came out perfectly satisfied that Skybolt was out Polaris in, and that we had our own little nuclear deterrent. They believed it—at any rate, they told the public so on television. What they say in the 1922 Committee is another matter.
Whatever the results, there is no doubt that now the Royal Air Force is bound to play a diminishing rôle over the next several years—that is, assuming that we get these submarines. But that is not to say that the money we are now discussing is exactly peanuts. It totals £503 million. About a dozen hon. Members are present, so we are discussing these Estimates at the rate of about £40 million a head.
I want to look at some of the items. I am not an expert on defence matters. I served for five or six years in the Army, and I think that I must have been the worst soldier, but I recognise the need for defence until we can get all-round disarmament.
I believe that this vast expenditure which we regard as necessary for the Armed Forces is also a very much more powerful planning instrument than it has been as used hitherto. I do not regard it as satisfactory if the policy of full employment, to which both sides of the House are committed, rests solely or even mainly on military expenditure. But so long as we have got such heavy military expenditure, and so long as we have to endure a Government—I hope 752 not for very long now—who are either unable or unwilling to ensure full employment without that military expenditure, then we must use it for social ends as well as for our military requirements.
With that in mind, some of my hon. Friends—Labour Members for Scotland, for apparently the Conservatives are not particularly interested in this aspect—questioned the Minister of Aviation on Monday about air expenditure under Vote VII of these Estimates. This totals £244 million, which is not chickenfeed. It is spent on such things as air frames, air engines, armaments, ammunition and explosives, electronic and electrical equipment, instruments, vehicles and other technical equipment and materials including clothing and laundry services.
Incidentally, that figure is more than four times the total amount spent in Scotland under the Local Employment Act in the three years of its operation since April, 1960. In this context, my hon. Friends challenged the Minister of Aviation on Monday to account for this expenditure. This sum—the Vote was bigger last year, so there has been a decrease—must represent many tens of thousands of jobs up and down the country. My hon. Friend wanted to know—and the public has a right to know—where these jobs are and what jobs are being provided as a result of this expenditure. We are paying the piper. We want to know just what is the tune.
So my hon. Friends asked certain Questions and I wish to quote a few extracts from the replies given by the Minister. My hon. Friends asked a series of Questions about what proportion of the various items I have described involved expenditure in Scotland. The Minister said, initially:The form in which the records of the Departments are kept does not in general show how much of any store was bought in Scotland… I am not in a position to say in advance where particular contracts will be placed.Replying to further pressure from my hon. Friends, who urged him to discuss the considerations in the Government mind when allocating contracts, the right hon. Gentleman said that there were:…two considerations. The first is to get the best value for the public money spent. The second is to have regard, as the hon. 753 Member suggested, to the overall condition of industry in different parts of the country.So, presumably, the Government have in mind the social content of this expenditure.
But when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) asked whether the right hon. Gentleman realised that under Vote 7D—one of those f have mentioned dealing with electronics—… an opportunity could be afforded to Scottish industry to diversify to that degree with some assistance from the Government?the right hon. Gentleman replied, rather strangely:Certainly we have in mind the point which the hon. Member has made, though I dare say"—very daring of him—that it is already under consideration in the Departments."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, cc. 6–7.]After twelve years of this kind of expenditure the right hon. Gentleman says that he would "dare say", or that he would take the risk of saying something to the effect that it was under consideration in Government Departments.
I will return later to this matter of getting the best value for money, because I am interested in a point which has not yet been raised, either today or in the defence debates during the last few days. Under Vote 7 alone we are spending £5 million every week and, as the Minister said, the records did not show where the expenditure was made in the past and that he was not in a position to say in advance where particular contracts will be placed.
The right hon. Gentleman also said, when replying to that series of Questions, that hon. Members would not wish to duplicate expenditure or effort in Departments to obtain information which, he thought, might be important at one moment but might not be important later. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by that? We are interested in finding out where the money is being spent. We want to know and we are entitled to know. I am sure that the information is in the Departments in which it is being spent. If it is not, it had better be, because we will return to this matter of vital importance to the development districts in general and Scotland in particu- 754 lar. We have a right to our share, probably more than our share, of the expenditure of this money.
I referred to the Minister's apparent desire to get value for money and to protect the taxpayer, However, I have with me the Report of the Public Accounts Committee for the Session 1961–62. As hon. Members know, that is an all-party Committee. No politics are involved and a unanimous Report is produced. I do not know whether the public realises just what is going on in the Service Departments and, no doubt, in other departments.
I will quote a case which appears on page lxii of the Report and which concerns the misappropriation of cash at a Royal Air Force station. The story is briefly as follows. In May, 1960, an R.A.F. accounting officer was discovered to have misappropriated £245. Subsequent investigation showed that from April, 1958, to April, 1960, he had also misappropriated £772 by"flogging"scrap metal. The Report says:The Ministry admitted that the misappropriation had revealed a weakness in the system of control.That is the understatement of the Report. It was decided to introduce a new cash book. The officer was court-martialled, cashiered and imprisoned.
Then, the Air Council, the "big brass" in the Department, had a meeting and decided to grant him a compassionate award of £1,242. The Ministry admitted in the evidence—and the right hon. Gentleman had better read the Report—that this was an award for calculated dishonesty, but the defence was that the Air Council was entitled to make this discretionary award. It cannot make it for a civilian. If a civilian had been caught "flogging" scrap metal, he would not have been entitled to this kind of reward.
The moral seems to be, "Join the Forces; flog scrap metal for a few years; get caught, and your future is assured." There is no need to try to be a Parliamentary candidate to get out of the Forces. It is much more profitable to "flog" metal and then he found out and get out of the Forces with a reward from the Air Council.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
Is my hon. Friend saying that the "top 755 brass" paid this compassionate award out of their own pockets?
§ Mr. Hamilton
No. It was the taxpayers' money, so that we were getting the worst of all worlds.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who made a quick exit, like a V-bomber, after his speech, said that we should not ask questions and that we should trust the Air Ministry. We cannot even control an officer caught stealing scrap metal and yet we are asked to accept £500 million of expenditure in an eight hours' debate.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The Report does not say what kind of metal it was. No doubt my hon. Friend can ask a Question and find out.
I refer now to another case in the Report for the Session 1960–61, about the corrupt practice of Air Ministry officials. This time they were not in uniform—at least, no doubt they were in pin stripes and black jackets and if that is a uniform, they were in uniform. Three officials received gifts from a company and a fourth official got a gift, and also money from the Ministry by false pretences for the benefit of the company. The first three received gifts valued at several thousands of pounds and including two motor cars. They were not doing too badly! The fourth got £225 for the company by falsely certifying a bill which overstated the quantity of work done and the rates payable. The Ministry admitted thatIt was a piece of laxity in administration.Action was taken against an officer who had given a certificate for work done without confirming that, in fact, it had been done. It subsequently transpired that the Ministry had tightened up its regulations, but—and, here again, I quote:it was not until after the trial of two members of the firm had ended in convictions in October of 1960 that the firm was put on a black list for the information of other Departments who might not have had contracts with them.I want to ask the question: how long had those regulations lent themselves to abuses of this kind? How long had the abuses been going on? Have all the abuses yet been eliminated? These are enormous sums of money.
756 Reference has been made on several occasions to the sparsity of the attendance in the Chamber for this debate. It is deplorable that Parliament has "contracted out" of its major constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the public purse and it is only when we get the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee turning over a few of the stones that we find the little brutes under them. Goodness knows what is under the bigger stones, had we the time to turn them up. I should have to use non-parliamentary language to describe what might be found under them.
It seems to me that the whole point of this debate is that we should challenge every statement by the Minister. He made a big gaffe this afternoon when he got away from his brief which, I thought, he read rather indifferently—he probably knew as much about it as I did—and said that there was trooping by the nationalised air Corporations, presumably B.O.A.C. and the other Corporation. I think that that was an error. It shows how much he and his right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench are at the mercy of the officials in their Departments. The Ministers just get a brief handed to them and they read it here, without knowing very much of what it is all about. It is the poor taxpayer who has to pay—£500 million for the Air Ministry alone.
I end where I began. If this money has to be spent; if we think that we get value for the money and if the public are not prepared to rebel against the spending of it, at least we should see how it can be expended to give us the military weapons that will deter whatever enemy may rear his head and to serve a social purpose so far as that is possible. Those are the two points I wish to emphasise. Certainly, hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies will return continuously to this matter until we get to know how many jobs will be provided in Scotland, how much of this money is going to Scotland, and whether it is worth while continuing to spend these amounts of money; whether, in fact, the game is worth the candle.
If this Vote were to be rejected tonight I do not think that I should lose a minute's sleep. And as for the Polaris submarines, which are to diminish the rôle of the Royal Air Force, I do not 757 think that we shall ever see them in this country. But they have served a purpose for the moment and enabled the Prime Minister to allay the feelings of his hon. Friends. They wanted a toy to play with and he has convinced them that he has given them one.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I am sorry that the attendance at this debate is so sparse. But I hope no doubt that Government and Opposition supporters will be able to continue the debate without the presence or assistance of the members of the Liberal Party.
I was intrigued during the defence debate earlier this week by some of the arithmetic of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), which was passing strange. He claimed that in one year we spent £300 million on Blue Streak. I think that the abacus at Transport House must have had a few beads missing at the time. Various hon. Members examined some of the arithmetic produced by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), which was similarly defective. Today, some of us have been discussing the Air Estimates and others have been discussing topics of more interest to them. I should like to continue a line of thought which the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) was developing, namely, the distribution of orders covered by the Votes in the Estimates which we are debating.
It seems to me—this is not the first time that I have remarked on this in Committee—there is a number of objectives which we can achieve with our expenditure of public money on Royal Al Force equipment. We want to be sure about the objectives at which we are aiming so that we can measure the degree of success that we have had in trying to achieve those objectives. One objective is undoubtedly to provide equipment which most nearly meets the operational requirements of the Service concerned. A second, as has been mentioned, is, if possible, to try to combine that with the operation requirement of somebody else's air force so that we can export some of the equipment and therefore get back at any rate a proportion of the development cost.
Thirdly, and by no means least important, we should use this, as other parts of public expenditure are used, in a posi- 758 tive manner to stimulate or sustain certain sections of the economy. In the announcement on Tuesday this week about the preliminary allocation of the contract for OR351, I did not see any perceptible exercise of the power which this item of expenditure placed in the hands of the Government. In terms of technical merit, I do not think any case can be made out that the technical skill and quality of Short Bros. and Harland is inferior to that of Whitworth Gloster. Short Bros. and Harland was the first firm in this country to develop vertical take off allied with forward movement and wings, whereas Whitworth Gloster have no experience of that. Secondly, although another member of the Hawker Siddeley group has experience of vertical take off from the P1127, it is precisely the opposite system to that being adopted for OR351. I should have thought that, in terms of technical experience, one could make a case that Short Bros, and Harland was not inferior in experience to the firm which secured the contract. Questions of technical merit are always contentious, particularly when the specifications of the two offerings are not known to my-self and probably not to other hon. Members.
I pass to the other objective to which I drew attention earlier. I do not think that one can sustain the contention that it is more difficult for engineers and draughtsmen in Coventry to find alternative employment than it is for engineers and draughtsmen in Belfast to find alternative employment. In so far as expenditure on Air Force equipment is an item of public economic policy, the case of Short Bros. and Harland should be sustained, because there is no alternative employment for those men, and their skills will otherwise be totally wasted, as well as their current livelihood. The case for giving the contract to Short Bros. and Harland is an unanswerable one.
More distressing to me than the actual allocation of the contract in this case, which could be remedied by the award of the next contract to Short Bros. and Harland, if the award is made in time to save the structure from disintegration, is the absence of a perceptible pattern of procurement policy. This, again, is a subject on which I have endeavoured before to focus the attention of the House of Commons, because I do not believe 759 that the policy of dealing the cards equally round the table is either in the national interest, or in the interest of the Air Force, or in the interest of the individual companies concerned.
In whose interest, therefore, can it be said to be? I do not believe that the volume of Government expenditure on military aviation equipment, plus the civil demand generated by our own domestic and international airlines, plus the export demand, both civil and military, is or ever will be sufficient to sustain the aircraft manufacturing capacity which exists in this country at the moment, even after the amalgamations.
