§ 3.11 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to call attention to the explanatory statement of the Secretary of State for Air relating to the Air Estimates; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, my first thought is that there can be none of your Lordships who can envy Service Ministers or their advisers, their responsibilities for defence, present and future, because in a world of new nuclear weapons, ideologically divided and politically unstable, old-fashioned orderly planning has been replaced by a form of staff crystal-gazing into an unknown future. The decisions which the Ministers and their advisers have to make, once begun, cannot be retraced without unacceptable loss of time and money. In this state of what I would term strategic conjecture, air power presents acute problems for the Minister and his advisers to answer.
§ The first and greatest problem is: For what sort of war has the Air Force to prepare? In his White Paper, the Minister of Defence envisages various sorts of war but, quite naturally, as it were, sides with none. It seems to me that there are three sorts of possible war we must contemplate. The first is that in which the Air Force would be called upon to fight in an all-out nuclear war. In such a war the V-bomber is the key to the survival of this country, as our main deterrent, with fighters and guided missiles used to reduce enemy attack. In the event of that sort of war, our tactical weapons and our transportation organisation would not be seriously involved.
§ There is a second sort of war: an all-out war in the European theatre, but with both sides holding back from the use of the H-bomb, on the basis that mutual annihilation pays no dividend to anyone. In such an event, manned aircraft on raiding and counter-fighters will play their part. Then there is a third sort of war, a localised war, or possibly localised wars, fought in some distant theatre, on a scale rather like Korea. For this sort of war, mobility of rapid movement for Army and air formations and their equipment and supply needs would test our equipment and transport resources to the utmost. To insure fully against all three 924 possibilities that I have deployed briefly to your Lordships, we should need conventional and nuclear weapons on a scale far beyond the economic resources of this country. If we cannot afford to be prepared for all three, the worst possible policy is to try to meet all and to satisfy none.
§ Therefore, if that brief analysis is accepted by your Lordships, I would submit two conclusions on the consideration of air power in our debate to-day. The first is that we must accept a degree of dependence on the United States for nuclear and guided missiles, with the corollary that Government policies on both sides must be such that we are never divided from our American Ally. At the same time, we ourselves must possess sufficient deterrent power to allow a partnership in policies and not a dictatorship from one side. The second submission I would make to your Lordships is that we must accept that the change from the conventional to what I would call the "push-button" warfare will be gradual, and that manned aircraft will be with us for an indefinite number of years ahead. In support of this view, I would only cite to your Lordships the fact that America is to-day developing three supersonic manned fighters: America, the home of "push-button" warfare, still believes in the manned fighter. Hence my regret that we have halted the supersonic V-bomber development, about which some other noble Lords may speak in greater detail during the debate.
§ In considering this question of manned aircraft for attack and defence, as against the electronically controlled weapon, let us remember that in the economics of the human organism compared to electronically controlled aircraft or other forms of guided missile, the advantages may well go, on balance, to the human organism. Remember that for attack or defence there is no electronic device that can match the human reasoning, the human questioning, the human manipulative or adaptable power which is contained in the human mind. As regards production, the electronic device is produced in small numbers by highly skilled labour in industrial factories, and needs highly skilled maintenance. I would remind your Lordships that the human is mass-produced by semi-skilled labour, and no 925 industrial factories are needed. He needs little maintenance, beyond food, drink and clothing. So, on balance, economically the advantage rests strongly with the human as against the electronic device.
§ If this continuance of manned aircraft is admitted, one passes at once to the urgent question of manpower and Service morale. The sooner the Royal Air Force is lifted from its present state of uncertainty, the better for the Royal Air Force and for the defence of this country. In the Service to-day, absurd rumours fly about—rumours of virtual abolition almost at once of air crews; and there is uncertainty and doubt. The run-down of the three Services is an acute issue within all those three Services at the present time. Until it is decided and announced by Her Majesty's Government what the extent of that run-down is to be, I submit that we shall get neither contentment within the Service nor recruits from without.
We have been promised a statement by the Minister of Defence. In your Lordships' House on May 9 of this year, the noble Earl, the First Lord of the Admiralty, said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 203, col. 558]:
A scheme of compensation for redundant officers and men is being worked out at present, and we hope that the details will be announced in a very few weeks.
Several weeks—in fact, I would term it many weeks—have passed since that time, and still neither we, the public, nor those in the Service know any details of the scheme. I would press to-day for the Minister to reply definitely as to when the scheme affecting these three Services can be announced. I suspect that the delay in the announcement of this scheme is attributable to the Treasury love of, and passionate insistence on, standardisation for all three Services and the methods of run-down and compensation scales, when in fact all three Services have quite different problems, different types of personnel, different conditions and different prospects within the Services.
§ The Army problem is one which is numbered in many thousands for officers. In the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy the numbers of officers affected are small. I would hazard a guess that for the Royal Air Force the total number of officers likely to be affected is somewhere between 180 and 240. I do not know 926 the exact number for the Navy, but that also, I believe, is very small. If it had not been for the Government's desire to find a common solution to a problem which does not lend itself properly to a common solution, I suspect that the Air and the Navy could by now have completed their run-down perfectly satisfactorily.
§ A method which may lend itself to the Army in this run-down of the Services—for instance, the volunteer system, calling for volunteers who would like to retire—is quite unsuitable for the Air Force. I sincerely hope that the idea that the Air Force should be coerced into accepting the volunteer scheme will be resisted strongly by the Ministers and the Air Council. The Air Ministers task is to shape a highly technical Service into a new defence picture, so that the various technical branches are all filled but none of them overstaffed. Therefore, calling for volunteers to retire cannot possibly meet Air Force needs. Suppose, for instance, that one hundred men in five different technical branches of the Service had to be declared redundant. If the Air Force called for volunteers, they might get 1,000 volunteers, but the numbers would not be balanced according to the requirements for that particular technical branch which had to be reduced by, we will say, twenty, The result would be that we should see 900 discontented people and yet not the run-down in the right technical proportions required. So I would ask the Minister if he will say clearly whether the R.A.F. requirement for the right of selection is accepted by Her Majesty's Government.
§ In standards of compensation for officers declared redundant, a common system is bound to be full of anomalies. For instance, you may have a major, a squadron-leader and a lieutenant-commander, all of them of comparable rank but all of different ages and different lengths of service. I hope that the financial aspect of the scheme will not be related only to age and length of service in rank but will take account of technical qualifications and, in the case of the Air Force, the risks carried by a man during his many years of active service.
§ As regards manpower, I believe that re-absorption into civil life is equally as vital as is the question of compensation, 927 and again the problems for each of the three Services differ. Here again, also, I suspect that the Government will want to have a standard scheme and will wish to hand it over to the Ministry of Labour, who will no doubt set up an advisory body. I would certainly pay full tribute to the fine resettlement work which the Ministry of Labour have done in the past, but I do not believe that the procedure of the past is suitable for the present and the future. We have to repair Service morale. It has been seriously damaged by the uncertainties that have existed in the last few months; and if the independent civil department of the Ministry of Labour handle this problem, not nearly so much confidence will be given to the man as if he feels that the organisation of his own Service is handling it. By all means bring in the Ministry of Labour in an advisory capacity.
§ I would urge the setting up of a powerful Air Ministry committee, on which would be represented the Federation of British Industries, the National Union of Manufacturers, the Trades Union Congress and the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, who have always been good friends to the R.A.F. Such an advisory committee, with so small a number of redundant officers in the Royal Air Force—between 180 and 240—would interview each one of those men individually and would try to help and advise each man individually in a way that the central organisation of the Ministry of Labour, coping with thousands of Army, a few Air Force and a few Navy men, could never do. I would again urge upon the Minister to give us some comfort in the idea that I have put forward, that the Air Force should have its own particular scheme fitted particularly for Air Force requirements.
§ My final word is on conditions within the Service. I think the last pay rise has been justified by the results. One's only regret is that, as with all Governments from both sides of the House, it was always a sort of rearguard action fought by successive Governments, always opposed by the Treasury, and any rise in pay was always a concession given rather grudgingly, very often on the late side. I would urge an examination by the Service 928 Departments to remove the anomalies and unfairnesses, often of a minor character from a financial angle, but of great importance to the individual, which we all know continue to exist. I will not weary your Lordships by citing them but we all know them. Many could be quoted.
§ I take one instance, the education of officers' children. There is a grant of £75 a year, a very inadequate sum, for the education of the officer's child; but if the officer is serving at home, the grant is subject to income tax at 8s. 6d. in the £. In any event, it is not given to him until his child is over eleven years of age. The continuance of these anomalies is the sort of thing that officers in the Services simply cannot understand. Another one is the question of rent and lodging allowances. The whole of this question of irritating anomalies should be tackled by Her Majesty's Government, because it is on the ability to attract sufficient long-term career men in the next two or three years that depends the success or the failure of the hazard—because it is a hazard—of the abolition of National Service. As has been said in another connection, as regards the abolition of National Service and the manning of our Forces by Regular long-term engagement men the Government have willed the end, and now the Government must will the means to ensure that end. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ LORD TEDDER
My Lords this Memorandum to accompany the Estimates strikes me as being a very gallant attempt to make the best of a difficult job. It has tried, with some success I think, to keep the balance between the realities of the present and the crystal-gazing visions of the Defence White Paper. In so far as it is a report of the present and the immediate past, I think that it offers ground for congratulation. For example, whatever one may thing of the Suez affair as a whole, there is no doubt whatever that the air operations as such, hedged in though they were by all sorts of political limitations, were carried through with remarkable efficiency. But it is when, this Memorandum comes to deal with some of the implications of the new Defence policy that grounds for criticism, I think, begin to appear.
929 It is true that this Memorandum has tried—and in some respects I think it has succeeded—to rationalise and clarify some of the vague points raised by the Defence White Paper, but the main issues of controversy are still there. That, I imagine, is why so comparatively few of your Lordships have felt it necessary to speak to-day. After all, the defence policy has already been debated at length in your Lordships' House. Yet I should like to return to certain aspects to which I tried to draw attention in the Defence debate—and I have been, encouraged to do so by the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down. I would add that I agree with every word he said. He raised many points which, I think, are of vital importance to the well-being of the Royal Air Force.
