§ Mr. Speaker
May I announce that the Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins)—That the Vote be increased by 5,000 men—is out of order for the same reason as in the case of his similar Amendments to the Navy and Army Estimates last week. He will find my Ruling in HANSARD of Monday, 9th March, at col. 920 and Thursday, 12th March, at col. 1576.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. John Morris)
I beg to move,That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen not exceeding 115,400, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service; that a number not exceeding 14,494, all ranks, be maintained for the Royal Air Force Reserve; and that a number not exceeding 384, all ranks, be maintained for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, during the year ending on 31st March, 1971.Having had the opportunity of paying a good many visits to the Royal Air Force in the past year, I find it a particular pleasure to introduce, for the second time, the Air Estimates debate.
This afternoon, I propose to devote a major proportion of my speech to an account of the very active nature of the Royal Air Force's operations in peace-time and the continuing contribution they make to security and stability and—on occasion—to humanitarian and scientific causes. These activities can be summed up in the theme "Vigilance and Service", words which hon. Members, on both sides of the House, will, I know, immediately recognise as characterising the Royal Air Force.
Before developing that theme, however, I shall have a few words to say on equipment and rather more to devote to the preparations which we have made and are making to ensure that the Royal Air Force has the men, the logistic 47 support and the developed operational procedures necessary to enable it to operate effectively its new equipment of the 1970s.
By way of introduction, perhaps I ought to say a word about the Estimates. The House is already familiar with their changed form. Changes within the Ministry had resulted in a situation where the old Votes did not in any event show accurately the cost of each Service, and it will not in future be practicable to classify expenditure by the former Votes, even for purposes of comparison. However, this year we have been able to produce the comparison in the old form.
In their old form, Air Votes for 1970–71 would have come out at £593.3 million, an increase of £2.6 million on the comparable provision in 1969–70. After allowing for pay and price increases of just over £17 million, a comparison at constant prices shows a reduction of about £14½ million. This in turn reflects the reduction in the personnel numbers as well as lower payments on aircraft and stores.
First, equipment. As regards aircraft, and the other items of equipment in the field of my most direct responsibilities, I shall on this occasion be brief, for the generally encouraging picture of Royal Air Force re-equipment is well known to the House. The transport force now has a range of fine aircraft with varying capabilities. Our combat forces are now working up, to borrow a naval term, with the new aircraft and beginning to explore the extended capabilities that these provide. Over the next year or two, as further Phantom and Harrier squadrons form and deploy to Germany, and as the Buccaneer and Nimrod forces build up, there will be a continuing improvement in the capability of the R.A.F.
Secondly, the Meteorological Office. This is an important part of my noble Friend's responsibilities and here, too, there has been most encouraging progress with the re-equipment programme. At the end of 1969 an order was placed for a computer—an IBM System 360/ Model 195—and associated equipment to be installed at Bracknell during 1971. This is one of the fastest and most powerful computers in the world. Its purpose is to help the Meteorological Office to produce more detailed forecasts of the 48 weather, including the amount and distribution of rainfall likely to occur for 24 to 36 hours ahead, and reliable, if somewhat less detailed, forecasts for up to about a week ahead. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) will be delighted by this anticipation of the terms of his early-day Motion.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, but is he aware that I submitted questions to his Department some time ago concerning the first computer asking how much weather forecasts had improved in accuracy. I am in favour of having the new computer but I should be appreciative if, either now or, if figures are not available, later, my hon. Friend would indicate for the benefit of the country at large the extent to which accuracy has increased.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend has from time to time in the House spoken of the need for greater accuracy in meteorological forecasting. He knows this sphere very well, having worked in it for some time. Perhaps the best indication of the respect in which the Meteorological Office is held, despite all the difficulties of forecasting for this country, is the very much increased demand year by year for the forecasts that it provides. I am glad to know that my hon. Friend welcomes the provision of this new very large computer which, I am sure, will help in the cause, which he and a great many others have at heart, of accurate forecasting in the years ahead.
The Meteorological Office is also making good progress in modernising its telecommunications facilities and in preparing for the introduction into operational service of an automated radiosonde system for upper air observations. All these plans are aimed at giving a better service to the general public and to weather-sensitive industries. The advice of the Meteorological Office is much sought after and, in keeping with the trend for many years now, day-to-day demands for meteorological information again broke all records in 1969.
Having mentioned the re-equipment programme of the Air Force, I would remind the House that with this new equipment the R.A.F. will be able to provide a high degree of support for the 49 Army and the Royal Navy and, as appropriate, for the ground and naval forces of our N.A.T.O. partners. The Phantom and Harrier will provide the much increased level of support for the Army in the field which the new N.A.T.O. strategy requires, while the Buccaneer will take over from the Canberra the rôle of providing indirect support beyond the immediate battle area.
For the tasks of long-range maritime reconnaisance and anti-submarine warfare, the Nimrod will be taking over from the Shackleton and providing a capability in tune with the increasing demands of the operational environment of the 1970s. Also in the maritime field, the first Buccaneers and Phantom FG1s are already in R.A.F. service, and with these two types of aircraft the R.A.F. will take over the rôle of providing fixed-wing strike and air defence for the Fleet as the carriers phase out.
Much work is in hand in the Royal Air Force to prepare for this. It involves the closest collaboration with the Royal Navy, at all levels from the Ministry of Defence downwards. With the experience of many years of close partnership between the dark blue and light blue in anti-submarine warfare and long-range maritime reconnaissance, I am confident that we can look forward to a partnership as fruitful and sound in the accomplishment of these new tasks.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Would my hon. Friend agree that in this very complex field the Nimrod project has been almost a model of how to do it rather than how not to do it?
§ Mr. Morris
I welcome my hon. Friend's observations. I had the opportunity the other day to visit the part of Scotland where the Shackletons are based and I hope during the summer to go down to St. Mawgan to see the first squadron of Nimrods which are now coming together.
Among other inter-Service preparations for the tasks of the 1970s, I would mention that further progress has been made with the planning of the rationalisation on a single manager basis of the repair and store-holding facilities of the Services. The Navy and R.A.F. take over specific rôles across the board. The Navy will become responsible for the repair of rotary wing airframes for all three Services 50 and will take over No. 15 Maintenance Unit, Wroughton, which at present carries out this work for the Royal Air Force and the Army. The R.A.F. will become responsible for the repair of fixed wing aircraft for all three Services. Storage of reserve aircraft will be similarly divided.
For repair work put to industry, the Navy will act as the sponsoring Service for rotary-wing aircraft and the R.A.F. for fixed-wing aircraft. The Royal Air Force will be responsible for provisioning and holding all aircraft equipment required by all three Services. It will be convenient to make these various changes from 1972–73, when fixed-wing operational flying by the Fleet Air Arm ceases. Changes in operational requirements and policy inevitably react on the home base.
For example, the Navy's relinquishment of the fixed-wing operational rôle will result in the closure of the Royal Naval Air Station at Brawdy. With the aim of helping to mitigate the regional planning and local employment consequences of this naval closure, we have decided that the Royal Air Force should move the Central Flying School Helicopter Unit from Tern Hill to Brawdy in 1971. I went down last Friday to Pembrokeshire to explain the implications of the new task we had found for Brawdy, and this part of the Principality which has been dependent for so long on the Services welcomed very much our decision.
We have made further progress with the task of streamlining the R.A.F. command structure. Coastal Command as a separate and distinct command headquarters was closed last November and its functions taken over by a group of Strike Command. The number of R.A.F. commands in the United Kingdom has thus been reduced from eight to four—Strike, Air Support, Training and Maintenance. During the past year the Flying Training School at Syerston has closed and it has been possible to bring forward the arrangements which will permit us to close the Air Navigation School at Stradishall.
Indeed we all recognise that without the men and women to operate and support the new aircraft, our re-equipment of the Force would be worth little.
Recruitment to the Royal Air Force continues to provide a challenge for everyone concerned with it. Yet I am 51 happy to say that there were distinct signs of improvements last year, especially toward the end, and that the impetus seems to be maintaining itself this year. I hope to show the House that a certain amount of cautious optimism can perhaps be allowed. This is true for both officers and airmen.
I need hardly say that we have the highest hopes of the recent Report from the National Board for Prices and Incomes. As hon. Members are already aware, our acceptance of the board's recommendations and the new pay structure will give Servicemen, on average, three times the increase they could have expected this year under the Grigg formula.
An enhanced interest in Royal Air Force flying careers has given something of a boost to officer recruitment. An increase in the rate of applications towards the latter part of last year enabled us to meet 90 per cent. of our requirement for direct entry aircrew in 1969. The waiting list of candidates should produce a larger entry into training for the first half of 1970 as compared with the the same period last year. In the Ground Branches also, more inquiries for commissions were received in 1969 than in the previous two years. This means that we should come close to reaching our overall officer target this year, though this may not be true of certain specialist Ground Branches, and inevitably our difficulties remain, as the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) has reminded us from time to time, in the recruitment into professions like engineering and medicine where there is a national shortage.
I should like to digress for a moment from the improved position as far as numbers go to touch on the progress of our efforts aimed at improving the quality of our officer recruits. 1969 was the first year of the Graduate Entry Scheme under which young men are recruited through and from the universities in larger numbers than before. First results are encouraging. By the end of 1969 there were 266 cadets at university as compared with 137 in the previous year. This academic year—and with the Easter competition still to come—we have awarded a further 176 university cadetships. In addition to the results of 52 the university cadetship scheme, 45 other graduates have entered the Royal Air Force direct from university. Royal Air Force Scholarships are also being directed towards places at university rather than at Cranwell. There are, therefore, good grounds for believing that we are moving satisfactorily towards our target of 250 graduate entrants a year by the time the last flight cadets pass out of Cranwell in 1974.
The demise of the Cranwell cadet entry will have the added advantage of enabling us to use and extend the facilities at Cranwell to their best advantage. Cranwell will become the professional training centre for all Royal Air Force officers. It is our intention that all officers, including graduates, should go to Cranwell for their general training. Pilots, too, will go to Cranwell for basic flying training, and engineer graduates will do applied engineering training there. The phasing out of flight cadets has already begun, and the first intake of graduates for flying training arrives there this autumn.
As a result of these changes at Cranwell we shall, incidentally, be able to close the R.A.F. station at Upwood in 1974.
Returning to the subject of recruiting, I am glad to be able to tell the House that for airmen the pattern is broadly the same as that for officers. Current recruiting figures are encouraging. The recruitment of adults and young airmen in 1969 was an improvement of over 800 or 17 per cent. on the previous year. Apprentice intakes were also well up on the past year as a result of our policy to bring would-be apprentices up to the standard required by the R.A.F. by giving short preliminary training courses. So far this increase has been carried over into 1970, and there is every hope that it will continue.
The expansion of the R.A.F. recruiting organisation last year is obviously proving a fine investment. A remarkable improvement has been made, for example, in the recruitment of fitters, where high quality recruits are becoming attracted as a result of the Starred Mechanic Scheme which was introduced recently. This scheme offers young mechanics a guarantee of fitter training within the first two years of entry to the 53 R.A.F. We are also increasing the number of fitters, and by improving the opportunities for training for existing personnel there has been an encouraging flow of manpower from the lower to the more highly skilled trades. The Mechanic Apprentice Scheme, begun last October, is also proving most helpful.
As regards airwomen, the situation is better still. Following a vigorous campaign aimed at attracting women into the Service, the 1969 intake was up by 58 per cent. on the 1968 figure, an increase of nearly 800 recruits. There was a good level of entry into the nursing services.
Thus, overall, the current recruiting position is moderately healthy, although there is still no room for complacency. We need more officers and airwomen, especially in the ground trades, than even our present recruiting performance can provide. The rate of entry into the Royal Air Force has increased, but it will take a sustained improvement to make good past recruiting gaps. Moreover, a new entrant does not become a skilled craftsman overnight, and it will be a year or so at least before the results of our present recruiting performance are converted into effective manpower.
§ Mr. Dalyell
To what does my hon. Friend attribute the good level of recruiting to the nursing service? Perhaps in the winding-up speech some figures could be given on a subject of much interest to some of us.
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that when my hon. Friend winds up he will follow up what I have already said, and I will not now delay the House unduly, as my hon. Friend will try to deal with that point.
For these reasons there is a time gap between actual recruitment, and conversion into highly skilled manpower which is required in an increasingly technical air force, with new aircraft entering service and because it requires greater numbers of skilled men to maintain it, problem areas and shortages remain, notably in electronic, electrical and photographic trade groups. Nevertheless, looking a litle further ahead, I believe that the situation will continue to improve.
Quite apart from the efforts which will continue to be made by the R.A.F. recruiting organisation, we have, as I have 54 said, high hopes of the military salary to be introduced in just over a fortnight's time. It is of vital importance to offer existing Servicemen and Servicewomen a career which will use their abilities to the full and offer them good prospects in terms of pay and promotion, so that they may be encouraged to remain longer in the Service. I believe the military salary goes a long way towards doing just that by recognising the value of the work carried out by skilled, professional people.
Another relevant recent development which affects officers is the decision to effect certain structural changes. We hope that these changes will be attractive both to those already in the Service and to those young people whom we wish to attract.
The changes are first to be made in the structure of the General Duties branch. The recommendations are, broadly, that the two present lists—the General List, comprising officers with the potential for high rank and staff posts and the Supplementary List, for those with a career limited to flying duties and lower rank—will be replaced by a single list.
Although the possibility of list-to-list transfer for outstanding officers already exists, a single list removes an obvious barrier in the path of late developers, and more attractive prospects should encourage a move away from retirement at the mid-career point and towards longer service. The Single List also enables the R.A.F. to defer their choice of the career officer until a point in time when they have more information about him, and are therefore better able to assess his potential.
Needless to say, the single list will not mean that all officers will automatically rise to senior ranks, but, for those who remain flight lieutenants, there will be a specialist aircrew stream with extra emoluments for flying duties. Contrary to what was said in the Third Report of the Prices and Incomes Board it has been decided to retain some promotion to squadron leader in the specialist aircrew stream in addition to providing the enhanced rates of pay for flight lieutenants.
We are hopeful that with these new arrangements we shall be successful in retaining an adequate number of trained aircrew for service to the age of 55. This will give us the twin advantages 55 of holding on to our experienced aircrew and of keeping down our flying training costs—an important factor when it costs in the region of £¼ million to train a pilot to fly modern operational aircraft. Studies are still proceeding to see how similar changes can be introduced into the ground branches.
All that I have said, so far, is designed to describe briefly the many steps already taken or in train to equip the Royal Air Force for the challenging and exacting rôles which lie before it in the 1970s. I believe that the Royal Air Force enters the new decade with its foundations well secured for the many tasks which lie ahead. It is to some of these tasks and functions that I should now like to turn. They cover a great range of activity and embrace a multitude of skills. Anyone who has seen something of them at first hand is impressed not only with the exacting standard of professional competence which they require, but also—and I think this is less generally known—with the continuing demand they make on the Royal Air Force as an operational Service.
Before turning to these, let me, very briefly, put them into perspective. It does not need saying that the prime purpose of the Royal Air Force lies in the indispensable contribution it makes to national and—because the two things cannot be dissociated—to Western security. It does so by maintaining a diversity of aircraft and their supporting organisations at a high level of preparedness. I need not enumerate all these forces and their many rôles. To mention only some of them reminds us of the powerful contribution made to collective security on the Continent by the combat aircraft, present and future, based both in this country and in Germany; of the long-range maritime and other aircraft stationed on the southern flank of N.A.T.O.; of the contribution to C.E.N.T.O. made by the "V" bombers and other aircraft based in Cyprus. All these forces serve their prime purpose of contributing to security by maintaining their capability to engage in operations of war. Much of the peace-time effort of the Royal Air Force is devoted, inevitably and rightly, to training. The Service must keep itself in constant readiness, at the highest standard of professional 56 competence and by an exacting programme of training and joint exercises, to engage, in the last resort, in operations of war. It is by doing so, and by being seen to do so, that it makes its major contribution to preserving peace—to maintaining a state of affairs in which operations of war will, we fervently hope, never prove necessary.
Nothing that I say today must be seen as detracting from the great importance which we attach to this continuing preparedness of our combat forces. Nor, in singling out certain peace-time activities of the force for particular mention, must I be assumed to have forgotten its prime purpose. But the continuing preparedness for operations of war is only a part of the story, and the better known one. The other part, which I sum up under the heading of "vigilance", consists of the daily round of peace-time operations.
The House will be aware, but it bears saying again, that the air defence aircraft of Strike Command are charged with the responsibility of maintaining a constant guard not only upon the integrity of our territorial airspace but also, on behalf of N.A.T.O., over the approaches to the United Kingdom. This is no light or unnecessary task. Air attack upon this country today is an unlikely contingency in present circumstances; but this is not the point at issue. We must possess—and thanks to the vigilance of Strike Command we do possess—the means of identifying and deterring possible intrusions into United Kingdom airspace, and of detecting, rather further afield, the passage of aircraft of whose origin or intentions we are uncertain; and we have plenty of evidence that this is a necessary and continuing task. It is not our practice, for reasons with which I am sure the House is familiar, to disclose the number of occasions on which the all-weather Lightnings of Strike Command are scrambled to intercept and identify aircraft about whose purposes we have cause to be suspicious. It is enough to say that it happens very frequently. A new departure over the past year, in which the House may be interested, has been the use of the Victor tanker aircraft to provide in-flight refuelling for the Lightning interceptors. This greatly extends their endurance, and accordingly increases the time for which they can 57 remain airborne and the range to which they can operate. We have already found it profitable to make use of this increased capability.
The vigilance of the air defence aircraft of Strike Command finds a counterpart in the vigilance—maintained in conjunction with the Royal Navy and with the naval forces of our N.A.T.O. allies—of the Command's long-range maritime aircraft. It may be worth digressing for a moment to remind the House that the replacement of Coastal Command last year by the new No. 18 (Maritime) Group in Strike Command did not in any way decrease the maritime capability of the Royal Air Force. The operational stations of the former Coastal Command continue in existence; the headquarters of the new Group, as of the former Command, remains at Northwood, alongside and very closely co-ordinated with the headquarters of the Royal Navy's Western Fleet; and the Shackleton aircraft continue to carry out the same rôles and tasks as hitherto in maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue. In addition—and elsewhere within Strike Command—Buccaneers, Lightnings and Victor tankers are readily available for maritime tasks. Thus, I believe that the new arrangements within Strike Command will make for greater efficiency and still closer co-operation with the Royal Navy than in the past.
To return to my theme of vigilance, we owe it to the many and varied peacetime operations of the long-range maritime aircraft in Strike Command, carried out in conjunction with naval forces, that our watch over the United Kingdom's territorial airspace, which I have already described, is matched by vigilance in our sea approaches and in wide areas of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea. The Shackleton aircraft of the Group engage in frequent reconnaissance and surveillance operations. Many of these operations are of a routine nature, but demanding a high degree of profesional skill, designed to keep a constant watch on the sea areas which are of importance to ourselves and, in the wider context, to the Alliance. Less often, as circumstances demand, and usually at short notice, additional operations are mounted for the specific purpose of undertaking a close reconnaissance of 58 naval forces in which we or the Alliance are interested.
The House may recall a recent instance of one such special operation, performed, as it happens, not by Shackletons but by one of the first Nimrod aircraft to be introduced into Strike Command, and carried out very shortly after the entry of this new aircraft into service. This operation was a reconnaissance of the Soviet helicopter-carrier, "Moskva", in the South-Western Approaches during January this year. I may add that the operation confirmed our view of the Nimrod. This is a superb aircraft, superbly equipped with navigational and other systems which make, to a layman, startlingly effective use of advanced computer techniques. It will be a most impressive advance on the Shackleton, possessing new capabilities in a number of important directions.
Surveillance and reconnaissance by maritime aircraft are not, of course, confined to Northern European waters. In conjunction with British and allied naval forces, Shackletons based in Malta have carried out many peace-time operations of the kind performed by Strike Command nearer home, and they will continue to do so. As is generally known, Soviet naval activity has been increasing throughout the N.A.T.O. area, not least in the Mediterranean, where a pattern of reinforcement by Soviet submarines and surface units of the Northern Fleet is now well established. The Shackletons, in Malta, to be replaced in due course by the Nimrod, will continue to play their indispensable part in keeping a close watch on these developments.
There is much more which might be said on this theme of vigilance. Mobility is a part of it and will still continue to be so when we have completed the withdrawals from east of Suez. Our contribution to N.A.T.O. our continuing presence in the Mediterranean and our declared policy of preserving the capability of acting further afield if we judge that the circumstances so require, all make it of the greatest importance that Royal Air Force units should be capable of rapid movement between theatres, and that the Royal Air Force should also be able to convey units of the other Services on speedy and effective reinforcement moves.
59 I think I may therefore fairly remind the House of the rôle and peace-time activity of the Transport aircraft of Air Support Command. During 1969, the Command provided airlift for some 130 single-Service and joint-Service exercises, including a number which were undertaken with allies. In the largest of these, well over 300 air transport sorties were required. As the House knows, the Command will be making a major contribution to the forthcoming exercise Bersatu Padu, by which we shall be demonstrating our ability to reinforce the Far East following the withdrawal from our present bases. During this exercise, transport aircraft of the Command will fly a total of well over three million miles, carying large numbers of personnel and a wide range of stores and equipment.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
Will the hon. Gentleman say something about over-flying rights, in particular with regard to Libya?
§ Mr. Morris
I have a great deal of ground to cover in opening the debate and I will leave to my hon. Friend who is to reply the question of over-flying rights.
§ Mr. Morris
I am confident that the plans we have made mean that we will be able effectively to reinforce the Far East and that this exercise will prove as much. I am sure that the way in which we carry the exercise out will demonstrate to the hon. Gentleman how effectively we can operate in the way I have described.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
How many "teeth" aircraft—the Phantoms, for instance—will be involved?
§ Mr. Morris
This matter has been explained from time to time. A recent article in a newspaper completely misconstrued the situation and misunderstood the number of aircraft to be deployed in this important exercise. Thirty aircraft will be involved merely in lifting personnel and equipment to and from the theatre. I think that it is the use of these transport aircraft, which are different from those which will be actively engaged in the operation, which gave rise to the misconceptions of the commentator in that article. A total of 54 aircraft, of various kinds, will take part in the exercise 60 "Battle", and will comprise Vulcans, Victor Tankers, Phantoms, and Canberras, five Hercules for intra-theatre transport during the battle, two Andovers for the same rôle and a number of helicopters.
The misconceptions which arose in the article and the criticisms expressed were due to the inability of the commentator to differentiate between combat and strike aircraft. These aircraft are the aircraft which will be dispersed for and will take part in the operations in the Far East. I hope that removes any difficulty the right hon. and learned Member may have in mind.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way again. Can he tell us what route or routes these aircraft will follow in the exercise?
§ Mr. Morris
The aircraft will be deployed on the routes they now use and will be able to carry out the tasks assigned to them in the usual manner in which they are deployed. If the hon. Gentleman wants to press this point, no doubt my hon. Friend who is to reply will be able to explain further. The aircraft will be operating in the usual way. They will be using over-flying routes, as has been indicated from time to time. They will be able to satisfy the object of the exercise, which is to show to the Far East our ability to deploy speedily and effectively our general capability.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether all the stores, ammunition and personnel for the exercise will be flown from the United Kingdom? Will some of the stocks out there already be used?
§ Mr. Morris
All these details have been given by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary in public from time to time and they are on record. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has set them out at some length. No doubt, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman catches Mr. Speaker's eye, he will be able to deploy his case and my hon. Friend will be able to repeat what has been said by my right hon. Friend on how the exercise will be carried out. I have given way many times now. I have still a great deal of ground to cover.
In addition to their frequent engagement in air mobility exercises of one 61 kind and another, the transport aircraft of Air Support Command undertake a regular programme of peace-time familiarisation flights along the main routes which they might be required to use in an emergency. In the course of doing so—and I here begin to depart from my first theme, "vigilance", and to introduce the second, Service—these aircraft carry many passengers and much freight on behalf of all three Services to and from destinations abroad. During 1969, well over 200,000 passengers, including families as well as Servicemen, were moved during the course of these scheduled flights along the routes by Air Support Command aircraft, and more than 20,000 tons of essential freight was carried by the same means. This is, of course, entirely additional to the personnel and loads carried on the single-Service and joint training exercises which I have already mentioned.
