§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before we begin the business of Supply, may I announce that I have not selected the Amendment standing on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to the Motion relating to military aircraft?
With regard to the Amendment to the Motion on Vote A, also in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, I cannot forecast whether the hon. Gentleman will be successful in catching the eye of the Chairman during the debate on Vote A, but if he is successful he will have an opportunity to move that Amendment.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I beg to move,That this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government's precipitate actions and vacillating policies have jeopardised this country's long-term aircraft programme, both operationally and industrially, and made Great Britain deeply dependent on others for vital elements in our ability to defend ourselves and contribute to the defence of our allies.The first part of the Motion hardly needs debating or arguing. It refers to "precipitate actions", and it is clear from the three days' debate we have already had on defence that action was taken first and the thinking will follow later. We are now saddled with an interim Defence White Paper which will lead to a full Defence White Paper in the summer.
The question of "vacillating policies" has also been well argued by the Secretary of State for Defence himself, who has explained that he wanted, I think on five occasions, to see a period of stability for the Services, and on each occasion a crisis swept him and the plans into the wastepaper basket. I shall deal with the operational repercussions and will leave my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) to 675 concentrate on the industrial repercussions. I also want to deal with repercussions on the balance of our forces and on our alliances.
The total defence budget this year is up by £66 million. The introductory paragraph—which, I believe, must always be written by Ministers, for it contains so much more politics than the rest of the White Paper put together—has a whole lot of excuses, presumably thought up for the Left wing. I am sorry not to see members of the Left wing here for it explains that this, that and the other were unforeseen, all of which has meant extra cost. This, of course, happens every year.
Of course, defence estimates often have to be adjusted because of unforeseen contingencies and I recall that, last year, there was a Supplementary Estimate of £43 million. But the same people are in the same jobs this year. They are a little more tired and will, therefore, probably make a few more mistakes and be more hurried in their preparations in view of the crisis, so that we can expect an even bigger Supplementary Estimate at the end of the year.
In addition, this defence budget does not allow in any way for the cancellation costs of the F111 or of the Buccaneer or of the Chinook. One hazards the guess that these together will add another £70 million, much of it in dollars, to the bill we are debating.
Much has happened since our debates last year. First, there was the crisis of the paper aircraft which the Defence Secretary thought up and in which he put so much faith—the Anglo-French V.G. Then there were the economic crisis of July and, as always happens under Labour, the defence votes took the brunt. Then we had the devaluation crisis and again defence cuts. In this instance, the air side of the Ministry of Defence took the brunt, and we had the cancellations of the Chinook and the Buccaneer. Then came the January economies and the cancellation of the F111.
The country and Parliament find it difficult to anticipate just what the Government are going to do. There is, however, one certainty. Whenever the Government get into an economic crisis and look for things to cut, the great majority of the cuts come in the defence programme. That is very popular with 676 the Left wing but had for the defence of the country and our commitments. Sometimes they say that sacred cows are to be slaughtered, but defence always bears the brunt. This is a typical reaction—a sort of Pavlovian dog reaction—of the Labour Party to an economic crisis.
On page 68 of the Grey Paper—in semimourning, as it should be—one sees the division of the responsibilities and of the vote as between the different Services. The Ministry of Defence (Central) has the biggest percentage increase—Parkinson's Law at work, presumably—with an increase of 14 per cent. the air expenditure shows the smallest increase and in real terms is a cut, for it is only 2 per cent. up. The Ministry of Technology shows a reduction of £17½ million. It is not clear why this should be so. I hope that it is not because the Government are eating the technical seed corn and cutting back the development of future advanced weapons and aircraft, because if that is so we shall feel the strain even more in the mid and late 1970s.
The biggest percentage increase of 12 per cent., is for the Ministry of Public Building and Works, providing an extra £21½million. I understand that this is largely for bricks and mortar, in most cases providing or re-providing in this country facilities which already exist overseas. It is worth remembering, too, that we were told on Tuesday that £30 million has already been spent on extra barracks and married quarters. This seems a strange way of spending money in order theoretically to save it.
We condemn the Government for the repercussions of these affairs on the present and future operational strength of the Royal Air Force. We remember the brave words of the Defence White Paper in February. 1966, which said that the Anglo-French V.G. was to be both operationally and industrially the core of our long-term aircraft programme. I feel rather sorry for the Under-Secretary of State for Defence who, I believe, is to follow me in this debate.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Last year, the hon. Gentleman went very far in his praise of the F111. He referred to his visit to 677 Texas—I do not think that his journey was really necessary—and highly praised the aircraft, saying how desperately essential it was and quoting the paragraph of the Defence White Paper, 1967, which said:The key to the deterrent power of our armed forces is our ability to obtain early warning of an enemy's intentions through re-connaissance to strike at his offensive forces from a distance in case of need.The hon. Gentleman then said:Although we do not plan to indulge in major operations without the co-operation of allies, this does not absolve us from the responsibility of maintaining a balanced force capable of making a contribution which those allies would value.…the principal rôles of the F111 aircraft will be tactical and particularly reconnaissance—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1967; Vol 743, c. 245 and 247.]I think our first concern is how we are to replace the reconnaissance power which has gone. The Minister of Defence for Equipment said on 13th December that this responsibility would fall on France and the United States. Later, the Defence Secretary said that it would not fall on the French but on the United States. But can we be sure that the United States will always be able to provide these facilities for our troops wherever they may be engaged? Can we be sure that the Americans will not be involved in a serious conflict in the Pacific or other Harts of the world where their troops may be endangered, and that they will pass to us all the up-to-date and essential information on the distribution of potential enemy forces gained as a result of their reconnaissance? We cannot carry out such reconnaissance ourselves.
I imagine that we had a pre-eminent position in the development of reconnaissance equipment, particularly in the avionics for the TSR2 which we are now trying to sell, quite rightly, for the F111 reconnaissance version. I hope the firm is successful. I believe that we have adapted some of this equipment for the Phantom. What aircraft is to carry out the rôles which every Minister in the Department has said is absolutely vital for the success and safety of our troops?
On 4th March, the Minister of Defence for Equipment told us of the Warton studies, referring to the variable geometry aircraft which is likely to have an engine from the 13ristol-Siddeley division of Rolls Royce. He told us that it might go for 678 ward in the mid-1970s. One wonders whether this is a realistic approach because, if one examines the research and development list in the White Paper, this does not seem to be any more than a paper project. It is even put down as a project, followed by the words "a study". It is nothing more than a study at this stage. If it is really only a study, how are we to have hardware in the mid-1970s? Can we be told in firm terms what is being done to replace th reconnaissance abilities of which we have deprived ourselves?
Under Labour's constant barrage of cuts the capability and number of first-line aircraft in the Royal Air Force are beginning to go down. Too much money has been spent, and not enough has been done to develop or provide new aircraft. Money has been spent on cancellations. HANSARD of 28th July, 1967, contained an interesting list of all the cancellations that had taken place. It showed that the TSR2 cancellation had cost £195 million; the HS 681, £21 million; the P1154 £21 million; the Anglo-French variable geometry study—the paper aircraft—£21 million. That adds up to £240 million, and no aircraft to show for it.
I have added up all the figures for cancellations which we made when in office, and it will be found that these current costs, in two and half years, are already greater than all the costs which were listed, and of which so much was made in the 1964 and 1966 General Election campaigns. More money has been wasted in the last two and a half years than was wasted in the entire 13 years of our Government. This is not the end—I wish it were. Added to the—240 million we will see, presumably in this financial year—negotiations are going on now—the cost of cancelling the 50 F111s. I wish the Government well and hope that they will be very tough in their negotiations with the United States. They understand tough and realistic talk, but I doubt whether it will cost less than £50 million. The cancellation charges for ten Buccaneers and 15 Chinooks have also to be costed. In all another £70 million may be added to the £240 million, making £310 million in cancellation costs, and not one single aircraft to show for it. This makes the £30 million spent on peanuts in the last Labour Government look very small beer.
679 As time runs out and new aircraft are not developed, what is worrying is that the strength of the Air Force is running down. I take my information from the March edition of the Air League publication, "Air Pictorial".
It is stated there that by the early 1970s the following will be the modern aircraft in use by the Royal Air Force: 100 Royal Air Force Phantoms; 60 Harriers; 150 Jaguars; 50 surviving Vulcans; 100 Lightnings and possibly 80 Buccaneers, which will be transferred from the Royal Navy. There will be 460 R.A.F. teeth aircraft. We have heard it said that Britain cannot afford to have more. This is always the flabby excuse of Little Englanders. If we cannot afford it, how is it that other nations can? It is interesting to look at a list of those nations which have over 400 teeth aircraft.
Poland is the premier one among the Soviet satellites with 870. We are likely to have 460. There are over 400 possessed by France, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Turkey and even Sweden with a population of eight million, about the same as Greater London, is able to afford 400 combat aircraft, some of which are excellent Swedish aircraft and are nationally developed, not developed conjointly with others. It is not a question of cost but desire. Other nations can do it and we could if we wanted to.
Compared with the 460 which I have given, the shiny brochures which the Royal Air Force puts out tell a different story. Earlier this week a friend of mine telephoned the recruiting office at Kings-way and got most prompt service and excellent brochures. They are beautifully printed, very well prepared and in every respect admirable. The first page says:The new aircraft coming into Royal Air Force service by 1970 will number over 1,000.I hope that in reply the Minister who is responsible will tell us where these are coming from, because we know of no such figure. Over the page the first glossy picture, and how impressive it is, is said to be the first aircraft to which the Air Force can look forward. This is trying to get recruits for the Air Force, and the picture is of the swing-wing strike reconnaissance aircraft, the F111K.
There is a eulogy about how good it is and it is exactly the same in another 680 brochure. This aircraft was cancelled two months ago. Has the Minister not yet got round to telling his recruiting officers about it? Could he not have a printed slip put in? This is a manifesto, admirable and glossy, like the Labour Party manifestoes in 1964 and 1966, but it is totally and absolutely inaccurate and the sooner it is corrected the better.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
As a flabby Little Englander, and one who is not ashamed of it, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to make clear what he wants his aircraft for, because this is out of the context of what we are discussing?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I shall do so. The hon. Member calls himself a flabby Little Englander. I did not know that it was a current term, but he has described himself in that way. He is far from flabby on the Select Committee on which I sit with him. In some respects he is very robust.
I turn now to the maritime patrol. From time to time the Minister has spoken of the changing pattern of the Russian armed forces, the concentration which they are now making towards the maritime rôle, towards the use of large submarine forces which are often on patrol in all the oceans of the world. In these circumstances, have we really enough maritime aircraft? We should never forget what we nearly suffered in the way of starvation in World Wars 1 and 2. We must remember that 2,500,000 tons of raw materials come to this country every day. We are utterly dependent on the security of our shipping. Money spent on maritime aircraft is infinitely worthwhile. Are 38 Nimrods as successors to the Shackletons enough to do this job? Can we really watch our vital interests, and above all detect and help to detect submarines, with the total use of only 38 aircraft? All of these will not be operational, because some will be training and some will be in Operational Training Units. That is a small and unecomonic buy and perhaps the Government will consider whether we ought not to have a follow on order in the future.
I want to look at the other part of the Motion, which talks about the part that we are able to play with our Allies, and the way that we are likely to let them down. In a way the game is given away 681 by the phraseology of the White Paper. It says on page 5, paragraph 17:We intend to reach a new understanding with the Government of Malaysia about the Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement after 1971".What has happened is that we are withdrawing from Malaysia. We have said that we are not to have a capability to carry out any defence agreement there. We are unilaterally abrogating a solemn treaty to the Malaysians and to Singapore. How can we say that we are to stand by our alliances? This is entirely wishful thinking and it certainly cannot fool our enemies or our friends. It is presumably put in to give some comfort to those who do not probe very deeply. There is another remark, later in this same paragraph:We shall, however, maintain our interest in the stability of the Middle East and the Far East".Of course we will, we have vast investments and interests in that part of the world, not least our raw materials. Over half of our oil supplies come from the Middle East, and from Arab countries. Of course we will retain interest but where is our capability? The Secretary of State has temporarily fallen asleep. [Interruption.] If he has not perhaps he will tell us now where is the capability to carry out these commitments?
We come reluctantly to the conclusion that we cannot carry out commitments, either in the Middle East or the Far East. The right hon. Gentleman was fond of saying, when he came back from Australia how essential it was that we should play a part in Australia. He was singing the praises of the F111, and said that this was the one weapon which had the capability to help the Australians if they needed help. Now that has gone how are we to help Australia and New Zealand? How are we going to help our S.E.A.T.O. allies? Are we ratting on every one of these commitments as we are ratting in Aden and the Persian Gulf?
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Gentleman has made a serious charge—that we are ratting on agreements we made with the Malaysians, for example. I am not aware that the agreement has ever been published, but he obviously has some inside knowledge of it. Are there revision clauses in that 682 treaty, or are we committed to remaining in the Far East indefinitely?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I looked at the Treaty clauses very carefully. In the case of Aden they clearly said that the treaty could not be unilaterally abrogated by one side. It can only be done by mutual consent of both sides. This is the normal wording for such agreements. I have not got it with me. I know the Secretary of State for Defence did not know about it when he made the announcement about pulling out of Aden.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
The hon. Gentleman made a serious charge. We never had a treaty with Aden. There was a great argument between the two sides of the House about whether a private undertaking given by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was binding on the present Government, but that was an undertaking to make a defence agreement and to keep a base in Aden. No such agreement was ever made, and that is why the party opposite criticised us.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
It was said that we would make a new defence agreement after independence, and the Minister wriggled on that. Prior to that there was an agreement between this country and Aden.
§ Mr. Healey
On a point of order. The hon. Member has now confessed that the words he used were totally wrong; surely he should withdraw them.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I understand why the Minister is sensitive on this, because treaties have been broken, and I hope he will stand by the Malaysian Treaty. I see the right hon. Gentleman dissenting. Is there no defence agreement with Malaysia? The Minister does not answer. He knows perfectly well there is an Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement.
§ Mr. Healey
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to answer there is the Anglo-Malaysian defence agreement, which is binding so far as relations between Britain and Malaysia is concerned. His right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) gave his view of our commitments under 683 that treaty and the S.E.A.T.O. treaty as meaning everything or nothing according to the view one takes. Those are not my views, those are the views of his right hon. Friend.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
He does admit there is an Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement. I am interested to hear it. I am sorry he did not take the opportunity of telling us how we were going to carry it out. There is no capability to honour that agreement. It is going to be renegotiated. It says so in the White Paper.
I come to our N.A.T.O. obligations. We are told that with the air forces assigned to N.A.T.O. the balance will be altered so that there will be fewer nuclear and more conventional forces in the strike rôle. This is fully understood, and there is a statement here which deals with the new N.A.T.O. agreement. Most of us have read Mr. McNamara's statement to Congress, which sets out the philosophy in regard to N.A.T.O., which means strengthening our conventional forces this year. The Minister has endorsed this, and the Under-Secretary nods. Page 4 reads:It is also agreed that, within the total resources available to N.A.T.O., adjustment should be made, particularly in the air forces, with the object of extending the conventional phase of hostilities should war break out.Are we going to have sufficient aircraft to do that? As I understand it, Phantoms will provide local air superiority and give protection to the Harriers. But we have only 60 Harriers. This is a good aircraft, but is 60 enough to make a viable force and give tactical support to our Army in West Germany? I have some doubt about this. The Harrier is an improved aircraft. It started as the Kestrel with a small 9,000 lb. thrust engine, went up to 14,000 lb. thrust and is going up to 21,000 lb. This gives it more lift and greater flexibility with its weapons system. I wonder whether the Minister is right in sticking to 60. It is too small a number and cannot allow for the reserves to be built up.
The Minister for Defence for Administration, when he was winding up last night, said that these statements about strengthening N.A.T.O.'s reserves were based on the assumption that a conventional war would last three, four or 684 five days. He said last night that this idea of strengthening the mobilisation reserves in N.A.T.O. amounted only to a conventional war which might not last a week or more but would be stretched from two or three days to three, four or five days. The Minister nods. That is not the wording which Mr. McNamara used in his address, and this was put before N.A.T.O. and approved by N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. Healey
The hon. Member was in the House on Monday when I explained this. There are certain conventional types of conflict in Europe for which N.A.T.O. agrees at last we should retain a capability to deal with purely conventionally. A large-scale conflict in Europe N.A.T.O. has always believed and still believes is bound to lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and if it continues to the use of strategic nuclear weapons. When we are talking about prolonging that type of conflict, we are thinking of extending it from the two or three days, which the Commander-in-Chief of Northern Army Group said in a recent television interview he could fight, to four or five days prolongation which could make the difference between the survival of humanity and its destruction.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
If it was from two to three to four or five days, I hardly think it is necessary to have a N.A.T.O. reappraisal. The phraseology, which is entirely new, seems to overstate the case. The Minister recognises and we understand that he wants more reserves. Ought he not to order more Harriers? Is 60 enough to provide sufficient reserve? In the old days one used to be able to build an aircraft relatively quickly. They were relatively simple. Now they are very complicated weapons systems indeed, and should the need arise an aircraft cannot be built in less than 18 months even if it is proven and in production, if it is jigged and tooled. In fact, it is much more likely to be 24 months allowing for the avionics and other sophisticated equipment. Would it not be wise to have a follow-on order and to let Hawker Siddeley have the go ahead on the long-term delivery materials and on some of the components which take a long time to produce? I cannot believe 60 is a viable or economic force.
685 Everyone recognises that the smaller the number the more expensive the unit. If we want real numbers to get the export potential out of this aircaft, then it would be worth while going ahead with a worth-while number if the Government agrees this is a good and useful tactical aircraft to support our troops in Germany.
To summarise, by mismanagement of our economy, we have had successive crises. In each crisis, it is defence which has had to bear the brunt of the cuts. Of the three Services the Air Force has taken the biggest cut. The operational strength of our aircraft and the weapons we are now using was developed over the 13 years of Conservative rule. First this Government cut the replacements—the T1154, the HS681, the TSR2—and substituted other aircraft to do the job. Now these aircraft too have had to be cancelled. Money has been spent in bricks and mortar—£30 million extra last year, £20 million extra this year. Money has been spent on cancellation charges—£310 million—without a single aircraft to show. We have had the philosophy about bringing the troops back to this country. Then when they get back, we learn that their numbers are to be cut. Deprived of numbers and aircraft, we have to go back on our treaties and understandings. This is what has happened over the last two and a half years.
Now the Secretary of State for Defence is concerned to work out the full implications of the cuts, which he knows and acknowledges will be agonising, to honour the announcements made in January. We understand that we shall have a White Paper in June. I ask him whether he will try to avoid being too intellectually arrogant in this matter. Can he remember that we are making plans for the defence of our country and commitments in the mid-1970s and late 1970s? The one thing which we cannot possibly foresee is the state of the world at that time. Would it not be wise to leave options open? There will be a different Government and a different set of circumstances. Where there is a choice, surely it would be sensible to leave the option open.
The classic case of the option not being left open occurred when the jigs and tools of the TSR2 were destroyed just 686 before the 1966 General Election. I cannot understand that. One would have thought that perhaps the next Government, if there had been a change of Government, might need this as a bargaining counter with our American suppliers. I hope that this mistake will not be made again and that next time a sensible option will be left open so that if the state of the world changes, if there is a settlement in Vietnam, if there is a spread of Communism and our friends appeal to us for help, we have the means of honouring our agreements and answering their cries for assistance.
We see broken treaties and cancelled contracts all around us. We see revised and re-revised plans; they must litter the Ministry of Defence. I feel sorry for the Service planners, who must be beside themselves. No plan has been brought to fruition before the next plan has to supersede it. The Secretary of State for Defence and his two senior colleagues must have had a very difficult time. They must have searched their souls as to whether they should go on living among the ruins of their own defence plans or resign. I hope that they know where their duty lies.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. Roy Mason)
We have listened to a most surprising speech by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) calling for more aircraft for every conceivable rôle, in spite of our plans gradually to withdraw from the Far East and Middle East, we are lessening our international commitments, and yet, irrespective of cost, he demands more sophisticated aircraft for every rôle which he can conceive for the Royal Air Force. My intention is to deal with the industrial aspects of the Motion and to explain the reasons for our decisions. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye during the latter part of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will deal with the operational side of the Motion.
First, let us see just how much truth there is in all the suggestions that the present Government programme represents a grievous blow to the health of the British aircraft industry and that there has been an irrational and indefensible 687 refusal to continue with sensible and cost-effective projects. To help our survey, it is necessary to delve a little into history.
After the First World War, it was the R.A.F. which pioneered the development of air services. More important, it was the R.A.F. which in the years leading up to the Second World War was responsible for pioneering and giving the industry the means to develop all the most important improvements in aircraft performance. It was the Air Ministry which in 1925 instituted a research programme into high speed flying, and thereafter the R.A.F. teams won the Schneider Trophy contests, developing the speed of racing seaplanes to over 400 m.p.h. A similar effort was devoted to long-distance and high-level flying, and it is worth remembering that distance records of over 5,000 miles were established as early as 1933 and of over 7,000 miles in 1938, and height records of over 50,000 feet were set in 1937.
This is not irrelevant to the Motion. All these figures are relevant to a comparison of performance—cost increases which I shortly propose to make.
In the 20 years which passed between the World Wars, it was the R.A.F. aircraft programme which led the way in industrial development and in improvements in aircraft performance. Yet at the end of that process, plus the industry's contribution—good industrial organisation and production methods—the unit production cost of each aircraft had not appreciably increased. A fighter aircraft at the start of World War I, built like a Rolls-Royce—[Interruption.] We built them. I am praising the British industry for its performance. But the research programme by the Ministry was giving the industry the chance to prove it. This was happening particularly between the two world wars.
A fighter aircraft at the start of world war one, built like a Rolls-Royce cost several thousand £s—indeed, it cost £4,000. At the start of the Second World War, Spitfires and Hurricanes cost £5,000. What, by comparison, has happened since the end of World War II?
