HL Deb 16 May 1956 vol 197 cc474-99

3.42 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I should like to start by adding my tribute to that of the noble. Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, to the noble Viscount the late Lord Trenchard. Not only was he the founder of the Royal Air Force, but the foundation that he laid was so true that, to this day, none of it has had to be basically altered. How glad he must have been to know that the present Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Dermot Boyle, was the first graduate of Cranwell—the College which the noble Viscount himself started—to become Chief of Air Staff! Whenever Lord Trenchard visited an R.A.F. station, in peace or in war, he left behind him a heightened morale and a greater sense of purpose. I had the great honour to accompany him on one of these visits during the war, and I can vouch wholeheartedly for this. His enthusiasm and his sound advice will be sorely missed. I personally shall miss the sound advice which he gave to me on many occasions, and in particular when I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House just over a year ago.

I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Kenwood, is unable to be with us to-day to make his maiden speech, since he is the latest recruit, the most up-to-date pilot in your Lordships' House, having joined the R.A.F. in July, 1951, and been a qualified Royal Air Force pilot since 1952. I hope that he will be able to be with us soon to give us the benefit of his recent experiences.

I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside and with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, in their remarks about the Ministry of Supply. I feel that your Lordships have heard sufficient on this subject and I will not further enlarge upon it, except to give all those remarks my wholehearted support.

We have heard in previous debates on the Navy and the Army Estimates, that the rôle of the Navy and the Army is to wage war, but that the rôle of the Royal Air Force is to help to prevent war and to preserve peace by the threat of nuclear retaliation. It seems to me that those people who say that, as war has not come, there is no longer any need to continue building up a bomber force are putting their heads in the sand. The moment the threat of retaliation is relaxed it will become worthwhile for an enemy to attack us, and I am therefore glad to see that Bomber Command is growing in strength. But as part of the deterrent Bomber Command must be complemented by a Fighter Command capable of dealing with any aircraft likely to be sent against us. And Fighter Command aircraft, in their turn, must be backed up by a control and reporting system second to none.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, has already mentioned the subject of aircraft control and I am not qualified to go further in the matter than he has done. I heartily agree that the two systems, civil and R.A.F., should be so integrated that the chances of collision in the air are brought to a minimum. Moreover, in order that Fighter Command can operate at its best, the control and reporting system must be kept up at top level and must be continually improved with the latest gadgets, if I may put it in that way, as they appear. Its personnel must be fully trained and conversant with their equipment. However good our fighter pilots are, and however good the aircraft, their skill will be wasted if the control and reporting system is not properly equipped and manned, and, furthermore, properly integrated with the N.A.T.O. control and reporting systems on the Continent, as they form part of our outer screen.

Some people have asked, "Why not replace the fighter with guided missiles?" suggesting that fighters are out of date and no longer needed. At first sight, this would seem to be a fairly obvious answer, and I am sure that the Air Ministry would be only too pleased to do away with Fighter Command and so release men and equipment much needed in other R.A.F. Commands. Unfortunately, this happy state of affairs is a long way off. Ground-to-air guided missiles will have to be of far greater range and of far greater hitting power than anything that exists at present if they are to be the sole air defence of this country, bearing in mind that we can be attacked by enemy aircraft from almost any direction. No: aircraft, with their flexibility, their capability of flying freely about the skies, and of operating from a variety of bases, must be our first line in air defence for many years to come, even though they are equipped with air-to-air guided missiles. In the meantime, we must press on as fast as possible, with the co-operation of the United States and of the Commonwealth, with the development and production of ground-to-air guided missiles.

We have already heard this afternoon about Coastal Command. In your Lordships' debate on the Naval Estimates it seemed to me that the impression was given that the Navy would be protecting the sea routes virtually on its own. I am sure that this impression was not what was meant, and I feel that it should not be left without comment. Coastal Command proved in the last war how valuable it was in this rôle of anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic, which is a most vital area to us. We must remember that its submarine "kills" in the North Atlantic were 212, compared with the Navy's 265—and that does not include shared "kills," or "kills" of submarines destroyed in German naval bases by bombing. I do not intend to belittle the Navy in any way, but I should like to point out how valuable Coastal Command is in anti-submarine operations and how valuable it can be working alongside the Navy in the Atlantic. I feel that it will become even more so as the speed of submarines increases, which will make them harder to kill by surface craft.

Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, I am glad to see that the White Paper states that the Mark III Shackleton is now coming into service. I further agree with him in the hope that, in due course, Coastal Command will receive aircraft fitted with turbo-prop engines. From this it will be seen that the Air Ministry have no intention whatever of running clown Coastal Command, as has recently been stated. In that debate on the Naval Estimates, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 197 (No. 90), col. 310]: Unless the Navy can 'do its stuff,' no food will come in and the Air Force will be grounded. The noble Earl went on to express the hope that I would mention his remark in to-day's debate, and I gladly do so; but I should like to amend his words to read Unless the Navy and Coastal Command can do their stuff'. Unless Bomber and Fighter Commands can "do their stuff" in the opening days of a global war, with the fuel and ammunition already available in this country, the number of people left alive will not need to import food, for they will be able to grow it here in sufficient quantity; and the R.A.F. will no longer exist.