The movement service which these aircraft provide—and which includes, incidentally, the rapid movement to the United Kingdom of Service men and their families who need urgent medical attention in this country—is incidental to their prime responsibility of maintaining their constant readiness for reinforcement movements in an emergency, and this task itself governs the transport force's size and composition as well as the flying it must do to secure the proper standards of efficiency. But this resultant flying is a service nonetheless—and not least to the taxpayer. If we were unable to make use of the capacity of these essential route-familiarisation flights for passenger and freight movement, it would be necessary to increase very substantially our expenditure on the chartering of civil airlift. We estimate, very broadly, that the cost of doing so during 1969 would have been about £8 million.
I should now like to turn to the theme of Service in a somewhat wider context. Many of the peace-time activities in which the Royal Air Force engages are of a kind which not only fit the force for its primary responsibilities in defence but also, on occasion, contribute directly to the concerns and requirements of the civil community. The instances are many and there is no time to mention them all but I will give the House one or two examples which I think may be of general interest.
62 The Royal Air Force carries out many aerial surveys in many parts of the world in support of the mapping programmes undertaken for defence purposes by the Army's Directorate of Military Survey. Much of the information obtained by this means—and it remains a method of survey which has unique advantages—is made widely available to many civil authorities in this country and abroad. I am told that, apart from contributing to the general stock of scientific knowledge about the earth's surface, aerial photography has characteristics of accuracy, high resolution and the ability to be repeated, if necessary, at short intervals, which give it great value for a number of special purposes of concern to civil organisations: study of the changing patterns of vegetation, the control of pests, the development of engineering projects, the survey of damage done by natural disasters.
It is worth mentioning that the Royal Air Force responded promptly to the request of the Tunisian Government for aerial survey of their country following the recent floods; and I understand that the information gathered by this means has been of considerable assistance in relief work. In less unhappy circumstances, aerial surveys have been made in recent years in many other parts of the world: in Kenya, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, the Maldive Islands, to mention only some of them.
Rather similar to this beneficial "fallout" from aerial photography is the contribution to scientific knowledge which accrues from the work undertaken at Fylingdales in tracking, with great precision, both man-made and natural objects in space. Although it is overriding obviously that the prime responsibility of the ballistic missile early warning system must remain paramount at all times, much work of scientific nature is undertaken and its results widely disseminated. Similarly, the tracking radar at Malvern.
The activities I have been describing —aerial photography and the tracking of objects in space—might almost as well have been mentioned under my first theme of vigilance. They represent, in their several ways, further instances of the manner in which the Royal Air Force undertakes the essential task of keeping us informed about the world. I have 63 chosen to mention them under my second heading—service—because I believe it is important to keep in view the extent to which these activities make a contribution outside the defence field. The Royal Air Force exists for defence purposes; this is its rôle; this is the function for which Parliament votes the necessary resources. But the Force does not exist in isolation from the community at large; it is a part of it, and it finds satisfaction in the knowledge that its daily round of peace-time operations contributes usefully and directly to the work of many civil authorities and organisations.
Under this same heading of service I should now like to turn briefly to several instances in which the Air Force does not contribute solely by making available the "fall-out" from its regular activities, but takes the still more positive step of responding to direct requests for assistance from the civil authorities. Subject to the proviso, which I must stress, that defence needs must come first, the Air Force takes pride in giving whatever help it can in circumstances in which the use of aircraft may contribute to the relief of suffering or the averting of danger.
There will always be occasions when, with the greatest regret, the Royal Air Force cannot meet a call for assistance: for example, because aircraft are away from their stations, or flying on military duty. And we shall always, and inevitably, find ourselves in the position that deployments of aircraft, and resources made for military purposes—as they must be—are not the same as the deployments which would be made if we were to give overriding priority in our planning to the pattern of activity in the civil community at large—a priority which we cannot properly give without neglecting our prime responsibility. For example, the Services are justly proud of the assistance which search and rescue aircraft have been able to give to civil authorities, to members of the public and to ships at sea on a great many occasions. The record is an excellent one, and it bears witness to a high degree of courage and a remarkable standard of professional competence. However, the size and deployment of the military search and rescue organisation must be closely related to military requirements; 64 there must be no detriment to the ability of the Services to meet their military tasks; and the final decision about what is possible on any particular occasion must remain a matter for professional judgment by the Services. The same philosophy must be applied right across the board to the pattern of military operations in general.
I do not want to labour this point for I am sure that the House generally understands it, but it is necessary to make it because the position of the Services in these matter is not always understood outside. There is sometimes, on the rare occasions on which assistance cannot be given, unwarranted criticism, against which the Services are not free to defend themselves, however ill-founded or unjust they may know it to be. Having made this point, and in the belief that the House will keep it in mind, I should now like to mention some occasions on which the Royal Air Force has responded—gladly, promptly and to good effect—to calls for assistance from the civil authorities.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Could the hon. Gentleman tell the House when the last Canberra aircraft will be phased out of the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Morris
As the hon. Gentleman knows there are two prime types of Canberra aircraft now in service. The last to be phased out are those used for photographic purposes. I have not the exact date, but it will be towards the latter part of the decade. One or two are used for photographic purposes. The others will be phased out early—the exact date has been given in the House—in the next year or so.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I remind the hon. Gentleman that a few months or a year ago it was said that it was not safe to take these Canberras on beyond 1970. Now the White Paper tells us that they must go on. Could the hon. Gentleman tell us what the exact date is now estimated to be?
§ Mr. Morris
There are two classes of Canberra. One is used for photographic purposes and will need to be so used until towards the latter part of this decade. The other class will be phased out in the next year or so. I cannot give 65 the exact dates which we have in mind, but I am sure my hon. Friend will deal with them. But, as the hon. Gentleman must be aware, there is no hard and fast date on which it may be said that an aircraft can be used today but not tomorrow.
This matter has been debated and canvassed and Questions have been asked about it. I am not sure why the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) asked a question about Canberras when I was dealing with something which had no direct relevance to them. I dealt earlier with a number of different aircraft. If he had wished he should have asked his question then and not during this part of my speech.
Helicopters, marine craft, fixed wing aircraft and land rescue teams responded to more than 350 calls for assistance of this kind: on average, very nearly one instance on every day of the year. The work done by the Royal Air Force in these cases is well known and, I am sure, widely appreciated. Although many of them are stories of courage in the cause of humanity worth telling in their own right, I should like to turn briefly from this field to instances of a kind which come to notice less often, but in which the professional skills of the Royal Air Force are put directly to very good effect for civil purposes.
In January this year, a crack was detected in the dam at the Lluest Wen Reservoir in the Maerdi Valley, Glamorganshire. Serious problems arose over the movement to the area of the engineering stores and equipment which the civil authorities considered necessary. R.A.F. assistance was invoked and at once given. Over a period of ten consecutive days a Wessex helicopter of No. 18 Squadron, carrying special hoisting equipment and accompanied by skilled personnel of the Joint Helicopter Development Unit, was sent on detachment to R.A.F. St. Athan. During this period it flew a total of 154 sorties and carried to the area over 450,000 lbs. of stores and equipment and more than 100 personnel, including troops, police and firemen. This represented a major contribution to the work of the civil authorities.
I now offer the House an example of a quite different kind of assistance. On 3rd March this year, a civil aircraft bound for New York out of Shannon Airport 66 encountered serious engine trouble over the Atlantic. At the request of the air traffic control authorities, a Shackleton aircraft of No. 210 Squadron was immediately scrambled. It located the distressed aircraft and escorted it safely back to Shannon during an operation which lasted, in all, three hours. Only two days later a Shackleton from the same squadron was scrambled to escort another civil airliner which had turned back to Shannon because of a report that there might be a bomb abroad the aircraft.
It may be worth reminding the House that the Shackletons, with their long range and endurance, have frequently helped in the search for missing ships and aircraft in the North Atlantic. Less dramatically, these aircraft, during the course of their surveillance patrols, are often the first to detect oil slicks approaching our coasts, and are able to give timely warning to the civil authorities. Here, perhaps, is an example of a service which accrues to the community at large as a result of the constant vigilance in our sea approaches which I have already described.
On this theme of service, I must not close without a brief mention of the contribution which the Royal Air Force has made on those occasions on which the United Kingdom has acted in the relief of suffering outside this country. I have already mentioned Tunisia. It is worth adding that on the same occasion the Royal Air Force flew relief supplies to that country and to Algeria on behalf of the Red Cross. Only very recently food and medical supplies have been carried by the Royal Air Force to the Malagasy Republic for relief work following the cyclone which caused widespread damage in that country.
Finally, I must not omit a brief mention of the service performed in Northern Ireland by the Royal Air Force Regiment. The main burden of the onerous and important duties carried out there by the British Services has fallen on the Army, but men of the Royal Air Force Regiment have taken their share of these duties in relief of their Army colleagues, and have performed them with no less patience and skill in the exacting circumstances confronting them.
My theme has been "vigilance and service". I have mentioned only a few instances chosen from a great wealth of 67 material, but I hope that I have said enough to illustrate the main point with which I began to develop this theme. Although preparedness for operations of war is the prime and overriding responsibility which the Royal Air Force must keep constantly in mind, it makes a major contribution to security not only by maintaining this state of preparedness, but also by the peace-time operations in which it engages ceaselessly. In the course of these it performs, sometimes as a by-product, but often at the direct request of civil authorities, a range of functions which are of benefit to the community at large and which I sum up under the theme of "service".
I wish that there were time to give the House further examples: all are inherently interesting, and all bear witness to the high standards of zeal and professional competence on which the Royal Air Force rightly prides itself. It is in the complete confidence that the House will join me in thanking the Royal Air Force and congratulating them on maintaining those standards that I move these Estimates.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
Perhaps the most ominous part about this debate on the Air Estimates is the absence of Labour Members.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
Look behind you.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The right hon. Gentleman can take what comfort he can get out of that, but let us see whether he can get any comfort out of what I have to say. Until a few moments ago, apart from the Treasury Bench and a Parliamentary Private Secretary, there was only one back-bench Member on the Government side. We have since had a 200 per cent. increase, for we now have three.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I heard the beginning of the Minister's speech. I went out to get some papers and I have been here ever since.
§ Mr. Goodhew
No; the right hon. Gentleman does not have eyes in the 68 back of his head, but I can see what goes on behind him.
The ominous part about this debate is that the Left wing thinks that it has won and that it has persuaded its Government to reduce the Services, so that Left-wing Members no longer have to worry. At any rate, it is disturbing to find that we have had to listen to a speech much of which has been about aid to the civil community instead of about what should be worrying the House —the equipment of the Royal Air Force.
Time and time again in these Air Estimates debates the Opposition have paid tribute to the work of the Armed Forces in giving aid to the civil power, but we are here to discuss the equipment of the Armed Forces and their ability to carry out their tasks as defence forces and not as civil operators. While I admire the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman with his cry of vigilance and service, the R.A.F. was always satisfied in the past with per ardua ad astra. The R.A.F. has had a good deal more of the ardua under this Government. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman means that the R.A.F. is now to see less of the stars.
The Minister of Defence for Equipment has presented the Air Estimates for the second time. It is a sad thing for the House that we should be once more facing a debate on the Royal Air Force without a Minister directly responsible for that Service taking part in the debate. It may be said that that makes little difference, because the Service Ministers in the present Government have been steadily demoted and are now to be phased out altogether, but I think that that is a great pity. It may be said that it is the Secretary of State who decides the policies upon which the Estimates are based and who is therefore directly responsible for what we shall be debating today. No Service has suffered more severely from his misguided policies than the R.A.F. I am glad to see that he is now asleep.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has woken up.
We all know that the Secretary of State for Defence set himself from the outset an objective which was bound to create chaos in all three Services. Instead of 69 setting out to ensure the security of the country and its interests, he set himself the task of reducing the defence budget to the arbitrary figure of £2,000 million at 1964 prices. It is now more difficult to get this figure right in terms of 1964 prices, and so he has changed his target to 5 per cent. of the gross national product.
That was a fundamental change in his view that he could reduce costs by a fixed figure instead of ensuring the security of the country.
§ Mr. Healey
I do not know whether the hon. Member has read The Guardian for today, but he will find there a report of an interesting interview with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman undertakes on behalf of any future Conservative Government to keep the figure at 6 per cent. of G.N.P., which is £2,000 million at 1964 prices.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that there is a difference between a percentage and a fixed figure. That is the point I was about to make. He has changed his ground.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Indeed it is not, because the gross national product changes. Under a Conservative Government it grows, although it does not do so under a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Healey indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Goodhew
It happened before. It is this fundamental error of judgment which has tied his hands ever since the Defence White Paper of 1964. He has had to pose many false premises in an attempt to justify subsequent decisions which were completely incongruous in the defence context and which were dictated purely by considerations of defence and often of politics.
For instance, right up to the point of the rape of Czechoslovakia, he was seeking to justify a reduction of the forces in Germany by urging that we were passing through a period of détente.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
(Mr. Sydney Irving): The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) must devote himself to the Air Estimates. This is not a general defence debate.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I was painting the background to the Air Estimates. I think that you will find, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I was leading to the point about which you are anxious.
I have given the hon. Member a certain latitude, and I hope that he will now come fairly quickly to the point.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I am in some difficulty, because one of the subjects we shall be debating today is the number of aircraft and the size of the R.A.F. in Germany. This is very much affected by the right hon. Gentleman's views about what size of forces generally we should have in Germany. I think that I am entitled to say that the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to persuade the rest of N.A.T.O. in White Paper after White Paper that it was the political intentions about which we had to worry; not the military threat, not the number of tanks or the number of aircraft on the other side of the line, but the political intentions. The right hon. Gentleman returned to this theme when on 4th March, last year, he said:We must avoid surrendering to the opposite temptation to which so many academic strategists fall victim—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman included General Lemnitzer—and isolating the military problem from the political context in which it is presented in real life. We must not assume that we are dealing at all times with an enemy who has an absolute will to destroy us and an infinite capacity for calculating the military means to that end.I remind the right hon. Gentleman that this particular possible enemy has the means to calculate the number of forces necessary to the point of seeing that we are outnumbered by two or three to one in N.A.T.O., which is a good indication of his views. The right hon. Gentleman went on:The real world, thank God, is not a Manichean struggle between good and evil—I wonder whether he still believes that——our political adversaries are usually ordinary men subject to ordinary temptations, and 71 often facing predicaments from which they may be as anxious to escape as we are".That is a very dangerous assumption for a Secretary of State for Defence to make because it has the effect of our having far fewer aircraft than we otherwise would have.
We are told this year:We look forward to the 1970s as an era of negotiation between the opposing alliances".I hope that the Secretary of State is right. But I hope that he has also learned the lesson of history, that if one wishes to succeed one should negotiate only from strength rather than from weakness. Instead of continuing the rundown of the Air Force in common with the other Services, as is still proposed in the White Paper, if there are to be negotiations, it would be far wiser for the Government to halt the rundown and to wait until the negotiations are under way and to see whether we could afford to reduce them afterwards.
One thing is certain: with the rundown in numbers of men continuing, there is a vital need to ensure that those remaining have the best possible weapons and therefore the maximum striking power. It is in this direction that the Air Force has been let down to a far greater extent than the other Services.
The Secretary of State has talked much in previous speeches of matching strength to commitments. I wonder how the Air Force fares on this basis. Its front line squadrons have been greatly reduced during the Secretary of State's tenure of office, and yet its commitments have been vastly expanded. Not only has it to defend our own air space and Western Germany's, about which the Minister of Defence for Equipment spoke today, but it is charged with support of N.A.T.O. land forces in Western Europe and now, in addition, is to be faced with the defence of the Royal Navy at sea as well. None of these tasks can be carried out without adequate numbers of the right type of aircraft.
Surely the Secretary of State has not forgotten the vital need of air superiority in all battles, whether on land, at sea or in the air. I thought that the lecture given to the Royal United Services Institution on 19th February last year by Air Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley- 72 Norris, Commander-in-Chief, R.A.F. Germany, showed a much more honest appraisal of the situation than any we have had from his political masters. He summed up the position by saying:It is all very well to say we must establish air superiority but the means of doing so under some of the circumstances that might face us are frightening, to put it mildly.With 70 N.A.T.O. airfields faced by 220 Warsaw Pact jet airfields, plus 140 others, one can wholeheartedly agree with the Air Marshal.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In the hon. Gentleman's calculation, what forces and equipment would the R.A.F. need to come up to what one might call the Foxley-Norris standards?
§ Mr. Goodhew
What the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate is that today we are debating the Air Estimates; these are Government figures. I have said that the Government should halt the rundown; I have stated no more than that. I shall continue to talk about numbers of aircraft.
It is in the light of that situation that the Government's panic decisions on aircraft procurement are seen to be so disastrous. One commences, as one must, with the requirement for a long-range, all-weather, low-flying tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft. If ever there were a more depressing story than this requirement story, I have not heard it. The cancellation of the TSR2, announced in the 1965 Budget speech, was the beginning of it. Hon. Members opposite yawn. I know that they would like to forget that episode, but they will hear about it again today.
The cancellation of the TSR2 was the first and worst panic decision. It was a blatant case of sacrificing long-term national interests to short-term party political interests. It was not just the cost of this project which worried the Government; it was its nuclear capability, which upset the Labour Left. Therefore, the Government were able to effect what they thought was an economy but which they may find, if they work out the figures now, was not and, at the same time, to pacify their militant Left Wing. 73 I should like to know who ordered the destruction of the jibs and tools of the TSR2 and what his motives were.
§ Mr. Healey
This decision was taken by the British Aircraft Corporation and the Ministry of Technology together. Similar decisions were taken on many previous occasions when the Conservative Party was in power and a project was cancelled the tools for which were taking up space in the factory which was needed for other purposes.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Three of us went on a deputation to plead with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to save the jigs and tools of the TSR2. He said that he had not space in the hangars, and he steamrollered the lot.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The right hon. Gentleman says it again. But he may now think that it would have been more sensible to store them elsewhere, even if there was not space for them in the factory concerned.I move from the TSR2—
§ The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
Run away from it.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I have nothing to run away from. It is right hon. and hon. Members opposite who are anxious about this matter.
I move to the present day and ask which aircraft will fill the gap left by the cancellation of the F111A which in turn followed the cancellation of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. I raised this question last year. The Minister, under pressure of time, found it convenient not to answer it, so I shall ask it again today. I shall go into detail about it today. I wish to know whether somebody, in the last 12 months, has been able to think out an answer to this question.
I must start by returning to the notorious Defence Review of 1966, Command 2901, paragraph 8 on page 10 of which reads:The key to the deterrent power of our armed forces is our ability to obtain early warning of an enemy's intentions through 74 reconnaissance and to strike at his offensive forces from a distance in case of need. This rôle has been assigned to the Canberra aircraft since the early 1950s; this aircraft cannot safely continue after 1970".This is the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) made. If in 1966 it was not safe to continue to use the Canberras after 1970, how is it that we find in paragraph 30 on page 52 of this year's White Paper:The Canberra force in Germany has been extended until it can be finally replaced by the new Phantom and Buccaneer squadron"?What do the Government mean by "extended"? Do they propose to go on hoping, or have they done something to make sure that the aircraft can fly safely? It sounds to me as though this is another risk which would not normally be acceptable but has to be borne because of the Secretary's of State's bungling.
§ Mr. John Morris
There is no risk involved. As I indicated earlier, there is no hard-and-fast rule about this. An aircraft can be used today, it cannot be used tomorrow. Under the revised plan, we hope to complete this by 1971, in the main, keeping just a few of the Canberras in service until mid-1972.
§ Mr. Goodhew
In that case, we were thoroughly wrongly informed in 1966, and the Government might have taken more trouble to be accurate in what they said.
I return to the Defence Review, which says:By the mid-1970s we intend that the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft should begin to take over this and other rôles. Both operationally and industrially, this aircraft is the core of our long-term aircraft programmes. But if the R.A.F. is not to be lacking in a most critical part of its capability for five years, some arrangement must be made for bridging this gap. We have therefore decided to buy 50 of the F111A aircraft from the United States.".We were told then that the F111A would be supplemented in the strike rôle by the V-bombers and that no other aircraft could be available by 1970 to match the performance of the F111A. The development of the Mirage IV was turned down on grounds of delivery date, cost and performance. It would not have been ready until at least two years after the F111A—say, 1972 at the earliest. A development of the Buccaneer was turned 75 down because it would have come into service even later than the Mirage IV development and could not compare in performance with the F111A, particularly in the reconnaissance rôle. If we are to concentrate on conventional war, the reconnaissance rôle is as important as ever before, if not more so.
We were told in the Air Estimates debate of 1967 that the F111 was to have a "vast radius of action", far longer than the A.F.V.G., the need for which was not confined to east of Suez—indeed two-thirds of the force were to be based in the United Kingdom. The Under-Secretary for Defence, Royal Air Force, said on 14th March, 1967the principal rôles of the F111 aircraft will be tactical and particularly reconnaissance to support our forces in any military operations and to discharge our responsibilities to our allies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 247.]It was to fulfil its rôle long after the A.F.V.G. came into service. Now one can add the rôle of protection of the Fleet. If the R.A.F. is to have this additional responsibility it is clear that an aircraft with the "vast radius of action" of the F111 would be involved.
In Part II of the 1966 White Paper we are told on page 27 in paragraph 21:The aircraft carrier is the most important element of the Fleet.Now that this is to be phased out by hon. Members opposite, one wonders what they will do to provide the Fleet with an aircraft of similar radius of action which the Government in 1966 thought the F111 would provide. Two years later, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, said: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.Even after cancellation of the F111 we were told that. He went on to say that this created "a serious gap" and, in a moment of candour which we would expect from the hon. Gentleman, he said thatThe whole question is very difficult.Referring to the Buccaneer he said:I am advised that this aircraft is not in the same class as the F111"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 786–7.]76 On 4th March last year, the Under-Minister of Defence for Equipment said that the Buccaneers:will form the backbone of the R.A.F. strike reconnaissance forces, both here and in Germany, for the next few years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779. c. 353.]So we now have the R.A.F. equipped for its strike reconnaissance rôle with an aircraft considered inadequate in 1968 by the Minister responsible for the R.A.F. at that time and an aircraft considered inferior in class to the F111. In 1967, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force said:Although we do not plan to indulge in major operations without the co-operation of our allies, this does not absolve us from the responsibility of maintaining a balanced force, capable of making a contribution which those allies would value, nor indeed from the responsibility for providing our own forces of all three Services with strike/reconnaissance support."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1967: Vol. 743, c. 245–6]I ask today what I asked last year, what has happened since 1967 to make that statement invalid? If that were an accurate assessment in 1967 and even in 1968, why were we told in 1969 that the Royal Air Force could make do with Vulcans and Buccaneers? This has nothing to do with the decision to fail back on Europe for again, on 4th March, 1969, the Minister of Defence for Equipment said:qualitatively our new European posture will make relatively little difference to the content of our equipment programme."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 350.]Again and again we have had assurances that these aircraft are needed to fill the gap, the serious gap which would have been filled by the F111 from this year to the mid-1970s. That is because back in 1966 we expected that the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft would be flying by the mid-seventies. I remind the Under-Secretary that the A.F.V.G. was cancelled and now we have the multi-rôle combat aircraft to take its place. The serious gap will now persist much longer because the multi-rôle combat aircraft will not be ready by the mid-seventies, as the A.F.V.G. would have been.
When announcing the signing of the Memoranda of Understanding on Project Definition on 14th May, 1969, the Secretary of State talked about it entering service in the late seventies. So already the gap is four or five years longer. One wonders whether it will slip back even 77 further, assuming that it gets through the next three phases. On 3rd July last year, the Minister of Defence for Equipment assured his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) that progress wouldbe carefully reviewed at each stage before further financial commitment is made to the next stage".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1969; Vol. 786, c. 819.]If he is under pressure all the time to cut back on finance, can we be certain that he will not drop this at the last moment?
