§ 3.26 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Strachey)
The Committee will understand that in preparing for my task of introducing and recommending these Estimates to the Committee, I studied the speeches of my distinguished predecessors, Secretaries of State for Air and Under-Secretaries of State for Air. I find that their speeches were of two kinds. During the war, they took the form of an account of the work of the Royal Air Force during the preceding year. Before the war, they took the form of recommendations and explanations of the expenditure proposed for the following' year. As this is a transitional year, this, I think, must be a transitional kind of 96 speech, and, with the Committee's permission, I shall try to do three things: First, to say something about the work of the Royal Air Force in the concluding months of the war. If I did not do that the record of the Royal Air Force during the war, as presented to the Committee so eloquently by Sir Archibald Sinclair, year after year during the war, would be incomplete. Secondly, to say something about the expenditure proposed for the coming year, and, thirdly, to say something—although I must warn the Committee that it will be something very tentative at this stage—as to the future functions, character and size of the Royal Air Force.
I should spend all my time if I attempted to give a chronological account of all the actions in which the Royal Air Force was engaged in the concluding weeks and months of the two wars— between 6th March, 1945, when Sir Archibald Sinclair spoke to the Air Estimates, and the surrender of Japan on 16th August last. The Royal Air Force took a part and a very prominent part in every one of those culminating actions of the war. It was over the 21st Army Group in its final advance across the Rhine and into Germany. There our . Tactical Air Forces maintained perfect air superiority over our advancing Armies. I should like to say something of Coastal Command work in the final killings of the U-Boat as they were driven from their Baltic training grounds by the advance of our Russian Allies.
But all that marvellous story of the end of the war is fresh in our memories and I could add very little to it in the time at my disposal. I would like to have said something, too, about the work of Transport Command in the Burma campaign. That was a notable campaign for many reasons but for none more than that it was the first time British Forces were engaged in a campaign which was made wholly dependent on air supply. In Burma in the months of June and July last eight squadrons of the R.A.F.— some 200 aircraft—carried 32,000 troops, delivered 47,000 tons of supplies, and evacuated 9,500 casualties. I think that there are many Members of the Committee who from personal knowledge can clothe these bare facts with the sense of the human achievement and human sacrifices which these figures mean.
962 As I say, I cannot pursue a catalogue of all the operations of the -concluding phase of the war, but what I should like to do is to use what time I can in this part of my speech to say something about what we now know to have been the results of the main offensive effort of the Royal Air Force. I feel it necessary to offer to the Committee certain reflections on the results of the strategic bomber offensive, because that offensive was not only the principal effort of the Royal Air Force, but it was, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said at the time, for a large part of the war the principal offensive effort of this country. Very great resources were devoted to it. At one moment, we were producing no less than 500 heavy bombers a month, and in the execution of that offensive, 50,000 members of air crews lost their lives. Therefore, I think it is a high national concern for all of us to ask the question, were those' resources really well employed? Did they inflict more damage on the enemy at a lower cost to ourselves, than if they had been used in any imaginable alternative way? Presumably, the only alternative way would have been to have cast them at the German armies deployed across Europe as was done in the previous war, instead of casting them, as was done in this war, through the air at . Germany itself.
Here I must interpolate one word of warning. I am going to speak entirely about the Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force in the strategic bomber offensive, because that is what we in this Committee are concerned with, but it would be sad indeed if that fact made anyone suppose I am pretending that Bomber Command of the R.A.F. was the sole participant in the strategic bomber offensive. On the contrary, it was not the sole participant, and in the concluding months of the war, of which I am speaking, it was not even the largest participant in that offensive. Those superb forces, the 8th and 15th U.S. Air Forces with the vast resources of America behind them, were participating side by side in that offensive, in a joint and inseparable effort. The mortal injuries on the enemy, which I am going to describe in a moment, were inflicted by those three forces acting together and it would be idle and invidious to try to laud either one or the other force. But 963 my object is to assess the results of the vast effort which this country devoted to the strategic bomber offensive. Of course, it is too early yet to cast any final balance sheet of what was achieved. We must, I think, await the conclusions of the very careful and very detailed work of assessment which is being done in the Air Ministry today; nevertheless, I feel that the Committee have a right to hear which way the evidence is pointing, because obviously, that must have a profound. effect on our whole defence policy in the future.
What 1 am going to put before the Committee on this occasion is not any Air Ministry assessment or any Air Ministry estimate of what was achieved. I am going to place before the Committee the opinions of some of the leaders of the German war effort who were at the receiving end, as it were, of our strategic bomber offensive, because I think that their opinion has some weight in the matter. In the closing months of the war, with which I am dealing our strategic bomber offensive had risen to its climax, and it was concentrated on two complimentary types of objective— the German transportation system and the German synthetic oil industry. These objectives had been most carefully chosen, and they were, I believe, complimentary, because an attack on them represented in each case an attack on German mobility, and mobility is the very essence of the capacity to wage war.
As evidence of the effect of that offensive, concentrated on these two objectives, I will call Dr. Albrecht Speer, sometime Reichminister for Armaments and War Productions. I think if any man knew what was actually being accomplished, it should be Speer. Let us hear him, then, on what we were doing. Let us hear him first on the effect of our bombing of the German transportation system. He said in the summer of 1944:Concentrated day and night attacks on the Ruhr transport and communications system first began to cause most serious anxiety about future developments, since supplies to industry in the rest of the Reich of the numerous products of the Ruhr, ranging from coal to single items, were bottled up in the Ruhr owing to transport difficulties.Naturally, the transportation attacks can be directed not only to a great industrial objective or industrial area such as the 964 Ruhr; they may be directed to the actual means of transportation behind the lines to prevent assistance to the enemy's armies in the field, and they were so directed. Speer says of that aspect of the offensive:Transport difficulties were decisive in causing the swift breakdown of the Ardenne offensive. The most advanced railheads of the Reichbahn were withdrawn further and further back during the offensive owing to the continuous air attack's.Here we approach the borderline between strategic and tactical bombing, and we are more especially concerned with the effort we devoted to pure strategic bombing—that is to say, an effort not directly related to the ground operations which were going on at the same time. So, I turn to the other great objective which we were bombing at that time—the German oil industry. I would again call Speer as a witness. It might be said that his evidence is suspect now that the war is over, because he might tell us what he thinks we might be pleased to hear, and, therefore, we should discount a good deal of what he has to say. Fortunately, we know what Speer thought, and knew of the effects of our offensive at the time, before the end of the war—actually when the war was proceeding—because we have five "top secret" reports which Speer made to Hitler, on the effect of our oil offensive, during its course from May, 1944 to May, 1945. I will quote a few words from each of them. The first one which Speer delivered to Hitler on 30th June, 1944, says:The enemy's attacks on the hydrogenation works and refineries were intensified during June. If we do not succeed in protecting the hydrogenation works and refineries better than formerly, then in September "—that is, September, 1944—of this year an impossible situation in the fuel supply for the Wehrmacht and country will arise.A month later, on 28th July, 1944, Speer reported:The attacks on the synthetic-oil plants and refineries in July had the most dire consequences. It was possible for the enemy, in most cases, to destroy the plants effectively shortly after work in them had been resumed.A month later, on 30th August, 1944, he was reporting:If the attacks on the oil industry continue in the same strength and with the same precision in September as in August, the last stocks will be consumed.965 Unfortunately, as a matter of fact, the weather broke in the middle of September in that year, and the enemy were given a small respite from the pounding of his oil supplies. However the attacks went on, but they could not be so effective as during the summer. In his next report, which is dated the 5th October, 1944, Speer says that he was able to get produced 9,000 tons out of a possible 22,000 tons of aviation spirit. I believe it is hardly too much to say that German resistance through that winter could only be prolonged because of the unavoidable fact that there had to be some relief at that moment. However, that respite was short-lived indeed. If the last winter of the war, just over a year ago, Bomber Command developed to it: highest point the art of night precision bombing. They began the development of it in the transportation attacks in France, but such precision attacks were of comparatively short range. However, they perfected, in the last winter of the war, night precision bombing attacks on individual plants deep into Germany. I shall always regard that as the very greatest achievement which Bomber Command made in the whole course of the war In Speer's last report, on 19th January, 1945, he wrote:Since 13th January, a new series of heavy attacks have been made on the mineral oil industry, which have, up till now, led to the elimination of the large hydrogenation plants of Poolitz, Leuna Bruex, Blechhammer and Zeitz for a considerable period; this after the last quarter of the previous year, when all the plants situated in the West, especially Scholven, Wesselring, Welheim, and Gelsenberg fell out completely. Moreover, it has now been determined that the attacks which take place sc often at night now, are considerably more effective than daylight attacks, since heavier bombs are used and an extraordinary accuracy in attaining the target is reported.I believe these final and culminating oil and transportation attacks, British and American, were strategic bombing's greatest achievement of the war, and that they played an absolutely decisive part in the breaking of German resistance.
The Committee will want to know just how they did play that part in breaking German resistance, what was the actual process by which the effects of strategic bombing contributed to victory. Again, Speer can tell us how the thing happened. In interrogation, after the war, he said:In the Luftwaffe the shortage of liquid fuel became insupportable as from September, 1944, onwards, since as from that date 966 the allocation was cut down to 30,000 tons a month, whereas the monthly requirement amounted to between 160,000 and 180,000 tons. So far as the Army is concerned, the shortage of liquid fuel, which, in this case, was also due to supply difficulties—where transportation bombing came in for the first time—first became catastrophic at the time of the winter offensive of 16th December, 1944; and this was substantially responsible for the rapid collapse of the German defensive front against the Russian break-out from the Baranovo bridgehead. There were approximately 1,500 tanks ready for action, but those had only one or two fuel supply units and were consequently immobilisedThere, we see how, in actual effect, strategic bombing made resistance to the Allied Armies, advancing on Germany from East and West, impossible In practice, the end of the war could only come in this way, by the pressure on Germany from the air, from the ground, and by our naval and other measures. It may be of interest to the Committee to know what Speer said when he was asked the direct question:Do you believe that strategic bombing alone could have brought about the surrender of Germany?He replied:The answer is, Yes. The attacks on the synthetic oil industry would have sufficed, without the impact of purely military events, to render Germany defenceless.There are other German war leaders, whose evidence we have on the subject, who are in agreement with Speer For instance, Field Marshal Milch, the head of the Luftwaffe, said crisply:If the synthetic oil plants had been attacked six months earlier Germany would have been defeated about six months sooner.They could not be attacked six months earlier, but, at any rate, that is his opinion. Dr. Rischer, head of the Oil Department of the German Ministry of Armaments, said:If the air attacks had been concentrated on industry, particularly oil, chemicals, power and transportation, the war would have been over one year sooner.Those attacks were concentrated as soon as they could be. Dr. Hottlage said:The war would have ended much sooner if precision bombing attacks had begun earlier than they did—certainly if the German transport system and oil production had been attackedI submit to the Committee that that was the answer to our question: was the tremendous effort we made, and the great resources we devoted to the strategic bomber offensive, justified? We have 967 evidence which can give us a broad, decided answer. When the necessary skill had been developed, and the true . objectives of transportation and oil had been found, all the sacrifices of life, and all the heroism which was devoted to, and lavished upon, the strategic bomber offensive was fully justified. I believe that the war was won with a far smaller cost of life to this country than it could have been done in any other way.
I turn from those few remarks on the end of the war, to the situation and problems which face us in the Air Ministry today, and which face the whole nation. I want to say something as to the part which the Royal Air Force, as one of the Fighting Services, is called on to play in the national life today. I believe that the Services can make a vital contribution to the supreme end of national reconversion and recovery. The first and obvious contribution they can make is to carry through a speedy, but controlled and orderly, demobilisation. That is what we are doing. Let me remind the Committee of the key figures in that connection On VE-day, the strength of the R.A.F. was 1,110,000. On 31st December 365,000 had been demobilised, and by 30th June next another 377,000 will have been demobilised. Further, by 30th June out of 1,110,000 the number who will have gone will be 742,000. Seven out of 11, or over two-thirds, will have been demobilised within 13 months of the end of the German war, and 10 months of the end of the Japanese war. That cannot be characterised as a slow rate of demobilisation. On the contrary, it is a reasonable rate of demobilisation, and it will not end on 30th June next. It will go on and, as the Committee know, the figure which the R.A.F. comes down to by 30th December next is 305,000.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)
May I ask the Under-Secretary whether these figures are for men only, and if so, can he give the figures for women?
§ Mr. Strachey
They include both men and women. I can get the separate figures after my speech.
I put it to the Committee that, in the middle of the process of demobilisation as we are today, the scheme of age and service group devised by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the closing 968 period of the war is standing and standing well its supreme test, for it is a supreme test to demobilise four out of five men—which means, taking the three Services together, 4,000,000 out of 5,000,000 men—within 18 months of the end of the world war. Every demobilisation scheme must be in the nature of a compromise between the principle of perfect fairness between individual men, and the principle of the needs of the nation for the demobilisation of particular men, without reference to their age or length of service. I suggest that the so-called Bevin scheme, with its Class A under which, in practice, 90 per cent. of the men are demobilised, and its Class B, under which some 10 per cent. are being demobilised, is the best practical reconciliation of those two contradictory principles which can be made.
As to the other perfectly legitimate points of criticism which are so often levelled against the scheme, the uneven-ness between trade and trade, which is very slight, or the rather greater uneven-ness between Service and Service, we can only say that those unevenness were also contemplated. They are provided for in the White Papers which originally put forward the scheme, and they do no more than make workable a scheme which would be impossibly rigid without them. It is true that in the Royal Air Force we have not passed through the period of demobilisation without our troubles, and' those troubles are profoundly regrettable. But who ever did get through a period of general demobilisation after a great war, without some trouble; and if we compare this time with past experience, those troubles will seem slight indeed. I believe I heard in the course of the defence Debate an interjection which suggested that the rate of Royal Air Force demobilisation had been speeded up as a concession to our recent troubles. I want to say a word on that because I think it is important. It is completely untrue that anything of that sort was done. I will tell the Committee exactly what happened. We found that men in India had become out of touch with the true situation, and believed that the rate of demobilisation was going to be far slower than was actually the case. They believed that there had been no change since the announcement which I made in October last, that Group 32 would be reached by June next, and the 969 position—comic if it had not been tragic—had been reached in which men were committing acts of indiscipline against a rate of demobilisation which was far slower than the one we knew in fact was to be implemented.
Therefore, far from changing our rate of demobilisation all we did was, as I told the House, to announce what our programme was to be five months ahead, instead of three. Actually the rate was not varied by one single day. The only lesson this contains is, I think, the great importance of telling men as far ahead as possible what the rate is to be. Of course there are limits to that, because if we go too far ahead either we have to be so cautious as enormously to understate the rate, or there is the risk that owing to some unforeseen circumstance we shall fail to keep up with our announced rate, and I am determined almost at all costs not to do that. The process of demobilisation is of course only one part of the huge and most complexed clearing and unwinding process in which the Royal Air Force and the other Services find themselves engaged.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Before the Under-Secretary leaves this point, may I ask him whether the figure he gave for the end of this year represents the permanent figure for the next two or three years, and if so how does it compare with the figures for the Royal Air Force and the Auxiliary Air Force at the outbreak of war?
§ Mr. Strachey
No figure has yet been decided for the permanent Air Force. The only decision is the 305,000 at the end of this year.
The second point in connection with the clearing up and unwinding process concerns the disposal of surplus. The Committee-knows that the procedure is that we at the Air Ministry declare stores and supplies to be surplus, but it is the Ministry of Supply in almost all cases who sells them. I can assure the Committee that we are declaring stores surplus at a fast rate, but they are of such a miscellaneous character that I find it difficult to give them a numerical measure. We shall declare surplus stores which were occupying 6,000,000 square feet of space. In individual items, 13,000 vehicles have been declared surplus and we are about to declare another surplus 17,000; 100,000 970 tons of explosives has been declared surplus and we are just about to declare surplus another 300,000 tons. I do not quite know what the poor Ministry of Supply will do with it, but the Committee may be assured that we are most anxious to get this stuff off our hands. The manpower drain occasioned by looking after it is most serious.
Then there is the question of the release of airfields. Hon. Members of the Committee may have the impression—as I had before 1 looked into the matter—that vast areas of cultivable land in this country is occupied by airfields, and in the present food situation they are naturally and quite rightly anxious that it should be put back to agricultural use at the most rapid pace possible. We are doing everything we can in that direction. We have released 100 airfields and parts of 50 more since the New Year; 50,000 acres were released last year. That process is continuing, but I would warn the Committee not to build too great hopes on the contribution of food growing, which the release of airfields, in itself, can give, for the figures are, to meat any rate, somewhat surprising. There are some 31,000,000 acres of cultivable or pasture land in the United Kingdom of these, at the peak point, the Air Ministry held 240,000 acres, that is less than one per cent., and of that one per cent. a third has already been released, so that even if we could release every single airfield which we still hold, the contribution would be considerably less than one per cent. of the agricultural land of the country.
We are using some 6½ million square feet of hangarage and other accommodation on airfields for prisoners of war, for the accommodation of soldiers and sailors, and for storage purposes. This enables us to get out of industrial premises. We are sometimes urged to make the huts available for emergency housing purposes and there is no rule against that, but, on the whole, it is usually considered that they are more suitable for the purpose of getting troops out of billets in ordinary houses and thus indirectly saving housing space.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
In the figure of 31,000,000 acres of pasturage and cultivable land, does the Under-Secretary include hill land, sheep land, mountain land, and so on?
§ Mr. Strachey
It is land used for agricultural purposes. It does not of course include a barren mountain for instance.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Mary-lebone)
How much of the aerodrome area now in existence is actually being acquired, either for grazing, or for the growing of vegetables and other things of that kind?
§ Mr. Strachey
I think I can supply the figure giving the proportion of the acreage held by the Air Ministry under cultivation, although I do not know how long it will take to get it.
. With regard to the derequisitioning of properties, I mean by that non-industrial properties held, so far we have derequisitioned 4,500 non-industrial properties, that is two-thirds of those held. Those held were, therefore, 6,000. Another 1,000 will have gone by the end of June, leaving only 500. Of factory space, we held at the peak point 9,000,000 square feet. By the end of June we shall be out of 6,500,000 square feet, and we hope to be out of practically all the remainder, that is 2,500,000, by the end of the year.
Now I ask the Committee to turn to the Estimates themselves. They will see that the Estimates are transitional. That, of course, does not mean that fuller Estimates will not be presented later in the year; on the contrary, they are coming in April and will be debatable. These Estimates give the Committee a chance of considering—they have considered it formally already, of course—under Vote A the number of the men which is it constitutionally necessary that the Committee should sanction the Government to maintain; and of voting a sum on account to sustain the Royal Air Force in the meantime. They will see that the figure in Vote A is 760,000, but I would remind the Committee that the only meaning of that figure is that it is the figure from which the Royal Air Force will drop. That is a maximum figure, which will drop to 305,000 by the end of the year. The demobilisation figures, which I have already given, are the figures to go by, 972 and not that figure of 760,000 which simply means the Royal Air Force in all its strength. In that connection, the Committee will see also that £176,500.000 under Vote I is the cost, not of maintaining 760,000 men, but of the falling average of the men maintained through the year as the Force drops to its figure of 305,000 by the end of the year.
The next financial point to which I would call the attention of the Committee, is that of terminal charges, that is, the charges which are special to this year as a demobilisation year. They are not shown separately but they make a most important and substantial amount in every one of the principal Votes shown on the Paper. The terminal charges in all amount to no less than £80,000,000. The three big items of them are £31,000,000 for leave pay, £25,000,000 for war gratuities, and £11,000,000 for post-war credits. So that the real provision for the Royal Air Force for this year is not £255,500,000 but £175,500,000. The terminal charges being what they are, it is almost true to say that the faster we demobilise for this year, the more it may cost. The terminal charges are, in my opinion, fully justified. We are entirely right to treat the men as they leave the Royal Air Force and the other Services in this very generous way. That is the explanation of why the figure has not come down more rapidly, and why we shall really only feel the enormous financial relief from demobilisation next year.
The other great point which, of course, hon. Members will have noted in these Estimates, is that in contrast to prewar years the cost of new aircraft and supplies generally is not included in these Estimates; they are borne on the Vote of the Ministry of Supply, as is the cost of development and research. That is all part of the new system of centralising the supply of the Armed Forces which the Government have already announced. We are perfectly clear that this new system has the most important advantages. I will say something about research in a moment but, apart from research, it will enable the Government to foster and safeguard the industrial war potential of the country far more effectively than if the Services were buying separately under the old system.
§ Mr. Strachey
It does not include shipbuilding; it includes some naval supplies but not ships.
Nevertheless, any system must have its difficulties as well as its advantages, and there would be real difficulties and even dangers if the user Departments—in this case the flying Departments, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Admiralty—lost their direct touch with the makers of the weapons and supplies which they are using. We had some experience of this problem at the Air Ministry because the Ministry of Aircraft Production was formed in 1940, and at once this problem presented itself. I believe it is not too much to say that, in the course of the war years, the two . Departments, M.A.P. and the Air Ministry, solved this problem. It was solved by the inclusion of an Air Marshal, a member of the Air Council, with the post of Controller of Research and Development, and a strong staff of serving officers of the Royal Air Force as an integral part of the Ministry of Aircraft Production The two Ministries, the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Air Ministry, interlocked and inter-meshed in a very big way, and I am happy to tell the Committee that that system is to be perpetuated in only a very slightly different form in the new arrangement with the Ministry of Supply. The senior aircraft post in the Ministry of Supply will be the Controller of Aircraft Supplies, and this post will normally be filled by a serving officer. Today, for example, it is filled with great distinction by Air Marshal Sir W. A. Coryton, who remains a member of the Air Council. Also, the Air Ministry will be represented directly on the Supply Council which is formed under the chairmanship of the Minister of Supply.