I am sorry that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has been dismissed in one short paragraph in the White Paper. If the Air Ministry's intention is that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force should die, then Her Majesty's Government should say so here and now and not waste further money. I sincerely hope—and I am sure your Lordships will agree with me—that this is not the intention. But unless some statement can be made by Her Majesty's Government on the future of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force I fear that it will gradually fade away altogether. It proved its value in the last war, and I feel that the spirit which is in the auxiliary squadrons is one which the country cannot do without and will not be able to do without, if, unhappily, any future war comes.

In a debate on the Air Estimates in another place, the Secretary of State for Air announced two modifications in the organisation of the R.A..F., both of which I welcome. First, there is the reduction in the number of group headquarters. There is too much duplication of work between command and group headquarters of the Royal Air Force, and this alteration should help. Command headquarters should lay down and deal with policy and co-ordination where necessary, leaving their groups to get on with the "donkey work." At the moment they are both doing it, which means an enormous waste of time, paper and money.

The second modification is the breaking down of the technical and administrative wings into squadrons. Centralisation produces impersonality decentralisation produces closer relations between officers and men and competition between units, with consequent heightening of efficiency and morale, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate. Personally, I deplore the day when servicing personnel were taken from the squadrons and put into a central pool. No doubt it was necessary at the time, but the effects of human nature seem to have been left out of account. Although the system is more efficient on paper I believe that the work would have been done more quickly and more successfully in the squadrons. A man will work for his squadron twenty-four hours of the day if necessary, but he will not do it on the "garage" system. The spirit is not there; and to my mind the spirit of man transcends technical efficiency.

I welcome wholeheartedly the announcement in the White Paper that the accident rate in the R.A.F. has shown considerable improvement. The fatal accident rate was the lowest for twenty years and the major accident rate the lowest for ten years. When one bears in mind the complexity of modern aircraft, and the speed at which they travel, that is remarkable; and all praise should be given to R.A.F. personnel, to the aircraft industry and all who are concerned in this reduction. I hope that it receives much wider publicity than hitherto it has received and that, in consequence, parents in this country will be less unwilling for their sons to join the R.A.F. as aircrew.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, mentioned Transport Command. During the debate in your Lordships' House on the Army Estimates I said that I would speak about this subject, but I will mention only one point, since the noble Lord has already dealt with most of what I would have said, and more; and I wholeheartedly agree with his every word. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, in what he said about Transport Command in future being equipped with civil types of aircraft and not having their own special Mark, which seems a complete and unnecessary waste of effort in these days. The United States use their Transport Command very effectively in aid of civil aircraft, and I see no reason why we should not do the same. These aircraft would be just as efficient for the job which Transport Command has to do.

I was going to mention the question of pick-up in a future war, the uplifting of the Army's Fire Brigade Group. Although it will be possible to lift men and their personal equipment in Britannias from the United Kingdom to any part of the world, what of the heavy equipment? The White Paper tells us that Transport Command will be equipped with the Blackburn Beverley for this purpose, and with this proposal I entirely agree. The Beverley, however, is a comparatively short-range aircraft, and I am told that the time taken to lift the heavy equipment direct from this country would be approximately four days to the Middle East and to East and West Africa, and seven days to the Far East; whereas the troops travelling in Britannias would take much less than half this time, due to the range and speed of the Britannia.

I have also been told that if complete stocks of the heavy equipment were to be stockpiled in three strategic positions abroad—say West Africa, East Africa or the Middle East, and the Far East, a vast saving, both in flying time and in money, would be made. By doing this, less than half the number of aircraft would be required for uplifting the stockpile from England, and although this would mean three separate and complete stockpiles in three separate parts of the world, the total cost would be less than half, in view of the saving in the numbers of aircraft. This would mean a considerable sum of money, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider the suggestion. Furthermore, it would have an added advantage, in that the Beverleys, being short-range aircraft, may find themselves denied landing grounds for refuelling en route to their destination from the United Kingdom if trouble arises in the Middle East or nearer. If stockpiles are strategically based throughout the world, this danger will not arise.

Finally, I should like to come to the announcement in the White Paper that arrangements for the establishment of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve have made progress; that the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces are contributing to our forces in Malaya and in Singapore; and that Australian and New Zealand officers will serve in headquarters of the Far East and in Malaya—a happy sign of greater integration with the Commonwealth which is much to be welcomed.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I was not intending to take part in the debate this afternoon, but as my noble friend Lord Sherwood has been detained I felt that perhaps I ought to try to take his place. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, for the temporary tenancy of this very valuable holding at the Dispatch Box. I hope that your Lordships will not think it excessively presumptuous of me to intervene in so important a debate without careful preparation. It is for that reason that I feel a little diffident about following the interesting speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, who preceded me, and who covered a wide field in a most interesting way.