§ Mr. John Morris
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to suggest that we should not be in a position to review at each and every stage the development of this very important project. Is it not terribly important that we should have control of it?
§ Mr. Goodhew
No doubt it is, but those of us who have watched project after project cancelled for economic rather than defence reasons will have doubts until we see it in metal flying.
In any event, this serious gap which was to he five years is now to be a minimum of 10 years. We are entitled to ask what the R.A.F. is expected to do. How can it cope in the meantime? If there has been a downgrading of this vital requirement we should be told of the change in the rôle for the R.A.F. which goes with it. We should like to know whether the M.R.C.A. as now planned will in fact have as good a performance as the F111A was expected to have. In particular will it have the "vast radius of action" which was thought so vital back in 1967?
The TSR2 was not the only important aircraft to be axed by this Government. There was the P1154, a supersonic high performance V.S.T.O.L. aircraft. I gather from their comments that hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench are anxious because I mention it. Perhaps they find it disturbing, as were so many previous cancellations. We find it disturbing, too. This was a supersonic high performance V.S.T.O.L. aircraft. The Government chose the P1127 or Kestrel, a subsonic aircraft for experiment. This has become the "Harrier" a splendid aircraft with good export potential. But now that the full value of this V.S.T.O.L. technique is appreciated there is a need for a developed version 78 with greatly increased power particularly for possible use from naval ships. Would it not have been better to have gone ahead with the P.1154? Would there not have been a saving in both time and money?
There was also the HS681 S.T.O.L. transport, another advanced project which was cancelled by the Government. I have already mentioned the value of V.S.T.O.L. combat aircraft, and their ability to operate from dispersed sites as opposed to vulnerable airfields is their main virtue. But their operational value is greatly reduced if they have to return frequently to a base airfield for service and supplies. [Interruption.] If the Minister of Defence for Administration cannot bear my speech, perhaps he will be silent or go outside. It is most discourteous of him to sit on the Front Bench constantly talking.
Here is another field in which the Government have allowed the serious gap to arise where we have the vertical combat aircraft which would have to fly back to a vulnerable base instead of having supplies brought to it. I hope that it will be abundantly clear that the Government have made a number of bad, panic decisions to cut aircraft projects and most of all that there is the gap left by cancellation of the F111A to be cleared up. We hope that the Under-Secretary will answer that today. The enormity of these decisions will become more obvious as each year goes by. This perhaps is why hon. Members opposite are so embarrassed when one seeks to refer to them.
I want to say a word about the contribution to N.A.T.O. made by this country. The Secretary of State has been busy juggling with figures which purport to show that B.A.O.R. in Germany has more men now than in 1964. It would be out of order for me to stray into that smokescreen today, but he is careful not to mention the number of front-line aircraft available to R.A.F. Germany. I have raised this before, and we have been told that it is not in the national interest for these figures to be given. One knows that it is also not in the interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite for them to be given.
We know that there have been big reductions in the number of front-line squadrons in the R.A.F. as a whole, but 79 we cannot obtain any information about the number of aircraft in Germany. I am sure that the Russians know by exactly how much the Government have cut the number of aircraft in R.A.F. Germany, but we are not allowed to know. My information is that the numbers have been cut by half, and that is probably about right. Certainly they have been cut drastically, and this at a time when we are supposed to be concentrating our forces on N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman says that he has information that the numbers of aircraft have been cut, and that the Russians and others know this, too. How does the hon. Gentleman know?
§ Mr. Goodhew
I have eyes to see, and ears to hear, in the same way as anybody else. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that I am wrong, but he will not be able to convince me if he cannot give the figures, and he probably knows that I am about right. But at any rate they have been cut drastically, at a time when we are supposed to be concentrating our forces on N.A.T.O.
Has the Secretary of State considered the effect of the Beira blockade on our N.A.T.O. allies? In addition to tying down nearly half the frigates of the Far Eastern Fleet, this requires regular patrols by Shackleton aircraft. That does not prevent oil or petrol from going into Rhodesia. On the contrary, oil and petrol are plentiful there, and cheaper than they are here. But it upsets relations between this country and our oldest ally, Portugal, which is also a partner in N.A.T.O.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State believes that this charade benefits the N.A.T.O. alliance. If he has Shackletons to spare, surely they would be better deployed patrolling the Cape route? Every N.A.T.O. country this side of the Atlantic imports the bulk of its oil in tankers which come round the Cape, just as do many other vital supplies. With the vast Russian fleet operating in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean, I should have thought that N.A.T.O. interests, as well as our own, would be better served by utilising any spare aircraft in this area.
Whilst on the subject of Royal Air Force co-operation with the Navy, about 80 which the Minister spoke, I should like to know a little more about how the R.A.F. is expected to protect the fleet from land bases. It may be that the Secretary of State, having announced the end of fixed-wing flying in the Navy, plans to put Royal Air Force pilots and crews aboard carriers and to change the decision that way. The right hon. Gentleman will not be in control when that happens, so perhaps he is not worrying about it, but it would be interesting to know whether the Fleet is expected to steam on a course which will always keep it within range of land-based aircraft—a highly convenient arrangement for our enemies, but not a wise one—or whether there are some new plans for island bases, about which the Government have been silent since the original concept of the island-based aircraft programme instead of a carrier fleet.
We are told on page 29 of the Defence Estimates:In preparation for the phasing-out of the Fleet carriers exercises involving the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have been mounted to test the arrangements for the air defence of the Fleet in the post carrier era.We should like to know a little more about that. We should like to know whether the Secretary of State has had second thoughts about the phasing out of the carriers following the exercises—he could have done—and also where the exercises took place. It is easy to supply air cover in the Solent, but there are other parts of the ocean where our ships have to sail, and many of them far from land bases.
No doubt in-flight refuelling is a vital element in the plans for the defence of the Fleet by the R.A.F. Why has there been such an inordinate delay in converting the Victor Mark II bombers for this purpose? About 18 of them have been on Handley Page's airfield at Radlett in my constituency for nearly two years. They must be deteriorating dreadfully, and when I asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministery of Technology just over a week ago about confirmation of the requirements for this conversion, I was told that it came in January, 1969. On referring to a letter which I received from the Minister of State at the Ministry of Technology on 28th October last year, I noticed that he said:If this requirement is confirmed.…81 I should like to know when the requirement was confirmed. Why was the delay so great? Why was there such delay in giving the contract for design, and when will the aircraft be ready for service? Is it proposed to move the aircraft from Radlett to Woodford near Manchester to carry out this work?
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, in opening the debate on the Navy Estimates, mentioned one domestic matter affecting the Royal Air Force. He said:Hon Members will recall that when we announced, in the 1969 Defence White Paper, the forthcoming closure of the R.N. Air Station at Brawdy, Pembrokeshire, we said that the Army and the R.A.F. were actively engaged in a thorough examination of alternative uses for the establishment.I am now able to say that we have decided to move to Brawdy the Rotary Wing Element of the R.A.F. Central Flying School, at present located at Tern Hill, Shropshire. It has not been easy to find a defence task for Brawdy; but we have been very conscious of its position in a development area and of the impact which closure of the air station would have had locally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 938]I understand that that statement came as a surprise to the Royal Air Force. The decision had not been heard of until the announcement was made to the House by the Minister. I am not suggesting that he suddenly thought it up; only that the decision was not known until it was announced to the House. What is the captal cost involved in this move? This is an important aspect of the matter. What use is to be made of the accommodation which has been vacated at Tern Hill? Lastly, is there any connection between this decision and the fact that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) is standing for a new party at the next General Election?
The White Paper mentions Strike Command handing over to the Polaris force responsibility for the United Kingdom's——
§ Mr. Morris
I am concerned about what the hon. Gentleman said. Is he opposed to us moving this important task to Brawdy? Is that the official attitude of the Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Goodhew
I shall come to a decision on that when I hear what the capital cost is, and when I receive answers to the other questions I have asked.
82 The White Paper mentions the handing over to the Polaris force by Strike Command of the responsibility for the United Kingdom's contribution to the Western nuclear deterrent in the middle of June last year. I should have thought that there should have been recorded in addition a tribute to the officers and men of the V-bomber stations and squadrons who, for 24 hours a day, every day, maintained the credibility of our deterrent over a period of 12 years. I was astounded that, not having mentioned it in the White Paper, the Minister should not have thought fit to mention it today. He ranged over a wide field, and I should have thought that some tribute might have been paid today. It was a highly exacting and demanding task, and one for which we owe them a debt of gratitude.
There are many other aspects of the White Paper and Estimates—always provocative from the party opposite—which I could raise, but which I shall leave to be dealt with by my hon. Friends. Recruiting worries me considerably, particularly in the engineering and medical branches.
The R.A.F., like the other Services, has had an unsettling time for the past five years. It has suffered from the cancellation of a whole series of modern aircraft, as is well known. Nevertheless, it still plays a vital part in the defence of this country and its interests, and we on this side of the House would like to pay a tribute to all those who contribute to this worthy cause. We are deeply grateful for their loyal service in the past, and we wish them well in the years to come.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
The House must forgive me if I do not follow too closely the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew). I want to take up one comment that he made, however, concerning the apparent exception that he took to the speech of the Minister when discussing the rôle of the Services in giving help to the civil community. At one point I thought that the hon. Member was almost saying that the Armed Forces existed simply for their own purposes. We all know that they are there to serve the community in peace and in war.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I made it clear that I was paying tribute to the work done for 83 the civil community by the Royal Air Force and the other Services. I said that that work was appreciated by the civil community, and by all hon. Members on this side of the House. I was making the point that the Minister had given too much detail about this and too little about vital matters affecting the defence of this country.
§ Mr. Ellis
I am glad that the hon. Member has put me right. I would have thought that the constant rôle of our Armed Forces was to assist and defend the civil community. That was the main reason for forming the Armed Services in the first place.
I want to speak about the Meteorological Office. My hon. Friend said that this year it was to be equipped with the I.B.M. computer—the 360 system, Model 195. I hope that we shall be given more information about this machine, and be told how much it will cost. While my hon. Friend was on the subject I made a note of his comments and I heard him say that this computer would have the general purpose of improving the forecasts given both to the Armed Forces and to the general public. He said that in respect of the amount of rainfall and its distribution it was likely to be accurate for between 24 and 36 hours ahead, and that it would give more reliable information than was available now for further periods ahead.
I utter a word of warning here. When the Meteorological Office gots its first computer and we read certain statements in the Press from informed people we formed the impression that we should be in the happy situation of knowing where the last raindrop would fall. I have a feeling that even with this latest and best computer we are not at the end of the road, and that great difficulties still exist in forecasting the amount and duration of precipitation. We have some way to go in this direction.
I have been considering various ways in which I should approach this debate, and what I should say. I think that we have one of the finest meteorological services in the world. This island is not blessed in terms of the ease of forecasting. We have special difficulties in that respect. I therefore hope that my remarks will be taken as constructive criticisms. 84 I am concerned that we should improve not only our forecasts but our equipment, and also keep under review the information that we are able to give to the public. If I have one criticism it is that we tend to be a little cagey in the format of our forecasts.
I should like to see more definite forecasts. I realise the difficulties that exist, but the public ought at least to be told when specially hazardous weather conditions lie ahead, such as very extensive rainfall, perhaps giving rise to flooding, or other severe conditions, such as those we experienced on 4th March, when a major blizzard swept the country. It is very important that such forecasts should be given, because these extra severe conditions can cost the country millions of pounds through loss of production. When people read their newspapers or switch on their radio or television sets they should be warned that something out of the ordinary is likely to happen.
I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend about this procedure. I do not have the Annual Report of the Meteorological Office for 1969 but I have the reports for 1967 and 1968. I was in contact with my right hon. Friend about the number of flash warnings which could be given over the broadcast system—wireless and television. In 1967 we were able to put out warnings of dense fog. moderate or heavy snow, and so forth, on 41 occasions, together with a more general forecast on one occasion. When I first raised this matter with my right hon. Friend I was assured that everything was being done and that people knew the procedure. Someone seems to have got the point, because in 1968 there was a dramatic increase from 42 uses of this excellent service to about 120. These messages are enormously useful to the public, and I hope that attention will be paid to the question of keeping our people informed.
I want to refer specifically to the very bad weather that we had on 4th March of this year, when there was a major snowstorm, or a period of extensive snowfall. The snow fell for most of the day, if not all of it, and there was widespread dislocation of traffic. People could not get to work, and the event was a front-page story in most newspapers. When I read The Times and other newspapers 85 I was surprised to read that the forecast that morning was for snow periods, and occasional snow showers. There was no indication of what was to occur.
I put two Questions to the Secretary of State. First, I askedwhat special action was taken by the Meteorological Office to warn the public of the onset of severe and hazardous weather conditions on Wednesday, 4th March, 1970and the Answer I received was thatFrom about 0240 hours on 4th March the Meteorological Office issued warnings of snowfall over a wide area of England to transport and other authorities. B.B.C. radio forecasts from 0602 hours onwards spoke of moderate to heavy falls of snow in many places except the extreme West.We have to bear in mind the time at which newspapers go to press. The radio forecasts were being made at almost the time when newspapers were being pushed through letter boxes, giving a very different story.
In my second Question I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Stateat what time and date the forecasts were issued by the Meteorological Office for the use of the national daily papers for 4th March, 1970.and the Answer that I received wasAt 1916 hours B.S.T. on 3rd March. This was supplemented by a further issue for late editions at 2340 hours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 331–2.]That meant that the forecasts were given at about eight o'clock. Most newspapers go to press at midnight. Although the information was supplemented by a further issue at 2340 hours, I am sure that the Meteorological Office could do better.
I think that I know what happens. The Office gives out its routine forecasts at a very early stage in the evening. They go to the sub-editors, who have probably fallen into a routine. The same process probably occurs every night. The forecast is set up with the crossword and other features, and once it has been set up that is the end of the story. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will get in touch with the Department concerned and ask it whether it can issue its first forecasts later in the evening, especially when it is apparent that we were likely to have a dose of severe weather. A situation can change dramatically, so that large amounts of rain or snow are precipitated, causing great inconvenience. It is at that 86 point that all the emergency services should be put into action. It should then be got over to the public that the country is in for a change in the weather and that people had better take note of it.
When I was in the Meteorological Office, I was only an assistant scientific officer. My job was to work alongside and to assist the forecasters. I worked with some good and some indifferent forecasters, and I always appreciated the man who went after the story. Sometimes when one reads or listens to weather forecasts one gets the impression that a lot of words boil down to the fact that it will either rain or grow dark before morning. They say that some areas will have sunny periods, while it will be cloudy in others; there will be occasional rain in some areas, and in more exposed places it will be heavy or moderate; winds will be light and variable, except in exposed places, where they will be moderate or gale force. At other times, one gets a positive forecast, and I believe that that is what those employed at the Meteorological Office are paid to do. I believe in positive forecasting, and I hope that the new computer will enable that to be done.
In the past, I have asked Questions about the general accuracy of forecasting, and it is horrifying to discover how unscientific is the method of checking. I hesitate to go into how forecasts are judged for accuracy. Suffice it to say that it is done in a very pedestrian way, and I hope that a little more science will be brought to bear upon it.
If we are to have a new computer costing a large sum of money, it is important to know where the Meteorological Office is going. My questions about the first computer were never answered satisfactorily. Much more could be done by way of a scientific approach to comparing the potential with our past level of success. If we are about to have a major change of weather, that will be of interest to the whole populace. It may be possible to give four, six, or even eight hours' warning, and it is important for the Meteorological Office to take the bull by the horns and to put out the story to the Press and television so that people will know that they are in for extreme weather conditions.
My hon. Friend is to be commended for his decision in favour of the computer.
87 Overall, we have a very good Meteorological Office. I have been in the service for some time and have taken a keen interest in the subject, and I hope that the House will think that I am trying to be constructive when I say that we can do better if we continue along these lines.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) will forgive me if I do not go into the weather with him. He said that he wanted to know when the weather was about to be out of the ordinary. My experience of British weather is that it is always out of the ordinary, and it will take more than a dozen computers to alter that.
I want to discuss the total abolition of Service Ministers in the sense that we have become accustomed to have a Minister representing each Service. My remarks apply to all three Services, though the illustrations which I shall use are taken from the Royal Air Force.
I thought that the Minister who opened the debate illustrated one of my points very well. Quite obviously he did not know very much about the Air Force and did not care. It was odd that he chose to include the Buccaneer among our new aircraft. The Buccaneer has been only slightly "hotted up", and 20 years ago the Air Force refused to look at it. It is not a very startling sign of progress.
The only argument adduced for scrubbing Service Ministers is that it will stop differences of opinion or quarrels between the Services. Of course, one never does that. It does not matter whether all the Services dress the same: someone whose main interest is in the air will always see matters differently from someone whose interest is on the sea or on the ground. It is impossible to stop quarrels. All that one can do is suppress them.
It is important that these differences of opinion should not be suppressed. At the top level, they all have political implications. They affect foreign policy or strategy, and the Cabinet, as the ultimate decider of policy, should know where the differences are. When a serious difference arises, it should be argued out before the Cabinet.
88 The classic instance of this arose in the early 1920s when the Army and the Navy tried to smother the infant Air Force in its cot and cut up the body between them. At that time, Sir Samuel Hoare was Secretary of State for Air, and Trenchard was Chief of the Air Staff. They were both men of great ability. They won the argument in the Cabinet, and the Air Force was not split up between the other two services. We cannot know what would have happened if it had been, but it is very long odds on that we should have lost the Battle of Britain if we had done that, and certain consequences would have flowed from that.
In an argument of that importance, what would happen under the present set-up? The Chiefs of Staff are to be degraded, and there will be no Service Ministers of any sort. Accompanied by the Chief of the Defence Staff, who at the moment happens to be a sailor, the Secretary of State would go to the Cabinet and there would be no one to argue with him. He would put on that self-satisfied, greasy smile which he always puts on when he is doing harm, and he would probably get his way. The Cabinet would not know what it was doing.
As well as the scrubbing of the Service Ministers, it is almost certainly a mistake to have a Chief of Defence Staff. No one ever knew more about the Services and politicians and the way that matters are run than the late Lord Ismay, who was at the centre of affairs in the last war. He thought that a Chief of Defence Staff was a mistake, simply because such an arrangement suppresses the arguments. He thought that we did better than the Germans in the war because we had a system whereby the Prime Minister, in his rôle of Minister of Defence, worked directly with the three Chiefs of Staff, leaving the Service Ministers to run the administration. Matters were argued out properly. With their O.K.W., the Germans made far more vital mistakes. It is unfair to blame them all on Hitler. The system led to mistakes because it was over-centralised. The system which we are to have is more centralised than the O.K.W. ever was, and it is likely to prove equally disastrous.
To take another more recent instance in which, at any rate, a vestigial Service 89 Minister could do something, though he could not stop the evil, there was the case of the carriers. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) was then Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy. When the great carrier controversy arose, he asked permission from the Secretary of State for Defence to attend the Defence Committee so that he could put the Navy's case. The Secretary of State, to his shame, refused to allow him to do so. Therefore the case had to be argued by the First Sea Lord, already degraded because there was a Chief of Defence Staff. He was left to argue the case alone. He was an admirable sailor but not, I suspect, a past-master in the rather specialised art of arguing with politicians. Therefore, the case went by default. The Cabinet did not know what it was doing. But there was something left over, because at any rate the hon. Member for Woolwich, East could resign and put the argument to the House and to the country. Now all the real arguments will be suppressed, which is something of immense danger.
There is another aspect of the Service Minister's work, which concerns morale and the general well-being of the Services. One of the main jobs of a Service Minister is to get around and to get to know the leading people in the Services and people of all ranks. I was Parliamentary Secretary of State at the old Ministry of Defence, and Under-Secretary of State for Air and then Secretary of State for Air. I found when I was in the Ministry of Defence that people would not talk to me seriously. They were very polite and would chat away, but they would not give me their confidence. But when one was in a Service Ministry they trusted one. They told one all about their hopes, fears and ideas, which were often good. One could help on an idea which had stuck in the machine. If one found a man who was obviously a first-class brain but was not as popular as all that with the high brass, one could ask about him and see that he was not stuck. There were all sorts of things that one could help with in that way. Now there is no representative of the Services of any sort. No one will be trusted—certainly no one will trust the Secretary of State for Defence—and none of that information will get through. That contact between the politician and the Services is of great value all round.
90 Another aspect of the matter is the personal case. We all have correspondence from Service men. I used to have a great deal of it. Quite a deal of one's time in a Service Ministry is taken up in dealing with personal cases. It is immensely valuable if a man feels that the Minister dealing with his case cares about his Service, knows a bit about the way in which it works, and is doing his best for him. If he gets a letter from the Minister for Equipment, or whatever he calls himself, I do not think that he will feel quite the same about it.
Very often people can be helped in curious ways. This is an untypical instance. Hon. Members may remember that some time ago there was a very successful play by Terence Rattigan called "Ross", about the time when Lawrence of Arabia, who was a tortured soul, thought after the First World War that he might find peace as an airman in the Royal Air Force. In the play the various muddles that arose at his station are brought out. It is true that people there did not know who he was. But I had the curiosity to ask someone who knew whether the Air Force knew about his joining up. He replied, "My God, they did!" The reason was that Lawrence of Arabia was never a great man for the usual channels, and wrote reams of letters both to the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Samuel Hoare and Lord Trenchard. They wrote back long letters about what station he would like to go to. He said once that he wanted a station where discipline was stricter than at the station where he was. These were very sensitive and discerning helpful letters.
That was a special case, but there are always tortured souls in the Services who very often can be helped. I do not believe that if Ministers are completely divorced from all the Services people will get anything like the help they had in the past and could get in the future. We shall never get anything out of the present Government, but I hope to God that when we get back we shall at least have Ministers of State, at least Privy Councillors, definitely representing the Services and when there is a major point of controversy allowed to argue the case for their Services, and to make contact with the Services and to help the men when they can.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I share the interest of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) in the letters of Aircraftsman Ross. Indeed, they might repay even greater study than "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom".
The right hon. Gentleman's speech causes us all some concern and gives cause for reflection. Unlike him, I have not been a Defence Minister and somehow I think that I shall never be. But I believe that this is an issue about which the House should be concerned. When I heard of my right hon. Friend's changes I thought that one of their advantages was the downgrading of the senior members of the individual Services and the upgrading of the Chief of the Defence Staff, because of all that we have heard about inter-Service rivalry. I should be interested in the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who has had great experience in the Ministry of Defence, on whether the experiments do not go some way towards eliminating the inter-Service rivalry that one gathers has bedevilled not only British Service Ministries but also those of the United States and of every other Western country since 1945.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
I intervene not to disagree with anything the hon. Gentleman has said but to say, because the Minister who I had gathered was to wind up the debate left in the middle of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), that I very much hope that we shall have a comment from the Government on the proposed new internal arrangements in the Ministry of Defence, which have been put in the White Paper but about which nothing has been said from the Government side of the House during the whole series of defence debates.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I take the point, and hope that there will be comment.
The right hon. Member for Flint, West, said that he was worried that perhaps the Services would not in a sense —I do not want to misquote him—trust a Minister who had all-round responsibility to the same extent that they would repose their confidence in a Minister responsible for one Service. I have heard that from other sources, and at least it 92 is a point that must be taken seriously, though I do not wish to presume to agree with it. Here again my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington might be able to make a more authoritative contribution than could other Members.
I should like to leave that subject and to come to the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), who talked about the gap left by the F111A. I do not want to make cheap points, but is he seriously suggesting that we should have continued the F111A, when we read in the Press that out of 225 F111s, 218 have been grounded. Surely it became fairly apparent that it was not a viable aircraft?
