§ 4.36 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Lord Lambton)
I beg to move,That during the year ending on 31st March 1973 a number not exceeding 113,500 all ranks be maintained for Air Force Service, a number not exceeding 13,590 for the Royal Air Force Reserve and a number not exceeding 400 for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.When I had the honour to present the Air Estimates last year I made what was in retrospect a monumental speech. My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General described it to me in private as resembling one of Gladstone's Budgets—by which he meant, I suppose, something very long and dull. But in presenting that speech I was following the precedents which had grown up through the years of giving a detailed account of all the affairs of the Royal Air Force.
Of course, in the pre-war years, which was an era of frequent equipment changes, this was probably necessary. But I must confess that last year I repeated many things which the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) had said the year before, and looking a little further back, I hope that he will not think me rude if I say that he was repeating, in turn, much of the content of previous years' speeches.
As in the defence debate last week, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement dealt with such equipment matters as were quite often previously discussed in this debate, what I should like to do today is not merely go in once again for repetition but rather to try to deal more fully with what has happened to the R.A.F. in other areas during the last 12 months. I shall, therefore, wait until tonight to answer equipment quesions which hon. Members may wish to put during the debate. I believe that in this way we can give more time to hon. Members who may wish to speak —although I cannot see them in the 773 Chamber at present. We can also get away from what in some degree has been almost an essay in annual repetition.
It has been a notable year for the Royal Air Force. It played a major part in the withdrawal of no less than 38,000 servicemen and their dependants and all their personal effects from the Gulf and the Far East. More recently there has been the much more limited but equally successful operation from Malta. I think it is no exaggeration to say that these large-scale movements were carried out by Air Support Command without any hitch and in my view this brings great credit to that branch of the Service. Elements of the R.A.F. remain in Singapore and in addition there will be regular visits to both the Far East and the Gulf. Apart from what I might call these real operations, I remind the House that only last December the Royal Air Force flew no less than 1,300 civilians from the Indian sub-continent and it is only right to draw particular attention to the exploits of the Hercules crews in Dacca.
In the middle of the war these men landed their aircraft with the very greatest skill on a runway still pitted with bomb craters and took off again with hundreds of refugees of all nations. In addition to these operations the Royal Air Force played its part in all the normal N.A.T.O. and national exercises. Some of these were designed primarily to maintain the high standard of competence in the Service. Others, such as the large joint Navy/Air exercises last autumn, were to test thoroughly our command and control arrangements and operating techniques. I am glad to say the exercises went off well.
I should like briefly to mention the improvements and additions which have been made in the front line. This year has seen the completion of the build-up of the Phantom Strike Attack Force, both in the United Kingdom and in Germany and the re-equipment of the long-range maritime reconnaissance force with Nimrods is also nearly complete. Puma helicopter deliveries will also be completed in the coming year, and we shall deploy more Buccaneers and Harriers to Germany. At the same time we plan to re-equip the Whirlwind squadrons in Singapore and Hong Kong with Wessexes and introduce a number of Shackletons in 774 the airborne early-warning rôle for which they are being specially developed. In the tanker rôle, work is proceeding on the Victor Mk 2 and in the close support rôle the outstanding capability of the Harrier is being further improved by the progressive re-equipment with the more powerful marks of the Pegasus engine.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Before the Under-Secretary leaves that point, can he say what has happened to the medium-lift helicopters which were designed to operate with the Harrier and which have been in and out of the various White Papers over the past six or seven years?
§ Lord Lambton
Broadly speaking, we did not have enough money to procure them, and the Harriers are working and can work without them. I agree though that if at some future date, the necessary finance is there they would be a welcome addition to the Air Force.
In Germany the provision of shelters which is to be financed from N.A.T.O. infrastructure funds will improve aircraft protection and this summer we shall progress to the contracting phase. We attach great importance to this programme. The introduction of the Jaguars in about two years will enable us to start transferring more of the Phantoms to air defence. Already we are purchasing enough Bucaneers to form an extra squadron. We have also announced our intention to order sufficient extra Nimrods to form another additional squadron and both these additions will mean a genuine increase in operational capability.
Looking further ahead at the next generation of combat aircraft I should like to report continuing satisfactory progress with the M.R.C.A. which is really to be the linch-pin of our future strike reconnaissance and air defence forces. Last summer's review with our German and Italian partners confirmed the validity of our earlier objectives as regards performance, costs and timescale. All three partners agreed that the project should proceed as planned and that a further review should be made at the end of this year.
Now I shall turn to something which is quite considerably in the news this morning—the Linesman system which was last week the subject of some comment from 775 the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). The Linesman system, which is part of our defence against the manned aircraft threat, consists essentially of improved radars and communications systems together with computer-based control facilities. The new radars and communications have been in service for some time and are operating very satisfactorily. But there has been a serious delay in bringing the centralised computer installation into operation because of difficulties in the development of software. Computer hardware has not been a holding factor but there was a serious under-estimation of the size and complexity of the very considerable task of computer programming for the main data processing system.
We now expect the computer installation at West Drayton to become operational towards the end of next year and this will be a considerable step forward. The hon. Member for Nuneaton suggested that the system was wholly dependent on eastward-facing radars. The main military radar stations are naturally on the East and North-East facing what we must recognise to be the main threat. But it also derives information from the modern civil aviation Mediator system in the West and South. These are not "souped-up" second world war radars. They are modern, advanced equipment and can contribute substantially to the defence system. We also get the benefit of the exchange of information with the N.A.T.O. system on the Continent and the system will also benefit from the information provided by the Shackleton airborne early warning aircraft coming into service this year.
Even when the computer system at West Drayton is operational I do not suggest that we will have reached the stage of perfection. We are naturally examining what further measures may be needed to supplement Linesman. The hon. Member referred to the vulnerability of West Drayton to conventional air attack. As has been explained computerised standby facilities are being provided in the Linesman system but we shall naturally consider whether other further measures are necessary. I do not think there is any particular party point to be made here one way or the other about a system which originated more 776 than a decade ago and the expenditure on which has been split among the last three administrations. There have been some changes in that period and it would be surprising if there had not been. We may well find we need to supplement the system in certain respects in the future. But none of this detracts from the value of the present system.
I should like now to turn to the rôle and organisation of the Royal Air Force. I think all hon. Members will agree with the point I made last year which I do not hesitate to repeat, that the most important task for the Air Force is to continue to improve its power and effectiveness. I will describe what we have tried to do towards this end. The message for the R.A.F. is a very clear one. We are working within a very limited budget and I think we must try to cut out everything which is unnecessary and to see that all the money that is spent is well spent. In the first phase of an economy project all commanders in chief have been asked to make substantial economies in the manpower they are utilising. A simultaneous drive has been launched in the Whitehall organisation. The savings must be found without detriment to efficiency.
The first phase of this project is nearing completion, although of course all the benefits will not be felt at once. But because of the resulting manpower economies the R.A.F. has already cut back on its recruiting requirements for next year. This not only offers a bonus in reduced training costs but also enables us to apply higher standards in the selection of recruits.
The second phase which is to follow will involve an intensive search in support and operating costs, and commanders-in-chief will be invited to take the initiative and examine critically every aspect of their operations. Of course, we cannot tell yet how this will go, but I hope the savings will be commensurate with those shown in the first stage.
Not the least value of these savings has been to bring home to everyone throughout the R.A.F. that money must be spent primarily on the front line. We must get better value for money.
Alongside these economy measures, and complementary to them, as I informed the House on 25th November last year, the main elements of Strike Command 777 and Air Support Command are to be merged. In paragraph 27 of Chapter 1 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates we explained that a single R.A.F. operational Command in this country will be set up by the end of 1972. I shall inform the House in more detail about this.
The new command, which is to be called "Strike Command" is designed to enable the front-line resources of the R.A.F. in the United Kingdom to be used with greater flexibility; to provide a single point of contact in the United Kingdom at Air Commander-in-Chief level with N.A.T.O.; and to effect financial and manpower economies. It will also make the R.A.F.'s operational Command structure in the United Kingdom more compatible with the other Services'.
The headquarters of the new "Strike Command" will be at High Wycombe, and will form on 1st September. The new command will comprise five Groups embracing the operational functions of strike/attack, air defence, maritime patrol, tactical and air transport. It will also include the H.Q. Military Air Traffic Operations.
The existing resources of Air Support Command, consisting of strategic and medium fixed wing transport aircraft, all offensive support aircraft and support helicopters, will be re-organised into two operational groups, the tactical Group and the air transport group. The latter will take the title "No. 46 Group". Its headquarters will be located at R.A.F. Upavon, when the headquarters of Air Support Command are disbanded there. Nos. 1, 11 and 18 Groups, which now comprise the operational elements of the present Strike Command, will remain largely unchanged and in their present locations.
As part of the overall reorganisation, the administrative support of units in No. 90 (Signals) Group is to be transferred to Maintenance Command on 1st May, 1972; this transfer will enable the new Command to concentrate upon its prime responsibilities. Detailed plans for the merger are now being worked out.
Present indications are that about 18 existing senior R.A.F. staff posts should be saved once the merger is completed and the new headquarters fully operational. In addition, there will be more 778 savings at lower levels resulting from the abolition of H.Q. Air Support Command.
There will be some decrease in the number of non-industrial civilian staff employed at Upavon, with some increase in the number employed at High Wycombe, but I cannot give numbers at this stage. However, they will not be considerable. No significant staff changes are expected at any of the other headquarters formations of the new Strike Command, nor will the reorganisation lead to the closure of any R.A.F. stations.
Now I should like to turn from these operational changes to speak of those in training. A comprehensive review of the part to be played by the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, has now been completed in the light of the development of the graduate entry scheme, and of decisions relating to aircrew training.
In consequence, the plan of the previous Administration to move the Officer Cadet Training Unit from Henlow to Cranwell at the end of 1973, and to establish the R.A.F. College as the centre for general Service training has been revised. Instead, it has been decided that the Royal Air Force College will, by 1975, undertake the general Service training of graduate entrants to the Service, and basic flying training of all graduate entrant pilots. It will accommodate the College of Air Warfare, which will be moved from Manby and will provide postgraduate navigation training and some refresher flying, in addition to continuing the professional training of all Engineer, Supply and Secretarial officers. The Officer Cadet Training Unit will remain at Henlow, and will continue to provide general Service training for other entrants to commissioned service. Some consequential re-deployments, aimed at making the most effective use of resources, are planned, which will free the R.A.F. stations at Upwood, Debden and Strubby. These redeployments will produce useful savings.
Further changes are coming about in flying training, which is obviously vital to the maintenance of the high professional standards of the Service. But it is extremely expensive, particularly when the time comes to re-equip, and we must therefore achieve a proper balance between the resources devoted to training and to the front-line. Recognising this, we decided to abandon the earlier plan to 779 use the Jaguar as an advanced trainer, and to substitute a less expensive aircraft. This switch made possible the additional Jaguar front-line squadrons.
As a result of our review of pilot training, we decided progressively to introduce earlier specialisation. This will mean that after a shorter common stage of basic training, pilots will be divided for advanced training into three streams —those selected to fly fast jet aircraft; those going on to multi-engined types; and helicopter pilots. This will be accompanied by a reduction in the number of stages through which pilots must pass during training, and an overall saving in training time.
The Jet Provost will continue for some years as the basic training aircraft. For the advanced trainer for fast jet pilots, in replacement of the Gnat and the Hunter, we have selected the Hawker Siddeley 1182. We have now decided that the engine for this aircraft—and this is the first time this has been announced—shall be an unreheated version of the Adour engine, which powers the Jaguar.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Is it or is it not true that some £10 million was spent on taking the after-burner out of that engine?
§ Lord Lambton
I cannot answer that question now, but if the hon. Gentleman gives me notice I shall try to find out.
In addition to its primary rôle as a jet trainer, the HS1182 will have a close-support capability. This is very important, because it means that we are not separating totally the training facilities and aeroplanes that can be used in an emergency in combat areas. Subject to the satisfactory completion of contract negotiations, the order for the aircraft will be placed very soon.
For multi-engined training, we have selected the Jetstream to replace the Varsity. With these new aircraft and the revised training pattern, we are confident the pilots can be trained more economically without loss of the essential high standards. I believe this is a step in the right direction. In addition, as hon. Members will know, we intend to buy a substantial number of Bulldogs for use in the university air squadrons in place of the Chipmunk.
780 I should also like to say something about our further studies on the use of simulators.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It might help us if we could be given the reasons against using the Viper 600 engine which would seem to many of us to be an ideal training engine. Why go for the Adour?
§ Lord Lambton
We found the performance was better, which would seem the best reason of all. It is very much a matter of opinion.
I should also like to say something about our further studies on the use of simulators in flying training.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
The Minister has just made an important announcement about the HS1182. Could he give the House any indication as to the employment possibilities in the north of England?
§ Lord Lambton
They will be considerable. I will try to find out precisely what they will be and let the hon. Member know tonight. As I said, I should like to say something about the further studies on the use of simulators, about which I also spoke last year. We already rely on simulators to a considerable degree, and past research has shown their really obvious operational advantages: standardised and repeatable conditions; the ability to keep to a set training programme without delays arising from lack of air space, and so on. In the future, our research will be aimed at assessing, by means of controlled trials, the extent to which simulator time can be further substituted for real flying time. I need hardly stress the importance of this when one takes into consideration the cost of training pilots today. In this, we are co-operating closely with the United States Air Force, who are also involved in this research.
Last year, hon. Members may recall —especially my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson)—that I spoke at length on the subject of R.A.F. reserves. I assured the hon. Member then that although our limited resources made it impractical to maintain a flying reserve, a study was being undertaken to see whether there was a case for using reservists in other categories. The study looked at the adequacy of our reserves. It was thoroughly done, 781 and covered every task which it was conceivable that reservists could do, either in place of the regular Force or as a supplement to it. It showed unmistakably—and I must say disappointingly, but it is no use establishing facts if one is not prepared to admit them—that considerations of time and value for money would make it foolish for us to embark on any major expansion of our small paid reserve. That was really the answer which hon. Gentlemen got who looked into this some years ago. Before long, we shall know whether it makes sense to extend the activities of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force into certain additional support rôles.
At the other end of the scale, I should now like to deal briefly with something I mentioned earlier, which is of great importance to the House—raised recruiting standards. Without question, this has been a satisfactory year for recruiting. Our problems have been eased by two things, the success of manpower economy measures and the increase in the number of applicants. Now we are having to restrict entry numbers firmly. Our success could face us with certain problems, for at some future date there may well be shortages again. But to insure against that we would now have to recruit in larger numbers than would be necessary at the present time. What we are therefore trying to do is to select those applicants most likely to give long and useful service to the Royal Air Force. As I said, as a result of this, the standard of entry is noticeably higher than it was. Of course, the standard was always good and I must say that I think anyone who visits an airfield is always impressed by many things, not least by the maintenance of discipline with, at the same time, an almost total divorce from that drilling, barrack square atmosphere which once played such a considerable part in the life of the Service. Indeed, it seems to me when I go round now that the primary use of the main barrack squares in the R.A.F. is that of car parks. That is something which really shows the change there has been.
The calibre and qualifications of many members of the Force are staggeringly high. I never visit a station without being impressed by the quality of the men there and what they are doing. What is especially satisfactory is that this 782 "civilianisation" of the Royal Air Force has been achieved without any lessening of discipline. I am certain that with the further raising of standards, this will be maintained. However, there is no doubt that we will not in future be certain of drawing the men we really want unless we provide better living conditions. I have borne this very much in mind.
The House will know that all the Armed Forces are evolving new standards of accommodation which will satisfy this need. Old style barrack rooms are simply no longer acceptable. We have gone fully into what the young serviceman wants in the way of accommodation. What they really all want is a single room and recreational facilities—at any rate in places where they are going to have to spend a considerable time. The House will know, especially those who have served in my office, that these schemes must await further examination and agreement on costs. It really cannot be done quickly. The long term solution we are going for is to provide single rooms grouped together to provide flats, with a central washing and community area, for up to 12 airmen.
We were lucky that as a result of the expansion of the Air Force in the 1930s the Force has relatively modern and well-built accommodation which can easily be converted. Nevertheless, the long-term programme will take up to 10 years. This brings one up against the fact that there will be a number of airmen who might have to continue to live in large dormitory rooms for years to come. If anything can be done about it, that is not acceptable. Having seen in some of the R.A.F. stations I have visited, extremely intelligent divisions of large rooms under self-help arrangements, early last year I set up a Joint Air Force Department/ D.O.E. advisory study to see whether we could achieve greater privacy and better living conditions by the use of economic materials. The D.O.E. designers were co-operative and produced several excellent schemes to allow conversion of large dormitories into single cubicles or rooms, depending on the amount of space available at individual stations.
I must emphasise that these changes are short term and do not in any way prejudice the ultimate conversion to permanent standards, although wherever space permits we have been able by these 783 methods to convert barrack room blocks into six or eight rooms, of a standard which will ensure their usefulness for many years to come. We started this scheme last year, with rush plans to convert large dormitories in 53 barrack blocks to produce 2,271 single rooms. By the 31st of this month 40 of these blocks will have been completed, giving a total of 1,533 single rooms. If any hon. Members on the Opposition benches would like to see them I hope they will do so. It is planned to convert a further 33 blocks in 1972–73 to give an extra 1,607 single rooms.
All this conversion has been possible within the framework of our Estimates and by diversion of funds allocated for previous modernisation projects of too old-fashioned and ponderous a type, and we shall continue to press forward on these lines.
The result of this is that I hope, given reasonable luck, that we shall have completed by mid-year 1973 no less than 3,878 rooms of this type. The conversions have been greatly welcomed by the Service and illustrate what I am sure all of us who deal with this problem feel, that if we are to get good men today we must offer them a living style appropriate to the future, and not to the past.
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and his staff in the Department of the Environment for the whole-hearted way in which they went into these improvements, the results of which, as I have said, have been very satisfactory.
I have tried briefly this afternoon—
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the Under-Secretary of State said that it was a matter of judgment, I will help the House by being explicit as to precisely what my problem is over the HS1182. If pilots are to be trained on the Rolls-Royce turbo-jet Adour engine, which is one of the most powerful engines in the world and built with an after-burner, they will kill themselves during training. The decision has been made against the Rolls-Royce Viper 600. The direct question which I should like the Under-Secretary of State to answer later is this. Is the after-burner being taken out of the Rolls-Royce Adour engine and is the cost of so doing about £ 10 million?
§ Lord Lambton
As I told the hon. Gentleman before, it is the unreheated version. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the last thing in the world we want to do is to provide planes which will kill our pilots. We want to get the planes which are most suitable for the different varieties of training, and this is what we set out to do. There is nothing the slightest bit sinister in these decisions. They have been worked out as the most likely ways in which to train effectively different types of airmen in the most economical manner.
§ Lord Lambton
I will give the hon. Gentleman the information he seeks tonight, if it is possible to do so. One cannot always know the precise costs, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are trying to get the right types of planes for training.
I have tried this afternoon to go through the main happenings to the Royal Air Force in the last year, and to outline the measures we have taken to ensure its continued effectiveness.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
As my hon. Friend appears either to be reaching his peroration or running out of steam, before he does so I should like to congratulate him warmly on the efficiency of the surveillance potential, exampled by the photograph of the disabled Soviet nuclear submarine in the Atlantic, accounts of which appeared in the newspapers yesterday. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are about 400 Russian U boats in commission, and does he therefore agree that his handful of Nimrods will have plenty to do?
§ Lord Lambton
I think the answer is yes.
I have told the House that, as a result of the increase in the number of Buccaneers and Nimrods, our efficiency will increase. Nevertheless, the last thing we want to do is to be in any way complacent.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence said in his speech last week that we are faced with an ever-increasing Soviet strength, and the policy of flexible response to which we have been committed since 1967 means that we and our allies must have forces to 785 deter conventional aggression, and that of course is the main reason for our defence expenditure today.
