§ 2.47 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD rose to call attention to the state of the Royal Air Force, and the vital importance of British air power to the Commonwealth, the Western Union and the United 545 Nations; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the Motion that stands in my name, I should like to make it clear at the outset that this is no Party attack upon the Government. No doubt, in the course of the debate, criticisms will be made upon this or that part of the Government's administration of the Air Force; but I feel sure that it would be the wish of every noble Lord to keep these great issues of defence outside the arena of Party battles. So far as I am concerned, therefore, I shall make the case as strongly as I can, without turning aside to any detailed criticism of the administration of the Air Ministry or the Royal Air Force.
§ I base my argument upon two propositions. The first is that no major military operation can succeed under modern conditions without mastery of the air; the second, that in the present condition of the world Anglo-American air power can be the most formidable military deterrent against aggression and can be the most effective military means of ensuring European and world security. It is worth while for a moment, before I deal with the present situation, to look back at the past and to see what lessons it has to teach us. It fell to me, in the years immediately after the First World War, to be Secretary of State for Air in three successive Governments. I had the great advantage of having as Chief of the Air Staff the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—not only the father of the Air Force but also the founder of air strategy—and he had as his young assistant the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, to whose speech we are looking forward with great anticipation this afternoon.
§ It may be said that this ancient history has no bearing upon a world in which everything has conspicuously changed, particularly air forces and air tactics and strategy. At the same time, it is worth mentioning two lessons that impressed us at that time, which I believe have as much application to the present state of affairs as they had in the years immediately after the First World War. The first was the great danger of an ill-considered system of demobilisation in a highly technical service depending for its very existence upon a balance of the various forces that it contains. I am inclined to think that 546 in the last two or three years we have repeated some of the mistakes that were first made at the time of the demobilisation of the Air Force in 1918 and 1919. Be that as it may, there was another lesson that those years had to teach. In the course of time we were able to initiate a programme of Air Force expansion that was to take several years, and was to develop upon a balanced plan. I believe that the plan was a good one, but what subsequently happened was that, year after year, it was either modified by successive Governments or was diminished or delayed. I am not now apportioning blame to any particular Government, or to any particular individual, but I quote this instance to impress upon your Lordships the essential need of a continuity of policy if we are to have a consistent plan of Air Force defence.
§ After some years, I went back again to the Air Ministry in the early part of 1940. I was not there very long, but I was there long enough to realise the importance of two other lessons. The first was the urgent need for the future—I am afraid it was then too late for the present—to have an Air Force strong enough to strike at once. If, in 1938 and 1939, we had had such an Air Force, I believe that the momentum of the German advance could have been stayed. There was a second lesson, which was the overriding need of a strong force of bombers for air defence. Noble Lords may remember that at the outbreak of the last war we had an Air Force in which the ratio of fighters to bombers was three to one. It may well be that at that time that was the only ratio that was practicable. Certainly it should be remembered that the result of that ratio was to enable us to win the Battle of Britain. But, as the war progressed, so more and more it became evident that for purposes of defence—and long-distance defence in particular—a strong force of bombers was essential. That being so, I would urge upon the Government that in any plans that they are making for Air Force expansion they should keep that lesson constantly in their minds.
§ The war developed. The subsequent and predominant lesson that it taught us was the one which I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks—namely, that 547 no major military operation can succeed in modern conditions without the mastery of the air. That lesson was obvious in Poland, in Norway and in Crete. Wherever the Germans had the mastery of the air, they were able to develop a successful military operation. On the other hand, when we gained the mastery of the air, we were able to land the great Normandy expedition; we were able to immobilise the German armies, and we were able to take action that proved to be decisive in winning the war. Those are not the views of any partisan of air power in this or any other country. They were the accepted conclusions of every one of the principal German generals.
Let me remind noble Lords of two short statements that were made, first of all by Field-Marshal von Rundstedt, and secondly by Field-Marshal von Kesselring. Here is Field-Marshal von Rundstedt's conclusion as to air power—I quote his exact words:
The collapse of Germany was due to the enemy's complete mastery of the air. The enemy's Air Force is almost unlimited in radius. It controls in numbers not only the main battlefield but also the approach and supply roads to a depth of 150 to 200 kilometres. Moreover, the enemy carries the battle right into the home battlefront with his tactical bombers, in order to destroy the large railway systems, especially railway junctions, marshalling yards, locomotive shops, bridges and important works connected with the war industry.
Field-Marshal von Kesselring told war correspondents after his capture that the chief reason for the German defeat was—and here again I quote the exact words:
Allied strategic bombing behind the German lines.
I need say no more. Let me assume that in the present condition of the world those lessons will be taken to heart. What effect should they have on the defence of Western Europe and the maintenance of world peace? What are the dangers that we are now facing? They are certainly not naval, except to the extent that we need protection against submarines. The danger that we are facing—let me speak quite candidly—is a land danger from Russia. I speak of Russian policy as the sole military threat to the peace of the world in present conditions. Russian aggression is the only military danger that at present threatens Europe.
§ I wish indeed that this were not so, that Russia were prepared to play her part in the United Nations and to help the Western Powers to restore prosperity to the troubled world. Until, however, the Soviet gives proof of its intention to reverse the present policy of aggression, the only course possible for the Western Powers is to make their defences so strong that any attack on them is likely to fail. I propose to state as clearly as I can my own views as to how these defences should be strengthened. I purposely say "my own views," for I do not pretend to speak for anybody but myself. In the subsequent course of the debate, noble Lords will freely express their own individual views upon the subject. In so far as I am concerned, it is my considered view that the only military danger against which we have to protect ourselves and the countries of Western Europe, at the present moment is the Russian danger.
§ It is freely said that Russia has an army of 3,000,000 men that can move across Europe at will, and that the only possible obstacle in their way is the atom bomb. I fear that if we state the danger in this form we run the risk of implying that all other methods of defence except the atom bomb are ineffective. I do not question the fact that twenty atom bombs could do irretrievable damage to Russia, but for their effective use supremacy in the air is essential. Apart, however, from the question of the atom bomb, I am convinced that for the years immediately before us a dominant Allied Air Force can hold up and disorganise any Russian advance. Russia is particularly vulnerable at two points—the point of its communications and the point of its oil supplies—just those two points upon which the Air Force demonstrated its power in the later years of the war.
This is what was said upon both these points by the Joint Statement made by the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force in Europe at the end of the war:
The immense destruction done to all key-points on the railways of North-West Europe is well known. The effect on the mobility of the German reserves was disastrous, and the Allied build-up proved to be far more rapid than that of the enemy. The journey of two Panzer divisions from the Eastern front is a clear indication of the difficulties which the enemy had to face. The two divisions had raced across Germany in seventy-two trains,
each division using three lines with twelve trains on each. But when they got to Nancy, in Eastern France, it was found that they could only proceed from there to Paris at the rate of eight trains a day instead of seventy-two.
And even these eight trains did not get through to Paris!
I will quote also from this Joint Statement as to the question of oil:
Before the campaign began, Germany had a normal monthly output of 1,344,000 tons of all oil products, and 532,000 tons of motor and aviation fuel. By September of 1944, the output of all oil products was down to 310,000 tons, 23 per cent. of the original figure, and of motor and aviation fuel down to 105,000 tons, 20 per cent, of the original figure.
My Lords, I need say no more to show the devastating effect that air power can have upon communications and upon oil supply.
§ It may be said that up to the present I have been dealing mainly with the past, and mainly in general terms. Let me now bring my remarks into a more concrete form, and suggest to the House the kind of Allied Air Force that I believe would be capable of acting as an effective deterrent against aggression and as an effective instrument of European security. I contemplate an Allied Air Force, to operate at the very beginning of a war, of at least 100 jet fighter squadrons, 150 latest type long-range bomber squadrons, 50 pilot-less rocket units and 150 transport squadrons. With a fully equipped and manned force of this kind I am convinced that the Allies could stop and disorganise any attempted advance across the Continent.
§ The next question is: How should this force be composed? Noble Lords will have noticed that I have called it an Allied Air Force. I mean it to be an Allied Air Force. It seems to me that in the initial stages it will, inevitably, be predominantly Anglo-American. I hope that in course of time the other countries of the Western Union will be able to reinforce it, and in particular that France will realise the immense importance of air power and will make an effective contribution towards it. I purposely do not to-day press the Government as to the exact extent to which the British Air Force should contribute to this Allied Air Force. I hope it will be a very big contribution.
§ I would, however, say this. I think the Government are making a mistake in not taking the public more into their confidence over these defence issues. I 550 have read the White Papers of the three Service Ministers, and they have left no impression whatever upon my mind as to the strengths of the three Forces. The Government may say that it would not be safe to divulge exact statistics. I can only say in reply that in the past I think we have made a mistake in not letting the public know more clearly the real state of affairs. If a particular Service is weak, the enemy will probably know of its weakness. I think it is a good thing that the public should know the real state of affairs in order to bring the necessary pressure upon the Government of the day.
§ That seems to be the policy of the United States Government, who make no secret of the strength of their Air Force. I have here amongst my papers the figures of the United States Air Force. They were disclosed to the American public and they were disclosed here in London at a Service meeting in the United Services Institution in the spring of this year. I do not labour this point except to say that if, as we hope, the Government are going, to embark upon a serious programme of air expansion in which the first priority will be given to the Air Force, they must carry the public with them. If the public are told nothing about the details, it is very difficult to excite public enthusiasm. As I say, I do not ask the Government here and now to disclose those details, but I do ask them to take into account what I have just said upon the subject. As it is, it seems to me that they are giving the country no lead.
§ We seem to be drifting back to the mistake that many of us made in the past, of refusing to face the problem of priorities in Service matters. In war time priorities are of no account; all three Services get everything they want. It is in peace time that the question of priorities becomes so urgent and so difficult. There is always a danger in peace time—anti here I speak from past experience—of a Government, for the sake of peace and as a compromise, dealing round equal shares to the three Services. I urge that, in the present dangerous state of the world, we cannot afford to fall back into that kind of error again. A definite priority must be given to the Royal Air Force. The Government's defence plans must all be tested by the question: Is this proposal (for instance, 551 the proposal for increased pay for the Services) really going to provide a sufficient attraction to get the skilled men that we require into the Air Force? So it is, again, with the question of the period of military service. I am not arguing the merits or the demerits of the plan to-day, but there again the test should be: What effect is this period of twelve months, or eighteen months, or whatever it be, going to have on priority number one, the kind of Air Force which I have just described?
§ I believe that the task that I have described is by no means beyond our powers. It means an intensive effort to make the Air Force career definitely more attractive than it is at present. It needs a more human understanding of the spirit and motives of the young pilots and airmen. It needs a definite priority for air force and air strategy in the Ministry of Defence and in the attitude of the Chiefs of Staff. It needs the immediate organisation of the necessary bases. I do not go into detail upon the subject of bases to-day, but I have very clearly in my mind the kind of bases that are necessary. They should be organised without further delay. It needs also a determined effort to convince the countries of Western Europe, and particularly France (who for years past has ignored the teachings of air strategy), that air force is the most effective defence against Russian military aggression. Most of all, it needs the closest possible co-operation with the United States Air Force, now the predominant air power in the world, and the constant interchange of ideas, machines, and personnel between the British and American Air Forces. By these means, provided they are adopted with resolution and without delay, we can most effectively prevent war in the years before us and give European civilisation the breathing space that it needs to recover its strength for beating off the attacks that now threaten it.
§ Throughout the greater part of the nineteenth century, the unchallenged supremacy of the British Navy was the most effective guarantee against a world war. It ensured the independence of the Latin-American Republics, it enabled the 552 United States to develop its great resources, and, by maintaining the command of the sea, it made a world war impossible. The British Navy has still its vital part to play in keeping open the ocean highways. But for the years immediately before us, it is upon the Anglo-American Air Force that falls the chief responsibility of preventing a world war. Let this House declare to-day that, whatever Government may be in power, the country is determined to take its full share in this great work of peace-time insurance, and, whilst ready at any time to welcome Russia into the full comity of nations, feels bound, so long as the Soviet maintains the policy of aggression, so to strengthen the Western air defences as to doom any Eastern attack to certain failure. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I am glad that this Motion has been tabled by my noble friend, Lord Templewood. He was my Chief for many long years in the past, and I am, therefore, particularly glad to follow his lead again to-day. I hope that at the end of this debate it will be shown clearly that this House is unanimous in its decision to do all it can to assist the Government in their difficult task of ensuring that everything is done to support the endeavours of the Air Ministry, both by the public and by Parliament itself, to put the Royal Air Force (in conjunction with the Air Forces of our Allies the Americans and our other friends in the world) in a position to prevent war or, if in any unfortunate circumstances war should be forced on us, to obtain a speedy and overwhelming victory.
I have listened to what the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, has said and I agree with all of it. I would say that if this House, at the end of the debate, does not accept the broad principles which he outlined towards the end of his speech, then the debate will have been useless. Papers were issued not long ago by the Ministry of Defence which showed recruiting figures for the three Services. I know that this afternoon we are dealing only with the Royal Air Force, and I would ask your Lordships to consider the relevant figures very carefully. They show how few (certainly, nothing like enough) recruits are joining 553 the Royal Air Force. In fact, the numbers are not within thousands of the total figures required, and the statistics which are published naturally do not show the large numbers of men who, quarter by quarter, are leaving the Air Force, or what is the total increase or decrease in the numbers now serving. They do not show what numbers will be leaving the Air Force—I am referring, of course, to the regular Air Force only—in the next six or nine months. I will not quote figures to your Lordships—they would only weary you now—but they are in the papers that were issued.