First, as one would expect and hope, the R.A.F. has continued to lead the way in performance improvements, and has stimulated the British aircraft industry 688 accordingly. But what about costs? Let us take as a fair standard the case of a very successful modern non-British aircraft, the Phantom, an aircraft which has won many world records. In terms of performance this aircraft represents a remarkable improvement over the Spitfire, as the Spitfire did over the 1914 aircraft. But the Spitfire cost almost the same as the 1914 aircraft to produce. Each Phantom, on the other hand, is several hundred times more expensive than the Spitfire. The line of the graph relating performance to unit cost was more or less horizontal during the thirties. But during the fifties and sixties it has become more or less vertical, the type of vertical take-off we can well do without. Then, big increases in performance were achieved without increasing very much the unit production cost. Today, every increase in performance brings a huge increase in production cost—and the increases in research and development costs are, of course, even more marked.
This is the essential background to our debate today. This, if we must talk about history, is what history tells us about the most essential industrial aspect of the aircraft programme—that is, the relation of improvements in performance to increases in cost and the difficult decision of when to stop paying much more money to get a little more performance.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
We do not disagree with that argument. But does not exactly the same apply to Sweden and all the other countries which I quoted which have modern aircraft in even bigger numbers than we have?
§ Mr. Mason
The hon. Gentleman must not try to mislead the House or myself. He must not try to compare the size and sophistication of Sweden's aircraft with the research and development costs of a highly complex machine like the TSR2, Phantom or F111. There is no comparison, and it is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to try to mislead hon. Members who may not take such a close interest in these matters.
Let us relate this essential background to more recent times. Let us see what changes in the aircraft programme it has made necessary, not only in the last three years, but in the last seventeen—ever since the Korean War started off new 689 equipment programmes which have continued from successor to successor to this day.
In this context, it is worth examining the Conservative record. On 28th July last year, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology published an interesting list of the aerospace projects cancelled since 1951 and the money spent in each case. The Motion relates to the effect on the aircraft industry of cancellations, and, therefore, if it is true, it is worth while looking at the list of cancellations and how many there were when the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were in Government; because it makes a fairly long list even in the small print of the OFFICIAL REPORT.
I will not weary the House by going through it all, but it is worthwhile to choose just some of the aircraft which have been cancelled. There was the Swift and its variations, the de Havilland fighter aircraft, the developed Hawker Hunter, the thin wing Javelin fighter, the Fairey supersonic fighter, the supersonic bomber, a naval interceptor, the Vickers military transport—all aircraft cancelled during the term of the hon. Gentleman's Government.
Missile projects were cancelled, and this, too, affects the aircraft industry just as much, because engines, aeroplanes and missiles are part of the aircraft industry. They cancelled a guided bomb with television eye, the Vickers flying bomb, an air-to-ship guided bomb, an air-to-air missile, a long-range surface-to-air guided weapon and Blue Streak, worth £84 million, which was completely lost.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Would the hon. Gentleman admit that £70 million of that has gone into E.L.D.O.? I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to be fair and would not want to make capital to which he is not entitled.
§ Mr. Mason
The hon. Gentleman should not make suggestions like that. Some £84 million had been spent on the development of Blue Streak as a military project and what remains is a launcher, part of the equipment, in a civil application form: and it has not been worth all that to the European Launcher Development Organisation.
Apart from Blue Streak, there was a medium-range surface-to-surface missile 690 in August, 1962, Blue Water, which no doubt the hon. Gentleman will remember, on which £32 million had been spent; and then the Prime Minister of the day cancelled Skybolt at £27 million. And it is not only aircraft and missiles. The same can be said of aero engines; cancellation after cancellation, £200 million lost, and I do not exaggerate as the hon. Gentleman did in the course of his speech. Here was a series of cancellations, repercussion after repercussion hitting the aircraft industry all the time that Government were in office.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The right hon. Gentleman is getting carried away with the situation. He has quoted types of aircraft to suit his convenience; but the Swift fighter was ordered by the Attlee Government and was cancelled not for financial reasons but for technical reasons. It was not up to the job. The specification was wrong. The cost to the taxpayer was some £35 million.
§ Mr. Mason
I do not have to argue with the hon. Gentleman about the reason for which a project was cancelled. The terms of the Motion relate to the effects of cancellations on the industry, and it does not come well from the mouth of the hon. Gentleman to put down a Motion of this kind and to seek to chastise this Government when they have been more guilty than we ever were.
What about the most startling event in the calendar of hon. Gentlemen opposite when in Government, the 1957 White Paper introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)? I do not blame him, for it was the then Government's responsibility, but they cannot escape what effect this had on the industry and on the Royal Air Force, too; because here was the then Government's missile mythology "We are to have missiles for attack and missiles for defence. The days of manned aircraft are numbered. They are to go." That Government never fully realised how much they frightened the British aircraft industry and upset the R.A.F. Never in recent history has one White Paper had such serious, frightening and undermining results, particularly in the aircraft industry. Parliament, too, was seriously disturbed and, as we all know, the White 691 Paper was quickly buried. But the irresponsibility of that Paper and its effect upon the industry, on the R.A.F. and on the House can never be forgotten.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about Conservative Government cancellations, but one thing he has not said is that the Conservative Government never cancelled a successor to the Canberra, which is absolutely vital for the R.A.F. if it is to fulfil its functions in N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. Mason
The hon. Gentleman does not take much notice of the Questions an Answers about such things that have recently taken place. All that has been fully debated. I will deal with it later, as, no doubt, will my hon. Friend.
As far as the record of the present Government is concerned, the decisions taken during the last three years, unwelcome as some of them undoubtedly are to the R.A.F. and to the aircraft industry, have reflected three consistent main lines of thought, all aimed at greater effectiveness and greater cost effectiveness. The hon. Gentleman and the Government of that time can take a little credit, and I want to give credit where it is due. The first example of this new line of consistent thinking, of placing the needs of the Services first, was set not by my right hon. Friend but by the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, his predecessor.
There was the decision taken early in 1964, during the last months of the Conservative Administration, which I applaud, to order the Phantom for the Royal Navy. It was a very good decision, and that is why we confirmed it; and it is only charitable now to remember that in those days, at least, the Tories did not always allow themselves to be distracted by Jingoistic talk of "becoming deeply dependent on others" to the detriment of the Services' re-equipment programme.
Let us recall the situation at the time of the then Government's decision early in 1964. It had been hoped to develop the P1154 into a common aircraft suitable for both the R.A.F. and the R.N., but this turned out not to be possible, and to develop a naval variant of the P1154 would have cost more than the relatively small number needed by the 692 Navy would have warranted. In any case, the naval variant would have arrived late. Therefore, it was decided that it would be better to buy a version of the American Phantom aircraft.
I believe that the noble Lord, the then Minister of Defence, although he has much else to answer for, is to be congratulated on that decision at least, because it was arrived at in accordance with just the same correct principles as we have tried to follow ever since he set us that example. As he recognised, while any reasonable person would wish to help the British aircraft industry to the greatest possible extent, cases might arise in which the industry was not able to produce what the Services wanted at the time when they wanted it; and when that happened we must in the last resort put the Services' needs first. That is what he did, and rightly. But how does his decision—and those on Skybolt, Polaris and Martel—square with the Opposition's Motion today? Completely contradictory. What about "jeopardising the long-term aircraft programme"? I have mentioned projects on which the Conservatives, when in office, went elsewhere to get equipment at a better price, on time, for the Services. We have tried to follow that excellent example set by the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Lubbock
In speaking about the Phantom, should not the right hon. Gentleman remind the House that the United Kingdom content of its manufacture is getting on for 50 per cent., and does not he think that because of the superior performance of the British version over the American version there are prospects for selling it to other countries?
§ Mr. Mason
I must congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his detailed knowledge of the topic. There is at least 40 per cent. British content in the Phantom, with the new Spey engine power unit, a bypass engine with reheat, which may prove very superior indeed. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning it.
I said that since 1964 the major developments in the Royal Air Force aircraft programme have reflected three main, consistent lines of thought. These are, first, reaffirmation of the validity of the philosophy of the Royal Air Force about the essential place of tactical strike/ reconnaissance in the overall defence concept, about the flexibility afforded to 693 the Forces by means of air transport, and about the greater economy of land-based as opposed to carrier-based aircraft. Second, we have recognised the need to accelerate the programme for the replacement of obsolescent R.A.F. aircraft, such as the Canberra, Hunter, Beverley and Hastings. Here let me say that although our plans have not all worked out as we would have wished, the Royal Air Force is at the beginning of a re-equipment programme which will provide it with aircraft greatly superior in performance to those they replace.
It is silly to make comparisons of the kind made by the hon. Member for Hendon, North and others about Sweden when we are to have aircraft which, in some instances, no other country has and which will be in advance of those of every other nation or air force.
§ Mr. Mason
I am sorry, I must get on. I am taking a long time. Thirdly, we have recognised the need for a change—a need based on the cost considerations which I have mentioned. They have been spelt out many times by detailed inquiries, especially the Plowden Report. There has been a change from a purely national production programme to an interim programme based on a combination of United States procurement and national production and a long-term pattern of joint development and production combined with either foreign procurement or national production where appropriate. [Interruption.] Of course it is not the intention of the present Government to ignore completely the interests of the British aircraft industry.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Does that mean that we might have a national aircraft development, primarily developed in this country, for our own military purposes and to serve overseas?
§ Mr. Mason
I cannot at this stage prejudge the studies which are taking place at Warton, but I warn the hon. Member that the sort of aircraft which might be required might prove to be very expensive and, therefore, collaboration may be the answer if it is to be fully de-developed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Absolutely wrong."] Hon Members opposite 694 say that that is wrong, but those who have listened through the debates of the past two days will remember that in winding up the debate for the Opposition on Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Can) said:Britain can no longer make for herself the whole range of vastly complicated technological equipment required by modern defence forces. We must buy some from other countries, including the United States. We must make as much as possible on a joint venture basis, particularly with our allies in Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 347.]It appears that hon. Members on the back benches opposite disagree with what their right hon. Friend said from the Front Bench.
Throughout this time we have reviewed not only the cost and timescale of the production programme of individual aircraft, but also basic defence philosophy, which is interrelated continuously with the selection of the individual aircraft types. A more logical and coherent picture of the review can be given chronologically rather than tracing each aircraft in turn. If the House will bear with me for a few minutes, I would like to do that.
The first stage was our successful attempt to cut back the escalating costs of the aircraft programme and to improve on the dates by which the Royal Air Force would be equipped with the more modern aircraft it needed. During this period, it was decided to cancel the TSR2. This aircraft, as all hon. Members know and most are honest enough to admit, was escalating in cost far beyond the capacity either of the defence Votes to pay for its research, development and production, or of the Royal Air Force to maintain it throughout its operational life.
We also cancelled the P1154 because it was going to be too expensive and too late, and we decided to go for a combination of the Phantom and the P1127. We decided to replace the HS681, on grounds of both timescale and cost, by the United States Hercules, and we selected a version of the Comet to replace the Shackletons. These were all logical steps. The Hercules came into service in 1967 and the Phantoms, the Harriers and the Nimrods are on order for the Air Force and are coming into service next year. That was sense; it was logical and it has worked.
695 Next we were involved in negotiations with the United States authorities over the three United States aircraft, including the F111, in which we were interested, making arrangements about cost, delivery and British components. These negotiations resulted in extremely favourable financial terms, including credit terms, which we were able to extend to the Phantoms for the Royal Navy ordered by the previous Administration. It was also agreed that British items, amounting to about 40 per cent. of the total cost of the Royal Air Force Phantoms, would be incorporated in those aircraft. All that is to the great benefit of the aerospace industry.
During the time which followed, the defence review of capability and commitments resulted in the conclusions that we needed a land-based strike reconnaissance capability, that greater emphasis was in future to be placed on the tasks of the Royal Air Force in the conventional rôle and that in view of changes in capabilities the R.A.F. should take over from the carriers the maritime tasks in the later 1970s.
In parallel with the defence review, there was a good deal of fundamental rethinking about the size and rôle of the British aircraft industry—[Interruption.]—in which the report of the Plowden Committee in December, 1965, is the obvious landmark. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) to keep smirking from the back benches. The Plowden Report has had a great impact on the minds of most hon. Members who take a serious interest in these affairs.
The general outcome of the review was to confirm the correctness of a reduction in national effort and a change in emphasis towards joint development and production and, in particular, co-operation with France. We signed a memorandum of collaboration with the French in 1965. We then signed the first procurement order for the F 111 and linked it with procurement of United Kingdom equipment under the offset arrangement. We also settled the final buy of the Hercules, fixed a price for the Nimrods, decided on the first order for Harriers, and made progress with the Anglo/French projects, including the Jaguar and the Anglo/ French helicopters. Then we established 696 the optimum specification of the A.F.V.G. All this was towards the end of 1966, although it became increasingly clear to us that the French Government were having difficulties about financing the A.F.V.G. and, as we all know, it was cancelled a short time after that.
If I may come right up to date, I remind hon. Members who were not here on Monday of what my right hon. Friend said about the continuing need to place as much emphasis as possible on European collaboration in the research, development, production and procurement of defence equipment, and this is particularly of aircraft.
I have made this chronological review because it can be clearly shown that the same consistent lines of thought run through what, to some people, may otherwise seem a bewildering pattern. The first principle now, as when we began, is that once the needs of the Royal Air Force have been established, the various means of meeting the needs have to be considered without any other consideration in view than that we must have aircraft with the right performance delivered at the right time and at the right price.
The previous Administration had planned a tactical strike/reconnaissance aircraft which could not have come into service until three years after its target in-service date, and at almost incredible cost. They planned to introduce the P1154 in about 1970–71 at the earliest, whereas in our programme the Royal Air Force will get its first Phantoms this year and its first Harriers next year. They planned transport aircraft to replace the ancient Beverleys and Hastings which were unlikely to have been in service even by 1971, whereas under our programme there are Hercules aircraft already in operation and the whole of the Hercules force should have been delivered by the end of the summer.
In fact, as my right hon. Friend said when he opened the defence debate on Monday, the Royal Air Force will be receiving more than 400 modern combat jets over the coming years as good as if not better than any in Europe. [Interruption.] There will be 1,000 aircraft in the hands of the Royal Air Force but more than 400 modern combat jets. These are what will be in the hands of the Air Force in a few years' time.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
In regard to the costs of the TSR2, can the hon. Gentleman say why it was al the fault of the previous Administration when expensive modifications were ordered by the Royal Air Force up to within a fortnight of cancellation? In view of his emphasis on land-based aircraft, can the Minister tell us what aircraft are to be used in support of seaborne exercises in the future?
§ Mr. Mason
I do not want to go into all the details, but, as far as the TSR2 is concerned, three air frames were being built, and some of the research which went into the aircraft has since been used. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hendon, North said so, and his knowledge of the industry is such that I would not attempt to mislead him. He knows that some of the research is now being embodied in other modern aircraft. The electronics especially are being developed, which will be very useful in sales overseas.
The Royal Air Force will have a highly sophisticated force of more than 400 modern combat jets in the next two or three years. Its Phantoms will be the most advanced aircraft of their time for another decade. For several years, the Harriers will be the only fixed-wing operation 11 aircraft in the world with a vertical take-off and landing capacity. The Nimrods will be the most advanced maritime aircraft in the world, too. I make no apology for repeating those facts, which I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite would like to wish away but cannot. We are talking about first-rate equipment for a first-rate Air Force, and none of their cries and none of these Motions will alter it.
So much for the present state of the Royal Air Force, but what of the state of the British aircraft industry? I repeat that, wherever British industry can meet the needs of the R.A.F., it will get the orders. The industry is working now on a military aircraft programme worth over £100 million in 1968–69 in research and development alone. The bulk of it relates to the United Kingdom Phantom, the Nimrod and the Harrier, for which very valuable production orders will follow the R. & D. stage, just as they will for the Jaguar and the other new aircraft coming along. There is the Bucaneer improvement programme in 698 train as well, and we are saying little about the very large guided missile programmes, though they are just as important to the aerospace industry.
It is not for me to speak about Government assistance to the industry generally, but, as the Opposition Motion is drawn in pretty wide terms, let me quote one or two significant figures. Comparing 1963 with the present day, employment in the industry is almost the same, with 264,000 in December, 1967, compared to 268,000 in December, 1963. But output is up by £133 million at current prices. Exports are up by £90 million at current prices. Government assistance for civil transport aircraft has nearly quadrupled. The Government expenditure in the industry has gone up by £20 million to £350 million, which is equivalent to about 60 per cent. of the industry's output. If this is a case of an industry ruined by Government action, I can think of plenty of other industries which would gladly be ruined in the same way.
Nor is that the end of the story, because the offset agreements with the United States, which I am confident will not now be altered so as to affect existing contracts placed under them, have enabled our aircraft and aero engine industries to make sales worth scores of millions of pounds in markets which would otherwise have remained closed to them.
The trouble is that the Opposition Motion is not even like the curate's egg. It is not even good in parts, because it is a bad egg all the way through. It talks of "precipitate action", though they complain incessantly that we are taking a long time to make up our minds. It talks about "vacillating policies", when we have operated consistent ones and, moreover, some which were begun by a Tory Minister of Defence. It talks of our becoming "deeply dependent on others", when every rational study of the British aircraft industry in recent years has shown that international collaboration, especially European collaboration, is the proper pattern to follow. It is a muddled Motion and an irrational one. I am glad to ask my hon. Friends to reject it.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
We know the right hon. Gentleman to be a most energetic Minister, but today 699 he has had his own reheat system in operation. He went through his brief at supersonic speed.
I have become more and more depressed recently about the outlook for the Royal Air Force, and I am in no way reassured by listening to his speech. I criticise even his historic record of costs because, when he talks about a Spitfire costing £5,000, there must have been many organisations which gave Spitfires when we asked for £10,000 for one who felt that they had been held on a string. Putting a Rolls-Royce engine into an airframe and then adding the necessary armament would have cost a good deal more than £5,000, so the right hon. Gentleman appears to have been wrongly briefed on that.
In the course of his speech, he referred to cancellations. He really must do his homework. The fact is that it is good to have cancellations. Even in the days of a Conservative Government, my argument was always that we did not cancel often enough. The moment that a specification appears to be going wrong, is over-weight, or does not measure up to what it should do, it is right to cancel quickly. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the situation in America, the percentage of cancellations there is considerably higher proportionately than our own.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)
Would the hon. Gentleman apply that line of thought to the Skybolt cancellation, which cost the nation nearly £300 million?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman was doing at the time of Skybolt, but I went to Los Angeles to see it. Britain did not cancel it. It was cancelled by the United States Government. We were led up the garden path by the Americans. It so happened that I signed a Motion bearing a hundred signatures which was sent to Mr. Macmillan when he was in Nassau, and I went to see him there. A week after, I went to Los Angeles. The weapon flew 1,700 miles. There was nothing wrong with Skybolt. The Americans cancelled it because it suited them. In doing so, they let us down. That is why I do not like being dependent on America or any other foreign Power to that extent.
700 The right hon. Gentleman talked about employment in the industry. Three years ago, I understood that we were to get the surplus capacity out of this industry and into others. He now boasts that it is employing just as many people.
§ Mr. Mason
I gave specific figures to the effect that there are 4,000 fewer people employed in the industry. It is not much less in 8 years, but there are 4,000 less. Nevertheless, the aircraft industry has stepped up output considerably, increased exports, and has had a fine record over the past few years.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I was involved in the industry for a number of years and, from personal experience, I know that there are always too many people employed in it. There is always a lot of "fat" and no firm likes to let its workers go in case it gets a contract and cannot recruit workers. We want to get the surplus people out of some sections of the industry and into other export industries.
What the right hon. Gentleman did not say is what is happening to the research units, because they comprise the most important aspect of the situation. Scientific workers will not stay in an industry unless they have something exciting to aim at and something which is as good as any other country has. We have lost the cream of our research workers to North America and elsewhere. Very few of them will come back, because they are involved on the West Coast in exciting projects in supersonic flight, and so on.
I have always attached the greatest importance to research in this industry as giving an unknown figure of fall-out to the engineering business as a whole in such subjects as metallurgy, electronics and hydraulics. An example of this is, the hydraulic pit prop, which was developed from one of Dowty's undercarriages. This is where we shall fail in years to come unless we have a viable aircraft industry with efficient research teams behind it.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked about land-based aircraft being substituted for the carrier aircraft. I am sure that the House would like to know what aircraft these are, because I do not know them. Perhaps we can be told by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for 701 the Royal Air Force when he winds up the debate what is taking the place of the carrier aircraft.
I have listened to many of these Air Estimates debates over 23 years, together with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). We have had many battles, usually from a different standpoint. To me, however, this is by far the saddest occasion on which I have taken part in such a debate. It is not the amount of money that is being spent; it is the way in which the Government have mutilated the Royal Air Force and the research programme of the aircraft industry.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Defence has left the Chamber. I have known him for many years. He is highly intellectual, but highly arrogant. He speaks to us in this House as though he were a don, which he was at one time. Nobody knows anything except him. He is the thickest skinned politician that I have ever come across. He misquotes what hon. Members say, and does so with a broad grin on his face. He does not even take the matter seriously. I suggest that the Government would have been well advised to have made a clean sweep and got rid of the right hon. Gentleman after the mess they made of our defence affairs. Put him out to grass for a year or two. It will do him a lot of good. We have to live with him, but I hope that he will be reminded of his record every week during the life of this Parliament.
The Defence Review of 1966 made the most of the decision to order the F111A from the United States and to produce the Anglo-French geometry aircraft. Both these aircraft have now been scrapped, and there is no replacement for them. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was rather proud. He called me a flabby little Englander. I take a different view about my country. Many people in Britain expect to us to ensure that we have a front line Air Force which is comparable to that of other Powers of our size and means.
The key to the deterrent power of our Armed Forces lies in the ability to obtain early warninig of an enemy's intentions—we do this by reconnaissance—and to strike at his offensive forces from a distance. Britain will no longer be capable of doing that when the V-bombers, which are ageing, have gone. The Government 702 have taken a clear decision which means that Britain no longer holds the key to the deterrent power of our Armed Forces. Thus the Royal Air Force will lack a critical part of its capability.
I expect the Government to break their election promise about improving our economy, and so on, but when it comes to the defence of the country, I think that it is unforgivable to go back on a promise which was made less than two years ago. In their 1966 election manifesto they claimed that the Defence Review,Has made certain that our forces will be able to carry out these tasks, without overstrain, with the full range of weapons needed for the job.The F111A capability will to some extent be provided by the V-bombers until about 1975, but many of these V-bombers must be getting tired, and I shall be surprised to see them last for so long. A few may, but when will the last Canberra be flying? Some are now 20 years old. Over the years the Government have boasted that they, not us, would give the Royal Air Force the best equipment with which to operate and defend our country, but in future the whole burden, in Europe and elsewhere, will be carried by the United States Air Force if it is willing and free to do the job.