Amalgamations there have been. It is not accurate to say that the industry has amalgamated into two groups. It has not. A considerable proportion of the industry has amalgamated into two airframe groups—the Hawker Siddeley Group and the British Aircraft Corporation. There is also outside it Short Bros. and Harland and Handley Page. The Government apparently took the decision, which was not popular in many quarters, to cut Handley Page out of their will, to disinherit it from public funds. In my judgment, that was a right decision, although this will not universally be agreed. I had hoped that this would be a precedent for further action of this kind, to saying that public money cannot support the whole of the aircraft industry and the Government must therefore select which portions they will sustain and sustain them at a sufficient level of activity for them to have a very real chance of trading abroad—in other words, getting down the unit costs by spreading them over a larger production run.
It follows from giving the contract for OR351, if in fact the contract has actually been given, but at any rate it has been intimated that it will be given, to Whitworth Gloster, whatever the merits of this action may be, that Whitworth Gloster is entitled to expect to be kept alive by the taxpayer into the foreseeable future. It is a pledge of future support. If it is not that, it is difficult to see what it is. One cannot believe that this firm has been selected on a basis of outstanding technical merit. I am not accusing it of outstanding technical incompetence. I am merely saying that I cannot believe that it has been selected on a basis of 760 dazzling technical merit compared with the rest of the industry.
What I am anxious to see from my right hon. Friend, and even more from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, and even more from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, is a coherent procurement policy which will itemise definitely and openly which sections of British industry are to be supported out of public funds, instead of postponing indefinitely what will be a painful decision to take, a decision which is bound to generate both political opposition and personal opposition from those affected. But I do not believe that it is a decision which is easier to take by the postponing of it. If the diet of orders to the aircraft industry is insufficient, the whole plant will wither, and even less value be obtained in a social sense from the public procurement expenditure.
Having made this plea yet again, hope that my right hon. Friend will carry to his right hon. Friends a very strong recommendation for a policy of this kind to be worked out, if it has not been worked out, and to be implemented, which it certainly has not been.
One hon. Member earlier—I forget who it was—toyed with the idea that the Ministry of Aviation should be connected with or subordinated to the Secretary of State for Air.
§ Mr. Eden
I think that my hon. Friend is thinking of the proposal advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) who, if I interpret his words correctly, hopes that the Ministry of Aviation, or at least that part of it concerned with military aircraft, should come in more closely under the newly-formed Ministry of Defence.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
In that case, I did misunderstand. So long as it comes under the Ministry of Defence, I have no great objection but let it not come in under the Air Ministry. A considerable number of people in completely different firms in the British aircraft industry have expressed unanimously to me the interesting opinion, drawn from their experience, that, in dealing with the Admiralty in regard to naval aircraft, they are able to get decisions very much more quickly, particularly with regard to necessary 761 modifications and proposed modifications, than when dealing through the Air Ministry. As this is reported to me as a consistent pattern, there is probably a lesson to be drawn from it.
What I do not seek to secure—indeed, I seek to prevent it—is a repetition of the situation in which the Navy was before the last war, when it had to go down on bended knee to the Air Force for its aircraft, and it was left kneeling without the aircraft. During the war, the Navy was starved of aircraft, and even Coastal Command was allowed to have aircraft only when they had been proved to be lacking in utility to the other branches of the Royal Air Force. This is a situation which must never be allowed to recur. Therefore, although I do not object to closer liaison between the Ministry of Aviation, as the coordinating procuring body, and the Ministry of Defence, let it never be brought further under the influence of the Air Ministry at the expense of the Admiralty.
In saying that, I do not mean to deny the undoubted advantage which will stem from endeavouring to secure "commonisation" of equipment between the Admiralty and the Air Force in so far as the rôles which the aircraft perform are compatible. Indeed, I think it not unreasonable to suggest, since there is considerable evidence for it, that, had the Navy not ordered the Blackburn NA.39. now known as the Buccaneer, and thereby contaminated it with its blessing, the Royal Air Force might very well have ordered that aircraft, and thus got for the taxpayer in general very much better value for the public investment which went into it.
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about this. Will he go on from that point about the Buccaneer and say that the Buccaneer could also fulfil a strategic nuclear function?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I am not, unfortunately, in a position to say what is the nuclear capacity of the Buccaneer. Atomic weapons nowadays can be made in very small sizes.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
There seems to be a certain amount of confusion about 762 what the term strategic implies. The essential of the term strategic, I would have thought, is that one can get it to whatever target one wants it to get to, which, by implication is not a target which is very close to the front line. Aircraft which are based on a carrier can under certain circumstances get much nearer to a strategic target than aircraft which are not. Here again, one may be able to fulfil a strategic function with naval aircraft of considerable shorter range than one could with land based aircraft. I offer that to the hon. Gentleman as a consideration which he might hang on to his petard if he wants to.
Lastly, I want to stress another point raised in the debate which concerns the replacement maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft. I am very concerned about this, because during the last war I think I am right in saying that the ratio of British anti-submarine vessels of one kind or another to the German submarines with which they were in competition was about three to one, whereas now the ratio of anti-submarine vessels in the Royal Navy to potential hostile submarines is about one to four. In other words it has gone twelve times the wrong way.
Since our "fire brigade" mission depends to a very considerable extent on commando carriers and aircraft carriers, and as, to put it mildly, some of the potential targets for such operations are now equipped with Russian submarines, it could upset the whole of our planning if two, three or four aircraft carriers were sunk by quite conventional submarines in the possession of unfriendly States, although these unfriendly States had reached no very advanced stage technologically.
As we are undeniably short of conventional anti-submarine vessels, it is all the more important that we should have a generous supply of reliable and up-to-date maritime reconnaissance and antisubmarine aircraft. I would therefore suggest to my right hon. Friend that if, within the next few months he or his right hon. Friend were able to announce that the contract for such an aircraft would be given to Short Brothers and Harland that would return to that company and its employees the confidence which has been knocked right out of it 763 by the award of OR351 to Whitworth Gloster.
Incidentally Short Brothers and Harland have very considerable experience of producing aircraft of this type. Probably the finest aircraft it has ever produced was the Sunderland, which gave magnificent service in this way during the war. It seems to me that this would be a solution to more than one problem. It would be a solution to the problem that we have not either enough or sufficient technically up-to-date maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft. It would ameliorate the unemployment position in Northern Ireland and it would also consolidate the position of Short Brothers and Harland. Therefore I strongly urge my right hon. Friend not simply to consider that recommendation which I press upon him, but to act upon it as well.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
As many of the older Members will recollect, I have been taking part in these debates for fourteen or fifteen years. As the total amount of the Air Force Estimates has gone up, so the attendance in the House of Commons has gone down. By the time that the Air Force Estimates get up to £600 million, presumably we will be able to carry out our deliberations in one of the telephone kiosks.
I join with the hon. Member far the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) in his theme that the attendance of Members in the House on these occasions has become a public scandal. It has largely devolved upon hon. Members expressing great knowledge from their experience of technical problems, whereas hon. Members who are supposed to represent the taxpayer hardly seam to put in an appearance.
I am following my conventional rôle as a representative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because we have not seen a Chancellor of the Exchequer here on these occasions since the beginning of our defence debates. It has always been a mystery to me why people get so enthusiastic about the various items of Purchase Tax—on confetti and on perfumes, for example—but never seem to put in an appearance when we are spending such a large amount of money.
764 I should like to make what, I thought, might be a constructive suggestion, although my constructive suggestions are not treated with the respect that they deserve. My suggestion is that now that Dr. Beeching has been relieved from attending to the affairs of the railways, he should be let loose upon the Air Ministry and should go through every item, in the same way as he has gone through the items of branch lines and railway stations, and ask, "Does this item pay?" When Dr. Beeching had been successful in doing this, I would be one of his strongest supporters and would be in favour of promoting him to look after the affairs of the Admiralty and the War Office.
§ Mr. Hughes
It would depend on what he saved. There is any amount of incentive.
I do not believe that these matters can be solved until we get a permanent advisory committee to each of the Services, and to other Ministries also, comprising hon. Members who have knowledge and experience, who meet regularly and who have the time, attention and enthusiasm to devote to these matters before ever they reach the House of Commons in Estimates form.
I have had long experience of local authorities. There would be a far bigger proportion of town or county councillors turning out to consider, say, the estimate for a new slaughterhouse than of hon. Members who turn out for these Estimates debates. Until the idea is accepted that we have to keep an eye on bureaucracy and upon the gentlemen whose business it is to provide these Estimates, these Memoranda and these explanations, I will always feel that we are dealing in a very slipshod way with the taxpayer's money.
I wonder sometimes, not that these Estimates are so high, but that they are so low. I have seen the specialists who appear to give evidence. They know quite well that they can palm off almost anything upon a deluded and negligent House of Commons. Until there is a 765 drastic reform of the method of dealing with the Estimates on a reasonable and rational Committee basis, we shall always be subject to these ever-growing exorbitant sums which are presented to the taxpayer.
There is a growing scepticism about the large amounts of money which are being asked for this year for the Defence Services. The question being asked in many places is: is the nation getting its money's worth? I found this question asked from a rather unexpected quarter. A Sunday newspaper said:We are quietly informed in a time of growing economic depression that £1,838 million is to be extracted from our pockets for defence spending next year. An increase of £117 million.In spite of Mr. Thorneycroft's bland assurance that all he does is the best that any man could do for us, I'll make a prophesy.It is that most of the £1,838 million will be wasted and we shall end the year as defenceless as we began it.That was written by a gentleman called John Gordon. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but that paragraph crystallises a great deal of common sense, and there is a growing tendency among people to ask whether we are getting our money's worth.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) present, because I should like an explanation from him. During the debate on the Nassau Agreement he said:When the Minister of Defence returned from Nassau he said, There is a great future for the Royal Air Force. I am not worried about it'. I hope he will explain tomorrow what that future is, because I can assure him that the morale in Bomber Command today could not be lower. Those men need propping up …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th January, 1963, Vol. 670, c. 1072.]That statement perturbed me and I had a sleepless night, so on 6th February, 1963, I put a Question to the chief authority, the Minister. Having heard that statement by the hon. Member for Macclesfield, to whose views I have learned to listen with great attention, I thought that there was a mistake. The hon. Member has gone up in the world. I understand that he is now Chairman of the Conservative Defence Committee. He has gone higher than I have, because I have never got as high as that in the Labour Party. When I do, no doubt there will be a different story.
766 The Minister, in reply to my Question, said:The morale of Bomber Command, like the morale of the Royal Air Force as a whole, remains at its usual high level. Leaders and crews are aware that today and in the future they will have a vital part to play in the defence of the country."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT. 6th February, 1963, Vol. 671, c. 75.]According to the Minister the morale is going up and up, and according to the hon. Member for Macclesfield it is going down and down. What is a layman to think about it?
§ Mr. Hughes
We are paying £500 million for something which is depreciating, and so I put a question mark against it. If these authorities on this subject disagree so violently about this, I am not enthusiastic about paying this large sum of money. I am, however, inclined to accept the view of the hon. Member for Macclesfield, because the Ministry is concerned about the morale of the Royal Air Force.
A fortnight ago two airmen were court-martialled and sentenced to eight months' imprisonment and discharged from Her Majesty's Forces with ignominy. I do not worry about that, because I was similarly discharged myself, but what sort of state of affairs does this reveal in the Royal Air Force? These two airmen wrote a letter to a paper called Peace News. They were innocents. They were not plotters, engaged in a terrible plot to destroy the morale of the Royal Air Force, because they wrote to a paper which is read by all the security officers in Britain, who are under the delusion that it is a Communist paper. They said that they wanted a branch of C.N.D. in the Royal Air Force.
They were obviously innocents. They might just as well have given themselves up to Scotland Yard as written that letter to Peace News. But what did the Air Minister do? He court-martialled them. Instead of saying, "These people are a liability; out they go!" he sentenced them to eight months' imprisonment. As a result, the taxpayer must provide board and lodging for these young innocents for the next eight months. An action like that could only be taken by a very jumpy Minister. I suggest that 767 he should reconsider this case and say, "These fellows are of absolutely no use to the Royal Air Force. Why should we leave them in gaol for another eight months?"
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Can the hon. Member tell me under which Vote the maintenance of these two airmen will be paid for during the next eight months?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am amazed to hear that the hon. Member does not understand the Estimates. These airmen were paid by the Royal Air Force. The Minister responsible for approving the court-martial sentence is sitting on the Government Front Bench now. I am surprised that that question should come—
§ Mr. Dudley Williams rose—
§ Mr. Hughes
I am now dealing with the intelligent Member on the back benches. I am surprised that that question should come from an hon. Member who has made such an interesting speech. Now I will come lower down in the ranks, and ask what the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) wants to say.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I agree with the hon. Member that these airmen were being paid for by the Royal Air Force, but they are not now being kept by the Royal Air Force, or paid by it. In those circumstances, what has this to do with the Air Estimates?