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Gentleman could not possibly have gathered from what I said that I was contending that we should have had the F111As. But the Government, on announcing the cancellation of the F111A, talked of the serious gap that would be left, and I was asking what was being done about it. If we are not to have that gap filled by an equivalent aircraft, what changes are being made in the rôle of the Royal Air Force to enable it to carry out its rôle without it?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Anyone who pretends to be serious about defence affairs—and I make that pretension for myself—must recognise that gaps are serious problems. The issue is, what does one do about them, granted that one has these technical difficulties? I make a related point. Let us now have some of the truth about the TSR2, because my information was that, although the prototype flew and carried out most, but nothing like all, the operational requirements, nevertheless, if we had proceeded with it, we should have found it running into many of the troubles which the F111 has run into, particularly in relation to metal fatigue. Indeed, there is a powerfully argued case that each unit of the TSR2, had it been put into operation by the Royal Air Force, would not have been able to do more than 90 to 110 hours' flying time.
One must add to this—because, at any rate at the time it was being built, insufficient was known about the structure of metal—the fact that many of the parts which might come under the general heading of fulcrum units would not have 93 withstood anything like the strains of war which they would have been expected to bear at that kind of speed and for those operational requirements. If the Opposition intend to pursue the subject of the TSR2, I should like to hear from the Government some kind of authoritative technical assessment of whether it was a viable aircraft. Responsible people in the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology tell me that it would not have been.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the reasons we have to consider are those given by the Government for cancellation of the TSR2? They were not technical reasons. I believe that the aircraft was described as an excellent plane technically, but the commercial reasons —the fact that no other Government wanted to buy it and thus the lack of production capability made it an uneconomic aircraft—made it too expensive for us to proceed with it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend represents Preston and is well informed on these matters, but I offer him one reflection. It is difficult to say that an aircraft such as the TSR2 is technically not viable because, if a Government make this kind of assertion about their own aircraft industry, the industry as a whole comes into disrepute, not only on that project but as a whole. No British Government will be happy about running down a civil or military aircraft being built in Britain. There is a genuine problem. However, we are some years after the decision and since then we have had a number of major aircraft successes. We should be able to tell the truth about the project and I should like the truth to be told now. I again ask for a technical assessment, since such an assessment could not harm our aircraft industry, which has since enjoyed considerable success.
But I want to return to the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans. It was an interesting speech. The hon. Member referred to Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris and the various requirements which he, I understand, had said were essential if, for B.A.O.R., we were to bring our air units up to some kind of standard such as he would like to see. In two of the Estimates debates and in the defence debate I have nagged 94 away at this single question. The Opposition criticise the Government and say that they should come up to the Foxley-Norris standard or to some other standard or should have some requirement for the carriers. The issue is that the Opposition should tell us precisely which extra forces they want us to have. It is no good simply saying that we should have the Foxley-Norris standard without saying precisely how much extra is required. If I have misunderstood the hon. Member for St. Albans, perhaps he will say so.
§ Mr. Goodhew
If the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD in the morning, he will see that I drew the Secretary of State's attention to the need to maintain air superiority wherever possible in connection with the number of aircraft we have as a nation, and that I pointed out that Air Chief Marshal Foxley-Norris had summed up the situation in pointing to the need for air superiority. Air Chief Marshal Foxley-Norris did so in very good words. That is all I said. I went on to say that the Government should halt the run-down.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Then the question I have asked—and my right hon. Friend mentioned this in an interjection—becomes even more relevant. The Opposition talk about air superiority—but air superiority over whom?
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) may groan but it can only mean one thing—air superiority over the Russians. We have to find out precisely what this means in physical terms. I make no apology for asking the question. Indeed, I ask my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate to give a rough indication of precisely what is involved. I am not trying to score a debating point on defence, but we must be quite clear what the responsible right hon. and hon. Members opposite are asking for. The hon. Member for St. Albans speaks with the authority of the Opposition Front Bench and we are at least entitled to some specific statement of the extra requirements, particularly since the Opposition, rightly or wrongly, are also demanding lower taxation. They cannot have it both ways. This is a classic case of having one's cake and eating it.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Again the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I talked about the large number of important projects which have been cancelled. He knows that the Government have spent vast amounts of money on cancellation charges and wasted developments and in many cases have got no aircraft. We could have had aircraft instead of wasting money.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not want to pursue what might be a sterile argument, but does this mean that the hon. Gentleman would have wanted to continue with the HS681 or the P1154? Which are the projects that the Opposition would have continued with? It should be made clear and it is important that the Opposition make it clear.
The hon. Gentleman also said that he was angry with my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment for not saying enough about the defence commitments of the R.A.F. and talking so much about military aid to the civil community. Since I spoke on this in the debate on the Navy Estimates, I shall say nothing on the subject other than that I very much support the details and the kind of projects which the Government are imaginatively undertaking. Indeed, the Government should know that, among back benchers as a whole on this side of the House, and not only among the so-called Left-wing, there is wide support for the whole concept of military aid to the civil community.
I want to reflect—and make no apology for doing so in some detail—en the project which, I suppose, of all projects in recent years seems, at any rate so far, to have been the most successful —the Nimrod project. Those of us who have been to Frimley have been impressed by the navigation systems and the defence computer techniques and. indeed, by the surveillance radar, but I want to draw attention to paragraph 206 of the Second Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. That paragraph says:The third consideration, i.e. project management, has been started in the Ministries of Defence and Technology and its merit demonstrated by the successful completion of the Nimrod project. The method should in our view be copied for all major projects. To achieve maximum benefit from the method, it is essential that the project director should be given total responsibility for the control of the technical, timing, and financial aspects of the project within the overall plan. No 96 system of organisation can work efficiently without delegation of these responsibilities and the necessary authority to carry the ventture through to completion.In paragraph 209 the point is made that,Efficient project management is an iterative feedback control system.It is perhaps strange that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) is apparently not taking part in the debate because, during the whole of the Select Committee's work, I thought that, by emphasising, from his own knowledge of Handley-Page and other firms, the importance of the project director, he was giving great service not only to the Select Committee but to the aircraft industry. Again, on the question of project management, in question No. 1767 to Elliott's at Frimley I said:Referring to what Sir Harry"—that was the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke)—was asking about the Ministry of Technology, Colonel Lewis said this morning that users must learn to accept 85 per cent. of the requirement since the last 10 to 15 per cent. would, perhaps, as much as double the cost. Would you care to enlarge on this?This, for this industry, is a substantial point, and Colonel Lewis's answer was:Yes. All projects start with a statement of the requirement from which, ideally, one hopes always to see a statement of design aims. The figures are produced, not by the user, but by the design authority, which may be this Company, and the R. and D. authority.Later, Mr. Surtees said, giving an example from Nimrod:The tactical system which draws information from the various senses that are deployed, or mounted, on the aircraft processes information about the tactical situation and displays it to the tactical navigator.This is the sort of thing that has been done particularly well in the Nimrod project. Would I be right in saying that the experience of Nimrod has not been transferred as widely as it might have been to the defence contracts industry? If I am wrong, then the true position should be stated. However, it seemed a year ago the view of Sir Denning Pearson of Rolls-Royce who, giving evidence on behalf of the C.B.I., said in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire:I would not like you to think that the project manager system is easy when it is first introduced, because in effect you are taking away by a project manager some of the authority of very important people. This in 97 Government is exaggerated to a very great extent".Sir Denning must be taken seriously on this issue.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's reference to the visit to Frimley. He will agree that one of the features which made the Nimrod so distinct from some others is the fact that everything was on the shelf, so to speak, ready to be brought together. That was a different exercise in project management compared with some other exercises, where one has virtually had to start from scratch.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I agree, certainly to the extent that in advance defence materials it is wise to concentrate, as those of us on the Select Committee learned, on what is possible in existing circumstances, rather than to build in, particularly to the cost calculation, the sort of features which may come from beyond the frontier of existing knowledge.
On the question of Nimrod, the Government may say that they replied to the Select Committee when they said:The Nimrod project, on which the Committee comment favourably, has two special features. The airframe is an adaption of a well-established aircraft and the electronics system is based largely on established equipment, the intention being to refit these aircraft with more advanced defence equipment later in their lives.That corroborates what the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely was saying.In these circumstances it was possible for the main part of the development and production process to be covered by one fixed price contract and for the main contractor to place a sub-contract with an electronics firm for the integration of the various pieces of equipment into the complex nagivation/attack system. The Government are well satisfied with these arrangements and intend to adopt this contractual pattern wherever similar projects arise. It will remain their purpose, through closer project definition and the opportunity this gives for securing the best form of incentive contract, to place the maximum responsibility in the contractor's hands".I want some examples of the fact that the Government, who say that they are well satisfied with these arrangements, have carried out their intention of adopting this contractual pattern wherever similar projects arise. What has been learnt from experience of Nimrod? My information from industry is that Nimrod, looking like a success, has not been anything like as universally copied. There 98 may be certain features of Nimrod that are exceptional, but the general lessons of it should be borne in mind.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is absolutely essential to avoid projects of this kind becoming Chrismas trees, so to speak, on which other projects are hung, though they are not related to the main objective of the project as founded? One trouble in the past has been the reluctance of the Treasury to get on with the job, with the result that projects have been forced to be made Christmas trees to keep them going.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is disastrous if projects are allowed to drool on, not only in the aircraft industry but elsewhere. In hospital building, for example, we see that each new gadget must be adopted for the different hospitals as pressure comes from the various hospital authorities. This adds to expense and makes projects, particularly in the aircraft sphere, heavy from the expenditure point of view; and again, to that extent, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
As I said when we were debating the Navy Estimates, people like me who want to see a good deal of contraction must be careful about the legitimate career expectations of those coming into the forces. I therefore welcomed what the Minister said about officer boost to recruiting. I should like to know more, however, about the other ranks and technical recruiting to the R.A.F., and particularly about the way in which the forces are now helping people who have technical qualifications to get into the right slot in industry when the time comes for their departure.
I was interested in what the Minister said about the streamlining of the command structure. There are people who, having served well in the R.A.F., are placed on the career scrapheap rather early on in their lives. This, of course, is what streamlining the command structure means. I hope that both warrant officers and officers are being catered for through good contact with industry, which there must be in a modern society.
I have been interested to learn what the Government have been doing about the quality of graduate entry and short preliminary training courses. More could be done to interchange civilian air 99 units with military units, and I am thinking particularly of Lucas, which you are near to representing, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I applaud what the Government have been doing to upgrade the quality of manpower, and I suspect that this is something near to the heart of my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration, considering a previous incarnation of his. If it is possible to upgrade lower trained personnel, one is achieving something.
I intervened earlier to inquire of the forces' nursing services. Why is it thought that they have had a good deal of success in attracting nurses? I suspect that the answer does not lie solely on the question of pay.
Hon. Members who have the good of the Services at heart will comment favourably on the success of the Department in holding on to experienced aircrew. Last year this question was raised in connection with the way in which aircrew could be phased into B.E.A., B.O.A.C. or one of the private airlines. What is the present thinking of the Department on this matter? For the sake of time, and because we had a long presentation, I will cut short what I had intended to say on V.S.T.O.L. but I support the Harrier project and I hope that, in spite of all the obvious limitations, there will be the maximum cooperation between the Defence Department and the civilian authorities in city centre to city centre aircraft, although I realise that the weight and thrust ratios make this very expensive.
Because this is a fairly long debate, I should like to say something on a very important subject. This is the subject of Government research establishments. It is odd that the Leader of the House should suddenly have appeared, as if by instinct, because time and again on Thursday afternoons, I have plagued him for a debate on the Government defence research establishments, and he always says, "Not next week". We are now in March and, knowing how pressed my right hon. Friend is for Government time, I thought that I would take the opportunity to say a number of things, which I am sure are in order, on the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Defence Research. We may 100 have no other opportunity of bringing it up.
In the presence of a very distinguished member of that Committee, I should first of all like to know the Government's view of the future of some of our large and famous research establishments, particularly the Radar Research Establishment at Malvern and the Services Electronics Research Laboratory at Baldock. What are the Government doing to ensure that there is no duplication, details of which were given to the Select Committee? This must be in order, since my hon. Friend raised the issue of Malvern himself. With all these huge resources at their disposal, what lessons have the Government learned from the whole episode of Phantom——
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
On a point of order. I am sorry to raise a point of order in the middle of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but he is talking about the Radar Research Establishment at Malvern and it is important to know whether this is in order in a debate on the Air Estimates, because it is not carried in those Estimates.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
I am trying to relate what the hon. Member is saying to the Estimates and I am not sure whether his remarks have anything to do with the Royal Air Force. Perhaps he can help the House.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not want to abuse the House—I believe that hon. Members who do abuse it in this way should not do so—by saying anything about the Select Committee Report which is not related to the Air Estimates, but most of the research establishments are concerned with the Air Force and, but for the Air Force, would not be required in any case.
Here is a specific example. With all these resources at the Government's disposal, what now, with the benefit of hindsight, is their view of the adaptation of Phantom and the injection of Rolls-Royce engines? Would I be right in thinking that never again will a Government embark on a project which involves putting perhaps major British equipment in alien airframes?
Another issue raised by the Select Committee and which is related to the 101 Air Force is the whole question of in-house activity. I refer to paragraph 145 of the Report:A coherent research and development programme formulated on the assumptions stated will take into account industrial research as well as the Government's in-house' activity in its own research and development establishments. We welcome the setting up of a joint research committee between the Ministry of Technology and the aerospace industry and consider this collaboration should be extended to the other branches of industry that can contribute to the defence programme as rapidly as possible. But joint committees of Government and industry can only function efficiently if there is complete and open exchange of information. We note that the Confederation of British Industry recognise that American industrialists are more effectively associated with Government thinking on defence at an early stage "—I emphasise those last four words—than they themselves are. We consider that there should be defined channels of communication between the Defence Departments and industry and that these should be open to all who may be interested. We recommend that clear procedure should be evolved as a matter of urgency to ensure that industry is at all times conversant with the long-term policy and forward thinking of the Defence Departments.I am aware that there was a Government answer to this in the reply to the Select Committee, but there are serious people in industry who are not at all happy that industry gets the information early enough in the design stage.
As my hon. Friends know, I worked for the New Scientist and it is the opinion of some of my colleagues on that paper that American industry and British industry are still, unfortunately, rather different in this respect.
§ Mr. Wall
On a point of order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I think that a principle is involved here. I understood that both sides of the House had a general understanding that the Select Committee's Report would be debated at some other time. Is it not becoming a certain abuse of the Air Estimates—the hon. Gentleman has now been speaking for half an hour—to go on with the Select Committee's Report in this debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am trying to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the Estimates. There is, in fact, not a great deal of reference in the Estimates to research of this kind. I hope that he will relate his remarks as specifically as he can to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I should like to comment on the point of order. If I felt that there were many people here waiting to speak —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—there are five hon. Members here at most—I would not go on for half an hour. But I take the point and will cut my speech shorter than it would otherwise have been.
It is absolutely crucial that some attention is paid to the evidence which has been given to the Select Committee by one of our great engineering firms about the whole basis on which contracts are placed in this country. Indeed, it is impossible to separate——
§ Mr. Dalyell
I will then wish, since the number of projects have been mentioned, just to put a general question about delay by industry in the ordering of projects. I would refer to the issues of the gestation period which were commented on in my question No. 157 to Sir Robert Cockburn of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. I would wish to know the Government's thinking on whether the gestation period of projects is not rather too long in this country compared with the United States and whether they have been able to do anything about it. There was a remark by Commander H. Pasley-Tyler of Plessey:We are always, in industry, in a difficult position here, because we have to live and work and co-operate with these people. I would like to make it quite clear here and now that in saying what I am saying on behalf of our industry I am not criticising the people.One understands very well that it is difficult for industry to raise these questions with Departments, because people take umbrage. This is natural: I do not entirely blame them. But it is a matter, when we are discussing aircraft procurement, which should be raised in the House.
On the issue of delay, the evidence of Commander Pasley-Tyler in answer to Question 795 is pretty illuminating. Some attention should also be paid to what the leaders of our great firms have to say on this matter. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), who was a member of the Select Committee, in Question 144, about the Royal 103 Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, raised the issues of project study. I should like to know what is felt about the success or otherwise——
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
On a point of order. Perhaps you can give us some guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, you ruled the hon. Member out of order in referring to the Select Committee, but in reply to you, he said that as there were few hon. Members here, he thought that he would continue. That seems an extraordinary way to continue this debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not think it is for any hon. Member to determine how many hon. Members are waiting to speak. As long as the hon. Gentleman keeps within the rules of order, he has the Floor.
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
Further to the point of order. Was not my hon. Friend addressing himself to aircraft matters? It is true that he was discussing the Select Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he was surely in order to do so.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The reason I wish to dwell on the subjects at some length and in some detail is the pertinent one that some of us, while not openly critical and while reserving judgment, are increasingly unhappy about the M.R.C.A. project. This is not a trivial matter. It is a matter of £2,000 million.
I should like to be clear that a lot of the work which was done by the Select Committee, both before I was sacked from it and afterwards, is taken into account in discussion of the M.R.C.A. If the powers that be disregard a number of the recommendations and a great deal of what was said in evidence, the M.R.C.A. might well come into the category, which I do not want it to, of the A.F.V.G. and, indeed, of the TSR2.
In particular, notice should be taken in relation to the M.R.C.A. of the recommendations of the Select Committee in paragraphs 182, 183 and 184, which raise the whole issue of the Weapons Development Committee. The particular recommendation is 104that a revision of the present system of financial control of defence research projects be undertaken with a view to increasing the extent of long-term allocation of funds to the Defence Departments.The M.R.C.A. could run into great trouble if the question of the long-term, as opposed to the medium—or short-term, allocation of funds is not faced.
It also raises the question of the constant review, which was referred to in a question, and the financial control by Parliament. This is no ordinary project. It is a major project. I should like to be clear from my hon. Friends what sort of scrutiny is going into this project.
Also concerning the M.R.C.A., I should like to refer to the issue of joint discussion and, for the sake of brevity, to refer to a question which was put to Group Captain Fennessy by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Dr. Ernest A. Davies), who is now Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology. He said:Is there not a sufficient demand in the civil field for these micro-electronics?The reply was:There is going to be, but the problem is one of priming the pump. You see, it is a chicken and egg situation. Until micro-electronics are low in cost it is hard to sell them in the civil market.I should like to be clear from the Front Bench that one reason for going in on the M.R.C.A. project is not simply to create work but that it is justified on purely military grounds, because some of us can think of other good projects which would demand the same resources. There ought to be a detailed reference to the Select Committee recommendations.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Will my hon. Friend please refer to those other projects, particularly aircraft projects, on which he thinks that the money could be spent? Would they be British projects or would the aircraft be bought from America?
§ Mr. Dalyell
They might be British projects or they might be international. If I am tied down to naming them, the whole issue of the A300 and the airbus arises.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In connection with the M.R.C.A., I finally draw the attention of 105 the House to the recommendation of the Select Committee concerning obsolete programmes. I refer simply to Question 1530 and the reply by Sir Solly Zuckerman, who said:By research which has become obsolete I take it you mean research which is not of much value either intellectually or from the point of view of possible application.Sir Solly went on to say:We live with that problem. We live with it in the universities as well as in research establishments, and the the research establishments of industry as well as the research establishments of Government. The extent to which checks are applied depends entirely on the vigour of the direction of a Department.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member appears to be going rather wide of the Air Estimates. I wish that he would help the Chair by indicating to what specific Estimate he is referring.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I noticed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you allowed fairly considerable discussion from the Opposition Front Bench of the multi-rôle combat aircraft project and certain other projects——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I was not in the Chair at the time to which the hon. Member refers. I am in charge of the debate at this time and I am ruling that in his latest remarks the hon. Member appeared to be going rather wide of the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Some of us on the back benches rather marvel at the latitude which is allowed to Front Bench speakers.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must not cast any reflection on occupants of the Chair, either myself or my predecessor.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is the last thing I wish to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, nor in a debate like this do I wish to get into bad odour with people who are concerned particularly with defence.
I therefore conclude by expressing the hope that there will be a great deal more consideration, in relation to new projects, of the recommendations of the Select Committee's Report than appeared to be indicated in the Government's reply to it. I leave my case in that setting.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. 106 Dalyell) appears to have been encouraged by Cross Bencher's reference to him a few days ago. I will not pursue that except to say that the only thing with which I agree in what the hon. Member said was his concern about the M.R.C.A. I propose to elaborate on that later but not in connection with the Select Committee. I shall direct my remarks to future equipment for the Royal Air Force.
The hon. Member was very unwise to refer to the TSR2. He said that it would have had the same problems as the F111. I do not think that the hon. Member knows what he is talking about. It is a quite different aircraft. The F111 is a swing-wing variable aircraft and there are many more complications in the construction of the F111 than in the TSR2. I spoke to Wing Commander Beamont, the test pilot of the TSR2 at the time. He said that he had less trouble with the TSR2 than with the Canberra, and he had done many hours of supersonic flight. If we had that aircraft today, it would not only be in the Royal Air Force but we would probably be selling it even to America.
The hon. Member went on to say that he would like to have a technical assessment. How can he have a technical assessment of an aircraft which is no longer in being, except bits in museums, and the jigs and tools of which have been gone over by a steamroller? The hon. Member is asking for the impossible. The best assessment that he could have would be to talk to Wing Commander Beamont and the engineers who designed it. There is no question about its being a viable aircraft which it was wrong to cancel.
The Prime Minister, for what his word is worth, made apologies for the aircraft at Preston during the General Election. One Minister after another went to Preston continually during the election campaign to try not to lose votes because of the TSR2. They praised it. The hon. Member must have another think about this. It is the most disgraceful part of the Government's approach to defence during their five and a half years in power, and they know it in their hearts. We would not be faced with these problems in the Air Force today if we had the TSR2, but we are going to be faced with them.
In his admirable speech this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for St.
107 Albans (Mr. Goodhew) nailed the Minister with questions which cannot be answered. He had done his homework. He had looked up past statements by Ministers in earlier defence debates and nailed them completely. My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) was right to raise the question of Ministers for the Services. We have heard very little about this. I am sure that the action of the Government is wrong.
I was encouraged by what the Minister said in opening about co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Navy on maintenance. I think the Services must get together and co-operate as much and as widely as they can, but I should like to see a Minister responsible for each Service under the Secretary of State. I am sure that is right.
§ Mr. Maxwell
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the TSR2—this aircraft would have cost several hundreds of millions of pounds to bring into service. I respect what the hon. Gentleman says because of his great experience. The aircraft had immense operational capability, but what aspect of defence expenditure would the hon. Gentleman have cut to have accommodated that £500 million or £600 million?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I would not have ordered the F111 and paid the large cancellation fees. The Government themselves tried to cancel Concorde; they wanted to, but they could not get away with it because General de Gaulle tied them up with an agreement. We might have had defence before a civil air transport, and while waiting for it. I am encouraged by the progress which Concorde is making—at great expense.
To return to what the Minister said, I agree with many of the things he said. None of these belittles the good works done by the Royal Air Force—or any of the Services—on behalf of the civil population, or the civil work at sea, which is admirable, and which the Air Force has always done, perhaps rather more recently.
However, I thought there was so little in his speech about the Air Force as a fighting force. If I were he I should be very dissatisfied with the brief which was prepared for him by his Department. It 108 was a most miserable brief to give to a Minister to read to the House. I am sorry to say so, but I think that if he reflects on this, and compares his speech with previous speeches on the Air Estimates, he will see what I am getting at.
Reference has been made to the address which Air Marshal Christopher Foxley-Norris made to the R.U.S.I. on 19th February last year. I assume that what the air marshal had to say was cleared by the Ministry of Defence. I think it is important that we should know, because I do not think it right for air marshals to go round Europe making speeches contrary to Government policy. But he said very remarkable things. They were very blunt and very much to the point. He pointed out that in the last 18 months of World War Two our forces had complete air superiority. That is true. Then he said:I fear this advantage may not exist. Particularly in the early stages of hostilities, the Royal Air Force will be unable to help the Army or protect it completely from enemy aircraft. The Air Force would be restricted in its provision to tactical support, reconnaissance and defensive air support.The Army is going to be in trouble in Europe if hostilities do break out. Heaven help them, is all I can say.
