HC Deb 16 January 1964 vol 687 cc383-5
4. Mr. Edelman

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is satisfied that existing resources of freighter and transport aircraft are adequate for the contemporary strategic requirements of the Royal Air Force; and what action he is taking to increase them to meet future requirements.

5. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Air what types of aircraft are now available to the transport force for carrying heavy Army and Royal Air Force equipment over long distances.

Mr. H. Fraser

Our existing strategic transport force is adequate for present requirements. Heavy equipment can be carried over long distances by the Britannia supplemented by the medium range Beverley and Argosy using intermediate staging points. To meet future requirements, the strategic force will be augmented by the introduction of the Belfast and the VC10.

Mr. Edelman

In the light of the Estimates Committee's reprimands of the Government for their delay in ordering modern aircraft, may I ask the Minister to bear in mind that over a year has passed without the prototype order being issued for the AW681 freighter aircraft? Is the Minister aware that, because of the Government's inertia about ordering the AW681, in contrast to their over-zealousness in the case of the Concord, thousands of aircraft workers in Coventry are in danger of losing their jobs?

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman should address such questions to the Minister of Aviation. The transport force has shown how well and quickly it can cope with the job in the recent Cyprus emergency, when it did not have to give up any of its scheduled services.

Mr. Cronin

As the Britannia has a very small cargo cross-section and can be loaded only from the side and from a special ramp, is it not the fact that at present we have not got any kind of strategic freighter?

Mr. Fraser

No, that is not the case. Of course, there are certain loads which the Britannia will not take. As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the first flight of the Belfast took place in January. Further, the VC10 will load from the side. This is not a major impediment. Of course, there are certain loads which cannot be taken, but on the whole the recent movements showed admirably that our present fleet is adequate for our present commitments.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the type of operations in which we are getting ourselves involved—rightly so, I am afraid—in Borneo and Sarawak demand a type of aircraft rather different from the ones which have been mentioned so far in these questions and answers? Would my right hon. Friend give us an assurance thathe is bearing this point in mind and that the supply of helicopters and aircraft not requiring enormously long runways is being properly looked after?

Mr. Fraser

Yes. That is a separate question, but we must cover the whole range, from strategic through M.R.T. down to helicopters and S.T.O.L. aircraft. If my hon. Friend tables a Question, I shall be pleased to answer it.

Mr. Mulley

Does not the Secretary of State agree that the great strain on our manpower resources underlines the need for the maximum mobility, particularly in the provision of transport aircraft? Is he satisfied that, if he had to mount an expedition to somewhere unlike Cyprus, where they had a base and stockpiled supplies, he would have the strategic airlift along with the air lift for the men? It is one thing to take men, and another thing to have to take all their equipment as well. Although this is primarily for the Minister of Aviation, as the Minister responsible for the Air Force is not the right hon. Gentleman concerned at the delays in the Ministry of Aviation in taking a vital decision like that on the engines for the 681 and placing an adequate order for strategic airlift?

Mr. Fraser

I am always concerned to get the Royal Air Force the best equipment we can. At the same time, I have absolute confidence in Transport Command to undertake any task which is given to it at this moment. It has proved this admirably in the last few days.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Has my right hon. Friend noted the very great number of flights which had tobe taken in the Cyprus emergency? Does not this pinpoint a very serious weakness and in fact underline my right hon. Friend's luck in this operation?

Mr. Fraser

I am not quite sure what is behind my hon. Friend's supplementary question, unless he wants further orders for the Belfast for Northern Ireland. On the whole, the movement of troops to Cyprus was extremely efficient and was carried out very swiftly, and at the same time the normal schedules of the Royal Air Force Transport Command to other parts of the world were not interrupted.

Mr. Edelman

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I wish to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.