§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead there of:this House urges that continued efforts should be made to increase the numbers of personnel serving on long engagements with the Royal Air Force in order to increase efficiency with economy.I am sure that the House will sympathise with me when I remind hon. Members that my constituency is bounded on the north by that of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and on the south by that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air. The House will understand why I still keep my tin hat within easy reach. The aim of the hon. Member for Dudley may perhaps be no more accurate than his facts.
705 I thought that it might be appropriate, and the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley has justified me in the supposition, that we should turn aside from considerations of grand strategy or from the topic of machines and talk for a short time about the men in the R.A.F. I make no apology for doing that, because so much of the time of the House has been spent on R.A.F. machines rather than on the men.
Just as the changed type of global warfare has its effects on machines, it must have an effect upon the men and their training. It has been said again and again that we shall not have another war in which small Regular forces can act as a nucleus around which we can build Territorials, reservists and militiamen. No enemy in a future war will give us time to build our Forces in that way, particularly when we are dealing with the Royal Air Force, which must be in the forefront in the first minutes and hours of a war. We must accept the fact that those critical early hours will inevitably be fought by Regulars of the Royal Air Force and National Service men, and that it is not much good in that initial period to talk about ways in which we can build round them.
It is true that the disbandment of Anti-Aircraft Command, of which I was a humble member, came about not by reason of lack of weapons but by the knowledge that those weapons are no longer any good. That has an effect upon the Royal Air Force in the sense that it most nearly affects the defence of the country. In all these respects, as we have heard today and in previous debates, the weapons and instruments which go to direct those weapons become more and more complicated as each year's Estimates come round.
The advent of an increase in the strength of night fighters which, whatever has been said in the last few minutes, is taking place and will continue to take place, inevitably involves radar on the ground and in the machines. Then there is the advent of jet bombers and fighters. All these changes mean that more and more people who serve in and with the Royal Air Force have to be technically highly-qualified men. That applies not only to those who actually fly but to those who maintain and repair machines and instruments. It may well be that a 706 large part of our discussion on my Amendment may centre round those very important people who have to do maintenance and repair work, and also form crews for radar and other instruments.
It has been said already, in anticipation of my Amendment, that, as aircrew and repair and maintenance personnel, the National Service man is a very uneconomical asset. That also applies to a man who is on a very short-term engagement. It is for that reason that I ask the House to consider means whereby we can have a higher percentage of the Royal Air Force personnel serving on long engagements. If a man serves two or three years, he spends half of that time being trained. And that is not the end of the matter, because during the other half, although trained, he is inexperienced.
The period of training is long, and correspondingly a high proportion of men must be employed on training. It follows that if we could reduce the proportion of people who serve on short engagements and increase the proportion who serve on long engagements, not only should we have better people to do the work, in the sense that they would not only have been trained and would have had a considerable length of experience, but that they would not be required to spend so much of their time in traininga large proportion of short-service men. Furthermore, we should have a reduction eventually in the need for National Service men. That is why I have ended my Amendment with a reference to efficiency and economy, because I believe that in this way those two ends can be achieved by the same means.
Against that background of the undesirability of having a high proportion of people on short-term engagements, there are figures in the Air Estimates and in the Defence Estimates which are a little disturbing. It is true that the Under-Secretary of State for Air has given us more encouraging news today, but it is apparent from the White Papers on our air and defence needs that over the past two years or so there has been an overall reduction in the strength of the R.A.F., and that the reduction in the numbers of Regulars, as opposed to National Service men, is the same proportion as the overall reduction. In other words, although there is a reduction in the total, there is 707 no increase at all in the proportion of Regulars.
It will be seen from the forecast of what the position will be this year that the total strength of the R.A.F. is expected to fall by a little over 5,000 whilst the strength of Regulars will fall by 9,000, or getting on for double the first number. In view of the background to which I have referred, that is a very worrying figure. That is why I ask the House to consider what steps we can take to increase the numbers of men who are serving on Regular engagements and, of course, preferably longer engagements.
I thought that the House might like to divide this subject roughly into two. First, there is the question of the steps which we can take to attract men into the Service and the remuneration and means whereby one can pick them up, wherever they can be contacted. The all-important matter of conditions when the men are inside the Service forms the second question. The latter aspect I propose to leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Woollam), who, if he is fortunate enough to be called, will second the Amendment. He has the advantage, in speaking on this topic, not only of being, I believe, the youngest Member of the House, but also of having served recently in the Royal Air Force. I am looking forward particularly to what my hon. Friend has to say on that aspect.
For my part, I propose to invite the House to consider how we can get people to the recruiting office. Obviously, the first question that would appeal to most people is that of pay and allowances. It is possible, I think, to over-estimate the importance of the general question of rates of pay. They are, of course, important to a young man who is choosing his career—and we are talking about careers in the Royal Air Force and not simply short and obligatory periods of service. In any event, it would probably be wrong that we should seek a sweeping general review of rates of pay so soon after the changes which were announced at about this period last year.
I wonder, however, whether all possible steps are taken to ascertain where, if at all, the question of rates of pay and allowances is a deterrent. I wonder whether all possible steps are taken, as a good commercial concern would take, 708 to contact the people who do not join the Service. If one inquires to find how rates of pay are regarded, it is easy enough to go to a barrack room and ask the people who have their pay books in their pockets; but for the purpose of the Amendment, the man we should seek to get at is the man who does not come into the Air Force. We should ascertain why he does not join.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winterbottom) referred to some sampling which had been done of a cross-section of the Royal Air Force. Although, obviously, we cannot ask this year for a sweeping review of pay and allowances, some inquiry might be made among people who write, in response to advertisements and to announcements on the radio, to ask for particulars but who do not then join the Air Force. In that way, it might be possible to find out what is the deterrent. I wonder whether, amongst the younger men, those of the age at which they might sign on for 12 years or longer, one would not find that one of the greatest deterrents on the financial side was, not the position of the man himself, but the position of his wife and family.
A young single man, with no domestic responsibilities, serving on a Regular engagement, is all right. Everything is done for him, and I do not think that many people would argue that he does not now have sufficient pocket money. I believe, however, that if my hon. Friend were to undertake research, he might find, in the case of a married man, that the total amount of money which his wife received in respect of her husband's allotment and her allowance compared very unfavourably with what she might expect to receive had her husband been doing a comparable job in industry. If the time comes when consideration is given to pay and allowances, that is the direction in which we might look.
I should like to mention one other matter to which earlier reference has been made. We have been given very encouraging figures about safety and the accident rate, and one hon. Member has referred to the risks that aircrew must undertake. Questions have been asked recently in the House on the subject of life insurance and the effect of joining the Royal Air Force upon the ability of a young man to insure his life. I do not know to what extent the Government 709 could help by underwriting in some way with life insurance offices the additional element of risk occasioned to a young man who joins the Royal Air Force.
Certainly, one could argue that if there were an additional element of risk in a career, it should fall upon those who employ and who have the benefit of the man's services rather than upon the young man himself and his family. That is one possible disincentive to a young family man who comes to decide the question, "Shall I join as a Regular Air Force man?"
The next question to arise on the aspect of finance is the competition of civilian industry with the R.A.F. We in this country have never really decided on what basis we pay our Service men, whether sailors, soldiers or airmen. We have never really decided whether we pay them what they are worth, what their services are worth to the Service in the open market, or whether we pay them what we can get away with—in other words, what it costs them and their families to live.
The very fact that we pay family allowances—marriage and child allowances, and so on—to a Serviceman in addition to his pay is an admission that we do not pay him what he is worth to us, but that we pay him what it costs him and his family to live. That inevitably means that if we do not pay men on the basis of what they are worth in the open market—and to do so would mean a substantial increase in Service pay all round—we must compete with industry in other ways.
When one comes up against this question of competing interests, one can either meet them directly or one can compromise. Alternatively, one can get in first in point of time and hope to overcome one's disability by being on the spot first. I should like to suggest one way in which we might compromise. If we find that it is extremely expensive to pay all men on Regular engagements a wage which would attract men from comparable jobs in industry, another way to resolve the dilemma is to see to what extent we can employ industry instead of taking the men from industry.
I know that in time of peace there is considerable attraction to a Service Department in the idea of putting out to 710 civilian contractors all sorts of jobs which are normally done by Service men. If it were simply a question of peacetime manning, a great deal more of it would be done, but I admit at once the objection which can be summed up in the question, "What happens when war breaks out?" If a firm of civilian contractors maintains the aircraft of a formation, and the formation is moved out to the Far East, what is to be done about the civilian contractors? They cannot be moved, they are not in uniform and subject to orders, and they cannot be compelled to go.
I wonder whether that difficulty can be linked in any way with National Service and the hope that some of us hold that one day National Service may no longer be necessary. I wonder whether it is possible to find a way of eating into National Service and at the same time achieving that end. There are two ways of reducing the total impact of National Service on the community. One is to say that, instead of serving for two years, each man should serve for 18 months. That is a substantial reduction.
Another way is to require fewer men to undergo National Service as such. I wonder whether it would be possible, with the assistance of the industries concerned, to initiate a scheme whereby maintenance and repair work could be done by civilian contractors employing personnel who, by virtue of engaging and remaining in that type of work, were excused from National Service upon the understanding that they did this work in a civilian capacity until cither they had reached a specified age or had worked for a certain number of years, and then joined a Reserve. In the event of war, they would put on their uniforms and serve, overseas if necessary, in the same capacity as they had been serving already.
In that way we could create a substantial category of men whose services are necessary both in peace and in war. They would serve in a civilian capacity in peace-time and so rid the Air Force of the responsibility of training and housing Service men. That may be a far-fetched idea, but it may be a suggestion worth following up because, even if it is not in itself a workable scheme, it might lead to the discovery of some other means of achieving the same result.
That is one method by which we might get round the difficulty of civilian competition. Now I want to mention one or 711 two ways in which it might be possible to anticipate civilian competition. For flying duties at any rate, and particularly to the young man, there is a great attraction in joining the Royal Air Force. I believe that this attraction extends, though perhaps to some extent vicariously, to those tasks which, while not in themselves flying, are associated closely with it. I refer to the maintenance of the aircraft, their repairs, and the operation of radar and other equipment which makes flying possible and effective.
It is probable that other less remunerative parts of the Royal Air Force might attract large numbers of recruits if only they were contacted early enough. My hon. Friend has said something today about the Cranwell schemes, which were announced at about this time last year, and he also mentioned schools liaison, so I shall say no more about that. However, I hope that publicity will be extended to places where it is likely to catch the eye of the potential recruit for whom we are looking.
If we want a young man to make a career of the R.A.F., we must catch his eye by an advertisement at the time when he is making up his mind what his career is to be. My son is not old enough to think of that yet, but my daughter has, since she was 12 or 13, been talking about what she will do when she leaves school. I wonder how much publicity appears in places where it will catch the eye of boys of 12, 13 or 14 years of age, because that is when they get their first reasonable ideas of what they want to do. I wonder if the B.B.C. could be used, and, if so, at a better time than 1.15 in the middle of the day, because my own children certainly do not listen to the B.B.C. then.
In this connection, there are two other matters that I want to mention. The A.T.C. operates at schools, and I hope that my hon. Friend will encourage this because that service, too, is catching the young man at the time when he is making up his mind about what he will do when he leaves school. In many cases the next stage in his career is when he passes through the hands of a person called the youth employment officer.
That officer is a servant of the education authority and works with a committee of local manufacturers and others who have their fingers upon the local labour 712 market and who, in this respect, are the direct enemies of my hon. Friend because they are the pople who want to get young men into the factories. I hope that my hon. Friend will take a tip from me and will make sure that his Department, and perhaps other Service Departments as well, are well represented, because those who give advice and assistance to the youth employment officers catch hold of a young man at the time when he is making up his mind about his career.
Anything that brings discredit or disfavour upon what goes on in the recruiting office is a deterrent. It so happens that over a period of a year or so a number of cases have arisen in my constituency of young men who have gone to report for National Service and who, after their medical examination, have been offered, and have accepted, the opportunity to sign on for a three or four-year engagement in the Royal Air Force instead of doing their National Service. In due course they have reported for duty, and then they have been told that the medical examination, which they passed in the highest category, is not of a sufficiently high standard for the Royal Air Force, and they are sent back home.
It remains then for the Army to take them up or, in a remote case, the Navy. Often, however, there is a period of three or four months in which they are waiting about for the Army to call them up and during which they are doing nothing. Their former employers will not take them back, and they find difficulty in drawing unemployment pay because, although they are available for employment, employers are not willing to offer them attractive jobs, as they know that they will lose these young men again in a short time. No doubt other hon. Members have heard of such cases, and there have been a sufficient number of them in my area to have attracted a little attention.
It has got round amongst young men that if they go to the recruiting office and volunteer for three or four years in the R.A.F., they will only be a few days on the R.A.F. station before they are sent home again, and that then there will be a period of three or four months before the Army calls them up, so that their National Service will occupy that much longer time before they can get down to the civilian job which they intend to make their career. That may be a small 713 point, but it deters young men from going to the recruiting office and inquiring about medium-term engagements in the R.A.F. If such things can be put right, it will help to increase the numbers.
I hope that other hon. Members will take advantage of this Amendment to make suggestions to help what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of each of our three Services, and especially of the Royal Air Force. In that way, we may reach the time when our Forces can be run substantially by Regulars, and substantially by those who wish to make the Forces their career, thereby reducing the numbers of those who are there only because they have to be.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Woollam (Liverpool, West Derby)
I beg to second the Amendment.
On rising to address the House for the first time, I hope that I may be granted the customary indulgence which is extended on these occasions.
My reasons for seconding the Amendment arise from my own experience. I cannot claim to have expert knowledge. However, I can claim that I am the only hon. Member who is a National Service man called up under the Acts and still on the Reserve. I believe I am the most recently serving member of the Royal Air Force in the House, and it may well be the case that in this year's debate I shall be the only substantive A.C.2 to speak on the Air Estimates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) has already alluded to the fact that I shall be turning my attention to the deterrents to recruiting for long-term engagements in the Royal Air Force. Pre-eminently, there is the influence of excessive postings, or, as it is termed, "turbulence." Perhaps in a facetious aside I might congratulate the anonymous word coiner in the Air Ministry. The word might represent a technical problem in aerodynamics or an organic disturbance, but it describes admirably the seething life in the Air Force since the end of the war and at the present time.
It is inevitable that much of the present turbulence is due to major changes of policy. I wonder whether, when posting decisions are taken, there is proper comprehension of the costs involved. Pay 714 accounts, movements, Records Office, stores—in all of them it is common knowledge that the number of men moved is far in excess of what would be required if postings could be got down to a normal figure.
I sometimes wonder whether we could not have a closer and more original analysis of the whole matter of the form of our long-service engagements. Could we devise fresh forms which would incorporate posting privileges? There might be a case for putting aside certain categories of men working at certain stations, such as technical staff at maintenance stations, where they would have some guarantee of very limited postings and, perhaps, reduced financial rewards. I put that proposal forward hesitantly, but I am sure there must be a much more analytical examination of this very fruitful aspect of devising fresh forms of long-service engagements. I am never satisfied with a mere allusion, as an excuse, to the question of overseas commitments.
I should have thought there was a possibility of drawing together the stations of Technical Training Command and Maintenance Command into a certain area or county. There is no technical or organisational merit in the present distribution of the stations of those commands. They just happened that way at the end of the war. Certain stations fell vacant and were offered or allocated to certain commands.
It might be that if some radical reorganisation could take place those at some of those stations could be drawn into a certain area. This would mean that less time would be taken in group visits, and fewer personnel would be required at group headquarters, and there would be the knowledge that a posting within the command would not necessarily take one outside the available married quarters or beyond the area of the county education authorities. It would also mean the end of hutted stations. However, it would certainly cost a great deal of money.
I should have thought that any such reorganisation in those two commands must be the consequence of certain other decisions, such as how long it will be before we can get a final judgment on the future use or existence of many stations and how long the patching of temporary 715 stations will go on. This started as an expedient, but it is now a policy. I wonder whether a calculation has ever been made of the merits and the costs of pay increases—I understand the recent ones will mean an increase of £3 million—compared with what could be done with the same amount of money if it were treated as capital expenditure in the rebuilding and resiting of stations.
On the whole question of postings, I recognise that if we are to effect a radical rather than a marginal improvement, the turbulence may well get worst before it gets better. I accept that. I would also recognise that excessive postings, housing, education and station accommodation problems are all inextricably locked together. It is a vicious circle, and breaking it will be a very extensive operation.
With regard to housing for ex-Regulars, we welcomed the Minister's statement last week. I confess that I am not over-optimistic about the influence of the statement on recruiting. I look upon it merely as justice for Service men that that decision has been made, but I cannot foresee much improvement in recruiting resulting from it.
A man who is thinking of signing on for a very long term of years will not attach a great deal of importance to the probability of getting a house at the end of his time, whereas a man already in the R.A.F. who is considering re-engagement finds it a positive inducement to him to leave. I know, from my experience during the last few years, the number of senior N.C.O.s who sign on again merely for the reason that they are in married quarters and know they have no chance of a council house if they leave.
That leads me to the wider question of station accommodation. I spent my two years' National Service in Technical Training Command. I did my basic training at Bridgnorth and my trade training at Wellesbourne Mountford, and for the rest of my time I went to that Mecca of aeronautical enthusiasts, Padgate. Those three stations are in Technical Training Command, and they are all hutted camps. In all three there is a daily disciplinary fight against damp, decay, dust and dilapidation. Everyone recognises that. We all had to discipline ourselves to fight against it. The evidence given last year before the Select Com- 716 mittee was most devastating. I appreciated the evidence given about the cookhouse at Bridgnorth, which horrified one of the witnesses.
What troubles me is that it is a tragedy for the R.A.F. that the reception units and Technical Training Command stations to which almost all recruits go at the beginning are for the most part hutted camps built in war-time or before the war for temporary or emergency purposes, and for 15 or 20 years reprieved but never rebuilt. The result is that we are achieving the worst impression on the maximum number at their most sensitive stage.
The educational problems of Service men have been talked about a great deal during past weeks, and I can only stress the familiar. In the first place, it is a consequence of excessive postings. If men are posted every two years—it is probably every 15 or 18 months—it means that their children during their school life up to university age will probably attend six different schools, be under six different education authorities and experience six different curricula.
What is worse, education authorities offer widely varying numbers of grammar school places. The numbers vary dramatically from county to county. So the scholarship chance for a Service man's child is really a matter of the throw of the dice or a move of the posting cap. The situation is getting so much worse, because the educational standard of R.A.F. personnel is going up. Evidence given before the Select Committee last year was that in the Technical Training, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands 80 to 90 per cent. of the men were tradesmen of considerable skill.
In radio, instrument and electronic trades there is not only considerable skill, but a high standard of education and no mean intellect, or the men could not comprehend the science with which they have to deal in these trades. These are the very men who are likely to be ambitious and to desire their children to have the educational qualifications which they enjoy. They are the very men who can walk out into a very well-paid and stable job in industry. That is the darkening situation which faces us in relation to skilled men in the Air Force.
In mentioning all these things I have strayed into controversial matters. I 717 think that I have covered myself with the dust of the arena. I will now climb back on the wall, but as I do so I hope that my hon. Friend will observe on which side my legs are dangling. Those of us who, like myself, come into the House during the lifetime of an existing Parliament know that our arrival or non-arrival can be taken as no cause to hearken unto the ides of March. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will not feel that he has heard the winds of March in the muted but querulous tones of this little "Woollam."
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. William Paling (Dewsbury)
It falls to me as a very pleasant duty, following on the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Woollam), to offer to him the congratulations not only of myself, but, I am certain, of the whole House on a magnificent speech. It was delivered in a very pleasant manner with obvious sincerity and it is clear that he knows his subject. He made an excellent speech, and I am sure that every hon. Member will look forward to hearing him on many occasions.
I may be following rather different lines, but nevertheless I support the Amendment because about two months ago I had the pleasure of going with the delegation to Germany to see the Army of the Rhine. On my return I had numerous letters from men in the Air Force in Germany and elsewhere asking why we did not see them, as they were certain that they had more complaints to ventilate than had the Army.
Strangely enough, I have about 23 sheets of typewritten complaints, but not complaints for the sake of complaining. Every one is from a long-service man, each wanting to put forward complaints which have apparently been raised time and time again, and asking for something to be done to encourage men to stay in the Air Force. Almost every man who has written has mentioned that point. It is obvious that they want something to be done so that they may retain their admiration of the Service to which they belong.
It is rather significant that every letter I have had has been from a long-service man. There must be something in the complaints, many of which have been 718 raised this afternoon, but which I intend to raise in a rather different manner. I have made copies of one or two extracts from the letters covering the various phases of the difficulties and problems. To every letter is attached one sentence asking that a delegation should visit the Air Force to receive complaints on the spot and to see for itself what is wrong.
I had a letter from a man with 22 years' service, saying:When an apprentice joins the R.A.F. he is young, keen and energetic. He was, when I joined the R.A.F. of considerable intellect to pass the R.A.F. entrance examination. … But his brain power is sapped, his initiative stifled, until he becomes an obedient little cog in a vast wheel.He later goes on to discount some of that statement, but going on to the question of trades he says:No one knows where they are going. I finished my apprenticeship and passed out as a Fitter II. This trade was placed redundant and after the war we were asked to change to Fitter I. Within two years this trade was placed obsolescent and we were given a list of trades that we could remuster to. We did not remuster to these trades because they were not trades directly concerned with aircraft, and when the new Trades Structure started we were incorporated into Aircraft Fitters. Now once again, we have been placed redundant, for Aircraft Fitter is considered again obsolescent.This is only one example, but it is multiplied throughout the R.A.F. in all trades. … I am a Chief/Technician. …Various other people of similar ranks have written in the same strain. They are people who have served up to 22 years in the R.A.F. and until these last few years they have been proud to serve in that Service. These things have cropped up year after year, but the utmost consideration has not been given to the position of men who compose the Service. So we get a run of letters such as that which I and many other hon. Members have received.