I want to refer to some of the aircraft which have been ordered and are on order. I have already spoken about the TSR2. Of course, the TSR2 would have saved a lot of foreign exchange, apart from getting export orders. Then we had the Anglo-French swing wing aircraft, the A.F.V.G., a project worked on until May, 1967, when the French withdrew, and about £2½ million was spent by the Ministry of Technology. Now we have got the Buccaneer which my right hon. Friend referred to, and which was rejected by the Royal Air Force some 10 years ago.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
That was the latest model, but it may be more. But are we not going to do better with our equipment than the South Africans, whom hon. Members opposite despise so much in their defence arrangements, in spite of Simonstown?
Reference has been made to the M.R.C.A. Ths is a great aircraft, but 109 I have my doubts whether this Government, if they should remain in power—which they will not—will ever see the project through. They will get cold feet at the critical moment. This could be the best aircraft in the Royal Air Force in about 1976, but with a very low range at low altitude compared with the TSR2 which had a high range at low altitude. A decision, I understand, about the next phase has to be arrived at in May this year. I think that is correct. I hope there will be no delay for further studies while the Government look into it and into the financial side.
Of course, the Government have got to look into all these questions, but I hope there will be no undue delay, because I think that the programme must be agreed with the Germans and the Italians or it will be cancelled. I should have thought that, if all goes well, this aircraft could have an export potential. Expenditure on the M.R.C.A. over the next five years will be something like £30 million a year, and that is 1½ per cent. of the national defence budget, so I hope that the House will be kept informed and told frankly about the progress which is being made with this aircraft.
I am concerned by what the Minister said about the Canberras. I am sorry I interrupted the hon. Gentleman towards the end of his speech but I thought that if I did not do so he would sit down and I might not have an opportunity of speaking about this. I thought he might have said something about the Canberra, because this aircraft has been in service for over 20 years. I know that new parts have been put in, and the aircraft are probably, in many respects, very nearly as they were some years ago, but that is not the point. It seems we are not going to have a photographic reconnaissance aircraft flying till the end of this decade.
§ Mr. John Morris
What I said, I think, was in the latter part of this decade. I should, perhaps, have amplified and said that when the M.R.C.A. does come in it will for photographic purposes replace the others. As regards the others, I think I outlined the position of replacement in 1971–2.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I am not very reassured by that—" when it comes in— "because it may not come in, and with 110 every aircraft in the world, particularly complicated ones, there are delays. But are we not to have supersonic aircraft for another eight to 10 years? We need supersonic aircraft flying at 7,000 ft. if necessary. Frankly, I do not think an aircraft of this sort could be expected for several years ahead, and it is absolutely wrong that the Royal Air Force should not have effective type of aircraft. We have a problem in recruiting apart from an issue like this. I think these Canberras should be phased out, and I should like to be told a bit more about it this afternoon.
The Royal Air Force today, as I see it, has a tremendous job on hand. Do not let us under-estimate the rôle of the Royal Air Force. When we have had some years of peace people become complacent about our defence. It is like an insurance policy against fire in one's house. It is only when the house catches fire that one appreciates the value of the policy. It is only when trouble flares up in the world that people start taking an interest in defence. The world does not stay at peace for ever. I hope it will, but we have to be prepared to do what we can to defend this country.
An hon. Gentleman opposite questioned my hon. Friend about superiority.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Of course, we cannot have superiority over Soviet Russia, but I should like to see our having comparable aircraft which have an equal chance in fighting, whatever form of fighting takes place. The Royal Air Force must have equipment comparable with that of other countries. Today, our aircraft flying in Europe are overtaken by Dutch aircraft at double the speed. It is very shaming that the Royal Air Force should be placed in this position.
Apart from N.A.T.O. support, the Royal Air Force has got a great task on its hands and I do not think it is generally recognised how great a task the Service has. It has to cover the flanks of N.A.T.O.——
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what these Dutch aircraft are that fly at twice the speed of the British?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
They have supersonic aircraft. The hon. Gentleman will find they are far superior to the aircraft we have, particularly the Canberras. It was to them I was referring.
As I was saying, the Royal Air Force has to cover the flanks of N.A.T.O. from the north of Norway and all the way to the Mediterranean and throughout the whole of the Mediterranean. It has defence and reconnaissance rôles. On top of this it is involved in operations involving worldwide flying.
The only satisfactory thing about the Royal Air Force today, apart, that is, from its having excellent personnel in all ranks, is Transport Command. It has done a good job, but most of its equipment was ordered when the Conservative Party was in power, and it is that equipment which is now being used, and it is doing a good job.
I should like to know what rôle the Belfast is playing in the Royal Air Force. I remember 10 being ordered by Mr. Aubrey Jones when he was Minister. When I asked him how many he thought he would sell commercially, he said that he thought he would sell a great many. I told him that I did not think he would sell any. However, we have them, at vast cost, and I should like to know how many are in service and what is their rôle. Are they fulfilling a useful rôle? Are we getting something back for all the money that has been expended? Has the Royal Air Force sufficient aircraft and personnel to meet existing demands? I know that the right hon. Gentleman will say "Of course it has", but I should like him to be absolutely frank with the House and to let us know where he stands.
Will the Minister tell us more about the weak spots in recruitment to which he referred? If he will take the House into his confidence, perhaps we can do a little more about it. If everybody faced the problem of recruitment we could try to put it right. The Defence White Paper referred to the deficiency in the number of engineer officers and other main ground branches. This is fairly serious. The Times this morning referred to reserves, and I thought it hit the nail on the head. I had the privilege of serving not only as a Regular, but also in the reserve of the Auxiliary Air Force. Reserves, if they 112 can be fitted in, can play an important rôle, and they are not expensive. Nobody over the years has been keener than the members of the R.A.F.V.R. and the Auxiliary Air Force. If the country is stretched for recruitment, there could be a Kite for reservists, aircrew and maintenance. I hope that a full study will be made to see what can be done with the materials available. The Territorial Army in Cheshire is more than keen to do a job of work on behalf of the Army, and I am sure this feeling still exists in the Royal Air Force, if not too much time is lost.
Taken all round, considering the treatment which the Royal Air Force has had from the Secretary of State, the morale is remarkably high. I often wonder why. I can only assume that it is due to the high calibre of the leadership which must influence all ranks. But the Royal Air Force must be satisfied that it will be given equipment comparable to that of other nations in the immediate years ahead. There are gaps, which must be filled, and this will probably have to be done by a Conservative Government.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
As most of my remarks will be in reply either to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) or to other hon. Members, I trust they will be in order. The hon. Member for St. Albans said that we must negotiate always from strength. May I remind him that hon. Members have said for many years that we cannot have strength when the economic back of Britain is broken. Many hon. Members have said this, including Winston Churchill during the Korean War. That position is reflected in our consideration of the percentage of the gross national product that should be spent on armaments.
Some hon. Members are apt to regard the difference between the Opposition and the Government in this way. They say that the Opposition set a somewhat higher percentage which they never reach, whereas the Government set a somewhat lower percentage which they will not reach. I think that the chief difference between the two sides, and it is a frightening difference, is that while maintaining the existing expenditure the Opposition want to increase commitments greatly whereas the Government do not. That is 113 the most dangerous part of the Opposition's defence policy.
In considering what the percentage should be, we must keep in mind the economic situation; otherwise, we should have to go back to the belief expressed by naval strategists at the end of the last century that the British Navy should equal all other navies in the world combined. If one did not think about one's allies, it might be argued in military terms that Britain should have enough armaments to meet any possible enemy. We know that is economically impossible. If one takes the more sensible argument that Britain, as a member of an alliance, should spend much the same as her allies who are in a similar position economically, then Britain is doing very well indeed.
In saying that we should be spending more, the Opposition should consider what our allies are spending. It has already been made clear that our Armed Forces—especially our Air Force—are superior to any in Europe, and that our expenditure on armaments is superior to that of any of our allies in Europe. This must be borne in mind. Is Britain to take on her own shoulders the whole expenditure of the Western Alliance? 11 our allies fall down, are we to make up the gap? That argument is quite untenable.
We should consider how efficiently money for armaments is spent. It is essential that we should get the best value for money and, as far as possible, ensure that the production shall be in our own country, not only for economic reasons, but for military and political ones. No country which is dependent on an armaments industry outside its territories can be totally independent. It needs a viable industry of its own, and this is particularly important with the aerospace industry.
The Secretary of State for Defence has been bearing in mind both value for money and the importance of having a defence industry in this country, and this is the reason for the Government's attitude to the TSR2. I agree that Government Ministers said in Preston that this was a technically excellent aeroplane but that it could not be sold to other countries. Even our best potential customer, Australia, turned it down. The prospect of selling it to the United States was never 114 on, because it was the United States alternative that Australia bought. Moreover, it would have been politically impossible. No one can think that the Senate and Congress would accept as a basic United States military aircraft a plane which was built in Britain.
§ Mr. Rippon
Perhaps the hon. Member will explain why they are so happy with the Harrier? Does not he think that, if the Government had had the courage to go on with the TSR2 everyone, including ourselves, would have been very grateful?
§ Mr. Atkins
There is no comparison between this plane and the Harrier. The Harrier could not be the basis of the air defence of a country.
§ Mr. Atkins
The TSR2 is an entirely different aircraft from the Harrier. One of the reasons that aeroplane was too expensive was that the Conservative Government failed to sell it to other countries. They failed hopelessly in Australia and in other countries, too. Because of its limited production and its small run-through that plane was too expensive. It was a question of being able to produce it in large numbers so that it would be relatively cheaper.
The Secretary of State for Defence, with great enthusiasm, tried to get an agreement with France on the Anglo-French variable geometry plane. The fact that that agreement was broken off was not the fault of the Secretary of State. I thought that France acted dishonourably in pulling out. There is no doubt that in the view of most people it was a viable plane. It would have been a good aircraft and could have been produced relatively cheaply.
When France pulled out the Secretary of State, with equal enthusiasm, turned to the M.R.C.A. He is often not given enough credit for this, since it was with great difficulty that he was able to come to an agreement with Germany and Italy, and he did so with great speed. This is the kind of project Britain needs. It involves the joint production with other countries of a very large number of aeroplanes—1,200 is the latest figure I have heard—of which Britain will take about a third. Britain will be in a most advantageous position since most of the 115 work on the aircraft has already been done as a result of earlier projects in Britain. It will also be of advantage to us because Germany will be buying more of these aeroplanes than Britain herself. The aeroplane will be fitted with a Rolls-Royce engine. This project will save the aerospace industry in Britain, an industry which otherwise could easily have been destroyed.
The M.R.C.A. is a remarkably versatile plane and will replace the planes which have been mentioned in this debate. It will be introduced in 1976, as was stated last May by the Secretary of State and not at the end of the 1970s. In this matter the hon. Member for Macclesfield disagrees with his Front Bench. Probably it will be as fit for production by then as the F111, which could have been its replacement. It will replace the Vulcans, the Buccaneers and the Phantoms. We have not heard very much about Phantoms in this debate. It is unfortunate that we have had to buy them, but at least they are the latest planes and they are very good. One would think that we were without that kind of aeroplane——
§ Mr. Dalyell
This matter has been mentioned in several speeches. The question to which some of us would like an answer is what deduction the Government have drawn from the placing of the Rolls-Royce Spey engine inside a Phantom aircraft and whether this will ever be done again. Some of us think that it is unhappy to place an English engine in an alien aircraft.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend, but one of the chief troubles is that we have not been building our own aircraft. I feel that this new aircraft, which is a multi-rôle combat aircraft, will fill a wide need. It has a single basic design giving it great logistic and training advantages. It is very versatile, it is strike-reconnaissance and has advanced and maritime strike capabilities.
The sharing of the cost with ether Governments will make it much cheaper than otherwise would have been the case. The highest cost has been shown to be £1½ million per aircraft, which is much lower than anything else with which it can be compared. It is also possible 116 for it to have a greater range than is otherwise acknowledged. I recently spoke to the Chief Technical Assistant at Wharton. When I made a point about the aircraft's limited range, he said that it is possible quite easily to increase its range by relatively minor adaptations, such as by increasing its fuel capacity when it has a long-range rôle to play.
Without some scheme such as this we might as well say goodbye to the British aerospace industry. I see no alternative to such a scheme. I hope that both sides of the House will take a great interest in this project so that we can get on with it. Some of the trouble in the past about British purchases has been that the chief criticism about them has come from people in this country, whereas this does not seem to happen to the same extent to projects in the United States. There is generally too much praise for certain planes which have not always lived up to their promise.
I conclude by congratulating the Secretary of State for Defence on his great enterprise in bringing about this agreement. I hope that he will be supported by all hon. Members in trying to bring the matter to fruition.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I appreciate the difficulties of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Ronald Atkins). I take it that he is the hon. Gentleman who replaced the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's problems in an election year and I sympathise with his coming oblivion. The right hon. Gentleman in the last Parliament, when he was the hon. Member for Preston, North, did a great deal for the aircraft industry. The hon. Gentleman who is now the Member has been saddled by the stab in the back consistently administered by the Government to the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
I acknowledge the ability of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) and his expertise in talking about "stabs in the back".
§ Mr. Donnelly
Yes, Sir, and I intend to give some more—double stabs.
The hon. Gentleman has delivered an apologia. He dealt with a number of points. He had some words to say about 117 commitments exceeding expenditure. He talked about TSR2, the Harrier and the MRCA and had some words to say on the Phantom. I agree with him about the Phantom. I will have a few words to say about TSR2, the Harrier and the MRCA a little later.
There is one fundamental error in the hon. Gentleman's thinking. It is an error that is consistently made in considering defence expenditure. It involves an argument so often advanced that commitment is on one side of the ledger and expenditure on the other. This is not true. They are on the same side of the ledger. Commitments are entered into in the national interest or they should never be entered into at all. Commitments are entered into in the national interest only if, on balance, the expenditure has been agreed as being worthwhile. The argument that commitment is something contrary to expenditure is a fundamentally fallacious argument in all defence matters. The House should bear that in mind.
I wish to compress my remarks and I will divide them into four sections. I should like to say a few words first about the central problems involved, secondly the deficiencies and failures with which we are confronted, thirdly some of the answers I venture to proffer, and finally I wish to draw some conclusions.
First of all, in dealing with the central problems we must consider the Air Force of the 'seventies against the background of what happened in the 'fifties and 'sixties. The 'fifties and'sixties will be looked back upon by the historians of the future as a period of comparative stability because of the nuclear balance of terror. We are now moving into a very different era. The 'fifties and 'sixties will be looked on as the halcyon years. The 'seventies could be extremely dangerous years. This is what we should be discussing when dealing with what kind of Royal Air Force we should have in the future. That is the backcloth to the general discussion.
I turn to some of the central problems. We face two alternatives which we must always be prepared to consider in the event of having to use those weapons upon which we are voting today. There is always the terrible problem of global war, and mankind will be extremely fortunate 118 to end the twentieth century without some lunatic unleashing a nuclear weapon. That is a predictable risk.
But the problem to which I wish to address myself is much more concerned with the requirements of the Air Force strategy in the remaining years of the twentieth century. It is the constant danger of sporadic outbreaks of violence on a global scale. That will be a substantial problem. In any one year there are at least two events which are totally unpredictable, and one needs a flexible response and an air force to meet the sporadic outbreak of violence. One year it is Vietnam; another it is Biafra or Korea or the Six-Day War. That kind of problem cannot be predicted.
The second big problem of the 'seventies—which stems from the 'sixties—involves the kind of Royal Air Force we need to have because of the response we must give to it. It is the Soviet discovery of sea power and the flexibility of sea power. This is one of the most important events of the last decade. It is not fully appreciated in this country or in Europe; but it is a very serious problem which has to be faced by anybody considering the three fighting forces in this country—and today we are considering only one. When we consider the Soviet Union's discovery of sea power and the vast Soviet naval investment programme which we must combat in every possible way, we must always remember that the Soviet naval investment programme is the greatest in the history of the world. It is analogous to and comparable with the German naval investment programme which preceded the First World War. We must always be prepared to have a flexible response to it, otherwise we shall find ourselves in a very serious situation in which we have to use ultimate deterrents. That is one of the very big dangers and the central deficiency in the Government's defence programme.
Next, there are the political problems, such as the instability in the vast arena of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf which is being created by the American withdrawal from Vietnam and the British withdrawal from Singapore and the Middle East. It is outside of the scope of the debate, but I comment that the British withdrawals may turn out to be one of the most expensive decisions ever taken by a British Government in our 119 recorded history. I recall a Tory Prime Minister making a shameful statement about Czechoslovakia being a "faraway country about which we know little". The flying time between London and Prague then was roughly the same as the flying time between London and Vietnam or Peking today in this shrinking world. We have a vested interest in peace everywhere in the world not only because of the political consequences but also because of the economic consequences. All that is tied up with the kind of air force, naval and military presences which we have in different parts of the world and the weapons which are available to them.
When we are considering cost-effectiveness, commitments and what we can afford and cannot afford, it must be remembered that this is a trading nation and there will be very little trade in "Main Street, Any-town" if the bullets are flying up and down. That is the central answer which meets the question mark posed by the hon. Member for Preston, North.
That brings me to another aspect—where we need an air force capability. The Indian Ocean and the Cape route are as crucial to us as Suez was some time ago. If the Suez Canal were opened tomorrow, I should not at all be surprised if the Russians had to subsidise it because the advances in super-tankers coming to Milford Haven in my constituency have changed all the strategic consequences of the Cape route. In all this Simonstown is crucial. That is why so much of our Air Force capability, and the relationship between our Air Force and the South African Air Force and whether the South Africans buy our weapons and dovetail in with us are important issues. That is why it is crucial to our national interest to have an attitude different from that of the Government of today because we want a new attitude and deal for Southern Africa.
In saying this I would add a thought. It is that the helicopters which the Government have refused to sell—and the sort of things which we are discussing in this debate—are wanted not for bundoo bashing but for sonar dipping, to detect Soviet submarines. That is outside the scope of this debate but it is all part of the problem. Against that wide pattern, 120 that backcloth, one realises that the present concept of N.A.T.O., which was conceived in 1948 and 1949 after the threat in central Europe, in circumstances in which the political world was much larger, is too small. It was drawn at the Tropic of Cancer, but we now need an Air Force to operate south of the Tropic of Cancer.
We must have a worldwide capability All those other issues—whether South Africa joins N.A.T.O. or Japan joins N.A.T.O. or Australia or New Zealand join N.A.T.O.—can still be argued on another day. I am in favour of them all.
Having painted the backcloth, I come to the deficiencies, the cancellations and the fiascos mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), by the hon. Member for Preston, North and by practically every other hon. Member in this debate. First there was the tragedy of the TSR2. And what a wanton tragedy it was to smash up that project. Then there was the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft on which the Secretary of State pledged his reputation. What reputation? Then there was the F111 on which the British Government pledged their reputation. What reputation? Then there was the P1154—and I am not even mentioning the mistakes made by the last Government with Blue Streak and Skybolt. The TSR2 was mentioned by the hon. Member for Preston, North. The tragedy of the TSR2 was in his home town and was indelibly printed on the proud city of Preston. But the tragedy of the TSR2——
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
What do you mean by it being imprinted on the proud city of Preston? Are you suggesting——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
The hon. Gentleman must address the House in the proper fashion.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by it being imprinted on the proud city of Preston? Does he mean that there has been a lack of prosperity? I assure him that there is tremendous prosperity based on the aircraft industry there.
§ Mr. Donnelly
What I am saying is that the people of Preston had a chance 121 to do something remarkable in the history of this country and that it was denied them through no fault of their own. The TSR2 was the first supersonic high- and/ or low-level strike reconnaissance aircraft in the world, and by far the most advanced aircraft. If it had been produced for our own use, other countries, including the United States of America, would almost certainly have had to try to buy it in order to keep abreast of aerospace developments.
The TSR2 was cancelled in strange circumstances. I draw the attention of the House to some words in a document of the Royal United Services Institution about the cancellation of the TSR2. Headed:A crisis in procurement: A case study of the TSR2this document, published by the Institution in 1969, said:We will never know the value in research that might have been derived from flying these aircraft, especially as Britain still lacks a flying test bed capable of sustaining high supersonic speeds for a relatively long time.What devastating words those are in their calm English way!
The F111 proved a ghastly and costly failure. Even the Australians are anxious to opt out of their small commitment. Only yesterday, the United States Air Force made a drastic cut back in its version of the F111. Then there was the Secretary of State's personal commitment, the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, which was described as the core of the aircraft industry for a decade and which collapsed within a year. If the two-nation concept of the Anglo-French variable geometry did not succeed, are we so certain that the three-nation European MRCA 75 is certain to succeed?
What is the result of these deficiencies. It is true that we have the Phantom and it is a fine aircraft, but there are not many of them and it is limited in its application at the moment because of the restriction on the proposed use for which it is intended. The result is that the Royal Air Force, except for a few marginal cases, has been reduced to no more than a tactical air force almost all of which is committed in Europe, and the rest of the world can go to blazes. And so the defences of this country and this country's interests elsewhere are in a disgraceful and extremely dangerous situation.
122 What are the possible answers? There is one hope and it has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is the vertical take-off Harrier. The hon. Member did not think that the country could be defended with it, but it is a very fine aircraft in embryo. The question is whether the Government have the will and the courage to stand up against these people and to provide the money for developing it into a supersonic aircraft. Have they the will? I have never seen a more spineless lot of jellyfish in my life when it comes to defence!
The feature of the Harrier concept is its great survivability to threats from land or sea, airborne or missile, and it needs either carriers or only ships with helicopter platforms from which to operate. It can undertake a number of rôles—air defence, strike, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, if it is properly developed and has a supersonic capability.
On the Harrier: at all costs we must maintain our development programme. We must not allow this lead to be wrested from us as has happened with so many other ventures—the swing wing, the hovercraft and so on. This brings me to my next point. When the Harrier is developed, it is not necessary for fixed-wing flying by the Royal Navy from aircraft carriers to stop, and I am not arguing now whether the flying should be done by "light blue" people or "dark blue" people. The Minister spoke about the Royal Navy station at Brawdy in my constituency and of course my general view, to paraphrase famous words by a famous man is—in struggle, resolution; in victory magnanimity. I am glad that the Prime Minister and his cohorts have bent to my pressures on behalf of Pembrokeshire and they are to transfer the helicopter flying training school from Tern Hill to Brawdy. I thank them.
However, while I am talking about local matters, may I say that while I was driving to the University of Wales Air Squadron dinner at St. Athan on Friday night, I heard on my car radio the hon. Gentleman quoted as having said, I think in my constituency, about the guided missile establishments in Wales, some of which are not involved in this Vote, although some are—and I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman; his words may not have been correctly reported—that if the opposition to the concept of the transfer of the Shoeburyness 123 bombing range were not dropped, the Government would have to consider the whole future of the various establishments, some of which are connected with the Royal Air Force, in Wales. Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?
§ Mr. John Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier remarks welcoming the Government's decision to move the helicopter school to Brawdy. I am sure that that decision will be generally welcomed in Pembrokeshire. The hon. Gentleman is not usually hard of hearing, but he must have completely misheard or misinterpreted what I said about guided missile establishments and the closure of defence establishments. Any references which I may have made to guided missile establishments was to the existence of the establishments at Aberporth which is the second largest employer in the county and which had nothing to do with what may have been going on at Pendine or Pembrey.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I was not hard of hearing. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman was misreported, but it looked like blackmail. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to appear in the guise of a blackmailer. He may have many other disadvantages, but not that.
I will turn to what I was saying about fixed-wing flying by "light blue" or "dark blue" people. In my view, at least one aircraft carrier should be and must be retained as a ready-made floating experimental station for vertical takeoff for the development in the maritime rôle. The other existing carriers could and should continue for their useful lives in their peacekeeping rôles—again I am not arguing whether the aircraft should be flown by "light blue" or "dark blue" or about the "Hermes" or "Eagle", but why scrap the "Hermes" now? Why not use it as a floating platform in the Indian Ocean, say, for as long as it is useful? It would be a fine floating platform and we would not have to spend much on it. I do not now refer to the huge refit of the "Ark Royal" and the sums of money that have been involved in that.