§ Mr. Hughes
I presume that the Royal Air Force has a military detention camp somewhere. At any rate, until the end of the eight months these men are still recognised as members of the Royal Air Force. They are not discharged with ignominy until the end of that period.
§ Mr. Hughes
All right; the hon. Member has had his say.
Now lot us consider the basic assumptions that underlie the whole debate. We are to have this great deterrent, Whom do we want to deter? Presumably we want to deter the Russians from coming to this country and establishing Communism. That fundamental theory needs to be examined more closely. We all 768 know that the idea is that the Russian targets are the industrial centres and military installations in this country, and that we have similar targets in Russia. But the Russians would not need to concentrate on those targets if this country had not become America's chief base in Western Europe. It is because we have become the centre of a potential attack upon the Soviet Union that all the attention of the Soviet Union air marshals is devoted to us.
In his opening speech the Minister spoke with awe of Marshal Malinovsky. I do not know what Marshal Malinovsky is up to. I do not like Marshal Malinovsky, and I do not like the tremendous power of destruction that is vested in the Soviet Air Force. The argument is that we need to have this deterrent to prevent the Russian Air Force attacking us because of some original sin of the Russians. The Russians do not make a target of countries which are not a menace to them. I do not suppose that they have rockets directed towards Southern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) has an Amendment on the Order Paper to reduce Vote A by 1,000 men, which I regard with some degree of unmitigated enthusiasm. He is angry about the treatment of Short Bros. and Harland and is prepared to have 1,000 men taken out of the Royal Air Force tomorrow. That is a form of direct action which any shop steward in Short Bros. and Harland would look upon with dismay.
This country becomes one of the most dangerous parts of the world because we have a dangerous foreign policy. I do not want to upset the occupants of the Government Front Bench, but, if we were a neutral country—I hope they have not subsided in horror—we would not become involved in this enormous expenditure.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Ronald Russell)
The hon. Member is now rather straying from the Estimates and discussing foreign policy.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am trying to anticipate and to be a little helpful to the hon. Member for Belfast, East in connection with his Amendment.
During the last twelve or fourteen years in which the hon. Member for 769 Macclesfield and I have debated across the Floor of this Chamber an enormous amount has been spent from our national resources in men, money and material on the wrong kind of aircraft. I am an enthusiastic supporter of civil aviation. I believe that if one fraction of the money we have spent on the Air Estimates over the last ten years had been devoted to civil aviation we would have built up something which would be a real asset in our present precarious economic situation in the world. We may go on with the ruinous arms race and spend next year £2,000 million and have further big bills until it is so economically crippling that when we have a Labour Government in office a Conservative Opposition will be saying, "For goodness' sake cut down this sum." 'That is a possibility.
If a Labour Government came into office next year and presented a bill of £2.000 million for defence and a bill of £600 million or £700 million for the Royal Air Force, one of the most ruthless critics would be the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who would be asking, "What is the money to be spent on?".
The sooner we overhaul this expenditure the better. The sooner we say to the Service chiefs that we have to cut down this expenditure in the interests of our national economy the sooner we shall do something for the permanent interests of the people. I see expenditure on science wasted on something which is economically futile and which can result only in our drifting along behind the scientific advance of the rest of the world. While we are spending these enormous sums of money in this way other countries are investing big sums in permanent creative industry. Sooner or later—not because of arguments of mine or of my hon. Friends, but because of the shear force of events and the pressure of public opinion—the Government will be forced to abandon this policy, which is not in the real interests of the people of the country.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
All hon. Members must have been exceedingly glad to see the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in his place, because they knew that if he caught your eye, Mr. Russell, they 770 would be in for a treat, and indeed they were. I was delighted to be here, because I was told, on what authority I cannot recall, that in view of his past activities the hon. Member was on the short list for the headmastership of Eton.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Inevitably the debate has been dominated by the cancellation of the Skybolt missile since the Committee last met to discuss the Air Estimates. I do not want to add much to that discussion, because we have been here already for six hours. I should like to put it on record, however, that rightly or wrongly, I backed a certain course of action on that occasion. I am not allowed to develop now the fact that I am a stalwart and firm believer in an independent deterrent for this country, and I am a trenchant critic, though regretfully, of the decision to take Polaris.
I do not criticise it on the ground that once we get it it will not be independent, but I shall rest content only when we have actually laid our hands on it. I believe that the decisions were an amalgam, because it is probably true that for even so great an economy as that of the United States the problem of tax reduction, the provision of conventional weapons, and these weapons, plus getting into space in a very big way, was proving too great a burden.
I share the views, which have been much better expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) than I can put, them, that there were policy implications in what our American friends did, and I think that we ought to have learned that lesson. But this is past history and we move on, though there is a small lesson for the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. On that occasion, be it right or wrong, but with no relish whatsoever, I voted against my own party on a three-line Whip.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
But the difference between the hon. Member and myself is that I am still a member of my party, with the Whip. I did not have the Whip removed from me for that independent action, whereas the hon. Member for South Ayrshire is in the 771 lonely, naked position of finding himself not a member of his party, in company with his present neighbour on the bench opposite, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). I am proud to belong to a party in which we have a measure of freedom and yet retain the right to the Whip.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
No, I do not think so, because at the time I did not necessarily have reason to suppose that I would retain the Whip, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Member does not question the sincerity of my action.
The trouble with speaking at this stage of the debate is that everything that one had intended to say has been said. As the debate has proceeded and I have continued to tear up my notes I have felt increasingly dismal. But knowing how difficult it is to catch your eye, Mr. Russell, I made a note of two matters which I trusted would not be mentioned. Fortunately, no reference has been made to them. I propose, therefore, to detain the Committee for a few minutes on them. They are both matters of detail and are far removed from the great issues which we have been discussing.
I draw attention to the first quite unashamedly, for a reason which I shall explain. It is contained on page 79 of the Memorandum accompanying the Defence White Paper and deals with meteorology. My reason for drawing attention to it is that during the year which we are discussing the Meteorological Office has completed its move to the new town of Bracknell in my constituency, which obviously means that I have been able to understand much more than I could before the immense ramifications of the work of meteorology with reference to the Air Force in particular and to affairs in general.
It has caused a major change in my thinking habits. I do not know whether I am the only member of this Committee to do so, but in previous years when I have heard the B.B.C. announce that the day would be fine and cloudless I have invariably taken my umbrella. Now that the Meterological Office is in my con- 772 stituency I shall defend it vigorously against all possible critics.
It is relevant to note that on page 79 it is stated that for the second successive year the recruitment of honours graduates as scientific officers has been satisfactory. When one remembers how very short we are of competent and highly qualified persons, this is something which the Secretary of State can take considerable pride in. The Meteorological Office is also able to report that all the available positions for scientific assistants have been filled for the first time since the war. This, too, is most encouraging in view of the grave shortage of highly qualified technical personnel.
I also draw attention to the immense demand for the services of the Meteorological Office. This is something which I must confess I had not understood until I went round the Office. It has answered 750,000 inquiries in the past year, an increase of 20 per cent. over the previous year. Its services are used by industry and commerce generally, and also by farming.
That leads me to a question which arises out of this. In paragraph 112 there is a tentative feeler towards long-range climate forecasting. Can my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State assist us by telling us a little more about what the R.A.F. has in mind here? There is reference to a weather forecast map for a 24-hour period, but I should be interested in the possibilities of further experiments in that direction.
We must realise that the difficulties which will arise from this will not be technical but political. Suppose we get to the stage when it is possible to forecast the weather through the Meteorological Office accurately for six months ahead. I can see the very gravest political difficulties in so doing. Suppose the Meteorological Office, coming directly under the Royal Air Force, were to say that this summer a wise Englishman should have his holiday in England and not go, for example, to France—perhaps that is an unhappy thought.
Mr. van Staraubenzee
I think that perhaps Germany would be more in keeping with the mood at the present time.
773 Supposing the forecast dissuaded English people from going to Germany for the summer holidays, then the ambassadors of other countries would immediately come forward and complain bitterly. Though I make the point lightly, the political problems of long-range weather forecasting have not been properly thought out, though the advantages to our economy are very obvious.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Certainly, one of the things which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might take into account would be forecasting for polling day. Incidentally, it could also have appalling ramifications on cricket, because it would mean that every cricket captain would go into action with a long-range forecaster at his elbow and his tactics would be entirely different if he knew that a downpour was expected in two hours. It might take away the fun from our cricket, even if the results of the recent Test matches in Australia have not already done so.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Whether that would be desirable I would not wish to say.
I do not want to appear unduly lighthearted about this, although the subject is perhaps not so grave by comparison with all the other services we are talking about. Nevertheless, it does occupy one and a half pages of the Memorandum, and the Meteorological Office undertakes an immense amount of work on behalf of the country. Bracknell is one of the four centres in the country for the exchange of data and information, and it is all of immense importance to the R.A.F. It is one of the hidden, unknown ways in which the R.A.F. is contributing to the general welfare of the country and for which, incidentally, we are being asked to pay.
I turn to a different matter which arises from paragraph 84. I have always been fascinated by the problem of training and, because of that, I took advantage of the opportunity of paying a visit to Cranwell 774 to see the training methods being employed to train some of the future officers of the R.A.F. I say "some" because I realise that Cranwell is not the only source of obtaining our future officers. I am encouraged, from my visit and the Report, to think that the entry is up, and I say this to my right hon. Friend in common with other hon. Members who have mentioned this, that no Service could look after its guests more pleasantly or ensure that it was made possible for us to see everything. However, the Report is frank and states that still more entrants are desired.
I asked myself when there why it was that we were not getting entrants in what might be considered sufficient numbers. I know that the number is increasing, but not as fast as Cranwell wants. One of my objects tonight is to beat the Cranwell drum. I really have no R.A.F. connection, for I was a soldier during my war service. I have a deep respect for the Air Force, so long as the Army takes preference in almost everything, but beyond that I have no axe to grind. I do not believe that any young man today could have a finer start in life than training at Cranwell.
I do not think that hon. Members fully appreciate the uniquely fine facilities we have provided in recent years for these young men in training. I do not think that I have ever seen finer swimming baths—with the exception, perhaps, of Sandhurst—and finer gymnastic facilities. There are modern buildings, recently constructed, and the whole thing represents a fine story of what this nation has poured into training and research at Cranwell.
I was interested to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams)—and I regret that he is not at present in his place—was a product of Cranwell. That alone must commend itself to the Committee, although Cranwell is doing even more. As hon. Members will have gathered. I have wished to draw attention to the work of Cranwell, both to the Committee and to the country.
In this connection, I came away from my visit feeling that Cranwell benefits from being small, in contrast to Sandhurst. I make no criticism of Sandhurst; indeed, it is in my constituency and I 775 have a deep respect for its work—different work, of course, from that of Cranwell. I was impressed by the personal relationship between those training and those under training; not only the detailed knowledge of the Cadets by the senior members of the staff, but the general relationship between them, which is important during the training period. I believe that that comes, at least in part, from its small size. Thus, if we are going to be thinking in radical terms about Service integration, I very much hope that we will watch the question of the size of establishments when we are training our future officers.
If I were trying to get a sense of community into the Services I would not start at the brigadier level but at the cadet level. I would be tempted, if I could manage it, particularly now syllabuses are so broad, to see if I could do a lot of my training for the three Services in one or more places instead of spread out under individual arms, as at present, for these things must start very young.
This may seem a detail, perhaps, but when I was there, Cranwell, quite rightly, was cock-a-hoop at the sporting trophies they had brought back from Sandhurst. It happened to be their year. I respect this, and certainly we do not want to discourage that feeling. But from the beginning, this kind of inter-Service rivalry, friendly rivalry, of course, is built up and there may be something to be said—I do not know whether thought is going along these lines—for training officers of more than one Service at one place for at least part of their training. If that happens, I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist temptations to put them together in one very large place. If he is asked to share training with other Services, I hope that he will draw sharp attention to the advantages which Cranwell gives as a small establishment, small in these terms.
My second question is, "Who trains the trainers?" The training of men is one of the most fascinating things which one can undertake and is highly skilled. To use a gunner's expression, we take tremendous care to calibrate the trainers who teach flying. I was impressed beyond measure by the care which is taken at Cranwell with those training cadets 776 learning to fly. Are we paying as much attention to that part of the training which is not flying training? This is no criticism of any of the officers concerned, but I had the impression that in a comparatively short tour of duty some considerable part at the start was wasted while officers found their feet. I wonder whether we ought not to look more closely at our arrangements for training the trainers.