What I have been trying to do in this last year is to ensure that, by taking every possible step within the framework of the Royal Air Force, we have been able to make economies to increase the amount which can be spent on the front line, and this must be our continuous aim. We have a force which is served by men of the highest calibre, and the aircraft now in service are without doubt some of the finest in the world. I feel, therefore, that we can look forward with optimism to increasing the efficiency of the Royal Air Force and keeping it as a force which, if not as large as the forces of the two great powers, is yet one which can most effectively fulfil the roles to which N.A.T.O. attaches the greatest value.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The Minister is to be congratulated on the way in which he has probed the catalogue of ironmongery which he and I in the past in turn have presented to the House when we have introduced the Royal Air Force Estimates. I know the pressures which are brought to bear upon whoever is in his seat. Every branch of the Air Force wants a mention, and fights to a bitter death to ensure that it has its rightful mention in what is after all the Air Force's day in this House. The Minister, I am sure, has had a difficult and painful task in editing the contributions which have come from every corner of the Air Force Department in the fight to be represented in his speech. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), who has served in the same office as the Minister, nodding in agreement.
Although the Minister's speech today has been perhaps a little shorter than usual, the Minister who winds up will perhaps have time to deal in more generous terms with the pertinent points which will be raised on this side of the House. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) who is to wind up for the Opposition has several points of particular significance to raise. I know from 11 years' experience, on and off, of winding up from this Dispatch Box that the one who winds 786 up does not have much of a reply from the Minister who succeeds him. I hope that the Minister will deal with any points which cannot be replied to in winding up by writing to the hon. Members concerned.
The Minister has said that this has been a notable year for the Royal Air Force and I fully endorse that statement. He mentioned in particular the rôle of Transport Command, the withdrawal from the Gulf, and Malta, and he commended the exploit of the Hercules crew in Dacca, which I fully endorse.
The Minister has inherited a first-class Transport Command. When calls are made on Transport Command, whether they be major or minor, we know that Transport Command is able to respond to them. I am sure the House warmed to the frankness of the Minister in replying to the point put to him by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) about the medium-lift helicopter. I hope I am not paraphrasing him wrongly, but my impression is that he said that this would be an excellent and welcome addition to the use of the Harrier aircraft when there was the money. This, of course, is always the problem of any Minister in a Service Department—or, indeed, in any Department—and always when there are cuts to be made or when expenditure has to be undertaken, it is those on the equipment side who have to suffer. But what is welcome is the conversion of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, and indeed of the noble Lord in another place, to the whole concept that there is a ceiling to defence expenditure and that defence expenditure has to be contained within that ceiling.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman is playing with words. Target or ceiling, I suggest he re-read the speech which the noble Lord made in the other place. I am sure that the impression the Under-Secretary gave to the House today was that there are many other things he might like to do but a ceiling had been imposed—a target, if the hon. Gentleman prefers. This was completely and wholly different from the strictures from this side of the House when the present Government were in Opposition. Time after 787 time, led by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), there were bitter complaints about the way we presented our Estimates and organised defence exepnditure, rejecting completely the whole idea of a ceiling. Therefore, whether the hon. Gentleman wants to call it a target or a ceiling, at the end of the day it amounts to the same thing.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman can go on with his game. What I am saying is that the Government have now realised the problems that face their spending departments, and basically they are doing what they can with whatever money the Cabinet allows them.
My speech will be brief because I am conscious of the danger of repeating what I have said either here or on the other side of the House over a number of years. I want to deal first with organisation and recruiting, secondly, with some of the present equipment in the Air Force and, thirdly, with research and development and new provisioning.
We have had the statement by the Under-Secretary about the new operational command in the United Kingdom for the Royal Air Force which is to be set up on 1st September, 1972, and which is to cover the whole of the United Kingdom and to be formed from the main elements of Strike and Air Support Commands. The object, we are told, is the more effective use of the front line of the United Kingdom, and I am sure this will mean better interface with the other Services and with our commitment and responsibility to N.A.T.O.
In connection with one obvious and logical difficulty, as I see it on the information available to us, perhaps we may be told what are the expectations of manpower and financial economies, particularly in the higher ranks, from this change in structure.
As regards recruiting, I am glad to see that the good trend has continued. As I told the House on the last occasion on which I presented the Air Estimates, I saw the beginning of distinct signs of improvement, and the impetus which I had seen beginning was maintaining itself in the last few months before the presen- 788 tation of those Estimates. My reading of the figures which have been presented this year is that within the needs of the Air Force this has been an excellent year. But when one looks at the minuses in the table setting out Air Force recruiting we see that there has been a lower demand by the Air Force and this, in turn, has meant that it has been able to turn people away because it has been able to demand a higher standard. That will have its effect on the kind of Air Force we have. The fact that the Air Force is able to be more selective is welcomed.
I also welcome the remarks made by the Under-Secretary of State on the subject of accommodation. I have been to many airfields and have seen much of the accommodation of the Air Force from one end of the country to the other —and, indeed, the accommodation for all the other Services—and the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to tell the House that in order to get good men today provision has to be made in a style suitable for the future.
There has been a substantial increase and improvement over the years in the standard of life that ordinary people right through the community demand, and the Services cannot be divorced, in terms of accommodation or anything else, from the standards of the community as a whole. One sees this in the improvements in heating and lighting, and in the whole philosophy of improvement grants which successive Governments have maintained in order to improve housing generally. That must be reflected in the accommodation and the privacy which Servicemen require and demand today. I am sure that that will be reflected, in turn, in the calibre of the men who come forward.
One of the tragedies is that while this can be done for one service—the Royal Air Force—great difficulties arise in some of the other Services, particularly the Royal Navy. Without going out of order, a point of major significance to the other Services is the question of the accommodation that can be provided in one and not in another. Anybody who has been on board ship will know the severe limitations in accommodation. This is exceedingly hard on petty officers and people of similar rank who have 789 reached a certain age and seniority and, in financial terms, get substantial rewards. Because of the sheer size of the Fleet and the ships they operate not a great deal can be done to ensure that they have more privacy and better accommodation. I know that over the years the other Services have tried to do what they could, but this is obviously a point that will have to be borne in mind when looking at the whole problem of recruiting for the Services.
I am aware of the difficulties that may arise in the future, about which the White Paper and the noble Lord strike a note of warning, namely, that it is not going to be easy to maintain and sustain recruitment at its present level. The number of young men of recruiting age is declining, and, of course, there will be the result of the problem of the raising of the school leaving age.
It would be helpful if in some White Paper—perhaps next year's Defence White Paper—the Under-Secretary could give the House a forward look at the needs of the Air Force over the next few years. The expression "corporate planning" is one of the new expressions in industry. It might be of help as an element of corporate planning if we could have an indication of the likely needs of the Air Force—and, indeed, the other Services —and the types and skills that will be needed.
One of the things of which I am conscious is that at the n.c.o. level the Royal Air Force tends to become more than a little heavy. The age structure may well be out of balance. This is generally accepted as a danger, and may be more of a reality than Ministers are prepared to acknowledge. Perhaps we could have a word about this in the course of the winding-up speech, and some indication of the likely forward needs of the Air Force, which perhaps could be set out in next year's White Paper.
In our time we saw a substantial degree of rationalisation between the Services, in terms of some of their functions. I should like to know whether there have been any innovations in that field, and any new ideas or studies to see whether savings could be achieved by one Service doing the work of others in certain fields. Has any progress been made in this respect since we left office?
790 I turn to the question of equipment. We have been told about the increased price of the Buccaneer and Nimrod. I am sure that both have been strongly welcomed by the Royal Air Force. I appreciate that the decision on Nimrod had to be taken because the production line was coming to an end, unless there was to be a new buy-in. That must be a matter of great importance to Ministers.
In the past one has heard about the excellent progress of various aircraft and the potential market for them—regrettably after the production line has closed. What progress has been made in the sale of Nimrod? A great deal of work went into the negotiations to try to sell this remarkable aircraft. Have any extra orders been placed for this aircraft to give the Government a breathing space, in order to ensure that present needs are catered for? What are the sale prospects for Nimrod in other parts of the world, particularly Canada?
The Sunday Telegraph of 12th December last carried a report about the High Wood exercise which took place over 11 days in December. I should like to know the Minister's reactions to what the air correspondent of that newspaper wrote, namely:One of the most important defence exercises for a decade has revealed acute shortages in R.A.F. front-line strength. The exercise, called High Wood, ran for 11 days … The main object was to show that the R.A.F. could protect the Fleet hundreds of miles from home bases and in this it was successful. To do it, however, R.A.F. Strike Command had to use every plane available. Pilots flew as many as four sorties a day and ground crews worked round the clock. Some fighter crews spent more than five hours in the air, the planes being refuelled in flight. The operations revealed shortages of Buccaneer low-level strike planes, airborne tanker aircraft. Nimrod maritime reconnaissance planes and fighters to protect British airfields and facilities.Is that kind of comment acceptable?
I am wondering whether we can afford the luxury of allowing Nimrod to rotate between Britain and the Far East. Therefore, I should like to know how far the new order for Nimrods is being implemented to deal with the present shortage, and also what has happened to the undertaking given by the Government to send some of these aircraft to the Far East.
The White Paper mentions collaboration between Britain and her allies, particularly in Europe, and makes the point 791 that this continues to grow in importance. We can all think of projects of collaboration which were sponsored during the life of the Labour Government, but I cannot see any new project of collaboration to report at present. There is a shortage of money for defence, and this problem is also being experienced by our allies. If the Government believe so much in collaboration; and pay lip service to the idea, some indication should be given in the Air Estimates to show what collaboration is being undertaken.
I welcome the statement that bi-national arrangements for the Anglo-French Jaguar aircraft are being made with the French Government. We are told that each country should procure and hold a joint stock of items of its own manufacture to meet the requirements of both countries. That is eminently right and proper, and I hope that other improvements in this respect are attempted. What happened to the joint arrangements with France over helicopters? This relates to the general policy of the Government in regard to the stocking of joint items which are needed to support new aircraft and which are the product of joint collaborative arrangements.
A few weeks ago an exchange took place between my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who takes a great interest in these matters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), on whether aircraft should be serviced within or outside the Services. I have invited the Minister to look into this problem. There is a deeper problem than just the point involving whether this should be done within the Service or outside it. The real problem is the speedy change-round in the engines which need to be fitted and supported to waste the least amount of time. Millions of pounds are tied up in capital.
In the last few weeks that I was at the Ministry—for obvious reasons, I will not go into detail on this matter—I was horrified at the amount of time it took to transport engines from B.A.O.R. to this country, to be tackled by Rolls-Royce. I am not directing criticism one way or the other, but I was surprised at the time it took to take out an engine. It sometimes takes months for an engine to be returned to this country and to be made available again in B.A.O.R. During my 792 time at the Ministry high level studies were taking place on this subject. Because of the events that occurred on 18th June I was not able to see the results of those studies.
I hope that the Ministers will be able to give some assurance on this matter since I referred to it in my speech last year. This is an important subject, and does not involve small items of expenditure. We all know how important it is in defence expenditure to get maximum value for money. Savings in time mean saving vast amounts of capital investment, running to millions of pounds. I know from experience that in regard to engines—and, indeed, 101 other things—there can be delays. It is hoped that such delays, in terms of servicing, and so on, can be avoided. I know all the arguments about the difficulties of getting overtime work and the problems of contractual arrangements, but I am more convinced than ever that there is need for improvement on this score. I shall be very disappointed if there has been no improvement since I last raised this subject.
I turn to the future, and my remarks relate to research and development, and particularly to M.R.C.A. In the course of my speech on the Defence Estimates —it being a winding-up speech I did not expect a winding-up answer—I expressed deep concern about the general increase in research and development costs of 50 per cent. over two years—now running at £330 million—a complete reversal of past trends. There may be substantial disagreement on the question whether the cost should rise to £330 million, but the least that we could expect was a more detailed explanation in the White Paper for the increase from £220 million to £330 million in the course of two years.
There are Committees upstairs looking with fine-tooth combs into expenditure on social projects and other matters. They try to collect and save candle ends. We are here dealing, with a vast amount of expenditure. I commend the Government's brevity; indeed, I would accord them the full luxury of perhaps double, if not three times, the space that they have taken in the White Paper to set out the bare facts of the increase in expenditure.
I am sure that the Minister will say, "There it is. You were the Minister 793 responsible for Defence Equipment. All this expenditure is the result of your good or evil deeds "—from whatever point of view one looks at it. This is an answer which, on its face, appears attractive, in that expenditure on any project carried out over a number of years, as most of these are, tends to rise from fairly modest amounts in the initial pilot stages to more substantial amounts later. I accept and understand that argument. However, this happens in every sphere of equipment.
Every bet that is made by the Ministry of Defence on a particular piece of equipment to initiate initial studies does not mean that it will back that horse to the end of the day. If that were the case it would back only winners, and never take any risk to find new pieces of equipment on the edge of the horizon of knowledge which involve an element of gambling.
There were difficulties in the past which we had to face concerning items of expenditure having been initiated, with expenditure increasing, as usual, at a far greater pace than people anticipated. Hardly any estimate on research and development keeps within the original cost. That is one of the harsh facts of life for any Minister of Defence.
When expenditure on a piece of equipment begins to gallop, one may have to look at the totality of the expenditure on defence and, perhaps, take a pruning knife to spread it out, limit it, or cut it out altogether, if it means that the provision of other equipment or necessary provisioning for the Services will suffer.
Despite the general welcome to new equipment throughout the Services, when they see these large figures going through the House unchallenged I am sure that many other parts of the Services, which have been crying out for more money over the years, will be far from happy if we do not ask for full particulars of the items concerned. The balance has again gone wrong between research and development in the military and civilian spheres. We were proud of the way that we changed that balance, so that the trend was going the other way, to ensure the better utilisation of resources in the interests of the country. Therefore, we deserve a better explanation than we have had.
794 One point which concerns me, to which attention has been drawn recently, is that there may be a hump in defence expenditure in a few years, with substantial expenditure on the M.R.C.A., on the one hand, and on through-deck on the other hand; and at some stage replacement of our larger air transport planes will be necessary. It may be that difficult decisions will have to be taken. I should like to know how far the Government have faced the problem of the coinciding of major expenditure—how they will ensure that it will be catered for, and how they will evaluate rival claims at any one time.
Without the M.R.C.A. the Royal Air Force would be in an almost impossible situation from the mid-1970s onward. That is why everyone in the Service is firmly determined that it shall come into operation. Having played a small part in the beginning of this project, I watch it with great interest. The Royal Air Force remains convinced that, despite statements to the contrary, the M.R.C.A. will be capable of coping with virtually anything put against it in the rôle which it is intended to fulfil. It is more than an aeroplane; it virtually represents the survival capability of the Royal Air Force and the British military aircraft manufacturing industry in the years ahead.
We had a statement from the Minister in the course of his speech this afternoon. However, I think that we deserve a fuller statement—perhaps a White Paper—giving a broad analysis of how this plane is getting on; whether the original estimates are being adhered to, what are our present needs, and whether they have been changed in any way.
Before the debate commenced I read a statement made by the Minister in the course of his winding-up speech last week, in which he said that he expected that a statement would be made in July last year. None was forthcoming. I think that there was a statement in September. I suggest that there should be regular statements to the House by the Minister so that we may know exactly how this aircraft is getting on at different times.
§ Mr. Morris
I am conscious that a statement was made last September, but it was not the statement indicated by the 795 Minister to be made in July. We expected that a statement would be made to the House in July. I appreciate some of the problems and delays which can occur. However, I hope that in future, at each of the review stages—perhaps we may be reminded of the review stages—a statement will be made to the House, because this aeroplane is of fundamental importance to the Royal Air Force. We should be informed, step by step, how satisfied the Government are about the progress of this aircraft, and whether they are still adhering to the original estimated ordered numbers. I have read the detailed criticism of the contractual arrangements. I should like to know the Government's views on them and on the arrangements and agreements entered into with our co-partners in this scheme.
We had a statement by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement in November on the allocation of radar and of 10 major avionic equipments which have been selected since the radar decision, telling us that British firms will be prime contractors for six. I understand that there is dissatisfaction by some of the firms about the progress which has been made in the selection of equipment. Certainly it was varied in the autumn, and some of the firms were far from happy. Are the Government reasonably happy about the arrangements which have been made? Are they happy that the arrangements are the best that can be made for the Royal Air Force? Has there been any delay in the estimated time for the M.R.C.A. coming into operation? The original date was 1976 for this country and 1975 for one of the planes for West Germany, but I notice that the Minister of State said towards the end of March that it would start coming into service in the second half of the decade. Has there been any slippage? Has there been any change in the original ideas?
We have read reports in the Press of the amount of money involved and of the fact that, other than normal inflation, the airframe costs seemed to be keeping to the original estimates. But there is an impression in some parts of the Press that there has been more escalation in the engine costs than had been allowed for under normal inflation, contrary to the experience on the airframe side.
796 Those are some of the matters about which we should like more information. We are not dealing with small amounts of money; we are dealing with hundreds of millions of pounds. We are dealing with the most significant and important piece of expenditure for the Air Force in the whole of this decade. It is not a matter to be dismissed in a few words. The House should be told in as detailed a manner as possible. I appreciate the security problems involved. However, one reads more and more details in the Press. I know the point made time after time by the hon. Member for Woking about the disclosure of full information, and I understand his view. I believe that the time has come when we should be told at what stage we can have the fullest possible information.
I am sure that it will be the wish of the House to endorse the remarks of the Under-Secretary, to wish the Royal Air Force well in whatever part of the world it may be, and to congratulate it on its many achievements in the past year.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
At the beginning of this Session, I placed myself under a self-denying ordinance in the hope of completing the Session without making a speech lasting more than 10 minutes. So far, I have kept to it. However, I hope that I shall be forgiven today if I delay the House a little longer. There does not seem to be tremendous pressure on Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye, if I may put it that way. The right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) also raised a number of interesting matters about which I had intended to speak in any case, and it would be discourteous of me not to develop them.
I wish that we could find a different way of debating the affairs of our defence Services. To crowd all the defence debates into so short a compass suggests a sudden disinterest in the Services on the part of this House. However, many of us are fortunate enough at different times of the year, especially during the summer Recess, to get about a bit outside this country and to see something of the Services in action. At the end of last year my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) and I were amongst those lucky 797 enough to do this in Cyprus. There, among other things, we saw at Akrotiri the largest Royal Air Force Station in the world.
I wish that it were possible for this House to spend two half-days or perhaps a whole day debating practical defence matters before the turn of the year, especially before minds have been made up about what is to go into the following year's Estimates. I regret that we have this concentration of debate into so short a period. If we cannot have a Committee on Defence at least let us have some flexibility in the way in which we debate defence matters in this House.
§ Mr. George Thomson
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I understand the position, there is now no need to have these Estimates debates before the Budget, as was once the case. They can be spread over the year. I suggest that it is a matter for the hon. Gentleman to press strongly on his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If he does he will certainly have the support of the defence spokesman on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Onslow
Long may this amity continue. I remind the House that we did not debate the R.A.F. until April last year because of something to do with the date of Trafalgar Day, the movements of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), and the need to time the debate on the Naval Estimates accordingly.
This is not, in fact, a bad moment at which to have a debate about the R.A.F., since it gives us an opportunity to say nice things about the Government. I am always glad to do that. I am especially glad that in recent months my right hon. Friends have put so much work in the way of the defence industry in the shape of orders for the Nimrod, Jetstream, Bulldog, and the additional Buccaneer Squadron. I hope that whoever deserves the credit on the Treasury Bench will take it. He deserves generous thanks.
I shall also be generous to the right hon. Member for Aberavon for his frankness in asking the Government to comment on the M.R.C.A. contractual arrangements. I suspect that somewhere in the recesses of the Ministry of Defence there runs a jingle which says, "Healey and Benn, never again." I think that the 798 original arrangements which were drawn up for the M.R.C.A. project are not of a kind that we should like to repeat. Some improvement must be found in these arrangements if ever we are again to go into such a project, with special reference to the protection of areas in which British know-how is sensitive and most important to maintain.
I intend to deal with only two main matters, but first I want to make a passing reference to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), whom we are glad to see on the Front Bench opposite. When the hon. Gentleman sat on the back benches he sometimes used to win the reputation of being an amiable eccentric, however, now that he has moved to the Front Bench he has lost a great deal of his amiability. When he intervened earlier he displayed a carping attitude to everyone else's opinions which was not worthy of an old Etonian—if I may say that on behalf of all old Harrovians present.
