HL Deb 04 April 1962 vol 239 cc183-254

3.10 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON rose to call attention to the Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Air to accompany the Air Estimates, 1962–63 (Cmnd. 1630); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, first of all, I should like to say how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, is to speak in this debate, and to express some regret that many noble Lords, particularly on the Government side of the House, who have had such wide experience and have such great knowledge of this subject (this House is full of ex-Secretaries of State) should feel that the expenditure of £550 million, and the Memorandum, does not call for anything new to be said. It may be that when your Lordships have heard my speech you will feel that perhaps there is nothing fresh to be said.

Nevertheless, we have a task to perform. Those of your Lordships who have a particular affection for, and knowledge of, the Royal Air Force, will, I know, feel that we can, at least, start as we do every year, though none the less sincerely, by paying a tribute to the Service. In particular, it is satisfactory to notice (and this we find also in the Memoranda accompanying the Estimates of the other Services) references to the relief work which, for instance, the R.A.F. have done in particular areas, and especially in Africa. These are referred to, and I would draw the attention of those of your Lordships who perhaps have not read the Memorandum to that section called "Errands of Mercy". It is worth noting, I think, the complete confidence that we all, not only in Parliament but throughout the country, put in our Services in times of adversity, and the total confidence we have that the men of the Royal Air Force, as indeed of the Navy and the Army, will come to the aid of any stricken area with discipline, efficiency and kindness.

Perhaps this is a matter from which we can take encouragement. It is a measure of the fact that there is some real growth in civilisation, when we may be depressed about it, that soldiers and warriors who in the past have not always been looked on with affection by the civil population are now automatically regarded as the people to whom one turns during times of adversity. We have, indeed, very much to be proud of in the Royal Air Force. However one may criticise the structure and nature of the Service, from the standpoint of strategy and from the standpoint of criticising Government policy, we are all agreed that it is a splendid Service, filled with men of great efficiency and integrity and, if I may say so—and those of your Lordships who have occasion to meet the senior officers and others in the Royal Air Force will agree—possessed of a high level of intelligence. We can be proud that we are capable of producing such Armed Services. Therefore, my Lords, while it is right that we should criticise Government policy and look carefully at the results of the expenditure of such vast sums of money, I am sure that no one here will think that this is any reflection on the men who serve us so well.

There is one other point I would make, and in this I would pay tribute to the Government. There is no doubt that improvements have been brought steadily into being in the conditions of service in the Royal Air Force, as in the other Services. There is no doubt that remuneration and conditions have enormously improved, and that the Royal Air Force represents a first-class career, capable of competing at least on equal terms with those in civilian life. On this occasion, since I am being so nice to the Government, I shall even refrain (though I hope that other noble Lords will not so refrain) from criticising the Government on their action in imposing a partial pay pause. None the less, we do see improvements, even in places like Aden, which have in the past received such strong attention from the noble Lords, Lord Tedder, Lord Merrivale and others.

While it is also a matter of satisfaction that the Royal Air Force have nearly succeeded in hitting their recruiting target, the First Lord of the Admiralty will, I am sure, be sorry that once again I shall return, though only in a rather mild way, to what he is apt to call the "numbers game." For a long while we have understood that the target for men for the Royal Air Force was 135,000. We know that they now have 132,000, leaving a comparatively small shortfall. But your Lordships, and especially those in the Services, will know the effect that a shortage of men and a falling below establishment has on efficiency. It is surprising how, whenever the Government attain a recruiting figure, they immediately make it their target. If the figure of a little more than 132,000 is not the target, I should like to know really frankly from the Government how many men they would like Ito see in the Royal Air Force to-day.

We are aware that there are certain particular shortages. We are encouraged by the fact that the aircrew position has apparently improved a great deal; but there are still shortages which we shall have to make good without National Service. There is no doubt that selective service would be of particular value to the Royal Air Force. although nobody is seriously advocating it. In passing, I must express regret that the Prime Minister saw fit to make the remarks he did about the Labour Party and the Liberal Party introducing conscription. However, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who asked me to apologise for his absence at the beginning of the debate, will no doubt take this up more strongly on behalf of the Liberal Party. There are still shortages of manpower in certain sections of the Royal Air Force, and there is still, as a result, a certain amount of overwork in particular areas. This springs to a large extent from the priority that is given to Bomber Command.

I do not want to go over again all the arguments we have had about the nuclear deterrent, but we cannot consider the future of the Royal Air Force and its organisation unless we are prepared to look at this and consider whether or not it has its right place in the order of things. I would repeat, as I have said on other occasions, my personal belief that we were entirely right to build up a nuclear bomber force, and that we were right at that stage to go on, horrible though it may be, to develop the hydrogen weapon. It would have been ludicrous to say: "We will stop at fission weapons only and not go on to the more powerful fusion bomb". There is no suggestion, so far as I, or, I think, most of my friends on this side of the House are concerned, that it should be scrapped to-day.

I want to try and put across, in the perhaps calmer atmosphere that we achieve in this House, some of the arguments that we have to take into account in regard to Bomber Command, and the effectiveness of its contribution towards maintaining the peace of the world. To do so is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, suggested in the Defence debate, to be a "Little Englander". I am sure we are all agreed that we want the best defence we can get for this country. We operate nationally within an agreed level of Defence expenditure—namely, a figure of 7 per cent. of the national product, which is fixed by the Government; and this is the decisive factor in arriving at the size of our Armed Forces. We have to make a choice as to how we are going to spend that sum, not only between the three Services, but within the Services. This, clearly, is the main responsibility of the Government.

The biggest argument in favour of retaining Bomber Command in its present form—and it is a powerful argument—is that we have it. As things have developed in the past ten years it may be that we might have thought something else would be better. But I think that the decisions which were taken ten years ago—or before that—were the right ones. While Bomber Command exists, obviously it has an important contribution to make within the Western deterrent.

I must remind your Lordships that it is still a relatively small component of the Western deterrent as a whole. I repeat these figures from the Defence debate. Our contribution amounts to possibly 200 to 400 megatons, against a prospective 30,000 megatons from America. This is inevitably an asset, efficient and good though it may be, that may be of less value in the future. The argument that "because we have something we must keep it" is a dangerous argument in regard to any equipment, as any industrialist knows, especially when you have to go into the question of modernising and keeping equipment going and making it continue to do a useful service, perhaps at a time when more modern developments have taken their place. We are already committed. Indeed, so far as I know. we have already spent £150 million on Blue Steel, a weapon which I would have thought—and many people I know who have considered this matter also take the same view—adds comparatively little to the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent. Its range is too short and its operational life, if Skybolt comes along as expected, also is very short.

When we look against this background of the equipoise—the equaliser, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, described it—we have really to consider whether in fact this materially adds to our security in the Western Alliance. We know that there are many thousands of Soviet fighters armed with air-to-air missiles. I do not know how many bombers in the future, as opposed to the position as it was even only two or three years ago, would in fact get through. Certainly the manned bomber is still an important part of the Western deterrent. The Americans still place great reliance on it, and it is right that we should play our part within this sphere. But when these other weapons come along, when the thousand or more Minutemen and the almost invulnerable first and second strike weapons and the Polaris submarines are available, then we must look to see whether or not we might in the future spend this money more profitably, more safely and with greater advantage to the country.

There are, of course, strong political arguments against our having the deterrent, and I will admit that there are also strong political arguments in favour. I must make it clear that I am talking about the strategic nuclear weapon, and not the tactical nuclear weapons. That is another difficult question altogether. We know that other countries are developing these weapons. We know that Switzerland is thinking of developing them. It may be that, in defence of an island, as in a sense Switzerland is, possibility of strategically placed nuclear explosions or weapons will provide the sort of defence interdiction which fits in very well with the Swiss approach to these matters. I can only see one real argument at 'the moment—and it is a powerful argument—in favour of our retaining this weapon, and that is either distrust of the Americans or the feeling that the Russians would think that the Americans might shrink from taking action. We therefore still retain in our hands the power to start a world-wide nuclear war. It may be right that we should have this power, but it is a very sombre doctrine, and it is one that we must think carefully about.

When we look at the Thors, those 60 first strike weapons, standing up like sore thumbs and costing us many millions in maintenance, I would say that this perhaps should make us pause and wonder whether, because we have a thing, it is a good thing to go on having it. There is little doubt that, especially as the intermediate ballistic missiles are developed—I do not know how many the Russians have now, but I am told quite a considerable number—the Thors are increasingly of little value. They cost us many millions of pounds to maintain.

Thus is not to suggest that Bomber Command would not have an important rôle in a conventional war. By "a conventional war" I do not necessarily mean an all-out conventional war, because I think we are agreed that such a war will lead inevitably to nuclear war. However, it is a little frightening to see here again that the main rôle of our tactical bombers is nuclear, that the main rôle as referred to in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates is of low-level nuclear attack, and that it takes quite a while to switch them over—as happened during the Kuwait operation—to using ordinary high explosives. Here again we have the problem (particularly with these tactical nuclear weapons, to which the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser has so ably drawn attention) of controlling effectively this form of interdiction. I use the word "interdiction" in a rather wide sense, because no doubt these tactical nuclear weapons that fall on a particular area will be as devastating as they were when used on Hiroshima or any other occasion.

I do not wish to pursue this matter now, but I think we should consider whether or not in the long run this is going to be the right rôle for the Royal Air Force. I accept that Skybolt is probably coming along. Now and again we read in the papers rumours, and sometimes statements, which cause us some concern. I should like to ask the Government whether their view is still that Skybolt is going to appear more or less on time and is going to be satisfactory. Of course. I accept fully the claims that have been made for Bomber Command performance in the form of rapid take-off against the early warning. I fully accept that this can be achieved. But I believe that the rôle of the Royal Air Force, like the rôle of the Royal Navy, must be much more in keeping the peace of the world against the unexpected, whether it be the unexpected civil commotion or the minor war.

It is regrettable that the emphasis on the deterrent—and perhaps this is a political argument, but it has a military effect—and our insistence on our retaining this have led the Government to fall down on the job of pressing forward with the really important thing in regard to nuclear weapons; and that is the joint N.A.T.O. control of them. As I say, I see no reason why Bomber Command and the aircraft that they have should not continue to operate for a good many years yet. Of course, they will need the right airfields, and here again I should like to state that my own view of these overseas bases is that they are of supreme importance. Places such as Gan are of tremendous importance to keeping the peace, especially in that area, where we have a special responsibility. Incidentally, I understand that the cost of a base like Gan is a great deal less than that of an aircraft carrier. The policy, therefore, to which I think the Government ought to pay more attention, and which I would personally advocate, is that we should try to build up the Royal Air Force, as indeed we are beginning to build up the Royal Navy, much more as a means of fire brigade action, of providing transport for the Army. And when we look at the present strength of Transport Command, and the fact that the Government are still only "intending" to order ten Belfasts, the situation seems to me, when we consider our world-wide obligations, to be quite pathetic.

In passing, I should like to ask the Government what is their present estimate of the date of production of the Belfast. We are still being told, as we were told in another place by the Secretary of State for Air, that it will be the mid-'sixties. I do not doubt that the Belfast, when it appears, is going to be a good aircraft, though perhaps not so good as some of the others that might have been built. We know that it was given to Shorts largely for political reasons; I do not mean Party political reasons but because of the need to give support to an area which needed industry and which needed employment. I still think it would have been much better, especially since we are having to wait all this time, to manufacture some other aircraft under licence, for we could have had it by now. This is a matter which we have been talking about for two or three years. The noble and gallant Field Marshal. Lord Harding, was pressing the Government on it last year, and it was pressed the year before. I should also like to ask the Government how much these ten Belfast aircraft are going to cost? What will be the cost per aircraft? It seems to me that it is going to be a pretty stiff figure and one that we ought to consider.

I have already said that a really immense expansion of Transport Command would be of value to this country, and particularly to the other Services, all the more so since it seems unlikely that the Government will be able to maintain the forces in Germany which in the past we have undertaken to do. I do not propose this afternoon to press the question of whether we have fallen down on our obligations, because that belongs more properly to another type of debate; but if we could have an Army really airborne in the same way that it is really motorised—and I think that it is still not really airborne—and if the Royal Air Force could be developed in this rôle. I think we should be much nearer to making a more valuable contribution to the defence of Europe, as well as of other parts of the Free World than we are making at the moment.

In considering this matter, we also have some interesting information from the First Report from the Estimates Committee on Trooping. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 35, where it is made perfectly clear, as I read it (and this is on the evidence supplied by the Services Departments and others), that trooping by air is cheaper than trooping by sea. I should like to know whether the Government now accept this view. It may be that they will wish to give it some further consideration—in fact, I understand that they are doing so. But it is worth noting that at the moment only 4 per cent. of Transport Command effort is given to trooping. I should have thought that a much greater effort could have been given to this, without damage to the charter companies, who depend so much on trooping for their continued existence. I think it ought to be a normal part of a military operation that troops move to and from areas, operational or training, by air; and that we should think in these terms. The Royal Air Force will continue to provide that flying which, of course, is such an important factor from a recruiting point of view by aiding the Army in transport—in fact, aiding all the Services—in addition to its conventional warfare rôles, and a tactical rôle possibly using nuclear weapons.

I do not want to press this matter any further, but I should like to turn very briefly now to the question of the supply of other aircraft. I would ask the Government how the T.S.R.2 is coming along. It is unfortunate that, with the length of time that it takes to develop modern aircraft, it is possible to go on asking the same question year after year, and it is interesting to have the latest estimates. I hope the delay in production will not go up as fast as costs always seems to do. I should also like to know from the Government when we are going to get some clear statement of policy with regard to the development of particular types of vertical take-off and landing aircraft, especially the P11 27. This is a field in which the British have undoubtedly had a lead on the world. This has been an important pioneering development, and if now we are going to see a joint Anglo-French effort I hope we shall make up our minds quickly enough to make sure that we do get at least our share of it. The aircraft industry has been greatly concerned—and there was a discussion on this subject in another place recently—about the delay in taking decisions.

