§ 2.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD rose to move to resolve, That this House presses upon His Majesty's Government the urgency of strengthening the Royal Air Force in the interests of Home Defence, Western Union and Atlantic security. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, you will remember that towards the end of November the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I initiated a debate upon air strategy in which we tried to point out the urgent necessity of ensuring the command of the air for the countries of the Western Union. Noble Lords on all sides of the House agreed generally with our views, and at the end of the debate the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who leads the House, made what seemed to me an optimistic speech in reply. He laid particular emphasis upon the progress that was being made with the negotiation of the Atlantic Pact. Whilst I was very glad to hear what he said, I ventured to make a caveat. I said that I believed that it would be found that conscription was not the way to obtain skilled personnel for the Air Force, and that the present system of National Service might very well be useless in the Air Force—indeed, that it might be harmful by diverting the attention of those responsible from the urgent problem of getting long-term skilled volunteers rather than a great mass of short-term personnel.
§ To-day I do not propose to return to those arguments, nor do I propose again to develop the issues involved in the command of the air. I would make only one observation upon air strategy. I have 65 noticed with considerable alarm the reports that have been appearing in the Press—I hope unfounded, but very significantly all to the same effect—that the defence strategy of the Western Powers is to be developed upon a fighting line across Europe, and that it is contemplated that, in the event of attack, the fighting line would be contracted and presumably Allied territory would be abandoned to the enemy. I hope those reports are very far from the truth about what is happening. If, indeed, they be even near it, I would venture to say that I cannot imagine a more obsolete or more antiquated strategy than this new adaptation of the Maginot Line which was so fatal in the early days of the war, or a policy so out of keeping with all the dominating lessons that the war left with us. But I do not believe that those reports can be true to-day.
§ I pass from the strategy of air to the tactics of air, and I ask myself what has happened in this country since November, when this House was unanimously behind the views that Lord Trenchard, Lord Portal, I and others ventured to express upon the urgency of an overwhelmingly strong British Air Force. My Lords, events have not been standing still; they have been moving very quickly since the end of last year, and they have not been moving altogether in a favourable direction. So far as our foreign policy is concerned, both here and in the United States, neither Mr. Bevin nor the Secretary of State nor the President of the United States has been running away from the implications of a bold foreign policy. So far from blaming them, I applaud them. But that in itself carries certain responsibilities.
When therefore I survey the field of foreign policy and of the defence of this country, I ask myself what has happened since last November in view of the great urgency of many of these problems. Nobody could exaggerate their urgency. I notice, with great interest, that only the other day General Eisenhower (whom we are all delighted to see return to the post of an adviser to the President of the United States) made this statement to the President's Committee upon Universal Training:
The decision in a future conflict would be determined by our ability to act and react in the first sixty days.
The Committee to which he was giving
evidence subsequently accepted this view and stated categorically:
that is to say, American security, although it equally applies to British security—
includes, as always, winning any war we may get into. But it includes more than that. It includes not losing the first campaign of the war, if the loss would mean that the country would be invaded and occupied. It includes not having our cities destroyed and our population desecrated in winning the first campaign.
My Lords, I cannot imagine a better description of the urgency of being ready, and being ready at once, than is contained in those two sentences. The Americans call it "readiness potential" rather than "mobilisation potential," and I urge upon noble Lords this afternoon that it is this "readiness potential" that we have constantly to keep in mind, and against which we have to test the programme and policy of this or any other Government.
§ With that urgency in our minds, let us for a moment or two look upon what has been happening here. I say at once that we find ourselves in a very great difficulty. We have been given so little information that it is almost impossible to give anything in the nature of an adequate answer to that question. I have had many years' association with Defence Departments, but I never remember a Government that has been so secretive as this Government. They have not taken into consultation the leaders of the Opposition. I can remember many cases in the past in which the Government of the day welcomed the advice of the leaders of the Opposition, and I would have thought that, quite apart from Party politics, it was well worth while to consult the man who, after all, is the greatest authority in Western Europe and indeed, in the United States of America upon defence questions—the present Leader of the Opposition. I say that only in passing, but whether that is a good suggestion or not, the fact remains that the leaders of the Opposition have never been consulted about the great issues of defence. The public have been left completely in the dark. We have had a series of White Papers—a Defence White Paper, an Army White Paper, a Navy White Paper and an Air White Paper. I never before saw such White Papers. They are so white that there is not a speck of red blood or an inch of hone in any of them. I have 67 studied them with the greatest care, and at the end of all my study I have not the least idea what is the plan of the Government for defence as a whole or for any of the three Services—least of all for Air.
§ I remember well a series of White Papers for which I was responsible when I was Secretary of State for Air, and never did I fail to put before the country the programme upon which we were engaged, the number of squadrons that we possessed and the number of new squadrons that we were going to form in the future. If we look at the White Paper issued by the Secretary of State for Air we find that none of that information is contained in it at all.
We look at the figures of recruiting, and there again we find nothing that is likely to satisfy us. If anything is clear, it is that the Royal Air Force is failing to get the skilled personnel without which it cannot be satisfactorily developed. Almost the only statement of any importance that we have had from the Government upon these Air questions since our debate last November was the statement which the Secretary of State for Air made in the House of Commons on January 20. He then declared—and I quote his words:
Standards of morale in the Air Force are not entirely satisfactory at present.
I cannot imagine a more serious statement being made by any head of a fighting Service. I never remember such a statement being made before. I do not think that even at the time of the trouble at Invergordon the First Sea Lord would ever have made an admission of that kind. This statement by the Secretary of State for Air was made almost out of the blue, with practically no explanation and with no reservation. The result is that this secretiveness, followed by sensational statements of this kind, is having the worst possible effect upon the work of rebuilding the kind of Air Force that is so urgently needed.
Let me remind noble Lords opposite that this secretiveness, this failure to take into the Government's confidence, in respect of a great branch of national defence, the public and the country, is not the way in which the Royal Navy was built up in the Nineteenth Century. The Government then told the people what their programme was, and the
people felt that the Royal Navy was an integral part of the national life. When it seemed that the supremacy of the Navy was challenged they made their demand in the words of the slogan:
We want eight, and we won't wait.
That was the way in which the people took their share in building up a great fighting Service. To-day, the people cannot take any part of that kind. They do not know what sort of Air Force we are building up. They do not know whether there is a programme behind these vast numbers of men who are being forced into the three fighting Services. We do not ask that any secret should be divulged that will imperil the security of the country, and we realise that in a technical Service like the Air Force there must be many details—connected, for instance, with guided missiles or atomic warfare—which must be kept secret. But we do say that it is essential that the public should be told what is our Air Force programme, how it is going to be carried out this year and how long it is going to take to complete.
§ I would emphasise that a definite programme of this kind is particularly essential for a technical Service like the Air Force. The programme must run over a number of years. First, it is essential that the Staff should know clearly what is the full programme and what are the steps by which it is to be implemented. Secondly, Parliament must have this knowledge in order to check and, if necessary, criticise Ministers from time to time as to the progress that is being made in carrying out the programme. Thirdly, if voluntary recruitment is to succeed, the public must know enough to realise the urgency of the problem, and must know also what is the objective that the people as a whole have to achieve. That was what we attempted to do—no doubt inadequately—in the years between the two wars. We had a programme for such-and-such a number of squadrons. Parliament was able to criticise and ask questions year by year as to what progress was being made with the plans. I claim to-day that it is essential that the Government take the people into their confidence and tell them clearly what is the strength of the Air Force they contemplate, and what are the steps that have to be taken year by year to build it up.69
§ When I made a similar argument in November, I was met, by the old story of security and the danger of divulging anything to a potential enemy. I have already said that what I am urging accepts the necessity for keeping certain things absolutely secret; but when it comes to strengths and establishments I must say that I think an answer of that kind is both harmful and futile. I say it for this reason. At the present time the dominant air force in the world is the Air Force of the United States. If, in the interests of security in face of a potential enemy, it is necessary to conceal strengths and establishments, the first necessity is for the United States to conceal their strength. But what do we find? So far from concealing American strength in the air, so far from withholding details of the American programme of Air Force expansion, the newspapers, the Reports of Committees and book after book are filled with these very details.
§ I will not do more than attempt to summarise them in a few sentences. It conies to this: that in the United States the American Government are building up by 1952 an Air Force of seventy groups of 12,400 operational machines—that is what we call first-line machines: namely, machines ready to take the air at once, with the reserves behind them to enable the squadrons to keep the machines in the air indefinitely. Of these seventy groups it seems almost certain that sixty will be formed during 1949. Surely, if it is safe for the American Government to disclose these facts about the predominant air force in the world, it is safe for us to give Parliament and the public some idea of our Air Force programme.
§ Let us learn a further lesson from American experience. Whilst here there is secretiveness and bad recruiting, there, there is publicity and good recruiting. I wonder if all your Lordships know what is happening with voluntary recruiting in the Air Force of the United States. In a country where we should have thought that the temptations of civil employment were even greater than they are here, in a country where there has never been the same sort of tradition of the Service as there has been here, voluntary recruiting is going so well that the Air Force authorities of the United States have not taken a single man from those enrolled under the Selective Training Act, their 70 national service Act. The number of voluntary recruits has been so great that the authorities have more than once had to raise the standard and restrict the numbers. What a contrast to the secretiveness and the bad recruitment here! The American experience shows in an unmistakable way that, first, there is need for a plan that the people as a whole understand; secondly, there is need for the fullest possible publicity about the plan; and thirdly, there is need for a totally new outlook upon Service pay.
§ I have made careful inquiry into pay conditions in the United States. I know very well the difficulty of comparing wages, salaries or pay here with wages, salaries or pay in the United States. Nevertheless, I have come to the general conclusion—and I do not think it can be questioned by anyone who is careful enough to examine the figures—that the pay conditions in the United States are at least twice as good as they are here and in some cases three and four times as good. I am not speaking simply of dollar and sterling values, but am taking everything into account.
§ Let me give your Lordships one or two examples to substantiate what I have just said. The American basic pay is comparably much higher: in some cases it is three and four times as high, but not so high with the senior officers as with the middle officers, younger officers and men. I have all the figures here. Fifty per cent. extra is given for hazardous duty, such as flying. I draw special attention to that extra pay for hazardous service. I am told that the same extra pay is given to officers and men serving in submarines. As much as 100 dollars a month, over and above the basic pay, is given for parachute training. Bonuses are given for every medal and decoration, insurance premiums are reduced to an insignificant amount, and generous travelling allowances and household removal allowances are given to both officers and men. Probably the most important of all the pay allowances up to the present has been exemption from taxation. I understand that the question is now being considered whether this exemption from taxation should not end, but it is being considered only upon the assumption that pay will be raised in full compensation for the loss of income.71
§ I claim that the figures I have just been quoting are not extravagant and are not foolish. I claim that they have been effective in attracting the kind and number of volunteers that are needed for the American Air Force. I say to His Majesty's Government that I am quite sure they must reconsider this question of pay. I know they have made an increase since our last debate, but I venture to say that the increases they are now offering will prove ineffective in getting the skilled men that we want for these highly technical services. In a world of rising wages and full employment, we have to face the fact that we have to pay the skilled men in the Services just as high a payment as they would obtain outside—and in cases of great hazard an even higher payment.