I want to deal first with repair and maintenance work in the R.A.F., with special reference to airframe repair and maintenance. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will recall that we have had a number of exchanges on the subject. On 20th January, I put a Question to by hon. Friend. In answer to my supplementary question my hon. Friend said:I hope that there will be a rising trend in the amount of airframe repair work that goes to industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1972; Vol. 829, c. 648.]That is most certainly a hope that I share. On 17th February, I put another Question to my hon. Friend—the one to which the right hon. Member for Aberavon referred. In reply to my original Question, my hon. Friend said:The allocation of repair work is constantly under review and we are always trying to get the balance right.To my supplementary question, my hon. Friend replied:I can only repeat that we are only too anxious to look at every side of this matter." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 600.]I invite my hon. Friend to consider this matter with the needs of the airframe industry on the one side and the capability of the aero-engine industry on the other side very much in his mind. There are two interlinked problems.
799 On 27th January of this year my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary told me, in answer to a Question, that in the course of the last nine years the total work force at R.A.F. engineering maintenance units had risen from about 5,700 in 1962 to just over 9,000 in 1971. He added:The increase in numbers over the period is due to the gradual centralisation of work in Maintenance Command from Operational Units."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1972; Vol. 829, c. 504.]Though no doubt that is true, there is also a strong impression in the industry that the increase in number is due to a growing retention of work in maintenance units of a kind which was formerly sent back to the manufacturers, and this is causing a great deal of alarm to the manufacturing side of the industry.
When I first tabled my Question in January I received a letter from someone in the business warning me that the answer that I might get would paint a rosy picture. He said that whereas statistically the situation might look encouraging for industry it was distorted by the work on the Victor tanker conversions, which is a once-for-all exercise.
He pointed out that it did not make much sense for the R.A.F. to claim operational need to maintain substantial capability within its own control in conditions where the most obvious threat was a very short war but if we were likely to face a war of attrition, there was no doubt that it would be of the greatest importance that adequate capability to back up the R.A.F. should exist inside civilian industry.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
That is just the point, is it not—that the Royal Air Force and its posture predicates a three- or four-day war, that this is equally a reason why there should be no reserves at all, and that it is equally a weakness?
§ Mr. Onslow
I am sure that my hon. Friend will have a chance to develop that argument. If there is to be a three- or four-day war it does not seem to matter very much, operationally, who does the five-day repairs. It is a somewhat academic matter. We might as well let other questions decide our priorities.
The situation seems to sum itself up like this: there is a loss of confidence in 800 the airframe industry in relation to the Air Force attitude to maintenance and repair matters. I am sure that the Minister of State and the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will be aware of this, because they have taken part in many discussions on that subject. I might also point out that the confidence of industry is not increased when work on refurbishing the Air Force VC10s goes to British European Airways.
That is one side of the question. The other is that there is serious evidence of a loss of efficiency to the R.A.F. on the engine side. Anyone who has read the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee will have seen in it some fairly disturbing evidence—among the asterisks —about the state of the Spey engines in the R.A.F. Phantoms. I will not read it out, but Question 1754 paints a fairly alarming picture. In that, the reply from the R.A.F. side contains the following:… there is a just adequate supply of the Spey 202 available to use.That subject has received some prominence in the Press. The Sunday Telegraph had a story about it last week. I believe that it is generally conceded that the story which appeared there is wholly accurate.
Certainly, there seems to be an impression among the journalists who keep an eye on these things that matters in this part of Rolls-Royce have got back to being nearly as bad as they were just before the company collapsed. I do not know whether this is accurate—I hope that my hon. Friend will comment on it —but when people say, "You must not knock Rolls-Royce because they have had a hard time and have only had a year to pick up the pieces," I feel inclined to retort, "A year is a year, and it is about time they had some improvement to show for the way in which they are handling a problem with whose existence they were perfectly familiar and which they should by now have gone some way towards solving."
There is not nearly sufficient centralisation on the company's side in the way in which it tackles the question of R.A.F. engine overhauls. There is no good reason why it should not have a centralised engine overhaul unit for that service. This is something that the company should consider, along with some hatchet-swinging among some of the middle 801 management who have managed to cling on from the bad old days. I have never thought that the top management was necessarily the only blameworthy part of the company.
When this situation is considered, particularly on this engine, we have to remember that this engine is also a product of a Healey-Benn decision—a decision that Phantoms had to be bought for the R.A.F. to make up for all the aircraft of British manufacture which had been cancelled since 1964. All of a sudden, for offset reasons, the inspiration occurred to someone—I know not who, and do not wish to know—that they should take a civil engine, cobble an after-burner on the back and hope for the best. Not surprisingly, bits are now beginning to fly off.
I want to know whether, as a result of the failures which are being experienced with the Spey Phantom, any lives have been lost. I have seen reports of more than one Phantom lost in recent months. I am told that it is unlikely that this failing will cause a fatal accident in flight but again this is something upon which the House has a right to seek reassurance. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that he can answer this. I am sorry if I have seemed flippant in referring to the white heat of modern technology; this is a serious matter and I want it to be taken seriously.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the issue of Rolls-Royce, there was an Adjournment debate at some length on Tuesday night, when the Minister for Aerospace confirmed in some sense some of the things that the hon. Gentleman is saying, which worry all of us. Centralised repair is a highly "specialist job. Some of us went to B.O.A.C. yesterday morning. Anyone who goes there sees the highly specialised nature of working on any engine. It would seem sensible that B.O.A.C., which is doing the VC10 anyway, should do it for the Services too. Does not that commend itself to the hon. Member?
§ Mr. Onslow
I was coming to that point, only in an even broader sense. I do not confine it to the VC10. B.O.A.C. has at Treforst one of the best engine maintenance units in the country. It overhauls American engines for foreign airlines at the kind of speed which should make Rolls-Royce blush with shame. I 802 know of no complaints about its competence in this field. If work is to be put in the way of the nationalised corporations there is no reason why it should not be engine work. There is real scope here for increased professionalism and efficiency.
There is also a trouble about the system itself. Once upon a time I drove tanks with Rolls-Royce engines. If anything went wrong, we had to send for the man from Rolls-Royce who took it all that way back to his base workshops. The message usually came back that the plugs were loose, or something minor of that sort. It occurred to me that that was not very cost-effective. A similar situation prevails in relation to these engines. If an engine goes back to the manufacturer. I suspect that it goes through the whole overhaul process, even if it needs only a sharp tap with a hammer. There are substantial areas here where we could achieve flexibility and economy.
My hon. Friend should change his approach. We should not altogether disparage the idea of running the R.A.F. as a military airline, which is what most European countries do. One of the main anxieties of B.A.C. is that in its co-operation with its French partners in the Jaguar, it has found that the Breguet Company is being set up as the Jaguar maintenance unit for the French Air Force. Not only has that advantages for their Air Force; it also creates a situation in which there is so much more additional capacity in the civil company that B.A.C. will be placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis its competitors if it is not treated in the same way by the R.A.F.
The same thing holds true for other collaborative projects, the M.R.C.A. in particular. Apart from anything else, this should be investigated again by my hon. Friend. I also believe—I respond here to something that the right hon. Member for Aberavon said—that this is the kind of thing that the Public Accounts Committee should be looking at. I prefer that to the Expenditure Committee, because the P.A.C. has the staff which would be needed to conduct an inquiry of this kind, and there is already, I think, a feeling among the membership of that Committee that this is something about which we should be thinking seriously.
803 I refer finally to the Harrier. In doing so I shall not detain the House for long. Two substantial mentions of the Harrier appear in the White Paper. One is on page 14, which talks aboutThe capability of the Harrier … being improved by progressive re-equipment with more powerful marks of Pegasus engine.That mention is encouraging. The next appears earlier, on page 10, where we are told:The courses open include the design of a new aircraft or the development of the operational capability of the existing Harrier for deployment at sea. The former would give a better performance but would cost more and require a longer period of development. These options are now being studied in relation to effectiveness, timing and cost, and to other priorities. The studies are being pressed vigorously forward; but, in view of the potential complexity and cost of the work involved, careful examination of all the issues will be needed before decisions are taken.Perhaps uncharitably, I read that to mean that nothing would happen for 10 years. I was, therefore, heartened to a degree by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy when replying to the defence debate on 24th February last. He said:We have to consider what priority can be given to investment in maritime V/STOL capability as an interim measure as opposed to going for a more long-term measure which might have better export prospects".[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1650.]He went on to say that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were working closely together on that matter, but that their studies would have to continue for some months and he could not say when they would be completed. I am pleased that he intends to inform the House as soon as they are completed.
We seem in the meantime to have a situation in which nobody knows what will happen. There should be much more certainty about the Harrier programme, particularly in view of export prospects across the Atlantic. I understand that the R.A.F. has about 90 aircraft, most of which are fitted with Pegasus 10 engines. The United States Marine Corps has ordered 60, and is said to want a total of 114. Their aircraft will be fitted with the Pegasus 11 engine uprated to 21,000lb. thrust, and that R.A.F.'s aircraft will also be retrofitted with this 804 engine. But if the export market is to be collared we must have a more powerful engine still, and the next and obvious step is to go to a Pegasus 15 engine of 24,500lb. thrust.
Everybody knows this. I cannot understand why these simple and known facts of life should suddenly have thrown everybody into a state of great confusion, with talk of building a wholly new airframe. Although I am not an engineer, I know that one of the golden rules of engineering success is to add lightness. If one can succeed in adding 3,500lb. of thrust cheaply one is adding a great deal of lightness. This, coupled with the need to develop new systems, would seem to be all that needs to be done in this case. I therefore do not understand why high-ranking and well-paid R.A.F. and Royal Navy officers are having to study this matter for six months or more.
We simply need now to get on with developing the existing Harrier. There is a grave danger that if we do not get on the Americans will take it over, if they decide that they like the look of the beast. Then we shall be faced with having to buy it back, and we have been caught that way before.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)
Many of the points that I would have made have already been covered, some by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), particularly in his references to research and development, and others by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) in his references to the MRCA and equipment generally.
It is probably due to the way in which these Estimates are debated that so few hon. Members are in the Chamber—and that applies to both sides of the House. However, this subject is of great interest, not only to members of the Services but to the House and the country. It is to be hoped that some other means will be devised for those who particularly wish to debate these issues, for only by being able really to get to grips with the various items under discussion can we examine them as closely as they should be scrutinised.
When considering the money and resources involved in this Vote one is bound to be reminded of some of the points that 805 were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) in the debate on the White Paper a few days ago. When voting money of this magnitude and when dealing with the sort of resource capability that we have in mind, we must have regard to other factors of our defence policy and consider whether the sums that we are voting could be used in a civilian rather than in a defence rôle.
We are sometimes criticised by people who are concerned with the Armed Forces in this country and overseas for, in their view, curtailing our defence spending, though this year it has increased again. We are, of course, not necessarily weakening our forces. The programme by which we carry out in this country the servicing of R.A.F. aircraft operating in Europe and Germany is a case in point, and leads one to hope that the Services are being reminded of the need for economy and the best use of the resources which this House is prepared to grant them.
Hon. Members who travel abroad through Europe, the Baltic and the Polar regions often come across officers and commanders of our Forces who never seem to desist from reminding one that our defence spending is getting near the bone. In a democratic society, however, it is necessary for this House to relate the needs of the Forces to the other priorities of the nation.
I recall being in Brussels when one of our defence chiefs expressed the fear that our defence spending was getting too low. I told him that he should try to justify his claim for more resources, manpower and equipment in my constituency. After all, hon. Members are also in touch with those who provide the resources and who probably have good reasons for having priorities different from those of the Service chiefs.
I remember telling one defence chief in Brussels that in one of the 82 villages in my constituency there is a school which was built in 1848. Not unreasonably, some of my constituents would rather see that school modernised, if not replaced, than spend more on defence.
Whatever argument we put up, if an aircraft flies overhead someone in the forefront of the protesters will remind us that £4 million or £5 million has 806 gone overhead straightaway—money which could have been well spent in other ways. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said that the world spent 180 billion dollars on killing and defence and only 14 billion dollars on mutual aid. I thought that was relevant. In the North Atlantic Assembly over the last few years we have been very much concerned with a study of some of the trouble spots of the world which tend to make defence spending rise.
Although this spending is preventive in many ways, I regard it as a negative form of spending. I would like to see more done with the N.A.T.O. Ministerial Council to encourage the members of N.A.T.O. to get together to see how they can, by aid and trade, help to eliminate some of the tensions and problems in the Middle East. These particularly arise in Turkey, Greece, Israel, the Arab States, and the Maghreb States. We should see how we can help to get rid of some of the problems there which cause tensions and defence spending to rise in a very negative way. We should bear this point in mind when discussing the allocation of resources in this field.
There is a great need to cut down on the total spending in our defence budget of £2,854 million. Although one recognises that this figure includes a new look at the pay and conditions of the Forces for which my right hon. and hon. Friends in the last Government should be given some credit, continuation of the S.A.L.T. talks and discussions on mutual balanced force reductions are absolutely essential to the future of this country and to Europe in general. If I can switch from the general to the particular, as my right hon. Friend said at the Dispatch Box, there is a great need for a look by the Minister and an indication of the Government's thinking on forward planning.
That is most important, from the point of view not only of defence and the R.A.F. but of our civilian aerospace industry in this country. The hon. Member for Woking referred to the White Paper and the Harrier. I know that my hon. Friends in the House have been pressing for some time for the Government to give a greater indication of their thinking on aerospace generally. That includes not only the civilian but also the military and Air Force aspects.
807 The hon. Member for Woking referred to page 10, from which I would also quote, mentioning the trials of the Harrier on H.M.S. "Ark Royal" during the past year and indicating that the V/STOL aircraft can be operated effectively from a ship's deck. There are no technical or logistic reasons why V/STOL aircraft should not be considered suitable for deployment at sea. I think that the hon. Member was probably right when he talked about contradiction. The statement further mentions the possibility that V/STOL can make a real contribution in this sphere of operations. Yet it says, at the same time:No VSTOL aricraft at present exists with the capability for maritime operations. Employment of VSTOL aircraft in an embarked rôle would, therefore, require a considerable degree of development.The situation varies here from that in the United States, where very often with different aerospace aspects they can develop civilian aircraft much more cheaply because they are using the resources of the defence budget. I think here the development of the Harrier, which has been very successful and which I remember seeing in operation at least three years ago, could be used in the civilian sense in other aspects of V/STOL which we should be getting on with at the present time.
However, the development of V/STOL and the Harrier cannot be looked at in isolation from other aspects where V/STOL could be used in a civilian capacity. This calls for some concerted and co-ordinated thinking not only by the manufacturers on the types of aircraft being developed, such as the Harrier; it also demands from the Government some longer-term and more comprehensive planning in air traffic controls, civilian bases in this country, and liaison with civil engineering and local authorities on both sides of the Channel if we are to make the best use of these projects. There may well be future development in this country for short-range travel as well as in the operational use, to which I have referred, of the Harrier in its maritime capacity.
My right hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the great escalation in research and development spending in the past year and the next few years. I think 808 that many of us in industry would like to see some of the resources of the research and development budget from defence deployed in the civilian rôle as well, because there can be a very dramatic spin-off, which could be used for other purposes with a considerable lowering of costs at the same time.
We should look not only at the civilian aspects of our aerospace programme but also at our defence needs in a more constructive way, and with longer-term planning than at present. The hon. Member for Woking rightly said that there was a great deal of uncertainty in the aircraft industry. From time to time those of us who have a particular interest and experience in it are lobbied by hundreds of people from Manchester, Stockport, Bradford, Derby—all over the country—expressing anxiety about their future and that of their industry. Considering the immense resources of manpower and skills represented in these anxieties, with the need to keep design teams together, the Government should give a far better lead than at the present time. We should look at that aspect of our civilian and defence needs as far as aircraft are concerned.
Many of the anxieties in the aircraft industry, not only amongst workers on the shop floor but in the design teams and management itself, would be allayed if we could think in this way. As a member of the Air League and of the Royal Aeronautical Society and other such institutions, one becomes acutely aware of these anxieties in the criticisms which are rightly levelled at the Government at the lack of long-term policy thinking.
I referred in my speech on aerospace policy planning in the Consolidated Fund debate on 15th December last to the lobbies that we get. The debate ended at about One o'clock in the morning, and I remember being lobbied by workers from Manchester who were rather anxious that the Government was investing money in the Jetstream instead of the HS 748. Then they were anxious that the Government should give orders for Nimrods, and I think that the Minister has already indicated that another squadron of Nimrods will be on the order books.
Although one recognises that these orders on defence spending, as well as civilian spending, indicate longer-term 809 security for those in the industry, the point is that the people who normally talk about cutting down on our defence spending from time to time are thought to be contradictory by demanding orders for Nimrods and similar aircraft. These may be contradictory, but it is really a criticism of the Government that because there is no long-term planning on civilian and defence needs people are apt to back any aircraft which provides them with work, when if we had a long-term look at our industry we could avoid the situation in which people would demand things that they would normally want reduced.
In the speech of the Minister, which I thought contained a number of welcome innovations, reference was made to the increased spending on far better facilities for accommodation in our Forces. We have to recognise that the standard of accommodation and facilities for people in the Forces—both single and married —as well as their leisure activities, must be at least comparable with those which they would get in civilian life. I welcome the improvement here. I recall the representations that I have received from some of my constituents working in Germany who are critical about their houses, which are sometimes many miles away from their places of work. They are anxious to have accommodation nearer to their workplace.
§ Lord Lambton
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is necessary to improve housing accommodation. We have that very much in mind.
§ Mr. Bishop
I note the Minister's comments. I also noted with amusement, if not interest, the reference to the use of the parade ground for a car park, which reflects some credit on my hon. and right hon. Friends for the improvements in pay and conditions which have enabled more people in the Forces to have that kind of transport and to make better use of the parade ground, which was an unfortunate image of the unnecessary discipline with which the R.A.F. was once associated.
This shows a new change of thinking. I notice that there are about 20,000 officers compared with about 93,000 other ranks—which looks like one officer for every three or four other ranks. That demonstrates the great need for integration in this sophisticated and technical Service.
810 I come now to some constituency points. I refer first to the remarks the Minister made about Cranwell, and the new training facilities. The Minister made a statement this afternoon about the redeployment there, not only about the type of aircraft, but also the location of training bases. Perhaps in summing up he will say something about the future of R.A.F. Syerston, on the edge of my constituency. This has concerned me for some time, since my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was Secretary of State for Defence, when he declared that this base was not likely to be used in future.
While the future needs are being assessed the base is being maintained on a care-and-maintenance basis. I hope that the Minister will deal with this and, if it is to be used in future, say what his plans are. If it is to be used only partially, will he say whether any resources —housing land or other facilities—might be made available to local authorities in the area who urgently need such facilities? A number of authorities in the Newark area, including Southwell R.D.C. and the Notts County Council, as well as Bingham—which is just outside my constituency—are anxious to use these facilities. If the Minister can say which facilities will be wanted it will be most welcome.
I am pleased to note the investigation which goes on with equipment. I was pleased to note that the White Paper, in paragraph 12, states thatBritain has taken a leading part in the activities of the Eurogroup from its inception, including its specialised sub-groups which are exploring the possibilities of closer European co-operation in logistics, communications, training medical facilities and arms procurement.That is a good thing, which must continue if we are to make the best use of our resources and assure the public that their money for defence is being spent in the best way.
As one who has seen the Services—particularly the R.A.F.—in operation in various parts of the world, I add my praise for those officers and men who make their contribution, often at great danger and risk to themselves, and, to the discomfort of their families. It is right that some words of appreciation and pride should come from this Chamber. I hope that the rôle of the R.A.F. and all our 811 Services in future can be taken as part of a wider effort, especially by our N.A.T.O. partners, to see whether our resources can be used in a more constructive and positive way by ridding the world—and the Middle East, in particular—of some of the problems which cause tensions to rise, and defence spending with them. This teamwork will help our people to realise that we are doing all we can to ensure that the demands of defence are kept to a minimum and facilities deployed in the best way.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) will forgive me if I do not follow him along the lines of his argument but instead join with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) in congratulating the Minister on his order for the Jetstream aircraft for the R.A.F. in place of the Varsity. Many of us who have watched the fortunes of the aircraft were particularly pleased to see it come through so many trials and tribulations to this order and I hope that this may also mean a considerable civilian order book.