My correspondent goes on to state:As far as trades are concerned in the R.A.F., the typical fitters' advice to a would-be entrant is to steer clear of Aircraft. 'Get yourself swallowed up into the swollen admin, side of the R.A.F.'.Presumably he is feeling a little bitter. Nevertheless in his letter he stresses the need for investigation, and for getting to know what is wrong, because these men want to serve and to be proud to serve the Service they are in.
719 I come to the question of pay and promotion. On this, I have a letter from another fitter, who says:A fitter is always at the sticky end of the promotion wicket. He takes the largest slice of the responsibilities and duties in the R.A.F., yet he gets the slowest promotion. This is not only reflected in pay, but also in gratuities and pensions. There are so many cases of this that it would be difficult to quote them all. In my stores, we have a young lad not yet twenty. He is a full substantive corporal after only fourteen months in the R.A.F. His fitter counterpart has to wait five or may be more years for the same rank. This, if he stayed in the service would affect his pension and gratuity. Thus, one's pension and gratuities are not a reflection of faithful service but of being lucky enough to be in the right trade at the right time and getting promotion for higher pension.If this is a fact, it is surely time that something was done about it. I am assured by the writer of that letter that these complaints have been made time after time to visiting committees, and that the Ministry is not unaware of these problems about which the men are grumbling at the present time. If we are to retain and increase the number of long-service men in the R.A.F. something must be done to deal with these complaints about which they are writing.
Surely it is up to the Minister to ensure that steps are taken to investigate these complaints in the stations abroad and in this country, because obviously there is something wrong. Coupled with that there must be a terriffic waste of money.
Then there is the question of children's education, which was raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and other hon. Members earlier today. This seems to be a very difficult question, particularly for those serving overseas. I do not think that I can do better than quote a letter from a man who has been in the Air Force for about 14 or 15 years. He says:This is a very important problem to long-service men. Once a serviceman's child reaches the period of advanced schooling, from ten years onwards—the problems surrounding his or her education are multiplied enormously. They have to change their schools so frequently, and the secrecy surrounding their progress especially in the newfangled education test is somewhat puzzling. If they take the school test which is given them here, we may find on our return home that this is not acceptable in some grammar schools as a scholarship standard. Parents are left to find out the best course for their own 720 children. For a child of a Serviceman to reach a fair standard of education reflects great credit on the child and on his or her parents.There is another problem which seems to exist both in the Army and Air Force. It is that many serving officers, as well as N.C.O.s and men, have been abroad for many years. They come back to this country and their children are qualified to go into grammar schools. But they find that it is almost impossible to get them into grammar schools, because no authority will accept the parents as being resident within the bounds of its particular town or county.
When I was in Germany this point was raised on several occasions. This is not a specific case, but suppose a man who has been in Buckinghamshire goes abroad for a number of years and comes back. He is no longer recognised by that county as being entitled to any services, educational or otherwise. I was assured by senior officers that that is so, and if it is, I think it time that the matter was gone into properly for the sake of the youngsters and their education.
There are, of course, quite a number of other problems. There is the question of the N.A.A.F.I. It arises time after time, and it arose when we visited the Army. I will quote just one section from a letter:The N.A.A.F.I. despite its pitiful excuses and painful attempts at business, provides, or is supposed to provide, our food and clothing. The choice that faces us is one of Hobson's specials—take it or leave it. Thus we have to pay their price or go to the devil. The N.A.A.F.I. has many excuses—none of which hold water. But point out that cigarettes and whisky are cheap. True, but children do not thrive on these items.I could quote one or two other extracts, but they are scarcely quotable in this Chamber.
This is a major complaint contained in every letter that I have received. When we visited the Army and met the wives' club, it was mentioned. We were made to understand that it was a very prominent complaint. When one looks into all the facts one finds that there is some substance in it, and I think that it should be investigated.
Without making any more quotations, I would remind hon. Members that there is the question of married quarters and allowances, and all the subjects which have been raised today. I believe that 721 these matters stand in the way of people signing on for long periods in the Services. If they were gone into honestly and thoroughly—even though it meant a delegation going out to inquire, and to talk to people and ask them for frank impressions or to express themselves in a frank way—I think that we should benefit from it.
We should then know what was in the minds of people who talk about giving up, and who say that their sons would never enter into a long-service contract. I think that these problems should be examined—education, rates of pay, pensions, gratuities, housing, and all the other matters—in order that we may get a better atmosphere among the people who mean so much to us.
I will just quote the words of a sergeant:Air Ministry have been told time and time again through travelling committees of all these complaints. When one sits and listens, it seems that there could not possibly be so many complaints, at one time, in one Service.There is some sincerity about that.
I should like the Minister to take up these matters on the grounds voiced by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs); that if we want men in the Services, we must clear out of the way all these complaints and grouses, and give them a square deal for the job which we expect them to do. Then I am certain that we shall get an Air Force.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
It is a great pleasure to me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dews-bury (Mr. William Paling), but it is a reflection on the interest that hon. Members opposite are taking in what to me is an important subject. It is significant that, apart from the mover and seconder of the Amendment, the only other Conservative back-bench Member present has only recently entered the Chamber. This is a problem to which the party opposite could devote very much more attention.
After those perhaps not uncontroversial words, I do not wish to enter into great political controversy. As a token of that intention—
§ Mr. Græme Finlay (Epping)
The hon. Member has referred to me. I have been in the Chamber for a considerably longer period this afternoon and this evening than the hon. Member has been.
§ Mr. Mulley
Had the hon. Member been awake while he was in the Chamber, he would have noted that I referred specifically to the Amendment. Mere presence in the Chamber is not always necessarily a virtue. All hon. Members will have examples of that within their recollection.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) on his good fortune in the Ballot and on selecting this subject. Although the greater part of to-day's debate will be concerned with the far bigger problems of world strategy and the technical problems of weapons, machines and so on, there exists a problem of manpower within the Royal Air Force—indeed, in all our Services—and I welcome this opportunity for the House to concentrate attention upon it.
The aspect which I shall consider is, perhaps, best illustrated by the last three words of the Amendment, "efficiency with economy." I should like the House for a moment to look at the other side of the coin, so to speak, that is presented by the Amendment and to consider whether some part of the same objective could not be achieved by a better use by the Royal Air Force of its existing personnel. To make better use of those personnel would to some extent reduce the need for additional long engagements, and the employment of airmen and officers on proper Air Force duties would go far to give them much greater incentive to extend their engagements. The ordinary man who joins the Air Force as a volunteer does so not to become a clerk, canteen worker or batman, but because he wants to concern himself with flying or with the technical maintenance side of the Service.
The question of the use of Air Force personnel for jobs which, either in peace or in war, could be better, or as well, done by civilian labour has often been raised. I believe that, in its own slow way, the Air Ministry has taken one or two steps to implement the recommendations made by, for example, the Select Committee on Estimates on a number of occasions during the last few years. The question has also been raised by the trade unions and by the Trades Union Congress.
I ask the Ministry, and the Under-Secretary of State in particular, to give attention to reducing the number of airmen who are engaged on work of this 723 kind which could be done by civilians. I understand that two working parties which were set up to consider the recommendations of the Breen Departmental Committee have stopped working and that there is no evidence at present that the Air Ministry is aware of the urgency and need to follow up those recommendations. If the Air Ministry takes the trouble to look, it will find at all levels throughout the Service a number of posts in which civilian labour could replace airmen or officers, to the advantage both of those replaced and of the Service.
I do not suggest that clerical work can be done by civilians in every case. There may be instances in which, in the interests of training, because of the remoteness of the station, or the need for special service experience, there are special reasons for employing airmen. Nevertheless, the Air Ministry is too easily persuaded of these special reasons and is beginning to take the mere fact that a station is a little remote as a reason for not attempting to recruit civilian labour in the locality, although I am informed from trade union sources that it is very often available.
This particular problem arises chiefly, I believe, at the lieutenant level. There may be many civilian posts requiring no technical or air knowledge which are occupied by flight-lieutenants of whom, for some reason, there is a great surplus over the number required for purely Air Force purposes. I ask for this matter to be considered not merely from the standpoint of whether it would be better to employ civilians, but of the morale of both the lieutenants and the civilians. I do not believe that a flight-lieutenant who joins the Service because of his technical or flying interest will be too happy in a post which he knows can be easily filled by a civilian with much less experience and at about half the salary.
Civilians who are working loyally and well for the Air Ministry very often find their chance of promotion is blocked by the extension of posts to Service rather than to civilian personnel. It is very bad that Regular officers and airmen should be so extensively engaged as they are in non-Service posts. It is a very serious matter when National Service men are employed in posts which could be better and more economically filled by civilians. When one has to defend the existence of 724 National Service it makes the defence difficult when people cite instances from their own experience showing that the two years of their lives spent in the Service have been wasted.
In that connection I would congratulate the hon. Member for West Derby (Mr. Woollam) on a most effective maiden speech. In addition to having that satisfaction, he can, almost uniquely, reflect that his Service career has produced material for that very good maiden speech. Many people who have spent two years in the Royal Air Force have nothing to look back upon as an achievement during that time.
I ask the Minister to give particular attention to this question of the employment of National Service men on routine clerical jobs. In 1953 it was officially reported, I understand, that 150 National Service men were working in the Air Ministry headquarters. A protest was made by the trade union concerned, and the reply was that National Service men had to be used because no civilians were available. It happened that at that time a great number of suitable clerks in Government Departments were being declared redundant. When the Minister is asked questions on these subjects by a trade union or by a Member of this House, he should look behind the first official answer he gets. He may find that the answer does not stand up to full investigation.
The Select Committees of this House, reporting on the call-up and posting of National Service men in 1952–53, noted that a great number of airmen were employed on office-machine work in the Army Record Office in Gloucester. I believe that the number has been reduced, but my information is that airmen are still employed on what is obviously a suitable civilian job. In Gibraltar, despite the representations which have been made to the Air Ministry, all kinds of jobs which could be done by local civilian labour are done by airmen, including National Service men.
I would remind the Under-Secretary of what a distinguished Member of the Government said on this subject. The hon. Gentleman may pay more regard to his words than to mine. The present Minister of Transport in 1949, when in the Opposition, described the use of National 725 Service men on office duties as a gross abuse of the National Service Acts. I appreciate that tonight the Under-Secretary is handicapped by the fact that, for understandable reasons—none of us would deny him a meal—he has not been able to spend very much time in the Chamber during this debate. However, I hope that we shall have an undertaking that the Air Ministry will treat this subject with a little more urgency than in the past and that we may have, besides intentions to improve, some tangible evidence of what has recently been done and some indication of the numbers of National Service men employed, for example, at Air Ministry headquarters.
This is an urgent and serious matter. It makes nonsense of going in for improved methods of recruitment and investigation of the excellent suggestions made by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and others about persuading people to accept and extend Regular engagements, if those people are aware of the inefficient use of personnel while in the Service.
While I do not suggest that the points which I have raised solve the problem posed by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove, I suggest that a contribution can be made along those lines. I would also stress that if the grievances from both the civilian end and the Service end could be rectified, it would improve the morale of the Service men and lead to better relations between the Air Ministry and its civilian employees. The better use of Service personnel would take us along the road indicated by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove, one which I should be very happy if we trod, towards a reduction in the period of National Service. I urge the Government to consider these pointsas well as the points which have been made about increasing the numbers on long-term engagements. I hope we shall be given some evidence of the Government's determination to deal with these matters.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
With my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), I congratulate the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) on raising this subject. In case I do not find a suitable opportunity later on, I should 726 also like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for West Derby (Mr. Woollam), who made a most attractive maiden speech. I understand that on his journey to this House he emerged from a certain amount of fog in West Derby. I can assure him that there was no sign of that in his speech, which was, indeed, most clear and cogent.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, the hon. Member for Bromsgrove ends his Amendment with a reference to efficiency and economy. He is well justified in doing so. The Royal Air Force depends very much for efficiency on its manpower, and if it does not use its manpower economically, it will be very severely hindered.
My reason for speaking about this subject is that I was associated on the Select Committee on Estimates which examined the matter last year with two previous speakers in the main part of the debate.
My hon. Friend who reported on what he had found in Germany reminded us of one of the complications that exist in the skilled manpower situation of the Royal Air Force—that the R.A.F. needs to keep a certain pool of skilled men for service overseas. The demand which the Service has for skilled and highly skilled tradesmen is remarkably high, and the proportion of people in the Service who are of a high degree of skill, to the outside observer, is most astonishing. The R.A.F. does depend very much on a high degree of skill in its manpower and at present cannot get all the necessary skilled manpower it needs.
I think it worth while reminding the House that in discussing this question we are discussing one small corner of what we are beginning to recognise as one of the major economic questions facing us—the question of manpower and its use in the country as a whole. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) pointed out that we are short of scientists. We are short of all sorts of technically qualified people. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove, who moved the Amendment, pointed out the difficulties the Services are finding in getting people in competition with civilian industry, but it is not only the Services which find that difficult. The whole of the public service—the police, the teaching profession, one service after the other—is finding great difficulty in keeping 727 going in face of the intense competition for highly qualified manpower of any kind.
In the case of the R.A.F. the main shortage, as has been stressed, is of people concerned with electronics and radar, and particularly the more highly skilled tradesmen in those spheres. When the Select Committee considered this matter, it found a great deal of concern about it. Some witnesses who gave evidence expressed themselves, in a calm, thoughtful and collected way, but in the most grave terms about it. I was a little disturbed, therefore, when I read the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates to find the comparatively optimistic phrases used by the Minister. They suggested a certain amount of woolliness in handling the problem. In his opening speech earlier today, the Under-Secretary suggested a possible explanation. He said that things have improved since a year ago when the Committee was making investigations. I wonder if he was not also being a little over-optimistic.
One of the things we found was an impression—not merely an impression, but a number of specific statements—by well qualified witnesses that the problem would get worse rather than better and there would be an increased demand from the R.A.F. for skilled tradesmen. The new bomber force of Vulcans and Valiants has been mentioned. The question has been put to the hon. Gentleman of whether he can find the technicians to keep them in the air. After his speech I felt a little doubtful. It seemed to me that perhaps the gravity of the situation is more correctly represented in the Report of the Estimates Committee than it was in his speech. I ask him if he will reiterate, or in any way qualify, on second thoughts, the statements and general attitude of his opening speech. I hope that, as he said, the situation has improved in the course of the year, but I must say that I am a little doubtful, particularly in view of the possible needs of the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park tried to shatter the rather ghostly calm that has been engendered during the discussion of this Amendment compared with the somewhat hectic debate we had before it was moved.
People who talk about the supply of aircraft and more technical matters apparently do not manage to do so in 728 the comparatively non-controversial way in which we are talking just now, but the point where our interests touch theirs is very clear, and it was mentioned in the evidence given to the Select Committee. If we go on being short of technically skilled people the effect shows itself in a reduction in the number of flying hours. We were told by one commander-in-chief that at the present moment he was only just able to carry out his flying task, because he had only just enough technically skilled people to keep the required number of aircraft in the air. Once the supply of technically qualified people begins to drop, the drop shows itself in the fact that one cannot carry out the necessary flying task.
The R.A.F. itself is doing all it can to meet this problem. I think that all the Members of the Select Committee were most impressed by the extreme intelligence and efficiency, if I may respectfully say so, with which the Service appeared to be addressing itself to matters of this sort, but it is up against an almost insoluble problem. What it has to try to do is to solve its section of a problem which the country as a whole is not managing to solve.
The situation was very clearly put by one of the witnesses—Sir Victor Groom—in the answer to Question No. 1905, when he said:In my view there are not sufficient men or women in the United Kingdom who, having the necessary qualifications to fill these particular trades, are also prepared to give up some of their liberty and be bound by Service conditions. If you want to maintain the size of the Forces you have got to offer them … inducements … not all necessarily financial ones. …That point has been put by some hon. Members this evening.
I was glad to learn that the number of people who have been signing on for long-term engagements has increased. The Under-Secretary referred to an increase of 15 per cent. which, from the point of view of the Royal Air Force, and from our point of view tonight, is an excellent thing, but there is another point of view which we have to watch in a situation like that. The pool of people upon which we are drawing is itself limited by sheer natural capacity. We just do not have among the population sufficient people with the necessary intelligence and qualities to act as potential skilled tradesmen of this sort.
729 If, therefore, the Royal Air Force is succeeding in taking an extra 15 per cent. on long-term engagements, that 15 per cent. is coming from somewhere else—not the Army or the Navy in this case, though the Royal Air Force is in competition with the other two Services, as well as with civilian industry. If the people are not coming from the Army or the Navy they are possibly coming from civilian work which is equally necessary in the national interests. Not all civilian work which uses these people is equally necessary; some is of a much lower degree of priority. If this 15 per cent. were being attracted from unnecessary industries, or industries of second-rate importance, all well and good, but we cannot be sure of that.
We have a limited pool, and if one user pulls harder and gets more, another user does without to that extent—and that other user may very well be just as important in the national interest. The short answer is undoubtedly that we need a policy not merely within the Royal Air Force but on a national scale. For that reason, I think that the Select Committee on Estimates was right when it made its first recommendation, with which, I have no doubt, the hon. Member is familiar, that this question should be examined by the three Services, in conjunction with the Ministry of Supply and civilian industry, as a national problem. It is only by treating it as a national problem that we shall manage to get a proper solution to it.
I am sorry that so far the Air Ministry has not seen fit to give effect to that recommendation. It has given an answer to the Report we drew up, but it has not agreed to that recommendation yet; yet I think that if one looks at the implications of the question as a whole one sees that this is simply one special aspect of a problem that has been troubling the country now for some years, the problem of getting enough technically qualified people of whatever grade, skilled tradesmen, technicians, scientists, to carry out the increasing number of jobs that require men with a high degree of specialised knowledge.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
I wish to raise one matter with the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I am encouraged to do so because the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), when he moved the 730 Amendment, spoke about the difficulties of recruiting and of the treatment of men when they appear at recruiting offices. I raise the matter with particular regard to young men who apply for commissions in the Royal Air Force. I have had correspondence with the Under-Secretary of State about it. He sent me a very courteous reply, but it was most unsatisfactory in so far as it dealt with the personal case that I raised with the hon. Gentleman.
There are young men in different parts of the country who wish to serve in the Royal Air Force and who wish to take commissions. The case I put to the hon. Gentleman was that of a young man in my constituency who wanted to do this, and he applied and was accepted. The Royal Air Force sent for him to go to a selection board in London. It is a considerable journey, even in the best of conditions, from Edinburgh to London. It is true that a voucher was provided for him, but in a letter to him it was said that though he was required to appear on a certain date there was no guarantee that he would be placed before the selection board on that day. He was advised in his own interests to book at an hotel at his own expense in the hope that he would be able to appear before the board the next day.
It seems to me that if the Air Ministry wants to discourage people from joining the Service, this is the way to go about it. There must be many young men in Scotland, Wales, or the North of England who would find it extremely difficult to be released from their employment or to lose wages to make application in that way. I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State for Air that he should not place deterrents of this kind in the way of those young men. There may be some of them who could well afford such expenses, but in the case I took up with him there was involved a considerable expense for the young man's parents.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should set up selection boards in other parts of the country, too, as was done during the war, and that young men in those areas should be able to go before those boards in conditions similar to those in which young men in London and the adjacent areas go to the London board. I put this matter shortly and sharply to 731 the hon. Gentleman tonight in the hope that he will regard it as a serious matter and give it serious consideration.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), who was fortunate enough in the Ballot to draw the right to raise this subject today, will be well satisfied with the debate which his Amendment has started. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will look into the point which was raised by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). It seems to me that if there cannot be a local board in Edinburgh, or Cardiff, or wherever it might be in Wales, every facility should be given to obviously keen young men if they have to come to London for interview.
I think we can all agree that one of the difficulties of the emphasis this year on aircraft and aircraft production and aircraft standards has been that we have tended to overlook the importance of the men. There is a general point which I want to make in the form of a rather personal opinion. I fear that our procedure in the House is out of date in that we have no Standing Committee on defence, in which we can examine in detail what is really behind the Estimates and the Government's policy.
I do not think that our procedure is such that we can give the necessary informed scrutiny to the propositions of the Government of the day. I cannot go to my constituents in the City of Lincoln and say that I am certain that they have had value for the money which they have spent in the last three years on defence. I voted for that money. It comes to about £7 million and I should like to be able to say, "Your £7 million has been well spent. You have had your defence." But I am prevented from doing it, first because I believe that on certain points the Government have hidden the facts. There are of course questions of security—
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
There are two Select Committees of the House which have been operating for a great many years, and which have powers to deal with the problems which the hon. Member is discussing. Those Committees can examine all Estimates.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
It appears to me that this discussion is going beyond the terms of the Amendment.
§ Mr. de Freitas
With respect, I was speaking of the impossibility of dealing with manning problems because we have no standing Committee on defence. The Estimates Committee discusses different matters—and afterwards.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
The Estimates Committee discusses the Estimates before they are produced. The Public Accounts Committee discusses them afterwards. I served on the Estimates Committee for 20 years. Every Estimate that came before the House came before us. We could have examined them all if we had had the time. We selected certain Estimates for examination.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I agree that it is the Public Accounts Committee that discusses the Estimates afterwards, but I still say that there is no standing Committee of the House—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I find it difficult to see how the hon. Member brings this discussion within the terms of the Amendment.