I should prefer to return to the beginning, to the speech of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, with whom I worked for so long in such close, happy and, I hope, not unfruitful collaboration during the years of the war. The main theme of the noble Lord's speech was a request for an inquiry into the organisation of the system of supply. I have always shared the opinion which was expressed with such force by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, about the importance of the principle of direct co-operation between user and manufacturer. That opinion I held strongly up to the time when I left the Government over which Sir Winston Churchill was then presiding. It was not an opinion which was universally held, but there were a great many people who held it; I was by no means in a small minority. There were others who thought that there was much to be said for the system of the Admiralty's retaining, as it has always clone, its responsibility for supply, a responsibility which it has never for one moment thought of giving up—except for the air, I admit—the Ministry of Supply remaining for the service of the War Office; and the Ministry of Aircraft Production being reinstituted for the service of the Air Ministry, the Fleet Air Arm and Civil Aviation.

There was a third school which believed in having a Ministry of Supply which would serve all the fighting Departments and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. But I never heard anyone advocate the system which we have now, a system in which there is one Department which not only serves the Air Ministry, the Fleet Air Arm, Civil Aviation and the War Office, but also nationalises or denationalises iron and steel, and which has many other important responsibilities in connection with iron and steel. The surprising thing is not that we have had difficulties in our aircraft supply, that there have been delays and what my noble friend opposite would call, in the phrase which he has been using lately, "slight ineptitudes" from time to time, but that we have got through as well as we have done. That is a remarkable tribute to the essential healthiness of the British aircraft industry and to the wise guidance it has received from the Air Staff, the General Staff at the War Office and other expert advisers. It is a remarkable thing that, in fact, it is an aircraft designed for the Royal Air Force which holds the world's speed record and another that holds the world's height record—of course, in both cases, with British engines.

As to our engines, some noble Lords, including, I think, my noble friend, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, and, I rather thought, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, too, were very anxious that we should learn from America. I say, learn from anywhere we can. Let us look at the work of any nation; let us learn from America, Russia or any other source we can, but do not let us think that our aircraft industry is a lamentable example of inefficiency and ineptitude as compared with the American industry which is an example of flawless efficiency, for as a matter of fact there have been in America most frightful instances of wasteful expenditure on a scale too vast for us to contemplate. I would refer noble Lards to the case of the Demon which has been discussed in Congress in recent months. That is only one case, but there have been several cases in which hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted. But, of course, it does rot so much matter in America. One can liken America in a way to a salmon. Most animals and fish have a comparatively limited number of progeny, but the salmon produces its ova by the million. It is necessary for it to do that, because, in fact, only some 4 per cent. of the progeny survive to get to the sea and later return to the rivers again as the salmon which the fishing public know. As we know, in America they have huge resources and they can spend their dollars, scattering them over their aircraft industry, and in the end they are getting at this enormous cost—which, as I say, is far beyond our contemplation—an air force of unparalleled splendour, size and efficiency, manned, of course, by pilots of the highest efficiency and morale.

But those are not methods which we can afford to adopt here. So I think we should be thankful that we have, in the aircraft industry, firms which are capable of producing these most remarkable results with a much greater degree of economy. Indeed, as your Lordships are aware, quite a number of our aircraft—the Canberra, for example—and a number of our aircraft engines are being produced in America by American companies, under licence. So they cannot think so badly of our aircraft and engines as some noble Lords and Members of another place who make speeches in our own Parliament.

I would say also that, so far as I can judge—this is not a Party question of which we are talking, and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will not think I am making overtures to join the ranks of his supporters—we have a very good Minister of Supply at the present time. I have been impressed with the good sense of his speeches and with the leadership he is giving to the aircraft industry of this country. I think it was a bold and well-founded decision which he made to scrap the Vickers 1000. I think it was a bold and necessary decision, and one which he must have known would be extremely unpopular. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, referred to the three bombers we have and thought that we were probably going to concentrate on two. Obviously we are going gradually to drop the Valiant. The real air staff requirement is for a bomber which only the design of either the Vulcan or the Victor could meet, but in order to have something to go on with—and very valuable it has proved to be—it was decided to build the Valiant. That will now come into the squadrons, I hope quickly, in the next year or two, but it will not last long; and I hope that hard on its heels will come the Vulcan and the Victor.

I am surprised that the noble and gallant Lord says that the Government ought already to decide between the Vulcan and the Victor and concentrate on the Victor rather than on the Vulcan. I should have thought that it was too early to come to a decision of that kind. I remember very well in the last war that we had three heavy bombers—the Stirling, the Halifax and the Lancaster. As time went on the opinions of the Air Staff and Commands changed in favour first of one and then of the other of these three types. To start with it was the Stirling that we fancied for ourselves and wanted the Americans to build for us, because of its high bomb load, but it had a comparatively short range and a comparatively low ceiling. As the war went on and the German defences strengthened, ceiling became of enormous importance, and next after the Stirling the Halifax was the favourite; but it was not long before it was discovered that the Lancaster was by far the greatest night bomber in the world, and it became and remained the backbone of the R.A.F. I venture to think that it would be a little early to decide now between the Vulcan and the Victor. After all, they are not in squadron service yet. I suggest that it would be a good thing to have these two to choose from and to keep them going for some time, until the Air Staff are absolutely satisfied that one is better than the other and likely to remain better than the other in all probable variations and conditions of warfare, including the defence which they are likely to have to meet.