I should like to welcome too the Hawker Siddeley 1182 as a training aircraft because it is clearly a good thing for the R.A.F. to have British aircraft. To think that two new British aircraft will soon come into service cheers me up very much.
During this debate perhaps we have been over-congratulating ourselves on the front line and super modern quality of the aircraft we now have in the R.A.F., so if I strike a slightly discordant note I hope that my hon. Friend will follow my reasoning. Looking at the list of aircraft in the defence estimates one is struck by the fact that a number of the aircraft in various commands have been around for a long time. To say just when they first went on the drawing-board would probably be difficult. If we think of the Canberra or the Victor we are going back to the 1950s although I know some of the Canberras in Service have been produced between 1966–68. There are, however, some of these aircraft in service with Strike Command which go back to the 1950s.
I suggest that for some of our front line aircraft to be as much as perhaps 812 20-year-old does not speak of their modernity. We should surely be ready with replacements by now. The Victor aircraft is in the same position. Although the White Paper makes something of the fact that the Victor Mark II is being developed for the tanker rôle and that the Shackleton will be our airborne early warning aircraft I would remind hon. Gentlemen that the Victor is 18 years old and the Shackleton 20 years. This is not to say that these aircraft do not have a long Service life ahead of them. I cannot help feeling that to consider them as front-line aircraft when we know of the enormous advances made in aircraft design in the last 20 years is to expect rather a lot. I commend the idea that we should be thinking of rather more modern aircraft to take the rôles of the Canberra and Victor. The Jaguar will come along quite soon I hope, to take over the reconnaissance rôle of the Canberra, and could I suggest that further Nimrods might be brought in to take over the Victor's rôle, both its reconnaissance and its tanker task.
After all, we have already had reference in the course of the debate to the excellence of the Nimrod aircraft and, again, I think we are all aware that it has prospects of overseas orders, although one has to admit that those prospects take a long time coming. However, this only emphasises the point that the more Nimrods we bring into service with the Royal Air Force the longer the production line remains open, and the longer the production line remains open, the more chance there is of picking up the orders that must surely come its way.
Lastly on this particular part of my speech, I want to raise the question of airfield defence and again one refers to an old weapon system, the Bloodhound. Indeed, one is irresistibly forced to the conclusion that the Bloodhound is getting long in the tooth and one is inclined to ask whether Bloodhound is really capable of the task for which it is being used or should we be looking for a new system to do its job. I should be very grateful if my hon. Friend could find something to say in his winding-up speech about these points.
From weaponry I should like to turn once again to the vexed question of Linesman/Mediator. First, I should like 813 to say how grateful I am for the statement already made by my hon. Friend in the course of this debate. However, if I still have one or two questions in my mind that is not to underestimate what we have been told but merely to seek clarification, because I think we recognise that the Linesman part of the Mediator system, that is, the air defence part, is pretty crucial to the air defences of this country. I also think the allegations published recently in the Daily Express under the name of Mr. Chapman Pincher, deserve very careful answers. I, personally, feel that Mr. Chapman Pincher got most of what he wrote from an excellent paper recently read by Air Vice Marshal Crew, Deputy Controller of the National Air Traffic Control Services, reproduced in The Aeronautical Journal in January. Be that as it may, the questions that Mr. Pincher posed, and indeed the Genesis of Linesman itself, raise a number of questions in my mind which I shall seek to outline.
I understand that Linesman dates from approximately 1961 from a recommendation made by a working party under the chairmanship of the Inspector General of the Royal Air Force. The recommendation from that working party was that the radar coverage and the data-processing requirements for air defence and air traffic control were sufficiently similar to warrant the integration of the two plans, and from that concept came the joint Linesman air defence and Mediator air traffic control system. But according to the Air Vice Marshal by 1965—during the period of the last administration, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) is listening to every word I say—it became obvious —and I am quoting the Air Vice Marshal —that it would not all be just as simple as that recommendation. He goes on:Although the requirements of civil and military air traffic control and of air defence looked similar, in that they concerned the use of air space, used radar data and were suitable for the appliction of on line data processing, they were in fact by no means the same.He details the difficulties which had to be faced and then he says:By 1969 it was obvious that the demands of the radar data processing system had been seriously underestimated.814 I want for a moment to break off, Mr. Speaker, because during the defence debate last week I tried to catch your eye, unsuccessfully, but I did interject during the remarks of the right hon. Member for Aberavon that he had a responsibility for the system, and he threw back at me, "When did you come into the House?" I came in 1969 and I can say, as I did during the Defence debate that I do not recall him telling the House about the shortcomings in Linesman. However to return to the remarks of Air Vice Marshal Crew. He goes on to say:There would certainly be no spare capacity…in the system… over and above air defence needs, so that the system as planned could not also meet the needs of Mediator.He finally makes the point that Linesman/Mediator had in fact proved to have such shortcomings that it could meet either the Civil Controlled Air-space task or the military off-route requirements for the Middle Airspace but not both.
From the Minister's statement made this afternoon, it is clear that the system is in fact being re-vamped and improved, but my questions are these:
Since 1969 why has the House not been told of any of the shortcomings in the Linesman system? Certainly such questions as have been tabled—and very many of those were tabled by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield)—produced what one can only describe as bromide answers with no hint of the problem that the system is now facing. Also I wonder why the last Administration, or even the present one, did not see fit, in any Defence White Paper, to point out the problems that were going to have to be faced. But, be that as it may, the questions that now seem pertinent—and I will list them if I may—are the following:
How serious are the shortcomings in the Linseman system and does it still constitute an effective air defence system? Has its cost escalated beyond the £78 million estimated for it in 1962 and, if that cost has escalated, by how much? When was the system first found to be wanting, and why was no statement made to the House? Can the Linesman system now be made really effective and, if not, what alternative air defence radar system are we going to use in the future?
815 Again, I hope my hon. Friend will forgive my criticism, but Air Vice Marshal Crew's is somewhat less complacent than my hon. Friend's statement this afternoon. While the Air Vice Marshal refers to R.A.F. controllers beginning work at West Drayton in a new operations room, he tells us that the system has had to be modified and he speaks of "some very serious setbacks". He refers to interim measures and of the next phase of development taking us into the 80s, eight years hence. What happens in those eight years when this country will still need an air defence system? If he can find time in his closing speech to comment on some of the questions and, perhaps, provide answers I shall be very grateful.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I want to refer briefly to the question of the R.A.F.'s facilities at its airfields and stations, and in particular to a visit which I paid to the Royal Ar Force station at St. Athan with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). The first point I want to make relates to married quarters. The feeling at St. Athan was that there was still a considerable scarcity of married quarters and that today when the Serviceman's wife absolutely is part of his total environment as never before. She travels with him very much as the field-marshal's baton used to travel in a soldier's knapsack; married quarters are part and parcel of the attraction of the Services and also of the overall wellbeing of the Serviceman.
My second point relates to the problem of married Servicemen and the need for the Ministry of Defence to give rather better notice than has been the case when a serviceman is going to be posted away from his present station. This means, after all, his taking up the roots of his home and putting them down somewhere else; and since this is often a problem, even for those in civilian life, clearly the longer the warning the happier the serviceman.
Another, which I suspect may have relevance to other airfields and Royal Air Force stations is the need for improved airfield security. I could find nothing in the White Paper which refers to the R.A.F. police or to the military police, but obviously in this debate I shall concentrate my remarks on the R.A.F. police.
816 At St. Athan one heard that the R.A.F. police was 60 per cent. under strength, that career prospects in that branch of the Service were extremely unattractive and that many R.A.F. policemen find themselves with too many duties to perform. That in turn produces the low morale which comes from the weary and bored Serviceman. At a time when we are all aware of the need for increased security in the United Kingdom—and I am thinking of the I.R.A. bombing at Aldershot—we are clearly running considerable risks if we do not have sufficient policemen in and around R.A.F. stations to protect them and their airfields.
I should also be extremely grateful if my hon. Friend would comment on those points.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
First, I apologise to the Minister for having been absent at the beginning of his speech. We sometimes complain about the miserable attendance at these debates, although it is by no means unique in defence debates. At present, that is partly explained by the fact that about 200 hon. Members, including myself, are engaged on the Committee Floor. The public who see these debates should not go away with the impression that we are the only group of persons who are working in the building at this time.
I am particularly glad to be speaking after the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) because he referred to the Royal Air Force station at St. Athan. That station is in my constituency and I have visited it. The hon. Member will agree that it was a very worthwhile visit. It was the sort of Service visit which illustrates graphically the change which is coming about in the Armed Forces. I would certainly back the Minister in his claims of improved facilities for persons living-in on the camp. We saw some very impressive blocks of accommodation. I can help the Minister—not that he needs my help —in answering the hon. Member about married quarters. A very ambitious building programme for married quarters is about to be undertaken at Royal Air Force St. Athan, and I understand that there is no change in the situation and that the programme will go ahead. When it comes about, it will mean a radical improvement there.
817 I share the concern of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East about the comparative dearth of Royal Air Force police. This was mentioned during our visit. But in a sense, my puzzlement is greater than his about this matter, because consequent upon our visit I put down a Question to the Minister about the recruiting short-fall in Royal Air Force police. I was told that there was no short-fall. That surprised me greatly. It means one of two things, I suspect: either that the establishment of R.A.F. police for stations like St. Athan is inadequate, in which case I should be glad of the Minister's attention in redrawing that, or that there is a sufficiency of R.A.F. police somewhere but that they are not getting through to St. Athan. The problem which I can illustrate to the Minister is not only that of defence of the airfield but also the question of the inevitable vandalism and petty acts which occur, particularly on a station which has a training function, such as St. Athan, and consequently has a lot of young men on it. Those to whom we spoke were very concerned about the problem and the lack of adequate cover which they felt they had over this matter.
It does not stop at being merely an internal matter because the discipline, the supervision they have on the station, in turn affects their behaviour off the camp and that, in turn, affects the good relationship which exists between the civilian population in the area and the R.A.F. authorities.
My second point about St. Athan is that a change has come about in its function and its projected function. Until December it was projected that the servicing of Buccaneer aircraft would be transferred to St. Athan, or at least a very major part of that servicing. Now there has been a decision that the largest share of that servicing will be continued at Sydenham, Belfast. I say right away that I accept the rightness of that decision in view of the job losses which would otherwise occur in a province hard hit not only by civil disorder but by the constant spectre of unemployment. Therefore, I make no criticism of that decision. But the Under-Secretary will know that there was some talk consequent upon his announcement of reducing personnel at the station, and there are other minor uncertainties. I was glad that in correspondence he was good enough to fill me 818 in with a number of details and reassure me upon a number of points. But I hope that he will be able to make a firm announcement as soon as possible about whether any reduction in personnel or tasks at R.A.F. St. Athan is contemplated so that all the uncertainties will be cleared up.
The Buccaneer aircraft will be serviced at Sydenham by civilians, whereas at St. Athan it was projected that this would be done by Service personnel. I make a constituency point here, as well as a point concerning the Service. What has happened illustrates that giving some tasks to civilians does not affect the Service too greatly. If it is decided at some later date to transfer Buccaneer servicing to St. Athan, I hope that the Minister will draw on the lessons of the Sydenham experiment by bearing in mind that my area, too, is one of high unemployment and that a shared civilian and Service rôle would provide much needed jobs in the area. The decision about Sydenham illustrates that the Forces and the Ministers in charge of the Forces have to be increasingly aware of the social repercussions of their decisions. The Sydenham decision was taken because of the unemployment problem.
That leads me to the subject of recruiting. I noted what the Minister said about recruiting. I address my remarks in particular to re-engagement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) said that there tends to be at times in the Services an imbalance of structure in the N.C.O. grades. I have had a number of cases from my constituency of people serving in the Forces who have now been refused an extension of service, that is, from their original engagement on to 22 years service because of the numbers in their trade and the year in which they happened to enter. The Minister will know that I have taken up correspondence with him on a number of these cases.
May I illustrate a serious problem which now exists in a case in which I have not and cannot write to the Minister, because I have been approached by the wife of a serving N.C.O. whose husband knows nothing about her approach to me. She wrote to me in an anxiety borne of a desperate worry about a refusal to allow a re-engagement. The man in question was a sergeant, a Halton-trained 819 apprentice, who applied for an extension of service from 15 years to 22 years. He has been refused. In itself, that is a blow to the pride of a conscientious N.C.O. He is bewildered at feeling unwanted. The decision has had severe effects upon his gratuity and the pension. The outside world he faces at the age of 40 is one in which unemployment is high and his efforts to obtain a post to succeed his Service career so far have failed. This man has proved his loyalty to the Service and his ability by attaining his present rank and by his length of service. He is an angry and apprehensive man and his domestic life is suffering, I am informed, because of the strain. I ask the Under-Secretary to recognise some obligation to these long-serving N.C.O.s who, because of an accident of year of entry and choice of trade, are faced with being pushed out into civilian life and the spectre of unemployment.
The question has been raised this afternoon of anxiety over future recruiting, although it is good at the moment. I always understood that the most effective recruiting advertisement was the satisfied Serviceman. The Minister should ponder the effect of a band of these fairly senior N.C.O.s who have dedicated themselves to the Service, being put out into civilian life and to ponder the effect they would have on recruiting. They should be the best recruiters, telling their friends and their friends' children what the Services are like. But if a man leaves the Services angry and embittered the effect he could cause on recruiting would be wholly deleterious.
I should like to suggest a solution, but I admit I have no knowledge as to its practicability because I do not know how many men are in this position. Could the Minister look at the prospect of re-engagement, if necessary with a remustering from their existing trades? If the numbers are such that they would not cause a drain on the Service budget, it would be a good gesture by the R.A.F. at a time of economic trouble and it would cast it in a favourable light.
I very much agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in what I took to be an answer to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) about the servicing of aircraft. Here again I am in a fortunate 820 position because I can speak about the B.O.A.C. factory at Treforest which is in my constituency. It is a very efficient factory which has a high standard of speedy service and I hope the Minister will look at the suggestion by my hon. Friend in his intervention.
Finally, I come to the R.A.F.'s rôle abroad. The Defence White Paper on page 17 refers to the Air Force personnel serving in Oman. As we understand it, they are there to fulfil treaties which are, apparently, simple treaties. Their rôle is that of training and defence. But reports are appearing in the newspapers which are giving rise to anxiety about what is happening in Oman. We have read about the deaths of two air Service personnel and of four others being wounded. I understand that there are about 100 to 150 Service personnel in the area—I do not claim inside knowledge; I merely quote the newspaper reports. Their rôle is projected as concerned with training and defence, but The Times Beirut correspondent reported two killed in an offensive.
What exactly is the rôle of the R.A.F. Regiment and the other R.A.F. units in Oman at the moment? Have they been involved in any of the casualties which have apparently occurred there? The Minister or someone in the Defence Department ought now to comment upon what the Sunday Times and the Observer have called "Britain's Secret War in the Gulf". It is time, if British Service personnel are being drawn into engagement, that the House of Commons knew what was going on and was fully and freely informed.
It is too fanciful to equate this with Vietnam, but I ask the Under-Secretary at least to read the lesson of Vietnam, because that too started with the Americans in an advisory and training rôle and they gradually became more and more deeply involved. Until the Under-Secretary can assure us on this, our fears for the R.A.F. and the other Service personnel are that there will be a deeper commitment to that particular area.
That said, I add my tribute to the Service men who are not only of high spirit and service but who have enormous expertise in what is now a highly technical and professional branch of the Services. They deserve our admiration.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
If I do not follow the measured remarks of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) I hope he will forgive me. I express a word of commiseration to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the accidents of the parliamentary timetable which led to the presentation of his first Estimates last year on the first day back after the Easter Recess and this year after an all-night talk-in in which the thorns crackled loudly under a well-stirred pot. It is all the more ironic because voting defence funds is historically the most important function of the House and yet we cannot muster more than a handful of hon. Members to our debate. To mis-quote Sir Walter Raleigh most cruelly, "Those that were most lavish of words last night are most niggardly in action today".
Last year my hon. Friend, in a wide-ranging speech which is well worth rereading, examined the purpose of the Royal Air Force. He urged the House not to close its eyes to events in Europe where the Soviet Union had increased its financial expenditure by about 30 per cent. in the past five years. Even that was a conservative estimate, because it omitted the Space and science votes from which technical developments in missiles, radar and electronics have been made which are of immense significance to the Soviet Air Force. He said:One has only to look at the Soviet forces which exist, not only on the Western front, but also on the flanks and in reserve, to see that vast numbers of men and machines, greatly out-numbering those in N.A.T.O., could be brought into the front line in a comparatively short time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1971; Vol. 815, c. 844.]As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State pointed out on 23rd February this year, the Soviet Union:… has achieved now a rough numerical parity in terms of strategic nuclear delivery systems. Of even greater concern to us, though, is the fact that they have been able to build up very powerful conventional forces." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1313.]In my own words in that same debate I summed up the challenge facing the Royal Air Force and N.A.T.O. by saying that the Soviet Air Force probably hadthe most flexible instrument of mobile blitzkrieg in the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1560.]822 The invasion of Czechoslovakia, which was greatly facilitated by the stealthy arrival of the great Antonov transports unloading their comradely complement of Red Army personnel and K.G.B. men, is not the only example. The Soviet Air Transport Force has shown its airlift capability in military build-ups in Egypt, Yemen and India and, briefly, to the Sudan.
In Egypt, the most sophisticated air defence system outside the two main power blocs has been established. From six bases, 15 squadrons of Mig 21s operate with Russian crews, and intrusions of Mig 23s into Israeli air space have occurred from these bases. Tu 16 Badger long-range maritime reconnaissance-bomber aircraft have constantly shadowed and menaced the most vital elements of Western power in the Mediterranean, the two attack carrier groups of the United States Six Fleet, and in recent days Soviet air patrols have extended west as far as Corsica.
In our own air space, Royal Air Force Strike Command had to perform about 300 live interceptions of Soviet intruders last year, the highest number to date.
With a manpower strength just under 500,000 and an inventory of 10,200 aircraft the Soviet Airforce, not to mention that of its client Warsaw Pact partners in Eastern Europe, is a force able to undertake every gradation of offensive operations, from the nuclear end of the spectrum to parading the outward and visible signs of an expanding political presence. Physical and geographical obstacles to a Warsaw Pact advance diminish before an airlift capability of three to four airborne divisions. With a force of about 5,000 transports and helicopters, the Soviets' potential air superiority over the battlefield could be of dominating significance. It is all the more crucial that we deny to them that dominance since they have a superiority over the West of three to one in armour and a similar amount in manpower on the central fronts. Here, where our own component, Royal Air Force Germany, is assigned to the 2nd Allied Tactical Airforce, the Warsaw Pact has a superiority of seven to one in interceptors, which would be the deciding element in any air war in which we as a defensive alliance cannot chose either the time or the place.
823 The situation would indeed be grim were not many current developments in train which enhance the capabilities of the Royal Air Force. The Service has gained immeasurably from the period of stability that my noble Friend the Secretary of State so rightly took pride in when he presented his White Paper to the other place on 22nd February. Uncertainty, precipitate changes of policy, notably in the earlier years of the last Administration, had the result of sapping morale, inhibiting effective planning and causing hiatuses in training and procurement. Now the Royal Air Force can look forward to its essentially European rôle with confidence. The 1,000 million dollar European Defence Improvements Programme of 1970 will enhance its operational efficiency. It is true that there are still insufficient N.A.T.O. airfields compared with the Warsaw Pact. Hardening can never be a satisfactory substitute for dispersal or—preferably, operationally speaking—first strike. None the less, the Royal Air Force is acquiring a formidable trio in Harrier, Jaguar and the M.R.C.A.
In the defence debate I said that we must go wholeheartedly for V/STOL. I stand by that judgment, although to give it its fullest weight I should say that the potential of the concept will be fully realised only when it is allied to resupply in the field by heavy-lift helicopters. Nevertheless, by dispersal retaliatory potential can be maximised through V/STOL, and hence deterrence also. If the vulnerability can be minimised through V/STOL, the flexibility and indivisibility of airpower can also be exploited.
To carry that exploitation of airpower further, we should take into account potential inter-operability of V/STOL types from suitable platforms at sea. This highlights a stark reality, the tragedy of the Royal Air Force's pyrrhic victory over naval airpower. It having politically torpedoed in the mid-1960s the aircraft carrier as the main instrument of Britain's global strategy, in favour of land-based tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, the total aerial support of the Fleet had to be pledged by the Royal Air Force, while the eyes and teeth of the Fleet, the fixed-wing element of Fleet Air Arm, was to be killed by political fiat.