I realise that there is always thought going on about it, but my third question is whether my right hon. Friend is satisfied that at the moment he has got right the balance between the academic and the Service training. This is very difficult at Cranwell because of the specialist nature of the flying training. However, interesting changes are taking place on these lines at Sandhurst, where, roughly speaking, one starts and ends the training militarily, but in the middle is more or less an undergraduate. This system is producing results.
Cranwell has a different problem. It has a course of three years instead of two and a higher academic standard and the difficulties of carrying through the flying training on time. But I am bound to say that it struck me that we were trying to get through an enormous amount academically in only three years. One is always revising one's ideas about this and we are always rethinking our training methods, but is my right hon. Friend satisfied that Cranwell in this respect is at least up to, if not ahead of, modern thought?
We are training something of immense value. It was brought home to me with a jolt when I looked at Cranwell's boxing board which stopped five years ago. I was told that cadets had been prevented from boxing at Cranwell because of the immense value of each cadet. Subject to correction, I think that it costs £60,000 to train one cadet at Cranwell, an enormous figure. The cadets are so valuable that they cannot be allowed to take part in a sport in which their faces are a target, for if something goes wrong, substantial sums of money have gone west.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Perhaps she should be the commandant for a while and tidy the place up.
777 I draw the Committee's attention to the importance which the Report attaches to cadet forces in recruiting. It comes out very clearly in paragraphs 92 to 94. With some modest experience, I would say that the Air Force is ahead of the other Services in looking after its cadets. Admittedly, it has a shop window of excitement and I am interested to see that it is moving into gliding. Many hon. Members will have constituents enthusiastically taking opportunities for gliding. But there is sometimes a feeling that this is just small boys playing about. I think they should be remembered as an important source of recruitment. I know that is so in my area, and I do not believe that time spent in encouraging Service officers to back the cadets would be wasted.
I make no apology for drawing attention to detailed matters such as the Meteorological Office, which has not had a mention so far, and the importance of Cranwell. My object is to draw the attention of the public to the remarkable facilities there and the high standard of the work which is done. Overweighing it all, obviously, is the whole question of the morale of the force to which these young men are training to belong. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was being perfectly frank, and one cannot accuse him of being less than frank in his speech, about the blow that the cancellation of the Skybolt project caused to the Royal Air Force. I imagine that it must have been his major thought when this happened to make certain so far as lay in his power that those serving in Bomber Command, particularly, should not lose heart and feel that they would become a sort of glorified transport command.
Only today in the Press I saw arresting advertisements designed to catch the eye of the potential young recruit and dealing with the question of whether the Air Force have a future after Skybolt. I am sure that that is the right way to approach intelligent young men of the kind we are trying to recruit. It is perfectly obvious that there is a major rôle for the Air Force in the future. It was outlined in a fascinating manner earlier, and with a technical skill that I cannot match, by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, and reference was made 778 to the way in which the Air Force of the future is to work.
It has to be said that we shall not recruit persons if they get it fixed in their mind that they are going into a force which is to be truncated, and of which half is to go to the Army and half to the Navy. I am wholeheartedly behind reorganisation defence-wise as announced in our debate on defence. I am certain that it is the right move. But I am equally convinced of the wisdom of the case made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, that air power will be effective only if it is concentrated in an effective air force rather than scattered about in penny packets. It may well be that when the reorganisation takes place, some of the fierce defences of particular air empires will require that slight air of unreality which they have at the present time.
If anything, I as an outside observer would be in favour of concentrating more under the control of the Air Force rather than taking anything away. But all this means that both technically and reorganisation-wise the future of the Air Force is assured and any person going into it will be going into a very modern and up-to-date force with a great future. If that message goes out from our lengthy discussions, however poorly they have been attended, it will prove a valuable result.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Your attention, Sir William, has been drawn to the Amendment on the Order Paper in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark). When I put down the Amendment it was my intention to express the great dissatisfaction felt by my constituents in the firm of Short Bros and Harland, not so much about the decision to place the order for the OR351 with the Hawker-Siddeley Group as with the decision, and the announcement by my right hon. Friend, that no part of the design work on that project would go to Short Bros, and that it was likely that no further orders would be placed for the Belfast air freighter.
Short Bros has a fine modern factory. Many hon. Members who have visited my constituency have been to the factory, and they have been very welcome. It 779 has 1½, million square feet of modern floor space, with an aerodrome on its doorstep and a waterway up the side where aircraft carriers can unload directly to the factory the planes which they carry for refit. This decision means that no further orders involving design work will be placed in this factory. This may well cause the running down of the design staff there and place the future of the entire works in jeopardy.
However, it was not my intention, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), to reduce the number of men in the Royal Air Force. For this reason, having drawn the attention of the Committee to the dissatisfaction about this matter, I prefer to deal with the main issue tonight rather than to move my Amendment.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does not the hon. Gentleman propose to move his Amendment? Am I not to have the pleasure of supporting it?
§ Mr. McMaster
The hon. Gentleman said that no one would be more amazed and dismayed than the shop stewards in my constituency if the number of men in the Royal Air Force were reduced, and I think that he was right. Therefore, the only practical way of expressing dissatisfaction being to vote for a reduction, I do not intend to press the Amendment. Instead, I intend to speak on the general subject of the Air Estimates and on the Motion before the Committee.
I must make it clear that I have a strong constituency interest in this matter. Many hon. Members on both sides, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), have made strong speeches on this subject. I apologise in advance to the Committee if I overlap what has been said. As this matter concerns my constituency, and although I have been called towards the end of the debate, I feel entitled to restate part of the arguments.
I wish, first, to comment on the Air Estimates as they appear in this rather thin Defence White Paper. It has been criticised in earlier debates for being thin. I have compared it with Defence White Papers over the last three or four years, and I do not find this one very much thinner than any of those. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air referred to the different functions 780 of the Royal Air Force which are set out at the bottom of page 67 of the Defence White Paper.
I do not intend to address any remarks to the first three topics—air defence, tactical strike and Bomber Command—which have been adequately covered in the White Paper. However, no clear line of policy is expressed in this document. In particular, there is no policy about operational requirements designed to keep the aircraft industry fully occupied.. I draw particular attention to the fact that Coastal Command and the Shackletons, which have served it so well for so long, must be nearing the end of their life.
I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to deal with this problem of the life of the Shackleton Coastal Command aircraft. It can be seen from the awarding of the 0R351 contract that, although the first plans were formulated and the first requirement issued in 1960. the decision has now only just been taken to order the aircraft. I do not expect that it will be in production and service for at least another seven years. It takes about ten years to produce a new plane.
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.
That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after Ten o'clock and shall be exempted from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House) for Two hours after Ten o'clock.—[Mr. H. Fraser.]
§ Supply again considered in Committee.
§ Mr. McMaster
As I was saying, it now takes, or appears to take, about ten years between the initial decision to order a new aircraft and bringing the aircraft into service. I should like my right hon. Friend to deal with this point. Paragraph 15 of the section of the White Paper dealing with the Royal Air Force says this:Studies are also in progress of the characteristics required in a replacement for the Shackleton.Does my right hon. Friend think that this admirable aircraft, which has been modernised, can still be expected to be in service in ten years' time? Should not steps be taken immediately to set plans on foot for its replacement?
781 I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton suggest that this contract might be given to Short Bros. and Harland, because this would be a new project completely divorced from the considerations of the Belfast, which has attracted so much comment from both sides of the Committee. It would be a new project which the design staff there could take on as well as they have taken on projects in the past. One such project I have in mind is the variable geometry aircraft, in which Short Bros and Harland acted as the pioneers, a project which has now been adopted in the United States.
Another I have in mind is the multi-jet vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which has been referred to frequently tonight. Short Bros. and Harland successfully pioneered this project which, I might say in passing, has been mentioned in every White Paper during the last three or four years. It is also mentioned in this year's White Paper as being the thing of the future. However, regrettably the secrets and advances gained in the multi-jet version, which is most suitable for heavy aircraft, have been given away deliberately to France and Germany. I should like to know why this country has lost the lead in this field.
I have digressed from the main trend of my argument, which is that a little more planning of the requirements and the devotion of a little more thought to the requirements might be of considerable assistance to the aircraft industry. It might well be said that this is a job for the Minister of Aviation. Indeed, I put this point to my right hon. Friend. He told me that requirements are a matter for the Secretary of State of State for Air; they are not for the Ministry of Aviation, which simply does the ordering.
This is a fine example of "passing the buck", if ever there was one. If it is true, however, the Secretary of State for Air should take into consideration not simply the requirements of the R.A.F., which, as one can understand, are perhaps for fast jet aircraft, but also other factors, such as social needs, the needs of the aviation industry as a whole, and the requirement of the aircraft itself. The R.A.F. might not like to do much troop transporting. The 782 R.A.F. might prefer to fly fast jet aircraft rather than the slower, heavier, bigger and more cumbersome planes which have to move about the world transporting soldiers and their equipment. This might be work which did not interest the Air Force so much.
We have heard a lot of very imaginative talk about sub-orbital flight. This catches the imagination of the Committee, but the donkey work still remains to be done. For planes to do the transporting, and planes like the Shackleton going out over the oceans on reconnaissance we require something quite different from the fast jet. I am told that one of the great advantages of the Shackleton is that it is a rather slow aircraft with a long range; it can perform its vital function because of these qualities.
If the defence needs of the country are now to be met, as a result of Nassau, not by Skyholt and the V-bomber force but by the Polaris submarine, will it not be necessary to protect our Polaris submarines? Would not the Polaris submarine, which is, perhaps, more vulnerable to counter-submarine attack by a hunter-killer, be best protected by aircraft such as the Shackleton, or the Shackleton replacement? Could not such an aircraft do a great deal in protecting our few—only six or seven—vital Polaris submarines, detecting the presence of a hunter-killer submarine and getting rid of that menace?
I turn now to the freighter aircraft requirement. We have been told about the order for 10 Belfasts. This order is inadequate. I have no personal experience of this, because I have not been in the aircraft industry myself, but I am told that an aircraft is not like a motor car, which can be serviced every six months, or once a year, if it is new. An aircraft must be checked and serviced quite regularly and for considerable periods. I understand that, in fact, it spends about a quarter of its life being serviced.
If this is so, one in four aeroplanes is on the ground being checked and not available for service at any one time. In the ordinary way, also, with wear and tear and the occasional unfortunate accident to equipment, one of the 10 Belfasts may be out of action because of damage. Thus, we shall have only 783 five or six of these aircraft available at one time to meet an emergency. Does my right hon. Friend consider that this is really sufficient to meat the strategic requirement of carrying equipment all over the world?
I recognise that, with the VC.10s in use, the Belfast will not be required to carry troops, or, I hope, not many troops. But one very big advantage of the Belfast is its tremendous size. It can carry all manner of equipment, from, at one end of the scale, the Chieftain tank to a great variety of missiles, or even four helicopters in its hold, at the other.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will pay attention to this problem of the requirement for more strategic freighter aircraft so that the Royal Air Force can properly fulfil its function of carrying equipment all over the world. If more are to be ordered, I suggest that some of the ideas which have been put forward by the company should be investigated.
For instance, the present aircraft could be extended. I am told that the present 10 will be delivered with a version of the Tyne turbo-prop engine with 16 ft. propellers and that an improvement could be made to use 18 ft. propellers, thus extending the range and pay-load.
There is the better project still, which appeals to me, of a new engine developed by Rolls-Royce—having visited Rolls-Royce recently I know how the company would welcome this—the Tyne V turbo-prop, which would take a 20 ft. propeller, greatly extending the Belfast in the way that any good plane can be extended from the very first project to the more developed version. If that is not acceptable to my right hon. Friend for reasons of money and if he is interested in the jet versions, I believe that the firm has put forward a suggestion, using the existing fuselage and existing wing and jet configuration, for building and developing, within six or seven years, a jet version of the Belfast air freighter. Surely by the time such a plane could be built and in service there would be a very real need for such a large strategic freighter.
I have heard criticism of this plane in the House on the ground that it is too big. I would, however, direct my 784 right hon. Friend's attention to progress in America where the size of freighter aircraft is getting larger every year and by their standards the Belfast is quite a small plane. It has, as was mentioned in relation to the Hawker-Siddeley plane, been tailor made to meet the requirements of the Army, which, I am told, is very satisfied with the specifications of this plane. I should not like to see my right hon. Friend just abandoning it, as he appears to have decided to do, but giving further thought to the usefulness of another four or five of these great aircraft.
Another suggested use is as a tanker aircraft. Much attention has been given in the White Paper to use of tanker aircraft. It would extend the range of the TSR2, which has been the subject of debate this afternoon. At the moment, we use, among other aircraft, the Valiant for this purpose. Is it wise or sensible to use a jet bomber for a purpose like that? Would it not be much better to use a heavy freighter plane that could carry more fuel than even the Valiant as an airborne tanker?