It is just over two months since I ventured to express to your Lordships my strong opinion that the deep and manifold uncertainties aroused by the Defence White Paper gravely threatened the morale of all three Services and, if not clarified at an early date, would vitiate the old policy of manning by voluntary enlistment. I recognised then, and I still recognise, that some of the implications of the new policy would take time to work out; but I urged that at least the continuity of the three Services as such should be made easier. That was over two months ago, and there has still been no authoritative statement, even on that issue. In the meantime, one hears specifically more and more individual cases of young men who had intended to come into one or other of the Services, but who are now saying "No, the whole thing is so uncertain; it is not for me."
I know full well that during the past two months Service chiefs have done their utmost to dispel doubts and scotch rumours, both within the Services and among the general public; and in particular I think that the Chief of Air Staff and his colleagues deserve tremendous credit for the magnificent job they have done in that respect, in "holding the fort" for the Service. But surely that is an unfair imposition on Service chiefs Surely that is the responsibility of the Government who adopted a new defence policy. My Lords, is it too much to ask that the Prime Minister himself should clarify the situation, and do so soon? It 930 is, after all, on human relations that the success or failure of the new policy will depend.
As I have said, some delay in working out the details, for instance, of redundancy was inevitable, but I have a feeling that the explanation suggested by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye is probably correct. From my own recollection of Service personnel problems, of all three Services (because, naturally, as a Chief of Staff one has some knowledge of all three), I should imagine that the Royal Air Force could take the necessary outs in its stride without any special list or calling for volunteers, with all the difficulties and objections that the noble Lord has mentioned. I can well understand that the Army has a much more difficult and a different problem—a different problem calling for different treatment and special treatment. I cannot see why the Royal Air Force, and I imagine also equally the Royal Navy, should be penalised in order to create a facade of uniformity. The problems of each Service are fundamentally different and, I urge, should be treated as such.
This practice of trying to make the Royal Air Force conform to Army practice is one with which I am not altogether unfamiliar; and I would say that when it is invoked when the Services' conditions and requirements are very different, as has happened, it serves only to rouse inter-Service antagonism; it certainly does not do anything to unify the Services. I suppose that I was fortunate during the last war in having probably as good opportunities as almost anyone of seeing the three Services working happily and smoothly together. One clear lesson that I learned was that one of the secrets of that operation unity was mutual understanding of, and respect for, the different outlook and customs and characteristics of one's sister Services. May I put it that one ounce of human understanding and individuality is worth pounds of abstract theories of uniformity and unification?
My Lords, times have changed very much since we last were able to rely solely on voluntary enlistment, and I am sure that nowadays voluntary enlistment, if we are to get it, will depend on the extent to which military service can be humanised and individuality encouraged and developed. I think—perhaps I am pre-judiced—that the Royal Air Force, owing 931 largely to the individual duties and responsibilities which are characteristics of the Service, may have been able to go further in this direction than the other Services as a whole, apart, of course, from specialist branches. But there is a point that occurs to me as regards the Women's Royal Air Force. I do not think I am wrong in saying that enlistment in the Women's Corps since the war has been somewhat disappointing. Yet I see that it is hoped in this Memorandum, to increase the strength of the W.R.A.F. I wonder whether the answer to that problem may not be to humanise, or perhaps I should say "feminise", the women's Services a little more—in other words, give up trying to militarise the women so much. In war time it may well be that women like to be and want to look as military as possible, but I very much doubt whether that is true in peace time. I suggest that a process of demilitarising women's uniforms might well pay a useful dividend in increased and better enlistment.
While speaking of human factors, may I say that it is good to see the development that has taken place in the R.A.F. in works study and manpower economy, and to hear some of the results that have been achieved. Not long ago there was a feeling that works study, automation and the other ways of saving manpower were dehumanising processes. In practice, of course, they are the very reverse. In industry, by increasing efficiency, they have definitely improved human relations. There is nothing more demoralising than a feeling of waste of time or effort, and there is no better morale builder than efficiency. I am sure that that is equally true in the Services. A man who is enabled to work efficiently is probably a happy man.
One of the unfortunate things about the Defence White Paper is the way in which it was widely misread as prophesying a complete change-over within some ten years or so to what is popularly known as "push-button" warfare. Even, however, allowing for that to have been a misinterpretation, I still feel that the defence policy as set out is seriously and dangerously optimistic as to the time scale, and also, perhaps, unduly optimistic as to the capabilities of these prospective missiles. It is true that the Air 932 Ministry Memorandum attempts to steady this rush into futurism, but even so, there appears to be every probability of a serious gap owing to a cessation of the development of supersonic aircraft. And I join with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in urging that Her Majesty's Government should have second thoughts upon this point, and not only on grounds of defence. As I reminded your Lordships on a previous occasion, civil aviation throughout the world has depended vitally and utterly on prior basic military research and development. The same is true of almost every major industry in this country. I am convinced that for as far as we can see ahead, and for whichever of the three groups or types of war we might have to face, manned aircraft will be needed, and will continue to be needed, for all functions; and we must have the best that our best scientists can produce.
§ 3.44 p.m.
VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE
My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord who has set down the Motion before your Lordships to-day for his able and well-informed speech. The House will also be grateful to the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down. He brings to your Lordships' deliberations not only a very fine career in the Royal Air Force but knowledge of the common room as well as the board room. We ought to be grateful to him for his continued interest and for the informed speeches which he makes in your Lordships' House which are an example to us all. I find myself in general agreement with the opinions and sentiments expressed by both noble Lords who have spoken.
One of the things which most impressed me, coming afresh to the R.A.F., was the adaptability of approach of the higher organisms of that Service, their enthusiasm for innovation and their ability to change their outlook in accordance with the circumstances of the time. It is fortunate that from its beginnings it has had, as it were, a tradition of change. I find it difficult to realise that it is less than six years ago that I had the honour of assuming responsibility for the Air Ministry. At that time the Government of Sir Winston Churchill inherited a great programme of rearmament which had been initiated by the 933 Administration of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. It is no criticism of that Government or of its advisers in the circumstances that the programmes for all Services, and particularly for the R.A.F., were in a way a continuation of the 1939–45 conception of war.
That was Stage 1. This was rapidly followed by Stage 2 when it became clear that the Russians had not only the secret of nuclear fission but also the bomb itself, and that they were rapidly improving their means for delivering it. In those days we placed a strong emphasis on the deterrent power of the long-range bombing force, but there was a possibility that if a terrible war did occur there would still be great Powers living and breathing after the first encounter; and out of that came what has now been called the conception of a "broken-backed" war.
We had only just adapted our plans to that conception when we became aware that the United States had expoded a bomb which incorporated the principle of thermo-nuclear fission, and soon after the Russians exploded a weapon designed on parallel lines, so we found ourselves, in the relatively short space of three or four years, changing from the 1939–45 concept, to a completely fresh conception of warfare waged on a world-wide scale. I hold it fortunate that the Administration of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, had decided not only to develop nuclear fission as a weapon but also the means of delivering it by a long-range bomber force. I have paid tribute to them on previous occasions, and I do so now, for that foresight, and I count myself fortunate in being in part the heir of their enterprise.
When the deterrent as a conception for the preservation of peace became supreme in the world, this country which might have found itself powerless as an influence for peace, found itself in a position to make a valuable contribution because of these earlier steps which had been taken; and if I was able to contribute anything towards the development of that force, I am not ashamed. Indeed, I am proud to have done so. I hope I shall not be out of order if I say, in a slight digression, that I know there are sincere pacifists in the world who do not believe in force of any kind. But I cannot find myself in much sympathy with those who are prepared to see ourselves armed with 934 all weapons except those of the so-called ultimate in the present world. Having had responsibilities in these matters I sometimes examine myself, as one must, and I ask what would have happened if in 1939—and this is not too fanciful—Hitlerite Germany had possessed the H-bomb and the Western Allies had also possessed it. Would those moralists who condemn us for having it have said then: "No, we should have laid aside that weapon and allowed the Hitler régime to conquer not only Western Europe but ourselves as well, because we would not touch the filthy thing"? The lesson that free people will resist at whatever cost applies to-day as it applied in 1939.
I cannot believe that those who are all too willing to hail fresh manifestations of power in Soviet Russia can really think that this new leader who has appeared as the heir of all the Czars is a man who would behave better internationally than he appears to behave nationally. One cannot have one set of morals for home politics and another set for international affairs. I still think that all trading with the Russians, whether it be in politics or commerce, must be on a cash basis. I have sad these flings because I feel they need saying, and because I had some responsibility in these matters. After all, we are debating the Air Estimates, and that must include the power of delivering the hydrogen bomb as a deterrent factor in world affairs.
As I said, I do not disagree with the general sentiments expressed by the two noble Lords who have just sat down. But I feel, myself, that there is liable to be a long gap between the possibility of a new weapon and its actual introduction into service. Not only are there liable to be scientific, administrative and technological delays, but there is the factor of Her Majesty's Treasury to be reckoned with as well. I feel that those who have had some experience of these things ought, without any hostile criticism of the Government, to express their fears and alarms lest, through over confidence at this stage, there may be a gap between the end of the efficacy of the V-bombers and the introduction of a viable, medium-range ballistic missile. Like Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Tedder, I should feel far happier if I were to know that we were to-day developing at least a 935 prototype of the necessary supersonic vehicles, fighters as well as bomber aircraft, to fill in this gap.
We have had in this House, particularly in the debate on the Defence Paper, discussions on the subject of the transport of Her Majesty's Forces across the world in large aircraft. One noble Lord at least pointed out the limitations of what has been called the "fire brigade concept". I do not in the least quarrel with the idea of enlarging Transport Command to enable larger bodies of troops and equipment to be carried across the great spaces of the world if need be. But we should not allow ourselves to be influenced by exaggerated newspaper comment into believing that it is possible, within our resources, to carry very large bodies of troops at very short notice over very long distances. It has been pointed out that even the United States, with their enormous force of long-range transport aircraft, find it difficult to transport a division within less than a week across, let us say, the Pacific. If we were to devote corresponding resources to this branch of the Air arm, we should have practically nothing but air transport—no bombers, fighters, coastal aircraft or anything else. We must recognise the limitations of air transport. Its capabilities can only be to reinforce troops and weapons already strategically situated. If we try to place exaggerated reliance on this concept we shall find that the support has broken in our hands. I say that by way of warning, because one reads so much in the newspapers and elsewhere about this idea that I believe that false hopes have been raised which could not possibly be fulfilled in the event.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has spoken about personnel, and he rightly stressed the importance of an early announcement about compensation for officers and other ranks who will be displaced. I spoke in the Defence debate on this subject; to-day I support entirely what he said. I am convinced that any delays—and there have been delays—by reason of interminable arguments between the Service Departments, the Minister of Defence and the Treasury, should be cut short by firm action. When an important matter of this kind is under discussion it is up to the head of the 936 Government to give a ruling. I know from my own experience that when matters such as this have been discussed the discussions have been terminated only by a somewhat arbitrary ruling from the top. I hope that the Government and the Prime Minister will not allow this sort of thing to continue but will give a ruling which will stop internal wrangling and niggling about details.