824 When, in search of further economies, the last Government took away the Royal Air Force's long-range, East of Suez, oceanic strike rôle, not only did they necessarily cause the cancellation of TSR2 and the F111, but when they accepted a more modest Air Staff requirement for tactical strike and reconnaissance in the European rôle, upon which the A.F.V.G. and later the M.R.C.A. evolved, the Air Staff did not have the magnanimity to yield over fixed-wing naval aviation. The Royal Navy was to get no quid pro quo for the loss of the strike carriers, unless we take into account the Polaris strategic delivery systems. This was notwithstanding the global expansion of the increasingly missile-equipped Soviet Navy and Soviet Naval Air Arm and experience in a number of exercises of our own air forces operating in support of the Fleet at extremities of range. If all the sterility of the arguments from 1918 to 1937 has been avoided, it is because of the Government's decision to retain "Ark Royal" in commission until 1978, to be succeeded by through-deck cruisers with at least V/STOL potential.
The options are therefore left open, and while I welcome the rationalisation of shore support logistics and training of naval air squadrons, which is increasingly in train, I hope that the historic lessons of the period from 1st April, 1918 to the Inskip Award of 1936 have not all been forgotten, and that a Fleet Air Arm including fixed-wing squadrons, predominantly Navy-manned, can be retained for the years ahead. This is as much in the interests of the Royal Air Force as of the Royal Navy. The R.A.F. in particular is bound to have areas of higher priority than organic air support of the Fleet.
There are other factors that augur well for the strength of the Royal Air Force. First, I put great emphasis on the value placed upon training. As the Israeli and Pakistan Air Forces have shown against their predominantly Russian-equipped and trained Egyptian and Indian adversaries respectively, there is still no substitute for superlative training allied to practical leadership and clear decision-making in air operations. These can still outweigh superior numbers and even more sophisticated equipment. In the recent Indo-Pakistan war in particular, 825 the Pakistanis, although their Chinese-supplied Mig 19s were outclassed in performance by the Soviet-supplied Mig 21s of the Indian Air Force, gave a very good account of themselves. This was in spite of the use by the Indians of Soviet-supplied airborne control aircraft to direct Indian offensive air operations against targets in Pakistan, and in spite of the deployment by the Indians of surface-to-air missile defences.
I note that another review of officer training has taken place. I particularly welcome the amalgamation of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, and the Royal Air Force College of Air Warfare. The more closely graduate trainees are brought into contact with experienced serving officers and a wide variety of aircraft, the better. I have always welcomed the drive towards a higher level of educational attainment among officer entrants. In my small way, I perhaps pioneered it. However, I have felt that we could combine university opportunity with the best professional training in the Service academies while giving a grounding in an inter-Service cadet establishment. That has been my hope. It is not yet realised, but I hope that it will be in the years ahead.
I hope also that our graduate trainees receive sufficient professional training in leadership, in discipline and the indoctrination of a loyalty to the service at any early age.
On the equipment side of the flying-training pattern I would like to know more. From the obviously authoritative article in Flight of 13th January, 1972, I gather that the Bulldogs are to succeed the Chipmunks in the sixteen university air squadrons. I would ask my hon. Friend whether they are to re-equip the 13 air experienced flights. Also, when the Jet Provosts are phased out, and the 1182s enter service will the SM260 be chosen, as I have consistently advocated, to be a basic trainer to lead into the 1182? These aircraft and the 1182 would be ideal common equipment for the reserve.
As my noble Friend has acknowledged, it is valuable if the weapon capability for the 1182 can be used as augmentation of the fighting capacity of the service in time of emergency or war. Some seem to think that when I have advocated 826 the expansion of the reserves that I do so for reasons of nostalgia. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) last year were irrationally obsessed with what they imagined as the Trechardian overtones of mly proposals. They were sympathetic to the call of exclusive professionalism uttered by my noble Friend. "The days of the Battle of Britain when a pilot could go into combat after a few hours' training were gone", it was exclaimed. He would have been gone for ever in the Battle of Britain with just a few hours' training! None the less, I hope that the still small voice of logic was not drowned by the thunder of the imaginary Rolls-Royce Merlins and the call to scramble on the headphones—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think it was rather offensive. We must concentrate on the issue which is that in the days when the R.A.F. was involved in the Battle of Britain it cost very little money and aeroplanes were comparatively simple. Now we are talking about highly sophisticated aircraft. I do not think the hon. Member would deny the figure of a quarter of a million to train a fast jet pilot.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I do not deny any of those figures, but if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to pursue my argument he will be able to draw it together.
My noble Friend said last year:For a reserve pilot to be useful today he must be efficient and perfectly trained.What I say is that it is not necessary to be perfectly trained to be useful. There is a function for people with a lower level of skill. That is all I am saying. He chose the example of the Harrier and two years before the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) chose the examples of the Lightning, the Phantom and the Buccaneer in answering my suggestion.
All I was suggesting was a modest re-equipment of the existing air experienced flights with modest and cheap aircraft or helicopters, whatever the Air Staff deem appropriate to fulfil secondary duties 827 like mini-coin, air experience, communications, primary training, light attack, search and rescue and aid to the civil power.
It would be an expansion of what my noble Friend called the "civilianisation" of the Royal Air Force, an attempt to move away from outmoded military concepts and to break away from a static military outlook and image, and to offer nationwide an opportunity to serve within the Royal Air Force on a part-time basis. The trouble is that the service becomes ever more professional, ever more introverted and is located in fewer and fewer places. It is a recognition, to quote my hon. and noble Friend again, that looking into the 1980s and beyond we should aim to increase the numbers by accepting less sophistication in some areas rather than relying totally on a wholly sophisticated Air Force".
Furthermore, although quite rightly in 1967 we accepted a policy of flexible response, and this justifies every penny we spend on the Royal Air Force, it does seem odd to say the least that we are so resolutely, as far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, denying ourselves without reserves the instruments and capabilities of flexible response which could be demanded in a protracted and costly although limited conflict. The Royal Air Force is still totally wedded to the concept of the three or four day war. It is wedded to the philosophy of Foster Dulles and the doctrines of massive nuclear retaliation of the bomber barons of the late 1950s and early 1960s, much more than to the realities of graduated deterrence in an era of nuclear parity and overwhelming Soviet conventional military power. How else can proposals which are financially so undemanding in scope, which would improve Royal Air Force recruiting and make a modest contribution to its ability to expand, be so lightly dismissed?
In a Vote which I otherwise commend to the House, making provision as it does for a Service which is invaluable to the nation and is in good shape and good heart, I must in conclusion draw attention to the mere £3 million allocated for the Royal Air Force Reserves. This is as opposed to the £150 million for Service pensions or £290 million for what the hon. and learned Member for Northamp- 828 ton (Mr. Paget) calls the tethered goat of B.A.O.R., or £171 million for local administration or even £41 million for the territorial army. If an Air National Guardsman in the United States can operate a sophisticated aircraft of supersonic performance on operations, there is no reason why more limited functions should not be fulfilled by keen part-timers in this country.
To sum it all up, if nothing else, the Eurocentricity of our strategic posture, and the ever-growing pressure of manpower costs upon budgets that diminish in real terms, must induce eventually an agonising reappraisal if equipment programmes and procurement costs are not going to suffer. It is for that reason above all that I have made these suggestions about the Reserve. I commend the Defence Votes to the House.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
When one listens to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. John Wilkinson) one always realises that he brings a great deal of enthusiasm, expertise and knowledge to the debates. One recognises that what we have gained in these debates in the House is obviously the loss of the Air Force which previously was able to enjoy his services.
I feel a little humble about intervening in this debate, representing as I do a constituency which contains one of the principal naval bases in the country. Therefore, I want to limit my observations to two or three small, practical points.
May I start by adding my congratulation and thanks to all those who served the nation so effectively and conscientiously within the Air Force, and add a special word of appreciation for the humanitarian services which the Air Force provides outside its main responsibilities, and which it carries out so cheerfully. Sometimes these are more dramatic, but in the case of my own constituency I have regularly seen the Air Force at work helping to rescue yachtsmen and others who find themselves in difficulties in the Solent. This is as vital and practical a service to the community which should not go unnoticed. I sometimes wonder, quite frankly, what the economics of the operation really are, and how far—whatever contributions may be made—this is a 829 taxpayers' subsidy to support those who are able to afford the sport.
The two practical points on which I really want to concentrate briefly this evening are these. First of all, in Question Time I have been able to ask the Minister opposite about the possibility of his taking the initiative in co-ordinating discussions in the South Hampshire and West Sussex area about the development of civil and military airport facilities. I and the people I represent have noted with appreciation his fairly positive response to the questions that have been put. There is now a degree of urgency about the situation, because the local authority in Portsmouth has decided to phrase out completely the local civic airport and, with the rapid development of population and, we hope, economic activity within this geographical area, there is obviously a need to reach long-term rational solutions which ensure that this community has the best possible services. In terms of the problems of air traffic control and of noise and pollution, it would be sensible to consider joint usage by the Royal Air Force and civil airlines where this can be successfully negotiated.
This conclusion in the context of the area which I know best, leads me to suggest that perhaps, with the constant development of domestic civilian air services, there is a case for far more initiative by the Minister's department in seeing how and to what extent greater co-ordination can be achieved throughout the country, thereby achieving economy in the interests of tax payers, rate payers and all.
My second point concerns welfare and humanitarian aspects of life within the Service. I think we all agree that happy family life is of profound significance for the morale of serving personnel. Therefore, one cannot devote too much attention to the welfare and family services which are at the disposal of personnel in the Royal Air Force and other Services.
I am concerned about a problem with which I have been confronted in recent weeks and on which I should like to hear the Minister's thinking. Basically, I think we would all agree that Service life puts special strains upon families, although perhaps not so much in the Royal Air Force as in the Royal Navy. 830 If statistical analysis were undertaken, it would probably be found that there is a proportionately higher rate of family break-up within the Services than within the rest of society. If a family does unfortunately break up, a wife and children can suddenly find themselves projected into an acute personal crisis in terms of their housing needs. The Service Ministers should look seriously at this problem.
I have in mind a particular family which has sadly broken up. The wife and children are to be evicted from their Service quarters at Ruislip. They have been told that they qualify for consideration for local authority housing only in the London Borough of Hillingdon, because that is where they are at present residing, and that there is a five-year waiting list before they have any hope of accommodation. However, the mother and children want to return to their real home, which is my city of Portsmouth and, despite all the activities of the Service welfare organisations, the firm reply has come from the local authority in Portsmouth that there is no question of putting them even on to the waiting list because they do not fulfil the residential qualifications. If we recognise that Service families contribute to the well being, effectiveness and morale of the Service, we must also recognise that we have a special responsibility to the families as well as to the serving military personnel at times of family crisis.
I dare say that in the midst of all the wider policy considerations this must seem a very small point, but I hope it will not be overlooked. I ask the Minister whether an imaginative and progressive Service like the R.A.F. could not take some initiative in getting together with other Government Departments to ensure that where a family crisis of this kind arises, as it does, not infrequently, as a result of the special Service pressures, action can be taken on an inter-departmental basis to ensure that we do not have a situation in which, as the mother said to me recently—The boys, aged five and six, have already lost their father; they should not have to lose their mother as well.This will inevitably happen if, as seems to be the only practical solution at the moment, the mother is compelled to go into hostel accommodation and the children to a children's home.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Like the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), I had not intended to intervene in the debate, particularly as I had a good innings in the defence debate. On looking at the rather empty benches which are no doubt a reflection of our activities last night and early this morning, however, I felt that a few moments might be justified.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West mentioned air-sea rescue. Taking up that theme, I say to the Under-Secretary of State that the Ministry of Defence, with other Ministries—such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—should give consideration to a form of coastguard service to look after air-sea rescue, fishery protection—which will be particularly important when the new limits are introduced—and pollution of the sea. If the Services contributed towards such a service within a civilian coastguard organisation, we might be able to provide one organisation to perform those three functions. That would be of great use to the community and to the Royal Air Force, because helicopters would play an important part in such an organisation.
I intervene to ask a few questions about the newer maritime rôle of the Royal Air Force. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend and the Government on the order for more Nimrods. These aircraft are probably among the most important in the R.A.F., and lead the world in maritime reconnaissance capabilities, which is absolutely vital, not only for this country but for N.A.T.O., at a time when the Soviet Navy—both surface and submarine—is expanding so rapidly. I hope that the new order will allow the production line to continue for sufficient time for Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia, and also South Africa, to consider whether they, too, will purchase these aircraft. The West would gain very much if these three countries had a common aircraft for the purpose of maritime surveillance. I think that everyone will agree that the Nimrod is far in advance of the American Lockheed Orion and the Breguet Atlantique, which are possible rivals but relatively obsolescent compared with Nimrod.
I have always believed, as have hon. Members on both sides of the House, 832 that it was the intention of the last Labour Government and the present Government as far as possible to have cross-operation between Royal Naval aircraft and R.A.F. aircraft in the maritime rôle. Admittedly, there is to be only one, or possibly two, carriers left in the Royal Navy, but the Americans have a number of aircraft carriers, and so have the French, and there will be a requirement for some time to come, certainly until the 1980s, for R.A.F. aircraft to land on the decks of aircraft carriers. I understand that that was the intention of previous Governments.
It came as a shock to me to learn only the other day that, in considering the Phantoms and the Buccaneers this may not be possible. Taking first the Phantoms, those that were ordered for the R.A.F. cannot operate from carriers because they have not the necessary naval equipment. I understand that those that are being taken over from the Navy are having their navalised equipment, but not the arrester hook, removed, so that they also will be unable to operate from carriers.
That seems a very serious matter, and if it is only a question of leaving a certain amount of navalised equipment on the plane surely this should be done, as it would give flexibility of operation, as regards not only our own carriers but also those of our allies in N.A.T.O. I understand that the American F4J can operate from carriers or shore, and that those designed for the R.A.F. cannot. I should like to ask a specific question, therefore. Has any Royal Air Force aircraft in the past few years ever operated from the deck of an aircraft carrier? I am not including the Harrier in that class, because we know that it has, but has any purely R.A.F. fixed wing aircraft—not a naval version—actually operated from the deck of an aircraft carrier and, if so, how often?
The story is continued with the Buccaneer, which is built in my constituency. It was designed as a maritime strike aircraft and has been extremely satisfactory in that rôle. As the House knows, a number of Buccaneers nave been handed over by the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force, and a new order has been placed for Royal Air Force Buccaneers to serve in Germany. There is 833 one Royal Navy squadron of Buccaneers left which can operate from carriers, because they are designed to operate from the "Ark Royal" during the remainder of her lifetime, but have the Buccaneers that have been handed over to the R.A.F. now been "denavalised", if I may use that horrible expression? Are they, like the Phantoms, not going to be capable of operating from the decks of carriers? I believe that that is so, because I read an article in Flight Review International of August, 1970, which showed that the majority of the special equipment, with the exception of the arrester hook, was being removed from the Buccaneers handed over to the R.A.F. If that is so, it seems to be extremely shortsighted, as it will prevent any cross-operation of these, aircraft.
On the question of naval operations—we are to build Anglo-French Jaguars for operation in the Royal Air Force. I understand that the French Navy is using these aircraft to operate from its two carriers—"Foch" and "Clemenceau". Is it going to be possible to make our new Jaguars capable of operating, if necessary, from N.A.T.O. aircraft carriers? If that could be done without sacrificing too many of their other capabilities it would greatly increase their flexibility.
I now come to the whole problem of the way in which the R.A.F. is to perform the maritime rôle that is now being placed upon it. It can probably perform it most efficiently, as it did in the last war, around our coasts, or in the whole of the N.A.T.O. area, but I am thinking of the 50 per cent. of the oil required by Europe and by this country which travels from the Persian Gulf, round the Cape and up from the South Atlantic to Western Europe. I remind the House also that responsibilities of N.A.T.O. to the south end at the Tropic of Cancer. Therefore, there are no N.A.T.O. responsibilities between Cape Town and the Tropic of Cancer.
The specific question that I want to ask my hon. Friend is how these convoys will be protected. I asked the last Government that question, and I have asked this Government, but I have never had a clear answer. How are our convoys—I understand that there will be up to five a day in wartime—coming from 834 the Gulf, round the Cape into the N.A.T.O. area, going to be protected from air attack or from ships with surface-to-surface missiles in the area, shall we say, between Cape Town and the Equator, which is outside the N.A.T.O. area? There are no allied bases, unless we use South Africa and Rhodesia; the Simonstown Agreement allows us to use South African ports, but not its airfields. If my contention is correct and we cannot operate R.AF. Phantoms and Buccaneers from aircraft carriers, British or American, how would this vital protection on which our industrial effort and our war effort would depend be provided, because this is going to be one of the important rôles of the R.A.F.?
My hon. Friend may say that we are going to have the M.R.C.A. and that it is a world beater. I agree, but I say again that although it may be an excellent aircraft, for various reasons, when it was ordered by the previous Government it was designed for the European theatre, and its range was cut to about half that of the TSR2. Therefore, it is pretty useless in these oceanic areas. I should like an answer to my question how these convoys—and I understand on the highest authority that there are to be convoys in the next war—to be protected from air attack in the South Atlantic or the South India Ocean without bases and without long-range aircraft?
Finally, how is the R.A.F. carrying out its training of pilots for this new maritime rôle? How many of the Royal Navy pilots pushed out of that Service have transferred to the R.A.F.? Is the R.A.F. going to be able to give proper priority to this very important task? I am second to none in my admiration for the R.A.F., both in the last war and at present, but I believe that it is having a task thrust upon it which it is going to find difficult to perform even if that were its main rôle—and it is not; it is a secondary rôle. I doubt whether the R.A.F., with the equipment that it is likely to have in the next eight to 10 years, will be able to protect the vital convoys in oceanic areas.
I apologise for repeating that three times, but it is a question that I have asked of Governments in the past and to which I have never received a satisfactory answer; nor have the many people 835 who believe that this country stands or falls by sea communications, because we import by sea round the Cape 50 per cent. of all the oil that we use and 25 per cent. of all the food we eat. We must ensure for these ships protection in time of war. The R.A.F., as always, will do its best, but has it got the weapons, equipment and training to fulfil this task on top of its other perhaps higher priority but certainly equally vital tasks?
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
When I listen to the sophisticated arguments on hardware that I hear my expert hon. Friends discussing in debates of this kind, I realise that it is a long time since I thought I knew about the eqiupment of the R.A.F. and what it was doing. In those days we were all experts; it was the only thing that kept us operating with any joy in the midst of the last war. I can barely remember who was on the Front Bench in those days. I think it was a National Member of Parliament who was Air Minister at the time, and when we were serving on various R.A.F. stations here, in Germany and elsewhere we could all have told him exactly how to run the war and how the R.A.F. should have performed.
Things have changed a great deal since those days. Nevertheless, I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) about the high sophistication of equipment so far as airplanes are concerned. I have always been in the military field and I have always believed in the Marks & Spencer argument. I do not really think that if we had another war—which I pray we do not—it would be very many weeks after the start before we should be wanting much less sophisticated equipment, wanting to put people into machines that would be expendable because they were less costly. This is something which this country should consider when it is spending very large sums of money on airplanes or any other pieces of military equipment.
I do not really want to talk about that at all, however; I just want to say a few words about the R.A.F. and its personnel. I am fortunate that my links with the Royal Air Force have been maintained. First, because I have two Royal Air Force stations in my con- 836 stituency, Cottesmore and North Luffenham. In fact, I have three R.A.F. stations, if we count Wittering which is just outside my constituency, and most of the people from Wittering regularly come into Stamford.
The second reason for my association with the R.A.F. is that there is a branch of the Royal Air Force Association in the House of Commons of which I am Chairman. We do not meet very often, but we like to feel we are there to support the Royal Air Force if it needs support in political terms. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who are members of that Association who are anxious to assist when they can.
I pay tribute to the relationships which the Royal Air Force has with the community in which it is set. I am sure that this applies to every area in the country and it certainly applies to my area.
