§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
I beg to move, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.
The Air Estimates for 1955–56 are for a net total of £513,900,000, which is £22,260,000 more than the net total provided in the current year. These figures allow for £26½million of United States aid as compared with just under £45½ million this year. Without allowing for this aid, the Estimates are £540,400,000 for 1955–56, an increase of £3,400,000 over this year. Therefore, in spite of the reduction in the total defence budget, we shall next year be spending slightly more on the Royal Air Force.
The broad pattern of expenditure remains the same, but we shall be spending more on aircraft and armament and on radio and radar equipment. Some 47 per cent. of the total will go on aircraft, ammunition and stores of various kinds. We shall need rather less money for petrol and oil and less for clothing; and rather more for pay and allowances.
We are again providing for much help from the United States. The Estimates for 1954–55 included provision for dollar payments to be made by the United States Government towards the cost of military aircraft manufactured in this country and supplied to the Royal Air Force for the defence of the North Atlantic area. The 1955–56 Estimates make provision both for the spending of as much of this allotment as is left over and also for further assistance of a somewhat similar kind. This aid will be sterling received on the sales of American agricultural products. We have also provided for £10 million of a new form of assistance, under which the United States Government will buy modern military aircraft and equipment, including ammunition, from Her Majesty's Government under offshore contracts and will hand them over to the Royal Air Force. We expect to get 628 further instalments of this kind of aid over a period of about three years. I should like to express the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government to the United States Government for all this very generous assistance.
The advent of the hydrogen bomb has only underlined what I said last year about the need to build up a powerful bomber force. As the Prime Minister has said, if we and our Allies remain strong, steadfast and determined, the possession of these weapons is the greatest deterrent to war on a global scale. We must not shrink from our responsibilities. The knowledge that, if we are attacked, we have a bomber force able, in conjunction with our Allies, to take decisive counteraction in the shortest possible time, will be a most effective contribution to our security.
The first task of the Royal Air Force is, therefore, to build up our deterrent in the shape of the V-bomber force and its weapons. Our atomic stockpile is steadily accumulating and Valiants are now coming into Bomber Command. This is the first answer to our requirement for a strategic bomber capable of operating at great heights and speed in all weather conditions. It has a better performance than the American B.47 which is the backbone of the Strategic Air Command. The Vulcan and the Victor both promise considerable improvements on the Valiant. Something of the capability of these aircraft is shown by the fact that both of them have already flown in development flights at over 50,000 feet within a small fraction of the speed of sound.
There has been no major setback with the development of the Vulcan and we expect it to come into squadron service next year. The first production Vulcan has already flown. As the House knows, the accident to the first prototype Victor has set back the trials programme, but, all the same, we hope that this aircraft will come into service not very long after the Vulcan. In our opinion, both these bombers are a good deal better than comparable projects in the same stage of development elsewhere.
I should like to tell the House something of how the Royal Air Force is adapting itself to meet these increased responsibilities. Over the past two or three years, much has already been 629 accomplished. The House must not think that we are only just beginning our preparations. But the task remaining is still a formidable one. It is made easier because we are building on well-established foundations. Bomber Command has remained since the war an experienced and efficient force. The Canberra bomber force, which is at present the principal part of the Command, is not only an effective all-weather striking force but it is also a most useful lead-in to the V-bomber. Bomber Command is fully acclimatised to jets, and, not least in importance, the Canberra is providing the Command with experience in high speed mobility.
The essence of the new bomber force, and indeed of strategic air power, lies in its flexibility both to strike quickly at targets far away and, with the help of Transport Command, to move from base to base at short notice. The Canberras are already making many hundreds of flights a year to overseas bases in all parts of the world. This mobility and flexibility will be developed by the V-bombers and further improved by the use of flight refuelling. It will be possible to refuel a large proportion of our V-bombers in flight. Sets of equipment are being designed which can quickly convert a bomber into a tanker. Assisted take-off from shorter runways both at home and abroad will also be possible. Some of the aircraft will be interchangeable between the bomber and the photographic reconnaissance rôles.