As I have said, I took part in some discussions of this kind, and I am happy to say that in the end the Service Ministries prevailed in the matter of rates of pay. It is a striking fact that we can now contemplate a strong Regular Air Force when not long ago we were hard put to it not merely to get recruits but to get re-engagement from those in the Service already. The usual argument which is put forward in this connection is that it is not pay but other things that count. I say that pay is the foundation; conditions come second. The conditions of service are important. I say, with respect, to Her Majesty's Government that compensation is a matter which affects the morale of the Services and it ought to be settled speedily. The Royal Air Force, which has adapted itself in the most remarkable manner to the changes of the last thirty years or so, will, I know, adapt itself to the changes which may follow even more rapidly in the future. It will show the same inventiveness which it has shown in the past, the same eagerness, the same courage in taking bold decisions. Having been proud to be responsible to Parliament for that Service, I should like to express once again my confidence in the Service.
§ 3.57 p.m.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for putting this Motion down for debate this afternoon. I also feel very humble at following the three noble Lords who have just spoken, for two of them have held Government posts in connection with this Service, while the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, of course, has been Chief of Air Staff. It was my intention to raise a matter that has already been raised by the three noble Lords who have spoken—that of redundancy of officers in the Service. I too know of the disquiet in all three Services owing to the fact that 937 the men do not know what is going to happen.
I feel—in fact I am almost sure—that the Royal Air Force can do this job to-morrow. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, so rightly said, the Royal Air Force does not want men to be called on to volunteer to leave the Service. I am sure that it has a plan which could be put into action to-morrow. I have a disturbing feeling that it is not just the Treasury who are causing delay in this matter. It may be the Army, which has a very different and very large problem to deal with, that is responsible, but I do not see why the Royal Air Force, and possibly also the Navy, should be trammelled in getting their own house in order because another Service has a much larger problem with which to deal. The financial question, no doubt, could be settled very simply. With regard to the question of getting officers and other ranks out on reasonable terms, if the Royal Air Force feels that some officers who have been permanently passed over for promotion should perhaps be retired a little earlier, I think that that should be allowed.
My next point concerns the fear I have about the time when the national Service man is no longer in the Service. I imagine that probably two-thirds of the radar chain to-day is manned by national Service men, with a considerable number of them acting as teleprinter operators or handling codes and cyphers. They are, in fact, doing jobs that were so well done in the last war by the Women's Royal Air Force. I am disturbed when I see that that force has run down to something under 5,000. I should like to see that figure trebled. They have important jobs to do, not only on the signals side but also in photographic interpretation, in which they did so well during the war. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, has made suggestions for bringing recruits into the Royal Air Force, and I entirely agree with what he has said. I would make the suggestion that young girls might be taken on, on a temporary engagement, in the same way as "Wrens" were during the war, to work at units in the neighbourhood of their homes. When they have finished work they can go back and live at home, and the parents will feel more happy about them.
938 In the Royal Air Force there are a number of stations near centres of population where such a scheme might be brought back into use. Transportation could be arranged by the Royal Air Force. After all, there are many firms to-day, with smallish units in the country-side, who have to run private bus services to get their operatives to work. It will probably save money if we increase the number of girls working in the Royal Air Force and take them to and from their units by a transport service run by the R.A.F. If, when a little older, they felt that they wished to take on a Regular engagement, so much the better.
I am also worried about whether we are sufficiently fostering the A.T.C. and the Combined Cadet Forces. Surely they must be the biggest sources of recruitment for the Royal Air Force when the National Servicemen depart. I should like to see (and I hope that my noble friend who is answering for the Government will be able to tell us about this) steps being taken to help in providing gliding and flying facilities for the men of the A.T.C. and the air branch of the C.C.F. In regard to the A.T.C., I would suggest that the units be disposed geographically, where such facilities are available.
I do not find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that there are probably three kinds of warfare, and that we shall have to make up our minds to hold off the use of what the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, called "ultimate weapons" if attacked and if the attacker did not use them. It reminds me of a horrible story which I read when I was very young and which still haunts me. It was about a small castle situated on an island on a sluggish river somewhere in South America. The people in it tilled the land outside, going over by the drawbridge of the castle, and it was a happy community. Then, one day, the ants came and attacked. The people tried to beat them off, but had to retreat over the drawbridge into the castle, thinking that the stream would keep them off. But the ants began to cross the water. The people then put oil on the water and set fire to the oil, but there were so many arts that eventually they put the flames out and crossed over into the castle on the backs of the burning bodies in the stream. If we take into account the 939 amount of manpower opposed to us in the world to-day, and gave these 800 million or 1,200 million sticks and staves, and armed ourselves with sticks and staves, how should we get on? I think that no Government would refuse, if we were attacked, to use "ultimate weapons". Let nobody think, I pray, that nuclear weapons must be taken away from the Royal Air Force, which is the only force we have to-day which is capable of hitting back.
I do not always believe the newspapers, but I saw the other day a report that a 1,500-mile ballistic missile would be delivered to the Royal Air Force in seven weeks' time. That is not a pretty thought—for two reasons: first, the time is too long; and secondly, why do we always have to go to America for these things? I am disturbed by the run-down in defence contracts. We already have first-class engineers going to America to work, and we are beginning to see small research teams being disintegrated because nobody will tell them that there is something for them to get on with. In this country we have always been in the forefront, in fact, ahead, in our initial thinking and our research in engineering, and if we destroy that, we shall become a secondary Power industrially. We shall also lose any effect we have on world politics if we take away from the Royal Air Force—or, for that matter, any Service—the power to strike, quickly and hard, an aggressor who attacks us. If we do that we shall become another neutral country like Sweden.
§ 4.7 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I should like to speak very briefly on one section only of the White Paper, the section covered by paragraphs 41 to 45 under the general heading of "Air Transport". This section has already been dealt with directly by my noble and gallant friend Lord De L'Isle. But perhaps I should say at the outset that I speak from a soldier's point of view, rather than an airman's. The first factor I should like to mention is that of the development of helicopters—I do not think that any other noble Lord has so far mentioned this point. In the White Paper three types of helicopter are men-tioned—the Sycamore, the Whirlwind and the Bristol—and to-day in the papers 940 I saw mention of the Wessex, a new type being used by the Navy. From personal experience I feel very strongly about the development of the helicopter. I served in the Korean campaign, and the difference made to the morale of troops by the presence of helicopters near them was staggering. The difference made to a man in the front line, who knew that if he was wounded he would be picked up by a helicopter and taken back to a field hospital in twenty minutes, instead of being bumped over rough roads for perhaps three hours, during which he might die, and during most of which time he would probably want to die, was indescribable. And since helicopters are mentioned in the White Paper, I should like to put in my word for their development where possible, for the support of the fighting man, in whatever Service he may be.
In the defence debate in your Lordships' House two months ago, I made reference to the titanic problems presented in focusing a Central Reserve in the United Kingdom and in expanding Air Transport Command to carry this reserve, or units from it, to any point of emergency in the world. In itself, it is a concept which is bound to intrigue and to entice the imagination. But we must face the truth, that to lift even one division in one operation is a staggering task. It would require the building and maintenance of a number of transport aircraft which I should have thought was outside the economic possibilities of this country. As my noble and gallant friend has already mentioned, the United States Air Force cannot in one movement lift an entire infantry division with all the transport aircraft resources that she possesses.
Reference was made in the Defence White Paper toa substantial fleet of transport aircraft being built up…at present mainly composed of Comet IIs, Beverley Freighters and Hastings aircraft, to which a large number of Britannias will later be added.I had hoped to find this proposition elaborated in the Memorandum that we are now discussing. I should say that the difficulty I mainly foresee is not in the lifting of men, but in the lifting of the vast and ponderous quantities of stores, which a modern division requires in a modern campaign. With this reference, mention is made in the White 941 Paper of thirteen Britannias now on order, two squadrons of Beverley Freighters now in being, and a third to be formed shortly. It is pointed out thatthe Beverley, with its capacity to lift very large loads, has already proved its versatility by the execution of many and varied tasks.But this versatility is restricted as to distance and it is purely a form of tactical transport, not strategic.
I understand that the process would be to carry a division out to some distant place, and thence transfer it by Beverley aircraft to the theatre of action. This does not take care of the transport of heavy equipment from the United Kingdom bases of the Central Reserve to another base, perhaps in another hemisphere. I think I am right in saying that a Beverley Freighter, fully loaded, is restricted to 300 miles in distance. I am told that it could carry a 15-ton tank over this strictly limited distance, and this world be a valuable asset if we had a 15-ton tank. At the moment, we are making a light armoured vehicle, the Hoffmann, for the German army and none for ourselves. Under present computing, we may find ourselves in the position of having to buy back some of these Hoffman vehicles that we have made for the Germany army, in order to arm our Central Reserve with something light enough to carry when they go into distant action. On a previous occasion I described my fears as to what might happen to a lightly armed force, set down in a distant part of the world and obliged to operate on exterior lines against an armoured enemy operating on interior lines.
I suppose the largest air-lift which the Air Force has ever undertaken was the repatriation of our Forces in Asia at the end of the Far East war. I have vivid memories of my repatriation in the bomb bay of a Halifax bomber. Although every assurance was given that the opening had been firmly rivetted as a part of conversion, the passengers never quite lost the feeling that one of the air crew might inadvertently press the wrong button, and precipitate his living cargo into the Indian Ocean. This whole operation was carried out with the greatest efficiency; but it was a gradual operation, which took several months, and is not a fair model of what would be required in the rapid emergency transfer of troops to a theatre 942 of war. There is a great difference in the time element between the operations of withdrawing a force for demobilisation and building up a force in a distant place to meet the enemy. There is an equal difference between building up a force where prepared bases are available and setting it down on the ground as a complete formation to meet the enemy.