There is in all the stations in my constituency a friendly association between the civilian population and the Royal Air Force personnel. The Royal Air Force personnel mix extremely well with the local population and take a full part in various activities. Once a year—sometimes more frequently—the stations open to the public, sometimes by invitation and sometimes by open invitation.
This connection between the Royal Air Force station and the community in which it finds itself makes the civilian population realise the value of the Service and what it does for the community. Furthermore, it enables the Service to have roots among those who are not in uniform. Nowadays it is difficult to tell who is in uniform and who is not since Service personnel outside Service hours normally do not wear uniform.
I was interested to see on Vote "A" that the total number of personnel has decreased in the period 1971–72 and 1972–73. For some reason we appear to be losing out on our target. The Air Force appears to have lost some 300 people. At a time when there is a great spur to recruitment and when recruitment generally in the Services is supposed to be good, I cannot understand why the Royal Air Force should have reduced its target. Perhaps an element of productivity is coming into the Royal Air Force in the same way as it has come into industry.
837 A curious fact is that we are to have a further 100 nurses to look after a complement that is being reduced by 300. This may be of advantage to those in the Service, but I do not know whether that number of nurses will be able to be recruited. At any rate, it is an interesting statistic.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West said about the auxiliary air force and I regret that it is not expanding. However, one must be realistic. If the opportunities were widened without limit in an auxiliary service, there would be a great demand for a part-time service. There would have to be a limit otherwise the cost would be too great, and in a professional service those who head up the service do not want to dissipate their resources by competing for civilian activities within that Service. One can understand their attitude because they are confined within a budget, and defence budgets do not normally increase but remain fairly static.
The R.A.F., like the Army and Navy, has to provide more out of less in that value for money has depreciated and therefore the increase does not match the inflation which is taking place. I can understand the resistance to any change, but personally I wish there were some expansion in the auxiliary service.
The R.A.F. is probably the most technical service of all. Never have so few provided the nation with such technical prowess for so little cost. One has only to visit a Royal Air Force station to realise that some of the best technical brains in the country—lower, middle and top—are to be found in the R.A.F. Industry gains advantage from this because many people who leave the service come out better trained than if they had spent all their lives in industry. I only hope that industry appreciates what it is getting.
The quality of the intake to the R.A.F. is as high as it has ever been. It is also matched by the quality of the training, which has always been maintained at a high level. I have always been proud of the fact that I was able to be a member of the R.A.F. I am glad that I have been able to maintain an association with it.
When during the war we used to return from night ops we would come back in 838 the early hours of the morning when there were very few people around. There is a similar situation when we look around us tonight. Exactly the same thing happens when the House of Commons does "night ops". Therefore, the attendance at this debate does not mean that the House has anything but the highest regard for the Royal Air Force.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
This debate on the Air Estimates is being conducted against the background of over a million unemployed in the United Kingdom. That fact must colour our attitude towards the total effect of the Defence Estimates, and the Air Estimates in particular, related to the level of employment.
There has in the past been an erroneous assumption that high Defence Estimates had a favourable effect on employment levels. It is now widely recognised in the trade union movement and in the country at large that high Defence Estimates have the reverse effect—in other words, they depress general employment levels.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the recent announcement about the two new cruisers which are to be built has had a depressing effect on unemployment?
§ Mr. Booth
What I am arguing—and I will produce evidence to support it—is that the effect of high Defence Estimates has been to depress the total level of employment or to increase the total number of unemployed. This is not peculiar to this country, but holds good generally in countries with populations of between 40 and 100 million.
The figures of manpower levels of the forces show that as our defence budget goes up our Service manpower goes down. Annexe "A" of the current Estimates demonstrate the situation. We see that from 1966 to 1971 there was a fall in the total United Kingdom Service personnel from 418,000 to 368,000. I do not believe there was a single year in which the figure did not fall. There is a slight increase in the 1972 Estimate to £372 million, but the forecast for 1973 is that there will be a further drop to £363 million. So, over the period from 1966 to 1973, while we have had an increase 839 in our total defence expenditure year by year, Service personnel requirements dropped fairly steadily.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman said that countries with populations of between 50 million and 100 million had an unemployment situation which varied with their defence expenditure; the higher the defence expenditure the more unemployed they had. On that basis, would Poland and East Germany, which have defence expenditures per head of population higher than our own—and as a percentage of G.N.P. defence expenditures higher than our own—have higher unemployment because their defence expenditures are going up?
§ Mr. Booth
I will try to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point in detail when I come to the calculation of defence expenditure. There is a difference in the method of calculation between Eastern and Western Europe, and this tends to be reconciled to some extent in the statistics produced by the Institute of Strategic Studies. I suggested figures of between 40 million and 100 million because a much bigger country of high economic strength—for example, the U.S.S.R. or the U.S.A.—can spend not only a higher total defence budget, but a higher proportion of its G.N.P. on defence without the same detrimental effect on its total employment level which we in this country would suffer. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me a little longer, I will explain what I believe to be some of the reasons for this.
Let us stay with the facts, not the opinions, for a little longer and agree that, with an increasing total defence budget in this country, we have had a pretty steady fall in Service manpower requirements. I am not making a party point. I freely acknowledge that this took place both under Labour and Conservative Governments.
The more difficult thing to estimate is the effect of the Service and the Defence Estimates upon civilian employment. With the increase in the total defence budget from £2,545 million last year to £2,854 million this year, we have had an increase in unemployment to the highest ever post-war level, and it is now over one million. Industrial nations spending less than us in absolute G.N.P.
840 terms are sustaining higher economic growth rates and are therefore tending to have more people in employment. They have far lower unemployment figures.
Taking the comparative positions of Britain, West Germany and Japan, we see, year by year, that this is the case. Going back to 1965, we were spending 6.3 per cent. of our G.N.P. on defence, West Germany 5.6 per cent., and Japan 1.3 per cent.
Coming to 1967, Britain was spending 5.7 per cent., West Germany 4.3 per cent., and Japan only 0.9 per cent.
Bringing the position up to 1970, Britain was spending 4.9 per cent., West Germany 3.3 per cent., and Japan 0.8 per cent. Since then our defence budget has risen to 5.5 per cent., of our G.N.P., and it has stayed there for the last two years.
The interesting thing to note is that in every year we were the highest of the three nations. We do not need to go to the statistics to agree that the higher economic growth rate in Japan, particularly in civilian industry, is demonstrably—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. I am sorry for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but there is a certain difficulty with Defence Estimates. The hon. Gentleman should relate his remarks to the Air Estimates, into which he can go in any detail he wishes. However, any remarks addressed to defence both under Labour and Conservative in general or to the other Services should simply be passing references.
§ Mr. Booth
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I strayed from order. I was tempted from the path of righteousness by an intervention from the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) who challenged me on what I admit was a broad and general assertion which I made about employment levels.
I will turn specifically to the related effect of the Air and other Defence Estimates. I refer, first, to research and defence expenditure. That has risen significantly in this year's Defence Estimates. The demands of the R.A.F. in this sphere have continued to be fairly high.
Looking at the 1972 Estimates, we see a substantial number of major research 841 and development requirements. The interesting thing is that, although defence expenditure in last year's estimates was only £264 million, compared with a total on research and development this year of £330 million, last year's aircraft projects contained the M.R.C.A., which is a collaborative project, the Jaguar, a research and development project to improve the engine performance and aircraft systems of the Harrier and three helicopters, the Lynx, Gazelle and Puma. There is also the Buccaneer Mark 2 research project and the conversion of the Victor Mark 2.
In the guided weapons sphere there were projects to improve and develop the Sea Dart, medium-range surface-to-air guided weapon, which was admittedly for ships, but there were also the Rapier, the Anglo-French Martel, the Swingfire, the Seawolf, the Blowpipe and other studies on joint communications systems.
In electronics, there was Clansman, a net radio system for communications in the field, and Linesman/Mediator.
There were also major projects in nuclear propulsion, gas-turbine development for ship propulsion, ship-borne launching, anti-submarine torpedoes, sonars, and so on.
The Army also had its share of big demands on research and development.
It would be helpful if the Minister were to tell us the actual expenditure compared with the Estimates. I put this to the Minister, because I want to question whether it is possible to spend the proposed sum on research and development. It is one thing to put £330 million in Defence Estimates, part of which is the Air Estimates, and it is another thing to expend that amount. The amount which we, or any country of about our size, can spend on research and development depends not only on what the Exchequer is prepared to make available, but on the skilled manpower which is available. Some very elaborate research and development facilities are required to spend that amount. Does the Minister accept or refute the assertion that, over the last few years, irrespective of what we have put in our Defence Estimates, in practice we have not been able to spend much more than £250 million a year on defence research and development?
842 There have been limitations on what we should spend related to the size of our research and development establishments and the amount of research and development manpower available for these military projects. If it is the case, as is suggested by these Estimates, that we can increase our defence research and development expenditure to some £330 million, I put it to the Minister that the only way in which we can do it at present is by depriving civilian industrial research and development of its own manpower and facilities which it needs if we are to stay competitive in world markets in a number of highly sophisticated products.
That contention can be borne out by an examination of the research and development requirements which are taken up by the military. While I am speaking on the Air Estimates, I make it clear that I am not gunning for the Air Estimates. It is equally the case that the Admiralty delves heavily into research and development in marine engineering and naval architecture.
I have tried to make a proper assessment of the total proportion which has been taken by each of the Services of our total available research and development capacity. I can assure the Minister that it is a difficult exercise for a back bench hon. Member to undertake. It is very difficult to get all the figures that one requires if one is to do the sums properly.
§ Lord Lambton
If the hon. Gentleman wants the research and development figures, I shall be only too pleased to give them.
§ Mr. Booth
I welcome that assurance. I shall be delighted and surprised if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to give me more than some of his predecessors were. The further back that one goes in the quest for figures, the more that one can get. In 1967, for example, one can get total figures for civil and military research and development. In 1966–67, the total research and development expenditure was £605 million by public and private research associations. Of that, the total military requirement was £275 million. At that time, the military were taking 30 per cent. of all the available research and development capacity in the country. If one breaks that down as 843 between the aircraft industry and the marine industries, one finds that civil firms in the aircraft and aerospace industry, with their research and development programmes, took £159 million, whereas the R.A.F. with its programmes took £178 million. In aircraft, 53 per per cent. of all research and development was taken for military purposes, and even at that time the spin-off value of the R.A.F.'s research and development was diminishing rapidly. Many of the projects carried out had little or no value for civil use. I shall give examples of that later.
I turn to what happened in a comparative area in order to compare the R.A.F.'s total demand for research and development with that of the Navy. In marine engineering, in 1966–67, we spent only £3.2 million in civil research. Naval research ran to £14 million. In other words, the Navy took 82 per cent. of the total research and development effort in that year in marine engineering and naval architecture. It is not surprising, therefore, that Japan ran away with world shipbuilding markets, taking a far higher proportion than we were, while we were sustaining a uniform merchant shipbuilding production at a time when world demand rose rapidly. The Japanese capacity has risen from 2 million to 14 million tons a year while ours has virtually stayed still.
I have contended that much of the so-called spin-off argument has ceased to be valid. That is partly because weapons systems have become so specialised, anyway, that the researcher who solves the major weapons problems often is producing a result which cannot have any civil application. But if we look at what this has cost the nation over the years, we see that there has been an enormous waste of research and development effort and of public funds. To see that in perspective, one has to examine the amount which has been spent on projects which have been cancelled. In 1952, the Ministry cancelled research and development projects on which £9 million had been spent. In 1954, it cancelled projects on which a total of £13 million had been spent. In 1955, it cancelled projects on which £33 million had been spent. In 1960, which included the Blue Streak cancellation, the figure rose to £92 844 million. By 1965, that being the year in which the TSR2 was cancelled, the total cost of cancelled projects had risen to £240 million.
Not only are we spending an enormous sum of our total research and development capacity in research projects; we are wasting money at a fantastic rate. It is a rate that we cannot afford as a nation which has to sell highly sophisticated manufactured goods in order to earn a living in the world.
Nowhere is that more true than in nuclear weapons systems. There, one has to develop three major research, development and manufacturing capacities. That is a point which is well understood and appreciated by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). First, one has to produce fissile materials. That in itself is extremely expensive. Materials have to be produced to a very much higher specification than that required in practically any other material production operation in the world. Then one has to set up another industry of warhead assembly which in itself involves enormous research and development capacity. Thirdly, one has to develop and control the delivery system of the missile. The total research and development involved in that triple operation just to produce one branch of our total weaponry is enormous.
It is because the research and development cost of weaponry systems is so enormous that various Governments over a period of years have become involved in collaborative systems. Today, we have the M.R.C.A. which, I suppose, is the classic case. West Germany. Italy and the United Kingdom have combined to produce one of the weapons requirements of the nation. We also have Polaris, which is Anglo-United States, Martel, which is Anglo-French, combat and reconnaissance vehicles which are Anglo-Belgian, and so on. One can deduce from this that the cost of research and development is leading us into alliances which are based not only initially on the political requirements of defence policy but also upon the economic requirements of the weapons systems themselves. It may be that we shall find ourselves cemented into political alliances because of the technology costs of the weaponry systems.
The weaponry systems of the Warsaw Pact and of N.A.T.O. to some extent 845 may have been cemented together by the technology requirements of weapons production, and this very much affects our attitude towards our Air Estimates, because the use of the tactical and the strategic nuclear weapon, the value that one places on it and the rôle that one ascribes to it determine to a large extent what one would consider to be a proper rôle for the R.A.F.
Therefore it seems that whether or not these Air Estimates are justified is partly a matter of whether we are ready to assume that we can go on with the present position with Europe divided between the Warsaw Pact and N.A.T.O.
It is therefore appropriate on these Estimates to make one short but, I hope, relevant condemnation of the Government's policy in this respect. This Government have consistently refused to respond in the way in which it is necessary to respond to the invitation of the Finnish Government to go to a conference on European security. First, they said that they could not go without agreement on Berlin. Now that we have that, they say that they cannot go until it is ratified. When it is ratified, no doubt they will say that they cannot go without the agreement of our N.A.T.O. partners.
The right response is to say that all the nations of Europe—East and West, N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact—have a right to be represented individually in the determination of their own security. Allied to this is the whole question of the weaponry which is part of these Estimates, and particularly its R. and D.
With more than half the world's population living in conditions of starvation and poverty, we must determine the outcome of our own technological revolution. The choices before us are simple; we can perpetuate the misery of the underdeveloped countries while we produce a more sophisticated and even more terrifying weaponry or we can turn to the ways of peace to bring to the whole world better standards of life and freedom.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The Minister said in opening the debate that he would deal with equipment questions. We are deeply critical of some of the things that he has said today. I could 846 not help hearing the Minister of State for Defence say, when we had our dispute over the HS1182, "This is a matter of judgment." I may be doing him an injustice, but I thought that the implication was, "We know in the Ministry and you do not."
May I be forgiven for a slightly less than reverent attitude towards the Ministry of Defence on equipment matters? Hindsight is easy, I know, but these are the men who were responsible for advising that the Spey engine should be put into a Phantom. Anyone who has cost any nation millions of pounds can hardly be regarded as infallible. I am not one to sneer at civil servants. I do not doubt their motives or their ability. My only deduction is that the Civil Service, like the rest of us, can easily be wrong and that any notion that we must not challenge the advice which is given because they know and we do not is not acceptable to this House.
I go further. I want to know what the Ministry of Defence has learned from its experience of putting that Spey engine into the Phantom. We should like to know what policy conclusions have been drawn by the Ministry of Defence from the highly expensive example of putting this engine into the Phantom and what general conclusions have been drawn in relation to "modifying" and tinkering with existing mechanisms and equipment. Tinkering is very expensive.
The cost of putting alien pieces of equipment in existing weapons is a theme which will come out time and again in the discussion on equipment.
§ Lord Lambton
The hon. Member is aware, of course, that the decision to put the Rolls-Royce Spey engine in the Phantom was taken by the last Administration.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am absolutely aware of it and I do not seek to hide it. I am not making cheap party points. The conclusion which I am drawing—I thought that this was implicit in what the Minister said—is that we should not accept that because the Government have expert Civil Service advice and we in the Opposition of the Day do not that on such discussions as that on the HS1182, the Opposition should be careful and not vouchsafe an opinion.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
Perhaps we can clear this out of the way. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. When I said that this was a matter of judgment I did not intend the implication that automatically the Government knew better than the Opposition. I meant that it was a matter of performance between two different types of engine. That judgment on performance led to the selection of a certain engine. There was no implication that we knew infinitely better, or that we could not be questioned. Of course not.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As we have a little more time than we expected, let us go through the example of the Hawker-Siddeley 1182. This is for advanced conversion training to Phantoms, Jaguars and Harriers.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
It is an advanced trainer—an applied trainer to succeed the Gnat and the Hunter, which are in service with No. 4 Advanced Flying Training School at Valley and No. 229 Tactical Weapon Unit at Chivenor, and soon at Brawdy. It is not a conversion aeroplane; it has no operational conversion rôle.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is fairly clear that I was referring to the conversion training of pilots to rather faster aircraft.
Not before time, we welcomed the announcement today, because the decision has been delayed for many months and has created certain problems in the industry. The Government have probably been finding difficulty in making up their minds between the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine and the Bristol-Siddeley Viper 600, which is much less expensive. I have been persuaded that this decision is wrong.
It is not a question of carping, as the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said. It is something much deeper. It is a feeling that some of us have that there are committees in the Ministry of Defence which are forever insisting that on all occasions the best must be provided, that nothing but the best will do. That is a very telling slogan when one is talking of nothing but the best for our boys who are engaged in a fighting situa- 848 tion, but it is quite different to argue that we must have nothing but the best in a training situation, because this is entirely different.
It may be true that the Bristol Viper 600 is thought to be coming towards the end of its life, but the question is whether the Ministry wants to train pilots on an engine that is more powerful. There is a very strong feeling that there would be accidents, if adjustments are not made to the Adour.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Yes, gladly. Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that a responsible Ministry or Government—I have the privilege to support both on this occasion, as always—would introduce into service an inherently unsafe aeroplane? We are here considering better fuel consumption, long endurance and low-level capability.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Not consciously. There is more to it—and the Government have accepted part of my case. If there were no more to it, why should it be necessary to take out the after-burner? The answer is simple. They dare not take the risk of training people with such a high-powered engine. It would be wrong to say that the Government would do anything to jeopardise the lives of trainee pilots, but that is not the issue. The issue is the expense of having a highly sophisticated engine which, for training purposes, must be altered. Is that denied?
§ Lord Balniel
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this aircraft is taking the place of the Jaguar, which is infinitely more expensive.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Yes, for highly sophisticated training. But is it denied that training for the Jaguar could be done in an aircraft powered by the Super V 600 engine? I take it from the silence on the Government Front Bench that that is not denied.
Next, is it denied that the conversion will cost £10 million? If that is not denied, one can draw the conclusion that the kind of cost-effectiveness that goes on in this Department is strange indeed, for it seems that £10 million is being 849 needlessly spent, not on teeth but on training. Is that denied?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am quoting figures that have been given to us. I said that it is extremely costly to tinker about with engines. Learn from Spey-Phantom!
§ Lord Lambton
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman giving him such figures as we have. In the meantime, it is not satisfactory for him to make wild accusations, involving millions of pounds. I am unable to understand precisely what case he is making. He accuses us of using an aeroplane the engine of which is too high-powered, though it is infinitely less powerful than that of the Jaguar. I cannot understand the logic of his case. Does he want us to use a much less powerful areoplane? Is he asking that we should shove people from it into extremely sophisticated aircraft?
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is absurd to talk about the "shove"—to use the noble Lord's word—from the Viper V 600 into a highly sophisticated aircraft.
My worst fears are, in a sense, confirmed about this Department because it is assumed that one must have, by right, the most expensive equipment, whatever the operational requirement. The view is taken that something less expensive must not be used. I look forward to the letter which the noble Lord has promised to send me. When we get down to arguing detailed cases, this great Department is far less impressive than when it sticks to generalities.
Throughout this discussion I have not been given the figure of the actual cost of these conversions. It was asked for at 5 p.m. Apparently little has been learned from the experience of putting the Spey engine into the Phantom. It may have happened under another Administration, but one would have thought that the departmental officials responsible for procurement would have learned a lesson 850 involving not thousands or tens of thousands of pounds but well over £1 million per unit. I gather that that figure is not denied?