May I ask the noble Lord whether the Royal Air Force are interested in hovercraft? I do not really know to which sphere the hovercraft belongs: whether it is a land, a sea or an air instrument. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has argued in the past that it is essentially an instrument of air transport, but I am wondering whether the Royal Air Force are taking an interest in it and where it fits into the scheme of things. Finally, I should like to turn to the Herald. The Government took a very bold decision with regard to the aircraft industry when they enforced rationalisation on it and compelled the industry—because they had the whip hand, as they place the orders—to go in for mergers. It seems to me that the only possible explanation why the Government have not ordered the Herald and are waiting for the Avro 748 is because Handley Page refuse to fit in with the Government's wishes.

This raises difficult issues, because we on this side are in general sympathy with the Government's action in this matter. It does seem to me to be absurd, however, that when the Dart Herald is already in existence, when it is considerably cheaper, when it is immediately available—and the Avro 748 is still under development—when it is better equipped for landing and take-off on rough ground, when it is already accepted by the Royal Canadian Air Force, when it does not need special engines to he developed for it, as does the Avro 748, that we do not order it for the Royal Air Force. This is something in regard to which the Government really ought to tell us what their reasons are. In another place, when the Under-Secretary for Air was pressed on this matter, he gave a cautious answer, but it seems to me that the only possible reason for it has been the Government's determination to place the order with one of tile groups that they have called into existence. It seems to me that this country is perhaps paying too high a price for Government policy in this matter.

There are many other aspects of this subject of the supply of aircraft that I could go into, but I will not waste your Lordships' time. Perhaps my noble friends Lord Shepherd and Lord Stonham will be able to deal with them. But there is one aircraft that I am interested in, and I am sorry to have to refer to it, and that is the replacement for the Shackleton. I served in Coastal Command, and it is purely coincidental that the aircraft I have been most interested in happens to be called the Shackleton. Unfortunately, I must tell your Lordships that although it is satisfactory at the moment, it will drop to pieces one day.

I hope to take this subject up more fully in the debate on the Navy Estimates and perhaps have the help of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, on this matter. But unless the Royal Air Force abrogate their responsibility for air-sea warfare—and there is a real danger of the development of nuclear submarines in a tepid war situation—and unless we order a replacement now, when these aircraft wear out we shall not have a suitable aircraft available. I am quite certain of the facts. We ought now, this year, to order an aircraft with a very much higher performance, one that can fly and transit at, say, 400 knots; that can patrol at 170 knots; that is well designed from an icing point of view and can carry the tremendously complicated detection equipment on which work is still being done. I would hope that the Government will be able to tell us something on that. Last year the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty told us that the Royal Air Force were perfectly satisfied, but we are talking about ten years ahead. It takes that kind of period for a new aircraft to be brought into operational use.

There are only two other points that I want to deal with. First of all, I had intended to say something about a very important part of the responsibilities of the Air Ministry which is dealt with in the Memorandum, namely the Meteorological Service, but I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, may be dealing with this question, and I would only say this. It is a service of very high scientific quality which is doing fundamental research as well as giving us weather forecasts, of the accuracy of which we may all have our doubts, and one that furthermore is spreading its knowledge and providing, a service very widely indeed. I should like to pay a tribute to the work they have done, particularly in helping polar explorers in getting them trained for the job they have had to do on expeditions.

Discussion of the "Met." service brings me to one side of the Service in which already great interest is shown and which will be of great importance not only for the future of accurate weather forecasting but for other aspects that may concern the Air Force; and this is a question that, again, I know, is dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald: it is space. This is perhaps not the time to start a debate on space. We do try to encourage the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to venture that far, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, is more willing to go up there. The Secretary of State for Air in another place referred to space. The American Air Force will in time become—it shows signs of becom- ing—an aero-space force. Is this not a field in which the R.A.F. must venture in collaboration with the civil authorities? Certainly I would have expected the Royal Air Force in fact to provide some of the manpower. This is not going to happen this year but it certainly is going to happen in the course of the next few years. And, thanks to the miscalculations of the Government in regard to Blue Streak, we are fortunately still in the space game because we are playing an important part in the combined European effort in this direction.

I should also like to ask the Government what their views are on the effect of space from a Defence point of view. What about the importance of satellites from a communications point of view? We have been told that during the Kuwait operation, as on other occasions, there has been a black-out of wireless communication. It is quite clear that this is something which is important, not only to the world but from the standpoint of military considerations. I would say to your Lordships that I myself do not believe in the danger of a nuclear attack from satellites in orbit. First, I think they would be shot down too easily; and secondly, if you want a weapon to land on the earth it is probably easier to send it from somewhere else on earth. The future of the Royal Air Force may be more greatly developed in the direction of space than perhaps we all realise.

The only point on which I should like to end is again to say that I am sure your Lordships will all agree that the Services, and the Royal Air Force in particular, provide a good career. I should like to draw attention to one other aspect which is mentioned in the Air Estimates, and that is the approach towards the adventure side of Service activities. In this, as in other fields, I am quite convinced that the Services are playing an important part from the general standpoint of citizenship. If they continue the type of public relations and publicity they are now showing, I think they will continue to do good not merely for themselves but for the country as a whole. I am sure that, although we may think of some of the Government failures, we are still convinced that the Royal Air Force is a fine Service and that its traditions, which have grown so strongly and so admirably, are not standing in the way of the necessary progress. I beg to move for Papers.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has once again opened this annual debate, revealing in his words and tone his feeling for the Royal Air Force, in which he served with great distinction himself. It is a personal satisfaction to me that our Shackleton shows no signs whatever of dropping to pieces yet. I will not accept his implied invitation to follow him into space to-day, and I doubt whether I shall even accept his invitation to precede him into space. If he will allow me to say so, the engaging thing about debating with the noble Lord, particularly on Service matters, and perhaps especially on Air Force matters, is that for all the vigour of the criticisms that he may make of policy or performance, he always sounds as if he would be fairly pleased to hear those criticisms rebutted or proved groundless. He succeeds as well as anyone I know in lifting this sort of debate above Party politics. And in this I shall seek to follow him to-day. At the same time I hope that in doing so, between us, my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and I, will raise the noble Lord's spirits by our replies to some of his criticisms and views.

He spoke at some length of the nuclear deterrent and although he made it clear that he does not share all the anxieties as to the limitations or viability of Bomber Command expressed by some noble Lords on his side during the Defence debate a fortnight ago, I shall widen my reply a little in order to answer some of them as well. During the past five years the Royal Air Force has provided the means of delivering the British deterrent. The progress in weapons, equipment and arms development such as in stand-off weapons, will enable it to continue so doing until well into the next decade. My noble friend the First Lord spoke at some length during the Defence debate of our contribution in this context and your Lordships would not want me to go over all that ground again. He explained why we needed the deterrent and how relatively little we paid for it, and I do not think he was seriously challenged on that argument. It was the military effectiveness of our deterrent forces and of Bomber Command which seemed to worry some of your Lordships most. I recall, for example, that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, thought that our nuclear contribution was not viable, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, described it as "ageing and not convincing". So I should like to dwell shortly on this aspect to-day.

My Lords, two major criticisms are levelled at the V-bomber force. First, it is alleged that it could not get away from its bases in time and would be destroyed on the ground; secondly, even if it managed to get away it could not get through to its targets. I should like to deal with both of these points. The V-bomber force can be widely dispersed and it can also be held for long periods at a high state of readiness. At the present time the main threat to the force would be from manned aircraft. We should have reasonable warning of any such attack from our own radar system, which is now integrated into the Continental chain, and from the North American Air Defence System. We are confident that the great majority of the aircraft would have no difficulty in getting away from their bases in time.

As the Soviet missile strength grows, of course the warning period will get shorter, but there are measures to deal with this situation. First, as your Lordships know, we are building a Ballistic Missle Early Warning Station at Fylingdales Which will be completed next year and should give us at least four minutes warning, which will be enough to get the bombers into the air. Four minutes may not seem very long, but such is the training, skill and readiness of the aircrews that the time needed to get them into the air, once the critical warning is received, has been reduced to well inside that margin. Many noble Lords will have seen for themselves, as I have, just how successful Bomber Command has been in reducing this reaction time. The average reaction time is at present at around two minutes, and is often substantially less. I have myself witnessed a "scramble" completed in well under that time, and I have no doubt that other noble Lords have enjoyed that experience.


My Lords, could the noble Lord help us by saying how many aircraft were involved in that scramble within two minutes?


My Lords, I cannot myself see any reason for not telling the noble Lord that, but as I hope he will appreciate, I think we should be careful. I should not wish to keep secrets from him, but I think one must be careful about the amount of publicity one gives to such information. Looking further ahead we have made an agreement with the United States Government for co-operation in the development of the MIDAS space satellite system, for missile detection. This system will supplement and extend the warning available from the BMEWS radar. MIDAS will give us longer warning, and will therefore make it even more difficult for the enemy to launch a successful surprise attack on Western strategic deterrent forces. We are satisfied that, taking into account the dispersal of the aircraft, the warning which would be given by the BMEWS system, and later on by MIDAS, and Bomber Command's speed of reaction, our power to retaliate could not be wiped out by a surprise attack.

The question that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has asked is, if we can get our bombers off the ground, can they overcome all their obstacles and reach their target? We do not seek to minimise the task which would face the V-force if it were launched against targets in Russia, but in considering this we must be careful not to lose sight of the time scale. Analysing some of the anxieties expressed, it seems to me that they pose the question: could we, with the weapons at our disposal to-day, match the enemy's weapons and defence of to-morrow? We do not have to, and we shall not have to. What we are confident of is that Bomber Command is a match for him to-day and will be a match for him to-morrow. The Vulcans and Victors are still among the best nuclear carriers in the world. We are satisfied that, equipped with the latest electronic counter-measure devices which would be used to jam and deceive both ground radars and radars carried in enemy fighters, and armed first with Blue Steel which is coming into service this year, and later with Skybolt, they will remain a viable and credible force until well into the next decade. In answer to the noble Lord's specific question, we are satisfied that both these weapons will come into service on time—that is to say, Blue Steel this year and Skybolt about the mid-'sixties. Of course the great advantage of both these stand-off weapons is that Blue Steel can be released from outside the point defences of an enemy position, and Skybolt from much further outside, outside any frontier defences he may have.

In reaching this conclusion, we have taken account of the possibility that the Soviet Union may develop an antimissile capability. It is quite possible that such a system will be developed, but there are many practical problems to be overcome before a system could be deployed which would be effective against attack from all directions, and even then it would not be immune to counter measures. But supposing that the present and future effectiveness of Bomber Command is accepted for the remainder of this decade, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has further asked for how long it would remain our most useful contribution to Western defence. As we enter the period of nuclear equipoise—that is, when the Russians can do devastating damage to the United States of America on a scale comparable to that which the Americans can do to Russia—the need for the British independent deterrent increases.

At this period the danger is given weight not by deliberate decision, but by miscalculation. We are in no doubt that the Americans would stand by their allies; but, as the noble Lord suggested, the Russians might well miscalculate and assume that America would not in that event risk the devastation of her own country. That might be the Russian miscalculation. If we were not the strategic nuclear force we are, the Russians might well make that miscalculation. The fact that we have our own force in Bomber Command capable of dealing damage in Russia which would greatly outweigh any advantage the Russians could hope to gain by attacking Britain, is a guarantee against Russian miscalculation, and this is the most powerful instrument for preserving peace

This whole matter of the British deterrent upon which the noble Lord dwelt fully is naturally a question which is kept carefully and continually under review. But I think certain weighty factors, some of them permanent, which were not mentioned by the noble Lord among the many which he did mention, should be taken into account. I think it would not be useful or advisable to go into what precise percentage in weight of bombs or means of delivery Bomber Command represents within the total Western defence potential. One thing of which the Soviet Government must be uncomfortably aware is that the manned bomber retaliation from British bases is going to reach Russia some hours before the manned bomber retaliation from American bases. If that smaller but earlier retaliation is in itself sufficient to inflict unacceptable damage, then what is to follow, terrifying though it may be in scale, is certainly not in proportion to the pure weight of the bombs discharged.

I agree, on this point—I am not trying to evade the issues he was bringing forward—that the noble Lord was speaking of the day of the Minuteman and of the Polaris missile, when these timings that I have referred to will no longer hold good. But there is another more permanent geographical factor involved. So long as both Britain and the United States are nuclear powers, it is not possible to attack one without giving prior warning to the other. Therefore, complete surprise is rendered impossible and the danger of retaliation rendered all the more certain. To have an element of deterrent power on this side of the Atlantic is, therefore, of the greatest advantage to the United States and to the policy of deterrence as a whole. The Royal Air Force to-day is a major element of the strategic nuclear striking force this side of the Atlantic. I assure noble Lords that the Americans regard it as of great importance, and most highly.

Another factor of very real importance is the great mutual confidence and respect existing between Bomber Command and Strategic Air Command at all levels. Until or unless the day of the manned bomber comes to an end (and nobody, I think, has been prepared to give a date for this) such human interdependence can play a vital part in our determination to deter. And it cannot be emphasised too often that the purpose of this weapon and of its means of delivery is to prevent destructive war, not to wage it. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that he found it frightening (and he is not easily frightened) that the main rôle of the Canberras in NATO was low-level nuclear attack. But, of course, the noble Lord is aware that they are only one part of the NATO Air strength, and the part they are playing is to deter. That is the part we have been asked to play by Supreme Allied Command, Europe, and it is a part we have accepted. I do not think this came in to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, but some noble Lords feel that we should increase our conventional forces in Europe to the point where they will be capable of fighting for perhaps two or three weeks.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I thought he said something rather significant just now. Do I understand that the nuclear-armed Canberras are regarded as part of the Western deterrent and that the Commander-in-Chief of SACEUR himself plays a rôle of also operating the deterrent? The noble Lord said that it was to deter.