However, there is a problem in using "light blue" flyers in "dark blue" ships. If the command of ships is in the hands of people who do not have flying experience 124 of any kind, there may be a conflict of interest, for the control of the ship is virtually under the wing commander flying, and the "salt horses" are just driving the carrier, so so speak. The "salt horses" should have some grasp of flying and should know the limitations and problems and difficulties of operating from a floating platform. I say this as somebody who stood around airfields for a long time looking at this specific problem. There is no substitute for a person having the training to fly. He may learn all the book stuff, but that does not make him a flyer.
The Harrier is the ideal aircraft for teaching "salt horses" to fly. It is the first aeroplane in the world which offers the "salt horses" the chance to learn to fly. They may learn to fly helicopters on Mondays and Harriers on Tuesdays, but fly they must be able to do. If we had this concept of the Harrier as something in which had been invested our air power, we would have a new political condition for the concept of the Royal Air Force. We could get rid of all these concrete anchorages on the land and forget about the vulnerable steel anchorages at sea, which is what aircraft carriers will be eventually, and have four or five aircraft on comparatively small vessels. This gives a totally different capability and a defensive armament.
The helicopter has an essential rôle, too. The hon. Member, the Minister of Defence for Equipment, spoke about the way in which the maintenance of helicopters was in the hands of the Navy and fixed-wing flying was to be in the hands of the Air Force. The essential rôle, of course, is the sonar rôle in antisubmarine work. The Wessex will be replaced eventually by the Sea King and there are the French helicopters, the 330 and the 331. There was that very ugly Portland story in the Press the other day, and we shall hear more about that.
I come back to the central threat, and the need for a flexible air response to the Soviet Navy. Do we suppose that this huge investment programme in their Navy is all being done so that it will never be used? Do we suppose that these surveys by hydrographic survey ships and so-called trawlers are for the good of science or simply to catch fish? They are for the handbooks of U-boat commanders; that is why we need a flexible response.
125 My first conclusion is that the Royal Air Force defensive rôle has been so eroded that it is virtually non-existent. Second, its strategic rôle strike has been destroyed. I would like to give some sombre figures to the House. When the V-bomber force existed, its strike power was equivalent to about 250–270 megatons. Anyone who studies Mr. McNamara's famous Ann Arbor speech will see what this means—that the V-bomber force, when it could get through, had the capability to destroy every major city in the Soviet Union of more than half a million people. That was beyond the acceptable risk for any civilised country.
That was the V-bomber force which hon. Gentlemen of my erstwhile party said did not count. The present nuclear strike capability is 32 megatons, at most, at any given time. If people did not believe in the last one, who will believe in this one? The United States has a capability of 2,690 megatons and France —poor, derided, snail-eating France—by 1975 will have 110 megatons.
All this should affect our thinking—it affects N.A.T.O. thinking already—about who will count in this Western European area. When we talk about centralising our defences on Western Europe, and when we think of the rather foolish talk of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) about "parish pump" defence concepts, we have to think in very different terms. We must open our eyes a little—grow up!
My third conclusion is that the Royal Air Force in its world rôle will be virtually non-existent shortly. Then, at what point does any British Prime Minister become the first to use nuclear weapons from Polaris submarines, because he does not have an air force to give a flexible response? We know that our nuclear forces are assigned to N.A.T.O. in war, but technically they can be used unilaterally in national peril. But we now know that they never will be used in those circumstances. So, as the consequence of the last few years of this Government, it could come to a fatal choice—suicide or surrender.
My fourth conclusion is that this House and the country must face the central issue of money for defence generally—for the R.A.F. in particular, but for defence 126 generally. If freedom is always to have a meaning in men's hearts in this land, we must always be prepared to pay the price—and, if necessary, the price of our individual lives.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)
The House has greatly enjoyed hearing the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) giving his party's defence policy, and no doubt we shall be reading more of this when he publishes his manifesto. But I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him in his rotund and broad sweep of defence problems, because I have a more detailed problem to discuss.
Last November, I had the temerity to write to The Times astride a hobby-horse of mine—the part which the Armed Forces should play in training youth. This was provoked by reading in the newspapers that, almost as soon as the Army got to Northern Ireland, they immediately set up schemes for instructing the young men in order to keep them off the streets. They set up training schemes and programmes and I have no doubt that they did it very well, because I have seen them doing it all over the world. Wherever our forces go, they immediately take an interest in the training of younger people—not for armed service, but for life.
In my letter, I suggested that it was a pity that this rôle should be adopted by our Armed Forces only when they are sent abroad, or, unfortunately in this case, to a part of the United Kingdom where there is disorder. I asked why, if this could be done in such circumstances, it could not be done in England, Scotland and Wales.
This letter sparked off a host of letters from people connected with the forces who protested that this undertaking was carried out by the forces in this country. The Director of Army Training at the War Office wrote to me pointing out that there were 78 full-time Army youth teams doing this work, each consisting of an officer or warrant office and four men, making a total of 390 people in an Army of about 100,000, or less than a third of one per cent.—but, still, it is something.
From the Air Force, The Times had a letter from a distinguished air commodore pointing out the work done by the Air Training Corps in this respect, and 127 saying that tens of thousands of air cadets are trained or sponsored each year by the Royal Air Force, and that this work is very valuable in training youth.
There is a very serious distinction here between the two rôles. The rôle played by the Army is not to try to enlist people in the Cadet Corps, although they do that as well. These youth training teams go to deprived areas or those which need youth work and instruct boys in boxing or open-air pursuits, in football, even in minor engineering, without trying to recruit them into any cadet force, whereas the Royal Air Force, with the excellent Air Training Corps, does nothing for our youth unless they first enlist in that Corps.
There is a very much larger part to be played by the Army, who already accept this concept, by the Royal Air Force, and possibly by the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines in strengthening, reinforcing, those people in our great cities—Liverpool, from which I come, is certainly one—who are trying to prevent the rising tide of juvenile delinquency and crime by giving young men and women positive and practical things to do under trained supervision.
The Armed Forces are, after all, experts on training young people: that is one of their functions. If only a third of one per cent. of the Army are engaged in this activity, and the other forces are not doing anything except by enlisting young men and women, there is a gap to be filled here.
In the course of this correspondence, I had many letters from active officers in the Air Training Corps, and what they told me caused me some disquiet about what is happening in that Corps. I will refer to some of the things which seem to be going on in the hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that some of the reports are exaggerated or, if they are not, that something will be done about them.
In the Defence White Paper, in page 73, paragraph 28, it is said:The recommendations of the committee set up to review the organisation, administration, and training of the Air Training Corps have now, for the most part, been put into effect with beneficial results to the Corps.It is the implementation of these recommendations which appears to be fairly 128 strongly resisted by those serving in the Corps. One of the first recommendations of the Committee was that five separate regional commands for the Air Training Corps should be established at an annual cost of £60,000. My correspondents have asked me why this had to be done t what functions do these regional commands perform except to introduce a further level between the squadrons and the headquarters? It is suggested that this £60,000 could be much better spent on other things.
My correspondents also say that these regional commands, which are quite new, provide employment for retired senior R.A.F. officers—one group-captain and two squadron leaders—in each region, and that a further unnecessary cost was the upgrading of administration officers from flight-lieutenants to squadron leader. Over 70 of these people are employed, each drawing an R.A.F. pension and Civil Service pay over and above their pensions. They were not previously thought necessary, and the Corps is very short of money anyway.
To balance this increase, it is proposed to cut the adult strength at squadron level, which consists almost entirely of volunteers, from six uniformed adults to four, and non-uniformed adults from five to three. Although the staff strength may now seem to be adequate, when we get bodies of this kind administered by volunteers it is often not possible for all the officers concerned to be present at every parade when the boys are there to be trained. To have 100 per cent. of the staff on duty at a parade is very rare. It would be better to have a larger establishment and expect a 60 per cent. to 80 per cent. turn out for parades. The pay for these volunteers is the princely sum of £3 10s. per year. It may be thought that even in the middle of an economy drive such a princely sum is not likely to attract very many recruits.
Another thing which has been done as a result of the recommendations is that an arbitrary age limit of 50 has been placed at which all these volunteer officers have to retire however fit, keen and experienced they may be. We have heard this afternoon from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force that flying crew are now allowed to stay flying until they are 55. That is a remarkable advance, but at a ime when men are allowed to take up aeroplanes up to the 129 age of 55, the age of men who stay on the ground to train young air cadets has been cut to 50. There would not seem to be rhyme, reason or consistency in these policies at this stage.
Another thing which is being done is that boys who used to be accepted into the A.T.C. at 13½ and enrolled and uniformed at 14¼ are now accepted at 13 and enrolled and uniformed at 13¼. Previously they had to leave the Corps when they were 20; now they have to leave at 18. A boy of 18, who is the prime problem in juvenile delinquency, is turned out of the Air Training Corps when another two years in that Corps would enable him to take responsibility and have the benefit of training which would be most useful to him and the country. Boys of 18, 19 and 20 who used tot be under discipline will no longer be under discipline. I should like to know the thinking behind this change of policy.
Another trouble is with equipment. The White Paper says that the Air Training Corps is provided with equipment from R.A.F. stores. I freely acknowledge that accommodation for the Air Training Corps is normally provided by the R.A.F., but there are all sorts of items of equipment of which the A.T.C. is extremely short. It is short of boots—a very down-to-earth thing. The Corps has not enough and all efforts to obtain more from R.A.F. stores have failed. It is also short of transport. Volunteer officers who train these young men do most of the transporting in their own cars. Their cars suffer considerably from the attention of enthusiastic, large, but not always careful young men. It has been suggested that if ex-R.A.F. minibuses which have been discarded could be supplied to the Air Training Corps that would be a very useful addition to the Corps' facilities and would make the boys' training much more valuable and enjoyable.
There are many other points I should like to bring to the Minister's attention, but I do not want to weary the House. The Air Training Corps is very fine indeed. I have a strong suspicion that it is being treated as an orphan child among the cadet corps and bodies which are available for training young men. I should be very happy if the Minister could assure me that this is not so.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I intervene briefly in this debate because I suspect that my constituency and adjoining villages have the greatest concentration of air power in the country. We have at R.A.F. Mildenhall and R.A.F. Lakenheath possibly the two largest American bases in the country. We have in R.A.F. Honington and R.A.F. Stradishill—which, I regret to say, is to be run down—two substantial all-British establishments. I therefore want to raise some matters concerning the Air Force in my area.
The Under-Secretary will be aware that over the last year or so there have been one or two unfortunate incidents at R.A.F. Mildenhall. One involved the flying away of a large transport aircraft, unauthorised and potentially dangerous. That matter was cleared up and I am glad to say it did not lead to any friction between the American forces and the local population. I put on record that far from my constituents being terrified or alarmed by the existence of this large air base in their village, they are very glad that the American Air Force is there. Relations between the British and the Americans are extremely good.
Lakenheath is a large fighter base. It has upwards of 100 advanced aircraft and naturally from time to time we have problems of noise, problems which, the Minister will understand, my constituents have to endure. Nevertheless, I wish again to put on record that, in spite of those difficulties and the operational necessities of the aircraft, relations between R.A.F. Lakenheath, which is an American base, and the local population, are again extremely good. We are very grateful to the American authorities and R.A.F. liaison personnel that this should be so.
I turn to the R.A.F. bases proper. The one at Stradishall has had a very distinguished history. Its recent principal task has been training navigators, using, until recently, Dominie Aircraft. In fact, some of those aircraft still are active there.
This base is shortly to be rundown and closed. The Minister will know that this is a matter for regret among the local population. I recognise at once the sound operational reasons for consolidating navigational training in one place. But 131 I wish to put it to the Minister—and I hope that he will feel able to comment on this, if not now, then perhaps in writing—that the very high quality housing which is available for the flying officers at Stradishall, and the rather less good, but more abundant housing that has been available for other ranks, should not be allowed to be lost to the Armed Services by the closure of this station. I put it to the Minister, and indeed I have already put it to the Secretary of State in a letter, that the American forces nearby are short of housing, and that it would be worth while investigating whether some of their married families, some of whom are living in bad conditions, could occupy these redundant Royal Air Force premises.
Another possibility is that the R.A.F. dependents and airmen now coming to Honington in large numbers should take over some of this Stradishall accommodation. This is being examined. I remind the Minister that the distances are not great, 10 miles at the most. It would be possible for some of the Honing-ton personnel to live at Stradishall, using that accommodation.
If both those possibilities were to fail, there is always the chance, which I should welcome, of an Army battalion making use of the premises instead. There is certainly no reason why this good accommodation at Stradishall should be lost to the Royal Air Force in particular, or to the Armed Services in general.
The fourth base, and possibly, from a British point of view, the most important, is Honington. The other day I had the pleasure of being shown round this large establishment by the new commanding officer and seeing for myself the substantial build up which is taking place there. About 13½ acres of concrete have been laid during the last few months, and it will turn Honington into what I think will be the main strike base in this country. We shall have four, or possibly five, full squadrons of Buccaneer aircraft, most of them manufactured in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), plus a number of Hunters which will be used for conversion of their pilots.
In addition, the R.A.F. is doing something which is very sensible and right at Honington. It is incorporating into 132 this base full facilities for deep engine testing so that engines removed from the aircraft do not have to go back to Rolls-Royce at Derby or in Scotland for repair. The morale of the early forming squadrons at Honington is extremely high. The aircrews are young men, full of fun, confidence, and patriotism. It is a great pleasure to have Honington back in an operational rôle.
The heart of what I wish to say tonight concerns the aircraft at Honing-ton, the Buccaneers. Having looked at these aircraft, and having listened carefully to the views of those who fly them, I have no doubt that they are extremely fine machines. They have been substantially modernised since the early marks, and it is only fair to say that they are a substantial improvement on the Buccaneers which I saw recently in the South African Air Force. Mechanically, at least, the Buccaneer is a good aircraft and a worthy successor to the many fine aircraft which have been turned out in this country.
That said, and wanting in no way to lower the confidence which the aircrews have in the Buccaneer, I nevertheless want to put a few questions to the Minister. First, is it not, on the face of it, faintly preposterous to see aircraft with folded wings in the corn fields of Suffolk? It is obvious that these aircraft, which were built for a carrier rôle, have been fobbed off on to the R.A.F., and consequently we have aircraft which are not strictly intended for the rôle which they are now undertaking. I understand that the later marks of the Buccaneer will not have folded wings, and will be built specifically for their R.A.F. rôle. But the Minister will understand that it is incongruous to see these planes land in the wide open spaces of West Suffolk and then have their wings folded, although there is, incidentally, the advantage that we can get a few more of them into the hangars than we would otherwise.
The crucial point is whether the Buccaneer can do its job. So the important thing to decide is what that job is to be. As I understand it, the rôle of the Buccaneer at R.A.F. Honington, and therefore for the whole of Strike Command, is threefold. First it has a maritime reconnaissance rôle. For this purpose 133 it is a pretty good aircraft. It will do an excellent job in the sea approaches to this island, in the near Atlantic, in the North Sea, possibly in the Mediterranean, and in a support rôle for Norwegian waters. The Buccaneer has that type of range. It may be a suitable aircraft for that sort of task.
Perhaps I should recall, in passing, that when I was recently making a tour of Mediterranean bases on behalf of W.E.U., I was struck by the very favourable comments which the Buccaneer Squadron had elicited from N.A.T.O. military men in Malta and elsewhere. So this aircraft in its maritime reconnaissance rôle is useful for the North Sea and western approaches, useful for the Mediterranean, and useful as well, perhaps, for flanking support in N.A.T.O.'s northern tier.
But when one looks at the maritime reconnaissance rôle in the wider approaches of the Atlantic, where the real danger is much more likely to rest, the Buccaneer, with its present limited range, is simply not up to the job. Until we have more Nimrods to do this job instead, I doubt whether the Buccaneers will be able to contribute that continuous surveillance of the Soviet Fleet which is essential to the security of this country. The Buccaneer has a limited maritime rôle, which I welcome, but it is by no means adequate for the wider Atlantic region.
§ Mr. John Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier remarks. The Nimrod is replacing the Shackleton. The Shackleton is doing what the hon. Gentleman has been talking about for the last few moments. The first squadron is now under training on Nimrods at St. Mawgan, and others will come in during the next year to add to the present force.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am aware of the distinction between the Nimrod and its predecessor the Shackleton, and the functions of the Buccaneer. I am well aware that they are different aircraft, with different rôles. What I am concerned about is that the Buccaneers will be stretched to perform some of the longer reconnaissance while the Nimrods are building up. The problem is that we do not have enough Nimrods, and therefore the Minister may find that from time to time the R.A.F.
134 needs to fly some of its Suffolk Buccaneers, for example, out to Gibraltar to dc South Atlantic surveillance. Possibly too, there can be training which I should never object to, from there. But we need the Nimrods as well as the Buccaneers. The sooner we get more of them the better.
The second task of the Buccaneer is tactical strike—if that is the appropriate term—in any case, a capacity to bomb or discharge missiles in close proximity to ground troops.
As I understand it, that is the second task the Buccaneers will undertake. They will be using a weapons pack underneath the aircraft from which Martel guided rockets will be fired. I am sure that the Buccaneers, with their very sophisticated guidance and navigation equipment, are capable of acquitting themselves very well in this rôle. The problem remains that they are very slow aircraft, in comparative modern terms. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Ronald Atkins) expressed surprise that Royal Air Force machines in Germany should be overtaken by Dutch aircraft. He should not be surprised; the Dutch aircraft are American machines, purchased for the Dutch Air Force. Our existing Canberras and our Buccaneers—our most modern aircraft —are subsonic. In speed they are not in the same league as the American Phantoms with which they are compared.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
There is no reason why the best Dutch aircraft should be compared with one of our more inferior aircraft. We have the Phantom in our Air Force.
§ Mr. Griffiths
We have 50 Phantoms. We were originally to have about 150, but the order has been whittled down. The number that can be kept flying out of a total of 50 is derisory. As I said, the Buccaneer can acquit itself well, but it is a comparatively slow aircraft. And what matters is not the comparison with the Dutch or even the American aircraft; the comparison that counts is with the Russian Air Force. I am sorry to say that the Buccaneer, particularly if it is faced with the increasingly sophisticated ground-to-air defences of the Soviet Forces in Eastern Germany—I do not wish to put this too high, for obvious reasons—would be in some difficulties.
135 Its third rôle—I understand it to be only a marginal—is in a nuclear rôle. The Buccaneer would be capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, if necessary. I very much welcome the decision to equip the Buccaneer, if need be, to carry nuclear weapons.
This aircraft then is a very good machine—one that has been substantially modernised beyond the original marks. But it is being asked to take on a variety of rôles beyond its mechanical capability.
I turn now to the Hercules aircraft, which again I had the pleasure of seeing recently. This aircraft is the centre of our tactical air lift. It too is a fairly good aircraft. Nevertheless, I understand that of the ones that we have purchased, a largish number have been out of service for considerable periods. I would prefer not to say precisely how I know this to be true, but it is true. Quite a number have had to be put into dock, some of them near Cambridge, in order to be mechanicked. Among other things, a problem has arisen in that the fuel somehow manages to cause deterioration in the fuel tanks. Consequently, some of these Hercules aircraft have been on the deck, and most have had to have their fuel systems and tanks modified
I should like to know how many have had to be dealt with in this fashion. Secondly, why did we not use the same fuel that the Americans have used throughout, which has produced very few problems for them? I should also like to know the cost of putting right the Hercules fuel tanks. I do not expect the Minister to answer these detailed questions from the Dispatch Box tonight, but since the Hercules aircraft are crucial to our tactical air lift, it is important that the House should be told that they are back in shape, and that we have the lift for which we purchased them. Some investigation needs to be made as to what went wrong, in order to make sure that it will not go wrong again.
§ Mr. John Morris
If possible we will check the position concerning the numbers and the cost involved and give the answer before the end of the debate. I have answered Parliamentary Questions on the subject. This issue has caused concern. Certain advice was obtained at an 136 earlier stage. Contractual problems also arise involving ourselves and Lockheeds. I answered Questions to the best of my ability at the time, also seeking to safeguard the Government's position. If it transpires that anything useful can be added, my hon. Friend will mention it during the debate.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The important thing is to be assured that we obtain from the Hercules the tactical air lift for which we purchased them. We should also be sure that the contractual obligations aspect is being pursued with vigour with Lockheeds.
My last point concerns the Royal Air Force overseas, and specifically in Cyprus. I had the pleasure of visiting Akrotiri and the Royal Air Force establishment at Mount Olympus about a year ago. At that time the main strike force then committed to the Central Treaty Organisation consisted exclusively of Canberras. I understand that one or two V-bombers have since been sent to Cyprus and that they have proved to be welcome reinforcements.
In order that the R.A.F. in Cyprus should be able to discharge its responsibilities as declared to our allies it must be able to strike at Soviet bases. The Minister will probably agree that the distances involved make the Ukranian bases of the Soviet Union and also those in the Balkans very tough nuts for Canberra aircraft, flying from Cyprus, to strike. They may have the range, but I very much doubt whether they have the speed to make their way to those targets against the sort of opposition that the Soviets are now able to bring to bear.
We have declared that our Air Force in Cyprus will be able to discharge its rôle in the Central Treaty Organisation. Speaking not as an expert but as a layman, in my judgment the Canberra squadrons that we have there are inadequate for this task. They are not able to do the job that we have undertaken to our allies to do. The addition of the V-bombers that have gone out there may have meant an improvement. I shall welcome that if it is so. But I hope that the Minister will say frankly whether the R.A.F. equipment now available to our squadrons in Cyprus is adequate for our declared r´le in CENTO.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I want to follow the two main themes put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths). He referred to a number of important R.A.F. stations in his constituency. I have only one—Leckonfield—which is part of Maintenance Command. The R.A.F. personnel there enjoy a high reputation in the county town of Beverley, and not many years ago they were given the freedom of the town.
I also thank the Minister personally for some work that he did the other day, when some of my constituents complained about apparatus used at the airfield to test engines. The noise directed towards a certain village at certain times of the day, together with the vibration, was appalling. I want to thank the Ministry for the immediate action which it took to rectify the nuisance. It was done speedily, and it made a very good impression locally both for the R.A.F. and for the Ministry.
The other point which my hon. Friend made concerned the Buccaneer. As hon. Members know, it was designed as a maritime strike aircraft. It is still a world beater in that respect, though it must be said that in other respects it probably is not as good as a number of other foreign aircraft which it might have to meet if ever it came to a time of war.
In a previous debate, I said that the basic problem facing any Minister of Defence was the need to balance continental against maritime strategy. This applies to the R.A.F. just as much as to the other two Services. Taking continental strategy first, the basic task of the Royal Air Force is to support B.A.O.R. When the Conservative Government left office, they had a balanced concept of three new very advanced military aircraft which together gave the full support which B.A.O.R. would need, in the strike rôle, the support rôle and the transport rôle.
First, there was the TSR2. We no longer have it as it was replaced by the F111 but, in 1966, the White Paper said that the Buccaneer 2 which has replaced it in B.O.A.R. could not conform in performance with the F111, particularly in the reconnaissance rôle. The TSR2's performance was probably superior to that of the F111, and the Government 138 have admitted that the Buccaneer is less efficient than the Fl11 and obviously TRS2 in this important rôle. However, on page 42 of the White Paper, I read:The Buccaneer 2 will deploy to Germany in about a year's time in the tactical strike and reconnaisance rôle.In this rôle I would confirm everything that my hon. Friend said about that aircraft.
Eventually, presumably it will be replaced by the M.R.C.A. I have been told on fairly good authority that the M.R.C.A. is the A.F.V.G. in disguise, but that, having failed in an Anglo-French project, we have now started up again with two other European allies. The net result will be that the aircraft will be seven to ten years later than the original A.F.V.G.concept. I hope that the Minister will say when he expects the M.R.C.A. to be in operational service. I know that he cannot give a definite answer, because though not necessarily that fault of the Government these defence projects rarely keep to their allotted timetables. However, he must have an idea when the existing gap can be expected to be closed.