I cannot see how this country can afford the vast Transport Command required for such an operation, which in time of peace would be hardly a quarter employed. I believe that the Beverley freighters now operated by the R.A.F. do approximately 300 hours flying a year. I also appreciate that the sum to be spent on aircraft and stores alone under this Estimate is £205¼ million, which is a very large sum of money. In the United States this difficulty has been at least partly overcome. Last year, as part of the general plan for war mobilisation, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was set up. There now exists a formal arrangement between the Air Force and civil air lines by which the air lines assume responsibility for installing Air Force equipment to render their planes militarily effective in time of war. They also undertake that a certain proportion of their total fleet will be available at short notice for military service. To-day, the number of long-range transports in civil air lines exceeds 700, and by 1961 it will exceed 1,000. This makes available in time of war a large air fleet built up and maintained from non-Service funds. In this country where most of the civil air line industry is nationalised, I hope that it may be possible to reach some arrangement of the kind, and it would be a great comfort to know that some such plan is envisaged. I believe also that the individual air lines are quite ready to assist in such a scheme by becoming what is called "Embryo Contract Carriers" for the Government.
My Lords, I have said that I see problems. But whatever the solution found, it is vitally important that this phrase in the Memorandum "strategic and tactical mobility of the Services" shall be more than a useful and optimistic phrase. Soldiers cannot fight on politicians' phrases. But all the same, some phrases have made their mark in the history of soldiering. I think it was an American General who said that the secret of victory was to "get there fastest with the mostest". This argument was borne out 943 in a recent painful experience of our own, when a great part of the forces engaged in the Suez operation proceeded up the Mediterranean as if rehearsing for the Crimean campaign 100 years earlier.
I have said that mine is principally a soldier's point of view, but the great victories of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, were owed, partly at least, to his strength of character in insisting upon his troops being properly supplied before an attack was launched. He had to be satisfied that a strong attack could be strongly maintained, once the men he commanded had been committed to battle. I am sure that in future we shall not lack commanders with strength of character. But on the showing of the White Paper it seems to me that we might lack the material means, in the transport sense, to back them up and, above all, to back up the men they command, whose stake in the battle is so much higher than that of anyone else. I hope that my noble friend who replies to the debate may think it worth giving some reassurance on this point.
§ 4.19 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF MANCHESTER
My Lords, the intervention of a Bishop in a debate such as this perhaps requires some apology or, at any rate, preface. I can only say that the future of the Royal Air Force, which is one of the matters dealt with in this debate, is something which quite rightly concerns every citizen. For the most part, noble Lords who have taken part in the debate hitherto have concentrated upon problems of personnel and technical problems. It is not possible for me to say anything on either of those subjects, except, of course, that I should entirely agree that the human problem is a vital one, and that everything should be done to see that any loss of morale in the Services due to the policy outlined in the White Paper is dealt with as speedily as possible.
I hope I shall be forgiven if I introduce into the debate two points of a rather wider character than we have dealt with hitherto. Throughout this debate, and still more throughout the debate which took place last week on a similar Motion regarding the Navy, I was made to feel uneasy—I would almost say profoundly 944 uneasy, except that that word is perhaps episcopally overworked—by the underlying assumption that Russia is the enemy. I know that not a single person in this House wants war, and yet, of course, we must talk about it, and talk about it in a realistic way. That provides us with a real dilemma, because we have to shape our plans to meet what is the most obvious threat, and yet at the same time we must not shape our plans to make that threat more real. Now how to resolve that dilemma I do not know, but I think we should do well to remember two things. The first is—and it is a very simple psychological point—that the more we concentrate on the possibility that a thing may happen, the more likely that thing is to happen. Long ago, when we were learning to ride a bicycle, we may remember our experience as we wobbled along. If we concentrated on not going over that big stone which lay in front of us, the chances were that we would hit it in the middle. So it is here. The more we concentrate upon the greater danger, the more we shall bring it about.
Secondly, we have to be vividly aware of the misinterpretation which words spoken here will have in other countries, and particularly in Russia. When words spoken here are torn out of the context of a placid and benevolent House, and are used for propaganda purposes and twisted, they can be made into a very awkward instrument. No man will behave reasonably and amicably when he believes that a gun is being pointed at him. I am not pleading for an ostrich policy, but I do believe that we should be vividly aware of those two facts as we consider the great subjects in front of us.
That is my first point. The second point is this. In the Defence White Paper, the first three paragraphs emphasise the fact that we are facing a new situation—indeed, an unparalleled situation. I should like to ask the question: Have we really taken the measure of the word "new"? I remember in my college days a philosophical discussion on the question whether the difference between a difference of quality and a difference of quantity was itself a difference of quality or of quantity. My belief is that the hydrogen bomb, which is the new factor in the situation, is not just a bigger and better bang. It is not a weapon at all; 945 it is a plague which can afflict generations of people that are going to come after us. I believe—and here I may meet with great opposition—that in no circumstances whatsoever would it be right to use this weapon, not even in its "clean" form. For this weapon, I am told, devastates, when detonated, fifty square miles of country, and I know of no military target which is fifty square miles in extent. It has been said in this debate that in the last resort surely we should do as we have done in the past, and use this ultimate weapon to save ourselves. But that is just begging the question. Would it save us? That is the contention of those who believe that we should renounce its use.
VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE
My Lords, may I ask the right reverend Prelate this question? Would he address himself to the proposition which I put to the House in my speech? If, before the last war, both Hitler's Germany and the Allies had possessed the hydrogen bomb, would he have advocated our unilaterally disarming ourselves of it?
THE LORD BISHOP OF MANCHESTER
Yes, I would. I do not believe that in a matter like this it would have been right for us to have used it. Humanly speaking, it is difficult to see what the ultimate circumstances and result of that decision might have beer. But there are powers beyond human powers which look after these things if man follows what is right and what he ultimately believes to be just.
It is said in the White Paper that the rôle of individual forces in total war is somewhat uncertain. It has already been said in the debate that those words apply equally to the Army and to the Air Force. May I take one point? There is a deep human instinct which nerves a man to take human life to defend his hearth and home. Suppose he knows in advance that the action which he takes will not defend his hearth and home. Suppose it means, as some would contend, obliteration for both sides. What then? That is a question to which I have not heard an adequate answer given. I have said that I do not think we have yet taken the real measure of the word "new". In the debate last week, one noble Lord concluded that we should plan ten years ahead. I would have thought that that was completely 946 impossible. If we can see ten months ahead it is as far as we can go. May I quote Horace, putting him into English? He said:Around the future Jove has castA veil like night; He gives us powerTo see the present and the pastBut kindly hides the future hourAnd smiles when man with daring eyeWould pierce that dread futurity.Yet I think we may be able to pierce the futurity, to pierce the mists just a little, on certain conditions. The Defence White Paper says that the overriding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war rather than to prepare for it. I think we should all agree with that. Nevertheless, there is within those words what seems to me to be a hidden contradiction. To prevent war involves planning and action far outside the military field; it involves imaginative concentration upon social, economic, psychological and political considerations. In other words, defence to-day is far from being purely a military question.
The present dangers, I believe, may possibly best be met not in the realm of defence at all. It will be within the knowledge of noble Lords that Sir Stephen King-Hall has publicly raised the general question of the use and utility of non-violent resistance, whether as a substitute for or as a supplement to armed resistance. This, among others, is the kind of question that, in my view, requires dispassionate consideration. I hope I shall not be misunderstood. I am not a pacificist—I never have been, although I respect pacifists' position. But what I would urge upon Her Majesty's Government is that defence problems should be considered in a much wider sense. I would have them call into confidential parley persons with experience in many other fields, but, above all, persons with the faculty of what one might call informed imagination, people with insight into the way that human beings act, individually and in the mass. After all, was it not these gifts, and of course many more, which enabled Sir Winston Churchill to win the loyalty and confidence of the nation in a very dark day?
I believe that such a reconsideration as I have indicated would bring to light now many factors that are at present being ignored. And, if it were seen, as I believe it might be seen, that to break out of the vicious circle which has characterised 947 all our disarmament conferences, and seems like characterising the present, we ought to take the limit of risk by renunciation of nuclear tests, by unilateral renunciation of the use of the hydrogen bomb, I hope we might do so, and willingly risk in the cause of lasting peace as much as, and more than, we have hitherto as a nation been led to risk for success in actual war.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has certainly greatly widened the debate—I do not at all complain of that: he has gone to the whole fundamentals of defence, and not only on the strategic side but also on the moral side. It is fair and right that that issue should be posed in any debate, whether it be a general Defence debate or whether it be a debate on one of the particular Defence Services because, unless the fundamentals of defence policy are right, then all the details must be wrong and we cannot really consider details apart from the whole basis on which the policy and practice of each Service rest.
The right reverend Prelate has indeed not only challenged the whole fundamental position, which not only this Government but every Government which preceded it has taken—and, I may say, which every Commonwealth Government which shares in the defences of the Commonwealth and the free world has also taken—but has asserted that it is wrong. He has really challenged the assumption that Russia is the enemy. At any rate, he said, "Is that a right assumption? Is it not" (I hope I do not do him an injustice) "a rather dangerous assumption to make?" I should have thought that it was the only real assumption that anybody could make. I am not saying that every effort should not be made to arrive at practical agreements which will reduce the risk of war and reduce armaments; but the reduction of all kinds of armaments must certainly go together, or, so far from reducing the chances of war, you are making it certain that the country which has the vast preponderance of what are called conventional weapons and unlimited manpower would be able to overwhelm the world in a matter of days or weeks. That is an unchallengeable fact.
948 As I understand it, the right reverend Prelate would not deny that, but he says "It is wrong to use the hydrogen bomb, or indeed to have it, because, if it were used, then the thing would be a plague which would destroy everybody." The fact that it would bring universal destruction has always been common ground between us. He also said," It is a dangerous thing to concentrate on the possibility of disagreeable things happening to you." He took the parallel of a boy who was learning to ride a bicycle saying, "I must avoid that stone." I am not sure that I would quite agree with him that the determination to avoid the stone was almost certain to lead the boy to run into it. But, with great respect, that nice puerile analogy seemed to me to be rather wide of the mark. It does not rest with us to decide whether or not this weapon will be used. It is not possible for us by our own action to avoid this.