Why are young men not joining? If I may say so, we are passing through times which are as important, if not more important, for the safety of this country as those through which we passed in the years from 1930 to 1939. If the strength of the Royal Air Force is essential to the safety of the country—and I hope to show your Lordships that it is—then surely the statement by my noble friend Lord Douglas of Kirtleside (who is not here to-day), in his speech in seconding the Address in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne is of the utmost gravity. He said:Unless urgent steps are taken to improve the rate of recruiting, it looks as if the Royal Air Force will before long die on its feet.I would ask your Lordships for one moment to take a quick look at the rapid development and progress made by the Royal Air Force. It is only a quarter of a century old. The prototype of what is to-day the strategic bomber force was the independent Allied Air Force of 1918. That force dropped only 660 tons in ten months, and a quarter of a century later four times that amount was dropped in one night by the R.A.F. bombers. In 1918, 150 miles was a good range; in the Battle of the Pacific the American B-29 had ten times that range. As a young man I remember that on a 50 h.p. Bleriot monoplane I had difficulty in clearing the Hog's Back; it was a formidable obstacle; but now a machine can climb to 50,000 feet in a few minutes. The standard fighter speed to-day is 600 miles an hour. In the next ten years, certainly within the next twenty years, I look forward to 1,000 miles per hour being a matter of everyday flying for fighter aircraft, and bombers may make a still more spectacular advance. If speeds and performances continue to increase at even half the rate 554 of development of the past, what a formidable power air force is becoming! It shows the real danger to this country and to the world. We must have an Air Force in this country to save us from war, or at any rate to enable us to win any war which may be forced upon us.
Again I ask, why do young men not join the Royal Air Force in sufficient numbers? I will give four of five reasons, and I hope your Lordships will not brush them aside as trivial. After a rather long experience in different Services I am perfectly certain that these reasons have an effect on recruiting. The first is that during the last few years the Royal Air Force has not been it the public eye as it used to be. Young men will not join something which is not talked about continually. It had that great advantage when it was formed. In the early days of the 1914–18 War Field-Marshal Smuts spoke about the Air Force and Mr. Lloyd George discussed it continually. It was the first time London was bombed, and the whole public were agitated—that is the only word I can use. After the 1918 war, when we were forming the Royal Air Force, a continual controversy raged as to whether battleships were necessary, whether the Air Force was necessary, and whether it should be swallowed up by the Army or the Navy. Then, in the years 1930 to 1939, the Royal Air Force was again in the public eye, when the discussions to which the noble Viscount has referred took place about whether we should order 1,000 fighters or 1,000 bombers, or both. The noble Viscount who leads the House to-day took part in those debates and he will remember how much good they did in inducing recruits to join a Service that was looked upon as so important.
Then, in the war, there was the Battle of Britain, the great work undertaken by Bomber Command, and the work of Coastal Command, who conquered the U-boats in 1943 by aggressive air sorties carried out in the Bay of Biscay, in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean, and not merely by the defensive method of giving protective air cover to the convoys. This was followed by the vast air armada used to enable landings by the Army to be made in Normandy. That was followed by the crossing of the Rhine, the warfare in the Pacific, the taking of the Islands, and finally by the dropping of the atom 555 bomb. All those operations in the last war, carried out under the guidance of that great airman Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Portal, who I understand is going to take part in the debate this afternoon, kept alive public interest. But after the war interest has seemed to wane. During the last few years, and especially during the last few months, there has not been any public discussion, or many debates in this House, on whether the Royal Air Force is strong enough to do the work required of it—this in spite of the lessons of the war we have learnt so recently.
One of those lessons surely was—and this is important because on it the whole of this debate turns—the answer to the question: Was it or was it not proved beyond a shadow of doubt that no formed bodies of troops can advance any distance by road or rail without air superiority? I am not talking about a few men, a few thousand men, or a few ships. By "formed body" I mean anything from a Division upwards, with the fifty or sixty miles of roadway it occupies when on the move. Will this House as a whole, will Parliament as a whole, and will the public themselves make it quite clear that the strength and efficiency of the Royal Air Force, coupled with that of the Air Forces of our Allies, is vital for the safety of civilisation?
I am not going deeply into the material reasons why young men are not joining the Royal Air Force—such reasons as pay and lack of quarters. I will give only one instance in regard to pay which shows what is in my mind, and I hope your Lordships will agree that this way of working must be altered. During the war a married woman received 35s. a week, plus an allowance of 12s. 6d. a week for each child. Now the woman gets 35s. a week and a compulsory allowance of 10s. 6d. from her husband, but nothing for the first child and 5s. a week for the second or any additional children. The curious thing is that in the event of her husband deserting or being absent without leave, not only is the man's 10s. 6d. compulsory allowance stopped, but also her 35s. a week, and she has to go to the public assistance board, who say that they must give her what is called by them—and rightly called 556 by them—the absolutely necessary minimum amount of 47s. 6d. a week. That is 2s. 6d. more than she gets when her husband is serving, in addition to which she receives free milk and free oranges.
These are days of full employment, I am glad to say, but how can we expect to get people to join the Royal Air Force when a wife receives more from the public assistance board when her husband is a deserter than she is paid by the Air Ministry when he is serving? Service families are bound to have to put up with more separation, in peace time as well as in war time, than is generally the case of people in other walks of life; and they have to serve in what is still a dangerous occupation. That is only one point. There are many others which I will leave to other noble Lords to introduce.
I ask your Lordships also to give serious consideration to three other points. Do not brush them aside as trivial or insignificant. I am certain that fathers, mothers, sisters, wives and fiancées of the young men are affected by these points. As I have said, to join one of the Regular services to-day means the sacrifice of much company, whether it be the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. It means sacrificing the advantage of taking up a civil profession early in life, and entails being sent to different parts of the world. That is how the position appears to the young men of to-day. In addition, there is little or no glory to be gained as a Regular front-line soldier, sailor or airman. I cannot emphasise too strongly the point with regard to the glory, prestige or whatever you may call it. That still counts for something in the minds of a large number of young men in this country to-day, and especially in the minds of the better type who will give unselfish service if it is put to them that it is vitally important.
My first point is that whenever the Navy goes to the rescue of some particular place, where there may be insurrection, or which may be stricken with plague or serious illness, or where they may be short of food, one always sees it reported—and rightly—that the Royal Navy has gone to the rescue; the names of the ships and the Admiral are, quite rightly, given. All ships bear great names that appeal to the imagination. Yet when the Royal Air Force sends its squadrons abroad, as it 557 did the other day, when a squadron with a great name in the Royal Air Force went to America (I think one of the squadrons which brought down 140 German machines in the 1914–18 war, and also claimed 600 in the Battle of Britain) I do not remember seeing any report or statement issued that such and such a squadron of the Royal Air Force (giving its name or number) had gone to America. Nobody outside knew that it was the Royal Air Force. Many people in the Royal Air Force knew, but a large number of the friends of people going could not say that their son, their fiancé or their husband was with that squadron. All that was said was that ten Vampires had gone to America. Another squadron went to Copenhagen, and then it was said that jet machines had gone. The numbers of regiments have inspired people in the past—my own regiment, the 21st, is very well known—and so it will be if the numbers of the squadrons of the Royal Air Force are announced when something occurs. I am not making an attack on anybody, and I know all about the shortage of paper.
I would like to say one other thing, at which your Lordships will laugh until I tell you of an experience I had five days ago. To-day the Royal Air Force, along with our American Allies, is doing great work in rescuing beleaguered Berlin. That operation is called the air lift and every one in this House knows of it. I met a man the other day who had served under me five years ago. He came up to me and said: "Are you Lord Trenchard?" I replied, "Yes," and he then told me: "I was with you in 1914–18." I said, "You ought to be proud of being one of the men who helped to make the Force what it is to-day. Look at what they did in the war, and look at what they are doing now." He asked, "What are they doing now?" I said: "Going in and out of Berlin every four minutes, in all weathers." He said, "I did not realise that was the Royal Air Force." Your Lordships may laugh. When ships go in and out of ports, reference is made to the Royal Navy going in and out. I hope that everything will be done to see that an announcement is made when the Royal Air Force carries out an operation.
The next point I would like to make is also on this subject. It is often said that research must have chief priority. I know 558 that it is very important. We frequently see it stated that the workers and production are as important as the front line troops; that home defence is vital, and so on. Where does the front line soldier, sailor or airman come in? He has to go away and be separated from his family, living under the conditions which I have already indicated. We must restore the little glory that we have taken away from them, in these days of machine-made warfare and the enormous importance of production and research. We must restore that sense of glory to the men who join for a longish term of service, so as to induce their mothers and fathers to say, "By jove, that's a service worth joining." I have in mind, too, the matter of pay, but I am not going into it in detail. I feel, knowing some of these young airmen, that they still like to see that their work is known. If any service or business is talked about a lot as being important, then young men flock to it. I think they should be given back a little glory in peace time.
As I said at the beginning, no formed bodies of troops can be moved by road or rail without air supremacy, and no ships can be moved at sea without air supremacy. It has been said, and many people have heard it, that our potential enemy is Russia. With her vast army of millions of men, and masses of equipment and aeroplanes, she would overwhelm any garrison that we might maintain, or are maintaining, in Berlin, or on the Elbe. They would come pouring through, right into France and across France to the coast. When does any body over a division strong advance over forty miles of road in the face of superior air power? Look at the Germans going into Poland; look at the Germans going into Norway; look at the Germans wherever they advanced. The Germans could never have advanced at the speed they did if they had not had air superiority in those countries. The same can be said of ourselves. We, in turn, could never have invaded Normandy in the way in which we did, and gone right through to the Rhine, if we had not had air supremacy. I would never have admitted that we would be beaten, but if we had not had air supremacy I believe that we should still be fighting to-day.
I cannot believe that 500,000, 1,000,000 or even 2,000,000 men could advance without being stopped by the power 559 of the Royal Air Force, backed by the power of the American Air Force. If we do not believe that, then how could we stop them? Could we stop them with 1,000,000 men on the Elbe? Is it practical, politically or economically, for ourselves and our Allies to put 1,000,000 men on the Elbe? As we know, it is not. It may be said that Russia advanced as far as Berlin in the last war with her masses of men and equipment, and that Germany could not hold her back. But why was this so? It was because Germany was completely disorganised by the attacks made by our air power, and because we had complete control of the air over Germany itself. It may be said that the Russian Air Force, which is numerically very powerful, is to be feared and that they may have thousands of aeroplanes. But we know what the Russians did with our mechanical appliances in the last war. What did they do with the Hurricanes and Spitfires, which were given to them in profusion, and the P.40s from America? Many of the machines never flew more than once. Then look at what the Russians did with their own aeroplanes. A lot of them never flew more than once. When the Russians advanced into Berlin, half their transport was horse-drawn. Why was that? With all the lorries and cars the Americans had given to them, and those which the Russians had made themselves—and they are good at making—they could not maintain them; and they never have been able to maintain them. Even to-day, Russian aeroplanes are made to fly below the clouds. Why? Because they cannot understand and make use of all the delicate instruments in their aeroplanes or maintain them properly.
Look at the pictures we saw before the war of the Russians dropping thousands of parachutists. Yet there is not one known case of the Russians ever sending and dropping parachutists in any number during the war, as we did. As I say, they can put up a show, but they cannot maintain it. It is said that the Russians now have German scientists and German engineers to help them design aeroplanes, guns and weapons of every kind. They have; and they make quite good aeroplanes, quite good guns and quite good lorries. Before the 1914–18 war they made a machine called the Sikorski. They flew it to this country, 560 and it was most effective—but it never flew again. The numbers of aeroplanes on the ground do not count; it is the machines and pilots in the air which count. The Services have often been bitterly criticised in the past for underestimating our enemy. I am getting uneasy, as an Englishman, lest we get into the habit of overestimating our enemy, as we did both in the 1914–18 war and in the last war. I think there will be disastrous consequences to England and the world if we always overestimate our enemy.
I say quite definitely that it is not beyond our means, even in peace time, to have an Air Force which, with the American Air Force and the Air Forces of our Allies, would be overwhelmingly superior in the air to anything opposed to us. The noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, has given your Lordships some figures, and I venture to suggest that those figures be carefully examined. If I were thirty years younger and ever in the position to offer advice and take responsibility for that advice, I would say that a force of 100 squadrons of short-range fighters of our own and our American friends, 150 squadrons of long-range bombers (since we must not bomb the countries Russia is occupying), plus 150 squadrons of long-range fighters to protect our long-range bombers, and 150 squadrons of transport planes to carry the small efficient armoured armies to the point where it is necessary to use them, either to protect a country or to help a country which is rising, would be sufficient too prevent a war. And we should be ready to meet any emergency which might arise at any time in any part of the world. Such a force would inspire hope and confidence to those nations who aim at regaining their freedom, and who are willing to try to regain their freedom.
I have not referred to the Army or the Royal Navy, but I do not want any noble Lord to think that I do not realise the importance of these two great Services. The debate to-day deals only with the Royal Air Force. In conclusion, let me reiterate what I have said—that an Air Force up to full strength, equipped with the best and latest types of machines is the only way to prevent war or, if war should be forced upon us, of winning it. If your Lordships will give a lead to the Government and 561 all the different Parties by saying unanimously that you realise it is the duty of all, if they want peace, to see that the Royal Air Force has all the support that it can from everyone in this country, to fit it in every particular to carry on the great work which it did in the 1939–45 war, and which it is still carrying on in Germany to-day, then I am convinced we shall not lack for recruits.
§ 3.46 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, as it appears on the Order Paper, and I believe there is also an overwhelming public opinion in this country which would support it. We live in very grievous and troublous times, and the need for a strong Air Force is, I think, generally accepted. I do not want to follow the noble Viscount into certain aspects of his speech, because I thought a good deal of it was suitable for one of our periodic debates on foreign affairs. I thought we were to talk about the state of the Air Force taking it, as the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has said, by itself and without bringing in other subjects.
Before making the very few remarks I propose to offer in support of the two noble Lords who have already addressed your Lordships on the subject on the Order Paper, may I make this perfectly clear? I belong to a Party in the State which does not believe that we can bring about peace merely by piling up arms, whether we are simply piling up a great Navy or a huge Army or, as is now the demand, an overwhelming Air Force. I am old enough to have lived through the days when, before the First World War, there was a tremendous agitation for strengthening the Navy. We did commence the First World War with an overwhelmingly powerful Navy. It enabled us to win that war, but it did not prevent that war. The quarrel I have with that school of thought (represented by the noble Viscount, if I understood him aright) is that the mere strengthening of the Air Force alone, and the concentration on modern and scientifically designed weapons, will not by itself prevent war. That is the business of the statesmen, of the Foreign Offices and the diplomatic services and, 562 I hope, of a British Government which has a sound policy for peace.