§ Mr. de Freitas
On a point of order. I was replying to an intervention. Am I not entitled to say that in my opinion our procedure prevents the proper discussion of manning? I submit that that is relevant to the whole question of R.A.F. manning.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is relevant to the question of increased personnel, but a discussion such as that which was taking place just now on Committees of the House appears to me not to be relevant.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am not trying to get round your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I should like to know, for instance, on what ratio of aircrew to aircraft the R.A.F. is working at the moment. That is a question to which I am denied the answer. Obviously there are matters of security, but if I were told in secret that the R.A.F. was working on a ratio of, say, 1.5 to one or 1.7 to one, or whatever it may be, I should be better able to know whether or not the R.A.F. was over-stating its manning requirements, and whether the problem was of its own creation and not a problem of persuading people to join the R.A.F.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Is it not a fact that we have been discussing a Report of a Select Committee on Estimates which dealt with this very problem of manpower? That is what has been discussed since I came into the Chamber, and is it not true that that Committee dealt with all the problems which the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) is now raising?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention he would have known that that was not the subject of the discussion earlier. The question was one of increasing personnel, but it was not on this point.
May I help the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas)? I do not want him to think we are trying to get away from the subject. But if I were to tell him the ratio of aircrew to aircraft it would give away the exact position, because when it appeared in Hansard the Russians would be able to find out the front line strength of the Royal Air Force.
The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that figures can be extremely misleading. If he wanted to know the number of people actually working to get an aircraft into the air, it would be very difficult to calculate that and to divide these men from, say, the R.A.F. Regiment.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The Under-Secretary has proved my point. I was saying that we should have a defence committee sitting in secret, to whom these figures should be given.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The hon. Member says it is unnecessary while his hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) thinks it is, which shows what chaos there is on this essential point. We cannot get this information because of our procedure. Some of it is deliberately withheld, no doubt for security reasons, but anyway we do not 734 have the full information which should be before us if we are to deal with an Amendment such as that which has been moved tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) referred to the Government's complacency about manpower and about the too optimistic statements which the Under-Secretary had made. Let us remember that in 1952 the Under-Secretary hailed the success of the new trade structure, the increased pay, which had come in two years before, in September, and the new engagements, and claimed, quite rightly, that 1951 was the best recruiting year that we had had.
But right from that very moment it seemed clear to many of us—and we said so—that the Secretary of State should not have been deceived as to the future trends. He appeared to regard this manning problem as over when he should have been facing the real difficulty of the future of getting Regular recruits; and even last year, the Memorandum forecast there was to be a decrease in the National Service proportions. In fact, that National Service proportion remained at 26 per cent., and we are now told that it is going to rise to 30 per cent.
Surely it is a complete misconception of the nature of National Service and the purpose for which it was introduced for the Under-Secretary to say that he is optimistic if, in this very year, it is contemplated that the National Service proportion is going to rise to 30 per cent.—in other words, the Regular proportion is going to decrease.
In the White Paper and the Memorandum there is no reference to the fact that National Service was introduced for cold war commitments and to build up a Reserve. The cold war commitments have been cut. There is less demand because of Suez, Trieste, and so on. Similarly, there has been a reduction in the need for the Reserves in the Royal Air Force. We further know that such Reserves are of little importance in nuclear warfare.
So I repeat what has been said from this Dispatch Box so often. We demand an inquiry into the working of National Service to see what can be done to eliminate it. What worries me is that there is no indication that the fundamental aim 735 behind the Government's policy is to get rid of National Service. The Under-Secretary is too optimistic about the manpower position.
May I clear this matter up as we go along? Clearly the number of two-year men depends on the number who are taking three, four and five-year engagements. If there are a lot of people taking the latter, there are fewer taking two-year engagements. It happens that this year fewer are taking three, four and five-year engagements and more are taking the two-year engagements, but there is nothing wrong in that—it is bound to fluctuate all the time—and it is much better to have a 15 per cent. increase in 12-year engagements.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am not debating that. I am saying that the attitude of the Government is that they are ignoring the importance of getting rid of National Service as soon as possible, and that if the proportion rises in a year, no comment is made.
Air Commodore Harvey
If the hon. Gentleman will refer to his right hon. Friend's White Paper of 1951–52, which was published just before the Election, he will find that it said:This build-up of strength has been achieved by recruiting more regulars, extending the period of full-time national service men from 18 months to 2 years, and by retaining temporarily the services of time-expired regulars.He did not do much about it then.
§ Mr. de Freitas
We had the commitment of the Korean war then, which made a great difference.
What is the Air Ministry doing to solve the manning problem and to meet some of the arguments put up by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and others? I have asked before, and have not had a specific assurance, whether we are not over-insuring wastefully in aircrew. Are we getting too many aircrew for the type of operations which can be envisaged for the future, and for the number of aircraft we can put into operation?
Another question is this: is the Air Force offering a full career to the technical officer in order to attract the right man from the university? He must know that he has a chance of getting to the top or he will not enter the 736 Service. I put this next point with a little diffidence, but it is important: what will it matter in 30 years' time that a man's eyesight at university age was not perfect?
Should we not be considering the full implications of pilotless aircraft? So long as our operational aircraft are piloted, of course the commanders must have been pilots. I have never heard anyone suggest that this should not be so, and we must not make that mistake. Yet, should we not begin to look ahead and plan for the push-button warfare by considering these extremely difficult problems? What evidence is there that in looking for our Regular officers we are considering the age of push-button warfare on which we are about to enter?
Again, where is there evidence of the planning of manpower for the quick changes that will be necessary in moving our bomber bases from England to Libya, from Libya to Iraq, or wherever it may be? Presumably these would have the necessary manpower, and this would consist of small care-and-maintenance parties, to be reinforced by aircrew maintenance parties. Has that changed the pattern of our manning—except, of course, that it will obviously have developed more emphasis on transport?
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove said that the Air Ministry must face the implication of having too few technicians by relying more upon civilian maintenance. The figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winterbottom), and also given in the excellent Report of the Select Committee, are remarkable—the contrasting figures of civilian maintenance and of R.A.F. maintenance. Those figures are given in paragraph 37 of the Committee's Report.
There was once a fear that the R.A.F. might be grounded at a critical time by a strike if we relied too much on civilian maintenance, but that fear is rather out of date. The only possible enemy today is one with whom organised labour has no sympathy at all, and I think that fear should be forgotten.
Above all, the country must insist on Ministers of Defence being up to date in their attitude towards the Royal Air Force. This is most relevant to manning. 737 It may sound somewhat presumptuous to say this, but it is true: when the Prime Minister was in Opposition he used to speak from this Box in defence debates about front-line bayonet strength, about how many sailors slept at sea the night before—all quite out-of-date conceptions of military manpower. There was never a reference to fire power and the accuracy with which it was to be directed. He was continually harping on the idea of the front line and the number of people with swords in their hands. That was his basic thought.
The next Minister of Defence, Lord Alexander, a most distinguished soldier, seemed to have the same approach—the feeling that the Royal Air Force was somehow an aerial chauffeur service. We reached the point where we had the scandal over the master technicians, where he refused to recognise that the particular need of the Royal Air Force was for the highest N.C.O. technician grade, which has no parallel in the other Services. It was eventually recognised, but very late.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am not going as far back as that.
I want an assurance that the Government will recognise the exceptional position of the Royal Air Force as the deliverer of our deterrent weapon. It is most important that that should be done. For too long the three Service Departments have tried to keep in step, balancing pay rates, balancing trades and other matters which are totally different. The evidence which we have now is of the increased importance of the Royal Air Force in this world of today, and its manning must be adjusted to that fact.
It is right that at the end of this little debate within the debate I should say that my hon. Friends join with me in appreciation of the men and women in the Royal Air Force, and especialy those who have the thrills and also the risks of flying modern combat aircraft. We thank them for their great work and for the great service which they are doing. I was particularly glad to hear the Under-Secretary of State say that the proportion of fatal accidents today was fewer than was the case 30 years ago. That is a remarkable achievement. That in no way makes it 738 a safe Service. It is not, and never can be. The thrills are there. Wherever we go we should remember that these men and women are not just odd figures on a page of the Air Estimates but men and women making up the finest fighting force in the world.
§ 9.29 p.m.
I am sure that the words with which the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) concluded his speech will be greatly appreciated by people outside this House and that none could disagree with the sentiments he expressed. He has had the honour to hold office in the Air Ministry, and I well know his enthusiasm for the Royal Air Force and his keenness to see that we do everything we possibly can for it. He had many constructive suggestions, as is usual when we get together to discuss what we can do to help.
We have had a very valuable discussion this evening. I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) for choosing this important subject for debate. I must also very warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Derby (Mr. Woollam) on his most excellent maiden speech. He is, he told us, the first Member to come here after doing a period of National Service in the Royal Air Force in peacetime. Tonight he drew forcibly upon his recent experiences and produced some extremely interesting, constructive, and helpful suggestions.
I hope that we shall have some further useful contributions from the hon. Member and that he will become a regular, as it were, in our air debates. From my six years in opposition, I know how easy it is to get out of touch with one's old service. He has probably had more recent contact with his Service than anybody else in the House, and I hope that he will give us the benefit of that recent experience and bring to our attention at the Air Ministry any points which might worry him after his recent service.
Our discussion on the Motion tonight may have been in apparent contrast to the larger issues which we discussed earlier and to which we shall presumably shortly be returning. But this contrast is more apparent than real. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of getting Regulars on long service engagements. As the hon. Member for Lincoln said, if 739 we are to Have the dual deterrents of the V-bomber force and adequate air defence, we must not only have the aircrew to fly the aeroplanes, but the people to service them on the ground. Those must be people who are entirely experienced and under the supervision of first-class N.C.Os., and people who will themselves become first-class N.C.Os. in due course.
People like this cannot be found overnight, and it is to men on long-term engagements that we must look for the first-class craftsmen and the N.C.Os. There is nothing particularly new in all this for the Air Ministry. On the contrary, our post-war plans, as the hon. Member for Lincoln knows, have always been framed on the assumption that the Air Force will be predominantly a long-service force. The increasing uneasiness of the international situation has, however, compelled us to make good our current manpower shortage in the only way in which we can make it good, that is by the use of men on short-term engagements. But the eventual aim has never been forgotten, and the threat of hydrogen warfare only emphasises the importance of recruiting a proper number of men on long-term engagements.
It is unfortunately necessary when planning to consider these problems statistically. I do not want to weary the House with a great number of figures, because most of us assimilate figures more easily when they are in writing, but I must introduce one or two figures to try to put the matter into proper perspective. At the moment, the number of airmen in the Royal Air Force, roughly speaking, is 225,000, of whom just over 160,000 are serving on Regular engagements. Of that 160,000, 40,000 are men serving on engagements of 12 years or more, in fact the people we want.
This figure of 40,000 represents an increase of about 5,000 over the past year, so that we have not done too badly in the past 12 months, although I was taken to task by one hon. Member for being too optimistic. Obviously the improved pay and allowances which we announced last March have encouraged men to sign on for longer service and I hope that that improvement can be maintained.
I am not in the least complacent, as I was accused of being, about this rate of 740 progress, and I for one, and indeed the entire Air Ministry, will not be happy with the state of the Air Force until we have at least doubled the number of men on engagements of 12 years or more. What can we do? My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, in his excellent speech, asked what it was that deterred people from joining. He wondered whether is was money. He pointed out that the young single man was all right, but he wondered whether inquiries might not show that married couples were in fact worse off than they would be in industry.
There is no simple answer to this question, but perhaps it will satisfy my hon. Friend when I say that during the time that we were considering the last pay increases, which were announced a year ago, we did take very carefully into consideration the position not only of the single man but of the married man in relation to their civilian counterparts. Those pay increases were aimed at the rather older men in order to try to keep them in the Service. It is, therefore, likely that on the whole the increases benefited the married men rather more than they did the younger single men.
There are two ways in which we can tackle this very difficult problem. First, we can improve conditions inside the Service to encourage National Service men to convert to Regular engagements, and airmen on short service engagements to take on longer ones. The other way is to do our best to attract people from civil life to join the Service on long Regular engagements. The suggestions put forward tonight fall into one or other of these two categories—what one might call internal and external measures.
I had no idea that in such a short debate so many constructive points could be raised. I apologise if my speech is rather long, but I will do my best to answer them as briefly as I can. Let me start by dealing with what we are doing inside the Service. First, every station now has a part-time careers officer, whose duty it is to keep himself fully informed of the various advantages which the Royal Air Force offers to men who sign on for long engagements. He can give any man interested full and accurate advice. That has been a thing which was badly needed in the past.
Then we run a two days' course at the Air Ministry to brief the careers 741 officers and also the station commanders on the importance of this subject, and to tell them how we think they can help. The discussions during these courses very often bring to light various ways in which we can help to increase internal recruiting, and, what is just as important, they keep the Air Ministry fully in touch with feeling on the subject within the Service.
Internal recruitment does, however, meet with a good deal of what in another context would be called "sales resistance." My hon. Friend the Member for West Derby (Mr. Woollam) mentioned the question of "turbulence." I entirely agree with him that it is most important that we should cut down the number of postings as much as we possibly can if we are to get the recruits we want. This is a problem which we have very much in mind.
It is not quite so easy to cut down movements as at first it might appear. I know that people in the Service get the impression that Records Office is moving them round for fun, but I can assure them that is not so and that the vast majority of movements are essential. For example, men cannot stay overseas indefinitely, and they must be relieved by men sent out from this country. Then we must remember that we lose about 75,000 airmen every year, which is equivalent to turning over the whole of our ground strength every three years. I doubt whether any industrial concern has to deal with a manpower turnover of that enormous size.
With so many men entering and leaving the Service every year, the problem of postings cannot be very small. But we have been able to take a number of positive measures to try to solve this problem. First, unless it is likely to endanger efficiency, airmen are not sent from one station to another in this country simply to make good temporary manning shortages. Secondly, a number of qualified N.C.O.s who hold key positions on their stations have been "screened"—if that be the right word—from posting for a five-year period. Thirdly, airmen who are promoted in their turn on our central roster can be kept at their present stations in anticipation of a vacancy in their new ranks arising within six months.
These may at first seem rather dull and unimaginative steps forward in Records Office procedure, but I can assure hon. Members that they are working. A 742 Regular airman now stays on his station between postings for very much longer than was the case two or three years ago. I readily admit that the average length of his stay is still not what we should like it to be, but we shall go on trying to improve matters still further within the limitations which I have tried to explain.
The hon. Member for West Derby spoke of domestic accommodation and instanced several examples. I was very interested to hear of them and I should not like him to think that I shall not examine them very carefully. But I would say that I think that if he went back to some of the places he mentioned—which I understand he has not visited since 1951—he would find a considerable improvement. We have done a great deal about it since then. In the 1955–56 Estimates which I presented this afternoon, we have £4 million allowed for personnel accommodation and £5,650,000 for married quarters. That is about one-third of our provision for capital works, excluding U.S.A.F. works, which is not a bad proportion.
Of the £4 million for personnel, £1 million is for non-operational commands. My hon. Friend complained that while operational commands were reasonably comfortable, it was the technical commands which were not too comfortable But at any rate a quarter of what we set aside is for these commands and we hope even that proportion will increase as certain Bomber Command and Fighter Command units and the radar chain are completed in the near future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and the hon. Members for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) raised the highly important question of using more civilians and trying to cut down the number of airmen. The awful word "civilianisation" which has come into use describes two quite separate processes: first, the replacement of airmen by Air Ministry civilian employees; and secondly, the replacement of airmen by civilians employed by outside firms under contract to the Air Ministry. We are well aware of the advantages which both these methods offer for us.
By using the Air Ministry civilian employees instead of uniformed personnel, we have managed to civilianise the greater 743 part of our equipment depôts and aircraft storage units, as well as a number of repair and ammunition depôts. Two-thirds of the staff of the Records Office are now civilians. Nearly half the instructors in our School of Technical Training are civilians. This is a continuing process. We calculate that by these means we have been able to cut down our Service establishment by something like 10,000 posts since the end of the war.
It was the use of civilian contractors, I believe, in which most hon. Members were mainly interested. We already employ these contractors for servicing aircraft for certain communications flights and for the University Air Squadrons. Indeed, for some Army co-operation work the contractors do the flying as well as the servicing. Industry already repairs most of the defective aircraft equipment in this country and we have only one Service-manned repair depot dealing with aircraft in the United Kingdom.
We also make great use of contractors' working parties, which go round to R.A.F. stations and carry out work on the spot. For instance, quite a number of bodies of this sort have been flown to Germany recently to help Royal Air Force servicing staff to incorporate urgent aircraft modifications. I myself met some contractors' working parties when I was in Iraq the other day.
I have given those specific examples more or less at random to emphasise the way in which we recognise, and have recognised for some time past, the advantages of saving uniformed manpower by employing civilians. But Imust now bring out a word of warning and talk about some of the practical difficulties which stand in the way of extending this process indefinitely.
To start with, military considerations rule out that process for operational units. On the other side of the picture, outside industry is often suffering from exactly the same shortages of skilled men as we are ourselves. This applies particularly in the electronics industry. It is often difficult to find civilians who are prepared to work in the comparatively remote areas in which many of our airfields must be situated.
Another difficulty is that if we civilianised a great many of the posts at home, it 744 would mean that the Regular airman would spend nearly all his service overseas. If that were the case, we should find that civilianisation had not lessened our difficulties but had increased them, because very few men would sign on for long engagements if they knew that they would have to spend most of their time outside the United Kingdom. Those are only a few of the examples of the difficulties in the way of increased civilianisation, but I feel that there is scope for us to do more. The further savings in the numbers of airmen, however, are much more likely to be measured in terms of hundreds rather than of thousands.
We have several definite schemes in mind. We were planning, for example, to let out to contract the servicing and maintenance of the jet flying training school at Merryfield. However, owing to changes in plan, Merryfield is no longer being used as a flying training school, and so we are looking about to see where else would be suitable for this experiment. We have also decided in principle to civilianise the servicing of a communications squadron. Once again, uncertainty about our deployment plans is temporarily holding up the scheme. We shall do as much as we can, but we must always be certain that we are doing the best not only for a particular station or a particular trade but for the Service as a whole.
§ Mr. Paget
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I would like to raise a point which I have mentioned on the Estimates on several occasions with regard to the sources of civilianisation. Has the hon. Gentleman considered Italians for recruitment into the civil servicing of aircraft? They are very good mechanics and are suffering from unemployment.
That suggestion opens very much wider problems, which I cannot discuss now. We remember what happened about the Italians who came over for coalmining. It is very much outside my province. We are dealing, not with the employment of civilians by the Air Ministry but the employment of civilians by industry under contract to us. The employment of Italians would be a matter for industry to face.
No, here. About 29,000 more are recruited overseas.
On this matter of civilianisation we may get useful guidance from a committee which was set up last month by my noble Friend to review the methods of maintaining and servicing aircraft and other technical equipment with the object of getting more economy and efficiency. The committee is under the chairmanship of Air Chief-Marshal Sir Leslie Hollinghurst. The Vice-Chairman is Mr. F. C. Hooper, Managing Director of Schweppes Ltd. Among the members is Mr. James Crawford, President of the National Federation of Boot and Shoe Operatives, and Deputy-Chairman of the British Productivity Council.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove raised also the question of publicity and asked whether it was as effectively done as it might be. I can say with confidence that we have been able to make definite improvements over the last couple of years or so. We set up a committee on publicity, of which I am Chairman, and I am therefore in close touch with what is being done. I am examining suggestions of one kind or another all the time. Anything which hon. Members can suggest—my hon. Friend produced one or two new suggestions—we should certainly welcome. They will be considered very carefully by the committee.
We are not interested in publicity stunts. We believe that the Air Force can, in the long run, stand or fall on its merits and that no amount of line-shooting would help. We want to let the public see the Service as it really is. A great deal is done already by stations to achieve this aim. Last year more than 1 million people went to see the R.A.F. on Battle of Britain Saturday, and attendances have risen steadily since 1946, when the total was 122,000.
There are one or two other ways in which we have been able to help. For instance, we have decided to allow newspapers to make public the number of a particular squadron and the name of the squadron commander. We can do a great deal by keeping in touch with the schools and we are reviewing our system of schools liaison officers. We have 746 made an up-to-date film on Cranwell, are making a film on radio trades, and intend to start one shortly on the Women's Royal Air Force. These films, we hope, will be shown in public cinemas and will go a long way towards solving this problem.
My hon. Friend asked about youth employment officers. We get a great deal of assistance from them and they are among the authorities appointed to nominate candidates under various schemes for entry by young people into the Service.
My hon. Friend also raised an interesting question about medical standards, based on the experiences of one or two of his constituents. First of all, he asked, are we being too choosey about the people we accept? I do not think we are, and I can assure him that the medical standards of the R.A.F. and those of the Army differ only in detail. The principal difference, apparently, is in the ear, nose and throat examination. We have to be very careful about this, because airmen are much more likely to fly than soldiers. There is no question of setting up much higher standards than other Services and thereby losing Regular recruits.
I was asked about administration and about cases in which young men who had been rejected for Regular service in the Air Force had been at a loose end for three months before being called up for the Army. We have considered that recently in consultation with the Ministry of Labour and are now arranging that people who are turned down on medical grounds at Cardington for Regular service in the Air Force, but who are acceptable for National Service, will be kept at the station a little longer and called up for National Service right away.
