§ 10.10 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move,That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 125,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1969.On Monday and Tuesday this week the House concentrated on the broad issues of policy in the defence field. Today we have had a close look at the Royal Air Force equipment and operational programme. This has left only a short period to consider the many other important aspects of the Service.
It gives me particular pleasure to be reporting on the state of the Royal Air Force in this year, when the Service celebrates the 50th anniversary of its foundation. I am proud to be reporting on a Service which, as ever, is carrying out its tasks with efficiency and confidence, and preparing for the future in the same manner.
When I introduced the Air Estimates in 1967, I laid particular stress on my "management" responsibilities. I want to stress these again and, in the short time at my disposal, to consider mainly personnel and some organisation matters.
It is my privilege normally to take the Chair on behalf of the Secretary of State at meetings of the Air Force Board. I should like to remind the House of the important rôle of the Boards in dealing with the many purely single-service, day 792 to-day management problems, which arise in the implementation of defence policy.
I do not propose to go into detail on the provision in Air Estimates. A comparison between 1968–69 Estimates and those for the current year is shown at Annex C of the White Paper, but the House may ask why, at a time of retrenchment in the defence field, the Air Estimates should be £13½ million higher than last year. In real terms there is a decrease of some £12 million on 1967–68. The increase is due to devaluation and pay and price increases.
The Estimates take account of the cuts in defence expenditure announced in November following devaluation. The major single item for the Royal Air Force was the cancellation of the Chinook, for which there was a forward provision in Air Votes of over £6 million in 1968–69.
As indicated in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 16th January the changes in defence policy which he then announced will not have much effect on spending in 1968–69, but they will yield of course substantial economies later on. One significant reduction in the Estimates is in the Movements Vote, which covers the main movements of all three Services by air. We expect to spend nearly £3 million less on movements next year than was provided for 1967–68.
This is primarily due to the increased operational capacity of Air Support Command with its new aircraft such as the VC10, the Hercules and the Belfast. In keeping themselves at the proper state of operational readiness, these aircraft are continuing the reduction in the need for charter.
I should now like to turn to the personnel field. The whole future of the Royal Air Force depends on the skill and dedication of those who serve in it. The changes in defence policy—which we have been bound to make in the interests of building a sound economy—have naturally been disappointing for the Services. This is particularly true of the loss of the F111 capability. But the changes we are making, and particularly the concentration on the European rôle, are ones to which the Royal Air Force will readily and quickly adapt itself.
793 When redeployment is complete, as I have argued earlier, the R.A.F. will remain a powerful and effective force. It will also have a clearly defined rôle, primarily in Europe. To man this force we shall need a continuing flow of high-calibre recruits capable of handling most sophisticated equipments, and I cannot emphasise too strongly that the Royal Air Force will continue to offer a career fully commensurate with their skills.
Throughout the period of redeployment and the slimming which this entails, it will be our aim to maintain a careful balance between those entering and those leaving the Service so that, at the end of the day, we emerge with a smaller but no less effective force with an age, rank and trade structure designed to meet both the need of the Royal Air Force for efficiency and the desire of the individual for an interesting and rewarding career.
Recruitment in 1967 continued at much the same level as in 1966 although, with one or two exceptions, it fell rather below the target. So far this year, however, there has been more than the seasonal Falling off. This may be due in part to the anxieties felt by parents or career advisers as a result of plans to redeploy the Services and reduce their size. I hope that in a small way the outline I have given of our future aircraft plans will help to reassure the Service and that the outline which I have given of our manpower plans will help to reassure parents aid others concerned with career guidance that they need have no fears on his score.
It is my impression that the problem of redundancy in connection with the rundown of the Services gets far too much emphasis. As the House knows, amongst the measures announced in January was provision for an eventual reduction in Service manpower beyond the 75,000 forecast in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy in 1967 (Command 3357) and for the reduction to be spread over a shorter time.
Although the manpower reduction forecast is substantial, it is important to get the matter in proper perspective. One must remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that over 10,000 men leave the Royal Air Force on normal exit each year and that by 1973 some 50 per cent. of the 794 men at present serving in the Royal Air Force will have left through normal wastage. It will be possible to take advantage of this turnover in keeping redundancy to the minimum required to preserve a proper age/rank and trade balance.
I cannot at this point give specific figures for the Royal Air Force because we are still working out detailed plans, and to do this properly will take several months. As soon as firm information is available, I will arrange for it to be published to the Service. I can say, however, now that so far as possible any redundancies will continue to be made by voluntary applications from officers and men in the prescribed age and rank zones, and compulsory selections will be made only when there are insufficient volunteers.
While on the subject of exit from the Royal Air Force, I should like to refer to a question which very frequently arises in correspondence on individual cases—namely, premature release at an individual's own request. I do not propose to refer here to youth entrants. That is a problem which is being examined specially by my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration, as he has told the House. From time to time, however, I am told that the Royal Air Force is acting unreasonably in refusing to let an airman go when he wishes to. In a disciplined fighting force, we cannot release men indiscriminately, regardless of our need for them, and there are clearly defined rules for premature discharge.
I would emphasise to the House that in the Royal Air Force, with its complicated trade structure—complicated only to the layman like myself—for a man suddenly to leave might well mean that aircraft repairs on a bomber station, for example, would have to stop. It is not simply a question of other individuals doing the same task.
There are clearly defined rules for premature discharge. They enable a man to be released provided that, first, he has completed a minimum period of service to offset the cost of his training; secondly, he pays the prescribed purchase price; and thirdly, his trade is adequately manned. In compassionate cases some or all of these provisos may 795 be waived according to the circumstances. In 1967, over 1,300 airmen successfull applied for discharge by purchase. Of these, some 180 went out on compassionate grounds.
When I look at these cases I find that more often than not they have been treated very fairly by the officers who are responsible for dealing with compassionate cases and the other types as well. Very rarely do I have to overrule what has been decided. The Royal Air Force knows of its problems in a Service where wives are separated from husbands, and these matters are dealt with extremely well.
Before leaving the subject of personnel, I wish to devote a few moments to the Air Training Corps, in which I have a particular interest. Hon. Members will recall that in last year's debate I announced that we were setting up a committee to review the whole organisation administration and training of the A.T.C. We were fortunate enough to obtain the services as chairman of Air Marshal Sir Douglas Morris, who had recently retired from the post of Commander-in-Chief, Fighter Command. The committee has produced a most valuable report which we are now studying.
I think it is sometimes overlooked that the Air Training Corps is not simply a pre-entry organisation for the Royal Air Force: its services in youth training are of value to the nation as a whole. There is, obviously, a very close connection with the Royal Air Force. This is the basis on which the Corps exists and, as a result of this connection, many hundreds of ex-A.T.C. boys join the Royal Air Force every year. They provide an extremely valuable and high quality entry of the type which we shall continue to need in the future. The A.T.C. is essentially a voluntary body and I want to praise the work done by these volunteers all over the country.