§ From the question of pay I come to the question of a British programme. Without official knowledge, I am not so foolish as to attempt to dogmatise upon the details of any particular programme. I am content to make certain general suggestions which may at any rate be useful as illustrations of the kind of Air Force that I believe we require. Noble Lords will remember that in the last debate the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, suggested the kind of air strength that could reasonably be expected to give the Powers of the Western Union and the Atlantic Pact command of the air. He suggested to the House that the Powers of the Atlantic Pact (and, in practice, in the early years that would mean mainly the United States and ourselves) ought to have 550 squadrons, composed of a considerable number of bombers, fighters and transport machines. The noble Viscount suggested—and I agree with him—that the proper quota for the British Air Force in an Allied Air Force of this kind would be something between 30 and 40 per cent. In other words, taking 30 per cent. as an example, we should have a programme for building up an Air Force of 180 squadrons—when I say "we," I mean Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. That would mean a Commonwealth quota of 180 squadrons.
§ We should have a programme for building up possibly 50 long-range bomber squadrons, 50 long-range fighter squadrons, 40 short-range fighter squadrons and 40 72 transport squadrons. As I say, I do not pretend to dogmatise about the actual form the Force should take, but for the purposes of my argument, and also for the sake of the country, I feel that it is necessary to have before us some concrete figures which we can understand.
§ I believe that such a Force as I have suggested is well within our powers in any system of co-ordinated defence; that is to say, defence co-ordinated with our Allies and with the members of the Commonwealth, and also between the three Fighting Services.
§ When I examine the White Papers, I feel there is still great opportunity for reducing duplication and the overall expenditure upon some items in the bills of the Fighting Services. Be that as it may, I believe that the creation of these 180 squadrons would be well within our power without seriously damaging our economic position. Indeed, I believe that if such an Air Force were in existence to-day, and if we had these 180 squadrons provided by the Commonwealth, the economic position of the Commonwealth, whatever might be the cost of these squadrons, would be much more secure than it is. Particularly in Western Europe, it is the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economic future that is preventing the quicker development of trade and commerce. If it were clear to the world that we had this great Force, I am sure that Western Europe would breathe a sigh of relief; and, so far from the expense weighing down the chances of our economic recovery, I believe that it would actually encourage recovery.
§ Moreover, there is a political side to this question which is of great importance. To my mind, it is necessary that the countries of the Western Union should show their military strength in the most unmistakable manner. I do not suggest by that that war is imminent; but looking around, from Scandinavia to Holland, Belgium and to the other side of Europe, I am convinced that the weaker countries, in particular, need this reassurance.
§ Further, I believe that the existence of an overwhelmingly strong Air Force such as I have described would have an immediate effect upon our relations with France. I say that for this reason: looking back at the years between the two wars, one of the most formidable and 73 continuous sources of trouble was the impossibility of reconciling the French demand for security with the German demand for equality. If anyone will look back on those years he will find that time after time it was this irreconcilable problem that made it impossible for Europe to settle down. I believe that if at that time we had had an overwhelmingly strong Air Force, it would have been easier to reconcile those two points of view. If to-day America and ourselves could create this overwhelmingly strong Air Force, ready to meet any attempt at aggression, France would see that the recovery of Germany, which is bound to come, is not likely to endanger French security. For that reason, if for no other political reason, I urge upon the Government, and upon the House this afternoon, the vital urgency of this problem and the great issues that are at stake in building up such a Force as I have described.
§ I have attempted once again to deal with this question in no Party spirit. I have attempted to put before noble Lords the very grave anxieties that I feel on the subject. I have attempted once again to insist upon the urgent need for the Government to tell the country what their programme is, and to take the country into their confidence. They can safely do so. There is none of the bitterness which divided the Parties upon the question of armaments in the years between the two wars. There is no need for hesitation on the part of the Government in telling the country how urgently rearmament is needed in the interests of world peace. For these reasons I move the Resolution which stands in my name. I. hope the Government will accept it, and, even more, I hope that if not today, at any rate in the very near future, they will tell the country what is the kind of Air Force we are building up. I am confident that the public will respond and will make the Air Force that is now our first line of defence so strong that it will be able to take its full part in Atlantic defence, and able to act as an effective deterrent to any possible aggression in the future. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House presses upon His Majesty's Government the urgency of strengthening the Royal Air Force in the interests of Home Defence, Western Union and Atlantic security.—(Viscount Templewood.)74
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I am extremely pleased to be able to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood. I agree with every word he has said in his speech, but would like to add a few more points and to support what he said. When I first saw this Motion on the Paper I prepared some notes. Then the White Piper on Defence appeared, and I put aside my notes and studied the White Paper to see whether it contained anything that had any bearing on the debate which we had on November 24, in which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House agreed with the views expressed as to the importance of the Air Force. What did I find in the paragraph headed "Developments in the past year"?—a paragraph dealing with the Navy. It said, amongst other things: "The White Ensign was seen in the United States of America." I read the whole of that White Paper, and I could see that it had no bearing whatever on the question we discussed on November 24.
I then picked up a paper published in America. In that paper they were talking about the national Budget and the tremendous amount of dollars required for the three Services. They wrote that the Examiners, as they call themselves, must look into this Budget. They went to investigate, and found, on what was called the "Budget Shelf," a package called "The National Defence Package "with the" balanced force" label. The Examiners, whose job is to protect the customers—that is, the public—from false claims, and to see that they get their money's worth, rolled up their sleeves and got to work on this package. They opened it, and discovered that it contained three parcels neatly tied up in red, white and blue paper, labelled "Army," "Navy" and "Air," all of almost equal size. When they demurred, the "salesmen"—that is the Government—explained that this was the beauty of the product—equal portions of land, sea and air to maintain the proper balance. What did the Examiners say? They said: "What balance? Military balance or political balance? Balance to appease the three Services, or balance to accomplish the job for which the package was designed?" I could not help feeling that similar remarks might be made about our White Paper.
75 But to return to the question under discussion to-day, which is really a continuation of the debate on November 24. The general opinion then, supported by the Leader of the House, was as to the dominating importance of air power. Not only the Government but most of the House looked upon that as the most important force to prevent war. The crux of the problem is the supply of sufficient man-power to enable an efficient Air Force to be established. I think the time has come to ask the Government what they intend to do to increase the strength of the Air Force. The Government may say that for reasons of security they cannot give numbers of Service strengths, even in broad figures. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, I cannot accept such an answer as satisfactory. They may say, as many people have said to me since the war, that in the past the Germans derived untold advantages from our discussions in Parliament, and from the published Estimates. To that I always answer: "Tell me one single advantage they obtained," and they say again: "Enormous advantage." I say: "Tell me when they have altered one single squadron, or added one single squadron to their force?" I have seen a great number of the captured German documents, but I have never found that they doubled their strength because of any statement made in this House by my noble friend when he used to criticize the strength of the Air Force. As the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, has said, the United States publish their strength, and why should we not do the same?
There is another point. In the last war, up to the last two years, we were the major Power. Now the United States are the major Power—I hope not morally, for I trust that we are still morally equal; but they are three times as strong materially. Therefore, if they publish their strength, it is an added reason against Government secrecy. There is one other point, which I do not think the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, mentioned. One sees statements about the Western Pact and the Atlantic Pact, but before nations will sign those Pacts, the smaller nations in particular, they must know whether the great nations are in a position to come to their rescue in time; and if we have to tell them these 76 details to make them join the Pact, the information is no longer secret. I beg the Minister to think over that question, and to decide to publish the Air Force List.
Incidentally, on this subject of strengths, I found on looking through some papers the other day a Question asked in your Lordships' House by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, the answer to which gave the number of Auxiliary flying squadrons. Is it not very dangerous to publish those figures? Moreover, those squadrons are among the hest in the world. I also noticed in a White Paper issued by the Admiralty a statement about the number of battleships—I think the number in reserve, as well as those in commission—and the cruisers, aircraft carriers and small craft which are being maintained. Is there any difference between giving that information and giving this information about aircraft? Surely we ought to be able to see how many fighter and bomber squadrons, coastal and transport squadrons there are. You will never get young men to join the Royal Air Force until they know the Government are determined to have such a Force for the defence of this country as will do its job.
I turn to another question. The noble Viscount has touched upon the subject of morale—one of the most important questions concerning the Air Force. I was somewhat alarmed at a statement made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Douglas, before he went to Australia, when he was referring to the shortage of recruits—and in that I agree with him; and also another statement I read the other day, made by the Secretary of State in another place. The Secretary of State said:It is true that the standards of morale in the Royal Air Force are not entirely satisfactory at present.My Lords, how can we expect anybody to join the Air Force if the morale is not satisfactory? Could a graver statement have been made? Nothing can replace morale—not weight, nor number, nor superiority of arms. I like to feel, in fairness to the Secretary of State, that the expression I have quoted was merely an injudicious use of words, and that he really did not mean morale but meant that there was grumbling. I have seen a great number of men in the Air Force 77 lately and I know that there is grumbling—any amount of it. Some of it is doubtless right. They grumble about housing, pay, allowances, uniforms and so forth. But since when has a soldier not been allowed to grumble? When I was a boy I used constantly to hear it said that every soldier had a right to grumble. Every Briton has a right to grumble. There are always reasons for that grumbling. But that is a very different thing from bad morale. In the old days of the Royal Air Force, when they were being formed, they grumbled. They had no houses, they even had no ranks by which to be called. And yet they had morale; they carried out all the great tasks of those days.
And look at the work of the Royal Air Force to-day. Look at the Berlin air lift. There is no lack of morale there. The other day I read of certain incidents in the Aden Hinterland and the manner in which they were dealt with by our men. There was no lack of morale there. Those boys were doing their work as they have always done it; and undoubtedly risings were prevented. Perhaps if may be allowed to tell your Lordships of an incident which I think shows what I mean by the difference between morale and grumbling. During the war I was allowed to go where I liked, and I went to one town that had been bombed very heavily. I was not in uniform. I came across a man of about forty years of age standing in a heap of rubble, and I spoke to him. He was downright rude to me and very bad tempered. I tried to sympathise with him, but he got worse; he asked what was the good of this "something-something" war, why was the bombing not stopped, and so forth. I sympathised with him again, but still he got worse. At last I said rather sharply to him: "What! can't you stand it?" And the answer came back instantly "I can stand it a week longer than the Hun." There was no lack of morale there. I ask the Secretary of State to make it known that he used the wrong word when he spoke of "morale." Otherwise he will not get men to join the Royal Air Force.