This underlines another point in respect of a freighter such as the Belfast—its tremendous versatility. It has been suggested that the OR351, that is, the Hawker plane which is the WG681, which is to be built, will probably not be in service for at least seven or eight years and that some of these additional Belfasts could be used to fill the gap. This was referred to earlier. I think that there will obviously be a gap between the ordinary expected life of the Hastings and the Beverleys, which have been very fine planes but which are now getting rather old and can hardly be expected to last many more years before they fall to pieces.
My right hon. Friend said that this version of the Belfast would take as long to deliver as it would to deliver the Hawker plane. I made inquiries on this point and I am told that that is not quite true. When the OR351 was originally put up to Short Brothers and Harland it suggested developing a plane with a new Tyne V engine. The Tyne V would take two or three years to develop and it is true that if this special version with blown wings was developed it would probably take as long as the Hawker.
785 More recently, I am told, the firm put forward yet another suggestion for a version based upon the existing 18 ft. propeller engine. This aircraft could be delivered almost immediately together with the 10 Belfasts which are nearing completion, one of which is being pressure tested in the water tank and another of which I have seen recently in the hangar. Its engines are beside it and it is in the final stage of preparedness for its trial flights.
If an order were given for a few of these machines, not only could they fill the gap but they would be useful to the Army, because they have a much greater range than the Hawker aircraft and the WG681 and would probably have a useful life of between ten and fifteen years and would supplement the existing order for the Hawker aircraft. This is a matter which I should like my right hon. Friend to consider with the other points I have made concerning the strategic version of this aircraft.
I can summarise what I have said by asking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to cast a little light on this problem. It has caused great anxiety to the people in Short Bros. They would like to know whether this firm, in my constituency, has any future. The design team has been built up carefully and more than half of it are local men who were trained in our technical college or 786 university under a scheme sponsored by the company. It is a tremendous asset to an area like Northern Ireland with its heavy unemployment.
If my right hon. Friend is advised to reject the arguments which I have tried to put forward for the Belfast either as a strategic machine or as an interim tactical freighter, and if he is advised that the Hawker machine will meet the entire requirement, will he consider setting up a second production line for the Hawker 'plane in Belfast, where there are magnificent facilities? This has been done before for the Canberra, which was built in Belfast, for the Britannia and even for the Comet. There have been second production lines in Northern Ireland. It would help us in Northern Ireland if, instead of simply making parts for the Hawker machine, we could adopt the more satisfactory solution of having a production line for the WG681.
It has been suggested that we need about 50 of these aircraft. It will take a considerable time to produce them if the task is left entirely to Whitworth Gloster. Perhaps, therefore, it will be possible to produce some of them in Northern Ireland.
These are the points which I wanted to put to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench and I hope that I will get an answer to some of them tonight.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) will forgive me if I do not follow his technical and constituency speech, but I am disappointed that he did not decide to press his Motion after the generous help that was offered to him by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). The two hon. Members would have made a nice combination acting as Tellers.
I am tempted to enter the debate by two points raised by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). The first was his reference to the meteorological services. The hon. Member widened the field by getting into the realms of cricket, holidays in Germany, and M. Bidault. I do not follow how he was able to do so, but your predecessor, Sir William, did not stop the hon. Member, and, therefore, I presume that he was in order.
I was intrigued by the hon. Member's final remarks when he listed the benefits derived from the meteorological services by various bodies and he finished by saying "and, incidentally, farming". Farming is the biggest industry in the country and the one that benefits most by good meteorological services. It depends entirely upon the weather.
I should like to pay tribute to the help that the meteorological services of the Air Force give to agriculture. I use them a great deal, particularly in the north-east of Scotland. At Dyce, we have an excellent service. We can telephone at any hour of the day or night and get either a long-term or a short-term forecast. which is extremely valuable. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, I am appalled at the amount of money that is spent on the Royal Air Force. I have no knowledge of whether it is necessary or not, but we are not charged for this service, and I do not begrudge some of the money that goes into it.
The other point made by the hon. Member for Wokingham was about Cranwell, which made me think of the number of airmen to whom I have given lifts on the road between my farm in Lincoln and my farm in Essex, which includes the Cranwell area. I am sorry that the 788 Minister has left the Front Bench, because three years ago when he was in charge of the Army Estimates I raised the same subject, the under-employment, not of the actual flying people, or the people in the Army who pull the triggers, but the "odd bods" who make up the pay and do all the servicing work in the Services. I am certain that they are under-employed.
In my constituency I have given lifts to numerous airmen from the various airfields with which East Anglia is liberally sprinkled. I have picked them up on a Friday afternoon, or Friday morning, and taken them back on the Monday morning. I have asked when they start work on the Monday morning and what time they get off on the Friday afternoon, and the answer invariably has been, "Oh, we are not busy on Friday afternoon or Monday morning; we only do half a man's job". I am therefore satisfied that in the servicing of the Services there is a fantastic amount of under-employment.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that if there were over-employment in peace time it would be impossible to expand those services in time of emergency?
§ Mr. Mackie
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. It is because of this under-employment in peace time that we need so many more men in war time.
§ Mr. Mackie
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the fact is that in the Services men get into the routine of being under-employed. By comparison, in industry one man does about two or three times the work done by a man in the Forces, with the result that when war comes, which God forbid it will again, the Services carry on in their old way and need an enormous number of men. If men in the Services in peace time were trained to do a full-time job, we would have much more efficient Services.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire was not being funny when he said that it might not be a bad idea if Dr. Beeching were let loose in the Armed Services to see where he could make savings, as he has done on the railways. In fact, I think that it would have been more profitable to the country if he had first been let loose in the Services and then on the railways.
789 I suggest to the powers that be on the Front Bench opposite that they should give careful attention to just how underemployed Service men are. As I say, having given many Service men lifts between Aberdeen and London, and having talked seriously to them, I am convinced that they are seriously underemployed, and that there is tremendous scope for saving work in the servicing of the three Services, and I hope that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will pay attention to this.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene in this debate, and I shall try to conclude what I have to say in about six or seven minutes.
First, I welcome the fact that the Royal Air Force is to be amalgamated with the other three Services and, in addition, with part of the Ministry of Aviation. I welcome that as much as I disapprove of the way in which my right hon. Friend presented this to the House, which I thought was treating the House with complete disdain in not mentioning it in the White Paper but suddenly revealing it at the Dispatch Box to divert attention from the lack of a defence policy.
The amalgamation will ultimately lead to greater efficiency in the Fighting Services, and I hope very much that whilst the Services will work together the Royal Air Force, and of course the other Services too, will remain as individual Services within the whole organisation. I hope most emphatically that the Chief of Air Staff will not have another Service man over him between him and the Minister of Defence. It is most important that the Chief of Air Staff should have direct access to and work directly with the Minister of Defence.
I welcome the fact that the deterrent at present carried by the Royal Air Force is now integrated to a greater degree in N.A.T.O. This is a desirable step in the move away from an independent deterrent, which is eminently desirable. The more we can get the Air Force deterrent integrated with our allies the more I shall be satisfied. At the same time, the case for the Royal Air Force, or for anybody else, is not advanced in any way by the 790 sort of advertisement that appeared in the Economist last weekend, in which the Air League tried to persuade the Government to give the Royal Air Force a further deterrent after the expiry of the useful life of the present one, which is carried by the V-bombers.
I do not believe that the TSR2 will become useful as a deterrent—not because I do not think that it is the most wonderful aircraft that has ever been designed—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Harrison
Before that interruption, I was referring to the TSR2. It seems to me to be the most wonderful aircraft, and of its type to be probably as great in design as the Spitfire was in the early thirties. But it is a fabulously expensive aircraft. I shall be surprised if we are economically able to bring it into service unless some of our other allies agree to purchase it. I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Government will consider that point very carefully.
§ Mr. Harrison
I very much hope that the Australian Government will examine the TSR2 and that there will not be a repetition of what happened in the case of Mysteres, which the Australian Government could have obtained with Rolls Royce engines. For rather shortsighted reasons of trade they decided not to. I hope that the Australian Government will follow up the progress of this aircraft and consider the possibilities of purchase in a favourable and sensible light.
On a completely different point: I wonder whether my hon. Friend can tell the Committee why on earth mountain rescue teams should be provided by the Royal Air Force. It seems completely incongruous. One could understand their being run by the Army or the Commandos, or something of that sort, but 791 I hope that neither my hon. Friend nor any other Members will do anything to belittle the exceptional job which is done by the R.A.F. mountain rescue teams. I myself have had cause to feel a lot safer when mountain walking because of the existence of these teams. I wish to pay a tribute to their work, and I hope that even if no logical reason can be found for them being provided by the R.A.F.—and I myself cannot think of one—they will continue to be maintained by that Service.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
I intervene at this late stage to make three short points, and, in so doing, to express my surprise that the Opposition, whose duty it is rather than that of Government supporters to inquire into the way in which the Supply accounts are spent, should be so poorly represented in the debate and, apart from the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), should have dropped out of the debate some time ago.
I assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that I approach this subject not as an expert but rather as the watchdog of the taxpayer. One must bear in mind that Probably the prime interest of the taxpayers, or of the majority of them, is that the Government should see that they are well defended, and it is in seeing that they are well defended that I am anxious we should ensure that the money is well spent.
I was most impressed by a passage in the Statement on Defence, in paragraph 20 on page 69, which ends:But only aircraft are flexible enough to meet the world-wide commitments of the Royal Air Force, by reason of the speed with which they can be redeployed and their ability to use both nuclear and conventional weapons with the accuracy required.If one substituted the words "Great Britain for" "Royal Air Force", one would sum up the whole essence of the need to maintain an airborne deterrent.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), I am firmly convinced that, although there may be a rôle for Polaris submarines in the years to come, the airborne deterrent will return as the main deterrent force maintained by 792 this country. This being so, I am glad that it has been found that the TSR2. which has been referred to so often and which is such a splendid aircraft, has been developed in a way which will enable it to carry out a stratetgic as well as a tactical rôle. I hope that this country, in view of this fact, will not drop out of the missile business. The question has been raised whether we should develop a Skybolt of our own. Even if we cannot do that at once, I hope we shall continue research and development so that we can still be in the race and, if ever we are forced to rely on our own resources, we shall not be found without missiles of our own. Therefore, my second point is that we should try to keep Britain in the missile business so that we are able to be independent should that be necessary in the future.
Another point is whether, in spite of the shot-gun marriages in the aircraft industry, we have always managed to produce the aircraft we need with the greatest speed and economy. I tried to take part in the debate on this subject last year, because at that time there was a project for the R.A.F. in the form of a short-range transport aircraft and the decision had to be taken whether it should be the Dart Herald made by Handley Page in my constituency, or the Avro 748. I was convinced then, and I still am, that the Dart Herald was the aircraft best suited to the R.A.F. Furthermore, it could be produced more quickly than the Avro 748 because the aircraft engines, the Darts, were already in service, whereas engines for the Avro 748 still have to be developed. We are waiting for the Avro 748, and we have lost time and have had to spend a great deal more money developing special engines.
"I fear that we may make the same mistake over the P1154. I understand that we have to have a specially developed engine made by Bristol Siddeley for this aircraft, and that it will take a considerable time to develop and will cost a great deal of money—probably £20 million. I understand that this aircraft could be fitted with two Rolls Royce Spey engines. These engines have been in use for some time and would therefore have much longer periods between maintenance and overhaul. Furthermore, there would be no development charges and there would be the additional safety 793 factor of having twin engines instead of a single engine.
I hope that, just because a decision was taken originally to have the P1154 and Hawkers and Bristol Siddeleys are in the the same group, we shall not find ourselves having to wait a long time for this aircraft because a special engine has to be developed. I hope that we shall not have to spend a great deal of money developing engines when we could have a satisfactory aircraft much sooner and cheaper. I have always maintained that it is the duty of the Minister of Aviation to see that the Services get the aircraft they want and get them as quickly and as cheaply as possible. I hope that this will be borne in mind with the P1154 and that the question of the Rolls Royce Spey engines will be explored rather than abiding by a decision which has been taken but could be adjusted.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the manner in which the Estimates have been presented. I am sure that all hon. Members welcome the fact that, in spite of amalgamation that lie ahead of the Services concerned, the R.A.F. is still a very fine service of which we can all be proud.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
This has been one of the most interesting and wide-ranging debates on the Air Estimates we have had for many years. Prior to 1960, quite often the debate used to collapse about 9 or 10 o'clock in the evening because of lack of interest in the subject. In the period, 1960, 1961 and 1962, sometimes due to the provocative speech of the Secretary of State for Air in introducing the Estimates, we had a debate concerned solely with the strategy and strength of the nuclear deterrent and the V-bomber force. Now, for the first time for many years, we have been able to focus attention on many other matters which affect the Royal Air Force. The debate brought in the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), who talked about the meteorological services of the Air Ministry and about the future of Cranwell, subjects which are rarely debated on the Estimates.