To give the crews the best possible training, synthetic trainers, which we now call flight simulators, have been ordered for all three V-bombers, and the first one for the Valiant will be in operation very shortly. These trainers can simulate every aspect of flight and will be valuable not only for initial conversion but in replacing much expensive flying practice in the air.
The aircrews are being specially selected, and exceptional measures will be taken to raise them to the peak of efficiency. For example, in no aircraft will the captain be less than flight lieutenant in rank, and we shall lengthen the tour for crews in Bomber Command. Much of the training will be carried out far away from the United Kingdom. For example, we are planning to have practice bombing ranges abroad in areas remote from habitation, which will give us 630 facilities far greater than any we could have in this country. This perhaps gives some idea of the scale upon which these bombers will operate. It will be routine to do a practice bombing trip to these ranges from this country in a few hours. We have also introduced apparatus by which bombing can be done well out to sea and plotted by radar.
We are doing all we can to ensure that a surprise attack by the enemy will not cripple the effectiveness of the V-bomber force and its ability to retaliate at once. The Command will have its main bases, on the development of which we have already made considerable progress, and a widely dispersed network of operating sites at home and abroad. It is also being organised to maintain a high state of readiness and flexibility. These steps are an important contribution to the deterrent, because an aggressor could not safely attempt a surprise assault unless he could be sure of attacking all the American and British strategic airfields simultaneously.
Before leaving Bomber Command, I should like to pay a tribute to those whose foresight conceived the V-bomber force. The need for it is, I think, now fully realised by the great majority of the House and the public. I gladly give the credit for this to the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), whose knowledge of the R.A.F. and his continued interest in it are well known to all of us.
I now turn to Fighter Command. We have heard a good deal about deficiencies in the re-equipment of Fighter Command and we have never concealed our own disappointment at the setbacks which have affected the day fighter re-equipment programme, culminating in the most regrettable necessity to abandon some marks of the Swift. The public anxiety in this matter has been more than shared by Her Majesty's Government. But it is most important not to exaggerate the extent of these setbacks, nor their effect on our fighter defences as a whole. The re-equipment of our day fighter squadrons with Hunters is now well advanced. The final number of modern fighters in the front line will be achieved only a few months later than we planned.
We are not in the least complacent about the delays we have had with our new day fighters. The House heard last 631 week from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply a full and comprehensive statement about the aircraft production position. His speech and the White Paper on Supply of Military Aircraft explained the steps which the Government had taken and are taking to improve matters in this highly technical field.
But I do not see why we should assiduously cultivate an inferiority complex about the qualities of our fighter aircraft. In spite of aspersions which have been cast upon it, the Hunter is a first-class fighter flowing rapidly into squadron service. The need for incorporating certain modifications, such as the dive-brakes, has delayed its full operational clearance and, as the House knows, there are still restrictions on gun-firing. But these are largely due to the enormous punch which we have packed into the four Aden guns of the Hunter to enable it to kill the bomber. High combat speeds and nuclear bombs make this killing power enormously important. The Hunter can hit about nine times as hard as its predecessor. Those Members who have seen that extremely impressive film of attacks on aircraft with Aden and with other types of guns will appreciate what this would mean to an enemy bomber. Let us not exaggerate the difficulty. It is only at great heights and only in particular circumstances of temperature and aircraft attitude that there is any difficulty at all and we are well on the way to curing this temporary defect.
We have no doubt that the Hunter is a day fighter capable of dealing effectively with any type of bomber likely to be available for attacks on this country for some years. The Hunter is popular with its pilots and, incidentally, extremely easy to fly in formation at all altitudes. To say that the Hunter is anything but a success is not only wrong, but, in my view, most damaging and dangerous to this country. The Russians have produced fighters quickly at the expense of aids and firepower. They have sacrificed control characteristics at the high speeds of modern combat to rapid re-equipment. These shortcomings were amply demonstrated in Korea when their MIG 15s suffered very severe losses at the hands of the American Sabres. Nevertheless, much is still made of the 632 MIG 15 and its development, the MIG 17.