This brings me to the question—all-important, in my view—of research and development. I would like to say a word or two as to why we at the Air Ministry regard this question as of such quintessential importance today. I do not know that everyone fully realises that the end of the war found us just over the threshold of a vast new technical revolution in the field of aviation. The technicians tell us that there have been three great revolutions already in the short history of aviation. The first occurred between 1914 and 1918, in the course of the first world war. In that period, there 974 emerged the first breed or species of practical aircraft, which were developed out of the purely experimental types that existed before 1914. These were the old classic biplane types with which the 1914–18 war was fought and that breed, or species, really lasted until about 1930. Then—perhaps we might date it from the famous Schneider Trophy race of 1931—there appeared a recognisable new breed of aircraft. That was the high performance piston-engined monoplane. This second and distinct breed of aircraft also lasted a number of years. The famous Spitfire was one of the first, and also one of the last of that type or breed. Those were the aircraft with which the Royal Air Force fought the war. The heavy bomber, the Halifax Stirling, Mosquito, Spitfire and Hurricane, were all piston-engined monoplanes. The Schneider Trophy reminds us that we led at the beginning of that revolution in aviation, and also that, while we never lost the technical lead in design, Germany did equip her new type of aircraft before we did. In 1940 we caught up again, but at what a cost, and what a risk?
In 1946, we are beginning on a third revolution and, T believe, the most profound of the three, in the development of aviation. It is a revolution which is affecting combat aircraft, transport aircraft and civil aircraft alike. It is most profound because it is based on a new method of propulsion. The gas turbine engine is the key to the situation. Whether we harness it to a propeller, as one might do temporarily, or, more permanently, where it issues direct in a jet, it is fundamentally a new engine, and is superseding the piston-engine altogether, whether as a single seater fighter or, before very long, the 100 seater air liner. Naturally, in producing this new breed of aircraft, tremendous new problems have been set for the airframe designers. All these problems have not been solved, for gas turbine engines are setting problems of a new range of speeds. The most strange and fascinating problems begin to appear. At 760 miles an hour, the speed of sound is attained at ground level, while at 30,000 feet the speed of sound which varies with the temperature, is only 660 miles an hour. These speeds are being approached: At the speed of sound, we are told, a strange wall or barrier, arises and there is very stiff air resistance. It is a most formidable and difficult task 975 to break through that barrier, but, once through it, technicians tell us, possibilities arise of quite phenomenal speeds. This possibility, judging from the way in which science is moving, is certain in the not very distant future, to become an actuality. This revolution is more fundamental than any before in all types of aircraft, and this new breed of aircraft is not the only one of the series of startling technical developments which was coming in at the end of the war. I need not remind a Committee sitting in London, of the possibility of guided aircraft. It may be that in that field there may lie reassuring possibilities for the defence of this country. The super-fast submarine, although not an aviation development, may set a problem for the Coastal Command of the future. Finally, overshadowing in some, though not all respects, all other developments, is the release of atomic energy. But this is best seen, not as an isolated development, but part of the whole series of startling scientific developments.
To turn to the proper theme of the third revolution in aviation, it is based on the appearance of the gas turbine engine. The point I want to put to the Committee is that, once again, in this field, this country has undoubtedly the leadership. No one is yet producing gas turbines as good as ours. We are not, it is true, enjoying all the advantages we ought to have, because we have not developed the large airframes suitable for civil and transport uses to match the incomparable engines which we are able to produce The Committee knows the reason for that. It is the honourable reason that we concentrated everything on the prosecution of the war. But it opens the opportunity, if we are to develop our research to the utmost degree, of incalculable advantages. I do not think that is putting it too high. Incalculable advantages to this country can be reached, if we press on in the technical development in which we have not yet caught up with our own development in the engine field.
I remind the Committee that I am speaking of aircraft in general, because the third revolution, based on the new method of propulsion, affects all aircraft. This fact is recognised in the new arrangement for research. The research is not done by the Air Ministry simply for com- 976 bat aircraft, or by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, or the Admiralty. It is centralised in the Ministry of Supply, so that its efforts can be applied generally over the whole aviation field. This new arrangement necessitates, of course, a certain amount of cross reference, as it were, in the estimates.
I call the attention of the Committee to the fact that while there is no figure for research here, they will find in the Vote of the Ministry of Supply a figure of £28,000,000, which is to be devoted to aviation research. The Committee may feel that a figure of £28,000,000 is a substantial one, but I put it to hon. Members that that may prove to be a very small figure compared with the benefit which will accrue over and over again to this country by devoting this sum to aviation research for the future. If we economise on some things—and we must economise rigorously on many things—I beg of the Committee that we shall not have economies in research and development. We hold the lead today, but do not let that make us complacent for one moment. If we slacken in our development, we shall be very rapidly overtaken. The friendly rivalry of the American aviation industry is intense. They will throw their vast resources into development of military and, perhaps above all, of civil types. It will be all the better for the world, because the world will benefit both from our development, and from theirs. I beg of the Committee that in this friendly rivalry we should always keep our end up.
So much for the Estimates themselves. I now come to the third part of my task, which is to say a few words on the future of the Royal Air Force, so far as we can foresee it. There are certain basic decisions which we say, perfectly openly and clearly, have not been taken, and which we believe cannot yet be taken. This is because we do not know the kind of world in which we are going to live and therefore the functions which the Royal Air Force will have to perform in that world. Those functions are bound to depend on two events which have taken place in the very recent past; one full of hope, and the other full of menace. I refer, of course, to the release of atomic energy, and the foundation of the United Nations organisation, both of which— taken in conjunction, and they interact on each other—are bound to affect the 977 functions and, therefore, the size and structure of the Royal Air Force.
The Committee will not expect me to say anything on the subject of the atomic bomb, but it is clear that the long-range bomber will ultimately have to be designed either for the existing or chemical type of explosive or atomic explosive. There is the whole question of the possibility of defending this country or any country from attack by aircraft carrying atom bombs. All these subjects are, of course, under the constant attention of the technical advisers of the Air Council, of the Air Staff and of the Air Council itself. It is odious even to have to think of the inexpressibly ghastly consequences of war today, but we have to think of them, just so long as international anarchy persists. But will that international anarchy persist? During the last few months the United Nations organisation has been founded. Will it develop a world force capable of enforcing the will of the United Nations organisation in the world? I submit to the Committee that, in that possibility, rather than in any scheme of national defence, lies the real safety of all peoples of all countries. For that supreme purpose, and it is a supreme purpose, of the unity of world force, undoubtedly air forces are the most suitable instruments. As and when such a world force develops the Royal Air Force must be prepared to make a worthy contribution, to take a worthy part.
The Royal Air Force has other functions. It has police functions in the world today, and some decisions, therefore, can be taken because of these immediate functions. In common with the other Services, we have fixed our postwar pay and allowances code for airmen, and now for officers in the permanent Air Force. I am able to announce a very small, but I hope acceptable, reduction in the overseas tour of duty. Single men will, in future, beginning 1st April, have their tour of duty reduced from three years six months to three years, bringing them to the same level as married men. I know it is not much, but it comes in the midst of the heaviest programme of release and repatriation. It will take until 1st October to complete, and, after that time, we hope to go further. We do assure men who are thinking of making the R.A.F. their 978 career, that the terribly long overseas tours which have been the rule during the war, are not for one moment intended to be the rule in the postwar Air Force. In conjunction with the other Services, we hope very soon to institute a sustained recruiting campaign, because all our plans for an efficient Air Force, depend upon a successful voluntary recruiting campaign. When the time comes, we hope to enlist the help of hon. Members on all sides of the Committee in it.
The question which I daresay will be raised, and with which I shall deal at more length in summing up, is the non-regular components of the R.A.F., which we hope to reinstitute. The A.T.C., the auxiliary squadrons, the University squadrons, the R.A.F.V.R.—all these, we hope, will be reinstituted in the near future. I can say one word about the A.T.C. 1 know the sense of frustration which the A.T.C. have sometimes felt, but a good deal has been decided, and we shall very soon be able to give them their exact place in the future organisation of the Royal Air Force. I can tell them now that we have provisionally fixed their strength. For the moment, it is to be 75,000. That is very rear their present strength, and it is a strength which will enable us to accept all cadets of satisfactory standard into the R.A.F., and will therefore enable the A.T.C. to plan more effectively than they have been able to do heretofore.
I should have liked to be able to make one more announcement as to the future of the W.A.A.F. Everyone who served in the R.A.F. during the war and many others who saw its work will agree with me that the W.A.A.F. was an outstanding success. It was not only in the domestic trades, important as they are, but in many of the operational trades, radar "met.," and many others, that the W.A.A.F. proved—and this is the opinion of the Air Council—that there are many jobs which cannot merely be done as well by women, but can be done better by women, than by men. I can tell the Committee that it is the view of the Air Council that an essential operational factor of the R.A.F. would be lacking if there was no W.A.A.F. But we must await the announcement from all three Services, on the future of the women's Services.
979 1 have only one more thing to say. I hope none of us will under-estimate the value to this country of the reputation, the fame, of the R.A.F. I believe that the world's consciousness of what the R.A.F. did during the war is, today, one of our greatest national assets. All over Europe, and all over the world, those three letters "R.A.F." mean something very deep in the hearts of men. It is not merely that in 1940, the R.A.F. stood between the world and Hitler. It is not merely the big hammer blows of Bomber Command in ridding the world of Nazism. It is also that, in the later stages of the war—a large part of the war—the Royal Air Force took a very close and intimate part in aiding all those great popular movements of resistance thrown up all over Europe. To thousands of brave men and women all over Europe, the R.A.F. was the only link with the free world. I have twice recently had the privilege of visiting France, in connection with R.A.F. exhibitions and functions. As many Members of the Committee know, those words "le Raf " mean something very deep in French-speaking Europe today. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing the first performance in Paris, of that great film "Jericho," which records one of the most romantic of all the episodes of the war, when, just over a year ago, squadrons of Mosquitoes of 2nd T.A.F., blew down the walls of Amiens Gaol, and released the French patriotic resisters, who were there awaiting execution.
Also there few with the R.A.F. during the war men of many nations. Not only were there magnificent groups and squadrons of airmen of our Dominions, but Frenchmen, Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Yugoslavs, Dutchmen, and men of many other nations; so that, wherever one goes today, if one travels by the airfields, one will find men who fought and flew in Bomber, Fighter, or Coastal Command. These are not insignificant facts in the world today. I always remember in this connection, that in 1940 when I was serving as the adjutant of No. 87 Fighter Squadron, it came to my knowledge that, in that dark hour, the people of Spain had made for themselves roughly made R.A.F "wings," which they were wearing—because they did not dare to wear anything more open—as a symbol of their 980 opposition to Fascism. I remember going to my then commanding officer, the late Wing Commander Ian Gleed and telling him of this, because I felt that he and his pilots ought to know. I pointed out to him that, in flying and fighting as they were doing every night, defending their own country against Fascism, they had become a symbol for the world, of the defence of all peoples against Fascism. I well remember the impression that made on Gleed. For most of the peoples of Europe, liberation from Fascism has been achieved, though not for those Spaniards. Perhaps they still wear, in hope, the symbols of the Royal Air Force though there, as elsewhere, liberation cannot come from outside sources alone. At any rate let us not forget what all the world remembers: that the Royal Air Force stood, not only between us and slavery, but between all peoples and slavery.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
I can well imagine that the Under-Secretary feels very proud that he has had the task of opening the first Debate on the Royal Air Force since the end of the war. If I may say so, he rose to the occasion admirably. The Committee will, I am sure, congratulate him very heartily on his most able speech, in which he achieved with notable success the three aims which he set himself He also paid a most eloquent tribute to the Royal Air Force with which hon. Members on this side of the Committee are most anxious to associate themselves. I myself do not propose to look backward in the course of my remarks, except to draw a lesson here and there from the past. I propose rather to look forward, and to deal exclusively with the peacetime Air Force.
In dealing with such an extensive subject, it is, of course, impossible to touch in detail on more than three or four aspects in a short speech. In any case, there are many other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who are better qualified than I am, both by experience and powers of oratory, to deal with the other aspects and to complete the picture. I am sure that the aim of all speakers in this Debate must be approximately the same, namely, to provide an Air Force large enough and well enough equipped to meet our present commitments, as we know them now, and in so far as we can see them in the immediate future, and so to shape our Air 981 Force, that it can readily and smoothly be expanded in case of emergency. It seems to me that only in relatively small matters, as for example the relative size of the various branches of the Service, is there likely to be any disagreement. I, therefore, propose to concentrate my remarks on the general shape and structure of the peace time Air Force. I propose to put forward a few suggestions and ideas regarding the four main branches of the Service, the reserves, the regulars, the R.A.F. Regiment and the W.A.A.F.
Although I realise that T am looking ahead further than the period covered by the Estimates, I put forward these ideas to the Government for consideration when drawing up their next Estimates It may seem strange that I put the reserves before the regulars, though it is no stranger, perhaps, than the fact, that, I myself, started as an auxiliary and became a regular later, thereby qualifying to speak with some experience of both branches. The reason I wish to deal with the reserves first, is that when looking at the Estimates the figure which strikes one most forcibly is the £350,000 allotted to the auxiliaries and reserves. I know that that is not a final figure, but I hope it is not an indication of the importance attached by His Majesty's Government to the auxiliaries. We have learned, I hope, many lessons from this war, lessons which, one assumes, will be carefully borne in mind by the Government when drawing up their Estimates. It would appear from this figure that one important lesson seems to have escaped us entirely, namely, that the Auxiliary Air Force, before the war, was the nation's best bargain.
I would briefly refresh the memory of the Committee on the record of the Auxiliary Air Force. It started in 1926 with, I think, four squadrons, and grew slowly at first. Then, about the middle of the '30's, it grew very rapidly until at the beginning of the war, there were over a dozen squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force dotted throughout the British Isles. Except for a sprinkling of regular officers and airmen, they were entirely composed of volunteers, not only air crew but technical personnel as well, and they kept themselves up to a high standard of training during weekends, in the evenings, and at annual camps. Their equipment gradually improved as their value 982 became more and more apparent, until at the beginning of the war they were equipped with the latest type of aircraft and other equipment, and their proficiency in its use was, I think it is no exaggeration to say, the admiration and even the envy of the most highly trained regular squadrons. When war came, the auxiliaries were ready to go straight into the heat of battle, without any further preparation. The part they played in the Battle of Britain is well known to the Committee, and, indeed, is indelibly inscribed in the records of the Royal Air Force. The whole of this great contribution to our air strength was made at a fraction of the cost to the Treasury of the same number of regular squadrons. Most important even than the cost, in my view, was the outstanding spirit among the officers and the men in those auxiliary squadrons. Each man took a jealous pride in his squadron, a pride which was almost unknown in regular units.
What was the secret of that outstanding spirit? Why did these men take such a pride in their auxiliary squadrons? I think those are vitally important questions. I think that we should make full use of that spirit, and shape our peacetime Air Force, with the aim of fostering as large a measure of that spirit as we possibly can. I am convinced that a very large part of the answer can be put down to local patriotism. What these men were so proud of was not only the fact that they were all volunteers doing the job because they liked it, and felt it had to be done; to a still greater extent they were proud of the fact that their squadrons had been raised in, and recruited from their own part of the country and bore its name. The squadrons were organised on a regional basis, situated as near as possible to the large centres of population. In addition to the squadron numbers, they were identified by the name of the part of the country whence they sprang. They were known by such titles as the County of London Squadron, the County of Warwick Squadron, or the City of Glasgow Squadron. Of course, there is nothing new about all that The Army has always known the value of what they call regimental feeling. In the past, we in the Royal Air Force have had to rely more on pride of service, but, in my view, there is a very great difference indeed between pride of service and regi- 983 mental feeling. No one will deny that we have pride of service in abundant measure, but I think we should do all we can to foster as much of the regimental or squadron spirit as the nature of our service will allow.
For this reason, I think the Auxiliary Air Force should form the broad basis of all our reserves, because it is the ideal medium through which we can make the fullest use of local patriotism and engender as much as possible the spirit of which I have spoken. What do I mean by this broad basis? Clearly, our reserves must be organised and arranged according to some definite plan and in pursuance of some definite aim. I, therefore, suggest that the Auxiliary Air Force should consist of all those people, whether they be air crews, technical and maintenance personnel, radar operators, operation controllers, flying controllers or anyone, in fact, who is going to form the first line of reserves in an emergency. Everyone of these people should either belong to or be attached to an auxiliary squadron in his own part of the country, and should get such training as is possible with that squadron during the week-ends
. Behind that first line reserve, there is clearly a large body of men who need not be so highly trained in an emergency—the pilots, for example, who are beyond the age limit for operational flying, but would still be badly needed for such flying jobs as instructors, ferry pilots and many other flying duties which have to be performed. There are also administrative and equipment officers and many more, whose names must be listed as reserves readily available for call-up in an emergency, but whose training would consist more of keeping in touch with Service matters than making themselves proficient at their own particular trades. All these people, I suggest, should belong to the Volunteer Reserve, and should get such training as they require at suitable centres throughout the country.
Before the war, there was a third kind of reserve—the reserve of Air Force officers. I have never discovered, and I do not think anybody else has, either, what exactly was the difference between the R.A.F.O. and the R.A.F.V.R., but, as the R.A.F.O. died a natural death at the beginning of the war, I suggest that it should be left to rest in peace. There is surely no need unnecessarily to com- 984 plicate matters by having two kinds of reserve, but, by making the Auxiliary Air Force our first line and the Volunteer Reserve the second line, we should have a tidy and logical plan, based on the degree of readiness and standard of training necessary, and we should be able to make full use of this important local pride and patriotism. 1 have spoken at some length on this matter of reserves because I attach great importance to it. But before I leave it, there is one other point I wish to make. If we are to get our reserves properly organised, equipped and trained, the sooner we re-establish Reserve Command the better, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary whether he will be in a position, in his winding-up speech, to give us some indication when we may expect to see Reserve Command, which did such valuable work before the war, revived and set up again in suitable headquarters.
I now turn from the reserves to the regulars, and I am going to say very little here, because, being the core of the whole subject, I imagine that it is on the regular Royal Air Force that most hon. Members will wish to speak. I shall not touch, therefore, on the various operational aspects, training of pilots, provision of equipment and aircraft, or even on such matters as the disposition of our squadrons throughout the Empire, but there is one point on which I have long felt somewhat strongly and to which I would like to draw the attention of the Government for consideration in drawing up these Estimates.
There are many ways of acquiring good discipline in the. Services, and what applies to one does not necessarily apply to all of them, but I think there is one factor which is common to all three—the example which the officers set, and, particularly, the relationship between the officers and the men. In my view, the officers will set a good example only if they are trained to have a strong sense of responsibility, and, having been so trained, are given certain responsibilities to shoulder right from the beginning of their Service life. The relationship between officers and men will only be really good if they are working closely together, if the officers know as much as they can about the men under their command, if they study their individual characters and the particular problems of each man, whether of a private or a 985 Service nature, and, finally, if they try in every way to win the confidence and respect of their men. I believe that this officer-man relationship is very much more difficult to achieve than it is in the other two Services, because of the inevitable division between the flying and non-flying personnel. I therefore implore the Government, in settling the structure of our peacetime Air Force, to do all they possibly can to close the gulf which yawns between the winged and the wingless. Before the war, we could hold our own with either of the other two Services on the matter of discipline. No one who saw the Royal Air Force at work, whether on training exercises or at the Hendon display, could fail to be impressed by their smartness and efficiency; but today, I think we have to face the fact squarely that, when compared with the other two Services, our discipline comes out third, and I do not think the reason is very far to seek.
I am well aware that, in time of war, the system of centralised maintenance, or the garage system, as it is called, is by far the most economical in the use of manpower, and, indeed, has many other advantages. On the whole, it has worked extremely well, but, in my opinion, it has been the main cause of the deterioration of discipline in the R.A.F. It has removed from the shoulders of the younger officers of the General Duties Branch the great bulk of their responsibilities. It has tended to widen the gap between flying and non-flying personnel, and it has made virtually impossible the close relationship between officers and men, because, only in the Technical Branch, do they work side by side to anything like the same extent as before the war. A highly important question therefore arises. Is it better to preserve during peace a system which we know must be used during war, or is it better to have a system in peace which we know must be abandoned in war but is likely to produce a greater sense of responsibility among General Duties officers, a greater feeling of well-being amongst the airmen, and, therefore, a happier, more efficient and better disciplined Service? In my view, there can be no doubt as to the right answer, but I am disturbed to see, in Paragraph 14 of Cmd. Paper 6750, that the Technical Branch is to be established on a permanent basis. Therefore, I ask the Undersecretary what steps the R.A.F. propose 986 to take in peace time to give the junior officers of the General Duties Branch more experience of man management, a greater sense of responsibility, and a closer relationship between the officers and the airmen.
I come next to the Royal Air Force Regiment. I have some suggestions to make regarding its future which may be somewhat controversial, but which I seriously commend to the Government for their very careful consideration. I think I am doing the Army no injustice—and certainly I mean none—if I say that the R.A.F. Regiment came into being owing to the inability of the Army adequately to defend our airfields at the beginning of the war. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I know from my own experience that the question of ground defence was at that time the station commander's worst headache, and I have no doubt it was a commitment which the Army felt it could ill afford to undertake and which it undertook a little grudgingly. The division of command between the Army and the R.A.F., a division which later on worked so admirably in the desert and on the Continent of Europe, at that time led to many difficulties and misunderstandings.
However, when the R.A.F. Regiment was formed and took over the defence of airfields, things immediately started working very much more smoothly. Although it was performing the duties of soldiers, it was part of the R.A.F., and it was able and willing to give its full and undivided attention to the special problems of ground defence, working closely and in harmony with the station commander. As the war went on and the R.A.F. Regiment expanded and grew, both in numbers and experience, it more than justified its existence, both at home and overseas, and it emerged from the war with a record of which it may be justly proud. In my view, in so doing, it also. justified its continuance as a part of the peace-time Air Force. In the event of another war, we should again require the R.A.F. Regiment, and if that be so, it is essential we should preserve a nucleus on which to build; otherwise we shall find ourselves without the experienced officers and men. But in peace-time there is no airfield defence. The question arises, therefore, as to how best to employ the Regiment and keep it trained. It is in answer to that 987 question that 1 wish to put forward some suggestions.
