HL Deb 03 April 1952 vol 175 cc1361-428

3.20 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to call attention to the question of air defence and air supply; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name, I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships and apologise for the fact that I have spoken on two days running. It was the alteration of business which brought that about. The Motion standing in my name concerns the question of air power and air supply. I submit that air power is the key to our national safety. I am no extremist who says that air warfare alone can conduct and win a war; nevertheless I submit that in modern warfare to-day a nation cannot exercise land power—which may be described as the ability to seize and hold land bases—without possessing predominant air power, the power to use the air for its own purposes. Neither can a nation exercise sea power—which is the ability in war to use the great maritime lanes of the world—without possessing predominant air power. Therefore the Motion to-day deals with the very heart of the problem of our national defence.

From what we are told, particularly in speeches in another place, the facts are that we have spent some £1,400,000,000 on the air since 1945, yet to-day Great Britain could not exercise the air power essential for her national defence. The Under-Secretary for Air in another place said that our air strength would be woefully inadequate if it were not for our powerful North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies. He said it was far from adequate either to defend our country or to play its part in the defence of Europe and our Atlantic lifeline. That is the grave situation in which we find ourselves after that great expenditure of money and time. I must pick my words carefully here, because I do not want to raise any unnecessary controversy, but I would say this: that it seems to us, on this side of the House, who for several years past initiated debates on defence in general and on air matters in particular and who, time after time, asked the Government for information and assurances as to our progress in air defence, that the last Government based their policy on an attempt to reassure and to throw a cloak over the stark facts which we have now to face.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, was the spokesman for the last Government, and certainly he gave us reassuring statements. Whenever there was something favourable it was stressed, and whenever there was something unfavourable it was slid over so far as possible. I can assure the noble Viscount, if anybody wishes to challenge me, that I am not so young in politics as not to come here charged fully with the necessary quotations and citations to support that statement. I do not think I summarise unfairly the position of the Royal Air Force to-day, so far as we as members of the public are told, when I say that it is a fine force of men with indomitable courage, great technical skill, well led and, I am sure, well administered, but possessed in the main of inadequate equipment in terms of modern aircraft, with shortages of technical personnel and facing a gap of several critical years before it can be properly equipped in terms of aircraft unbeatable in their particular fields. In our operational commands we have neither the quality nor the quantity to-day to exercise that air power so essential for our national safety. The Battle of Britain was won on quality and not quantity, and the Bomber offensive in the last war was won on both quality and quantity.

I would ask your Lordships to come with me for a moment to the three Commands of the Royal Air Force. Again, I can only cite the facts so far as we have been given them. Fighter Command today has no swept-back wing types of fighter. It has no British type in the front line comparable with the Russian MIG 15. It is quite true that we are going to have some United States Sabre jet aircraft located here, and we are going to get some 400 of those for our own Air Force. Meanwhile, our first line force to-day is equipped with obsolete piston-type fighters or somewhat obsolete earlier jet types of aircraft. Personally, I find little comfort in the statement of the Under-Secretary in another place when he gave an account of these grave facts. He said that though our fighter squadrons might be outclassed in a fighter-to-fighter combat, nevertheless they could shoot down enemy bombers with considerable success. The experience of the United States in Korea has been that they have had to leave day bombing and go to night bombing with their piston-type aircraft, because they have found that the piston-type bomber cannot live in the same air as the jet fighter. It is probably going to be two years—the Select Committee on Estimates gave twenty-three to twenty-nine months as the time—before new fighters now flying as prototypes come into the front line in quantity; before the new Hunters and Swift fighters are operating in quantity in Fighter Command.

So much for the rather depressing side of Fighter Command. I come now to Bomber Command. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will be able to contradict this, and I shall be delighted if he tells me I am wrong. From the information which we have obtained, it appears that we have no effective medium or heavy bomber force to-day. We have the Canberra bomber. Although that is a fine tactical weapon, it is not a heavy bomber and, as the Secretary of State knows better than I do, it is still in process of development as regards our ability to exercise some of its tactical functions. The target date for the first Canberra squadron was February, 1950. The first squadron was formed about the end of 1951, and I believe there are only two squadrons now. We have coming along that brilliant aircraft the Valiant—unfortunately, one prototype had an accident—but it will be three or four years yet before the Valiant is in the squadrons. The Under-Secretary of State in another place said about Bomber Command: We cannot have a bomber force as big as in the last war. Of course, that is obvious. If I remember aright, our sustained effort for the night sorties of our bombers at the end of 1944—it is a good many years ago—was round about 1,700 aircraft a night—a tremendous and formidable force. If we had a force to-day able to keep up the sustained effort of fifty Valiants it would be a very formidable force in terms of modern aircraft, which can do so much more than the aircraft of seven, eight or nine years ago. They have to-day much greater carrying power, much greater hitting power. If we had to-day a force of even fifty Valiants, I think one could say we had a formidable bomber force, capable of a sustained effort.

But what have we got? So far as I know, one group of aircraft—Washington B.29s, last-war built American bombers: a handful of squadrons of the Lincoln bomber and a development of the Lancaster piston-engine bomber of the last war. Far from being able to put up a force of 1,700 of that type of bomber, or even a sustained effort of fifty modern bombers, I doubt whether we could put up a sustained force of fifty obsolete bombers. The position as regards Bomber Command is terrible. The bomber is just as much part of the defence of Britain as is the fighter. It was bombers which kept two-thirds of the German aircraft industry busy during the war, turning out fighters for the defence of Germany instead of offensive weapons for attack on this country. The bomber is complementary to the fighter as a means of the defence of this country. It is a sorry story, this story of Bomber Command.

I turn to Transport Command. The Under-Secretary of State in another place admitted the insufficiency of Transport Command and said, quite reasonably, that Transport Command must wait until the needs of the other operational Commands are first satisfied. I think the cuts introduced by the last Government, in March, 1950, which fell so heavily on Transport Command, are largely responsible for that Command's present difficulties. But the Under-Secretary then said rather comfortingly—there was, indeed, a touch of reassurance about it, I thought—that in case of emergency the Government can call for transport needs on the considerable resources of civil aviation. In fact, if war came, the "considerable resources of civil aviation." which are represented mainly by the personnel and equipment of the nationalised Corporations, would be engaged as they were in the last war, in keeping open the lines of communication between this country and the rest of the world. If the Government rely on the materials of civil aviation, as represented by those two Corporations, they are relying on very little for military purposes.

That reliance on the resources of civil aviation would carry much more weight if the Ministry of Transport were continuing the policy of encouragement of the resources of the charter companies, the policy of giving a sufficiently long franchise to the independent operators to allow them to obtain finance for further new equipment. Instead of that, heavier charges are imposed on the charter companies for land aerodrome facilities, and a heavier burden in the form of the petrol tax is imposed on civil aviation—ineluding the charter companies and the flying clubs, to which we look to provide our reserves of training in war time. It sounds like two different voices and two policies from different Departments within the same Government.

So much for the three Commands. Their equipment depends upon supply—my Motion contains the words "air supply." The facts here are extremely grave. The Prime Minister has said in another place: Deliveries of modern aircraft are seriously behind the original programme, which, in consequence, has had lo be revised. Since then the Government have issued a White Paper setting out the revised programme. At the same time, it seems to me that super-priority does not increase resources. There is no indication of anything which is going to increase our resources. We hope they will be increased in the future, but it seems to me that what "super-priority" means is a re-deal of the same pack of cards in a different way so that the court cards come out on top—a form of dealing which most of us would like to be able to do.

This Government have inherited a grave position in supply in several directions, any one of which can dash the prospects of our completing our armament programme to time. Also, the Government have taken over the machinery of administration and control which we ought to look at in relation to the problems which the Government have to over- come on this question. The difficulties are shortages of machine tools, of materials, of factory capacity and of labour. All these shortages exist. Each shortage lends to blanket the other one, so that in the result all we see is not an acute shortage in any one direction but a general slowing down of the programme, due to an accumulation of all those shortages. With regard to machine tools, 23 per cent. of foreign orders for vital machine tools have been delivered—that is all. Of that, 10 per cent. were due to come from America; and of that 10 per cent. from America I am informed that only one-tenth have arrived. A deficiency exists in this most vital field of machine tools, the Cincinnatti miller.

With regard to milling, one aircraft firm is having to use 200 hours of skilled man-power in machining a particular forging which, with the right machine tools, they could do in twenty hours with semi-skilled labour. The man-power waste as a result of the non-arrival of these vital machine tools is appalling. It creates a grave situation. I suggest that the Minister should ask our American friends, who are so generous in giving us complete equipment for Sabre aircraft and other forms of aircraft, whether they could give us further aid by speeding up the deliveries of these vital machine tools. I believe that an approach to the American authorities at a high level would achieve results, even if, for a time, it meant cutting down supplies of completed equipment. With regard to materials, many metals are in short supply—often small quantities of special alloy steel. I have heard of one firm which had only ten days' supply of essential alloy steel and another which had only seven days' supply. The production of small amounts of alloy steel is not particularly advantageous and it upsets production. It is attractive in large quantities. If the steel industry is to be denationalised, as I hope it is, I feel sure that it will rise to the occasion and meet these small and sometimes irritating and dislocating requirements for small quantities of these special alloys.

Let me say a few words about factory capacity, in which there has been a shortage. The shortage has been blanketed by the shortage of machine tools and labour. Much has already been built, but more is still needed; and I regret that the super-priority does not say anything about cutting through Departmental procedure for licensing new factory capacity. The passing of a period of one year from the time of application to the granting of the licence is not unusual. I heard of a case the other day (of which I can give particulars to the Minister, if he so desires) where a company making alloy steel blades for jet engines found that it took eighteen months from the time of their first application to the time when that application for factory construction was granted. If any extension of a factory needs over 10,000 square feet, it is necessary for the firm to go through no fewer than twenty Government Departments. Surely a super-priority might receive a Government direction that all applications should be dealt with, considered and finalised, within a period of, say, four weeks.

I touch for a moment on the last shortage, that of labour, which is probably the worst shortage. The White Paper said that we required 50,000 men more in the aircraft industry by March, 1953, which means an average recruitment of about 3,500 a month. The last figures I have seen show that we are not accomplishing that. I hope that the Notification of Engagement Order and the new housing proposals of the Government will make good these deficiencies. I believe that we need many more than 50,000, however, because we need men for electronics, we need men for accessories. We ought to double the 10,000 or so men engaged at the present time on civil aircraft if we are not to lose the precious opportunity of a tremendous export which is within our grasp if only we will seize it. But the opportunity will not last for long. It will last only so long as our technical lead in jet aircraft exists. If we do not take full advantage of that opportunity while we have it, it will slip away to America. I believe that we need more than 50,000 men. In my view, the approach should be on the assumption that we require something like 100,000 men.

The Government are, I understand, initiating the building, through the Ministry of Health, of some 11,000 houses in places where they are particularly needed for munition workers. If experience here proves anything like that with houses for Metropolitan policemen, which are being supplied through the local authorities, then this proposal will not do very much good, because the time lag will be so great. We have seen the resistance of local authorities to supplying houses to exceptional classes such as policemen, and I am afraid that we may see resistance by local authorities if we continue to work through the local authorities in that matter. There will be resistance to their giving these houses, as it were, to men who are "jumping the queue" because they have come into the district on vital work.

I wonder whether the Government could not consider building those houses themselves, by contract. They could own the houses, and when the rearmament period of time is over they might sell them to the local authorities or to the tenants, as the case may be. I do earnestly ask the Minister this: does he not foresee a grave delay, which will spoil the effect of building these 11,000 houses, if we continue to work through the local authorities, as hitherto? On this particular question of labour and housing, I want to suggest this to the Minister. I believe that men are unwilling to leave home, to leave the district where their homes are. There is an idea that you can cut down the raw materials in secondary industries to force a man to leave his home and to work in an essential industry in some other area. But the man prefers to stay on short time where he is and where his home is. I believe that it would encourage men to move if they could see some work beyond the immediate rearmament work. If you could infiltrate civil aviation types of aircraft into these various factories, where at present only armament work is being done, I believe the men would feel that there was a continuity of employment which at the present time they do not see.

I suggest that the Government might think of doing what I recently saw done in the aircraft factories in California. In the fields nearest to the American factories, I saw parked hundreds and hundreds of caravans, caravan camps; there was central feeding, central drainage, a camp master; the caravans were painted in gay colours, the camps were cheerful, and the men were willing to come to them. Until these new houses are built, would not it be possible in this country to organise caravan camps in some of those fields adjoining these aircraft factories? I know that the idea will shock the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, because their precious standards (and very good standards they are) would be violated. Officials would resist. But the job of strong Ministers is to carry out Government policy, irrespective of what officials think and advise them. Those officials are there, ultimately, to do what they are told, the Ministers having received their advice and taken note of it. Therefore, if the Government were to go forward on a policy of temporary caravan camps I believe that they would do much to cut down the immediate housing shortage and would be introducing a valuable interim measure.