On 1st March the Secretary of State for Defence said:…we shall need a replacement for the Canberras, the tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, whether we are east of Suez or not. This aircraft Fill K replaces the cancelled TSR2 designed by the previous Government primarily as an aircraft for use in the European theatre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 476.]On 13th December last the Minister of Defence for Equipment said:It"—that is the F111K—is required as much in Europe as elsewhere for this type of operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1967; Vol. 756, c. 399.]What has changed the situation in the meantime? The Minister said that it was required in Europe.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I am talking about what the Government said. The hon. Gentleman was not elected to the Government. The Labour Party was, and it took on this responsibility to the electorate.
703 What do our friends and allies think about us? Today I had lunch with an American—obviously I cannot name him—who has a great affection for this country. Politically he is unbiassed, but he is depressed about the way in which we are tackling these affairs. He remarked on the remarkably fine speech, in depth and breadth, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made during the defence debate. It certainly was a fine speech. It was well thought out, and I am certain that he wrote it himself. What must our friends and allies think of us? In my travels abroad I find it—[interruption.] If the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) wishes to intervene, he should stand up, and I will give way, otherwise he should hold his peace.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
I was merely saying that an equally relevant question is what do we think of them, particularly in regard to the Vietnam situation?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I shall not get involved in that emotional subject, because I shall probably be ruled out of order if I do. I have a high regard for the Australians and New Zealanders who are playing their part out there, whatever other views there may be on this subject.
Speaking about the Harrier, the Secretary of State said on 27th February, 1967:We hope shortly to conclude a fixed-price contract for an initial order of the P1127…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 98.]I imagine that the Government issued an instruction for the firm to get on with it, but that was a year ago. When is the contract to be signed? I am as much concerned as anyone about unduly large profits being made on contracts, but, if someone has an instruction to proceed, and a year later there is still no contract, it is quite likely that we shall have another nonsense. I would like to see the matter settled with a firm contract.
We are told that 170 Phantoms have been ordered, but, as the carriers are to be scrapped by 1971, what is the position now? Are any of these aircraft to be cancelled? I put this question to the Minister the other day when he was speaking. What will happen to the aircraft when the carriers are phased out of service? Will they be cancelled, or will 704 the Royal Air Force take them? Will they have to be modified if the Royal Air Force takes them over? The cost of these Phantoms over 10 years, including spares and running costs, is about £755 million. I estimate that 46 per cent. of the aircraft has a sterling content, but the extent of the sterling content has put up the overall cost of the aircraft.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I understand that the hon. Gentleman will make his own speech. I hope that he will stop interrupting me. I shall make my speech as I want to make it.
I propose, now, to say a few words about the TSR2. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) referred to the question of jigs and tools. I remember going with a deputation to see the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was Minister of Aviation. The TSR2 had been cancelled. We implored him not to dismantle the jigs and tools for this aircraft in case they were required in the next two, three, or four years. We said that while the jigs and tools were in existence we would have some hold over the Americans if they started doing another Skybolt on us, yet in a matter of months the Government ran a steamroller over the jigs and tools and destroyed them. The only reason that I can think of for them doing that was that if the Conservatives had won the 1966 election we might have proved how wrong they were. Why was it done? There were empty hangars all over the country in which these jigs and tools could have been stored without any charge. All that we have today is a set of drawings.
It may have been an expensive aircraft, but the fact was that anything we spent on it would have been in sterling. We would have been using our own skills and research. Our own men would have been building the aircraft. It is not comparing like with like to say that the cost of the F111A was this, and that of the TSR2 was that, because in the latter case we would have been using home materials, and getting the "know-how" and fallout. It would have been a cheap proposition. I remember the chief test pilot, Mr. Beamont, after having flown about 50 or 60 hours, saying that he 705 would have had less trouble with this aircraft than with the Canberra at the same stage of development. Getting rid of it was a great mistake.
The right hon. Gentleman boasted about the transport aircraft, but it is about 16 years old, although still quite useful. A total of 66 were provided at just under £1 million each before the Government changed their policy in the Far East. How are they to be employed in three or four years? What will we get for our money? What will happen to the number of VC 10s on order for Transport Command? They are very expensive, but could be very useful to one of the airlines if not required by Transport Command.
My hon. Friend spoke about the combat strength of the R.A.F. It was pointed out by Air Commodore Donaldson in the Daily Mail that we have a combat strength of 460. lower than at any time since the 1939–45 war. It is one-fifth the size of the Communist Chinese Air Force. I know something about the Chinese Air Force, since I helped to form it and teach them to fly in the early 1930s in Southern China.
Our Air Force includes 144 obsolete Canberras which are not a suitable weapon today, 96 V-bombers which are nearing the end of their useful life, 204 Lightnings, and 50 marine piston-engined Shackletons. The Government said that they would give the R.A.F. the best equipment, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman said what we shall get in the 1970s—but that is their reply to everything. If I want a new hospital in Macclesfield, I am told to wait until the 1970s.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
To take the hon. Member's point about a replacement for the Shackleton, would he not concede that it was only when the Labour Government came in that an order was placed for the Nimrods, which go into operation very soon? He complains about this Government but his own Government did not put in an order for a replacement.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
By the hon. Gentleman's own admission, his Government have not put in an order for the Harrier but have given an instruction to proceed. The Conservative Government did much to prepare the specification for the Nimrod. That is almost three years' 706 work by a Conservative Government: the hon. Gentleman must get his facts right—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The important thing for my responsibility is to see that an aeroplane is in service. The hon. Gentleman complains about the Government not doing something. The order was placed as soon as the Labour Government came to power and it was impossible to have a new aeroplane for Coastal Command because the Tory Government had not placed an order. The process takes three years.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I am prepared to give the hon. Gentleman the point, but some of the work was done by the Conservative Government, and there are not enough on order.
The Soviet influence in the Mediterranean, in Alexandria, and Algiers, and the problems of the west coast of Africa, means that we shall need a large Coastal Command to police the area. This may be our biggest problem, to control that Atlantic coastline effectively. All that the Government have done over the Simonstown base is to antagonise the South Africans. This Government never seem to learn from experience. This happened also with the previous Labour Government, although the Attlee Administration were an efficient team compared with this lot.
The cost of the Canberra replacement—of the TSR2, on which about £178 million has been spent, the A.F.V.G., which cost £2.5 million, and the F111K, which cost £56 million and could cost £70–£80 million—will be at least £236 million, and we have nothing to show for it. This is incredible. Then we have the other cancellation charges, all resulting in very little.
My experience leads me to believe that this Government do not understand defence, with one or two exceptions. I am sorry for the Under-Secretary, who is well liked in the R.A.F. and does what he can, but living under the present Secretary of State and trying to put his policy into practice is quite something to take on. What disturbs me is that the Left-wing of the Labour Party will want more cuts. They said so last week. They will not be satisfied with what has been done already—
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that our attitude, which he has accurately described, will continue so long as we spend roughly 75 per cent. of our aircraft manufacturing capacity on the military instead of the civil side?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman is confused about the figures. We must relate this to a proportion of the gross national product, since we can spend only what we can earn. Our present percentage is not far out, and Britain can afford an efficient front line Air Force with British-made aircraft, which it has not got today.
What will happen in the Persian Gulf after British withdrawal? We have heard about the possibility of rulers buying some aircraft and getting an air force together, but we do not know for sure. Twenty-six British advisers were sent out of Aden at a few hours' notice a few days ago. The Soviet Union will probably send officials and technicians to replace them. There is a frightening situation in the Middle East, through which runs our blood line to Australia and the Far East.
Even more important, I was bold enough last year to say that I thought morale in the R.A.F. was not too bad, but I cannot say that today. It is bad. The hon. Member must know it and recruiting figures show it, and it will get worse. What young man in his senses will opt to enter any of the Services? I do not say this to put anyone off, since my own children are involved, but they cannot see a career. They see men in their thirties being axed in the same way as happened in the 1920s and early thirties. These young men want a good career, and the Government keep saying that they will guarantee it, but this is a false prospectus. The R.A.F. prospectus about Fl I Is and numbers of aircraft is "not on".
The Chief of Air Staff, with his usual great loyalty to the Government, has faced a personal crisis in recent months. I am sure that his colleagues will do their best, but I cannot see how any Government can continue as they are, with this 708 most necessary fighting Service. I have been involved with the Air Force, either flying as a regular, a reservist or an auxiliary, or making aeroplanes for about 40 years—all my working life—and this is the worst moment that I have known when I see what is happening to the R.A.F. The hon. Gentleman boasted of what they are doing instead of admitting that they are under pressure from the Left-wing to make these alterations.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have followed the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) many times over the last 20 years, and, although we have differed fundamentally, I believe that we understand each other's point of view. He regards me as a spokesman of the Left wing of the Labour Party and I regard him as a typical Conservative Member who is greatly interested in developing the aircraft industry and who has frequently acted in a dual capacity, as a director of one of the big aircraft companies and as an M.P.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is news to me. I do not follow the ramifications of the Stock Exchange as closely as I should. For many years the hon. Gentleman was a director of Handley Page, but if he is no longer connected with that company, that is a loss for Handley Page and a gain for Parliament. I am likely to misunderstand people, but certainly there is evidence to show that the hon. Gentleman is often regarded as a sort of respectable, pushful, enterprising, political commercial traveller for the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am a fellow-traveller. I travel with all sorts of people along the road which leads to the abolition of the whole military aircraft industry, for I realise that it is out of date.
I have a good memory. I recall a famous speech in which the hon. Member for Macclesfield was despairing about the future of the aircraft industry. That was 12 or 15 years ago, when he said that the industry, under the then Tory Government, was in such a bad state that he would not encourage his son to join 709 the R.A.F. I believe that he was right and I congratulate his son for going into something more productive. I appreciate, however, that if all the nation's sons had thought the same way, we would never have had an R.A.F.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I must put this right. My eldest son, who is now 25, was not, owing to inefficient eyes, eligible to join the R.A.F. My youngest son considered the Army, but decided against it. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong and he must be fair.
§ Mr. Hughes
Whatever the position, I recall the hon. Gentleman being despondent about the future of the R.A.F. and I clearly remember him saying that he would not encourage his son to join it. In any event, I hope that his son is prospering in another career.
Over the years the hon. Gentleman has gone from despondency to elation about the R.A.F. and the future of the military aircraft industry. Today he is in a state of despondency because he thinks that the Labour Government have ruined the industry and that there is not much future far it. My view is entirely the opposite. I have criticised this vast expenditure and I am here today to continue that criticism. We are being asked to vote £557 million, which is £30 million more than last year. We are supposed to be in a financial crisis. We are worried about the state of the £. All these financial considerations seem to vanish through the door when we discuss the Votes for the Services.
As in the past, I am here as the unofficial representative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I want to know what we are getting for this money. I also have a constituency interest to declare. At last I am able to say that we in South Ayrshire have got something for this expenditure of £557 million. In the recent storms in South Ayrshire an R.A.F. helicopter fed sheep on the hillside with turnips from the air. It was the first real contribution that I have been able to acknowledge for my constituents in the last 20 years from the Services. The only value we have got for our money over the years is this action by the R.A.F., which sent out a helicopter to save 600 sheep from starvation in the snow.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My hon. Friend probably knows that along the shores of 710 this country every year the R.A.F. saves many civilian lives. Perhaps some of those people come from Ayrshire. Perhaps in 1940 his constituents were grateful to the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not want to go back 25 years. I want to know what we are getting for our money now. I cannot understand why, when I express my gratitude to the Minister and say, "Thank you very much for saving the sheep of South Ayrshire", he rebukes me. I am not often in a mood of thankfulness.
The farmers of my constituency want to know how to get in touch with the R.A.F. when they need assistance. They also want to know why some farmers got turnips while others did not. Is there any class distinction here? Are the big farmers and landlords who have a certain amount of social influence provided with turnips from the sky while the small farmers are not? And how do farmers generally apply for this assistance? Do they send in application forms or merely seek help verbally if their sheep are isolated and need to be fed by helicopters?
I acknowledge the philanthropic attitude of the R.A.F. However, it is not a philanthropic institution. It is supposed to be capable of fighting a modern war. While its subsidiary activities are important, do they justify our spending £557 million on them? Even if the Minister adds up the cost of all the helicopters for feeding sheep, saving lives and so on—including the Aberfan disaster; I am not sure whether he has taken the storm in Scotland into account—I am sure that it would not work out at £557 million. Whatever the cost of these subsidiary activities, I would be glad to meet it out of public funds, but that does not include vast sums being spent on American aircraft when I do not know the purpose of the R.A.F. or what part it could play in a modern war.
The country is supposed to be in a bad financial state. The £ is in difficulties and I cannot understand how expenditure of this magnitude can help us in this crisis. As I study the financial Press, it seems that the greater the military expenditure, the weaker becomes the position of the £. If it is not helping the economic position of the country, we are entitled to criticise and to oppose this expenditure.
711 What do the latest figures of expenditure mean to the average household? The latest figures I have been able to get from the Ministry of Defence show that the defence bill is costing 16s. per head per week for every individual in the country. A man and wife are paying 32s. a week and a family of five pay £5 a week for the various defence forces. I do not know how this can be justified. All the philanthropic facilities, all the dropping of turnips in storms and the various things done by the R.A.F. would not amount to £10 million.
So far as I can reason this out, it is done for the purpose of preparing for a war against the Soviet Union. During the years when we have had arguments about this there have been enormous developments which make the R.A.F. almost obsolete for a modern war. The hon. Member for Macclesfield will remember that I asked a question which had never been asked in this House before. It was almost sacrilege to ask it in an Air Force debate. We were talking about fighters and I asked a very simple question, how can a fighter aircraft, costing a lot of money, defend us from a bomb coming from a rocket? I do not know and the hon. Member cannot tell us.
Since we have had these arguments there has been tremendous development in the technological armament of the Soviet Union. I think the Soviet Union has larger helicopters than we have. I am not an authority on this, but I understand that in Paris recently Russian helicopters were on sale.
The whole character of modern warfare has changed. If we got into a nuclear war the possibility would be that the bombs would not descend on us from bombing aircraft but from rockets. Someone in a distant part of the Soviet Union would press a button and three or four megaton bombs would knock this country to smithereens. Apparently we would have the satisfaction of knowing that someone in the United States had pressed a button and that the Russians were destroyed. The hon. Member cannot contradict this. Instead of coming from modern fast-flying aircraft, the bombs are more likely to come from rockets. If so, we are not entitled to spend this large sum of money without further inquiry.
712 Science has completely changed war. Hon. Members opposite, and on the Government Front Bench, are thinking in terms of a war 20 years ago, but they are talking about aeroplanes for the 'seventies. What will happen in the 'seventies I do not know, but I have heard an interesting argument put forward with great passion by the Under-Secretary. He passionately denounced the wickedness and futility of what the Conservative Government did in office. In turn the pots on the other side will call the kettles black. On the last occasion when the Labour Party was in Opposition we moved a Motion of censure on the Conservative Government. We were asked to censure the Tory Government because in 13 years they had spent £20,000 million of the country's money without having anything to show for it.
That was the argument of George Wigg. It was the argument put by our Front Bench. We trooped into the Division Lobby to denounce the Conservative Government because they had spent all that money on Blue Streak, Skybolt, and all the other paraphernalia and had nothing to show for it. Now the hon. Member for Macclesfield makes the same accusation against our Government. Our Government produces the same excuses and talks in the same way. If this Government lasts for another decade or so and piles up the same expenditure, all that the Tory Government in another 10 years or so will have to do is to move a Motion in the same terms as we moved against the Conservative Government for having wasted £20,000 million of the taxpayers' money and having nothing to show for it. So I object.
The one occasion on which I think the hon. Member for Macclesfield and I were in agreement was when he appreciated my argument that, instead of spending these vast sums on military aircraft, we should spend them on the development of civil aircraft. For about two minutes we agreed. I lost him after about the third minute. I put the proposition seriously to the Government today that this £500 million would be better spent in developing civilian aircraft.
I am interested in civilian aircraft because I have a near-constituency interest. In Prestwick there is a large aerodrome and a comparatively small aircraft industry. I am not against the aircraft 713 industry. I am not against its research or organisation. I want to see this organisation, money and resources put into civilian aircraft. We should do that on a large scale and forget about expenditure on bombers.
We should realise that in many underdeveloped countries comparatively small aircraft are needed for transport and freight purposes. There is a huge market awaiting us, but at the moment we are spending our money on obsolete military aircraft. We are doing almost the same as the Conservative Government did. We are in a competitive age. Our competitors in countries such as Japan are not wasting their money in this way. They would think it ridiculous. I was in Japan last August. I found that they are spending only 1 per cent. of their national income on any kind of defence. The Japanese Diet, especially the Socialist members of the Diet, would immediately table a vote of censure if a defence Minister there came forward with a bill of this kind.
Every intelligent Japanese businessman puts his resources into modern industry. It is because we are not doing that; because we are going on in this blundering, old, Conservative way that the Japanese are beating us in the competitive markets of the world. One proof is this: in Hong Kong, until recently, the Japanese yen was stronger than the British pound and that is because the Japanese are living in a modern age and they have done away with the paraphernalia of so-called "defence".
In voting this money to the Government in these Air Estimates we are not thinking of the economic welfare of the country. We are wasting our men, our resources and the brains of the younger generation in going on in this way and imagining that this in any way defends Britain.
Ours is an over-crowded island. If there is an atomic war it will not be a question of whether our aeroplanes are a second slower than those of the so-called enemy. It will be a question of rockets and ballistic missiles being used by one power or another. We are spending our money wastefully on obsolete weapons which do not lead to our defence. I speak as one who is interested in seeing this country solvent. I regard this as a waste of money and I am opposed to it.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I cannot say it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in this debate, but I can say his views make me all the more passionate that the Royal Air Force should be the finest Service in this country.
He dwelt for some time on the humanitarian efforts of the Royal Air Force to help farmers in times of difficulty. I am glad he paid tribute to the help given recently in South Ayrshire. It is not only humanity that brings the Royal Air Force to help in this way. It is an important part of Service training for pilots. The fact that there were pilots of helicopters helping in Scotland recently bears very fully on the remarks made this afternoon by the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) about the magnificent demonstration of airmanship of the helicopter pilot in the North Sea yesterday. That pilot was an ex-Royal Navy helicopter pilot and it is likely he gained great experience and skill in doing this work in Lossiemouth, in the North of Scotland.
The only point on which I agreed with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire were his remarks about light aircraft. It is true that there is a great market and potential for them. I shall come to this a little later in my speech. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman has forgotten the great work done by the Prestwick Pioneers in the Royal Air in Malaysia. These were built not very far from his own constituency.
This Motion deals with the long-term. I do not think one can deal with aircraft in isolation as far as the long-term is concerned; one has also to look at the short-term and the expected life of the aircraft themselves. Basically, the debate is about the Royal Air Force. I was glad that in the opening remarks of the Minister of Defence for Equipment tribute was paid to the great service of the Royal Air Force. This year it celebrates its 50th year of active service. It was interesting to hear the comments he made on some of the highlights of the Royal Air Force, particularly before the war, of flights of endurance to South Africa and India, at great altitudes, and high speed, because these are the types of operation that the pilots of the Royal Air Force enjoy. They like to be able 715 to take initiative, and the sense of achievement in completing a flight of this sort is something which has to be felt. The Royal Air Force should, whenever possible these days, give its operational pilots the chance of making the unusual types of flights and operations because there is a wealth of experience and achievement to be gained from them.
We in the House tend to look at aircraft procurement entirely in relation to defence, particularly in commitments overseas and their operational rôle. I do not think it is coupled sufficiently with the Service that flies and operates them. I accept what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has been arguing: we must keep a careful eye on the financial considerations. We must also consider the Royal Air Force far more than we do. The Royal Air Force itself must sit in silence and think very strange things about what we politicians have done for it over the years.
We have to view our purchase of aircraft with regard not only to our operational rôle but also to the aircrew and ground staff who will fly and service these aircraft. This, in turn, has a very significant effect on recruitment. This may well be more self-evident in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) has shown that there is very excellent recruiting material provided by the Royal Air Force, but it is disappointing that the latest edition has suddenly become out of date.
Let us look at the point of view of the aircrew. Why does one join the Royal Air Force? Surely, it is because one wants to fly. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), I was also in the Royal Air Force and later in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The reason that one joins the Air Force beyond the desire we all have to serve our country, is simply to fly.
I am disappointed that so few of the senior Royal Air Force officers—wingcommanders, group captains and air officers—are not able to be in constant flying practice and, far less, be up to date with instrument rating conditions.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
In fairness to the Chief of Air Staff, Sir John Grandy is in constant flying practice as senior officer.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
When I first took up this appointment—and I am sure the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) will bear me out in this—I found that about 10 years ago the decision was made that aircrew generally would not have to fly while doing desk jobs. The reason is that to put a man in a modern aeroplane, when not in constant flying practice, is, these days, extremely dangerous. When I inquired why this was no longer done, I found that the American Air Force also carries out exactly the same policy. It is not for want of trying on their part; it is that they are not allowed to do so in many cases.
§ Mr. Monro
I appreciate the Under-Secretary's view. He is trying to make my speech for me. I know that what he says is true, but I was going to argue that there should be a slight change in emphasis of policy. The policy which the Under-Secretary has pointed out is either that of the Ministry of Defence or is brought about because suitable aircraft are not available. In the last days of the Auxiliary Air Force, when we were flying Spitfires or Vampires once a month, it became slightly illogical. I shall come later to the question of the provision of suitable aircraft.
The strength of the Royal Air Force has been discussed. On Monday the Secretary of State said that there would be 1,000 aircraft in the R.A.F. in the early 1970s. That figure must include every possible aircraft—not only jets, piston-engined and training aircraft, but no doubt those in museums also. I want to look at this question in a little more detail. Hon. Members have quoted the Press and the very excellent publication Air Pictorial for details of aircraft presently available.
In round figures there are about 85 squadrons. To realise how the Air 717 Force has changed, that figure should be compared with the figure of 487 squadrons in service in 1945. Of these 85 squadrons, 45 are jet and combat squadrons and eight are maritime squadrons. Therefore, the first-line defence is fewer than 500 fighting aircraft—the V-bombers, Canberras, Lightnings, Javelins, Hunters, and the 50 Shackletons. If we phase out, as we must, the Canberras, Victors and Javelins, we shall be down to about 350, plus the Buccaneers, if they are transferred to the R.A.F.