The first suggestion is that the R.A.F. Regiment should take over all the police duties on our air stations. A man who joins the R.A.F. does so mainly because he is interested in aircraft and with the aim of becoming proficient at a trade in connection with aircraft. If he finds himself in the Administrative or Equipment Branch, he may console himself that, at any rate, indirectly, he is helping to keep the aircraft in the air. But the duties of station police, while having no appeal whatever to the. airmen, are ideally suited to the R.A.F. Regiment. Since its aims are to protect the station against all intruders and miscreants, whether it be the wartime invader or the peacetime lawbreaker. The second suggestion goes a step further, for police duties would not in themselves, of course, be sufficient to keep the Regiment fully employed in large enough numbers. There are, however, many other duties at present performed by airmen, mainly by aircraft hands, but sometimes even by tradesmen; I am referring to such duties as those of postmen, mess servants, cooks, and all the multifarious tasks involved in keeping the station clean and orderly and running it from day to day. I would hand all these duties over to the R.A.F. Regiment, and I would reduce considerably the establishment of aircraft hands in the R.A.F. The duties I have mentioned would not, of course, be the Regiment's only duties, because they would still be required to keep themselves well trained in the use and handling of weapons, and in the problem of defence, ground combat and field craft, which were their original duties, for which they were originally formed, and which they would be called upon to perform as their primary task in time of war. They would become to the R.A.F. almost exactly what the Marines are to the Navy, and while performing an invaluable role in peace, would form the hard core on which to expand the Regiment in war.
There is one further suggestion I wish to make regarding the R.A.F. Regiment. If they are to attract the right type of officers and men, it would, I think, be necessary to offer them some inducement of a rather more exciting nature than the duties I have mentioned. I would offer the following inducement. I would select from time to time, from the officers 988 and men of the R.A.F Regiment, a number to be trained as glider pilots, and I would hand over to the R.A.F. Regiment all the duties performed during the war by the Glider Pilot Regiment of the Army. During the war, glider pilots were drawn from the Army and trained by the R.A.F. After their training they went back to the Army, and they kept themselves in flying practice as best they could with the limited facilities which the Army could offer them, in cooperation with the R.A.F. 1 do not think any of those early glider pilots, who had a considerable gap to fill between their training and the moment they went into action, would agree that the position was anything like satisfactory.
I had a certain amount to do with their training, so that I am not speaking entirely without personal experience. All the more credit to them that, when the moment arrived, they went into the air with the skill and energy which we all admired so much, in spite of their sometimes having become a little rusty in the interval. The reason the glider pilots were drawn from the Army was that the pilot, once he had landed his glider at the appointed place, had to become a soldier, and he had to be fully trained in the art of combat and fieldcraft. But is not that rôle one exactly suited to the R.A.F. Regiment, who are the soldiers of the Air Force, and whose training would consist largely of ground combat and fieldcraft, and would not all those difficulties experienced by the Army in keeping its glider pilots in flying practice be resolved if the R.A.F. became entirely responsible for the selection, the training, and the keeping in practice of the nucleus of glider pilots on which we should have to expand during war? There are a few questions I wish to put to the Under-Secretary, and I hope he will be in a position to answer them. Is it intended to keep the Royal Air Force Regiment in being? If so, how is it intended to employ it? Can he suggest a more logical method of producing glider pilots than selecting them from the R.A.F. Regiment?
I now turn to the fourth of the main branches of the R.A.F. the W.A.A.F. I hope they will forgive me for being so ungallant as to put them last. I can excuse myself only by saying that I was brought up to eat bread and butter before embarking on cake, and I suppose the 989 habit has persisted. It is essential that the W.A.A.F should continue in peace-time. I was delighted to hear the Undersecretary of State say that there is at least some hope that this will be so. It is only by keeping them in being that we can obtain experienced officers and senior N.C.O's. In wartime that nucleus can be expanded into an efficient service of the required size. At the beginning of the war one of the greatest problems of the W.A.A.F. was the lack of good administrative officers. Many airwomen have told me that at that time their officers were inexperienced and unwilling to accept responsibility. That is very understandable. Any lack in that direction was amply made up for by the magnificent work which the W.A.A.F. did when they got into their stride, but at least we can ensure that the lack does not happen again.
There are a great many staff, clerical and administrative duties which could be performed admirably by a small peace-time body of regular officers and airwomen who might wish to make a career of the Service. These, I submit, should remove the "A" from their uniforms and become an integral part of the Royal Air Force. They should be very carefully selected and trained. In addition, there should be a reserve of W.A.A.F.S. attached to auxiliary squadrons as there was immediately before the war. They should receive such training as is possible at week-ends and in the evenings. In an emergency it would be possible to select from their number suitable officers and N.C.Os. with at least a measure of training and a knowledge of Service matters.
I have not touched upon the code of pay recently published I believe that other hon. Members may wish to do so. But I welcome wholeheartedly any proposals which will attract young men and women of the highest possible ability who might otherwise have felt that there was a more fruitful outlet for their energies in some other walk of life. Neither have I mentioned living conditions, in peacetime, though I consider them just as important, and I hope the Government will give the matter the closest possible attention. We should bear in mind that the young man who joins the Air Force today has to give up many of the creature comforts of home life and particularly his personal privacy, and such small matters as the adequate 990 stowage of his kit and personal belongings. I know that those are only small details but attention to them will pay a handsome reward in the contentment and efficiency of the Service.
I have tried in the course of my remarks, to put forward suggestions as constructively as possible and not merely to criticise. Where I have seemed to criticise the Royal Air Force I have done so in a spirit of helpfulness and not of destructiveness. On the contrary, it would be impossible to pay too high a tribute to the Air Force. 1 have no doubt that many tributes will be paid by other hon. Members One has only to remember that by day and night, in the air and on the ground whether attacking, defending, escorting patrolling, planning, organising, or training, they kept up their ceaseless efforts with determination and great gallantry, and with that spirit of gay indifference and wealth of understatement which so confused our Allies and confounded our enemies. By the tireless devotion to duty of the men of all ranks, the Royal Air Force blazoned its motto, "Per Ardua ad Astra," across the pages of history., and earned the admiration, the gratitude and the respect of the entire world.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Aitken (Holborn)
Thank you, Major Milner, for calling upon me at this point in the Debate. Most of this Debate will take place, I am sure, on the planning side of the Service. I would like to speak of the operational aspect of the Royal Air Force. In 1939, the R.A.F. was really a British Royal Air Force. It was not large, and during the early part of 1940 it was rapidly whittled down. At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, 1 had the honour of commanding a Hurricane squadron. At that point that squadron had been reduced to only six pilots. At the end of the war, I had the honour to be commanding a wing of Mosquitos. The squadrons were then up to 30 crews per squadron. The reason for that great increase was the Empire training scheme. Our young men were taken out of this country and sent to the Dominions to train. The Dominions not only trained them but sent them back together with the best from their own countries, crewed, trained and ready to fly together as an Empire unit. In my last wing we were a mixed bunch, New 991 Zealanders, Australians, Canadians, British and Rhodesians. Never has a Fighting Service become such an Empire force as the Royal Air Force did during the war. 1 suggest that the Empire Air Force should be retained. Why should we lose in peace, what we have gained in war? We should have an Empire Air Estimate. Could we not have an Estimate submitted by all the Dominions, a central Empire air pool, and planning based on Empire bases just as we do on British bases?
Now I turn to the question of weapons. I sincerely hope there will never be another war. If there is a war certainly we shall never be the aggressor. Therefore this country would be attacked first, and the first blow in the next war will be serious. In order to ward off that blow, we need an absolutely first-class defence such as was built up by Fighter Command under the three great Air Marshals during the last war. The greatest deterrent to war is attack, just as the greatest deterrent to the German attack on this country in the latter part of the war was our Bomber Command. Our power of attack would be tremendous as an Empire unit which was founded on communications and bases throughout the world. Operating as a unit it would be possible to attack and bomb any part of the world six hours after take-off, flying at modern airspeeds, and that includes the North and South Poles. I say a bomb, but it must be an atom bomb. We must face the facts. During this war our weapons were sometimes inadequate and we nearly lost important battles because of that.
If, in the next war—and pray God there never is one—our weapons are smaller than the other man's, and if we have not got the atom bomb and he has, then we shall lose the war. It is agreed that we are going to spend £1,167,000,000 on the Services, and only £1,500,000 on the development of the atom bomb. I would suggest that, until we have got that bomb, we should reverse the Estimates and make sure that we get it quickly. If we need manpower in order to develop factories for the atom bomb then, I suggest, the men should be taken out of the Services. If we need the money then, I suggest, the Estimate should be cut. We will not get away with being unprepared in the next war. I have heard some of the younger hon. 992 Members opposite, who have never seen a battlefield, say that they would like to see our Services cut, but, as I have said, we will never again get by if we are unprepared. In conclusion I would like to say that the right weapons supplied to an Empire Air Force would, in my opinion, preserve peace. The Empire Air Force was not founded by chance, and it will not flourish by neglect.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I should like to join in the congratulations which the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) has offered to my hon. Friend the Undersecretary for the extremely competent and, if I may say so, graceful way in which he introduced this Debate. I always have to be a little careful when dealing with the Air Ministry, because it so happens that both my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his Noble Friend the Secretary of State are constituents of mine. Therefore, if I am too troublesome with them, I am apt to get a savage letter about the local bus service or a demand for a compassionate posting, or something like that. I was most interested in the story which my hon. Friend had to tell today, and particularly speaking from this side of the House, by the fact that he spoke not only as a Minister who was very evidently on top of his job, technically and in every way, but also as a Socialist. I thought the final passage of his speech was most moving and eloquent in its references to the coming liberation of the people of Spain. Indeed, I hope that the Royal Air Force will be able to play its full part at least in supplying our Republican Allies when that moment of liberation comes. That might, incidentally, be a useful destination for the surplus explosives which the Ministry of Supply may find so embarrassing a possession, provided we make sure that they fall into the right hands.
I want to raise a few more or less disconnected points, some of which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to answer. They are not all major points, but they are points not capable of full examination at Question time. Therefore, I hope that he will consider them now I am sure the whole Committee was very glad to hear his announcement of the reduction of the tour of overseas service, which is excellent so far as it goes, and his further assurance that in the permanent postwar service the term overseas will not neces- 993 sarily be anything like so long as at present. On that point, I wonder if he could say a word about the maximum period of service in particularly bad tropical climates: there are, as he and the Committee know well, a number of stations on the Persian Gulf, for instance, and places like that, where conditions are really extremely bad and where, during the war and since, men have had to serve for quite unduly long periods, very often without sufficient amenities in the way of entertainment and even electric fans. Although, in this climate, an electric fan may seem a superfluous luxury, in stations like Shaibah and Vizagapatam it is really a necessity in every building on the station.
My hon. Friend referred delicately in passing to the recent unhappy incidents in the Far East, for which so many different names have been found on different sides of the House. I gather that he has now settled for the good old Irish word "troubles," and left it at that. On the basic causes of those troubles—apart from the obvious overriding cause, that all the men concerned wanted to get home at the earliest possible moment—I wonder whether he can say anything more about what has been done to make sure that full and accurate information is really conveyed to the men. We know about his demob forms. They are admirable so far as they go, but are we sure that they go far enough? All hon. Members, I am sure, will agree that an astonishingly large number of Setters come from airmen and soldiers stationed overseas which show that they are labouring under a complete misapprehension about some of the most elementary facts concerning the rate of demobilisation, the percentages of demobilisation, and all the rest of it. Yet, they certainly study with the greatest care everything that they can find. It seems as if there were still some kind of gap to be made up in the information services inside the Service. I am sure that that is germane also to the point made by the hon. Member for Worcester about the officer-man relationship, and that in the Royal Air Force, as compared with the other two Services, there is still a great deal to be done in the way of making officers feel that they are really responsible for the welfare and interests of the other ranks.
There is another point on which I should like to touch. There is a class 994 of airmen about whom we hear comparatively little in the Debates in this House, and yet they are a class to whom we owe a good deal. I am referring to the West Indian airmen, of whom, I believe, there are still several thousands in this country. Many of them have been here for some years and they are naturally anxious, just as our own men overseas are anxious, to get home to their own country. Their time of service here has, in many ways, not been altogether happy. They cannot be expected to like our climate very much, and, here and there—although this should not be exaggerated—there have been unfortunate instances of racial or colour clasnes. I would like to ask my hon. Friend if he can possibly give us any facts about the repatriation of these men. I gather that there is really something of a dilemma in that connection. They are, naturally, anxious to get home to the West Indies as soon as possible. By far the greatest number of them come from Jamaica. I gather that there is, at this moment, a scheme to ship them all home in three or four shiploads quite quickly, and to demobilise them almost at once. Where the problem arises is that anything in the nature of a resettlement scheme, or proper reinstatement in civil employment, is quite embryonic in the West Indies compared with anything that we have here; and there is already serious unemployment in the West Indies.
Therefore, I would like to ask my hon. Friend, as the custodian of the welfare of these West Indians who joined up and came to our help years ago, and many of whom feel that they have to some extent been let down—because certain promises were made to them when they were recruited, not all of which have been fulfilled—what he is doing to ensure not only that they are repatriated as soon as possible but that when they are repatriated they are given a reasonable guarantee of demobilisation and resettlement conditions comparable with those which are enjoyed in this country.
My final subject is one about which 1 have questioned my hon. Friend several times at Question time. In the course of some recent replies to Questions about the R.A.F. station in the Azores, he referred to the work that R.A.F. personnel have to do in connection with civil aviation. It is, obviously, extremely important that civil aviation should be built up as efficiently and rapidly as possible, and it may 995 be necessary during this transitional stage to use R.A.F. personnel for that purpose. While they are on a station like the Azores, and while they have got nothing else particular to do, it certainly is more sensible that they should be doing a useful job like that than doing nothing; but I would like from my hon. Friend an assurance that the work they are doing for B.O.A.C. is in no case prejudicing a man's normal right to repatriation. Of course, I assume it is not prejudicing his right to demobilisation under his release group: that would go without saying. I would also like my hon. Friend to consider one or two of the actual specific grievances which arise in the course of that relationship between the R.A.F. and B.O.A.C. The reason why the R.A.F. ground staff feel a sense of grievance—perhaps slightly illogical— is primarily the difference in the rates of pay and conditions. That sort of difficulty has arisen before in the course of the war. It arose as between Royal Navy and Merchant Navy ratings in certain circumstances. No doubt there are obvious and good explanations for it. None the less, whatever the explanations, it does create a certain psychological barrier between these two classes of workers on the same airfield—perhaps quite a small airfield somewhere overseas.
A second point comparable to that, but not quite the same, is the difference in the maintenance schedules for inspection, repair and replacement. The R.A.F. personnel sign a form to the effect that they have completed an inspection of an aircraft up to R.A.F. standards when, in fact, it has only been completed up to B.O.A.C. standards. That is rather an anomalous situation, and 1 would be glad if my hon. Friend would say a word about that. A third point is that the R.A.F. personnel are, in many cases, "over-seered" or supervised by B.O.A.C. personnel, who, again, have their different standards of maintenance and inspection and so on. I do not know what the solution is. I do not know if there is a solutionߞwhether it is possible in some way to arrange for a transfer of personnel, or whatever the solution may be—but there is a definite grievance on many of these overseas stations during this transitional period.
I would like to conclude by saying how warmly, I am sure, the whole Committee 996 shares the feelings of gratitude and admiration expressed, far more eloquently than I can express them, by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and by the hon. Member for Worcester, to the men in the Royal Air Force. I have lived throughout the war on the edge of a night fighter station on the Essex coast. It has even been my proud privilege to have my own home requisitioned, and to have living in it men who have gone out night after night—so many of whom, alas, have not returned. Although only a very humble civilian myself, I would like, if I may be allowed' to do so, to join in that tribute.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I would like to offer to the Under-Secretary my sincere congratulations on his very fine effort this afternoon. We served together on the same station in 194.1, and I remember that on one occasion I had to stop his weekend leave.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I do not feel qualified to discuss the strength of the R.A.F. in relation to the terrible inventions connected with atomic energy, although it does require some consideration because I imagine that in time it will reduce the size of Bomber and Fighter Commands. However, I hope that for the moment anyhow, the Royal Air Force will be planned on the basis that we know nothing at all about atomic energy. It is for the heads of staffs to decide. I was very pleased to hear the Under-Secretary state that £28 million would be allowed for research in aviation. I was not clear whether that amount was for the Royal Air Force alone, or for the Royal Air Force and civil aviation.
§ Mr. Strachey
It is for aviation in general—the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm and civil aviation—because so much of the research is undifferentiated between the three.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I thank the Under-Secretary for making that clear. The sum of £ 28 million does seem rather a formidable amount if one looks back 16 years ago, when the Air Force got only £16 million for the whole year, and that was in respect of everything. I do not think it is too much to cover the whole field of aviation in this country, and I 997 would like to refer to that again in a few minutes.
The great success of the Royal Air Force in this war, I believe, has been due to the fact that in the early days, even in Lord Trenchard's time, when the R.A.F. was getting this meagre amount per annum, a very large proportion of it was spent on development work. For Instance, in the early '30s the Royal Air Force was already projecting the eight gun fighter—the Hurricane and the Spitfire—and a very large proportion of the money received was put into that development. Whereas at the same time the French were building up an air force of some 4,000 front line aircraft, which in a matter of three or four years became obsolete, we had a small Air Force which could be readily expanded when the time came. I only wish that before the war the War Office had adopted the same attitude towards tanks, and I wish the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) were here, because he would, no doubt, like to hear my references to that subject.
I would like to see a much closer liaison between the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the manufacturers, because we want all the research we can get, whether it is on the initiative of the Government or from free enterprise. It does not matter where we get it, so long a 5 we get our research to keep pace with that of other countries, and the cheaper it can be done the better. I would also like to see the aircraft manufacturers given an opportunity, as in the past, to produce private venture aircraft such as the Mosquito, the Spitfire and others which they built off their own bat. We want an Air Force which is modern and efficient, and which can be very rapidly expanded. We are a small nation, comparatively speaking, and we cannot afford to have hundreds of thousands of men locked up in the Armed Forces. Therefore, we must follow the line of having a comparatively small but good Air Force. We have been told that we are to have 19 Auxiliary Air Force squadrons—they are to be reformed—and I noticed earlier on that the Under-Secretary shook his head when he was asked if £350,000 was to be the amount expended on this Force and the Reserves. Even if it is more than that, it is still the best bargain which this Government have made so far.
998 My own view is that the Auxiliary Air Force should be doubled; instead of having 19 squadrons, I would like to see 38. I well remember before the war, when I had the privilege of commanding 615 Squadron at Kenley, which was the only squadron South of London, I asked whether we could not form another auxiliary squadron at Kenley but the Government of that time said it could not be done. Young men are keen to serve in thesesquadrons. I am getting letters from young men with whom T have served in this war who are anxious to give their services. We now have the nucleus to form these squadrons. We have been waiting for a long time to see when the Air Ministry is going ahead. I warn the Under-Secretary, he is losing valuable time in this respect. I do not know, but I rather guess it is because the Army are not quite ready with their plans and the three Departments have to keep in step. I hope the Under-Secretary will press this point with the Government.
I realise that we must have some form of compulsory service in this country for a limited period. I do not like the idea of conscription, but we have to see that we are well armed. If we now have a big drive to get all the volunteers we can to join our Services—whether it is the Army, Navy or Air Force—we might find that in a very short space of time conscription could be on a comparatively small scale. I hope every effort will be made to get these men to join, as I am sure they will. At the same time, I would like to see the A.T.C. given more encouragement. I think that when the Air Force formed the A.T.C. it was one of the wisest moves they ever made. They got the cream of the youth into the Air Force because they got them at a tender age. I should like to see this corps administered much on the same lines as the Auxiliary Air Force so that the two could work together, and in addition to the A.T.C. feeding the Royal Air Force with regulars, they could go from school into the Auxiliary Air Force to spend their weekends and their evenings training. I would ask that the A.T.C. be given better equipment and more supervision, both for their welfare and the service life in the A.T.C.
Having lived in one of our Colonies, Hong Kong, for several years I used, as 999 a part-time pleasure to help to instruct in the Hong Kong Flying Club. I was always surprised that although that club was subsidised by the Hong Kong Government we were not teaching the Chinese to fly. Europeans could come along, even Germans, and learn to fly at the expense of the Colony. There were these young Chinese, probably a million Chinese subjects living in Hong Kong, who could, if they wanted, claim British nationality; yet neither there nor at Singapore was there a scheme whereby those young men could learn to defend their native land. I believe that if we had followed a policy of teaching them to fly to defend their country before the war, then the result of the battle at Singapore with the Japanese might have been quite different from what it was. I would like to see a volunteer reserve or an Auxiliary Air Force squadron formed in all our Colonies. It is cheap, and if we can get these young men to think for themselves and to defend their native lands it will be a good thing for all concerned.
I am going to make a suggestion which I know will not be popular with the generals, or perhaps with the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish). I make this suggestion with all seriousness. A.A. Command should be taken over by the Royal Air Force. I have considered this problem for many years. It took two and a half years to build up co-operation between A.A. Command and Fighter Command. One remembers in 1940, when one saw the soldiers at one end of the mess and the airmen at the other end. It was the fault of the administration. It could be overcome if we put A.A. Command in blue in this country so that they could get co-operation on the ground and co-operation from aircraft in the air. It worked all right in the end, when these men came to live on Air Force stations and worked together. I contend it should be one Force.