I hope I am not being pedantic about this, but any ability to reply is a deterrent, I should have thought. I do not know whether it can be said that it forms part of the supreme deterrent, but the fact is that it must deter and therefore is part of the deterrent.


It is tactical, but not strategic.


I think it would be of interest in this particular context if I relate to your Lordships what contribution the Royal Air Force is making to NATO. We have assigned to SACEUR the whole of the fighter squadrons in Germany, the reconnaissance squadrons there and in Malta, and Valiant squadrons in the United Kingdom. We have ear-marked for NATO the whole of Coastal Command, and maritime forces in Gibraltar and Malta. That is a very considerable and highly valued contribution to the complete force at the disposition of NATO.

My Lords, I have been so intent on answering one relatively short but important part of the noble Lard's speech (other parts of it will be dealt with when my noble friend winds up) that one might almost judge from what I have said so far that we consider bombs and machines as the only element that matters in an air force. That is, of course, the very reverse of the truth. The quality of manpower is the key to efficiency in handling any weapons, either conventional or nuclear. Over the whole manpower field the situation and prospects are both brighter than they were a little while ago. Last year, as your Lordships will recall, we were not getting enough pilots or navigators, and without an increase in the number of candidates we should very soon have run into serious difficulties. Stepping up our recruitment of aircrew without lowering the standard has therefore been our first priority during the past year. My Lords, you will be glad to know that our efforts have so far proved successful.

There are two main categories of officer aircrew entrants. First there are those who choose a full career in the General Duties Branch. They come in generally from the universities or through Cranwell and they are the main sources of the Services' future leaders. This year the Cranwell entry is a little down on our target and we should like more candidates, particularly of the highest quality, to come forward for Cranwell. However, the entry from the universities has greatly improved. This year some 57 university entrants, including 35 entrants to the General List, were commissioned in the General Duties Branch and nearly all of them had been members of university air squadrons. I should like to pay a tribute here to the support which the university authorities give so consistently to the air squadrons. University candidates are particularly valuable to the Service. Most of them will have learned to fly with the air squadrons and the proportion who subsequently fail their flying training is therefore well below the average.

The majority of the flying posts in the Royal Air Force are filled by officers holding direct entry commissions which offer a career for sixteen years or to the age of 38 with a possibility of service to age 55. Here the position is most encouraging. We are getting all the pilots and air electronics officers we need and are approaching the target for navigators. The applications we have had during the early months of this year show that the trend is being maintained. But as in the Cranwell entry, we should like to see more candidates of the highest quality coming forward. We have made special efforts to reduce our manpower requirements or to transfer the work to civilians when this can be done.

Lord Shackleton referred to the apparent discrepancy between the earlier target of 135,000 and the 132,000 now being quoted. We believe that 132,000 will provide a balanced force adequate for the tasks we foresee. But no doubt we could recruit up to 135,000. It is not from any lack of confidence in being able to recruit up to that number or beyond it, but we do not think it is necessary. I think the noble Lord will see that it is not surprising that there should be small variations in the figures for forecasting requirements over a period of five to six years.

The Women's Royal Air Force are also helping in some trades, and recruiting of airwomen has made good progress. New Women's Royal Air Force sections are being opened at several stations, and more stations have also been brought within the local service arrangements whereby women can serve with the Women's Royal Air Force and continue to live at home. Officer recruiting for the Women's Royal Air Force has also done well, but we should like more entrants in their late twenties and early thirties, preferably with executive experience in business.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, spoke of the Royal Air Force as a Service filled with men of personal efficiency and integrity and of a high level of intelligence. All who know them will agree with that description. All those qualities are needed in a modern air force with the enormous responsibility of the Royal Air Force, and all are happily and providentially available in the officers and men now serving. Having returned from a 25,000-mile tour of the Far East, under the auspices of the Royal Air Force, at the beginning of this year, and having been to Germany with the Royal Air Force a few days ago, I can bear witness, with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to the pleasure and encouragement one derives from being in their company or discussing with them their all-important task. Anyone having enjoyed that privilege will rest assured that their task is in able and determined hands.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said he was frightened of the nuclear weapon. Lord Shackleton has already frightened me with his suggestion that the tactical use of nuclear weapons is quite different from the strategical use. I must emphasise as strongly as I can from my own experience that strategy and tactics mean different things to different people. The General's strategy may be the Air Marshal's tactics, working to a different scale. The worst of it is that I think the nuclear weapon in a tactical use will inevitably go on to a wider field. I cannot see any possibility whatever of preventing that. You just cannot draw a line across the map in that way.

One of the points that has been put forward in favour of abdicating completely is that it will strengthen our influence and authority. I cannot imagine anything more naïve than that. If we can judge well enough from General de Gaulle's reactions, I do not think we could imagine that he is in any way going to be affected, nor is anyone else, by our not having atomic weapons. The fact is that international politics are still Power politics. So long as that situation obtains, we must, in my view, retain the atomic weapon. What is really needed (and I am glad the point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton) is an essential insurance against the Russians' miscalculating the relationships between the United States and Europe. It is quite conceivable that they might think that America would not come in to defend Europe. I am not suggesting that that is possible, but it is perfectly possible that the Russians might think that. The only thing we can do about the atomic threat is to pray—and I mean pray—and, at the same time, keep our powder dry.

My Lords, I think that the Secretary of State for Air and the Service are to be congratulated on the way in which they have minimised the effect of the fall-out from that extraordinary bomb which was dropped in the 1957 White Paper. The past year presents some remarkable instances of mobility and flexibility—the two qualities which are probably more important Ito air power than anything else. The Kuwait operation, which has been referred to, was of course a great success; it was beautifully done, and most efficient. At the same time, it is just as well to remember that it had the element of good fortune which it probably deserved. If the carrier had been in the more normal area, around Singapore, the 7,000 men and 700 tons of material which were flown in would have been in Kuwait before the carrier arrived. It is a point which I think we need to remember, because there is a lesson there. It is clear that we must have a larger transport force, to speed up the build-up and to reduce the reliance on stock piling.

Incidentally, I was rather depressed to hear reference to the Belfast, because I thought my information, that there were only ten orders, must be wrong, and that there must be much later information than that. From my recollection of aircraft production, even for a big aircraft, an order of ten is calculated to discourage the people who are making it; it is calculated to put up the price; it is calculated to delay the project, not to speed it up. In fact, it is a rather depressing subject. But, as I said, one of the lessons of Kuwait is that we need that aircraft, and we need it now. I do not know when it is coming; perhaps we shall have better news from the Government. It is very disappointing to hear that the T.S.R. is still expected next year, and it is surprising to find no specific mention in the Memorandum of the V.T.O.—the vertical take-off aeroplane. If there is one thing we want it is that: something to give real flexibility and to avoid having to rely on these enormous runways.

Twelve years or more ago, the Air Show at Farnborough was the top aeronautical show in the world. It was an international meeting made up of practically all the top people in the industry—the presidents, the general managers and so on—and also the leaders in the Services. The latest one (I almost said the last) which was held last September, was attended not by managing directors or presidents, but by junior executives; not by generals, but by colonels and majors. They came to the conclusion, rightly enough, that there was nothing there to justify a journey across the Atlantic, or even across the English Channel. I was there, and there were no crowds queueing to place big orders for British aircraft. There were engines, yes—thanks to Rolls. But aircraft, no ! I wish one could say why that was. The French seem able to beat us in our own markets, with the Mirage and the Caravelie, while our sales in the markets of the world are very, very limited.

I hope that these remarks about production are not out of order, because, presumably, they concern the Ministry of Aviation. But as the output of the Ministry of Aviation is of vital importance, and a good healthy system is of vital importance to the Air Force, I feel justified in raising the matter. The first question one asks is: is the Service getting what it needs? We have just had this sorry story about the Herald. I am sure that the Government have very strong reasons for making their decision against the operational judgment of the Service, but it is public knowledge that the Service was strongly in favour of the Herald on operational grounds. I hope that this will not be taken as a precedent, because if the operational requirements of the Service are to come second, we shall have trouble. It may seem rather churlish to voice complaints when there is so much in this Memorandum that is good; I do it simply because we seem to be lagging behind. We have no supersonic aircraft. Even now, we are apparently preparing to accept as a fighter replacement a subsonic aircraft. We still have no vertical take-off aircraft. In other words, we are absolutely dragging behind. Why this is so it is not for me to say. I can only quote one example.

Noble Lords may know that ten to twelve years ago a certain eminent and successful scientist and engineer produced a design, on which he has been working for years, for an aircraft which I think has been called the Swallow. It has wings which extend right forward for slow flying, and right back for supersonic flying. I personally tried to encourage him (he is working with Vickers) but I am afraid that he is getting no help. Incidentally, he invented geodetic construction and the dam bomb. He is a genius, but he was an awful "headache" to deal with—almost as much so as young Whittle; but they are worth it. Meantime, I think two years ago, he sent it all over to the States. They are trying to develop what he told them. Whether they will do it or not I do not know, because it is a very difficult thing to adapt a partly developed design. That, I believe, was one of the most hopeful projects for dealing with short landing and short take-off. However, it has not been pursued.

That is almost all I have to say, my Lords, except that I should like to add just a word about the universities and the A.T.C. I am glad that the university squadrons are in the clear again, because a year or two ago one rather gathered that they were for execution. Now, apparently because they have produced some recruits, they are again in favour. I should like to make one point here. I had a great deal to do with the university squadrons from the very beginning, and the point one always made with the university authorities was: "Now these are not recruiting organisations in themselves. Their object is to enable good types in the universities to get to know something about the air, not necessarily to become recruits. "I think it is rather a pity to talk too much about recruitment. While on the subject of the A.T.C. I would add that I think the people who run the squadrons and look after them generally are doing a most wonderful job. They give un half their lives to it, by way of evenings every week, and if we can help them more I think it will pay a dividend from every point of view.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I must ask your Lordships' indulgence if, for just a minute or two, I break into the main stream of this very interesting debate on the Royal Air Force in its wider aspects in order to talk for a few moments about one particular small section of it, and that is the one referred to in paragraphs 66 and 67 of the Memorandum. The reason why I do so is that this year is the twentieth anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force Regiment. As I was one of those Army officers who were privileged to be concerned in and to help with that formation, I think it is appropriate that I should say something about it.

Looking back over those twenty years, it is hard to put oneself into the atmosphere of those days, which were the very worst ones of the war, when the question of aerodrome defence had alarmed the Government and the public and the whole country to a quite extraordinary degree. The result of a great deal of urgent and high-powered discussion was that this corps was to be formed within the Royal Air Force, and was to be subject in every way to its command, control and administration. It is a serious step to try to form a fighting unit based on Army tradition and organisation within the framework of a Service of a totally different character—a Service of the character of the R.A.F., which had been formed over the years of preparation for the Second World War as an unrivalled instrument for operating highly-technical and very powerful instruments. As I think many airmen realised at the time, that technical efficiency had been achieved at a cost, and the cost was in the realisation that airmen might have to fight with the weapons of soldiers, and on the ground.

I think it was a tribute to the command structure in the Air Force and to the personalities who were in control at the time (among whom the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was certainly one) that there was such a smooth formation of this rather peculiar child that was given birth in the R.A.F. I think the slang phrase at the time was "brown jobs", which were to be inserted into the R.A.F., but nothing could have been more kind than the reception we received at all levels and from all ranks. Somehow the first stages were surmounted, and it became clear that the rôle of the Army people was to work themselves out of a job. I am glad to say that not very long after the war that task was completed. Now the Royal Air Force Regiment is entirely in blue; its position in the Royal Air Force is completely accepted.

As we see from paragraph 66, its squadrons are based in many areas overseas. They have some squadrons forming part of the strategic reserve in the United Kingdom; and, of course, by the nature of the units and the organisation, it is much easier and much quicker to move an Air Force unit by air, by Transport Command, than it is to move an Army unit. I am told that a number of exercises have taken place which show that the Air Force has a highly mobile, powerful weapon in the way of reinforcing any of its overseas units when they are threatened.

In other ways, too, the Royal Air Force Regiment has integrated itself into the life of the Service. From the start they were made responsible for the weapon training of the individual airmen, but in recent years they have taken over the crash, fire and rescue organisation of the airfields. They have trained crews; and they have taken over the Royal Air Force Fire Service as well. Then, in many parts of the world they have formed mountain rescue teams which have made their mark and have a number of rescues to their credit.

We are glad to see, also, that their equipment is being modernised. Their rôle in protecting airfields against low-flying air attack, which was so prominent when they were first formed in the days of the last war, may still exist. It may still be a requirement, but I suspect that it is a diminishing requirement and that what are wanted are the all-purpose adaptable units which can take on any job which will protect the Royal Air Force and help it to maintain its operational efficiency. I think it is an outstanding example of good and successful inter-Service co-operation. It seems to me that the original decision that it should be no special independent corps or private army but an integral part of the Royal Air Force, has been completely justified; and, from all I hear, the Royal Air Force Regiment is performing all that, and more than, was hoped of it. I should like to wish it, and all ranks in it, every success.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to echo the noble Earl's remarks about the Royal Air Force Regiment, which has clone wonderful work and is a very well-deserving pillar of the R.A.F. If I may come back to the mainstream of the debate, I find, as the first Back-Bench Government speaker, some difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said at the beginning that there is really not very much new to say, but he at least had a clean blackboard upon which to work.


My Lords, may I correct the noble Earl? I did not say that there was not much new to say; I merely said that that is what people were saying. But there is a great deal new to be said.