In addition, can he assure the House that the range and performance of the M.R.C.A. will compare with what we might have had from either the F111 or the TSR2? Is it to be a Canberra replacement with much the same rôle and range as the Canberra, or will it be something which will be truly useful in the 1970's and 1980's? We shall have to face this gap, anyhow, and we should like to be assured that it will be closed as rapidly as possible.
I said that when the Conservatives departed from office we left plans for a balanced Air Force, the first component being the TSR2 in a strike rôle. The second component was the P1154 supersonic vertical take-off aircraft. Its predecessor, the Harrier, has been referred to by a number of hon. Members, particularly by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), who spoke very highly of it. Again, it is a world beater, and I hope that it will have a very good export capacity. However, as he pointed out, it is a subsonic aircraft. The P1154 would have been supersonic.
We know that the Harrier is to be upgraded. That will make it more useful for naval service. But I hope that the Government are thinking of the future, 139 and I should like to know what they have in mind after the Harrier. Something must be designed to replace it fairly soon, otherwise we shall have a gap in this respect as well as in the strike rôle. What have the Government in mind to replace the Harrier? In other words, have they in mind a supersonic vertical take-off aircraft?
The third member of the family of three to which I have referred was the HS681. This is required basically to ferry stores and ammunition to very rough forward airfields for which the TSR2 and the P1154 were designed. Both would take off from rough airfields, but obviously there must be some aircraft to take the necessary equipment, ammunition and petrol to these advanced airfields, and the HS681 was designed for that purpose. That, too, has gone up the spout, and the Government should say what they are doing about replacing it. It is no good talking about the Hercules. It cannot operate from forward airfields. The Government were to buy the American heavy-lift helicopter, the Chinook. I know that it was basically for an Army but it would also have an R.A.F. rôle. How are stores to be lifted to forward airfields from which Harrier squadrons will operate? Have the Government in mind a helicopter or short or vertical take-off aircraft for the purpose?
We left behind a concept for a balanced Air Force. Today, we have no strike reconnaissance aircraft except the Buccaneer. We have a subsonic vertical take-off aircraft to support it and, as far as I know, we have no transport aircraft able to feed the Harriers operating from forward airfields.
Still on the broad aspect of continental strategy, there are two other questions which I wish to ask the Minister. The first concerns the tactical nuclear force. I understand that the Vulcans can still carry nuclear weapons for use in Europe to supplement the Polaris submarine, if necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds referred to the fact that the Buccaneer can also carry nuclear weapons. It has done so in naval service. Are we therefore to have a more flexible nuclear weapon than most people realise? In other words, backing up Polaris, are we to have what remains of the V-bomber force and, if necessary, 140 the Buccaneer squadrons in the tactical nuclear rôle?
My second question concerns tankers. When I was in Singapore on the defence visit to which reference has been made, I asked how long it would take a Harrier squadron to get to Singapore in an emergency. I was told that the significant factor was the availability of tankers and that, if there were sufficient V-tankers to supply the aircraft, they could be got there fairly quickly. However, I believe that there is a grave shortage of tankers. I know that some of the Victors are to be converted in the future. However, Handley Page which was to do this work has been closed down, and we are now told that the contract was being given to Hawker Siddeley. But is the Minister satisfied that, even with the small number of strike aircraft that we have left today, there are enough tankers to make them and the smaller type tactical support aircraft sufficiently mobile to get to distant places? Without adequate tankers, they certainly cannot do so.
I turn to the maritime aspect. It seems to me that the R.A.F. has two different rôles. The first is the true maritime concept to which the majority of Buccaneers and Phantoms which are being handed over from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force will be devoted. Can the Minister say anything about the speed of transfer? I referred in the Navy Estimates debate to Press articles that have said that the aircraft are being handed over very rapidly—in other words, that the programme is being deliberately accelerated, the implication being that it would be far more difficult for the next Government to carry on with aircraft carriers with fixed-wing aircraft embarked if they found that all existing Royal Navy fixed-wing aircraft had already been passed on to the R.A.F.
If that is not so, I should like to hear it from the representative of the Air Force tonight. I hope that it is not so, because it would be a political gimmick, and would not reflect very much credit on the Government. Can the Minister assure me that the transfer of the Phantoms and the Buccaneer 2s is going according to the planned programme, and that the programme is not being accelerated for political or other reasons?
141 The majority of those aircraft will be used in the true maritime rôle. Will the hon. Gentleman say a little more about the joint control and administration of that rôle? In the last war we had Coastal Command operating in joint command headquarters with the Royal Navy. Now, as I see it, the Navy is much less in the picture than it was then. How will the joint command and control work for the maritime aircraft? We no longer have a Coastal Command. We have a completely new set up. Can we be assured that the joint control between the two forces will be satisfactory and that these aircraft, some of which we are told in the White Paper will be deployed in Germany, will be armed with the right weapons needed for anti-ship strike?
Can we be assured that adequate land bases are available to cover the normal maritime coastal routes of our shipping? Can we be assured that adequate training will be carried out and is being carried out with the Royal Navy? The maritime rôle in the Royal Air Force is not its main rôle. We all agree that its main rôle is bound up with continental strategy, with B.A.O.R., but the maritime rôle is more important than in the past if the carriers are to go. Can we be assured that sufficient effort will be put into that rôle and that sufficient training will be undertaken with the Navy not only at home but on the key trade routes abroad?
That is the main maritime task of the Royal Air Force, but it has been suggested in the debate that it should have a second maritime rôle—operating aircraft such as the Harrier from aircraft carriers. I agree with hon. Gentlemen who said that it does not matter whether the pilot of a Harrier operating from an aircraft carrier is in light or dark blue. But it does matter which colour uniform the deck crew wear. The deck crews of aircraft carriers are very highly trained personnel, and they are in very short supply. They will be leaving the Service very rapidly in the next few months and the Minister cannot replace them from ordinary R.A.F. ground personnel operating on aerodromes. The technique in a carrier is entirely different. I hope that everything will be done to retain the expertise of the naval deck crews, even if it means for the time being, until the Government change, transferring their 142 allegiance from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force.
I remind the Minister that normally warships or a merchant convoy should expect to have two to three aircraft covering them the whole time. For this it is necessary to have about 12 aircraft available. If there is a carrier with the fleet or the convoy it is cost-effective to send up two aircraft and to bring down two, and that can go on throughout the day. But operating from land bases several hundred miles away one will need three, four or five times the number of aircraft. That is not cost-effective. The land base may well be so far away that one will get only a few minutes' operational service over the fleet or convoy. That is the reason why we on this side of the House believe that the existing carriers should be retained.
I have been most impressed by the way in which the Royal Air Force and, even more, the Air League have supported the case for the aircraft carrier, or perhaps in the future the flat-top. The basic reason is that it is more cost-effective. The R.A.F. argued against the armoured carrier that the Navy wanted, and I think that this argument was justified to a considerable degree. The R.A.F. said then that it could sink the carrier if it came within range of land bases. However, that argument is past, and neither side of the House wants to bring back C.V.A.O. 1. We believe that we should maintain the existing carriers and possibly replace them with a less sophisticated ship or flat-top, perhaps based on an oil tanker or a container ship hull operating vertical takeoff aircraft. This could perhaps be produced for £25 million, which is a very different matter from C.V.A.O. 1.
I understand that both the Jaguar and possibly the M.R.C.A. will be required by some of our partners in N.A.T.O. or in the joint projects to operate from ships. I believe that the Jaguar will be required to do so by the French. I hope that the through-deck command cruisers being planned will be able to operate those aircraft as well as vertical take-off aircraft.
The question of early air warning is vital in any maritime context. We have the Nimrod, which is a first-class aircraft, but it is in very short supply. How will the Minister, with the responsibility that he will have for maritime aircraft, 143 provide early air warning for convoys at sea or the fleet at sea, once the carriers are phased out and the Gannets have gone? He cannot do it adequately from helicopters, and there will not be sufficient Nimrods, even if they are suitable.
That brings me to the question of R.A.F. island bases in the maritime areas —in other words in the Indian Ocean. The Minister is to keep Gan and Masirah. I see in the Estimates that £600,000 over the past two years has been allocated for the improvement of the runway at Bahrein, yet I understand that the Government view is that they will move out of Bahrein next year to Masirah. How much money is provided to create the necessary facilities there? I understand that the runway is probably good enough. Are there any other facilities? What do the Government plan to do there?
There is also the question of the Seychelles. Nearly £2 million is being allocated in the Estimates for the Seychelles, but it is not stated exactly why. Will the Government construct an adequate international airport on those islands? If so, it would be very valuable for the defence of our trade routes, but the Government are singularly reticent about saying so. Those are strategic and tactical matters, which were covered in much more detail and much better by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), whom I congratulate on an excellent speech.
I should like to conclude, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, by referring to certain overseas questions. He talked about Cyprus, and I want to say something about Hong Kong. I know that the Minister has been there recently and has looked into the problems there. When I visited Hong Kong last September I wrote to him and suggested that the sooner the six Whirlwinds in that Colony were replaced by the Wessex the better. I do not know how he felt whirling around with one engine. It is much better to have a Wessex with two engines, particularly in that overcrowded, highly urbanised area.
Can the Minister tell us how many of the R.A.F.'s messes in Hong Kong will have air conditioning? I was unpleasantly surprised by the lack of air conditioning in Hong Kong, especially as 144 there is a great excess of it in Singapore. We are giving all that equipment to the people of Singapore, and not moving any of it to Hong Kong where our troops are not very well accommodated.
There is also the question of housing rents for the R.A.F. in Hong Kong. I understand that the cost of hirings for officers is going up by about 15 per cent. a year, yet the allowances there are lower than in Singapore. The scale may have been justified two years ago, but it is not justified today. I think that the Minister looked into the problem when he was there. There is a strong case for giving the local air commander considerable latitude in this matter and for reviewing the rates of allowance every year.
There is also the question of family accommodation. The hon. Gentleman knows that R.A.F. married accommodation is spread all over Kowloon, which is not very satisfactory from the security point of view. Many wives are worried and often do not go out until their husbands return home from duty. It would be better to construct proper married quarters, perhaps at the cost of the Hong Kong Government, who in any case supply a certain amount of money for the maintenance of Her Majesty's Forces in their own defence.
I believe that the forces we keep in Hong Kong are basically for internal security purposes but are also a deterrent and I am surprised that there seems precious little air defence for the Colony. I do not suggest that we could defend it from the air or in any other way against hordes of the Red Chinese Army, but I believe that we could make the defence a little more credible if we had some surface-to-air weapons such as the Bloodhound or Thunderbolt. I raised this point with the hon. Gentleman when I returned from Hong Kong. I thought that the arrangements made by Support Command with its magnificent VC1Os were excellent, and I have heard nothing but praise for the Command, not only from R.A.F. personnel but from civilians who travelled with me.
I want to repeat what has been said by two other hon. Members, one on each side of the House—there is a need to retain some direct contact between this House and the individual Services. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about no longer having an 145 Under-Secretary of State for each Service. I am certain that the senior officer—the Chief of Staff—in each of the Services should have a specific Minister as his opposite number. Morale will suffer if a Service does not know that it has one Minister responsible for its problems. In addition to the question of morale, I suggest that too much power would be concentrated in the hands of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Secretary of State for Defence under the Government's proposals. I remind the House that we often talk about the danger of too much power being concentrated in the hands of the Executive. Unless we keep an Under-Secretary of State for each Service, the Ministers responsible for defence may not get the proper single-Service advice that they need. We should recall what happened in the German armed forces during the war. I believe this matter to be of considerable importance.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
It is almost standard form to open a winding-up speech on Defence Estimates by saying that a wide-ranging and interesting debate it has been, but it is only fair on this occasion to say that the interest has been shown exclusively on this side of the House.
The debate was opened by the Minister of Defence for Equipment, who was unable to answer one single question put to him about equipment. I think that I appreciate the social—if that is the right term—activities of the forces and, indeed, as an ex-Regular soldier take them perhaps too much for granted because they were second nature. But they are no substitute for a speech on the Royal Air Force as a fighting force, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) pointed out.
I put to the Minister a question about the Canberra aircraft. It concerned a reference in the Defence Review of 1966, in page 10 of which, under the heading "Canberra aircraft replacement" there is a passage which reads:The key to the deterrent power of our armed forces is our ability to obtain early warning of an enemy's intentions through reconnaissance and to strike at his offensive forces from a distance in case of need. This rôle has been assigned to the Canberra aircraft since the early 1950s; this aircraft cannot safely continue after 1970. By the mid-1970s, we intend that the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft should begin to take over 146 this and other rôles. Both operationally and industrially, this aircraft is the core of our long-term aircraft programme.In the meanwhile, the gap had to be bridged, and, Mr. Speaker, you can hardly guess with what—the F111, of course. So we have the Minister of Defence for Equipment coming to this debate on a White Paper which envisages the continued use of the Canberra in a vital rôle well beyond 1970, and he is wholly unaware of the problem when the question is put to him. Even when he intervened in a later speech, he had not informed himself of how long this aircraft would be in service.
§ Mr. John Morris
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to become unduly offensive. I have dealt with this issue from time to time, at Question Time and on other occasions. The fact that I did not carry the precise date in my head is no excuse for the remarks he is making. I explained to the House in detail subsequently that there are two different versions of the aircraft, the later Mark 9, which will be replaced by the M.R.C.A. when it comes, and the earlier version, which will be replaced within the next year and the following year.
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Gentleman was specifically asked when the earlier mark was to be replaced and he was unable to give a date. He has not given a date now. He says that it will be replaced this year, but there is nothing in the White Paper to that effect. I ask him to check on this matter and let us know.
§ Mr. John Morris
I made it clear that the Canberras would be replaced—other than those used for photographic purposes —in the course of the year 1971–72. I made it clear in my earlier remarks, which the hon. Gentleman was clearly not listening to. I explained that it would be in the next year or so.
§ Mr. Corfield
That phrase "in the next year or so" is rather more indefinite than "in 1971–72". In any case, it is still two years ahead and is therefore beyond the safe date given in the Defence Review of 1966. It is this which is so disconcerting.
Again, the hon. Gentleman was unable to give details of the exercise in which we are testing our ability to give maritime defence, or of the exercise that it is proposed to carry out in the Far East. Yet 147 such details are vital in testing the ability of equipment to carry out the rôle.
§ Mr. John Morris rose——
§ Mr. John Morris
I was interrupted and gave way a large number of times. I was interrupted and asked about the Canberra during a part of my speech which had nothing to do with it. I gave full details of the Far East operation at the request of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). I gave all the details the right hon. and learned Member required.
§ Mr. Corfield
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman did not have a clue as to the route these forces would use until it was whispered to him from behind.
§ Mr. Corfield
We will leave it to the House to judge. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman's speech in itself is an even stronger argument than that put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and others for retention of Ministers with specific responsibility for individual Services, because it is vital that each Service should have a Minister who is really familiar with its individual problems, equipment, and so on.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the debate, the crucial question is not in any way what sort of debate we have had but whether the series of debates we have had annually under the present Government have shown that they have produced, or look like producing, a credible defence policy.
This being the third occasion on which I have taken part in these debates from the Front Bench, I find it increasingly difficult to begin to share the Government's confidence that they have achieved a credible system of defence, and this is even more to be emphasised in the air rôle than in any other. We begin to wonder, as we study the arguments that are put forward, whether a quite intolerable burden is not being placed, in the event of hostilities, on the R.A.F.
As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) said in an 148 admirable speech, if one sets oneself a target to cut by a certain percentage or to reduce to a certain percentage of the gross national product in this sphere, it will be only by the merest coincidence if, at the end of the day, one ends up with a defence policy which, in terms of defence, is credible; and the Labour Government are peculiarly unlucky in finding coincidence on their side.
We accept that in modern conditions we must consider this problem in terms of our alliances, that it would be impracticable adequately to guard against every conceivable possibility of enemy action and that there must be a limit to what we can afford. My fear is that in the Government's efforts to appease their supporters by saying, "We have made cuts", and by trying to persuade other hon. Members in the House who care about the defence of the country and, at the same time, by trying to persuade people abroad—allies, potential enemies or neutrals—that we have a credible defence, they are beginning to believe it themselves. I fear that they are becoming wholly blind to the defects, which could be immensely dangerous for this country, as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) pointed out in a remarkable speech, though from the vantage point that he is never likely to be responsible for meeting the bill.
I am saying, in other words, that if the Government were to say, "This is as much as we think we can afford at present, but we realise that there are areas of deficiency in which we must make greater effort and strive to afford more", then, while I might not be in agreement with them, I would have some sympathy for them and believe that they wanted to do better. The trouble is that their endeavour to prove that black is white and that something which does not exist does exist utterly undermines one's confidence in them.
It is patently not the case that our air defences do not give ground for considerable anxiety to anybody who even reads between the lines of the Defence White Paper, without having any great military or aeronautical knowledge. This is particularly evident in the ludicrous arguments of the Secretary of State as he tries to draw a distinction between what he calls the new doctrine of flexible response and the earlier doctrine of the 149 trip wire, because in the context of the White Paper this is merely an exercise in semantics.
In practice, the distinction depends perhaps—more in the Air Force than in the other Services—on a substantial increase in the ability and credibility of the forces of N.A.T.O. in the conventional rôle; and there is no evidence whatever that the Government have succeeded in increasing that conventional credibility.
In making that distinction, the Secretary of State relied heavily in his argument on his agreement with the views of a former Chief of Staff, Lord Mountbatten. What would be more interesting—and, no doubt, exceedingly disturbing—to my hon. Friends would be to know the occasions on which the right hon. Gentleman did not accept the views of his professional advisers, and the aspects that they covered.
If we are honest with ourselves, I think that we will all agree, when we come to study the immense range of possibilities open to a potential aggressor, that in arriving at a decision as to which of the possibilities are in the category of probabilities—in the category in which we clearly have a duty to take defensive measures—and which are in the category of remote possibilities, where it becomes impracticable to do so, then this can only be a question of judgment.
There cannot be any certainty, and it is the dogmatic attitude of the Secretary of State—which my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) described as arrogance —that undermines our confidence and makes it very difficult to have any great belief in the right hon. Gentleman's arguments.
I come to the question of the gap to which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans referred and which, at present. is evidenced by the forced retention of the Canberras. This goes back to the TSR2, F111 and A.F.V.G., all of which were the personal decisions and conclusions of the Secretary of State, as the absolute core of our air defence. This is a grave deficiency, even by the standards of the party opposite themselves. It is nonsense to pretend, as the whole White Paper does, that there is nothing to worry about and that all is for the 150 best in the best that can be made of a rather unsatisfactory world. The M.R.C.A., which is the direct descendant of the A.F.V.G., will, at the very minimum, be six years later, and so increase the gap.
Another important problem is the strategic nuclear deterrent, responsibility for which was handed over this year from the Air Force to the Royal Navy, to be operated through the use of the Polaris submarines. But, owing to the very prolonged periods required to refit the submarines, and therefore the inability to maintain a substantial portion of this very small fleet at sea, there have been reports that the R.A.F. has now, nevertheless, been required to provide a nuclear bomber back-up to the Polaris force. That must mean in the strategic rôle.
This would certainly seem to be necessary. The rather alarming figures of the effectiveness of this force given by the hon. Member for Pembroke underline the necessity. So I hope that the Government will not deny that this is happening, because that would be very disturbing. But, if we assume that it is happening, certain squadrons of V-bombers, for which a totally different rôle had been envisaged when the decision was announced last year, must be being used for this nuclear rôle and are unavailable for the rôle for which they were allocated and which at that time must have appeared more important for them to carry out.
There again, there must be a gap, and it would be valuable if the Minister could tell us the extent of the gap in time scale, and give some indication of numbers. We do not expect him to publish the actual numbers of aircraft, of course, but the R.A.F. is not so strong that even one or two squadrons diverted from their appointed rôle is unimportant. The next problem is the question of the aerial back-up of the Harrier. Reference has been made to the 681 and the possible acquisition of Chinook helicopters. I have no doubt that a very valuable back-up can be found from the ground transport services, but the ability of these aircraft to operate in large numbers over a prolonged period in the forward areas and so help to reduce significantly the delay between the call for air support from the ground forces and 151 its actual receipt, depends largely on the back-up of transport, munitions and so on, and it could be reduced, and the period during which these aircraft can be maintained in the forward areas extended materially, if we had some form of aerial support.
The Chinook decision seems to go backwards and forwards and no one seems to be clear whether it is definitely on or off. If it is on, we should not look gift horses in the mouth, but it is one of the great lessons of the Vietnam war that helicopters are extremely vulnerable, even in this sort of rôle. No one pretends that we can hope to ensure complete air superiority over the Warsaw Pact Powers, able to deploy well over double the number of aircraft which we can do, and for which we rely substantially on the American forces in Europe.
Reference has also been made to the need for an airborne early warning aircraft but we have been given remarkably little, if any, information about the means by which the Government propose to fulfil this rôle; what equipment they have in mind and, above all, what aircraft they propose to use for it. I certainly had not heard the suggestion before that the Nimrod might be used, but I hope that this will be possible, if only because the pitifully small order for the Nimrod —only 38—presents yet another danger of a gap in the future.
We cannot replace these aircraft economically. It becomes wholly uneconomic once the production line has ceased to function and has been closed down. A production line of 38 aircraft will not take all that long to complete. A production line of that sort does not allow the possibility of replacing battle casualties.
Here again, we come to the contradiction of so much that the Secretary of State says, because the corollary of the flexible response, if it is to mean anything, is reserves of both men and material. As I see it, the opportunity to reinforce—Harrier in particular, and other aircraft through production lines which are still in operation—might not present quite such a great problem but to do so in case of aircraft no longer in production poses a very substantial 152 limiting factor to any credibility in the Secretary of State's concept of flexible response.
There was an article in The Times this morning, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield referred, concerning reserves of flying personnel. Hitherto I have had reservations about this type of reserve, simple because one is today dealing with immensely complicated and expensive aircraft and the training techniques are correspondingly expensive. One has to have regard to the present situation in the Air Force and question whether this is the right priority when one is a little bit worried from time to time that the Regular air personnel are themselves not getting the training that they should have in flying, simply for reasons of economy. I have, therefore, had reservations, but again, if there is any practical distinction between flexible response and trip wire, this begins to look like a necessity rather than some form of luxury.
I turn to some of the problems of procurement which were touched upon by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), although I felt that he was taking us well into the realms of the promised debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Technology rather than rigidly adhering to the scope of this debate. Nevertheless, procurement is of vital importance to the Armed Forces, and to the Air Force in particular.
In last year's debate, I raised a question on the paragraph of the White Paper concerning research and development which indicated a cut-back and I questioned the wisdom of cutting back on research at the same time as the decision, which I believe to have been the right one, was made that, on the whole, aircraft should be built within the existing knowledge of the art and that the knowledge should be extended by the building-block concept by further research.
It is of interest that since I made those comments, the Elstub Report has come out strongly in favour of that approach and emphasised the necessity of substantial research in defence if the building blocks are to be there to enable it to be done. I hope, therefore, that the Government are taking note of the admirable Report by the Elstub Committee.
153 In paragraph 5 of Chapter VI of last year's White Paper the Government said that they werepaying a great deal of attention to the better management of defence development projects both at governmental and industrial level. On the Government side, we try so far as possible to concentrate responsibility for a project in a single project officer to ensure it remains within the limits of time and cost laid down".Here I think one's mind is immediately turned to the Downey Report, a Departmental report, on this matter. I would say from the start that I of course appreciate that this was a genuine attempt to improve techniques, and it made many recommendations which I welcome, but, nevertheless, I think there are still some serious defects, and one of the defects, in so far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, is that, unlike the Navy, we have interspersed between the Service and the manufacturer a supply department. I have very little doubt, from my now fairly extensive contacts in industry, that the industries which deal with both the Navy and with aviation equipment find a very marked contrast in the way in which things can get on and decisions can be made, with mutual appreciation of the problems, when they are dealing directly with the customer Service, as opposed to dealing with a supply department. I realise that there could be difficulties about duplicating skills required on the civil side without the Ministry of Technology, but I do not think that this is an insuperable problem, and in any case I suspect that a good deal of the checking on the technical side which goes on in the civil field is directed at the wrong target, for, by and large, British aircraft manufacturers do not make aeroplanes which do not fly, but they do from time to time make aeroplanes which do not sell, and that is a matter which the Ministry is singularly ill-equipped to judge.