I would like to refer briefly to the question of the interchange of personnel with our Dominions and Allies. Before the war the Air Force used to exchange personnel with Canada and with other Dominions on a very small scale. During the war that has grown considerably. I hope we shall get officers spending a year or two with each of the other air forces, visiting the staff college, and so on. I 1000 would like to see that not only with the Dominions but with our Allies, both America and Russia. I believe that if Russia and America would fall into line with this suggestion we would have gone some way towards building up what might be the beginnings of an international air force, but there must be goodwill on all sides for it to be brought about. I want to refer for a moment to the sergeant-pilot. Here is a man who, during the war, fought splendidly alongside the officers. However, as a sergeant-pilot he was a misfit in his own mess. The old-time technical sergeant often resented the young sergeant who had attained his rank in a matter of one or two years living in his mess. I think the sergeant-pilot should either be commissioned or should be given a rank between warrant officer and pilot officer, and they should have their own mess. The sergeant-pilot is an anomaly, and his rank should be adjusted. He has fought his way parallel with the officer; he has lived with the officer in the dispersal huts, but he has not lived with him in the mess. I think that is wrong.
I now refer Comd. Paper 6750, regarding pensions for officers It says:The new scheme will not apply to officers who were on the retired list on the 19th December, 1945. Consideration is being given, however, to the position of retired officers who have given full time service in the Armed Forces in the 1939–45 war.I do not know why this date of 19th December has been given at all. Why not make it Christmas Day? That would be far more attractive. I suggest the date should be VE-Day, because a number of officers in all the Services were retired after VE-Day, and I do not see why they should be penalised because they happened to leave the Services one month, say, before an officer who came out after 19th December. I hope the Under-Secretary will press the Treasury to give way on this point. It is unfair and should not be so. The Air Force is a young Service. It now has a great tradition behind it, and I make one request, that it should be kept a young man's Service.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock (Derby)
It is very easy for me to follow and agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) I am sure we are not discussing this from any party angle at all. The 1001 aim, which we all wish to see, is that we shall have a most efficient Royal Air Force. Sooner or later there is no doubt the Treasury, or the people who are controlling the money, are going to start on the Royal Air Force; perhaps not this year, but certainly at some future date. For that reason I sincerely hope the Secretary of State has in mind that we shall have a small professional Air Force with the support of the Auxiliary Air Force and the Volunteer Reserve, as we had before the war. I do think that ought to be kept in mind, because if we try to spread our resources, as we are doing now, and as we are likely to do, if we try to keep strength in every part of the world, we shall not achieve what we surely should do, namely, to have a mobile and highly professional Air Force available at a moment's notice; not available to expand at a week's or a month's notice, but available as a striking air defence force.
It is unfortunate that we have to discuss the matter of the Royal Air Force just after the war. If we are to have an offensive force, then, as the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has said, let us have it as a young, professional, up-to-date force. Do let us, if we can, jump that gap between a postwar air force, with all its confusion, and an air force that we hope to see in the future. Do not let us have that gap during this transitional period, when we have a large number of people employed in the Air Force who are not up t6 professional standard. I make that point particularly, because we suffered from that for about 10 years after the last war before we really knit together a force which could be called an efficient defensive and offensive instrument. This time we must have the time to do it. There are one or two points concerning airmen. Cannot we simplify some of the trades in the Royal Air Force? Is it necessary for the R.A.F. in future to have over 150 ground trades? It is not necessary in industry, and 1 cannot think that it is necessary in the R.A F. It is one of those things which have grown up, I feel, because nobody has taken the drastic step of telling the men that, if they are in the Service and have a basic trade, they must, nevertheless, be prepared to do other work. It is rather different from civil life in that respect. Expense and lack of efficiency are involved, and although it is a little thing 1002 I recommend it to the Under-Secretary of State for his consideration.
I raise the matter of maintenance because, as 1 have said, I fear that economy will be written across the Air Ministry one of these days. Maintenance surely might be done by civil aviation under a centralised system. I do not say that because civil aviation would make a better job of it than the R.A.F., but because I think the R.A.F. should have its money and its personnel for running its squadrons, and because it would also preserve the great reserves of civil aviation. The factories are now gradually decreasing in numbers and their personnel are being dispersed, but if the maintenance of the R.A.F., as a matter of future policy, could go over to the civil side, and if aircraft could be repaired and overhauled in civil factories, the R.A.F. would not need a large maintenance organisation. In case of war, instead of having to build up the maintenance organisation again, it would already be in existence. When we built up the maintenance organisation in the R.A.F. it was at the expense of the civil side. I recommend the idea to the Under-Secretary as being worthy of his consideration. One other thing. Will those who are now planning for the future consider the concentration of our air forces? A war such as we have just had must cause the spreading of our air forces, but spreading is always a great waste, and we now have forces in the Azores, in Iceland, in Bermuda, along 2,000 miles of the North African coast, and I cannot believe that that is necessary today. As soon as possible we should hand those bases over to the civilians and use all the resources of the R.A.F. for the purpose of building up an efficient force concentrated in certain areas.
I would also like to refer to the question of overseas service, which is such an important one to the people concerned, from the point of view of the married officers and men. I cannot believe that it is necessary, in these days of quick travel, to send a married officer overseas for two or three years. There are two alternatives. One is to be compelled to do so, as is now suggested, and the other is to send their wives and families after them. I have a horror of that second thing happening, and I have heard rumours that it is being planned. I have heard that the business of sending wives 1003 and children, and more usually wives without children, overseas is about to start again for all Services. It means, in actual practice, that the women who perhaps more deserve to go are never able to go because they have children. It is the senior officer's wife and the women without children who go, and it is illogical and has caused heart-burning. I cannot believe that the expense of arranging accommodation and so on for a very small percentage of officers' or airmen's wives is really justified these days, particularly in the R.A.F., where we can lift people from any part of the world in a couple of days. Therefore, I suggest that a married man or officer should do his overseas period of three years, if it is three years, a year at a time. Let the single men do their three years; they probably want it, and are probably much more comfortable than they are at home.
I see by the Estimate that the sum of £30 million is allocated to works and works services, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give us a little more explanation on this point. It seems to me to be a very high maintenance figure. Perhaps I am wrong, but it has not been explained why £30 million should now be required for works. If it includes aircraft, it is an entirely different matter. May I refer to the question of the W.A.A.F.? We all know what services they have done; it would really have been most difficult to carry on in the R.A.F. without them, but I wonder whether they are really necessary after the war. I know that I shall be unpopular for saying this, but if they are, I hope that it will be at home only, because, as I said, my idea of this professional air force is that it should be a hard-hitting mobile force, and that I do not think can be achieved if we send our women's Services overseas.
I missed one thing from the Under-Secretary's admirable speech. He made no reference to our Colonial air forces and to the liaison we have with them now. In the R.A.F at home we have large experimental establishments, which are very costly indeed in money and manpower. Is the same thing happening in Canada? Have we the same thing in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa? Are we setting up parallel organisations, because, if so, surely it is a bad thing? Could we not have some 1004 agreement whereby certain experimental work should be handed over to certain countries or Colonies which are more suitable for it? I cannot see why we have a marine establishment in this country. We do not want flying boats in the R.A.F.; they may be marvellous for civil aviation, but I cannot think that we must have them in the R.A.F. Possibly in Canada, with the long stretches of sea coast along the Pacific, they may be useful. Surely, that should be the country in which to carry on a large marine experimental establishment. I only make the suggestion because I am still looking at this matter from the point of view of economy for the future. I am sure we must do so, because manpower is an overriding consideration in all these things.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Is not the hon. and gallant Member referring to the Dominions? I understood him to say Colonies all the time; is he referring to activities in the Colonies, or to the activities of the Dominion Air Forces?
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I thank the hon. Member for making that point. I did, of course, mean the Dominions; it was purely a slip of the tongue. I would like to add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary for his speech on our Air Force, of which we are all so proud. We feel—I am sure I speak for all hon. and right hon. Members—that we receive, as Members of the House of Commons, remarkable services from the Air Ministry through the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I have a very heavy correspondence concerning Royal Air Force personnel, and it is extraordinarily well treated by the hon. Gentleman. I have a most important constituent who has a grouse in that he. has not had a civilian suit although he has been discharged for four months, and that is myself; but beyond that, the hon. Gentleman seems to have done everything that he has been asked. The Royal Air Force has done its duty to the country, and we must see that we do our duty to the Royal Air Force.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
As I listened to this Debate, I thought I was back in the Royal Air Force, because wing commanders always follow air commodores and group captains; and so I think it is proper that I should follow an air commodore and 1005 three group captains at this moment. On 1st May, 1945, I first took my seat in the House of Commons after winning a by-election. The "Daily Telegraph" newspaper said that my entering the House of Commons was astounding. The" thing that astonished me was that I was alive to come into the House, because I had just completed a tour of operations with Bomber Command. I remember well, that when I first joined my squadron, the night before I received my posting, the station to which I was posted lost 12 aircraft out of the 28 that had flown that night. The Under-Secretary of State, in his introductory speech, referred, I thought, a little casually and in passing to the fact that 50,000 men lost their lives in Bomber Command during the war. He forgot to mention 15,000 others who suffered serious casualties, including being taken prisoner of war, and the overriding fact that this enormous number of casualties, 65,000 in all, was out of a sum total of 110,000 trained.
The fact that when I first reported to a squadron 12 out of 28 crews had '' gone for a Burton," as we used to say, and 'the fact that when I first reported for operational duty, the average expectation of life for nine new crews out of 10, in the group to which I was posted, was less than six months, have a significance in the whole of my outlook in the political world in which I live, and also upon the attitude I have towards the Royal Air Force and towards this particular Debate. We want—that is; the people who served in Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force and their next-of-kin—a categorical assurance that the work we did was militarily and strategically justified. I am sorry I should go back to this old question. There have been words of high praise spoken in this Debate and written in the Press, words of congratulation, but there has also been an undercurrent of thought that the strategic work of Bomber Command was wasteful of our manpower and over-destructive in its effect upon the enemy. I feel I am justified on behalf of 50,000 widows and bereaved mothers in asking the Under-Secretary of State to make much more clear than he did in his speech—upon which I join in congratulating him—that the work that was done by Bomber Command was completely justified from the military point of view and, particularly, from the strategic point of view. If it was not com- 1006 pletely justified, then some investigation must be held into the position of those people who were responsible for the direction of Bomber Command, particularly from the years 1943 to 1945, which resulted in such a great waste of manpower.
This matter is precipitated in my mind by the signal fact that, in the terminal honours, at the end of last year, in the New Year's Honours List, the name of the chief architect of Bomber Command, Sir Arthur Harris, was a conspicuous absentee. 1 know it will be argued that in the Honours List six months previously the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command received the Order of the G.C.B. But he retired from the Royal Air Force without any public expression of gratitude for the work, not that he had done, but which his Command had done under him. He left the country in a bowler hat for America, without having been included in the terminal Honours List. There is- a feeling amongst the men who have served in Bomber Command that what appears to be an affront to the Commander-in-Chief of that Command is, in fact, an affront to the people who served in that Command and, of course, to those who suffered casualties. We feel that if our organisation did a good job of work in all respects, as we believe it did, the least that should be done is that an honour should be conferred on its head, comparable to the honours paid to commanding officers of similar units, particularly in the other Services.
I go from that to some consideration of the nature of the organisation of the permanent Royal Air Force. I heard with interest the remarks made by the air commodore and group captains who preceded me in this Debate. But it does not seem to me that they have really got to the most important consideration in the structure of a permanent regular Air Force. During the war there was the incentive to work and fight such as one can never hope to expect to have in peace time, the consciousness that in the daily or nightly facing of danger men were "sticking out their necks," as we used to say, for something which was worth while. In peace time you have not the ever present spur to endeavour, and, particularly, the spur to self-sacrifice that is always present in war. The function, par- 1007 ticularly of a Labour and Socialist administration, should be to provide the spur for proficient and self-sacrificing service, if we are to attract to the ranks of the regular Air Force precisely the kind of men upon whom this country must depend if ever her shores are threatened with invasion.
We have all been interested in what the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) earlier this afternoon called the "troubles" in the Air Force. Similarly, most hon. Members who sit on the Government benches have been interested in the discussion held in recent meetings of the Trades Union Congress on the question of conscription. I think that both the speech of the hon. Member for Maldon, and the conclusions arrived at by the Trades Union Congress, have a direct bearing upon what I have in mind, this question of the future of the Air Force. It will be remembered that, apart from the specific question of demobilisation and repatriation, it became apparent, particularly in the Far East, that the Air Force is made up now of a body of men who have achieved during the last six years a fairly high degree of political consciousness. Similarly, the Trades Union Congress gives as one of the conditions on which it will approve conscription for the armed Forces, that there shall be a measure of democratisation of the Forces.
I ask the Under-Secretary whether he cannot make some pronouncement to show that the Air Ministry realise that the character of the men who make up the Air Force has changed during the last seven years. A man in the Royal Air Force is now conscious of his status as a citizen, as well as of his status as a member of the Armed Forces. Are the Air Ministry prepared to go any way in the direction of democratisation? This is a time in our history when the men in the Air Force, and in the other Services which are governed by King's Regulations, should no longer be bound by irksome rules which deny them rights as citizens. I refer in particular to an incident which will be within recollection of the Undersecretary. It is the scandalous incident which occurred this year at Grantham, where an aircraftman was brutally treated by the police of his unit, because he dared to pen an anonymous letter to a local newspaper.
§ Mr. Sidney Shephard (Newark)
Will the hon. and gallant Member give a definition of what he means when he uses the word "brutal? "
Yes, I will. Brutality is not merely a question of physical violence. Mental violence is almost more brutal than physical violence, and, when a 19 year old lad has to be summarily arrested and intimidated by R.A.F. police in a public place, that, in my submission, is greater brutality than if someone had struck him. I am not submitting that the officer commanding the unit in that particular case went beyond his powers under the appropriate regulations. I submit that the regulations are wrong, and that it is time it was possible for a young man, who is serving in a military capacity, to take a full share in the political life of the country in which he lives, to take a full and active part in public meetings, and to be allowed the right freely to write letters and articles, even on Service matters, for publication in the local and national Press. If that kind of relaxation of the regulations were followed by Service Ministers, we should be taking the first step towards making men in the R.A.F., the Army and the Navy realise that they are men, and not a peculiar brand of children who can be entrusted with millions of pounds' worth of equipment, but cannot be trusted with, perhaps, the chief weapon of all, the weapon of ideas.
The Under-Secretary, in consideration of the kind of Air Force which we are to have, and which is to attract the men we want, should pay attention to the traditional basis of promotion, and particularly of promotion to commissioned rank. During the period of the war, there has been a considerable relaxation from the traditional approach. This has been inevitable, because the supply of men of what used to be called "the right type," has not been sufficient to fulfil the demands, of war. When an other rank completes a form of submission for promotion to commissioned rank, he is still asked for particulars of his school, sports and clubs. I submit that these considerations are irrelevant, if there has been built up in the Service in which these men have served as other ranks, a proper relationship between officers and men. All that should be required is a detailed report on efficiency, powers of leadership 1009 and the like, and a recommendation by the local unit commander; these should carry the men forward without reference to what is known as background. A board should be more concerned about a man's ability, efficiency and powers to lead, than about the kind of school or club of which he happened to be a member. There is a final consideration, and I was delighted to hear the . Under-Secretary refer to it in his most interesting peroration, and that is, that it does not matter how much money you may give the men, and how much better are their quarters, if the direction of the Service is wrong, then, because the men have become politically minded, we shall not get the men freely to join the Forces and serve in them.
The Under-Secretary said there was a great hope for the people of the world who had been born during the last twelve months by the formation of U.N.O., although some may doubt how much hope was demonstrated at the recent meetings. Recently I have had submitted a questionnaire which was circulated among men of an R.A.F. station in Norfolk. It was circulated from the rank of A.C.2 up to corporal; apparently it was felt that sergeants and commissioned officers ought not to be included, because they had some vested interest in the Service. These men were asked whether they would continue in the Service more willingly if the pay was doubled, and only one per cent. said that in these circumstances they would. They were asked whether they would continue in the Service if they were given something to do during the time when they could not normally be employed on Service training and duties. An overwhelming number "opted" in favour of having more to do, which is one of the instances where the working men of this country choose to have more work to do. The conclusion is that button cleaning, and what is known in the Services as "buli," of one sort and another, excessive discipline and excessive parades at unduly early hours in the morning, are conditions of service which put off rather than attract the people we want voluntarily to make their career in the Royal Air Force. Finally, the question was put whether the men would rather serve in a national Royal Air Force, or in a Royal Air Force which was part of the international Forces working under U.N.O. for international law and security.
1010 I cannot possibly convey to this Committee, or indeed to my persona) friends, what it means to people with my experience during the war to see their friends killed on operations night after night. It is not the immediate menace to one's self which is so destructive to one's morale, because I have not yet met an airman who thought that it could possibly happen to him, even when the losses were 50, 60 and 70 per cent. It is this business of having to go up three or four nights a week, losing one, or three from a squadron, or 30 from a group in one operation, which makes the airmen, of all people, conscious of the fact that there is no profit for anyone in war for nationalistic purposes I submit that the future recruitment of the Air Force is entirely bound up with the foreign policy of the British Government. If it is made clear that the Air Force will be used as an instrument for international law and peace, then the men will come in voluntarily to assist in the building up of that international Force. It is my most terrifying nightmare that ever again the Royal Air Force should be used as an instrument of nationalistic war
One final word which I feel 1 ought to say, because I am a member of no Party but my own. In consideration of matters of foreign policy and of the future of the Armed Forces. we have to thank whatever God we may believe in, that we have a Labour Government sitting on the benches opposite I believe, although there are a thousand things on which I disagree with individual Members of the Labour Party, that in their desire to make the fighting Services a career in which a man can find full self-expression and a decent way of life, they are many years in front of their predecessors in Government. Furthermore, in the Secretary of State for Air, particularly on today's showing, I am convinced that the Royal Air Force has a political leader of whom they will always be glad
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I should imagine that the Committee have listened with profound attention and appreciation to the series of distinguished speeches which we have had this evening from those with operational experience in the Royal Air Force. Perhaps I shall be forgiven if I mention, in particular, the remarkable speeches of my hon. Friend 1011 the Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) and the hon. Member for Holborn (Mr. Max Aitken). The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington), who has just spoken, is also entitled to the greatest possible attention by reason of his practical experience, although he will not expect me to agree with every word that has fallen from him
I should also desire to add my humble addition to the bouquets of praise which have been showered on the Under-Secretary of State this afternoon. As one who has had the privilege of serving in the same position under somewhat less exacting circumstances, because I was heavily chaperoned either by Sir Archibald Sinclair or by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), I should like to add my congratulations to those of others. The hon. Gentleman's easy Parliamentary action, his complete mastery of his subject, and the art which he developed during the war in his radio talks of making a difficult subject sound perhaps a little easier than it is, all these things have endeared him to the House of Commons and permit us to say that when a certain quantity of "dead wood" has been removed from the Treasury benches, these qualities will enable him to find rapid promotion. If 1 may be permitted to add a drop of vinegar to the oil of praise, without which no salad dressing is complete, 1 should say that his Parliamentary performances render it easy for us to forget his somewhat totalitarian and murky political past. The hon. Gentleman has this qualification for Office in the Air Ministry: he knows exactly when to bale out. Having abandoned successively the Messerschmitt of Sir Oswald Mosley and the fiery Stormovik of the Communist Party, he has at last taken his seat in the celestial band wagon of the Labour Party—a somewhat cumbersome machine which I rather doubt to be airworthy, and certainly hopelessly overloaded at the present time. Should it ever become airborne and get into difficulties. I shall expect to see a pale blue parachute detach itself from its entrails and the hon. Gentleman descend gracefully into the maternal and catholic though slightly unexciting embrace of his Conservative mother earth
In the otherwise masterly speech to which the hon. Gentleman treated us this 1012 afternoon, I noticed a certain reluctance to deal with fundamentals—a characteristic which is not confined to the hon. Gentleman among the occupants of the Front Bench. We are told that this Government are charged with a firm mandate for planning. Very well, then, let them plan on clear, constructive and fundamental lines for our security. We are given a White Paper which contains some figures which are, frankly and admittedly, meaningless symbols so far as the ultimate size and shape of the Royal Air Force is concerned, but we are not told in any clear language what the Air Force is to be for. What is the place of the Air Arm in our general strategic scheme of imperial defence? I do not altogether accept the hon. Gentleman's view that now is not the time to speak plainly on these matters. It is true that the position has changed and changed rapidly, but I have never heard of a situation which was not changing and changing rapidly during the course of my life time. I do not suppose that it will cease to change rapidly either in the immediate or more distant future, and I cannot help thinking that the rapid changes going on around us are being used as excuses by various persons inside the Government for failing to maintain a clear conception of what it is they are really about when they are maintaining the Armed Forces of the Crown in general and the Royal Air Force in particular. What is the Government's view of the size and, more important, the shape and organisation of the Air Force, and how is it designed to fit into the general plan of imperial defence?
Several hon. Members have spoken with feeling and distinction on welfare, pay, training and terms of service—subjects which we would all be agreed in treating as important, the more so at this particular time, for we are living at a moment when large bodies of men are maintained under the Colours who are anxious to return to civil life at the earliest possible opportunity and in whose eyes, therefore, the question of welfare and demobilisation assume a greater importance than they might do at any other time. But I should imagine that the hon. Gentleman would in the main agree with me when I say that the morale and efficiency of a disciplined force does not in the last resort depend so much upon welfare, im- 1013 portant as that is, as it does upon certain imponderables, in the organisation, upon the use to which that force is likely to be put; upon the consciousness of the part it is really destined to play in Imperial and world affairs. It depends upon confidence in the excellence of the material which it is called upon to use; upon the consciousness of its discipline; upon the reliance upon its leadership, in all ranks; and upon its tactical doctrine and its training. It is upon these matters in the Royal Air Force—and in other Services for that matter, although we are only concerned here with the Royal Air Force—that a clear stream of tactical and strategic doctrine should begin to be issued from those in authority both inside the Service and on the Government Front Bench.