My last point upon labour is this. I believe there is a tremendous amount to be done on the spiritual side of labour, in trying to identify labour much more closely with the ultimate R.A.F. task, with the glory of the Service, and with the importance of their work. During the war, we used to take the pilots round the aircraft factories. They used to talk to the men in the canteens at lunch-time. They used to tell of their experiences, and they would inspire the men. We are at war now, so far as the needs of supply are concerned, yet the Executive is tied to a peace-time system of legislation. Surely the Government could do something about identifying the men more closely with their work, by taking, for instance, a cross-section of men, from floor-sweepers to foremen, to an aerodrome. Let them see an aeroplane; let them see a bomber; let them have their baptism of the air. Take a few of them up and let them know what being in the air is like. Then let people from the squadrons come along to talk to them. I am sure there is much to be done in that line.

Finally, there is the question of whether the machinery of supply is adequate to our requirements. We have one great Department of supply which is responsible for everything, from beds to bombs. It is responsible for the motor car industry, for steel allocations, for civil and military supplies, for the Service Departments and for some of the Civil Departments. I question whether one Department, with all these vast tasks, can expect their staff to depart from all the accepted departmental practices to which they are expected to adhere, merely for one particular section which is enjoying super-priority. Can you really lift one-sixth of the programme out of the general run of the Department without meeting conflicts, and perhaps resistance, and a misunderstanding of the need for a ruthless drive in administration as regards the super-priority items? I think that the present Minister of Supply, who has been a colleague of mine in another place and in the Government, is a most able administrator, a most forceful man; and if anybody can succeed with the present administrative machine, I believe that he has as good a chance as anyone. Never-the less, I wonder whether one man can be dynamic over the whole of such a vast field of administration. Very soon that Minister will have to spend a great deal of his time on Parliamentary work on the Steel Bill. We are told from the other side that that is going to involve a terrific Parliamentary fight.

I believe, as a general proposition, that in an emergency we need one man responsible for the production of fighting weapons. I have no information or knowledge as to how that can be done, and it is not for me to say. So far as I can see, there are three possible ways of doing it. First the Ministry of Aircraft Production could be re-formed for the period of emergency in a different way, giving it. responsibility for the production of fighting weapons; secondly, the Ministry of Supply might he split and the fighting needs put under the direction of one Minister under the Minister of Defence—adding, as it were, the fourth wheel to the three he already has. Or, thirdly, within the Ministry of Supply, as in the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, there might be a special Minister under the Departmental Minister—as it were, a Minister of State—whose sole job would be to concentrate upon the production of fighting weapons. Those are three possibilities. They are just ideas. I do not know whether any of them can be worked out. But I feel great doubt as to whether the present administrative machine is capable of fulfilling the task that is being imposed upon it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the Motion that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour has put down. As he has said, it is now generally agreed that superiority in the air is the first and vital requisite of any successful plan of defence or offence. General Eisenhower, in a report published in the Press yesterday, said: Air power is the dominant factor to-day. Before I come to the main part of my speech I should like to refer to a debate on the Navy Estimates that took place in your Lordships' House last Thursday. In that debate (I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 175, Col. 1047), my noble friend Lord Pakenham said: To-day I am primarily concerned with the personal factor in naval aviation. It is all aviation, and I am one of those who believe in one Air Force. The noble Lord went on to say in the same column: At a Press Conference I held soon afterwards … I remember describing this shortage as 'our principal headache.' The noble Lord was there referring to the shortage of air pilots and their crews. Apparently there is still this shortage. After the one o'clock news to-day the B.B.C. gave out an announcement regarding the recruiting of air crews, asking for young men to join. I am all in favour of that and do not oppose it in any way.

Then, speaking of his work as First Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, went on to say (I quote from Col. 1048): If you talk to any young man at Dartmouth and say, 'I hope you are going in for naval aviation,' he is inclined to say, 'Oh yes. they came round and tried to get me to go into that, but I have joined to go to sea'. My Lords, that is the whole point of difference between us. I feel that there is a large number of young men who want to enter the Navy in order to go to sea, and I believe there is a large number of men who want to go into the Air Force in order to fly. They do not want to do part-time flying or part-time sea-going. I believe there is a large number of young men who want to go into the Army in order to fight on land. That is the whole reason for many of our discussions in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said that he did not want to speak on Coastal Command. I am not going to talk on it to-day, but as the noble Lord made a remark to the effect that he wished to discuss this matter with me perhaps I should reply publicly. Although we are not the richest nation in the world we are. I hope, still one of the great leaders of the world and of civilisation. And as one of the great nations, we must, as we have done in the past, carry a great load. It may not be the greatest load, but I am afraid we must do more than our share and carry a great load if we aspire to remain, as we must, a great Power. I am one of those who believe in the slogan which was sent out by the Air League of the British Empire on a Christmas card—namely: Peace on Earth under the wings of the R.A.F. This is what we must strive for. Not only must we strive for it but we must attain it.

If the House agrees with me, then we must examine very carefully whether we are doing everything in our power, in our organisation, to enable the Royal Air Force to preserve that peace. We must see that our plans for defence are sound; we must know and realise what is our share of the responsibility for the defence of the world. I want to mention a few points which I believe have overriding importance to-day. We cannot afford to have everything during peace. We must, therefore, spend our limited resources on the forces which are most likely to prevent war or, in the event of war, to prevent invasion of our bases and give us time to mobilise. To keep an ineffective amount of every type of force in many different parts of the world is to invite attack at the vital places and be powerless to meet it. The forces we require in war are very different from those we require in peace. The balance between them is different.

Can it be doubted that the long-range bomber to-day is the most likely deterrent to an aggressor? I do not think it can. But some people still say that we must leave the production of bombers to our American friends, and must maintain merely a fighter force and a tactical air force of light bombers, to secure our base. My Lords, are we really such a small Power to-day that this must be our humble role? What would the people of this country say, in the event of war, if they saw the enemy's bombs falling around them and knew that we were powerless to hit back? I remember even in the 1914–18 war some of our airmen being stoned at Folkestone because they did not go up and stop one machine coming over. I can quite understand that attitude. I say that the results of a policy of abandoning the long-range bomber would be disastrous to the morale of the nation, and particularly to the morale of a "fighter-only" Air Force.

Let me take this point further. We know that in war there are often disputes between commanders, one of whom may think: that another is letting hint down. In my experience, that has gone on all through wars and all through history. These disputes and misunderstandings occur between our own commanders and those of other nations. What is likely to happen in this country if an American commands a long-range bomber force, while we British are responsible for the fighter defence of our common base? American aerodromes may be attacked and the British fighter defence will almost certainly not be able to prevent some damage. What would be said about that by the Americans? They would say, "Why are you not defending the aerodrome?" And we should be saying about the bomber force, "Why are they not hitting at the enemy and stopping them?"

Let us study what defence in air warfare means, and how it can be achieved. To my mind, nothing could be more fatal to-day than to base our ideas on the Battle of Britain. I would describe any such attempt as "Maginot mentality." Basing your ideas on what happened in the last air war is a sure way to court disaster. You will never totally prevent enemy bombers getting through. And the power of explosive missiles has also been increased many hundreds of times since the Battle of Britain. There will be no more chasing away of bomber raids, for there will be vast numbers of guided missiles to be dealt with. The chasing away of raids is finished for ever. I repeat that, because I find that it is not known sufficiently throughout the country. If you have only short-range fighters you invite the enemy to concentrate his whole air power on attack. You enable him to devote his whole productive capacity to offensive aircraft. In the future, in addition to guided missiles you will have to cope with bombers that will come through three times as fast as those we knew in the last war, and the power of destruction they will carry will be infinitely greater. Your fighter force cannot possibly prevent some of so great a force of bombers getting through, and the bombs dropped will not be similar to those which were dropped in the Battle of Britain. To be sure of winning a war in the air it is essential to be able to carry the air war into the heart of the enemy's territory. There are many more reasons for this but I am not going to weary your Lordships with them to-day. While those I have mentioned are all important, I would re-emphasise the disastrous effect on the morale of the Air Force and of the nation as a whole if we cannot hit back with our own machines but have to rely on those of another nation.

I understand that we are producing the atom bomb. I take it that we want to be able to carry it and drop it a long way away from our own Island home. It will be said that our bases must be secure. Every general, every admiral, and every air marshal will say that. I say you cannot have these bases secure unless you have adequate forces of long-range bombers and long-range fighters. You have got to hit the enemy in his bases. Did die Germans make their bases secure? At the end of the last war they were building nothing but fighters. And look at what happened. I hope that the Government and this House will support me in this: that first priority must be given to the long-range bomber and the long-range fighter equally with the interceptor fighter. I was glad to see a report in the Press on Thursday morning that the Minister of Supply had met the leaders of the aircraft industry and had informed them of six types of aircraft which were to be given "super priority." I am more than pleased. The Government will know if what has been ordered are the necessary types to meet the points I have just raised, but I hope they will keep a close watch on this matter, so that we do get the long-range bombers and the long-range fighters. The question of leaving this difficult task to our Allies is always raising its head in sections of the Press all over the world. As I say, I hope the Government will keep a close watch on the matter for the reasons which I have given.

Now I want to turn to another point—a very important one, I think. I am one of those who do not believe that you must have the same organisation in peace as you have in war. I am certain that it is quite wrong. I am talking now of the Supply Ministry. In peace, an organisation is far harder to run successfully than in war. In war time you have all the power; in peace time you have practically none, or very little. People will never, in time of peace, advocate or tolerate a strict régime or anything like it. That is generally accepted. I am aware that the question of whether the Air Ministry should be responsible for developing and ordering its own aircraft in direct co-operation with industry, or whether this should be done by and through the Ministry of Supply, is a controversial subject. Noble Lords may suggest other arrangements which should be inquired into. During the war, vast quantities of aircraft are required to replace losses in battle and ordinary wastage—literally thousands are needed; in peace you do not want that, because you have not that enormous wastage, and the problem is entirely different.

When the whole of our industrial system is working to its fullest capacity, it is quantity that is wanted, and it is my view that a Ministry of Supply is a necessity. During peace, quality is wanted and development is the first essential. This does not mean that I do not want quality in war time or quantity in times of peace, but, broadly speaking we want quality in peace and quantity in war. We must produce the best and most up-to-date machines in the world in peace time. These years of so called peace may go on for three, four or five years. I say, therefore, that in peace the Air Ministry should be responsible for developing the machines in direct contact with all aircraft firms. I feel that this system had much to do with the development of the Spitfire, the Hurricane, radar and many other things which had good results and in which we led the world. The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, is here, and I hope he will say something bearing on this question and tell us of the organisation which produced the fighters that enabled him to win the Battle of Britain. I do not expect the Government to accept this argument to-day, and I am not attacking or criticising them in any way, but I should like to see it cautiously, carefully and continuously examined. It is not a question of reorganising everything, but in peace development must go on the whole time. War is very different from peace and we must be always watching that our organisation is being developed to meet changing conditions and that it is not static.

I come next to the Ministry of Defence. Here again I would emphasise that it is not necessary to have the same organisation in peace that is required in war, for the same reasons that I have given in dealing with supply. I feel that the setup of the Chief of Staff with the Minister of Defence should be looked into to see how we can improve the present system. I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, with regard to the setup of the Service Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff, especially when he said, on March 27 last (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 175, col. 1044): I refer to the danger that the Service Ministers might be down-graded to the point when they were little better than Under-Secretaries. So far as my recollection goes, when the Labour Government came into office they set up in 1945 or 1946 a separate Ministry of Defence and made it responsible for the Chiefs of Staff Organisation and for certain common services such as Intelligence. In peace, the Service Ministers cease to be members of the Cabinet but remain responsible for organisation, administration and discipline. So now the Minister of Defence produces the intelligence which is essential before decisions on strategic or defence policy can be taken, and secures from the Chiefs of Staff agreed recommendations as to what the policy should be or an agreed statement of the differences between them. In the latter case it is now the duty of the Minister of Defence, when reporting these differences, to make his own recommendations to the Cabinet. When the Cabinet has settled a defence policy it is the business of the Minister of Defence to allocate money, materials and man-power to the various Services and their equipment programmes, in so far as these are limiting factors—as they are certain to be. The noble Earl the Minister of Defence, who I am glad to see is present here to-day, will, I know, not mind my saying these things, for I am in no way criticising the Ministry of Defence. I am asking only that the organisation may be looked at again to see whether it works satisfactorily in peace.

The Chief of Staff for each individual Service has a great responsibility in the advice he gives to his Minister or to the Cabinet. What I am anxious about is that in peace time, under the present system, the advice of the Chiefs of Staff goes through the "bottleneck," so to speak, of one Minister before it gets to the Cabinet, and that Minister may not fully appreciate or understand the importance of the advice he has been given, which the Chief of Staff of one Service is trying to press forward as his view. I feel that the Chief of Staff of any Service will want to put his case in his own way to the final judge—the Cabinet or the Prime Minister, and not through the Minister of Defence. In the pre-war system, failures of the Chiefs of Staff to agree were resolved by referring them to the Committee of Imperial Defence, where all were present, and then to the Cabinet. Now, so far as I can understand it, they go to the Cabinet through a single Minister, the Minister of Defence.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? Of course, he is aware that in our time and in the time of the present Government, Service Ministers are often invited to Cabinet meetings, in addition to the Minister of Defence.