I apologise if I misinterpreted the noble Lord's remarks. However, may I say from this side of the House that I find it difficult to speak in support of the White Paper. I should like to make this suggestion for the future: that the Government and the Opposition might consider the possibility of amalgamating the Service Estimates debates; at least, that they might consider amalgamating two of the Services, if not all three straight away. We in your Lordships' House have not had any recruits from ex-serving officers other than those who have come here by the hereditary route. We have really not had senior officers from the Services since the war-time commanders came to your Lordships' House. It would seem to me that we ought to be having a leavening in this House of an ex-C.I.G.S., or an ex-C.N.S., or an ex-C.A.S., every now and again to keep us up-to-date. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, has come here and given us his view, and, of course, he is always up-to-date. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, has given us his views recently, and on more than one occasion, and he, too, is always up-to-date. But it seems to me that it is about time that we had some more like them. The Foreign Office is, quite rightly, permitted to send its chief executives to us when they retire, and the benefit is entirely ours. I would ask the Government whether they would consider doing a little more along this line, so far as the Services are concerned.

Now, my Lords, we have had one anniversary mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, and I should like also to mention the fact that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Royal Flying Corps, of military flying—


And the Naval Air Service.


And the Naval Air Service; I stand corrected by the First Lord. I did say "military flying ", and I suppose that includes the Naval Air Service. It seems to me that there ought to be some way in which this anniversary should be commemorated. I should like to pay tribute to a noble and gallant late Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Trenchard, who, though he did not found the R.F.C. or the R.N.A.S., was the founder of the R.A.F. The reason I mention this is because of a book which has recently been published and which I read with pleasure. There have been one or two criticisms in the Press, and it seems to me that in the last few years there have been one or two criticisms too many in trying to tell the world that our heroes have feet of clay. I should like to say, as one officer who not only served under the noble and gallant Viscount but who was personally attached to him on more than one occasion as an R.A.F. officer, in what very high esteem the Royal Air Force held him and hold his memory, and how much encouragement his mere presence, when he went round Royal Air Force stations, even after his retirement, had on the morale of the Royal Air Force.

My Lords, I welcome the Air Estimates, and I should also like to take the opportunity (because, for reasons beyond my control, I regret I was unable to be present in your Lordships' House during the Defence debate) of saying that I would have voted for the Defence White Paper had I been here. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that he was not going to reopen the subject of the Defence debate, and neither am I; but he did mention what he considered to be almost the redundancy of Bomber Command, a point which I feel has been ably answered by my noble friend Lord St. Oswald. In view of the activities of those curious ladies and gentlemen who like to sit on cold streets and pavements, which is not very good for them, physically or otherwise, I should like to take the opportunity of repeating, if my noble friend will forgive me, what I thought was the very admirable statement which Lord Carrington made in the Defence debate, that the deterrent [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 238 (No. 53), col. 531]: is the strongest possible safeguard against the danger that the Russians might be tempted to overrun Europe in the belief that America would not intervene with nuclear weapons for fear of the devastation which would be caused to her own country. This would, of course, be a miscalculation; but it is one which the Russians might increasingly be tempted to make as their own power grows. In other words, the nuclear stalemate, on which I believe the peace of the world depends, is not complete so far as Europe and this country are concerned without the British deterrent ". The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, in the same debate said that, without the deterrent—our contribution to the deterrent included—World War III would have ere long started. I do not quite know what the "Ban-the-bomb-ers" want, but surely those two observations prove that the reason we have no war to-day, and we hope shall have no war in the future, is the existence of the deterrent.

As I have said, I stand corrected in saying that there is nothing new; of course there are new things to say. One has a feeling that one has said them anyhow. What I like about the Estimates is that they recognise the danger of the lessening importance of our bases overseas. The position of these bases is becoming more and more vulnerable, and more and more untenable. That may not matter so much if we are going into what the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, called maritime warfare—though I regret the use of the word "maritime", because, unfortunately, it has a single-Service flavour about it. I hope that this term will not gain ground.

We have heard already to-day from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, that aircraft carriers—


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend, and I did not want to interrupt the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder; but it really is not true to say that the main "pitch" of H.M.S. "Bulwark" is Singapore. She spends a great deal of her time in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, where presumably she would be most needed. Indeed, if my noble friend looks at the commission of H.M.S. "Bulwark". which has now lasted for some time, he will see how regularly, with a little foresight, she has been in the place where she has been most needed.


My Lords, the Minister of Defence's crystal ball is obviously working overtime. That is a very good thing, and long may it continue! I apologise to my noble friend if I have misinterpreted the situation, but I am taking my information from a superior source. The fact remains that aircraft carriers are not exactly swift means of transport. But they are also mobile airfields and if, by any chance, our advance staging posts disappear, and we have to rely entirely on aircraft carriers, these seaborne airfields may not always be in the right place at the right time. What we need is a more massive Air Transport Command. I do not deny that we must have aircraft carriers, but we must not have them at the expense of Transport Command.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, mentioned vertical take-off and landing craft. It seems to me that this is the answer of the future to many of our problems. Could not therefore .a great deal more money be devoted to research on vertical take-off and landing than is being devoted now? We have glibly spent £100 million on this and that project, although the original Estimates were nothing like that amount. I should have thought that a sum of money like that was well worth putting into the speeding up of the introduction of aircraft with vertical take-off and landing capability.

Again, what about hovercraft? I do not think that these are mentioned in the Air Estimates. But surely hovercraft have an amphibious capability of great value in all forms of operation. I applaud the integration of the new Joint Services Staff Cell in the Ministry of Defence, the unified Commands overseas, and the earlier introduction of officers to Joint Staff work. Eventually, the Services will become so integrated as to become one. I wonder whether the speeding up of this process is not being hampered for the same reason as people give for not joining the European Economic Community—that is, a fear of giving up a little sovereignty. By doing that, the Services will become even more efficient and, what will be of still more benefit to the country, the Services will be made even cheaper.

May I turn for a moment to the Dart Herald? I know that the performance of the Avro 748 is not a great deal different, and that in the long run the choice has not done any physical harm. I believe that the R.A.F. would prefer the Herald, chiefly because it is a high-wing and not a low-wing aircraft, which makes it easier for the job it has to do. Nevertheless, the choice of the Avro is not going to lose any war. It is the way the choice was made. Here we have Sir Frederick Handley Page, one of the pioneers of aircraft construction in this country, who from the very beginning has produced famous aircraft of all kinds. Imperial Airways would never have reached the status it did without Handley Page. I realise, of course, that his individuality stood out too much; but it seems to me too harsh, it seems to me punishment on the wrong principle, to punish a man by refusing to buy his products because he will not do what the Government require. I appreciate and agree with the idea behind what the Minister of Aviation is doing, but I think that in this case he could have shown a little more compassion and thoughtfulness for what the Services themselves need.

The increase in pilot intake shows that recruitment has recovered, thank heavens! after the disastrous White Paper of 1957—I say "disastrous", because it was pure crystal-gazing, and perhaps we happened to gaze in the wrong direction. It is all very well for noble Lords on the opposite Benches to laugh.


Not laugh—cheer.


Yes, that is what Mr. Khrushchev calls "through the back window". Thank heaven ! recruits are coming forward. The fact that, although Cranwell is below strength, we are not having to accept entrants below a certain standard is a very good sign indeed.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, has already mentioned the university air squadrons. I entered the Service in that way; I have commanded a university air squadron, and I am glad to see that the threat last year, that they were going to disappear altogether, has not materialised. I am sure that it is money well worth spending, not only because of the benefit to public relations, but also because of its value in the type of individual attracted into the Service. Finally, my Lords, I would remind you that the rate of fatal accidents is the second lowest on record. This is a matter on which the Royal Air Force and everybody in it is to be congratulated. The question of space has been gone into before, but there is one point here on which we must keep our eye—namely, that whoever has control of space presumably has control of the world. I hope that we shall play our part, however small it may be, in seeing that the West obtains this control and maintains it.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in expressing indebtedness to my noble friend Lord Shackleton for once more introducing this debate and for the vigour, knowledge, range and vision with which he tackled the subject. On these occasions he is so identified with his subject that I have great difficulty in deciding whether he is a Peer or an aircraft; and apparently during his remarks my noble friend encountered a somewhat similar difficulty. I do not intend to attempt to cover the range that he dealt with, but to concentrate my remarks on a subject which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, and again by the noble Earl, Lord Gosford—namely, our need for a considerable increase in Transport Command.

When one looks at the Memorandum, one finds that paragraph 13 indicates that two of the eight most important duties of the Royal Air Force are directly related to transport; that is to say, the strategic air lift of men and equipment for all three Services and the provision of medium and short-range transport support for the Army in the field. I should like to relate these two important duties to the Government's laudable intention to reduce the number of different types of front-line aircraft in service from the 22 we have down to perhaps 6 or 7, and, in particular, to mention how, in my view, Transport Command can make a contribution to this end. If this is to be done—and it strikes me as essentially a first-class business proposition—it naturally means that one basic type must do several tasks.

In the debate in another place on March 12, Mr. Amery, the Secretary of State for Air, gave examples of what he had in mind. One of his suggestions was directly related to transport when he mentioned the need for a basically civil aircraft, which could do maritime work and also serve as a long-range military transport. If such an aircraft can be developed, it will make possible not only an immense saving in the costs of research, development and production, but considerable economies in training and maintenance. Two other invaluable results would ensue: first, the lower final cost per aircraft would make us competitive in the world civil air market; and secondly, there would be far less need to stockpile men and materials in the world's potential trouble spats. I would submit that we have found this basic aircraft type in the Short Belfast, which has already been mentioned several times in this debate. I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Shackleton say that he had nothing against this aircraft, although he regretted that we had not years ago made another type of aircraft under licence. But the fact is that we did not do so, whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation may be, and we have to consider the position as it is to-day.

In the Short Belfast we have the biggest transport ever ordered by the Royal Air Force; and according to the manufacturers some of these aircraft will be flying, not in the mid-'sixties, as I think was suggested, but next year. Their capacity, load and range are much greater than that of any comparable competitor, and, what is more important, they will carry equipment which no other plane in the world can carry. The noble Lord, Lord Tedder, drew attention to the fact that only 10 strategic versions of this aircraft have been ordered, and he rightly said that an order of 10 is calculated to discourage people from making it; and it is calculated to put up the price. But these 10 aircraft now on order have a fuselage 12-feet by 12-feet, a maximum payload of 35 tons and a specified long-rang load over 4,000 miles of about 14 tons. The fuselage is big enough to take heavy Army equipment, such as radar vehicles and missiles, and aerodrome preparation equipment, such as tractors and bull-dozers. It will be capable of refuelling other aircraft. It can take helicopters. Each aircraft, if fitted with two decks, could carry 250 troops, which means that 4 Belfasts could take a battalion virtually to any destination in the world at a speed of between 350 m.p.h. and 500 m.p.h. I submit that sufficient of such aircraft, efficiently used, by bringing any trouble spot within a few hours flying time, could transform the strategic position.

Mr. Amery, in his Memorandum, says that the operational effort of the transport force in Kuwait, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, has already referred, deserves its own chapter; he was very proud of it. He reveals that the Ruler of Kuwait asked for assistance on June 30, and by July 6 the movement of over 7,000 men and 720 tons of stores had been substantially completed. No doubt that was a fine effort, but it occupied no fewer than 93 transport aircraft for six days. Twenty-eight Belfasts could have moved the men in one trip and the equipment in another, say, 36 hours in all; there would have been no need for the crystal ball to work overtime at all, and no need for inspired thinking as to where the next spot was likely to be where an aircraft carrier could do most good.


A commando ship.


The principle is the same. I am not attempting to decry what was done; it was doubtless a very fine effort; but I submit that these other arrangements would be much better. Obviously, this is one of the main reasons why the aircraft were ordered, as well as because they will be able to do other emergency transport jobs, such as the carrying of heavy and expensive equipment which is too expensive to stockpile, such as the Bloodhound and Thunderbird, when they are ready. But, unfortunately, there is as yet no indication that the Government have realised the potentialities of the developments which can be made from this aircraft. It was always conceived as a flexible type, devoted to a variety of rôles. For example, one development which Short Bros, have in mind would carry a modern battle tank of the equivalent of the Chieftain a distance of 2,500 miles. By making use of the improved Tyne engines when they are ready, it would be available as a longer-range aircraft, say flying round Africa with a payload of 45 tons, or it could exceed 3,000 miles with a load of 15 tons. This would make all sorts of strategic conceptions possible because, as the Minister himself said in another place last month, if we could be sure of flying our aircraft from one end of the world to the other we need not position so many of these aircraft in different parts of the world. Indeed, increased engine power on this particular aircraft would make it suitable for tactical as well as strategic rôles, and therefore you would get the development which can be made from one basic type.

I submit that additional importance attaches to a long-range military version of the Belfast, because it would be virtually identical with the civil version in which B.O.A.C. have expressed an interest, and which it is estimated would have a 45 ton payload over the North Atlantic at a cost of less than 4d. per ton mile. I submit that, wherever possible, we must consider long-range military and civil requirements at the same time, providing always that the military requirement is fully met. Of course, in "military requirement" in this context I include the naval needs, and I would hope that this particular aircraft could indeed link up to satisfy some naval needs. The trouble is that when we come to think of combining its civil use, it is impossible to talk of prices that would interest the world civil air market on the basis of ten aircraft, the development of which have cost £8 million. The extra development for a super Belfast would cost only £4 million to £5 million, compared with almost £30 million for the development of an entirely new jet transport. When we are talking in terms of money and one basic type, we must remember this.

Obviously, I would submit, if the Government really mean to concentrate on half-a-dozen basic types they must develop the Belfast for medium and long-range strategic transport, and then they could consider it seriously for tactical needs. My noble friend Lord Shackleton asked this question, but according to my information from the manufacturers the total cost, including development, of the ten Belfasts now ordered plus ten of longer range and 30 tactical versions would be £120 mil- lion for the 50 aircraft. But if it were decided to attempt another solution, to start afresh as it were, for these same requirements the cost would be £200 million. I would submit there can be only one answer.