Such doctrine would be clearly opportune at the moment. It is a general, although I think not a universal, feature of new destructive inventions of past years, that in the main each tended not so much to supplant something which had gone before as to add a new complication to military science. Thus when the air arm itself appeared during the first world war, it did not supersede—and it has shown hitherto no signs of superseding—the use of armies to occupy the ground or of navies to command the sea, but it has complicated the task of all the Services and the various devices which are used for the purposes of controlling the land and sea respectively.
If the air arm has complicated tactical and strategic doctrines, it has also rendered far more complex the great apparatus of supply which has to go behind the deployment of a tactical force. Thus also at the close the recent hostilities brought new and untried weapons into view. When I say untried, I mean untried in the scope which will undoubtedly be given to them, should the unfortunate event of further hostilities ever again take place. There have been pilotless aircraft, rocket bombs and I feel bound to mention, although with a certain sense of diffidence on the subject, that new and completely revolutionary destructive agency comprised in the release of atomic and nuclear explosive. What is the view of the Government of these discoveries on the shape and size of the Royal Air Force? Have they any view? I trust at any rate they will not fall a victim to 1014 the heresy that these inventions reduce the necessary size or value of the air arm. On the contrary, I trust they will accept the view, which I personally share, that although rocket weapons and atomic explosives greatly modify the targets and influence the tactics of air warfare they render the supremacy in the air over this country, the other vulnerable points of the Empire and sea lanes, more vital and imperative than was ever the case before because control of the sea is impossible without control of the air above it. How are we to attain in relation to our air defences the necessary degree of preparedness in times of peace in order to discharge the various roles and responsibilities which this Government in common with others has undertaken? The vital interests of this country have at all times been so numerous and so varied that we have at no time been in a position to sustain military forces of any type adequate for our ultimate requirements in the possibility of war, and that fact has coloured our whole political and military preparations in past centuries. It is this consideration, and not so much the criminal negligence which it is the fashion to impute to the British race by certain critics, that has been the explanation of our reluctance to maintain a large warlike establishment, to impose compulsory military service and make our people subject to wartime controls in times of peace. The atomic age will tend in my judgment to accentuate the difficulty of maintaining all our Services, and in particular the Air Force, on a war footing in time of peace, and, therefore, it falls to be considered what numbers the Government should maintain in our military forces, and particularly our Air Force, having regard to the limitations upon our strength. These limitations must also affect not merely the numbers but also the nature of the Force, because it is quite impossible for this country, with its world wide commitments, to maintain a force either of the requisite size or the necessary shape before the nature of a potential danger has fully made its appearance. The force required may be different in shape as well as in size and such forces in the main cannot be improvised.
The shape of a required force is determined by the particular war it is required to fight and this is especially true of the Air Force. The Air Force required to 1015 beat Germany was very different from that which would have been deployed against Japan, and the shape of the Air Force which we, in fact, employed to defeat Germany was, as the Under-Secretary for Air rightly observed, determined in its ultimate appearance and organisation by the fact that it was designed to be welded into a larger force of which the United States Air Force was an important and perhaps the more important partner. The great night bomber force which we developed would not, therefore, necessarily represent our main effort if the Air Force came to be used in warlike operations again. We cannot tell. It follows therefore that we cannot in time of peace maintain either the size of the force we may require in time of war or maintain a force of the same shape and on the same plan because we might hereafter have to develop our existing forces along one or more of several inconsistent lines. From these facts it follows that Britain's defence has at all times been adequately maintained only on certain principles, and I shall be glad to hear from the Government to what extent they agree with the principles I am about to put forward and in what way they would apply them to our Air Force in the future.
First I mention, only to dismiss it as being outside the scope of the present Vote—but I mention it because no discussion on military commitments would be complete without it—that the actual size of our Air Force must be based upon a foreign policy which is designed to give us security. It is said, and it has been said, I think, in recent Debates in this Committee, that the purpose of an armed Force is to implement a foreign policy, but it has also been an important part of the functions of the foreign policy of this country over centuries to supplement our Armed Forces. Only upon the supposition that we have a foreign policy, which, whilst remaining just, is still designed to give us a measure of security, can we hope to plan for the future either the size or shape of our Air Force, or indeed of any of cur other military forces. It would indeed be out of Order for me to indicate the principles which that policy should maintain, but perhaps it would be right and in order for me to say this. Upon my reading of our history that policy, whether it has been 1016 called by one name or another, could always legitimately have been described by the general expression—collective security. We have always sought to supplement our own weakness by collecting together other peoples who were prepared to defend the reign of law which it has always been the peculiar glory of our country to make its main principle of defence. It follows from this that the Armed Forces which we should maintain in being in times of peace, and particularly our Air Forces—because it is upon that Force that the main brunt will inevitably fall at first—must be such that no power in the world is capable of overcoming it by a decisive blow before we have time to deploy our full military strength.
It is not our purpose, and it should never become our purpose, to maintain a force capable of aiming a decisive blow at other people or maintaining a force capable of defending ourselves for indefinite periods in time of war, but it is vitally necessary at all times for us to have in being a force which can prevent a decisive blow being aimed at us before we have time to deploy our main military strength. And I should like to be assured that the Government have that principle clearly in mind and know what is the size of the force required for that purpose. Do they, for instance, agree with the calculations made on 22nd October last by the Leader of the Opposition. He, I think, suggested that an adequate air force for this purpose would be a force of 150 to 200 operational squadrons with reserves and training squadrons in addition and with about 4,000 aircraft, based upon a ration strength not exceeding 400,000 men. I gather from the demobilisation figures given by the Undersecretary that that is not the view of His Majesty'sGovernment, because they apparently aim by the end of this year to reduce the personnel of the Royal Air Force to 305,000 men. This Committee is entitled to know upon what basis of organisation that figure is arrived at, and whether the final figure is likely to be larger or smaller than 305,000 men, because, unless the House of Commons is ultimately going to ask questions of this kind and ask them particularly at a time like this when there is admittedly no real question of military security involved, it is going to lose control of defence policy, and I may say that if it does lose control 1017 of defence policy it is ultimately going to lose its sovereign position in the Government of this country.
Secondly, it follows from what I have been saying that, as we can hope to keep only a relatively small force in being, the whole organisation of that force ought to be based, in the first place, on its expansibility in time of war. We should concentrate on quality rather than quantity and I was glad to hear the Undersecretary himself emphasise the need for research and development, for the maintenance of the highest quality of aircraft rather than the production of the greatest quantity at the present time, for a high degree of training rather than a high degree of mobilisation, and I was also glad to note the emphasis on the development of adequate reserves. In this connection let me say that I agree with the hon. Member for Worcester, that I was disturbed by the relatively small sum allowed for the development of reserves which stood at £350,000. I should like to think that that does not represent the full expenditure which will ultimately be expended upon reserves, and to be reassured by the hon. Gentleman in that respect. Thirdly, our forces must be flexible in the sense that they are capable of expansion in several different alternative directions. In war there is an element of specialisation in training. Bomber pilots, fighter pilots, transport pilots and so on tend to develop in separate species, but in peacetime we need to be more flexible than this and each different general duties officer must be capable of fulfilling several roles.
Next I think we must hear a little more about the degree to which training is to be world wide in scope. Nobody would think anything of a Navy which was trained only in home waters; it has become increasingly difficult to train an Army on Salisbury Plain, in fact I venture to think it is impossible; but the training of an Air Force which was confined in any way to this country, or to one or two narrow training areas, would, I think, be ridiculous and would reduce us at once from the level of a first class Power. It is to revert to the bow and arrow school of strategy and not to base our strategic air training on the air routes of the world, the bases of the Commonwealth and the training grounds of the Empire. To what extent is this being done? We cannot 1018 grasp the meaning of modern strategy unless we disperse the training of our pilots instead of concentrating it in this country. What plans have the Government for this? No Air Force can be efficient unless it is in a real sense inter-continental. What plans have been made for reciprocal arrangements with the Dominions or even with the United States or Russia? What plans are in contemplation and what steps have been made to implement them?
Equally urgent, although on a smaller scale, are our relations with our close friends and Allies across the Channel. I cannot contemplate any military operations on the Continent of Europe in which the air ports of France, Belgium, and Holland are not equally important to us as are Tangmere and Northolt. What steps are being taken to cement the cordial relations built up during the war with Dutch, Norwegian and Belgian airmen, including those who formed, as the hon. Gentleman rightly and eloquently said, part of our own Royal Air Force under our command? If an international air force, devoted to the cause of the United Nations and of peace, is to be a reality in the prevention of aggression, it can be developed only on the basis of existing contracts by a truly internationally, or may I say federally, minded Government of the United Kingdom.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
This is very interesting, but I wonder just why the hon. Member is suggesting that this training should take place abroad. He has suggested that it would be an advantage to train pilots or air crews in any other country than England. Where does this lead us?
§ Mr. Hogg
I had hoped that I was beginning to make myself plain. I am certainly suggesting that we should not confine the training of our pilots to England. The war showed that even so far as elementary training is concerned there were other parts of the world far more suitable—where, for instance, the weather was much better. But in particular I was stressing not so much the weather and the available land—which are great limitations upon British training—but the actual strategic and tactical doctrine which would be involved in confining our training to this island. The whole essence of modern warfare is that it is world wide and if you are to train your Air Force to be an efficient weapon 1019 of war, training must be world wide. It is, I should have thought, amply clear that the analogy to which I ventured to draw the attention of the Committee held good; that a fleet trained in Portsmouth, would not be likely to put to sea and win a naval battle, and an Air Force which has spent its time flying from Prestwick to Cornwall, is not going to be much good when it comes to a question of traversing and commanding the air routes of the world. For that reason I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question, although extremely apt, betrayed a failure to grasp what I was saying, which I can only hope is not shared by the rest of the Party which at the moment commands a majority in this House.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I have been awaiting an explanation from the hon. Gentleman. He still has not convinced me that there is any advantage in training somewhere else. This is the best country for training. If our pilots are trained here, surely they can serve overseas, but why stress this matter of training elsewhere?
§ Mr. Hogg
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not been impressed with what I have been saying, it would be difficult by mere repetition to impress him with any arguments at all, but I am surprised that he should not have considered even the practical difficulty of carrying out extensive air training in and over this country. Those of us who were Members of this House in the last Parliament will remember the complaints at the noise of night flying, the difficulty of obtaining bombing ranges, and the annoyance caused by the requisition of property. I should have thought that, even on simple practical grounds like this, training elsewhere than in this country—in a less populous area—could well be justified, and on tactical and strategical grounds I should have thought the case unassailable.
I turn now to questions of discipline and organisation. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will reply to the question of my hon. and gallant Friend about the future of central maintenance. This seems to me to be one of the cardinal questions of discipline which the R.A.F. has to settle for itself. Other speakers have referred to the future of the R.A.F. Regiment, to the length of the overseas tour, to the A.T.C. and the W.A.A.F. I 1020 should like to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman what is the future of the Staff College? Has it yet a home? What is to be the length of the course? What is the quota of air officers to be admitted to the inter-Service course in Imperial defence—if one is to be allowed to assume that there will be one? What about the post-graduate Staff College? What steps are being taken to see that the combined Services at that level are suitably indoctrinated with air mindedness?
Lastly, I must say that I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have given—painful as it is—a fuller account to Parliament of the question of discipline in the R.A.F. at the present time. There have been, as the Committee knows, a number of painful incidents which can only be described as mutiny. I should imagine that at no other period in the history of Parliament since the Stuart Kings, could such an incident have taken place without Parliament being given the fullest possible detailed report. How many men were involved? How many stations were involved altogether? In what did the incidents consist? Were there any outbreaks of actual disorder or violence? What disciplinary action has been taken and against how many of the mutineers? What has been the result of such proceedings as have been started? Was the widespread character of the outbreak a coincidence? Was it due simply to what was imagined, rightly or wrongly, to be the ineptitude of the demobilisation policy of the Government, or was there an organisation where sinister influences were at work? If the House of Commons is to maintain any kind of control over the policy of Government, we must insist on answers to questions of this kind. Was there any coincidence between these mutinies in the East, and the disturbances among the civil population at the same time? Was it part of a deliberate and engineered attempt to weaken the prestige of this kingdom in that part of the world or was it just a coincidence in point of time? What steps are being taken by the Government to improve discipline and morale and prevent a recurrence of incidents like these?
I can but regard it as disturbing that of the three Services, the Air Force, so far, has been the only one to be affected. What is the explanation of this and what steps are being taken to learn such 1021 lessons as these incidents involve? It is necessary, unfortunately, to speak plainly about these matters. Public control over the discipline and organisation of our Forces can be obtained only at the price of giving full publicity to painful events. During the war we have learned the habit of secrecy in order to avoid giving our enemies things to say about us, but in time of peace we must unlearn this lesson at the earliest possible moment. I can but think that the relative want of frank discussion of this painful subject has been unfortunate, and a bad augury for the future.
Other speeches have ended, and mine also shall conclude, with a tribute to the Service whose work and organisation we are discussing. If such tributes were intended to increase the glory of the R.A.F. they would be unnecessary and would fail in their aim. The name of the R.A.F. liveth for evermore. But it is right that tributes should be paid— not for an increase of the glory of the Service, but as the discharge of a just debt which all of us owe and must faithfully pay. The battle honours of the Royal Air Force in the recent war, the sharp and decisive victory in the battle of the fighters over Britain, the long years of growing weight of bomber attack when the Command employed sustained casualties on a scale comparable only with the most intensive operations on land, the long vigil of Coastal Command, the slow climb to supremacy and the decisive intervention of the tactical Air Forces in each theatre of operations, the huge network of ground and ancillary organisation all over the world—these great battle honours take their place, quite naturally and without exaggeration, amid the great battles of history, with Marathon and Salamis, with the Crusades, with the defence of Christendom against Islam in the early Middle Ages, and with our own victories over the Armada and at Trafalgar. It is not possible to exaggerate the heroic character of these times, and it is necessary to remember them, because, in the years which preceded the war, from which we have but recently been delivered, we lived in the midst of great events and contrived to find them dull. Never was greater blindness among mankind.
The world now is living in its most decisive days. One could hope— and I do hope in one sense—that the great battle honours of the Royal Air Force will now 1022 gradually grow old and almost, if it were possible, fade away like a revered war standard reposing in honourable retirement in the aisles of some ancient church. I am bound to say that I do not believe that the times are yet safe for us to hold that doctrine. The world as I see it—and my whole reading of history confirms me in the belief—is passing through a period of convulsion. The world is not yet safe for the rule of law. The world is not yet safe for liberty. The price of liberty remains what it was in the days of our ancestors—eternal vigilance. Like the hon. Gentleman who introduced these Estimates, and like my right hon. Friend the acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Eden), I believe that the whole weight of this Common wealth of which we are members must be thrown whole heartedly behind the United Nations organisation. I look forward, at some time, to an abatement of sovereignty, which will make something like peace and order possible among the nations, but, until that time, I am bound to say that I feel certain that the Royal Air Force, perhaps more than any of the three Services, must remain a potent influence, a glittering weapon, ready for use if need be, in the cause of righteousness and the support of the rule of law—the things for which so many brave men have died in the years which have passed, and for which we might again, if need be, have to make the same sacrifice should mankind once more fail to learn the lessons thrust upon them so plainly by experience.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Bolton)
I enter this Debate in trepidation We have heard air commodores, group captains and squadron leaders, and it is very much like the Debate we had on the Navy Estimates a few days ago when we were taken back by the Navy people to the days of the man with a peg leg and a hook for a hand. Today, we have been taken back to the days of the men who flew in box kites, and then on to hear of craft which can do 760 miles per hour and carry this atomic bomb—goodness knows why, and against whom. I have listened with interest to the speeches, and more particularly to that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). One envied him his oratory. It would be indeed a great thing if it could be effective. He always kicks off by pin-pricking His Majesty's Government. He 1023 got mixed up today with the ideals of our Party, and the blue pennant, or a blue parachute, but we struck the blue pennant quite a while ago. The story he poured out reminded me of the story of the parson who owned a hog that was sick. Despite all he did, and all the medicine he gave it, the pig still continued to grant. I would recommend the hon. Member for Oxford not to grunt so much at the people who are trying to do such a lot for the country, which was left undone by his Party.
The facts are that we, on this side of the Committee, are very humble people, the ordinary people of the world, who do not understand the reasoning of the hon. Member's speech. I have heard the word "war" today more than I heard it during the war. It grieved me to sit and listen. Why talk about war? Have we not had enough of war? Make no mistake about it, the people of this country will not go to war again particularly against their brothers and sisters, their Allies who fought this last war. [An Hon. Member: "Do not tell me that. '] The hon. Gentleman says, "Do not tell me that." The pity is that such minds will persist in thoughts of war. If those minds had been trained to dwell on the things—
§ Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox (Henley)
What is the hon. Member's Party doing with Spain at present?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
It is not in Order to introduce Spain into this Debate. Hon. Members must deal with the Air Estimates now before the Committee.
§ Mr. Jones
This question is one which His Majesty's Government are dealing with through our Foreign Secretary to the satisfaction of the British public at all events. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are not satisfied with his conduct of the business, they should say so, and not accord him praise with their tongues in their cheeks.
I do not speak in this Debate as an airman, but I am the proud father of five children who have served in all the Services—the Air Force, the W.A.A.F., the Navy, the Army—and I myself served in the Camel Corps in the last war, so 1024 we have a rather unique record. I congratulate the Minister on his very able, clear, concise utterance this afternoon, and I also want to congratulate him on a letter which I received this morning, 50 copies of which I have already had made to send out to the boys in India. It is a four-page document setting forth an answer, to their grievances. It is an able exposition, made in a humanitarian way. I also congratulate him on the answers we get from him—a thing we could recommend to some of his colleagues in office.
We humble back benchers look at this matter in a humanitarian way. A sum of £28,000,000 is to be spent on research. I want some of the money to be spent on the reconditioning of the men, as well as of the engines. I want to see some of that money spent on research into such things as the cookhouse attached to the squadron, which is hardly ever mentioned. I want to see some money spent on training people to make a meal out of the things they find to make meals of, when they get out to Timbuctoo, China and elsewhere. Also I want to see some of that money spent on the furtherance of the education of those gallant lads who, in the midst of their careers, take up Air Force duties. I have never been satisfied with what has been done, and, while I know times are not opportune during war, the time will be opportune during peace to allow an educated man, who has studied enough to take part in the Royal Air Force, and do his duty, to continue in his spare time his studies, to equip himself with all the knowledge ho wants to return to civilian life.
I represent the biggest constituency in this country, and I get a spate of letters from men in that constituency who are serving. Their one cry has been that they are denied the opportunity today to put into use the technical things they have learned while in the Air Force, and they are now decrying a system which refuses to allow them to be trained to take part in this great humanitarian crusade of re-civilising the world. Then there is the question of recreation. I know that during the war, opportunity was given to these gallant lads for recreational pursuits, but it was not sufficient. That also is something on which some money must be spent. It is no use expecting a fellow to go up into the clouds, unless he is equipped with a physique that will stand up to it. One hears hon. Members on 1025 the benches opposite, talking about flying at 760 miles per hour. God knows where the pilot is going to, and why he should be going at that speed, but I want to be sure that he is equipped to land at the other end safe, with a whole body and a whole mind.
These are the problems which beset ordinary back benchers like myself. Then there is the question of the W.A.A.F. My daughter, recently demobilised from the W.A.A.F., tells me that, given a fair and reasonable opportunity, it can be a grand life, it can be a good life, it can be an honoured profession. Women can do work, which men cannot do so well, for instance on wireless, meteorological reports and so on. This work is well within the ambit of women. We should as soon as possible, therefore, announce the future prospects for women who are prepared to serve, the rates of pay, the terms and conditions.
There is another big question about which I have always been worried. This war has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the 15-year-old school leaver can be just as good a squadron leader, as the man from the university. These boys have proved themselves. They have been given the opportunity, during the war, to be the equal of those men, and I say that those who have proved themselves during the war, should have equality of opportunity during peace. I say this in no carping spirit to hon. Gentlemen opposite. When it comes to promotion, there should not be such questions on the questionnaire as, "What was your father? ", "What public school did you attend? "and so on. These young men should be given the same opportunity as the others to prove themselves worthy to serve what is still the greatest country of all and I hope that question will receive some attention also. I hope that the future Air Force of this country and of the world will be trained to be a citizens Air Force, that it will not be trained to carry bombs into the heart of the enemy, but to carry good will into the hearts of our friends.
I know some hon. Members on these benches, as well as hon. Gentlemen opposite, believe that this idea is Utopian, but I think it is possible. I say it can be achieved, and I say that it would do much more good if we had planes carrying not 50 commandos, but 50 happy, 1026 carefree young people of our country to visit other countries, in order to pass on to other nations, information such as was passed on when I took my trip to America during the war, information about what we, the common people, stand for. That would do much more good than information appearing in the Press about Debates such as this, telling our potential enemies what we are prepared to do in the case of war. It would tell our Allies and friends in other lands, what we are doing to ensure peace. If we did that, I feel certain that the hon. Member for Oxford would be able to sleep at night more peacefully than he can at the moment in his present perturbed state of mind.