I must make that point clear, because the Party for which I have the honour to speak for a few moments puts its faith in bringing about a general reconciliation of the world and, above all (I say this without arty shame or hesitation; we have been saying it long enough), by strengthening the United Nations Organisation. I am very glad to see that on the Order Paper—although not one word was uttered on this by the noble Viscount—Lord Templewood does speak of the Royal Air Force being necessary "to the Commonwealth, the Western Union and the United Nations." Furthermore, I detected in both the speeches to which your Lordships have listened (with, I am sure, as much pleasure as I have) a tendency to make out that the Second World War was won exclusively by air power. I am sure that we now begin to see the fallacy of that, and I dare say that it was not the intention of the noble Viscount who opened this debate, or of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, to claim it. There was a strong body of opinion, nevertheless, during the early part of the war that we could win the war by our bombing force alone. I have heard arguments of that kind put forward in this House by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, during the war. What we do know is this: that this air arm alone will never bring about victory.
The noble Viscount suggested that the only aggressor is Russia, and that Russia might be stopped by overwhelming air power. But what do you then do if you stop her in this way? The same question arises in any discussion about the use of the atomic bomb. An argument on this subject used by Mr. Churchill at Llandudno was quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. When you have used your atomic bomb—or the twenty bombs mentioned by the noble Viscount, or probably many more—and brought your enemy to surrender, then what do you do? Are you going to occupy the enemy's territory and, if so, how much of it and for how long? Otherwise, what have you done except kill a great many people and destroy considerable quantities of irreplaceable material?
I have to make these points because I want to support what has been said by the two noble Viscounts with regard to 563 the position of recruiting in the Air Force. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is to make a pronouncement on behalf of the Government, which I hope will be of a satisfactory nature, with regard to the question of pay in the. Services—and I presume this includes the Royal Air Force. I support the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in what he said about the bad publicity of the Royal Air Force. It was much better between the wars. If the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, were here, as he was earlier to-day, he would bear me out. The Air Force at that time was able to defend itself against the deliberate attempts to break up and divide the Force between the Army and the Navy—a proposal made by honest men who really believed that there should be no independent Air Force. There is no doubt that at that time the propaganda of the Air Force was excellent. There were signs that the attack would be renewed after the Second World War, but my information is that the Admiralty and the Royal Navy generally are satisfied with the arrangements for a Fleet Air Arm, and the War Office have not as yet made any move, as after the First World War. But why the propaganda of the Royal Air Force was so good then and is so bad now, I fail to understand.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has pointed out, it has an effect on recruiting. I entirely agree with what has been said about the magnificent achievement in the air lift to and from Berlin. The proportion of work carried out by the R.A.F. compares most favourably with that done by the American Air Force. I am not sure of the percentages, but I believe it is something of the order of 60 and 40 per cent. The contribution of the Royal Air Force in this sphere is indeed magnificent. Not nearly enough has been made of it in this country. It is a tremendous achievement, which may have preserved Europe from a most appalling crisis. It is certainly cheaper and better to go on with this sort of operation than to start a war. Even less is known of this effort in the United States, at any rate by the ordinary American. He is proud of the part played by his own Air Force in Berlin, but he is astonished to hear that we have anything much to do with it. I support, then, what the noble 564 Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has said about the need for better propaganda. I am sure we should see the results expressed in the recruiting.
The Royal Air Force requires the entry of 100,000 men for Regular air service in the next two years. It is no use having conscripts, except for "pulling and hauling" work, who serve only for eighteen months or, still worse, twelve months; we must have long-service skilled men, and we are not getting them in sufficient numbers. At the present rate, we shall certainly not get 100,000 suitable recruits in the next two years. I was much impressed by the cogent example given by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, of the lady who got more from public assistance when her husband was a deserter than from the authorities when he was in the Service. That kind of thing really is an encouragement to desert. It pays a man better, apparently, than to stay at his duty. The present rates of pay are not attracting men into the Royal Air Force, because of the high rates which skilled tradesmen can secure in civil life. I believe it is now under consideration whether we should abandon the parity of pay between the three Services, in order to enable the more skilled men in the Royal Air Force to receive higher rates. I very much hope that that is so; I think there is a strong argument for it. And as for officers, a great many married officers with families are very hard put to it indeed, in view of the high taxation on allowances. This is a real grievance, and if something could be done in that matter it would, I believe, help a great deal.
A matter which was not dealt with by Lord Trenchard, or at any rate in any detail, was the question of married quarters. Most Air Force stations are remote—they have to be remote—and there is a lack of suitable married quarters. This is very severely felt, especially when there are no nearby towns where officers and other ranks can find quarters for their families and themselves. They are dependent upon the station quarters and these are woefully lacking at many stations. I believe that this is another reason why we are not getting sufficient recruits. I await with confidence and hope the Statement which we are to have from the Minister of Defence in another place, and from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, 565 in this House. I understand that materially, for its size, the Royal Air Force is at present most efficient and excellent in every way. The next great development will be in jet-driven bombers, though I believe that that may be three or four years ahead. I understand we are well ahead in all jet-engine developments—though there is still a shortage of scientists for the Royal Air Force, particularly in research in such matters as long-range radar and the antidote which must exist for the rocket and other guided missiles. If we are short of scientists there must be a reason, and I should guess that it is that the conditions of service are not being made sufficiently attractive. I suggest that this should be looked into.
Generally speaking, my information is that our night bomber force is a terrible deterrent. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, thinks that we are going to maintain peace by present deterrents to would-be enemies. He should sleep quietly in his bed, because in our night bombing force we have the most awful deterrent of all at present. I am told that it is highly efficient, the most efficient in the world, and any aggressor ought to think twice before provoking us to use it. So long as we can maintain that superiority, technically and scientifically, and, above all, if we can get our recruits, then I believe that His Majesty's Government are doing their duty by the country, the Commonwealth and the United Nations in maintaining the Royal Air Force with its magnificent traditions and, we believe, its very fine service and record in the present days.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT PORTAL OF HUNGERFORD
My Lords, it is no mere formality for me, on addressing this House for the first time, to ask your Lordships' indulgence, for I am deeply conscious, not only of my own inexperience in speaking, but also of the fact that my contribution, such as it is, to this debate will fall far short of the standard which the subject deserves and of what your Lordships might expect from one who has had the privilege of over thirty years' service in the Royal Air Force. Twenty-five years ago, it would have been sheer impertinence for me to say that I agreed with the words of two of the noble Lords who have moved and supported this 566 Motion, for in those days one of them was my Secretary of State and the other was the Chief of the Air Staff, while I was a poor, humble squadron leader in the Air Ministry, one of whose main duties it was to edit the memoranda and minutes of my Chief in order that, by slight alterations in the order of words or phrases, perhaps by the addition of a few stops here and there, his great ideas should be put into a form which Ministers, Generals—yes, and Admirals—could readily understand.
That was a long time ago, and I hope that to-day my friends the noble Viscounts, Lord Templewood and Lord Trenchard, will allow me to say how wholeheartedly I agree with all they have said about the supreme need for a strong and efficient Air Force. I agree that mastery of the air is indispensable to the success of any major military operation in war, but what I would like to emphasise even more than that—and it has been emphasised already—is that a really powerful Western Air Force, equipped with all the devices and weapons that Western science can give it, is the best of all deterrents to those whose policy may involve the risk of war with us. Far be it from me to speak contemptuously in any way of that great air force that might come from the other side of the iron curtain, but I am sure, nevertheless, that it is in air power and in the aids and weapons with which science furnishes a modern air force that we and our friends on this side of that curtain have the greatest potential advantage. I think that if, for any reason, the democracies fail to turn their potential advantage into an actual one by the fullest possible development of their air forces while they still have time, they will be throwing away the best chance they have, in the military field at any rate, of ensuring peace.
Having said this, and having declared my respectful agreement with the noble Lords who have preceded me, I would like, with your Lordships' permission, to come down to a rather lower level and try to emphasise three things which I regard as important in the achievement of strength and efficiency in the air. They are not original; they have been mentioned this afternoon The first concerns the recruitment of Regular officers, airmen and airwomen, on whom of course 567 almost everything in the way of operational efficiency must depend. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has said, it is perfectly true that if no steps are taken to keep the Royal Air Force in the public eye to the extent that its actual achievements and its potential importance deserves, then it may not occur to the young men in this country to make their careers in that Service. I hope that the Air Ministry will be helped, if necessary, and encouraged to publish widely full accounts of all the valuable work which the Royal Air Force does in peace time.
But I think we must go a great deal further than this, as I am sure the noble Lords who have already spoken would agree. Things must be so arranged that, when it does occur to a young man of the right type to think of joining the Royal Air Force, and when he makes inquiries about his prospects and asks questions of his relations and his friends, he will get encouraging answers instead of the kind of answers that I am afraid he too often now receives. I know very well indeed the difficulties in the way of improving conditions of service; I know particularly how difficult it is to give one Service preferential treatment. But it does seem to me that, if nothing else will give us the men and women for the powerful Air Force which is the best guarantee of peace, then the difficulties must be overcome and the price must be paid, or we shall once again live to regret that it was not paid when there was still time.
Second only in importance to the Regular officers and airmen of the Royal Air Force are the National Service men, and if your Lordships will bear with me for a few minutes longer, I should like to say a few words about them. No one would wish to discourage the young men who are called up for a brief period of service in the Air Force, but it is idle to pretend that this very short service on their part is anything but a most uneconomical use of man-power. In the speeches this afternoon, we have heard some stories from the past. I remember that thirty-three years ago it took two men to look after my aeroplane. One of them was a checkweighman from a mine and the other was a young village carpenter. I do not suppose they had had six months' training between them, but 568 they managed to look after my aeroplane and engine perfectly. But those were the day of wire, wood and fabric, and not only are those days gone for ever but the days of 1939 are gone for ever too, as one instance will show. In 1939 our best bomber took into the air with it some forty or fifty wireless valves. I am told that to-day it takes no fewer than 500. That is the measure of one decade of development in only one direction.
With the enormous complication and technical refinement of modern aircraft, and the ever-increasing development of scientific equipment to enable them to do their work more and more effectively, you cannot make a competent technician and also have time to get much value out of him in a year or eighteen months. He not only has too little experience himself, but he takes up the time of other experienced people, first in training him and then in supervising the limited work which his brief training enables him to do. So, the shorter the period of National Service, the larger must be the total number of men and women required for an Air Force of a given size, and the less efficient for its size that Air Force must be.
I suggest to your Lordships that there are really only two courses open. One is to raise the number of Regular recruits by proper publicity and, above all, by improved conditions, until the National Service element is reduced to very small dimensions. The other course is to increase the term of National Service for the R.A.F.—I repeat "for the R.A.F."—to at least two, and if possible three years, perhaps by the introduction of some form of voluntary ballot which would give a fifty-fifty chance of complete exemption and would carry with it appropriate financial compensation to the men who, on the chance of the draw, had to do two or three years. I believe something of the kind could be worked out and, though I have no political experience, I also believe that the young men of this country would gladly accept it if the need for it was properly explained to them.
Finally, may I say a few words on a most important matter, again one that has been already dealt with better than I could deal with it—namely, the need for continuity in policy. To build or rebuild an Air Force to-day is a gigantic 569 task, and it demands of the Air Ministry great foresight in strategic, tactical and technical matters, and most complex and careful planning in recruiting, training, and organisation. It is not just a question of being given at the last moment what is supposed to be the right number of men. For instance, if by deferring release you give the Air Force 5,000, 6,000 or even 10,000 more men for a time, there is nothing whatever to guarantee that the men retained contain the right proportions of trades—in fact, it is long odds against it. Improvised measures of that kind, still less panic measures of the kind that might be taken in lieu of a proper plan as we appear to get nearer to war, are no substitute whatever for foresight and continuity in the framing and execution of policy.
It would be grossly unfair also to the officers charged with this enormous responsibility to expect them to produce sound and economical results if their plans are being continually chopped about in order to conform with changes in high policy. Let us have an adequate plan, as great as our resources allow, and let us stick to it. We have not only some of the finest aircraft in the world and the best airmen and the most ingenious scientific equipment, but we have also, thanks very largely to the work of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in years gone by, the best organised Air Force in the world; and I am sure your Lordships can be confident that if the Air Ministry and the Air Staff are empowered to offer the necessary conditions, if they are given the necessary resources and do not have to keep tearing up one plan and working out another, they will see to it that the Royal Air Force does not, in the critical years to come, fall short in any way of the country's needs.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I feel sure that I echo the feelings of every member of your Lordships' House when I say that we have been privileged and delighted to listen to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford. We know that after a distinguished career of many years in the Royal Air Force his services culminated in a position of prime responsibility, and that those services are held in esteem throughout the length and breadth of our country, throughout the 570 British Commonwealth, and also throughout the whole of the United Nations. We are fortunate in this House to possess the benefit of that knowledge and experience, an example of which we have had this afternoon, and I am certain your Lordships' wish is that we may continue to have the benefit of it extended to us on many occasions in the future.
I wish to ask your Lordships' indulgence for a few moments, to deal with one particular aspect which has been touched on in the debate this afternoon—namely, the man-power position of the Royal Air Force. My noble friend Lord Templewood painted a picture of what the strategic concept of our Air Force should be. He said that the kind of Air Force we need is one ready to strike at once. But if the present grave manpower shortages which exist in the Royal Air Force are allowed to continue, any strategic concept such as that falls right away, and it is as well that your Lordships should be aware, if any of you are not, that these grave shortages at the present time are menacing the ability of Bomber and Fighter Commands to fulfil their rôles. At the present time the deficiency in skilled tradesmen is such that our potential front line strength is being seriously depleted. One cannot talk in detail in open session on many of the matters which come to the ears of noble Lords who are in any way connected with Service matters; but I wish the Government could tell us, taking a fighter squadron with an initial equipment of sixteen aircraft, how many fighter squadrons to-day could put up six aircraft in a sustained effort of flying day after day. I wonder how many could put up live or even four. I think the answer would shock your Lordships' House.
The same remarks apply at the present time to Bomber Command. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said that we have the finest deterrent in our bomber force. Technically our aircraft, I agree, are second to none, but in fact the shortage of maintenance personnel and skilled tradesmen is such that our bomber force is very largely at the moment a force on the ground, unable to go up into the air. Personally, would like secret sessions of both Houses of Parliament to be held, so that the Government could speak freely to noble Lords here and honourable Members in another place, and members of both Houses could speak freely, not 571 with the idea of attacking the Government but in order to give them the information which often comes to members from a lower level than the departmental channels through which Ministers receive it. I believe that the result of such a secret session would be to allow the Government to obtain information which they may not have at the present time, and it would certainly do something to reassure those of us who have knowledge of the partial impotence of our operational commands at the present time as to the steps which are being taken in the way of man-power to render our Air Force capable of fulfilling its rôle.