Perhaps the most awkward feature about this new organisation is what I call the dual allegiance of the Chiefs of Staff. Each of them is a member of his own council or board, responsible for the command and administration of his own Service, and in that capacity is subordinate to his own Minister. But the three Chiefs of Staff, in their joint capacity as members of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, are subordinate to the Minister of Defence. This has caused a change which I feel is important. The question is whether the divided loyalties of the pre-war system—for they were divided, even in the early days when it started—have been made more troublesome by the institution of a Ministry of Defence in peace time. Of course, the effect on the individual Chiefs of Staff will depend a good deal on personalities. But the problem has not been made easier by the fact that the creation of a Ministry of Defence has lowered the status of the Service Ministers, none of whom is now in the Cabinet.

There is a further point. We must not overlook the effect of the change On those Service personnel who are on the staff of the Minister of Defence. These will all be junior to their own Chief of Staff, and they will inevitably be subject to the difficulty and strain of deciding, whether to support their senior in their own Service or whether to support the views of the Minister of Defence, if these: views are in opposition. Here there is certainly an additional conflict of allegiances. I know that this is a difficulty, because it was a difficulty when the Chiefs of Staffs Committee was set up and the original pattern was laid down. I am not trying to be dogmatic, but I do say that it is wrong to assume that, because these organisations went through the last war, we can go through the present peace with the same organisations. I there fore hope that this subject will be carefully examined to see whether it is the best organisation at the present time. when this cold war looks as if it will last for many years.

I now come to the subject of welfare. I sometimes wonder whether we are putting too much energy, too much money and too much organisation into welfare for the Services in war. It is right and proper that the comfort of the men should be our first duty, but it is very difficult for the Service Ministers, and even for the Service Chiefs, if we allow a sort of competition in welfare to grow up between the Fighting Services and encourage comparison with other countries. If we do not watch this matter carefully, it may be overdone, and that would lessen our mobility in war.

I have not time to deal fully with the Coastal Command and Transport Command of the Royal Air Force, or with the Tactical Air Force. This does not mean that I underrate their importance. It was gratifying to hear it said recently in another place that the expansion of Coastal Command and the Tactical Air Force is going well. On the other hand, I was sorry to hear that lack of resources will prevent the expansion of Transport Command while expansion of the other operational commands is in progress. Transport Command plays a very important rôle in the mobility of all three Services. The resources of civil aviation can certainly be mobilised in war, but civil aircraft are not altogether suitable for airborne operations. What I want particularly to urge is that the Government should take stringent measures to build up a powerful fleet for air freight, and see that up-to-date machines are available. I believe that the use of up-to-date machines can be made profitable by their carrying freight. There are various machines suitable for this purpose. I understand that the Americans have one, the Packet, and we have one called the Blackburn Freighter. I do not want this machine to have prominence over bombers and fighters, but I say that the success of all the rest of the Air Force depends on our having air transport for the other Services as well.

The Royal Air Force has been established for only thirty-five years, and the more I read and study and hear about air power all over the world, the more I feel that we have a long way to go. Air power has progressed and is pro-pressing, but our scientists and manufacturers have outstripped our thoughts about the control of these machines. I should like to end on this note. I should again like to refer to Lord Pakenham's speech. He said that he went to the Admiralty with the highest expectations of the spirit he would find in the Navy, and that those expectations were more than fulfilled. He said that the devotion to duty is unsurpassed, and perhaps unequalled, in this country or in the world. He then said: The sense of the past lies all about you. I entirely agree. The noble Lord also marvelled at the ultra-modern scientific approach they made to all problems. I left the R.A.F nearly a quarter of a century ago, while the noble Lord left the Admiralty only a few months ago. I had something to do with helping to lay the foundations of the Air Force and when I left it, I felt, and still feel, that the sense of the future lies all about us.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, before I say a few words in support of the two speeches to which we have just listened, as a former Secretary of State I venture to say a word of welcome to the new Secretary of State. How fortunate we are to have him in this House, and how fortunate the Air Force is to have combined in his person youth, courage, energy and ability! I most sincerely wish him every success in his task and hope that nothing I say to-day will in the least embarrass him.

I am one of the members of this House, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, just referred, who time after time during the last two Parliaments took part in debates upon air power. I have no wish to go back into recriminations about the past; I am interested in the future. However, I cannot help saying that time after time we pointed out the extreme urgency of these questions of air defence, and time after time we were met with the same answer: everything was going along very well, and in the interests of security we could not be given any information. In view of these assurances, it came as a great shock to me when the war in Korea disclosed the fact that in one field of military aircraft production, the fighter field, in which we had always held a predominance in the past, we were in a state of inferiority in the face of our greatest potential enemy. That disclosure was very serious in itself, but it had this further effect: it sowed doubt and suspicion over all the many reassurances that we had from the Government Front Bench year after year during the last two Parliaments. To-day we have the right to press Her Majesty's Government—who were not responsible for that state of affairs—with questions with a view to seeing that we shall not have the same apathy and complacency in the future.

There is the fact that in the fighter field, for the first time in the history of air force, we have fallen behind our rivals. Why is that? Why is it that our new types have taken so long to develop? We have in this House two noble Lords who probably know more about the development of fighter aircraft than anybody else—namely, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Dowding. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was Secretary of State when the Hurricanes and Spitfires were developed, and the noble Lord. Lord Dowding, will never be forgotten in connection with the Battle of Britain. How is it that these new types, the Swift and the Hunter, have taken so much longer to develop than the fighters which won the Battle of Britain? I venture to put this question to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who I understand will speak later in the debate. Was any instruction given to the Air Staff to go slow with their development programme? I hope the noble Viscount will be good enough to give me an answer to this question, I ask it for this reason The Governments of which I was a member in the years before the late war have subsequently been blamed for giving instructions to the Chiefs of Staff in the years immediately following the First World War to assume that there was likely to be no major war for a considerable period of time. It would he of great interest to me—and it would be only fair to the Air Staff—to know whether any similar instruction was given to the Air Staff after the Second World War.

Whatever may be the answer to this question, the trouble, as I see it, is due to three main reasons. They have already been considered in the two speeches that preceded mine. But let me summarise the position to the House. First of all, I believe that the delays have been due to shortage of labour and the fact that the late Government did not regard the problem of skilled and unskilled labour in the aircraft industry as sufficiently urgent—I will say a word or two about that in a moment. The second reason, I believe, is one to which both the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, have already referred—namely the complexity of the Government machine. The third reason, I believe, is not a little due to this cloud of secrecy that has been spread over the whole field of our air defence.

Let me say a few words about each of those causes, taking, first of all, the shortage of labour. In the recent White Paper issued by the Ministry of Defence it is stated that during the next twelve months, between now and next March, 50,000 additional workers will be needed in the aircraft industry. The last figures that I have been able to obtain—I admit that they are three or four months old—show that only about 850 recruits are joining the aircraft industry each month; whereas, if the complement of 50,000 is to be reached in twelve months' time, something in the nature of 4,000 recruits ought to be going into the industry every month. I should be obliged if the Secretary of State could give the most recent figures of the intake into the aircraft industry. I have also a request to make of the noble Lord. I feel that it would be of great value, in view of the extreme urgency of the problem, if either the Ministry of Supply or the Air Ministry, or both, could publish periodical figures of the labour strength of the aircraft industry. I would remind them that in the coal industry that kind of information is regularly given. I believe that it would be of great value to the public if we knew month after month how many of these 50,000 men who are needed in the next twelve months are actually going into the industry.

I do not delay upon the complicated question of the shortage of labour, although I could go into great detail about it. I pass hurriedly on to the next of the reasons I have suggested for the delays in recent years—namely, the complexity of the Government machine. I am one of those who agree with what the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has just said, that in a Service Ministry it more efficient to have the Minister directly responsible for the equipment of his own force. I make this statement based upon many years of experience in Service Ministries. I formed the impression that in Service Ministries one of then greatest difficulties is that of acting quickly. In a Service Ministry there is a great hierarchy through which every decision has to pass, and, for what my experience is worth, I would say that it is more difficult to get quick action in the Service Ministry than in a civilian Department.

The Ministry of Supply grew up as a war-time organisation. In war time it was no doubt absolutely necessary, but I think that now we are living—I will not say in full peace time but anyhow in a period that is not war time, the time has come to re-examine the position. Certainly, there is the fact upon which I base my argument, that in these recent years there have been these almost unintelligible delays in the production of new types. That in itself should justify the demand for an inquiry and, if it is not possible to change the whole organisation, at least an attempt to see whether there are not bottlenecks which could be removed. I wonder, for instance, whether there is a sufficient contact between the two Ministers the Minister of Supply and the Secretary of State for Air. I am not talking about any particular holders of the offices, but about the two Ministers generally. I was given an answer in this House the other day about the responsibilities of the Ministry of Supply. In the answer it was stated that the co-ordination was excellent between the staffs. I venture to suggest that something much more than co-ordination between the staffs is necessary. It needs the constant contact between the two Ministers directly concerned. In any case, I hope that I have said enough to give my reasons why the time has come for a re-examination of this constitutional position between the two Ministries.

I now come to the third of the reasons which I ventured to give for these delays: this almost pedantic secrecy that has overclouded everything to do with the Air Ministry since the war. I am not so foolish to suggest that there are not many things which, in the interests of security, must be kept hidden. But I am equally convinced that this cloud of secrecy which has overspread almost every activity of the Ministry—names of squadrons are not quoted; all sorts of details which are given by the Army and Navy are suppressed—has had two bad effects. In the first place, it has allowed the Departments to go on without criticism. I have the greatest respect, particularly, for the Air Ministry. None the less, I maintain that it is good for every Department, however well administered, to have the current pressure of public criticism day after day. Now that criticism, for want of information, has been almost totally lacking since 1945. I give another reason. I do not believe that without fuller information we shall ever succeed in instilling in the general public the kind of enthusiasm for the Air Force, and the kind of interest in the urgency of air defence, that in the old days we used to have for the Navy and the naval programme. The public have been left in the dark. The public, therefore, have allowed a state of affairs to continue which most of them now regret, and they have had none of the kind of burning enthusiasm for the Air Force which used to exist and, I am sure, still does exist, for the Navy.

Now I compare that state of affairs with what has been happening in the United States of America. There, with an Air Force greater than ours, and with a whole series of very important official secrets to maintain, they have none the less taken the American public into their confidence. The American public are able to follow the course of the Air Force programme; and, more than that, a keen and burning propaganda has been going on in the States to stimulate enthusiasm for this all-important arm. Let me give the Secretary of State and the Minister of Defence an example of what is in my mind. I give it simply as an example, and many others, all to the same effect, could be obtained from the United States. I give this example of the kind of propaganda which is going on actually at this moment—I quote this account from The Times of January 5, 1952: On the principle that people of the country"— that is, of the United States of America— have a right to see and understand the way in which their money is being spent and the manner in which their sons are being trained and equipped, the department instituted three or four years ago what was called the joint civilian orientation conference. About seventy or eighty leaders in the fields of industry, the professions, education, or the Press, civic government or national organisations, were invited to take part in a tour lasting from seven to nine days. The tour begins with two days in Washington during which they meet the leaders of the defence departments and are given a general picture of the defence position at home and in the world. They are then taken by aircraft to military installations where they can see military training, equipment and its use demonstrated, by the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines. These tours are now arranged four limes a year. The most recent of them consisted of a group of eighty-five mayors of cities in the United States and Canada. I then leave out a paragraph or two, in which the list of the bases which they visited is set out, and I continue: At each of these bases they watched training in progress, saw the equipment and living quarters and recreational facilities provided for the men, and talked to officers and enlisted men about their lives on the reservation. From little grandstands they also saw demonstrations of men and weapons in action.… In every case the power and limitation of the weapons used were clearly explained and demonstrated, as well as the ways it was hoped they might be developed, and the visitors were thus able to obtain some knowledge of the technical problems involved … they were told the cost of every weapon and every shell used in the demonstration. The same method has now been extended to representatives of other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The Defence Department, in co-operation with the State Department and the Economic Co-operation Administration, have invited groups of fourteen or fifteen European editors and journalists to spend some three weeks in the United States. Could not a similar plan be tried in this country? It may well be that the Secretary of State already has a programme for a campaign in the country. I hope that he has. As things are, we are running the serious risk of failing to use the great resources that we possess for developing our air power. Inherited skill, expert labour, the ingenuity of invention that created radar, an unrivalled experience in design—all these possessions give us a unique opportunity. Whilst we may never be able to compete with the great numbers of land armies, in the field of aircraft production and Air Force tactics and strategy we should be pre-eminent in the world. Let us seize this opportunity and make Anglo-American Air power as great a deterrent to war as ever the British Navy proved to be in in the nineteenth century. The Secretary of State and his colleagues have a heavy responsibility after these years of delay and hesitation. It is for them to seize the opportunity offered and, in close conjunction with the American Air Force, to make our power so strong that no aggressor will ever dare to challenge it.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I would join with the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, in giving a welcome to the new Secretary of State for Air. I have been engaged in many a tussle with him in the former Parliament. He showed in his speeches great diligence and keenness, though I thought he was a little gloomy sometimes. I am sure that in his present job he will give the House the benefit of the genial disposition of which we know him outside the House to be fully possessed. I have not heard mentioned me or two matters with which I should like to deal. First, I should like to refer to the death of a great British citizen and a great colleague of Ministers and ex-Ministers on both sides of the House—the. late Sir Andrew Duncan. I wish we could have had the benefit of his counsel in this debate. He was a great person, a great industrial leader, and a great servant of the State, and we all regret the passing of a great friend.

