HL Deb 23 July 1953 vol 183 cc874-7

3.15 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to ask whether Her Majesty's Government will reconsider the recent decision to withdraw the R.A.F. communication aircraft established for use in Scandinavian countries by the appropriate Air Attaché for official flying duties. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I raise this instance of an Air Attaché being deprived of his facilities for flying, as it is an instance which has come to my personal notice. I am sure that the Minister will not object to giving; the House and myself the reasons The facts are that until recently an aircraft was available to our Air Attaché in the countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. That aircraft has now been removed. I understand that the reason is economy. This particular type of aircraft, an Anson, costs some £5 per hour to operate. It was housed free by the Danes; it was maintained by British European Airways for a nominal figure, and any major overhauls could have been carried out by the Royal Air Force in Germany. The effect of this removal, since Denmark consists of three islands and the mainland of Jutland, is that when the Attaché wants to get to those airfields in Jutland, which is a necessary part of the Air Attachésduties, he now has to go by car and ferry, taking many hours, where before he took comparatively few minutes. The second effect is that eight Royal Air Force pilots attached to the Danish Force now have no flying facilities at all. The third effect is that our Ambassador, when he wishes to visit Jutland, now has to rely on the kindness and consideration of his American colleague, who has not one but two aircraft.

I would comment only very briefly on these matters. The cost, I understand, of going by ferry and car to these distant airports is probably equal to the direct costs of the running of the aeroplane, and certainly there is a very great wastage of time. Secondly, I think your Lordships will agree that the Ambassador's prestige should be such that, in a pro-British territory like Scandinavia, he should not have to rely upon the kindness of our American friends. No doubt the Air Ministry will reply that aeroplanes are not provided for the use of Foreign Office Ambassadors. That is true nevertheless, the Air Attaché is a member of the Ambassador's staff, and it is not unreasonable to think that he should be able to fly in a British aircraft when on duty. The third comment is that it is important that Royal Air Force officers should fly during the course of their duty. The noble Lord will agree, I think, and I know from my own experience, how much more you learn when you enter an aerodrome off the runway and through the hangar door than when you arrive there in a black limousine.

This is a misplaced economy. Economies are always unpopular, and when anyone suggests a specific economy nobody likes it. We all shout "Economy" but do not like it when we come to a particular instance. Nevertheless, I believe that this is an ill-judged application of the principle of economy. There are other Air Attachés in other parts of the world who, I regret to say, have suffered a similar fate and have had their flying facilities withdrawn. The fact that there may be others in other parts of the world who have been so deprived, and who are just as important as the cases I have mentioned, and who should have their aircraft re-established, does not detract from the importance of this particular question.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, "father" of the Royal Air Force, taught us one thing in the early 'twenties, when every penny counted; that though we had to economise in every possible direction, he would never allow any economies in the matter of flying exercises by the officers of the Royal Air Force. Do not let us get the Air Force ground-bound because of the cry for economy. There are many other directions in which economies could be made equivalent to that made by depriving the Air Attaché of his ability to fly around in the course of his duties. I hope the Minister will be good enough to consider this case and the cases of other Air Attachés.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am always grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and any other noble Lord who takes a keen and detailed interest in the activities of the Royal Air Force, and if he distributes praise and blame we cannot complain. It is the interest that is important. It is perfectly true that the aircraft established for the Air Attaché in Copenhagen, which was established, I think, in 1950 for the three Air Attachés in Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm, was withdrawn this year. It was withdrawn because it was felt, and I think noble Lords will approve, that we must make economies in those things which cost us foreign currency. It is not the time or the place to discuss the balance of payments, but it is quite clear that as many Departments of State as were able were bound to contribute to the easing of that problem, which has in fact been eased. Because it has been eased, however, we must not forget that it requires constant care and constant economy. I am afraid I cannot promise the noble Lord that we shall re-establish this aircraft, but certainly we will bear it in mind. Although he seemed to think it cost a negligible sum to maintain an aircraft in Copenhagen and elsewhere. I have made inquiries and I find that the cost was calculated at over £6,000 a year.

The Air Attachés still have aircraft in those capitals where it is deemed most necessary that they should have them. But I must say, having reviewed the matter and considered it, that I cannot say that Copenhagen is one of those capitals where it is most important that an aircraft should be provided for the Attaché. The noble Lord said, quite rightly, that everyone was in favour of economy in general and nobody was in favour of economies in particular. That is perfectly true, and when people plead for just a little relaxation in this particular direction and adduce the argument that of course there must be many fields in which other similar economies could be made to provide the sum necessary for this or that important project, I remind myself that there are, in these other fields, other noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, all equally insistent on their particular project which they regard as important. There is no doubt, however, that, unpleasant though economy is, and, in the case of the Royal Air Force, economy in flying in particular, we have to take a broad view. It is my conclusion, after considering the matter with due care, that this is a place where we must, in the circumstances, make this economy at the present time.