Obviously ten of these aircraft will not be enough for the Royal Air Force transport needs, and it is equally obvious that, having shown their faith in them by ordering ten, the Government must order more, not necessarily of exactly the same type, but including the developed types which I have mentioned. Unfortunately, the Government have so far declined to place further firm orders or, indeed, to sanction work on the new developments. This delay is dangerous and it could be disastrous. Already, in the absence of further orders, the firm's finances are being taxed very strongly, and this is adding to the difficulties—and this is important—of holding together a first-class design team who, as it were, are out on a limb in Northern Ireland. And they are a first-class team. Last year, when Mr. Thorneycroft visited the works he said that they compared with the best in the world and that they had proved their ingenuity in the development of S.C.1., the vertical take-off and landing machine ", which, indeed, was the first in the world. At the same time he declared his gratification with the efficiency with which Short's is conducted.

It is thus officially acknowledged at Ministerial level that they have the plane, the skill, the design teams and the efficiency, all the elements which, on purely technical grounds, merit the placing of forward contracts now. Over the last five or six years Ministers have been declaring what indeed Mr. Thorneycroft reaffirmed again last year, that it is the Government's policy to retain Short Brothers and Harland as a balanced and self-contained development, research and productive unit in the aircraft industry I hope that in his reply the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will be able to convince us that those words will be translated into action.

I have so far discussed this matter only on the basis of the firm's efficiency and the merits of its aircraft. Since the essential first criteria are satisfied, I can now bring forward two other reasons—political reasons, perhaps—why, other things being equal, the Government must place the necessary orders in Northern Ireland. The first is that Short's is 75 per cent. owned by Her Majesty's Treasury. I would submit that if there are two firms of equal efficiency, one of which is virtually owned by the taxpayer, the orders should be given to the one which we virtually own. The second important consideration is that Short's is the largest employer of skilled labour in Northern Ireland where, to our regret, they are suffering the shocking depression level of 8 per cent. unemployment.

The firm now employs some 7,500 people, compared with 10,000 five years ago. If we have the orders, it would be unthinkable not to place them there. At present, they have some 5,250 employed in their aircraft division. If no further Belfasts were ordered, it would mean a loss of £12 million and the sacking of 4,000 workers by the end of 1965. If the orders for our known needs—and needs which in this debate have been emphasised again and again—are placed soon, the price of this plane, in the opinion of the directors, can eventually be cut by half, which is a very important consideration. It would mean that the capture of part of the civil aircraft market would then be virtually certain, and the future of this plant and its workers assured.

On Friday last in another place a Motion was moved which the Government accepted. It was with regard to Northern Ireland and it included these words: … reaffirms the need to accelerate Northern Ireland's economic development so as to bring employment up to a level existing in other parts of the United Kingdom; and believes that Her Majesty's Government … would be fully justified in adopting further exceptional measures to achieve these ends. That Motion was accepted by the Government, and in dealing with it the right honourable gentleman Mr. R. A. Butler, the Home Secretary, said this of the factory [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 656, (No. 87), col. 1739]: On my own visit I formed the same impression … that there is the most urgent need, in this beautifully-equipped aircraft factory, with a range for the construction of large aircraft almost unrivalled in the world, and with its access to the waterfront, for certainty not only about the organisation but also about future orders That was a most unequivocal statement. But the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary was not able to say anything more than those very kind and convincing words. I do not know what exceptional measures the Government have in mind. It might be exceptional to ask for a speedy and sensible decision—I would not think so—but I would ask for a speedy and sensible, and favourable, decision and I express the hope that at the end of this debate we shall not be put off with another heartbreaking, non-committal, hope-deferred answer.

On the 22nd of last month Mr. Thorneycroft really acknowledged the case I have put when he spoke in another place. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 656 (No. 81), col. 597]: The problem which confronts this industry is in the design staffs—the brains who are the future of the industry … we recognise the need for a healthy long-term future for these priceless design teams … we will do our best to hasten the necessary decisions. The need to hasten necessary decisions is nowhere greater than in the Northern Ireland aircraft industry. Short's have a priceless design team who are naturally uneasy and anxious about their "healthy, long-term future". They will melt away if favourable decisions are not made soon.

Last week I saw a large advertisement in a national daily newspaper. It showed the giant Belfast under construction and gave smaller illustrations of the Short Seacat missile, the Short Skyvan light freighter, the S.C.1, and other products. The advertisement was headed, "Short's are doing Exciting Things in Northern Ireland ". They are indeed. But I ask the Government to give an assurance tonight that this company, which we all own, will have a chance to go on doing exciting things for a long time to come.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for initiating this debate and for the kind way in which he did it. I am even grateful to him for virtually including remarks I made in the debate on Space Research a few weeks ago. I hope that my noble friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty, will be able to tell us that Her Majesty's Government have, in fact, given the Royal Air Force some part to play in what this country does towards space development. I am sure that all noble Lords have quite a little difficulty when taking part in a debate of this nature, because so often what one may say is getting pretty close to the knuckle of security, and I am sure that my noble friend the First Lord is in the worst position of all, in having to reply on these matters. As my noble friend, Lord St. Oswald, put it, one has to think very carefully what one says.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that I might say something about the Meteorological Service, but I should have thought that he was far more qualified than I am to do so, having been in Coastal Command, who were always amazingly "weatherwise". I will say this, however: I do not think the nation, as a whole, appreciates the wonderful work which is done by the Meteorological Service, whose money comes from the Air Vote. The Meteorological Service very often in the mind of the public simply gives them the wrong weather for their holidays. They do not realise the difficulties with which the service is faced, owing to the geographic position of this country, in giving a long-term weather forecast. Unfortunately we are placed almost where three major air masses meet; and for one to tell with any degree of accuracy whether a depression coming across the Atlantic is going to push away a ridge of high pressure over the Continent is extremely difficult.

All the same, my Lords, our weather forecasts can be amazingly accurate; and I do not think I shall be giving away any secrets if I tell you about a yachtsman who was having a race on a Saturday afternoon and who, because he knew his lateral communications, was able to ring up an area forecaster, also a keen sailor. The forecast predicted a shift of wind at a certain hour, and, by Jove! that shift came within five minutes of the predicted time; and as this chap had sailed a course, to take in such a shift, he was able to round the marker buoy and win the race quite handsomely. As I have said, I do not believe that the general public know all that is done by the Meteorological Service, and I hope that more of them will learn to look into the future, which is part of the story of the Meteorological Office. I am sure, my Lords, that you have looked at this, and I will not weary you with repeating it now.

If you go to the Meteorological Report for the year ending December 31, 1960, you will see, at page 25, from (a) to (g) inclusive various things which the Meteorological Office does. I will refer to two that might affect the general public; that is (c) forecasts of at least three days' dry weather during the summer months—a service primarily for farmers, and (d) forecasts for three or four days ahead of weather likely to result in increased demands for a variety of products such as ice cream in summer and anti-freeze fluids in winter. So a great deal is done that is not fully appreciated.

I believe that part of the reason for the forgetfulness we have is due to the fact that Her Majesty's Government some years ago took away that inestimable service called the "Air-Met", which was a boon to the farmer and a boon to the traveller. I should have thought that to-day, with computers, as mentioned in the Report, it would have been quite easy to restore this service without any additional cost. After all, the forecasters are already there, and all that is required is a channel on which to disseminate the forecasts to the public. If I remember rightly it used to be on about 1280 metres, on the long-wave band. But by a clause in the Geneva Convention we allowed the Russians to use this frequency, and I have never heard any other broadcast since. I hope that this point might be looked into again, because not only was this service useful, but it let the public know the state of the weather at a short time. And if anyone happened to know the geographical situation of any stations reporting he could have a lot of fun trying to draw his own weather map.

I want to say only one more thing, and that is that I am rather worried when I hear or read complaints about the use of Transport Command for this or that task; of helicopters being used for rescue service. Such complaints appear in the Press, and are voiced a great deal more often here than in another place. But surely, if we are to keep an efficient Transport Command, it must be kept in full flying training; and if we can give it an active job to do while it is training it is far better to do so. It is the old story of "letting the dog see the rabbit"—even if it is only an unwarlike rabbit. So I believe it is right to make the greatest use of Air Transport Command for all sorts of duties, even though they might be thought lavish—that is probably the wrong word; at any rate, unproductive in building up its own rôle of carrying troops and supplies.

My last point (and this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham) is the question of the Belfast aircraft. No doubt it will be an extremely good aircraft. But I recall that in 1939–40 we thought the look of the four-funnelled destroyers that were lent to us from the United States somewhat old-fashioned. I would hazard a guess that any aircraft with propellers on it by 1967 will look as funny as those four-funnelled destroyers did.


My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his opinion, but I wonder whether he is aware that the Russians are still developing turboprops, and no one would suggest that they do not have pretty advanced knowledge in the air. It does seem that this type of aircraft is going to be the cheapest to develop, and the difference of perhaps one hour in arriving on a long journey will not make much difference to Transport Command.


I am aware that the Russians are going on with the turboprop aircraft, but it may be for a quite different reason. I should have thought that there were already in existence pure jet aircraft that can be developed.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I had not previously intended taking part in It and I have been on important Commonwealth business; therefore I am somewhat at a disadvantage because I have not heard all the many and no doubt powerful arguments produced by both sides. I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as I am sure many other speakers have, for introducing this Motion.

It seems to me that the R.A.F. has come to a stage in its history which is, as it were, a climax. I am no expert in this subject and I look at it purely from the point of view of the ordinary observer who has no special knowledge and no bias one way or the other. As we know, in the beginning of its history the Air Arm, if you like to call it such—it was not even the Royal Flying Corps then—was conceived purely from the point of view of operating with the Army and also with the Royal Navy. In fact, the father of the Royal Air Force, Lord Trenchard, fought strenuously to preserve this rôle far the Air Arm. It was against his will in the first place that the Royal Flying Corps was formed as a separate arm of the Service. He became later, of course, its greatest advocate, and the Royal Air Force owes an enormous amount to him. He developed it and, with the assistance of the other senior Service officers and those who served in the Service, it has become the marvellous instrument that we know to-day.

But I am not sure now whether the time has not come for it to go back to its original concept, because, frankly, I do not see independent bombing being any longer a real rôle for the Royal Air Force. Remember that the Royal Flying Corps first came into existence for the express purpose of bombing Germany in the First World War. I feel to-day, very strongly, that the future of the Royal Air Force depends upon close integration with the Army and the Royal Navy, and that in the future it will not have a rôle of its own as a strategic bombing force.

This really takes in the whole concept of our Defence policy, and therefore your Lordships will, I hope, excuse me if I say a word or two about it, because it is impossible to consider the future of the Royal Air Force without considering how it fits into the general picture, although I do not intend to spend a long period on it. First, to make clear my own point of view, may I say that I entirely agree with paragraph 13 of the Memorandum we are now discussing, except for sub-paragraph (a). Paragraph 13 reads: The Royal Air Force exists to-day to deploy air power in defence of our national interests and in support of our friends and Allies. In particular, it provides "— and then it goes on to say a number of things it provides, eight in all. I agree with seven of them. The only one I do not agree with is the first one, in sub-paragraph (a): Britain's strategic nuclear striking power ". I hope that has made my position, and also the position of the Liberal Party, clear on this matter, a point I gather the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned earlier on. Perhaps I may return to that in a moment.

The kind of rôle I have outlined for the Royal Air Force of the future was well emphasised in the Kuwait operation, which I believe has been mentioned to-day by the noble and gallant Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Tedder. It is significant that it was only on June 30 that the Ruler of Kuwait called for British forces. On July 1, H.M.S. "Bulwark" arrived off Kuwait in extremely difficult weather conditions, and on the same day, July 1, two days after the call was made, at the Farwania airstrip the Royal Air Force's first aircraft touched down, the Beverley of 84 Squadron, bringing the ground crew of 8 Squadron, and ten minutes later the Hunters. Those are remarkable figures. The Royal Air Force and the Navy should be congratulated on how quickly they got in. That is the rôle, I suggest, of the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Royal Navy in the future, or one aspect of their rôle—this quick build-up, the "fire brigade" type of operation.

The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, for some reason did not like our supporting cheers, but they were not intended in any way to be derisory; we were fully in accord with him; we did support him and I do now support him in calling the White Paper of 1957 disastrous, because it is from this disastrous White Paper of 1957 that many of our troubles flowed. That is to say, we, in this country, with our strained resources in money, manpower, equipment and in scientists, are trying to maintain at the same time the independent nuclear deterrent and conventional forces. As your Lordships know, the independent nuclear deterrent is provided by the V-bombers. Paragraph 13 of the Defence White Paper said: The efficacy of our deterrent will therefore be maintained throughout the 1960s "— I hope your Lordships will note that; that is another eight years— by using our V-bombers and fitting them with stand-off weapons, Blue Steel in the first instance and later Skybolt. So now we know what to expect.

I should like to refer to a speech made by the Prime Minister last Monday in Stockton, when he took the Labour Party and the Liberal Party to task and said: Remember, if you vote for Liberal or for Labour, you vote for conscription. That comes pretty well, I must say, from the leader of a Government who have just passed through Parliament a Bill for conscription! The Army Reserve Bill was a conscription Bill. I thought it was impudence of the first water, with that background, to make a statement of that kind. We supported the Army Reserve Bill, but we did not expect to have this sort of gibe flung at us as a result.

The second point is that the Prime Minister said that a vote for the Labour Party was a vote for conscription. How does he know what a vote for the Labour Party is? No one else does. In the House of Commons their spokesmen say one thing on defence; in this House their spokesmen say another. There is no denying that in the Defence debate the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—they believe this, and there is no reason why they should not say it—thought it necessary to keep the nuclear deterrent. They agree with the Government on that. To-day, I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that, while he believes that the nuclear deterrent is a declining asset, he would keep it for the time being. That is a sort of halfway position—as it were, a bet either way. In the House of Commons they say "Away with it !". So how on earth can the Prime Minister, even though he is a crystal gazer, tell from looking in the crystal ball what a vote for the Labour Party will do in this or in any other direction?