The debate this afternoon, raised on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has taken a certain line. Whilst it is necessary to pursue the content of the Motion which has been put down, on such an occasion—the first occasion when we have been able to look at the general position of the air programme from the point of view of an Estimate introduced in another place and of the Memorandum prepared under the supervision of the Secretary of State—I should have thought that we might have a wider and more general range over what has, after all, been a report to Parliament. I must say that when I hear some of the gloomy prognostications and compare them with the actual report as to the state of the Royal Air Force, I do not understand the reasons for what the late Earl of Oxford and Asquith used to describe as "inspissated gloom." The report presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State does net, of course, hesitate to make use of the fact that there are disturbing problems, needing solution and requiring energy, capacity, research and application. But if you look at the White Paper itself you will see that there is also a great deal from which encouragement can be drawn. One would almost think, from the general tenor of the speech introducing the Motion, that things were almost completely disastrous. But the Paper makes note of the fact that the Royal Air Force has grown considerably during the last year; and I notice also that the gross expenditure, if American material aid for the year is taken into account, is to be about £520,000,000—not exactly a contribution made to an expiring Force.

I notice that there is a warning in paragraph 4 that the programmes must be related to economic and financial conditions—a very sound phrase for the Secretary of State to have employed in his Memorandum. But other parts of the White Paper seem to me to pay a tribute to the growing strength and to the high morale of the personnel., and also to things that have not been mentioned here this afternoon—the state of efficiency and the personal devotion and courage of members of the Royal Air Force at the present time.


Perhaps the noble Viscount was not in the House when I started my speech, otherwise he would have heard me pay a tribute to the personnel of the Royal Air Force.


The noble Lord knows that I should not wish to misrepresent him. I walked into the Chamber probably at that point, and possibly did not hear what he said. But I must say I was delighted at the reference in the White Paper to the vast services of the Royal Air Force in current world affairs, including the trouble in Korea and Malaya—work done in most difficult conditions. Nobody who has not flown over those frightful jungles in Malaya can know what a difficult job the Royal Air Force have there. I should also like to pay a tribute to Transport Command—in spite of the restrictions placed upon the work of that Command—in resolving the situation in the Middle East. These are things of which Parliament should take note. One always expects in such debates as this that there will be two sides—there must be an attack and a defence—and there are one or two matters which perhaps might be referred to now, though we must, of course, keep the Fighting Services out of the Party struggle. Whatever can be done on this side of the House—and I know that I speak for my colleagues—to strengthen and maintain the Royal Air Force and the other Fighting Services, will always be done.


Hear, hear!


But the noble Lord said he could not exempt from blame the last Government. He said we were always passing over points raised in debate and saying that things were better than they were—I am not quoting his actual words but I have given the sense of them. He quoted a passage which I recognised because I had been reading it myself from a speech by the Under-Secretary of State for Air in another place. It might be worth looking at again. The Under-Secretary said: I do not want to create undue anxiety, but it would be quite wrong for me not to make it plain that the air defence of this Island at the present time would be woefully inadequate if we had not powerful Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I remember that during the course of debates between the years 1935 and 1939 again and again we had to draw attention to the lack of provision that the Government of that time were making for certain eventualities. I myself on two occasions in another place said that they seemed to forget that this country of ours had never in its history won a major war without allies—and powerful allies at that—and that the one great blot upon the period before the opening of the last war was that there had been a complete failure to align ourselves effectively upon that basis. What is criticism of this kind worth when you look at what has actually been accomplished in these terrible, pulsating and difficult years, the last six years since the end of the war? Never have a Government taken over office and found themselves in such a position of collective strength as is found in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is wrong to talk about the collective defence of Britain only in terms of the air defence of this Island, taken in isolation and separately. You surely have to turn to the whole general position before you can pass the kind of judgment which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, passed upon the situation this afternoon.

The noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat was perhaps less critical of that aspect than were his colleagues, but he found too that, whilst he did not wish to engage in recriminations, there was something to be said for that point of view. He asked me a question because of his difficulty in understanding the slowness in development of the new fighters like the Swift and the Hunter. I can say at once to him that there were certainly never any instructions from myself whilst I was Minister of Defence that they were to go slow upon a particular research or development project. Never, I think, in the history of our country have we had such a period as we have had during the strain and stress of the immediate post-war position, and never have we spent so much, either of money or of personnel, upon research and development as in this period since 1945.

Of course, there were discussions from time to time as to what was the best thing that could be got on with; and, of course, there were always those who would tell us. The noble Viscount, who has been not only Secretary of State for Air but also First Lord of the Admiralty, will not easily have forgotten the injunction of the late Lord Fisher: Dreadnoughts built fast, Each ship better than the last. Although the particular circumstances to which Lord Fisher was referring do not obtain to-day, nevertheless there is always a great danger that, if you are always first in the field with a project and then go straight into the line of production with it, you may at the crucial moment find yourself in the position in which Hitler found himself. Hitler was beaten largely because, having "tooled up" for all the production that he had been able to arrange on his earlier discoveries, he was unable to keep up with the wartime research that was carried on in this country. That is a very strong point to study, which perhaps one should set off against the criticisms that we and others have sometimes made of the pre-war Administration.


I. am obliged to the noble Viscount for what he has said, but could he develop a little the reasons why there has been this unprecedented delay in the development of these fighter types? There is a difference as between eight years and five years.


I should say that the number of problems arising in the first draftings of those new types were so manifold, and so many more considerations had to be taken into account, as compared with those which affected the development of types like the Spitfire, and so many other ancillary matters to be considered, that it did take longer. Also, I would agree with the noble Viscount that there was a considerable delay through these years in getting the allocation of labour that was required. It must not be forgotten, however, that at that time we were so completely dependent for maintaining the recovery of our country upon our export trade—very largely from the engineering side, on which we built up a large part of our export trade in those six years—that very often it was much more difficult to get the kind of expansion of skilled labour required. As a result, our supply of skilled labour is now building up much more slowly than the noble Viscount would like. But, as regards the general help for research and development, I do not think there has been any period in our Fighting Services' history when more has been done than in the last six years to make it possible to get the greatest and the most rapid amount of applied knowledge for the solution of the problem. I will leave that point there.

I should now like to say a word with regard to the justifiable point made by the noble Lord who introduced the motion and supported by the noble and gallant Viscount, Viscount Trenchard—that is the importance and value which ought to be attached to maintaining an efficient bomber force. Great concern was expressed about the fact that in the main our bomber force—apart from the tactical bomber, the Canberra—is now composed only of war-time types of machines, like the Washington and the modified Lincoln. That is perfectly true. It is also true that we have given every possible encouragement to the Air Ministry, at least whilst I was at the Ministry of Defence, in the development of a jet bomber; but I do not think that the noble Viscount can point to any country in the world that has yet put into heavy line production a tested and tried-out heavy jet bomber. Information is coming into the Service Department day by day, week by week, and if there is any major information in that respect which the Secretary of State feels inclined to release, we shall be very glad to know about it. But certainly we never put anything in the way of the development, or of the research necessary for that development, of a jet bomber. I agree with both the noble Lords that the demands of the modern situation will be just as great—not necessarily, I agree, in numbers of bombers, but certainly in speed, height of flying, range and, above all, in weight-carrying—if the Minister of Defence is to deal with the kind of problems created not merely by direct air attack but also by attack with guided missiles and weapons of all types.

I come now to Transport Command and other matters. Other noble Lords are to speak later this evening, and I will leave it to my colleague, Lord Ogmore, to say a few words about that aspect I should like for a moment to turn a little more closely to the other remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. I thought he put his case in an exceedingly able way. There is no doubt at all that the slowness in getting the expansion of equipment of the completely modern type required by the Air Force is due, in some considerable degree, to this failure to get the infiltration of skilled labour and semi-skilled labour into the aircraft production industry as rapidly as we should. I would say that in present circumstances, and with the difficulties experienced in certain specific industries and areas, it might well be a good thing if the Government were able to pay attention to recruiting for the industry people who require looking after from that point of view, and who could in some instances undergo courses of training of the kind that we had to improvise at quite short notice in the course of the war, or just before the war, Anything that could be done to make that industry quite competent to deal with the present demands upon it would, I am quite sure, get our support.

Then the noble Viscount came to the question almost of setting up a separate supply department of the Air Ministry. I do not say his remarks were confined to that proposition. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, I was First Lord of the Admiralty. My term of office lasted for nearly the whole length of the war, and I had control of my own supply department. I can quite see how important it is to have your own supply department when you must have specialised products for the armament of a force under a particular Ministry. But many projects in which we were engaged were the subject of competition between each of the Fighting Services concerned. In relation to the volume of products required in peace time, however, I entirely agree with the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that you would have to be able to put up a very strong case indeed before you could justify the setting up of a separate supply department for the Air Ministry. There is a good deal of technical benefit in having such a thing, but it would increase the amount of competition between the three Services, and that might lead to a great many troubles at the present time. However, from what noble Lords have said, I think they have made a case at least for an inquiry into the matter, and noble Lords on this side of the House would certainly raise no possible objection to it.

The third point to which the noble Viscount referred was of great interest to me—namely, the question of the right type of publicity to be given to Parliament and, I gather, to the public, as to the state of the defences and the programmes of each of the Defence Services. As a Service Minister of experience himself, I do not know how he got on in this matter before the war, but I should say that when a Minister is in office he does not say to Parliament or to the public: "We are acting upon this entirely because of the advice of our Service leaders." I think it is fair to say that once out of office no Service Minister would come to Parliament, asking that they should not give more than x information upon the equipment of the Services, without there being very strong support, if not an actual request, from the leaders of the Fighting Services themselves. Very often it is a matter of forming a judgment. The quotation that the noble Viscount used, especially as to what is being done in the United States of America in regard to taking expeditions of people to various places, brought to my mind the fact—I am not quite sure whether he is aware of the details—that for the last four or five years one of the great difficulties of those who have been responsible for defence here and in the Commonwealth has been the American Government's objection to the lack of security regarding some of the special measures involved in preparing the defence of our country and of all other countries in N.A.T.O.

We have perhaps not always received the best treatment that we could have received from the American side in this matter (although I think they have been much more forthcoming in the last twelve months or so), when one bears in mind the immense contribution which British industrial leaders, scientists and engineers have made to the common cause of our two countries, both during and since the war. I have no need to say that it has been a very important contribution indeed. Not the least valuable contribution at the present time is the progress that N.A.T.O. is making and which was referred to by General Eisenhower in his recent statement. When one comes to pass judgment upon the provisions for air defence in this country over the last five or six years, I hope it will not be forgotten by those who are now responsible for defence that probably there would not have been any really adequate provisions on the Continent of Europe to-day but for the continuous contribution which was made by the British Air Ministry, with the full support of the Government, towards re-establishing the Air Forces of France and the Low Countries, and to assist in that end in the Scandinavian countries.

When we look at the state of the strength of those Forces to-day (if I can accept, as I am no longer in office, the statement made by General Sir William Morgan recently, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs), we find that on the purely military side, of the seventeen divisions which may be considered to be available on the Continent, six are American and four and a half are British. My information is that if we take the whole of the Forces available in N.A.T.O. on the Continent to-day, we find that one-third is provided by this country. That is an extremely valuable contribution, especially when it is remembered that that contribution has been made by a country which, per head of the population, had by the conclusion of the war in 1945 made greater sacrifices than any other country taking part in the war. It is an amazing achievement. If we say these things we are usually regarded as being guilty of exhibiting some complacency. But that is not so.

What we need in regard to air matters is an approach such as we had in regard to general defence matters, with the object of achieving collective security. By this means we should endeavour to obtain a total overall collective strength which will act as a real deterrent to an aggressor, and save us from being overwhelmed once again in the holocaust of a world war of almost unfathomable intensity. That would be a very terrible thing indeed. We ought all to support, and will support, whatever is necessary to achieve this particular balance. However, it must be noticed that General Eisenhower, in his last report, does not fail to call attention to the fact that his country cannot go on for ever incurring the kind of defence expenditure that they have to-day; and I rather gathered, from the way he put it, that he thought that applied not merely to the aids which have been given, or which are contemplated, to other countries, but also to the general Defence Budget of his own country.

If that is so, we are indeed going to be faced with a gravely difficult problem, to decide how far free democracies can go in collective action and in spending out of their resources without facing economic bankruptcy. That is a position which does not arise in the same way in a totalitarian State. The U.S.S.R. does not retreat in its rearmament programme. I noticed in the statement before the Praesidium only three or four weeks ago that their total military Budget would amount to nearly 24 per cent. of the whole of the expenditure of that vast country. You may be in danger of getting to a situation in which you spend your money, you have your operation and the operation is successful, but the patient economically expires. That would be a hazardous situation. We must watch that point very carefully indeed. That is why I welcome the Secretary of State's inclusion in his Paper of the words, which I quoted at the begnning of my speech, to the effect that the rate of progress must be related to the economic and financial conditions. That is absolutely vital in the world situation as it exists to-day.

Before I sit down, I should like to say a word or two about some of the other matters which were touched on by Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I am not going to speak, I hasten to add, in any critical sense. I am very much interested in what the noble Lord said about the housing of industrial workers who may be required to help in the aircraft production industry, so that they may be transferred from one locality to another. I am delighted to welcome Lord Balfour of Inchrye into the ranks of those who think that in such circumstances State action may sometimes be preferable to action by private enterprise, and that the Government might do well to get over the local difficulties which will arise by having the houses built by the State.