There is only one thing more I want to say on this point. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, suggested that we ought not to bother about an inquiry and that we ought to say that we, the House of Lords, contain a number of men of great knowledge of these affairs; that we are just as good a body to make up an opinion as anybody else, and that we call upon the Government of the day to decide now, or after a fuller debate on some future occasion, that the system of the Ministry of Supply should continue.


My Lords, I thought that we had plenty of information on which to debate this matter and that the Government had enough information on which to make a firm decision.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I am sure that that is what he said. But I should like the Government to say that they will have an inquiry into this question. I think the noble Earl will not disagree altogether with me when I say that when a Department has been in an entrenched position now for eleven years, since 1945, it must have support behind it from people who have grown accustomed to working with it. I think there would be an immense prejudice in favour of leaving things as they are if the Government set about making their own private inquiry now. I like the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, of getting somebody in from outside. I will not bandy names across the floor of the House, but I could think of people who noble Lords opposite and on these Benches to which I am a temporary visitor would, I believe, agree have high qualifications for considering an immensely important question of Government organisation of this kind. Therefore, I support the request which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has made for an inquiry independent of the Government.

There was one other thing I wanted to say, and that is about the importance of Transport Command. I was a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, dismissed, it seemed to me rather airily, the possibility that in time of war the Air Ministry could look for any reinforcement from the aircraft of the scheduled airlines. I think that they would have to play their part. The Navy would be surprised if they thought that they could not look to the great passenger and cargo lines of this country to carry stuff to our shores. I think that the airlines would have to make their contribution. But I agree with the noble Lord that our resources in air transport will be comparatively meagre unless we can encourage the growth of these independent operators and help them in the way he mentioned, by seeing that they are properly equipped, not with Yorks, which ought to be made a bonfire of, but with modern aircraft. That can be done only by having a financial corporation, which I understand is being formed now, to help the independent operators to obtain aircraft which are thoroughly up to date.

One last point. I was particularly disappointed that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, referred almost glancingly and deprecatingly to a committee of whose formation we were informed, I think it was in January or February—a committee which was to consider the operational requirements of B.O.A.C, and B.E.A. for aircraft. We were told that Her Majesty's Government were going to have a committee—I hope that noble Lords opposite will contradict me if I am misrepresenting the Government's point of view—but I understand that this committee was being formed on which B.O.A.C., B.E.A., the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the manufacturers (an excellent thing) were to be represented, which was to draw up the operational requirements for an aircraft which would be just a lap ahead of the new American jets in the early part of the 1960s. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who is to reply to the debate, whether that committee exists, and whether it is working hard and seriously at a task which I should have thought was vital to the future of this country in the air age; and I would ask him, too, if it is seriously intended that this committee should in the next few months produce a report which will enable our manufacturers to set about constructing an aircraft which will follow the Britannia and the Comet.

I do not think I should be unfair to the Government if I suggested that the general impression which they have created—it is certainly my impression—is that the long-range Britannia will have a good chance of securing a commanding position on the Transatlantic route. I understand that they will be more economical, the fares will be cheaper, there will be greater comfort and that they will be able to operate from much smaller airfields than the American jet aircraft; they will not make the frightful and terrifying noise which these powerful jet aircraft make, and they will have a good chance of capturing the traffic on the Transatlantic route in, say, 1960 and 1961, and perhaps in 1962. By that time the jets may have been silenced and may be controlled better. Nobody knows how they are going to perform: they may be a great disappointment to their designers, or, on the other hand, they may perform even better than it would be reasonable for anybody to expect now, if we have not got something that is a little better than the long-range Britannia or the Comet, it is possible that the United States might then sweep the board on the Transatlantic route. I understood that this committee was in being and that its principal task was to formulate the requirements for an aircraft which would be at least a formidable competitor, and, as we should all hope, a successful competitor on what is, after all, the greatest air route in the world.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Thurso began his speech by apologising for intervening in the debate without being on the original list of speakers. I have to make the same apology to your Lordships, and I deeply regret that I cannot bring the same skill and experience to the debate which enabled the noble Viscount to give us such a stimulating account. However, I am not without experience on this subject. It may surprise your Lordships to know that I was Secretary of the first Committee in 1908 which rejected heavier-than-air craft. How could anybody perform reconnaissance going at a speed of 60 m.p.h.? But there it was. I am glad, also, to be able to report that three years later I was the Secretary of the Committee of 1911–12 which, under the drive of the late Lord Mottistone, brought into life what was then called the Royal Flying Corps. Since that time, I have had a great deal of experience of one kind and another bearing on this subject of the production of aircraft and the organisation of Government for that purpose.