We have listened with interest to details of the aircraft which will be brought into the Royal Air Force in the near future—the Phantoms, Harriers, Jaguars and Nimrods. I appreciate that a proportion of the new aircraft will have to be diverted to training. Then there are 200 transport aircraft—Hercules, VC10s, Belfasts and Andovers. Presumably, the Argosies will be phased out in the not too distant future, because the type originally flew in 1959 and these aircraft will be getting rather elderly in the early 1970s. I expect that, in designing the Nimrod, the Government have allowed for the fact that they could be converted to transport aircraft at relatively short notice in an emergency.
The Shackleton has had a long and good career in the Royal Air Force, bearing in mind that the prototype flew in 1949. It is now getting old. The Mark III, which was a very big improvement, came into service much later. I am glad to know that these aircraft are not to be retained for much longer. I hope that the Under-Secretary can assure us that by 1970 certainly they will all be retired from service. There are relatively few of them in each operational squadron and they fly about 200 hours a month, which imposes a big strain on servicing. The R.A.F. ground crews are to be congratulated on the way in which they have maintained these aircraft, particularly for flying in difficult weather conditions in the far north of Scotland. We have all been very sad at the crashes which have occurred in the last year, all of which occurred. for a particular reason and which certainly were not due to age or to faulty servicing.
These aircraft will be replaced by the Nimrod. Although I accept that there is no alternative to the Nimrod, I wonder 718 whether it is the best choice for maritime reconnaissance work. I know that it can get out into the far Atlantic or the very far North very quickly indeed, but I do not think that flying what can be termed a stiff aircraft like the Nimrod—as opposed to the Shackleton, which is flexible, for its wings go up and down in the air currents—at low level for long periods in bumpy conditions will be an experience that aircrew will enjoy. I doubt whether the highly complicated radar equipment will enjoy the experience either.
The other aircraft which I am glad to know will soon be phased out is the Canberra. This aircraft is 20 years old. I agree that many of the Canberras now flying are much younger than that. In my experience—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield will agree—older aircraft, however many new engines they have had, never fly quite as well as new ones. When they reach the age of about 15, it is high time that they departed for the scrap heap. One of the first aircraft I flew on operations was an old Catalina from a lake in India. It had flown 2,500 hours, which was a high number of hours for an operational aircraft during the war. It took about three and a half minutes to get off in a flat calm, whereas a new Catalina would probably get off in two and a quarter minutes. The age of the air frame made a tremendous difference.
We have aircraft now for operational squadrons and for transport squadrons. I want to ask the Under-Secretary a little more about what is in view for training units and what aircraft can be provided for the host of pilots who have joined the R.A.F. but who have little or no opportunity to fly. Most pilots who are keen on flying would think that only 20 hours a month flying was a pretty miserable ration. We should make a real effort to provide some type of light aeroplane which pilots such as these could fly on the average R.A.F. station.
I will not go to extremes. Naturally, I do not expect R.A.F. officers who are out of flying practice to fly jets, V-bombers, Lightnings, or even helicopters or Shackletons. However, I believe that it is the duty of the Ministry of Defence to make every effort to maintain the enthusiasm to fly and to provide an aircraft for this classification of R.A.F. officer 719 to use. I should have thought that out of this huge amount of money a few hundred thousand pounds or £1 million could be found for this purpose. A few more Beague 206s would be the thing. I am sure that those who have seen the Beagle Pup will recommend it highly as just the type of thing to keep officers in touch with the air, with radio procedures, and perhaps with simple transport duties. The Jet Provosts and the Gnats are too advanced for this type of use. I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider this suggestion with as much seriousness as I advance it.
Whilst talking of the Gnats, I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate the R.A.F. and its aerobatic team on the tremendous demonstrations they have given throughout Europe in recent years, which do so much to enhance the morale of the Service.
My suggestion about flying in the Royal Air Force in less rigorous conditions might do something towards retaining younger pilots in the Service, rather than letting them go to the civil airlines.
I do not want to talk about the Reserves, and I should not do so on the Motion, but in passing I should like to mention that I wish we had the much closer link between the Service and civilian life provided by the Auxiliary Air Force and the R.A.F.V.R.
This week my hon. Friends have shown in the House why Britain needs air power and the best aircraft. I have tried to show that we should balance our requirements in an effort to raise the morale of the Royal Air Force. We must never let it run down and I am sure that the House will always be prepared to provide the money if the Government's recommendations are sound and sensible. Certainly, where the Royal Air Force is concerned the Government can count on my support.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
It is not my habit to intervene in defence debates. As an amateur, I usually sit and listen to my betters in these matters, but occasionally I walk in and hear cryptic comments by Ministers and by hon. Members opposite about 720 what will happen to a particular plane. That plane is the Buccaneer.
Many people, particularly in the South of England, who should know better—but perhaps they are a little ignorant about geography—seem to think that Hull is mainly a fishing port. Some even seem to think of it as a fishing village. But if they came to Humberside they would know that we have many thousands of engineers, and that Hawker Siddeley makes at Brough a very fine plane called the Buccaneer.
The Motion has to do with cancellation of contracts. We have suffered from cancellation of the Buccaneer. In the first week of January it was announced by Hawker Siddeley that about 1,000 workers were to be made redundant, with 400 starting straightaway. There was a bit of scaremongering on the part of an hon. Member, if not some hon. Members, opposite in Yorkshire. But at present just a little over 400 are likely to be unemployed, of whom quite a number are women in the offices. We hope that that other fine new plane, the Harrier, will give us work, although it may unfortunately mean that Portsmouth will lose some. But that is one of those things that happen in the aircraft industry. I had the pleasure of seeing the Harrier in action a short while ago with some of my colleagues on the Aviation Committee.
Hawker Siddeley has done very well with Buccaneer contracts in the past, including the arms deal with South Africa which we cut back after coming to office. The 1967 Report of the Public Accounts Committee, which is the financial watchdog of the House, indicated that excessive profits were made on those contracts. The Times said:It now looks as though the sum involved in the Government's over-estimating of costs on the Buccaneer aircraft contracts awarded to Hawker Siddeley is at least £12,500,000.We make fine planes at the Hawker Siddeley plant—the old Blackburn works—and much money has been made in the past. While we hope that we shall make more Buccaneers in the future, that will be done, perhaps, with not quite the 17½ per cent. or more profit that there has been formerly.
On the question of Buccaneers for South Africa, let there be no doubt that South Africa would have used them not 721 only for the usual purposes of defence but also—and I say this quite clearly—in case of any internal disaffection. I know that South Africa has many Harvards which I am told it could and would use, as our Government used them in Kenya 10 or more years ago in the Mau Mau emergency. Perhaps South Africa as 600 for this purpose.
Although my colleagues and I are against selling Buccaneers to South Africa, I hope that in the light of comments in the debate on Monday and today we may see the Mark 2 made in larger numbers. As the Minister said, it would be of distinct value to our defence in the future. On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment said:As for our existing aircraft, I think that it is worth mentioning that we are planning how to improve the Buccaneer 2s which the Royal Air Force will inherit from the Navy so that it has a useful naval-attack and reconnaissance capability for use against land targets. We also hope to place an order shortly for the improved basic trainer, the Jet Provost 5.When he follows an important statement about the Buccaneer by sayingWe also hope to place an order shortlyI assume that perhaps in the sentence before he was thinking of placing a first order. We shall see. Later he said:I know there is concern about the F111 cancellation but we shall have to await the outcome of the present Warton studies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 167.]I do not know what these Warton studies will be, but I hope that they will come down in favour of what I believe to be a magnificent plane, the Buccaneer 2. I had the good fortune to go with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Minister of Aviation, to the plant where the Buccaneer is made, and I have been over it since then more than once. I have talked to shop stewards who are my constituents and to the design team. When I speak to shop stewards in the A.E.U. who belong to Hull, competent and highly-skilled workmen, I am left in no doubt that it is a fine plane. There is an excellent management under Captain Duncan Lewin, and first-class workmen are engaged on production. They are hard-headed and competent constituents of mine—they are bound to be 722 hard-headed and competent if they are my constituents.
They asked "Why should we worry unduly about cancellation of the F111?" Speaking as a layman, I can only give the gist of what I am told. I understand that the F111 concept originated in the requirement for a TFX—tactical fighter X. I am told that that is the justification for its variable sweepback; it was required to do long patrols for which endurance was vital. For that purpose the swing wing spreads to its maximum span. It is brought back to a "paper dart" shape when there is a need for full speed in interception. I understand that the swing wing seems fully justified for that type of operation. But it also offers other things.
The fully-spread wing offers the advantage of development of high lift for take-off. This must have been one of the attractive features of the plane when comparing it with other aircraft. On the face of it, the fully-spread wing enables a heavy load of fuel and bombs to be taken off, after which the wing swings back.
But I also understand that the performance of the F111 is somewhat disappointing. This may be because the F111 was designed and built in something of a hurry. It may be that the extra weight and bulk of the swing wing outweigh the aerodynamic advantages. Without too much detail, I have here some figures about the F111. It weighs 80,000 lb. and has to go up to 100,000 lb. for long-range missions. As a result, I am told, the promised gain in the plane's performance has been eaten away and it is now virtually no more than a big aircraft of conventional efficiency with two by-pass engines of identical design to that of the Spey.
I heard my right hon. Friend say today that there would be a further development of the Buccaneer, and I hope so. I understand that it is a similar aircraft to the F111, with similar overall efficiency. It does not carry the same penalties in volume and bulk of the swing wing. There is almost the same performance as the F111 offers on long-range trials.
We have been told the performance of the F111—dimensions, fuel capacity, etc.—but it is important at this stage to 723 distinguish between the limited fuel load which could be lifted from an aircraft carrier and the potential fuel load which simple development could provide. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell me what are these simple developments which possibly the Government have in mind to make the Buccaneer a better plane which will live up to these statements on its behalf. We believe that it is such a plane.
The F111 has a strike radius with a 2,000 1b. load of about 1,550 nautical miles. The Buccaneer, developed, as we hope, as the Mark II, has a range of 1,450 nautical miles with a 2,000 lb. load. The F111 carries a 20,000 lb. full bomb load for 500 nautical miles and I understand that the Buccaneer can carry 16,000 lbs. for 400 nautical miles.
Where the Buccaneer comes out better is in what is termed the low-level dash of about 100 nautical miles or more. The supersonic nature of the F 111 makes it almost useless for this because it burns up so much fuel on a low-level dash. Indeed, I am told that its internal fuel load of 32,000 lbs. could be used up in a little over 200 miles of top speed at low level. So we claim that the Buccaneer is certainly superior in this respect.
The two Front Benches disputed earlier about the sophisticated equipment which would have been built up in the TSR2 and which hon. Members opposite claim has been wasted. I understand that this is not so. This equipment can be and is being used in our later aircraft and that it is being and will be carried in this advanced type of the Buccaneer, which can carry all the known equipment we have so far and whose large weapon bay is an obvious advantage.
The Buccaneer would be invaluable in any use made of it in the European theatre, whoever may be the potential opponent. I submit that this plane has an excellent case, both technical and military, as well as on other grounds, for development. But I also speak unashamedly from a constituency point of view. On Humberside we have a claim because of rising unemployment; and on behalf of the men who make the Buccaneer, and who could make its development, I make an open plea that we should continue to make this aircraft in larger 724 numbers at the old Blackburn works, west of Hull.
It is important on the Humber to maintain employment for skilled and qualified men engineers. We are generally an area of low-paid workers. By and large, we have unskilled workers on low wages and with a comparatively low standard of living. It is important not only to keep industries of this nature, therefore, but to expand them for the good of Hull and of Humberside as a whole.
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Gentleman is worried about employment prospects in his constituency. Why, therefore, did he vote against the possibility of selling more Buccaneers to South Africa?
§ Mr. Johnson
Because I happen to possess some moral qualities which have been consistent and constant throughout my political life, and I will not vote to sell any kind of aircraft, whether made on the Humber, the Mersey or any other estuary, by any firm anywhere, which would be used in any possible conflict with coloured peoples in the Commonwealth or elsewhere. That is why I voted as I did.
Of course, I am here to fight to get jobs and employment for my people, and I say again that we have fine engineers on Humberside and can make a fine plane. The Buccaneer is a good plane and I think that my right hon. Friend may share that view. If it can be built in larger numbers and can be shown to be of value to the defence of my country, that is the case I make.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) for a reason which will emerge, as he probably realises. But first I would say what a very good case he put on behalf of his constituency for a developed version of the Buccaneer and how interested I was in his comparison of its performance with that of the F111.
This matter was the subject of a little discussion between the hon. Gentleman and myself two years ago, during the Kingston upon Hull, North by-election, when I warned the people of Hull that it was not likely that the Government would order the Buccaneer as a replacement for the Canberra. I was followed 725 that same day by the present Home Secretary, who held up a copy of the Hull Daily Mail which had a story headed, "Royal Air Force unlikely to get the Buccaneer". He poured scorn on my speech, which was there reported, and said that there would be work ahead for at least four years at Brough, taking the works up to 1970.
I rather think that the hon. Gentleman also made some remarks about my speech during that by-election, although I have not got the cutting to hand. The hon. Gentleman has had to plead in the House, two years later, for work for his constituents. Two years ago, responsible Ministers, including the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, made the same speech for electoral reasons in Hull saying that there was four years' work for the people at Brough. Now they are unmasked, and although the hon. Gentleman has put up an extremely good case on behalf of his constituents, I must blame him partly for what has happened, because of the unjustified faith which he placed in the promises of Ministers. There was never a chance that the Buccaneer would be ordered as a replacement for the Canberra.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that someone in Hull said, at that time, that the Buccaneer was to be ordered as a Canberra replacement?
§ Mr. Lubbock
The proposition had been advanced in some quarters. There were three alternatives—I do not say that they were all taken seriously—the F111, the developed version of the Mirage and the Buccaneer. All that I said when I went to the Hull by-election was that it was highly unlikely, to put it at its most modest, that the R.A.F. would get a developed version of the Buccaneer, and therefore it was time for the Government to make contingency plans and decide what alternative work would be made available to the workers in Brough when employment ran down on the Buccaneer.
This was the speech for which the present Home Secretary criticised me so violently, accusing me of making election capital out of this Buccaneer programme. All I was trying to do was to persuade the Government to adopt some sensible plan for creating employment for the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Now he pleads 726 in the House two years later. Why did he not join with me on that occasion in pleading with the Government to make some long-term contingency plans—when it might have done some good—to anticipate the difficulties, so that these workers would not be dismissed, as they will be during the coming year?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the traditional form of address.
§ Mr. Johnson
The hon. Member for Orpington would perhaps allow me to say that he is not correct in saying that any of us, including the Home Secretary and myself, said that this was the replacement for the Canberra. This is not a factual statement. I will accept what the hon. Gentleman said earlier about the cancellation. We on this side maintain that the employment of these people is an internal matter for Hawker Siddeley, whether or not a plane is made at a particular time. It is up to the internal resources of the firm to plan work for these 417 people, and I am glad to say that it is doing this.
§ Mr. Lubbock
What the right hon. Gentleman said, leaving aside the question of how one was to use the version of the Buccaneer, was that there was four years' work at Brough, taking us up to 1970. I quite rightly pointed out to the people of Hull at that time that there was nothing like four years' work available on the Buccaneer programme, unless it was to be sold to South Africa, and I absolutely agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said on this score.
Unless he was envisaging an order from South Africa, where was the work to come from during these four years? I do not want to go into this at any great length. It was only because I happened to follow the hon. Gentleman and remembered this controversy so vividly that I raised it. It came to my memory recently when I saw this threat of redundancy in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
I ought now to turn my attention to the Motion on the Order Paper. I am very pleased that at last we know what the Tory defence policy is—at least I hope we do. At last we have this version, 727 and we are not to have the policy of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) which has sometimes been put forward from the Opposition Front Bench. It is very confusing, when they keep altering their policy every five minutes. I would much sooner that they stuck to this one, as it is a distinct and clearly recognisable Tory policy. For that reason I violently disagree with it, because it will be colossally expensive, and I hope that this will be clearly explained to the electorate.
I can assure hon. Gentlemen that I will make sure that my constituents know of the bill that they will have to foot if the Tory Party ever get into office again. What have they said? The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr Ewing) said that the F111 cancellation was harmful because we had no early warning reconnaissance capability. Does that mean that if and when the Tories are ever returned to office they will reinstate the order for the F111 at a cost of £450 million, plus whatever escalation in price will have taken place between now and then? They would not negotiate this contract at the favourable rate of fixed prices which the present Government obtained as part of the offset agreement. They would be paying something like £700 million to £750 million for the F111.
I have always been violently opposed to the order, ever since it was first mooted. I do not often quote myself but I wish to do so now, from my speech of 13th April, 1965, during the debate on the cancellation of the TSR2. I said:…the decision to cancel the TSR2 was acceptable only on the assumption that we would not replace it by an American aircraft. We shall certainly resist any proposal to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 1253.]I was speaking officially on behalf of the Liberal Party on that occasion. I reiterated our opposition to the F111 on 13th December, 1965; 1st February 1966; 21st November, 1966; 14th March, 1967; 1st May, 1967; 7th November, 1967.
All along we have been warning the Government that this aircraft was a highly undesirable addition to the capability of the Royal Air Force. We were never convinced that it was essential to defence requirements in Europe. I was always certain that the reason why hon.
728 Gentlemen opposite were insisting on buying the F 111 was because of their misguided and foolish policy east of Suez. If we had been confined, as we suggested, to a purely European rôle and we reaffirmed our policy on this during the course of the defence debates, no question would have arisen in the first place of ordering the F111.
It was not until we got around to looking at our strategic and political posture in the world and came to the conclusion that we could no longer play this world military policeman rôle and withdrew from the Far and Middle East that we decided that the F111 could be cancelled. What has been the consequence of delay in arriving at this decision? The Government, and through them, the British taxpayer, will be faced with a very large bill, estimated at £70 million.
We want to know from the Minister who winds up—I do not know whether we shall, because the Government are chary about giving figures of this nature—what has been the cost to the British taxpayer of the Government's foolish policy in pursuing the F111 order until the very last moment, thus being faced with these enormous cancellation charges. We would like to know from the Opposition whether it is true, as I inferred from their opening speech, that if they were returned they would reinstate the the order, at a vastly greater cost.
§ Mr. Lubbock.
Certainly. This has been dealt with in the defence debate, when we said that, as far as we could see, in a European rôle the Phantom aircraft was perfectly capable of carrying out the tactical strike and reconnaissance rôles allocated to the F111. One of the Defence Ministers in a previous debate poured ridicule on me when I suggested that many of the reconnaissance functions of manned aircraft had now been taken over by satellites.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I constantly listen to advice from professionals, and so on, about this and I remember the hon. Gentleman saying this. Is he seriously saying that a tactical reconnaissance rôle, bearing in mind that it often has to be 729 performed when cloud is about, can be performed by satellites?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I said many reconnaissance functions. I did not itemise them. If the hon. Gentleman reads the American scientific magazines—one never gets this information in British journals or from hon. Gentlemen in the House; defence information is practically impossible to get—he will see that the resolution of photographs taken from satellites is constantly being improved, and the use of infra-red photography is enabling the detection of military equipment to be made from satellites in very poor weather conditions. The hon. Gentleman has tried to distort what I said. I do not say that every reconnaissance function could be discharged by means of a satellite but the technological capability of satellites in reconnaissance is being constantly improved.
I wish hon. Gentleman sitting on the Government Front Bench would not misquote me all the time. The hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for Administration yesterday, in his winding up speech, without giving me any warning at all, referred to something I was alleged to have said in 1965 which I never said at all—something about the Territorial Army. The hon. Gentleman, before he makes these allegations in the Chamber, should have the courtesy to inform hon. Members that he is going to do it and, secondly, he should look up the reference to avoid making these mistakes.
§ The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)
I have just cleared with Mr. Speaker a statement I was going to make at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning. Since I have been attacked on the point, might I say that I did, in fact, allege that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) made a certain statement in the House, and I realised later that the statement was made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). It was a slip of the tongue and I apologise to 'the hon. Member for Orpington for any embarrassment he may have suffered as a result of my mistake.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
This interruption was made during a speech I was making last night, 730 when the hon. Gentleman referred to this alleged remark by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). This he says now was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) in December, 1965. We looked carefully through all the indexes of HANSARD for December, 1965 and no such remark was made. I would like the precise reference.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. The remark he was referring to, made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), was on the occasion of the preliminary statement in July, 1965, when my hon. and learned Friend said that we welcomed the reorganisation of the Territorial Reserve forces, but he never said anything about their abolition. It was wrong for the hon. Gentleman to give that impression last night, but I shall be out of order if I pursue this topic any further.
I want to come back to the Tory Motion and the speech made by the hon. Member for Hendon, North. I have already mentioned the expense that would be laid on the British taxpayer if his policies regarding the Fill were pursued, if we reinstated the order which is now being cancelled, or if any future Government decided to develop separately for the Royal Air Force alone, without entering into co-operative arrangements with some foreign Governments, an aircraft for this purpose. The Government were right in going to the French Government to see whether we could get some co-operative agreement to develop the AFVG, but because of the French Government's financial difficulties we were not able to pursue this. I still hope it will be possible to come to some agreement with perhaps the Germans and other European nations to go ahead with variable geometry aircraft. I would like to know what is happening to the contract at Warton.
When I put a question to one of the Defence Ministers some months ago he said the study was coming to an end and we had not come to any agreement with our allies but in the meantime a holding contract would be awarded. We want to know the position of the design team and whether they are to be kept in existence pending some agreement with 731 the Germans or other potential collaborators and how we are getting on with negotiations.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North also spoke about maritime reconnaissance. As a maritime nation we want to make sure that this job is done properly. He asked whether 38 Nimrods would be enough to carry out all the functions we have in mind. If we are withdrawing from the Far East and the Middle East this will be entirely a home defence function and we will be having Nimrods based in the United Kingdom, or not further away than the Mediterranean theatre. Therefore, I would have thought that 38 was quite a reasonable number and would be fully capable of discharging the task we are intending to lay on it.