794 When the Secretary of State for Air was introducing the Estimates today I had a queer feeling that we were going through "Prospect II" again. At that time, three or four years ago, the Minister of Defence had given an indication in a Defence White Paper that the missile era was upon us and that manned bombers were in danger. The marshals of the Royal Air Force banded together and formed "Prospect", the conference to which I have referred, and made a stand in favour of the manned bomber. We seem to be going through that phase once more, and the Secretary of State in his introduction of the Estimates seemed to be feeling it very much.
We now seem to have a switch, to what may be a £400 million contract, from the aircraft industry and its missiles to the shipbuilding yards and Polaris. He seemed to indicate that he was worried about the future of manned aircraft, and throughout the debate hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly hon. and gallant Members who are ex-members of the Royal Air Force, true to the Force, seemed very much concerned about what the future of the Force might be.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) on his contribution. He is a former member of the R.A.F., and is particularly interested in the aircraft industry. Too often in this Chamber, whether in debates On defence as a whole or in debates on the Service Estimates, too many people, because of their own inclinations or their service in a particular Force, clamour for more for that Force and do not think of defence as a whole. But the hon. Member for Macclesfield frankly supported a unified force, and indeed hinted that it was his idea ten years ago. If more of those who are interested in their own Service took this broader view we might have a better defence policy emanating from the Government.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) spoke about the future of an air-space plane. The Russians and the Americans are already spending vast sums of money on this venture. I doubt whether we can go it alone on this. There seems to be only one champion of this type of aircraft and he 795 is the Minister of Aviation, who mentioned it in passing when the Air Estimates were introduced last year, who made a speech about it at a dinner of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors last year, and who mentioned it in the defence debate this week. He is the only person on the Government benches who has talked about it so far. But I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington that vast sums of money would have to be spent on it, and from our point of view it would be far too costly.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said that missiles would diminish in importance and manned aircraft would have a greater future. I still think that manned aircraft have a long and great future, but the hon. Member must not underestimate the growth of missiles in defence. Our own air defences are rapidly becoming dependent upon the Bloodhound and most of our garrisons abroad will have it in due course.
I condemn the typical R.A.F. speech of the kind we had from the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner). He was worried about the Polaris decision and the Nassau Agreement, and he emphasised again and again the need to tell all that there is still a future for manned aircraft. But the hon. Member did highlight one of the causes of concern about the future of the Royal Air Force, and that is the gap not between the end of the V-bomber force and the introduction of Polaris but the strategic freight aircraft gap. Although a decision may have been taken about the Armstrong Whitworth 681, it is doubtful whether this will be in service by 1968. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) that it may well not be in service before 1970. In view of the fact that the Belfast aircraft have been ordered and are in production, if a few more were ordered to try and bridge this gap that might well lower production costs as well.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, West chastised this side of the Committee because, he said, we too often ask too many questions about missiles and the strength of the deterrent. But if he has taken note of what has happened in the last ten years—the failure of Blue Streak and Blue Steel and the failure to get Skybolt—he should be supporting our point of view 796 and should be probing more, and he would get rid of the idea that the mystique of a weapon really puzzles or deters a potential aggressor.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on giving more detailed information on the R.A.F. mercy flights. Some months ago I put down a Question about these flights. There is no point in the R.A.F. spending vast sums of money on these mercy missions and then being reluctant or too modest to tell the people about them. I see that he has put in an extended passage about these flights in the Memorandum this year, and I applaud his decision.
Nearly every branch of the R.A.F. is invariably, at some time or other, involved in these operations. Apart from giving them a satisfying and positive rôle to play in putting their training to a useful and merciful purpose, they are building up a great fund of good will for Britain—and this is all the more welcome since we have seen that good will damaged in so many ways in the last few years. Some of the operations tend to rectify the balance. Indeed, the effect goes further in some instances where these missions have been flown—in Pakistan, Tanganyika and Kenya, for example. By this work, the image of our nation as portrayed by the R.A.F. has led to a greater feeling of succour and security among those who have been helped. No one in this country will quibble about the cost, for this is a practical demonstration, in many ways, of the war against want, disease and catastrophe.
Paragraph 42 states that 250 aeromedical flights were made during the year bringing Service men back to the United Kingdom for treatment for serious illness and injury. The right hon. Gentleman has been questioned many times about also bringing home the bodies of Service men who have died in the Middle East or the Far East. I understand that in these aero-medical flights, over 950 Service men were brought home for treatment.
This is an excellent service. We have eleven Comets, twenty-three Britannias and forty-eight Hastings on regular movement from this country to North Africa and on to Aden, Gan and Singapore. Why, then, cannot the right hon. Gentleman see that the bodies of dead Service men who died in the Middle East and the Far East are brought home if their relatives wish it?
797 The British Army of the Rhine is not affected by this. The trooping to Germany is done in the main by British United Airways, and there is very little movement of troops to Germany by Transport Command, which is concentrated on movements to the Middle East and the Far East. During the twelve months under review, 35 Service men died in the Middle East and 31 in the Far East. Since these flights by Transport Command are made regularly, and it brought home 950 sick Service men last year, I submit that the bodies of those who have died out there could also be brought home. The cost is estimated at about £9,000.
I reelise that certain problems arise in tropical countries, but most of them could be overcome if the Ministry really wanted to do this. Many countries already do what I am suggesting and fly their deceased Service men, widows and effects home immediately. That applies to Belgium; France brought home all her Servicemen killed in Algeria and the United States have been doing it for a considerable time. The Netherlands are changing their policy on this matter and Portugal make the necessary arrangements. I hope, therefore, that during these Estimates debates the right hon. Gentleman will have conversations with the Secretary of State for Air to see what sympathetic consideration can be given to this aspect.
While on the subject of overseas stations, some of them must be causing anxiety to the Air Ministry. In Singapore, for example, the services and works departments are manned mainly by people on the island, generally Chinese, who are subject to political influences. If there is pressure from the Chinese mainland, particularly on this work force, there is no telling whether the efficiency of the Forces will be impaired. We have already had a disturbing period in Cyprus, and in Kenya we are under some political pressure. Aden is subject to pressure as well.
I am referring, of course, mainly to political pressures from nearby and not-so-friendly nations. I mention this because I want to highlight the position of Gan, a staging station en route to the Far East. This was, of course, really an experiment by the Air Ministry. As far as I know, the area is free from the 798 political pressures and influences I have been discussing, and I have been impressed with its development. Perhaps the Under-Secretary is able to say to what extent—in terms of cost, operational efficiency and morale—this small island station in the middle of the Indian Ocean has been successful. I applaud the fact that the men stationed there are on a twelve month tour, and I regret that more of our men stationed abroad are not on the same tour basis, particularly in tropical countries, for tours of that length seem to be enjoyed by the Servicemen.
The right hon. Gentleman and his Department are also to be congratulated on having kept a relatively clean state in Germany with the Second Tactical Air Force during some anxious periods when our Servicemen proved a little too boisterous for the Germans. This has been due to the facilities provided on the station, and the men seem to be quite happy and content and have come out of these skirmishes quite well, so to speak.
I would like to draw attention to paragraphs 84, 87, 88 and 89 of the Statement. The Committee will note that in paragraph 84 reference is made to the fact that recruitment of air electronic officers was slightly below the desired rate. Paragraph 87 refers to the continuing need for more professionally qualified engineers and paragraph 88 points out that in the education branch it has not been easy to recruit scientists and technologists and that there is need for more full career entrants who are graduates or who have professional qualifications. Paragraph 89 states:There is a temporary deficiency in certain trades, notably the Wireless and Teleprinter Operators. …The sentiments expressed in that quotation seem to extend over the whole range of R.A.F. activities, but the paragraph adds:These shortages do not seriously impair operational efficiency.However, such shortages must impair efficiency to some extent. What does he mean by "seriously impairing operational efficiency"? It is bound to have some effect. The right hon. Gentleman must be concerned about this point. It is very odd—because they take up so much of the Report, stretching out over a whole page—that he did not mention 799 the matter. If the shortages are evident now, I suggest that it will become more difficult to solve the problem in the future. There is bound to be an increasing use of radar in defence. Our air defence system will soon rely completely on missiles. There will be the V-bombers and the Electric Lightnings with their complicated packs of electronic equipment. The Royal Air Force is bound to be in keen competition with the Atomic Energy Authority in the recruitment of scientists, technicians, engineers and professional teachers. It is bound to be in competition with industry, and soon there will be keener competition between the R.A.F. and the Navy, which is also short of technicians for its missile equipment. With the advent of Polaris there will be greater competition.
Only a week or two ago the First Lord of the Admiralty said that one of the difficulties would be to get technicians and skilled men for the Navy both to build the submarines and to man them. There is no need to mention that the United States of America is taking same of our top scientists and engineers. I wish to ask the Secretary of State how the R.A.F. is to solve this problem caused by a shortage of technical manpower. There are few sciences today which are advancing as fast as aviation, and it will certainly impair the operational efficiency of the R.A.F. if we cannot solve this problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) referred to paragraph 28 of the Report and noted with glee, as did all hon. Members on this side of the Committee, that the Thor weapons are now being dismantled. What a costly mistake that proved to be. It was a weapon system which never fitted into our second strike or non-aggressive defence policy. It has proved a constant irritation and a provocative posture and was particularly annoying to those countries at which the missiles were aimed. They provided a legitimate reason for anti-nuclear demonstrations in this country. It was defensible to talk about a second strike parallel or V-bombers. But we could not and we never did defend the aggressive first strike Thor weapons. And we on this side of the Committee are pleased to see them go. There is no telling what 800 has been the total cost caused by the need for Service and civil police to check the many demonstrations which have taken place over the past two or three years, and which were in the main sparked off by the presence of these weapons.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
One of the first of the demonstrations took place in my constituency, and I am able to tell the hon. Gentleman that when we checked up to find out how many of my constituents took part in the demonstration we found that it was seven out of a total of 300.
§ Mr. Mason
That is immaterial. The people were incensed by this type of missile being stationed in the country and they did not just come from the hon. Gentleman's constituency to demonstrate. The thing was nationwide, and consequently demonstrators came from various parts of the country. We know that it has been a costly venture. The weapons are being dismantled according to agreement. They have been in the country for five years and the agreement was for a period from 1958 to 1963. The cost to the Air Ministry of keeping them in this country must have amounted to between £30 million and £40 million.
I do not know to what extent the Air Ministry has considered this point. We have spent large sums of money on training Royal Air Force crews in the use of Thor weapons. Could not some of them have been kept and taken to Woomera? Could not Royal Air Force personnel have assisted in using them for peaceful air ventures? I do not know whether the Air Ministry has any intention of keeping any of them. This point is worth considering.
I turn to a more provocative note contained in the Estimates. I refer to the future of the TSR2. A number of hon. Members on both sides have referred to this. The Secretary of State will undoubtedly be aware that this has been subject to argument over the past four or five years. Four years ago I intervened in the debate and talked about the future of the N.A. 39, which became the Buccaneer, and tried to inform the House of Commons of the fact that for an extra £10 million the Royal Air Force could have had that. The N.A. 39, converted for Royal Air 801 Force purposes, would not have been in service. However, the Service wanted its own aircraft. Since then there has been a change in policy. Where there were twenty aircraft doing various jobs for the Navy and the Royal Air Force, we are now trying to find aircraft which can do jobs for both Services. However, at that time the Royal Air Force wanted its own. So it decided to go ahead for the TSR2.
The original estimate was for about £60 million, but the aircraft industry is now talking about a £400 million programme to do it. The original design was, as the title indicates, tactical, strike and reconnaissance. It is now tactical, strike and strategic, as well as reconnaissance. The Vulcan test-bed accident must obviously have retarded the development of this aircraft. On top of that, apart from trying to change it from a tactical weapon to a strategic weapon, apart from the retardation which must have taken place because of the Vulcan test bed accident, we are now talking about a new mystery weapon system as well. Therefore, the Secretary of State cannot say with any certainty when this will be introduced to the force or when the aircraft will fly. The accident, the change in rôle, and the weapon system are all fairly recent events. Consequently, the introduction of the plane is bound to be retarded.