I must say that the result of this experience strongly confirms the point made at the outset of the debate by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, about the importance of the direct connection between the user of aircraft and the manufacturers. I should think the most brilliant example that I had of that was one in which my noble friend Lord Swinton played the leading part. It must have been three or four years before the outbreak of the Second World War that, for various reasons into which I need not go, armaments had got behindhand. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was Secretary of State for Air at the time, and there was the most intensive need for a rapid drive in the design and production of aircraft. That was done by the Air Ministry, under his direction, and they were dealing direct with the manufacturers. The noble Earl himself (I feel sure he will not mind my saying this) used to go down to the factories to see the people at the head of them, to investigate their position, and to stimulate them to put in the necessary drive. The policy was settled at the Committee of Imperial Defence; and that was his job, with the assistance of the Chief of the Air Staff of the day. His air officers on his staff accompanied him on some of these expeditions, and he was good enough to invite me to go on more than one occasion; therefore I can pay this tribute first-hand. They produced a tremendous number of aircraft, and it was an enormous improvement on anything that we had ever done before.

During the Second World War I was at first Minister without Portfolio, and, later on, in the other offices that I held, I was a sort of "odd-job man," without departmental duties. I was switched on to make a great many inquiries, particularly connected with this question of production, which for some reason was sticking. I carried out most of these inquiries single-handed, and I found nearly always that the cause was the difficulty of getting the user into close touch not only with the producer and the designer, but also with the man who had to make, so to speak, the first Heath Robinson "mockup." Everybody seemed to delay. The man who was making the "mock-up" was afraid to bring in the man who had to manufacture it, for fear he should have made a mistake. That was in the days of the Ministry of Supply. There was a Ministry of Supply between the War Office—not the Air Ministry—and its supplies.

The last and most important of those inquiries, with which I was associated with another Member of this House (as he is not present to-day I do not think I should mention his name without his permission), who left most of the work to me, was connected with tanks. I found much the same difficulty there as so many speakers to-day have mentioned from modern experience—that is to say, the difficulty of the gap between the user and the manufacturer. That gap led to the production of a number of unsatisfactory tanks, and it was not until it was filled properly, or as best we could, that the difficulties were overcome—and that much too slowly.

It was quite incredible how difficult it was to get the experience in, say, North Africa into the Ministry of Supply and, through the Ministry, to the manufacturer. There were too many people to go through. Then they were always changing. Perhaps that was partly due to war time, but the Ministers were always changing in the Ministry of Supply; and each Minister used to put in charge of tank construction somebody different from his predecessor, with the result that the contacts that had been going on were lost. They did not speak each other's language—that was the difficulty to get over. I support what the mover of the Motion has said, what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has said, and really what every speaker has said. Everybody has agreed that it would be much better if the Air Ministry did not have to work through another Ministry.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, when I saw the Motion down on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I must confess that I was rather doubtful, after so much discussion on the broader issues of defence in both Houses of Parliament, and the debate on the Air Estimates in another place, whether anything useful would come from a further discussion. But after hearing the speeches of my noble friend and other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, I feel sure that it has been not only an extremely useful debate but one which will provoke much discussion and thought in the Defence Departments. I think your Lordships will particularly have appreciated the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who I believe has not intervened before in a debate on the Air Estimates. Since he will always be remembered as Secretary of State for Air during what were, I suppose, the most important and stirring six years of the existence of the Royal Air Force, his contribution to-day will be even more appreciated.

Your Lordships will remember that in the Defence White Paper, published at the beginning of the year, the Government stated that the first rôle of our defence forces is to make a contribution to the Allied deterrent—that is to say, building and maintaining a nuclear stockpile and the means of delivery. Later on in the same Paper, the principal rôle of the Royal Air Force is laid down as the provision of strategic weapons and the medium bomber force capable of delivering them, as well as air defences which are an essential complement to the deterrent. I think it would be as well, before I go on to discuss some of the points made by your Lordships in the course of the debate, to say briefly how the Royal Air Force stands in this most important matter.

Bomber and photographic reconnaissance versions of the Valiant are now in squadron service in some numbers. The Vulcan is expected to enter squadron service before the end of the year, and the Victor will be coming along soon after. Both the Victor and the Vulcan have considerable development potential, of which we are planning to take advantage. I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, sad about these two bombers. I think it is much too early to say which is the better of the two; and in any event, if we have two bombers the re-equipment of Bomber Command can go along faster. However, until such time as the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan arrive in large quantities, the Canberra, which has proved such a fine aircraft, will continue as the main aircraft of Bomber Command, but the introduction of the B.6 version, with improved range has increased the capability of the force. In addition, Canberra night interdictors, for the low-level ground attack rôle, have been introduced into the Second Tactical Air Force. The V-bomber force is building up steadily, and those who saw the demonstration given during the visit of the Russian leaders last month told me how impressive it was. Bomber Command is supplied with excellent aircraft, which I know are at least equal to anything else anywhere in the world, and I think the main task of the Royal Air Force in providing the deterrent is therefore well looked after.