The hon. Gentleman said further that 60 Harriers was too small a force, but all the time he is adding to the bill. In the end we are going to be faced not with a £2,000 million defence estimate but with something like £3,000 million. I understand at the same time that it is the policy of the Conservative Opposition to reduce taxation. I would like them at some time—probably this is not the occasion, but it ought to be done so that the country can see where they stand—to try to reconcile the two demands they constantly make. On the one hand, they speak of reductions in taxation—an admirable sentiment of which I entirely approve although I cannot see that happening this year. I think this should be a long-term aim. In my opinion taxtion in this country is too high, but I do not see how it can be reduced if at the same time one demands more of everything and a very sophisticated aircraft such as the F111 or an equivalent for tactical striking reconnaissance. The Conservative opposition want more maritime reconnaissance aircraft and more vertical take-off and landing aircraft, such as Harriers, they want to retain aircraft carriers almost indefinitely, and in addition have a large number of aircraft such as Phantoms based on them. I want to know whether they have made any effort to tot up the bill to find out the total, and whether they would care to express it in terms of the standard rate of Income Tax so that everyone could know what the Tories want.
732 They know this Motion criticises the Government for the fact that it has made Great Britain deeply dependent on others. I would remind the Tories that it was their Government who originally ordered the Skybolt, that fiasco which has been mentioned already. In regard to the Polaris submarines we are heavily dependent on the United States. As I understand it, the Americans are going to phase out the Polaris missiles and replace them with a more sophisticated version. We therefore have to consider how we can keep our Polaris force in operation if we are not able to get spare parts and servicing equipment from the United States.
As already mentioned in the debate, it was the Conservative Government who placed the order for the naval version of the Phantom. They were quite right to do this, and it is surely inconsistent now to say we should not get tied up with the untrustworthy foreigners who might withdraw. That is the impression given by the Motion in speaking about the nation becoming deeply dependent on others. This is part of the dependence on others. We have bought these versions of the Phantom and the naval version which in my opinion will be a very good plane. I am pleased to say that it is coming on very well, although I know that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) does not agree with me. I have learned from the experts with whom I have discussed the matter that the Speyengined Phantom will be an absolutely first-class aircraft with a much better performance than the American-engined version. As I said in an intervention in the speech of the Minister of Defence for Equipment, there are very good prospects for selling this aircraft overseas when the time comes.
I know that there has been a short delay in introducing the Phantom into service and that it has cost us rather more money than we had hoped in fitting the Spey engine, but there is always some escalation of costs. I do not know any military programme in the last 20 years in which there has not been an escalation in costs.
§ Mr. Lubbock
In the United States as well. One has only to consider the experience with the FB111 to realise that the introduction into service of the Phantom has been relatively smooth and it will be only about three months late.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The hon. Gentleman says airily that there are always escalations in costs. But the escalation here is of the order of 70 per cent., and 70 per cent. is quite some escalation in cost. The unit cost has risen from £1½ million to £2½ million, basically because of research and development involved in the adaptation of a British engine to an American airframe. Would the hon. Gentleman deny that?
§ Mr. Lubbock
The Minister will be capable of dealing with that later. If we com pare the cost effectiveness of the Spey-engined Phantom with that of the American-engined equivalent, we find that we have made a very good buy.
I was talking about our being deeply dependent on others. I agree with the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) who said, although not in this debate, that it was desirable to co-operate with our European allies on sophisticated projects. Therefore, I entirely approve the Jaguar, the Anglo-French helicopter programme and the Phantom. This is how we must proceed in the next few years. It is impossible for Great Britain to undertake all missions without taking account of the needs of foreign air forces and the numbers we might require in our Services.
It is not fair to point to Sweden and say that because that country has more front-line military aircraft than we have we should do everything on our own. The Swedish aircraft programme is far more limited. Sweden does not have any maritime reconnaissance aircraft. It does not believe it necessary to have v.t.o.l. or s.t.o.l. aircraft such as those we have coming into service. As far as I can see, the Swedish Air Force is confined to an interceptor capability and, because it is able to order quite a large number of a single type of aircraft, it makes it look as though Sweden has done well. But if it had the same defence rôles as Great Britain it would have to depend to some extent on co-operation with others.
I do not think that even the Conservatives genuinely think that it was worth 734 tabling the Motion. Judging by the number of them who have been in the Chamber in the last couple of hours, they do not seem to have much enthusiasm for it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] The hon. Gentleman says "Nonsense", but if he wants chapter and verse I can give it to him. At 5.10 there were six Members present, apart from those on the Front Bench. At 5.25, there were six Members present—
§ Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)
That was because at that time the House was listening to a speech by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) which we have heard three times before in these defence debates.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I should point out that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) was reporting to our party on his recent visit to South Africa and Rhodesia. Therefore, the Liberal Party will understand why many people wanted to attend that meeting and hear his report, in view of recent events in that part of the world.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It must have been a very fascinating meeting. Unless the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire is still speaking—and I gather that he is not—
§ Mr. Lubbock
—there are four Tory Members in the House at the moment. The end of the speech by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire elsewhere has not caused a flood of Tories to appear in the Chamber. I do not wish to make a lot of this, but one might have expected that if the Tory Party felt so strongly about the Motion, as the hon. Member for Hendon, North might have led one to think, one would imagine that a few more of them would have turned up for the debate, not only to listen to him, but later in the afternoon to participate in the debate. I excuse hon. Members from attending the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). The fact that it has been so difficult for the Conservatives to keep this debate going, as has been evident to me, indicates that the Motion is just a charade.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Perhaps I had better point out that at 5.30 on Thursdays there is the regular weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. These, too, are fascinating occasions. Therefore, any accusation that the Labour benches are unduly empty is perhaps misplaced.
I realise what a gulf separates me from hon. Members opposite—not only from the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), but from the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) when he talks about a Mediterranean commitment. Very kindly, the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who made an important speech, offered to stay. I said that he should do no such thing, because it is an imposition for an hon. Member to have to stay for a speech, when a Member may or may not catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I warned him that I would take him up on some of his basic assumptions.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield argued that by removing British power, and particularly air power, from Aden, we invite the Soviets to walk in. If we assume that the Soviets will walk in in our absence it may be legitimate to argue that we would need a great deal of air power there. But who thinks that the Soviets would have any easier time in Aden than we have had? Surely it is certain that if there were to be a Soviet occupation of Southern Arabia, they would meet the same sort of unpleasant and formidable resistance as we have met. I should have thought that that was the guarantee against the argument of the hon. Member for Macclesfield of a Soviet take-over.
The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about what we should do in the face of the Chinese threat in the Far East. Yes, I am a Little Englander, or Little Briton. I believe that we have no business to meddle in the Far East and that our presence there at this time is counterproductive. The same goes for West Africa. In the long term, although not perhaps in the short term, the same resources would be much better devoted to helping the Cocoa Marketing Board to get a proper price for its product than embarking on some fruitless and counterproductive military adventure.
736 That is not to say that people like me who are Little Britons are sneering in any way at our history. It is possible to argue that Britain's history is extremely honourable in many ways. But people like me adopt a very simple attitude on which our philosophy is based. Either our country is a great imperial power holding sway in India, Pakistan, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong and throughout the vast part of Africa and we do empire properly, or we do nothing at all. In our present kind of situation, we get the worst of all possible worlds.
I would wish that we put the 19th century behind us as part of history. It is not a subject which we want to debate today. But there are many people in this country, particularly among the younger generation, who say, "We are really Little Britons". I should like to see us overcome a degree of self-importance which we do not have, because it is this idea of self-importance that has led us into so many ludicrous commitments.
For example, there was a discussion between the Front Benches on the AngloMalay treaty. The actual details of the commitment are not important in this debate, but what I believe is important is the reason why the Malays are angry with us—which is not because we have withdrawn troops from Malaysia. I do not know what Sir Norman Walker has told the Government, but my Malay friends say that the reason they are angry is that if the undertakings had not been given they themselves would not have entered into commitments such as those they made to Eastern Malaysia. Therefore, I believe that not only are these commitments that we make costly, difficult and counter-productive; they are positively dangerous to our allies in that inevitably they lead those allies into false positions.
If one thinks all this, and more, it alters drastically one's attitude to the question: what kind of planes should we have in this country? There is one vital point I wish to make. I am not for opting out of the common financial burden of the West. I am not one of those who believe that America should pay for Britain's defence and that Britain should do nothing in return. We should bear a part of the common burden of 737 the West, particularly in relation to developing countries; and if the British defence budget is cut in the style I would wish to see, the corollary is that we could spend a great deal more money in helping the developing countries. So it is not just a question of sheltering under some kind of American umbrella.
I would say one thing to the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who made a plea for a hospital in Macclesfield. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench wants new schemes, hospitals and training colleges in Bishop Auckland. I know I want them in West Lothian, and I have no doubt they are needed in Orpington and elsewhere. But we cannot do both, though it is silly to believe that overnight we can wave a magic wand and beat swords into ploughshares. Nevertheless, there is a central economic issue. As long as we go on with the kind of demands made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) we will not be able to do the kind of things, at home and abroad, that many of us are agreed should be done as a matter of urgency. We really do have to come to a long-term choice.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield made a serious point when he spoke about research and how exciting jobs were being provided. But has not research also changed?—because one of the most interesting developments is the part that Britain has played in the development of the C5A, the world's largest transport. As the hon. Member for Orpington knows, many of the designs for that were made in London and transmitted day by day, early in the morning to the Lockheed computer at Marietta, Georgia; so the hon. Gentleman should not assume that simply because research is highly expensive, therefore, it necessarily goes to the United States of America.
I believe there is scope for using British skill not only in competition with the U.S.A. but in conjunction with it. That is the kind of thing we ought to develop. like everybody else in this debate, I am concerned about the B.A.C. design team at Warton. The question I ask is whether simply in order to keep a highly competent group at B.A.C. we should embark on all kinds of expenditure on which we otherwise would not embark. This is a matter of value judgment. As many Members here will know, demands for 738 other kinds of research are such that there is really a central issue: whether one should devote quite so much to design teams, however distinguished in the aircraft industry, in relation to other research which might be done.
I would like to follow the hon. Member for Orpington, because I am not a pacifist. I believe there have to be forces in this country. I am a "fortress Britain" man, and a "fortress Britain" man has to be clear how he is going to arm the R.A.F. I believe there are various ways of doing this in the form of either buying a small number of aircraft from the United States of America—because only a token force is wanted—or, impious thought, making some agreement with the French to buy the Mirage, the interceptor aircraft, or to buy a Swedish plane. There are such things as package deals, and if we go a step further than Concorde or develop some other project we can gain on the swings what we have lost on the roundabouts. But the idea that this country should settle down with the Germans and other European Powers to build a swing-wing aircraft, after all our experience of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft seems highly doubtful.
I am also doubtful as to the extent to which, in such a complex operation, one can go ahead with more than three or four partners involved; and if we do not have more than three or four we create tremendous market problems. If it is decided to accept this philosophy and we are all to go ahead with this type of operation we should be clearer about markets at an early stage. Let us get the markets right before we embark on any kind of commitment; because unless the market is right we shall run into the kind of financial trouble with which we are all too familiar.
Turning now to the words used in the Motion—precipitate actions and vacillating policiesI do not blame the Ministers on this kind of issue. Nor can I bring myself to scorn the Opposition. Frankly, the exchanges which took place between the Front Benches did Parliament no good in the eyes of serious people, and technically they were a little naïve on both sides. Perhaps these things should be discussed more objectively; but while in many ways I have sympathy with the Government on this, I must say in public that 739 I now regret many of the speeches I myself made, very eloquently, about Thunderbird, Seaslug, Skybolt, Firestreak, Bluestreak, and the rest, because I believe one learns that these problems are extremely complex, and not easy.
That should be said. But after the cross-talk between the Front Benches there is another question which hon. Gentlemen are entitled to ask themselves: how good is the advice that successive Defences Ministries have had from their official advisers? I am not one to get up in the House of Commons and attack civil servants either by name or particular Ministries, but as Select Committees go into these matters perhaps one gets more and more concerned at the advice processes by which successive governments have landed themselves in a series of cancellations.
Another truth may come home. Can a country of our size such as ours afford mistakes of this kind? It may be said that such mistakes are almost inevitable in view of the rate of technological advance and innovation in almost every country, but that reinforces my argument, that such weapons are not to be made by economies such as ours.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member says, and I agree with it to a great extent. Does he agree that the fact with which we have to contend is that true advice about technical problems leading to advanced projects is difficult to obtain without the commercial yardstick which, by definition, is denied to one in this sort of subject? The problem is that the truth is difficult to obtain.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am impressed by arguments for commercial discipline in these matters, but in great sectors of life that is impossible and the Government have to do their best. I would not care to dispute the point, which is becoming more self-evident, and if one talks to the Russians about this, they, too, have considerable costing problems, which they would not have admitted five years ago. Yes, advanced projects are very difficult.
Part of this issue is the question of research costs. I do not want to develop in too much detail the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Orpington. It is, however, striking that when, at 740 Farnborough—this has been published and, therefore, I may say it—we asked the Director why, after the cancellation of the P1154, the HS681 and the TSR2, there was no pro rata cut in research, a long explanation was given. It is incredible that even though one cuts back, rightly or wrongly, on major projects, one is told that basically the research costs continue at the same level for another five years or more. Therefore, there has to be the closest scrutiny of this kind of issue.
That is why I welcome the Government's initiative in setting up a Select Committee—and how often in defence debates we have asked for this—to probe the details of how the mechanism works. When our results are published, it will be up to the House of Commons to see that at least an explanation is given, if not considerable action taken, radically to change the mechanism whereby these things operate.
I would like to refer to the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary knows that I argued about this at great length in February, March and April last year. Surely, the lesson to be learnt is that before one enters any kind of cooperative system with another European Power, or any other Power, one informs oneself about the market possibilities. It was clear from the middle of February, 1967, that when Marcel Dassault was going ahead with his Mirage 3G, it was extremely unlikely that the French aircraft industry would be prepared to cooperate. I am glad that the project was brought to an end in time without going to a great deal more money.
I accept in general the point made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment that we must get the right aircraft, with the right performance, at the right price and at the right time. That is very difficult to do. That is why I go back to the sort of proposition, of which I am in favour, of tailoring our aircraft commitments to our strategic needs; and in my view, since our strategic needs are very modest indeed, we should buy off the shelf.
One then disposes, on the basis of the assumptions which I have outlined, of the need for a long-term military aircraft programme. However, people like myself 741 are in difficulty because we want Concorde. The issue is whether we can go ahead with Concorde and, at the same time, have virtually no indigenous military programme.
That brings us to one of the major problems which any Government must face at the present time: how to give the same urgency to civil research as has been given to military research sponsored by the Government. I would like to hear from one of the Defence Ministers in the not-too-distant future what is the Government's overall strategy for providing a way in which we can get the proper rate of technological innovation without resorting to large-scale military expenditure. This is one of the central problems of any modern Government in a technical society.
I hope that some senior Government Ministers will devote themselves to this difficult problem and explain their overall strategy. I happen to think that the Government—at least, individual members of it—have given a good deal of thought to this. I praise my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology. I am sure that he is conscious of it. Next time that an opportunity presents itself in the House, I hope that either he or the Secretary of State for Defence will give attention to this problem. In a sense, it is also the problem of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson).
Urgent also is the question of the F104 replacement. I do not think that any aircraft can have the right automatically to reincarnation. When I am asked about the F104 replacement, is it not a legitimate reply, before any deterrent aspects are considered, to say that we have Polaris in the rôle of the V Bombers? I am one who has defended Polaris—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) takes a different view—in Tribune, now that we have got it. If we keep Polaris, what is the point of embarking on an aircraft programme other than a short-range interceptor programme or buying interceptors? That is a fair point.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Polaris programme was introduced, we were told and we thought that expenditure on the Air Force would fall because we had Polaris? 742 Now, we have expenditure on both systems.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have sympathy with my hon. Friend. I have always understood that Polaris was the successor to the V-bomber.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not see why one has to add another requirement on top of the successor to the V-bomber.
I should like to raise the question, of which I have given notice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, of the Phantom. It is quite true, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment said, that the Phantom is many hundreds of times more expensive than the Spitfire. My right hon. Friend spoke in terms of a vertical rise in cost.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
May I point out one small thing to the hon. Member? In these recent debates he has been fortunate enough to address the House for nearly two hours all told, and many other hon. Members have not been as fortunate. In the light of these circumstances, perhaps the hon. Member would consider addressing a letter to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is not present, on a point which is of interest to the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member between them.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have more to say, but that is a fair point. If there are hon. Members who have sat throughout the evening, the hon. Member was quite right to make it. I shall stop dead, therefore, though on previous occasions I was keeping no Member out. To squeeze the point, therefore, I am a bit concerned about the whole problem of the re-adaptation of engines. I gave my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary notice that I would raise with him the specific question of the costs of adapting the Rolls-Royce Spey engine to the Phantom. The general problem which arises is whether, even to save dollars across the exchanges, it is worth while going through all the research and development to fit engines into American aircraft for which they were never intended.
Having put that question, I take the point made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and, as other hon. 743 Members are waiting to speak, I will sit down.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for so kindly accepting the point which I put to him. He will have done much to restore the confidence of the House in the way in which we conduct our proceedings by so readily acceding to it. Not all of his hon. Friends would have done so.
Perhaps this has not been the best attended of debates, and we have heard good reasons why it has not been, since we understand that important matters are being debated elsewhere. It is unfortunate that this should be so, although it was rather ungallant of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), having persuaded one or two of his hon. Friends to stay and listen to him, to complain that other hon. Members were not similarly inclined to stay.
§ Mr. Onslow
I do not consider it necessary to give way to an hon. Member every time I refer to him.
One of the other reasons why this debate has been less than satisfactory is that the facts of the Motion scarcely need debating. I do not see the Minister of Defence for Equipment in the Chamber now, but, when he opened the debate on behalf of the Government, he suffered from a singular misfortune in that he appeared to have brought with him the wrong set of notes. Instead of a set intended for a serious debate in the House where hon. Members who know something about the subject could be expected to attend and question him, he appeared to have a set intended for a by-election meeting in the South Kensington constituency, where he might have had two or three supporters at most, none of whom would have understood what he was saying. That got us off to a bad start.
Since then, matters have improved a little. I am certain that the House is interested in the Motion and that there are still important matters to be said 744 about it, particularly on its two main aspects, which are the future of the Royal Air Force and its present condition, and the present condition and future of the industry.
I was fortunate enough to speak briefly in last year's debate on this subject. I ended by saying to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force:However proud the Under-Secretary may be of the new Air Force he claims to be building he must understand that the R.A.F. will serve the nation best only when it knows what it is expected to do. That, so far, it does not know, and nor does the House of Cornmons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 393.]Since then, that comment on the situation has not been invalidated. There have been changes. The F111 has gone. The AFVG has gone. The hon. Member for West Lothian would no doubt claim credit, justifiably, for the fact that Aldabra has gone. All those matters figured largely in that debate.
It is ironical to reflect that we now have a situation where the Government say that the morale and state of the R.A.F. are better than ever, when one of the main pieces of equipment that it was to have has been snatched away from it. For the value of this equipment to the R.A.F., I can quote no better testimony than the Minister's own words. Speaking about the F111, he said:It will form a vital element in our strike/reconnaisance force and can go wherever it is needed from its base in the United Kingdom … The reconnaissance rôle is vital if it is thought politically that an outbreak of war—not necessarily global, but possibly limited—is imminent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 246.]Today, we have a situation where, in the European sector, we have a need for the capability which the F111 was intended to meet even in conditions not necessarily of global but of limited war. The R.A.F. has been deprived of that capability.
One is bound to ask oneself why the R.A.F. ever wanted it. The Secretary of State for Defence was pretty firm about wanting it, saying that he would cancel TSR2 but that it must be replaced. He told us a number of matters about it which have a strange ring today, perhaps all the more so in the light of his remarks at the end of the debate on 5th March of this year, when he told us about 745 the capacity which existed for low-flying aircraft to penetrate hostile radar screens, a capacity which the TSR2 and the Fill would both have been able to meet, the TSR2 probably better, and which he appeared to cast into the discard pile as being something for which we never needed the Fill. He said:It was never our intention to develop the F111 in this particular rôle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 356.]It is remarkable to have contemplated having a most advanced aircraft with no intention of using it for a task for which it would have been most suitable.
All that we are left with to block the gap is the statement on page 32 of this year's Defence White Paper which says:The effect of this decision on the future equipment of the Royal Air Force is now being studied.I should think so. It calls in question the whole purpose of having a Royal Air Force at all. I suppose that we should be grateful that the Government are sensible enough to see at least they have a problem which deserves some study.
Taking another point from the Defence White Paper, we are told in the preamble on page 2:The order for 50 F111 aircraft has been cancelled and the Royal Air Force transport force will be cut.I find the second part of that statement rather puzzling, and I have not been able to find much elucidation of it in the remainder of the White Paper. Indeed, I have fold contradictions of it. In paragraph 5 on page 10, we find the words:The strategic and tactical transport aircraft of Air Support Command will retain, with an increased capacity, their ability to maintain and reinforce units overseas.On page 51, we are told something which I am very glad to see:More stores, particularly high-cost items will be moved by air where it is possible to meet urgent requirements overseas rapidly and economically.Obviously, that is sensible. But what does the preamble mean in this context when it says:… the Royal Air Force transport force will be cut"?Are there cuts to come which have not yet been revealed to the House? If the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army would be good enough to take note of this point, perhaps it will be possible for the hon. Gentleman who is to 746 reply and who is more experienced in these matters to deal with it.
One other point which I find puzzling in the Defence White Paper concerns tanker aircraft. In paragraph 47 on page 33, we are told:The equipment of the tanker force with the three-point Victor tanker has been completed.I think that that was so last year, and I wondered if the words which now appear do not conceal a somewhat dangerous situation. We have had a fairly major reappraisal of the functions of the R.A.F., and it seems possible that this will have involved a requirement for additional tanker capacity, but there does not seem to be any indication that this has been re-examined and, for instance, referred to D.O.A.E. so that they can do a run-through of it to see how the Government's calculations stand out. I am afraid that there is a hidden deficiency here which would be felt by the Air Force if ever it had to undertake the task which we are told that this nation will retain of having a general capability rôe outside Europe. I should like to be assured that the Government believe that the tanker capacity is adequate and that its existing state is one which has been reviewed in light of the latest defence re-review.