I spoke of houses being built for a Government Department by contractors—that is by private contractors—in the same way that some Government Departments have already had houses built by private concerns.


That is certainly a watering down of purely State action. Should the Government, in these circumstances, decide to provide the houses by direct State action, that is a decision with which we on this side should hardly be likely to quarrel. If the Government did that they would certainly avoid many of the difficulties which are likely to crop up, and I believe that it would be the best way to get the houses.

Again, I welcome very much the reference in the Paper of the Secretary of State to the provision of housing, and especially of married quarters for the personnel of the Air Force. I am glad to see that results are being obtained under the Act which we introduced for giving the Services for the first time decent treatment in the matter of housing, treatment comparable with that accorded to the housing of civilians, and that the Government are going to spend some millions of pounds in this way. It is always a great happiness for me to go—as I sometimes do—from my little place in Essex, to see the married quarters which are now coming into being for members of the Services, and to note that under this new scheme it is now being made really worth-while for men in the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force to engage for long-service periods in those Forces. That is one of the great reforms which will help to get the Services on to the basis which they ought to be upon, and which will help to ensure that the personnel will be able to enter upon careers which have the advantages of continuity and security.

We on this side are always prepared to meet criticism regarding our record of the past six years—and we always have been. I believe that from the point of view of the Services the present Government have not inherited anything which is in any way a bad inheritance. What they have inherited is a system of National Service which, in peace time, was created for the first time. They have inherited a system by which during the last six years they have never had under arms fewer than 750,000 or 800,000 men. Never before has there been a period in our history when that has been done. The Government have also had handed to them the results of a most comprehensive research and development programme, upon which over £30,000,000 a year has been spent in the last six years. Upon the results of that programme they can now build, and they can apply the results of the labours of our workers. I hope that for the good of the country, for the security of the world and for the peace and happiness of mankind, all these things will be found to be an effective contribution, and that anything the Government can do in the direction of strengthening it and using it, not as an instrument of policy of a single country but as part of the collective defence of the free nations against aggression, will be done. And I hope that in that task the Government will be completely successful.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first opportunity I have had of addressing the House as a Minister of the Crown. I approach my task with trepidation and a good deal of awe, particularly as I am speaking in the presence of at least one of my predecessors and of several noble Lords who have held high office as Service and Defence Ministers. I should like to begin by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, for the kind words he has used about me. I hope that I shall be able to preserve the geniality which he has noticed in my physiognomy, although it appears that geniality does not seem to have such news value as acerbity. I should like to thank also the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. I am proud to hold the office he held, just as I was proud to succeed him as Member of Parliament for Chelsea. I am very grateful for his kind remarks. I know that all those noble Lords who have served as Service Ministers (Lord Pakenham paid a most eloquent tribute to the Senior Service last week) are proud of being closely connected as political head with one or other of the Services, and I make open confession that I would exchange my present position for no other. I find the air a very fresh and buoyant element, and those are qualities which seem to be reflected in the minds and hearts of all whose calling is there.

Knowing, as I do, the knowledge and devotion which Lord Balfour of Inchrve has given to air matters I naturally listened with deep attention and great respect to the speech with which he opened the debate to-day. In fact, we have had some very good and, naturally, well-informed speeches from noble Lords who speak with deep knowledge of this subject. I am greatly reassured by what the noble Viscount who has just spoken has said. I think there is a very large measure of agreement on the need to expand and rearm the Royal Air Force, and, indeed, the other Fighting Services. As the right honourable gentleman Mr. Gaitskell said the other day in a speech which he made in the country: Some people believe the danger of a major war has diminished. I very much hope so. But if this is the case I believe it to be due primarily to the growing military strength of the Western democracies and above all of the United States. The Russians will not move unless they think there is a chance of quick victory. The stronger we are the less chance they have of that. This is no argument against rearmament. It is, on the contrary, its overwhelming justification. I think there is also a very large measure of agreement that within the whole rearmament programme the chief emphasis must be laid upon the rearmament of the Royal Air Force. There are plain and incontrovertible reasons for this. For the first time the balance of power in the world rests upon air power. There is no longer any local balance of power—either European or Asiatic. Air power is the pervasive instrument of war, and those who wield it can, if they so desire, wield it universally and with terrible effect. The struggle for air power is not one where great events hang—in the words of Admiral Mahan—upon a few "far distant storm-beaten ships" while the life of the rest of the world goes on. This air power is a dreadful weapon of destruction which can descend on any country anywhere, on towns and villages however remote, if they stand in the path of war. It is, moreover, a counter-weight to mere numbers, as the Korean war has shown; even though, in that campaign, the air power of the United Nations has been restricted both in scope of operations and in the weapons employed.

The dominating position in air power is undoubtedly held by the United States. We should be thankful for it, because otherwise we might not be meeting here to-night. The United States has not achieved this position as a result of a long period of struggle such as preceded the era of British naval dominance. It has come into being within the last ten years, as a direct result of the late war. It rests upon the foundation of American industrial power and the American lead in the manufacture of atomic weapons. The strength of United States air power continues to develop because of the challenge and the immediate threat offered to the world by Russia. As to the extent and danger of this threat, there is again a large measure of agreement. But I am not at all sure that public opinion fully realises the importance of air power in the total military strength of Russia. The eyes of many are fixed on the great armies which Russia and her satellites maintain at readiness in peace and the still greater armies which could be put in the field in war. We must not be misled because Russia used her air power in the late war as an auxiliary to her armies—that is to say, that she poured it into an out-dated mould. For it is now apparent that she has appreciated the value of air power in its own right. She is developing a powerful long-range bomber force. She is producing large numbers of high-performance interceptor fighters to contend with any strategic air offensive that might be launched against her. Above all, she is developing atomic weapons. We must not under-estimate, therefore, the danger to ourselves. The concentration of industry and population in these small Islands is a tempting target to aggression from the air, although we ought to take some comfort from the fact that the relative smallness of these Islands permits us to concentrate our defences, if those defences are technically capable of meeting and defeating attacks upon us.

We are therefore faced with a tremendous new fact in international politics—the development of air power to such a pitch that it is both a critical factor in peace and a crushing weapon in war. That this is so is plain when we look upon the contemporary scene. For the balance between East and West, between the Communist-dominated land mass of Russia, China and the satellites on the one hand, and the United States, Western Europe and the British Commonwealth on the other, is sustained primarily by air power and by the deterrent to aggression constituted by the air power of the West. But it is not a firm balance. We are precariously poised. Air power has prevented, and may continue to prevent, a major military adventure. But it has not prevented, and cannot prevent, continuous subversive and pervasive infiltration such as is now being practised in Asia. Communist success here could tip the balance against us.

It is thus in this wider context of world events that we must to-day consider our air problems. We have a highly vulnerable homeland, but we cannot entirely concentrate upon its military security because we also have world-wide commitments. Our economic situation, if for no other reason, compels us to maintain these connections. In turn, we are forced to provide other forces besides a metropolitan Air Force and a Navy to guard our approaches by sea and air. We must have an Army to protect our interests overseas and to fulfil our obligations to our Allies; we must provide further air forces and ships to support the Army and to protect our trade routes. Thus, while our total commitment for defence is limited by our resources, so within this total commitment there is only a limited amount which can be allotted to the air. Yet it is generally agreed that air power not only is the vital ingredient of successful battle by land or sea, but is essential to the protection of our country in war. Therefore, it must not be stinted. We are thus confronted with a great dilemma. We must build up our air power, yet we cannot easily reduce those commitments which sustain our nation's economic life and fulfil our obligations to our Allies. Malaya immediately occurs to our minds as a striking instance of such a commitment.

Air power, moreover, as the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has ably expounded, cannot be merely defensively exercised. We must have the means for offence as well as defence. Close co-ordination between ourselves and the U.S.A. does not mean that they will fly the bombers while we fly the fighters. Therefore, if I begin by discussing home defence, I trust that noble Lords will not assume that I am doing so to the exclusion of the offensive arm. I assert, then, that we must strive to produce for our squadrons the best fighter aircraft in the world. That must be our aim. But—I must be frank—we are now behind. We must contrive, too, the best "early warning" system. This is vital. We cannot, and must not, in this matter of home defence, rely upon our Allies. However strong those Allies may be, we cannot look to them to underwrite our first duty—to defend effectively these Islands. If we cannot do this, we should indeed deserve to lose our whole position in the world, and it would be only a matter of time before our worldwide connections became sterile and profitless.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said, the Air Estimates have already been considered and approved in another place. I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time by re-traversing, all that was said by the Under-Secretary on that occasion. But the House will wish me to deal with certain matters upon which anxiety has been expressed both here to-day and out of doors. If, therefore, in the course of my remarks, I do not comment on many things that have been well-conceived and well-performed, it is because time will not permit and not because I do not recognise their value. The present state of the equipment of the Royal Air Force directly results from decisions taken since 1945, and in particular from decisions to put off until the middle years of the 1950's the completion of the re-equipment of the R.A.F. with aircraft embodying the latest advances in aeronautical science. Decisions taken, first as a result of the Berlin Blockade in the summer of 1948, and at intervals thereafter with each deterioration in international affairs, to increase the production of current types of fighter aircraft, have made it possible to increase the numbers in the front line of the R.A.F. But such decisions have not helped at all to advance the date of introducing aircraft of the highest quality into the Service.

May I try and put this matter in perspective by a digression into certain important technical matters. I do so, as a completely non-technical person, with a certain nervousness. But I do so because the technical aspects of air power are supremely important. The invention and development of the jet engine opened the way to the achievement of far higher speeds, both in level flight and in climb, and also in the attainment of greater heights than were possible with pistonengined aircraft. But an engine is one thing, an airframe is another; and to exploit the possibilities of the new engines radical changes were required in the design of airframes. The first jet-propelled aircraft developed for the R.A.F. necessarily married the new jet engine to the old type of airframe. It is true to say that such aircraft—of which the Meteor and the Vampire are the best examples—could not fully utilise the power available even from the early types of jet engine, because of the limitations of their airframe designs. The airframes of the Meteor and Vampire represent the aeronautical science of ten years ago. These aircraft are in fact conceptions of 1940 and 1941.

This would not matter so much now—and this is where the scientists create difficulties for us—if designers had not in the meantime solved the problem of producing airframes which could make the most of the increased power available from jet engines. But this is precisely what they have done. Designers in the three great Aircraft producing countries—this country, the United States and Russia—have now succeeded in producing efficient aircraft with swept-back wings which represent as big an advance on the Meteor and the Vampire as those types did on the Hurricane and the Spitfire. The swept-back principle, efficiently applied, makes it possible for an aircraft to be flown at the speed of sound and be a manœuvrable and effective fighting machine. An aircraft which, although propelled by jet engines, does not embody this principle will reach a point some way short of the speed of sound where it is impossible for a pilot to control and fight it effectively. The deficiency in such a case will not be the engines but the design of the airframe. The practical result in combat between straight-wing and swept-wing fighters is to give the latter a very substantial advantage. The art is to design an airframe which will make the maximum use of the power developed by the engine. We believe that we lead the world in engine design, and that we have now developed airframes as well as armament and electronic equipment to match these very fine engines.

It must not be thought that all operational aircraft in a modern air force need to have swept-back wings. It would be foolish to try and dismiss all straight-winged aircraft as demodé. For certain purposes, for example, long-range maritime reconnaissance and for the tactical support of ground forces, straight-winged aircraft are satisfactory at the present time; and they will continue to be so for some years to come. But, my Lords, we are debating amongst other things air defence; and I feel I should tell you that the air defences of this country must give us all cause for deep concern until our squadrons include a high proportion of fighters with swept-back wings capable of fighting on level terms with fighters such as the MIG. 15 which Russia already has in large numbers. I must also add that a considerable time must still elapse before British fighters, embodying the latest aerodynamic principles, are in service in Fighter Command. I ought to explain, as a point of clarity, that the new day fighter—the Venom—which will come into service, chiefly in the 2nd Tactical Air Force now in Germany, this coming year will not embody these principles. It is essentially an intermediate type—a development of the well-tried Vampire—of which two prototypes were ordered in 1948 as an insurance in case a better fighter was needed before swept-wing fighters could be produced. Production orders for this aircraft were placed in 1949. It will be an advance on aircraft hitherto used for ground attack, but it will not give us the high performance interceptor fighter which we so badly need. It will be powered by a Ghost engine, while the Meteor and Vampire have Derwent and Goblin engines, both of an earlier type with a smaller thrust. The Ghost is roughly of the same power as the Nene, of which the Russian designers have made such effective use. In some MIG. 15's the Russians have put a somewhat more powerful version of the Nene. The plain fact, therefore, is that there is no fighter aircraft in the R.A.F. to-day, which has as powerful an engine as that which the Russians have installed.

I think we shall all agree that we have been fortunate to be allowed time in which to attempt to bridge the gap which now exists between British and Russian fighters. But we cannot count on closing the gap without great effort on the part of all in the aircraft industry and in the R.A.F. We are confident that the new types of R.A.F. fighter—the Hunter and the Swift—will be superior to the MIG. 15. But it is wise to be cautious in these matters, and we cannot be certain that better aircraft than the MIG. 15 will not be in sight when our new aircraft come into the squadrons. It is right that your Lordships should know about the rapidity with which the Russians have brought the MIG. 15 into service, or at any rate to know what is the best reconstruction we can make of the history of its development, because, as your Lordships know, the Russians do not hand us this information on a plate.