In Fighter Command, which in itself is a secondary deterrent to aggression, although there have been difficulties in the provision of aircraft, re-equipment is going forward. Hunters, with Avon and Sapphire engines, are in service in Fighter Command in large numbers, as well as in the Second Tactical Air Force; and although there has been difficulty about gun firing in this aircraft a programme of modifications is in progress, and it is hoped that all the problems will be solved in the very near future. The all-weather force is being equipped with Javelins. In order that we may have more later marks at the expense of the earlier version, deliveries of the aircraft have been slowed down—not, my noble friend will notice, "phased back". The Javelin will, in due course, carry the second generation of air-to-air guided missiles.

The next fighter that is likely to see service in the Royal Air Force is the English Electric P.1, and that is developing satisfactorily. Royal Air Force pilots at the Central Fighter Establishment who recently flew it reported very favourably upon its simplicity in handling, and were enthusiastic about its flying qualities throughout the speed range. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, mentioned the Swift. It was never intended or contemplated that all marks of the swift would be cancelled, and a small number of these aircraft will be used for trials of the air-to-air guided weapon, Firelash. The Swift has been satisfactorily tested as a fighter in reconnaissance at low and medium altitudes, and the first aircraft are already in squadron service in the Second Tactical Air Force.

My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in the course of his speech, said (and I agree with him) that in addition to its global war tasks, the Royal Air Force has a most important part to play in cold war and in internal security emergencies, and also in a limited war, should that break out. It has to transport troops and equipment; it has to provide tactical support and light liaison aircraft; and, of course, it provides offensive air activity against enemy forces. I shall deal a little later with Transport Command, which has been mentioned by several of your Lordships, but before coming to that I should like to say a word or two about the other two roles of the Royal Air Force. First, there is the provision of tactical support and light liaison aircraft. A good example of the work that the Royal Air Force has to do is the emergency in Malaya. There a large fleet of medium-size and small aircraft provide transport and communications for the Army. It consists of Valettas, Bristol freighters of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Pioneers and a large number of helicopters and Austers. There is, as well, a speech broadcasting unit with what is known as "sky shouting" equipment.

An idea of the air contribution in Malaya is given by some figures which may interest the House. In 1955, helicopters and Pioneers carried over 17.000 passengers, and Valettas and Bristol freighters flew nearly 4,200 supply-dropping sorties, dropping more than 8 million pounds of supplies to troops in the jungle. The same is true of Kenya, although the effort was on a much smaller scale. This experience has shown, I think, the importance of having forces of light aircraft immediately available for use in emergencies of this kind. We have therefore established overseas permanent forces of Pioneers, one in the Far East and one in the Middle East at Aden. In addition, a squadron has been established here, both for training purposes and to provide a reserve. This means that, wherever the Army's fire brigade forces are deployed, we shall be able to move in, in good time, a light aircraft component. I should add, in passing, that the Pioneer can itself be transported over long stages in the Beverley freighter. This will show my noble friend Lord Gosford that we have already followed some of his suggestions and the decentralisation of the Beverley force, although it would present considerable difficulties, is very much in the minds of the Air Ministry.

Modern operational aircraft are not well suited for use in the sort of emergency in Malaya, and for this reason the Royal Air Force's offensive rôle has been subordinate to the transport and communication tasks. Air operations against the bandits in Malaya have, however, been on a fairly large scale. Venoms, Canberras, Meteors and Lincolns have all been used. In the case of a limited war, our combat aircraft are entirely suitable. V-bombers, with their very long range and capacity to carry very heavy loads, could be as effectively used in limited war as in global war. The Canberra, the Hunter and the Venom give us the means to provide adequate tactical fighter and ground attack forces. In a limited war there would obviously be the need for reinforcements by home-based squadrons of our forces overseas. This is vital, since mobility is the key to the economic use of air power. Reinforcement exercises and long-range training flights are being practised every day in the Royal Air Force, and we can reinforce in the Middle East with squadrons of Valiants, Canberras and Hunters at very short notice.

Several of your Lordships have mentioned Transport Command. Both in the cold war and in limited war the importance of Transport Command is growing every day, but in some of the remarks which were made during the debate in another place, and which have appeared in the Press, I cannot help feeling there is some misconception about the exact rôle and purpose of Transport Command. As my noble friend the Secretary of State said, it is essentially designed for rapid use in emergency and not for regular trooping, which task successive Governments have decided should be done by the civil fleet. This is because the economical use of air transport lies in high usage rates, and in the nature of things much of the demand for Service air transport resources is sporadic. So that, in planning the size of the Transport Command, we should, and must, take full account of the existence of civilian operators. There is, in addition, a transport reserve provided by Coastal Command, which your Lordships will remember was used in flying troops to Cyprus earlier this year. Although the Shackletons have been criticised as being uncomfortable, in emergency they have shown themselves capable of transporting large numbers of troops safely and at short notice.