Candidates who do not wish to carry out their National Service in the Air Force, or who for some reason or another are unacceptable to us, will have to return home but will be called up as quickly as possible by the Ministry of Labour for National Service in the Army. I hope that those arrangements will overcome the difficulty which my hon. Friend mentioned.
I am sorry that I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), but the points which he 747 made have been reported to me. Many of them are well worth investigating and I will certainly undertake to do that.
§ Mr. de Freitas
My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of hon. Members visiting the Royal Air Force stations in Germany, as they have visited the Army. Will the Under-Secretary consider that suggestion?
As the hon. Member for Lincoln knows, the Royal Air Force is always delighted to see Members of Parliament and welcomes them. But this is a matter which has to be organised rather carefully, and I have no doubt that the usual channels will also have a say in it. But if any suggestion is put to me about it, I will be only too glad to consider them.
The hon. Member for Lincoln talked about over-insurance in the ratio of aircrew to aircraft. He has raised this subject from time to time and I have nothing very much to add to what I said last year, which is that the whole of this subject is examined from time to time and that it has recently been the subject of a very searching review by highly-qualified people. I am perfectly satisfied that the ratio is about right at present. Of course, no one is infallible, but I think we have got it about right.
As to the Royal Air Force offering a full career to technical officers, I think it does so now. If the hon. Member will examine what I said in my speech he will find a little more there. We have technical colleges where technical cadets are trained with the object of making a career in one of the technical branches of the Royal Air Force.
Push-button warfare will mean that it will be very much a matter of striking the right balance between the technical branch and the general duties branch. When it comes, we must still have leaders, and leaders are trained in a rather different way from scientists. Therefore we shall have to strike the right balance between the "X-chaser" and the "square-basher" if we are to get what we want in an officer.
Finally, the hon. Member asked whether mobility had altered the pattern. The answer is yes. That is because with mobility we can do with fewer people, and that is all to the good.
748 I am afraid this has been a rather rushed and sketchy winding up, but the discussion has been most fruitful and in the course of it many very helpful suggestions have been made from both sides of the House. I have not attempted to reply to all the points, but it is very difficult to say yes or no on the spur of the moment to any particular proposal for improving the situation. I will examine very carefully the suggestions which have been made and will write to any hon. Member if I feel he may like to have the information.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
After the rushed and sketchy speech we have just had from the Under-Secretary of State, we wonder just what an unhurried and filled-out speech from him would be.
I should like to begin my remarks, because I am concerned with the future of the Air Force, by remarking on the obvious unbalance between the Navy and the Air Force in the matter of Ministers. Year after year the Under-Secretary of State, who is greatly liked and respected on both sides of the House, carries on a tremendous personal struggle by himself. Yet the Admiralty, responsible only for broken-backed warfare—I am not suggesting that the Ministers are broken-backed—have three Ministers to sustain their case in the House of Commons.
I will not go into the question of how Government appointments are made, but it is a fact that in the Labour Government and in the present Government the Air Force has nearly always been badly served in the House of Commons, not in the quality of Ministers, but in their number. We had a rare moment when two Ministers were in the House of Commons, but then the Secretary of State for Air was dashing all round the world settling Egyptian problems. I think we ought to have a little more of fair shares as between the Navy and the Air Force, all the more so when, returning to the original statements of policy of the Government, we find that it is the Air 749 Force which is mainly responsible, according to its policy, for the maintenance of peace by means of the deterrent. It has the principal rôle in the Armed Service.
Since I propose to speak to a large extent about the deterrent, I feel that I must refer to the speech of the hon. baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland). He made a speech which was received by the House with very great attention, as is any speech which is made with deep sincerity. He referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made a bewildering speech. I would say, with the utmost courtesy and friendliness, that I found my hon. Friend's speech bewildering. I will give the reasons for that. I know that my hon. Friend would not accuse any of us in any part of the House who believe in strong armed forces of desiring war, but I found his speech bewildering for a number of reasons.
First, it appeared at one moment as if he was taking up the complete pacifist position. If he did so, I can only say that all of us at times find it a temptation to adopt that point of view very strongly. I do not propose to argue with him purely on that. I found his speech bewildering because subsequently he proceeded to argue viewpoints other than pacifist ones, and when he proceeded to visualise this country as a kind of European India and Sweden as a sort of unarmed, or ineffectively armed, third force, it seemed that his remarks were directed in criticism of foreign policy. Again, he may be justified in taking that point of view.
Subsequently, however, he proceeded to suggest that, in any case, we ought not to take part in hydrogen bomb warfare or preparation for it because we could not have an effective part in preventing the United States and the Soviet Union from fighting. He appeared to rate those two great Powers equally in his speech, although I am sure he realises that the majority of the people in this country consider that, whatever criticisms we may have of America, they are less severe than those of some of the happenings in the Soviet Union.
Leaving that aside, I would regard it as—I will not use the word "cowardice"—the worst form of defeatism to suggest that this country cannot affect the trend of world affairs. I have always believed 750 that our influence in Asia—especially in Korea, where British influence was probably decisive at one time in preventing the breaking out of a major war in Asia—would have been stronger if we had had stronger forces there.
One may say that this is the sort of immoral argument that we would rather not face, but, frankly, in this situation we are doing things which smack of power politics, which use fear, and which one can say are immoral. However, this is the sort of conflict that has faced statesmen and politicians throughout the whole of history. They have not always had to face such conflicts as crudely, and sometimes as honestly, as Machiavelli, but we find that we are faced with these dilemmas and that we cannot dodge them merely by, so to speak, opting out.
I think that my hon. Friend, who, I know, was a supporter of collective security before the war and during the war, must see that if our foreign policy is right—that is a matter for another argument—we are obliged to play our part in a system of collective security. That seems to me to be the policy that this country is employing, and it is inevitable that if weapons like the hydrogen bomb exist in the world we must face the necessity for arming ourselves with them.
§ Sir R. Acland
The system of collective security in the thirties depended upon the fact of there being five, six or seven roughly equal nations, any one of which was capable of taking an effective part in a major war and had, therefore, an independent judgment. The whole system of collective security no longer really applies when we are left with only the two major Powers against each other with no others which can take an independent part at all in war.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Like so much of my hon. Friend's speech—I am not reflecting on him personally—that is an exaggeration. He has enlarged it so that it is no longer the precise truth. I still think that if he feels so strongly about his argument he must admit that it follows that there is an even greater obligation on this country to build up its armaments and atomic weapons. If other countries would arm and prepare to play their part, as Britain is, he would have less fear of the United States or of Russia. I am putting this only as a point of view, because I think that my hon. Friend's 751 speech was bewildering in that he did not sustain his position simply on the pacifist standpoint, which seems to me the only point on which it can be sustained. It was as bewildering as the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale.
This is a subject of such profound importance that we could go on debating it all night and I should like to say a few words about the Air Estimates, but felt that I also must not dodge the issue that my hon. Friend, in his own personal way, faced up to, and I felt that, as I must answer it, there was an obligation on me to make those few remarks.
I come to the speech of the Under-Secretary of State. I do not blame him for departing at this moment. I found much of his speech very good, except for the last 10 minutes of it. In the last 10 minutes he seemed to fall into all those errors into which the Navy and Army, and even the Minister of Defence himself, have fallen, in not fully applying the principles contained in the Government's White paper. The Government's policy, they say, is based on the assumption that if a major war breaks out it is probable that the free nations will use all major weapons, and if major weapons are used that means the hydrogen bomb will be used.
It is futile to think that this major weapon and its delivery is other than of the major importance. I criticised the Navy, when we were debating the Navy Estimates, for the disproportionate amount of national resources that were being spent on building up naval forces. In the same way, I am inclined today to criticise the Air Ministry for the insistence on building up what may be called conventional fighter forces.
Of course, it is building more modern aircraft. At least, we hope they will be more modern aircraft, but if the Air Ministry's present plans go forward it will be a number of years before the Air Force is equipped with the sort of fighter defence that would satisfy most people, or even the Government themselves. But the Government believe in sustaining peace by the threat of the use of the deterrent. That is the Government's policy, and I should like them to have the courage to carry that policy through. Everybody has the deepest admiration for 752 the traditions and quality of the Auxiliary Air Force squadrons, and certainly they want the aeroplanes for the jobs they may possibly do, it may be argued, for the next two or three years, in the present situation, but in the long run the whole of our resources, if we believe that peace can be sustained by the threat of the deterrent, should be concentrated on making that deterrent the most effective possible force.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Is the hon. Gentleman advocating now the abolition of Fighter Command and our having no defence against any attack by a bomber force?
§ Mr. Shackleton
I agree that at the moment we are still somewhat in the transitional stage, and I am complaining that the present plans of the Air Ministry seem to indicate that we shall continue in the transitional stage for a number of years. I would rather spend the money on making the deterrent more effective now, since that appears to be the policy which the Government and the majority of the House believe to be the right policy for this country. It is quite certain that fighters will not protect the country from the hydrogen bomb and that fighters will not have a decisive effect in preventing war by the threat of use of the deterrent or by ensuring those first vital few hours when one hopes as few hydrogen bombs as possible are dropped on this country.
The Government take the stand that the threat of the existence of the hydrogen bomb and of our capacity to blow up ourselves and the world may stop war, and that if war should come the hydrogen bomb is the only possible thing that could save the country. It is doubtful whether it could, but I am certain that fighters could not. By the same token I believe that talk about Coastal Command is becoming out of date. That is a rather specialised extension of the Royal Air Force into the naval sphere.
I mention this without going into the more detailed arguments which I used during our debates on the Navy Estimates to show why it is unrealistic that Coastal Command should be handed over to the Navy. If there is subsequently no call for the same effort in "cold war" naval warfare, it is much better that Coastal Command should remain in the Air Force.
753 Meanwhile, Coastal Command at the moment is discharging with great efficiency the rôle which it is called upon to perform. References have been made in earlier debates to the relationship between the Navy and the Air Force, and especially between the Fleet Air Arm and the Air Force. Since I cannot ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and the Civil Lord of the Admiralty instead is here, I would only say that I wonder how often the Fifth Sea Lord, who is responsible for naval aviation, has visited Coastal Command Headquarters or even R.A.F. stations in the last few years, and how often members of his staff have had direct conversations with their opposite numbers in the Royal Air Force. The surface Navy has certainly a great deal to do with the Royal Air Force, but I should like to know how much the directors of the Fleet Air Arm do about keeping in touch with the Royal Air Force.
This brings me to the question of liaison. Every year I urge the Minister to ensure that there is closer and better liaison between the Services. I ask him to see that officers appointed to liaison duties are not those who have been passed over or have to be found a convenient job but that they are people who are keen and active and creative. It is a matter of profound importance. Officers serving with special responsibility for liaison duties can make a tremendous difference, as we saw in the last war with certain naval officers who served with the Royal Air Force. The influence of the right man is quite striking. It is no coincidence that the only portrait hanging in the mess at Coastal Command of anyone below the rank of Air Marshal is that of Captain Peyton-Ward, the senior Naval Staff Officer, so valued were his services. I feel that insufficient attention is being paid to the quality of officers who are required to serve on liaison duties.
A point which I want answered by the Under-Secretary is why the Air Ministry say that officers serving on reserve duties will have their names taken off the list at 45 years of age unless they join one of the official reserves, like the Volunteer Reserve. If people are prepared to undertake an obligation and to serve in wartime and are prepared to come back and undertake certain voluntary training without taking on specific 754 annual commitments, it seems wrong to me that they should be struck off at 45.
Let me turn very briefly to the broader question of the organisation of the Air Force. We had a very interesting speech earlier from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir I. Orr-Ewing) on the subject of organisation. The Secretary of State for Air and the Minister of Defence might do very well to read the Fleck Report on the organisation of the coal mining industry, because there are a number of interesting suggestions which might well be borne in mind in relation to the Service. We ought to look at the present emphasis on geographical command as opposed to more centralised control over a certain type of operation.
It is quite clear that bomber operations in any future war, especially where hydrogen and fission bombs are used, will have to be controlled centrally. The same thing is likely to apply in the other Services. In particular I have in mind maritime air warfare. During the last war there were examples of extraordinary failure to get out to the Commands in different parts of the world the latest tactics and the latest intelligence which were acquired in Home Commands.
I should like to suggest that the present directorates of the different divisions in the Air Ministry should in some way be integrated into the specialised bodies like Fighter Command and Coastal Command. It may well be that there ought to be an Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) in charge of each different function. This is a view I have held since the war, and I believe there is some feeling in the Air Ministry that we ought to move in that direction. In considering the organisation and saving of manpower, I would urge, especially in view of the complications of N.A.T.O., that we should not ignore the possibility of a major reorganisation more along the lines of the Admiralty type of control being applied in the Air Ministry.
I should like to look at the future of the Royal Air Force. I think we must agree that its days, like those of the Navy, are numbered. That will not be because of the principles advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), although nobody would be happier than the Royal Air Force if his views led to a pacifica- 755 tion of the world. I believe that guided missiles in time will become the major instrument for the delivery of the deterrent, and, that being so, I should like to urge once again that we should consider—and I believe that the Air Force is more likely to be capable of taking the initiative in this matter—a major reorganisation of all three Services following on some sort of inquiry.
I would urge the Under Secretary to resist proposals which are coming mainly from naval sources—I am sorry to say a few Air Force people have been corrupted into thinking along the same lines—for joining the Navy and the Air Force. In a previous debate I gave my reasons for being against it.
If there is this problem as to the future of the Navy, the same problem is likely to arise with the Air Force some time within the next 10, 20 or 30 years. Another hon. Member asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air to look three years ahead. I admit that it is difficult, but I would ask the Minister of Defence to look rather further ahead than that. If we look 10, 20 or 30 years ahead, we shall be driven inescapably to the conclusion that, despite all the difficulties, some form of major re-organisation is necessary, involving a greater degree of unification and specialisation on a basis other than merely the differentiation of Navy, Army and Air Force. Today it would be, for instance, more logical to have a guided missiles force.
I would like to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on some of the very human things he said. Onehon. Member complained that the Minister did not appear to realise how much recruiting suffers from the difficulties and hardships that afflict Service men. It struck me, however, that the Under-Secretary of State in his opening remarks knew clearly how much suffering and difficulty resulted. However, I think that we are coming to a time when, the major purpose of National Service, which is that of providing reserves, having disappeared—and we know it has never really applied in the Air Force—we should start to strive more to get an all-Regular Air Force.
It cannot be done today, it may not be done for even a few years, but it is essential that the conditions which to- 756 day are a major obstacle to people taking on long Service engagements—conditions of uncertainty, housing and separation—have to be ameliorated. If the Under-Secretary of State and his noble colleague really press on with that, they will be doing a great deal to strengthen in a very real sense the defence of this country.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am often fortunate in following the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and he is fortunate in that competition to speak in the Defence debates on his side of the House does not seem to be quite as great as it was on this side. I had the pleasure of listening to him speak in the Defence debate, the debate on the Navy Estimates and the debate on the Air Estimates—
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Having sat here for 22 hours in those various debates and not having been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps the House and you will forgive me if I do not revise my speech yet again. I revised it after the first day of the Defence debate after hearing the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Wyatt) when I had ready a blistering reply to him. I revised it after the second day of the Defence debate to make it slightly more suitable for the Army Estimates, and I revised it after the Army Estimates to make it still more suitable for the Air Estimates. However, there must come a time when one has to stop changing the child and deliver it.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Preston, South about the possibility of doing away with the manned fighter. It will not be possible for many years. I imagine that he had in mind that the guided missile would replace it, but I suggest that as long as the Russian Air Force is using manned aircraft, we should do well to have manned aircraft ourselves with which to intercept them. I have always been a little worried that we might put too much reliance on the guided missile, even when it is proven, because it must home on some form of radiation which might be jammed. I hold to the view that the closer we take the weapon 757 launching platform to the enemy, the less likelihood there is of anything going wrong, and the more likely we are to destroy the enemy's aircraft.
I want to add my support to a point made in the debate on the Army Estimates by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), in the Defence debate and again today, as to whether we ought not to revise somewhat our procedure in the House of Commons. It is difficult for any hon. Member of this House to comb through the Estimates, to comb through that immense sum of money—£1,600 million—and to come to a conclusion as to whether we are or are not getting value for money.
It is difficult to make constructive criticisms without giving away secrets, and the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will, I am sure, support me in that statement. I wonder whether we ought not to think again about our method of conducting debates on defence. By the time we are able to draw attention to weaknesses, it may well be too late. The period of gestation of modern weapons from conception until they are in operational use is about six years. Mistakes, lack of action and other weaknesses in the defence field, therefore, do not become apparent to hon. Members of this House until it may be too late to rectify them.
I should like to add my support, therefore, to right hon. and hon. Members opposite who, having occupied Ministerial positions, speak with some authority when they say that perhaps the time has come for the creation of a House of Commons defence committee, a standing committee, which would permanently investigate the various problems of defence. Of course, there would be some who would say that that could not be done because there would be irresponsible people on the committee. I do not believe that the usual channels and the good sense of the House of Commons would elect irresponsible people to that defence committee. I think it might well be trusted with more secrets than could possibly be trusted to the whole House. I feel that this is a reform which at some time must come, and I hope that this idea will be examined through the usual channels.
758 On my next point, I must speak with some deference. I am one of the 200 Members of this side of the House who have been here only five years, and therefore there are many who are able to speak with much more knowledge of the tradition of this House, but I have never been able to understand this business of going into Committee of Supply at 7 o'clock until 10 o'clock. It seems to me that we lose the whole theme and thread of a debate.
I am not in any way detracting from the admirable speeches which we have heard, and particularly the maiden speech which was made tonight; it was most excellent and in every way useful. But might not it be possible to conduct that part of our debate on the Committee or Report stage of the Estimates and allow the Air Estimates debate to have a continuing theme right the way through? Otherwise, there is tremendous competition to speak before 7 o'clock, because it is well known that after 10 o'clock much of the interest in the debate has gone; the Press has gone home, and many other people have gone to bed.
When a matter of such importance is debated in this House, it is important to preserve a continuing theme and obtain the best possible attendance here. We live in an age when the whole of our defence and the deterrents which we are building up have been completely revolutionised by the arrival of the nuclear weapon. Surely we, as a House of Commons, are able to change our system a little in order to deal with these changed conditions. If we are not, I feel that we have something to learn on the subject.
My next point is a very broad one, but this debate has been broad, and I hope therefore that the House will tolerate this point. The Defence White Paper says:Above all, if the free world stands together determined if necessary to defend itself with"—and these are the important words—all its resources.There is one resource which we have completely and utterly neglected, and that is the resource of psychological warfare. It is amazing to me, when we are trying to sell to the wavering world the advantages of freedom and the results both spiritual and material, that we have not 759 set up any agency to direct policy and we have neglected the funds and the means of promoting psychological warfare.
If we are to face some 20, 30, or even 40 years of cold war in parts of our Colonial Empire, we ought to give more attention to this point. We are an active and honourable member of N.A.T.O., but I doubt whether N.A.T.O. is paying any attention at all to this point. We have obligations in S.E.A.T.O. and I am absolutely certain that there is no cohesion of policy over this form of warfare in that part of the world, although in a cold war period it is very important.
Throughout our three Service debates and in the Defence debate the question of manpower has rightly played a pretty important part. It has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw that we should have a manpower inquiry. He suggested that it should be done, with a Select Committee inquiring into the whole field of manpower. I submit that that is much too wide. It would be more use if we were to have an inquiry into certain aspects of the problem.
I know that the answer from the Government Front Bench will be that there have been inquiries. Let us examine the inquiries that the R.A.F. has held. According to my information, it has held four inquiries in the last ten years. The first was the Breen Inquiry which dealt with the question of civilianisation, the second was the Bottomley Inquiry which reviewed methods of manning the R.A.F. in peacetime, there was another inquiry into the organisation of the Air Ministry and the fourth was into the system of command and administration of the R.A.F. There are other places where we might with advantage put the searchlight on the R.A.F., not only a Departmental inquiry, but with outside investigators, too.
The first inquiry I would suggest—and this was raised in our small debate between seven and ten o'clock—is how to attract more Regular Service men into the Royal Air Force. It was depressing to me to hear the Secretary of State for War say that come high employment, low employment, high rewards, low rewards, hell or high water, we still have the same number of chaps volunteering for the Regular Army. That is most surprising to me. I am not prepared to accept that 760 the same would happen with the Royal Air Force, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider the position.
Another problem which I should like to see studied is what it is that discourages a National Service man from signing on for a short-term, for three or four years instead of two years. What is it that prevents a three-year man from prolonging his service? Is it lack of stability, the movements which have been mentioned? Is it the pay factor, the size of the bounty, lack of schools, the communal life, the standard of the barracks? We all have theories based on our personal experience and I do not believe that one can give a reasoned and objective answer to that problem until a very wide inquiry has been conducted.
I should like an inquiry or Departmental investigation to examine methods of persuading trained and skilled men to extend their service. Each Service Memorandum has underlined that fact that the Services are becoming more and more dependent on the skilled man. Every day, every year the equipment is becoming more and more complicated, more and more difficult to maintain and therefore more dependent on the skilled engineer and the skilled mechanic.