It is probable that the Russians had produced an efficient swept-back wing design before they received the first Nene engines from this country. No doubt they were assisted by German designers and by the result of German research in this field, which was comparatively far advanced at the end of the war. These Nene engines—twenty-five in all—were delivered in 1947, the first ten of them during the first half of that year. Within the next few months the Russians must have made up their minds to use this engine in the prototype of the MIG. 15, for it was in July, 1948, that the existence of this prototype became known to us. By that date it was flying. Within little more than a year, by October, 1949—and this is a striking fact—it was known that this aircraft had already reached Russian fighter squadrons. In short, in two and a half years from the receipt of the Nene engine a high-performance fighter, powered by this engine, was being produced in quantity. This same Nene engine, developed to give greater power, has been installed in a twin-engined Russian light bomber which is now being produced in quantity and is in service with Russian squadrons. It is known as the Type 27.

I thought it right to give your Lordships this account at some length in order that it might be realised in this House and in the country how very formidable is the technical and industrial challenge which Russia now presents. We believe we have the means to meet this challenge, but we must be constantly on our guard against complacency. The challenge is fierce. Our response must be equally determined. There are many lessons to be drawn. But the one of supreme importance is that we must try to save time in the production process of our fighters, and indeed of our bombers. It is for this reason, that the Prime Minister has accorded super-priority to the production of the Hunter and the Swift, and of an all-weather fighter of a type to be decided shortly. The super-priority system will cover, in addition to these three fighters, the Canberra, the Valiant and the equipment for the control and reporting system—that is the radar chain—and also guided weapons. If I may put the House in possession of the full facts, the system will also apply to the Gannet naval aircraft, certain other naval equipment and to the Centurion tank. In these days, when the equipment of an aircraft—its navigation and signals equipment, armament and so on—are as important, and sometimes as difficult to produce, as the aircraft itself, it would be no sort of super-priority which did not also apply to the ancillary equipment. Therefore, super-priority will extend to the equipment and ammunition for these modern aircraft.

The application of super-priority to the two bombers and to the control and reporting system will, I trust, indicate to your Lordships that we are approaching the problem not only with realism as regards production but also in the strategical field. Air defence is a seamless garment. As Lord Trenchard said in a debate in this House in July, 1950: We cannot divide Bomber Command from Fighter Command except as regards their administration and operation; they are all part of air power. Indeed, in these days, we must admit that offence is our only means of defence against weapons such as the V.2. We must depend, too, upon the counteroffensive to reduce the scale of attack upon us. While, therefore, the United States Air Force, with its preponderant power, must be the main deterrent to war, and the principal instrument for curbing aggression should it come, we must, as I said, be in this together. According to our means, we must contribute all our knowledge, all our skill, all our experience, all our technical resources, to the common cause as well as to national defence. And we must contribute these to offence as well as defence.

Thus, we are building in considerable numbers the Canberra light bomber which has a very high performance and is powered by Avon engines. Many of these bombers are destined to support the Second Tactical Air Force. Moreover, the late Government ordered off the drawing board the Valiant medium bomber. Although I regret to say that the first prototype was lost, it had flown long enough to establish the exceedingly high quality of this aircraft. The second Valiant will shortly be flying and production aircraft of this type are in process of building. The Valiant, this fourengined jet bomber, will form the foundation of the re-equipped long-range medium bomber force.

I took note of what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, and although I feel sure that he will not expect me to enter into details, he will no doubt like lo know the progress we are making in the re-equipment. The administrative arrangements for the super-priority scheme have been announced by the Ministry of Supply. May I just in outline give your Lordships an idea of what has to be done? The Minister of Supply has sent a letter to each main contractor holding the contract for super-priority work. This specifies that these contracts should be given super-priority over all other work. It authorises the main contractor to make it a condition—this is very important—of sub-contracts that the sub-contractor shall likewise accord priority to this work over all other tasks. Super-priority may be passed right down the chain of material component and accessory manufacturers. The Ministry of Labour, for their part, are instructing their local exchanges to make a special effort to fill vacancies arising on super-priority work. With this in mind, they have been given lists of the main contractors concerned. All contractors in the scheme can be assured of the full co-operation of the Ministry of Labour in overcoming their labour shortages.

I noted with attention the suggestions made by noble Lords. I noted with particular interest—and I will pass on the suggestion to my right honourable friend—the idea of a caravan camp. I feel bound to say, with an aphorism that Kent is not California and the two places do not enjoy quite the same favourable weather conditions, that, nevertheless, I think it is a valuable suggestion and one which we shall consider.

The various trade associations of suppliers of materials and. components are being asked to meet promptly and in full all requirements under super-priority contracts. It is important to note that the scheme applies also to all the facilities required for production. Thus the Ministry of Housing are asking local authorities to give special attention to the housing required for new workers, particularly skilled workers., for the factories affected by gate super-priority scheme. The words of warning which were used were wise. We cannot expect quick, tangible results, because the hopes and expectations we have of the scheme attach chiefly to production, and only one of the six types of aircraft is yet in quantity production. Super-priority will not effect to more than a small degree all the preliminaries to production—the clearance of designs, preparation of working drawings, and so on. We recognise that the danger of abuse in a scheme such as this must be guarded against. Otherwise the whole purpose of the scheme will be defeated. It is therefore intended—and I think wisely—to operate a system of checks to see that the scheme is not abused and that it works according to its original conception. Nevertheless, the success of the scheme will depend largely on the full and willing co-operation of the industry, upon which a very great I responsibility now rests. In peace time, or, if you like, the twilight in which we are now living, this is right. We strongly desire to impose no more controls than are necessary. But this does not mean that the system will lack either urgency or drive. We are confident that the three parties to success, Government, management and workers, will play their part.

May I just say a word about machine tools, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood? It is perfectly true that some 23 per cent. of them have arrived: but that, in the present state of production, is not what is called a bottleneck. What is of greater importance is that about one-tenth of those are specialised tools, probably, such as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour mentioned—the Cincinnati miller. We are doing everything in pressing our American and other suppliers to get more of these tools, and the industry is being very strongly urged in this field. and successfully in some factories, to use these machine tools we have up to 150 hours per week, by double shifts and other measures.

Some noble Lords talked about the administration of the process of supply, and I agree that it is an important problem. If confession is good for the soul, as it often is, I must say that I sometimes entertain a lurking feeling of envy of my pre-war predecessors who were their own Ministers of Supply. I think it is probably true that if, after the War, the late Government had restored responsibility for supply to the Air Ministry I should be stoutly defending their position now. Equally, I have no doubt that other noble Lords would be advocating most persuasively a Ministry of Supply. It is not improper that the organisation in being should enjoy a strong presumption in its favour by those who administer it, although the wise will always listen with deep attention to helpful and informed criticisms such as those offered by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and the noble Viscounts, Lord Trenchard and Lord Templewood. It is light we seek rather than heat, arid I am grateful for the illuminatory opinions which have been expressed. I think I ought to emphasise that in this problem there are great inherent complexities, whatever the organisation. They have greatly increased since before the war because of increasing complexities in the design of aircraft. I believe that if an authority did not exist for co-ordinating research and development it would have to be invented. Likewise, remember that we are making a formidable claim on the narrow national resources, technological and industrial. Moreover, the claims of other Services have sometimes to be concerted with each other and with further competing demands.

I should add that I do not believe that responsibility for the present deficiencies in the equipment of the Royal Air Force can be laid at the door of the existing system of supply. We must remember that "What you don't order you don't get." Secondly, certain assumptions were made about the fulfilment of the £4,700,000,000 programme which were not, in the event, fulfilled. Their non-fulfilment has nothing to do with the Ministry of Supply. I suggest, therefore, that we should ask ourselves, first, whether the present organisation is one which is workable. If the answer is, "Yes"—and I believe that it is—we must work it, and not at this time seek to upset it, though naturally we shall seriously seek to develop and improve it.


Did the noble Lord say one that is working or one that is workable?


I used the word "workable," but it is also working. We must not go wrong in the relationship between the user, the Royal Air Force, and the industry. I should not like it to be imagined that the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply work in separated and unconnected departments. The Controller of Supplies (Air) in the Ministry of Supply is a senior Royal Air Force officer and a member of the Air Council. A number of very knowledgeable Royal Air Force officers also work in the Ministry of Supply. Thus the practical needs of the Services are represented at every stage, and there is a close and continuous connection between Ministry of Supply, Air Ministry and Royal Air Force. I ought to add in fairness that the Ministry of Supply does not clutch the aircraft industry to its own bosom exclusively. There is close and direct contact and consultation between suitably qualified Royal Air Force officers, Commanders-in-Chief and others, and the industry, and between those officers and the research and development organisation of the Ministry of Supply. At every stage there is close tripartite team work between the Ministry of Supply, the Royal Air Force and the industry—in basic research, new designs, testing of those designs, production, delivery to the Royal Air Force; and, not least important, when aircraft and equipment are actually in service. I have found it very encouraging to see representatives of the leading engine and aircraft manufacturers living on the R.A.F. stations, assisting and advising the squadrons.

We intend to see that these contacts are maintained and made, if possible, closer. We shall also see that the specifications drawn up by the Air Ministry for equipment are not excessively elaborate. And we shall try to avoid the interference with the flow of production which results from insistence on modifications to original designs. But when all is said and done, there is no simple solution to this supply problem. My right honourable friend is determined, as I am, to see that the Royal Air Force has the best aircraft that can be obtained, as quickly as possible. He realises—indeed we both realise—that if our Departments (and this I would say particularly to Lord Templewood) are to work in close cooperation and harmony, so must their political heads. I am happy to say that that is the case, between ourselves and between our Departments. We believe that the clear dangers which arise from divided responsibility can be obviated by close and continuous contact.

So far, I have thought it right to deal with the main difficulties that confront us, at the risk, perhaps, of appearing pessimistic. I am not. In a young, hopeful, and thrusting Service pessimism has no place. On the credit side, the Regular content of the Royal Air Force has steadily increased in numbers. We think that that increase began when the late Government adopted our advice to increase the pay—but at any rate it has increased. It is vital, in so technical a service, that there should be a large number making their career, whether as officers or airmen, in the Service. High quality of men, as noble Lords know, is just as essential as—indeed more essential than—high quality of machines. But there is stiff room for improvement. We should like to see many of the Regulars who have joined for three or four years—and this is A very great improvement on the two years for which we have our National Service men—engaging for longer periods.

The expansion of the training organisation, both for flying training and technical ground training, in order that the larger numbers of air crew and ground staffs required can be produced for the squadrons, is now almost complete. I should like to say that on my visits I have been greatly struck by the competence and, indeed, the ingenuity of those responsible for the training of the Air Force in coping with its sudden expansion. I ought perhaps, for the information of the House, to point out here that the training organisation must continue for some time to be large in proportion to the numbers in squadrons and on operational stations. At present—and this is a striking figure; I had not realised it—over 30 per cent. of the numbers in the R.A.F. are engaged in the training organisation, either as instructors, ground staffs or trainees. The proportion will always seem high, because of the complexity and length of the training courses, especially for air crews and for the more skilled ground staff. It will fall from its present level only when expansion is nearly complete and when the long-service Regular element has increased.

I cannot leave the subject of training without paying a warm tribute to the contribution made to the training of the Royal Air Force air crows by the training schools in Southern Rhodesia, Canada and, just latterly, in the United States. The co-operation we receive in this matter from the Governments concerned deserves, and receives, our heartfelt gratitude. Nevertheless, we should like to do still more air crew training overseas in order to relieve the pressure on the airfields and. the accommodation in our crowded Islands. On the credit side, too, we can find comfort ill the ability of existing Commands to form now squadrons and to absorb efficiently the aircraft as they flow to them under the rearmament programme. As the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, said, the basic organisation of the R.A.F. is sound. It is still improving the quality of the operational techniques employed. If we cannot compete in numbers either with our great American Ally and friend—and I have been deeply impressed by the close co-operation between the R.A.F. and the United States Air Force—or with die Air Forces of Russia and her satellites, we can and must match them in quality and efficiency.

I have said that the challenge which faces us is a great one and that our response must be equally determined. Such determination issuing in action will preserve the world from catastrophe. Indeed, under God, it is our only hope. Equally, we must hope that this unity of the West, so often and so unhappily divided, conceived to meet an urgent danger will prove lasting when the danger has passed. Such unity cannot be imposed. It must grow, and in the air I see a hopeful quarter for such growth. We saw in the last war under the ægis of the R.A.F. a multinational effort. I ask: Is it too much to suppose that this enthusiasm for a com- mon calling, this common feeling of adventure and conquest of the air, may point the way to that larger unity?

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, who has just spoken, told us at the commencement of his speech that it was the first that he had made as a Minister of the Crown. I am sure that we should all like to congratulate him upon his first "solo flight" in his new office. May his other flights be equally successful and as harmonious as this one has been to-day! The noble Lord has given us a survey which we and no doubt the country will study with great interest and with close attention. Your Lordships know that a Defence Debate is to take place on the 23rd of this month. I have no doubt that a great deal of what has been said to-day will be considered in that debate. The noble Lord stressed the position of the swept-wing aircraft. I had the privilege at the Farnborough show last year of going round the various types with the Chief of the Air Staff, and I must say that the aircraft there displayed were very exciting machines. I am sure that when they come into production they will add tremendously to the striking power of the Royal Air Force.