The size of Transport Command at which we are aiming will provide, first of all, a troop-carrying section ready immediately to operate in war zones. Next, it will have specialised aircraft to move military equipment. It must, as well, provide backing for striking forces from other Commands; and, lastly, it must provide realistic training facilities for airborne troops. Although these are the main roles of Transport Command, it is, of course, used for many other purposes. In the past year, for instance, it has been used for purposes which have ranged from the evacuation of casualties to logistic support of our guided weapons range in Australia. For troop carrying, we rely at the moment on the Hastings, which can carry forty-four men. This aircraft will he supplemented by the Comet II and the Britannia. Ten Comet IIs have been ordered for Transport Command, and although a certificate of airworthiness has not yet been granted, we are hopeful that it will be granted in the near future. Delivery will begin this year.

The Britannia will come along later, somewhere about the middle of 1958. The military version of this aircraft will carry between 110 and 120 troops, or 30,000 lb. of freight, over 3,000 miles non-stop. Ten of them have been ordered. The result will be that, in air lift capacity alone, the number of men which could be transported at one time is expected to triple in the next three or four years. This does not take account of the fact that these new aircraft are much better load carriers, capacity for capacity, and that the Comet, for example, over a given period and distance, could transport three times as many men as the Hastings, even though its seating capacity is almost the same.

For the specialised aircraft for heavy loads the Royal Air Force is being equipped with Beverleys, which have been designed with particular attention not only for the rôle of load carrier but also for airborne assault. The Beverley can carry over 40,000 lb. heavy freight, or ninety-four troops. The first squadron of these Beverleys has now been formed. All this demonstrates that the Secretary of State for Air and the Air Council are well aware of the increasing importance of Transport Command, and of the essential part which it has to play in giving mobility to air and ground forces and indeed that they are taking the necessary steps to see that it will be properly equipped with modern aircraft.

I come now to the question of the supply of aircraft, which has been the main theme of most of the speeches made this afternoon. Practically every noble Lord who has spoken has suggested alterations in the present system, and my noble friend Lord Balfour of lnchrye suggested that there should be an independent inquiry. Before I go on to discuss this proposal, I think it would be right to admit that in the past few years there have been disappointments, delays and failures in the field of military aviation; and it is obvious that the Government, as well as noble Lords in this House, cannot be entirely satisfied with what has happened. It would be unwise, I think, to get this matter out of proportion, and again I agree with what the noble Viscount said. Although it is no excuse to say that others, as well as ourselves, have had failures, it remains true that the United States, with all its resources and technical successes, has suffered from misfortunes just as we have. Equally, I do not think we should overlook the considerable achievements of the British aircraft industry, and also, of course, indirectly, the achievements of the Ministry of Supply who ordered such aircraft as the Canberra, the Valiant and the Fairey Delta.

About a year ago a White Paper was issued on The Supply of Military Aircraft which investigated the procedure for ordering aircraft, and as a result a number of measures were introduced to improve that procedure and to reduce delay. For instance, there was the concept of the weapons system, where an aircraft and everything that goes with it is developed as one complete unit. Another was the policy of ordering development batches of aircraft, so that in the early stages of development many tests of different kinds could go on simultaneously. This should lead to a marked reduction in the time required to clear a new type of aircraft for operational service. Since the period of development of an aircraft ranges from seven to ten years, it will obviously be some time before the effect of these measures becomes apparent; but I am sure they will improve the situation very materially.

There has also been a complete review of research and development projects connected with new aircraft, with the object of reducing the present overload of our limited resources and of getting the best return for the money and effort we are putting into this work. My right honourable friend the Minister of Supply indicated in another place during the debate on the Statement on Defence what had already been done in this respect, and the process of streamlining the programme is still continuing.

My Lords, the question whether or not there should be a Ministry of Supply, and, if there is to be one, what its exact relationship should be to the user Departments, is a most complex and difficult one, as all your Lordships who have spoken have acknowledged. My noble friend Lord Swinton has advanced many arguments in favour of not having a Ministry of Supply at all.


No, not of not having a Ministry of Supply. I said that there would be a great deal of work for it to do, but that in regard to military aircraft the Air Ministry should revert to the process of buying them.


I apologise if I misrepresented the noble Earl. That is what I meant. But I think there are quite a number of arguments in favour of its retention which should be borne in mind. When the Ministry was originally set up in 1945 in its post-war rôle it was stated that its primary duty would be the furnishing of supplies and the carrying out of research, design and development for the Fighting Services. It has now been virtually converted into a fourth Defence Department, having shed to other Departments such tasks as are connected with iron and steel with which it previously had to deal. It is now responsible for supervising the whole field of defence research and development, except for the relatively small amount of work which the Admiralty does for itself on specifically naval problems. To split up the defence research and development work, as would be necessary if the responsibility for procurement of material were to revert to the user Departments, would, I think, lead to considerable practical difficulties in such matters as the development of aircraft for the Navy or for civil aviation.