We read that in the United States of America it costs something over £3,500 to train a skilled engineer or an electronic engineer. The Air Memorandum says that it takes a year to train a National Service man to become skilled in electronic maintenance. If it takes a year, it must cost this country nearly £2,000. Is not it then worth while to present these men, not with a bounty of £100 if they extend their service, but with something more like £1,000, when, with their experience, and perhaps with the rank of corporal or sergeant, they are invaluable to the Service? Should we not try to retain them and persuade them to extend their service by offering a bounty which would make it worth while for them to stay? Then, when they went out of the Service, they could set up in business or start to buy a house; at any rate, they would have some security for their future life.
The reply of the Air Ministry to the Select Committee on Estimates says that to train a man in advanced trades—that is, above the skilled trades—in the R.A.F. for two or three years is "a wholly un- 761 economic proposition." Yet we are having to do that very thing today. Therefore, I think it worth while to conduct an inquiry to see if we can persuade these men to stay on when they are most valuable and absolutely essential for the efficiency of the Air Force.
My third inquiry is on the question of civilisation. In answer to a question which I put to the Under-Secretary, we learned tonight how many civilians there were in the Royal Air Force. It is extremely difficult to find out from the Air Estimates, but under Vote 4 one discovers that there are some 82,000 to each works contingent. My hon. Friend told me that, including overseas personnel, there are over 100,000 civilian personnel in the Air Force. My first suggestion is that that should be made clear in the Estimates if we are to debate them intelligently.
Are these men in fact being used efficiently? It is a very large slice of the R.A.F. We have 190,000 Regular officers and men, 70,000 National Service men and 100,000 civilians; that is to say, on ratio we have six Regulars for two National Service men and for three civilians. That is the ratio in the Royal Air Force. I suggest that it merits careful consideration to see whether this enormous slice with such an enormous cost is being used efficiently.
I should like this inquiry to examine most carefully whether we could economically extend the field where civilian contractors run units themselves. I am not asking for any extension of this first form of civilianisation. I realise that on an R.A.F. station that is very difficult and may mar discipline. It is difficult to command a station with mixed uniformed and non-uniformed personnel. I am asking that we should inquire whether civilian contractors could more efficiently take over flying training and technical schools.
Experience in the Royal Navy and in the Air Force on that point is most enlightening. When civilian contractors take over, the cost of running schools falls by one-half. The number of men employed running civilian schools falls to one-third; that is to say, a civilian contractor employs one-third the number of men employed by the Service. It would appear to me, therefore, that we should achieve not only a saving of manpower, 762 but an immense saving in money, which is very important if we are to obtain efficiency. It is surprising to me that while the Navy seem to be swinging more and more in that direction, there does not, at the moment, seem to be the same movement in the Air Force.
When these inquiries have taken place, and we have seen what we could save in manpower, and when we have seen whether we could get extra Regulars, it might conceivably be possible to reduce the period of National Service. It would be neglecting the lessons of the 1930's if we took a risk by reducing National Service until we have secured extra Regulars or until Russia has shown, not by her words but by her actions, that she really means to live in peaceful co-existence.
Throughout the defence debate and the air debate there have been criticisms of the speed at which we are able to re-equip our Air Force. I humbly suggest that whatever we may do we have missed the main difficulty of quick rearmament. Improvements might be achieved if we reduced the number of projects which are being developed at any one time. That is necessary, if we are undertaking too much.
It is not possible for a country which is limited in size, and which is dependent upon high-grade exports for its survival, to employ too large a proportion of its skilled manpower in the manufacture of weapons. We cannot put that right straightaway. It will take some time slowly to run down the number of projects under development. The Minister has had to save by cutting flying-boat development and one or two other things. However much we want to do those projects, cuts are essential if we are to progress with reasonable speed. We have too few trained engineers to undertake the projects which have been put upon them. We have too few in our Service Ministries, and that affects the framing of the operational requirements. There are too few good engineers at the Ministry of Supply, which is the Ministry responsible for developing and producing these weapons. There are too few in industry itself and too few in the Armed Forces.
The depressing feature is that this situation will get not better but steadily worse unless we do something about it. It is alarming to look at the number of whole- 763 time students taking science and maths and who will eventually become trained engineers, and to compare them with the numbers in the United States and Switzerland. We appear woefully lacking in students of that type. In the United States, there are 3.6 technology students in every 1,000 of the population and 1.1 in Switzerland. In this country the figure is .5. We have one-seventh of the number of students per 1,000 of population compared with the United States. Even if we added all our part-time technology students at technical colleges, which do not exist in the same form in the United States, we should have only about a quarter the number per 1,000.
We cannot create students overnight. We have to start right back in the schools. I am glad that the Minister of Education made a statement this very day on the matter, but I wonder whether he has gone far enough. There will be tremendous competition for the services of these people. There is not only the defence programme, but the export drive, on which we are dependent for economic survival, and also the capital reconstruction programme; £1,200 million forrailways, £200 million for roads, £300 million for atomic work. We shall want surveyors, engineers and technical personnel if we are to carry out these programmes. I hope that the Minister of Education will be pushed very hard by the Minister of Defence. If he is not, we certainly shall not get our weapons in the future as quickly as we want them.
I hope that parents may be converted. If they need conversion they should look at the advertisements in our technical Press—the "Aeroplane," "Flight" and others, containing page after page of advertisements, every single week of the year, asking for draughtsmen, for stress-men and others. Here is an advertisement in which the de Havilland Aircraft Company offers excellent opportunities for designers and senior and intermediate draughtsmen. A. V. Roe's weapon research division wants engineers. The last 10 pages of the paper are filled with advertisements, some from Canada and the United States trying to attract our engineers in those directions.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
In Scotland it is impossible to get science teachers in the secondary schools. If the hon. Gentle- 764 man takes them away from the secondary schools, who will teach the children in those schools?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am sorry that I have not made the point clearly. I said that we have to start by attracting the science and mathematics teachers back to the schools and that I was glad that the Minister of Education had made a statement on teachers' salaries, because we can do this only if we offer suitable rewards. That was the purport of my remarks.
Last week I went through one of our national papers, the "Daily Telegraph." On one page that advertises situations vacant I underlined the advertisements for engineers, physicists and the like, and of the first 148 advertisements which I counted, 91 were for people of that type. They are not asking for arts graduates or accountants. The people whom this country lacks—and I hope parents will understand this—and will lack for many years to come are trained scientists to carry out this work. I hope that as soon as possible we shall attract the teachers into our schools who are absolutely essential if we are to persuade adequate numbers of the right boys to take these subjects.
I apologise for detaining the House for so long. When I came into the House five years ago I resolved never to speak for more than 10 minutes, and on no previous occasion have I spoken for longer than 10 minutes. That does not mean that I always catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I hope I have not transgressed on this occasion.
Perhaps I may summarise briefly. I believe that we must have the courage in this House of Commons to revise our procedure and the method by which we conduct our defence debates. I believe that we should co-ordinate our policy and should spend considerably more on psychological warfare, which is essential if we are to win the battle of ideas against the Communist world. I believe that we should set up committees to study how we can improve voluntary recruiting and how we can use civilian personnel in the Service and civilian contractors outside the Service more efficiently.
Finally, I believe that we must review the rewards which we offer to science and mathematics teachers and tell parents and the world in general that we have 765 abundant faith that the future of any student who is prepared to show his prowess in the field of science and mathematics is secure in this country, where we badly need such people for our defence, export and capital programmes.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I should like to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), particularly in his reference to science teachers. I am an old teacher, formerly in secondary and technical schools. That was many years ago, it is true, but I understood the importance of the matters which he raised. Our technical schools are comparatively few in number, especially when we think of the science teaching taking place in America and Russia. Both those countries are far ahead of us, with our 250 junior technical schools.
The importance of extending that type of work does not seem to be understood even now, because we have proceeded to improve the stipends of teachers in grammar schools. I do not complain about that, but they have taken priority. For many years we have been under pressure—and I have taken my part in that pressure—to improve the position of women teachers in schools, before we tackle the issue of the proper opportunity for the science teacher.
Yet all the time, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is this tremendous encouragement to science teachers to give up their jobs and go into industry where there are emoluments, prestige, and other things which are attractive—things which call them away from what may be their natural bent, namely, teaching in schools. It was right that that matter should be raised, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am offensive when I say that I rise to speak about a matter of far greater importance.
I want to speak about the primary problem which we ought to be discussing tonight, and all the time. Paragraph 7 of the Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates mentions the pimary programme. It says:The primary task which now confronts the Royal Air Force is to build up the V bomber force, with its nuclear potential, to a high state of efficiency and preparedness.766 Something in similar words appears in paragraph 35 of the White Paper on Defence which we discussed last week. Paragraph 8 of the Memorandum adds:Should the deterrent fail, the function of the bomber force is, in conjunction with our allies, to make counter-action in war decisive in the shortest time …Yet the most responsible statesmen of our time, confronting this problem of the deterrent, and expressing it in their own way—our Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, President Eisenhower—have all indicated in words clear and precise that ultimately, by means of the bomber and nuclear power, there is no defence. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in attractive language, in a powerful speech in this House many months ago, said that in certain circumstances even the process of deterrent breaks down, because one is never certain that somewhere one will not come up against the paranoic who will not be deterred, who is mentally incapable of being oppressed by the thought of what nuclear forces can do. That same thought occurred in a parenthesis in a speech by the Prime Minister, when he said that all he was putting forward in regard to deterrents was rendered of no account where a madman like Hitler came into consideration, especially a madman at the end of a period of hostilities when he found that the net was closing round him.
But has not it been the fact, especially in the wars of the last half century, that one has been compelled, on feeling that one was winning, to draw the net round the adversary in such a way that the only policy for him was absolute surrender? It made it inevitable in war that a head of a State who found himself hemmed in by the forces used against him should be a paranoic, a war criminal, a madman. I ask the question, how is it possible in a modern war—prepared as we must be today, with the things we are called on to do now to destroy with one blow literally millions, maybe tens of millions—for a man to sit in control of such a situation and not be a madman? Indeed, even to contemplate the possibility of doing it as we are now makes one ask which of us is not mad at this moment to be seriously considering settling the problems of the world by destroying the world?
767 As we have all been saying, this is the end of the nuclear process. In these debates, although we are tied down, naturally, within certain limits and rules of order, there is not very much to say except what we are going to do in view of this situation. I know that hon. Members have managed to salve their consciences in this matter. I speak respectfully when I use that phrase because on every side of the House consciences are stirred. I do not believe that anyone on the other side of the House, or on this side, faces this problem callously. Everyone salves his conscience by saying, "Well, there is deterrence." What does this process of deterrence really boil down to? In what way is it different from the proposition that to make our power of destruction so frightful that no one will ever dare to use it is what we mean by deterrence?
In what way does it differ from the old Latin tag, which has given good service for many centuries, si vis pacem pare bellum—"If you want peace, prepare for war"? Is there any phrase in history that has been more damned by the experience of history, more shown to be a failure, where wars have inevitably come as a result of the preparations for war which were to prevent war? Is there any greater certainty that in the long run—
§ Mr. Hudson
No, there was no weakness in the days of Richelieu and Mazarin, no weakness in the arming of France. There was no weakness in the insistence of ourown English military leaders. There was no weakness at the time of Napoleon. There was the building on each side of armed forces against the potential enemy and the potential enemy, instead of being deterred, became the actual enemy. I am certain that history has proved that deterrence has failed to secure its end. That seems to be coming out in the speeches of the Prime Minister. It certainly came out in the answers which President Eisenhower 768 gave to newspapermen who wanted to know where he stood in face of the confessions of the Prime Minister on the matter.
President Eisenhower said that we have now reached a point in this struggle for deterring the potential enemy where it does not very much matter whether we go any further with the provision of deterrents. He suggested that there is a point at which one can be saturated with deterrents. It is possible to have a certain number of deterrents—perhaps a hundred bombs would require to be dropped upon the wide spaces of Russia, as against about five upon this island—and after that stalemate is reached. He went on to tell the Pressmen that he was not sure that the time within which we could enjoy comparative security upon the basis of these deterrents was anything like so long as the three or four years suggested by the Prime Minister.
I do not know what the constituents of other hon. Members are doing, but I know what mine are saying to me. They have learnt even more about this process of deterrents and the strategic bomber forces than many of us. I am not sure that Governments have not gone too far in disclosing to the public the nature of the horror which confronts us. I believe that television and the radio, as well as the newspapers, have so familiarised our people with the great mushroom cloud, the fall-out of radioactive dust, the genetic consequences which have already occurred—with the death of men and their permanent injury although they were hundreds of miles away from the explosion—that many of them know as much as we do. To deliver a speech in the average constituency today upon the issue of a strategic bomb is to frighten the people to death.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) intends to put this matter to the test. He intends to face his constituents. He has been criticised, I am sorry to say, by two hon. Members who sit on this side of the House. Nothing has been said about his view by hon. Members opposite, but this matter concerns them as much as it does my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Mr. Hudson
He wants to be called merely an "honourable Member" but I 769 am proud to speak of him as "gallant" also. The test which he is about to carry out will serve me and everybody else. He is doing a very risky thing. He is doing what George Lansbury did in his day upon the question of women's suffrage. It is difficult, in an election, to keep one issue separate from the others. We do not know even now whether he will be able to succeed in his aim, but he holds it to be his duty no longer to accept all this talk about deterrents and the guarantee of security for our people by means of nuclear weapons.
He believes it to be his duty to consult his constituents about it, and they are people who live on the banks of the Thames in a place that is likely to be destroyed, and destroyed utterly, if the deterrent the Government talk about, and which is described in their White Paper, fails. My hon. Friend's constituents at Gravesend will feel the consequences of that failure. We know what the consequences will be. We have described them in this House. The Prime Minister has told us what they will be. If the electors of Gravesend send my hon. Friend back here again the responsibility for the implied guidance on policy will be theirs.
I would offer my hon. Friend a word of warm commendation and of thankfulness for doing this thing which I should hesitate to do. It will serve the interests of peace, whatever the consequences may be, just as George Lansbury served the interests of liberty, irrespective of the consequences to him. I do not think it is right—though I shall not say any more in criticism of my hon. Friends—of my hon. Friends to attack my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend. We should put no discouragement in his way in adopting the attitude he feels it is his duty to adopt.
§ Sir R. Acland
The word "attack" is rather stronger than necessary to apply to the quite friendly comments made by two of my hon. Friends who have criticised my view. It is an over-strong word to apply to the sense in which they spoke.
§ Mr. Hudson
My hon. Friend has been more Christian in his approach to this matter than I, and, perhaps, I should not have used the word "attack."
§ Mr. Hudson
I shall go no further with this argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend agrees that whatever was said was said in a very friendly way. I should be sorry to upset that friendly atmosphere. I did not think I was doing so. It seems that I did. I do not wish to persist in that matter.
My hon. Friend proposes to put himself and his constituents to a test. His constituents are most likely to be the victims of any failure of the deterrent, which is among the most serious possibilities we have now to face. It may be left to them, in the situation that now faces us. Theirs will be the responsibility for guidance to him and guidance to the rest of the House on what should be done.
I cannot go any farther with this matter, because the debate is about the Air Estimates, but I know what the alternative should be. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us."] I will if I may, although I am not going to debate it. I merely meet the challenge. The alternative is the constant determination to carry on, day in and day out. meeting our opponents, and to continue to meet them, challenging them on their weak points and letting them challenge us on our weak points. This is what the Prime Minister himself promised at Edinburgh—and he is the leader of the Government—to seek negotiations day in and day out, never losing grip of the negotiating tail, refusing to let matters drift merely by slanging one another after the conference is over and one effort has temporarily broken down. The alternative is to go on meeting—
Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a most interesting point of view, and there is a conference taking place at the present time, but he is evading the main issue in this debate, which is whether we are to build these aircraft and deterrents which will becarried in them or not. He cannot have it both ways. We are willing to negotiate, but are we to proceed to build the equipment or not?
§ Mr. Hudson
I can reply briefly that the assertion of leaders of this and other States is that ultimately we cannot rely on the deterrent for the purpose mentioned in the Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates or in the Defence White Paper. Deterrents break down and war makes paranoics. Ultimately there is no guarantee of security on behalf of—
§ Mr. Hudson
Hon. Members opposite must make their own speeches if they get an opportunity, but I am submitting what I believe is an alternative. I was asked what was the alternative, and I am giving it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) said that it was an interesting proposition. He wanted me to face the question of the alternative to the bomber, and I replied that the bomber was not worth relying on.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am giving a frank reply. I tell this to my constituents—that the bomber and the deterrents will not afford security for this country, nor secure in the long run what we want. We are leaning on a broken reed, and for that reason I say that we ought to be more frank with our people and tell them that security must be found in entirely different directions. While I cannot promise that the meeting of the heads of States, which the Prime Minister said we ought to have, will find us a way out, I still think—
§ Air Commodore Harvey rose—
§ Mr. Hudson
I am saying what I prefer to do. I say that the risks are less and by that process we can find the only agreed line of policy which will lead to a lasting settlement. It is only through negotiation that we can find a policy which both our opponents and ourselves will accept.
Air Commodore Harvey
I am obliged to the hon. Member for again giving way. None of us in this House would disagree with the argument that he is putting forward—negotiate if it is possible with a view to bringing about disarmament—but here tonight we propose to spend a large sum of the taxpayers' money for aircraft and equipment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should spend that money on aircraft and equipment or does he say that we should scrap the lot?
§ Mr. Hudson
I did not say we should scrap the lot. I say that in my judgment no final security for our people will be found in bombers and in deterrents. That is what I continue to say to my constituents.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The purpose of an intervention is to clear up an ambiguity not to put an opposite point of view. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must await his own opportunity to do that.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
That is all I am seeking to do, to get clarification. We are asked to approve in the Estimates tonight a sum of money for certain aircraft provision. We are asking the hon. Gentleman if he supports this provision or not. If he does not support it, presumably he will vote against the Estimates. That is all we are seeking to learn from him.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. My hon. Friend is seeking to make a speech with constant interruption by hon. Gentlemen opposite—three times in two minutes.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman wants me to say "yes" to suit himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. The hon. and gallant Gentleman 773 must not both ask questions and insist on giving the answers. Hon. Members must have the decency to listen if they want me to answer questions. I have spent some time in trying to meet fairly what was put fairly from the opposite bench below the gangway. I repeat, on the issue of how I should vote, that no question arises. There will not be a vote tonight, and if hon. Gentlemen want to know whether I will challenge a vote, I shall not.
§ Mr. Hudson
It was not necessary for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to know that. What he has to meet is the argument that I have been offering. But the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, who was much fairer, said that I was putting forward—
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
Would my hon. Friend allow me to interrupt on a point of clarification? I do not think he understands the point of the interruptions. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are unable to appreciate any argument and therefore they are only interested in whether they have to vote or not.
§ Mr. Hudson
You are wiser than all of us, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and perhaps we had better get on with the matter.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has had most to do with creating the delay shouts "Hear, hear" louder than anybody else. I propose to get on with the business because I have nearly finished what I wanted to say. I believe that Governments today, political parties of all sorts, face, and have been facing for years, constituents who believe in the possibility of defence by great forces. Even I, as an anti-militarist, in my own division have known in the past that people expected me not to put myself in the way of either the party opposite or of my own party providing a certain modicum of defence weapons in order to guarantee what was called security.
Although I have always told them as frankly as I have told this House tonight where I stand and where they stand in the matter of the security they think is 774 being offered them, I have told them that they are leaning on a broken reed, and that the reed will fail them in a time of difficulty. They have not quite believed that until now.
The dilemma I face, and the dilemma which every hon. Member of this House faces, arises out of the fact that men and women know that if there were to be any further test of the arbitrament of the sword—it is no longer the sword but the hydrogen bomb—between nations for the solution of their difficulties, no defence is possible for any of them. And in an island like ours, which is small and right in the way of the processes of destruction by the greater Powers of the world, it is an impossible situation that we should be delivering the kind of speeches that we have been listening to tonight. The Under-Secretary's promise came to me like a new hope and a breath of fresh air, and I say: God speed him in his efforts.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
I have no intention of following the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) in his pacifist peregrinations or his quarrel with his own party, but I am very glad that some hon. Members in his party have accepted the challenge thrown out by the hon. baronet the Member for Grevesend (Sir R. Acland). We shall all be very interested to see the result.
I apologise for rising to speak at this late hour, but I have waited a long time, and I have heard the debate cover a very wide field indeed. I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary on the way in which he introduced the Estimates. It must put a severe strain upon him to have to make three speeches in one day, as he always has to do on these occasions, but, judging by the way he has dealt with two of them, I can see that he is equal to his task.
There is only one aspect of these Estimates, or the Memorandum accompanying them, with which I profoundly disagree, and that is paragraph 19 which deals with the question of flying boats. That paragraph says that it is not the intention of the Government to develop new flying boats for military purposes at present. I think this is a retrograde step and quite the wrong policy. The United States of America are embarking on the 775 development of military flying boats. There has been reference tonight to the question of research and development in this country, and the lack of money devoted to this purpose, especially in the field of science, where we are in a very bad way. Our position in nuclear research and development is becoming worse every day. This is one aspect of research and development in which the Government are making a great mistake.
The flying boat can prove itself equal to any military demand, as regards speed and power of attack, and in other ways it would be very valuable in what may prove to be a nuclear war. Untold millions of pounds have been spent by this country and the United States on the development of aircraft carriers. That may be a correct policy in a future war, but it involves enormous expense, and in addition the aircraft carrier is very vulnerable. We do not know what its real value will be in a future war; but the flying boat is its own carrier and does not require the same protection as an aircraft carrier. It is not so vulnerable at sea and it can do as good a job as any carrier-based aircraft at half the cost.