I believe we can get over this, and I urge the Minister to think about this problem of remoteness between customer and manufacturer by the interposition which a supply department involves. I realise that the hon. Gentleman cannot abolish his right hon. Friend's Department, but I am suggesting that there must be some means—I am sure there are means—by which, despite that, the customer and the manufacturer can get much closer together.
154 The other defect which is brought home to me very often is the fact, again brought out in the Downey Report, that the project officer is too junior down the line. There are still far too many decisions which have to go up from him to a committee and then down on the other side. I really was rather horrified when it was suggested in the Downey Report that we must train these chaps to be managers and should send them on a fortnight's course. Surely we can do better than that. One of the contrasts which I think is very noticeable among my friends in the aircraft industry who have been dealing with these Anglo-French projects in particular is the extraordinary expertise of the French civil servants trained in the école polytechnique. This is not to disparage our own civil servants. They have, most of them, first-class classical honours, and they are very good at it, too. However, we have, I believe, to move to an era in which our technical people are trained as managers and looked upon as managers, and in which we give to them the authority of the administrative branch. Otherwise, we tend to have this excessive chain of command which leads to delay, which can be one of the most costly factors in aircraft manufacture. In contrast to that the other impression I get very strongly is that our Service officers who operate in the technical field are very, very highly regarded throughout the whole of these Anglo-Continental projects.
One of the problems which the Downey Report points to is the disruption which is caused by both civilian and military personnel moving on too fast—I wonder if I could have a little hush: it is a little off-putting if the hon. Gentleman on the opposite Front Bench carries on a continuous conversation. One problem is to ensure that the people who get experience are not, as soon as they get it, moved on to another post. The reply we always get is that this is part of the career structure, but I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man to design a career structure which enables the great expertise attained by these people to be used to the best advantage of the country.
I conclude by coming back to some of the basic assumptions of the White Paper, which must form the basis of our debates. I have no doubt whatever 155 that, as we have done in the past, we shall always be able to rely on our Services to perform their task with devotion, gallantry and skill, but these great qualities are not enough unless there are sufficient numbers in the Services and they are provided with appropriate material.
If the flexible response concept is to mean anything at all, it must carry with it a greater rather than a lesser need for conventional capability in both men and material. I am sorry the Secretary of State is not here, but I suggest that, before he waxes quite so self-righteously again about the merits of this flexible response and of his own contribution to its acceptance by N.A.T.O., before he accuses us of policies which, in his view, require for their fulfilment conscription, he should just think of where his own policies are leading. He cannot have it both ways. If he wants his flexible response, which may or may not be an improvement—although I am inclined to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire when he said that the longer one sits and talks the less likely one is to commit suicide—that must involve emphasis on conventional forces. That concept must involve very highly trained manpower, particularly in the Royal Air Force, and, although we welcome the rather more cheering recruitment figures for the Royal Air Force as opposed to the other Services, is the Secretary of State confident that he will continue to recruit? What will be the cost of his policy?
The Secretary of State admits that the United States will, almost inevitably, withdraw to some extent from Europe during the next decade and that, as a result, the European partners in N.A.T.O. will have to bear a greater burden of defence. Has it never occurred to the Government that one of the principal reasons why the United States is likely to withdraw is that the American public, whatever the American President may say, has felt let down by our withdrawal from east of Suez? As the hon. Member for Pembroke says, this may well prove to be one of the most costly decisions in our history. If I do not go as far as that, I certainly say that our proposals are likely to be by far the cheapest way of retaining American presence in Europe, 156 and it is upon that that so much of the force of N.A.T.O. depends.
§ Mr. Dalyell rose——
§ Mr. Corfield
I cannot give way. I listened to the hon. Gentleman for a very long time. Is not it abundantly clear that, had the Government been less precipitate and less absolute in their decision to withdraw from east of Suez, the United States would have been very much less anxious to withdraw from Europe and, in the event, very much less likely to withdraw to the scale that is now possible?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) does not give way the hon Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) must keep his seat.
§ Mr. Corfield
It is overwhelmingly obvious that in the medium rather than the short term the Government are running themselves into a far more costly programme than can be laid at our door, on the grounds which I have given. The hon. Gentleman asks what forces we would retain east of Suez. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House have explained this matter over and over again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] It is the determination of the Government to build the cost on what was there in 1964 that is deluding themselves but nobody else. I can assure the hon. Member for West Lothian that there is no intention to have a force of the size which previously existed in Singapore or in the Gulf.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Ivor Richard)
What about the commitment?
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Gentleman asks about the commitment. But what about the general capability promised by the Secretary of State to Australia and New Zealand and to Malaysia? These general capabilities are commitments. What he has done is to talk about a general capability which he cannot perform. [Interruption.] Is he saying that he is not expressing a desire to have a general capability that is able to help Australia and New Zealand?
§ Mr. Corfield
What is yours? It is clear that the Secretary of State will not answer, so I will not put my neck out unless he tells the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, the party opposite comprise the Government, and it is their commitment.
As far as we are concerned our commitment to Malaysia, if we understand the Government at all, is exactly the same as theirs. But they are not providing themselves with any forces to carry it out. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman think he can give us evidence that he has such forces, then we shall be delighted to hear it this evening. I believe that the Government's policies are likely to be far more costly in the medium and long term, both in manpower and in material, than anything they can accuse us of suggesting. It is not Conservative policies which are creating a need for conscription, if there is one, but those of the right hon. Gentleman. And they do not even have the merit that we have provided, that they give security to our country or provide the Services with what they deserve.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
On my calculations we have had almost four hours of unremitting questioning. The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) asked 27 questions before I stopped counting. I do not complain about that. I am sure that he will understand that in the half-hour which I shall allow myself for my reply, it will be impossible for me to deal with very many of them. But I shall address myself as best I can, and in as uncontroversial a manner as I can, to some of the questions which have characterised the debate.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I will write to the hon. Gentleman on those questions appropriate for answer. But I put it to him, without any suggestion of criticism or complaint, that he must know that some of his questions were not such as to bear an answer. He would not expect letters on some of the questions he asked.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) expected 158 an answer to two substantial questions. I begin by answering the first question that he put. It was the plea, a slightly unnecessary plea, that the Government should explain the recruiting position to the House in some detail, in the knowledge that the House was sympathetic to Government needs and demands for recruiting on the understanding of our obligations and the pressures resulting therefrom.
I propose to respond to that request as I responded to an earlier request for information on recruiting figures in the Army, that is, to give the House in stupefying detail the recruiting position and to comment upon it with terrifying frankness—terrifying to me, at least, if not to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do so first in terms of direct entry air crew into who opened this debate, said that in the Minister of Defence for Equipment, who opened this debate said that in the early months of 1969 recruiting for direct entry air crew was bad, indeed very bad. But by the early autumn of last year there were a large number of applicants, and these large numbers were maintained in the subsequent six months of the year.
It is open to various interpretations as to how so many applications came about. One reason is the publicity given at about that time to a new and revolutionary aircraft type. In the event, from mid-1969 onwards there was an enormous increase in applications for direct entry for air crew. Indeed, so great was the application rate that by the end of the year we had completed in terms of numbers, for pilots, the target for the year as a whole. The requirement for navigators was met almost up to 100 per cent. Indeed the response was so great towards the end of last year that many candidates who applied in the dying months of the year are still being considered for membership. It looks as if the situation in 1970 will be one in which we shall meet all our demands for aircrew. If the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) were here—and I know that the timing has made it difficult for hon. Members to be here for both Front Bench speeches —I am sure that he would rejoice with us at that.
Secondly, there has been an improvement, though unfortunately not such a large improvement, in the recruitment for officers who are not assigned to aircrew. 159 Thirdly, there has been a substantial move towards the revised officer entry scheme—the graduate scheme which was announced to the House during previous debates. When it was originally announced that the Royal Air Force officer entry would be based on a 100 per cent. graduate scheme, there were some sceptics who believed that the young men who wanted to fly planes would regard that as an onerous obligation, which would deter them. All the figures, and certainly the fact that by the end of this year there will be 266 potential officers in universities under schemes which the Royal Air Force sponsors or supports or which are under the aegis of the Air Force, suggest that it is proving a success. Again, if the hon. Gentleman were here I am sure that he would rejoice in that fact.
The year 1970 was a year of substantial improvement in recruitment of airmen. In 1968–69 the total recruiting figure for airmen and boys was about 4,900. Last year it rose to 5,850. For apprentices, a field in which the Royal Air Force has always had a notable record, the 1968–69 figure of 1,650 was improved in the following year to 2,230. Again, all along the line, throughout the full spectrum from the officer entry for aircrew down to the apprentices, we can point to substantial improvements in recruiting which I am sure the House welcomes.
Of course there are difficulties, particularly in some specific ground trades. I will not weary the House by listing them all. The hon. Member for St. Albans in the past has referred to certain categories of wireless operator of one sort and another and to aircraft mechanics dealing with electrical equipment. In these specific trades, shortages persist. One of the ways in which, we believe, these shortages will be remedied is that of the military salary—a subject which I think has not so far been mentioned in the debate. Certainly we expect that for all the Services a general revision of forces' pay will have a substantial effect on recruiting. One can also argue that in the Royal Air Force specifically, and even within the narrower range in these trades specifically, the military salary will have a special effect. As the House well knows, the military salary is at last 160 providing pay in the forces comparable with that in civilian life.
The House also knows that in the trade structure within the general band of payment there are three grades of enhanced pay—according to the skill, responsibility and trade of a man in the Service when the job evaluation exercise was done. Fortunately, those trades in particularly short supply have almost invariably appeared in the top pay bands of civilian wage packets. I say "fortunately" and not "fortuitously", because I suspect that the fact that they are in short supply in the R.A.F. proves among other things that they are underpaid in the R.A.F. as compared with their civilian counterparts, and the N.B.B.I. job evaluation study has begun to bring them into line.
Not only is the military salary operating to improve recruitment, but the factors which have characterised improved recruitment in the other two Services are operating. The first is a period of defence stability. One has always accepted that defence changes and, perhaps more important, the arguments which surround defence changes have deterred a proportion of young men from joining the Services. That period is now fortunately over, and that is the second factor which should improve recruiting levels.
The third applies particularly to the R.A.F. I say this with some diffidence, but one of the essentials in our recruiting policy must be to ensure that terms and conditions are appropriate to young men proposing to join the forces in 1970. They must be treated as the young men of 1970 who have the wider horizons, the extra demands and the new opportunities which their predecessors may not always have enjoyed. The R.A.F. has been notable for revising its engagement structure to meet that sort of up-to-date demand. I am sure that it will continue to do so, and I am sure that because of that and because of the period of stability and the military salary it will begin to meet its recruitment targets with the sort of success which looks like characterising last year's figures.
Notwithstanding that, as I promised to be as frank as I could I must say clearly that at this moment there is a shortfall of trained men in the R.A.F. As 161 at 1st April—this figure is now an estimate, but it will soon become rather more precise—the shortfall was about 3,000 in strength as opposed to trained requirement. The House knows that in this as in the other Services, this is not the first year in which a shortfall has appeared.
One of the new points about this year's shortfall is that by a planned reduction in commitments, the withdrawal from east of Suez and other adjustments, it looks as though the shortfall is beginning to taper off and, with enhanced recruitment and adjusted commitments, it looks a, though the shortfall will disappear altogether.
§ Mr. Ramsden
Can the hon. Member say what percentage this represents for the R.A.F.? Last week he suggested that the percentage for the Army was better than had ever previously been achieved. If the same is true of the R.A.F., perhaps we need not be so despondent about recruiting as hon. Members opposite sometimes suggest now that we have a smaller age group from which to recruit.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the figures which I gave last week. I did not say that the shortfall of trained men as opposed to requirement was spectacularly good, but simply that it was spectacularly better than it was in 1963 and 1964. The two statements are not the same. I am tempted to be contentious and I regret that I am unable to resist responding to the invitation.
The shortfall naturally causes concern, but it is not new. It operated ten years ago and it operated seven years ago. It operated during the optimum recruiting conditions which, so we have heard from Conservative Members in debate after debate, result from the thrall of a permanent presence east of Suez, which was there in 1963 and 1964, although there remained a shortfall between demand and supply of trained R.A.F. personnel.
In part, this undermines the general contention—which I understand is as much of an intellectual justification as now exists for the insistence that the Opposition's policies can be met without conscription—that men will flock to the colours the moment it is announced that an east of Suez presence is to be permanently 162 retained. They did not flock to the colours when it was known in the past, and I see no reason to assume that they would do so in future.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my hon. Friend reflect on the dangers to British forces in the event of there being just a small force east of Suez and isolated? Is not that a dangerous position in which to place British Servicemen?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Both my right hon. Friend and I reflected on exactly that point ten days ago, during the defence debate. I am happy to endorse that reflection again. Of course, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) knows that the Hong Kong parallel is totally false and that the R.A.F. men—I take this Service so as to remain strictly within the rules of order —would be permanently committed on the ground there in Malaysia. That is not a general capability which would go out if it seemed appropriate and which might be called upon to fulfil quite a different rôle from that performed by a force in Hong Kong.
As I have said, there are three alternatives. We have spelled them out previously, and I will not do so again. One, perhaps the most unfortunate of all, is that there will be such a stretch on policy to meet extra commitment without conscription that many things, both the alliance in Europe and the Servicemen committed, will be in serious danger.
I turn to the questions which were asked about Bersatu Padu. The House no longer questions that a substantial number of combat aircraft will be deployed on that exercise. They are no longer arguing about the definitions which are the cause of dispute between my hon. Friend and the Daily Express. But two other questions need to be answered. The first is whether we intended to fly out stores. My right hon. Friend has said many times, particularly when he outlined the scenario which would be the basis for this exercise, that the idea, the hypothesis, is that the withdrawal has been completed for about four or five years, and that those Powers who are associated with our capability will, on their own accord, have provided permanent stores which British troops and 163 British airmen and other British personnel might use if they went out under these terms to the Far East.
That is the assumption on which the exerecise has to be based, and, according to that assumption, we do not propose to take any stores with us——
§ Mr. Hattersley
The answer is that the House is united in the belief that they will have some advantage from our going there in those circumstances and are likely to provide some help should we go in those circumstances.
A third question concerns the route through which the exercise would be mounted. The route, which we have specified many times—I specify it again—is Cyprus, Bahrein, Gan and Singapore. That is the north-about route which flies essentially over CENTO territory, which causes none of the embarrassments implied by hon. Members below the Gangway. That route has been announced in the House on other occasions and it is the route to be taken were we to operate our joint capability in terms similar to those of the exercise.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Not for a reason connected with this. The Seychelles is an alternative. My right hon. Friend has talked about it as such, and I am sure that the hon. Member approves of its existence. But this is substantially the main route through which we troop now, and through which, I suspect, the hon. Member himself went to Singapore and Hong Kong if he went on a Service flight. That applies again.
I know that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) had to come to an end, but I regretted its ending. He urged upon us the virtues of thinking of projects in future in terms of the Nimrod project. He would, I am sure, agree that is a scheme which altogether has much to commend it, although it included marginal disadvantages and problems which we should hope to avoid in a similar future project. But I entirely agree that from many of the techniques which 164 we developed in this project we have benefited enormously. He has my complete assurance that the lessons learned through the Nimrod project will be applied whenever appropriate in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) made a speech about weather forecasting not altogether dissimilar from his speech on weather forecasting in this debate last year. His thesis is that weather forecasters should not hedge their bets but should give a more definite, positive and unqualified assessment of what the weather will be. I leave him to judge whether in an area which is naturally fraught with danger and error it is best for the general public to be told that there are two alternatives or to be told arbitrarily what will happen. I come down—and I make no party political point, for perhaps we are united on this if on nothing else—on the side of bet hedging so that, as well as the bets being hedged, my preparations may be hedged for what might turn out to be a not-altogether accurate forecast.
My last point concerns a subject which perhaps needs more time to answer than I have at my disposal. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Macclesfield and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield)—the concept of R.A.F. reserves. It is notable that the hon. Member for Macclesfield, whose experience and judgment of these matters we all know, was so very guarded in his endorsement of that policy. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South was cautious enough to say that in the past he had had doubts about it. Although some of his doubts were disappearing, I do not think that he gave the idea unqualified approval.
On the other hand, Mr. John Wilkinson, described in today's newspapers as an ex-pilot and prospective Conservative candidate, has given rather less qualified approval to an enlarged volunteer reserve of pilots. If I understand the pamphlet produced by him for the Conservative Central Office, he wants a large reservoir of trained pilots, trained on light jet aircraft, ready, willing and available to step in as reserves. I find that concept perhaps not surprising from a present Conservative candidate, but mildly surprising from an ex-R.A.F.
165 pilot. I find it surprising for the reason that I am sure that Mr. Wilkinson knows in his calmer moments, as the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South knows by the cautious reference he made, and as does the hon. Member for Macclesfield, that the ability to fly a light aircraft is by no means the same as the ability to fly a Lightning, a Phantom or a Jaguar.
They all three know that the process of conversion from one to the other is not only an expensive but a long business. Those of us who have served in the Ministry of Defence know that professional young R.A.F. officers after a short period in the Ministry are occupied in retraining before they are able to return to flying enormously sophisticated aircraft in the front line. They would be flying Provosts and Gnats. The outbreak of any war which any of us might hypothesise would certainly preclude a long period of conversion training. We should need a very large number of reserve aircraft and very many more training stations. We should need a wide variety of additional ground equipment and the reserves would need a continous process of flying training to keep them up to the mark, which would be absolutely inconsistent with being reserves and carrying out other full-time jobs.
Therefore, I am appreciative of the cautious way in which the idea was offered today but I have to say firmly and definitely that any normal assessment of the reality of the scheme suggests that it is not one which any Minister of Defence would regard as feasible.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I was coming to exactly that point. I know that this is what Ministers say on these occasions, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will believe that this is the next point I was to make.
I was about to say that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be advocating something which I describe in a phrase which I am sure is as offensive to him 166 as it is to me—what the Americans call "creative tension", an idea that by having strong, knowledgeable and highly committed individual Ministers pursing the individual claims of their own Service, a synthesis would come out which was wholly good. The right hon. Gentleman gave some examples of what had been achieved as a result of that conflict. He did not give, though he could have done from his experience, and I do not give them, though I could from mine, examples of mistakes which have been made because of that process; mistakes made not only because of the disputes which arose, but as a result of the compromises which came about to resolve the disputes. Indeed perhaps the compromise which resolves the dispute is more dangerous than the dispute itself.
The right hon. Gentleman, in a speech which, as always, was very interesting, talked as though the Services were independent in a way which today they no longer are. They are related to each other. They are dependent on each other. Their interests are complementary, not competing. I am not suggesting for a moment that one wants anything like a vast amorphous single Service in which the individuality of the three Services is suppressed. I am not suggesting that there should be a uniformity where uniformity is inappropriate. But I am suggesting that in great areas of defence policy, and of the application of that policy, even in prosaic areas such as procurement and administration, there is a similarity in the needs of the three Services, and a Ministerial structure to emphasise the differences rather than the similarities seems to my right hon. Friend and to hon. Members on this side of the House to be making a move in quite the wrong direction.
Finally, I turn to the subject which has characterised many speeches, the subject of the availability of aircraft, a subject with which I want to deal with as much frankness as the requirement of the subject allows.
The hon. Member for St. Albans began by saying that one of the things which he regretted was the absence of evidence about the success or failure of our policy, certainly in terms of commitment, which now involved land-based, air-fuelled support for the Fleet at sea. Perhaps I might deal with the hon. Gentleman's question about the exercises which 167 might have demonstrated the truth of the hon. Gentleman[...] case, or of mine. The exercises which have gone on are small, preliminary exercises. They are the beginning of a process which does not come to an end until 1972—the process of conversion from one form of service to the other. We expect that towards the end of this year—November or December—there will be a large exercise which will follow the small exercises. I think that the hon. Gentleman can accept our assurance that for that exercise there will be the sort of publicity attached and interest focussed which he would like to see.
The hon. Gentleman went on to ask about the number of aeroplanes. I think that he said clearly and fairly that he would hardly expect a very precise answer to this question. I give as precise an answer as I can, which is that, certainly in terms of numbers, there are fewer combat aircraft of the R.A.F. in Germany now than there were two years ago.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman says that he could tell me that. He was saying earlier that he would like us to give him even a rough estimate. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to tell him very much more than that. Looking to the future, certainly we expect that by 1971–72 the figure of two years' past will be reached again, but nobody would suggest for a moment that in the meantime the cover for our forces and other N.A.T.O. forces is any less than it ever was. Some hon. Members have expressed concern about the troops operating with that Air Force. The troops who might operate with that Air Force would be operating as part of an alliance, and the alliance capability has not been materially affected.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether that trough would have been less had alternative procurement policies been operated. If plans which have been cancelled had been continued, and had their processes from design to delivery to the Royal Air Force gone smoothly, the trough to which I refer might either have been shallower or have not existed, but I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will 168 agree that it is unreasonable to suggest that an alternative procurement policy would have moved gradually forward without any hedges and delays.
I was also asked about cover for the Fleet, a question which, in part, I have already answered. This, again, is related to the fact that the Fleet, concentrated in the greater European sector, would operate as part of an alliance. We should expect the cover for the Fleet to be provided from shore bases, as the hon. Member said, refuelled in mid-air, and we believe that that cover is as great as it ever was. We believe that we can manage that rôle. We should hardly commend it to the House were we to have any doubts. The rôle depends on the availability of tanker aircraft, and the specific question which I was asked concerned the conversion of the Victor Mark II tankers. The hon. Member knows that the conversion has been complicated by events in the aircraft industry, with companies which were to have done the job moving out of service, but the conversion is now going ahead with Hawker-Siddeley. It is an essential part of the rôle that we shall have land-based, air-fuelled Fleet cover.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Can the Minister tell me when the requirement for the work on the Victor Mark II tanker was confirmed? I quoted two different dates.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I cannot tell the hon. Member at the moment, but I shall find out and let him know, if that, as I believe, will satisfy him.
I was asked specific questions about the M.R.C.A., to come into general service in 1976. I was asked about its rôle and functions, and how many options this aircraft was supposed to fulfil. It will come into operation in a series of stages. Its strike and reconnaissance rôle takes over from the Buccaneer some time after 1976. Its photographic reconnaissance rôle takes over from the few Canberras which remain in service after 1971–72. Its air defence rôle takes over from the Phantom at about the end of this decade, and its maritime support rôle takes over from the Buccaneers and the Phantoms in the early 1980's. This is an essential project for the future of our aircraft and our defensive can-ability.
169 I have been looking at the future of the Royal Air Force from my side of the Ministry of Defence, but it has a wider and additional importance—that the improved and continually improving recruitment figures which I have checked in the last half-hour, and which have been achieved during the last 18 months, are in no small measure dependent on the potential members of the Royal Air Force—the potential officers and ground crews—knowing that they will either fly or service the best possible aircraft that the Government can provide. The Harrier has begun that policy and I believe that the M.R.C.A. will continue it, and that with the two we can have both the men and the aircraft to meet the commitments that the Government see for the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Will not the Minister deal with the question which I raised in a large part of my speech, dealing with the gap left by the cancellation of the F111 which will exist from 1970 until the M.R.C.A. is in service? The Minister did not give me an answer last year because, he said, he had no time. Tonight he has 22 minutes.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen not exceeding 115,400, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service; that a number not exceeding 14,494, all ranks, be maintained for the Royal Air Force Reserve; and that a number not exceeding 384, all ranks, be maintained for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, during the year ending on 31st March. 1971.