Paragraph 5 of the Estimates say that the TSR2 is to have a strategic nuclear punch. The Committee is entitled to know a little more about this. I have my suspicions that this will be similar to the tactical nuclear punch which the Canberras have in Germany. Those of us who have toured the Second Tactical Air Force know that the Canberras are the Q.Rs—the quick reaction aircraft—which are ready bombed up twenty-four hours a day. They would be ready for take-off if not hit after the first strike. It would appear to me that the TSR2 will be equipped with a similar system and will operate in the same way as the Canberras are expected to operate in Europe—that is, to fly fast and low, to rise and lob, and to escape the blast if they possibly can.
It appears to me that the crews of the Canberras and possibly of the 802 TSR2s are suicide squads. It is up to the Under-Secretary when he replies this evening to try to get this doubt out of our minds. The Canberras in Europe are expected to fly low. They are quite old aircraft. They are not very fast. To deliver their nuclear weapons they have to rise and come within the radar detection, lob what is a conventional bomb, and then try to turn back and escape the blast. They are continually practising this. It is very doubtful if any of these aircrews would escape. The TSR2 was designed on similar lines. Its tactical rôle was to get underneath the door of the enemy's defences, to fly faster than the Canberra—it was originally designed as the replacement for the Canberra and not for the V-bomber—and to rise and deliver its nuclear load. Again, it will be subject to radar detection once it rises. As far as we can gather, because we know nothing about the new weapon system of the TSR2, it will adopt the same technique of rising, lobbing a bomb a few miles and hoping that it can turn back and escape the nuclear blast. Therefore, in replying to the debate, the Under-Secretary needs to try to remove our doubts and fears that the TSR2s, like the Canberras in Europe, will be suicide squads.
After much delay, we are having introduced into the Service the Blue Steel rocket. It has been the subject of great criticism by the Public Accounts Committee, especially concerning cost. The last available figure from the Comptroller and Auditor General, when the Report was issued in September, 1960, was that this weapon was costing £60 million. That was two years ago. It did not come into the Service until December, 1962, so, no doubt, it has cost far more than that.
The current version, as far as one can gather, has a range of 150 miles. The Secretary of State was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale about part of the Blue Steel project being cancelled. It would appear that there was to be an extended version that might be stretched out to 400 miles' range. Do we understand that this has been scrapped? Is it the intention, with a view to bridging the gap between the end of the V-bomber's effective life and the introduction of Polaris, that this 400-mile Blue Steel should be in service?
803 Even when the Vulcans are armed with a 400-mile Blue Steel, let alone the 150-mile version, they can still be intercepted by the Russian Fiddler interceptor fighter operating well beyond the ground-based radar. Blue Steel, like Skybolt, was said to be essential. If the Vulcans were to be the proper air missile launcher that the Secretary of State wishes them to be, Skybolt would give them safety because of its 1,000-mile range. This would have allowed them to be outside radar coverage and fighter interception.
Therefore, when we look at our weapon systems and our aircraft that are in operation and we consider the effectiveness of the deterrent, the position can be summed up like this. If we use the Royal Air Force in its retaliatory rôle—not in an aggressive strike rôle—after the first aggressive strike has taken place against it, we have in Europe the Second Tactical Air Force, At the airfields that escape the first strike, we would have the Q.R.A.s ready to go. As I have said, however, they would fly at low level. There would be no turning back once they had left, because beyond a certain range they could not be contacted. They would have predetermined targets and would be using the primitive bomb-lobbing technique. They are rather old, rather slow aircraft and would be operating these suicidal methods.
Then we have the V-bomber force, armed mainly with free-falling nuclear bombs. They would be subjected, first, to the outer perimeter fighter interception. The few which escape would be subjected to radar coverage and missile interception. It is pure conjecture how many of the Vulcans and Victors would get through. Thirdly, we have a few Vulcans armed with Blue Steel. It would he an advantage if they could stand off their targets at 1,000 miles, but Blue Steel has a range of only 150 miles. In answer to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, the deterrent, to be effective, has to be credible, and this would not appear to be credible to many who see it from abroad.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
If the hon. Gentleman says that Skybolt is essential to enable V-bombers not to be suicide squads, would the Labour Party have adopted Skybolt without the Americans ordering it? If they would have done, 804 how does that tie up with their policy that they do not believe in Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent?
§ Mr. Mason
I was talking about the differences between Skybolt and Blue Steel, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have stated time and again, and indeed I emphasised it last year when I appeared at this Box on the Air Estimates, that we were in favour of the tapering off of the independent British nuclear deterrent and would not have taken these measures on the pretence, which hon. Gentlemen opposite are obviously still doing, of giving the V-bomber further life, because every time we attempt to do it it proves more costly. We are not independent of American intervention, and, what is more, it is harming the aircraft industry in this country more than hon. Gentlemen opposite are willing to recognise.
The Secretary of State for Air is asking for more than £500 million. This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate, and we want to give the Under-Secretary of State for Air time to answer most of the questions which have been asked. It is many years since we have had this opportunity, and we want to give the hon. Gentleman time to deal fully with the subject. We have had no adequate explanation of the rôle, the range, or the strategic capabilities of the TSR2. We are not satisfied about whether the Government intend to go ahead to keep their independent deterrent; we are not satisfied about whether the gap can be bridged between the end of the effective life of the V-bombers and the introduction of the Polaris submarines; and, finally, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would address himself to the serious shortage in the Force of technical and specialist Airmen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will go some way towards answering the queries we have raised and allay our concern on the matters I have mentioned.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Julian Ridsdale)
I am sure everyone is very glad that although, sadly, there is no Yorkshireman at this Box this year, there is at least a Yorkshire-man at the Opposition Box.
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) raised two questions which I should like to answer at once. First, 805 the repatriation of bodies. The hon. Member asked what we are going to do about Service men who die overseas. As he knows, the Service Departments have been reviewing the matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will make a statement shortly.
On the question of Gan, I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the air base is working very well.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) paid some compliments to the Royal Air Force, for which I thank him. He posed a number of questions. The one I should like to answer first concerns the gap in Transport Command, to which a number of other hon. Members also referred. The AW681 will enter service in the later 'sixties to replace the Hastings and the Beverley. It has been suggested that there will be a gap between the termination of the service of these aircraft and the advent of the AW681. This is not the case. There will not be a gap. The Hastings and Beverley force will continue to operate until their orderly replacement by the AW681.
Hon. Members have suggested that we should have replaced the Hastings and the Beverley sooner, but we have to make a sensible balance in the use of our resources. As the Hastings and Beverley will still have plenty of useful life in them it would be wasteful to replace them with anything else but the AW681, which is an excellent aircraft, capable of extended development far into the seventies.
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Member has not grasped the point. It is not merely that there is a gap because we need to replace the Hastings and Beverleys; there is a gross inadequacy in air lift—especially strategic freight lift—in the Royal Air Force. There is not merely a gap; there is an enormous hole, and we want that to be plugged. We cannot talk about global responsibilities unless we can carry a little freight around the world.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I shall be dealing with that question at a later stage in my speech, if I have time and am not interrupted too much. I hope to reply to some other questions in the course of my speech, if there is time.
To some of the ruder things which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park said, I reply by saying that I realise that he is spokesman for the Opposition, and has to 806 justify his position. But I found him unduly pessimistic in his portrayal of the Royal Air Force's rôle and the weapons that it has at its disposal today. We have been chided about the TSR2, but I feel it a little odd to be chided about the strategic range of that aircraft by a number of hon. Members opposite, and especially by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), a Member of the Liberal Party, which is opposed to the nuclear deterrent.
Some of the Opposition's criticism was destructive and questionable—indeed, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park was almost the twenty-questions master himself. He asked me 17 questions without prior notice, and the hon. Member for Orpington asked about half that number. It was quite a change to find my hon. Friends so constructive, imaginative and progressive. My hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), asked some questions about space, and the hon. Member for Orpington tacked on some questions about this subject. The hon. Member for Barnsley was not so optimistic about space.
§ Mr. Lubbock rose—
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I ask the hon. Member for Orpington to be liberal with my time. He has asked me several questions, and I hope that I shall be able to answer some of them.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I only wanted to say that I did not tack on any questions to those asked by the hon. Members for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). I tried to correct the misapprehension under which they appeared to be labouring.
§ Mr. Mulley
This is a very serious point. The purpose of the debate is to approve the proposals which the Government have put before us for spending £500 million. The suggestion that we have to give prior notice to raise questions on the Air Estimates debate, and should not otherwise ask questions, but merely make constructive proposals, is a novel constitutional doctrine. Is this part of the reorganisation? The hon. Member need not worry about the time; he has 50 minutes in which to reply, and I hope that he will answer all the questions.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I shall do my best to answer the questions. I am sorry if the 807 hon. Member for Sheffield, Park was irritated by the remarks I made about his being the twenty-questions master.
I now turn to the subject of space. For some time the Air Ministry has been thinking about the broad question of the way in which space might influence our future military doctrine. In this we have been greatly helped by the studies carried out jointly with the Ministry of Aviation during the past year. Our long-term ideas are now becoming clear, and we should soon be in a position to offer our advice to the Ministry of Defence. Meanwhile it is essential that we begin to gain practical experience, and for a variety of reasons we believe that satellite communications systems offer the most suitable starting point. We hope, however, that we shall be able to make some definite advance in the fairly near future.
Hon. Members will remember that the Minister of Aviation dealt with the subject of space vehicles in the defence debate on 6th March, when he drew particular attention to Farnborough's work on new materials and the problems of manned sub-orbital flights at speeds of Mach 14. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely spoke of speeds above Mach 14. I should like to assure hon. Members that the Air Ministry space staff, if I may so call them, are in close touch with all this work and keep its military implications under constant survey, although we have, of course, not yet reached the point at which decisions to proceed with military hardware could be sustained.
My right hon. Friend in the course of his excellent speech dealt with aircraft and weapons, and I think that when hon. Members reread it they will find that it answers many of the questions that have been raised. As Under-Secretary, I am chiefly concerned with manpower and personnel. The accent in the Royal Air Force today, thank heavens, is still on the human factor, on airmen and aircrew personnel. I am sure, as far as I can see into the future, that there will always be a need for aircrew, for air personnel and fliers.
This was particularly underlined by the experienced review by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Sir N. Hulbert). For those who fly today I am certain that there is as good and as ex- 808 citing a career as any so far achieved in the history of the Royal Air Force, especially with the space challenge coming so quickly before us. I cannot overestimate the importance of getting this over to those who are thinking of taking up flying with the R.A.F. as their career. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Ely and for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) for the way in which they stressed the importance of manned aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), in a witty and interesting speech, spoke some prophetic words about the weather and long-term forecasting. I would remind him that long-term forecasting is for the moment far from an exact science, but I thank him for the wise words which he spoke about Cranwell—
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. It will certainly be noted by me and my Department. I hope that we shall be able to do something constructive about it.
I now come to the very important question of the position of Cranwell. I am pleased to be able to tell the Committee that the 1962 entries to Cranwell exceed those of 1961. But the standards that we require are high. The difficulty is that we are competing for the same quality of young men who would choose to go to university. It we are to get the right officer material we must be able to show that the Royal Air Force has a vital future. No one need have any doubts about the quality of training given at Cranwell, although I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham that I am not complacent about the words he has spoken. It is a first-class training, not only in the lecture room, but in all the activities important to the development of ability and character. I doubt that any young man in the country, whether he goes to university or not, gets a better all-round training than we give to the office cadet at Cranwell.
809 I should like to say a word about something which has not been mentioned in this debate. That is the position of university air squadrons, because, besides Cranwell, it is to the universities that we look for a valuable source of our officer supply. The university air squadrons continue to provide recruits in good numbers. In 1962 we had 53 entrants for aircrew training from this source. These squadrons do an excellent job in attracting graduates and provide a vital link between the universities and the Royal Air Force. We find the entrants who have been trained particularly valuable because of their high quality and because their wastage rate in lying training is low. We are doing everything we can to encourage this valuable source of entry.
We are in touch with the university authorities on plans for forming a new squadron in Wales. My right hon. Friend's Memorandum outlines the details of the new university scheme for the general duties branch and technical branches. Candidates who get these scholarships will not go to the R.A.F. College, but this does not replace the normal Henlow and Cranwell cadetships, which will continue to be of vital importance. The new scheme is additional to this. I was very pleased to hear what was said about cadets as a valuable source of recruitment. Certainly the Combined Cadet Force and the A.T.C. are valuable corps which we shall do all we can to support.