It has been proved since the last flying boat was constructed that a hull can be built which can stand up to most weather conditions at sea and in the air. It is estimated that five out of seven days a week, even in the North Atlantic, it can survive on the surface. Further researches have proved that a flying hull can fly as fast and deliver a weapon as well as any land-based aeroplane.
There is a later development by which they can produce their own pontoons and do their servicing at sea. The charge against flying boats in the past by B.O.A.C. and other people who operated them was that they were too expensive to service. Today, with these floating pontoons whose worth has been proved, aircraft can be serviced at sea or near shore and so dispense with the mass of servicing personnel required in the past.
B.O.A.C. was quite wrong to abandon the flying boat service. I have pointed out on more than one occasion that the service was so costly because it was not properly operated. There were too many personnel doing too little work. That is by the way. B.O.A.C. badly treated the builders of the Princess flying boat, first 776 by running out on them and then taking them up again—as they were obliged to do—and then running out again. It is nothing short of a scandal that these magnificent aircraft, beautifully built in every way, should be waiting for engines. I should like to press my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply, or whoever is responsible for the production of engines, to see that these aircraft are provided with proper engines at the earliest possible moment.
It is estimated that each of these aircraft could serve the purpose of nine troop carriers if they were properly operated instead of being kept in "moth balls" as they now are. There is also the question of scientists and the development of flying boats. That is something over which the Government are making a great mistake. This country has produced the best aircraft designers in the world. They were pioneers in flying boat construction and design, but there are very few left. I maintain that it will not be very long before flying boats will prove their worth militarily. We will then not have the designers, the scientists or the people to build them. One cannot create designers and craftsmen overnight. That is why I am very anxious that, in studying the question of the development of weapons and the scientific approach, we should not abandon the flying boats at this stage. I am sure that they can prove their worth to our military forces. One day they will be absolutely essential and we should have them and the men to build them.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
After all we have heard about power politics, hydrogen bombs, aircraft travelling at tremendous speeds and at almost incredible heights and carrying the latest and most destructive weapons of war, I should like to turn the attention of the House for a few minutes to a very different kind of problem. It is a problem of the Royal Air Force on the ground.
The White Paper refers to personnel and paragraph 41 states:Our manpower problem is to ensure that our establishments—i.e., the number of trained men required on a station or in a squadron—are economical and that they are manned effectively.I wish to enquire of the Under-Secretary about the manpower in the 777 medical branch of the Royal Air Force. I assume that, like the Army, the Royal Air Force is feeling the shortage of Regular medical officers, but that it gets its fair share of National Service doctors. During the debate on the Army Estimates I was interested to learn that there is an inquiry being held under the chairmanship of Lord Waverley to consider the matter of medical manpower for the Armed Forces. One of the problems that the inquiry is attempting to solve is that of integrating the work of the medical branches of the three Services and the National Health Service.
In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) the Secretary of State for War said about the medical services:I should explain that for all three of the Services there is a large-scale inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Waverley. That is considering the whole question of medical services, and I cannot anticipate the results; but there is no doubt that the recruitment, and the general future of these services is a major issue. I cannot say more at the moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 364.]While the Ministers responsible for the three Services are awaiting the results of these deliberations, I find that the Royal Air Force is employing quite a number of civilian doctors. I learned this from Questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Air to which he replied on 25th February. I asked how many civilian doctors were employed full-time by the Royal Air Force. The hon. Gentleman told me that there were 27. He said:Their duties include routine medical examinations, diagnoses and treatment which do not necessitate admission to hospital, emergency attendance and inoculations.I asked another Question about how many civilian general medical practitioners were employed on part-time medical work by the Royal Air Force and what were their rates of remuneration. The Minister informed me that there were as many as 114. I was interested to note that the Minister said in regard to remuneration:All rates are agreed with the British Medical Association."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1955; vol. 537, c. 205.]A further Question that I put to the Minister asked how many part-time civilian consultants and specialists were employed in the medical branch of the 778 Royal Air Force and what were their rates of remuneration. The Minister informed me that there were 34. He added that six received honoraria ranging from £360 to £750 a year. The fees of the remainder were from 2 to 7 guineas for each consultant and 2½ to 4 guineas for each session as a member of a medical board. I wish to ask the Minister whether the fees paid to part-time specialists and consultants have been agreed with the British Medical Association. He told me that the rates of remuneration for part-time general medical practitioners had been agreed with the British Medical Association. If the rates for specialists and consultants have not been so agreed, each of them must have a separate agreement with the Air Ministry.
If that is so, is the Ministry undercutting the National Health Service scales of remuneration for medical consultants and specialists? Are the part-time consultants, specialists and civilian medical practitioners employed by the Ministry receiving any superannuation contribution? Are they given security of tenure of office? How do these appointments compare with similar appointments in the National Health Service? Unless they compare favourably, I foresee, possibly in the near future, that the Minister will have difficulty in getting the best men for this important work in the Royal Air Force. I would like him to ensure that part-time consultants and specialists are engaged and remunerated on a proper footing, as is apparently done with the part-time general medical practitioners.
Would the Minister be good enough to let us know something about the recruiting of medical officers for the Medical Branch? I take it that the junior posts are filled by National Health Service doctors and civilian doctors employed full-time or part-time. I am anxious to know whether there are enough men signing on as Regulars to fill the higher ranks in the future. The Medical Branch occupies an important place in the Service, and I should be grateful to be told whether the Minister is satisfied with the strength of the Royal Air Force in medical officers. I should be most obliged if the Minister would look into the matter of part-time consultants' and specialists' remuneration and security of office.
§ 11.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) if I do not follow him in his technical discussion. I am not as technically qualified as he is. I would re-emphasise, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) that the Achilles Heel of our defence programme and of economic development in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is the present shortage, and the future increasing shortage, of skilled technicians in industry for research and as teachers in the schools.
This is the paramount consideration on the technical side to which we should all have been addressing our minds in these debates. Without the technical knowledge and skill, and the development of the technical skill, this nation as a great Power will cease to be. To talk of defence whether in millions or in hundreds of millions of pounds will be so much eye-wash.
We must get away from the idea that the dirty job is a low-grade job and must reconsider our priorities in relation to jobs, vocations and trades. The sooner we follow the line adopted by my hon. Friend and openly advise parents to influence their children to go into engineering, the better. It is an expanding industry with an expanding, prosperous future. The more we do that, the more we shall contribute in a constructive way to the future security and future prosperity of the nation.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) agrees, because this point is of fundamental importance to our survival and to our economy. However much we may differ on other matters, this must be agreed on all sides of the House.
I must apologise for detaining hon. Members for a few extra moments, but I see the whole picture of defence not simply in terms of the United Kingdom but in terms of a greater picture—the picture of the Commonwealth of Nations. I believe the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) had something of this in mind when he was talking of the dispersal of our strategic Reserve in this country and in the Middle and Far East, too. Unless, in the sense of air bases, 780 we can build up bases in the Middle and Far East, our defences will mean nothing because, as we have heard in the debates of the last 10 days, one crushing blow could eliminate this country.
Surely it is important that we should be able to survive as a human race in other parts of the world. That is why we should apply our minds to ensuring that there are defence bases in the Middle and Far East which can take our V bombers, service them and put them in the air at the least possible notice.
There is need for still further improvement in the mobility of our military Reserve. We have heard much talk about the strategic Reserve in the last 12 months, and in the White Paper and the defence debate we were told something of the military aspect of that strategic Reserve, but I am not certain that we have sufficient aircraft of a suitable type to move the strategic Reserve as quickly as might be necessary.
I do not want to make a partisan point about it, because this matter is more important than party politics. May I emphasise the need for co-operation between the Ministry of Supply, the civilian operators and the Royal Air Force in coming together to reach agreed patterns of development for transport and passenger-carrying aircraft? It seems to me that we might be trying to build too many different types of aircraft. We might have nostalgic feelings about the flying boat, in view of its importance in the development of Commonwealth communications. We might like to see these different types of aircraft, but we may be trying to do too much.
Perhaps we can learn from the United States. I am not sure about this, and I hope that hon. Members will accept that I am trying to feel my way as a relatively new Member, but, if I understand the position correctly, the United States Administration gives certain guarantees in one form or another to producers of aircraft. It assists them considerably and encourages in a direct and helpful way in the expensive development tests of new aircraft by placing sizable orders for transport aircraft.
The difficulties, uncertainties and hazards of the development stage are overcome by a Government guarantee. Then, of course, the civilian operator can 781 take up this already successful aircraft and, at little extra cost, alter it for civilian or freighter purposes. Two obvious objectives are achieved in this method of development. The Service gets suitable, swift, modern aircraft, and the civilian operator gets a head-start over what happens in this country. Very often we may be debating the Comet II, or other aircraft, while the American is placing orders for the latest types of comparable aircraft and getting guarantees. There is evidence that Her Majesty's Government are working towards some form of guarantee, or assistance, in the early stages of the development of new aircraft. That was shown in the statement of the Minister of Supply about the Britannia and the Comet.
I urge the House seriously to consider the need for bringing together still more closely the Ministry of Supply, the Air Ministry and the civilian operator on this question of passenger-carrying and freight aircraft. Unless those three bodies can come closer together it may be that we shall fail to have the transport aircraft we need, and we may not be able to get the lead, if lead it is, in the passenger field of civilian operation.
I imagine that I should be out of order if I went on to say more about the civilian operator; but I hope that it will be in order for me to say that, without sound civilian operation in this country, including rather more competition than there is at the moment, we cannot have a military aircraft of the standing which this country deserves. We can only have that competition between firms, we can only have the class of aircraft we all want—and here I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon, North—if we provide through our educational system, through the incentives which we give the teachers, the technicians to do the research, and all the other workers who are needed.
I urge the Government—and I hope the House will forgive me for cutting short the comments I wanted to make—to consider the freight and passenger-carrying side and to give further freedom to civilian operators to compete with the Corporations, if need be. Also, I urge them to bring together the three bodies I have mentioned, so that the right type of heavy aircraft is developed for civilian and military use.
§ 11.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
It is pleasant to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) who made an extremely able speech. I should have thought that he would have been the one to advocate the flying boat; but no, he left that to one of his colleagues. The hon. Member gave the House the sort of speech which I think it is fair to say that hon. Members on all sides hope to hear in debates of this sort. It seems to me that he did not quite appreciate the paradoxes of what he was urging. He was saying that if we are to have more aircraft we must have more skilled workers; but if we are to have more skilled workers we must have more skilled apprentices.
We cannot at the same time, as my hon. Friends on this side of the House have been urging, have two years' conscription. How can we? It is a tax. Conscription is a poll-tax. It is all the more important a tax because so often it is not realised that it is a tax. Hon. Members opposite talk about reducing taxation. One of the most important reductions which should be made is a reduction of the tax on British skill and ability. In the United States there is no universal conscription, but a selective draft.
They have a far greater advantage than we have to start with. Therefore, it is rather difficult when we discuss the Estimates to discuss one apart from the other. If the Air Force has not got all the planes it requires that is partly due to the fact that the Army is calling up the people who might be making them. We cannot look at this problem other than in the round. That is the lesson and it has been the burden of a great many speeches, certainly from this side of the House.
When I heard the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) speaking, I was reminded of a number of strategic problems. Suppose his island was not the Isle of Wight, but Quemoy or Matsu? I will not go into that aspect of the matter. It also brought to my mind the book which probably many hon. Members have read, "The Naked Island," Russell Brandon's account of what happened in Singapore and in Malaya. I have often thought as I listened off and on to speeches in this debate that really this is another naked 783 island. Singapore was a naked island, not because the military leaders did not think it was adequately defended, but because they believed that it was impregnable. I say with all respect that when one has listened to hon. and right hon. Members one has wondered whether they were not briefed by exactly the same people who spoke so feelingly about the impregnabality of Singapore.
This is a naked island and those speaking in this debate should realise that that is one of the very serious issues which face us all. We have a responsibility. By the decisions we make we hold in our hands the life or death of countless people in this country who cannot speak for themselves, who can express themselves only through what we say here. Therefore, if we take a little time to discuss this matter we are at least discussing something of supreme importance to the people of this country.
I must say I am a little shocked at the way in which people discuss defence and say, "If this island is not defensible, we can defend it from somewhere else." Let us deal first with what happens here. If this island is not defensible, what is to happen, not to the R.A.F., but to the people not in the R.A.F.? The object of the Air Force, I should have thought, was to defend the country, not to make war on someone else from the Middle East. Hon Members opposite may have a different view; it would be interesting to hear it. What is the object of the R.A.F.? Is it to defend this country or is it suggested that it can move to some far off country and defend it equally well?
Throughout the whole debate there seemed to run a golden chain with link after link of unreality. Here is an argument based on ignoring everything else, taking the thing in a small technical sphere, so that we can be quite certain that none of the real problems is approached. I am not a technician in these matters, although I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Sunderland, South speaking of the value of technicians.
I spent a couple of years during the war as a corporal instrument mechanic. It was a very valuable experience, but it was not one which enables me to speak with any great authority upon the subject of modern electronics. I do not 784 understand technical matters concerning aircraft as well as do hon. and gallant Members opposite who have held high rank in the Royal Air Force, but I have always understood that these machines are propelled by some sort of fuel-petrol, or, in the case of jet aircraft, an alternative fuel. I may be wrong, and I shall be only too pleased to be corrected if I am mistaken.
If I am correct—to take just one practical case—if we are to have a broken-back war, as we were told we should have in the Defence White Paper before last, how are we to refuel these aircraft? It is all very well to say that we shall have so many aircraft, but if we are talking in terms of an atomic war how are we to face this problem? Behind an aircraft, no doubt, there stand many civilian workers. Various repairs, alterations and other things have to be done. One knows that only too well from one's experience of what happens with a civilian aircraft. A great number of people swarm all over it after it has flown a comparatively small distance, in order to service it. How will those civilians be defended? How can the Minister merely present the Air Force as if it were a number of aircraft upon an airfield?
This is the height of unreality. This is not a question of defence; it is a question of playing soldiers or airmen, as the case may be. This kind of argument is no doubt put forward by very able and honest officers—but that has always been our trouble in time of war. We have always had a great number of experts who have looked at the matter from too technical an angle. In the First World War they forgot that while one might have extremely well trained soldiers it was necessary for them to have some ammunition to fire. One has only to read Frank Owen's biography of Lloyd George to appreciate that the most able generals of that period overlooked that apparently essential point, and it seems that those who have briefed hon. Members opposite have approached this problem from exactly the same point of view.
I should like to give one example. Hon. Members opposite have said, "We must have all our resources dispersed. We must have them put into the Middle East and into Africa." Whereabouts in the Middle East and in Africa are we to 785 put them? If my right hon. Friend wants to intervene I shall gladly give way.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I was remarking to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) that I had said that we ought to disperse our bomber squadrons.
§ Mr. Bing
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. We all appreciate his tenure of office at the Air Ministry. I make no criticism of what he said. All I say is that we should look at the matter from a realistic point of view, and if it is said that we are going to disperse our resources it is not my right hon. and learned Friend's province but that of right hon. Members opposite, who are responsible for the conditions which present a situation where they cannot put our resources anywhere.
In "The Times" a few days ago there was an article entitled "Defence South of the Sahara," which dealt with a great number of plans put forward by Mr. Erasmus, the Minister of Defence of South Africa, who was proposing to establish airfields and bases in Africa. This is the most unrealistic thing it is possible to conceive.
§ Mr. P. Williams (Sunderland, South)
There is nothing new about that discussion. That sort of thing has been discussed for a great number of years. It is not new, despite the hydrogen bomb.
§ Mr. Bing
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. It is nothing new, but the situation in South Africa has changed. Is it possible to suppose that, because we ally ourselves with South Africa, the airfields in Africa will be safe? That question does not occur to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They regard defence as a compartment divorced from politics. The very fact of working with Mr. Erasmus, with a Government who say that nobody who is of a different colour from themselves, even though those of different colour from themselves are the great majority of the inhabitants of South Africa, has any rights at all, will affect the security of the airfields.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member's argument may be right or wrong, but, however it affects the South African situation, it does not affect the Air Estimates, which are what we are supposed to be debating at the moment.
§ Mr. Wigg
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, if an hon. Member is rebutting the argument for dispersal, surely it is in order, in doing so in detail, to point out that, in his judgment, it is incorrect to argue that we should so disperse our Air Force as to have to call upon the aid of the South African Government?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is wrong. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is not entitled to discuss the colour question on the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Bing
I was dealing with the strategic problem of dispersal, Mr. Speaker. Before you came into the Chamber it was said that, in the event of an atom attack, we must disperse our Forces. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) was one of those who urged dispersal. All I was saying was that, whether it is suggested the Air Force should go to Africa or whether it is suggested that it should go to Cyprus, we cannot consider that in a vacuum. If we are to have an aerodrome in Cyprus we have to consider who are to be the workmen to work on that aerodrome. If we pursue such a policy as to alienate all the people who live in Cyprus we cannot expect to have proficient service there. Indeed, we should find ourselves amid fifth column activities, strikes, and so on.
Therefore, to suppose that the policy, described in "The Times" report, of allying ourselves with South Africa, will mean that we shall have all the airfields we want in Africa, is to approach the matter entirely mistakenly. I was asking, where are these bases to be? It is perfectly correct for my right hon. and learned Friend to say that we should disperse them, but we ought to ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite where they are to be dispersed to.
Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. and learned Gentleman is asking the Government for too much. Should the Government at this stage say exactly where they propose to disperse our aeroplanes? Soviet Russia does not send us a map showing where its dispersed airfields are. In any case, if he thinks the dispersal scheme wrong, will the hon. and learned Gentleman put forward an alternative, and a constructive one?
§ Mr. Bing
I appreciate the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question. I am not suggesting we should have a map showing the exact location of the airfields, but I should have thought the Government could have indicated in which Continents they should be. That would be a start. If the suggestion, for example, is that we should have airfields in the Middle East, I ask, in which countries? Or is that a secret, too? Are they not to be located in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land? Is that where they are to be? In which countries does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest we should have these bases? It is far too serious a subject to be treated in this light and off-hand way. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "Well, we cannot disclose now where they are going to be." I do not think that there has been such a profound contribution since the late Viscount Caldecote was the Minister of Defence.
§ Mr. Bing
My hon. Friend says that it is not as bad as that. I agree and accept the rebuke. Next to that, I think that it is the most profound contribution that we have had.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be a little bit serious on this subject of defence. They ought to approach it with some responsibility, or at any rate in some slightly more concrete form than they have seen fit to do. In an extremely forceful, able and brilliant speech earlier in our debate, by hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend, (Sir R. Acland) reached the conclusion as to what was the real problem worrying our people. It is that if we are to produce the aircraft for the purpose of delivering atomic weapons, then at the same time there is an obligation to protect the country from the retaliation which is undoubtedly invited.
We have been told a certain amount about guided missiles. One would have thought, in view of that, that the one thing we should try to do is to see that as far as possible from this country there was a neutral area where the potential enemy would not be in a position to establish bases for firing guided missiles. I should have thought that that was an argument, for example, for the neutralisation of Germany as a whole. I should have thought that that was an argument against the re-armament of Western Germany and of Eastern Germany, be- 788 cause if Western Germany is to re-arm then so, presumably, will Eastern Germany be re-armed.
§ Mr. Bing
These are the sort of problems to which the House ought to be devoting itself. A valuable contribution to our debate was made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. I do not want to detract from what he said, but it is not a question of whether we have sufficient engineers or sufficient people to service the planes. That will not matter if three or four bombers get through.
§ Mr. Bing
They will all be dead, so it will not matter. The real issue we have to consider is whether, in fact, we can produce a foolproof defence. As I said at the beginning, this is a naked island, a very small area with perhaps 20 centres of population. We have heard of the degree of development of guided missiles. It has been general talk perhaps, but my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), who is very knowledgeable in these matters, suggested that as the R.A.F. was becoming obsolete we should concentrate our whole consideration on aerial warfare and on guided missiles. But they go both ways, and what will be the defence against them?
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
In the earlier part of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) I thought he was rather more temperate than we usually find him in this House, but towards the end I thought he was quite as irresponsible as he normally is on these matters. It seems an extraordinary dictum which he tries to adduce, that one of his hon. Friends puts forward a certain argument and then, because an argument comes from his own side of the House, it is the responsibility of my hon. Friend to answer it and to prove it one way or the other. It is an impossible situation in which to put my hon. Friend.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Yes, but it would be fair to say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that if he puts a silly question, he will probably get a silly answer.
§ Mr. Bing rose—
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
What was the main burden of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman? It was, in effect, that one of his hon. Friends suggested that we should disperse our air forces, presumably all over the world, and he was then at great pains to prove that it was not a practical proposition. The implication arising from that would appear to be that, therefore, we must concentrate such forces as we have in this island. He then went on to show that two or three atom bombs were sufficient to wipe out this country and. therefore, presumably the implication is that we should not do anything at all about defending ourselves.
That kind of argument is the one which has been put forward in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—and it has landed us in trouble with the party opposite—
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) says we are all in trouble with the party opposite. All I can say is that if he likes to cross the Floor of the House, he will find a united party here. [HON. MEMBERS: "We do not want him."]
Quite a lot has been said this evening about the speech made by the hon. baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), and a lot of praise has been meted out to him by his hon. Friends. The House always appreciates any hon. Member who takes up a personal position, particularly in the way that the hon. Baronet has done, and although we may not agree with what he has done, we sincerely respect him for his action.