This evening, however, I wish in the few minutes at my disposal to take the theme which has been running through many of the speeches made here to-day and to develop it somewhat—namely, the position of civil aviation as the merchant fleet of the Royal Air Force. So far as I recollect, the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, said not a word on this subject in his speech, possibly because he knew that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, would be dealing with that subject later on. Whoever is responsible for our debates has rather cleverly, I think, collected us into a "pocket," so that those who are likely to speak on civil aviation are together, to be answered by the noble Earl who has had such a long connection with, at all events, the private enterprise side of civil aviation. I think it is admitted and will be admitted by the Secretary of State and by the noble Earl that civil aviation occupies, or should occupy, the same role in relation to the Royal Air Force as the Merchant Navy does in relation to the Royal Navy. I do not know whether that has always been realised. As I hope to show, I do not think it is fully realised even to-day.


It is certainly realised in the Royal Air Force.


I am sorry, but the Memorandum prepared by the Secretary of State contains not one word about the position of civil aviation. It contains not one word about the position of the Merchant Air Force and its relation to the Royal Air Force. That, it seems to me, is a striking criticism of the Memorandum prepared. I ask the noble and gallant Earl, the Minister of Defence, to look into this question himself, for I think that the fact that it is not mentioned in this important document shows that it is not realised, even yet, how important civil aviation is in relation to the Royal Air Force.

We have the Corporations, the charter companies and the private flying clubs, all of whom must play their part in the modern fleet. When I was Minister of Civil Aviation, the question arose whether we should break up certain large aircraft, such as the Tudors, which were due for breaking up. There was nothing wrong with them as aircraft except that, from a commercial point of view, they were obsolete. I made provision then, and I hope my successors have carried on that provision, not to break them up but to store them, so that in case of need they could be used as transport aircraft. I feel that as time goes on we shall have a number of those large commercial aircraft, rejected by civil aviation because of their lack of speed or perhaps because of their lack of comfort, which can very well remain as a reserve for the Royal Air Force in case of need, as carrying machines. Then there are the heavy freight aircraft, the Blackburns and others which have been mentioned to-day, both by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Those need fostering in some way. We want to increase their numbers, because they are aircraft which can carry equipment—guns, tanks and things of that sort—which, of course, the charter companies, or even civil aviation generally, do not normally have machines available to carry.

When I was Minister I had some figures extracted to give a comparison of the short-haul capability of civil aviation in case of need in war, as compared with haul by sea. It is surprising what civil aviation could carry, say, from Ireland or from the Continent, if this country were in a rather desperate situation—as it might well be if we were engaged against the Russians and they have as many submarines as they are supposed to lave. If the: merchant air fleet has that role, as we believe it has, then men and machines will be needed in order to enable it to carry out that role. First, let us deal with air crew. During our term of office we had a comprehensive scheme worked out in order to draw the attention of boys in public schools and secondary schools to flying as a career—as pilots, radio operators, navigators and the like. We found that that is absolutely essential, because once the boy has left school he has generally decided on his career, and very often it is then too late to bring him into flying. We found that it was essential to arrange with the Royal Air Force a comprehensive career, whereby the boy went into the Air Force and got his training and came out as a pilot or a navigator and went into civil aviation. I should like to ask the Minister whether that scheme has now been brought into effect.

Next let us take the machines. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said, we. are some years ahead of others in jet and turbo-prop machines, but we are not so far ahead as we were, and within quite a short space of time the Americans may well catch up with us. I should say that we have at the most three years, possibly less, in which to exploit our advantage. The Comet, Mark I arid Mark II, is on the market, and I understand that fifty-one orders have been placed. The Mark III is envisaged. It is a 60-seater machine, even more powerful and faster than the Mark II. The Comet costs, with spares, £500,000 and there is, I suppose, a production of one a month. The Vickers Viscount, a turbo-prop machine, costs, with spares, £250,000 and there is a production, or will be, of about one a month. In peace these are great dollar earners. We heard [from Viscount Swinton only on Tuesday of the necessity to increase the export market. Here. is one means of doing so. Another reason why these machines will be of incalculable help to the Royal Air Force is that they are fast, powerful machines, cruising at 40,000 feet at 500 miles per hour. What would the Minister of Defence have given for a few of them in the last war, when he was commanding in the Mediterranean But the difficulty is that we cannot produce enough of them. We are turning out only this trickle of machines and, as other noble Lords have said, it will mean that some aviation companies must help by providing both men and materials, even if, to some extent, it means a loss of prestige to them. We must dev3lop a plan to get every aviation company and engineering and motor car firms, to make parts for those aircraft for which we have a market.

In our serious economic position feel that the inelasticity of the commercial and industrial set-up of this country is a great handicap. I halve not an overwhelming admiration a the United States of America. I admire their many good qualities, but I see certain defects. One thing I do admire them for is the way in which they can apply new ideas and new methods to the production of goods and services. They are extremely good at that. But in this country we cannot do it. I think that that is partly due to the temperament arid the make-up of the people and partly to the fact that we are a much more static community—we build houses very much more solidly, and so on. I wonder whether the Government will consider this suggestion. In the old days, when there was a changeover, when some new enterprise was coming into being, the men drifted to the new enterprise. For example, when the coalfields were started in South Wales there were not enough Welsh sheep farmers to go down the pits, even if they wanted to, which most of them did not. So the labour for the mines came from other districts. The same thing happened in Lancashire, in the cotton industry.

But now, when we are so static, when housing is so difficult, and social services are developing, I think we need to take the work to the men. We want to use the industrial resources in districts where pockets of labour are available, and turn those resources over to the making of aircraft parts. In other words, we should not move labour from Coventry to Hatfield in order to make aircraft. I am sure that in future we shad have to make the best use of the labour force available and take the work to Coventry. We must get rid of the idea that other people must take the type of goods we have. That will not do. We must provide them with the goods they want. I ask the Government, therefore, to go into this question very carefully. We must build the aircraft that are already in production very much more rapidly than we are building them. We must concentrate on building the new aircraft—the jets and turbo-props, and also some of the pistonengined types too, which have a ready sale. We must get on as soon as possible with the prototype of the Mark III Comet, otherwise the Americans in a year or so will probably have caught us up and passed us. Furthermore, the R.A.F. must not crowd out civil aviation. We know that Transport Command has been run down somewhat, but we must not have the R.A.F. coming into the market and asking for all the men and materials to build R.A.F. transport machines. They can use the civil aviation machines. They should look upon them as a reserve and not as a competitor, which I am afraid quite often is the case to-day.

In conclusion, I want to say a word about the helicopter. I myself (and I am sure this applies also to my noble friend Lord Pakenham) was very disappointed at the closing down of the London-Birmingham route. This was the first commercial route for helicopters in the world. And may I say, in passing, how glad my noble friend and I are at the announcement that B.O.A.C. has made a profit? But when dealing with helicopters we are dealing with B.E.A. We know very well that the helicopter is not only the best means of short-distance transport in peace time, but that it is an extraordinarily useful method of R.A.F. transport in war time, as we are now seeing in Korea and in Malaya, where it is being used for carrying supplies into dense jungle country and for taking wounded away; and the Americans are using it even for landing troops in difficult country. Then there is the civil defence use for the helicopter. We ask that the R.A.F. should go into this question very thoroughly with British European Airways. We ask them to look at the design which B.E.A. has submitted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Supply for the new forty-five seater helicopter bus, multiengined and capable of cruising at 150 miles an hour. We think that this machine will suit the Royal Air Force as a transport machine in war—and in peace, too, for that matter. We believe that it will suit Civil Defence—maybe as a flying first-aid station or something of that kind. One never knows what may be wanted in war.

We also think that the Royal Air Force should help B.E.A. in the commercial user of this machine. It is not really fair to expect B.E.A., who have to make a profit, to do the experimental work and carry the heavy charges which are necessitated by this helicopter service until it is properly developed and the required experience has been gained. B.E.A. hope in a few years' time to run a network of services from the London area, through Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle to Scotland, through Bristol to Wales, and across the Channel to Paris and other important cities within 300 miles radius of London. I am hoping for the day to come when it will be practicable for me to take a season ticket to Cardiff. It strikes me as an extraordinary thing that it now takes me as long to get to Cardiff as it does to get to Rome. That really does seem ridiculous. When we have the necessary facilities available, then we can bring these services into being. I believe that a helicopter project such as I have mentioned would be of great benefit to the Royal Air Force, as well as to B.E.A. The R.A.F. would obtain valuable experience in the handling of these machines and would have the opportunity of training air crews. I hope they will press on with it as soon as they can.

I have tried to enlist sympathy, in our Civil Aviation debate—and I think I have the support of the noble Lord—for the project for an air-stop on the South Bank site. I do not know whether I have been altogether successful, but at all events it seems as though the Government have been thinking very seriously about this proposal. I trust that I shall also be able to enlist the support of the Minister of Defence for this idea. It would, I think, be an absolute shame and scandal if we neglected the opportunity of giving this new service of the future such a wonderful air-stop as would be provided by the South Bank site. If we do make use of it, it will mean that passengers on arriving will get a wonderful view of that magnificent panorama of the river bank opposite, with all its fine buildings and St. Paul's in the background. But I have an uneasy fear that what may happen will be that the air-stop will be established in the disused coal yards at St. Pancras. That, as we know, is the alternative site. I say that as a great nation we want a site for this air-stop on the South Bank of the Thames and not in disused coal-yards at St. Pancras. Finally, my Lords, I want to say this. My noble friend Lord Pakenham and I retain great interest in civil aviation, and we know its value in peace. We are certain that it will make a vital contribution in war, and we ask the Government and the noble Lord who is to reply to treat this matter very seriously and to consider the points which I have raised to-day.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, my object in rising this evening is to draw your Lordships' attention to three points only, and I do not propose to go into a lot of detail. My first point has to do with the growing complexity of electronic equipment. Although the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air has assured the House that great attention is now being paid to the question of avoiding complexity in design, I must return to the charge because this complexity worries me. I cannot feel that due consideration is being given to this matter; in fact it almost appears to me that people do not always stop to think of the effect of this complexity on production in time of war—production in quantity—and on the maintenance of such equipment in the field. Nor does it seem that full consideration is given to the cost, in money, development effort, material and manufacturing resources, that is the inevitable consequence of complexity. I could give your Lordships a number of examples of what I feel are almost "barmy" demands. The tragedy of it is that some of these demands—which are made, I am afraid, by the Air Ministry who write the operational requirements—are a challenge to our engineers. They—the best engineers in the world—take up this challenge to their skill and ingenuity. They accept it and they produce the goods—but at what a cost7!

A further word on our engineers. I understand that America has been offering large salaries to some of our senior, first-class engineers who are drawing comparatively low salaries over here. The Americans are writing to them holding out the tempting bait of far greater financial rewards if they will go to the States and help in the development and testing of some of their projects. I think it would be a great pity if we did not look after our own men. We should not oblige them to decide whether they will stay and work in this country, for patriotic motives but at great financial sacrifice to themselves. I would ask the Minister to assure the House that the question of the complexity of electronic equipment will be very carefully watched, and also that, when contracts are being given, due regard will be paid to the fact that we must retain our best brains in this country.

My next point concerns the instructions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cut Government staffs. I do not want to be misunderstood here. I myself, and I am sure every other noble Lord here, believes that a general cut in Government staff is necessary. But how can the Ministry of Supply, which has to deal with this vast rearmament programme, carry out its job if its staff is cut? It really needs more stall to expedite development and chase production. And there is a further point here. As I understand it—


I ask the noble Lord to forgive my breaking in, but can he tell me whether the Ministry of Supply staff is being cut? If he is not able to tell me perhaps he will raise that point.


I am coming to that. As I understand it cuts are being made in the Ministry of Supply in the unestablished staff, in accordance with a complex staff agreement procedure. The effect of this is to get rid of many people with as much as twelve years' experience in the jobs they are cluing well and to replace some of them by staff from other parts of the Civil Service who, by reason of their seniority, cannot be discharged, although they are surplus. Is not the result of that likely to be chaos, since replacements have no knowledge of Ministry of Supply work? Surely you do not get rid of dead wood by such means. Surely the way to effect the necessary savings is to abolish one or two Ministries altogether. I had thought that Her Majesty's Government intended to do away with the newly created Ministry of Materials, but nothing seems to have happened except that it is building up. Surely the Ministry of Supply could take over its functions, and so avoid a lot of duplication.

I should also like to mention the question of military transport aircraft. That matter has already been touched upon by the noble Lords, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, Lord Trenchard and Lord Ogmore. I want particularly to mention the question of specialised heavy-load aircraft, of the very large aircraft which is adaptable to heavy loads, both for the Army and the Air Force, in time of war. At present there are only two aircraft that fill these requirements—the American C119, the Packet, and our own general aircraft, the Blackburn Freighter. I believe that we are on the threshold of air freighting and that to-day we have not even touched the fringe of it. Our present air liners are not capable of doing this job. They cannot carry the bulk. I believe that if we had in Transport Command two or three squadrons of the type of heavy-load aircraft I have in mind, we could do freight supplying to the R.A.F. overseas. We should then start a call for these aircraft from foreign countries, because we never get an order unless there has been a Government order first. If we are to keep our lead in the freight traffic of the world it is essential that we should have a proper type of aircraft. I believe that in another five years' time we shall see a great change in freighting by air throughout the world, and I hope to hear from the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government that something will be done to equip Transport Command with the proper type of aircraft for this work.