He said in another part of his speech that the deterrent, including the bombers, is only 10 per cent. of the total defence cost. I think that is most doubtful. The First Lord shakes his head. At any rate, it is a pretty big sum; it is £200 million.


Why is it doubtful?


I think it is doubtful because statistics can always be made to agree with what you want them to agree with. As the late Mr. Lloyd George said, There are three kinds of liars: liars, damn liars and statisticians. I think statistics can be made to prove anything you like, and that the answers depend upon what you put on to the accounting side of the nuclear deterrent—in other words, how much of the administrative and research costs, and so on, you load on to the deterrent, and how much you load on to other things. I think these figures are doubtful. On February 21, the Guardian, in querying this figure of 10 per cent., asked what I have asked—namely, …what proportion of research and development costs, how great a part of the defence of nuclear bases, what part of the R.A.F.'s administrative costs, and so on were covered by that figure. The Guardian went on: That Blue Streak fiasco cost more than £100 million; … the Blue Steel stand-off bomb is already known to be likely to cost not far short of £150 million; as for Blue Water and the other developments hinted at last year but never specified, their costs are completely unknown. So there is a good deal of doubt as to exactly what these particular weapons will in fact cost. But even at 10 per cent. it is a substantial figure, which would go a great way in doing what we say it ought to do—namely, support the conventional forces.

It seems to me that the Government's policy—this is relevant to this debate—is, first of all to cling on to the independent nuclear deterrent, which is really a hark back to the sort of gunboat mentality where everybody must have his own deterrent, and bears no relation to the facts of to-day; and secondly, to bilk (it amounts to no less) our Allies over conventional forces. I do not care who says it, no one can convince me that we are carrying out in NATO policy the commitments that the noble Earl, Lord Avon, entered into when he was Prime Minister. The figures are just not there. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has given all the figures on many occasions and I will not trouble to give them now; no doubt his figures are accurate. I am quite certain that we are bilking on our responsibilities; and it you bilk on your responsibilities you can hardly expect your defence policy to be realistic, as on some occasion your Allies may begin to bilk on you.

I am not alone in thinking that this is the wrong policy to pursue. There are many people in the Labour Party who think that, and there are several important people in the Conservative Party who think it also. For example, Mr. Aubrey Jones has come out very strongly against this policy. I heard him myself the other night on television. I must say it is rather a pity that he did not do so when he was Minister of Supply, when he advocated the opposite. But we are always glad, at whatever late hour it may be, to have a convert to our ideas, and Mr. Aubrey Jones is a most powerful convert. As an ex-Minister and one who knows the defence set-up so well, he is a powerful figure in this world. Whatever they think of us—and I know they think little enough of us—the Government cannot just shrug Mr. Aubrey Jones oft in that way. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean is also a supporter of this point of view. If I am not right, no doubt the First Lord will tell me so when he comes to reply.

I have been asked, what is the Liberal policy? I can state it quite shortly. It is to renounce the independent nuclear deterrent and to provide conventional forces, first of all, to carry out our responsibilities to NATo—that is to say, to provide a pause with the shield forces to enable the Commander-in-Chief to decide whether this is an accident or a serious attack, or whatever it may be. That is the NATO policy. Secondly, to provide integrated services, naval, army and air, of a highly mobile nature to cover our commitments elsewhere.

I must say that I entirely disagree with the noble and gallant Field Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein who, in the Defence debate the other day, rather pooh-poohed the threat in Europe. To my mind, it is essential to hold Western Europe. Unless we hold Western Europe, however strong we may be in other parts of the world it would be quite useless. Western Europe and the Mediterranean are still the bastions of our defence, and the other areas of the world are the distant perimeter. I am quite sure that after their recent disastrous crop failures the Chinese are in no position, even if they wanted to, to go levying war on anybody else, and they will not be for many years.

Finally, may I say a word on recruiting? No doubt the noble Lord the First Lord will explain to us why it is that for February 1, 1962, there are over 2,000 fewer male Regular other ranks in the Royal Air Force than there were on February 1, 1961. On a previous occasion when I gave figures of this kind the noble Lord challenged them and said that my figures were different from his. The point was that my figures had been issued by the Ministry of Defence and they were, I think, in the end accepted. These, again, are figures issued by the Ministry of Defence on March 5, 1962, and they show that on February 1, 1961, in the R.A.F. the number of men and boys totalled 118,645, and that on February 1, 1962, they numbered 116,100. Unless I have somehow misread these figures—which is quite possible, as I have only just had this Paper—that seems to me to be the position.

It may be, of course, that part of the explanation is that there are fewer short-service engagements and a few more long-service engagements than there were in 1961. But that is not the entire answer, and I feel there must be some other explanation. I hope the answer is not that recruiting is not going up at the rate hoped for. An even more worrying situation, I think, is that on February 1, 1961, there were 7,873 boys and apprentices, and on February 1, 1962, the number had gone down to 7,500. There is no long-service or short-service engagement involved there, but according to this table there were 373 fewer boys and apprentices this year than at the equivalent time last year. We all know the tremendous importance of the boys and apprentices in any Service, and I hope we may be assured that this position can be remedied.

I do not want your Lordships, or anyone outside this House, to think that anything I have said here implies any kind of criticism of the Services, and in particular of the Royal Air Force. I have the greatest admiration for the Royal Air Force, for what they have done both in peace and in war. My only aim—as indeed it is the aim of all your Lordships—is to see that everything shall be done to make their task successful and, so far as possible, easy for them. We believe that the Government's policy is not conducive to this end. We feel that it is a muddled policy—a policy which has been denounced by some of its principal supporters. It is a policy which takes no account or not sufficient account, of our responsibilities to NATO, and a policy which, in the end, the country will reject.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to intervene in the debate for a very few moments, and I am moved to do so by the implied reflection of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, when he referred to the expenditure of £550 million seeming not to be worthy of comment from any of those who in past years had been politically responsible for affairs at the Air Ministry. But far more wounding to the conscience would be the acceptance of any imputation, justified or unjustified, that we had neglected to pay our tribute to the magnificent work and the wonderful spirit of the Royal Air Force.

I am also pleased to be allowed to intervene for a moment following the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, because I was quite fascinated to hear the deployment of Liberal policy in such clear terms—words which were so clear, but which really meant so little. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, showed me clearly how much the remnants of that great Party of which he is now a member lean on the past. He went right back to the 1918 formation of the Royal Air Force. and it is his lone voice that now puts forward a policy that would break up the Royal Air Force—a matter which was considered by many Cabinet Committees and decided finally in 1918.

Lord Ogmore says that he does not believe in an independent strategic nuclear striking force for this country. My Lords, I believe that the Royal Air Force was the sword and the shield of our country at the time of the Battle of Britain, and I believe it is still the sword and the shield against sudden unproyoked aggression upon this country. If the shield is Fighter Command and the ancillary ground defences, the sword—for all to see—is the great deterrent, which would be delivered, if it had to be, by our V-bomber force with effectiveness and speed, and with dreadful consequences for anyone who dared to commit unprovoked aggression. I believe that the V-bomber force will remain the sword in the defence of this country for many years yet.


My Lords, I do not want to break up the Royal Air Force; that is the last thing I want. But I do want the Government to give it a more realistic and more modern target and rôle than it has at the moment.


I do not want to misunderstand the noble Lord, but I understood that he wished the Royal Air Force to function virtually in close support with the other two Services, and wanted to abolish its independent rôle. At any rate, there is no issue at all about the conflict on major policy, which is that he wishes this country not to have an independent nuclear striking force. I would maintain that the independent nuclear striking force has provided us with the greatest measure of security during the past ten critical years, and it is largely because we do possess that force, I believe, that to-day our voice is a voice of power and authority in the councils of the world.

There is much confused and muddled thinking among those who oppose the possession by this country of the great deterrent. There is a campaign for the surrender of the deterrent as an independent weapon, but with an acceptance of nuclear weapons for what are called conventional forces and tactical usage. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, pointed out, there is no clear line of demarcation between what is a tactical weapon in tactical usage, or a strategic weapon in strategic usage. If, for instance, a Canberra bomber under the operational command of a General Officer Commanding conventional forces was used to drop a nuclear weapon in close support, I presume that that would be acceptable to the Liberal Party because that would be a nuclear weapon in use for tactical purposes—namely the dropping of a nuclear weapon upon an opposing army. Is that so?


If that were a question and not a rhetorical statement, I would say that that might be so, if in the view of the Commander-in-Chief—General Norstad, or whoever it may be—it was necessary (and I hope it never will be) to use a weapon of that kind in a tactical usage. There is no such thing as a tactical weapon; but in a tactical rôle that would be so. I was talking about the nuclear deterrent, not about the use of nuclear or atomic weapons in a tactical rôle. They are two different things.


We will come to that in a moment. We all abhor the usage of nuclear weapons whether in a tactical rôle or a strategic rôle—that is common ground. But I gather the noble Lord would, in certain circumstances, allow that weapon to be used in what he calls—and I would agree with him—a tactical rôle. But if, say, the Commander-in-Chief wanted to send that Canberra bomber another hundred miles to a town where there was a railhead, then you are on the borderline of whether it is being used in a tactical rôle or a strategic rôle. If you were to send it 400 miles further on, and if it were sent not by the Commanding Officer but by an Air Force commander, then I gather that it would be regarded as being used in a strategic rôle—it would then be the great deterrent.


My Lords, the noble Lord has not understood the position. What we object to is that there should be an independent nuclear deterrent, the H-bomb, with its method of delivery, retained by us here. NATO already has atomic weapons and we make no objection to that. We hope they will never be used. What the noble Lord is talking about is the exercise by the NATO Commander of the NATO atomic weapons. That does not come into the argument at all. If necessary, of course the Supreme Commander must have those facilities.


The noble Lord really could not sustain that argument—because what is an H-bomb? An H-bomb is a hydrogen bomb, a nuclear weapon. The noble Lord would allow a nuclear weapon to be dropped quite near the enemy, but he would not allow a nuclear weapon to be dropped well behind the enemy in case it hit some town. My Lords, that is quite illogical.


My Lords, whether we agree with it or not, we must understand the argument. I am saying that I do not believe there should be any independent nuclear weapons held by anyone but the two great Powers, the United States and Russia. NATO is already a nuclear Power in the sense that it has atomic weapons, and I make no objection to that. But that does not come into it at all. We support NATO.


My Lords, I do not think there is much purpose in pursuing this argument. I think the House would agree that it is really quite impossible to define in terms of usage what exactly is a tactical rôle or a strategic rôle. At any rate, the noble Lord has now made it clear that he does not mind somebody else having an H-bomb for a strategic rôle in order to help us, provided that we ourselves do not. We have to employ other people, the Americans or NATO, to do the work on our behalf. I cannot think that that is a very attractive policy which will gain much support in the country.

That was the only point I wished to make in my very short intervention. I believe that it is the great deterrent which has rendered us powerful in the councils of the world to-day and which has given us a measure of uneasy peace in the time of cold war; and that it would indeed be a Government not worthy of the responsibilities which any Government must carry which gave up the great deterrent of this country, which is within our own control for use for our own protection in a great emergency, unless the peace of the world were secured by statesmen in a way that has not yet been achieved. My Lords, the Royal Air Force is fifty years old. I see that in this House there are noble Lords who were pioneer members of that Service. It has achieved great honour and glory over past years, and I believe that it will discharge its responsibility as guardian of the great deterrent in the future years to come just as well as it has done in the past.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, the House has already expressed its sincere gratitude to my noble friend Lord Shackleton for taking on to-day the task—and it is a task—of moving the Motion on the Air Estimates. As is usual, his speech typified the care and attention that he gives to those subjects on which he speaks in this House. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, that these remarks apply equally to him. Certainly we on this side of the House always enjoy hearing him when he comes to the defence of the Government. He always speaks with spirit, and he certainly always gives us the impression that, within the limits of the facts he is able to give us, he attempts to answer the case that we make. Therefore, we are grateful to both noble Lords who commenced this debate this afternoon.

May I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the arrangements which have been made for Government speakers this afternoon? There were some of us who felt that in the Defence debate the House was not rightly served, in that an important debate was wound up for the Government by a Minister who was not intimately connected with Defence matters. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, possibly felt that he should answer some of the unanswered questions of the Defence debate. Therefore, I hope that this arrangement will continue and that at the end of the Service debates we shall hear from a Minister intimately connected with the subject.

There have been a number of tributes paid to the Royal Air Force and to various sections of it, but there is one section which has not been mentioned. Your Lordships will find the section to which I refer in paragraph 101, and I think that the 21st birthday of the Air Training Corps is a very important anniversary. From paragraph 96 we see the importance of this Corps to the Royal Air Force. About half of the officer cadets at Cranwell and Henlow, and 40 per cent. of the boy entrants and apprentices, are taken from the Air Training Corps. Therefore, when on this occasion we pay our tribute to the Royal Air Force as a whole, I think tribute must equally be given to the Air Training Corps, to its officers and to the many men and women who may be outside the Air Training Corps but give so much assistance in making it such a live organisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, gave us a description of the Liberal policy. I do not propose to develop the debate which went on between him and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, but I feel I should say one thing, because the noble Lord attempted to show the conflicting views on defence held by members of my Party in another place and by some of us in this House. I think I should make it clear in this debate that, while we in the House of Lords play our part in the Parliamentary Party, we have the liberty of speaking—very much as in Divisions. I have never hesitated to state what, in my view, is required for the defence of my country. I can well believe that, if we had a debate in this House in regard to defence, there would be no part of the House which would produce unanimity.

I would say to the noble Lord that this is one subject in which the Opposition is placed in considerable difficulty. We have no knowledge of the secret facts. We have to make our decisions, our judgments, on the information that becomes available to us. May I say this—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will agree—that those of us who have been privileged to go to air establishments, naval and NATO establishments are, in fact, placed in an even more difficult position, in that we are in possession of certain information and it is very difficult for us to judge whether we may use that information. Therefore, when we make our judgments and express our views we must do so with the best of intentions and with integrity on the facts available to us as members of the general public.