As the Royal Air Force looks to the future with its new aircraft and runs down to a size commensurate with its new tasks, it is essential that its organisation should be right. A great deal of thought has been given to the question of command structure and the changes I announced last year will mainly take effect during the coming financial year. The changes are set out in the White 796 Paper. Time is short, so I will simply draw the House's attention to the fact that, when the re-organisation is completed, the total of United Kingdom commands will have been reduced from eight to four.
The reasons for this re-organisation are many. The Royal Air Force of the 1970s, as we discussed earlier, will have a smaller number of aircraft than the force for which the existing United Kingdom operational command structure was designed. These aircraft will, however, be capable of operating in a number of different rôles. Both these factors have led to the need for a stream-lined system of operational control, but the last one is often ignored. The fact that an aeroplane can be used in a multiplicity of rôles makes it good sense to have a command structure which can deal with this factor.
Furthermore, when the aircraft carriers phase out, the participation of the Royal Air Force in maritime operations will increase, both in national and N.A.T.O. defence tasks. The new command structure will help in establishing a much closer working relationship with the Royal Navy and also the Army. There are, of course, also economic benefits from the changes. The reduction in the number of command headquarters will lead to valuable savings amounting eventually to over 1,000 posts which, together with other administrative savings, should amount to some £1½ million a year.
We shall continue with our policy of concentrating the Royal Air Force on the smallest number of stations consistent with our needs and of disposing of those for which we have no further use. When we have determined the size and shape of the Royal Air Force as a result of the most recent defence cuts we shall undertake a full scale review of our deployment requirements. This will be a complex task, and it is not possible at this stage to forecast which stations may be no longer needed, but we shall follow our usual practice of making announcements as soon as decisions are reached. May I say here, Mr. Speaker, that the other evening, when the subject of Honington came up, I thought that one hon. Gentleman opposite was unfair to the officers who deal with the use of airfields. It is often good sense to put an airfield on to a care-and-maintenance 797 basis and to move squadrons to nearby stations to achieve economies, while a decision is made about what is to go into a new airfield. It might seem ludicrous to people who are not in the full picture, but it is not a sign of inefficiency on the part of the people dealing with deployment in this sense.
As the Royal Air Force reshapes both in size and command structure to meet the tasks of the future, it is able to take advantage of the improvements in methods which have been introduced over the years, including the computer control of stores and the computer for airmen's pay and records. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) will be aware of that in terms of his constituency.
Before concluding, I should like briefly to draw attention to the service which the Royal Air Force renders to others. The White Paper refers to the valuable service which the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Service continues to give. It also draws attention to the assistance given in the "Torrey Canyon" incident and the foot-and-mouth epidemic. I should add that when I discovered what the airmen for whom I am responsible had to do, I felt that they did it with an extremely good heart, We were very pleased when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wrote a word of thanks on behalf of farmers. Incidentally, I am aware that it was not only Air Force personnel who were involved.
I should like also to draw attention to the assistance given by the R.A.F. Technical Training School at St. Athan, in South Wales, in retraining redundant workers. Although of modest size and of a trial nature, the scheme has been highly successful.
Of very topical interest in the humanitarian assistance given by the Royal Air Force in Vietnam, in helping the Ministry of Overseas Development and certain charitable organisations to distribute emergency relief supplies. Several flights by Roy al Air Force Hercules and a Belfast of Air Support Command have been carried out, taking to Saigon vehicles, ambulances and medical supplies. This is a considerable operation which is being carried out by the Royal Air Force with characteristic efficiency.
798 Finally, the Meteorological Office—one of the my hon. Friends has a great interest in the Meteorological Office and I was looking to see whether he was here—which I have had little time to refer to, and which is playing a significant part in the World Weather Watch programme, has recently made a weather ship temporarily available to meet Board of Trade requirements for a vessel with a control officer to be available near the Icelandic fishing grounds.
This is a time when the Royal Air Force, in common with the other Services, is having to face significant changes in all fields, arising from the major policy considerations which the House has been debating over the last few days. The withdrawal from bases east of Suez and the concentration on a European rôle will mark the end to a chapter in Royal Air Force history.
But the Royal Air Force has always responded to change and adapted itself with vigour and dedication to new tasks, and I am convinced that, as the Royal Air Force looks back over 50 years with justifiable pride in its tremendous achievements, it can look forward with confidence to meeting the challenge it will face in the future in its primarily European rôle.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
When I could catch up with the hon. Gentleman, who almost rivalled the speed of his immediate superior at the Ministry of Defence, I thought that I heard him say that the problems of redundancy received too much emphasis. I am afraid that they are going to get a little more, though perhaps in a different way.
I want to tell the House about the problems created for a community in my constituency due to the announcement that the Royal Air Force base there is to be closed by 1970. The problem arises in a village with the perhaps deceptively Irish name of Ballykelly. Although this decision concerns my constituency, it has a wider interest because it is a microcosm of the effect of broken assurances all over the world.
The Government have announced that they intend to close this Coastal Command station in 1970. The station employs about 470 civilians, and there are 799 1,330 Service personnel. The presence of the Royal Air Force in the area accounts for 3,290 people, in a village with a population of about 200. It can be seen, therefore, that the Royal Air Force is the heart and soul of the community, and indeed the community has grown up because of the presence of the Royal Air Force. It has been a happy community in which R.A.F. personnel have been held in great affection.
Unemployment has been a problem in the area for a long time. I do not deny that. In January, male unemployment was 16½ per cent. When I recently expressed anxiety in the House about the effect on unemployment of the closure of the base, the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that because the unemployment figures for Northern Ireland as a whole had shown a welcome improvement in February, we all ought, for some reason or another, to take our hats off to him, though what credit he can claim for this I do not know, as it has been the habit of the Government in the past to suggest that the unemployment problem was one largely for the Northern Ireland Government. That, of course, is when the figures are bad.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
Is it not a fact that the Government's action here will result in putting unemployment in this area up to more than 30 per cent.? Is not this disgraceful?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
My hon. and learned Friend has anticipated what I was about to say. That is the case. The Prime Minister should have known at the time that the unemployment figure in this area, however much it may have improved elsewhere, had already worsened to the extent of 17.3 per cent. in the last month and the substantial loss of trade to the village and the neighbouring town of Limavady as a result of the departure of the Royal Air Force must inevitably lead to further unemployment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that.
I wonder whether the Government have considered the other effects of closure and the official abandonment of the whole site. They have spent about £3 million on the base over 10 years. They are proposing to leave behind them 800 52[...]modern houses, which cannot be entirsly absorbed by local demand because the housing authorities there already have 360 houses planned or in the course of erection, houses which in all probability they would not be building if they thought that the Royal Air Force was going to leave.