In conclusion, I should like to say something that has been on my mind for some time. I wonder whether Parliament has proper control over these matters? We have the Public Accounts Committee, who investigate every item of expenditure. I wonder whether it is unreasonable to expect some machine to be set up to examine the question of supply, both in its earlier stages and after- wards? I can think of special committees of Congress and the Senate, which examine witnesses, but I do not necessarily expect that pattern to be followed. I put this suggestion forward only as an idea to be examined by better brains than mine, but I think it worthy of consideration. I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to-day to address your Lordships with some diffidence because I am very much of a "back number" in this matter of supply. At the same time, I had six years of personal experience at the Air Ministry, and if I say what is in my mind, I hope that there may be some stratum of sound principle and that you will be able to discard the part which is due only to my being out of date in these matters. In looking at the present situation, my mind at once goes back to the days when the Royal Air Force was working on a Budget of £16,000,000 or £19,000,000 for the whole Air Force, for aeroplanes, men, buildings and everything else. When I hear figures like £520,000,000 quoted, in addition to the assistance from other nations and other sources, and making all allowance for the increased size of the Air Force, the increased cost of material and the increased complexity of the aeroplane, I wonder whether we are getting a comparable value for the vast increase in expenditure.

There is a point that has not been brought out this evening by any of the previous speakers—that is, the tremendous advantage which an aggressor nation has in preparing for war. An aggressor nation can fix a date three or four years ahead. It can decide on the latest types that it will put into production by then. It can jig and tool up, and go into production and, at the time when it chooses to declare war, it can have an enormous advantage over the nation which has had no aggressive designs on anybody else and at the same time has had to do its best to be prepared for the outbreak of war at any time. Therefore, it seems to me that we must do our best to avoid any delays in the long process from the stage when the prototype first appears on the drawing board to the time when that type goes into full production. Every month, every week, one might say, that can be cut off from that long process is very important. At the same time, there is the question of keeping our designs on the top line. It seems to me that noble Lords have spoken of our being three or four years behind foreign nations (I do not know whether that is an exaggeration, but it may be some years behind) in adopting the conception of the swept-back wing and realising its value as if that were some act of God that could not be avoided. I say that it is a direct criticism of the efficiency of our design arrangements to-day. The importance of the swept-back principle should have been recognised just as soon as it was recognised by the Russians and the Americans; and to that extent we are to blame.

I want now to tell your Lordships the ideas which I formed at the time when I was in the Air Ministry. As I say, they may be out-of-date in existing circumstances, but there may be a core of value in them. In the first place, as regards design, so soon as we allow design to become concentrated under Government control we get inefficiency. The old Royal Aircraft. Factory was a very good case in point. It is essential that the keenest competition should exist and should be kept up between the designing staffs of the various aircraft firms. Of course, it is plausible to say that there is a lot of waste in having all these different designers about the country doing the same thing and overlapping one another; to say how much better it would be to get all the best men in, under the Ministry of Supply, or whatever it may be, and just have their design, which would be the best in the country. But, from my experience, that is a bad system, and means that the country adopting it is sure to be behind other nations where competition in design is kept alive.

I think the classic example of that was in America in the 1920's, when the Government used to put out design competitions to the various firms. They would then say: "This is the winning firm," and would put out the winning design to competitive lender among all the aircraft firms. The firm which had produced the winning design often got no orders at all, or at least quite negligible orders. The extreme absurdity of that arose when there were two aircraft firms, firm A and firm B, and firm A was building firm B's design and firm B was building firm A's design. The effect was that all the firms allowed their designing staffs to run down, and they concentrated on preparing for quantity production and undercutting their competitors in bidding for the designs which were accepted.

Another point which I feel is most important in saving time is that the users of the machine shall have direct contact with the contractors. It is explained that in the Ministry of Supply there are senior Air Force officers, and that all the requirements of the Air Force are fully set forth by these representatives. But that is not the same thing as having direct contact with the contractors, and being able to consult them at a moment's notice without going through another elaborate and complicated channel. If there were all the time in the world, if we could afford to take ten years from the drawing board stage to the full production stage, perhaps it would not be so important. But we have not got ten years, or anything like that time. As the crux of the matter is to cut time off that necessarily long process, I consider that direct contact with the contractors is of the greatest importance. There is one further thing that I should like to mention, which I have really said already, though from another point of view. It is important that the firm who produce a successful design reap a good financial reward for their success. The financial watchdogs are always critical of that, and say: "They are making too much money out of this type." However, it must be remembered that, whereas that firm may be making a good thing cut of it, there are perhaps three or four other firms who competed for the specification, and spent a lot of money over it, who make nothing at all.

When we are discussing a subject of this sort people always pay tribute to the magnificent efficiency and fighting spirit of the pilots and air crews of the Air Force. That is true, of course. But in this connection it is really something of a red herring. Granted their efficiency, enthusiasm, courage and skill, it is still essential that they should be given the best type of aircraft to operate. No matter how courageous or skilful they may be, they cannot keep the air against an enemy which is supplied with greatly superior aircraft in the matter of efficiency. That is all I have to say, and if there is something, of value in it I shall be only too pleased.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, and I rise only to say a few words on an important point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, with regard to housing. We have heard in this debate that many of the aircraft firms are short of labour. Naturally, one of the first priorities is housing. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, suggested that an immediate allocation of 11,000 houses ought to be given, and that local authorities in those areas should be asked to do their best in the matter—and I feel certain that they will do their best. But we have had this trouble before with the police—my noble friend Lord Trenchard will remember this. There we had to arrange for the Metropolitan police to have powers to build their own houses. I would suggest that one of the best ways of tackling the problem would be for priority to be given to the firms themselves, if they are willing, to build houses through housing associations, with a suitable grant. Alternatively, the Ministry of Supply, who built a large number of houses during the war for munition workers, might build houses for aircraft workers: they also could be given a subsidy, which is important. There are complications about "jumping" housing lists, and that sort of thing, and local authorities would have to "jump" the housing lists to house these men. I think they could be housed in other ways, and I hope that the Minister will give the matter serious consideration.

There is also the point of sites for caravans. A large number of caravans are produced, and local authorities throughout the country have made sites available, with sanitation, and so on, for those caravans. Good caravans are made, and many thousands of people are occupying them. If the authorities could be induced to speed up provision of sanitation on sites, so that caravans could be produced, in my view that would be one way of housing the people at an early date. I do not think we can get the people early enough unless they can be adequately housed. Failing this, much more work will have to be brought to them in the way of sub-contracting. A certain amount can be done in this way, but a great deal of the work must be done by the main contractors. The question of housing, therefore, is one to which we must give serious consideration at an early date.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords. I feel that we can claim to have had an interesting debate to-day, and one in which a great many important views have been expressed by noble Lords particularly well qualified to express them. May I welcome the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, to what I think is the first debate on the Royal Air Force in which he has taken part? As my Commander-in-Chief in war time, I am particularly glad that he has come here to give us his views this evening. On behalf of my noble friends, I say that we welcome criticism. It is, as I think was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, a stimulant and a corrective. We are delighted that this debate should have been initiated and we thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, for initiating it. It is a matter for some satisfaction that, over a fairly wide field, there is a great measure of agreement. The late Administration spoke of priority in Air Force matters. We speak of super-priority. I am not suggesting that there is much difference in principle, though I hope there will be a material difference in practical administration.

We agree that the Air Force is inadequate. I do not think there are two opinions on that point, and I do not think anyone attempted to deny it. Production has not been fast enough to meet the needs of the occasion, particularly in the aircraft and the equipment which we most need. I should like to make this point. So far as I am advised, it is not the designers who have caused the delay. In that respect I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, need be in great anxiety that the best brains are being drawn from this country. We have constantly emphasised the importance of technological training and scientific training to produce the best people. But we still are not producing the aircraft, and substantially for the reason that they were not ordered. That is the fact.

My noble friend has spoken of the super-priority which we have embarked upon to rectify that condition. There are only two small points which I should like to make. First of all, a great deal of emphasis has been laid on housing. I am sure it is important and in so far as housing is required it is included in consideration though not on the same level of super-priority. What has not been mentioned, and what I suggest is of much greater importance, is sub-contracting. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, spoke of bringing the work to the men. I am certain that that is of very great importance indeed, and could be carried further than it is at the present time. The Ministry of Supply put great responsibility on the Society of British Aircraft Constructors. It has given them great power, and it is up to them to see that the work is pushed out to sub-contract and that as m my people as possible are brought on to the job. That is much the quickest way of getting a large number of people to do the work. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, is not here, but he asked questions about the number of persons employed. I can only say that it has gone up steadily since June, 1950, but it will have to go up rather faster if it is to keep level with our programme.

The chief discussion to-day, and a most important one, has been on the merchant fleet of the air. It is satisfactory that nearly everyone should have been agreed—the note, Lord, Lord Balfour, the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and others. Frankly, we should like to have a stronger Transport Command, and I must say that we regret that the building up of Transport Command was cut between the Berlin Blockade and the Korean War. To-day we have to recognise that the prime requirement is combat machines, and that we are bound in present circumstances to place the emphasis on combat aircraft rather than transport aircraft. We recognise that the merchant fleet of the air plays much the same part in the Air Force as the Merchant Fleet plays in the Royal Navy, but there is this big difference: whereas the Merchant Service is a big service compared with the Navy, the merchant aircraft, the commercial aircraft, are very few compared with Service aircraft. There is a regrettable difference. It is for that reason perhaps even more important that we should develop the service.

I must pay respect to the late Administration. The extent to which private companies have been drawn in to carry troops throughout the world may surprise some noble Lords. For instance, in the present year about £1,250,000 will be spent on charters for troop-carrying, and during this year 150,000 troops will be carried to and from the United Kingdom and in other parts of the world. We entirely approve of this programme, which I frankly admit was started by our predecessors and which we think of great importance, not only to fulfil our trooping programme but to maintain and build up the reserve of transport aircraft represented by civil aviation today. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, venturing a trifle outside the terms: of this discussion, asked about the Comet. As I have no doubt noble Lords know, we have in the last few weeks put in hand the doubling of the production of the Comet. The noble Lord also mentioned helicopters. The Service is interested in helicopters, particularly for communications and air sea rescue, and I am sure that the points he made will be very carefully considered.

There are not many other points which were raised and which were not covered in the full and. I thought, powerful speech, of my noble friend, and I would add only this in conclusion. We are carrying out an absolutely vital task. It was described by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, as "vital for survival." I think we can call on all leaders, whether they be journalists, politicians or in the trade union world, to give help and stimulus wherever they can to make this work a success, and, where necessary, to offer suggestions and maybe criticisms which are both a stimulant aid of assistance in the difficult decisions which have to be made. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, said as much when he spoke, and we are very grateful. I should like to touch upon one other point which was made by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard. He said that not only have we to build a great Air Force, but we must adjust ourselves to the implications of what a modern Air Force means. We have to adjust our minds to the speed of technical development, which at the present time has largely outstripped our means of comprehending it. This is a very big change. Whoever is able to grasp the implication of what is happening and to understand how it is to be used will have a very big advantage indeed. The noble Viscount is going off to Alaska next week. This sort of movement means an entire change in the structure of our lives and we have to model ourselves on that and grasp just what it means. I believe we are going that way, and I think this debate will have done a good deal to make the country understand the nature of the world we are living in to-day.


May I ask the noble Earl one question arising out of what he has just said? Has the noble Earl really understood the theme which has been running through the speeches? As I understand it, we have not asked for priority in the Royal Air Force of transport machines over fighter machines. What we have asked for is that far more attention should be given to civil aviation, which will itself have not only a role in peace but an important role in war. That is our point, and the noble Earl has not given any answer to that at all.


With great respect, I thought I did. I realise entirely what the noble Lord said, and I agree that it was of importance. If the noble Lord forces me, I can say this. The decline in civilian pilots' licences took place while the late Administration was in power. That is a matter which I am sure the noble Lord regrets as much as I do. I have been quite open about what has been done by the late Government in giving contracts, and I am sure that they were wise. The noble Lord was wise in pressing this point, and the methods we propose to adopt for civil aviation will be made clear in due course.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to ask your permission to withdraw my Motion, I would thank noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and at the same time join in congratulations to the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, on his successful flight and his safe landing. There were three main impressions which I got from his speech: first, his deep concern with the state of our defences, a concern which is shared in all quarters of your Lordships' House secondly, the painful revelations as to the effect of giving the Russians the Nene engine in 1947. It is no good going over that ground, but it is quite clear that the decision of the then Government has had painful effects upon our defence problems. Thirdly, there are the items on the credit side, to which the noble Lord drew attention, and with all of which I agree. The speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, seemed to me—and he was entitled to make it—a justification of five years of stewardship in the last Government. He reminded me of a recently deceased person who, through the agency of the supernatural, had been personally able to suggest to those who were administering the estate for the heirs and successors that if they looked quickly at the portfolio they would still find quite a number of good things. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at three minutes past seven o'clock.