I spoke in the Defence debate on the nuclear deterrent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the possession of nuclear weapons and the capability of delivering them to the Soviet Union has been the greatest insurance for peace. But, my Lords, an insurance policy has its lifetime. I personally believe that our capability today makes the case for an independent nuclear deterrent; but in the Defence debate I tried to indicate the fear of those of us who support the independent deterrent, that the vehicles which we have for delivering this weapon are becoming less viable in the course of days. This is no criticism of the officers and men or even of the vehicles, the aircraft in which they fly. I believe that the V-bomber is as fine an aircraft as is flying to-day. My personal fear on the viability of these aircraft lies in their vulnerability on the ground.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, say that in his view and in the Government's view the Royal Air Force will be capable of getting a reasonable percentage, I suppose, of its V-bomber force off the ground after a warning. I fully recognise that the Royal Air Force's capability to respond to an alert is infinitely better than that of the Americans. But the alert time is very short: it has been said to be four minutes.


That is against missiles.


Against missiles. And, although the noble Lord would say it would be from manned aircraft, I am coming to the view that we should probably now find that the main attack on this country would be from missiles. However, that is a source of argument. If it is missiles—and it will become missiles in a matter of a year or so—I would ask the House to remember the Berlin crisis, and what happened on the radar screens over North America; that the communication from the radar control to Strategic Air Command became negligible in the sense that both the lines of communication became blank. The officer commanding was not sure whether this was a mere accident or whether this may have been the result of Soviet interference. My Lords, General Powers had no alternative—and this has been accepted as true—but to place the entire Strategic Air Command on the alert. In the circumstances, he had no alternative.

Now if this had been a missile warning, it is said there would have been four minutes; but, in actual fact, by the time the decision was made, you were down to about a minute. So far as this country is concerned, where we are so closely concentrated, we may have had only a minute to get our V-bomber force off. I tell this story to illustrate my fear about the vulnerability of our aircraft on the ground. I should like to ask the Government if they are prepared to give us the answers to certain questions. When General Powers called for the alert, was a message sent to this country, to the Royal Air Force? Was it received in time for the Royal Air Force to be put on an alert, so that, if it had been a missile attack, our aircraft would in fact have been off the ground? I ask that question; and I ask the Government if they are still satisfied, after this experience, that their lines of communication are satisfactory. I ask them if they can give us some information, although I appreciate that they may not be able to go very far.

Now, my Lords, I want to say something about Transport Command, which has already been mentioned this afternoon. It is true that there has been a welcome increase in Transport Command, and that new aircraft will shortly be coming into service. But it is also true that our overseas bases are being reduced—and, if one reads the White Paper on Defence, there is every indication that these overseas bases are going to be further reduced. If that happens, is it not the case that the increase in Transport Command will not compensate for the loss of overseas bases? I therefore think that if, because of Army manpower shortage, the Government are going to reduce their overseas bases, it is absolutely essential that the heavy strategic airlift is increased. The only aircraft coming in that category, as I see it, will be the Belfast, with a heavy capability of airlift.

We have ordered ten of these, and my noble friend Lord Shackleton asked what will be the cost of these ten Belfast aircraft. My information—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will correct me if I am wrong—is that the anticipated cost of these ten aircraft is £25 million. I understand that if no further orders are placed, the loss to the company producing them will be in the region of £12 million. My Lords, the company is practically State-owned; and, therefore, if my arithmetic is correct, and my information is correct, these ten aircraft will have cost the State £37 million—in other words, one aircraft will have cost approximately £3½ million. I do not know whether these figures are correct, but they have been given me from a very good source. I should like to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, whether they are correct, because your Lordships will remember that in the Defence debate, referring to the losses that have been incurred in the production of so many missiles and equipment, I spoke about the "Rake's progress". If the figures I have given are correct, then the Belfast must be included in the "Rake's progress".

Now, my Lords, I want to say something about Fighter Command. When I was over in Germany seeing the Army, one of the things that struck me as being very different from the Army that I knew during the war was the absence—or not exactly the absence, but the shortage—of artillery, in relation to the number of men involved. It would seem to me that, if the Army were called upon to fight even a conventional war for only a few days, it would certainly need fighter aircraft to be used as a form of artillery, as they were used at the end of the Second World War. I should like to know whether the noble Lord can tell us something about Fighter Command and its co-operation with the Army.

The other thing that I wanted to say in regard to the Army and the Air Force is on the question of helicopters. Can the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, indicate to us when the Belvederes will be available for operations in Germany? I understand that the B.A.O.R. are desperately short of helicopters, and when one goes over to Germany and sees the terrain in which the Army must operate and train, one realises that the helicopter becomes extremely important.

My Lords, we can well talk of what will be the future needs of the Air Force, whether they lie in missiles, or in manned bombers. But we shall have neither unless we have a first-class aircraft industry. It is easy to put oneself in the position of always complaining about things being inefficient; but the fact remains that there are certain signs in the aircraft industry that are not good. When the rationalisation programme was started by Her Majesty's Government, or encouraged by Her Majesty's Government, the number of men employed was in the region of 250,000. One would have thought that, with rationalisation and reduction in overheads, there would be a reduction in manpower. Yet Flight magazine the other day gave the figure now employed as over 300.000.

We are still producing as big a variety of aircraft. Most of them do not appear to be making ends meet for the companies that are producing them. The Government have played their part. I believe that they have contributed by procurement in the last six years of nearly £1,000 million worth of equipment—excluding missiles. Yet, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, the attitude of overseas buyers, both military and civil, to our Farnborough Air Show, which is the shop window of our industry, certainly makes one feel that something very drastic must be done.

My Lords, only the other day I read that the Australian Government have just bought "Neptunes" for long-range reconnaissance work. This aircraft, I understand, is a development which has been in service for fifteen years, and the Australian Government have bought nearly £10 million worth. How is it that the Australians would rather go to America to buy this probably out-of-date aircraft, than come to this country? It may well be a question of credit. But if we are going to have an efficient and far-developing aircraft industry, we have not only to give the opportunities for production, but we have to see that our aircraft industry do not lose overseas orders owing to lack of finance.

There is a great deal more that could be said. I am glad to see that recruiting is very satisfactory. I am also glad to see that nearly 70 per cent. (I think it is) of the airmen have enlisted for nine years' service or more. There was one question which, just before I rose, I was asked to put to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. There is concern at the very high wastage in the training of aircrews. About 50 per cent. of those who undertake aircrew training do not finish the course. I wonder whether the noble Lord would give us some idea of the reasons for that.

The Royal Air Force, I think, like all our Services, has something to offer ou[...] young people. I personally take the view that terms of service, such as pay and allowances, are not the entire attraction to young men. I hope that the Government, in time, will try to put a greater emphasis in the Services on education, so that a young man, when he enters the Service, whether as an officer or other rank, will know that if he works hard and makes use of the facilities available, when he leaves the Service he will not be a misfit in civilian life, but will be able to have degrees and knowledge that will help him to play his part in life with persons of his own age who have remained civilians. I think we could do a great deal more than we are doing to-day, and I would recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that he has an investigation made of such facilities offered in the United States. They are indeed remarkable.

My Lords, we on this side of the House put the security of our country in the front of our policy. There are some of us who believe that we must play a greater part, perhaps, than we play to-day. It is easy to say that those of us who believe in that would obligate our country to undertake conscription. I should hope that my noble friends, if the issue were to come and it were necessary to have conscription, would not flinch from the task. The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, regretted during the Defence debate that I moved an Amendment expressing our dissatisfaction with Government Defence policy. I was using constitutional, openhanded discussion. But I bitterly regret the statement which was made on Monday by the Prime Minister—a cheap, squalid, guttersnipe remark—that a vote for Labour or for the Liberals was a vote for conscription. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will dissociate himself from that remark.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, on these occasions, when answering on behalf of the Royal Air Force for Her Majesty's Government, I feel rather like a cuckoo in the nest, because your Lordships know that I have the honour, for the time being, to be the political head of the Royal Navy, and I am an ex-Regular soldier to boot. So I have to tread rather delicately in this sort of situation. My only comfort is that the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, who also spoke, is an even bigger cuckoo, as he was a much more senior officer in the Army than I was. Let me just say this: that I feel a great responsibility in speaking on behalf of the Government for the Royal Air Force, which, although it is the youngest of the Services by far, has won in so short a time such great glory.

I think I can truthfully say that we have had an interesting, if quite short, debate. I also think that everyone will agree with me, and will join with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when I say how greatly we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the way he introduced this Motion, and for the very thoughtful and interesting speech which the noble Lord always makes on matters concerning defence, and, in particular, the Royal Air Force.

I also think that the debate has been notable for the contribution of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, who is so infrequently heard in your Lordships' House. He speaks with very great experience, and I listened, as I am sure all your Lordships did, with great care to what he said. I thought that what he said supported very much the Government's policy on the deterrent and greatly reinforced our arguments. I have already taken him up once on one thing that he said (and I hope that he will forgive me if I do it again) about the commando ship, "Bulwark". Then my noble friend Lord Gosford (who I know has had to leave the House for an important engagement), complained that aircraft carriers are rather slow. I should like only to point out that they are the only airfields I know that move at all. However, I do not want to develop this into an argument between aircraft carriers and airfields, because I think that this would be the worst possible thing that should happen in this country or between the Services. I believe that air bases and aircraft carriers are complementary one to the other, and both are essential if we are to deploy our military forces round the world.

I do not think that this debate has really brought with it a great deal of criticism of the Secretary of State's Estimates or of his Explanatory Memo- randum. The sum of £552 million is a very large amount of money indeed, but the highly skilled men and women who make up the Royal Air Force are, very properly, well rewarded for the services they render to their country; and increasing complication adds formidably to the cost of the machines which they fly and service. Broadly speaking, there has been no criticism of the way in which the Air Force has been conducted over the past year, nor of the conditions in which its men and women serve.

As my noble friend Lord St. Oswald has reminded your Lordships, the primary task of the Royal Air Force is to provide the British contribution to the nuclear deterrent. This it does with skill and efficiency, and I hope that no one, after having listened to my noble friend or to the Secretary of State in another place the other day, will repeat that the V-Bomber force is ineffective and will not get through. I do not intend to follow the argument about the British contribution to the nuclear deterrent, much as I agree with what my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said in the debate. We had a good debate on this in the Defence debate the other day.

Of course, many other duties have been performed by the Royal Air Force during the past year. For instance, there was the Kuwait operation, to which every noble Lord has referred; while a very impressive section of the Memorandum is devoted to errands of mercy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred. All in all, I think that this has been a very good year for the Royal Air Force.

There have been one or two questions and criticisms to-day about the various components of Transport Command, around which this debate has largely centred. We rely on Transport Command in order to deploy our reserve of forces to any part of the world where they may be needed. Transport Command's airlift capacity has increased more than threefold in the last year, but it is still suggested that it is not big enough and that the plans for its expansion are inadequate. What are the facts?

To take the smaller aircraft first, we have the helicopters for the short-range lift of stores and men in support of the Army in forward areas. The build-up of this force is continuing. A new version of the Whirlwind, which has been in service for some time, is now coming forward. This helicopter has a gas turbine engine and will have greatly improved performance over the older type. Production orders have been placed for the twin-engined Wessex. The twin-rotor Belvedere, a squadron of which has already been formed, will be joined by a second squadron this year.

For the short-range fixed-wing aircraft, at the moment we have the Twin Pioneer and the Valetta, the latter a rather elderly aircraft. This will be replaced by the Avro-748 which will be the workhorse of the Service, carrying supplies to outlying garrisons within the main command. The decision to order the Avro-748 rather than the Herald was a close thing. Both of them are excellent aircraft and each has its own good points; but taken all round the difference between them is very marginal. The final choice, as my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation has explained, was made on grounds of public policy, taking account of the undertakings given to the aircraft industry.

For what one might call medium-range tasks—that is to say, to carry the necessary equipment from our bases in Singapore, Aden and Cyprus, to wherever they are needed in the theatre of operations—we have the Beverley and Argosy squadrons. The first Argosy squadron is now forming in the United Kingdom and there should be another operating in Aden by the summer. For the strategic task of Transport Command, we rely at present on the 23 Britannia aircraft with which Transport Command is equipped, an excellent and versatile aircraft which will be operational for some time to come. And, of course, there are the Comet 2s, which have given valuable service in this Command. For the future, we plan to have five Comet 4's in service by the middle of the year, and five V.C. 10's have been ordered for delivery by the mid-1960's. The V.C. 10 can carry 100 troops over 4,000 miles and will be a very valuable addition to the force.

Then, of course, there are the ten Belfasts, about which there has been a good deal of talk this afternoon, which are on order as freighters and which we expect to start entering service in 1964. There has been a certain amount of controversy about this aircraft and perhaps I should say a few words about it—although I was cheered by what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said about this aircraft. It has been suggested that the Belfast is going to be too late and that we ought to buy some other aircraft, such as the American Lockheed C.130, or the Canadian equivalent, either instead or to bridge the gap between now and the time when the Belfast is available. I do not believe that it would be sensible to do this. It is important to bear in mind the time scale and the task for which we require the Belfast freighter.

At the present time, there is no great difficulty about the deployment of heavy equipment. There are extensive stock piles at our main bases in Singapore, Aden and Cyprus, and these will be carried, as I have said, to the theatre of operations by the Beverleys and Argosies. We believe that we can meet our commitments until the middle of this decade without a strategic freighter. By that time, however, we shall need to be able to lift quickly over strategic distances some bulky weapons and equipment, such as the Bloodhound 2 and certain heavy Army equipment which it would be unnecessarily costly to stockpile. That is this aircraft's task and it will arrive at the right time to carry it out.