I must apologise to the House, and particularly to my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that I could not be here at the beginning of this debate. I very much dislike taking part in a debate of which I have not heard the whole, but I think the House will forgive me if, after this extremely arresting speech from the right reverend Prelate, I intervene. I should like to say this. Those of your Lordships who have been some years in the House will recollect a speech made by the late Archbishop of York, than whom no one was heard with greater respect and affection in this House and than whom there was never a more saintly Christian in the lifetime of any of us.
Many of your Lordships will recall the speech which the late Archbishop, I know after deep prayer, made in our Defence debate after the Commonwealth Conference had come to a close and when the defence policy, based entirely on the new hydrogen bomb and all its potentialities and its perils, had been evolved. I should like to remind the House of that speech, because I think it is the best answer that can be made to the right reverend Prelate. The late Archbishop said this, speaking on March 16, 1955 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 191, col. 1147]:I hate and detest as much as any of my correspondents the making of these hateful weapons: I would to God they had never been invented! If the world is destroyed by 949 their use it would be the defeat of the purpose for which God made it, as a home in which men of all nations and races might live together in fellowship. But it is very difficult to bring most of those who make these protests to the realisation that the decision as to whether or not the bombs are used does not rest with this nation alone. The decision will rest with those who will be quite uninfluenced by protests and petitions. If sermons were preached from every pulpit during the rest of the year against the manufacture and use of these bombs, and if Members in every constituency were given a mandate to vote for the abolition of the use of nuclear weapons, the Communist States would continue on their chosen path, regardless of remonstrances and reckless of human life.Those were the words of the Archbishop. He went on to refer specifically to the particular policy which the Defence White Paper enunciated then and which, of course, has been followed out as the basis of policy ever since. I would remind the House again that that was immediately after the Commonwealth Conference, in which all the Commonwealth Ministers who were taking part in the Defence meetings were entirely agreed. Archbishop Garbett then said this (Col. 1148):I am greatly influenced by the fact that the Conference of Commonwealth Ministers, practically everybody of responsibility in this country, on both sides of the other House, and practically all the leaders and statesmen of our country, are agreed in saying that at this moment, whatever may be the position in the future, the hydrogen bomb is a deterrent to war, and that our possession of it, hateful as it is, may prevent that bomb from ever being used. Our statesmen, and others who take this position, argue that the mere fact that a peace-loving nation like our own possesses these bombs may prevent the bomb from ever being used for fear of the retaliation which would follow. I am greatly impressed by this argument. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, referred to it as the one hope of sanity in this troubled world. It is possible that this hope may prove tragically wrong; but certainly at the moment the possession of the bomb seems to be the one possibility of preserving peace in the years immediately ahead. If so, it would be madness to close the door to this possibility.My Lords, I could not put it better—indeed, I could not put it half as well. Certainly I think that that speech disposes of the charge in regard to the development, the manufacture and the holding in reserve of this bomb. We shall never start the plague—that is quite certain. We cannot be attacked on grounds of being immoral or unchristian. Equally, from the strategic point of view I would only say: Look at the situation of the world to-day. What 950 is there to make us abandon the one insurance premium for peace? Surely any Government which had responsibility in this country would be criminal if they did not carry out the policy which this Government are carrying out and are continuing. That is all I have to say on that. I have only two words that I should like to add.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I should like to ask the noble Earl this question. This arms race has been in progress since the end of the war. I will not go into the question of whether Russia is determined to make war or whether she is the enemy—that is one question. The question I ask is this: Is this country safer to-day than it was on D-Day? We have had all this competition—it is going on apace; nothing is checking it. Are we safer for this competition? The reason I ask this question is because I well remember the First World War, and I remember Sir Edward Grey making a speech in which he said, "Arms competitions have only one end, and that is war, unless an agreement is arrived at." Yet the noble Earl is protesting, as if more competition is making us safer. I put that specific question. Will he, with his immense experience, say that we are safer vis-à-vis any enemy than we were on D-Day in 1945?
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, the question is not a fair question. I will tell the noble Viscount why. It is always unwise to take a situation which existed ten or twenty years ago and ask whether we were safer at that particular time? The fair question to put to me is surely this: not on D-Day but to-day, on this day, are we safer with the hydrogen bomb or not? To that I should have thought there could be only one answer. The noble Viscount says that Sir Edward Grey said that arms races always lead to war. Generalities are pretty dangerous things. Of course, if we could get real reduction in armaments—by that, I mean concurrent reduction in the conventional and unconventional weapons—so that we got to a stage at 951 which no country was in a position to make war, then I should certainly be with the noble Viscount—of course I should. I would be a party to that, as I am sure would everybody on the Government Benches. There is really no Party issue in this. We have all followed this out. When the Party of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition was in power, the same policy was followed out of trying to get practical results (the noble Viscount Lord Stansgate, may not like the answer, but I am going to give it to him), trying to get practical disarmament. We followed on on the same lines.
I ask the House: who is responsible for an arms race? Look at the situation. There are the Russians, with 200 or 300 divisions, with conventional arms, and 500 or 600 submarines—far more than the Allies or the enemy ever possessed in the last war; and they are pressing on all the time with the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb. I do not want an arms race; I want disarmament. But who started the arms race? Who is carrying it on absolutely at full pressure to-day? It is the potential aggressor. If I am asked about safety, I say that this country and the whole of Europe and the free world would be in deadly peril if Russia had 300 divisions and we did not possess the deterrent of the hydrogen bomb. That is my answer to the noble Viscount.
§ LORD MATHERS
May I ask the noble Earl whether or not he is aware that what he has been declaring is that we are all under the compulsion of fear, and that we lack the faith which the right reverend Prelate asked us to have?
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I do not in the least accept that. It is easy to play with words. I am not under the compulsion of fear, but I am under the compulsion of facts to see that my country is safe and is not destroyed; and any Government would be in that position.
There are only two further things I want to say. One is a purely personal reference to a noble Lord of whose death we learned a few ago, Lord Riverdale. I feel it would be fitting that in a debate on the Royal Air Force his name should be mentioned and his work remembered, for as my noble friend on the Liberal 952 Benches knows, no one did more than Lord Riverdale, for so many years as chairman of the Appeal Committee, to put the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund on the very sound and solid footing on which it is to-day.
I am not going to elaborate the second point, but I should like to echo the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble and gallant Lords, Lord De L'Isle and Lord Tedder about the danger that may exist in the hiatus between the bomber, and indeed the fighter, and the guided missile. We must be able to deliver the atomic weapon, for that is part of the deterrent. I am not in the secrets of the latest development, but I know, as everybody who has been a defence Minister knows, how often it happens that early developments look extraordinarily promising and then troubles occur in practice—and there are goodness knows how many entirely novel features in these guided missiles!I believe that it would be very rash to stop the development of the supersonic bomber and perhaps the supersonic fighter beyond the P.1, unless we were absolutely certain that by a given date effective guided missiles would be available to us. And by that I mean that the missile will be right and that we are certain it will be able to hit the target.
I am reinforced in that thought (and I cannot say how much I agree with him) by what was said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, about the interdependence of the bomber and civil aviation. I know that from experience, both as Air Minister and as Minister of Civil Aviation. That is profoundly true; and it gets more true all the time. These things are more expensive all the time, and as one of the things on which we are going to depend is a much smaller force—and rightly so—it is no good having a strategic reserve unless it is mobile. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, that there are great limitations to mobility in the air. All that reinforces the need for having not only a good Transport Command but a very good civilian air force which can be brought in to reinforce if need be. For all those reasons, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to have second thoughts about the development of the bomber. I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I felt so moved, remembering what has 953 been said on this subject by that great and good man who was such a close friend of us all, that I could not refrain from speaking in the House to-day.
§ 4.56 p.m.
My Lords, I rise with considerable trepidation to take part in this debate following the number of good and distinguished speakers who have already made most knowledgeable speeches, while I am speaking merely as one who was a Royal Marines engineer during the war. My excuse for doing so is that I had the great good fortune to be shown around Marham Aerodrome when a committee of European M.P. s—the Western European Defence Committee—were very impressed. The impression was such that I felt that this might be a suitable occasion for me to say so and also to thank those who "laid on" the visit and the really astonishingly good show.
We were shown the latest bombers. Valiants and Vulcans, both on the ground and in a most impressive flying display afterwards, and we also saw the Canberra. The Vulcan appeared to go straight off the ground, the most amazing thing that I have ever seen. Only slightly less impressive was the Canberra, which is now being converted to carry atomic weapons. I thought the most impressive thing was the forward looking and the forward thinking of the officers we met. Probably that has always been so, but I had not realised quite the extent to which they regarded their technical problems on what might be called a civilian basis. Work-study and the keynote of saving manpower and efficiency was very evident, as was the pride with which personnel displayed the various pieces of specialised equipment for servicing these giant aircraft; and their spirit of friendly rivalry shown in such statements as "The Americans have nothing like this" and "The servicing after 200 hours' flying, which use; d to take a fortnight, now takes only a couple of days." That is typical of the outlook of the people looking after these aircraft.
The decision to return an engine to the makers for servicing after a 600-hours period, rather than have the servicing done by the Royal Air Force, seems to be a wise one, on the grounds of both equipment and manpower. I found the whole outlook most refreshing. The 954 wireless and radar servicing establishment there was most impressive, and when one considers that in a modern aircraft of the V-bomber type there are about 4,000 valves, one begins to see what a problem this presents. The air conditioning equipment and the factories in which this work is carried out were also most impressive.
In the training field, the electronic flight simulator was a fascinating thing. In an hour's "flying" in this device practically every catastrophe that might occur to a pilot normally can be "laid on" by the instructor by pressing various buttons. The effect is noted on the instruments and on the pilot, even down to the appropriate noises occurring in the aircraft. A point which strikes one here is that a flight simulator costs about £20 a week to run, whereas an aircraft of this type would cost something of the order of £200 an hour, and in considering economy one can see the great effect of this advance.
If one considers the actual Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates as the report of a company at its annual general meeting, the shareholders would have little to grumble about. There are a few points which pleased me and which I should like briefly to mention. They are first, the attention which is being paid to married quarters. That is very appropriate when we are endeavouring to attract people into the Services, and it is most necessary. Another matter which pleased me very much was the extreme accuracy of the bombing on the Maralinga range. We are told that an atomic bomb was dropped within 110 vards of the aiming point. One cannot help recalling the dropping of the American bomb at Bikini. That bomb missed the target by five miles. So a certain advance has undoubtedly been made in that direction. Further there have been encouraging results with regard to the "Fireflash", and the close follow up by the "Firestreak" which we are promised is very gratifying. The electronic flight simulator I have already referred to. It will clearly be of great value in developing operational techniques, and we understand that in connection with it there is a considerable potential saving in time and cost.