That brings me to the rôle of Ministers in this Department. I hope that they see their job, first of all, as involving the questioning of every piece of advanced equipment that is put forward, possibly getting, from outside the Department, objective help; otherwise our defence budget mounts. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) was right to dwell on the figure of £2,850 million.
When we get down to detail we find that it has crept up and up. I am surprised that the Minister should be so bewildered, because these are facts of which he has been given notice. If I am wrong, then let him tell the House the cost of altering this engine, because I can only draw the conclusion that the Defence Department has learnt very little, if anything, from the highly expensive lesson that it had when Spey was put in.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
What on earth would be the point, with what is basically a subsonic aircraft, of putting in a re-heat to career around the sky at a performance which the design of the aeroplane did not allow it fully to exploit? I can imagine nothing less safe than that. That may be one of the reasons why the Government have not applied the re-heat.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Then why chose an Adour engine when it has a re-heat actually encased in it? Keep Viper 600. That is the point that has to get home. It is unusual for the House to have time to go over this in such detail. I make no apology for doing so. This just confirms my worst suspicions that the Department of Defence has learnt nothing from the Spey Phantom fiasco. We can all make mistakes once. But we ought to learn.
The Government are asking Hawker-Siddeley Dynamics to look—I admit at once that it is only a feasibility study—at the possibility of modifying the American medium-range Sparrow Hawk, to incorporate advanced new British components which are developed by Marconi and E.M.I. This may well be another Spey. I would like to know how expensive it is to install these British variations. [Interruption.] If there is a complaint about Spey and Phantom, I am bound 851 to say that this had the attention of the Public Accounts Committee of this House for many hours. One can only assume that the Public Accounts Committee spent a lot of time preparing a report of which the Department of Defence took precious little notice.
On the subject raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) in the case of the Sparrow Hawk and other collaborative projects with United States, first, are we very happy about the whole system of contractual arrangements? When we are dealing with the French or Germans, the language is different and we know that. When we are dealing with the Americans, we assume that the language is the same, and then find out that what is meant on this side of the Atlantic may be different from what is meant on the other side. The Defence Department knows very well the immense contractual difficulties which arise from that. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that if we were to buy American weapons we would often —not always—be wiser to have them off-the-shelf. I can only assume that putting these British variations into an American aircraft/missile is bowing to pressure from Harry Chapman Pincher of the Daily Express who thinks it is wrong to buy American equipment—it must have something British in it and this is some kind of a face-saver.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
The point that I made in my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), was that there was a certain demand coming from the hon. Gentleman's back benches—and his Front Bench—to employ people in this country. Therefore, they are producing something which, whether it is going to the American market or not, is creating confidence.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I can see that there are these pressures, but there has to be judgment, and sometimes it is so expensive to make comparatively minor variations that this is what swells the budget. Like many other hon. Members my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) was deeply worried about a defence budget which has now risen to £2,850 million. I remember what was said from these benches when my right hon. Friend the Member for 852 Aberavon was standing at the Government Dispatch Box in 1969 and the criticism that he got for not being able to control defence expenditure. Now that we have time, we ought to look at these things. I must express some doubts about the Sparrow Hawk. We are making this feasibility study, but how often is it thought that there will be any practice firing of it? It is extremely expensive to fire. Secondly, why are we doing this feasibility study at all?
§ Lord Lambton
How can we possibly criticise the feasibility study when no one knows whether it is feasible?
§ Mr. Dalyell
If a feasibility study is being done, presumably it is serious and there is the intention of firing this missile.
If it is a feasibility study merely to sound impressive the Government ought to tell us. Are they serious about this? It is strange that such a study should be done with what is a comparatively elderly American weapon. What are they up to? Have any discussions taken place with those who developed Sparrow Hawk, namely, the Raythion Corporation? It is our information that should the Government decide to go ahead there would be considerable patent troubles. What consideration has been given to these?
It is the duty of an Opposition to be constructive. The reason why I have criticised this project is that I contend that there was a good reason for concentrating on S.R.A.A.M.—the short-range air-to-air missile. The Ministry of Defence and Hawker-Siddeley think that they are on to a winner. Is the United States to participate in this programme? There is often a strong argument for partnership. Often the need for partnership on projects depends on whether there is a shortage either of money or brains. In this case Hawker-Siddeley is not short of money, and it is certainly not short of brains.
A decision will have to be made soon, because the United States would like to come in on this. This is a central policy decision about the extent to which, if we enter the Common Market, we can continue to have joint projects with the United States. We have a few joint projects now. There is the Harrier, and cooperation on the Pegasus engine. There 853 have been certain delays. To what extent is it policy to co-operate with the United States, and to what extent should we concentrate on European arrangements?
This brings me to the Lightning. Why has it gone back to having a rather old-fashioned machine gun? It used to have red-top missiles, such as Firestreak. It is no good the Minister screwing up his face. He said that he would make his speech on the "nuts and bolts" of defence, and these are such things. If members of the Government Front Bench are simply to shake their heads and to say "These details are not for us", I want to know what control they have over their Department and its spending. Returning to the Lightning—is the change the result of the change in the nature of warfare, whereby it is necessary to get close to identify a target and, having got close, a need for a short-range air-to-air missile?
At the moment there is a gap, because these aircraft have gone back to a pretty primitive machine-gun-type armoury, in the absence of a short-range air-to-air missile. Ministers may shake their heads and say that they wonder why we are asking these questions. It is the job of a Minister who has been 18 months in the Department to know about these things. I am willing to be told that we are wrong and misinformed, but it is our job to probe, and until such time as we get a Select Committee on Defence—which seems rather a remote possibility—this is the only chance we get to ask such questions.
We were told that the Jaguar would enter service in 1974. Why, if that is true, is it to enter the French service first in 1973? To what extent are Jaguars going to release Phantoms to take over from Lightnings as interceptor fighters in the United Kingdom air defence rôle? I should like to know about the United Kingdom home air defence rôle.
Then there is the Canberra. It is our understanding that the Mark 9 photographic reconnaissance rôle will be taken by Canberras. I should like to ask how many are going to be retained, and indeed, what the assessment is of the Department of the way in which the Canberras will now be sent to B.A.C., Warton, to undergo a zero timing, a complete reconstruction so that their flying hours start 854 from zero and their fatigue life, if one can talk in those terms, is extended, or perhaps doubled.
Then there is the Buccaneer. The Minister in his opening remarks referred to the Buccaneers going to Germany in a tactical strike and reconnaissance rôle. Presumably it is to supplement the Vulcans which were formerly part of the nuclear deterrent and are now tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft. The question here is, are the Buccaneers going to last for virtually the rest of the 70s, and how do the Government see the problem of the medium-altitude approach? To what extent are they supplementary in the reconnaissance rôle to the work of, for example, Fylingdales? I think there is a problem here.
On Nimrod, of course we have got the extra work that is given but I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness that of course we are thankful for these jobs, but, at the same time, we should like to see an organisation of society where in fact it would not be necessary to bring forward military projects with the main purpose of creating jobs because of the situation in which we find ourselves. We understand the position, but it is by no means ideal.
Can Nimrod take over the maritime rôle from the Shackletons, and are the 12 Shackletons likely to be used as airborne early-warning aircraft? Is this to be their rôle?
Again, there is the question of the radar gap round the United Kingdom at low altitudes. Is it true that we have to use the Shackletons in this rôle because we did not buy the Grumman Tracker as a supplement to the work done by Fylingdales? I think that is a fairly clear question to the Department.
On Support Command, the Belfast VC10s and the Britannias are being supplemented by the medium-range Hercules. Here I should like to strike a note of concord with the Minister and pay a tribute to what has been done by the R.A.F. crews flying in and out of Dacca during the recent trouble. There is no doubt that the pilots and the servicemen who maintained the flights did a very remarkable job. The Minister also mentioned the Victor Mark II, replacing the Mark I for in-flight refuelling. Are they to remain in service for the rest 855 of the 70s, and, if so, what are dangers of their suffering from metal fatigue, because there is a very considerable danger involved in using aircraft that have been in service for some time.
What we said about Nimrod applies also to Jetstream, and it behoves a Scottish Member of Parliament not to be curmudgeonly about them because they are going to be built by Scottish Aviation and give employment in Ayrshire, and Scottish Aviation are in the opinion of those of us who know them, a very good company. But, of course, some questions were raised on this by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) and I think the Government have to answer my hon. Friend because we would like to know what precisely is the operational requirement for the R.A.F. of the Jetstream. We would also like to know, he and I, what kind of contract this is to be. Seven and a half million pounds does seem to be rather a small amount of money for 25 aircraft, especially if a great deal, if not all, of a new production line has to be set out at Prestwick. My hon. Friend knows very well from his work before he came here what is involved in the setting up of new facilities. Some of the work could be done at Prestwick before, but we are involved in considerable expense and we want to know that that£7½million is a realistic figure.
§ Mr. Bishop
Is my hon. Friend aware that the people in Hawker Siddeley in the Manchester and Stockport area regard the Jetstream as a kind of mongrel aircraft, made in pieces in other parts of the world, as compared with the HS748 which is entirely British made?
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend has raised a question which the Government have to answer. They should spell out the reasons why Jetstream was preferred to the Hawker-Siddeley 748. Was the National Defence Industries Council consulted about this? The Government may have a good answer. They may say that Jetstream has prospects of sales to other air forces, air taxi operators and third level airline operators. That may be so, but nevertheless, in fairness to those who work at Hawker Siddeley, which has very many development area sub-contracts in Scotland and elsewhere, 856 we should be told why Jetstream was preferred to the Hawker-Siddeley 748.
It would be interesting to hear the results of the evaluations that took place at Boscombe Down, which I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Newark knows about very well, when evaluations were also made of the North American Rockwell Hawk Commander. It is right that we should go for a British aircraft, but we ought to be told the reasons why a very much cheaper, in this case, North American aircraft, when small quantities were wanted, was not ordered. That should be spelt out because the extent to which the Ministry of Defence gives employment in the development areas should at least be known. I am not saying that the decision is wrong. It is probably right. But at least we have a right to know the thinking behind it.
On Jetstream, it is a fair question to ask what is the price of the French Tubermeca engines, because Jetstream is involved across the sterling exchanges, and the Hawker-Siddeley 748 is a wholly British aircraft. We would like to know the payments made to the French company. Again, it may be justified, but we should like to know because any extra cost of getting engines from France—and there may be an extra cost—works itself into the price of the contract, and when we are concerned about the escalation of defence costs, as we must be, at least it is legitimate to ask that question.
On helicopters, the Anglo-French Gazelle, we take it, is used for training purposes and the Puma for tactical transport. What is the future of the WG13, particularly if there are problems with the Bristol Siddeley 360 engine, and any extra costs that may have resulted from recent troubles at the Rolls-Royce small engine department at Neasden? Before anything is said about the WG13, we should like to know what the latest production cost estimates are.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), who could not be here for the debate, asked that the questions of Linesman and Mediator should be raised. Some extremely pertinent questions were asked of his Government by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson). Those questions should be answered by the Ministry of Defence.
857 Before leaving technical matters, I have one other question. For the first time in taking part in, I think, nine Air Estimates debates, there has been no mention of the Meterological Office. I should like to praise its work. It is subject to a good deal of ribaldry. A particular question is how the I.B.M. 360/195 computer is working out and whether the Government can say anything about the work being done at the Met, Office. I come now to what Ministers will realise is a rather less contentious part of my speech. On page 19 of the Supplementary Estimates 1971–72, Class XII, 5, we see that provision for British Indian Ocean territories has gone up from £830,000 to £1,230,000, an increase of about 33 per cent. What is happening the British Indian Ocean territories to warrant the expenditure of that much more money? A great deal could be done with it, for example in the provision of facilities such as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) referred to. These are not insignificant amounts and it seems curious that expenditure should suddenly rocket on these territories.
I turn for a moment to manpower. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon raised the question of the school-leaving age and recruitment. The Minister was quite right in arguing for a higher standard of recruits. But we are not solely concerned with entrants but with what happens to those entrants when they join the Service. I come back therefore to the scheme mentioned last year called the starred mechanic scheme. My right hon. Friend did a good deal to start the scheme. It offers a guarantee of fitter training within the first two years of entry into the R.A.F. It increases the number of available fitters and I have talked to many young men who have an extremely high opinion of the training they receive. I would say, with some knowledge of these matters, possibly that the Services in general and the R.A.F. in particular offer the best technical training that any apprentice in the western world could hope to have. Very considerable praise should be heaped on those who undertake the starred mechanics scheme. I am sure it is the same in the dockyards. Those of us who have had an opportunity to see it are extremely impressed. I should like the Government to give some kind of report on this scheme.
858 There is also the question of university cadetships. This scheme looks good and its second intake of graduates for flying training have arrived at Cranwell. Has there been any estimate of the success or failure of the scheme? I was interested in what the Minister said about the Royal Air Force College and basic training and the changeover from the College of Air Warfare at Manby to be concentrated at Cranwell. A part of this is the engineering training which is very important, and some of us were a little surprised at the ratio of officers to men in the Royal Air Force. I suspect that this is now all to do with the number of engineer and flying officers. Engineer officers are becoming more and more important in any air force and we should keep a careful watch on the progress that is made not only to give them training in the first place but to continue it.
Reports on the cadet forces are again favourable and I notice in evidence to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee Mr. Cauthery of the Department judges the schemes were very worthwhile.
It would be churlish of me not to welcome the good recruiting figures and to welcome that the tail has been trimmed a bit. The Government can claim that perhaps the R.A.F. has been able to dispose of many of those it might have recruited in its endeavour to become more efficient and this is on the credit side. But I suspect this is something to do with the military salary introduced by my right hon. Friends. The sombre fact, as Members from Wales and Scotland know only too well, is that as soon as unemployment reaches a certain critical level it leads to more recruits to the Services—often high-calibre recruits—from among young men who do not want to be idle.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) told a powerful if sad story about a senior N.C.O., who, I believe, was his constituent. I will not go over that story or what my hon. Friend heard from his constituent's wife. I draw the conclusion from what my hon. Friend said that there is an obligation to long-serving n.c.o.s. What have the Government to say about how they can honour such commitments? It is rather difficult to do so at a time when certain sectors 859 of the Service are being cut, but this is a very real human problem. It is not wholly a matter of finance; it is partly a matter of a man's dignity.
I was very struck by the family story told by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West. I do not have statistics showing the incidence of broken marriages in the Services, but there is a general impression that it is significantly more than in civilian life. The suspicion is that this is partly to do with the difficulty of obtaining housing. In fact, it is partly about housing. I suspect that, as was said last year, while many local authorities are very good at meeting their obligations to Servicemen others are not. What will the Government do about the laggard authorities? What pressures are being put on them in areas where obtaining married quarters becomes difficult?
We welcomed what the Minister said about built-in furniture and movable furniture. I welcome his effort to get single rooms at permanent stations, and the notion of the 12-to-14-room complex built round a sitting room. It is appreciated that there are quarters with central heating at Lossiemouth. I am sure that the Minister will give my hon. Friend the Member for Newark an answer on R.A.F. Syerston. My hon. Friend knows far more about the matter than I do, so I shall not go into that.
Last year I thought—and here I must admit error—that there was a future in a closer link between the R.A.F., B.E.A. and B.O.A.C., and that a number of pilots due to leave the R.A.F. could go into B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. That is very difficult, because B.O.A.C. has ceased for a period of months to take in any entrants. It has obligations to its own pilots. The rate of expansion in civil airlines has been nothing like what was expected. In those circumstances, R.A.F. pilots may find difficulty. It is calculated that there are 1,156 highly-trained pilots leaving the R.A.F. over a 10-year period. When it came to the crunch many would want to continue in the skilled trade that they know so well. Perhaps it is very difficult for them to be fitted into civil airlines, other than small commercial airlines. I should like to hear the Government's thinking on this problem.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is a case for that. Perhaps the Government will comment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd asked about the circumstances in which Servicemen were killed in the Gulf, and what obligations we have in Oman. Paragraph 33 of the Defence White Paper must be explained, and my hon. Friend deserves an answer.
Last year we went in some detail into language training. I do not propose to go over that again, except to ask what the Government's thinking has been, and whether they have carried out the undertakings they gave then.
Finally, I want to reflect in rather an interrogatory way on the rôle of the R.A.F. in relation to the space industry. My information is that the procurement agency under Derek Rayner has proved that it looks like being a success; at least there are no signs that it is not going to be success. There is a problem that perhaps in this set-up there is not much room for the scientists, but I can see the other argument that the Service officers have legitimate careers expectations and they, too, should be given key positions. There is competition for key positions in the procurement agency.
Perhaps I could gently say that I wonder whether there is a slight bias against the scientists in the Civil Service who might expect some of the key jobs. I say it very gently. It would not be sensible to make that a criticism.
I also understand that the National Defence Industry Council, which was perhaps conceived out of the problem of M.R.C.A., has been a success; that the Secretary of State for Defence has taken the chair at several meetings, and that this is regarded by industry as a success.
Of course, having said that so much is so good, there is another very real and much wider problem, namely, that if we are going to attract into the R.A.F. that element of the highest quality of recruit—which means some of the most 861 technically competent people in our society—what incentives do we give them? It may well be that the incentive of a possible war—which we all hope will not happen—and the incentive of bombing some other country are not sufficient for many of the recruits that the R.A.F. would like to attract. That would be agreed ground.
Therefore, the question arises as to what other incentive can be given. Here I go back to a question that I raised in the Defence debate—the whole nature of the British space effort. A very urgent decision has to be made by Government, by the summer, and this is the decision of the post-Apollo programme. If the hon. Member for Woking thinks that this is a light matter, I can assure him that industry does not, because industry of the kind that he and I are interested in is vitally concerned about whether or not we are going to participate in the post-Apollo programme.
It certainly does not lie with me, on this occasion, to say whether we should accept an offer that was first made by the Americans two years ago to this country and to Westerin Europe to participate in the shuttle, or any of the other post-Apollo projects. Whether we do or not is of the utmost consequence to the electronics industry, and if one talks to serious people in the electronics industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark knows very well, one finds great interest, because those jeople will not remain at the frontiers of technological knowledge in microcircuitry unless we, too, participate.
This is highly expensive. I am just putting it in question form. If we do, should not the responsibility be vested in the Services, and particularly in the R.A.F., because every other country carries out this kind of project for some reason or another—and probably very different reasons—and invests it in the armed forces. The Soviet Union have it in their armed forces. The United States have it basically in their armed forces, and so do the Chinese, with whom I talked in Peking in November, about their satellite and communications capacity.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Responsibility for any British participation in the United States 862 post-Apollo space programme. This is a matter of considerable industrial importance to this country. The hon. Member for Woking asks, in a fairly ribald manner, why I want to have it in the R.A.F. I have to ask a different question. Why is the Ministerial Aerospace Board mentioned in the Defence Estimates, when the board is said to be co-ordinating civil projects? This appears in paragraph 19 of the Defence Estimates. If I am asked in a bewildered way what on earth it has to do with the Ministry of Defence, I then say, if I am told that the Government have responsibility for the National Defence Industries Council, to whose success I pay tribute, the Ministerial Aerospace Board which is mentioned in the White Paper is a farce.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is of consequence to industry. It is not a filibuster. There are occasions when the hon. Member laments that we have insufficient time to go into these details. If we had a Select Committee on Defence I would make a much shorter speech but, since we have not been given a Select Committee on Defence, I take the opportunity to make a longer speech, leaving the Minister 50 minutes in which to reply to these questions in some detail.
I end by asking about the Ministerial Aerospace Board. Either it is of consequence or it is not. If it is not of consequence, why does it appear in the Defence Estimates? Is it a charade or is it meaningful? This is the question to which British industry and the American Government want an answer.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Lord Lambton
There have been many interesting contributions to our debate today. I am a little staggered by what I can only describe as the questionnaire directed at me during the last 40 minutes. I can only compare it to the Christmas quiz which appears in our national newspapers and is guaranteed to keep the whole family amused over a long weekend. If I do not answer all the questions which have been asked, and the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will get in touch with me, I will answer them.
§ Lord Lambton
It is not possible for me to answer such rapid-fire questions without due preparation.