There can be, there must be, please God there will be, through these Estimates today and through the expenditure of this money, the use of the wealth of this nation to bring about not a state such as we saw before the last war, and before the previous war, but one in which money shall be spent advantageously to engender in the hearts of those who may be our potential enemies, a desire to be nothing but our friends.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
Like the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Jones) and hon. Members on all sides of the Committee, I gladly pay my tribute to the Undersecretary of State for the most lucid exposition he has given this afternoon about the work of the Royal Air Force. I was particularly interested in his analysis of the achievements of the strategic bomber offensive. From what he said, it is quite clear that the sacrifice made by men of Bomber Command was not in vain, because they did achieve their objective, in inflicting very material damage on the enemy. We, on this side of the Committee, dissociate ourselves most emphatically from the attack made on the Under-Secretary in his absence by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) when he accused the Under-Secretary of treating in a casual way the losses of Bomber Command. We do not think the Under-Secretary was in any way casual about the matter, and we know how deeply he feels on this subject. We regard the attack as unwarranted, and we are with the Under-Secretary on this matter.
1027 I agree with the hon. Member for the City of Oxford (Mr. Hogg) when, in reviewing the present situation in the Royal Air Force, he pointed out that all cannot be well at the present time. That was exemplified by what my hon. Friend called the mutinies in India, and which the Under-Secretary more euphemistically referred to as "regrettable troubles." These troubles are now a thing of the past, and I believe we should analyse the situation, and learn from it how we can prevent any recurrence of such troubles in the future. Throughout the whole of the war, the discipline of the Royal Air Force was something of which we were all proud, and we must set about removing the causes that bring about these troubles. One of the fundamentals is that the Government should keep faith with the men and when they make promises to the men, should carry them out, promptly and to schedule. I think many of the men in the Forces were misled by extravagant promises in regard to demobilisation made by many hon. Members during the General Election. Admittedly, the Government tried, at a later stage, to make the matter clear, but a great deal of the damage was already done. I urge on the Under-Secretary that he and his Department should live up to promises that are made.
One or two examples could be given. On 8th November, an announcement was made to the public and the Service that the tour of duty in the very difficult surroundings of the Aden Command, was to be reduced immediately to 12 months. On 20th February, the position was still unchanged, and men were still carrying out their terms of duty which, by that time, were well beyond the period of 12 months promised. Only when I raised the question in the House, was the Under-Secretary of State able to say that he hoped—but could not promise, owing to the difficulties of the situation—that he might be in a position to get the men out by the beginning of March. If we cannot get the men out in a reduced period, do not let us promise it, because it only makes them fundamentally dissatisfied.
Another thing which would help would be a quickening of the procedure for the redress of grievances. As is well known men in the Services most frequently write to Members of Parliament asking for help 1028 in their own case. To the men or women who write, that case is absolutely vital and important. It is the one thing that really matters to them. Yet we are faced with the situation that owing to a hold up in administration within the Air Ministry-it takes the Under-Secretary a month, or sometimes six weeks, to reply to letters. We know he himself is doing his best, and we appreciate the most courteous spirit in which he deals with this matter. But no Under-Secretary should be put in the position in which he has to begin his letters by saying, "I must humbly apologise for the disgraceful delay in answering your letter." We sympathise with the Under-Secretary, because he is in that position, but after all in these Votes there is nearly £3,250,000 voted for expenses of the Air Ministry itself. Will the Under-Secretary not consider some increase in staff, so that he might get the support necessary to deal with the many cases put before him by hon. Members?
I am not going to deal in detail with operational questions, but I would like the Under-Secretary to tell the Committee if we are continuing to develop our photo-reconnaissance work and how much of that is being done in the policing and occupation of Germany today. At the end of the war, our photo-reconnaissance and photo intelligence were doing absolutely first-class work. Are we now using them as the eyes of the occupation Forces in Germany? The hon. Member for Bolton made some mention of research. We, on this side of the Committee, urge greater expenditure on research; we are not asking the Under-Secretary to retrench on the expenses of the men in any other way. We believe in research. Economy in research today, may well lead to wasted lives tomorrow. During the Debate, Members on all sides of the Committee have shown great concern about the problems of the future of the Royal Air Force, and have not forgotten the future while considering the needs of demobilisation today. We hope this country will never repeat the mistakes of the pacifist 1930's, but that the country has learned the lessons of the war and never again will have to face a position wherein the defence of the country is left to the few and we have too few pilots, and too few planes adequately to look after the needs of the country.
1029 In my belief, the nation needs a strong offensive and defensive Air Force; a defensive force obviously for the purposes of protecting our own shores and the shores of our Empire against aggression, and an offensive force, so that we can carry out promptly whatever military obligations may be imposed on us as members of the United Nations. To make that force a power for keeping the peace of the world, it should be known that our Air Force is ready for action at any time and is not merely in a position in which we can step it up ready for action in six months' time. It is only a powerful force ready for immediate action which will have the effect of deterring aggression and enabling everyone to keep the peace.
The time has now come, when so many men are leaving the Forces, when the Ministry has to consider questions of recruiting for the future. That is no doubt why the new terms of pay for the Forces were recently announced. I wonder if they are as good as they should be. I have not examined them in real detail yet, but I know hon. Members are beginning to hear the first rumblings of complaint from officers, who say that they are not getting a fair deal, that though their pay is nominally increased, the fact that their allowances are now to be taxable will leave in their pockets a net sum which will be less than they are getting under the old system. I hope that the Under-Secretary will look into that matter, because if that is accurate, it is not living up to the promise given of a general improvement in the conditions of service.
Another method which I feel would help in recruiting men for the Royal Air Force would be a guarantee that, at the end of short or medium term employment in the Forces, they would be able to enter civilian employment at once. The Minister should set up a proper employment board, which will prepare future plans for the individual airman, months before he leaves the Force, so that he can step right from one employment to another. The training in the Royal Air Force is good. It equips a man for many jobs in different walks of life. It should enable him to enter a long and honourable career in industry. If we can have a proper link up between the Services and industry, men with the maturity of ex- 1030 perience which comes from the Royal Air Force will know that they will have real chances to obtain employment afterwards.
I change to a rather different subject. During the war the Royal Air Force became very much an international Air Force. Along with other Members of this Committee I served on the same station as Czechs, Poles, Dutch, Belgians, French and Norwegians, men from the Colonies and the Dominions and from the United States of America, who were all united in a common team, and wore the same or similar blue uniform. They fought side by side with us, and now it may well be that on account, perhaps, of love of the Service, or on account of difficulties in their former homeland, many of those men in our Forces may not wish to return home, and would like to continue their employment with the Air Force. I wonder if the Under-Secretary could tell us whether employment is to be offered to the air crews and ground crews from other nations who have served with distinction in the Royal Air Force, and who wish to stay. An influx of new blood has come into this country and it should be allowed to stay. I remember when I represented a constituency which is now represented by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. C. Shaw cross) I came across some people whom I thought were uncommonly good citizens. I did not know until later that they were first generation Poles, whose parents had come to this country to seek industrial employment, had Anglicised their names and had become first-class citizens of this country. It may be that in our Forces we can get new and first-class blood which has helped us in this war. They worked well with us In many cases air crews and ground crew? changed back again to their own national forces when their country became liberated, or, in the case of the American Eagle Squadrons, when their country came into the war. But though in new uniforms, and a new Force, the spirit of comradeship of the air remained. It is a significant thing, in considering international relationships, that the vast open spaces of the air know no national boundaries. I want to continue that new comradeship of the air.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) referred to training. We can link up our friendship and possibilities for training as well. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that 1031 we might have in this country designated airfields to which certain foreign squadrons could fly and visit this country. In return, say in France, Belgium and Holland, and indeed other countries of Europe, there would be designated airfields to which our squadrons could fly. Training for long distance flying requires long distance flights. There is not the space for that round this country. If we could fly, in peace, without all the trouble of going through diplomatic sources, having passports and so on, we could have a situation in which squadrons could go to a designated airfield, armed only with orders from the commanding officers, and with only the men's uniform as a passport, and mingle with their contemporaries of the other Air Forces, then the comradeship would continue, and it could only be a good augury for continued friendship in the future. I make no limitations as to the countries to which this should extend. Suffice it to say, that we could have such arrangements with all freedom-loving nations which would give unqualified support to the United Nations, because these would naturally be our friends. Having established that point, we should go further, and try to achieve, as far as we can, common procedure in signals, radio and landing, and common types of equipment in radio, armaments and guns, so that all the Forces would be prepared to act together as part of a cohesive force, to deal with a common aggressor at any time.
My last point about co-operation is that, during the war, the combined power of the British and American Air Forces created the greatest striking force there has ever been in the history of the world. We and the Americans have a real knowledge of each other and a deep understanding. I want to see that continued. During the war, we had a free interchange of students between the Royal Air Force staff college and the American staff colleges, but I am anxious for an assurance that that can be continued, because it can only be for the good of both nations. On 21st November, I asked the Under-Secretary a Question about it. At that time he told me:there are a number of American officers at the Royal Air Force Staff College and several Royal Air Force officers are attending the Staff College course in the United States.1032 He added:The future of these arrangements is under the consideration of my Noble Friend."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November,1945; Vol. 416, c. 424.]Could the Under-Secretary say whether his Noble Friend has made up his mind, and if we may, now some months later, have the assurance that this friendly co operation between these two great Forces will continue? I urge on the Committee the need for maintaining the strength and efficiency of the Royal Air Force, and in continuing the co-operation of our Air Force and the Air Forces of other freedom loving nations. In that way, our strength and our cohesion will be of military support to the United Nations, and a guarantee for the peace of the world.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Segal (Preston)
I should like first cordially to endorse the opening remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for South Blackpool (Wing-Commander Robinson) about the disciplinary difficulties which have recently arisen in the R.A.F. Although we sit on opposite sides of the House he happens to be a fellow Lancastrian, and to sit, as I do, for a two-Member constituency. I would ask the Under-Secretary not to be led away by the siren pleadings of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) for a detailed explanation of the causes and the circumstances associated with those difficulties which have arisen recently in India. I cannot help feeling that a far mere opportune moment will arise at a later date when these difficulties are perhaps not quite so fresh and vivid in the memory of those who took part in them. I think that for the moment we should be content to accept the explanations of the Under-Secretary that they arose out of misunderstandings which occurred in that area about the true nature of the speed-up in Royal Air Force demobilisation.
One cannot attempt to follow the hon. Member for Oxford in his somewhat colourful exposition of his views on these Air Estimates. On the last occasion we had the privilege of hearing him he referred to the pale pink tie, studded with swastikas, of one Member of the Government. Today we were regaled with the pale blue parachute which was to assist the Under-Secretary to land safely on 1033 earth. We who constantly fall under this spell, as I often do, as one of his constituents, although I should have a great deal of hesitation in casting my vote for him, are now becoming familiar with the spectacle of the hon. Member for Oxford draped in a sheet of spotless white. On this occasion we were glad to find he has diverted his attention away from his "pin-up girl" and strayed back into the fold of marital rectitude. We can feel some comfort that he has at least taken to heart the moral of the old poem:If monogamy has made a hog of meDo you think polygamy will make a pig of me?At last we find he is firmly established on the path of true monogamy.
May I, however, direct the attention of the Committee to a rather more serious and sober subject by referring to item No. 5 of these Air Estimates which allocates the niggardly and, to my mind, completely inadequate sum of £410,000 to the medical services? It is perhaps unfortunate that the medical branch of the Royal Air Force is somewhat inadequately represented in this House. I feel that the occasion should not be lost to direct the attention of the Committee to the integral part which the medical branch of the Royal Air Force and its associated dental branch, played in the great achievements of this Service during the war. The last war happened to be the first real trial during a major war for the Royal Air Force, the youngest of the three Services. Both the Army and the Navy have been tried out in a proud record of long and outstanding service to the country over centuries of past wars. The last war was to the Royal Air Force the first real test of its strength and efficiency. I think we can all feel that the youngest Service of the three has come through with its prestige greatly enhanced and with the utmost achievement to its credit.
I would like to stress particularly the part which medical research has played in its essential contribution to both bomber and fighter efficiency in the recent war. All sections of the medical branch went through a period of anxiety and stress, from the squadron medical officer, through the medical receiving stations, which later on developed into the mobile field hospitals, right up to the Royal Air Force hospitals. The medical personnel of the Royal Air Force had to adapt itself to conditions which were sometimes of exces- 1034 sive difficulty and extreme strain. I feel we must all pay our tribute to them for the way in which they discharged the duties that fell upon them. One of the previous speakers on this side of the Committee referred to matters affecting the welfare of the personnel in the Royal Air Force, matters of feeding and catering, matters of ordinary simple human comforts. In these essential branches it often fell to the lot of the medical officer to play a decisive part. Above all, I feel that some tribute is due to the magnificent spirit of comradeship which developed between the medical officer of a unit and all other sections of that unit. To many men he was the one remaining link with civilian life. The medical officer was never fully able to feel himself an essential part of Royal Air Force discipline. Fundamentally he still remained a doctor with his first duty to his own profession.
Having paid this tribute to the Royal Air Force medical branch and to the associated dental branch, I pass on to a consideration of some of the wider aspects of the question. Perhaps I am able to speak with a little greater freedom as a result of being demobilised after six very happy years in the Royal Air Force. I cannot omit some passing reference to the appalling wastage of medical material which exists in the Royal Air Force. I have no doubt a similar wastage exists in the other two Services. Instances occur to my mind of a Royal Air Force station consisting of only 80 men, under the charge of a medical officer, with a large Army general hospital situated only two-and a half miles away fully able to cope with any medical emergency that could have arisen. There is also the factor that doctors who join the Royal Air Force are called upon to deal only with a few of the age groups that they are likely to come across in ordinary medical practice, that those age groups happen to be easily the healthiest age groups with which they could ever have to deal, that they are largely concerned with the treatment of one sex only, and almost exclusively debarred from the treatment of children.
We found during the war, and I am fully convinced we shall find the same thing in times of peace, that the medical officer is not kept fully occupied and not able to avail himself of the fullest degree of medical practice. On the other hand, one of the most gratifying features of the 1035 Royal Air Force medical service during the war was the close association we were able to enjoy with the Army and Navy medical services, and the intimate co-operation that existed among all three Services in their medical branches. I feel that this reciprocity should be more fully developed in the future and extended on the widest possible scale. Although one may be apt here to commit a heresy, I feel that no doctor should be forced to spend the whole of his active life working for one of the three Services alone. I cannot help feeling that, at some future date, we shall have evolved one wider medical service which may interchange its personnel among the three Services of the Crown, and that there will be a far closer degree of co-ordination among all three medical branches. There is another aspect of the wastage of medical material which exists in the Forces in which we may derive a valuable lesson from the medical organisation of our American Allies. They have medical administrators responsible for the purely administrative side of the service who are not fully qualified doctors. It is a service analogous to our hospital administrators, who are not themselves qualified doctors. I feel that there could be a tremendous saving in medical personnel effected by separating the purely administrative side of the medical branch from the essentially medical side.
Finally, many of us look forward not only to the contributions which medical men may make to the Royal Air Force, but also to the essential contributions which the medical branch of the R.A.F. can make to a wider and more comprehensive medical service, unified to serve all three great branches of defence. We also look forward to the contributions of this wider unified medical branch to the great structure of British medicine that we hope to see evolved in the near future. I believe not only that doctors have an essential service to render to the R.A.F., but that the R.A.F. has an essential contribution to make to British medicine, and that all the doctors in it should be afforded the widest possible scope to practise their art in all the branches to which medicine can attain. May I say how greatly one enjoyed hearing the statement of the Under-Secretary in introducing these Estimates? I cannot help feel- 1036 ing, however, that he might have dealt somewhat more generously than this allocation of a mere £410,000 for the future of the medical service.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Hollis (Devizes)
A number of hon. Members and hon. and gallant Members, with a much better claim to gallantry than I have, are anxious to address the Committee, and I will not keep them long, as I wish to make only a single, small, but not unimportant point, which I commend to the attention of the Under-Secretary. That point is this. We hear today, and hear every day, about problems of demobilisation and about people who are anxious to get out of the Services, but I would commend attention to the smaller number of people who are anxious to stay in the Services. There are a certain number of people, both officers and other ranks, who have come very deeply to love the Royal Air Force, and who, if they can be given suitable security, are very anxious to give the rest of their lives to it. Particularly, I would say a word about short service commissioned officers. It seems to me to be obviously desirable that what are known as the "chair-borne" positions in the R.A.F., which are occupied by somewhat elderly persons, should, to a considerable extent, other things being equal, be given to people who in their younger days have been in operational service.
I have here a letter from a short service commissioned officer, who joined in 1933, but who, owing to the coming of the war, found himself serving a longer time than he expected, and who performed distinguished service, winning the D.S.O. and D.F.C. and finishing up as a Wing-Commander. He is now, at the age of 35, without any especial civilian experience, and, therefore, very ready to consider the possibility of giving the rest of his life to the R.A.F. I would commend such people most warmly to the Under-Secretary, and would ask him to tell the Committee and the country as fully as he can what is the position in which he regards them. I would not say that the Under-Secretary has been unsympathetic on this point, as we have been in correspondence on the subject, and my experience has been very much the same as seems to have been the experience of other hon. Members in various parts of the Committee, which is 1037 that they have received the fullest, most sympathetic and most unbiassed consideration from the hon. Gentleman, and from his faithful Achates the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) for all their requests, large or small. But, on this point, the Under-Secretary tells me that the matter is under consideration, and I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman to bring that consideration to a head and at any rate to tell the Committee what chances there are of a final decision at an early date.
The hon. Gentleman has also referred to Air Ministry Order A.2/46 in which the conditions, at present laid down are stated. I feel that this is a far from lucid document, and, as at present set out, is throwing more confusion than illumination on the situation. I have a letter here confirming that, and it states:Like nearly all A.M.Os, it is a masterpiece of ambiguity I read it as that one was ineligible to reapply for a permanent commission if one had been rejected in the first place. This was also the view taken by everyone I have met, including the A.O.C.I again appeal to the Under-Secretary and assure him that he will be doing a great public service if he can tell the Committee and the country, in language which is under-standed of the people, what the present position is. It is one of the evils of this day that, the nearer we approach to the era of the common man, the more frequently are the directions for getting there given in language quite impossible for the common man to understand, and I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to use his great mastery of prose in order to illuminate the dark places of the Air Ministry ruling on the subject
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley (Buckingham)
As a very humble and inexpert member of the Auxiliary Air Force before the war, I am very pleased to know that these squadrons are going to be reconstituted. I am one of those who hope that this Vote is not going to be any hard and fast sum with regard to the future. The argument against such squadrons is usually that there is no room for the amateur in the R.A.F., but I disagree. That might possibly be true of the Army, but I am sure it will never be true of the Navy, as long as there are ships afloat, or of the Royal Air Force, as long as there are piloted aircraft. Flying is one of those arts, perhaps rather 1038 like steeple chasing or cricket, in which the amateur can approach the professional. There is a great deal of temperament and instinct in flying, and a great deal depends upon enthusiasm. Before the war, regular officers used to say of the auxiliary squadrons that the best thing about them was that they flew because they liked it. I believe that the auxiliary squadrons justified themselves, and that the members of those squadrons, some of the most distinguished of whom are now in this House of Commons, and one of whom, in particular, intervened in this Debate from the Benches opposite, justified themselves in the Royal Air Force afterwards. If these squadrons could be extended, they would prove to be a great economy in the Royal Air Force.
There are three points to which I wish to refer briefly. In the first place, the territorial basis of these squadrons should be preserved. As long as there are zones in fighter defence, it is a good thing to have some intimacy between those who are above the zones and those who are on the ground in them. I am sure that that heightened morale during the war. Secondly, there should be a closer connection between the auxiliary squadrons and the regular squadrons than there was before the war. At that time they were separated, using different airfields and so on, and there was a great loss all round. Certainly, there was a loss for the auxiliary squadrons, because they would have been able to pick up very much information if they had been more closely associated with the regular squadrons. I think there is also something to be said on that side from the point of view of the regular squadrons. I know that before the war regular officers regretted not being in closer touch with the countryside surrounding their stations. If auxiliary squadrons could be associated with definite fighter stations, I feel that this would be a most useful and important link between the Service, which is apt to get detached from the population, and the people among whom they live. In the re-organisation of the auxiliary squadrons, I hope that matter will be borne in mind.
Thirdly, on the question of the recruitment of officers to the auxiliary squadrons, before the war this was done, in the old-fashioned way of the Territorial Army, by application and selection. If everybody in the Royal Air Force is to go 1039 through the ranks in future, and if this system is carried out in the Auxiliary Air Force, there may obviously be difficulties, particularly when, should it ever occur, war is declared. There would then be officers who had been selected on quite different bases. There are, surely, ways in which this difficulty might be overcome. One of them would be that all those who enter the Auxiliary Air Force should do the first part of their period in the ranks. There could then be some general method of selection for commissions. I commend that suggestion to the Under-Secretary.
§ 7.43 P.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
Like other hon. Members, I wish to pay a tribute to the speech of the Undersecretary of State for Air. Having taken part in most of these Debates on the Air Estimates during the last ten years, I appreciate the information which the Under-Secretary gave to the Committee. I was particularly glad to hear his important statement about the value of strategic bombing. . I do not think the importance of that statement can ever be overestimated It gives a complete justification to that band of men in the Royal Air Force who, without previous experience of any kind, but in the belief and faith that many lives could be saved and the war perhaps be won by strategic bombing, pursued that course irrespective of criticism in this House, the country, and elsewhere. I think that what the hon. Gentleman said vindicated the soundness of their judgment and their faith.
Tribute has been paid, by one of those who served under him, to Sir Arthur Harris, the chief of Bomber Command. No tribute could be too great to that man and the men he led. They had to do their bombing and their fighting in faith. The pilots of Fighter Command, when they destroyed aircraft, saw the Results of their work. When armies in the field won victories, the results of those victories were before their eyes. In the great naval actions, when the ships of the enemy were sunk, the evidence of victory was to be seen. But the crews of Bomber Command went out night after night, never knowing the results of their work. It was faith and inspiration that carried them through, led by that great 1040 leader, Sir Arthur Harris, and paved the way to victory. I think no praise can be too great for the men who did not know until perhaps months afterwards how successful had been their attacks at the heart of the enemy. It is particularly fitting that the Under-Secretary of State should have made that statement, so that the armies may know how many thousands of lives were saved, our Allies may know how many lives were saved, Russia may know how many Russian lives were saved, by the gallantry, devotion, courage, and work of Bomber Command.
