HL Deb 15 October 1940 vol 117 cc488-91

LORD PORTSEA asked His Majesty's Government whether they will grant permanent Commissions or recognise in some other way the past and present services of those young officers who were offered and given four-year Commissions in the R.A.F. some four years ago, the term of service of these officers having now come to an end and the officers being "kept on" on the old peace terms but serving in the war?

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this question which I am about to ask deals only with a very small body of men, but I venture to think it is a matter of considerable importance. It was dealt with favourably in the last war, when a largish body of naval officers were kept on. A few years before this war, a certain number of young men—quite young men: eighteen to twenty-two—were offered four-year Commissions in the Royal Air Force. That was before the overwhelming impor- tance of the Air Service was patent to everybody. At the age of eighteen they would have joined any Force covered by the British flag, regardless of any paid position or anything else, but that, it seems to me, would be taking advantage of their youth, and no man nowadays—or perhaps then—wishes to take advantage of their youth and, I may say, their innocence. They were offered these four-year Commissions, and they were told that at the end of the four years they would be thrown out. They were volunteers, not conscripts, and they were of course taken out of the professions which they had joined and submitted to a very rigorous training.

It does not seem to me, as I say, that this was a very generous offer to the very young, but a number of boys, not very many, joined and their time is now up or just expiring, and they are being retained on the same terms as those on which they joined. But whereas they were then ignorant of their work, now they are all qualified airmen; they are indispensable to the country and of inexpressible value. They—when I say "they" I should say those who are still left alive, those who have not already given their lives for us—are to be told that, although they are officers, their conditions are not to be ameliorated, but at the end of the war their credentials may be considered, and if they are not considered favourably they will be thrown out. They are to be in exactly the same position as the men who are now trained, and who are of course ignorant of their trade. I do not think that is what your Lordships would wish, and I am pretty certain it is not what the country wishes. The country at least wishes that those who are fighting for it should be reasonably and generously treated. The position of these officers should be regularised, their loyalty, their patriotism, their pluck, should not, if I may use the word, be exploited, for to this fine body of men the Air Force and the country owe an immense debt. These officers do not count the emoluments, for they are paid about half of what they would receive as civilian heads at the moment, but we cannot dispense with their services.

This is not exactly a unique case, although I have not been able to find one exactly on all fours, but there was something of the kind during the last war, when it was a question of keeping on naval engineer officers whose time was expired, and in another place I received very considerable help from a noble friend of mine who is sitting on the Front Bench opposite me. He will remember the case of the kept-on naval engineers. But if this treatment is not unique it is very nearly so, and it seems to me it is not worthy of Parliament or of the country. What I ask is that these gallant young gentlemen should be placed in a position which most of us think is due to them—and has long been due to them—for their patriotism, their singleness of purpose, their arduous training, and their arduous work day by day and hour by hour at the risk of their lives. Their courage and their initiative are worthy of some recognition, and the recognition I ask is that they should be given permanent Commissions. They should not wait till the end of the war and then, if we find that there are any of them left and there is a desire on the part of the R.A.F. to keep them in its ranks, they should be given permanent service. I do not think that arrangement at all satisfactory.


My Lords, for the information of the noble Lord and of the House I may say that an almost identical question was asked on the 17th September by Sir Jocelyn Lucas in another place and the reply is to be found on column 107 of the Commons OFFICIAL REPORT as follows: Post-war requirements cannot be estimated until the end of the war, and consequently the grant of permanent Commissions in the Royal Air Force has been suspended except in the case of those officers who had already been provisionally selected when the war began. When selection is resumed after the war, the claims of all suitable officers will be considered. The position to-day is that in peace time the number of permanent Commissions given both from Cranwell and to short-service officers was fixed at such a figure as would ensure a reasonable career in the higher ranks for those selected and this is, of course, related to establishments in higher ranks.

The size of the post-war Royal Air Force cannot be estimated until after the war, nor can it be estimated how many permanent Commissions will be required to fill the higher ranks. The policy is therefore to leave the selection of officers for permanent Commissions until the war is over and until we have some knowledge of post-war requirements. We shall then have the whole field of war-time pilots (including those who entered on short-service Commissions or in the R.A.F.V.R. before the war) to choose from on merit. To grant permanent Commissions during the war with no knowledge of post-war requirements would pile up additional commitments for non-effective benefits (which are higher for permanent officers) and might well involve an expensive and highly unpopular "axing" scheme after the war. The Army are following the same general rules as those which I have indicated.