For instance, do the Government realise that a large new primary school now nearing completion at a cost of £250,000 was built largely because of the presence of the R.A.F. and that two-thirds of the pupils intended for it were the children of Service personnel? Other schools in the area have been enlarged for the same reason, practically at the behest of the Ministry of Defence. That is one result. I will not deal with the other hardships such as the rate increases which must fall on the local people with the disappearance of the Services.
Perhaps we will be told that the local authorities should have known better and that they should not count on the presence of defence establishments in this day and age. In this respect, it is easy to be sophisticated after three years of this Government, but hear what the Government themselves said about the station and then ask whether they can blame the local authorities for putting their faith in the future of the base. Early in 1966 I raised its future in another context with the then Under-Secretary for the Navy. All was well and, on 23rd June, 1966, the present Under-Secretary of State for the R.A.F. wrote me the following letter:I have been asked to reply…I can confirm…that the transfer of J.A.S.S. from Londonderry will have little effect on the numbers of Air Force Department civilians employed at Ballykelly.Our present plans are to continue using Shackletons there for some years to come. When these aircraft are replaced by HS 801s (Maritime Comets) the station will be suitable for their use.Then, from no less a personage than the present Foreign Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister, when at the D.E.A., who was trying to be helpful on another point, I received a letter, dated 15th July, 1966, saying:In your letter you also express fears that some other possible developments will lead eventually to Ballykelly being closed down with serious consequences for Northern Ireland. I need hardly say that the Government 801 would certainly look very carefully at any proposal which could have the consequences you fear but I can put your mind at rest…I am in fact assured by my Defence colleagues that the Ballykelly Station has, and will continue to have, an important rôle as a Coastal Command airfield. Shackletons will continue to be used there for some time to come and when they are replaced by Comets the Station will still be suitable for their use.There can be little doubt about that assurance.
Then, on 14th September, 1966, the present Leader of the House of Lords visited Londonderry and told a Press conference that he had been very impressed by the obvious efficiency and morale at the station, and went on:It is true that Ballykelly is a very important R.A.F. station and, so far as I can see it, whatever may happen to J.A.S.S. in Londonderry, this Ballykelly station will continue because Coastal Command has a wide wide range of responsibilities. It is highly desirable that the Royal Air Force should continue to have a strong presence in Northern Ireland where they have many friends…The R.A.F., for as far ahead as we can see, will remain here in Londonderry.Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman could not see very far ahead.
These are some of the assurances, but despite them, and because of the overriding importance of the base to the local economy, I wrote again in April, 1967, and received a letter from the Under-Secretary marked, curiously, "Confidential". I have not yet discovered why, but, because it was so marked, I will not reveal its contents except to say that it dealt with the situation—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I cannot recall the occasion, but I think that the reason was the time factor connected with an announcement. I have no objection to the hon. Member quoting it now.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I have it here, but it makes no difference, since I can tell the House that it dealt with the situation in the 1970s and left me with no real cause for alarm. This was in April, 1967. However, in December, rumours of a run-down reached me, and this resulted in a verbal assurance from one in high authority in the Ministry of Defence on 13th December last year that there was no reason for concern. To get that on paper, I wrote to the Under-Secretary for confirmation on 21st December. On 5th January, 1968, 15 days later, closure 802 in 1970 was announced. In such a way do purposeful planners work. Other than sheer panic to make cuts somewhere, somehow, what can be guiding the Government in this matter?
I have related some of the assurances that the Government have scattered like confetti. Can one wonder why the local authorities acted as they did? They were too trusting. Can one wonder that a restaurant owner in the village of Ballykelly spent £1,300 on his premises? Can one imagine the resources of a restaurant in a village of 200 inhabitants? Can one wonder that the proprietor of a hairdressing salon invested £1,000 in his premises and a draper £2,000 in his? Two of these will now lose 60 per cent. of their sales and the other 90 per cent. Is the storekeeper who spent £6,000 on his premises, and will now lose 75 per cent. of his sales, to blame himself simply because he trusted the Government?
These are doubtless trifling sums to the Government, but they are people's savings. They were spent because the Government said something which they now say is untrue. If there is no comeback for those who spent their savings, there must be enough shame left in even this Government for them to say tonight what were the overwhelming and wholly unforeseen strategic reasons which decided them to close this station. How do they propose to compensate this area which had faith in them?
Above all, what alternatives are they proposing for the civilians who worked there? At present, despite the welcome news of a new industry which the Northern Ireland Government have succeeded in inducing to go to the area, the prospect which many of the unskilled and middle-aged face in 1970 is that of gazing out over the deserted airfield. The Government have a clear, unmistakeable responsibility for the misfortune which has overtaken the area. It cannot be shed or shrugged off.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
Is it not a fact that these assurances were given right up to January of this year and that each one has been broken? Is it not also true that the Government will now take away from this area more than 3,000 people, Service personnel and families, and about £1¼ million a year? 803 How will that affect the community around Ballykelly?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Assurances were given right up to December of last year. The closure was announced on 5th January. I agree that vital spending power is being taken out of the community.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) will not expect me to follow him in a purely constituency matter. I, too, have a constituency issue to raise and I will come to that later. First, I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary will let the House know the policy of the R.A.F. towards pensions, and to what extent that policy marches in tune with that pursued by the Army.
My curiosity about this matter has been whetted by an article in the Sun on 1st March, which reported that General Sir James Castle was appointed a field marshal one day before he retired and that, as a result, his pension would be £4,050 a year as against £3,430 had he remained a general. Is this policy pursued in the R.A.F. and is it possible that we shall see an air chief marshal made a marshal one day before his retirement?
This raises interesting possibilities. Perhaps a corporal will become a sergeant or a flight lieutenant a squadron leader—and in a year in which we have embarked on a policy which is likely to involve many calls for restraint on people, this leaves the Service open to criticism from the rest of the working population.
I was most interested in what the Under-Secretary said about the civilian aid which the R.A.F. had given during the year. I understand that it helped in Aberfan, helped in the foot-and-mouth epidemic, helped to rescue by helicopters people in difficulties at sea; and the Under-Secretary told us tonight how it had helped to take supplies to civilian victims of the Vietnamese war. One would certainly not want to put any sort of financial evaluation on work of mercy such as this, but it might be interesting to have in future years some sort of estimate of the value of such services to the community. That would help many people who perhaps have difficulty in seeing how 804 the money spent on defence helps the civilian population.
The Under-Secretary pointed out that in the coming year we are to have a large number of organisational changes in the Royal Air Force. This is of interest to my constituency because we have had Fighter Command there since 1936, and it is now to be merged into the new Strike Command. Fighter Command has been housed at Bentley Priory, which stands on a hill above the village of Stanmore. It was from that spot, which incidentally is near the place where it is believed that Queen Boadicea was buried, that the planning for the Battle of Britain was done. From there Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, as he then was, wrote the famous letter during the Battle of France which warned the Government not to send more aircraft there because we might need them to defend our islands.