I now turn to another difficulty—the shortage of man-power. I have given one reason for this—namely, secrecy. There are not enough men joining the Regular Forces in these days of full employment. What we have to do is to see where manpower can be saved. For instance, it 78 is no good cutting out the shorthand typist, who saves time. We have to see where cutting really can be done with advantage. I suggest in this connection that there should be one Air Force. It would be infinitely more economical and more efficient than two forces. At the present time, training schools and establishments, supply depôts, and so forth, are duplicated unnecessarily. It would be better to go back to the original conception of one Air Force. An argument has been going on in the Press in America. It has been publicly stated there that there can be no question that the saving in man-power, equipment and materials effected by having one Air Force would be enormous. Many of your Lordships will not agree with me; many noble Lords will feel that the efficiency of their own Service would suffer. But is the Fleet, as we have known it all these years, as vital to-day against an enemy that is not a naval Power in any sense of the word?
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote some words which fell from the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, in the debate in your Lordships' House a few days ago. He said:It is no use hiding our heads in the sand and pretending we do not know where the danger is and where it is coming from. The war that lies ahead of us, if it is to come, will not be one of the great naval wars we have had in the past. The principal opponent we shall have to face not only has not the material to fight that sort of war, but she also has a geographical position which is a great handicap to her. Her only two outlets into the oceans are both through bottlenecks. …It seems to me certain that the strategy of an opposing force will be to protect the narrow seas—the Baltic and the Black Sea. …And do not forget, my Lords, that in the submarine menace at the end of the last war, more than 50 per cent. of the submarines at sea were destroyed from the air—not counting all the submarines which were in process of manufacture, which were destroyed in the factories.
I now turn to National Service. The National Service Act, as we know it today, is a handicap to the Royal Air Force and not an advantage to it. I should like to see it stated now by the Government—I do not suppose they will go so far as this to-day, but I hope they will in time—that, although the National Service Act covers a period of two years, 79 we should fill up our Air Force with Regular recruits with varying lengths of service—not on a rigid seven or eight years' service, but with varying lengths of service. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, said that they are getting any number of recruits in this way in America. They are getting more recruits into the Service by having varying terms of service. It may be that 20,000 or 30,000 National Service recruits will be useful for what may be called the ordinary domestic duties of the Service. I will not say that the National Service men are of no use; they are. Some of them are most intelligent and learn quickly. But nothing under three years is any good as a period of service in the Royal Air Force. It is no good for men who have to keep the machines in order, for a mechanic needs not only training but also experience. A well trained mechanic is not good enough for the Air Force; he has to have experience as well. We must have a longer period than eighteen months or two years; it has to be a minimum of three years for these men.
I propose now to pass to the question of pay. The noble Viscount has dealt with it fully and I do not want to weary your Lordships, but I would like to say this. The noble Viscount referred to hazardous service. In the early days of the Air Force, the days of the old Royal Flying Corps, pay was given for hazardous service. I believe it was something like 6s. 6d. a day. I remember I received 10s. a day extra when I first joined the Royal Flying Corps, as it was then. I say that if you want the right type of man for the Royal Air Force, you must pay him more than is paid in the case of the other Services. There is not the slightest doubt that, in the light of the number of casualties among air crews in the late war compared with the number of crews that went into the air, the extra pay is justified up to the hilt. The percentage of losses in that respect was higher than in the case of any other Service. That fact applies in peace as well as in war.
I turn now to the question of a higher rate of pay for the mechanics, and I will give your Lordships three reasons why it should be granted. The first is that the man who has to repair a miniature watch needs to possess greater skill than one 80 who has to repair a large watch. Not all but the greater part of the mechanics in the service of the Royal Air Force are engaged upon what one may call miniature mechanical works, which require great skill. There is another and still greater reason. Any mistake made by a mechanic in the Air Service, whether in peace or in war, is lethal. That responsibility alone justifies greater pay. My third reason is that if men cannot be obtained in any other way, they have to be got in that way.
I should like now to spend a few moments on considering the question of machines. In the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates, the Secretary of State for Air stated that increased numbers of jet fighters have been ordered and that the re-equipment of squadrons is being proceeded with. I suppose it could be said that not half the fighter squadrons have been equipped with jet machines. I should like to put this point to the Government. I hope they are pressing on with the production of jet machines, with the assistance of the Treasury. I am most uneasy about the supply of jet bombers. I hope that the Government will press on with their programme. In their statement they say that they are doing so. At the same time, I hope that they are remembering to keep in production a steady flow of the old type machines—the Lincolns, the Lancasters, and so on—in sufficient quantity until the jet bombers are ready. Those old type machines are not replaced as quickly in these days as they were in my day. I hope we can be told that we shall not be short of bombers. I am certain that the Government must not make the mistake that was made before the last war of not having sufficient bombers of the right type or of the best type possible available at the time. I warn the Government, if I may and if it is not going too far, that disaster lies ahead of us if we do not build up and maintain a bomber force which is infinitely more powerful than was our bomber force at the beginning of the last war. The Battle of Britain saved us last time, but it will not save us next time. I feel sure that the Secretary of State, the Air Council, and the Minister of Defence are all alive to the difficulty. I only hope that the Treasury will help them and that the whole country will give every support.
81 I should like to repeat what the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood said about the numbers of squadrons. On the last occasior, I gave some figures showing that fifty squadrons would be necessary for Coastal Command work over the seas. But I am not here to deal with that question; it is for the Chiefs of Staff to deal with it. Sometimes I feel I would have added to the figures 100 squadrons of bombers, and taken away 100 squadrons of fighters, but it may not be possible. The numbers of bombers I gave are the minimum. I am not certain that they should not be increased, even at the expense of the Miters. The noble Viscount quoted as a proportion 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, that at the outset we want between 180 and 220 squadrons for the whole Commonwealth. With such a Force, we might prevent war.
I wish to refer to another point. It must be remembered that if the bases throughout the British Commonwealth are fully organised, together with such other bases as our Allies may lend us, then the squadrons which are intended to deal with any major wars would be able also to deal with the ordinary little risings that sometimes occur in places like Malaya, and with other troubles which may arise—as, for instance, in Berlin. Of course, the Chiefs of Staff are much more competent than I am to give exact figures. I hope that the Government will realise that I am not attacking them politically in any way, but I do criticise them for their work so far and for what has happened in the air. I want it made perfectly clear to the nation and to the Air Force—for, after all, the members of that Service are the best propagandists—what kind of Force we are building. Are the Government sincere about it being the biggest. Air Force? Are we going to have an Air Force worthy of the country? That is a question which is being asked. I ask the Government to indicate what steps will be taken to-day and what measures are necessary to be taken in the future to ensure that the Royal Air Force bears its share of responsibility for maintaining peace, and that we are given all the information necessary to enable the Service to have confidence in the future, and the public to have confidence in the Air Service.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT PORTAL OF HUNGERFORD
My Lords, I feel it is a great privilege to be allowed to follow the noble Lords who have last spoken. I hope that I am justified in assuming that there is no disagreement or doubt in any part of your Lordships' House, or in the minds of the Government, about the supreme value of air power, both as a deterrent to aggression and as the first prerequisite of victory if war should occur. I think that is non-controversial nowadays. But I would suggest that it is the deterrent aspect which deserves the greater emphasis, rather than the power to prevent the movement of great armies. It is perfectly true, as was stated in your Lordships' last debate on this subject, that air supremacy can frustrate and defeat the movement of great armies, but I think I am right in saving that that has been achieved only in cases where land forces were also engaged in the opposition and able to profit by air supremacy on their side.
What can be expected to bring a great army to a standstill is the destruction of the communications by which it is fed with the fuel, ammunition, stores and so on that are necessary to maintain the land battle, though of course a number of its tanks and guns are also knocked out by air attack. If there is no land battle and no prospect of one, because there is no opposing army, or none to speak of, then the difficulties and delays caused by the destruction of road and rail communications, rolling stock and mechanical transport, are of course very much less. I trust that none of your Lordships will think that in pointing this out I am suggesting we should put our money on land forces, rather than on air forces. I can imagine no more impossible or disastrous policy than to try to compete with the potential enemy where he is strongest at the expense of a plan to beat him in the air, where we know he is still technically inferior; nor is there anything more likely to result in our falling between two stools. All I want to do is to try to gel our perspective straight, and to emphasise once more the great deterrent effect of a Western Air Force, armed with all the weapons that Western science can give it, if it is there and ready for immediate counterattack.
83 Like other noble Lords, I am of course completely in the dark as to the Government's future plans for the Royal Air Force. To be fair, I see two sides to this question of secrecy—some reasons in favour of it and others against it. For instance, it is undeniable that a complete, authentic picture of the organisation must help to throw some light on strategic and tactical thought which the enemy would very much like to have. But on the whole I think that secrecy will lose us much more than it will gain us, particularly in what I may call general confidence and morale, because continued secrecy breeds the feeling and the fear that it may be the total inadequacy of forces which makes it necessary to keep so quiet about them.
I agree most emphatically that publicity creates public interest, and that by sharpening the point of informed criticism it will help the Government and the Air Ministry to obtain what is necessary. I believe that reason to be overwhelming, and therefore I would like to associate myself with the noble Lords who have asked for publicity about the general plans, though not, of course, about the technical details. I would only add this: that if the Government continue to draw a veil of secrecy over the present facts and the future intentions, and thus, forgo the stimulus to recruiting which publicity would give them, then it is all the more incumbent upon them to find other and equally effective methods of securing the necessary new recruits and re-engagements. In other words, besides being unnecessary, secrecy is a luxury which will cost us quite a lot of money.
I do not feel able to comment usefully upon the size and composition of the Force suggested for broad purposes of illustration by the noble Viscount who moved this Motion. I think your Lordships can accept his figures in the sense in which he put them forward—namely, as an indication of the size of the effort required. But I am sure he would agree, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, that the actual broad divisions between the different classes of squadrons must be left to the Staffs, since so much depends on strategic and tactical factors, about which, in the early stages at any rate, it is better to keep quiet. When it 84 comes to fixing the proportions of the total Western Air Force that might be raised on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, and particularly if anyone suggests that the United States ought to do more, then I think it should be remembered how different the time factor may be this time from last time in the calculations of a potential enemy. I do not suggest that the enemy's calculation will allow for substantial delay in the declaration of war against flagrant aggression, but I do suggest that in his appreciation of the situation an aggressor will and must differentiate between air forces located in Europe and those others which in peace time are thousands of miles away, and which must take a space of time, measured in weeks or possibly even in months, before they can make their weight fully felt. I therefore support the suggestion that this country and the Commonwealth, with Western Europe, should be responsible for about one-third of the total force required; but for the reasons I have just given, I would urge that this should be regarded as a minimum. To me, as I have already said, and as I hope many of your Lordships agree, the supreme purpose of the Western Air Forces is to prevent a war breaking out. To this end I believe that every aircraft stationed in Europe may well be worth a great deal more than one, equally good but located 2,000 or 3,000, or perhaps even 12,000, miles away.