The plain fact is that the task of developing the new and intricate types of equipment that the Services now require is, by its nature, an extremely difficult one, and to assume that a simple transfer of responsibility from one Department to another would of itself solve all these difficulties is, I suggest, an over-simplification. Moreover, the organisation within the Government is only one part of the whole, which also includes the relationship between the Government and the various industries concerned with the development and production of a new weapons system and the organisation of those industries themselves. We know that there are problems here, but we also know that there are no simple answers. I make these points only to show that there is, as well as the point of view expressed by noble Lords in this debate, another point of view held by other people. But I can assure your Lordships that the Government, and in particular my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence, are concerning themselves very closely with all these matters, and that they will take whatever steps they consider necessary to secure the best possible advice upon them and the best results for defence as a whole.

The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, referred to the squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. As your Lordships will remember, a scheme was announced last year under which selected pilots were to be attached to Regular squadrons for training on swept-wing aircraft. Because of the training commitments in the Regular squadrons, it has only recently been possible to attach men for this training, and I am afraid, therefore, that I can say nothing more about the scheme this afternoon. Meanwhile the squadrons retain their full establishment of Meteors and Vampires. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, questioned me about the Air Transport Committee, I am afraid I do not know the answer to that, because, as the noble Viscount will appreciate, this is a matter for the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. But I will take steps to find out and will write to him about it.


If the noble Lord will permit an interruption, I may say that this committee is not a Ministry of Transport committee; it is a combined committee of the Ministries of Transport and of Supply. In fact, Air Marshal Sir John Baker is the Chairman.


I accept the noble Lord's correction. The thing is that it has nothing to do with the Air Ministry for which at the moment I am speaking; but I shall certainly let the noble Viscount know the answer to his query. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, had some most interesting things to say about air traffic control and the possibilities of collision and of accident. Coming as they do from such a well-informed source, his remarks will be studied most carefully. I would only suggest that perhaps it would be wise not to do anything more until we hare seen the outcome of the inquiry instituted by my right honourable friend and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.

My Lords, before I sit down, I think. I ought perhaps to say a few words about the result of the pay increases in the R.A.F., although the subject has not been mentioned this afternoon. As to the results in terms of re-engagement and new recruits of the pay increases which took place on April 1, I can only join with my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in saying that it is much too early to draw any proper conclusions, but, broadly speaking, internal recruiting—that is to say extensions, prolongations and re-engagements—has been very encouraging. The weekly average at the moment is rather more than three times the 1955 rate. But although there has been some improvement in the entry from outside the Service, this response so far has been less good. The intake of ground tradesmen, however, is at present 25 per cent. higher than the average in 1955, of which 10 per cent. instead of 1 per cent. are signing on for nine years or more.

Recruiting of air crew has not yet shown any significant improvement. This is perhaps because the most likely source is the young men still at school or university and few of these will be available until the end of the current term. But the increase in the number of direct enquiries is, one hopes, an indication that applications will rise, and it may well be true that there will be a greater improvement in all directions at the end of the summer term, since the chance of persuading a man to leave a good job for a better one, although not appreciably better, is much less than attracting a newcomer as he leaves school. It may well be that this same factor applies to some extent to our new entries of ground tradesmen. To sum up, although I must again stress that it is too early to be certain of the results of the pay increases, prolongations and re-engagements have been most encouraging, but the effects on air-crew recruitment and the new intake of ground tradesmen cannot be properly assessed until later in the year, although it is not as encouraging as the re-engagement.

There are a good many topics concerning the Royal Air Force with which I have not dealt this afternoon, not because they are unimportant but because of lack of time and the fact that the debate has really concentrated on one or two aspects. I suppose it is natural that the discussion in your Lordships' House should be directed primarily to examining the weaknesses in organisation and equipment, since in this way they can be remedied; but I hope the impression has not been given this afternoon that there is anything wrong with the Royal Air Force. Those of your Lordships who have the opportunity to visit and to mix with serving officers and men of the Royal Air Force will know that nothing could be further from the truth. The spirit, the morale and the efficiency of everyone in it are as high as ever they have been. It is the Government's duty to see that this should continue by attracting the right men into the Service, by good pay and conditions, and by providing them with the best equipment which our technicians and designers can produce.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, in asking leave to withdraw this Motion, I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have contributed to this debate and also the Minister for his speech—a speech which, I think, justified the somewhat forceful declaration of my noble friend, Lord Thurso, when he said that after eleven or twelve years the Ministry of Supply was probably deeply entrenched in the system of government. From the remarks of the noble Lord, the trenches are deep and solid, but I hope that perhaps this debate to-day may have some result when Her Majesty's Ministers come to consider what has been said by many and authoritative noble Lords in many parts of the House. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.