The proper comparison between these aircraft and the Hunter must be made on the basis of their efficiency against bomber attacks. An interceptor fighter must have adequate performance, good flying qualities, powerful armament, adequate ancillary equipment, and must form an integral part of an efficient fighter defence organisation. Taking all these essential qualities into account, the Hunter is certainly much better than the MIG 15 and indeed better than the MIG 17, too.
So far I have dealt with the Hunter as an interceptor. But it also has a ground attack role and it has been developed with this in mind. The Hunter will form an important part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, and it is that ability to use the aircraft in the ground attack rôle on the Continent that is likely to be of the greatest importance. As the House will know, the Americans have shown confidence in the Hunter by placing a large offshore contract for it. It is also destined for the air forces of Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.
Last year I announced the placing of orders for pre-production models of a new supersonic day fighter. While I cannot for security reasons make any detailed statement on its progress, I am glad to say that its early flights have shown considerable promise.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply gave the House a full report last week on the progress of development with the Javelin which is now proceeding. In addition to its battery of Aden guns, the Javelin will be capable of carrying air-to-air guided weapons. But this is only the first version. A later generation all-weather fighter will be developed from the Javelin and a development batch of 18 aircraft has already been put in hand. As I have told the House, we have placed production orders for air-to-air guided weapons and good progress is being made in this field. The development of the Javelin will carry a still more advanced electronic and guided weapons system.
Before I leave our air defence system, let me say that I do appreciate the anxiety with which the House and the public await news of progress with surface-to-air guided weapons. This is a natural 633 anxiety which is given point by an impression that such weapons are the logical successors to the anti-aircraft gun and by the announcement that a part of our gun defences has been disbanded. However, it is wrong to think of surface-to-air guided weapons as improved guns. In the face of the immense destructive power of the hydrogen bomb, the area of defence that we have known in gun-defended zones is quite useless. Surface-to-air guided weapons are not replacements for local gun defences. If they are to be compared with anything, it is with the manned fighter, except that in the guided weapon electronic guidance replaces the human pilot. Our guided weapons must be capable of engaging bombers well away from vital targets. Indeed, by a combination of guided weapons and manned fighters we must try to bring the bombers down well out to sea.
We have developed surface-to-air guided weapons to a point where we can expect a reasonably effective performance from them. But any system is very expensive and very complicated to install, and the problem of co-ordinating guided weapons and conventional fighter defence, quite apart from technical development, must still be the subject of a great deal of study and experiment. The stage at which large-scale production is justified is bound to be very much a matter of judgment, and naturally I am aware that these weapons have already been deployed in the United States. But my noble Friend and I are satisfied that if we are to justify the spending of a lot of money from our limited resources we must be able to base our system of surface-to-air guided weapon defence upon a weapon which will really meet the threat and at the same time be capable of further development to meet increased performance on the part of the attacker. We intend to go into production with a conception which will meet these requirements.
I come now to the flying squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I yield to no one in my admiration for the squadrons and my pride in their record. I would certainly not lightly be a party to any changes in their rôle and organisation which were not forced upon us by the facts of the situation.
We have to face the fact that before long the main threat to this country will be from the high-flying bomber armed 634 with a nuclear weapon. We cannot count on a period of warning against attack. Instant readiness will be essential always. Moreover, our fighter defences are becoming ever more complex. It follows that instant air defence against the nuclear threat is likely to make increasing demands on aircrew and so to become a full-time job which should be undertaken by the Regular squadrons of the Royal Air Force.