My Lords, turning now to what can be done in order to hasten the strengthening of the Royal Air Force, it is of course quite obvious, in the light of what has been said, that the core of the problem is in the recruitment and re-engagement of Regular airmen and air-women. I would like noble Lords to remember that there are air-women in the Service who can do almost everything that the men can do, except fly, and who are doing important work in all the trades which they undertake. On page 9 of the recent White Paper there are two extremely important statements. One is that the Government intend conditions of service to compete on what they call "reasonably equal terms" with those of employment in civil life. I have not before met the expression "reasonably equal terms," but I am sure that the only test of whether the terms are in fact reasonably equal will be the recruiting figures which they produce. Apart from publicity, the 85 one and only thing which is keeping men and women from joining or rejoining the Service is that they can get better terms and conditions in civil life; and I urge that the Government should not "nibble" at this problem. They must err, if they err at all, on the right side—on the side of generosity, as the Americans have evidently done. In the present situation, small concessions, wrung one at a time at intervals from a reluctant Treasury, because recruiting is falling more and ever more behind what is required, will not do.
The second statement on page 9 is even more important, for the Government there say that they intend to do "everything in their power" to stimulate Regular recruiting and re-engagement. In the old days, young Staff Officers at the Air Ministry compiled a dictionary of official phrases. I well remember two of them. The idea was to set out the official jargon, on one side, and the true meaning on the other. The first of the two phrases which I remember was one often used to begin a minute to a superior. It was: "You will remember," which, of course, meant: "You have forgotten, if indeed you ever knew." The other was the expression, "to do everything in your power"; and these rather cynical young officers gave to that expression this meaning—"to do the least you can get away with." If one listens very carefully, one hears from time to time, in one quarter or another, what one might call complaints against the Government. But I do not think I have ever heard the complaint made that they possess insufficient power, and when they say they will do everything in their power to secure recruits I can only hope that the noble Lord who is to speak for them to-day will confirm that their choice of words on that occasion was worthy of the seriousness of the subject.
On the question of what is practicable, everything centres around the pay and other conditions which the Government are prepared to offer. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, produced some figures relating to pay and other financial emoluments in the United States Air Force. They were figures, I must confess, which staggered me, and they heightened considerably my already high opinion of the way Americans do things—or at least the things that really matter. 86 If we could do anything like the same in this country (of course, I do not mean absolutely, but relatively to our own present standards of remuneration in civil life), then I am sure that at one stroke we should remove the whole of the recruiting problem.
It is not all a matter of money, however. If there is one thing more than another, I would say, that weighs with the man who has been in the Air Force, who is now settled in civil life but is wondering whether it is not his duty to go back and rejoin, it is the question of whether he will have anywhere for his wife and family to live. I know that large numbers of ex-Regulars want to come back, but having found somewhere to live now, and having little or no prospect of obtaining married quarters at any station to which they may be posted, they feel unable to face, and to ask their wives to face, the hardships involved. Surely extra "prefabs" — aluminium houses or something of that sort—could be obtained, given to the Air Ministry and erected very quickly. If that were done, I believe that every one could be filled at once with a good experienced N.C.O., probably a senior with high mechanical qualifications, a man of supreme value. I would not doubt it, if the Air Ministry said that they could fill 100, 500 or 1,000 such houses. And what it would mean to have 500 or 1,000 of these senior experienced technical men re-enlisting, instead of the same number of fresh recruits, or even of re-engagements of people who had only recently left the Air Force after short service, only the officers concerned with training and organisation and operational efficiency can fully appreciate. Perhaps I ought to apologise to your Lordships for suggesting anything so obvious. I hope that we shall be told this evening that the Air Ministry have been offered every "prefab" they want, that they have taken them over and are putting them up.
In conclusion, may I say something very shortly about the suggestion for making economies in man-power by allowing the Air Ministry to do the shore training and housekeeping for the air units of the Navy? I have no doubt at all that substantial economies would result, and I hope that we all learned enough in the last war to enable the Admiralty to accept this suggestion wil 87 lingly and gladly. For if one thing ought to go by the board in the light of the last war experience, it is the idea that each Service has to be self-sufficient, and that none of them can rely on another to discharge any part of their vital responsibilities. In the war almost all our greatest responsibilities were shared, and there grew up a mutual confidence and trust which I hope is still very much alive. Every noble Lord is entitled to his own opinion as to the value of aircraft carriers. Mine, for what it is worth, is that in the not very distant future the Admiralty will be far too busy with other matters to be bothered with anything so out of date as aircraft carriers. But I do not ask the Admiralty to accept that now. What I think they should accept is that a saving of man-power will result if shore bases and shore training are maintained for naval squadrons by the Air Ministry, who, I am certain, would see to it that the Navy's confidence in the good will and efficiency of the Royal Air Force was not misplaced.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD VANSITTART
My Lords, I wish to say a word or two on this matter of urgency. I shall detain your Lordships for only a few minutes, partly because I have to trespass on your patience next week and partly because there is one point which I wish to make and I would like it to stand out unencumbered and unobscured by any other material. I have frequently said, both in this House and when addressing the public, that Stalin contemplates—contemplates, I say—war just as clearly as Hitler did. His actions and his writings are both there to testify. I have also said that he would make war if it were safe—but there is much virtue in that "if."
When I first said that, a great many people thought I had gone too far, but it appears that I did not go nearly so far as leading members of the Communist Party on the Continent. I am referring, of course, to the speeches made a few days ago by M. Thorez and Signor Togliatti, in which they virtually said that if their countries were invaded by Russia their Party would fight against their own countries and with the invaders. I do not overestimate the importance of these things, but that is quite clearly an invitation to Soviet aggression. I hope the 88 House will not misunderstand me: I am not saying that it follows that Stalin will accept the invitation. What I do say is that men like that do not talk in that way unless they have some hope or expectation that their invitation will be met. It must be obvious to anyone that it is electorally most unprofitable for any Party leader to come out into the open and to go out of his way to proclaim himself a traitor unless he has some very good grounds for doing so.
The other point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention—and here we are getting into rather deeper waters—is this. All that must be read in conjunction with the measures taken by the Soviet Government to strengthen what might be either front or rear by increasing the stranglehold on the satellite States. I had expected that to happen for a long time, and now it has happened. This policy has translated itself visibly into the ever closer binding, of the satellites to the chariot wheels of the Kremlin by a series of interlocking agreements for mutual help—I think some twenty-three have been concluded in recent months—and it has been intensified considerably of late. But the policy has manifested itself still more in the otherwise quite senseless brutality of religious persecutions in Eastern Europe. No doubt from a humane and religious standpoint we were all filled with indignation about what has happened but what really lies behind the trial of Cardinal Mindszenty, the trial of the Bulgar pastors, and the suppression two days ago of all the Catholic organisations of Roumania, is the desire to extinguish the last sparks of potential opposition, in case …
Again, I do not say that a storm is impending, but I do say most definitely that those are all storm signals and no statesman worthy of the name can read them in any other way. Hitler could have been stopped; Hitler could have been deterred; and so can Stalin. And it is very obvious that the first requisite to do that is a strong and really powerful Air Force. That is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way of doing it. Therefore, the question which interests us and all Europe is, "Have we got it?" And the answer is obviously, "No, not yet." But we need that Air Force, not "to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow"—we need it now, right now. And that is what 89 the French Prime Minister meant when, in a public interview three days ago, he said that France cannot afford to be liberated again. He asked for a preventive, not a cure, and he said quite clearly and in so many words that if France had to be rescued again, there would be nothing left to rescue. I think you all know what that means, without any further explanation either from him or from me—and it is something pretty grim. Therefore, a heavy responsibility lies on this country and on this Government. As the noble Viscount who brought forward this Motion pointed out, the matter is one of urgency and I am bound to say that, so far, I cannot see any real sign of the full urgency of the case having been realised.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I want to reinforce as strongly as I can the appeal which has been made to the Government to take the House into their confidence to-day. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, quoted the Statement on Defence. That Statement begins with the words:First, there is the basic task of reconstruction, of building and equipping new and efficient units from the residue of our wartime Forces and of fitting them into the framework of a long-term national defence plan.That is as obvious as it is true, and it is as true as it is obvious. But we are not asking to-day for an obvious truism like that; we are asking to be told what is the plan. In the air, that plan obviously means the number and nature of squadrons. Without that plan it is impossible for the Air Council to discharge any of their duties effectively, to discharge their operational duties and those dealing with recruiting and training, with maintenance and with any of the ancillary services. Yet we are still left entirely in the dark as to whether there is a plan, and, if there is, what it is. Parliament, at any rate, is in the air.
I agree with all the noble Lords who have spoken that the security bogy can be overdone. I do not mean that there is nothing to be said on one side and everything to be said on the other, but I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, was right when he said that the balance is very greatly in favour of disclosure. I do not think we shall give away much to an enemy: I think we 90 may easily lead him to suppose that we are even weaker than we are. Like many of your Lordships, I have had a good deal of experience of this, and I do not think we did any damage before the war when we disclosed our first-line strength. In the Royal Navy we give full details of the equivalent of first-line strength: we give all the ships on the active list, and we also give the ships in training and reserve. In the Air Force, reserves are entirely a different matter. Of course we should not disclose our reserves; nor should we make strategic and tactical disclosures. It is not in the least necessary to do that. As a matter of fact, any observer well knows where our Air Forces are based. I am sure the balance is entirely in favour of disclosure, and if a statement is not made after the very expert advice which your Lordships' House has received, then the people in this country will come to believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is not a question of security but a question of erecting a smoke-screen.
I come back for a moment or two to the plan. It must be—and this again is an obviott, truism—both offensive and defensive and, as the Statement on Defence says, it must comprise "new and efficient" units. In the Defence debate a year ago I said that the whole emphasis had shifted from where it lay in the Battle of Britain. There, in spite of all my noble friend's love for bombers, I am sure we were right to concentrate first and foremost upon fighters. To-day, however, I believe the emphasis is wholly different. The first line of defence is attack, and the capacity for the offensive attack, as the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, has said, is not only a great deterrent but it is today the one effective deterrent. If we have to fight, and even if we win, as we should, the very fact that we have to fight means that the first aim of our foreign policy has failed. Therefore, that effective attacking force is the deterrent.