The House will be glad to know that the relationship between my R.A.F. constituents and my civilian constituents has for long been excellent. Within the last year or so it has been made event better, if that were possible, by the actions of the Under-Secretary who, when it was proposed to build a number of R.A.F. houses, readily and courteously accepted my suggestion that we should have a meeting of residents so that the matter could be discussed. This sort of friendly contact between the Services and the civilian population is valuable. Having read various reports of difficulties and trouble in other parts of the country, I hope that this contact may continue.
Is my hon. Friend yet in a position to say whether the R.A.F. will relinquish Bentley Priory altogether in the near future, and to say what thought has been given to its further use? He will know, because he lives in the next constituency to the one I have the privilege to represent, that there are numbers of Government buildings in Harrow, East which are of a rather unsightly appearance. Some are owned by the Ministry of Defence. I wonder if he has thought that when the R.A.F. moves from Bentley Priory it would be a good idea if other Departments move in; that these unsightly buildings should be demolished and houses built on their sites. Bentley 805 Priory is a very beautiful residence which was designed by Sir John Soane.
What is likely to be the position in regard to the headquarters unit in Stan-more Park, which covers a rather big acreage? Will the R.A.F. still need it in view of the command changes? What is the position in regard to married quarters in the area? There are large numbers. I suspect that as there is a great demand for accommodation for the R.A.F. in the Greater London area and that the R.A.F. might need them for some time to come. It would be extremely helpful if we could have an idea of how long they are likely to be needed. Can my hon. Friend say what is the position in regard to the educational needs of airmen's children in my constituency? We have been in correspondence about this, and he knows that there is a shortage of school places. What attention has been given to this matter?
I am also concerned about the question of the unemployment which will result from these changes. My hon. Friend, in his characteristically courteous manner, has kept me well-informed on the subject, but may I ask him to tell us what the present position is? Is it felt that all those who will become unemployed as a result of the move will be settled either in new jobs with the Ministry of Defence or elsewhere?
Finally, what arrangements have been made to ensure that Fighter Command ends its existence with some suitable ceremony? I hope that a way will be found of commemorating in a permanent manner the long association of Fighter Command with my constituency, and with the nation's finest hour.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I have sat through most of today's debate, although, unhappily, because of another meeting, I was not able to be present for the earlier speeches. It has been well worth my while to listen to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), because I have just learned something. I was in Bentley Priory half-way through the war. There was a mixed crowd of us there—R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. I suppose that I learned much whilst I was there, but I certainly did not know then that Boadicea had had 806 any connection with Bentley Priory. As my constituency includes Stamford, and as Stamford was the place from which Boadicea set out to conquer the South, I now recognise, having been at Bentley Priory, that I have almost as much connection with the hon. Gentleman's constituency as I have with my own.
I suppose we are accustomed to hearing a good deal in defence debates from representatives of the Army and of the Navy. The R.A.F. is outnumbered in the House. However, as the Under-Secretary knows full well, we do not consider that we are of less importance because of that. I have wondered today, as I have wondered in previous years when listening to debates on the R.A.F., whether the R.A.F. is there to keep the aircraft industry going or whether the aircraft industry is there to keep the R.A.F. going. In the previous debate I fancy that we heard much less about the R.A.F. than we heard about the aircraft industry and the production of aircraft.
I find it a little sad that in its fiftieth year the R.A.F. has taken the knock that it has taken. In the Defence Estimates it has taken a rather greater knock than the other Services. I do not think that the Under-Secretary has admitted that. I understand his difficulty, but in his heart of hearts he must think that this is true. The R.A.F. itself thinks that it is so. It is at present in a rather depressed condition. The officers and men are just not sure of what the future means for them.
In winding up the previous debate and in opening this one the Under-Secretary said, perhaps nine or ten times, that the Government were having "studies" studies on the R.A.F's future rôle, studies on the type of aircraft. Finally, he said that he was having studies on redundancy and studies on the A.T.C. I do not know whether he meant that he was having studies with a view to abolishing the A.T.C. I think not, and I hope not. The R.A.F. is not involved with any Territorial Army-type organisation, and this is the only voluntary thing we have. I hope that we shall always keep it.
I urge the Under-Secretary not to study for too long on the question of redundancy. This is a very important matter. In my constituency there are two R.A.F. stations—R.A.F. Luffenham and R.A.F. Cottesmore. Wittering is just 807 outside, and most of the people in Wittering come into Stamford. Therefore, when we were fighting for our independence in Rutland we always reckoned that if the Government took us over we had an air force that could fight our battles.
We have very close relations with the R.A.F., and the R.A.F. and the local people know each other and enjoy each other's company. We meet in the pubs, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is the utmost depression in the Service. He has a very important job to do in the next few months in dispelling it. It is a public relations job, and it must be backed up with something. The people concerned must be convinced that there is a future for them. The Minister said tonight that redundancy within the R.A.F. would take place on the basis of the normal wastage, people buying themselves out and so on. It would be helpful if in the next few weeks he could put a figure to the amount of redundancy that would take place over and above the normal wastage. I know that this is difficult because he cannot very well calculate what the wastage will be.
Nevertheless, he should be able to assure those in the R.A.F., particularly officers and senior N.C.Os. of about 40, that they will still have a future in the Service. This applies more to ground crews than pilots, because he must keep his technical people on the ground if the Service is to be operational in the air. The technical people have jobs in industry available to them if they leave before a certain age, and at present they are seriously contemplating getting out in order to pick up those jobs in industry while the going is good. If that happens to any great extent there will be a brain drain from the Service, a rush from it into industry, and then he will be struggling to get the people back again. Furthermore, he will not get the same kind of people, because a man who has worked technically in the R.A.F. for 10 to 15 years is a great advantage to the Service.
If the Minister must recruit lower age groups from outside he will find gaps which will make it very difficult for the squadrons to stay operational. Therefore, the question of redundancy is of the utmost importance and should not be 808 studied for a period that will continue the kind of uncertainty that exists at present. The morale of the Service is not good at present. It is up to the Minister to improve it.
A good deal was said in the earlier debate on the rôle of the R.A.F., overseas service and the like. I do not agree with the Government's leaving east of Suez, and I think that they have announced the decision in advance precipitately. But, if we are withdrawing from east of Suez to a certain extent, it could be made clear to the R.A.F. that certain bases will be maintained and that it will be engaged in supplying them and even having personnel stationed there. If the future rôle of the R.A.F. is to be within Europe, it could make a contribution, because of its experience round the world, if Europe—not Britain, but with Britain included—has an east of Suez rôle and has to do anything in Asia.
If this is so, it must be said and it must be spelt out. If it is not, then the Royal Air Force will run down, because people will feel there is no future in it. I do not think that anyone who joins the R.A.F.—and I expect this applies to the other Services as well—and is told that the furthest he can go is the Orkneys or Margate will think his journey worth while or that giving up part of his life in this way is worth while. Such a person wants to go overseas and does not mind being based overseas.