The Under-Secretary while paying a justified tribute to the past, said little about the future. He said that basic decisions cannot now be taken because of the new developments of atomic energy and the founding of the United Nations. I suggest to him that while, obviously, certain decisions cannot be made, there is one decision which can and ought to be made now, namely a statement about the organisation of Reserve Command. The hon. Gentleman said that it should be possible for a statement to be made in the very near future That is not good enough. It was last November that the postwar system of organisation, control, training and conditions of service of the non-regular Air Force were stated by the Secretary of State for Air to be under active and detailed consideration at the Air Ministry. In the meantime, nothing has happened. This delay is very serious. It is essential that the new A.O.C. in charge of Reserve Command be named at once. It is of vital importance that the machinery of organisation of Reserve Command be made known. At the present time, there are many experienced air and ground crews who are only too anxious to continue to serve their country in maintaining our technical standards and in training the younger generation. They cannot be taken in. That enthusiasm, unless it is harnessed now, will disappear, and that vital war experience will not be available in the future.
To get such a reserve organisation going takes time. Every day's delay now means 10 days delay in getting the reserve organisation working efficiently. We cannot afford to have that delay, because the reserve training of young people must be done in the early stages. The training and preparation necessary for young people in the reserve affects the position not today, but 15 and 20 years hence, and 1041 it this country is to play its part in the United Nations organisation, it is essential that the contribution which we are best able to make, that of the air, which must always be our first line of defence, should be certain beyond any shadow of doubt.
It is important, in whatever organisation for the reserves takes place, that the civil interests be adequately harnessed. In prewar days and during the war, the help of the civilian authorities and of disinterested persons of influence in localities, was invaluable. I hope that steps will be taken to ensure that the fullest possible assistance from civilians and from municipalities, such as county organisations, will be taken. In the postwar set-up I hope that the Royal Air Force and the Army Territorial Associations will be linked as one. In his statement recently, the Prime Minister hinted that we must now look at the three Services as one Service. Here is a good opportunity for linking together the Royal Air Force, the Army and the voluntary associations. I hope that we may hear something of what it is intended to do in that direction.
I wish to say a word on the Air Training Corps. It is satisfactory to know that the target has been set, but much of the enthusiasm that the corps possessed has been dissipated, because of lack of leadership. I hope that that organisation during the coming year will not be thought of merely as a kind of welfare or social organisation. I hope that the young people in it will be made to realise that they have a real purpose in life, and that if they join that organisation, they can fit themselves not only for service to their country but for service to the wider United Nations organisation which has been set up. Immediate targets and purposes must be provided. Young people must be given opportunities for flying, for synthetic training and for doing all the things in connection with the air which the young love to have. Let those things be done, and there will be no shortage of volunteers.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to make clear his intentions with regard to the W.A.A.F. organisation. It is essential that an organised Corps be kept in being in peacetime to form a nucleus for expansion in wartime. It is essential, if there is to be a W.A.A.F. organisation, that there shall also be a Girls' Air Corps 1042 as well as an Air Training Corps. There was no special Girls' Air Training Corps officially recognised during the war, because it was not possible to give reasonable guarantees that those who did specialised training would be able to join the W.A.A.F. In peacetime that ought not to be the case. I hope that consideration will be given to forming a Girls' Air Corps and to providing, in that way, a suitable basic training for girls.
I conclude by urging the Under-Secretary of State to do all he can to get an Empire training scheme developed. In Rhodesia, where much training has been done, there are first-class opportunities for continuing that air training. In an intervention, an hon. Member on the other side of the Committee suggested that it was not desirable to do so, or that there was no necessity for it. Anyone who looks at the map of England, and sees all the restrictions that exist in connection with flying, will admit that they make the map look as though it had the measles. The more flying done in other parts of the world, the greater will the opportunity be for those who cannot go into the Empire to do their training. I hope there will be the fullest opportunity for exchange between the Dominions and this country. It is in the exchange of our young men with those of the Dominions and other countries that this aim will best be achieved.
I ask for an assurance that immediate action is being taken to get a Reserve Command established at once, and that there will be no delay in developing, to the fullest extent possible, an Empire training scheme within the Commonwealth.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Sir Gilford Fox (Henley)
I congratulate the Undersecretary of State for Air on his very courageous and helpful speech I would like to thank him for the many occasions on which he has helped individual Members out of particular difficulties in their constituencies, where an Air Force matter has been concerned. In particular, I am thinking of his efforts, which have been successful in securing the derequisitioning of Shilling ford Bridge Hotel, and have given great satisfaction to my constituents. I would like him also to come over to the R.A.F. station at Benson only two miles from there, to look into another 1043 matter. This Debate is one of the few occasions on which we can raise questions covering the policy of the Minister of War Transport and the Air Ministry, respecting trunk roads being diverted around aerodromes. A few months ago I asked a Question on this subject, and in his answer, the Under-Secretary of State said that he did not think it was a very serious matter for the main Henley-Oxford trunk road to be diverted three miles and for my constituents to have to spend more time on the journey in motoring that distance. Fortunately, we have been able to narrow the difference down to some 417 yards. I hope that with the help of the Under-Secretary we may be able to solve the problem, whether it shall be Plan A or Plan B.
. I should like to put it on record that if we look at those 417 yards from the financial point of view, the capitalised annual cost in road transport charges will come to a considerable sum of money. Let us assume the cost of vehicle miles to be 3d. per mile. A prewar census showed that3,000 vehicles a day went along this particular road of 417 yards. The extra cost would thus be £3,240. If we capitalise that sum at 3 per cent., it brings us to £108,000. Assume that that traffic will increase in the next few years to some five times the present volume. That brings the total capitalised loss to £540,000. If, in addition, the loss of time is taken into account, and we assume an average vehicle speed of 30 m.p.h., the average loss of time for each vehicle is approximately half a minute and, therefore, equals 23.7 hours per day for 3,000 persons. Assessing this loss at 4s. per hour, we find that the daily loss to be £4 15s. or £1,734 per year. Capitalised at 3 per cent., that figure becomes £57,800. If traffic increases five times, this figure becomes £289,000. In other words, the total annual capitalised extra transport cost can be estimated at £829,000. I have brought forward these figures, because I want the Minister to realise how important it is to keep our trunk roads as short as possible, and not to have unnecessary diversions round aerodromes. In wartime, we submitted to it because of necessity, but now that we are coming to peace, the interests of the civil community must, as far as possible, come before those of the Services.
1044 Another problem that I regret has not been mentioned is the case of the warrant officer, and his pension. Hon. Members on the other side have been saying what a scandal it was that people wanting to become officers had to fill in forms, showing their school and their education. I will tell this Committee a far greater scandal; officers promoted from the ranks do not get the same pension that they would get had they always been officers. I think it is a very great scandal, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will give justice to these ex-warrant officers who are the backbone of the Service. Only today, I received a letter from one of them, in which he says:On studying the White Paper I note that a squadron leader with 16 years' officer's service (I served 25½years in all to get 16 years' officer's service) will receive £400 per annum approximately. Yet in my case, which is typical of the R.A.F., I receive £171 per annum plus a temporary 10 per cent.It is an absolute scandal, and I do ask the Under-Secretary to look into the matter. If the position is not improved, how are we to get future recruits? If we recruit through the ranks, it is only justice that their pensions should be adequate.
Lastly, I come to the question of the mutinies in India. I believe the whole cause of the trouble is lack of discipline in the Air Force. It is not the Provost Marshal's fault; he does his best to maintain discipline when officers and other ranks go out into the street and leave their aerodromes. When charges and reports are sent in, station commanders try to gloss them over. The station commanders are at fault and their behavior is the real cause of the mutinies in the Royal Air Force. This trouble has been foreseeable for the last two or three years. I ask the Under-Secretary to do all he can to support the Provost Marshal and his Department and those good station commanders who are trying to enforce discipline, and thus enable the Royal Air Force, once again, to be an efficient and well-disciplined body.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Shephard (Newark)
It would certainly be remiss in a Debate on the Air Estimates if no more than a passing reference were made to the Air Training Corps. In the few minutes that I intend to speak I want, first, to talk about the present position and then about future policy we had a Debate on the Air Training Corps a year ago and, if I remember rightly, the hon. Gentleman 1045 The Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) moved a Resolution. In that Resolution he regretted the lack of leadership by the Air Council which was causing discouragement and concern to officers, cadets and instructors and urged the need for an immediate declaration of policy and future intentions for the Air Training Corps. The position today is infinitely worse than it was a year ago. The organisation is disintegrating; there is not the slightest doubt about that. Creeping paralysis has set in. In its early days, the Air Training Corps had a strength of something approximating 250,000. A year ago that figure had dropped to 115,000, and by January this year the strength was down to 67,000. What is very important is that that 67,000 is not an effective strength. It includes all those cadets who may attend for a meeting or two, or a parade or two, and I would imagine that the effective strength of the corps today is something in the region of 25,000.
Time after time successive Ministers of Air have made declarations with regard to the A.T.C. They have all declared that it will continue as a volunteer cadet organisation, but beyond that nothing has been done, either to put forward a policy for the future or to satisfy the grievances of the present. I want to say a word or two on those grievances. The first and worst grievance which has existed in the A.T.C. since its inception is the fact that there is no guarantee that a boy, after having spent two or three years in training, will get into the Air Force. During the war many hundreds of first-class cadets were drafted into the Army. What annoyed them so much was that they saw other young men with no training in the A.T.C. getting into the Royal Air Force. I have no doubt that there may have been a good reason for that in wartime, but in peacetime those boys should be given a guarantee that when they have finished their training. and if they are called up, they will have the opportunity of serving in the Royal Air Force. If that guarantee were given I am sure it would go a long way to removing the dissatisfaction which exists today.
Then there is the hardy annual about greatcoats. In another place last week there was a short Debate on the subject of the Air Training Corps, and the Secretary of State for Air, when asked to make a statement with regard to great- 1046 coats, said that they were needed for Europe and that they needed reconditioning, and so on. Men are being demobilised from the Royal Air Force at the rate of tens of thousands, and their greatcoats are being handed in. What on earth prevents those greatcoats from being passed on to the A.T.C. cadets? I am certain that if they were given the coats they would recondition them themselves. This is a sore subject and those of us who are associated with the Corps have it thrown at us at every meeting. We understood the position during the war and that it was impossible to allocate the cloth, but the position has altered, and I ask the Under-Secretary to see whether he cannot allocate some of the greatcoats which have been handed in to the units. I always understood that the pre-service training organisations were to be treated alike. I know for a fact that the Sea Cadets are being supplied with overcoats, and I have a letter in my pocket to that effect. If that is so, surely it is only fair that the Air Training Corps should be treated on the same basis.
Then there is the question of the surplus of Royal Air Force equipment. We have heard of planes being smashed up and of radio equipment being dumped into quarries. I do not know how true that is, but there must be a tremendous amount of surplus available for these cadets. I hope the Under-Secretary will look into that point too. The last main grievance is about accommodation. Young men cannot be kept together in a movement like this if they only have schools for training and recreational purposes. There must be a recreational side to the movement, and that is why it is so important that the question of accommodation should be thoroughly tackled. I understand that in a short time the A.T.C. is to come under the Territorial Association. I welcome that step and advocated it in the Debate a year ago. The Air Ministry have taken a very wise step. The Territorial Association administers the Army cadets, and administers them very well. I am convinced that it will administer the A.T.C. just as well. But there is one point with regard to the civilian committees, and I would like the Under-Secretary to say what the intention is with regard to these. At the moment there are Squadron Committees and Air Council Committees. Are they still to 1047 exist once the organisation comes under the Territorial Association? This movement is in danger of collapse, and I tell the hon. Gentleman that from personal experience. Unless the Air Ministry really do something to provide a policy which will appeal, I am afraid we can say "good-bye" to the Air Training Corps. It has done fine work, and we really need it in the future. I hope the policy, which I presume will be announced, will be such that the decay will be arrested and we can then begin to rebuild the movement which did such good work during the war.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
In the five minutes left to me, I would like to make four points as a civilian on a Service matter, and to make them as seen by my constituents, the farmers in North Lincolnshire. The Minister said that only one per cent. of agricultural land in the country was held by his Ministry. It seems that in North Lincolnshire they own a great deal more than one per cent., and I wonder if he could tell us how much of the good agricultural land of the country they do own, particularly in Lincolnshire. The farmers there feel that many of the aerodromes are only being used to about 50 per cent. capacity, and they wonder why the training and operations could not be concentrated into a smaller number of aerodromes so that more of the land could be handed ever to the agriculturists for growing the food we want. The Minister of Agriculture has appealed to the farmers to grow as much food as possible, but when they see these aerodromes only partly used, they think the Government do not mean business and that the Ministry are not setting a good example. My second point is this I ask the Minister to open as many as possible of the roads that cross these aerodromes. If only one per cent. of the agricultural land is held by his Ministry, then to my farmers in Lincolnshire it seems that they have built every aerodrome across a road, and I would appeal to the Minister to reopen those roads and so save a good deal of time and petrol in agricultural constituencies. My third point is that today I received from one of my constituents this letter, from which I would like to read an extract:
1048Dear Sir. I have heard they are getting ready for cutting grass on Waltham aerodrome "—that is near Grimsby—every day instead of leaving it to be cut for the cattle in the winter. I am writing to ask you if you could do something to stop . this waste as the food situation is so bad and there are no planes on the aerodrome and there have not been any since last April.Would the Minister look into that because obviously there is waste there and I would like that land to be saved for the agriculturists instead of being wasted.
I come to my last point. The Minister will remember that some weeks ago I asked him about some hutments in the greater Grimsby area which were, and still are, empty. The Grimsby Rural District Council had asked the Minister if they could use them for temporary housing, and his reply was that they might be required for prisoners of war. It seems incredible that the Minister should say that he would prefer to keep these huts empty in case prisoners of war might require them, and deny them to the bombed out people of Grimsby who want to use them. Only a fortnight ago I saw those huts myself and they could be well used. There are in my constituency people who would be very pleased to use them. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his decision because this is not an isolated case. There are lots of hutments all over the country which could be, and ought to be, used. I would like the Minister to consider the four points I have put to him, and I ask him to think again, especially in the case of the hutments in the Waltham area.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)
It is an old tradition of this Committee that when a Minister or a Secretary of State introduces an Estimate he is followed by the holder of that office in the preceding Government. The fortunes of political warfare have today removed from among us the figure who is most worthy to play that role. Sir Archibald Sinclair gave five years of most devoted service to the Air Force, and I do not think there is any man who had any part in that glorious Government of 1940–45, or who knows anything at all of the conditions of the work of the Royal Air Force, who would not wish to pay a tribute to the Secretary of State who served the Air Force so well through such perilous years.
1049 I held this post for only a very few weeks; I have, therefore, found it wise to surrender the major duty to my hon. Friends, and very worthily they have carried it out. I do not think from a young new Member have I ever heard so good a speech as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward), who made a most experienced speech. My hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) and Devizes (Squadron-Leader Hollis), and my hon. Friends the Members for Holborn (Mr. Max Aitken), St. Maryle-bone (Sir W. Wakefield), Newark (Mr. S. Shephard) and Louth (Mr. Osborne) have all added their contributions, dealing either with small details of great importance or with large aspects. Then, of course, the late Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), has made a contribution which I regarded as of the greatest value and importance to the great problems which underlie the whole of the questions surrounding a Service such as the Royal Air Force.
It was only for a few weeks that I held the proud post of Secretary of State for Air, but I would like to take this opportunity of making a few personal observations. In my short time at the Air Ministry I learned personally the value of the services of those great officers to whom we shall always be indebted, the greatest of all being Portal, one of the great names in all our Service history. Others who helped me personally—Evill, Hill and Slessor—will always, I hope, remain my friends, although it was for so short a period that I worked with them. I would also like to pay a tribute to one of the greatest public civil servants who served the Air Force, but who has now, unfortunately, left the Air Ministry—Sir Arthur Street. I do not think there is any man who has served with such devotion in that position, or who has done such splendid work for the Air Ministry and for the whole of the Service. I had, of course, the advantage for a certain period in my life as Minister, of making considerable use of the Air Force and flying about, with the varying chances and risks of flight, many hundreds of thousands of miles in the Mediterranean, and I also had the great experience of seeing there some of the great commanders at work, including Tedder, the worthy successor to Portal; Coningham who. with Tedder, 1050 was the real founder of the alliance and co-operation between the Army and the Air Force which was the foundation of those great victories. Anyone who saw that mess that General—now Field Marshal—Alexander maintained, where hundreds of our men live together in that close co-operation, will realise how this was brought about—painfully and slowly, but most effectively, and it was the foundation of our victory.
I was able to see other aspects of its work in the political or semi-political and diplomatic work of detached forces like the Balkan Air Force, the officers operating in Greece, and so forth. Although I have no technical knowledge and very little experience of administration of that great Service, from what I saw of it in the field when I was very close to some of its headquarters, and from my short experience as Secretary of State, I would like to offer my humble services for any good or help I might ever be able to afford in any possible shape or form. Those days, to which the Under-Secretary referred in the beginning of his speech, were so short a time ago, yet how long ago they seem; terrible days, but great days. Those of us who lived through them, in whatever capacity, somehow feel that now we live in the rather baffled bathos of this twilight between peace and war; they were days which had their compensations in the great sense of service and unity which bound us together. It is in that temper that we should, and do, approach these Estimates today.
The Under-Secretary began his speech by saying that he had made a study of the speeches of his predecessors and found that they fell into one of two categories. I thought he was going to say either good ones or bad ones. If he had said that, there would be no doubt into which category his speech fell; it fell into the category of good speeches, very good speeches. It was, as he explained it, transitional, because these Estimates themselves are much the result of a transitional situation. We are in the rather peculiar position of having these Estimates in this rather abbreviated and attenuated form because it is necessary to pass some kind of Estimates before the end of the year, as it is necessary to have a Consolidated Fund Bill. Then, no doubt, we shall have another set of Estimates, and, I suppose, another set of speeches and another set of Debates all of which will be very agree- 1051 able. The speech of the Under-Secretary was admirable, one of the best expositions I have ever heard; admirable in its tone, temper and manner. It had, if he will allow me to say so, only one fault, which the uncanny genius of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Driberg) for spotting anything at all second-rate, immediately lighted upon. That, of course, was at the end of his speech where, out of the vast number of heroic services which the Air Force had rendered to resistance movements all over the world, he referred not to Holland, or France, or Belgium, or any of our Allies, but to Spain. That, I suppose, was the sop to Cerberus; Cerberus accepted it, and played the role he was expected to play. That will, no doubt, sufficiently rehabilitate the hon. Gentleman for the patriotic speech he has made today, for those of his followers who may find it a little out of feeling—
§ Mr. Macmillan
I would never put the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Jack Jones) in that category. I referred to the hon. Member for Maldon.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I have far too great a respect for the character and charm of the hon. Gentleman ever to put him in such a category
I was also very glad the Under-Secretary paid tribute to Bomber Command. We know the feelings which those terrible events have caused. I sympathise with those feelings, although I do not agree with them, which were raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington). Those casualties were indeed terrible; 65,000 casualties in that operation only. They were comparable to the casualties of the infantry battalions of the last war. In this war it was the bomber who suffered them; in the last war it was the infantry officer, and the lives of both were about the same at the worst period of each war. I think it is, and will be, a compensation and a solace to those who have suffered, the relations and friends of those who lost their lives, to feel that it was not in vain. The powerful and valuable quotations which the Under-Secretary gave 1052 from the documents, which we now have in our possession, the diaries and secret documents of the German High Command showing the immense value of that attack and the great effective power of strategic bombing, will be an additional solace to those who suffer today
Whatever may be the final decision of experts upon the future values of bombing or upon the theories of the past, let us not forget that at the time it was the Cabinet of the day who decided to put so much of the national effort into the bombing forces. What was the situation? The situation was that there appeared to be no other way to get to grips with the Germans. We had been driven out of France. Russia was not our Ally; she still stood moodily aside in the equivocal isolation of the Ribbentrop-Stalin pact. There was no particular reason to think that America would be drawn into the war. In the summer of 1940, and the months following, the bombing force was, in fact, the only method by which we could ever get to grips with our enemy, or do them any damage at all. All these considerations should not be forgotten in evaluating the wisdom or un-wisdom of those decisions. I am very glad the Under-Secretary prefaced his speech in introducing these new peace Estimates by paying that tribute to such an important part of the work of the Air Force in the war.
Since I had the honour to preside over the Air Force for a very short time when it was still at war, perhaps I might pay some tribute to another part of the work of the Air Force which is sometimes forgotten, namely, the work it did in the Burma campaign, quite unique in the history of the Air Force, when it not only operated and fought, but carried on the whole supply of the Army. That work, which was performed by the officers and men in Far Eastern Command, work they are still doing, must be remembered with pride and never forgotten by hon. Members of this Committee The Undersecretary went on to devote his speech to a number of topics, wisely chosen and well planned, and I have only a few words to add to what my hon. Friends have said on the various points.
On the question of demobilisation, I was glad that he dealt, though not deeply, with the question of what are called the troubles which took place in 1053 the Air Force Those incidents were a source of terrible grief to all those who love the Air Force. I was glad he made it quite clear that any changes in procedure were not due to these acts of indiscipline. It is true there were changes but they were not because of these troubles The changes from the programme as originally announced were due to the pressure of the House of Commons, partly that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who first opened the question of the rate of demobilisation, and of the public by all legitimate methods which, of course, affect Governments. I think we might take a little credit for the fact that this great pressure was brought upon the Government. I was glad that the Undersecretary said so categorically, that whilst he yielded, as Governments should yield to pressure from their own party, from the Opposition and from public opinion, they yielded in no way at all to the indiscipline of any body of men. We are told that an investigation is being made. I must reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford. We must be told the results of that investigation, and we must be informed of the real underlying facts which brought about such a lamentable state of affairs.