My Lords, the future for man-power in the Royal Air Force is bleak. On the one hand, we see technical entrants at Halton Training School buying out their discharges to an alarming extent. They will not go through with the training because they see greater rewards in civil life for technical trades such as those for which they are undertaking training. On the other hand we see numbers of the middle rank of officers, on whom we so much depend, resigning their commissions to an alarming extent. In another place, the Secretary of State for Air said that 117 Regular officers had resigned their commissions in the last nine months. Of that number, sixteen were wing-commanders, twenty-four were squadron-leaders and forty-six were flight-lieutenants.
Let us look for a moment at the causes of the wastage which is going on at both ends of the scale. I believe that Service life, pay, conditions and prospects, in relation to modern life outside the Service, does not appeal. On January 31, 1946, your Lordships debated in this House the subject of pay and allowances for the men of the three Services. On March 20 of the same year your Lordships debated pay and allowances for officers, and on that occasion the Minister who replied for the Government, Lord Nathan, was reassuring. He was confident, he said, that new conditions were going to satisfy. They have not done so. Now we are about to hear of further improved conditions being introduced. Our hope is—for I believe it is a hope that is shared by your Lordships in all quarters of the House—that these conditions will be bold and big in their con- 572 ception and this time will really satisfy the needs of Service men, so that they may feel that they have a life within their ranks comparable to that which they might enjoy outside.
I hope that the Government are not going to give us merely some small additions. I know no more than what has been forecast in the Press. I see mention of 7s. 6d. a day marriage allowance for officers. That would be taxable, and would give to an officer a net increase in emoluments of about £70 a year. That will not resolve disadvantages and burdens of Service life, the disadvantages of pay, the disadvantages of housing or the education of children or the constant moving—all of which are barriers with which an officer feels he has to contend in his private life. My misgivings are that even now the Government are not going to introduce a scale of pay for other ranks which will attract the technicians who are so essential for the Royal Air Force; that they are going to introduce a scale by which rises will be related to the 1946 code, instead of to the present conditions of outside life.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, quoted the case of a wife who was better off when her husband had deserted than when he was serving. I do not wish to go into details to-day, but I would recall to your Lordships a Memorandum written for the Service Departments by the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families' Association, a body which has done magnificent work, is absolutely non-Party and to which all of us owe a great debt of gratitude for their efforts for Service wives and children. This is what was written in the Memorandum:Since the abolition of the Service Children's Allowance with effect from the 1st July, 1946, the position of the Service man's wife with children has been one of great hardship. Not only has her income fallen short of the standard laid down by the War Service Grants Committee, but in many cases we have examined the wife would receive more under the National Assistance Act than she gets from her Service Allowance and Family Allowance combined.This organisation foresaw the results of the new pay code and warned the Government, but to-day we are still working under that pay code, as regards officers in the Royal Air Force.
In 1938 a squadron leader, with no family and living out, had net funds of £770 a year. In 1948 his net funds are 573 £752 a year. Actually, there has been a reduction through the introduction of the principle of taxation of allowances. I give one other example. In 1938 a wing commander with two children, living in quarters, received, by way of net receipts, £705. In 1948 his net receipts are £776—an increase of £71 between 1938 and 1948–49. When one thinks of the rise in the cost of living and the rises in salaries and wages outside the Services, coupled with the difficulties of post-war Service life, one can understand why these resignations of which I have spoken have been taking place. I want to stress one more disadvantage and that is that of the overheads, because of constant moves, which married Service personnel have to carry, and which those outside do not. One case which has been brought to my notice is that of an officer who has been to 51 stations in ten years. I know that, officially, moves are paid for by the Air Ministry, but we know that the scale granted to officers for such removals does not really cover the cost.
The last point with which I wish to deal relates to the lack of married quarters. I believe that this year the Minister of Health hopes to build approximately 200,000 houses. The Services allocation—that is, for the Army, Navy and Air Force—has been forecast by the Minister of Defence as 3,700. That is really not a fair allocation for the Services out of the total which is being built. I would like to remind your Lordships that in October, 1948, the Minister of Defence in another place said that Services' married quarters now had equal priority with other housing projects. If we are to build up post-war Services, why is it only now that there is equal priority? We cannot job backwards. If there is equal priority now, then I submit to the Government that equal priority could have been in existence for three years past. Therefore, in the interests of the Services, the only reasonable and proper thing they can do is to give greater priority for the next three years for Service than for civil housing requirements.
My Lords, I have tried to sketch briefly the reasons which I believe are responsible for the failure of the Services to attract the necessary technical personnel, and the reasons for the dangerous wastage which is going on in our first line service of the Royal Air Force. The officers and men have no unions. They 574 loyally serve the Crown, and they cannot speak with a united voice. They have to obey. If the nation wants a well-commanded flying service of contented men, skilled in their trades, the Government must give conditions for that career by raising the receipts of the men and women, by freeing their lives from the anxieties of constant moves, by a system ensuring secure employment after they have finished their Service life, and by a general uplifting which will make family life possible and happy for those in the Services (which it is certainly not at the present time) compared with what is possible for people outside.
If the Government will do that, I believe we shall be able to have an Air Force which will fulfil Lord Templewood's conception. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder recently used these words: "The time scale is altered. No longer can we count on time to build up." At the moment we are lagging against time; we are losing in the race: we are not even holding our own. We therefore press the Government to look into this need for a better and proper life for Service personnel before the time has passed beyond recall.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (LORD HENDERSON)
My Lords, I rise with genuine diffidence to take part in this debate. Four of the noble Lords who have preceded me spoke with recognised authority, founded on intimate personal knowledge and experience, on matters concerning air strategy and the Royal Air Force. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, as he indicated, has three times been Secretary of State for Air. The noble Viscounts, Lord Trenchard and Lord Portal, are Marshals of the Royal Air Force and distinguished ex-Chiefs of the Air Staff, while the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was Under-Secretary of State for Air throughout the whole period of the last World War. They represent a formidable, indeed to me an intimidating, concentration of air power, and I can only hope that none of them has reserved a special rocket to be discharged at me during the course of the reply which it falls to me to make on behalf of His Majesty's Government. If I may do so without presumption, I would like to 575 associate all those who sit on these Benches with the sincere congratulations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, to the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford. We all welcome his influential intervention in this debate and I am sure we all look forward to more frequent sorties by him after such a successful first flight in your Lordships' House to-day.
I now come to the reply which I have to give on behalf of His Majesty's Government. First of all, I would like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, for drawing attention this afternoon to some of our major problems of defence. He and other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate have dealt in a helpful and constructive way with many of the important points concerning defence generally and the Royal Air Force in particular. I shall endeavour in my reply to deal first with the relationship of the Royal Air Force to the other Armed Forces and to the general economic strength of the country; then I will deal, so far as possible, with some of the matters concerning the Royal Air Force itself.
The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, indicated the strength in squadrons of the different types which he regarded as the necessary joint Anglo-American Air Force to be an effective deterrent to war and to provide air supremacy if a war should break out. He was good enough to say that he did not ask for an answer in figures now in regard to the Royal Air Force. I appreciate this attitude of the noble Viscount, but I think I ought to say that His Majesty's Government have regretfully come to the conclusion that in the present circumstances, and so long as similar information is not universally made available, it would not be right for them to publish figures of strength. I may say that this conclusion has been confirmed following the review of the whole subject which was held as a result of certain representations made in the defence debate in another place earlier in the year.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I think that would turn on there being a secret session. If there is to be a secret session, I cannot 576 say what will be discussed in it. However, I think the course of this afternoon's debate has made it clear that much material is in fact available on which an informed public opinion and constructive criticism can be based. This brings me to the point where I should like to say that with the aim of the noble Viscount's Motion, as I see it, the policy of the Government has much in common; certainly we realise the vital importance of air power. But in translating that general conception into practical terms, we have to-day to consider what is the best balance between defence requirements and economic needs, and also the balance between the respective Armed Forces themselves. The aim of our defence policy is security, which, I submit, we cannot hope to achieve without this two-fold process of integration. These, then, are the practical issues which must be faced by those who are responsible for translating the general aim of strength and security into Armed Forces of specific size and shape.
First, their cost must not be more than the country as a whole can afford, for the Armed Forces would be useless unless backed by a national economy capable of supporting them in a sustained war. Secondly, with due regard to the possibilities of research and scientific development, we have to make a realistic assessment of the inescapable present and future commitments for each of the Services. Despite all the revolutionary advances of science, the stage has not yet been reached, nor is it in sight, when our security can be guaranteed by methods of push-button warfare, and so within the overall economic limit, each of the three Services has a part to play. There is no easy answer to these difficulties in the changing circumstances of a confused and troubled post-war world. For that very reason, His Majesty's Government are all the more determined to concentrate on these problems of security, both long-term and short-term.
It may be of interest to your Lordships if I sketch an outline picture to show something of how the Government consider the general components of security can best be pieced together. The first deployment of our strength now must be related to the "cold war" and not only to the possibility of a shooting war. The capabilities and strength of the Services in support of our policy in 577 the "cold war" is of great importance, but the requirements are different from those of a "hot war"; and other factors are equally if not more important. It is essential to remember that another war must be prevented. Modern weapons will bring ruin to both victor and vanquished alike. Equally important is that success or failure in the "cold war" might decide whether the shooting war becomes a reality. Whatever preparations are made against the event of war, our initial strength and position will be affected by the degree of the success or failure achieved in the "cold war." Our unflinching object must be to create the conditions necessary for a return to peace and by so doing to prevent war.
The world to-day is not at war, but it cannot be said to be enjoying the conditions of peace. We believe that to create these conditions our first responsibility must be to prevent the further spread of Communism. To do this, two methods of approach must be followed simultaneously—a positive and a negative. First, we must devote our major resources and energies to economic reconstruction, and to promoting a just standard of living, especially for the least developed countries of the world. This will remove the breeding grounds of Communism and provide a constructive contribution to the preservation of world peace. Secondly, and simultaneously, we must build up and create such strength as to deter and resist aggression.
The first moves to prevent the spread of Communism—since this is a "cold war"—must be political. The Western Union has been created and the Military Committee established by the Brussels Treaty for two purposes: the first, to create the confidence necessary to make economic recovery a reality, and with it to build up the political, social, cultural and psychological solidarity of the free peoples of Western Europe; and secondly, to provide the strength and security necessary to show that aggression will not pay. The Western Union Chiefs of Staff and the Commanders-in-Chief Committee have recently been established, and noble Lords will recognise the importance of these organisations. The United Kingdom Services must provide that ultimate reserve of strength which is the essential backing to our political counter offensive in the "cold war." This means commitments not 578 only in providing forces, but in organising strength. There are sufficient man-power and resources in Europe to establish its own security. The major question is to establish a sufficient degree of co-operation within the nucleus of Western Union which will organise the spiritual and material strength available.
If we could not organise the armies of Western Europe, we would agree that the principal weapon on which to rely for offence and defence would be air forces. The predominant importance of air power is assured, because air forces have become the vehicle for the most potent weapons, and because little can be achieved without air superiority. At the same time, it would be imprudent not to recognise its limitations or realise its relationship with other arms of defence. In man-power the main burden of occupational commitments falls on the Army. But these commitments affect all Services alike. In Berlin, the R.A.F. and the American Air Forces are our chief strength in the cruel game the Russians are playing with the lives of two million Germans. The Royal Navy have had innumerable duties to perform in meeting difficulties which arise all over the world, often promoted by Communists. At the present time, therefore, there is a constant demand on the Services to meet tasks established by international agreements, and incidents which may occur suddenly and anywhere.
At the same time, and because of our economic position, the man-power in the Services must be stripped to the lowest point compatible with their tasks and with retaining the essential structure on which they would have to expand if an emergency arose. Preserving the structure of the Forces to meet their present duties is a short-term problem. It is a difficult enough task in itself. On the long-term aspect, the problem resolves into what is the appropriate structure on which to build our strength to resist and deter aggression, and to be ready with overwhelming forces if war should break out. In deciding what changes there may be in the structure of the Services in future, noble Lords will recall the principles previously laid down by the Government. These were: to concentrate on defence science, research and development; to maintain the Royal Air Force at a level sufficient to conserve its essential structure and its initial striking 579 power; to enable the Royal Navy, with its air arm, to perform its réle of protecting our communications and to execute its tasks overseas; and to enable the Army to meet its overseas commitments and to provide the organisation needed for training its National Service intake.
The noble Lord has advanced the argument that the major proportion of available resources should be devoted to air forces, because overwhelming air power must be our principal means of defence. We would agree with this argument, but up to a limited point, beyond which there is a distinct danger of pressing it. It would be quite wrong to concentrate on purely defensive methods, as offence is a part of defence. But if we go to the opposite extreme and rely only on offensive means for defence, the result is ruin to both antagonists. The object must be to damage the enemy to the maximum, while reducing damage to ourselves to the minimum. We agree that it is essential for the operation of land and sea forces to obtain superiority in the air above them, but the first essential must be air superiority in our own skies. The security of our bases and communications is the first pre-requisite for the successful conduct of a war. As offensive weapons are ascendent over the defensive, naturally their use would be emphasised even in the first task of securing our bases.
The noble Lord also referred to the danger of starting a defence programme, holding it up, and then changing it. The Government agree that the danger exists if chopping and changing is carried to the extreme; but there is clearly a danger in rigid adherence to a plan laid down in circumstances which have become unreal. The pre-war ten year rule is a salutary enough lesson. Indeed, the influence of new scientific developments, whilst they do not modify the basic principles of defence policy, must profoundly influence the conduct of war. The enormous potentialities inherent in these new weapons is an emphatic reminder of the need to preserve a flexible policy, and a warning that there must be no rigidity in considerations about the future rôle of the three Services. The differing needs between the present rôle of the Services to meet to-day's requirements, and their future rôle, is the enigma of policy which has to be translated into the administrative evolution of the Forces' structure. 580 The incidents and occupational commitments of to-day—except for the major burden of the Berlin air lift—fall chiefly on the three Services. The emphasis in a future war may rest with air power. The hurly-burly difficulties of to-day blur the latent and gradual changes in the structure of the Services of the future and make the principles for future development difficult to detect. That this development is in progress—and in what we think is the correct direction—I can give full assurance.