But, of course, it is also the best defence. What is the defence to-day against a vast army spread over huge tracts of country? I do not believe it is the head-on crash with that force. I am certain it is the capacity, and the immediate capacity, to attack enemy bases and their sources of supply in their own country 91 at long range with all those modern weapons which we to-day certainly possess and which, terrible as they are, are probably the one thing that is preserving the peace. It is also necessary to attack any rocket sites or bases for guided missiles, in whatever country they are situated. That means an adequate bomber force ready for immediate action.
What do we possess? That leads me naturally (I make no apology for discussing here what is being fully and freely discussed in the public press) to the question of jet aircraft. We early had the lead in jet engines (I hope we still have), and that ought to have given us the lead in jet aircraft. Where do we stand now? Let me take the position of bombers first. We rejoice when we hear of the success of American jet bombers, and when we read that an American jet bomber traversed the 2,000 or so miles from the State of Washington to Washington, D.C., at a speed of over 600 miles per hour. I would have rejoiced far more if the country which had the lead in jet engines had also secured the lead in jet bombers, and if a British jet bomber had accomplished a similar trial. It is alleged by the Russians that they now have jet bombers. I dare say that is quite untrue. But where do we stand? We had, the lead in fighters and bombers, in quality, before the war. I am certain that it is not the fault of the designers or the constructors if we do not still possess that lead.
What about fighters? The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, asked about the jet fighters. I am sure of one thing: the enemy will have learned a good deal, certainly of the elementary lessons of the last war. In the last war Hitler thought that he could knock us out by enormous day bombing attacks upon our air bases, upon our factories and upon our centres of population. The Spitfires and Hurricanes destroyed the Luftwaffe and brought it to nought. Quite naturally, the enemy then turned to night bombing. Happily, we had the lead in radar, and we had a night fighter fast enough and specially equipped to intercept and destroy the night bombers. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply: Have we now a two-seater jet night fighter? If not, when shall we have one? If we are behindhand in equipment, I would ask next: How do our factories stand? 92 I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, that time is less than ever on our side to-day. How do our factories stand to-day, both the actual and the potential? Before the war we may not have done—indeed, we did not do—enough.
Paragraph 53 of the Statement on Defence says:We have retained as much as possible of the specialised capacity and equipment called into being during the war in the aircraft industry.I draw particular attention to the next passage, which says:The specialised nucleus of firms which designed airframes and aero engines, and would lead and train newcomers if we had to mobilise the industry for war, has been maintained.What does that mean? Before the war the aircraft firms were fully employed on airframes and aero engines. But, in addition, shadow factories, which had been created and fully equipped with their machine tools, were actually at work, and had been at work for some years, producing in large quantities exactly the engines and the aircraft which were required they were, indeed, a duplication of the nucleus of the aircraft firms. To-day, apparently, when the need for rapid expansion may be very great, we have only the nucleus of the regular firms, and have not the shadow factories. I ask for a clear statement as to whether the shadow factories are in being, with their machine tools and plant on a care and maintenance basis, ready to function. It would certainly appear that even if the factories are there, with machine tools, they probably have not the machine tools for what they will be required to produce when reinforcement is necessary. They probably have no staff trained on the airframes and engines which they would have to produce. There can be no security objection to giving a precise answer to that question.
I turn now for a moment to manpower. There are a very large number of men in the Force to-day No one will underrate the women, not only in manning the twenty-four hour watch in the radar stations, but in their countless other occupations, doing the job with the greatest keenness, skill and efficiency. But in men alone, according to the official papers, the Air Force to-day has a strength of just under 220,000, half Regular and half National Service. But the Government say they lack efficiency. 93 In paragraph 3 of the Memorandum on Air Estimates the Secretary of State says:I must repeat what I said last year, that until there is an adequate proportion of experienced Regulars, the R.A.F, cannot be fully efficient.There must be—I am sure there is, and I do not think the Government would deny it—a very considerable waste of man-power. We are refused all figures of strength in aircraft, but I am sure that the proportion of man-power to aircraft strength compares very unfavourably now with the proportion in the immediate prewar years. I do not think I should be seriously challenged if I ventured these rough figures: that in 1939 a Force of about 100,000 men—all Regulars, I agree—maintained in immediate readiness a front-line strength of something like 2,000 aicraft.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
In addition to that first-line strength-2,400 aircraft—which was immediately ready, as the war showed, we maintained an enormous number of training aircraft, of both civil and military types, in all the great training establishments in the country, of which there were fifty, or sixty. If those figures are near the truth—and my noble friend Lord Templewood has confirmed them; he was there a little while after me—we had 100,000 men for a front-line strength of 2,400 aircraft, and all the training establishments. I agree that the machine to-day is more complicated than the machine of yesterday yet, making a guess at the ready front-line strength today, I say that the proportion is bad compared with the proportion before the war. The Memorandum on Air Estimates says:Since the war nearly 94,000 men have volunteered for the Regular R.A.F.I would ask this question: How many men have left the Regular Air Force in those years? It is admitted that recruiting is unsatisfactory—in officers, in N.C.O.s and in craftsmen.
Of course, the craftsman is the key. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, realised that when he established Halton, the most remarkable achievement in general educational standard, technical training and esprit de corps. Some years before the war we not only enlarged Halton, but we built a second Halton at 94 Cosford. Both those centres, Halton No. 1 and Halton No. 2, were drawing their full establishment of recruits of high quality. They were of such high quality that many of them passed on to Cranwell, and several of them won the Sword of Honour there. To-day, I understand—I ask this because I am sure there can be no secrecy about it—Halton is only half full, or at any rate it is very seriously under strength.
If these facts are right—and I do not think anyone will deny them—it means that the R.A.F. is suffering a double loss—experienced officers and men are going out, and there is a wholly inadequate intake of men ready to undertake sufficiently long service. Indeed, Paragraph 3 of the Memorandum on Air Estimates states:There is a general shortage of experience, particularly among officers in the middle ranks and junior N.C.Os.What steps have been taken by the Government during the last three years to retain officers and N.C.Os. with war-time experience? Is it not the fact that, because of lack of inducement, security and reasonable conditions, those men who would be supplying the experience in the middle ranks to-day have drifted out of the Service? Is it a fact that permanent commissions were not given, with the result that experienced temporary officers left, because they had no certainty of a career?
I observe that in the Memorandum on Air Estimates it is stated that better career prospects will be open to young men and short-service commissions for eight years' Regular service and four years' Reserve service. A good proportion of short-service officers will be selected for permanent commissions. But is this not three years late? If this is necessary, why was it not done before? Surely this is a classic example of shutting the stable doors after the best colts have escaped.
Any plan of squadron strength must be translated in terms of man-power, into personnel of the trades required, and everything should be done to recruit and offer a career to these recruits. To do that, the following conditions must be fulfilled. Every noble Lord who has spoken to-day has testified to this. The first condition is that of adequate pay—not on the scale of the United States, because I do not believe anything 95 as much as that is necessary; but it must be adequate. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, that the only test is: Does it give the results? The second requirement is that of decent conditions of service, and particularly in housing. That is as important as pay. With all the power the Government have behind them, with all their power to direct priorities here and there, with all that they boast they are now in a position to do in regard to housing, temporary or permanent, it should, with determination, be possible in a very short space of time (it took only a year to build the shadow factories and get them working) to provide the housing accommodation on the stations which is necessary to attract the men back or to keep the men who are there.
Above all, there is the condition as to the certainty of a career. We shall not get the best officers or fill Halton with the right apprentices unless we can make a confident appeal to parents and schoolmasters. I should like to ask this question: What is the liaison between the R.A.F. and the public schools? Before the war, as my noble friend will remember, it was a very close liaison. We selected a distinguished senior officer who would be in liaison with the headmasters, and he was very good. But we were not content with that; we had the liaison with the boys, because, after all, it was the boys to whom we wanted to appeal. We gave the young cadets and the young officers who had just joined leave from their squadrons to go back and visit their old public schools and schools of all types. They were far and away the best recruiting officers you could send—far, far better than Government posters, far cheaper and, incidentally, far more likely to be believed. Has this method been allowed to lapse?
I now want to say a last word about the National Service personnel. I am sure that the best use is not being made of these men. Naturally, the R.A.F. want to get as many long-term skilled men as they can and, if possible, to have a Service in which all the men are long-service men. But so long as we cannot fill the Air Force with long-service men we shall have to have some National Service men, and they will vary very much in quality. If the conditions are right, 96 you will attract into the Air Force the most intelligent and the best—but only if the conditions are right. These men are a cross-section of the whole population; there are many men of good education and intelligence, men who already possess considerable technical knowledge, and certainly men with a technical bent. As the noble Earl, Lord Cork, said, a great deal can be done in eighteen months with men of even lesser intelligence than that if you set out to do it. I would ask: What effort is being made to sift and test the National Service entry, and to use the promising ones to the best advantage? I will not weary the House by giving examples, but I am perfectly certain that every one of your Lordships could, of your own knowledge, provide half a dozen examples of young men, keen, of good intelligence, perhaps with some technical training and certainly some with high educational qualifications, who have never been tested, who have gone in keen but who have had no chance to exercise their skill or be further trained in it. We all know that that is true, and it is that mishandling which makes us anxious.
I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that some foolish things were said about morale. But you can have people "browned off" and this is the kind of thing, if it happens, that does "brown them off." Is it true that Bomber Command had a signals school for wireless mechanics, training selected National Service men, and that this has been closed down? I do not vouch for that, but I have been given that information. If that is true, unless there is some extraordinary good reason for it, it surely is all wrong. The Royal Air Force want to persuade the best of these National Service men to join up as Regulars and to stay the course. What chance is there of finding the right men, or persuading them to stay on, unless you sift the National Service entry, use it to the best advantage and give these young men an interest and a chance? The necessary improvements in pay and conditions, particularly in pay for skilled men, and giving them the certainty of a career, will cost more money; but without it the £200,000,000 in the Estimates is not worth while. We must have the adequate skilled staff in order to maintain the Force in the air.
97 I am confident that if the Government will give these increases and these improved conditions they will find that there are countervailing economies. I am quite sure that the Marshals of the Air Force in this House would support me when I say that the Service will give better results from a smaller number of adequately paid men. I am sure we shall, in addition, get something which perhaps cannot be assessed in an actual figure: we shall get the unassessable advantage of a Force with confident pride in itself. We all want to help—most sincerely. Every speech that has been made to-day shows that. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House would agree, I am sure, that, this has been, if a critical, a constructive debate. But we cannot help in a fog. My last word to the Government is, as my first: We want to help; please take the House and the country into your confidence.
§ 4.42 p.m.
My Lords, many of your Lordships have emphasised the shortage of man-power in the Royal Air Force. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, quoted the words of His Majesty's Government to the effect that "they are doing everything in their power to stimulate recruiting." He also went on to give another definition of that phrase which was used by a sceptical staff officer in the Air Ministry. I am beginning to wonder whether the staff officer's definition was not right, because propose to give a concrete example this afternoon where everything possible is not being done to stimulate recruiting.