It will not be lost upon the country, however, that quite a few hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken tonight, and have supported very strongly the point of view which the hon. Member for Gravesend put forward, have not sought to emulate his example. May we hope that within the next day or two we might see a few more consciences working on the other side of the House, and a few more by-elections, which will strengthen the hands of the Conservative Government at the present time?
However, it was not my intention at this late hour to indulge in this kind of comment. I want to speak for two or three minutes on a subject which I have raised in this House for the last five years in conjunction with Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton when he represented Inverness, the question of reconnaissance aircraft. In the last war we used Mosquitoes and Spitfires for this work, and throughout the earlier part of the war we succeeded in operating at very low cost because the opposition at that time was principally from Messerschmitt 109s. and Fokke-Wolf 190s.
They were also subject to attack from anti-aircraft guns, but in any future war which might break out, since we in this country have decided to do away with our own anti-aircraft defences, we must assume that other countries have also decided to do the same. Presumably, therefore, the aircraft which we would use for reconnaissance purposes would be subject to interception by aircraft only, or perhaps by guided missiles—we do not know.
791 Nevertheless, the principle which I suggest should operate in the Air Ministry now and in the future in relation to photographic reconnaissance units is that at all times they should be equipped with the fastest aircraft available. I believe that our squadrons at this time are equipped with Canberras and Meteors, and I want to ask my hon. Friend if he really feels in his heart, and if his technical advisers in the Air Ministry are satisfied, that if war were to break out tomorrow they would be justified in sending out airmen on deep reconnaissance flights several hundred miles into enemy territory in Canberras and Meteors.
I do not wish to appear to be dramatic on this subject, but I want to state the facts simply. When a bomber aircraft takes its bombs to a target it is over the target area probably for a matter of minutes. It drops its bombs, turns round and comes home. When a fighter aircraft is engaged in combat, again the fight is a matter of minutes. But reconnaissance aircraft fly hundreds of miles into enemy territory completely unarmed. That is what we have to remember. They have to rely upon the height which they can reach and on the speed that they can fly to get them home.
If, for example, an aircraft were doing a reconnaissance over Berlin, which was done many times in the last war, a complete photographic cover of Berlin would take about an hour and a quarter. It is a long time for an unarmed aircraft to fly over a heavily defended city at about 30,000 feet. Then that aircraft has to get home. We must remember that whereas a bomber's mission is completed when the bombs are dropped, and to that extent the crew are expendable, the mission of a photographic reconnaissance crew is not completed until the aircraft reaches home and the photographs are delivered. In any future war it will be essential for our whole defence that the eyes of the Royal Air Force shall be wide open and capable of seeing every move that a potential enemy might make.
I do not expect, for reasons of security, that my hon. Friend should disclose to the House the plans of the Air Ministry in relation to our reconnaissance squadrons, but I do want to be assured—indeed. I think the whole House does—that the Air Ministry has this matter in hand and 792 that it can assure the House that our squadrons will be efficiently equipped with the fastest aircraft available and which are aircraft of a type able to meet any opposition which they may encounter when flying over enemy territory.
§ 12.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have no apologies to offer for rising at this early hour of the morning to continue this debate, because I believe that it would be a bad service to democracy and public discussion if hon. Members on both sides of the House just succumbed to the pressure of Government Whips and adjourned without giving full and ample consideration to the Estimates before us.
I know that when we on this side of the House were in office Ministers were anxious to get their Estimates through and we passed Estimates of thousands of millions of pounds with inadequate discussion. I was never a party to remaining silent when criticism needed to be made. I think that hon. Members on the other side should take the same attitude of criticism of their own Front Bench, if the Service Ministers come to the House and rush through their Estimates by the use of the Whips because jaded M.Ps. want to go home without doing their duty. That is a bad business for the House of Commons.
I do not believe that Members on either side of the House should grudge working nights occasionally. My constituents do; many of my constituents have just gone on the night shift. The pilots who man the aircraft at night have to work at night, and I see no reason why the Government Whips should look at me as though I were enemy No. I when all I wish to do is to stimulate Members opposite into doing their duty to their constituents and to their country. Indeed, I have listened to more Service debates than anyone in the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
These Air Estimates are before us and I suggest that the hon. Member might come to them now.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Air Estimates amount to £513 million. There can be no argument about that. That is a colossal sum of 793 public money. I have listened very carefully to the speeches from both sides of the House, and there have been some disquieting criticisms from hon. and gallant Members who have had the experience of manning the Air Force in very difficult circumstances. There are others who have a knowledge of aircraft production.
I agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) that we should have a committee system for discussing in full detail the Estimates of the Air Ministry, as of all other Estimates, so that hon. and gallant Members could give us the benefit of their experience, and we could do our best to assist them with constructive criticism.
I was very interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), and that aspect is worth a day to itself. How shall we eradicate the bottleneck which has appeared in the development of modern aircraft production? I remember that the then Sir Ralph Glyn, who used to make constructive speeches in these debates, made a very interesting speech three years ago in which he asked exactly the same question: from where would we get the technical people, the scientists and skilled workers to produce the aircraft that are needed?
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South put his finger on the same point, and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) also dealt with the problem, but without supplying an answer. It is all very well saying, "Attract young people from other professions," but if we attract young scientists from the schools into the aircraft industry, how are we to train the young students who have to follow on?
§ Mr. Hughes
I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member. I fail to see the common sense of calling up people who will be unable to serve in the Forces in any case in the event of war. I do not see any reason why they should be called up at all. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has completely converted me to that point of view.
§ Mr. Hughes
I wish to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Air and the Air Ministry for the consideration which has been shown about a matter which I raised in this House. I asked a Question about the bombing ranges off the northwest coast of Germany, and I produced an illustrated paper from a German friend which showed that a large number of wild birds had been killed as a result of bombing practice. I believe that considerable pains were taken to prevent cruelty to the wild birds by bombing operations during the moulting season.
In reply to a Question last Wednesday, the Minister said:My noble Friend and I have considered with the British section of this Committee"—that is the International Committee for Bird Preservation—what can be done to minimise the danger to sheld-duck on the Cuxhaven Bombing Range, off the north-west coast of Germany, during the moulting season, when the birds cannot fly. During the next moulting season, only practice bombs will be dropped. These contain no explosive other than a small charge to set off a smoke marker.I believe that these birds are entitled to consideration, and I am glad to know that the ornithologists seem to have come to my support.
The Minister continued:The Royal Air Force will co-operate with ornithologists, under arrangements to be made with the British section of the Committee, to inspect the range both before and after bombing, to establish the effect on the sheld-duck.That has been done. I believe that public opinion in Germany will be very much impressed by the efforts that have been made. The Minister concluded:I have every hope that as a result of these measures we shall find that the species has been able to moult without being seriously molested."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1955; Vol. 537. c. 285.]I thoroughly approve of the activities of the Air Ministry in protecting the ducks during the moulting season, and wish that those activities may be continued and pursued to their logical conclusion.
It is not only wild duck that moult. There are other species. If we are to protect the sheld-duck, what about the swans, sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds and skylarks? What is to happen to the bird life of these islands if we go in for bombing operations on a large scale? We have heard about the extinction of the human species; we may have our 795 quarrels with the Russians, but what have the birds to do with them? Why should they be slaughtered?
Now that the Minister has taken this imaginative approach and has shown such sympathy towards wild ducks, let him remember that there are other living creatures, and carry that approach to its logical conclusion. We have no right to betray all living creatures in pursuit of the survival of what is called homo sapiens. The ornithologists seem to have been a most effective pressure group. I hope they will continue their pressure on the Minister, and I shall do my utmost to co-operate with them. I hope that the Minister will continue the good work.
There have been criticisms of conscription to the Air Force. When I travel by train I see a lot of these young conscripts, travelling in their Air Force uniforms. I do not know a great deal about the training of people who go into the Air Force. The Army was my speciality. I have recently read some extraordinary revelations about what goes on in regard to the discipline enforced in the R.A.F. I should like some Minister to assure me that the sort of thing that I shall quote from a reliable witness is not going on at the present time.
I read this description by a very famous writer about how discipline is enforced in the R.A.F., and I asked a young airman, "Surely this sort of thing does not go on now?" He assured me that in 1954 we are still getting this "square bashing" and this P.T.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
What is wrong with "square bashing" and P.T.? I did six years of it and it did not do me any harm.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not certain that the hon. and gallant Member is an objective witness about that. We all have our own opinions. I do not believe it did him any harm, but others may have a different opinion.
I want to know whether this description represents anything like what takes place now. because if so. then it is time that the R.A.F. was regularly surveyed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It reads:Perfection of drill resides not in individual perfections: nor would fifty of the best men in a new squad drill well. Smartness depends on knowing the man in front, and the man behind, and those on each side. All must 796 bring down their left heels simultaneously, with a slightly marked beat to keep time with a metronome in the brain.What possible relevance has that to the piloting of modern aircraft?
Air Commodore Harvey
On a point of order. Is it relevant to the debate for the hon. Member to read quotations of something which happened 30 years ago?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was far-seeing enough to see that point in advance. He said that he had talked to modern aircraftmen who had assured him that these things still go on.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, Mr. Speaker; you have stated the point precisely, and I am obliged to you for your protection. I should not bother about this if it had ended 30 years ago. I should not dream of going back into such ancient history.
What I am asking is
are these performances taking place on the barrack square at present and, if they are, what relevance have they to the training of airmen? The Minister has told me that it costs £25,000 to train a bomber pilot, and I want to know whether any of the £25,000 is wasted on activities of this kind. The description goes on:This comes with time, after training. It can only be done by a mind absolutely serene. It's a matter of trust, of unconscious certainty to tell you what right and left are going to do.I am not talking about politics at all. I am dealing with the routine activities of the R.A.F. and I ask the Minister whether that sort of drill goes on at present.Then all feet will clash as one, and the flight be a flight, and not 50 men.I want to know whether my constituents are being dragged up through a system of National Service and treated like this.After six hours' rough handling we could not be like that. Poulton insisted.Poulton was the N.C.O.The trumpets went on calling. He set his teeth. 'No tea for you skunks today. I'll keep you here all night'. He had not seen Stiffy, the Drill-Adjutant, approaching from his rear.
§ Mr. Hughes
This was written by a very gallant officer who had great experience of both Services and was decorated 797 for his activities in the Middle East. This is Lawrence of Arabia writing to the hon. Member. These are not the words of a pacifist. This is a description of what goes on in the establishments of the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Speaker
Did the hon. Member discuss all these matters with the aircraftman he mentioned earlier, because it seems to me that he is now rather going into the past, and not dealing with modern conditions in the Air Force? If the hon. Member can tell me that the modern aircraftman said these things, it is in order, but I think that the hon. Member is now delving too far back.
§ Mr. Hughes
If I can be assured by the Minister that all this belongs to the dim and distant past, that my constituents are not treated in this way, I shall, in due course, accept the Minister's point of view. Before the Minister is able to judge, he has to hear my case. What I submit, Mr. Speaker, is that I have not finished this description yet, and that all I say is relevant to the discipline and drill methods of the Royal Air Force today.
It goes on,Stiffy called the Sergeant, endured a low explanation, and replied loudly for us to hear, 'Put them on again at five-fifteen, and let them have it.' So we fell in again after half an hour, knowing we were to be crucified.Yes, it sounds humorous; but it was not humorous to this very sensitive person. A number of sensitive young people are being treated like this today, if my constituent was correct. I want to get an assurance that this sort of thing has been discontinued; that these men have not to submit to being bullied on the' barrack square.
Some of the language in this book I could not repeat to the House. People read what goes on, and we are entitled to know whether this sort of thing goes on in the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Hughes
I know that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has great gifts of observation, but he has not second 798 sight. I am not talking about what Lawrence did in the Royal Tank Corps, but what he saw in the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Hughes
I would not accept those aspersions on a great descriptive writer.
I know that the hon. Member for Dudley has qualities and experience, but he was not present everywhere. I would accept his advice on something at which he was present, but he could not have been present in the Royal Air Force everywhere at the same time.
§ Mr. Wigg
I happened to be attached to the Royal Air Force from 1924 to 1927 in Iraq, which had a depot organised on comparable lines to Royal Air Force depots in this country. Men came out there for a period of two years. I met them, and I know from that experience that the description in that book is untrue.
§ Mr. P. Williams
Can we have an assurance that the hon. Member for Dudley was not the sergeant in the book?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Dudley could not have been on every barrack square in the British Empire at the same time. I submit to the House that the hon. Member for Dudley, in total ignorance of these incidents, is trying to whitewash the Service.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not accept the hon. Member for Dudley as such an eminent authority.
I will not harrow the feelings of the hon. Member any more, but he cannot discuss Lawrence of Arabia in this way. I want to know if the Minister will con- 799 tradict this book, which is in the window of every bookshop in London and is a tremendous indictment of the R.A.F. I want some assurance that the young recruits in the R.A.F. are not being treated in the way described in this book.
I will not continue about that, as I have said enough on it. I do not think the miserable apologetics of the hon. Member for Dudley have any relation at all to it, as I am sure hon. Members will, in their hearts, agree. This is the first time that they have co-operated with the hon. Member for Dudley. I want the Minister to come to the same conclusion about the hon. Member for Dudley as a reliable witness in this instance as he is about recruiting figures and manpower in the British Army. That is by way of a preliminary to what I was going to say. If hon. and gallant Members opposite want to continue their researches, I will lend them this book.
I want to ask further questions which have been put by the editor of the "Manchester Guardian," who is often a supporter of the Government. When we come to these matters we often find in the "Manchester Guardian" sound criticism which hon. Members should take into consideration when these Estimates are before us. After all, the sum involved here is £530 million, and this is the second instalment. We have granted nearly £1,000 million in one week. The questions which the leader writer of the "Manchester Guardian" put on 10th February this year are very pertinent to the whole of this debate.
The leading article was entitled. "Bombers, Why?" and began:The British strategic bombing force will consist of the new V bombers, the Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan, equipped with British-made atom bombs. Possibly it may also have British hydrogen weapons. A vast amount of money will go into the building. The capital cost of each aircraft alone will be nearly half a million pounds"—I want that figure to be remembered as I develop my argument—and the bomber force will be the strongest single element in Britain's defences.The "Manchester Guardian" asks, "Is it necessary?" This is one of the most responsible newspapers in Britain.Is it sound in future strategy? These questions must be asked when a decision of such magnitude is under discussion.800 When the "Manchester Guardian" says that these questions must be asked, I submit that I am justified in asking them.
The "Manchester Guardian" frequently criticises what it calls the pacifist point of view, but this is not pacifism at all. This is a highly relevant question which we should all be able to answer in our minds before we go into the Division Lobby tonight.In terms of deterrent"—there is that wonderful word we have heard so much of during the last week—of persuading Russia that war would be folly—the British force seems not necessary. It will add but little to the deterrent value of the existent American force.If it will add but little, why should we vote over £500 million for our Air Force?
The deterrent is already there, with the huge bomber force under the command of the United States of America.Apparently the American bombers—with bases in a ring from North Africa and England through Greenland and Alaska, to Japan and Okinawa, can now reach any part of Russia. They are equipped with bombs of every kind.I remember arguing last year that if America has such a huge bomber force, which can act as a deterrent, why should this country, with its strained economic resources, be asked to have a huge bomber force as well? These questions are now asked by the "Manchester Guardian," and we are entitled to have an answer.
About the American Air Force it says:Many of its bases are beyond the reach of Russian aircraft and according to the military estimate will continue to be safe for some years yet. The deterrent value of the American air strategic command then must be very great. Will Russian calculations be altered if, let us say, to 1,200 American bombers are added 400 British or to a stock of 800 American nuclear weapons are add another 250 British bombs?I have sat here during all the debate, and I have never heard anyone make an honest attempt to answer that question.
§ Mr. Hughes
Good luck to my hon. Friend; I admire his courage.
We have heard criticisms that the Government are slow in providing the aircraft. We have had criticisms of the Minister of Supply because the bombers and the fighters and all the other para- 801 phernalia are not forthcoming. If the Labour Party had been in office now I ask whether the criticisms would not have been precisely the same—because the bottlenecks are not political matters; they are technical and industrial. If the Labour Party were now in power and the Ministers had been transposed, we might have had—I do not speak with the dogmatism of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley—the same kind of brief being read out by the Minister, and exactly the same kind of cross-talk.
What was the criticism of the Opposition Front Bench? It was that we cannot arm by half; if we are to have a deterrent then we have to have a sufficiently powerful air force. I have waited for many years to get some precise idea of how many bombers the Labour Party stood for. How many bombers does my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) think would be sufficient? He is apparently going to make an attempt to answer the argument of the "Manchester Guardian."
The argument put up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) was that the figure should be 100. A hundred would cost £40 million. I ask for an explanation. If we had 100 bombers, which is, apparently, the maximum number mentioned by the Opposition Front Bench, in what way would they add to the strength of the deterrent? I cannot find the answer to that one.
I believe that at the present time the American Air Force has an enormous force at its command, and that what we are trying to do is completely irrelevant to the situation. Consider the strength of the American Air Force. It has, according to a statement made by the American Secretary for Air, 960,000 men.Modern air power"—says the report of the American Secretary for Air—combining the tremendous speeds made possible by present day engines and the enormous power of modern weapons, overleaps all traditional geographic barriers that have sheltered us throughout our history. If a nation has sufficient air power today, the destruction it can inflict on another nation staggers the imagination.802 What about the Russian Air Force? These are facts from the American Secretary for Air, and I presume they can be relied upon as being accurate. He says:The Red Air Force consists of more than 20,000 active aircraft. They have medium bombers copied from our B29 capable of flying one-way missions to any point in the United States.If they can fly to any point in the United States then presumably they can fly to any point in these islands.We have evidence that they are today developing and probably producing a heavy turbo-prop bomber comparable in both range and performance to our B36. In Europe they have light jet bombers capable of attacking almost any point in Western Europe from their bases just behind the Iron Curtain. Here also they have thousands of their MIG15 fighters ready to bid for air superiority and to harass the N.A.T.O. ground forces. This powerful air force is capable of immediate attack on any point in Europe and any point in the United States.If that is so, I fail to see how any of the preparations which have been outlined tonight by the Under-Secretary of State for Air can possibly meet the situation. Even if only a fraction of those bombers get through, this enormous expenditure will be publicly unjustified. Is it suggested that we must arm unilaterally, without acting on the assumption that the United States will be on our side? Surely we are not going to prepare to bomb the United States of America? Surely we are not going to prepare to bomb our Allies in N.A.T.O.? The only targets we are likely to be able to bomb before these bombing planes become obsolete are those protected by the air force of the U.S.S.R. I believe it is quite impossible for us to argue on the assumption that we have got to build an air force which can possibly meet the air force of the U.S.S.R., when we consider some of the possibilities.
I listened to the Prime Minister say the other day that there were 100 bases ready from which bombers could set out to attack points in the U.S.S.R. in the event of war. I presume that the 100 places to be attacked are not only in the U.S.S.R. I presume that the Air Force has its map of potential targets on the Continent of Europe outside Russia. Some of those targets are in Germany. I believe the people of Germany are following with interest these speeches explaining what the R.A.F. will do in the next war. I cannot 803 conceive that if the Soviet Union attacks in the next war its headquarters will be in Moscow or in any other large Soviet town. They might be in Berlin. Is it part of our strategy to bomb Berlin?
We have heard a great deal about sympathy for the people of Berlin. We have heard how they are living under Soviet rule, and yet I venture to suggest that while we are expressing so much sympathy with the Germans in the East and in the West, part of our strategic policy in the event of war is the bombing of Germany with atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. The time has come, not only for Britain to be neutral, but for the whole of Western Europe to realise that neutrality is a far more sensible policy than one of getting involved in a hydrogen-bomb war.
What about the deterrent We are to have a debate next week in which the Opposition will seek to condemn the Government because they are not pushing forward with three-Power talks. Exactly what this policy of the deterrent means is a mystery. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition, on 5th April last, completely exploded the theory of the deterrent, which last week was included in the Opposition Amendment on the subject of nuclear weapons.
The Leader of the Opposition then said:Let us consider the effect of this invention. Does it make war more, or less, likely? The question merits very close examination. It is contended that the existence of this weapon will itself prevent war. I recall the Prime Minister pointing out often in the years since the ending of the war that the existence of the atom bomb in the hands of the United States was a deterrent, preventing the U.S.S.R., with its great superiority in numbers and conventional weapons, from sweeping right over Europe in a major act of aggression. I thought he was right then.But the Leader of the Opposition did not at that time take that point of view because he goes on:But as soon as the U.S.S.R. got their atom bomb the force of that deterrent was lessened. There was the certainty of retaliation, and, what is more, the possibility of anticipation. The whole position has changed.If that was the position on the 5th April last year I cannot understand why I should go into the Division Lobby in support of a policy of a deterrent which 804 was denounced by the Leader of the Opposition at that time, for he went on to say:We see the same sequence in the production of the hydrogen bomb. There are those who contend that the possession of the hydrogen bomb can be an instrument for preserving peace. It is suggested that the threat of instant retaliation by the use of this weapon can be employed to prevent a resort to armed action anywhere. This idea can be detected in the speeches of some statesmen in the United States of America.This is a profound delusion. The more absolute the sanction the greater the reluctance to use it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1954; Vol. 526; c. 38.]I submit that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition on 5th April completely destroyed the theory of the need for nuclear weapons as deterrents.
If that theory was abandoned in April last year, I fail to see how the Front Bench can produce it now, a year later. The danger and the implications of the thermo-nuclear weapon have not lessened but increased during the past year, and therefore I think that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) has carried that line of thought to its logical conclusion and has decided to put a point of view which will be listened to with a great deal of respect in this country.