I am not convinced that the cost of the kind of thing that is going on at R.A.F. stations at the moment—for example, at Wittering, which is actually in the Peterborough constituency—where there is the building of large housing estates, will save any Government money in the long run. It costs less to keep the men overseas in terms of housing and probably also in terms of overall cost. The pressure upon the housing programme as a whole is made all the greater by this policy in a situation where, according to the right hon. Gentleman, we shall have to house 35,000 people here and eventually 50,000. The Government should give some assurance on this.
Another matter, which also applies to the other Services, and which I have raised in defence debates before, is the fact that I do not think the country is 809 sufficiently generous in the amount of money it makes available for the education of Servicemen's children. Officers and airmen whose children have to be boarded in direct grant schools or other schools at home are in considerable difficulty if they have more than one child. Boarding education here gives the children a stability of education which they cannot otherwise get because of the nature of their father's job, which means being switched around every three years.
In terms of what we do with public schools and direct grant schools, this is a rôle which the Services themselves would find useful to fulfil in the grants for education were more generous. Many more children could be given this kind of permanent education instead of floating about from school to school over a period of 10 or 12 years.
I was anxious to take part in the debate because it is the 50th anniversary of the R.A.F. this year. I hope that this year, depressing as it is, will quickly pass and that next year and for the next 50 years the R.A.F. will continue to give the same kind of service to the country which we have come to expect and have always had from it.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I beg to move,That the said number be reduced by 1,000 men.This is the traditional manner of objecting to the Vote under consideration and the policy behind it. I listened with some interest to the complaints of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) about the station which was associated in some way with Boadicea.
§ Mr. Hughes
No complaints, but Boadicea came into it somewhere. But she is not included in Vote A and the Estimates, so I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend, interesting as he was. He looked rather far back and the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) looked forward to the next 50 years for the R.A.F.
There is a complete absence of realism in this debate, but I do not know whether it depresses me because I am not easily depressed even by a debate on the R.A.F. 810 There is a remarkable degree of unreality about this debate, which has been very badly attended. There is a smaller number of Members present than I can ever remember for a debate of this kind. The average attendance has been about 15, which is less than would normally attend the opening of a branch butcher's shop by the Leeds Co-operative Society, with which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is associated. I want to challenge the whole concept of the policy behind these Estimates and this Vote. My hon. Friend gave a very interesting technical account of the R.A.F., looking forward to what he called the vintage years. somewhere in the 1970s.
§ Mr. Hughes
There is talk in these careful and elaborate prospectuses of what a wonderful output of aeroplanes there is likely to be in the next few years. That is completely out of touch with reality and is certainly out of touch with the basic economic situation. We are approaching the time when we will face the fact that we are in a financial and economic crisis, but there has been no sign of it in this debate.
There has been no sign that the Government realise that, far from these economies being great economies, we are now being asked to vote for a sum of £537 million. This is at a time when we are told that the country is so short of money that it has even cut the milk to secondary schools. We should bring a touch of reality into this. The Chancellor, and those responsible for the economic future, are telling us that we must reduce public spending, but I see no practical sign of this. We hear of all these aircraft coming into play in 1969–70–71 and the hon. Gentleman for Rutland and Stamford talks about celebrating the R.A.F.'s centenary in another 50 years' time.
It is time for someone interested in the country's economic future and the possibilities of our development towards Europe to bring the House down to earth. Listening to the very able, very technical speech of my hon. Friend, which would have been applauded by the Institute of General Dynamics, I felt that it was certainly not a speech of a Socialist Minister looking forward to the future from a Socialist point of view, or a peace point of view. There has been no realisation 811 in the debate of the policy of the Government, which is calling for this big sum and this substantial number of men.
The idea that we are hard up as a nation has gone, and we are talking about enormously expensive aircraft coming into operation in a few years' time. If this goes on, the economic crisis will continue for the next five years. I protest at the very idea behind this Vote. Why do we need these men and this gigantic sum? There is this lame apology put forward about the humanitarian work that can be done. I quite agree. Good things are being done. Earlier I expressed my thanks to the Minister for the help given by the R.A.F. in rescuing by helicopter some sheep in my constituency, caught in the snow- We recognise what the Royal Air Force has done in the floods and off the Cornish coast, but that is not what the Royal Air Force is for. The Royal Air Force is a continuation of war policies. This £537 million is for building up an enormously powerful destructive force with modern nuclear weapons, about which the Minister has been strangely reticent.
What is the purpose? I am glad to know that we are reducing our expenditure in the Far East. The present Government have no intention of repeating a Suez-type colonial expedition. What is this powerful striking force needed for outside Europe? It certainly cannot be used in Rhodesia. The Government rightly have no intention of using it there. I am not one who believes that we can use the military power of the Royal Air Force in Rhodesia. If it is not to be used in Rhodesia or the Far East, and I do not know how it could possibly be used in the Middle East, we are forced to ask what is the rôle of this powerful bombing, reconnaissance and tactical force for which we are asked to raise this sum of money tonight.
If those responsible are thinking in terms of military power and striking, they must be thinking of striking somewhere. The only enemy which I can see is that our strategical experts and our military leaders are thinking in terms of an air strike against the Soviet Union. That would be suicidal. Nobody can say that if the Phantom, the F111 or whatever the heavy bomber is called went into reconnaissance into the Soviet Union, it would 812 ever come back, because there would be immediate retaliation, and, I believe, with nuclear weapons.
All this expensive paraphernalia and catalogue of bombers which are coming into existence, costing enormous sums of money, is completely outside the realms of reality of modern technological developments in war. The reality is that if we are to get war with the Soviet Union, it would be decided by intercontinental ballistic weapons and nuclear weapons, and about three or four of them would wipe out this country in a few hours.
Those are the realities that Mr. McNamara and his fellow thinkers in the Pentagon are enunciating. Mr. McNamara has been telling us that America has four and a half times more nuclear power than the Soviet Union. As the years go on, as we go into the 1970s, it is not likely to be a development of the Royal Air Force. It is likely to be the development of nuclear weapons and the megaton bomb.
Last summer, I had the opportunity of visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Two flashes wiped out two great cities. If we get the megaton bomb again, however, it will wipe out countries and continents. Therefore, if we do not think in those terms, we are not facing the realities of modern scientific and technological development. We are thoughtlessly, wastefully and uselessly spending money which would be better spent in raising the standard of the technical education of our people. If one is to get the technical staff behind these powerful weapons, one will have to improve technical education. The secondary school in the town in which I live is short of five science teachers at present, but at the same time the R.A.F. is going to the school to recruit the younger and more intelligent people to what I call a blind alley occupation.