Perhaps I might move now to the second part of the Motion, which concerns the industry. This is a point where the transition is easy enough, because the aircraft industry exists to make and sell aeroplanes. Unless it serves that purpose, we might as well stop thinking about having one at all.
In this context, for historical reasons, although not precisely according to the history that the Minister read to us, the defences of this country have fulfilled a rôle in stimulating development and often, I believe, of stultifying it. These are important subjects which need to be studied with some care.
There are areas in which the defence services could provide valuable stimulus to our industry at this moment in respect of existing aircraft, for instance, the Islander, or the Jetstream, or the Beagle Pup, all of which exist and are flying, but none of which, so far as I know, has been ordered by the Royal Air Force. At least one of these has been considered and turned down for R.A.F. needs, and 747 international customer confidence is certainly not going to be increased by the fact that our defence Services do not appear to want to buy any of them.
Last year I made the point about the Chipmunk replacement. The Minister indicated that there were plenty of Chipmunks in crates on a number of airfields, and they could be taken out of their mothballs and used. If the Beagle Pup is a good aircraft, which it is claimed to be, it is one which might be brought into service with the Royal Air Force. There may be people who would be prepared to buy the superannuated Chipmunks and use them. There may be others who would be prepared to buy other aircraft which we would not need in Air Support Command if the Islanders were introduced. And if the deal was done properly, the Royal Air Force might show a profit.
There are at present 19 different types of aircraft operational with Air Support Command, and by 1971, at the lightning pace of modern rationalisation, this figure will have been reduced to 18. This is causing the most enormous additional on-costs to the Service, because it means that it is necessary to maintain a large variety of stores, to train men in a large variety of different types, and to run a whole series of different operations. If the number of aircraft could be rationalised and reduced, and the number of types not only reduced but made to consist of more modern types, this would be a sensible long-term programme, even though it might entail some small additional immediate cost. In the end, however, it could lead to a real economy.
I propose, now, to discuss cancellations. Some time before the 1964 election the Prime Minister wrote a book with a highly satirical title, "The Relevance of British Socialism", which he has since then done his best to forget, and which none of his colleagues can ever have read, although they will find it contains an interesting indication of how we can expect to see the Prime Minister manage our affairs in the period up to the next General Election. I am sorry that I have not a copy of the book from which to quote, but one point he makes is that cancellations are frequently necessary. I think that it is extremely juvenile as a method of argument to 748 say "Sucks to you, you cancelled so many", and think that that disposes of the matter.
It is the nature and timing of the cancellations that are significant, and it is often equally significant that aircraft are brought to the point of flight—two or three competitive types of the same kind—and then, of the three, two are cancelled, because this represents an overall gain, an overall increase in skill, and certainly a wider range of choice. I think that this is something which we should now consider, because there is a growing need to reduce the period which it takes to construct a new aircraft, to get it from the first design on the back of Sir George's envelope all the way into squadron service. We are accustomed to thinking of this as a seven-year period. We ought to be considering how we can reduce it to three or four years. The Minister of State at the Ministry of Technology frowns. I am not surprised, because I do not believe that if his Ministry were faced with a problem of this kind it would have any concept of how to solve it. This is not a problem which should be left to his Ministry to solve. I believe that the right answer to problems of this kind is to let the makers set the pace and to give them a wider discretion and influence in—
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Technology (Mr. John Stonehouse)
If the hon. Gentleman is pursuing that argument, will he also address himself to the question of who will finance the construction? Is he arguing that the constructor should put up the major part of the finance?
§ Mr. Onslow
I am prepared to argue that, provided the constructor is assured of an overall climate of operation in which he can make profits, and which will make this risky venture worth while. This situation does not exist at the moment, but it should be made to exist.
I think that the most dangerous statement in the Defence White Paper in the context of the long-term technological future of this country is on page 37, where it says:Studies of a new combat aircraft will continue as a basis for a possible collaborative project.That is a shorthand way of saying that nothing is going to happen. The right 749 hon. Gentleman frowns again. The parameters of indecision have been drawn, and all the makings of cancellation are there. Studies will continue while time passes and others take decisions. The Minister knows how difficult he is finding it to get anyone to make up his mind about the airbus. In the context of this country's military hardware, does he expect collaborative decisions to be taken more quickly? Does he expect national air forces to make up their minds more quickly than national airlines do? It is an interesting thought which I leave the right hon. Gentleman.
This idea that we can proceed only at a sort of three-legged pace is a tremendous handicap on our ability to progress, because if we choose the right projects, and go it alone, and do not dissipate our efforts over the whole field, we have a much greater chance of beating the industrial problems which face us. At the moment we have an industry whose core, to use an unpleasant word, or a word which may be unpleasant to the Secretary of State for Defence, is Concorde, with work on the Trident, the Harrier, the BAC111 and some military work coming in with the Jaguar in prospect.
The Jaguar is certainly an interesting venture, and I believe that it has considerable prospects, but this is not where the story should end. It is time now to consider what is likely to come next. It is time that we had an answer to the sort of report which has appeared in today's Evening Standard that the Germans plan to build a super fighter. They are going for a replacement for the F104. and they are prepared, if necessary, to go it alone. They are prepared to move. They may in the end have to cancel, but they may get the market. Once people in Europe start looking for a replacement for the F104, they will see that the Germans have something flying. It will mean nothing if we go along with designs and brochures and bland assurances from the Minister of Technology, "If you only give me a declaration of intent I will go to the Italians, to the French, to the Germans, and in five years' time we may reach an agreement to manufacture something".
All that also presupposes that nothing happens on the other side of the Atlantic. This is an area in which we have to 750 move, in which we have to stop being afraid of making mistakes. We have to recognise the kind of mistakes that we are likely to make, and to guard against allowing ourselves to make mistakes, the price of which we do not always recognise. If we are not prepared to take risks of the right kind, and on the right information, it is time that we stopped thinking about having an aircraft industry at all.
We must guard against one final danger, that of over specification. This is what killed the AFVG, the attempt to build into one aeroplane two basically contradictory requirements. It would have been much better if our Air Force had agreed that a match was impossible. Anyone who wants to look at the history of specification in this country, and the ghastly consequences that it can bring, can do no better than look at the history of British tank design during the Second World War, which was very costly and for many years remarkably ineffective, simply because of over-specification.
I am glad to see that the Minister of Defence for Equipment is now back with us, and I hope that he has dined well. He said something surprising earlier—that all the Government's plans have not worked out as they wished. I was amazed. I do not know what he is talking about. It has always been my impression and that of the public that this Government's plans have worked out precisely as they wished. Anyone in my constituency will testify that they cannot imagine that the Government could be so foolish as to have launched by accident upon plans which have had these consequences. Most of my constituents imagine that the Government intended what has happened.
One told me, shortly after that well-known phrase-coiner the Secretary of State had been talking about "superannuated Hitler Youth", that the conduct of the nation's defences at the topmost level seemed to have fallen into the hands of superannuated Young Communists, and he was not at all sure that the accuracy of this description was improved by the words "superannuated" or "Young".
I believe that the Government intended the logical consequences of their actions. They have brought the R.A.F. to a new low in morale and to a point at which it does not know what its rôle is meant 751 to be, and they have brought the aircraft industry to a point at which, although it may have orders—all of which date back to ventures launched before this Government came to power—and work in hand, and although its overall employment is likely to increase over the 1964 figure—there is redeployment for you and there is Plowden, that load of old rubbish—the future of the industry is in grave doubt, because we are in danger of being forced out of the technological race by indecision and wrong decisions. Only one right decision remains, and that is for the Secretary of State and this Government to get out.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
We are committing ourselves tonight to an expenditure of £557,320,000, an increase over last year of £13,567,000, and it is worth while noting that, of that vast sum, £52 million will go in wages and salaries to civilians and £270 million to building new aircraft. Thus, over £320 million of this Vote is for work, salaries and wages. That should be remembered in all the criticisms which have been made.
That prompts us to look ahead. Many hon. Members have spoken about the need to look forward in the aircraft industry. A total of 3,500 fighters and 2,200 fighter-bombers will be required by Europe from 1970 onwards. This is a market in which Britain must share, but it is essential that we do not lack the determination to gain as large a share as possible. Over the past few years, despite what hon. Members opposite have said, we have shown that we can sell airframes, engines and sophisticated equipment which earns follow-on orders from satisfied customers.
Our total exports since the war—this proves what I am saying—total £2,000 million, with an all-time record last year of £217 million, or £50 million more than our previous best. Our current order book is substantial and includes over £1,000 million worth of civil aircraft orders. When we take into account Concorde and the airbus, this total could be over £3,000 million. In addition there are the engines, the missiles, the equipment and the electronic sectors, for all of which there are large orders.
752 Our military potential is also substantial and could well total over £1,000 million. This is exemplified by new aircraft like the Jaguar and the Nimrod, which are now under development, and Britain's indisputable world lead with the Harrier, which I had the good fortune to see in operation only last week, is acknowledged by all connected with the industry.
Also, the equipment industry is maintaining its place and progress in the development of the sophisticated new aids which must keep pace with the design of larger and faster aircraft—for example, automation in flight control and advanced standards of air safety. Last year the industry provided no less than £50 million of our £217 million of total aerospace orders. We have been a world leader in the advance of international communications and there is no reason why that dominant position should not be recovered in the space age through the development of communications satellites. We must continue in this field if our technological leadership is to be maintained.
Spin-off from the aerospace industry gives the lead for many other industries to expand their technological capability. Micro-electronics, which are employed in the new range of miniaturised computers, is one example. They not only contribute to our export drive but are now being applied to industry generally to speed up and streamline new techniques and processes.
The aircraft industry, which contributes so largely to our defence and industrial needs, could also help to solve our balance of payments difficulties. For example, from 1960 to 1966, the dollar earnings of the British aircraft industry completely outweighed the burden of our dollar imports. In 1965, our airframe and engine exports to the United States were nearly two and a half times the level of imports from the States. In 1966 they were more than five times.
Then the situation changed dramatically. Between January and October, 1966, Britain imported £42,445,000 worth of American aircraft against exports to the United States of £20,252,000—imports in that year being more than twice those of exports, a disastrous story and for this the aircraft industry has absolutely no blame. My right hon. Friends 753 will not deny that this was purely and simply a Government responsibility. The exports of the industry this year are the second best in its history.
Much has been made recently of the allegation of excess profits, and since an inquiry is under way it would be out of place for me to comment on that. In fairness, however, it should be pointed out—and if I am wrong I am sure that I will soon be corrected—that responsibility for the costing of Government contracts rests equally between Whitehall and the industry. Again, therefore, if any misdemeanour in quoting prices and so on has occurred, and if what are called excess profits have been earned or can be shown to have been earned, Whitehall stands in the dock beside the industry.
As a result of its own activity and development, the industry's labour force is returning towards its earlier standards. At 254,000, the labour force is lively and active. This is the figure at which it stood before the major cancellations were made. However, the industry is now faced with a new challenge, that of co-operation with Europe, and it is absolutely essential that this co-operation takes place if we are to survive.
At present Britain's aircraft industry manufactures everything it needs. It is broad based and produces everything from aerospace nuts and bolts right up to complete airframes and engines, plus all the sophisticated equipment that is required. It designs, builds, tests and sells missiles, space systems and complete aircraft. I hope that that broad-based function of the industry will not be altered if and when, as I hope it comes about, we enter into co-operation with other nations in Europe. I believe that the future of this great technological industry no longer rests in the hands of any one nation or separate nations. We are living in an age when the big group counts in the world of space affairs, and particularly in technology. It is by co-operation with our immediate neighbours in the European complex that this nation will carry on the successes in technology which have adorned the industry's past.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), in his 754 sturdy Scottish way, standing up for the aircraft industry and pointing out that if private industry is to be accused of charging excess prices, Whitehall must have equal blame. I am certain that if the experts are not in Whitehall, it is the duty of those in Whitehall to find consulting engineers whom they can employ to do this job. They must realise the shortcomings of the people to whom they are giving instructions to negotiate with private industry.
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not think that I went so far as to equalise the blame. I said that if one was held responsible, the other also had its responsibility.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Equally, those who wish to support the aircraft industry must have been disturbed—considering the enormous success we are having with our aircraft exports—at the break-up of the scientific and technical teams. It is regrettable that the men who have formed these teams have been steadily dispersed to virtually the four corners of the world since the Labour Party came to power.
I last spoke in an Air Estimates debate four years ago, when I found myself having to reply to the debate. After these four years in purdah, as it were, I am speaking in this debate—not having spoken on air affairs in the interim—because much as I deplored the cancellation of the TSR2, the P1154 and the HS681—all the planes are laid down for the R.A.F. for the 1970s—I had hoped that the Labour Government would honour their pledge to buy the F111, which would have enabled the R.A.F. to carry out not only its world-wide capability cheaply and effectively, but also to fulfil what, for the R.A.F., is so vital: its tactical strike and reconnaissance rôle in N.A.T.O. This replacement was vital for this rôle because of the ageing Canberra, now 20 years old. It is vital that a replacement for this aircraft should be found.
I have been surprised at how easily this solemn pledge, given to the R.A.F. at the time of the cancellation of the TSR2—given not only by the Secretary of State but by the Labour Leader in the House of Lords, the then Minister responsible for the R.A.F.—has been shrugged off without a murmer of a resignation. We must face the facts, even if the defence Ministers have run away from them. 755 Without this aircraft we are in grave danger of having to face many of our potential enemies who already have such a capability. I regard this cancellation as the breaking of a solemn pledge.
I have been surprised that the Secretary of State has not seen fit to resign on this pledge, let alone the other pledges which lie scattered around the political arena rather like the Order Papers which lie scattered around the Chamber at the moment. He knows what the cancellation of the F111 has meant to the Royal Air Force. We shall regret it for a long time. Even more shall we regret the decision to cancel the TSR2. The present Government have been able to do a lot of things, but probably they are the first Government who have been able to spend £250 million without a single plane flying. Yet the losses go far deeper than £250 million. This prevents us honouring pledges, which we gave to carry out a rôle east of Suez, in a cheap way and, alas, it means that we have to withdraw now and probably carry out an entirely European rôle. It prevents us protecting British interests.
As the Leader of the Opposition said so forcibly in the defence debate, Australia and New Zealand have been left on their own. Our Asian friends will have to look elsewhere for help which we might have given to them. These are some of the diplomatic consequences. But has the Minister considered the implications for recruiting? Now the R.A.F. will have to be content with operating in Germany and the United Kingdom alone. I am sure that the pull of the civil airlines for pilots will be greater and the attractions of pay will be greater. In order to get some of the pilots into the R.A.F. we shall see much steeper rises in pay than there have been for some time past.
Is the Minister making preparations to help those who are having to leave the Service because of the cut-backs? I have a feeling that not enough consideration has been given to looking after and helping those who will suffer considerably and will have to end their careers in mid-flight, as it were, because of the cuts in defence spending.
To me the loss of the strategic rôle for the Royal Air Force is far more serious. 756 Time and again this week the Secretary of State has talked about the tactical rôle of the Royal Air Force. Let us face it, there is a real danger that in its fiftieth year it may become almost a branch of the Army like the new Canadian Army Air Corps.
Have we learned nothing from history? Surely the concentration of air power, the intelligence, expertise and technical know-how which goes with air power is a vital principle of modern war. Disperse the experts and those who know about air power and aircraft production, and we are in grave danger. Underestimation of the enemy's air power was a prime factor in our defeat in France in 1940 and in Malaysia in 1941. The skill and quality of pilots and plans in the Battle of Britain led to victory, but only by the skin of our teeth. We said that we would never again listen to the siren voices of unilateral disarmers like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but is not that exactly what unfortunately the country is doing today?
What would have happened to our Battle of Britain planes if they had been under the tactical command of the Army for the land battle on the Continent? How many would have survived for the crucial Battle of Britain in September, 1940? I am sure that the vital contribution we can make to the continental defence of Europe is in aircraft. It is a far cheaper way of making a contribution than by massively adopting conscription or making a large land contribution, which is expensive in foreign exchange if we are to have our forces for long on the Continent. Cannot we use the spare capacity of Support Command which the Government seem to have overbought in the Hercules transports from America? In order not to waste spare capacity, can we not provide a mobile force in these islands which can be used to protect not only the Northern flank in N.A.T.O. but also the important Southern flank in Turkey?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the hon. Member assuming that the enemy in this case is the Soviet Union with its enormous number of planes and enormous power of nuclear destruction by rockets? What relevance has his argument to this debate?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I assure the hon. Member that I and many others in this House, in the country and in the free world, are working as hard as we can in the hope of reaching a political détente with Russia. I remind the hon. Member that the best way of getting a political détente with Russia is to get it through strength, not through weakness. I do not agree with his policy, which seems exactly the same as that of one of the leaders of the Labour Party in the 1930s who believed that the best way to peace is to throw down one's arms.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Have we estimated how many pilots and planes would be needed if a severe confrontation were to take place in Europe? Have we estimated what kind of wastage rate could happen quickly? The Secretary of State talked about a three-to four-day battle, but a three- to four-day confrontation of air power could be very expensive. Have we the reserves of pilots and planes for such a confrontation? This is the big doubt one has.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Could the hon. Member give me an estimate of how many pilots he thinks would be needed to fight the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I am not being led into answering that hypothetical question, but one has to make an estimate from time to time. If a severe confrontation were to take place, I believe that our present forces are gravely undermanned to meet it.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
No. We know perfectly well what we can afford. This leads me to digress to a degree to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who accused the Conservative Party of wishing to spend money on defence almost as freely as it could. Of course, this is not our policy. There must be a discipline in spending money on defence, but we laid down a very reasonable pattern when we were in power, which we could fulfil if we came back to power.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
As I understand it, the system of reserves as far as men were 758 concerned, with the ending of the old Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, took place in the mid-1950s. If the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) is worried about the situation now for Reserves, surely he should have been equally worried when he was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I was not in the Ministry of Defence in the 1950s but if the Under-Secretary would like to read some of the speeches which I made in defence debates since 1954 when I came to the House, he would see I was just as critical of my own Government as I am, at the present moment, of his.
It is the Reserve factor which we have to pay attention to, and defence policy changes, of course. Faced with the dangers which confront us, to consider that we can look at them and ask what we did in the 1950s is complete nonsense. I am sure the Under-Secretary, when he reflects on it, will realise that. We are dealing with a situation which changes; we are dealing with it now, and because of this we have to have more Reserves.
The wastage rate might lead us, in view of the scarcity of planes and power which exists at the present time, to move to a strategic and tactical escalation on the nuclear side far quicker than the outcome of the land battle. I do not believe we have enough planes for this purpose, without eating into those for our tactical nuclear strike. Because of this scarcity we might be brought, sooner than we might have wished, to a tactical and strategic nuclear escalation. I am sure we must have a far better strategic Reserve for such a battle. This is why I am so concerned when I hear the Secretary of State talking about the use of air power entirely as a tactical means. I am sure it is dangerous, not only from the point of view of the defence of these islands, but more dangerous because it may lead to a tactical and strategic nuclear escalation which none of us who knows the power, and what this means, would want.
This is why I want to see the country realising the seriousness of the situation that confronts us by the cancellation of the F111. This is why I am concerned that neither the Secretary of State for 759 Defence nor one Minister from the Ministry of Defence, learning the seriousness of the position with which we are confronted, saw fit to resign to bring it home to the country. This is what one would have hoped.
The Secretary of State for Defence speaks of the R.A.F. having 1,000 planes. Does he include in those the obsolete Canberras, Javelins, Hunters and others? Let us face facts. Under the Labour Government the Royal Air Force has been contracting, not expanding. Grave risks are being taken with defence—risks which, in my view are not justified.
The Secretary of State for Defence was right when he said that the Royal Air Force in the 1970s will be manned by men of quality and education. Of course, it will; it always has been. The question will be: are there going to be enough of them, and will there be enough pilots and planes to face a battle of confrontation—short, wasteful and bloody? The strength of the Royal Air Force at the end of the war was 9,000 planes; that strength cannot be reached now. We are working with our allies. The figure we have at the present moment is one in which the Government are taking grave risks with this country, especially in the European theatre. I do not believe the nation realises the risks that are being taken. It was for this reason that I felt, after the passage of four years, that it was my duty to make this speech in this Air Estimates debate.
The Secretary of State for Defence came into office as a young eagle he is going out of office like an ostrich with his head firmly dug in the sand, and with his wings clipped.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) on his powerful contribution. Any hon. Member who has had any association, particularly in a Ministerial capacity, with the Royal Air Force will for all time thereafter feel particularly loyal connections with it and will not miss any opportunity to stand up and to speak up in its defence, particularly at a time like this when one has been made so aware of the weaken 760 ing of this fine fighting force as a result of recent Government decisions.
This is a very important debate. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for that the fact that I was not here at the beginning of it, although I recognise the significance of what we are discussing. However, I have been able to attend during the last few hours. Hon. Members, not confined to this side of the House, have deployed a formidable case against the Government.
If I were to give a text for my remarks in this debate, I think that it would be to refer back to the speech made by the Secretary of State in May of last year and to extract from that speech this sentence, which I have no doubt has already been quoted and which certainly bears requoting:Tactical strike and reconnaissance is the military umbrella which we must have to protect our forces—land, sea or air—from attack.The right hon. Gentleman illustrated how important this had been in fairly recent experience. He said later in the same speech:In 1964, reconnaissance aircraft provided us with the first information of a developing crisis over Cyprus, without which we might have been unable to prevent general war in the Eastern Mediterranean and perhaps in Europe as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 112–13.]In those two quotations stands the whole justification for British military expenditure and for British military commitment. It is the justification for which even the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has been looking. I know that he will agree with what I have just said. If he has been wondering why it is necessary for us to authorise continuing expenditure on armed forces, the answer has been given clearly by the Secretary of State, in that it enables us to play our part in limiting the area of conflict and in helping to prevent the outbreak of a further major world conflagration.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Gentleman may not be here at the time, but it interests me. It is certainly of great interest to those younger than me.
§ Sir J. Eden
And it is certainly of great interest to all those who have the ambition to see that they and their children shall live in peace. The hon. Gentleman must now recognise, as does every serving officer and man in the Royal Air Force, that the purpose of his service is to further the cause of peace. The hon. Gentleman, being a peace-loving man, will therefore be right later tonight in not persisting in his Amendment, which I suspect he tabled as a gesture.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
With his knowledge of the R.A.F., what does the hon. Gentleman think the R.A.F. would feel if it knew that we are discussing the expenditure of £537 million and do not have 15 hon. Members in the Chamber?