955 It is also comforting to see that the Second Tactical Air Force is being re-equipped with Hunter 6's. There has been a certain amount of misgiving on the Continent, which I think this visit did a great deal to dispel. These people all went away very much impressed; so much so, in fact, that some of them were saying, "Why do we want the Americans?" That idea, of course, is something which will have to be discouraged. Nevertheless, on the whole it was a very good show. Another point that particularly pleased me was to note that the Scottish Twin Pioneer aircraft is still finding great use. It is refreshing to find that that is mentioned—and mentioned among all these wonderful supersonic and electronic matters. It is good to know that here is a really good aircraft which will remain necessary for years to come. We shall require that kind of aircraft for a substantial time, and it gave me great pleasure to read of the production orders. Finally, the thing which gave most satisfaction to me, as a farmer, and I am sure to all who are farmers, was the news of the relinquishment by the Royal Air Force of 1,000 acres a month of requisitioned agricultural land. This is land which they no longer require. I am sure this news will give great pleasure to all who are concerned with agriculture.
There is one point about which I am not so happy, and I confess that I do not understand it—I refer to the large sums of money which we are spending on antisubmarine warfare measures. If it is assumed, as I gather from various noble Lords that it is assumed, that all future wars will be short and sharp, then where is the great necessity for anti-submarine measures? Who is going to be starved out in a fortnight? It may be, of course, that submarines are being regarded as launching platforms for guided missiles. I think that the amount of money which apparently is being devoted to this measure requires a little explanation. I, at least, cannot understand it. If the noble Lord who is going to reply could throw any light on that matter I should be most grateful.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like first of all to associate myself with what 956 the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said with regard to our mutual friend, Lord Riverdale. I feel a special need to do so, because I represented Sheffield for a great number of years, and from the days when he was Arthur Balfour, and then Sir Arthur Balfour, I had the opportunity of recognising his great services to the State. His views were very different from mine, but the immense value of those services cannot be denied. In his particular service, in the help he gave to the Royal Air Force, his influence and leadership were quite outstanding; and they achieved great results. I have a great friendship for his son who was a serving officer in the Royal Navy and later served in connection with the Naval Air Wing on the "Ark Royal." With other noble Lords, I should like to express my sincere sympathy with members of the family in the great loss which they have sustained.
My Lords, the House must indeed be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for introducing in the manner he did the Motion which we are now debating. Although I wish to say something later about the speeches of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, I think it would be a pity if we were to lose sight, by reason of these later speeches, of the objectives that were before the House at the opening of the debate. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in introducing the debate, gave quite a proper summary of the position. In my view, the question with which he dealt—whether we are to envisage in the future a nuclear war in which the R.A.F. will be engaged, or an all-out European theatre war, or any wars of a more local character such as he described—must have a great deal to do with influencing the policy to be adopted for the Royal Air Force. I think that that was a very fair presentation of the case. I am bound to say that it seems to me that, though the noble Lord was very mild in his approach to this matter—and I do not want to be violent—there is ground for regret that the Government have not apparently made up their minds as to which of these three possibilities is felt to be the one for which it is most imperative to prepare, and, therefore, are not in a position to give at once the lead that is required.
957 I felt that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, a very old friend of mine and a very great war leader and post-war leader in these matters, was justified in what he said about what occurred almost immediately the Defence White Paper was debated and thereafter. He spoke of the lack of confidence on the part of officers and other ranks as the result of the decisions revealed by the Defence White Paper, and he said that this was leading to alarm and despondency. That is now some months ago, and it seems a pity that we have reached July 10 and still have not had a firm statement by the Government of what is intended in these matters. I am sure that both Houses of Parliament would be entirely sympathetic to any particular points which the Government would wish to include in a public statement, provided they were satisfied that the Government were going to do their best to restore confidence—and, indeed, as one noble Lord has put it, to build up the morale which has been injured by the uncertainty which has been created.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is to reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, will not attack the Leader of the Opposition for putting this point of view. Neither the Leader of the Opposition here nor the Leader of the Opposition in another place, nor indeed any Party, is being unreasonable about this question. The cause of this alarm which has arisen in the Royal Air Force about the future is largely to be found in the interpretation of the Defence Paper by the Press, some sections of which, apparently, have already abolished Fighter Command and have thus aroused feelings of perturbation among officers and other ranks in the Force. I hope that the Government will be able to make up their minds as to exactly what is to be done and that they will make an announcement upon it. I am willing to support the view put forward by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, that in this connection we do not want to try to reduce to a complete common level whatever provision is to be made for each of the three Services. There must be differences, but I should say that it would be reasonable to produce a solution to meet them.
I come back to the situation which worries me a great deal—that is, what is the solution for meeting our immediate 958 problems on the basis taken in the Defence White Paper and of having completely voluntary service in the three arms of our defence? I can see that the First Lord of the Admiralty will have less difficulty than the other Services Ministers. There will be a large proportion of volunteers for the Royal Navy. I can see that for the Royal Air Force there will always be a section of eager volunteers for the officer ranks and for the more notable and dangerous work to be done in the Royal Air Force. But, judging by my own experience—though I agree that I have been nearly seven years away from office, which does make a difference, because of what has happened in the meantime—I feel we are taking a big chance with the Army and Air Force, in the present general level of employment in industry, in relying on getting all the personnel we need, including proper manning of the technical sections of the Forces.
I do not believe that we shall get the number of volunteers required merely by improving conditions, or even by raising the spiral of remuneration nearer to the present spiral in industry. I should like very much to see the Services maintained on a voluntary basis, especially in peace time. I hope that I may be wrong in my prognostication, but from the actual experience of the three or four ventures we have already made—the improvements in conditions, such as the provision of more married quarters, in which there has been a very considerable improvement in the last ten years; the provision of brighter barracks, and increases in emoluments, which have not brought a permanent and steady increase of enlistment into the Regular Forces—I have no strong conviction that all the needs of our Defence Services can be met at the present time by voluntary enlistment. I should be untrue to my inner self if I did not state that feeling in your Lordships' House, although it may not be my Party's view, or the view held by every section of your Lordships' House.
The other aspect raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, is the recognition by the Government that the possession of hydrogen and atomic weapons is the ultimate deterrent. They base their policy more and more upon that belief. They say that they cannot hope to be able economically to provide 959 for everything necessary to meet a situation which would involve the use of both conventional and anti-nuclear defence forces, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, approved of that this afternoon. If that is the line we are taking, I repeat what I said weeks ago: that we have entered so far into a new era; that we have reached the point of no return. We are building now upon the nuclear weapon not merely as the ultimate but almost as the only deterrent to war; we are relying on that entirely. That seems to me to be a very dangerous situation indeed.
It is dangerous for those who have loved the Services in their original rôles, and who are confident that every Defence Minister must have as his first task the security of the home base and the home people. That seems to me to be our first task now. We possess nuclear weapons and I am not sorry that we have them, in view of the progress in the arming of Russia and, maybe, other nations. I am not against our being in possession of a deterrent equal to that possessed by somebody else, but I am bound to say that I do not believe that we can properly meet all the circumstances and, for years to come, all our wide commitments in regard to our overseas possessions, our trade and our standing in the world, simply by cutting down our forces and relying upon an ultimate deterrent in a future war. Nor can I believe that it is right and proper to support that policy by resting upon the statement of the Minister of Defence in another place, that we have reached such a situation in technical development that any atomic weapon not above the weight of the Hiroshima bomb must be regarded as a tactical weapon. I cannot have reliance on that or on the more limited kind of war which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, included in the three propositions he made this afternoon. I think that that is an exceedingly dangerous situation for us to get into.
I think that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Manchester was right to voice the view of certain sections of the community in a speech which I thought was one of great courage. I am sorry that I cannot go the whole way with him. From the point of view of human desire, I wish that I could. But when we come to the question of responsibility for the 960 defence of our country, we have to remember that, whatever we should like to see, that is not sufficient unless we can put to the country a policy which would be reasonably satisfactory for the defence of all our fellow-citizens. Nobody who has had any responsibility for any part of our defence has been able to escape from the dilemma that, however much he may desire to abolish X, Y or Z, or the more horrific types of warfare, he cannot be sure that these things will not still be in the possession of others far more likely to make war than his own people. That is the problem simply stated.
I had a great deal of sympathy with the right reverend Prelate when he focused part of his speech on the fact that everybody seems to take one section of the world as the enemy that we have to fear and prepare to defeat. I think there was a good deal in his argument this afternoon which showed that even that kind of psychology, operating in a nation or the world, often leads to the kind of conflict we are all so anxious to avoid. For a leader of the Church to come to this House—which is the only House of Parliament in which he can speak at the present time, in any case—and to give his views, and therefore for them to be debated, is a good thing.
While I could not go all the way with him in his answer to the interjection made by the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, I am bound to say that I think that those countries like the United States, ourselves and others who are interested in disarmament could go a little further in our attempts at negotiation and at getting results, without saying some of the rather hard things which are said from time to time—I have said them myself from time to time—about the Communist menace in the world. When we are faced with the use of devilish weapons, which we all know will destroy anything within not merely miles, but in the future, hundreds of miles of their delivery, and the shocking risk that every single statesman who has to handle the matter takes for his own countrymen, as well as for others, then it seems to me that we ought to be even more insistent upon our attempt to get negotiations to bring it to an end.
There have been occasions in the past few months when we have debated different phases of this subject. Shall we suspend the tests?—we have dealt with that 961 question from time to time, but not very satisfactorily. These powerful arguments were put in this House: how could we suspend the tests if other people were going on with them; and, until we had completed our tests, would it be reasonable to place our people in a position of disadvantage compared with those nations which have carried out the tests? But we are not in that position now, because we have carried out a most important test. I speak subject to correction by the noble Lords who answer for the Government in the Service Departments, but I should say that probably this country is the only country, so far, which has carried out a satisfactory test by a bomber delivering this new and shocking weapon to its target. A great many bombs of the character of the latest hydrogen bomb have been tested by the United States, but, so far as I know, they have always been from a fixed point, and not actually tested from an aviation machine. However, on that I stand to be corrected if I am wrong.