§ Mr. John Morris
It was the custom in my time, if defence questions were not answered in the course of the debate, for the Minister himself to write to hon. Members on both sides of the House. It was not a question of hon. Members getting in touch with the Minister, but the other way round.
§ Lord Lambton
I shall be only too pleased to do that. Some of the questions I have answered, some I will answer, and I shall also write a good many letters to the hon. Member for West Lothian.
I will deal first with the interesting and constructive speech of the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), and try to answer some of his questions. He asked about the forward look in the R.A.F., and how necessary it was for the R.A.F. to have a forward look. In a comparatively few words it is extremely difficult to give detailed information about the manpower requirements of the R.A.F. over the years ahead. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the subject is extraordinarily complex, and conditions change so rapidly from time to time that it is not possible for me to answer accurately too far into the future.
In 1972–73 and 1973–74 we expect to need substantially fewer airmen recruits than we sought in the previous two years. We expect the requirement to increase after 1973–74 until by the end of the decade it reaches a figure higher than we have been able to achieve in the past. This, of course, is where the crunch could come. But even this has to be qualified, because one really can have no idea so far ahead precisely what the requirements are going to be, and it will depend upon the economy drive, and so on.
The next question which the right hon. Gentleman asked was if there had been any rationalisation lately in the Ministry of Defence. I would say that the most effective piece of rationalisation has been the establishment of the Procurement Executive as part of the Ministry of Defence, because that really brings procurement under one roof. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is really working very well and this is one really substantial success which we have had in this 864 field on which Members on both sides of the House will agree.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of research and development costs, and it was raised also by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth)—the latter in a very brave speech, if I may say so. Although in this House we hold very different opinions we cannot but admire an hon. Member who, coming from a constituency so devoted to the building of ships for warlike purposes, proclaims his point of view with such honesty. Although I do not, of course, accept that point of view, I think it is very refreshing to hear someone so absolutely straightforward in what he says.
The right hon. Gentleman raised this question of research and development costs, which for 1972–73 are expected to be £330 million. I should like to make it quite plain that only a proportion of this expenditure is due to the development of equipment for the Royal Air Force and thus is strictly relevant to this debate. With permission, however, I will deal with this point on a more general basis as it obviously affects all three Services.
I should first make it clear that approaching half the increase compared with last year's expenditure is due to pay and price escalation, although there has still been a significant increase in real terms. Expenditure on defence research and development reached its bottom in 1970–71, when it was £222 million, as I think was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. The reason it had sunk so low at that time was really the cuts or reductions in the Services which were imposed by the previous Administration in the 1967 Defence Review.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, research and development expenditure on major defence equipment is spread over a long period of time and is planned some years in advance, and many of the projects on which such expenditure is now reaching a peak are those which he himself approved some years ago. I think he has every reason to be pleased with this, because some of the things he set in motion are doing well at the present time. That really explains the matter as far as I can do so without going into details, which the right hon.
865 Gentleman will understand that I really cannot do.
Another point which the hon. Gentleman raised concerned the question of the M.R.C.A., about which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Woking also spoke. There is no doubt at all that we are doing everything we can to ensure that the M.R.C.A. is the success that it looks like being. There will probably be a further announcement this autumn when we can say what further stage has been reached. But at present things have gone in a satisfactory way, costs have been comparatively well-contained and we have every reason for satisfaction in the way things are going at present. We shall be able to tell the right hon. Member more about this matter in the autumn. In July and August we reviewed the progress made during the first full year of development and this was generally satisfactory. I do not know whether there is anything more I can say about that.
§ Mr. John Morris
Would the Minister give an assurance that the next statement, as distinct from the last one in September, 1971, will be made to the House of Commons?
§ Lord Lambton
Certainly—and the nearer we get to this aircraft going into production, the more possible it will be for statement to be rather fuller. One of the reasons that there have not been many statements is that there is not all that much to say.
The question of aero-engine repair and overhaul was raised by the right hon. Member for Aberavon and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking. I should like to go into that matter fully. All aero-engine repair and overhaul is undertaken in industry, except for a small number of engines repaired or overhauled at the Royal Naval aircraft yard at Fleet-lands. Under rationalisation agreements the Royal Navy as from 1st April will concentrate its facilities at Fleetlands on rotary wing aero-engines, including some of the Royal Air Force. Most fixed-wing aero-engines will go to industry, and this in effect means Rolls-Royce. There is a continuous dialogue with this company to ensure that it fully understands and makes every effort to meet Service requirements. Studies have been made to 866 establish all the factors which have an effect on the total time engines are not available to flying units. Further studies into each factor are being made to see whether any improvements can be made in the time absorbed. There is no intention to duplicate the costly and complex equipment required for engine repair and overhaul which exists in industry.
There is, however, a need to provide service technicians with a broader experience of work on engine overhaul, especially on future modular types of aero-engine, and to have some acceptable procedure in case the resources of industry become unavailable and in case of emergency. A study is being made of the feasibility of setting up a minimum viable capacity in Maintenance Command. I cannot forecast its outcome.
§ Mr. Onslow
Would my hon. Friend widen the study to examine whether the Royal Air Force can support the same kind of study as B.O.A.C. has supported. If an airline can do it, it cannot be all that costly. Would he consider the desirability of taking aero-engine work back into the services and putting airframe work out to industry? This might have an electric effect on Rolls-Royce.
§ Lord Lambton
I am afraid I shall have to give my hon. Friend the same sort of reply I gave him before, namely that we are looking carefully at this subject. My hon. Friend may not find the answer totally satisfactory, but that is what we are doing at present. He might like me to go more carefully into the question of the allocation of repair work between industry and defence establishments. This is governed by considerations of the importance of the aerospace industry of having defence aircraft repairs allocated to it and the need for viable repair capacity within the Service. That gives the main lines upon which we are trying to work at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) asked about Linesman and the vulnerability of the West Drayton complex to conventional attack. Despite all the talk or mention that there has been in the newspapers about covering up, I should like to try to be as frank as possible on this matter. I have no intention of covering up anything that the House should know.
867 The record shows that a great deal of information has been provided about Linesman/Mediator. This system was conceived a number of years ago under a different defence policy with greater emphasis on the likelihood of nuclear escalation than we would think right today. West Drayton was and still is the right location for a system which combines air space management with a defence capability. That needs still exists, and the West Drayton complex will meet it.
However, the defence situation is not static. Against the background of a flexible defence strategy, we cannot rule out the possibility that conventional strikes into this country might be attempted in certain circumstances. Precisely what this risk is one could argue about all night long. But neither has the Linesman/Mediator project remained static. What now goes on inside this famous building at West Drayton is not something which the House would expect me to describe in public. Its air space management function is crucial and its defence capability is important and valuable. It really is not a white elephant. As far as the defence function is concerned, significant margins of security have been and are being built into the air defence system elsewhere. We are now studying what further measures may need to be taken to maintain the viability of the air defence system.
I do not know whether that answers my hon. Friend. I have given as much of an answer as I can on this subject, which he must realise has certain aspects which I cannot really disclose.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. However, I also raised the question of cost. I admit that he wrote to me about it, but I have seen varying figures given for the cost escalation. Will he tell me something about that?
The second point, which my hon. Friend has really answered, is that we have an adequate air defence system. Clearly at the moment we are really talking about Mediator. It is Linesman which, in a sense, has fallen down.
§ Lord Lambton
The cost at the moment is approaching £100 million, which is considerably over the original 868 estimate. We have an air defence system, but that system, though good, is not perfect. It has run into certain difficulties. However, that system is of the greatest value to us at present.
§ Mr. Booth
Will the hon. Gentleman give us a little more information? On page 54 of the 1971 Estimates the total resarch and development costs given for electronic projects is £41 million. On page 53 four projects are listed. Three major projects are named, and the rest are covered by a communications heading. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that one of those four projects cost £100 million and that the £41 million should be in excess of that £100 million?
§ Lord Lambton
The total estimated cost of the Linesman project is approximately £100 million.
I now turn to other subjects which have been brought up in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking asked why we could not develop the Pegasus for the V/STOL for the Fleet. We are completing a feasibility study on the Pegasus 15 engine. It is too early to say whether further steps will be taken. My hon. Friend will recognise that the Pegasus 15 cannot be accommodated in the existing Harrier without some aircraft modification. Indeed, that was a subject which my hon. Friend raised at the end of his speech. The Royal Navy and the Air Force are working very closely together on this at present. The studies have not yet been completed and will not be for some months. As soon as they are, I or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy will inform the House.
§ Mr. Onslow
I hope that the manufacturers are not being left out of this and that, when it comes to deciding where the best export markets are, the advice of the manufacturers will be taken seriously into account. It may be that if the prospects are as good as the manufacturers believe, a substantial contribution on the airframe side might be forthcoming from them.
§ Lord Lambton
All that we can do at the moment is wait and see how the studies turn out. Anything else would be inopportune at the moment.
The right hon. Member for Aberavon asked what were the export prospects 869 for Nimrods. A number of countries are interested in the aircraft, especially Canada. The firm and the Ministry of Defence have done their best to help the Canadians have all the information that they need. They have not yet made a decision. However the additional order for the R.A.F. and the continuation of the production facilities should improve the prospects of obtaining export orders.
There is no doubt that by keeping the Nimrod in production, we have widened the possibilities of its being exported. This goes rather across the arguments of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness, who seems to believe that the more we spend on armaments, the more unemployment there is. There is no doubt that by keeping the Nimrod in production we are employing men who otherwise would have been unemployed. We shall continue to employ them in the future if export orders keep up, as we hope.
I turn to the humanitarian point raised by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who wanted to know why the husband of a constituent of his was not allowed to extend his service from 15 to 22 years, and why men with long and useful service behind them should be thrown out before they want to leave.
There has never been an automatic right in the Air Force to extend the length of an existing engagement to 22 years. A quota system has been necessary for a long time to ensure that the R.A.F.'s structure of age and rank does not become too unbalanced. In present conditions, with a potentially large surplus of airmen over our immediate requirements, it has been necessary to apply stricter control to extensions of service. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's humanitarian interest and that many men who wish to continue serving in the R.A.F. will be disappointed by our inability to retain them. But I am afraid that we cannot afford to grant a completely new right to extend service when the result of doing so will be to overload the R.A.F. with senior N.C.O.s and Warrant Officers and deprive the younger short-service men of their chances of promotion. If we were to allow this to happen, we should not get the short-service men who are so necessary at the moment.
§ Mr. John
That was not my question. Could we not cushion these people by 870 allowing them, either temporarily or for long periods, to extend their service by remustering so as to give them freedom from the spectre of being thrown into civilian life at 40 plus with no recognisable civilian trade, when unemployment is high?
§ Lord Lambton
That is a slightly different question. This is a real problem. We do all we can to train people to go into civilian life. The same argument applies. If this principle went too far, there would still be an overload of a type of service man who would make the R.A.F. uneconomic. But I appreciate the hon. Member's humanitarian interest.
The right hon. Member for Aberavon asked a question which I have already partially answered—what was being done to reduce engine turn-round time. We have set in motion studies to establish all the factors which make up the total turn-round time for an aero engine undergoing repair and overall. Studies are being made to see whether any improvements can be made in the time taken at present.
§ Mr. John Morris
The Minister's reply is exceedingly disappointing—that a study has now been set up. This matter was of immense importance in my time at the Ministry, more than 20 months ago. I raised it in the Estimates debate last year. The Minister now belatedly says that something is being done. This is of great importance.
§ Lord Lambton
Something is continually being done to see whether the matter can be improved. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman set up a study into this problem when he was in office. But we are trying to see whether we can improve this turn-round time.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) who has courteously written to inform me that he could not be here, wrote about the implications for employment of the 1182. The employment implications for Hawker Siddeley Aviation at its factories at Kingston, Brough and Hamble for a programme of work running for eight or nine years will peak at 2000 or a little more. The employment implications for Rolls-Royce at Derby will peak at 275, approaching 300. The engine work is to be shared with France.
871 The hon. Member for Newark asked about the future of Syerston. I have written to him about this. From early 1975, it will be needed as the relief landing ground for Cramwell. Meanwhile, it will remain on its present care and maintenance basis. I cannot yet say whether any part of the airfield or its facilities will become surplus to our needs. If so, we will dispose of it in the normal way, and I will get in touch with him.
§ Mr. Bishop
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his letter. My right hon. Friend put this in mothballs about three years ago or longer. If nothing is done until 1974–75, deterioration may set in. If it is not to be a relief airfield, does one need it at all? If it is necessary for that purpose, to what extent will it be used and what other facilities will be available to local authorities in the area?
From the employment point of view, one looks to light industry to be established in this sort of area. There are other uses, such as for local authority services like education. One can envisage the use of this sort of area for leisure purposes, exhibitions and so on. An early decision in this matter would be welcomed, especially to avoid further deterioration.
§ Lord Lambton
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern and I will let him know more about this. I assure him that if there is any deterioration, steps will be taken to see that it is checked at once. However, this airfield is required for a relief ground for Cranwell.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) asked a number of general questions. He really wanted to know about the Nimrod maritime use and our policy for getting oil from the fields to this country. In other words, he questioned me about our ability to defend our ships bringing oil from parts of the world—I imagine that he had the Gulf particularly in mind—to the United Kingdom.
It must be admitted that with the scale of our defences, this is a commitment which we cannot take on. However, as we are entering Europe, perhaps we can try to have a N.A.T.O. European policy which will widen its spheres of interest. My hon. Friend raised a valid point and I agree that it is not possible to say that 872 everything inside the Tropic of Cancer should be safe while everything outside should be neglected.
The prospect of our entering Europe is bright from this point of view. We may be able to extend the area of N.A.T.O.'s activities in Europe and it is to be hoped that our European partners will join us in looking at things in a wider context. To be frank, our present resources do not enable us completely to ensure that ships come safely from the Gulf to this country. I do not think any Government has had the resources to be able to guarantee this.
Several hon. Members asked if the R.A.F. police were 60 per cent. below establishment. I was also asked if there were poor promotion prospects in the police. This aspect was raised in connection with St. Athan, and I was asked if greater security was needed.
The R.A.F. police have not found recruitment as easy as the majority of R.A.F. trades, but their strength is nothing like as far below establishment as hon. Members have feared. Promotion prospects in the police vary from time to time, as they do in other parts of the R.A.F. A principal object of our manpower planning is to ensure that serious disparities between promotion opportunities in one branch and another are balanced out so that no one group is particularly badly placed for several years at a time. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) asked about Bulldogs for air experience flights on basic training. We do not envisage replacing the Chipmunks in the air experience flights with the Bulldog. For basic training we expect to make use of the Jet Provost for a good many years. It will not be necessary for us to decide on the replacement for some time.
I hope the House will forgive me for taking these questions in such a strange order. A point was raised by the hon. Member for Pontypridd and also by the hon. Member for West Lothian who asked about Oman and Britain's secret war there. There is nothing secret about the United Kingdom's long standing treaty of friendship with the Sultanate of Oman. This was signed in 1951 and published as a Command Paper; it was followed by an exchange of letters also published. Stemming from these understandings and from agreements which 873 we have with the Sultanate governing the use of the important R.A.F. staging post at Masirah, it has been policy under successive administrations to provide training and assistance to the armed forces of the Sultanate, to second British personnel and provide facilities for the Sultanate airfield at Salalah.
All this has been the case for many years; the importance of the assistance has certainly increased since the Sultanate was faced with serious subversion in the Dhofar, supported, we believe, from outside. We believe it is in the interests of stability that we should continue to assist the Sultanate in the traditional ways which we have done in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking, who has just left the Chamber, asked if any lives have been lost as a result of defects in the Spey engine. I have looked into this and can find no evidence at the moment that any flying accidents have been attributable to the Spey, but I will confirm this and let him know.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) raised the point of the civil use of airfields and I know that he is particularly anxious about Thorney Island and what one might describe as the Portsmouth complex. This has been the subject of some of his questions. Wherever possible, civil use of R.A.F. airfields is permitted, and a large number are open to civil users provided the prior permission of the commanding officer is obtained.
As to the joint use of the service airfields in the Portsmouth area, while the provision of facilities for civil aviation is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, I can only repeat that we shall be happy to take part in discussions with the local authorities concerned. This suggestion came from the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West, and we are putting it forward as quickly as we can. I understand from the hon. Member that there is some urgency in this matter.
I turn to some of the points the hon. Member made in winding-up. He asked about the British Indian Ocean territory and if I could explain how the estimates had suddenly risen this year to £830,000. Actually the sum fell this year to £100,000 from £830,000, so there is a very substantial decrease not an increase. In 874 the White Paper page 18, the right-hand column is 1972–73, the left-hand column is 1971–72.
As for our decision to adopt the HS 1182AJ with the unreheated Adour engine, the hon. Gentleman obviously feels very strongly about this. He asked why we did not choose the Viper engine; what were the employment prospects with the 1182AJ, and would it cost £10 million to remove the after-burner from the Adour? He is quite right, we did consider the Viper very carefully. We preferred the Adour because the performance of the aircraft with the Viper engine would not fully have met the requirements of the R.A.F. We are talking of the advanced trainer which took the place of the Jaguar which would have been more advanced. The hon. Gentleman will understand that particularly where contracts have not been completed I cannot comment on his figure of £10 million. I can, however, say, and this has some relation to some of his worries, that the bulk of the expenditure on the Adour programme will not be due to the removal of the after-burner but to the support of the flight development and testing programme. I will certainly let the hon. Member know more about this later. He may well have misconceived fears about this.
As for employment, we expect that the air frame work will be carried out at Kingston, Brough and Hamble. The programme, including developments and production, will extend over several years and employment is expected to peak at 2,000 or a little more. The engine work will be shared with the French. The United Kingdom share will be rather more than half and will be undertaken at Derby and by Rolls-Royce sub-contractors with employment at peak approaching 300. If as we hope there are export orders these figures could increase.
I was surprised at the suggestion that we were contemplating an aircraft which could be dangerous to pilots in training. The previous plan adopted by hon. Members opposite contemplated the supersonic Jaguar as an advanced trainer which would, following the logical argument of the hon. Member have been a far more dangerous trainer. Here we are speaking of an aircraft of more modest performance and, this must be stressed, an unreheated engine.
§ Mr. Dalyell
We must get this right. I was never suggesting that Ministry of Defence would risk the lives of trainee pilots. My suggestion was totally different, that in order to provide a trainer costly alterations had to be made to an engine. There is a great difference.
§ Lord Lambton
I never meant to convey that the hon. Member was saying that but it was better he should make a clear explanation because otherwise his words could have read rather differently.
He asked me about Jetstream and the £7½ million order. This order is subject to contractual negotiation and I cannot comment on the £7½million. I can say that the H.S. 748 would have been more expensive as well as being larger and more complex than the Jetstream. The hon. Gentleman also asked me when Jaguars will replace the Phantoms and release them for air defence. The Phantoms will replace the Lightning in the United Kingdom, Germany and Cyprus. Canberras will be retained for reconnaisance, until the M.R.C.A. comes into use. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot be too precise.
I was also asked about the Lightning and the gun with which it is fitted. That gun is additional to air-to-air missiles and it has value in various circumstances, including the situation in which it is desired to fire a warning shot.
I have tried to pick as many questions as I could and I have gone as far as I can. I will certainly let the hon. Member know the answers to any questions which I may have omitted.
§ Lord Lambton
This is more a question for the Navy than for me. I will certainly get in touch with my hon. Friend about this. I would rather do that than make some comment which was not strictly accurate.
I end by answering one question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) who asked about R.A.F. numbers dropping from 1971 when recruiting was good. There are two reasons for this. First, we are still seeing the last effects of our withdrawal from the Gulf and of the reductions of our Forces elsewhere outside Europe. Secondly in 1972–3 we shall begin to benefit from the efforts to use manpower more efficiently and economically. My hon. Friend will appreciate we cannot recruit large numbers of men irrespective of whether we use them, simply because large numbers are applying. I have, Mr. Speaker, tried to cover a very large variety of points in a rather staccato fashion. I have tried to give as many direct answers as I could to direct questions. I thank the hon. Members for the courtesy they have shown in listening to me.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That during the year ending on 31st March, 1973 a number not exceeding 113,500 all ranks be maintained for Air Force Service, a number not exceeding 13,590 for the Royal Air Force Reserve and a number not exceeding 400 for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.