§ Sir J. Eden
That is not a significant barometer of the degree of concern which the country as a whole has in the subject.
I began by extracting from the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence what I regarded as a very significant reference to the important rôle of tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft. I want to find out just what has been happening in this sphere. At one time it was a rôle completely—and still almost entirely—discharged by the Canberra and V-bombers. When the Conservatives were in office, they developed the TSR2, the initial letters of which stand for "tactical strike and reconnaissance". It was designed for deployment elsewhere than just Europe. After it was cancelled, the Government planned to replace it with the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and the F111K. Both have been cancelled by the Government, but what has not been changed as a result of the cancellation is the dependence of our fighting forces in all three Services on intelligence. The earliest possible warning of impending hostile action against our national interest is so vital that I want to be quite satisfied that the Government have planned to replace that capability which they have now destroyed.
We must have the capacity to penetrate very sophisticated enemy defences. I am not thinking only of strategic operations, even though in that context I was impressed by the Secretary of State's remarks in winding up the defence debate on Tuesday, when he said:Another interesting thing at present, although it is not likely to be true for more than 762 another 10 years, is that there is no effective defence at strategic level against an aircraft in very low flight."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 352.]The only aircraft which were to have come into service with that capability have been cancelled.
That capability is also of great significance even in the tactical rôle. Part of the reason for the development of the vertical take-off aircraft is that it is very manoeuvrable and capable of penetration at low level. What other aircraft are now being planned to come into service in the future which will have a range, payload, or all-weather reconnaissance capability similar to that which the TSR2 would have had and the F111 will have? I repeat that question in another way: have the Government any plans for replacing those very significant capabilities, the importance of which they fully recognise, with new aircraft coming forward, either to be developed by this country alone or in conjunction with others?
The whole history of the Canberra replacement is a sorry one. For the collosal cost of £240 million on this great venture, we have got nothing, and how rapidly at the Government's insistence were the plans and drawings of the TSR2 torn up! They were guilty men then and they are guilty men to day. I will illustrate this by one further example.
In the Defence White Paper, it is clear that the Government attach, quite properly, a great deal of importance to what they call the "new military concepts" of N.A.T.O. I agree with this. The Government owe it to the House to tell us a little more about the military plans and the future force planning of what they call the "new basis" of military concepts. Let them look at the N.A.T.O. flank now and tell us what British military equipment is available for the protection of British interests which are likely to be threatened by the deployment of hostile forces in the Mediterranean or North Africa.
I see that No. 100 and No. 139 Squadrons of Victor Mark II bombers are to be scrapped before the end of this year. No. 543 Squadron is comprised of Victor Mark Hs with strategic reconnaissance capability. It is this squadron which is now capable of photographing the whole of the Mediterranean in an afternoon. Is this, too, destined to be scrapped?
763 We all know that V-bombers have a limited life. They are most magnificent aircraft and have served the country very well and will continue to do so for some time. What are the Government's plans for replacing the reconnaissance capability, for example, of the Victor Mark Its of 543 Squadron? Can I have a specific answer to that question? Again, unless one can be assured of that, one cannot be assured that, even in the limited period of responsibility of this wretched Government, there is any prospect of securing this country in future against the possibility of hostile attack.
The Government know that Russians are now wholly in the Mediterranean, in Alexandria, Mers-el-Kebir and elsewhere. They know the vulnerability of N.A.T.O.'s southern flank. Yet they are busy destroying the major element in Western Europe's fighting air forces which now has the capacity to resist the possibility of attack and protect us against these threats.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman give way? I am sorry to interrupt. I am interested in his speech.
§ Sir J. Eden
I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Did I give the impression that I was doing so?
§ Sir J. Eden
Then I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I am not giving way to him. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I have put a specific question to the right hon. Gentleman and I hope that I shall have an answer.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) who have both underlined the grave risks which the Government are taking in defence. It is astonishing that the debate should be so poorly attended when £600 million is being spent on the R.A.F. The Government have created a complete mess with their pattern of order and cancellation, not only for the R.A.F. but for the entire British aircraft industry.
When they came into office they were quick to cancel TSR2, replacing it with 764 the F111. What has happened? The Fill has been cancelled. They cancelled the HS 625. That was to be a jet transport aircraft manufactured by Hawker Siddeley with subcontracting to other British aircraft firms. That has been replaced by the American Hercules with a much poorer specification than the HS625.
What is much more serious for our industry is that because of replacement with American aircraft, money is being spent in America to improve the technology and aircraft design capacity of that country. The AFVG has fallen by the wayside too. British scientists developed this idea but now it has been abandoned to the United States.
The Government were so proud of their vertical take-off aircraft. But they cancel the P 1154 and replace it with the Harrier—the older, slower aircraft. If we are to retain a technological lead in any branch of the aircraft industry, we must have the superior supersonic version of the vertical take-off aircraft, not the slower one. It is this aircraft that promises best for Britain in future.
In the recent crisis in the Middle East we saw how easy it was for a determined enemy to destroy aircraft on the ground. Vertical take-off aircraft such as the Hawker Siddeley can avoid this to a great extent. One can protect oneself from the complete destruction of one's fighter force on the ground. It is very important to retain the more developed and advanced version of this aircraft rather than to keep the slower version.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting, as a result of the experience of the six-day war in the Middle East, when the Israelis got beneath the Egyptian curtain, that if there was a vertical take-off force, the enemy would be seen in time and the force would get away before it was hit? Is the hon. Member honestly and seriously suggesting that? I have never heard anything so ridiculous. It is no argument at all.
§ Mr. McMaster
That intervention is irrelevant. One has to look at defence, particularly with the R.A.F., on a broad canvas. It is an important part of defence strategy that one should diversify and spread out one's air shield in every 765 way possible. There are many situations, not only in the Middle East, when a vertical take-off aircraft would be of great use. I have already stressed the damage done to the British aircraft industry. There are important by-products of our aircraft industry in defence technology, in the miniaturisation of equipment, in advances in metallurgy and in other fall-outs where Britain is losing the lead which she once had. This is a lead which is absolutely vital if Britain is to remain in the forefront as a scientific and technologically-based country with a large industrial manufacturing capacity.
As a result of the way in which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have treated the British aircraft industry it is almost impossible to finance any new project in either the civil or the military field. I say advisedly the civil as well as the military field, for it is a well-known fact in the United States and every other country that civil aircraft production is subsidised directly or indirectly by money spend on defence. If Britain is to spend all the money she requires for equipment for the R.A.F. in the United States it is the United States technology and aircraft industry which will benefit from new techniques and the discovery of new methods. This will enable the United States to produce a better civil aircraft and Britain will be the loser thereby.
Unless our aircraft industry can be assured of a reasonable scale of profits on the contracts they take for defence purposes it will be impossible for them to continue to compete in this field. One must take the rough with the smooth, balance the successful contracts against the unsuccessful contracts, and make sure that there is the promise of a reasonable reward. When I say "reasonable reward" I mean a sufficient reward for the aircraft industry to enable it to raise on the market the finance it needs.
The Government have a 70 per cent. interest in the firm of Short Bros. and Harland. I hope that the Minister in summing up will say a little about the steps to be taken towards the financial reconstruction of that company. The past chairman has complained, often publicly, of he strange financial set-up and the need for the financial reconstruction of his company. What do the Government intend to do?
766 Let us make no mistake; this is a vital industry in Northern Ireland. We benefit directly from the employment it gives and, as every hon. Member knows, we have an unemployment rate of 7½ per cent., many times above the national average. If the Government are going to use the defence programme, as the Prime Minister and others have said they would, to assist areas of high unemployment, surely they can make certain that an adequate amount of this work is sent to Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to give an assurance on this line. Not only does this provide employment but it also ensures the training of skilled craftsmen.
One finds from the Defence Estimates and pages 87 and 89 of the White Paper that about 50,000 people are employed in Whitehall, in local administration and other support services. The total Whitehall organisation comes to 63,500. The general purposes combat forces consist of the Navy 18,800, the Army 24,400 and the Air Force 20,300, a total 63,500, the same number as those employed in Whitehall. Is this the way in which the Labour Party should treat our Armed Forces? For every combat man, there is a man in Whitehall. When I say that, I am not referring to those employed in research and development, training, production, repair, and so on.
It is perhaps a strange comment on this debate that the last three speeches have been made from this side of the House. The interest which the party opposite shows in the defence of this country and in the expenditure of over £600 million worth of the taxpayers' money illustrates the terrible effect on morale in the Royal Air Force and the aircraft industry which has been caused by this Government's bungling.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I am glad that the Minister of Defence for Equipment has returned to the Chamber. I think that he opened the case for the Government with a degree of complacency from which the debate has never recovered, despite the usual knowledgeable interventions by my hon. Friends, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey).
The Minister's speech seemed to me to be based on a series of false premises. 767 He wholly ignored the fundamental problem of the long gestation period in the aviation industry, and in relying on the large numbers of people still employed in that industry he completely failed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield pointed out, to appreciate that this was a reflection of the past and had nothing to do with the future, which affects the confidence of the industry. He failed to reflect, too, the serious problem of holding together design and research staffs unless there is something else coming along in the pipeline. He failed to recognise that it is the future which matters and that when considering the future we must plan a very long way ahead.
As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, morale in the Royal Air Force today is undoubtedly seriously affected. If the Minister of Defence for Equipment got round the aircraft industry as much as I do, he would find that loss of morale reflected there also. I was glad that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) pointed out that in relying so greatly on the export figures to indicate the health of the aircraft industry he completely failed to point out the very serious switchround which has taken place this year when, for the first time in history, imports from the United States substantially outweigh the exports which we have sent them.
I would say only this to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I see that he is not present, so perhaps I should skip it. However, I would remind him of the words of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) when he was in opposition:It is not our function in a debate of this sort to explain the Opposition's defence policy. This is, essentially, a time when we want to have from the Government a statement of their defence policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 146.]I adhere to that. While I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his apparent discernment as to the Conservative defence policy from the words of the Motion, I fear that he has almost certainly got it wrong.
It is a long time since I took part in either a defence debate or any of the Service Estimates debates. I admit that I have done no checking in this regard, 768 but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it will be the purest coincidence if I repeat myself, although I am not suggesting that matters of accuracy of that sort will deter him from including me in the very silly gibe which he made about my right hon. and hon. Friends the other night. His attempt to hold up the consistency of my right hon. and hon. Friends to mockery when he and his colleagues have done such untold damage by constancy only in their inconstancy, represents a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility for which it would be hard to find a parallel.
By what, in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on Tuesday, I suppose he would call the virtue of saying something new, he has by making short-term reversals both of policy and of solemn commitments wholly undermined the credibility abroad of our determination and ability to carry out our obligations. And to adopt as a defence the proposition that, having discarded weapons and bases which he himself has always regarded as a prerequisite to the fulfilment of obligations, we can nevertheless continue to accept those obligations without explaining how, is to insult the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has a higher regard for the House, will be more forthcoming tonight.
I want to take as an example of these tactics—and I make no apology for repetition and if the right hon. Gentleman gives no answer to these questions they will be repeated again and again—one that particularly affects both the R.A.F. and the aviation industry. It is not by any means the only example. I refer to our commitments to Australia and New Zealand which were the subject of a good deal of concern on both sides of the House in the debates on Monday and Tuesday of this week and which was expressed very forcibly, I thought, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) in winding up. If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister ignores these questions he has no one but himself to blame if they are repeated and I will repeat this one again for the benefit of the Under-Secretary of State.
If in May of last year the type of capability, the tactical strike reconnaissance capability, represented by TSR2 and F111 was vital to any contribution we could make to the defence of Australia 769 and New Zealand, how do we fulfil our commitment and how can acceptance of that commitment be in any way credible when we have deprived ourselves of that vital capability? That is a question that worries hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House and it is really no good scrapping a vital piece of equipment, reaffirming the obligation to which it was vital and then wondering what to do about it. Surely, that is putting the cart before the horse with a vengeance that has seldom been seen before in politics.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) instanced a very similar story over Malaysia and referred to paragraph 8 of the White Paper. If that paragraph with its emphasis on new strategic concepts, particularly in relation to the rôle of air forces in extending the conventional phase of hostilities, is to make any sense at all it must, on the face of it, mean a greater rather than less dependence on a strike reconnaissance rôle, and must make it as vital in Europe as it is in relation to Australia and New Zealand. For the right hon. Gentleman to make out that this passage was intended to imply an extension from perhaps a one-to-two days' conventional war to a three-to-four days' conventional war, then I can only say he has expressed himself quite astonishingly badly. It does not conform with the information some of us are able to obtain from N.A.T.O. But once the Vulcans are phased out, as things stand at present among Western European nations only the French with their Mirage IV will have an aircraft capable of this long-range strike reconnaissance.
I ask the Under-Secretary whether he can tell us any more about the future of the Vulcan, because on April 14th there seemed to be two Answers to Questions which seemed to be slightly contradictory. One, from the right hon. Gentleman, was to the effect that he cannot conceive the life of the Vulcan being extended. The other was from the hon. Gentleman in respect of the fitting of ejector seats in which he said that that was under consideration in relation to modifications—which I took to be to extend the life of these aircraft.
Without the Vulcan, in Europe only the Mirage IV will have that capability. 770 The French, however, as the right hon. Gentleman correctly reminded us, are not members of N.A.T.O. and we do not know—we cannot know—how long it will be before once again France becomes a reliable ally. As something of a Francophile, I say that with sadness rather than bitterness.
The only conclusion to which one can come is that if this rôle is still vital—and we have not been told why it has suddenly ceased to be vital—we must rely on the United States in circumstances in which, because of the Government's vacillations, the Americans are less certain than they have ever been in recent history that they can rely on us.
In considering the British forces in the Far East, I am surprised that the Government never seem to take cognisance of the fact that the Americans believe that it is in their interests that we should be there. The fact that we rely so heavily on America in Europe at least deserves to be taken into account in considering whether they are not entitled to a quid pro quo from us.
In relation to the long-range strike reconnaissance rôle, I must refer to the cancellation of both the TSR2 and, now, the F111. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield emphasised the question of cancellation, because it does not contribute anything at all to debates in this House to throw across the Floor charge and counter-charge of cancellations and to add up a bogus balance sheet.
In aviation, electronics, atomic energy and all advanced technologies there is always likely to be a need, if we are to remain in advance in those industries, to embark upon projects which take us beyond the bounds of existing knowledge. It stands to reason that in operations like this the period of development will be long and that between the initial conception and production there may be all sorts of developments which make it wise to call a halt.
For a start, by the nature of an effort to go through the bounds of knowledge, one cannot begin to forecast what it will cost to solve a problem which has never been solved before. Nor can it be guaranteed that either alternatively or in addition, during that long period, the problem may not be solved or, indeed, be 771 rendered obsolete by developments elsewhere.
I very much fear that by creating in the House of Commons the idea that cancellation as such is evidence of failure and error, we create an atmosphere which will hopelessly inhibit the financial risk-taking which in these spheres is so vital, because so often financial risk and progress go hand in hand and without the former we cannot achieve the latter. I conclude from that, not that there is anything wrong with the Motion, as hon. Members opposite are suggesting, but that each project must be considered on its merits as an individual project. It would be rare indeed to find that the cancellation of one project was of very much relevance in considering another.
As to the TSR2 and the F111, which we have debated more than once, let me remind the House that the TSR2 was virtually a finished aircraft. It was flying. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield reminded the House, at the stage at which it was flying it was behaving remarkably well in comparison with many other types at a comparable stage of development.
By the absence of any explanation from the Government of why this strike/reconnaissance rôle is no longer required or, alternatively, how it is now to be provided, and in the light of our balance of payments problem and the complete failure at the time of this Government to make a really sensible balance sheet of the difference in cost between producing this aircraft at home—bearing in mind that a large part of the costs would be spent in a way in which a considerable proportion would return to the Exchequer in taxation—and importing the F111, it is apparent to us that the decision to abandon TSR2 was even more wrong in retrospect than appeared at the time.
However that may be, let us turn to the replacement of the F111. I would just refer in passing to the interesting passage about the anti-ballistic missile system in the speech of the Secretary of State when he wound up on Tuesday. He referred to the fact that systems of this type, at any rate in relation to present day knowledge, remain vulnerable to fast low-flying aircraft. My hon. Friend the 772 Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) intervened to ask why that did not indicate a use for the type of weapon that the TSR2 would have been—and perhaps the Fill as well. The right hon. Gentleman merely said that he did not envisage that this would be a necessary addition. I hope again that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force may be able to elaborate a little on that.
Coming back to the F111, many of my hon. Friends have pointed out that there was an expenditure on this type of capability of some £300 million, not only with no aircraft, but once again with a threat created to the viability of the British aerospace industries, which are still suffering a lack of confidence, and certainly a lack of the confidence which would encourage the investment of private capital, from the cancellation of TSR2, the HS681 and the P1154. As a result of those cancellations, there now rests a question mark over the whole future of the offset agreement, which is referred to ominously throughout the White Paper always by reference to the F111.
To give the Government their due, there is no doubt that that offset agreement has proved a very valuable means of opening up a vast export market in the United States. This has been particularly so in the case of the British avionics industry. I know of one firm which has made a total of seven bids, five of which it has won. It has secured orders to the extent of some 50 million dollars. That is something about which we should all be pleased and proud; and that, incidentally, excludes equipment for the United Kingdom Phantom programme.
One has to face the fact, however, that until the Kennedy Round tariff reductions are fully effective in 1972, in the absence of this agreement, there would be some pretty difficult if not insuperable barriers to the continuance of our exploitation of what is a very valuable market. At the moment, it is not even clear what is the fate of some of the contracts already won. Certainly it has never been clear to me and even less clear in retrospect why—[Interruption.] I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could continue his private conversation elsewhere—
§ Mr. Mason
I was not trying to be rude to the hon. Gentleman. I was explaining to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, who was present during the course of my speech, as I thought the hon. Gentleman was, that the contracts which we have secured under the F111 offset agreement are safe.
§ Mr. Corfield
I am glad to note that, but the hon. Gentleman will remember that he was going at a fair pace and this may have slipped my mind.
The point that I want to make is to ask why, at the time, we tied, or appeared to tie, this agreement so specifically with the F111. We were also ordering the Hercules, and my information is that during the five years running from the initiation of the offset agreement British purchases of military equipment from the United States seem likely to amount to about £2,000 million, of which the F111, at about £400 million, represents only 20 per cent.—a substantial part, but by no means the major part. There is very little doubt that in the future we shall purchase further military equipment from the United States, and it does not seem unreasonable, on the face of it, that there should be a continuous arrangement between our two countries, as is the case between Canada and America.
There are certain other factors which strengthen the Government's bargaining position somewhat more than is generally realised. Not only is the appalling drain of the war in Vietnam making an enormous demand on the United States supply capacity, but there exists in the United States an absolutely fundamental rule in relation to the United States Government contracts that if the supplier loses profit as a result of cancellations, he is under a pretty strict obligation to take every conceivable reasonable step to reduce that loss, particularly where he can switch his labour, his materials, or indeed the finished product, to another customer. It is very much to be hoped that we shall be able to secure the application of that principle in the case of our own cancellations.
I appreciate that these negotiations are delicate, and cannot be the subject, at any rate in detail, of public debate, but it is only right to tell the Government that my impression from going around 774 industry is that there is a feeling of anxiety and frustration, in part because of the Government's delay in giving guidance about the existing contracts, but also because of real apprehension that the Government negotiators are being too dilatory, too much on the defensive, and lacking in determination. I hope that that is not true, but I hope, at the same time, that the Minister will assure us not only that it is not true but that he will never allow it to become true.
There is a further aspect which we have to face, and that is that the Government's constant changes of mind in the past, the cancellations, the failure fully to back, and the delay in backing such successful projects as the Harrier, to which my hon. Friend referred, and the uncertainty about the variable geometry advanced combat aircraft, are all increasing the danger that in the United States there will grow up a feeling that British contractors, however reliable in the past, may be subject to such action by the United Kingdom Government as to make it impossible for them to remain so reliable in the future. It is therefore extremely important in our export as well as in our home production to induce in the industry a return of confidence.
I turn for a moment to consider the advanced combat aircraft now under study at B.A.C. Warton. Even in the short history of this project, the story of the core of the R.A.F.'s equipment—those were the Minister's words—seems to be one of order, counter-order, and approaching disorder. The Government cannot justly be blamed for the withdrawal of the French, or the resultant necessity to reframe the design with less emphasis on the air defence rôle, which was demanded by France. But now that the position in regard to our military commitments overseas, and the F111, have been so dramatically and suddenly changed, the operational requirement appears to have been thrown so much into the melting pot that there is a danger that we may be attempting to cover such a wide range of possible operational requirements that we shall once again miss the boat, either by too much delay, or by the Government getting cold feet, at ever mounting cost.
There is surely a lesson to be learned here from the TSR2. In retrospect, many 775 people would agree that one of the problems of the TSR2 was that it was an attempt to incorporate too many highly sophisticated operational requirements, involving technical break-throughs on far too many fronts, and, therefore, far too many unforecastable costs; and that, secondly, during the development, there were far too many modfications, particularly in the avionics, as opposed to the air frame or the engine, some of which were being made at a very late stage indeed.
Therefore, in regard to the advanced combat aircraft, I would urge that the operational requirements are kept within or very near the limits of what the industry knows how to do and that we do not allow it to bulge up into some vast flying research operation into the unknown. Second, I urge the Government to exploit to the full the great—perhaps the only—advantage of their change of strategy, namely, the emphasis on Europe, which will presumably enable us to design an aircraft which should be suitable to the air forces of our N.A.T.O. allies.
Nevertheless, even if we are to include none of the special requirements and equipment which we should have needed in the past because of our Middle Eastern and Far Eastern commitments, I hope that the Under-Secretary will say something about how we are to carry out "the general capability based on Europe, including the United Kingdom, which can be deployed overseas", and which appears at the top of page 3 of the White Paper. On the assumption that we can design for very similar rôles in European air forces, I hope that we shall have an eye on the substantial European and Canadian F104 replacement programme.