I have no doubt that the Belfast is the right aircraft for the job. It will be, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, the largest aircraft ever to enter service in the Royal Air Force. Its top payload will be nearly 40 tons and it will be able to accommodate the bulkiest load. It is most important to bear this in mind when comparing it with other aircraft. For example, the Belfast will be able to move Bloodhound 2 or Thunderbird by air, whereas the American C.130 could not. It can also carry over 10 tons, or 75 troops, for 4,000 miles, whereas the C.130's range for the same load is 3,300 miles. I do not think that my figures tally with those of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I think that he is a good deal more optimistic than I am, but in any event I think we both agree that this is a very good aircraft.


My Lords, the only difference between the noble Lord and me is that he is talking about the ten aircraft which have now been ordered. The figures I gave were for the developed type, which would allow the carriage not of 75 but of 250 troops at a time in one aircraft.


My Lords, I am sorry that I misunderstood the noble Lord. He also asked me about ordering some more Belfasts. Of course, if we had unlimited resources we should want to order more aircraft, but, within our all-over Defence budget, we believe that we are providing the right quantity of strategic aircraft by our order of ten Belfasts. I do not know whether the noble Lord saw it, but the Under-Secretary of State for Air said in another place that at the moment there is no prospect of this order being increased, and I must, I am afraid, repeat this now.

As my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence has said, the three Services must learn to combine even more closely in the kind of operations which we envisage in the future. This we are now doing by means of joint training and exercises. There were somethink like a hundred of these last year alone, ranging from simple transport exercises to full-scale practical and strategic airlifts. We have greatly improved the co-operation between the Army and Transport Command, and we are satisfied that we are providing enough aircraft to meet the Army's needs. It is perhaps worth pointing out to those who ask why Transport Command is not used exclusively for freighting or for the transporting of troops and families, that Transport Command is always at a high state of readiness in case of emergency, and for that reason cannot be used for routine and regular services.

The Royal Air Force also co-operate in another field very closely with the Royal Navy. We are tackling the enemy submarine threat from a number of different angles—from the surface, underwater and from the air—and all these measures are complementary to one another. The long-range maritime patrol aircraft of Coastal Command are an essential part of our anti-submarine defence forces, and the Shackleton, equipped with sonobuoys, depth charges and homing torpedoes, is an extremely effective anti-submarine weapon, whether operating alone or together with naval forces. In the past year detachments of Coastal Command have operated from airfields as far apart as Northern Norway, Cape Town, Vancouver and Malaya. The results they achieved showed that they are a very effective anti-submarine and reconnaissance force. I had a personal experience of this only last week when I was taking part in H.M.S. "Victorious" in Exercise Dawn Breeze in the Atlantic. We had Shackletons of Coastal Command with us, and it was their reconnaissance reports which enabled us to find and sink a force of enemy ships at a very considerable distance from ourselves with our own carrier-borne strike aircraft. I thought that this was an excellent example at sea of the kind of joint operations which the Minister of Defence had in mind.

We are very closely associated with the Royal Air Force at the Joint Anti-submarine School at Londonderry, which I visited some six months ago. Here new tactics for submarine detection and defence are worked out; and there is a good deal of co-operation between ourselves and the United States Navy. I may say that these two experiences—the NATO exercise and my visit to Londonderry—have left me very impressed with the co-operation which exists between the Royal Air Force and ourselves in this field.

The noble Lord suggested that the Shackleton aircraft is old and obsolete, or would be soon. I do not think he ought to be misled by the fact that it still bears the same name as the original Shackleton aircraft. In fact, the Shackle-ton Mark 3—with which a considerable part of the Force is now equipped—has undergone such improvements as to make it virtually a new aircraft: indeed, it came into service only very recently; and the Mark 2 has also been modernised to almost the same standard. I would venture to say that if the noble Lord whose name the aircraft bears had been so extensively modernised and reconstructed, he would be even younger and more energetic than he is at the present time. Of course it will need to be replaced in due course, but it would be foolish to rush into a new aircraft just at a time when so much basic research is being carried out into new detection systems, which we hope will lead to significant advances that can be embodied in a successor. Probably the aircraft will have to be designed round the black boxes rather than the black boxes round the aircraft. Meanwhile, the Shackleton performance still meets virtually the whole of our present requirements. It is, as I have said, one of the most efficient maritime aircraft in the world; but naturally we are examining the problem of its successor.

I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said about the diversity of aircraft in the present Royal Air Force and the plans to reduce the variety. I very much agree with what he said. Not only will this greatly simplify the maintenance and servicing problems throughout the Royal Air Force and reduce the number of spares and different sorts of equipment which have to be stocked, but it would also mean a great reduction in the research and development effort. Here I would mention also our aim, which is to develop aircraft capable of use by both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Here again, not only would one have the advantage of cross-operation by the two Services, but a great saving of research and development and general economy in the purchase of what must necessarily be a fairly small number of all these expensive aircraft.

I was interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Waleran, and also the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said about the Meteorological Office. I imagine the Meteorological Office will be surprised at the praise they have received, because they usually get more kicks than ha'pence from the general public, who are disappointed in our rather uncertain weather and are perhaps rather apt to take it out on the "Met." men. The difficulty of forecasting is very largely, as your Lordships have said, because our weather comes primarily from the Atlantic, where observations are inadequate. But I do not think we have anything to be ashamed of in the standard of our forecasts: and, indeed, we should be exceedingly grateful to those who live this uncomfortable life in weather ships in the Atlantic for the service which they help to provide us. The improved facilities at the Meteorological Office at Bracknell should, I think, lead to an increasingly effective research effort. I believe that there has been in the past some difficulty in recruiting enough new entrants with university degrees. Your Lordships will no doubt be pleased to learn that last year, after rather a lean period, there were enough candidates with honour degrees to fill all the vacancies for scientific officers in the Office.

The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, paid a well-deserved tribute to the Royal Air Force Regiment and its officers and men. The Regiment, as he knows, is unique in that it was formed by Royal Warrant as an integral part of the Royal Air Force, which, as your Lordships know, is itself a product of an Act of Parliament. In the twenty years since it came into being the Regiment has earned a reputation for smartness, efficiency and flexibility. Its main rôle is still to defend Royal Air Force bases, both permanent and in the field, against ground and air attack. Part of the Regiment is maintained as a strategic reserve in the United Kingdom, ready to go anywhere at short notice. During the past year squadrons from this reserve have taken part in exercises in Cyprus, Libya, Malta and Germany, and in security operations in the Persian Gulf. In January of this year the Regiment took on a new responsibility. It was decided that one squadron of the strategic reserve should be trained in the parachute rôle. This will give increased mobility and flexibility to the Regiment when deploying to carry out its tasks in limited war and internal security operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me a number of questions about aircraft. He asked me how the T.S.R. 2 is going along. The T.S.R. 2 is going along well, and the prototype will be flying next year. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, asked me about the variable geometry aircraft, which he described as the Swallow aircraft. The Minister of Aviation announced in another place about a fortnight ago that the Government are going to place a design study contract with the British Aircraft Corporation for a variable geometry aircraft. But I think I ought to make it plain that the placing of this contract does not mean that we shall build or are committed to build. What we aim to do is to identify the problems which are involved, so that when a decision has to be taken whether or not we build this interesting type of aircraft, which has great possibilities, we shall have full knowledge of all the facts.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also asked about the hovercraft. There was for some time a little doubt as to whether the hovercraft was to be regarded as a ship or an aircraft. Well, my Lords, the experts have now definitely decided that it swims rather than flies. At all events it is now an Admiralty responsibility so far as co-ordination between the three Services is concerned. Of course, the Ministry of Aviation are responsible for the research and development, and with their co-operation we have arranged for the S.R.N.1 to start a programme of sea-keeping and other trials at Lee very shortly. The S.R.N.2 is now undergoing contractor's trials. These are very interesting developments, and we in the Admiralty are keeping a very interested eye upon them.

The noble Lord also asked me about the progress of V.T.O.L. aircraft. He will know that the Royal Air Force and the Germans and the Americans have all ordered the P.1127, and also there is the other vertical take-off aircraft; that is, the S.C.1. I think the R.A.F. will keep a very sharp eye on the development of both these aircraft and decide which of these two possibilities is the better for any future aircraft which they may need.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, made a most interesting and, I should imagine, from the Royal Air Force's point of view, a most controversial speech—at least the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, thought so. I do not think that this evening I can follow him down the path of the long-term future of the Royal Air Force, but he said some really hard things about the Prime Minister's speech at Stockton when he said that a vote for the Liberal Party or the Labour Party meant a vote for conscription. I will leave the Labour Party's defence policy out of this at the moment, but, as I understand the Liberal Party's defence policy—if I do understand it after the noble Lord has explained it—it is that they will do away with the British contribution to the nuclear deterrent, and with the money thereby saved they will make a bigger contribution to our conventional forces. I hope I have that right.

It is fairly obvious that, if you are going to make a bigger contribution to our conventional forces, you are going to need more men than the 390,000 to 400,000 which the Government have laid down as the number of men necessary to meet our commitments. If you are going to need more men than that—and it has been shown that that is about the limit we can get from voluntary recruitment—you are going to need conscription, and that is what the Liberal Party policy means. If it does not mean that, then it means nothing at all.


My Lords, the point is that it was a gibe—in other words, "a vote for the Conservatives does not mean conscription". This is a most iniquitous gibe, because the Conservative Party have just brought in a Bill to impose conscription. That is the whole point. The Liberal Party supported the Government in that. If that cannot sink in, I am sorry, but the noble Lord will see on reflection that this was the most iniquitous and scandalous gibe at the other two Parties. How he can say that when he has just brought in a conscription Bill, I do not know.


The noble Lord has it all wrong. The Government have made it perfectly plain that they stand for all-voluntary Regular forces. The only reason that the Army Reserve Bill was brought in (and it lasts for only two years so far as the National Service men are concerned) was to tide over a temporary gap which was caused by the Berlin crisis. The Government do not stand for conscription. The noble Lord's policy, as he has explained it to your Lordships this afternoon, made it abundantly clear that conscription would be the result.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, also drew attention to the apparent fall in the Regular male strength of the Royal Air Force, I am afraid that once again I have not in front of me the same figures as the noble Lord, but in the Defence White Paper the adult male strength is also shown as falling between April, 1961, and April, 1962. I am not quarrelling about his figures, but it is estimated that they will rise again in the following year. I think the fall is due to the temporary rapid run-out of short-service men as the Air Force turns over to long service. It is not in any way a symptom of poor recruiting; on the contrary, recruiting is going very well.


Would the noble Lord like to say something about boys, because that cannot apply to boys and apprentices. I mentioned the rather alarming fall in boys and apprentices.


I have not the figures for apprentices, but I will write to the noble Lord, or he can put down a Question if he wants publicity given to it.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked me about the Strategic Air Command false alarm. I have, of course, seen the newspaper reports to which the noble Lord refers. No Bomber Command aircraft were alerted on this occasion, and I am afraid, as the noble Lord rather suspected, that I cannot give any further information. I do not think it would be in the public interest for me to say anything that would disclose the nature of the alert arrangements.

I think I have answered almost all the questions which have been asked me. If not, I will most certainly write to noble Lords. Although I said at the beginning that we had had an interesting debate, and that we were grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for making it possible, I think that I can fairly claim that, as compared with previous years, we have not had a great number of speakers. I do not for one moment think that this is because there is no interest in the Royal Air Force in your Lordships' House. I think it is much more likely that, generally speaking, your Lordships are satisfied that the Royal Air Force is developing upon the right lines; that we are able with the Royal Air Force to make a significant contribution—both nuclear and conventional—to the various Alliances to which we belong; and that we provide a good contribution—about 50 per cent.—of all our front-line aircraft to NATO. I think your Lordships are satisfied, in fact, that we have a very good Air Force and that, with the new weapons and aircraft coming into service in the next two or three years, it will be an even better one; that the Royal Air Force works in ever closer co-operation with the Royal Navy and the Army; and that it will, I am convinced, fulfil our commitments and responsibilities over the world during the next five years as it has during the last.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, the only thing with which I would disagree in the final remarks of the noble Lord was his reason for there being fewer speakers. I am not sure that there were fewer speakers. The real reason, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said, is that we are getting older and more out of touch. I think his suggestion that we should have some reinforcement is a good one.

We are grateful to the First Lord for venturing into a field which touches so closely all three Services, and it is quite clear that there is an understanding between the three Services which is growing all the time. I can certainly confirm that that is true of Coastal Command. Whether it was my remark or the thoroughly reckless statement of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, about splitting the Air Force, I am glad that we were able to draw the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, to his feet. But it is precisely at this moment, as in the past, when the future pattern is obscure, that it is necessary to preserve the unity of air power. This is the whole nub of the Trenchard policy which has been so successfully justified in war.

I wish I shared the enthusiasm of my noble friend Lord Stonham about the Belfast. I think he is on to a really important point—namely, this question of the ordering of replacements. It is the tremendous time that is taken to bring new aircraft into service that makes it so important that further developments of the Belfast shall be available; and it really is absurd for the Government to say that the Belfast, by splendid planning, will just arrive at the right time to carry the right equipment. For several years people have been saying that we want an aircraft like the Belfast now; and the same argument applies to the long-range maritime aircraft. That must be ordered this year. There is no question about this, and if the noble Lord wishes to pursue it further, I am sure that on his next visit to Coastal Command he will find that they will be delighted to discuss his points with him.

I am very grateful, as we all are, to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Clearly, the debate on the deterrent will go on, but I think our discussion had a merit on this occasion (I will not now pursue the question of the Prime Minister's speech, on which we could go on arguing, and on which some of us feel rather bitterly), in that at least we argued about the deterrent in a less emotional way than it is sometimes argued. There is a valid issue here as to what the future will be. It is extremely difficult, we all know, and we know that the Government try very hard. I am very grateful that I personally do not have to take this decision, but I do not think we can consider a debate on the deterrent without including the future pattern of the Royal Air Force. I am very grateful to noble Lords, and I now beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.