The main field of recruitment for the Royal Air Force is, of course, within the United Kingdom. There is, however, a considerable field in other parts of the Commonwealth and in the Colonial Empire; and I suggest that little is being done to encourage recruiting outside the United Kingdom. A few days ago I had a letter from the mother of a young man who wished to join the Royal Air Force. This is what she said:It does seem ridiculous that he cannot join out here instead of paying his own fare to the United Kingdom, whether successful or not. This, I know, prevents many from joining from East Africa.During the war there was a system in force whereby young men in various parts of the Empire could present themselves 98 locally for a preliminary medical examination and interview, and if they were accepted by the local board their fare was then paid here, but I do not think there was any guarantee of final acceptance when they arrived. I suggest that the time is now ripe for some similar scheme to be put into force, because it is very discouraging if keen young men outside the United Kingdom do not get any help at all. There could be various safeguards: passage money need not be paid over, for instance, until the young men had actually presented themselves in the United Kingdom. But these administrative difficulties can be overcome.
That was all I had intended to say this afternoon, but, as the one naval officer speaking to-day, I feel I must say one word about the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Viscount, Lord Portal. I do not know quite how far Lord Portal intended to go. If he means that the preliminary training of the Royal Naval Air Service might be combined with that of the Royal Air Force, I do not think anybody will quarrel with him. But I should like to ask him whether he thinks that his brother, Vice-Admiral Portal, would agree to handing over Lee-on-Solent and all his naval air stations to the Royal Air Force. I am quite sure that he would not. An operational naval squadron may spend three or four days in a carrier, under naval discipline, and then may go to a naval air station and then back again to a carrier. If operational training and operational naval shore bases are to be handed over to the Royal Air Force, it just will not work. As a comparatively junior officer, I apologise for saying these things in the presence of such very distinguished Royal Air Force officers, but I felt that someone ought to say a word for the Navy.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, this is the fourth debate in twelve months on either Defence or the Royal Air Force, and I think it represents fully the concern which noble Lords feel on this subject—a concern which I am sure is backed up by a wide measure of public opinion. This particular debate has centred and found agreement so far on three points. The first is that there should be a plan; the second, that that plan should be 99 known and not shrouded by security; and the third, that pay and conditions of service should be improved. I do not propose to touch on these points; I would, however, like to recall a statement, which was made on January 20 by the Secretary of State for Air. He said:It would be a criminal act on my part to suggest that in a matter of months, or even a year or two, we should be able to produce an efficient and balanced Air Force.I think the emphasis there is on the word "balanced." In war-time nothing is perfectly balanced. Anyone who was familiar with the position knows that there were always changes and shortages of personnel. Moreover a balance was necessary between airfields and aircraft, and number of the personnel. The point is that balance is something which will never be achieved without the greatest possible difficulty; and it is not a peculiarity of the present time. I ask the noble Lord not to confuse balance, which is something which can never be fully attained, with shortage of personnel—a problem which has been so well emphasised by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton.
I understand that in the last three years the respective numbers of Regular personnel recruited were 50,000 in 1946, 33,000 in 1947, and 13,000 in 1948. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether those figures are correct. Surely the last figure is actually lower than the recruiting figure of 1938; it is in fact the lowest figure in the last ten years. Neither of the other Services shows such a sharp deterioration in rate of recruitment as does the Royal Air Force. It is therefore proper to examine why that falling off has taken place. After all, there is nothing of greater importance in the Air Force than the quality of the personnel. If you lose quality you might just as well shut down the Air Force altogether. What appears to be the position is that those men who provide the quality have found a far more advantageous career outside the Royal Air Force. Whilst one does not want to present pay and conditions simply as an attraction to draw them in, it is essential that the pay and conditions should not be a positive deterrent.
I think it is fair to compare what has been done by His Majesty's Government in the case of the Royal Air Force with what has been done by them in the case 100 of another organisation which is short of personnel. I refer to the National Coal Board. There an entirely different solution was adopted. Entirely different methods to secure personnel were taken. It is only proper that the noble Lord should have an opportunity of saying which method has been the more successful. The National Coal Board offered attractions. They offered houses, food and, I understand, other privileges. Have those methods been more successful, or have they not? In regard to the Services, it is interesting to note that methods of compulsion have been adopted; and people having been compelled to enter, the rates of pay are then deliberately kept down in circumstances where no competition exists. But in this case, unfortunately, it has not answered, because the quality, which could only come from long service, has been missing.
I should like to go a little more into the detail of this problem, because fairly full consideration has been given to the strategic side and broader issues. I do not think that anyone could contend now that, if we went to war, the Air Force was in as sound a condition as it was before the last war. If it had not been basically sound then, it would not have stood the strain of war. Something has gone out of the Air Force since 1945—one does not need to be associated with the Service to see that. I have even had civilians asking me: "What has gone out of the Air Force?" I would like to suggest three things which seem to me not entirely new but at least to have played their part. The first is over-mechanisation. By "over-mechanisation" I mean that the human mechanism has been subordinated to technical requirements. May I put the point in this way. An aero engine runs most efficiently for a certain number of hours, say 50, and then requires inspection; perhaps it runs 300 hours, when it requires overhaul. The human being who runs with it has an entirely different time-table. He requires food, he requires sleep and, above everything else, he requires comradeship and leadership. I submit that the requirement of the machine, which is different from that of the human being, has been given too great an emphasis, partly because its efficiency is much more easy to measure. Anybody can measure graphically the flying hours 101 of a squadron, but no one can measure graphically the efficiency of a squadron.
I should like to mention this further point. Again we are back on the question of security. The indentification of squadrons has almost disappeared. Two months ago, a number of A.F.C.s were awarded for the Berlin air lift. In no case was the unit with which the officer or airman was serving mentioned. Does that mean that the identification of squadrons has now become a matter of security? Does it mean that it is shrouded in complete silence? Has the Royal Air Force in its organisation become almost an underground movement? Is it an equalitarian system, without distinction, which the Government like in other forms of life? Because it does appear to me quite impossible for a man to be proud of an organisation whose identity cannot be revealed. If it is necessary for the identification of squadrons to be a matter of security, then can the men and officers not belong to some unit whose name can be shouted from the tops of the houses without endangering national security?
My third point is the rapidity of postings. No man can ever lead his men properly unless he knows them and, conversely, unless he is known to them. This difficulty has been going on for a long time, and men are still "blown about" from station to station, rather like the sands of the desert. Until some decentralisation of the control of personnel is introduced, it will be difficult to establish that relationship between officer and man which is essential. I submit that National Service seems to be His Majesty's Government's whole answer to the vast and complicated variety of personnel problems.
I should like to add a word to what has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, on the question of technical development. So far as I can gather, in the last four years the whole emphasis has been on research. I do not think that anybody objects to research. But up-to-date technical development must be brought to the point where we can apply what is known. That seems to me to be precisely what has not been done. We have heard about doubling the fighter production. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in his delicately balanced statement of last November, came down almost without equivocation in favour of 102 the safety of the skies over this island. In the Defence Statement, there was no mention at all of fighter production being doubled.
Then I should like to mention something which is rather disturbing me—that is, the replacement bomber. In the Statement on Defence, the final words of the paragraph on research and development are these:Meanwhile, the Services must be ready to fight with the weapons of to-day"—which I suggest is a supreme platitude on research and development. The position to-day is that we are armed with Lan-casters and Lincolns, the latter being a slight development of the former, which think I am right in saying has been in service for some seven or eight years. We are fairly familiar with the time it takes for the development of a new aircraft. We have been told that the jet bomber is likely to fly in the immediate future. We welcome that statement, but during recent months and years we have had some rather disquieting experiences with regard to the building of big aircraft. We have been told that it is impossible to re-equip the civilian services in this country with British aircraft; that was the reason given for purchasing American aircraft.
I notice that the Royal Air Force has been able to re-equip itself substantially with transport aircraft, but what I would like to emphasise, if I may, is this: that we have had experience of building a number of very well-known types during the last fifteen years—types such as the Blenheim, the Spitfire, the Mosquito and the Lancaster. In each case, the responsibility for building those types has been with one team or one organisation. The criticism which has been levelled at the building of the Tudor since the late war is that it appears to have been built, or at least developed, by a Committee, or series of Committees, surrounded by advisory boards so that no one was able to accept the full responsibility for what was being done. This matter is of the greatest importance because at the present time our equipment in bombers is semi-obsolete. It is proper that His Majesty's Government should recognise that because, as Mr. Finletter has said in his well-known Report: "A second-best air force is almost as bad as none at all."
103 I would not like to sit down without adding one word in praise of what is being done on the Berlin air lift at the present time. I sometimes wonder whether the nature and quality of this operation are at all appreciated. I understand that recently the Americans and British together have completed their millionth ton of delivery since the commencement. That is something of the order of 2,000,000 tons a year—an amount which would need a good-sized shipping port if it went by sea. The unique nature of this achievement is something which should be of great value in many spheres; and the quality of navigation and airmanship shown in the congested flying which has to be carried out has been a remarkable achievement. For instance, one of the requirements is that aircraft have to fly 200 miles and have to arrive over a precise point within a matter of a few seconds.
My Lords, I would end, if I may, where the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, started. The Leader of the House at the end of the debate in November gave us great encouragement. He said:I would agree that we have to constitute an air force that is a safeguard against war, and I would agree in putting it in the first place.I do not think anyone would ask more than that, but we would like to have some physical sign that that really is the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is no use legislating about social security, about hospitals, medical services or rural water, if we do not maintain national security. If we do not do that, the whole of our organisation will fall completely to the ground. And we shall not maintain national security by leaning heavily on the American people or the American Continent; nor shall we do it by talking airily about the integration of Western defence. No treaty can relieve us of our obligation to provide leadership and practical organisation for our part in the defensive system. Before I sit down, may I express the regret of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that he has had to leave?
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (LORD HENDERSON)
My Lords, this has been a very interesting and constructive debate; a large number of problems have been 104 raised and various points have been discussed, and if I thought that I was able to answer them all I should begin to think myself qualified to be the next Chief of Air Staff. As noble Lords are aware, there is to be a debate on defence in another place to-morrow, and very shortly there will be a debate, also in the other place, on the annual Air Estimates. In those circumstances, I find myself in a difficulty in being faced with many questions to which answers may be expected. I hope that though I may disappoint noble Lords this afternoon they may find greater satisfaction when the two debates to which I have referred take place.