Against this background of present commitments and general developments, I would now like to say something about the present problems of the Royal Air Force itself. Perhaps the most pressing problem to-day is that of trained manpower. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, referred to the dangers and difficulties of demobilising a highly technical force. The Royal Air Force, as your Lordships well know, includes a large number of skilled trades and occupations in great variety. To preserve a balanced force with optimum striking power, the numbers in each trade must be balanced and the training machine must be geared so that wastage is replaced at the time and at the place when replacements are needed. It was inevitable that the process of demobilisation, however conducted, should disrupt this closely integrated organisation. At V.E. Day the strength of the Royal Air Force, in round figures, was 1,110,000, but this included only 40,000 Regulars, many of whom were nearing the end of their engagements. Since V.E. Day, no fewer than 1,200,000 men and women have been released or discharged. Despite difficulties, the Regular cadre has been built up to a figure of about 120,000, but it is clear that what remains to be done in restoring balance and stability to the Force still constitutes a problem of the severest difficulty.
It was accordingly decided to put in hand a stringent overhaul of Royal Air Force structure and organisation, and to set up machinery for the examination by scientific methods of a wide range of Royal Air Force activities, whether operational, technical or administrative. In this process, we draw upon the experience gained in industry and the experience of other Air Forces, and no practice and no convention is accepted without question. What is accepted, 581 however, and what remains fundamental, is the traditional insistence of the Royal Air Force on quality and skill, a tradition so wisely inculcated in the early days by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.
The consequences of this process, when they have had time to mature, will be increased efficiency and a greater economy of effort. It is by measures of this kind that we have sought to make the best possible use of the resources available to us. The Government entirely agree, however, that it is no less important that we should, at the same time, increase our man-power resources. All noble Lords have referred to pay and conditions of service, to the desirability, of "humanising" the Force, and to the need for providing an attractive career. The Government accept without hesitation the importance of these things.
The Government have carefully reviewed the financial position of officers and other ranks in the Armed Forces, and the Minister of Defence has this afternoon, in another place, given details of the changes which are to be made. I will deal first with other ranks. The present rates of marriage allowance for other ranks range from 35s. to 45s. a week.
§ LORD HENDERSON
This applies to all three Services. In the case of men serving on voluntary Regular engagements, the revised range will be from 42s. to 56s. a week, an increase of from 7s. to 11 s. As regards pay, there will be no increase for recruits during their first six months' service, nor for the private soldier or his equivalent without any special trade or other Service qualification. For men with higher qualifications or higher rank, however, there will be increases in basic pay ranging from 3s. 6d. a week to as much as 10s. 6d. a week. These arrangements should encourage the recruitment of men with special skill, and provide general incentive to acquire higher qualifications. In all, therefore, the increases for married men will range from 7s. up to 21s. 6d. a week.
The new rates of marriage allowance will not apply to National Service men. They will, however, be eligible to have 582 their Service emoluments supplemented by a system of National Service grants, similar to the war service grants which were introduced for the same purpose during the war. Details are now being worked out. The increases in pay will apply to National Service men after their first year of service. Until they have completed this period of service, no improvement in the existing rates of pay is, in our view, necessary. In the case of officers, the rates of marriage allowance will be increased by 6s. a day, if they are not accommodated in married quarters, and by 3s. a day if they are so accommodated or receive special local overseas allowances designed to protect them against high rents. These provisions are related to conditions which may prove in whole or in part to be temporary, and they will be subject to review should these conditions materially improve.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I am afraid that I cannot answer that off hand, but perhaps I may be able to do so before the end of the debate. After full consideration, the Government do not feel that in the present circumstances increases in the basic pay of officers are justified. The improvements, which I feel sure will be welcomed by all noble Lords, will take effect from to-day.
May I ask whether the noble Lord would clarify one point? He will remember that I asked about the proposal of different pay for the R.A.F., in order to be able to pay the special allowance to very highly skilled technicians. Does that come into this at all?
§ LORD HENDERSON
The noble Lord will notice that there is a difference between the untrained man and the trained man. The skilled man gets higher pay than the unskilled man.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I mean between the three Services. There are special tradesmen required in the Air Force such as electricians, and there is a case, I believe, for giving them special pay.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I am afraid I cannot answer any details arising out of this. There will in clue course be oppor- 583 tunities of discussing it, and I would suggest that the noble Lord might leave his queries until the matter comes up for discussion. I come now to the question of housing. Every effort is being made, within the limits set by prevailing conditions, to speed up the provision of married quarters. In the present financial year, 1,256 quarters have been completed, and nearly 3,000 are under construction or are covered by contracts already laid.
§ LORD HENDERSON
The Air Force. There have also been improvements in barracks and messes, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is most anxious to provide, as circumstances permit, the highest standard of accommodation for all ranks of the Service. Again, as regards careers, the Government announced in the White Paper their intention to secure in the future a larger proportion of officers by commissioning from the ranks. This policy remains in force. In these and other ways, something has been done, and more is being done along the lines indicated by noble Lords. But while pay, conditions of service and careers should be as favourable as prevailing conditions will permit, the Royal Air Force must expect to attract, not men and women looking for a comfortable life but those with the spirit of adventure, a capacity for hard work and, where necessary, rough living. What is urgently necessary is to convince men and women of that kind that they are needed, and needed quickly, in a Force in which they will find full scope for their qualities.
§ LORD SHERWOOD
Before the noble Lord leaves this point, may I return to the point brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, which was an important one?—whether there is to be any differentiation of pay as between the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Navy. I understood from the noble Lord that these rates of pay come into operation to-day, but the answer he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, was that this may be discussed on a later occasion. I do not see how that can be so, if they come into operation to-day.
§ LORD HENDERSON
The point I made was that the new allowances came 584 into operation to-day, but that no doubt there will be questions raised, both in this House and in another place, on points arising out of the Statement. I assume that the noble Lord will take advantage of such an opportunity to raise the points which he may wish to raise.
The Air Minister recently announced two recruiting targets: for the Regulars, an intake of 1,000 a week for the next two years, as against a present intake of about 470 a week, and for the nonRegulars—that is, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve—the provision of 60,000 volunteers including 18,000 air crew. Unless men and women come forward in adequate numbers it is clear that the manning position will become very serious. This is a matter in which every one of us has a duty. There has been, I am glad to say, an improvement in recent weeks which is certainly encouraging, but the Royal Air Force will not be able to attract the new blood which is so urgently needed unless responsible people of good will throughout the country play their part. In this context the contribution which can be made by and through the Air Training Corps is especially important, since the A.T.C. not only provide potential recruits but also give most valuable pre-entry training.
The equipping of the Royal Air Force is very much affected by the many important projects now in the research and development stages. While the Royal Air Force must continue to have aircraft and equipment of the highest quality, we need to make sure that the new equipment is introduced at the right time, and when there is a reasonable period of useful service in front of it. We believe that our Meteors and Vampires are the best fighter aircraft in the world. All the short-range day-fighter squadrons of Fighter Command are equipped with jet aircraft, and the re-equipment of squadrons in Germany and the Middle East and of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has begun. Jet bombers which will operate at a considerably greater height and range than the Lincoln and about twice its speed are also under development, and the production line of at least one type of jet bomber is now being laid down; but, as noble Lords will appreciate, considerations of security prevent me from 585 giving any details. The new fourengined Hastings is now in service and is playing a useful part in the Berlin air lift. I feel sure it will be generally agreed that the part which the Royal Air Force is playing in the air lift is a wonderful, practical proof that the best qualities of the Service are to be found to-day just as they were in war time.
The Service, too, has learnt its own lessons in the course of the Berlin air lift. The intensity of effort to and from Gatow has furthered the development of flying control generally and of radar aids in particular. Ideas developed from wartime practice in the concentrated servicing of aircraft have been applied and further developed by Transport Command in the last few months. And, finally, the Royal Air Force has gained by the advantage of working in the closest co-operation and harmony with the United States Air Force. Thus, from the Royal Air Force point of view, the air lift has a double significance: first, it has shown that the Royal Air Force, even in a period of admitted difficulties, can still do a good job of work; second, it has given the Service a measure of practical experience seldom obtained in peace time.
In many other ways the Royal Air Force has been carrying out its current tasks with considerable efficiency. Other examples of its work are the double flight across the Atlantic of a Vampire squadron which recently visited the United States of America and Canada; three very brief operations in the hinterland of Aden which, in the old days, would have involved what we euphemistically call "small wars" and cost many lives; joint operations with the Army in hunting out bands of brigands in the jungle clearings of Malaya; the steady unostentatious work it contributed to the peaceful evacuation of Palestine, and the air survey work which is being carried out largely to a programme laid down by the Colonial Office and which is making a big contribution to the ground-nuts scheme in. East Africa.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, pressed strongly that in the publicity given to such operations as these, the names or numbers of the air squadrons should be announced. I understand that it is already the practice to mention by name or number squadrons which are 586 sent out on good will flights and missions of that kind.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
May I interrupt for one moment? The noble Lord himself said "a Vampire squadron." I want to know what that squadron was. I think I know the number.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I said that it was already the practice to give numbers or names of squadrons sent on special missions, and I will now answer the noble Viscount. For example, it was announced at the time that the Vampire squadron which made the double flight across the Atlantic was No. 54 Squadron. Whether that practice might be extended is a matter upon which I am not in a position to comment in detail, but I understand there might be security difficulties. I am giving only the information with which I am supplied, and I should have thought that if the information is correct the noble Viscount, in view of his own experience, would have appreciated it.
§ LORD HENDERSON
It might be: I do not know; but in connection with an air squadron, I understand it might involve security considerations. As regards the noble Viscount's criticism of the general publicity for the work of the Royal Air Force, I will of course bring that to the attention of the Minister.
The Government fully agree with the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, about the importance of British air power in relation to the defence of the Commonwealth and of the Western Union. The Royal Air Force is conscious of its links with Dominion and Allied Air Forces, with whom there is a constant exchange of ideas. The Dominion Air Forces are equipped to a very large degree with British types and should have no difficulty in operating with the Royal Air Force as they did during the war. Measures of collaboration between the Royal Air Force and the Dominion Air Forces include the attachment of Dominion air crews to what is now called No. 24 (Commonwealth) Squadron of Transport Command; and, more recently, additional Dominion transport crews have been 587 sent to help with the Berlin air lift. Dominion Air Force officers are serving elsewhere in executive posts in the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Air Force is filling similar posts in Dominion Air Forces. Work to a common doctrine is facilitated by periodical visits to the Dominions by aircraft of such specialist establishments as the Empire Flying School, the Central Bomber Establishment, the Empire Air Armament School, and others.
Our links with the air forces of France, Belgium and Holland are also close. Squadrons of these air forces fought alongside the Royal Air Force in World War II, and considerable numbers of British aircraft were supplied to these forces when they were reconstituted in their own countries. Collaboration with these countries has naturally become even closer in recent months, and steps are being taken to build up and strengthen arrangements for defence against air attack. Common types of equipment and a common operational procedure will be used. Arrangements have been made for the provision of aircraft and the manufacture of British fighters under licence. The three Continental air forces have sent officers and men to this country for training in association with their comrades of the Royal Air Force. In consequence, Royal Air Force operational techniques, tactical doctrines and training methods are being generally adopted by France, Holland and Belgium, so that the Allied air forces should be able to operate smoothly together in the event of war. So far as the Royal Air Force itself and the men and women who comprise it are concerned, we are all at one in our warm admiration of their high qualities and achievements.
I think I have covered most of the points which were raised, although there were one or two matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, of which I had not advance notice and therefore was not able to give him the figures, but I will see that in due course he gets the answers, if they are available and can be given. I would just like to repeat to the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, that the Government are grateful to him for drawing attention so insistently and so clearly to the importance of British air power in relation to the present safety and the future 588 security, not only of our own country but of other countries besides. It is our earnest wish that what has been said will be widely read and studied by all who value freedom and peace, and that this may lead to an even greater realisation of the need for a strong Air Force as a safeguard against war and an effective deterrent to potential aggressors. In particular, it must be our hope that what has been said will come to the notice of those young men and women of spirit and adventure on whom, in truth, rests the future of this great Service and for whom there is at the moment a need scarcely less pressing than at any time in the troubled history of this country.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, share profoundly one sentiment, expressed by the noble Lord who has just spoken—the diffidence which he said he felt at taking part in this debate. I confess that I also feel considerable diffidence at taking part, but it seemed to me right that one voice should be heard from those who served in the relatively junior ranks of the Royal Air Force in the Second World War. I have been associated with the Royal Air Force since I was in a university air squadron about twenty years ago, and I am very proud of my association. I am most grateful to the Royal Air Force for the opportunities with which they have supplied me, and for the consideration which they have shown me and others similar to myself at all times. But, it is owing to the consideration which I have for the importance of the Royal Air Force work that I am concerned at the position which exists at the present time.
In a recent speech, the Chief of the Air Staff said that the Royal Air Force was emerging from the slough. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has referred to the figures of recruitment. I think that even casual acquaintance with the present position of the Service, without going into all the details, makes one very anxious as to what in fact has been happening on the personnel side. And it is on the personnel side that I wish to say one or two words. This is something which has nothing to do with the present economic situation. It has nothing to do with the shortage of dollars, and other matters of that kind, but it is something which it lies within our own power to 589 put right. There are certain quite obvious points. One is pay, about which we have heard this afternoon. I will not comment upon what the noble Lord has said, except to say that I understood him to say that there is to be no change in the basic pay of officers. In view of the fact that all pilots and navigators are to be officers, and we know that there is a shortage of recruits for these two branches, it strikes me that the proposals which are made are most unsatisfactory. I will go no further on that point now, but I will move to another sphere—namely, housing.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has dealt with that and I will only say that a superficial examination of the figures seems to indicate that, however difficult it is to get a house in civil life, it is nearly ten times as difficult to get a house in Service life. After the last war, a lot of good men were allowed to slip through the fingers of the Services. I cannot help feeling that that was largely due to a lack of policy which made it difficult to make the details of a career clear to those who might otherwise have stayed in the Service. After listening very carefully to the noble Lord this evening, I am not surprised that there were difficulties in giving any clear-cut picture of what the career would be; indeed it seems perfectly apparent that there is no very definite policy as to what shape the Royal Air Force is to take.