It has been said several times that the pressure of the Left wing has several times made the Government decide on certain economies, but I do not flatter myself about that. I do not think that anybody ever listens to me in the homilies I address to the House, but there is a march of events, of economic and scientific development in the world.
We are wasting our money, and the Government is not realising that, nor 813 the pressure of events. If this country is not to be bankrupt, if it is ever to emerge from the financial and economic crisis, it will have to revise its ideas, and will have to stop spending these enormous sums, and reduce the number of men in this force.
Lonely voice that I am, I will continue with this warning. I believe that as the years go by, they will not see another 50 years of the R.A.F., but either world peace or this country and the world annihilated. It is my duty in the House to impress this on the House and I hope to do so at every opportunity and on every possible Vote.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Lord Hamilton (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I shall concentrate on the annihilation of the R.A.F. station at Ballykelly and I endorse and support all that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) so strongly and cogently emphasised about the proposed closure of R.A.F. Station, Ballykelly. I am convinced that this is a disastrous decision which will deal a sad and savage blow not only to the employment situation, but also to the prosperity and welfare of the entire area. The area is still recovering from the shock announcement by the Government that they were closing H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" nearby, and also from the callous closure of the B.S.R. factory.
Representing a constituency in the west of Ulster, in many respects similar to that of my hon. Friend, I fully appreciate and comprehend how difficult, if not impossible, it will be to find alternative employment for those doomed to become redundant at Ballykelly. The young will, in all probability, be forced to migrate to find alternative employment, while the middle age-unskilled will be forced to swell the dole queue yet further.
Unemployment is the common enemy in West Ulster, to such an extent that even a dozen redundancies will capture the headlines, so I trust that the Government comprehends and appreciates the utter devastation which its decision will cause, net only to the 470 civilians employed at the station, but also in the loss of at least £1¼ million of spending power provided by the R.A.F. personnel 814 and their families, who number well over 3,000 people in total.
Again, a guess estimate is that nearby Limavady will lose about a third of its present trade. Furthermore, there will be a considerable loss in tourist revenue, for, naturally, friends and relations of R.A.F. personnel visit them during their tours of duty. All these factors will lead to further unemployment, which at present is at an intolerable level but could well become catastrophic and chronic. Tradesmen who, though faith in consistent Government pledges, have invested their savings will be clinically betrayed.
Ballykelly is situated in an agricultural area, and since there is a continual decline in employment in the industry, thus the situation will be aggravated further. The Government must realise that, in Ulster, as new jobs are created, others cease to exist. To coin a well-known phrase, we are having to run mighty fast even to keep standing still.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Having made four speeches in four days, perhaps, in a few sentences, I might express my concern about individual Servicemen and thank the Under-Secretary of State and his staff for the care that they take about individual cases. Here, I have no complaint, and those who are critical in other directions perhaps should say that they are entirely satisfied about the way in which individual cases are dealt with.
I want, too, to thank my hon. Friend's Department for the visits to R.A.F. stations which it arranges. I have in mind particularly a recent one that I was able to make to the R.A.F. Supply Centre at Hendon to see its computer centre.
Finally, however critical we may be across the board, we are all concerned about the career structure of the personnel concerned. We are anxious that, in future, the career structure of such Forces as we need should be matched not only with the civil airlines but with industry. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is thinking along these lines. We have to have a different kind of age/career structure, and I hope that the Department will give some thought to it.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I must declare an interest at the beginning of my speech, having served with the R.A.F. at most of the places which have been mentioned. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) referred to Bentley Priory, Stanmore. I had the very good fortune to serve there with someone whom we referred to affectionately as "Stuffy" Dowding during the latter stages of the Battle of Britain.
It is a tragedy that Fighter Command is to be abolished. It was the one command, above all, which saved the country in the dark days of the early stages of the war. It is an even greater tragedy that it is to be abolished in the year which is the 50th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. On 1st April of this year, it is to be celebrated all over Britain, and I am glad to say that I shall be attending one of the celebration ceremonies. I agree completely with what has been said about the abolition of Fighter Command and Bentley Priory.
My real purpose in rising is to support my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). During the latter years of the war I had the good fortune to serve at the Royal Air Force Station at Ballykelly. I ask the Minister, before he comes to a final determination about Ballykelly, to refer to the records of submarine sinkings which were carried out by planes from that station, and to refer also to the protection which was given from Ballykelly and Castle Archdale, which has ceased to function, to our convoys crossing the Atlantic with the sinews of war which were so necessary in those days.
I speak very sincerely on this matter. We know the records of sinkings in those days. We know how vital Ballykelly was to the western approaches. We know the intimate details of the control of the Atlantic which was carried out from there in conjunction with Liverpool, the latter being controlling the whole of the Atlantic approaches to Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, and the other great sea ports upon which we relied in those days. This reason alone, I believe, is sufficient to justify the retention of Ballykelly as an essential station from the point of view of protecting convoys in the event of any future war.
816 I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has left the Chamber. He told us what he visualised a future war would entail. In the early days of the last war we heard about the possibility of the use of gas. In not so recent days we have heard about the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a future war. I think that when we consider the lessons which have been learned in Korea, and other latter-day outbreaks of war, we discover that those who make war are rather frightened of introducing the use of nuclear weapons. As I visualise it, certainly the early stages of any future war will be a war in the traditional sense. I do not believe that nuclear weapons will be used in the early stages of a future war. If this premise be right, it is obvious that it will be essential to have the use of bases for aircraft to cover the Atlantic approaches. It will be essential to have the use of land-based aircraft, seaplanes being outdated, and of bases from which they can operate to the greatest advantage.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry about the hardship which will be caused to the local populace if Ballykelly is closed. The loss of trade will amount to about £1¼ million, and will be felt right across the community. Not only the civilians employed at the station will suffer. Bookshops, shoeshops, vegetable shops, and all the other shops in the area will suffer. The loss of purchasing power will be spread among the local populace, the shopkeepers, those who let lodgings, and all the ancillary services.
I ask the Minister to re-examine these losses in the light of what his conscience tells him the hardship is going to be, and to re-examine the decision as to the closing of Ballykelly in view of the advantage which such a station gives in the defence of our Atlantic approaches. I ask him, having thought about these things, to come to the conclusion that this is not the time to take such a drastic decision as the one which he appears to be about to take.
I do not want to detain the House longer, but having myself served, and having appreciated my period of service with the Royal Air Force during the war, I thought I should add my voice to the debate tonight.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I am very glad to have a few minutes in which to discuss the question of the R.A.F. tonight.
My constituency has three—or possibly I should say two and a half—R.A.F. stations in it. The largest is Marham, which has almost equalled the size of the smallest town in my constituency, and then there is Swanton Morley, and Feltwell, which is nearly run down. In Feltwell there is considerable hardship for a very large number of people now unemployed who were employed at the base.