But certainly we have made such progress with the manufacture and the testing of the bomb that there is no real reason, in that direction, why we should not join in any general move to get a suspension of future tests. I think we have arrived at the position when we can show better our hopes and fears and our real faith in the future of humanity by supporting the efforts which are being made to get the tests suspended. Then I hope that we shall be able to go on and move for a convention for the non-use or the banning of the bomb, which must, in my judgment, carry two things with it: it must allow for countries to be compelled to lose that portion of their sovereignty which at present refuses common inspection—there must be inspection; and in regard to all that we have to face in the future, I think it must be specially related, step by step, to a proper agreement on the reduction of conventional arms. Because if we are going to face the future in the world to-day with such a division of the conventional forces as at present exists, then it seems to me that we should be in an exceedingly dangerous and vulnerable position—I do not put it any higher or any lower than that. Therefore, I hope very much that thought will go on in that direction.
962 I am, of course, speaking in reply to the debate, so far as my Party is concerned, "off the cuff", but I want to say this. The international conference held the other day of Labour associations from the different countries who are members of the International Socialist Association, was thinking more and more along the lines I have just indicated, as is shown by the resolution which has been published from that conference. While I cannot go all the way with the statement of the right reverend Prelate to-day, I hope that we shall most earnestly pray that the road will be opened up for an agreement of the kind that I want—first of all, a suspension of future tests of the bomb, for the time being, at any rate; and then a move towards an agreement for the banning of the weapon, subject to these two factors: inspection and a proper disarmament agreement in regard to conventional weapons.
I value most highly the great services of the Royal Air Force. I had the advantage of serving my longest period in political office with the Royal Navy, but as Minister of Defence I saw what remarkable progress had been made by the Royal Air Force I hope that we shall not be left in quite the position that we are in to-day. I agree entirely that, with the mixed outlook that we have at the present time about preparing a proper defence, we should not agree to such a dropping of scientific inquiry and development as would put us out of court in regard to the supersonic aeroplane. I think that we should have a bomber of the highest speed and weight capacity for that purpose, and I hope that that end will be pursued. But I beg of all who are now connected with it that they will never let these matters establish that principle that I have often heard the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, argue against: to conduct armament developments in such a way that you sacrifice over and over again the better, whilst waiting interminably and without real achievement for the best. That is a fundamental point.
I was most interested in Lord Tedder's reference to the Women's Royal Air Force. Girls and young ladies, when they want to join a Service, are interested in appearance. In my particular Department in 1940 we had a great argument as to whether there should be anything approaching a military headgear for the 963 W.R.N.S. Eventually we evolved something which was a little softer than the military, and yet not altogether unallied with the nautical, and I think it was a great success. The W.R.N.S. were governed also by another piece of policy—they were not included in the provisions of the Army and Royal Air Force Discipline Act. I am not at all sure whether the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, would agree with me, or whether he heard what the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, had to say earlier in the debate, but probably if the ladies who now want to join the Women's Royal Air Force wish to see it more feminine in its general outlook and control, then one possible avenue by which to meet their wishes would be not to make them conform to the rigid discipline that is exercised under the Army and Royal Air Force Discipline Act. However, that is probably a debatable subject.
May I say one other thing? I think it would be wrong for us to leave a debate on the Royal Air Force Estimates at the present time—I say this without making any comment at all about the rights or wrongs of the reasons for the campaign in Suez—without both sides of the House recognising the efficiency and gallantry with which the officers and men of the Royal Air Force played their part. They were not responsible for the orders given. They were not responsible for what many of us think was a regrettable blunder in the policy they were carrying out. I should not like this debate to close without our paying a tribute to the officers and men of the Service.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, at the outset of his interesting speech, said that he did not envy the lot of any Minister of the Defence Departments at this particular time. I cordially agree with him. There is an uncertainty, an understandable uncertainty but an uncertainty, nevertheless, and too many imponderables for our comfort. We have, for instance, on the one hand, the paradox of redundancy, and the necessary "axeing", and, on the other, the need for a recruiting drive.
I do not blame the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in any way for raising that point. I certainly 964 do not criticise him for raising, as did many other noble Lords, the whole question of the uncertainty which must inevitably stem from the changes of policy set out in my right honourable friend's White Paper. That is understandable. There have been throughout this debate frequent references—in fact I think almost every speaker has referred to it—to the future of those officers and men whose careers may possibly be terminated. Let me begin, therefore, by reminding your Lordships of what was actually said about this matter in my right honourable friend's White Paper. In paragraph 68 he says:Those whose careers have to be prematurely terminated will be given fair compensation and will be helped in every way possible to find suitable employment in civilian life.I repeat that Her Majesty's Government will honour this double pledge in every sense. To carry out that pledge, however, requires intensive work on some very detailed plans.
Those of your Lordships who, like the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, my noble friend Lord De L'Isle and my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, have been Ministers in Service Departments will appreciate how complicated those plans must be. This delay which your Lordships have regretted is not due to inter-departmental squabbles—I can promise my noble friend Lord De L'Isle that: it is due to the complications inherent in such things as the loss of service, the loss of pension, the loss of promotion prospects and a thousand and one other things, all of which have to be taken into consideration. We hope that we shall be able to bring this period of delay and doubt, which is causing so much uneasiness, to an end as soon as we possibly can.
The problem varies with each Service and within each Service. It is not as difficult in some respects for the Royal Air Force and for the Navy as it is for the Army. That I readily admit. Those differences, I think your Lordships will see in due course, will be quite marked. There is a temptation, of course, to bring out, bit by bit, a piecemeal scheme. I think that would be wrong. I think that the scheme should come out as a coherent scheme for the three Services. It must be precise, it must be fair and it must be intelligible. I hope that 965 is the scheme which we shall, as soon as possible, lay before the country.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, may I interrupt the Minister for one moment? He has given a very solemn pledge that everything will be done as soon as possible. That is a pledge which we have heard before. Could we have something a little more precise? Could the noble Lord say whether before Parliament adjourns for the Summer Recess Her Majesty's Government will have made public the scheme, so that Parliamentary political reactions can be judged before there is a long interlude? I do not think that is an unfair question.
§ LORD MANCROFT
Of course it is not, but unfortunately I am not in a position to pledge any specific date. I fully understand the noble Lord's anxiety, and I should hope that we might have the scheme available before the summer holiday. So long as he regards it as no more than a pious hope, expressed on my own behalf and nobody else's, I, like your Lordships, desire to have this matter settled as soon as possible.
Financial compensation is, of course, only half the story. There is the question of resettlement, to which many of your Lordships have referred—particularly of officers. I do not think there will be much trouble in resettling the N.C.Os. and other ranks. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I think, pooh-poohed a little the rôle of the Ministry of Labour in this respect. They are not the only agent, of course, but they will play a prominent part in the problem of finding suitable work for officers whose careers have been terminated. But they will rely on the good will and co-operation of all others who can possibly help—of the public, of commerce, of the various bodies to which the noble Lord referred, the F.B.I, and others. I hope this problem will not present quite the difficulties which at first seemed apparent. It is essential that it should be solved, and solved to the satisfaction of the men concerned, because it is undoubtedly casting some cloud over the future of the Royal Air Force as a whole.
The other questions which your Lordships have asked this afternoon and 966 which I think are being asked in the country at large are these. Are we to have a Royal Air Force or a Royal Push-Button Force? Are we placing too much reliance on ballistic missiles? Are we, as the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle asked, gambling over the gap in the transition from aircraft to guided missiles? And what in future is to be the rôle of manned aircraft and their pilots? Let me reassure the House at once that in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government there is and will for some considerable time be a continuing rôle for manned aircraft. There will be a considerable period when for defence and for strategic attack both aircraft and guided weapons will be needed. The biggest risk, I think, comes from the sort of timidity which wants to keep all the alternatives going and have a 200 per cent. insurance. That would bring us to the situation to which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, rightly drew attention—the worst possible course of trying to attempt everything and achieving nothing in good time.
The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Manchester—he is no longer in his place—made an interesting speech with some of which I find myself able to agree. I do not propose, if he will forgive me, to follow him in his arguments about the deterrent. I presented mine to the House, at some considerable length, when I opened the debate on the Defence White Paper. I have nothing to add, save to say that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, put my own views this afternoon with a great deal more power and authority than I could. Our aim is to possess a significant element of the deterrent power of our own. This is the power we are now seeking to create.
The Valiant bomber force is now at full strength—that was the aeroplane which dropped an atomic bomb at Maralinga last October. The megaton weapons have been tested in the Pacific, and the Royal Air Force has a stock of both atomic weapons; and a stock of megaton weapons is now being manufactured. The Vulcan is now in service with the R.A.F., and the Victor comes into service later this year. Both types are being developed and improved. The guided bomb—that is, the stand-off bomb—will further increase the effectiveness of these bombers and will bring to 967 them a new lease of life. Ballistic missiles will supplement this force. As your Lordships know, the part of these missiles is of gradually increasing importance, but they cannot replace the bomber for many years ahead at home, and for many more years ahead in stations abroad.
A similar situation faces Fighter Command, whose principal rôle, now and in the future, is the defence of the deterrent. Our immediate concern is the re-equipment of the day-fighter force with F.6 Hunters and the build-up of the Javelin all-weather force. Those of your Lordships who went to the Le Bourget air show a few weeks ago must have been immensely impressed, as I was, by the performance which the R.A.F., in their Hunters, put up at that show, and at the universal acclaim with which it was greeted. We hope to have the re-equipment of the day-fighter squadrons largely completed by the end of the year. We look ahead to the supersonic fighter P.1. A production order has been placed, and we also look ahead to the air-to-air missiles. Service trials with the first of these missiles, the "Fireflash", have been carried out, and tactical doctrines are now being worked out. The more advanced "Firestreak" has been tested in research and development trials in Australia, and we hope shortly to begin its acceptance trials. That weapon will eventually be fitted to the Javelin and the P.1.
As with ballistic missiles and the bomber, surface-to-air guided missiles will at first be supplementary to the manned fighter. A production order for the first of these surface-to-air guided missiles (" Bloodhound," by name) has been placed, and I myself saw that weapon at Bristol a few weeks ago. Preparations for its introduction are going ahead parallel with the re-equipment of the manned squadrons. I dwell on this matter in some detail in order to reinforce the point which I think is so important: that there is and will be for many years to come, a rôle, and a vital rôle, for manned aircraft in the R.A.F.