There is one other preliminary matter I should like Ito mention. If I may venture to say so, I think the Air Ministry are making a mistake in not appreciating the value of flying clubs. It may be a small matter, but before the Second World War flying clubs were a point of contact for civilians with the R.A.F. I know of many on the Air Staff who say that it is not very important. It was surprising, however, in the early part of the late war, how quickly airfields, aeroplanes and ground engineers were gathered in by the R.A.F. It would also be interesting to know how many pilots serving in the first year of the war started their flying at clubs. I am not saying that this matter is of great importance, but it is one factor.
But I suggest that the personnel situation is something deeper and more profound. I would put it in this way. At the present time, the ordinary civilian has great difficulty in understanding the shape 590 of the Royal Air Force; in seeing exactly in what it consists; in putting his hands on one portion of it which is clear and concise. I asked someone the other day what he thought the Royal Air Force consisted of. I said: "You have four brothers in the Royal Air Force. What do you think it is?" The reply was—it is not very concrete—"It serves as a link between the parts of the Empire." I submit that, compared with other Services, that is nothing like definite enough.
To begin with, if I may suggest it, I doubt very much whether there are many of your Lordships who could tell us the story or the outline of a single squadron in the Royal Air Force at the present time. We had a little argument about this just now. It appears that there is some extraordinary security reason involved. That is nonsense; and, in any case, I must assert that nothing like enough emphasis is placed upon the units of the Royal Air Force. They must be made to stand out. I would go even further and suggest that they should be given names. To some extent, of course, there has been a comparison between the squadrons of the Royal Air Force and the regimental system. I know there has been a tendency to get right away from the regimental system, but that does not mean that all identity in the unity of the squadrons should be passed over. That it is not necessary in the Navy is entirely accounted for by the fact that the ship is a community, and a community with a captain. One cannot get away from that fact, and no amount of organisation can alter it. I submit that there is a tremendous strength in the Service which has been built up from time to time in the squadron life but which is, to a large extent, being allowed to disappear.
If I may, I will take another example. There are stations scattered over the countryside. They open and they shut; and comparatively few of them last long enough to form part of the mosaic of the civil life of the community. I would like to mention one further point in this connection. Every Service, after a war, is in great difficulty, of course, but from a personnel point of view it is interesting to note that two of the Service units which have no difficulty with regard to recruits are the Guards Brigade and the Royal Marines—two Service units 591 whose traditions are probably deeper and whose discipline is stronger than that of any other unit in the Services. That is a matter which I feel is worth remarking on.
Another example is the Auxiliary Air Force. In the early part of the war the Auxiliary Air Force received an undue amount of publicity. The reason was very simple: in each case it was because the squadrons provided a peg upon which the newspapers could hang a story. They possessed character which, frankly, the ordinary squadrons in the Royal Air Force did not possess. I am not going to pretend that there is no reason for this. I would not say it was in any way deliberate. But there are reasons which make it undesirable to put too much concentration on units on the fringe. The Air Force must be flexible, it must retain technical efficiency and it must have complete concentration of striking power in operational matters. But I do think there is a very real danger that the machine is getting the better of the man, and that is a matter which I commend very strongly to His Majesty's Government in the present extremely difficult times in which we are living in regard to the personnel side. Mr. Noel-Baker, speaking on the Air Estimates (I believe it was in 1947) described the Air Force in these words—I think I am more or less quoting his words: "Like Caesar's Gaul it consisted of three parts—the air crew, the technical ground crew and the administrative staff." To me there is no more horrible definition of the Air Force than a division of it on those lines.
We talk a very great deal to-day about the wonders of science, about guided missiles, about jet propulsion and about radar; but, with great respect, I think we sometimes forget one of the greatest miracles of the war—namely, that the bomber crews stood to their task. They knew it was horrible work, but they had the courage, and the determination which comes from it, to stand by their task.
I do not want to detain the House with any details, but it is easy to talk in general language, as I have done, without making any specific recommendation. I am, therefore, going to mention three points quite shortly. I do not expect the 592 noble Viscount the Leader of the House to reply, and I mention them to avoid the criticism of being unable to face up to detailed points. The first point I make is that there should be finance officers at the Commands, a matter which I regard as of considerable importance. The second is that there should be much wider personnel control at the units, even down to squadron level. I am aware that the answer to that second point will be that it results in an unbalanced Force. With great respect, the main criticism to-day is that the whole Force is unbalanced.
My third point is in regard to the auxiliary services. The auxiliary services to-day seem to me to be taken far too much for granted. Nothing like enough is appreciated of the difficulties and problems which had to be faced before the war in building up the organisation to its present state. I am told that at the present time, though there are plenty of recruits, there is no centre within the bounds of London itself where these people can ever meet—I am talking now not of auxiliary squadrons but of F.D.U. units, of which there are a large number. To do any work, they have to go out some twenty miles, which is quite impracticable. The reason for this is that there is nothing like the close co-operation and link between Territorial requirements, on the one side, and what the Air Ministry want, on the other. The Air Ministry must pay more attention to the immediate requirements of a particular locality, which they can learn from the Territorial associations and other organisations.
There is arising from all those points another very important one which, with respect, I would like to submit. It is understood by the other Services, but not sufficiently by the Air Force. It is in regard to officer training. There is a most urgent need for a higher standard of officer training. Such training has been fairly scanty since 1935, and very scanty indeed since 1939. There are reasons for that, but I do not think that any Air Minister has raised this matter at any time during the discussion on the Air Estimates. And it is absolutely vital to any form of decentralisation, or indeed of leadership, that officer training should receive first consideration. In my view, we are laying over-emphasis on recruit- 593 ment from the ranks. At one point the Air Minister said there will be increased recruitment from the ranks. The fact is that there cannot be increased recruitment from the ranks because, since 1939, there has been no officer created in air crew branches except from the ranks.
What I would emphasise is that, whilst an officer is probably better for having served in the ranks, it is not an essential virtue to have served in the ranks. What does matter is to select the right man and to give him the right training. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, spoke some time ago of the need for drawing officers from different sources. With respect, I would like to emphasise that to His Majesty's Government at this time. There is, I think, another difficulty and it is that the method of entering the Royal Air Force is neither clear nor attractive, and does not present to the ordinary boy leaving school an easy or a pleasant course for him to follow. I think that is a point which deserves rather more attention than it has had.
I would like to emphasise one further point, and that is that while I would not say that R.A.F. officers require to be of a higher standard than officers of the other Services, I would say that the Air Force does require a wider coincidence of qualities. By that I mean not only the physical quality, not only the willingness and the capacity to fly, or alternatively a certain standard in mathematics for navigators, but a certain mechanical knowledge and, above all, qualities of leadership. The first three qualities, physical, mathematical and mechanical, are much more easily assessed than the last, the quality of leadership, and I am very much afraid that too much attention has been paid to the first three and too little to the last one. I know it is often thrown out as a criticism of the R.A.F. by other Services that pilots do not know where their men sleep. I am afraid there is some truth in that statement. It is something which must be got over, and primarily, I suggest, by officer-training.
I wish to add very shortly, if I may, one other point. Not only do these personnel difficulties exist in the Air Force at the present time, but National Service has added another great difficulty. 594 I was profoundly interested in a remark made by Lord Portal to-day, because it is clear from the outside that, quite apart from the point he made of the uneconomical use of man-power, the normal education of the young man is being completely upset. He cannot be educated in the broad sense of the word during the period that he is on conscript service. If anyone doubts that, I ask him to read Mr. Wolfenden's letter in the Observer of last Sunday. The result is that the whole of the educational period of the young man is disturbed. Not only is there an uneconomical use of the man in the Service, but, so far as the R.A.F. is concerned, the time for training is inadequate, whether he be in the air or on the ground. At the present time the Force has plenty of men. The R.A.F. has never had so many men in peace time; it has twice as many men as in 1939. I do not know how many aircraft it can fly in comparison with those days—I would not like to say—but the number is considerably less. What is happening? It is profoundly uneconomical and we are not getting value for money.
In past history a process of ballot has been tried. I was greatly interested to hear the noble Viscount make that suggestion. As a matter of fact, it had passed through my own mind as a possible solution. At the present time we are getting too many men whom we do not want, instead of men of the type we do want. I submit, with great respect, that the whole question of National Service requires the closest possible examination in order to make sure that we are not, in fact, making, from the purely efficiency and economic point of view, a considerable mistake.
I heartily support what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, at the beginning of his speech. Especially do I wish to support his proposition that air power is a pre-condition of any successful military operation. If there was one time in history at which any of our Armed Services was prepared, it was in 1914, and the Service was the Royal Navy. I do not think anyone doubts that the man responsible for the state of preparation in that Service was Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher. It therefore is not without interest to look at what 595 he wrote at the end of the First World War. If I may, I will quote from a letter written by him and published in The Times on October 31, 1919. He wrote:It is as clear as daylight that future war at sea absolutely precludes the use of any vessel of war that cannot go under the water, because aircraft will compel it.That may not have been absolutely true, but it is extremely interesting, and it is also interesting to see what another Admiral said twenty-five years later. Admiral Doenitz, on May 21, 1943, said:The aircraft is by reason of its speed and great height the most suitable means for forward reconnaissance against U-boats, and is also the most dangerous enemy force in attack against our U-boats.That seems to me an extraordinary instance of coincidence of opinion on the part of two naval leaders. I would end by saying that perhaps one of the great dangers against which we must guard is that in trying to be strong everywhere we may end by being strong nowhere.
§ 5.33 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, expressed trepidation at having to speak to-day in view of the distinguished names which preceded his on the list of speakers. I sympathise with him in that, as he knew that he would have to speak on behalf of the Government. I was also much intimidated when I saw the list of names outside the Chamber, but I have been comforting myself with the reflection that if my courage failed me or there did not seem to be anything more worth saying, I might run out at any time. But in spite of the expert knowledge and argument which has been submitted to us this afternoon, I think that, perhaps, it may be worth while for five minutes to try to describe the impact of all this upon an ordinary citizen—one not possessed of any special knowledge of the Royal Air Force but just an ordinary taxpayer.
Of course, I agree with the noble Viscount who opened the debate as to the extreme priority importance of the Royal Air Force, particularly at the beginning of a war. It is more important, to my mind, that we should have an all-powerful Air Force than to have either of the other two Services all-powerful to start with. I also agree with the noble Viscount, 596 Lord Trenchard, that the Royal Air Force does not enjoy anything like the amount of publicity which it ought to have in view of its importance. The Royal Air Force, and, indeed, we soldiers too, for that matter, ought to take a lesson in this respect from the Royal Navy. Have we not all been brought up from our cradles to look upon the Royal Navy as something that is above all other Services of the Crown? We have learnt to revere the names of famous men of the Navy and the names of famous ships. The Royal Navy have been well aware of the value of that fact, and they have taken good care to keep us up to the mark. The "Nelson touch." the "Nelson signal," spotlight on Nelson's statue, three stripes on the sailors' collars to commemorate Nelson's victories—the way they plug the fame of that little man puts Hollywood in the shade. After all, they ought to remember that some of our most resounding naval victories were gained when the ships were commanded by soldiers and the sailors played only a menial rôle. Wellington, indeed, played a greater part in the defeat of Napoleon than did Nelson.
Of course, one could not expect to find complete agreement among naval officers on these points, but they serve quite well as opening gambits. However, the result of all this is that the Navy, at present, is really the only Service in which the public take an interest. In peace time anything may happen to the Army, and no one cares. Even the youthful and glamorous Air Force is not in much better case. But if the public get any idea that there is something wrong with the Royal Navy, then they sit up and take notice at once. As a consequence, the Navy gets its way every time—or gets away with it every time, as the case may be.
From the point of view of a taxpayer, I have listened with great interest to this debate because it has been made clear by every speaker that the Royal Air Force may be said hardly to exist at all. On the one hand, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has demanded a total Air Force, between ourselves and America, of 550 squadrons. If we are to supply, say, 40 per cent. of that, it would mean that something like 200 squadrons would be needed from us. On the other hand, 597 Lord Balfour of Inchrye has given us to understand that such few squadrons as we do possess are not capable of putting more than four or five machines into the air at a time. As someone has pointed out in this debate, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, in his speech on the Address, said that the Royal Air Force was "dying on its feet," and, indeed, a young airman in another place, Mr. Max Aitken, stated in the defence debate as recently as last September that the strength of Fighter Command at the present time is less than it was at the date of the Battle of Britain.
These statements and assertions go undenied; therefore, one must assume that they are true. Yet the representatives of myself, as a taxpayer, in another place, voted, as recently as last March, £173,000,000 for the upkeep this year of 324,000 officers and men of the Royal Air Force plus half that number of civilians who will be employed in servicing duties. If it is in order, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to depart for a moment from the Royal Air Force and remark that our representatives in another place only last March voted £305,000,000 for the upkeep of 712,000 men in the Army. Yet we were told, at the time that money was voted, that we were not capable of putting two divisions in the field, and when we sent a brigade to Malaya the other day it was stated that that was the hulk of our strategic reserves. These assertions have gone undenied, and I ask myself, as a taxpayer, what value am I getting for that huge expenditure of men and money? The answer, judging from our Service debates, is that we are getting no value at all.
I cannot understand why this subject is not more widely publicised and why it does not worry the public a great deal more than it does. This is not an economic debate, but in my view—in fact, in everybody's view—one of the most serious factors to-day is the crushing burden of taxation. May I give your Lordships one more figure? This year we are paying £692,000,000 for the Armed Services, including the Navy—that is, nearly seven shillings on the income tax, or the whole of the tobacco duty and half the beer duly added together. The number of men taken by the Forces is over 1,000,000, plus half that number of civilians wholly employed in servicing them. That is not all. Recently we have been invited to embark on increased expendi- 598 ture, of an unspecified amount, to deal with the danger recently arising on the other side of the iron curtain. It seems to me that in the case of the Royal Air Force and the Army we are getting nothing like the value comparable to that huge expenditure, and it is consequently borne in upon my mind that the system of National Service is complete failure. The speeches to which I have listened this afternoon confirm that view. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, asked for a Regular long-service Air Force. Surely that is what is required.
The noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, in his opening remarks, said he did not think there was necessity for so much secrecy about the strength of our Forces as is now enjoined upon us by the Government. I am inclined to agree with that. In 1914 everybody knew we were capable of putting six infantry divisions and one cavalry division into the field in three weeks. There was no secret about that. It took only £30,000,000 a year to do it, too. Now it costs us ten times that figure and we cannot put a corresponding number of men in the field. The same sort of remark would apply in regard to the R.A.F., had there been an R.A.F. at that time. This is a most serious question which ought to disturb the public, and the public ought to be determined to see that things are put right. We are now falling between two stools. Twelve months is not long enough to train an airman, soldier or sailor in these modern complicated days, let alone provide a striking force. And what is the use of an Army and an Air Force, if they cannot provide a striking force? The whole object of both of them is to do so; and we cannot do that on twelve months' training. It requires a minimum of two years both to train a man and to put him into a squadron or unit forming part of a striking force and give him the necessary training in those large formations. I have overstayed my five minutes and I do not wish to entrench upon your Lordships' patience a moment longer. All I have said can be summed up in one sentence: in my view the present system of National Service for the Army and Air Force is a dead failure and must be altered.
§ 5.44 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships are accustomed to hearing me 599 take part in defence debates from the point of view of a naval officer, but I held a commission in the Royal Air Force for ten years between the two wars, and I intend to make a few short remarks purely from the point of view of the Royal Air Force. I certainly do not intend to-day, as a naval officer, to cross swords with my noble friend Lord Blackford about the publicity value of Lord Nelson and the fountains in Trafalgar Square. We all listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson—I am sorry he is not now here—but it seemed to me that the earlier part of his speech was an extraordinary one for a debate on the Royal Air Force. It seemed much more appropriate as an address to the combined Staff College. If it had been made there, it certainly would have brought forth a barrage of questions. The noble Lord went on to tell us about the increases in the pay code. We were all glad to hear about them, and one thing we were particularly pleased about is that the pay of the skilled man is to be considered. But when he went on to tell us that officers were to receive no pay increases at all, some of us felt profoundly uneasy. Surely the most skilful man of all should be the officer.
I do not intend to go over the whole ground of pay and, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, so well put it, family life in the Royal Air Force, but I should like to pick up one point from the very interesting speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Portal—namely, whether it is possible for National Service men to do three years in the R.A.F. I am interested in that point because I have made a similar suggestion on one or two occasions in your Lordships' House, in connection with the Royal Navy. The noble Viscount said that possibly this could be brought about by a ballot. I would put to him that it could be brought about if the man who served for three years were exempted from any other Territorial or Auxiliary Service obligations at the end of his three years, unless, of course, he wished to undertake them. Three years' continuous service and then complete freedom afterwards would be an inducement. Certainly such men would be more useful to the R.A.F.
I want to turn for a moment from the material side to what I might call the spiritual side of this matter. What are 600 we aiming at? We aim to attract the flower of English manhood into this great Service, the Royal Air Force. The material side is important, but have we not to do something else? Have we not to recapture the spirit of adventure in our young men, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson said? Can we not do that by having young officers from Cranwell talking to boys in the schools, by having R.A.F. officers with fine war records talking to the headmasters and by getting it over to the parents of the present day, in some way, that they should encourage their sons to volunteer for service in this great Royal Air Force? Until we have some spirit of that kind alive and abroad in the country, I do not think we shall get all the men we want.
There are many things we can do (as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and other noble Lords have pointed out), to make the Royal Air Force a little less obscure. I think that instead of squadrons having numbers, they should have names. I think there would be tremendous competition between squadrons if there were to be a squadron called, "Lord Trenchard's Own." I am sure there would be great competition among the squadrons for that honour. Why cannot the squadrons have some distinctive flash, to be worn on the shoulder, or a special cap badge, so that when the men join they can wear the distinctive and honoured marks of that squadron? After all, it is done in the Royal Navy. If a man goes to a new ship, he is issued with the cap ribbon of that ship. Why should not this anonymity be abolished? As the airman goes about in trains and in the streets, let us know to what squadron he belongs. Then people will soon get to know the colours and flashes of the squadrons as well as they know the colours of the Black Watch and of other famous regiments of the Army. That is all I have to say. While rightly thinking of the material side, let us also think of the spiritual side, and thus attract the flower of England's manhood.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sure it will be agreed by the whole House that we owe a very real debt of gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who initiated this debate. It has turned out, I think, in 601 the circumstances in which it is held, to be one of really outstanding importance, and it might well be one of historic importance. Personally, I intend to address your Lordships for only a few minutes in summing up the debate; indeed, it is with considerable temerity that I intervene at all. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said in his speech that he could not claim to be an expert on this subject; and I think my noble friend Lord Blackford said the same. I am in exactly the same position. We have heard speeches this afternoon from some of the greatest authorities on the air in this country, and probably in the world—men who have given their whole lives to the study of this all-important subject.
I would like to mention many of them, but perhaps I may be allowed to say a particular word about the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, who made his maiden speech in your Lordships' House this afternoon. The charming, the weighty and the convincing contribution which he made would have been a notable event in any debate in this House, and it was certainly listened to with that deep attention which is always afforded by your Lordships to someone who really knows his subject and who speaks with modesty and common sense. I would say to the noble Viscount, in passing, that he seems to have kept us rather at arm's length for a considerable time. I believe there are very good reasons for that. However, I hope that he will not allow so long a period to elapse in the future, because I can assure him that any words from him, on this or other subjects, will be deeply pondered by thinking men and women, not only here but throughout the country.
The noble Viscount, Lord Portal, and other noble Lords have dealt with most of the technical aspects of the problem. Into this field it would be an impertinence for me to endeavour to follow them, though I hope very much that the Government will pay full attention to what they have said. But these noble Lords have also naturally stressed the broad facts of the present situation, in the political and the strategic sense, and the bearing which air power inevitably has on the great issues of peace and war. This, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi (who I am sorry to see is not in the House at the present time), is really inevitable and right, for clearly it 602 is not the slightest use talking about an Air Force in vacuo, without also talking about the purpose for which that Air Force is needed. At any rate, here in this wider field it is possible even for a layman to follow the experts; indeed, I suggest to your Lordships it is really vital that we should all of us do so, for on the maintenance of peace everything else depends: our happiness, our prosperity, our standard of living, the maintenance of our great system of social services—indeed, our very existence.
Merely to raise our domestic standards without ensuring security from war would be rather like a man who redecorated the inside of his house without making certain that the roof was watertight. What would be the result? A storm would come and would destroy all the good work he had done, and his grand house would become merely a useless, uninhabitable ruin, a very monument to human folly. That will undoubtedly be the fate of Western civilisation if the nations of the West fail to face up to the hard realities of the present situation. This is becoming more and more generally realised by the British public, perhaps even more outside Parliament than inside. There is no doubt that to the ordinary man in the street there is to-day one vital problem which transcends all others—namely, how is peace to be preserved. That is the real thing everybody is thinking about. It is on their success or failure in handling this problem, and on their willingness to subordinate all others to it, that every statesman and politician in this country will rightly be judged.
This, as I think my noble friend Lord Templewood said, is not a Party problem. It is a national problem, and it should be faced, as I think it has been to-day, in a national spirit. We all know the broad facts of the international situation. We have a great international organisation, the United Nations, the object of which is to bring about enduring peace. But at present all its efforts in this direction are hampered, and indeed hamstrung, by the non-co-operation of one great Power, Russia, and the satellite countries which follow her. What Russia's ultimate objective is none of us knows. Does she wart war? Does she want merely to fish in troubled waters? That is a riddle to which none of us can give the answer. All we do know—and 603 it is being impressed upon us more and more with every day that passes—is that Russia presents a formidable potential danger to peace.
The main question before us is: How is that danger to be neutralised? We have got to recognise—it is impossible for us not to recognise—that Russia has one considerable advantage over other nations in this sphere; she has immense, almost inexhaustible, supplies of man-power. The question before us, which I think is vital to the future of Europe and the world, is: Is this advantage conclusive, or can it be counter-balanced by some other factor? If it can be counterbalanced, and (what is equally important) if Russia can be convinced that it can be counter-balanced, then there will be no war. Herein, as I see it, lies the very great importance of air power. If it is properly developed and properly organised, it may provide just that counterbalance.
It is for that reason that I was particularly struck by two broad statements in the speeches of Lord Templewood and Lord Trenchard. My noble friend Lord Templewood said, in effect, that if we had had mastery of the air at the beginning of the last war the German Army could never have moved. That is the broad effect of his statement. He added that the same would now be true of any great Power, and this was confirmed by my noble friend Lord Trenchard, when he said that no formed body of troops of the size of a division or upwards could advance any distance by road or rail without air supremacy. Those statements, coming from the sources they do, seem to me to be of the utmost importance. If the assessment of these two noble Lords is accurate—and, after all, it is made in the light of recent experience in the last war—it ought profoundly, I should have thought conclusively, to influence the whole of our defence policy. I would have thought that, if that policy which they have advocated were put into force, and if it were made continuous (that is to say, if there were no vacillations in it with changes of Government, for that, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, is absolutely essential), it might well provide a real solution to all our present difficulties, and a detent in the situation might be brought about 604 which at present seems beyond our wildest hopes.
It is the custom nowadays, among some very great judges, to rely entirely on the atomic bomb. The last thing I wish to do would be to under-estimate the power of that bomb. It is undoubtedly by far the most terrible instrument of war that has ever been invented. We have seen what it can do at Hiroshima, and no doubt it is immensely more powerful now than it was then. As I think has been said this afternoon, the importance of the atomic bomb as a weapon, arises from the fact that it has not only an immediate, but also a long-term effect. Where it has been dropped, an area is made virtually uninhabitable for a number of months. Clearly, scattered over the main areas of production in a country, it would be capable of entirely paralysing that country's national life. But as I see it, the trouble about the atomic bomb is that it is almost too powerful. Were the enemy to launch his attack, not from his own territories, but from an occupied country friendly to us, and if we were to launch atomic bombs at that country, it would be bound to cause suffering over a long period to populations who were our potential Allies. Any civilised country must hesitate before it caused such suffering, and in any case none of us would wish to do it if it could in any way be avoided.
We are sometimes told that the aim of an aggressor in the next war, if unhappily it breaks out, will be to set up batteries in the great centres of population in countries friendly to us which he has occupied, and from there to discharge great showers of rockets and other weapons, relying upon our unwillingness to retaliate on the friendly population by which the batteries are surrounded. As I say, any of us might well revolt from the idea of perhaps utterly pulverising the national and industrial life of peoples who were traditionally our friends and our Allies. While, therefore, the atomic bomb is a weapon which might well be discharged on the territories of the aggressor itself, there are, as I see it, obvious disadvantages in using it ruthlessly once the enemy has occupied territories friendly to us. At any rate, whether that be true or not, the enemy might very well make such a calculation, and this would reduce the deterrent to his going to war. And, after all—and we cannot say this too often—it is the pre- 605 vention of war and not merely victory in war which must be our aim if civilisation is to survive.
Such considerations, however, clearly do not apply in quite the same degree to ordinary air power. That, too, of course, as we know from experience, is immensely destructive, but it has not quite the same long-term effect as the atomic bomb. Moreover, as we have been told by the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and others this afternoon, it can be concentrated, to some extent at any rate—as in the Normandy battle—on strategic objectives in the back areas, with the object of hampering military movement rather than of strangling national life. Every bridge and every road can be destroyed. Advancing armies can be largely, if not entirely, cut off from their base. They can be denied adequate supplies of petrol, armaments and so on. No doubt it would be very unwise of us to dogmatise too confidently on any of these things; but we may say with a fair degree of certainty that air power can exercise a paralysing effect on military operations.
But, for this purpose, it is necessary to have overwhelming air superiority. I gathered from the carefully guarded speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that the Government share this view, although actually the balance of his speech was so carefully preserved that it was difficult to know quite on which side he came down. My impression, however—I agree that it was a faint, uncertain impression—after listening to his speech, was that he agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. If that is correct, and if the Government are ready not merely to say that, but to do what is necessary to put that policy into effect, I should have thought it was a policy by no means impossible of achievement. After all, as has been pointed out, Britain and the United States are the greatest industrial nations and the greatest inventive nations in the world. In inventive genius and in the quality of their products they are infinitely superior to anything, so far as we know, that the Russians can do.
I think I am right in saying—the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, will correct me if I am wrong—that in the latter 606 part of the war, three-quarters to four-fifths of the German Air Force was concentrated on the Western Front. That shows the German view of the comparative formidability of the Air Forces facing them from East and West. If we could build up a joint force of fighters, bombers, and transport planes, of size adequate to ensure our absolute superiority in the air, surely we could face the future with comparative equanimity—with an equanimity which, as I say, seems to us beyond all dreams at the present moment.
I was very sorry, if I may say so, that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, was obliged to announce that the Government were unwilling to publish any further information as to the present position of our equipment in the air. As the Leader of the House will know, the United States has already given a number of comparatively detailed figures. They evidently do not rate the need for security quite so high as we do. I am much afraid that our refusal to do this will only encourage the conclusion in other countries that we cannot afford to give the facts, and that would be the most unfortunate impression which could be created. I beg, therefore, that the Government will reconsider this matter, and that the Leader of the House will be able to say in his closing speech that he will refer it again to his right honourable friend. As your Lordships know, Government Departments are always only too delighted to shelter behind the needs of national security, but it is not a propensity in which Ministers should encourage them too far. I hope this is one of the occasions upon which Ministers will take a line of their own.
In any case, we have to-day had certain figures suggested to us as our target, a target which will achieve absolute air superiority. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said we should need 100 squadrons of short-range fighters, 150 squadrons of long-range bombers, 150 squadrons of long-range fighters to protect the long-range bombers, and 150 squadrons of transport planes. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, gave comparable figures. That, with the necessary replacements both of material and crews, no doubt represents an immense expenditure of effort and money. It is no light burden that your 607 Lordships and the country are being asked to shoulder. But is it a target beyond attainment by the United States of America and the British Commonwealth of Nations? Of course, a proportionate contribution by us in this field must clearly involve severe sacrifices in other directions. We must face that fact. But if one remembers that our expenditure in the last war rose, I think, to over £13,000,000 a day—apart altogether from the dislocation of trade and the immense destruction of life and property—one may fairly inquire: Are we now being asked to pay too heavy an insurance premium to prevent a recurrence of such a disaster as that? We shall get off very much more cheaply this way, than we should from another war.