I listened to the hon. Member for Gravesend with great interest because I have never consulted him. Indeed, I understood that he did not think on the same lines as I do. Here, however, we have a closely reasoned speech, not by any means a speech full of platitudes and generalities, but an extremely closely reasoned speech in which the hon. Member argued calmly and logically that the time had come when he could not agree to subscribe to this policy of big armaments through a deterrent Air Force.
Naturally I welcome such a recruit to the policies which I have been advocating now for many years. An hon. and gallant Member put a fair question to me: was I going to resign my seat? I do not see any reason why I should resign my seat, because a Member resigns only when he has changed his policy, and I have been advocating this policy for years now. It would be more logical to ask me if I would resign my seat if I joined the ranks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Certainly I would think it necessary to resign my seat in that event.
805 But these were issues which I discussed in my constituency at the last two Elections, and it is not for me to go back to my constituency upon them. People would ask, "What is new about this? We voted for you at the last Election and you had a bigger majority then, when you advocated this policy. Why should you fight a by-election now?". I know that it might ease the problems of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite during the period of the Estimates if I disappeared from the political scene, but I do not see the necessity, and I believe that the point of view that I have been putting, perhaps with very little success, during the last eight or nine years will be understood and appreciated, and that we shall get support, not only from people who are only to be regarded as cranks, but from realists who ask the question, "How can you possibly defend this country by sending bombers over there when, a couple of hours afterwards, their bombers will be here?"
This is a new kind of politics. The hon. Member for Gravesend is to give up his seat. That is the unconventional weapon in politics. Nobody can say that he has anything to gain politically; nobody can say that he is fighting for the leadership of the Labour Party. He is doing that because he is convinced that the policy behind these Estimates is a policy to which he can no longer subscribe.
It will be exceedingly difficult for members of the Labour Party to explain the Labour Party H-bomb to the electors of Gravesend. It is going to be just as difficult for hon. Members opposite. They will have to go to Gravesend and say, "In order to get safety and security, you have got to get more, bigger and better H-bombers." In face of what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said, I should not like to be among the Members who go to that constituency and try to answer the question, "What is your H-bomb policy, and how will it protect the people of this country?"
I want to deal with the possibilities in my own part of the world. I live near a big airport. Every week I come down here from Prestwick. I have done it for years, and nobody appreciates the skill and courage of pilots more than I do. But in this H-bomb age I do not escape 806 into security when I go home from London to Scotland. I live within 15 miles of Prestwick, and every time I go to Prestwick I see the American Air Force.
I realise that as a result of the American Air Force being at Prestwick there is a very grave possibility that Prestwick is on the Russian list of targets. If we have our map of 100 targets that we shall bomb in a future war, it is logical to think that somewhere in the U.S.S.R. there is a Russian chief of air staff with a map of targets in this country, so that if a war breaks out they may use what is called the deterrent.
I was very interested in an article in the "Manchester Guardian" which dealt with the possibilities. There has been a controversy between "Pravda" and the "Manchester Guardian." The "Manchester Guardian" had argued powerfully for the bigger bomber policy, and "Pravda" replied. One of the observations that I read in the "Pravda" article was, did the "Manchester Guardian" realise that Burtonwood would be liable to be bombed? Burton-wood is within a very short distance of Manchester. When travelling down from Prestwick I have stopped at Burtonwood, and I have seen the Americans there. The "Pravda" article says that people in glasshouses should not throw stones. We appear to be in a very vulnerable glasshouse if we start throwing stones at the U.S.S.R.
I am interested in how the situation is likely to affect the people among whom I live. Many of my constituents work in Prestwick. If a bomb is dropped in the neighbourhood of Prestwick the towns of Ayr and Kilmarnock and the whole of the West of Scotland are likely to be destroyed, burnt out, atomised. There was an article in the "Glasgow Herald" last week which must have filled with alarm everybody who read it. There was a map which showed that in the event of an atom-bomb attack upon Prestwick the radio-active dust would fall out as far north as Aberdeen, and over the whole of Scotland.
When I am asked to vote £513 million for something which will not defend me at all, I revolt and ask what is the sense of it. I believe that I can point out what is likely to happen in that part of the world. It would be completely fatal for 807 us. The range of total destruction in Glasgow from a hydrogen bomb equivalent to 20 million tons of T.N.T. would, one way or another mean the killing of almost everybody within a radius of five miles, if they were not in a deep shelter. That does not include only Glasgow. It includes nearly the whole of the industrial belt of the west of Scotland.
One hydrogen bomb on Prestwick or Glasgow and we are told it will affect Paisley, Renfrew, Clydebank, Bearsden, Coatbridge, Hamilton, Airdrie, Ruther-glen, Barrhead, Kirkintilloch, and a few more towns. When I see the American personnel at this air base, I realise that their very presence is a danger and a menace to the people of this country. I suggest that the time has come when we should cease talking the usual platitudes that we hear in these air debates, and that the Ministers, and especially the Minister responsible for Civil Defence, should assure us that the money is being well spent.
We are spending £513 million on the strategic bombing policy and only £70 million to protect the people. What nonsensical proposals have been put to us in the debate. There is the question of dispersal. One can disperse the Air Force, but how can we disperse the people of Prestwick and Glasgow and the rest of Scotland? There has not been a single attempt to answer that question. We heard about "guilty men" after the last war; there will be more guilty men if by any chance we get another war.
Sooner or later, if the Government do not realise it, the Opposition must realise it. They must demand a complete reversal of this policy. I have been asked what I would do about it. I would abandon the strategic bombing policy because if it is not likely to bring security, what on earth is it for? What would be the consequence? I do not believe that because we did not have American bases in this country the Russians would immediately come in.
§ Mr. Hughes
I should prefer to see this country temporarily under the control of the Russians or Communism than see it completely obliterated and radio-active. That is the alternative, much as I dislike 808 it. As I have told the House before, I should not be in a very safe position under Communism.
§ Mr. Hughes
Perhaps I should be. But I am alive this evening.
I suggest that when one has an opportunity of stating one's case and arguing it out, we should take it. Supposing I were dead, even if all the people who are very politically conscious in this country were dead, the great majority of people would be alive. Even if the Russians were here, I wonder whether the total number who would be exterminated would be two million or three million. I am assuming it at its worst. What about the people who are not interested in politics? What about the young people, the mothers and their children? Are the Government entitled to sacrifice them for the sake of an ideological war against Communism?
I do not believe that, if we put it to the ordinary, normal non-political people in this country, they would place ideological principles of this kind before the will to live and before the desire to survive. The will to live is the important thing. By pursuing this policy to its logical conclusion, we risk not only the human beings of this country, but the animals, the plants, the birds, the seasons—in fact, we risk turning the whole of this planet, after all that has gone into the making of it, into a mass of radio-active ruins.
Of course the Russians are taking the same risk. I am not here to apologise for the Russians, because I believe that the Russians are in just as much danger as we are. The atom bomb and the H-bomb are the enemies of all human beings on this planet. That is the uncomfortable fact—the fact which has to be burned into the brains of every Minister, every politician and every publicist in the world. Although I have taken some time in expounding this point of view, I am justified in doing so in view of the circumstances of this debate.
§ 1.26 a.m.
§ Mr. de Freitas
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will allow me to say that it is shocking effrontery on his part to assume that it is necessary for him to teach his fellow hon. Members of 809 this House and burn into their brains the appalling effects of the hydrogen bomb. It is unnecessary for him to do that. He should not assume, even with his sincerely held convictions, that he is the only one who realises the terrible condition of the world today. Where we differ is in the lesson that we learn from that appalling situation and the steps which we take to meet it.
Year after year it has been my experience to follow my hon. Friend—and I mean friend—in these debates, either as a Minister or from the Opposition Front Bench. He always puts his case sincerely, but it is important that he should not think it necessary to convert us to a realisation of the horrors of this weapon. He asked me to answer the question which goes to the root of the whole attitude of the Opposition on this matter, namely, why we are called on to vote for a British deterrent.
First, we must not contract out and surrender ourselves entirely to American strategy. Secondly, we must have the power, if necessary, to choose a particular target, to which, in the event of war, our American allies might not give such high priority as we should. It was decided by the Labour Government in the late 1940's that we should go ahead with the V-bomber force with the deterrent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) wrote in the "News Chronicle" only yesterday:Those of us who concurred in the making of the atom bomb and tolerated the saturation bombing of the last war have no logical or moral case against the hydrogen bomb.That, put in far better words than I could use, is the position of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Those of us who are still in the Chamber are waiting for the Minister to reply, and so I shall not keep the House long. It may be rather presumptuous for me to suggest it, but I feel that I shall carry all hon. Members with me when I say that as the Minister has had a very heavy day—he is the only Minister representing his Ministry in this House against two or three for the other Service Ministries—we shall be content if the hon. Gentleman deals only with the points raised by those of us who are still present, and writes to other hon. Members. I think that is only fair.
The most persistent theme of this debate has been the shortage of tech- 810 nicians under our education system. At present there is no sign that we shall ever be able to produce enough technicians to design, develop and produce modern, industrial and aeronautical equipment and maintain it. At every level we are short of engineers. The other day an estimate was given by Sir Roy Fedden that the United States produces each year 30 times and Russia 100 times as many engineers as we do. We know from the Report of the Select Committee that the Royal Air Force has had to assume the rôle of mass educator in the technical trades.
This is not a problem to be solved by one Department only. It is essentially a problem for the Government. Paragraph 36 of the excellent Report of the Select Committee calls for a permanent joint examination of the question of skilled manpower if we are to foresee and provide for future technicians, especially in the ever-widening field of electrical and electronic matters. We have no future in this country, industrially or in defence, unless we face this problem. It may be the last chance we shall have.
I would like to put one or two points about rockets. I cannot go over the long debate we have had in one form or another over recent weeks about aircraft. In the late 1940's I remember a discussion I had here with leading Americans, Mr. Finletter, the Secretary for Air, and others, and I came to the conclusion that it would be decades before we would have an intercontinental rocket with atomic warhead. We now know that it is only a few years from now that the 2,000 or 3,000-mile-an-hour inter-continental rocket with atomic warhead will be produced. What are we doing about these rockets?
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred to the representative of "Aviation Week" and the question of security. That is most important. It is intolerable if a publication can get away with breaches of security. I know that the security classification is often too high. If it is not justified, then we should look at it again. If it is justified, then the full force of the law should be used. I hope that the Under-Secretary will report to his colleagues on the matter.
Many hon. Members have referred, as I did when I was ruled out of order, to the lack of a standing defence committee in which we could have confidential dis- 811 cussions. This is a personal view. Although I am speaking at this Dispatch Box, I am not putting a considered party point of view. I believe we should have confidential information upon which we can make up our minds. When I have previously put forward this proposal it has been opposed by the Leader of the House. Two years ago he condemned it as revolutionary, but we are living in revolutionary times. The "Daily Worker" forgot that it was the party line in other countries to support this procedure and attacked me sharply for suggesting such a thing. So both the extreme Right and the "Daily Worker" were against it. Most people are shocked by the idea, which is completely new to our system of Parliamentary and Ministerial Government, but we have changed our Parliamentary system in the past. We lived our first 550 years without Parliamentary Questions. It is only in the last 100 years or so that we have had Parliamentary Questions, which are now an important part of our procedure.
If we had a standing defence committee, it would be responsible over the years for educating a number of hon. Members in the current problems of the Services. At present too often have we to rely on out-of-date theories and occasional visits and conversations. That is not good enough. It has the danger that it is bringing the House into disrepute, because the soldiers, sailors and airmen who know the subject which we are discussing realise that many of us are talking nonsense.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It is a fact. I should like to contrast, on the one hand, the speeches of hon. Members of the Select Committee, who spent many months studying the R.A.F. and were speaking on matters of which they had direct knowledge, and the maiden speech of the hon. Member for West Derby (Mr. Woollam), who came to the House straight from the Service, with, on the other hand, the many speeches which we heard in the Service and defence debates by hon. Members who had all the qualities necessary except that they were just out of touch.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) protested 812 at what I said, but he does his Reserve service and keeps more in touch. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley keeps in touch, but it requires a tremendous effort, which means that only a few hon. Members are in a position to do it. I think one day we shall have to consider the idea of having a standing defence committee.
All parties are committed to the great deterrent, and it is our duty to see that the great deterrent leads us to peace. For the first time in the history of mankind we have reached a stage at which the threat of appalling devastation is so great that there can be no victory in war. The statesmen realise it. The people realise it. I do not believe that the human race will commit suicide.
§ 1.34 a.m.
I willingly accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) that I should try to confine what will be a brief speech to the questions raised by those hon. Members who are still here.
Let me start with the thoughtful and scrupulously fair speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), who began with a request for more information. As far as I remember, I used to start my speeches with the same request. I am not changing, but I say that I think that over the last three years I have given the House more information than I ever got from the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was Secretary of State.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I think the Under-Secretary had better look at the Estimates speech for 1951. It is true that I only gave percentages, but he could work it out. He let the cat out of the bag because he said that at one time the Air Force was down to 1,000 front-line planes. I gave figures showing what there were when I left.
I am going to give some percentages. I believe that some of the information which has emerged recently in Questions and speeches would have been considered, only a few years ago, impossible to divulge in the House. What I can say is that in the last three years the number of fighters in the front line has increased by 35 per cent. and that 813 the night fighter element increased by 170 per cent. The bomb-carrying capacity of Bomber Command is more than 25 per cent. greater than it was a year ago. Two years ago only 20 per cent. of Bomber Command machines were jets. Now, nearly all of them are. Perhaps that gives the right hon. and learned Gentleman something to think about.
I can assure the House that I will give all the information that I possibly can within the bounds of security, and that I will take the House into my confidence as much as I can. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about the Washington, and said that it was a mistake to abandon it. Obviously, when the Canberra force was coming in we had to make room for it. Otherwise we would have been in great difficulty with airfields. We decided that on the whole it was better to replace the Washington squadrons rather than the Lincolns, for logistic and other reasons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about co-operation with the United States. We have complete co-operation in research, and so on, with the Americans in all fields of defence, except the atomic or nuclear. Certainly we will take into account what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. We realise its importance; but there are, as he knows, practical and legislative difficulties. Nevertheless, apart from co-operation in research on development and production problems, Her Majesty's Government still feel that, for reasons given by the Prime Minister and repeated by the Minister of Defence, we ought to have our independent forces of bombers and of bombs.
I was asked about the early warning system, and particularly about that on the Continent. I can say that the operation centres in this country are linked with similar centres on the Continent, and that those links are being extended and strengthened. We are giving them high priority. On the question of the Gnat, I have said, in answer to a question that we are interested in its development, but the first prototype has not flown. We shall have to evaluate it carefully.
I hope it will be supersonic. As regards Auxiliary squadrons, we will keep their future under close review. Presumably the right hon. and 814 learned Gentleman, in advocating the Gnat for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, would regard it as a fighter to meet the nuclear threat. It was precisely for these reasons that we were forced slightly to modify the organisation of the Auxiliary Air Force. We felt that it could not be immediately ready to meet the need. That is the difficulty there. With regard to the P 1, the aircraft is going very well; and in regard to the supersonic night fighter, there is development of the Javelin, which I mentioned this afternoon. A development batch of 18 is in hand. They will be capable of supersonic flight. Research is proceeding on the long range rocket, which was a point also raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln.
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) that both automatic pilots and blind flying instruments are in process of development for helicopters and we shall get them as soon as we reach a more advanced stage. It is likely that we shall get the automatic pilots rather in advance of the blind flying instruments. My hon. and gallant Friend also asked about procurement and particularly about co-operation between the manufacturer and the user. In answer to a supplementary question by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) I said that now we have R.A.F. teams in manufacturers' factories working closely with them and watching the development of new aircraft through all stages. He also asked about the servicing of the V bomber force. The first and second line servicing will be done by the R.AF., major repairs by industry, and we shall of course make use as much as possible of contractors' working parties.
I must admit that I was very disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I have heard him speak a great deal in this House, and he is no mean debater. I know he has a very genuine affection for the Services, and generally his speeches are helpful. His one aim is to try to help the Services. Therefore, I feel he did himself less than justice today in the speech he made. It is so strange because he leaps to the defence of the Air Force when aspersions are being cast upon it by an hon. Member on his side of the House. Yet he produced this curious attack on the R.A.F. with no truth in it at all.
I am speaking about the allegation about the firing of the night fighter's guns. I have since had an opportunity of checking with the commander of a NF11 Squadron and he assured me that he has never heard of such a thing and there is no reason why a Meteor should not be capable of firing its guns at all speeds. I wish the hon. Member would not do things like that. It does immense harm when it hits the headlines here and overseas, and it is very unfair to the pilots flying these aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) spoke mainly about manpower problems, and I have very little to add to what I said in reply to the debate on the Amendment earlier tonight. During that speech I did announce the new Committee which is going very carefully into our methods of servicing repair and maintenance. In addition, we are always very carefully watching the position and trying to save manpower wherever we can either by civilianisation or in other ways.
The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) suggested we should make greater efforts to ensure that tactical doctrines evolved in commands at home should be made known to commands abroad and suggested we should strengthen the operations staff at the Ministry. I am glad to say that we have just appointed an additional director of operations, and we now have separate directors of operations dealing with bomber operations, air defence, tactical operations and transport, and maritime operations.
He also mentioned the termination of Reserve liability of officers on the Emergency List at the age of 45. This policy is not peculiar to the R.A.F.; it applies to the other two Services as well, and is in accordance with the Navy, Army and Air Force Reserves Act, 1954. The officers concerned are those appointed to emergency commissions during the war, or who were transferred to the Reserve from short service commissions. It is clearly only fair that some limit should 816 be put upon their liability for recall and their places taken by younger men; but if any are willing voluntarily to join the R.A.F.V.R. we are only too glad to have them.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) referred to the decision announced by my noble Friend in his Memorandum that we should not be justified, in present circumstances, in undertaking the development of the new military flying boat. I well realise his feelings, and I can assure him that the House is not the only place where great affection for the flying boat is still felt, but we have to face the hard facts of a very difficult situation. We have to balance competing claims upon resources which are not big enough to provide for all the tasks which, ideally, we should like to undertake. On balance of priorities we have been forced to the conclusion that in a nuclear war there would be few tasks which only a flying boat could perform, and that we cannot afford to develop a new military flying boat. But for some time to come we shall have Sunderlands in service.
That is not to say that it need necessarily be the end of flying boat research. On the contrary, I understand that Saunders-Roe are themselves carrying on quite a lot of flying boat research, which I welcome and applaud. Nor does it mean that there need be an end to flying boat facilities and the demand for flying boats for export to other countries.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I hear from the same firm that unless they get orders for flying boats in the not too far distant future, and unless somebody takes an interest in flying boat development in this country, the people they have employed upon research and development for all these years will not be available when we want them. Therefore, something must be done about research and development now.
I appreciate the difficulty, but I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is difficult enough to find the money for the things we must have in order to meet the nuclear threat, and we simply cannot afford to spend money upon anything which is not absolutely essential.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) 817 spoke of the need for greater mobility of the strategic Reserve. I quite agree, and I did comment upon it briefly in my opening speech. I said that we had it very much in mind and were strengthening Transport Command by the addition of the Comet, and also that new aircraft were coming in in the civil field. Then there is the experiment which we are carrying out with helicopters, for the greater mobility of the Army.
My hon. Friend said that we were trying to build too many types of aircraft, but we must have insurance. It would be no good concentrating upon one type and then finding that it was not what we wanted; in other words, having to abandon it as we did the early marks of the Swift, and having nothing in its place. It was very fortunate indeed that we had such a good aeroplane in the Hunter, when it was found that we could not continue with the Swift.
I hope the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will not expect me to follow him either about the sheld-duck or "The Mint," or in his own particular ideas about strategic plans. I would make this one point to him. He spoke of guilty men. My recollection is that the guilty men were appeasers, not ones who wanted to arm themselves and be strong. I think the hon. Member should be careful, when he speaks of guilty men, to make sure of what he means.
The hon. Member for Lincoln spoke of security, and I am all for it—[Laughter]—as everybody knows. I find it extremely irritating, when I do my best to observe security, and try to keep my wicket intact at Question time, to avoid breaches of security, only to find that other people prattle in bars and elsewhere. It is extremely irritating, and certainly we shall do everything we possibly can to stop that wherever we find it.
He spoke, too, of a standing committee on defence. This is a wide subject that we could discuss for a long time, and I do not want to go into it in detail now. I would say this to the hon. Member. Let us avoid duplication, not only of the work of the Service Departments, but also of this House. I think that that committee would mean a great deal of duplication. We have already the Select Committee on Estimates, and it does a magnificent job, 818 and it is at liberty to look into any aspect of our defence affairs when it wishes. Whichever party is in power, and it could be any party at any time, it would be intolerable for a Minister of Defence or for any of the Service Ministers to have people looking over their shoulders the whole time when they are making their plans, and to feel, every time they have a new idea, that they ought to discuss it with them. The hon. Member has himself been a Service Minister, and I think he must agree with me on this.
Service Ministers should try to take the House into their confidence so far as they possibly can, and I hope that while I have had the honour of being at the Air Ministry I have done so. It is not easy to do so without breach of security, and one can never be quite sure, when one has a swift ball played, that one may not go too far when knocking it back. However, I have tried to take the House into my confidence and shall certainly continue to do so.
I thank hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House for their kindness and patience, and for the extremely helpful and useful debate we have had tonight.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir RHYS HOPKIN MORRIS in the Chair]