I have made no mention in my remarks of the other important rôles for manned aircraft—reconnaissance, transport, police work, helicopters, coastal work, and so on, matters with which your Lordships are familiar. Both in the case of the deterrent and the vitally important 968 defence of the deterrent, the position, therefore, is this. Our immediate preoccupation is the re-equipment of manned squadrons. They still have an important development potential in which missiles in the shape of the guided bomb and the air-to-air missile will play a major part. Ground-launched missiles will play an increasingly important rôle, but supplementary rather than independent. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships are now convinced that it is not a Royal Push-button Force but the Royal Air Force relying, as ever it did, on the best possible type of man.
That brings us straight to the urgent problem of recruiting. This is a problem to which many of your Lordships have drawn attention: the high quality of the potential officer material still needed in all branches, particularly the pilot branch, navigators and air electronic officers. And it so happens that to-day the first course of electronic officers is holding its passing out parade at Swanton Morley. To deal with the officers first, the Cranwell entry has steadily increased in quantity since 1956. The quality is improving, too. This improvement has shown itself both in the candidates coming forward from the entrance examination held by the Civil Service Commission and in those whose educational qualifications allow them to side-step that examination. In the main, however, it is due to the flow of R.A.F. scholars which is beginning to reach us under the scheme introduced in 1953 and extended last August.
Under this scheme, boys from just over fifteen and a half years of age who are selected as potentially suitable for cadetships may obtain financial assistance towards their schooling for up to two years to enable them to qualify educationally for entry. School fees can be refunded up to a maximum of £100 a year, whatever the parents' income may be; and the maintenance grant, again up to an annual maximum of £100, is payable on a sliding scale, according to the parents' income. Cranwell apart, we hope that the Direct Commission scheme, under which officers serve for at least eight years, will attract sufficient recruits to meet the aircrew needs of the Service. To the extent that we may fall short of recruiting to our full target on direct commissions, we intend to make up the 969 shortfall by offering short-service commissions. These will normally be for a five-year period, although in the case of university graduates, whom we are particularly anxious to recruit, we propose to offer a reduced period of four years. Our hope, in the case of all entrants on the short-service commissions, is that experience of life in the Service will lead the officers to stay on in the Service and make their career in the Royal Air Force.
Now may I turn to the recruiting of airmen? I must confess that the figures for the June quarter are disappointing. I think that is understandable. It is not a good recruiting season anyhow, and the uncertainties and the reasons which we have been discussing are obviously reflected in the recruiting figures. I do not suggest for one moment that recruiting for the Regular Royal Air Force is going to be an easy task, but I hope it will become easier as the uncertainties are dispelled. Certainly in the last fifteen months the trend has been encouraging. There has been a definite improvement in the recruitment of new entrants and in the signing on for longer periods.
On April 1 last year the nine-year engagements of ground crew equalled about 25 per cent. of the total strength of the R.A.F. The proportion is now 30 per cent. In the first six months of 1957, the recruitment of apprentices was up by nearly 30 per cent. The boy entries have doubled compared with last year's figures. Those are not gloomy figures, and we hope that, when we have settled down and got over the uncertainties, the R.A.F. will get into its stride again. At the moment, it is certainly as well manned as it has ever been, but there are certain doubts. The position in the advanced trades gives us cause for cautious satisfaction, but there is difficulty in the supporting trades. We badly need radar operators, and there are shortages in the clerical and domestic trades.
Several of your Lordships have referred to the Women's Royal Air Force. A few weeks ago there was a rumour that the Women's Royal Air Force was to be abolished. I may say that that is exactly contrary to the truth. With the abolition of National Service, greater reliance than ever will be placed on the work of the Women's Royal Air Force. We need 970 every single recruit, not only for replacements for marriage and other casualties—though I can never understand why marriage is regarded in the Services as a casualty; there are still some of us, I am glad to say, who are old fashioned enough to regard it as a blessing—but because we want to expand the Women's Royal Air Force from its present strength of 5,000. We want, indeed, to double the strength of the Women's Royal Air Force. We will certainly examine the question of glamorising the Women's Royal Air Force, a point which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, has in mind. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will allow himself to be recruited as Adviser on Hats. That question, and others raised by several noble Lords concerning the Women's Royal Air Force, we are examining, and will continue to examine, carefully.
We are seeking all means of encouraging recruits of both sexes, not only in the Royal Air Force but in all three branches of the Services. There has been set up a small Ministerial Committee consisting of the three Parliamentary Secretaries to the three Service Departments, under my own chairmanship, to go into the question of recruiting and to examine it in all its aspects. The first thing that has impressed me is that, if we are to get the recruits, one thing above all is needed; that is, a change of attitude of some people towards the armed Services generally. We have talked about improvements of conditions this afternoon. The recruiting problem is serious and we realise that. The improvements must be not only in the terms of service and pay. Pay does not loom as large as some people think: other things, especially living conditions, are all-important.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, referred to married quarters. Since the war the R.A.F. have built 16,000 married quarters. A further 3,000 are now going up. When this building programme is complete we shall have nearly four times the amount of pre-war married quarters; then the requirements will have been roughly met. There will be much more barrack accommodation, and in this respect the Royal Air Force is much luckier than the Army. Having started later, their barrack accommodation, except for a few war-time Nissen huts, and such like, is much more up to date 971 than that of the Army. I dare not think what the average airman would say if he were put into some of the barracks in Tidworth which the Army have had to go into in their time. There is one barracks there which is alleged to have been designed by an architect who was an unsuccessful runner up in the prize competition for the design of St. Pancras Station. Those of us who have occupied that barracks were always under the impression that the same plans had been used with no alteration whatsoever. My Lords, as far as the R.A.F. is concerned we shall press on with these matters within our resources. This year we are spending over £6½ million on domestic accommodation other than married quarters.
There is one other thing that we are doing which we hope will have a great influence on recruiting. Putting it politely, it is to avoid unnecessary pushing around. Of course mobility is essential, but over-frequent posting is, I am sure, a deterrent. It may be necessary during the change-over to a Regular force to have a little more posting than usual, but I think that too much posting is most certainly detrimental to recruiting. The average tour of duty of officers on any one station was thirteen months in December, 1953; it is now twenty-seven months. The tour of duty of airmen in home units was formerly 2½ years on the average but that is now the normal minimum. As to overseas posting, men now have within reason a choice of command.
There is something else which those who have put their views to us have brought out every strongly. If I call it whitewashing of coal, I do not actually mean whitewashing of coal, I mean doing unnecessary chores which men regard as a silly waste of time—irksome duties. I am certain that the fullest and most economic use of manpower is one of the greatest attractions. If men think they are going to be uselessly and uneconomicallly employed they will regard it as one of the greatest deterrents. We are therefore doing everything we can to economise in manpower and to stream-line the organisation. Your Lordships will have seen in the papers two or three days ago a description of the new Directorate of Work Study which has been set up on the most modern lines by the Royal Air Force. I believe that that 972 was initiated by my noble friend Lord De L'Isle when Secretary of State for Air. I am glad to say that the Directorate is now producing results.
I will not weary your Lordships with other economies, save to draw attention to two of them. There are economies in Maintenance Command, where closures have already resulted in the saving of nearly 10,000 Service posts and over 3,500 civilian posts. There are also savings of money in maintenance, compensation, vehicles and many other things. The proportion of Servicemen employed in Maintenance Command was reduced to 44 per cent. of the total strength by 1956, and we hope that it will be reduced to 35 per cent. by the end of this year.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves this portion of his remarks about conditions of service, I wonder whether he would be good enough to say a word or two on the subject of education of children—a matter to which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, has more than once called attention in this House. I refer to the education of the children of Servicemen.
§ LORD MANCROFT
Yes. This is a burning question not only in the Royal Air Force but in all three Services. We are going into that subject most carefully and I hope that we may have some proposals to make about it. We regard it as of the utmost importance.
What I was saying on the subject of economy—I shall not weary your Lord-ships any longer with it—is that throughout the Royal Air Force every effort will be made to streamline and modernise the organisation. A great deal has already been done and we are pressing on with this work. There is the introduction of electronic calculators and modern ideas such as the American Air Force are using. Then we are putting out to industry work which might be considered as fourth-line work. In general, the Royal Air Force are seeking to get the best possible value out of the skilled manpower that they possess and out of the taxpayers' money.
My Lords, I come back to my starting point. This is a particularly difficult time for the Royal Air Force. There is much uncertainty which we hope to resolve as soon as we possibly can—uncertainty not only about the men's career 973 but about the men's future; uncertainty as to the type of equipment and uncertainty as to the type of war in which the Royal Air Force may be called upon to participate. I do not suppose that any armed force has ever had a completely certain programme laid before it. It is part of the function of the Government to try to meet these troubles as best they can. I hope that at least I have said enough to dispel the legend of the "Royal Push-Button Force". So far from the days of the Royal Air Force being numbered, the Royal Air Force can look forward to playing a more vital part than ever in this country's fortunes and in its defences. The Royal Air Force is still going to call for the best machines, the best men to fly them in the air and the best men to service them and their successors on the ground. It is going to want them for many, many years to come. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that Her Majesty's Government are doing everything possible to provide them.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords on all side of the House who have taken part in this debate, which I trust has been of interest to your Lordships. I should also like to thank the Minister for his reply, which was full of information and interest. I did ask some specific questions about when we could expect the scheme, about the possible removal of anomalies, about the question of education of children, and whether the principle of volunteers or nominations would hold sway in the Royal Air Force with regard to redundancy. All these questions have been answered delightfully in the indefinite, in the best ministerial style. Nevertheless, I thank the noble Lord for having fulfilled the task in the able way he has. I liked the assurance, in the best ministerial and traditional manner, on supply: how orders have been placed; that preparations are going ahead; that re-equipment is in progress. The only thing missed out—something which I have observed in Supply debates ever since 1939—was that deliveries have commenced.
My Lords, we do not expect definite replies to questions put in debate, but I hope that the Minister will convey to his colleagues the general desire in the House that these questions which I have put on 974 welfare and personnel should have the attention of Ministers in Her Majesty's Government, and I hope that they may be satisfactorily answered at an early date. With this last word of thanks to all noble Lords in the House and to the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROVISIONAL ORDER (COUNTY OF BERKS (CONSENT TO LETTING)) BILL
§ Reported, without amendment, and recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.