If, for a moment, I may stray a little wide of the debate, I would also say this. We must recognise that such an expansion of the Royal Air Force could be made only at the temporary expense of the other Fighting Services. We should be rather foolish if we did not face up to that. The Army and the Navy would have to sink temporarily to second place. But, after all, the essence of any strategic plan is that it should take account of who is the potential enemy. In the past, of course, we have had to face the possibility of a conflict with maritime nations or with land Powers with forces comparable to our own. To-day, except for Russian submarines—which of course must be properly guarded against—one would have thought that the maritime danger was almost negligible; and on land, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, Russian man-power and resources are so tremendous that we could not hope to compete with them, however many divisons we managed to put in the field. I am not so foolish as to advocate the virtual extinction of the Army and Navy. That would clearly be both impossible and undesirable. What I am anxious to emphasise is that we must face the fact that if we want to find a compensating factor for preponderant Russian man-power, it can at present be provided only by the air. It is therefore, I respectfully submit, on our Air Forces that the United States of America and ourselves must concentrate. In absolute superiority in that sphere alone, do I, like other noble Lords, see any possibility 608 of completely averting the peril of a new war, with all the appalling results that that must involve for the world.
I have not tried this afternoon to approach any of the vital questions of how to encourage recruitment for the Air Force, which have—rightly—bulked so large in the debate. That is a matter on which I am not competent to speak. I would only say that I hope the Government will give full attention to what has been said by noble Lords who have spoken with such experience and such power. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that the young people of this country, as they showed in the last war, are both adventurous and brave. If they feel that they are being appreciated and that they are receiving a fair deal, I have no doubt that the Government will get the men they want for the Royal Air Force. If, on the other hand, these young people feel that the Air Force is being unfairly treated in comparison with other walks of life, they will choose other professions to which the Government appear to them to attach more importance—and one can under stand that.
We had a statement from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, at the end of his speech this afternoon, about new rates of pay and improved conditions which the Government are introducing for the Armed Services. I think we all recognise that the Government are trying to do something to improve conditions and terms of service. Whether it will be enough, none of us yet knows. The noble Lord's statement, if he will allow me to say so, was inevitably complicated and technical, and I hope the Government will allow us to give it careful study, not in a critical or captious spirit but in a realistic spirit, to see how it works. If I may make a suggestion, it would be helpful to your Lordships and to the country if the Government were able to issue a White Paper showing the detailed results of these changes in each Fighting Service separately.
It has often been my lot in this Parliament to criticise the Government; and indeed I still feel that they would have done far better to devote their attention to such vital matters as we have been discussing this afternoon than to waste their time in futile and dangerous experiments in other spheres of our national 609 life. But I hope they will believe that I have spoken in no critical spirit to-day. I fully realise the difficulties which they have to face in this matter. Moreover, the international situation is far too dangerous for anyone to attempt to make Party capital out of it. But I do beg them once more, as I did a year ago, to divulge all the facts to the people, to tell the country the truth, and not to give them only the kind of extremely wrapped-up statement that we have had to-day. I do not blame the noble Lord for so careful a statement, for I know he was speaking for another Department, and I recognise the general style of such Departmental documents! But in fact it was so elaborately balanced that even to us who are trained listeners it meant absolutely nothing. In passing, I would add that I hope we shall not have another such from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House when he winds up. He may think that he can get away with it here, because we all like him so much; but neither he nor the Government will get away with such vague generalities on this subject in the country at the present time.
Therefore let him and the Government tell the truth. And the truth, as I see it, is that only one thing, matters to-day; that is, national defence. And by national defence, I mean the prevention of war. We must do everything that is necessary and make whatever sacrifice is necessary to achieve that result. If war is prevented—not temporarily but permanently—then, whether on a Capitalist or a Socialist basis, according to the particular view one holds, this country has some chance of recovery. But if another war comes, all we are doing to-day, the whole of England as we know it, will undoubtedly be swept away in the welter and confusion which will ensue. Let the Government tell the people this; let them ask for their co-operation; and one may be sure that they will not be disappointed.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I should like to say first that I cordially associate myself with what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said in paying a tribute to the noble Viscount who initiated this debate. I should like to pay a tribute to both the style and the substance of his speech. I am quite sure that the debate will do a lot of good. The big issues behind it are so vital and so oppressive, if I may use the word, that 610 it seems almost trivial to talk of the smaller things which necessarily emerge in a discussion of this kind. But, as a matter of fact, the world is built up on small things, and these small things matter. I will try to condense what I have to say in summing up the discussion by first referring to any matter of detail and then by dealing in conclusion with some of the major issues which were spoken of by the noble Marquess just now. As is the case with the noble Marquess and some other noble Lords, I am not an expert on these matters; therefore, I speak with bated breath and much restraint on all technical subjects. I leave such details to the noble Lords whom I see before me and on the Cross Benches.
I should like to refer to one or two of the assurances which the noble Marquess has asked me to give. In the first place, he can take it from me with complete good faith that I shall, without qualification, impress upon my colleagues some of the very, the extremely, important suggestions which have been made in this debate. Whether a White Paper will be issued or not on the technical matters referred to by my noble friends, I am afraid I do not know at the moment. We issue a great many White Papers, and I suppose that in some form these technical details will have to be embodied in a printed document. Whether that will take the form of a White Paper or not, I am afraid that at the moment I do not know, but I will pass on the noble Marquess's suggestion to those concerned. We shall certainly not be afraid, so far as our advisers tell us that it is wise, to reveal (if I may use the term) the truth of the matters lying behind these issues. On the whole, I do not think that we can be accused of being shy of facing unpleasant truths. After all, we have had to face a good many in the past three or four years, and as I have already said, on the whole I do not think that we can be accused of being any too shy of facing them, if they have to be faced.
There were various matters, some of which I thought were of considerable practical importance, contained in the suggestions which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, made and which I have noted, and there were other suggestions more or less on Service detail. I am afraid I am not at all equipped to reply to them now: all I can say is that I will make a 611 note of them and they shall be considered. I hope, too, that noble Lords will not overlook what seemed to be a very practically-minded contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, who has been good enough to tell me that he has been compelled to go away. I was very much impressed by the strong horse-sense of the case that he put up. We have to see whether we are getting value for our money. I must say that it causes one seriously to think when one has these sums in arithmetic presented in the mass, as the noble Lord presented them to us. I will certainly not fail to pass on his interrogations with considerable emphasis.
I cannot admit, however, that National Service is a failure. There, I think, the noble Lord is misinformed, because the system does not begin until January next, so it cannot be condemned as a failure two months in advance. That really will not fit. At the same time, it is true—and this is the grim fact of the situation—that the Air Force, which must have a strong body of experienced craftsmen and trained men not only to train newcomers but to form the basis of a great service, has not lately been attracting the number of recruits that it must have. That is true. It is a very grim fact which we have to face and we do propose to face it. I can assure noble Lords that there is no disposition on our part to shirk it. I myself do not know anything about the details of the pay schemes which have been mentioned, but I am quite sure of this: that we must work to an Air Service which attracts and keeps good men who want to make it their career. That is clearly necessary if we are to have that experienced body of men who are absolutely essential for the Air Service.
Before I pass to the major issues, may I say a word about something which the noble Marquess said just now, and which entered into one of the sentences in the early part of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood? It concerns, so to speak, the priority and demands on the public purse and otherwise of the Air Service, and the subordination of the other Services. As that was being said by the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, I noticed the First Sea Lord sitting on the Cross Bench. He is not there just now, but his spirit is. We have to keep 612 our balance right in these matters. However strong our Air Force is—and we know how vital it is that it should be strong—we still must keep our supply ships going to and fro across the seas, not only to feed our Forces but to feed our population, and to supply our industries and all the rest of it. I think that the developments of the submarine danger are such that I am sure we could not afford to relegate that section of our defences, apart from what is provided by the Air Services, to a secondary place.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I know the noble Lords did. I am merely mentioning the facts of the situation. Then there are other dangers which can be combated only by adequate naval forces and which I will not recite, but which are well known to your Lordships. Those we must not overlook. I am saying that, not in any way to minimise the importance of the claim set out by the noble Viscount opposite, but just to bear in our minds that we must not forget and lose sight of these other factors.
I was exceedingly interested by what the noble and gallant Viscount and the noble Marquess and others said about what we may perhaps call the superior propaganda methods of the other Services. I have not looked at the question like that, but still I am sure that those who are concerned with our Air Services should "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" what some of your Lordships have said about this matter. I do not know whether it is technically possible to give a number to a squadron and for that squadron to retain it through a series of years—I know nothing about the technicalities—but I can believe that it would be a great advantage if some symbol or name could be associated with branches of the Air Service, so that in the course of time it would come to have a traditional and historical value. We have to remember that the Royal Navy has a long start in this respect. It is quite a good while since Trafalgar. The Royal Air Force is still very young. It has not had the time to build up those traditions and associations possessed by 613 the Royal Navy, but I am very glad that the Royal Air Force is willing and anxious to take a lesson from the experiences of the Royal Navy, who advertise and make much of their Service so justly and so well, so that, almost by stealth, every schoolboy and every schoolgirl has it in his or her mind. In the course of time, I expect that the Royal Air Force will do the same.
However, as to the importance of the issue raised to-day there can be no question at all. I would agree with the noble Marquess that we have to constitute an Air Force as a safeguard against war, and I would agree with him in putting it in the first place. I am not going to follow him and others in what they said as to the way an Air Force could hold up the movement of big enemy forces on land; our experiences in Normandy have already proved that and it does not require any further demonstration. But I believe myself that it is fair to contend that, so far, we have not got quite the right method of approach for attracting the right men, and in sufficient numbers, into the Royal Air Force. For that reason, account must be taken of all the suggestions that have been made to-day. The R.A.F. is, without a doubt, our greatest safeguard in war, so far as we can see, and I believe it is our greatest safeguard in peace.
There is one further matter that has not yet been referred to, which I think I ought to mention. Most of us are disappointed that the United Nations has not hitherto been able to exercise the influence we would like. We are, of course, also distressed every day by the division of the world which is represented by the attitude of Soviet Russia and her satellites, and the immense apprehension which they cause throughout the world by the perpetuation of the present position. We accept that, and I do not propose to reply at all to the comments which have been made in this debate on that subject. I only want to say that we accept the value of the estimate which has been placed generally in this debate upon the vital importance of an Air Force with the kind of overwhelming superiority of which the noble Marquess spoke.
But one great advance that is now being made has not hitherto, in the course of this debate, been referred to, and I would like to refer to it. I think it is 614 fair to claim—at all events, it is very likely—that the last war would not have broken out had there been the machinery for prompt co-operation between ourselves and some of our Allies which was developed two or three years later. In those circumstances, it very likely would not have happened at all; I put it no higher than that. Our Air Force and the American Air Force can work adequately together only if there is the joint staff work, the provision beforehand, the thought beforehand, and the organisation beforehand, which is so absolutely vital to combined effort. I am glad to tell your Lordships that efforts in that direction are making notable progress—and this is a very substantial safeguard in these times.
As your Lordships are aware, it was announced at the end of October, at the conclusion of the meeting in Paris of the consultative council of the Brussels Powers that a preliminary study was being made between us of questions affecting North Atlantic security; and the communiqué at that time went on to say that the examination had resulted in complete agreement on the principle of a defensive pact in regard to the North Atlantic and the next steps to be taken in this direction. I can now say that the Canadian Government have wholeheartedly announced their acceptance of the principle of this co-operative effort. I can also say that negotiations for the conclusion of the pact and the bringing of it into effective working form are making good progress. I cannot at the moment say how the whole preliminary consultations will be concluded, but there are arrangements for a joint military supply board to work in co-operation with the five Brussels Powers, and these include joint staff co-operative schemes embracing also the United States and Canada. This combined defensive arrangement as a safeguard for peace is at the moment, I am glad to say, making very gratifying progress, and it is a matter of great consequence. It will mean that there may be fashioned in the near future a joint working arrangement particularly affecting air-power which could be deployed and developed rapidly in the defence of peace. I conclude with that reference, while accepting without reservation the general case that has been made by your Lordships. I thought it only right to strike that rather more 615 hopeful note because we are engaged there, we trust, in concluding a combined working arrangement which will be of vital importance as a safeguard to peace.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
My Lords, my sensations have somewhat varied during the course of the debate. There was a moment when I was rather depressed with the large extracts that, no doubt, the Departments have produced for the noble Lord opposite. Like the noble Marquess, I know the kind of procedure that goes on for occasions of this kind. It seemed to me that their worst feature—the one they gave me, at any rate—was an impression of complacency. I may be wrong; I hope I am wrong. They also gave me the impression that we were drifting back to what ventured to refer to in my speech—namely, the balance of power between the three Services. That, in actual practice, means giving a little bit to each and not definitely facing the question of priorities.
But then the noble Viscount who has just spoken gave me two or three rays of hope. He said, as I understood him, that he gave the Air Force first priority. It is true that he said it was necessary, of course, to keep a Navy and an Army for the purposes which they would be called upon to perform. We all accept that; but I am quite sure that if the kind of programme we have been discussing this afternoon is to be carried into effect, a much more definite preference will have to be given to the Air Force than has been given in the last two or three years. I hope, as I said earlier, that this question of twelve or eighteen months National Service will be tested by the effect that it will have upon the Air Force as priority No. 1 to our defence system. I am not going to discuss the details of it to-day, but I do say to noble Lords that I am very apprehensive that it will do much more harm than good.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
The question of twelve or eighteen months' National Service. That we can discuss upon a later occasion. As to the details about pay, for giving which we are grateful to the noble Lord, I can only say that those matters must be judged by results. 616 I cannot at the present time express any opinion concerning them. The test will be: Will they or will they not attract the skilled men for the Royal Air Force?
Lastly, may I say that I was considerably heartened by what the noble Viscount said about co-operation between the Staffs in connection with Western Union and an Atlantic Pact. I am delighted to hear of that. I agree with him that it is one of the keys to the defence position. I venture to say, however, that no agreements that are reached by the Staffs, either of the Powers of Western Europe or of the United States and ourselves, or of the Commonwealth and ourselves, will be of any avail unless we have an effective force behind those agreements. Having made those few observations, I would only wish to thank the noble Viscount and other noble Lords who have spoken. I am grateful for what has been said as to the usefulness of this debate, and I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.