Desirable though it no doubt is that we should secure a European partner in this project if possible, I hope that the Government will not make this arrangement an absolute prerequisite for continuing the project nor once again sell out Britain's rightful position, because in terms of their size and comprehensiveness of our industry, as design leader. If we were to do this over and over again, we would embark on a self-destructive policy, because, if we surrender our basic aircraft position as the only European industry with a completely comprehensive range, we lay ourselves open—at any rate until 776 we can become an economic part of Europe—to being played off against America by a European industry which has taken over the lead.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) make the same plea, when he said that we should maintain the broad base of our industry. We shall not do this if we cast away over and over again our design leadership.
I turn now to general conditions in the industry. Of course we were pleased with the Chief Secretary's long-delayed statement on some more sensible profit formula, but we should realise that what is worrying the industry is the future and that there is a lack of confidence, to which the Government's inability to make up their minds and determine future projects is adding. There still remain many questions to ask on the Chief Secretary's statement and I will not ask them again tonight.
I will finish with a quotation from an article in that influential American magazine, Aviation Week, on 22nd January:If there is any hope at all for Britain to climb out of its present economic morass, it lies in a massive development of modern technology to increase the productivity of its labour force and make its goods competitive once more in international markets. This goal cannot be achieved without a thorough revitalisation of the British aerospace industry to function as the spearhead for the breakthrough technology required.The Government have not given us confidence that they are either doing that or are capable of doing it.
We are all, I suppose, conditioned by our background. Some of my hon. Friends started life as Regular officers in the R.A.F. I started in the Army, and I have never regretted that. But it taught me one thing: a great obligation to one's subordinates. I ask the Minister to consider whether he has fulfilled that obligation and earned their respect.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
Tonight has been the second of the debates under the new procedures whereby we debate a Motion before dealing with the Estimates for a short period at the end of the evening. This debate has been of great interest 777 to the few of us who have been present but, while it has been successful in this respect. I do not think that this procedure has achieved one of its main aims, which is to interest more hon. Members in our proceedings on defence. While the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) referred to the position now, I suggest that the debate has not been over-attended all day.
In this debate hon. Gentlemen opposite have gone out of their way to build up an exceedingly gloomy and despondent picture of the R.A.F. equipment programme. They have, in general, glossed over all those aspects which give cause for satisfaction. I would except from that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and, to a large degree, the remarks of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, who I think for the first time in three years put some of the questions concerning research and development, and the problems that are faced by all Governments, in their right perspective.
It is no use denying that the R.A.F.—and this is the starting point; I freely admit it—has suffered a setback in its equipment programme with the loss of the F111. I am sure, however, that this is of a temporary nature, and I shall return to this matter shortly. Important though this loss is, it relates to only one part of the operational capability of the R.A.F.
The Service itself, I can inform the House, is settling down with its customary efficiency and resource to consider what is the most sensible way to deal with the resulting situation. I shall deal with this more fully later, as I appreciate that this matter has been raised by many hon. Members.
To listen to the speeches which have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite—bearing in mind their Motion—one would have thought that, when they formed the Government, they always had the right long-term answer to our aircraft equipment problems, that all the measures they took in this field were morale boosters, and that every project they conceived was seen through to a satisfactory conclusion. Of course, this is not the case. Their record is a dismal catalogue, as my right hon. Friend pointed out earlier.
They may claim that they bequeathed a comprehensive long-term aircraft pro 778 gramme in 1964, but they were spared the salutary lesson of having to see it through and to face the operational and financial consequences. They did not have to face the immediate prospect of being responsible for a force that would have been, in a few years' time, grossly under-equipped. We have gone over all this ground many times before but we have had Motions couched in similar terms to that offered today many times before, and the facts—not just because of the debate or because of the Motion—are worth repeating because the loss of the F111 has rightly been in the minds of hon. Members and has received a great deal of publicity. For the sake of those in the R.A.F. and their career prospects, it is worth again repeating the facts of the situation about the re-equipment programme of the R.A.F. and its operational needs. My right hon. Friend said earlier that I would concentrate on the operational side.
When the Labour Government took office, the R.A.F. was operating Canberras, Hunters, Beverleys, Hastings and Shackletons—which were then 13, 10, 8, 16 and 12 years old respectively—and there was no prospect of a replacement within a satisfactory time scale and within a defence budget that the country could have reasonably been able to afford. Even the party opposite, in the event, might have found it impossible to stomach the large sums which their future programmes would have entailed.
When the Secretary of State has claimed the savings made on the long-term aircraft programme which he inherited, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has replied that the long-term costings were "imaginary". This perhaps betrays a lack of understanding of the functions of long-term costings in the Ministry of Defence—and aircraft workers did not march for imaginary reasons—but in so far as he believes what he says, it must mean that, had the party opposite won the 1964 and 1966 elections, further cuts would have been made. It certainly follows that during their 13 years it would not have been a new idea that cuts should be made. It could have been that the TSR2—which priced itself out of the field and because of a lack of overseas sales was in no sense in the long-term interests of the 779 British aircraft industry—might have been a victim.
In reaching decisions about aircraft, there are three central considerations which my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor outlined to the House in a debate on the F111 on 13th December, 1965, namely: one, to give the Service the best aircraft for the rôles which it has to fulfil at the time it is needed; two, to do so at the least possible cost to the nation taking into account both budgetary and balance of payments considerations; and, three, to do so in the way that offers the British aircraft industry the best prospect for the future.
In the decisions which they have made on the R.A.F. programme, the Government have taken all these considerations into account.
My right hon. Friend in opening this debate today has referred to the industrial aspects. I am more immediately concerned, in my job in the Government, with the operational aspects; I say quite firmly that the Government have throughout been anxious to ensure that the Royal Air Force would have the equipment appropriate to its tasks at the time when it was needed. We cancelled the P1154, the supersonic VTOL aircraft—this has been mentioned today and many times before—because, despite the urgent need of the Royal Air Force for a Hunter replacement, it could not have been available before 1971 at the earliest. I say "at the earliest", because slippage in development projects was not an entirely unknown factor under the previous Government.
We decided to replace the P1154 by a combination of the Phantom and the Harrier, the former having a multi-rôle strike/ground attack/interceptor capability with supersonic performance, and the latter the V/STOL capability to provide the intimate close support of ground forces which is possible only with vertical/short take-off and landing techniques.
In the next financial year we shall begin to receive Phantoms in considerable numbers and conversion training will begin. The first R.A.F. Phantoms will enter R.A.F. service early in 1969. The House has been reminded that this air 780 craft has over 40 per cent. British equipment. My hon. Friend asked whether it was worthwhile. I will put to him a dilemma. I think it would be right to say that the American Phantom would have suited the job, but the Government took into account in this instance the effect that buying British would have on the British aircraft industry. This is an instance where two things came together and it costs more to do it in this way.
There have, as the House knows, been development difficulties associated with the Spey engine and the Ferranti nay/attack system, but I am glad to say that we are now well on the way to solving these and there should be only a few months' delay in our plans for getting the aircraft into squadron service. The final decision on price has to be agreed with our agents.
As regards the V/STOL Harrier, here too the report is of solid progress. With this advanced aircraft the United Kingdom leads the world and production is in full swing for the Royal Air Force. I have said this is a close support aircraft: with its unique take-off and landing capability it is able to maintain very close touch with the Army formations which it is its purpose to support in the battlefield. This capability is of special and growing significance in the European theatre It has export prospects, not the least of the reasons being that the lessons from the Arab-Israeli war have not been lost on people in services in all parts of the world. We had to cancel the HS681, the V/STOL tactical transport aircraft, because of excessive cost and because it would not have been in service until 1971–72 at the earliest. There was a crying need to replace urgently the Hastings and the Beverleys which simply would not have lasted until that time at the sort of rates we needed to operate them.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) is very concerned with production but, as far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, we have a responsibility to people who are flying and those who are travelling in old aeroplanes. The decision we made was to buy this rather than wait.
§ Mr. McMaster
That is all very well, but when cancelling the Hawker-Siddeley 781 615 did the Under-Secretary not consider ordering the tactical version of the Belfast instead of ordering the Hercules so that the order could be kept in this country?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
All I can say is that we considered it.
We decided that the urgent operational need would be met by ordering the Hercules. This is a tactical aircraft which also has a strategic capability and it has made a most impressive contribution to recent transport operations. If there is time, I will mention it to the House.
A question was asked this afternoon about the maritime field by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), who always shows such interest in Royal Air Force matters. We found that the previous Government had not made a decision on the urgently-needed maritime reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Shackletons. We reached an early decision, in the first few months of the Government, for a development of the Comet—the Nimrod as it has been subsequently named. This programme is going well. Both prototype aircraft have now flown and we can confidently expect deliveries of aircraft to the Royal Air Force to replace the Shackleton Mark Hs before the end of 1969.
This new aircraft is powered by four Rolls-Royce Spey engines. It has a modern computerised attack system for use against submarines and surface shipping, and its deep-section fuselage accommodates a large-capacity weapons bay. Here again, the United Kingdom leads the world and this will be the most advanced maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the first to be powered by turbo-fan engines.
The hon. Member for Dumfries spoke with the knowledge of a Coastal man; I assure him that when he spoke of the tight flying at low levels the advice I have is that these aircraft are first rate and the problem in this respect is minimal. Many matters were raised by him, but taking it out of the context of remarks I want to make, he referred to the problems of the Reserves, and the need of contact for the Royal Air Force with civil life. The comment I would make here—and it is a question I have often posed myself—is that, when the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Air 782 Force Volunteer Reserve were ended, I was surprised there was not the same noise and outcry as there was when the Territorial Army was disbanded. The decision was absolutely right and logical; the situation of men arriving at an airfield with no aeroplanes to fly made it quite obvious that to carry on with that sort of system was the wrong thing to do. My own view is that the logic is there too in the present situation.
The question of flying for officers was referred to. I have looked at the matter further, and I am advised it is far more economical for officers to do it by refresher training. It is not only economical but, apparently, to do it any other way would be, from an operational point of view, extremely dangerous. The light type of aeroplane has very little relevance with regard to a Phantom.
I have an example of an officer in the Royal Air Force who was, admittedly, going to fly two types of aircraft. I was much surprised to find that, leaving in January, he would not arrive with his squadron until August, because during that time he would be flying refresher aircraft. There are good reasons for this.
In the longer term, to return to the main theme, we shall also have the Anglo-French Jaguar, which is a supersonic light close support/trainer aircraft. In its trainer version it will replace the Gnat/Hunter aircraft as the follow-on aircraft from the Jet Provost in the flying training sequence. In its close support version it will take over the ground/attack rôle from the Phantom when the Phantom takes over from the Lightning in the mid 1970s.
As regards helicopters, the R.A.F. will start to take delivery of the SA330 air-portable support helicopter in 1970–71. The other two helicopters have an interest for the R.A.F., but their greater interest is for the other two Services.
In the missile field, there will be Rapier, a surface-to-air missile system which is fully airtransportable and highly mobile in the field. Deliveries to the R.A.F. of Martel will begin in 1971. The development of both versions of Martel—the anti-radar and the television—is progressing satisfactorily.
I submit that all this adds up to a very creditable situation in which there will 783 be a substantial improvement in the operational quality of our front line. I emphasise that already the improved operational capability which the present Government's policies have created is beginning to be available to help the Service carry out its many worldwide responsibilities. The year 1969 will be a vintage one for the introduction of new aircraft.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Does not this depend on the number of aircraft ordered? How many Harriers and Nimrods are to be ordered? Is it not very uneconomical to order in small packets?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I will come to that in a moment. I know the hon. Gentleman's interest in this. A number of hon. Members have said that the number of front-line aircraft is only 400. There is not time to go into this in comparison with other countries, but it is not a straight comparison with numbers in other countries. There is the sophistication of the aircraft concerned. Sweden was mentioned. The then Chief of the Air Staff visited Sweden last year and commented extremely favourably on its very fine Air Force; but the Swedish Air Force concentrates its mind on one rôle. The R.A.F. has a variety of rôles in different parts of the world.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) raised the question of a brochure which he had obtained from the recruiting centre. I have checked on that this evening. I regret that a slip of paper which, I am informed, has been put in all the others, was not put in the hon. Member's. There it is. A slip of paper correcting the Fill reference has been issued and has been sent out with these brochures. I apologise that it was not in the hon. Gentleman's copy.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
The silliest statement is that new aircraft coming into R.A.F. service up to 1970 will number over 1,000, in view of the statements about helicopters not coming into service until later.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I was about to refer to that. I have not had the time to check on this thoroughly, but I undertake to do so. What is the issue? In fact there will be more than 1,000 air 784 craft in the R.A.F. It is not the practice to give the precise figure. From what the hon. Gentleman has told me, the wording in that statement about "coming into service" would give the impression that they were all brand new. I apologise for that, and I will check it. It is 400-ish front line and 1,000-ish aircraft in total. I regret that from what the hon. Gentleman tells me the brochure certainly gives the wrong impression.
§ Mr. James Johnson
My hon. Friend has not said anything about the future of the Buccaneer. Will he do so?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I will not forget the Buccaneer. I was saying that 1969 will be a vintage year. While we continue to have bases in the Persian Gulf and the Far East and the responsibilities related to them and afterwards, the Royal Air Force will be fully capable of meeting the operational responsibilities which fall to it. So much for the present. The policy of this Government gives the R.A.F. a far stronger immediate operational capability.
I turn now to the question of tactical strike reconnaissance aircraft and their capability, an issue raised by many hon. Members. However, before I touch on that, I want to take a look at the future and the new operational situation which will face the Royal Air Force in its European rôle, because the tactical strike must be considered in the European context.
Over the years the Royal Air Force has become a Service of great versatility operating in many different parts of the world. Because of this, squadrons learnt to be equally at home in greatly differing geographic and climatic environments. Concentration mainly in support of Europe and the North Atlantic presents a new and equally worthwhile challenge. The operational environment in Europe is tougher and will be even more so in the future. I am advised that this will demand a very high degree of professionalism, and in this aim new aircraft and equipment have an important part to play.
I should like to give some examples. In current N.A.T.O. thinking there is the need to operate aircraft away from main bases where they would be vulnerable to attack, and the need to improve 785 mobility. Therefore, not only the Harrier but the Phantom-Harrier partnership will be of special importance in Europe. On the question of mobility, obviously in the context of cutting down on a worldwide rôle the transport fleet will not need to be as great, but the actual size will have to be related to the commitment as it is worked out.
A unique contribution to N.A.T.O. is at present made in strike and reconnaissance. Before dealing with that may I say briefly—there is no time to deal with it Fully, but the House should be aware of this—that not only on the operational but on the administrative side very much of the R.A.F. has been geared to the worldwide rôle. With an Air Force which has its major responsibilities in Europe thought must obviously be given to this aspect.
I now turn to the subject of general capability. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 16th January that this will bebased in Europe … which can be deployed overseas as, in our judgment, circumstances demand, including support for United Nations operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 1581.]The situation now is that we have bases overseas with their own resident forces. These bases are backed by considerable resources in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration dealt with the cost factor in the debates this week.
In the future the general capability we use outside the N.A.T.O. area will have to be drawn from the forces we keep for the defence of Europe. Naturally, there will be need for greater notice, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, but because of the great flexibility of air power the Royal Air Force will have a significant contribution to make in the general capability rôle, either acting alone or through its capability for rapid development of operational squadrons, or in conjunction with the other Services. It could provide air transport to enable troops and equipment to be rapidly deployed where needed and then return to the European rôle. But, as I have said, this question must be looked at very carefully.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) raised the question of tankers and so on. In this reassessment of the 786 situation the skill of the R.A.F. in its tanker rôle is also being carefully examined.
There is an immediate and a long-term aspect of the F111 question. The Canberra was originally to have been replaced by the TSR2. We found that we could not afford this and opted for the F111K in association with the V-bombers. The purchase was limited, because the problem was to fill the gap between the demise of the Canberras in two years' time and the introduction of a new strike-reconnaisance aircraft in the mid-1970s. The V-force, due to operate in the tactical rôle, could not fill the gap unless it was bracketed with a spearhead type of aircraft—the F111—the Vulcan remaining, to the mid-1970s.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Victor PR. It is not affected. Page 26 of the White Paper refers to the Blue Steel Mark II Victors.
The point about the F111 is that it would have had long-range tactical reconnaisance capability. It would have a dual capacity to deter attack by reconnaisance together with its capacity for strike, largely in the conventional rôle, and it also has a maritime rôle.
The point now is that this creates a serious gap. This matter is receiving urgent examination. The whole question is very difficult. What is clear is that there is no new type of aircraft which can be developed for the R.A.F. to offset the withdrawal of the Canberra in the strike rôle, which must take place in 1969 and 1970, for the Canberras are old aircraft. The PR9, a later version will carry on beyond that date for photographic reconnaissance.
The problem is, therefore, to consider aircraft now in service or under development and to see what can be done in the immediate future to give us the most satisfactory combination of combat aircraft for our military rôle in the mid-1970s, until about 1975.
We need to remember that we are part of an alliance and that our American allies have a capacity for long-range strike reconnaisance. We shall, of course, have at our disposal Buccaneers to support the Navy for maritime strike in the post-carrier situation and to support our V-force in a tactical strike and reconnaissance rôle in the European situation. 787 There are also the Phantoms, and, later the Jaguar, which also have to be considered. The capability of these aircraft is impressive. The question is to decide which has the right element or elements to be strengthened to alleviate as satisfactorily as possible in the short-term the consequences of losing the F111 capacity, and this is being done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) asked about the Buccaneer Mark II. I am advised that this aircraft is not in the same class as the F111 but it is a very useful aircraft. We are also looking carefully at the prospects here. All the options need to be carefully considered. That is what we are doing, and by July we aim to be clear on the answer.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
No. I would rather get on.
As the hon. Gentleman conceded, it was not the Government's fault that the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft did not go on. But studies are proceeding related to the need for an advanced military combat aircraft in the mid-1970s. Various possible solutions are being examined by the B.A.C. project team at Warton. While I take the point that one does not want to feed too much into it, one has to avoid getting aircraft in the mid-1970s which are not capable of the task required. The emphasis on
§ the European rôle is being fully taken into account in these studies, which are wide-ranging and are taking in all the fundamental issues involved.
§ Collaboration would be our preferred policy, and for good reasons. I find it odd that the Opposition should write into their Motion a view which deprecates dependence on others. Where do they draw the line? When is dependence deep? In N.A.T.O. we are dependent upon others not only industrially but operationally. Fighter Command is and has been for many years small, but it has to be looked at in the context of the defence of Europe, both with aircraft and with radar. This is true of Coastal Command as well. We are interdependent with our allies in the maritime rôle and in the strike rôle.
§ By the very nature of the requirements of industry and operations, Europe is interdependent. The Motion does not seem to realise or accept this fact of life. That is true of the whole Motion. It is almost the same Motion that we have debated many times since 1964. Now, as then, it ill becomes the party of the cancellations to tell us our business. The Motion is a charade. It is the same old Motion with the same old arguments, and it deserves the same result.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 116, Noes 181.789
|Division No. 86.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Crowder, F. P.||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Cunningham, Sir Knox||Holland, Philip|
|Awdry, Daniel||Dance, James||Howell, David (Guildford)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Batsford, Brian||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Bell, Ronald||Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Jopling, Michael|
|Biffen, John||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Eden, Sir John||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Kirk, Peter|
|Blaker, Peter||Errington, Sir Eric||Kitson, Timothy|
|Body, Richard||Eyre, Reginald||Lambton, Viscount|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Fisher, Nigel||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Brewis, John||Galbraith, Hon. T. G.||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col, Sir walter||Gibson-Watt, David||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Goodhart, Philip||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Bryan, Paul||Goodhaw, Victor||MacArthur, Ian|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Gresham Cooke, R.||McMaster, Stanley|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Gurden, Harold||Marten, Neil|
|Campbell, Gordon||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mawby, Ray|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monro, Hector|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Murton, Oscar|
|Clegg, Walter||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Nott, John|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hastings, Stephen||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hawkins, Paul||Neave, Airey|
|Costain, A. P.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Onslow, Cranley|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hill, J. E. B.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Osborn, John (Hallam)||Russell, Sir Ronald||Wall, Patrick|
|Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Scott, Nicholas||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Page, Graham (Crosby)||Scott-Hopkins, James||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Sinclair, Sir George||Webster, David|
|Pym, Francis||Smith, John||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Quennell, Miss J. M.||Stodart, Anthony||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Tapsell, Peter||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Teeling, Sir William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Mr. Jasper More and|
|Royle, Anthony||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek||Mr. Anthony Grant.|
|Abse, Leo||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip(Derby, S.)|
|Anderson, Donald||Haseldine, Norman||Norwood, Christopher|
|Archer, Peter||Hazell, Bert||O'Malley, Brian|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Orbach, Maurice|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Heffer, Eric S.||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hilton, W. S.||Padley, Walter|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hooley, Frank||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bishop, E. S||Horner, John||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Blackburn, F.||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Booth, Albert||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Boston, Terence||Howie, W.||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hoy, James||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Huckfield, Leslie||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Bradley, Tom||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Rankin, John|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Hunter, Adam||Rees, Merlyn|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Hynd, John||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Buchan, Norman||Irvine, Sir Arthur||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Chapman, Donald||Janner, Sir Barnett||Roebuck, Roy|
|Coleman, Donald||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Conlan, Bernard||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Judd, Frank||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Kelley, Richard||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Kenyon, Clifford||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Slater, Joseph|
|Dell, Edmund||Lawson, George||Small, William|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Lee, John (Reading)||Snow, Julian|
|Dickens, James||Lestor, Miss Joan||Stonehouse, John|
|Dobson, Ray||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lipton, Marcus||Taverne, Dick|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Luard, Evan||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lubbock, Eric||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||MacColl, James||Tinn, James|
|Ellis, John||MacDermot, Niall||Urwin, T. W.|
|Ennals, David||Macdonald, A. H.||Varley, Eric G.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Maclennan, Robert||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Faulds, Andrew||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Finch, Harold||McNamara, J. Kevin||Wallace, George|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Weitzman, David|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Marks, Kenneth||Wellbeloved, James|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Foley, Maurice||Mason, Roy||Whitlock, William|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Maxwell, Robert||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Forrester, John||Mayhew, Christopher||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Fowler, Gerry||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Molloy, William||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moonman, Eric||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Winnick, David|
|Gregory, Arnold||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Yates, Victor|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Morris, John (Aberavon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Moyle, Roland||Mr John McCann and|
|Hamling, William||Murray, Albert||Mr. Neil McBride.|
|Harper, Joseph||Neal, Harold|