I want to say at the outset that His Majesty's Government are not going to oppose the Motion before the House; they are ready to accept it. The simple fact is that its terms are in harmony with the Government's policy and aims. His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the urgency of strengthening the Royal Air Force in the interests of home defence, Western Union and Atlantic security. Noble Lords may have read the Statement on Defence, 1949, which was published last month. It contains an important section entitled "Co-operation within the Commonwealth and with other countries." In it we are told that the establishment of collective security on a world-wide basis under the United Nations has not been achieved. The Statement continues:In those circumstances, His Majesty's Government have necessarily devoted increased attention to co-operation with other members of the Commonwealth, the United States of America and other like-minded Powers, and generally to the development of appropriate regional security arrangements as contemplated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.My Lords, that is an important statement. I do not propose to occupy any time in dealing with the important defence developments and arrangements which have taken place, or are taking place, as regards the Commonwealth, Western Union and the North Atlantic. A good deal of heartening progress is indicated in that section. I make this brief allusion to it only because it provides convincing evidence and proof of the fact that His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the vital importance of collective defence arrangements, capable of deterring a powerful aggressor and of successfully resisting an aggression if it occurs. 105 If we are to participate in collective defence arrangements it is obviously essential that we should be not only willing but ready and able to play our full part—what the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, called "the readiness potential." We agree, therefore, with noble Lords who have stressed the vital importance of the rôle and strength of the Royal Air Force. We agree that an Air Force, fully manned and equipped with the best and latest types of planes, is indispensable if we are to be in a position to discharge our duty to ourselves and to fulfil with our Allies the obligations of collective defence.
We also agree that the country should be able to make its adequate contribution of air power to an Allied Air Force whose strength should be such as to deter any potential aggressor, and to establish and keep command of the air in the event of our being involved in a war of defence. These are aims which we all regard as right and proper aims: they are the aims of the Government. Noble Lords are concerned about the speed with which and the extent to which these aims will be realised. They desire to be satisfied that the Government are pressing on with the task of rebuilding the Royal Air Force as rapidly as is practicable following the run-down of the force which did such magnificent work in the last war. Let me assure the House that His Majesty's Government are anxious and determined to increase the strength of the Royal Air Force as rapidly as the circumstances of the nation will allow.
I submit that an increase of £34,480,000 in the original Air Estimates for the current year is solid evidence of the efforts which the Government are making to strengthen the Royal Air Force. Broadly, this increase results from measures taken, or to be taken, to strengthen the position of the Royal Air Force in aircraft and equipment (representing an increase of £20,000,000), from increases in prices, and from improvements in pay and allowances. Noble Lords will regard this increase as satisfactory so far as it goes, but I dare say that they feel it is not enough. We agree that in the interests of national security and of collective defence the cost of the Armed Forces must be placed at the maximum which the Exchequer can bear without serious disruption or curtailment of our progress towards economic recovery and 106 of our own way of life. I suggest to your Lordships that that policy is being fairly and faithfully followed, and that the increased financial provision for the Royal Air Force does, in fact, show that His Majesty's Government are actively engaged in developing and strengthening the Royal Air Force.
My Lords, as has been indicated this afternoon, similar efforts are called for and are being made with regard to the important problem of trained man-power. It is important that the magnitude of the problem of rebuilding a peace-time Air Force less than four years after the end of a major war is fully appreciated, especially in view of the fact that the emphasis has been laid, rightly, on economic recovery. Let us make it clear that we are in complete agreement with the view that an efficient and powerful Air Force must be based primarily on Regular service. We recognise that the sooner the Royal Air Force has an adequate strength of Regular airmen, the better it w ill be in terms of trained manpower and, consequently, of efficiency.
I would, however, remind the House of two main factors which have affected the rebuilding of the Air Force and will continue to affect it for some time yet. First, throughout the war Regular enlistment in the Air Force was almost completely stopped, with the result that in the Regular Service there is a gap of six years. Most of the training given and experience acquired by the war-time entry has poured out of the Service, including, of course, practically the whole of certain new but vital trades. Secondly, there has been the run-down of demobilisation. No one can question that from the point of view of economic recovery and of justice to individuals this was the right answer; but from the point of view of a highly complicated technical organisation like the Air Force, the run-down, utterly unrelated as it was to the needs of the Service, was bound to cause serious disorganisation. Disorganisation has, in fact, been caused, and this has been particularly unfortunate in that the immediate postwar National Service entrants have often been the sufferers by misemployment, due to the necessity for plugging holes caused here, there, and everywhere by the run-down, and under-employment due to general disorganisation and instability. 107 In these circumstances it is amazing that the Air Force has been able to meet the many commitments which the post-war world has placed upon it. It says much for the faith and loyalty of the officers and men that the Service has made such progress towards stability. The Berlin air lift, to which the noble Earl has referred, the operations over the Malayan jungle and the famine relief in Southern Arabia show that the Royal Air Force, in spite of all its difficulties, collective and individual, is firmly on the path to recovery.
I might at this stage deal with the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who referred to the statement made in another place by my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Air, on morale in the Royal Air Force. There is always a danger in taking statements out of their context, and in this particular case I think it is only fair to call the attention of your Lordships to the other remarks made by my right honourable friend on that occasion. With your Lordships' permission, I will quote the final paragraph of the statement which he made:I believe, however, that in spite of difficulties with which the Royal Air Force is confronted to-day, the spirit of the officers and men, on the whole, is extremely good; that in spite of the suggestions which had been made in various quarters outside this House, the morale throughout the Service on the whole is good; that, broadly speaking, discipline, although it can always be improved, is not in such a state as to cause us any anxiety, and that there is still a great deal of pride throughout all ranks of the Royal Air Force and a feeling that they are well able and willing to maintain, if necessary, the great traditions of the Royal Air Force of the past.I suggest that those words can bear only one interpretation, and it is one which the noble Viscount himself would wholeheartedly support.
Comparisons have been made with the cost of the Air Force before the war and its cost now, and I think such comparisons may have some value provided that they also compare the equipment in use before the war and the equipment now in the front line. In 1937, the current fighters were the Gladiator, the Gauntlet, and the first Hurricane squadron. Compare those with the current Vampire and Meteor, which have double the speed and rate of climb of the Gladiator, and, of 108 course, a much more formidable armament. I will say nothing about the hundred and one ways in which the variety and complication of the aircraft and ancillary equipment now used by the Air Force has increased in the past ten years, but I will give your Lordships just one comparison which concerns the military power of our bomber force. In March, 1938, our records show that the strength of the Metropolitan Air Force in bomber aircraft was 854—an impressive total, I think your Lordships will agree. The bomb lift of that Force, however, was far, far less than the load which our present-day bomber force, much smaller in numbers though it is, can deliver. To this, I should add that we can, of course, engage targets at far greater ranges and with an accuracy incomparably greater than was possible in those days.
In 1937, radar, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, well knows, was a new and very exclusive mystery. Now it is one of the vital trades in the Air Force, vital on the ground and in the air to all operations—fighter, bomber, and reconnaisance. In 1937, we had the early Hurricanes; the Spitfire was on the horizon and was to become and remain, practically throughout the war, the best fighter in the world. Now we can say with absolute assurance that in the Vampire and the Meteor, both in their current forms and in their future developments, we have the best fighters in the world, both as interceptors and as tactical fighters. Moreover, we have good reason for believing that we can and will maintain our lead in this respect. As noble Lords are aware, all home-based fighter squadrons have completed their re-equipping with jet fighters, and the re-equipment of squadrons in Germany and in the Mediterranean and Middle East Command is proceeding. Four Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons have been equipped with jets, others will start to re-equip this year, while a number of the remainder will be given some jets for training purposes; and if this programme can be bettered, it will be.
As the Secretary of State's Memorandum on the Air Estimates informs us:although no jet bombers are yet in service, the development of a number of types of exceptionally high performance is proceeding as rapidly as possible.The first of these aircraft is expected to fly in the very near future, and it is 109 hoped to place the first orders very shortly. I will only add that we are certain that our faith in our designers and our industry is not misplaced, and that our replacement bombers will have as high a place in the world's standards as our lighters. With regard to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, as to whether there are any night jet fighters, I have to say that there are none yet in service but there is more than one new type under development.
I now come to what is, perhaps, the central feature of this debate—the strong criticism directed against the policy of secrecy regarding the strength of the Armed Forces which is maintained for reasons of security. We have been accused of being too security-minded, and a demand has been made that the Government should publicly announce a definite programme for the Royal Air Force and the rate of progress at which it could be achieved. It was pointed out in support that the United States have published some details of the front-line strength of their Air Force. That is true, but it is also true that other countries have refused to give specific information regarding the strength of their Armed Forces. In view of this, His Majesty's Government have felt, and still feel, that it would be unwise for this country to give any information that will be of value to an ill-wisher, though, no doubt, it is possible for a determined foreign Power to obtain a good deal of information which we would regard as secret. Such information, however, would almost certainly be incomplete, and its reliability could not be assured. There appears to be no reason to make it easy for any foreign Power to obtain this information or, indeed, to hand it to them on a plate, with a guarantee of accuracy which an official announcement would involve.
It has been said that we did make public before the war certain information about the Royal Air Force. That is true, but we have definite evidence from captured documents that the German Luftwaffe intelligence staff made extensive use of statistics about the Royal Air Force published before the war. We do not want to make a similar present now to any unfriendly Power.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
The noble Lord says that the Germans obtained this 110 information from captured documents. What was the information they obtained?
§ LORD HENDERSON
If the noble Viscount will allow the matter to stand there, I will go into the matter and see whether it is possible to give him the information. The noble Viscount knows that I speak only on behalf of the Royal Air Force and the Air Ministry, and I cannot be expected to have detailed information of this sort. I regret that I am unable to meet the demand which has been made by noble Lords to-day, but I recognise the strength of feeling which has been shown, and I will certainly bring their representations and suggestions on this matter to the notice of His Majesty's Government.
Another point I should like to deal with is that of pay and allowances. It has again been urged that Service emoluments are inadequate, and for this purpose reference has been made to pay and allowances in the American Air Force. I do not think this can be regarded as a fair and valid comparison, in view of the different standard of values that apply in the United States, the widely different cost of living in the United States and the fact that America is a creditor nation and is not, like ourselves, fighting a major economic battle. We have gone ahead so far as we can, and some improvements have been made in pay and allowances since the war. I should like to give a comparison, because it is necessary not to overlook the measure of improvement that has been effected. For instance, a married Aircraftman I in Group C now receives £5 10s. 10d. a week, including his marriage allowance and ration allowance. Before the war, the comparable figure was £3 4s. 9d., and before the new pay code, £4 16s. 4d. A sergeant in Group A now receives £8 13s. 10d. a week, against £5 6s. 9d. before the war, and £6 15s. 8d. before the new pay code.
§ LORD HENDERSON
The noble Earl knows that income tax does affect some of the emoluments of Service men. Of these increases, no less than £37 a year, in the first case, and £99 a year, in the second, have been granted by this Government since the war.