Nevertheless, we know these things have to happen, and I would not be one to want to keep stations going merely for the sake of keeping them going. We have to find further employment for those employed on these stations when they are shut down. But I should like to say how keenly I find the R.A.F. try to cooperate with civilians in the area; the way in which they do this is extraordinarily good.
I should also like to praise the Ministers with whom I come into touch, Lord Shackleton, who is now in another place, and the present Minister who has always been most helpful over questions which I have raised with the Ministry. But there is a large amount of natural disquiet amongst the personnel of the R.A.F. over recent happenings. The chopping and changing, which I am sure the Minister himself deplores, has led to the men asking themselves whether they should carry on with the career of which they are intensely proud.
Although I did not serve in the R.A.F. myself, I started my war career as a Territorial trying to defend Marham Aerodrome with a Lewis gun, which even in those days seemed rather inadequate, and I have a great respect for the R.A.F. and for their comradeship with everybody in the district and the keenness of their service.
There is one other point I should like to mention. In my district a very large number of civilians go to an Air Force hospital nearby—though not in my constituency—at Ely. That hospital has tremendous credit in the area for being one of the best run hospitals in the district, and we have heard disquieting 818 rumours that it may be closing its doors to civilian cases. I hope the Minister, either in winding up the debate or later on, may be able to assure me that this is not the case.
In conclusion, I believe there is a great future for the R.A.F., even if it is to be smaller than we have known it in the past. But in this great service there is at present a feeling of disquiet and this disquiet ought to be allayed as soon as possible, otherwise very valuable trained men will be lost to the Service. I sincerely hope the Minister will be able to apply himself to this over the next few months.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Sir William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
I want to know more about the intentions over Northern Ireland and not just the Ballykelly area. When I was at Bentley Priory, I remember that this was a lively area, with tremendous defence developments beneath. What will happen to it now? Can these be made tourist attractions, since they are of intense interest?
I went from there to Northern Ireland, to Aldergrove, a fighter station, and we were told that it was impossible to go anywhere else because the land was unsuitable. But I went around Castle Archdale, Eglington, and Limavady, telling the wretched owners to get out as we were taking over their places. Some misery was caused in one place where all the houses were pulled down, but this was a wartime necessity.
Much more money was spent and now there are 540 houses around Ballykelly. Many troops will be coming back from abroad; could they not be quartered here? Must this property remain with the Defence Ministry? Could not more ordinary people be attracted over there, thus avoiding a loss to the rates? These families would not have to live in the same area but could live in different parts of Northern Ireland. I wonder whether the Secretary of State and the R.A.F. are doing all they can to use these expensive houses fully for future possibilities, which need not be military.
§ 11.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
If I may speak again, by leave of the House. As I said last year, I will try to cover all the points, though some, particularly at this 819 hour, may be better dealt with in correspondence. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) pressed his point about Ballykelly, and has brought a delegation to see us. A number of assurances were given, not lightly but in the light of the prevailing operational situation.
The change came with the White Paper of July last year and the proposed withdrawal from the Far East, which led to the present studies on which we shall base the White Paper in July this year. Arising out of last year's were several studies, one of which concerned the Shackleton aircraft, which was getting out of date, and the fact that the Nimrod, which is much more efficient, was coming in. The number of Nimrods which we have will do the job of a greater number of Shackletons.
Ministers have to weigh different considerations. I have been pressed recently, since the accident to the Shackletons, by many people concerned about the age of these aircraft. This must be taken into account, but the accident reports have not yet reached me.
I am merely pointing out that many people consider that the Shackleton is an old aircraft and will have to be withdrawn. It was in the light of those studies that we considered where the new aircraft should be deployed. It was decided—I fully support this decision, but hon. Members will appreciate that this was an operational decision—that instead of the three Coastal Command stations at Kin-loss, St. Mawgan and Ballykelly, there was a requirement for only two. That being so, the Government had to be advised on where the two stations should be. The decision was that they should be at Kinloss and St. Mawgan, and it is important to note that at St. Mawgan there is the Maritime Operations Training Unit.
To show the sort of considerations that arose, it was at that time that I was being severely pressed by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), who is not now in his place, to do something about the problem of aircraft noise in Newquay. The question which sprang to mind was, "We are getting lots of complaints about low flying aircraft at St. Mawgan. If we can shut down that station, I can write to the hon. Member 820 and say, 'Your troubles are over.' " However, I was advised that, for operational reasons, a station in the north of Scotland and one in the south-west, bearing in mind the anti-submarine rôle, should be kept open.
There is no question of our going back on that decision. I am not prepared, nor are my right hon. Friends, on operational grounds, to decide the siting of an operational station on the sort of social grounds that have been put forward tonight. There are R.A.F. stations where such a step might have been taken, but here it is absolutely impossible to do so. I am not unaware of the problems of Northern Ireland and, with my roots, I am well aware of the problems caused by unemployment. Although in Leeds, which I represent, there are no problems of the kind we are discussing, I am aware of what happens in the nearby coalmining areas when pits are closed. I therefore do not lack appreciation in this matter.
I asked the R.A.F. whether anything could be done at Ballykelly, bearing in mind the various forms of training, but the answer was plainly "No". It was at that point that the Minister who has responsibility across the board for the Services came into the picture. He looked at the matter from the point of view mainly of the Army rather than of the Navy, but I assure the House that it was looked at, and is being looked at, across the board. It does not look particularly hopeful—this is the fairest way of putting it—but we are considering whether there is an alternative use of Ballykelly by the other Services. I realise the difficulties, but I assure hon. Members who have pressed the case, that this problem was not taken lightly and that the decision was taken on operational grounds.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
my constituents complain because assurances were given long after June, 1966. They went on and on, and I wrote to the hon. Gentleman telling him that I was worried because he had said that after Ballykelly had been used for Shackletons, it could go on being used and be suitable for Maritime Comets. I pointed out that I was concerned about the number of Comets we would have and if that number would justify three stations being used.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The decision stems from July, 1967. I assure the hon. Gentleman that while he refers to December and 821 January, the decision was actually taken on 22nd December, only a few months ago. I could have written to the hon. Gentleman and let the industrial staff on the station know three days before Christmas. I felt that it would be kinder to leave it a week or two before making the announcement generally, and while this might seem a little naive, I felt that to do otherwise would not be the kindest of Christmas presents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) asked about pensions policy. He raised a question about the Chief of the General Staff who was promoted the day before he retired. This matter was taken up by a number of newspapers. The Army is not my responsibility, but I have checked this point and find that the position is the same for all the Services. I thought I should clear it up because it is capable of misrepresentation. The situation at the moment is, as it has been since 1964—certainly before my time in office—that there is a Chief of Defence Staff and individual Chiefs of the three Services, the C.A S., C.N.S. and C.G.S. In the old days these three heads of the Services were five-star officers. Then the question came of having a Chief of the Defence Staff.