After dealing with the demobilisation of men, he dealt with the demobilisation of stores, and there I think his record is good. He is getting rid of land buildings, factories and surplus stores, but what does not give me much satisfaction is that, when the Air Ministry declares stores to be surplus, the Ministry of Supply do not play up, but say "No bid." The fields and hills and valleys of England are still strewn with vehicles which he declares to be superfluous. He says there are 20,000 vehicles, but they are still standing in the fields and lanes. Cannot we ask the Air Ministry to bring a little pressure to bear on the Minister of Supply to put these vehicles into effective use by the public. If they did, they would earn the gratitude of the public.
That leads me to the Under-Secretary's very sound point that these Estimates are, of course, intermediate and transitional, and that they include the immense sum of £81 million for terminal charges. Further, they contain no sum for aircraft and stores which are being supplied by another Department, so that when we talk about the Air Estimates today, it is as if 1054 we are talking about the Navy Estimates without any Vote for ships. That leads to the very difficult problem, and the decision which the Government have taken, about the method of supplying the fighting weapons for the three Services. This is not the time to debate it at large and I must leave the hon. Gentleman time to reply. I know the difficulty of reaching the right balanced solution, but I am not altogether happy about the system which existed during the war and which is going to exist now. I have observed that the Navy, who since the time of Pepys have had a pretty good idea of how to travel permanently first class have never agreed to any of these inter-Service arrangements except for those stores which are of no particular interest. They will not allow anybody else to build their battleships, but they will allow the Ministry of Supply to buy gym. shoes. That is what it amounts to.
I served with the Ministry of Supply under three Ministers, and have watched the Ministry of Aircraft Production under various Ministers, and the question as to whether this works well, as between the user and the supplier, depends upon a lot of things. It depends to some extent upon the personality of the Ministers, how strong they are or how weak. It depends, under these new arrangements, on how far the inter-locking directorship system works, and upon how far one can keep a close association. But we must recognise that the system puts the user two places away from the manufacturer. He does not deal with the manufacturer, except through some other Department, and I therefore hope the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will not be too sanguine about this arrangement, but will watch it with the greatest care, and fight the battle of the Air Force with the most tremendous energy. I hope they will remember also that these Departments are not now, as they were in the war, fortified by a great influx of genius, intelligence and successful men of industry, commerce and design who gave their services freely during the war. They are naturally relapsing into the normal bureaucratic type, deprived of the services of those special experts.
I was, however, very glad and reassured by the phrase used by the Undersecretary about the importance of development and research, and of being always ahead without letting up. He 1055 reminded us of the mistakes we made before, and how we had dropped behind, as he said, at what a cost and what a risk. I hope we shall never revert to those terrible years, when, for whatever cause—and this is not the time to allot praise or blame—we did not keep our armaments up to the point where they ought to have been kept, when the whole nation was taught to trust to words and formulae and not face the realities of life, when the one voice crying in the wilderness was not listened to—a voice which, I am glad to say, is not yet still. There are certain basic decisions, the Undersecretary tells us, which cannot be taken until we know what kind of a world we are living in, both technically and politically. The trouble about life is that you cannot go on putting off your decisions until you know what kind of a world you are living in. One is just born into it, and must go on taking decisions as they come.
The Under-Secretary told us that we do not know what the developments will be. He said there were two great features, the atom bomb and U.N.O. One he said was a hope, and the other a menace—no, I must get them in the right order, one is a menace and the other a hope. I very much liked the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn, who made a short, sharp and snappy speech, asking if we had got any atom bombs We have to make our decisions as we find things; we cannot put them off for ever. I know it is difficult at such a time, but I remember that when we discussed it before everybody said we should have to think it over very carefully. Nine months have gone by, and we are still thinking it over. I beg the Under-Secretary to use all his influence—and it is the lay-men and civilians who ultimately force the technicians and experts to reach decisions, that is the function of Ministers—to get a decision made, and to build the new postwar Air. Force in accordance with the decisions which are taken. If they are wrong, well, they are wrong—but the risk must be taken of coming to a final decision at some point or another.
The Under-Secretary says that he relies on all Members to assist him in the recruiting campaign. We on this side of the Committee will help him. The speeches made about the regular and auxiliary forces by the hon. Members for Worcester and Newark and by the hon. 1056 and gallant Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley) all show the intense interest there is on all sides, with a very few exceptions. There is this advantage; we have learnt something from the two wars—at least I hope we have— and I think the hon. Gentleman will be helped on all sides of the Committee. He may even be helped by the London County Council this time; I hope we shall have none of that nonsense about not having cadet battalions or territorial organisations, and the other indignities which defiled this great metropolis of Empire.
We were told that the Air Council had reached the conclusion that there were many jobs which could be better done by women than by men, a conclusion with which many men and women will agree. But after all that we were told by the Under-Secretary that he was sorry he could not make any announcement about the W.A.A.F. Let him take pleasure and support from both sides of this Committee from the tributes that have been paid, and on technical grounds realise the importance of having at least a nucleus on which if necessary expansion can be built. I will not go into detail as to the many other points which have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford developed in a very impressive speech the questions of training and of the future of the Air Force. He dealt with its associations first with the Empire, then with our great associates and old friends, those who served with it in the past, and then, if things develop as we all desire, as part of an international service to preserve the peace of the world. Meanwhile there are these minor but immediate questions of training, and it is very important they should not be neglected. I think they have been adequately and admirably dealt with by my hon. Friend. .
I was very pleased with an observation—I am speaking simply as a layman, though an old officer of a minor kind—that fell from the hon., and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock), who said it is very important that a man should the trained to undertake other work as well as his basic trade. I do hope that those very profound words of his will sink into all of the Services. In saying this I am not speaking of great strategic, or tactical training but of individual training. I am 1057 bound to say, perhaps because in middle age one thinks only of the benefits of the old system, that having seen a great deal of all three Services, I think there has been a tendency in this war to forget the truth that the first duty of any man who wears the King's uniform is to defend himself with his personal weapon when called upon to do so. That tendency has been the result partly of specialised duty. We find in all the Services men who say such things as, "I am a telegraphist," or" I am a motor driver" or "I am a specialist." Each forgets that his rifle is his personal weapon and that when he is attacked or his headquarters are attacked or when he is in a tight place, it is up to him to put up a proper show. There have been instances in this war which would not have happened had that traditional training by officers and men been observed. A man's second duty is his technical duty; his first duty is to learn to defend himself with his own weapon in any circumstances in which he maybe placed. I have wondered sometimes what would have happened to some of our headquarters if there had been an airborne landing, of even a small number of the enemy. I wonder if those who knew how to use their rifles would have had them clean, according to old standards of discipline and drill. I, therefore, hope that there will be an opportunity of going back to that old principle of putting specialist training as a man's second duty, his first duty being to learn to defend himself.
I wish to end by once more congratulating this Committee on a Debate which, I think, has been of great value. The Under-Secretary of State for Air ended his speech rightly with a very moving tribute to the Royal Air Force. He is a fortunate man to play a role in its rebuilding and development now. The late Under-Secretary of State for Air, the hon. Member for Oxford also ended his speech with very moving words. If I cannot emulate that language it is partly because I think it is difficult to trust oneself to speak on that note with sufficient control, so deep are the emotions in any man who has shared the risks and dangers, service and work of the Royal Air Force. These tributes are commonly made in war and immediately after war. I hope they will not be forgotten as the years go by.
§ Mr. Driberg
Before the right hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, may I ask him one question? I unfortunately missed his opening remarks, but I am told he made a rather damaging comment on myself and my humble contribution. May I ask him to repeat it?
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Strachey)
We have had, I think, a most valuable Debate. It has been of very great value to me. at any rate. I will try to cover as many as possible of the very large number of points that have been raised by hon. and right hon. Members. I do hope that if I do not manage to cover them all, they will know that I have a note of them and will take them up in the office tomorrow. In his valuable speech, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) spoke first about the auxiliaries, and a good many Members followed him. We do share entirely his enthusiasm and their enthusiasm for the auxiliary Forces, and the belief that they can play not only as big a part in the future as they did before the war, but very likely, a considerably bigger one.
I should very much have liked to have been in the position to announce the setting up of a Reserve Command, which has been referred to by several speakers, and to have been able to say exactly how the auxiliary Forces would fit in with the postwar Royal Air Force. I should say from the course of the Debate that many well informed Members had a good idea of how it was going to be done in any case; and I do not believe they are far wrong. I can say about the announcement which, unfortunately, was just not ready for various reasons for this occasion—it has to be correlated between the Services, of course—that we shall not have to wait for it for an appreciable time. The amount of time, I think I can safely say, will be measured in weeks, not months. I agree that any delay at the moment is deplorable, that we are missing very valuable time, and we most urgently wish to see exactly how that is all going to be done. A figure was mentioned of a score of auxiliary squadrons. I think there, again, that is not far wrong or far off our initial target in this field.
1059 The hon. Member for Worcester went on to speak of the regular Forces, and he dealt with the question, which was taken up by several further speakers, of the problems of discipline or, as I should like to call it, man management; of the relationship between officers and men. It is really rare it takes a disciplinary form, of course, as he knows very well, in the Royal Air Force. Peculiar problems do undoubtedly exist in the Royal Air Force on that side, as against any of the other Services. He asked us, I think, very legitimately, what our mind was on that subject, and what we propose to do. He raised two specific issues. One was the question of maintenance, what he called "the garage system "of maintenance; by which maintenance is, as it were, divorced to a very considerable extent from the squadron which is operating the aircraft. He agreed that it was inevitable during the war. We agree that in peacetime it is an undesirable system whatever the economies, and we are gradually reverting to the system by which we have squadron maintenance, maintenance in the squadron. It is not yet done but, undoubtedly. it will be possible to revert to that. It is a great psychological advantage.
He then raised the problem of the future administration of the Service by its officers. It is a problem of great complexity. I do not pretend to be an expert on it or to be competent to speak on it, but it is one side of the Royal Air Force of which I have had personal experience as a very humble "Admin." officer myself. It was, undoubtedly, though inevitable in the war, not an ideal situation, by which the administration of the unit was done by "Admin." officers who did nothing else, and that the flying and fighting was done by officers who sometimes, through no fault of their own, did little of the administration. We do propose gradually, and as the possibilities offer, that that should to a very large extent stop, and that the administration, which is the leadership, really, of the men, should be done by the general duties officers. I should like to quote a paragraph from a recent Air Council letter which has gone out on this subject:In the Council's view, the object to be aimed at is that every airman should know that there is a particular officer to whom he may go for friendly help or advice on any matter, whether it relates to his private or Service life, whenever the position of the man 1060 or his efficiency is suffering from undue strain. Conversely, every officer should appreciate that there are certain individual airmen who expect to come to him for such help and advice, and it is both his duty and a privilege to encourage their confidence and study how to maintain and increase it.That is the ideal at which we are aiming. In the far easier conditions of a regular Air Force, with an officer serving for a comparatively long period, when flying training does not absorb, as in wartime, practically the whole of his time and energies, I do not see why it should not be possible for the G. D. officer to run a squadron in the same way as a regimental officer in the Army. That would go "a long way towards solving this difficult and extremely important question. A number of points were raised by the hon. Member for Holborn (Mr. Max Aitken) on the question of Empire Forces. I cannot follow him on that, although it is a point of importance; it is a matter of great complexity, but we have never for one moment lost sight of the contribution of the Dominion Air Forces. Naturally, we welcome all contributions which they still feel able to make towards Imperial defence in the future.
The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) raised the important question of full and accurate information being given to the men. We are doing a great deal on that, but in the long term it is what I would call a public relations question. We are considering the future of the Public Relations branch of the Air Ministry, and whether the functions of that branch cannot be modified to some extent to include a great deal of the work of explaining the Royal Air Force to itself—what I would call internal public relations, which are of the utmost importance. He raised also the question of our help to civil aviation. I quite appreciate the difficulties there, and the irritations which some men may feel when they know some of their work is going to the benefit of B.A.O.C. or civil aviation services. I make no apology whatever for this help, and it is considerable, which the Air Force is giving during this transitional stage to get civil aviation on its feet. I believe that it is a real national service, but I can give the hon. Member the assurance that no one's release or repatriation, so far as I know, is being delayed for this reason. The hon. Member asked what is the solution? I have no doubt at all what is the solution—it is not a long-term one—the solution is 1061 for B.O.A.C. and the other civil corporations being set up to take over civil air lines one by one. The scheduled services of Transport Command are, in fact, being taken over by civil operators, and we have every hope and confidence that that process will be virtually complete by the end of June next. This is a transitional problem, and one which we are determined to solve in the next few months.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), after passing lightly over a poignant memory of ours, when I served under him in an R.A.F. station at Colerne, made several suggestions of great interest. I was particularly interested with his suggestion that auxiliary squadrons might be extended to overseas, and that we might have auxiliary squadrons manned by nationals in our Colonies, Dominions and Dependencies. I cannot of course make any ad hoc statement or decision about that, but it did strike me as being a very valuable suggestion, and one which is well worth examining. He then passed to the subject of the A.T.C. This question was touched upon by a number of hon. Members. I could not quite accept the statement of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. S. Shephard), who drew a somewhat gloomy picture of the present state of the A.T.C. I can assure the Committee that the numbers of the A.T.C. are again rising. I do not think that it could be considered to be in such a critical situation as he has depicted, but that is no reason why we should not give it every help in our power, because we regard it as being of the utmost importance. The hon. Member rightly stressed the importance of equipment. We have been able to provide a very substantial grant for gliding facilities for the A.T.C, and we have been able to provide special flights at R.A.F. stations. These flights which can be arranged for cadets are not, as before, merely lifts, but special flights which have been laid on for the purpose. Making a cadet feel that he can be airborne seems to me to be of great psychological importance. That does not mean that we underestimate the importance of the ground trades, which to any boy who is of a mechanical mind are of the utmost fascination.
The hon. Member asked that A.T.C. cadets should be assured of going into the Royal Air Force. I cannot give him an unequivocal guarantee of that sort, but I 1062 stated in my opening speech that the A.T.C. has a target of 75,000, and that is a figure made to approximate to the size of the Royal Air Force. We have announced it provisionally, but it should make it possible for us to accept into the Royal Air Force every cadet who reaches a satisfactory standard. All A.T.C. cadets cannot, of course, be aircrew, but we shall be able to give to the A.T.C. an indication of the proportion of aircrew and other important trades which are required, so that in fact the A.T.C. fits into the Royal Air Force. Part of this I have been able to announce today and further details will be announced very shortly, together with the general announcement which will cover reserve commands and our auxiliary forces. In a few weeks time, I do not think that there will be very much left which will prevent the A.T.C. from finding its feet again, and going ahead with its work. I do not think that there will be any outstanding decisions still held up. The question of greatcoats was mentioned. Some greatcoats have been issued to cadets who are flying, but I will bear in mind the suggestion and see whether, when the pressure of clothing demands for the R.A.F. has diminished, greatcoats cannot be provided for the A.T.C. That is also a matter which I regard as of being of great importance. The adaptation of huts and the like— all these are a question of time and labour. They should all become more and more easy to solve in the quite immediate future.
A number of points have been raised. I was not, unfortunately, in the House when the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Milling-ton) felt, I understand, that in the opening parts of my speech I did not sufficiently emphasise the tremendous service—to my mind the absolutely decisive Service—to this country of the air crews of Bomber Command and the sacrifices they made. I can only tell the Committee that I failed utterly in the main purpose of that part of my speech if that impression was given. As the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said—and I am very grateful for his remarks—the one thing we can do for the men and women who mourn members of the air crews of Bomber Command is to prove to them in every possible way that the sacrifices of those crews were not in vain, their lives were not wasted, and 1063 they were employed in the very best possible way for the winning of the war.
He went on to speak of the important question of commissioning. He will have seen in the statement made in the White Paper on the pay and conditions of officers that in future the commissioning system of the Royal Air Force has been modified, that the cadet will go through Cranwell as an attested airman, that the fees of Cranwell have been abolished and, therefore, a considerably more democratic arrangement has been arrived at in the process of commissioning.
I pass to the interesting and important speech of my predecessor in office, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), who prefaced his remarks by taking a flattering but not quite accurate interest in the ups and downs of my own political career. In his extremely graphic description of the political aircraft which, he said, I had ridden, he spoke of my coming at last to the staid air liner—I think that was his phrase—of the Labour Party of today. Then he went on to say that he wondered if that Labour air liner would ever take off. There, I think, I detect a point of intense personal interest on his part. He was wondering if the Labour air liner would ever take off from these benches. I am afraid that I must tell him that the take-off must be long delayed. I see no signs of it whatever. [An Hon. Member:" He sees no hope of it? "] Hope springs eternal in the human breast; but we on this side of the Committee are unable to see any signs of this remarkable event. He went on to speak, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley, who summed up from the other side, of the fact that I said frankly and clearly that certain fundamental decisions on the future size, nature and character of the Royal Air Force had not yet been taken. Both the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen said: "You cannot put off taking such a decision for ever." That, of course, is perfectly true, but I would put it to the Committee that, if this Government or any other Government attempted to decide what the character, size and structure of the permanent postwar Air Force was, only one thing could be said about that decision and that is, it would be quite certain to be wrong, because the fundamental data both technical and political does not exist.
1064 The right hon. Member for Bromley said when he was Secretary of State for Air they were already considering these things and the data was already before them, but much of the data was not even available so short a time ago as that. He could not be considering the effect of the atom bomb, for the atom bomb had not been exploded at that time, and the United Nations organisation had not met. These two great developments have taken place just in recent months, and I do re-emphasise that the long term character of the Royal Air Force cannot possibly be decided wisely, at any rate, at the present moment, and, of course, it does not mean that we are doing nothing. I have told the Committee today, and the House was told by the Prime Minister last week in the Defence Debate, that the figure of 300,000 is that to which it is proposed at the moment to reduce the Royal Air Force with a corresponding first line strength of squadrons and aircraft. The hon. Member for Oxford asked us how that figure was arrived at. I say quite simply that that is a figure which, all things considered, we think will be adequate, and no more than adequate—because we cannot have a man more than is necessary in the present state of the country—to meet our commitments as at 1947. It seems to me it would be simply crystal gazing to look further ahead than that at the present time, and that is why unashamedly and frankly we put before the Committee those provisional decisions as to the immediate future of the Royal Air Force, while reserving a long term decision until the situation becomes far clearer than it is today.
A large number of further important points were made by hon. Members on the question of training flights. I agree entirely with those speakers who said that world wide training flights were of great importance in that they were partly training and partly operational in the sense that they are carried out by fully trained squadrons and fully trained formations. I do not think there can be any doubt that such flights will form part of the work and life of the Royal Air Force in the future. We were asked for details of any arrangements we were making to help our allies in Europe. A good deal has been done in that way. I have visited R.A.F. formations which were handing over Halifax squadrons at Marignac aerodrome, Bordeaux, recently and, 1065 under the Hartemann agreement with the French Government a great deal of help is being given to the French Government in the building of their air force. Similar contacts are in train or have actually taken place in a number of other places.
Next I come to speak very naturally and quite rightly on the matter of the indiscipline that has taken place in India. I am asked to tell the Committee more fully what happened. I should be delighted to do so but I cannot at the moment because the actual investigations are proceeding and the courts of inquiry and the like are actually sitting. They are being undertaken by the most responsible officers on the spot, including the Inspector-General of the Air Force, and obviously we could not possibly anticipate or pre-judge their verdict. Undoubtedly when that is available we shall be able to give more information on the subject.
The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Jack Jones), in his very moving speech, referred to the question of the £28 million for research. I should like to make it clear to him that under the new centralised arrangement for research by no means all this sum will derive to warlike purposes. It is impossible to allocate fundamental or even semi-fundamental research into aerodynamics as between military and civil aviation. It is impossible to say what its ultimate purpose will be. It adds to our store of knowledge and our capacity to build aircraft of all types, and that is why we believe, in spite of certain difficulties, that the advantages of that type of centralised research under my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, far outweigh any disadvantages there may be. The hon. Member went on to speak of education in the Royal Air Force. That also is a thing we have very much at heart, and we aim to make the period of service of the Royal Air Force of the future—whether for the man who has just been called up for a short time today, or for the regular who goes in for a comparatively long span of life—a period in which education goes on technically and culturally in every sense of the word. We believe that we shall be able to do that to a very great degree in the postwar Air Force.
There are a number of points with which, I am afraid, I shall not be able to deal adequately. There was an interesting speech by the hon. and gallant 1066 Member for Preston (Squadron-Leader Segal), who felt that the allocations to the medical services were insufficient. He must remember, however, that these medical services will cater for a very much reduced force of under one-third of the strength he knew, and that, therefore, it may not be so small a sum as he thinks. The hon. and gallant Member for Devizes (Squadron-Leader Hollis) spoke of applications for permanent commissions. I would say in one word that they are now open once more and the fact that it was not possible to accept an officer in the past does not mean that he cannot re-apply now or has prejudiced his chance of being accepted in any way.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley spoke again on the subject of these basic decisions. They depend, I believe, not only on the atom bomb and the technical development of which I have spoken, but profoundly on political developments, and on the development f the United Nations organisation. Let us remember that, in spite of all the difficulties and the dark side of the world situation which faces us, and which no one wishes to overlook the Military Staffs Committee of the United Nations organisation has met. The Royal Air Force representative on that Committee, Air Chief Marshal Garrod, is a most distinguished officer—I was speaking with him only this morning—and he has told us that the Committee has at any rate founded itself. It has come into being, and we at the Air Ministry regard it as the seed which may contain the hope of the future, and the Royal Air Force is determined to make its contribution to it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £150,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Air Force Services which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947.