May I point out that allowances are now taxed? During the war allowances were not taxed.
§ LORD HENDERSON
Other examples could of course be given, showing similar increases. I should also like to point out that in addition to these increased rates of pay it is necessary, when considering the conditions of life in the Service, to have regard to many other advantages that a Service man has. Such items as opportunities of promotion, a generous scale of paid leave, pensions and gratuities, and the clothing, food and accommodation that the Service provides, must all be taken into account. Bearing all these factors in mind, noble Lords must agree that it cannot be said that the material conditions in the Royal Air Force are unattractive. Moreover, the rate of recruiting does not in itself show dissatisfaction with the existing rates of pay. It is a fact that at the present time the rate of recruiting, which is nearly 2,000 a month, exceeds anything, with the exception of 1938, achieved before the war. In 1937, the intake of Regular recruits was about 14,000. In 1948, it was nearly 20,000; and since January 1, 1946, we have secured well over 100,000 regular recruits.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made some reference to the pay of officers. I would like to inform the House that officers of the rank of pilot officer and flying officer in the General Duties branch receive higher rates of pay than officers of those ranks in other non-professional branches. General Duties officers receive compensation for flying risk in the form of accelerated promotion. Thus, a General Duties branch officer receives time promotion to flight lieutenant after three and a half years' total service, compared with six years' total service in the Secretarial and Equipment branches. All air crew below officer rank receive extra pay for flying duties.
The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, made reference to the school for apprentices at Halton. I regret to say, as he stated, that the school is not used at present to its full capacity. The noble Viscount thought it was about half full. The figure is 1,636, against a planned peak figure of 2,000. The fact is that insufficient apprentices are coming forward, and that is a situation to which the Air Ministry are giving close attention. 112 The school at Halton is possibly the best of its kind in the world. It gives an excellent training to young boys, and it has in the past made a fine contribution to the strength and efficiency of the Royal Air Force. As I have said, its present efficiency is a matter of concern, and I hope that the attention which has been directed to its importance in the debate to-day will help to influence young boys to take advantage of the career opportunities which it affords.
The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, also raised the question of the misemployment of National Service men, and indicated certain types of case with which, he said, all noble Lords would be familiar. I should like to remind your Lordships that a new scheme came into operation last year, designed to select National Service entrants for training in the trade of their choice and for which they are considered most suitable. This is the screening process about which the noble Viscount inquired. The recruit undergoes a Service aptitude and intelligence test, and if he is considered exceptionally suitable for a particular trade, priority of entry into training is given whenever this is possible. The types of case mentioned by the noble Viscount appear to me to be obviously contrary to the policy of the Air Ministry. If noble Lords who have any such cases within their knowledge will let me have particulars of them, I will bring them to the personal attention of the Secretary of State, and I am sure he will take whatever action may be necessary to put matters right.
I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, that of outstanding importance, both from the standpoint of recruitment and from that of the contentment of the married officers and airmen, is the question of married quarters. I was for a very short time a humble additional member of the Air Council, and I then formed one very firm impression. It was that a great, if not the greatest, deterrent to re-enlistment was the inadequacy of married quarters. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that so long as the provision of married quarters is inadequate, the wife of a trained airman, who would be willing to re-engage, will be a powerful anti-recruiting agent. If Service conditions are to bring family separation, the wife 113 will not be very willing to see her husband re-enlist. But if she knew that his rejoining the Air Force would not result in family separation, there would be considerably less likelihood of her opposing her husband's re-enlistment. Indeed, she might be as keen about it as he was himself. It is therefore my opinion that one of the best attractions to married men to rejoin or join the Air Force is to make ample provision of married quarters. No single factor, I believe, would be more conducive either to recruitment or to personal contentment.
A high priority continues to be given to housing, but the provision of 1,200 permanent married quarters to be started during 1949–50 falls short of what is necessary, and of what would be possible in less difficult circumstances. The scheme to convert buildings into temporary married quarters has been pressed forward, and 300 additional temporary quarters will be provided during the coming year. This is something, but it does not meet the need. I agree, and the Government agree, that more rapid progress in the provision of married accommodation is urgently required. The noble Viscount made a specific suggestion. I cannot say whether that suggestion is before the Government, but I will see that it is brought to the attention of my right honourable friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, made reference to recruitment from the Commonwealth. He suggested that opportunities have been neglected of recruiting personnel from the Commonwealth countries. I would remind your Lordships that in 1946 the R.A.F. introduced a scheme for the recruitment of war-experienced Dominion flying personnel, both officers and air crew. This scheme is now closed, but it produced an appreciable response. Consideration is now being given to the introduction of another scheme for recruiting pilots and navigators from the Commonwealth on short-service commissions. Schemes have also been introduced, as a resumption of pre-war practice, for the nomination of Commonwealth candidates for R.A.F. cadetships at the R.A.F. College at Cranwell, and for R.A.F. apprenticeships. The numbers are very small, however, and it is not contended that it represents a recruiting scheme in the strict sense.
Before the noble Lord continues, I also mentioned the Colonial Empire and, in particular, East Africa. And I referred to the question of paying the fares home of prospective candidates.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I am glad the noble Lord has reminded me of those points. I cannot deal with them now, but I will certainly have them looked into. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, asked me a question about shadow factories. I am quite sure I ought to be able to answer it, but I regret to say cannot. I apologise; I have changed my mind, and I am able to say that the shadow factories are still in being. That, I think, will be ample satisfaction to the noble Viscount. I appreciate that there are many points with which I have not dealt. This debate has produced as many queries, criticisms and suggestions as any debate to which I have listened. I have tried to deal with a number of the more important points and, as I say, the rest will be brought to the attention of my right honourable friends the Minister of Defence, on the one hand, and the Secretary of State for Air, on the other. While I know that in many of my answers I have given disappointment to the noble Viscount who introduced the debate, I hope the fact that I began by accepting his Resolution will be some slight consolation.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
My Lords, I am sure we all congratulate the Secretary of State for Air upon having so loyal, so efficient and so pleasant a brother. The noble Lord comes to this House and never wanders, either to the right or to the left, from his brief. Now that we know that the Secretary of State for Air says "No" to everything, we must assume that his dutiful brother will repeat the negative in this House. I am sorry it is so, but I am afraid that the reply to which we have just listened has not taken us any further at all. I do not know what the two noble and gallant Marshals of the Royal Air Force think about it, but I do not think I have ever heard "No" said at such great length or so pleasantly.
I therefore find myself in some difficulty. I would very much like to attack the Secretary of State for Air; I might 115 even wish to attack the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but I really have not the heart to do it this evening. I therefore think my best course is to give him and his brother one further opportunity for repentance. The noble Lord told us at the beginning of his speech that there was to be a Defence debate in another place to-morrow, and that in due course—I suppose next week, or the week after—the Air Estimates will be introduced. I am afraid that, very reluctantly, we must retain our anxiety until then. To-day we have given notice of questions which we believe to be of the first importance. We have raised them, not in the least with the intention of embarrassing the Government, and we look for much more specific answers than anything we have had hitherto.
Meanwhile, let me make two or three short comments upon what the noble Lord has just said, for they point to the kind of answers which we hope to hear given in another place. The noble Lord began his speech by pointing to the fact that we are spending £34,000,000 more upon the Air Force this year than we did last year. Until we know further details about that expenditure, we cannot say whether that is a sign of grace or whether it is merely an example of extravagance. What we do see is a huge number of men and women in the Service—230,000, or whatever the number may be—and a further army of civilians engaged upon the Air Force of another 200,000 odd. Until we have further details, we do not know whether this great army of men and women—much greater than anything which was ever contemplated in the past—is being properly and economically employed. That is why we go on pressing for the outline of the plan upon which the Air Force is being built. If we knew the number of bomber, fighter and transport squadrons, we could have some test of this huge expenditure of men and money. As it is, we have nothing.
Once again, the noble Lord has informed us that we cannot be told any of the things we have always been told in the past, even at times much more critical than to-day—such years as 1937 and 1938—because it is dangerous, and because a potential enemy would gain from it. Again I say, if that is a good 116 argument, why is it that the great Air Force of the United States of America is known in almost every detail to the American public and to the world generally? But the noble Lord opposite added a further comment to this perpetual "No" when we ask for information. He said that he could not give any information so long as other countries did not give it. Now what does that mean? Does any noble Lord imagine that Russia is ever going to publish information about anything? It means, therefore, that we shall never have any information of that kind. After what has transpired this afternoon, I very much hope that the noble Lord will think again and will point out again to his brother—with all the force that comes from one brother to another—that unless the country is given more information, we shall never stimulate the spirit of recruiting we shall never get the air sense stimulated in the people, and we shall never be able to get the Air Force into the same position the Navy occupied half a century ago.
Now I come to the last of the points, the point the noble Lord made about pay. I quite agree that there have been increases in pay, but I venture to say to him that the only test of these increases is whether they get the recruits or whether they do not. He gave a figure which seemed to imply that recruiting was going very well. I cannot believe that that is really the view of the Air Staff. There is the fact that the figure, month by month, is higher than it was in some of the years before the war, but let me say to the noble Lord that the numbers for which we are asking to-day are ten times higher than the numbers for which we asked in the years before the war. We are dealing with an Air Force twice as large. I do not know from what years he took these figures, but anyhow, whether I am right or whether he is right, I say to him that we must judge the efficacy of pay, not by general principles, not by the selection of figures from this or that document, but actually from the fact whether or not it provides enough skilled men for a very technical service.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, may I intervene to say that what I was doing was to point out that there are at the present moment 125,000 Regular men and women in the Royal Air Force. I think 117 it is a fair point to make that, despite all the criticisms of the pay and allowances, we have since the war secured 100,000 Regulars. While I do not say that recruitment is as satisfactory as the Government desire, it is nevertheless on the level which I indicated in my remarks.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
I am perfectly ready to be converted. I hope the Government are right in thinking that these increases in pay will attract the right men. At present I am totally unconvinced, but I am prepared to judge by results. I look at such sinister facts as the fact that Cranwell to-day, for the first time in the history of the Air Force, is only two-thirds full. I look at the further fact that the noble Lord himself admitted that the other basic institution of the Royal Air Force, Halton, is only half full. That makes me think that there is something wrong with the conditions in the Air Force, and that the right men and boys are not being attracted into it in sufficient numbers. But I am perfectly ready to leave it at that point, and to 118 judge by results. I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that the Government accept my Resolution. That is a small mercy, and being a very grateful person I am grateful for any small mercy. At the same time, I must say clearly that I am not interested in the words of any particular Resolution; I am not interested particularly in the fact that this House will presumably accept it this afternoon. What I want to see is results; and, therefore, with great deference, I give the noble Lord notice that my friends and I will wait to see the results, and then in due time we shall hope to resume this discussion.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.