The decision taken had no political intent; it was before the time of this Government. I say this to get the date right. It was decided that there should be four-star officers for the three Services and only the C.D.S. should be a five-star officer to give him seniority. This meant that they lost rank. The decision taken was that they should be given their promotion a day or two before retirement. This, I gather, was done, not to save money, but simply so that there was a senior officer who was their boss, as it were. This was certainly not an attempt to give extra money to someone merely because he retired. We find odd things of this kind. In the Ministry of Defence there is a Permanent Under-Secretary for each of the Services, and a P.U.S. over them. Someone decided that the P.U.S. of each individual Service should have his salary cut by £10 so that it should be known that the P.U.S. of the whole Department was the boss.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the value of civil aid. I do not think that it would be possible to put this in monetary 822 form. We do not charge for the service given. It would be possible to work out the cost of aviation fuel used, but that would have no bearing on the real cost. We think it better to forget it and to do the job rather than trying to work out the cost.
I know of my hon. Friend's interest in Fighter Command. He lives near the station and many hon. Members have revealed that they served in the Command. It was my first posting. I shall be going to the various ceremonies marking the end of Fighter Command. It is not a tragedy that Fighter Command is finishing; it is a reorganisation. One of the great things about the R.A.F. is that it does not hang on to titles which no longer have meaning. Although I am sorry in the sense that my hon. Friend and others are sorry, this simply meets the facts of life. A fact of life is that there will be a Strike Command at High Wycombe, with No. 1 Group at Bawtry and No. 11 Group in place of Fighter Command, and the Maritime Group. Coastal Command is going. This makes sense because "Maritime" explains the job better than "Coastal". The last thing they ever were was coastal. I have always felt, as many who served in Coastal Command have felt, a high regard for the Command, but the name did not describe its function.
No decision has been taken about the future of Bentley Priory. Fighter Command will become 11 Group R.A.F. and will perform the fighter defence aspect of the work. A decision will be taken in the early 1970s. The position is that such places are first offered to the other Services. It must be offered to the R.A.F., obviously, and then to the other Services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has across-the-board responsibilities. After that, it would be offered to other Departments and then to local authorities. There is a procedure. I will keep my hon. Friend informed.
The married quarters are are not occupied now solely by people at Fighter Command. The occupants come from R.A.F. Headquarters in London, and this position will continue. I have written to my hon. Friend on the question of school places. We are in close touch with local authorities throughout the country. There are sometimes difficulties 823 in this respect, but perhaps we can leave this issue. I have not had time tonight to check the facts. I will consider the unemployment question, but there is no immediate problem. It is three or four years off. It is best not to worry anybody by causing them to think that they might be immediately affected.
I take my hon. Friend's point about the desirability of commemorating Fighter Command's association with my hon. Friend's constituency. I feel confident that the R.A.F. will not forget this. A number of ceremonies are due to take place in a few weeks' time. I believe that my hon. Friend, as the constituency Member, is attending one of them.
In reply to the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis), I agree that one problem about studies is that people are left in the air. However, I am always conscious of the fact that there are similar problems facing people in industry. It is no satisfaction to R.A.F. personnel, but I know that people become very worried in the coal industry when they hear rumours about a pit closing. These things happen, not only in the Services, but right across the board.
I assure the hon. Gentleman, who is not with us now, that I set up an investigating committee into the Air Training Corps, not with the intention of abolishing the Corps, but because there had not been an investigation for eleven years and I thought that it would be a jolly good idea to have a look at it. On the question of redundancy, every airman knows what sort of redundancy pay he would get. The question outstanding is the various trades in which there will be redundancies. The announcement was made for last year. We will make our announcement for this year as soon as possible. Although this is only marginal, one or two people protest that they have not been made redundant. There are some financial advantages to being made redundant. I believe that the happens in civil life as well. However, I do not pretend that this is a significant factor.
We are aware of the importance of public relations and are doing all we can to get it round the Service.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) always 824 puts the different viewpoint. At one point he talked about being the only one putting that view. He would be the last person in the House to want to be patronised by a relatively new Member. I hold a contrary view to his, but his view was one that I came across very early in my life. I come from the next village in South Wales to that of my hon. Friend. I assure my hon. Friend that I do not answer the points he made in any cavalier spirit.
My hon. Friend said that I had predicted that 1969 would be a vintage year for the R.A.F. My prediction was made on the basis, which my hon. Friend does not accept, that the R.A.F. is flying large numbers of out-of-date aeroplanes. My view is that I certainly will not be responsible for men in the Service flying dangerous and out-of-date aircraft. I know that it does not meet my hon. Friend's point, but that is what I meant by "a vintage year".
The great cuts will be in 1970–71. This is not the occasion to go into the argument about the increase in social expenditure. My service in the R.A.F. was very brief and was in wartime. I do not think I have ever known anybody in the Service, particularly amongst those who know something about nuclear weapons, who was not aware that there are very great dangers for civilisation. I have never found anybody really involved in the Services who glories in war. I do not think that my hon. Friend suggested that. If people are tied up in the Services, particularly on the nuclear side, they are not unaware of the holocaust that could be let loose. I believe that we are all working in our different ways to avoid that.
I am grateful for the praise of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for the people who deal with individual cases. It is true in the R.A.F., as it is in the other Services, that a great deal of attention is given to welfare, and I often feel that it is a great deal more than in industry of all kinds. Those who arrange the visits will also be grateful for his praise.
The career structure is very important. One thing that happened as a result of changes in the 1950s—I make no political point on this—is that we found ourselves in the R.A.F. with surplus N.C.Os., and a man becoming corporal with no chance 825 of promotion. It is most important to get this right, and most important in the context of a European-based Royal Air Force.
I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), who mentioned the problem of morale. We are aware of this. I tried to make the point earlier that the loss of the F111 was important to the morale of the Service, but it is most important to get it over that it is not the only aeroplane in the R.A.F. There are changes taking place, and it is our job in the Services and on the Service Board to see that morale is considered.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
What was the point of the Minister's reference to a European context when he was speaking about the career structure? Why specially in a European context?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
This is a marginal point. 11 just feel that the R.A.F. will be smaller because it has a European rôle. That is all I had in mind; I did not mean that there were any factors that would affect the career structure other than size.
There was also mention of the hospital near Huntingdon which I visited the other day. I noticed that there were a fair number of civilians there. It is a fine hospital and the civilians appreciate being there. I know of nothing that would lead me to believe that it is shutting down. We are always very pleased to have civilians in if possible. Incidentally, I noticed that the maternity ward seemed to have a fair number of ladies from Swanton Morley R.A.F. station, but I draw no conclusions from that either.
I have tried to deal as well as I can with the points raised. I shall write to hon. Members about any that I have not answered.
I finish where I began. The R.A.F. is having its 50th anniversary. This is a year when there are problems for it. It is a modern Service, which does not look too far to the past. I am very sure that it will overcome its problems.
§ Question put and negatived.
§ Original Question put and agreed to.