I come to direct entry recruiting, which in 1962 went well. The improvement in 1961 was maintained. The target for navigators was met. Pilots and electronics officers were only slightly short of target. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield raised questions about this. We recruited 92 per cent. of our target far pilots and 95 per cent. for A.E.O.s. How far one achieves the target does not depend only on numbers recruited; depends as a whole on success in training. Here, I am glad to say, wastage in training has been falling recently. The manning of the future Air Force is not being prejudiced by these small shortfalls; in fact, we had a better out-turn for both pilots and A.E.O.s. and recently the A.E.O.s. have not only been reaching their target but exceeding it.
810 Basic flying schools were filled during 1962. There was a backlog of entrants from 1961 and good recruiting in 1962. On present trends the schools should be full this year. I am sure that this improvement we have made in recruiting means that we are attracting the best young men into what is an exciting and worth-while career combining adventure and service. Recruitment has been generally successful for ground branch officers. I have taken a note of what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park and the hon. Member for Barnsley said about shortage in certain trades. We have a shortage in wireless and teleprinter operators, pilots and nursing attendants, but in general the targets have been met and the quality is satisfactory.
We expect no difficulty in meeting future requirements for the ground trades. The numbers which we shall need in the future will be extremely small because of increased efficiency, the closing of the Thor stations, which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) was so delighted about, and because the increased proportion of men on long-term engagements has resulted in reduced turnover and intakes.
§ Mr. Mulley
Which trades are still difficult, and are there any trades in which an airman is prohibited from buying his discharge? Could the hon. Gentleman answer a simple question? He must have the figures at his finger tips, because he is in charge of manpower matters. How many airmen are in the queue of people who are applying for discharge as Parliamentary candidates?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
The trades short are wireless and teleprinter operators, police, and nursing attendants. The numbers short are not great but they are enough at the moment to make it necessary for us to refuse discharge by purchase in these trades.
As to the numbers in the Royal Air Force, to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park also referred, perhaps I can start by taking the 1958 White Paper which authorised the Royal Air Force to recruit up to 135,000 men on Regular terms. The then strength was 193,000, 811 of which 47,000 were National Service men. Though our objective was 135,000 we have found that we can carry on with a much smaller number. Our strength on 1st April, 1963, will be 130,000 and we estimate that our strength on 1st April, 1964, will be 126,000. It is not, therefore, that we cannot recruit enough men. The Thor rundown is having its effect but, most important, we are making a better use of manpower. This is my answer to the question which was raised in a rather red herringish sort of way by the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Mackie), who wanted a Dr. Beeching to come and run the manpower of the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
We have been making a far better use of manpower. Undoubtedly the biggest single factor in making use of manpower has been the departure of the National Service men. I should like to pay tribute to the wonderful work they have done in the Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, our training commitments, because of the rundown of National Service men, have been greatly reduced. This is one of the rewards of having an all-Regular Service.
We are also watching the reorganisation of manpower and in the last five years we have closed over 20 main stations and in the near future we shall close nine main stations and 15 other sites. All these closures have been notified. We have saved over 300 posts in headquarters organisation and have closed a complete Command and several group headquarters.
We have also been paying particular attention to work study, which has now been employed in the Air Force for six years. The present emphasis is on achieving the best use of available manpower by ensuring that recommended improvements are introduced as widely as possible and improving the quality of management at all levels within the Service.
Nevertheless, during the past year the activities of the 220 Service and civilian personnel established for work study have resulted in the saving of almost 500 Service and civilian posts. This brings the total of posts so far saved up to 812 2,000. For example, we have used work study in signal units by doubling the traffic employed over the network. In one recruiting depot we have saved 70 men by altering the method of procedure, and by introducing a new streamlined delivery system we have been able to save 700 man hours per aircraft on the Provost and as many as 1,880 man hours per aircraft on the Hastings. As a further reward, these aircraft have been made available earlier than they would have been under the old system.
By improving the organisation of ground radio servicing, we have been able to save 68 posts and to reduce some of the remaining posts from skilled and semi-skilled manpower. In our aim to economise on Service manpower, because it is a costly item, we have been doing what we can to get civilianisation moving in the R.A.F. Usually, the cost of a civilian is very much less than the cost of an airman, in some cases about half.
The replacement of airmen by civilians in many thousands has therefore led to substantial economies. Civilian contractors have taken over complete tasks. The catering for six stations has been taken over by civilian catering contractors, for instance, and in the first and second line servicing of non-operational units, nine stations and six university air squadrons have been taken over in this way.
Ail this is a continuing process. By 1st April, 1966, we expect to have civilianised some 13,500 posts since 1st April, 1958. The rate of change is, however, inevitably slowing down, since the main areas where civilian manning is possible have now been covered. Nevertheless, during 1963–64 we expect to change some 360 posts over to civilian manning.
But we have also been looking at training activities as well, and during the last 12 months we have cancelled no fewer than 100 courses, nearly all of them post-graduate courses for airmen dealing with new types of equipment. Many have been closed because it is now the policy to train a nucleus of airmen in the handling of new equipment so that they can give on-the-job training to others.
We have also been looking at posts of tradesmen and are doing what we can to improve and broaden the levels of 813 skill. This will be one of the objectives of the new trade structure referred to by my right hon. Friend. This structure will improve both the levels of skill and of supervision. By using work study, by civilianisation, and by keeping constant watch on reorganisation and training activities, we are always on the alert for ways to ensure better use of valuable manpower.
I think that this is the answer to the hon. Member for Enfield, East when he says that we have been under-employing people in the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Mackie
What I said has proved not to be a "red herring". The hon. Gentleman has listed the savings that have been made and has admitted that far more can be made. My point was valid.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I must leave that to be judged by the Committee and by others.
My right hon. Friend said that I would make a short statement about works organisation. On 1st April the work responsibilities of the Service Departments will be transferred to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. I should like, therefore, to pay tribute to the loyal and devoted service which the Air Ministry Works Department has given to the R.A.F. since it first came into being as a civilian-manned organisation in 1919.
During this long association an excellent spirit of co-operation has always existed between the Services and the Works Department and I am sure that this will be fully maintained under the new arrangements. Until the change, the R.A.F. commands will have held certain delegated financial and contractual powers to enable them to undertake their own minor services, and it has been decided that the same principles of delegation should apply in future. These powers will be vested in the Command works officers who will exercise them on behalf of commanders in chief. For urgent operational work which may have to be undertaken in emergency conditions, we will continue to rely on the Airfield Construction Branch. At the moment that branch is doing excellent work in support of R.A.F. units in Brunei.
I come now to some of the questions which have been posed during the 814 debate. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked my right hon. Friend about the percentage of our total expenditure on aircraft and equipment devoted to the various commands. The figures, which have already been given by my right hon. Friend, were 35 per cent. for Bomber Command, 25 per cent. for Fighter Command and 10 per cent. for Transport Command. The balance of the expenditure was divided between 10 other commands, the main recipients being 6 per cent. to Flying Training Command, 5 per cent. each for R.A.F. Germany and the Near East and 4 per cent. for Coastal Command and the Far East Air Force. Smaller proportions went to the Middle East, Signals, Maintenance and Technical Training Commands.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) asked about the Shackletons and when they would he replaced. It is made clear in the Memorandum that we are studying the characteristics required for such a replacement. However, it will be several years before this replacement arrives in Coastal Command. Meanwhile, the Shackleton is being modernised. Indeed, the improving of this aircraft is a continuous process and it will continue to give excellent service for many years to come.
I was asked to give details of the improvements that have been made in submarine detection methods. I cannot give these for security reasons, but I can say that a continuous process of modernisation applies here also and that the application of the results of basic research into this matter is in constant process. I have flown in a Shackleton on a submarine hunt. It is a wonderful aircraft giving first-class service in the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
The safety of Polaris depends on whether we have more scientific investigation in regard to the detection of submarines under the sea.
I was asked if the Belfast was our only strategic freighter on order, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park thought that it was. That is not quite right, for our VC.10s will have a dual 815 freighter and passenger capability. They will take 100 troops more than 4,000 miles and they can also be used for cargo if necessary. It would not be right to introduce further varieties of such aircraft and—
§ Mr. Ridsdale
—I will take note of that question and let the hon. Gentleman know within the grounds of security.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East suggested that we should consider the requirements for strategic freighters, and particularly whether we might order more than the ten Belfast aircraft now under contract. In one sense any air force would welcome additional aircraft. But the Armed Forces must cut their coats according to their cloth. We have carefully calculated our requirements for strategic transport and these will be met by the 10 Belfasts and the 11 VC.10s which will be entering the Service in the mid-1960s. My hon. Friend asked about the future of the design staff at Short Bros. and he made a number of suggestions about future employment for the members of that staff. He will recognise that this is primarily a question for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, and the other day my right hon. Friend explained that a substantial share of the production work on the Hastings/ Beverley replacement would be sub-contracted to Shorts. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will also consider the other suggestions made by my hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked about the Argosies for the Far East—
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question about the size of the fuselage openings in the AW681 in relation to the Belfast.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
As that is a very technical question, I will, within the bounds of security, send details to the hon. Gentleman.
The Argosy squadron for the Far East is forming in the United Kingdom and it will be in the Far East in a few months to reinforce the present complement of Hastings, Beverleys and Vallettas. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked 816 about air trooping and the relative cost compared with sea trooping. Air trooping arrangements are going well. We are saving the Services much money and time. For example, a man can travel to Singapore in one day by air instead of the three weeks that it used to take on a troopship, and the passage costs less than half. In respect of other destinations the relative saving in money is even greater, and the saving in time not less striking.
I promised to answer questions about Parliamentary candidates. There were 11 airmen who wished to contest the Parliamentary elections, five at Colne Valley and six at Rotherham. They asked to be discharged. Nine of these requests have been rejected on the advice of the Committee which was set up, and the other two airmen are still to be interviewed.
I was asked whether the TSR2 is to be used for support or strategic bombing. It is intended first as a tactical strike weapon including attack with nuclear weapons and secondly for reconnaissance including battlefield surveillance. It will also be used in a strategic rôle. It is a supersonic aircraft able to carry nuclear conventional weapons and will enable us to maintain an effective military presence in Europe and elswehere and to participate in a limited war from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. We could not do these things unless we had an aircraft that could strike at the enemy's strength and neutralise it at its bases. We also want the TSR2 to provide the reconnaissance required for the Army and for tactical operations.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Can the hon. Gentleman inform the Committee whether it will be in service before the late 'seventies?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
If the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD, he will be able to check that point. There are a number of other questions which I could answer.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Unfortunately, the Russians also pay attention to what one says in this debate.
There are a number of other questions which I could deal with, but the hour is rather late. If any hon. Members are not 817 satisfied with the answers I have given, I hope they will write to me. I should be only too willing to answer them or see them and talk to them about some of the questions which have been raised in the debate.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
In the defence debate I tried to get my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation to comment on the question of the length of time that Service officers who are to be concerned with research and development are to serve in their Department. My right hon. Friend having passed the whole question over to the Secretary of State for Air, I should be grateful to have an answer on that point from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I have been asked what we have done about the recommendation of the Gibb-Zuckerman Report that the tours of duty of senior officers in operational requirements appointments should be urgently reviewed by the Board of Admiralty, the Army Council and the Air Council. We in the Air Ministry took careful note of this recommendation, to which we are not unsympathetic. Unfortunately, it is not without its difficulties. It raises problems, for example, in achieving the balanced career involving experience in a variety of staff and command appointments which is necessary to bring senior officers to the highest posts.
May I end by making a reference to that great airman, Lord Trenchard? I am sure that if he were alive today he would be reminding the country of the battles he fought in the 1920s and the 1930s to keep a separate air arm. Russia and America have their separate air arms. So must we. That is why I welcome the proposals for reorganisation which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has produced, for they visualise the maintenance of a separate air arm. If we did otherwise, we should be ignoring the scientific revolution and the vast expertise which is needed to sustain an efficient air arm. We should be ignoring the lesson of the 1920s and the 1930s, when for the sake of economy we starved our forces and failed to see the pattern that warfare in the future would take. We would be ignoring the price we paid in the war for such short-sightedness.The greatest asset of air power is its flexibility, and this enables it to be switched quickly from one objective to another in the theatre of 818 operations. So long as this is realised then the whole weight of the available air power can be used in selected areas in turn; this concentrated use of the air striking force is a battle-winning factor of the first importance.That advice on the tactical use of air power was given by one of our great wartime commanders—a soldier, not an airman, Field Marshal Montgomery. We would ignore it at our peril. It applies equally to the strategic use of air power today.
With those thoughts I commend the Air Estimates to the Committee.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 148,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1964.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.