But the Russians are still equipped with TU4 aircraft which could reach this country. There remains the possibility of airborne attack or diversionary raids of paratroopers from relatively slow-flying transport aircraft. The Meteors and Vampires of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force would be highly effective against these threats. We have, therefore, decided that the Auxiliary squadrons will remain as fighting units in the front line in this rôle and on these types. This does not alter the scheme previously announced for certain Auxiliary pilots in each squadron to fly Hunters in the Regular squadrons and provide a valuable immediate backing to the defence against nuclear attack.
We shall, of course, have to review this policy in the light of the threat from time to time, but in present circumstances we are satisfied that our plans for the future of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as they have now been developed represent a sound investment which makes the best use of the skill and enthusiasm of the pilots and ground crews.
The House will have noted with interest the addition to Coastal Command of Seamew aircraft for inshore maritime reconnaissance. This was a gap in our maritime defences which no existing aircraft filled precisely, but the Seamew is well suited to this particular role. At the same time we are developing new antisubmarine helicopters and a suitable technique for operating them. A most effective development in anti-submarine warfare is an improved method of detecting "snorting" submarines. This is being fitted progressively to all long-range aircraft in Coastal Command.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
There is a question that I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman. He may be dealing with this subject later, and, if so, I apologise for interrupting. 635 Can he say what co-operation there is with the Navy, which is also developing helicopters for exactly the same rôle?
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is rather a bromide answer, if I may say so. Is there, in fact, an effective and close relationship worked out on the use of helicopters, the type of helicopters, and all the rest of it?
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The hon. Gentleman referred to a new detecting device. I do not think he said what it was. Is it still on the secret list?
§ Mr. Ward
Yes, I am afraid so. I wanted to say what it was, but I was not allowed to do so.
As the Statement on Defence has made clear, the development of the newer kinds of weapons does not mean that we can dispense with conventional forces, particularly in the cold war. But the increasing mobility and flexibility of air power does mean that we can make more radical changes in our forces outside Europe.
The Royal Air Force has responsibilities extending half-way round the world. It is only by planning and practising mobility that we can provide for all our commitments with the forces we have got. This year we shall be sending whole squadrons of Canberras to the Middle East from time to time on training and reinforcement exercises. The Middle East Air Force can now be reinforced by jet bomber squadrons from the United Kingdom in less than a day. Indeed, only recently two Canberra squadrons reinforced Cyprus in six hours' flying time.
From a concentrated and centralised organisation in the Canal Zone the Middle East Air Force is gradually being transformed into a series of self-contained forces at important points in the Middle 636 East area. I was myself recently able to see something of the redeployment in progress and I can tell the House that it is going extremely smoothly, with the Royal Air Force working in the closest possible co-operation with the Egyptian Air Force.
In the Far East we are preparing reinforcement plans in the same way as for the Middle East, both for our present, and in particular for our future, types of aircraft. The arrival of Pioneers in Malaya last year has made possible important developments in the conduct of military operations there.
Nor is the development of strategic mobility confined to flying units. No less important is the ability to move formations of the strategic reserve which the Army are now building up. We are increasing our resources, not only in Transport Command, which will be greatly strengthened by the arrival of the Comets, but in the civil field also.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War told the House on Tuesday, we are forming a Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit in April. I believe that experience in the late war and more recently especially in Malaya shows that there is a very fruitful field for co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Army with the object of greatly improving the tactical mobility of ground forces.
In our search for safety and efficiency we are always trying to improve our methods of flying training. We are strengthening our flight safety organisation, and I am very glad to say that the accident rate continues to improve. The jet fatal accident rate is now less than one-sixth of the rate when jet aircraft were first in full service and less than half what it was two years ago. Moreover, the fatal accident rate for all types of aircraft is less than one-quarter of what is was in 1921 when the Royal Air Force was equipped with DH9a bombers and Bristol fighters, which nowadays many people nostalgically regard as having been the height of aerial safety. The comparison is all the more striking because nowadays our pilots have so much more to learn and must be prepared to fly and fight in all weathers.
We are developing a dual version of the Hunter which may eventually replace the Vampire trainer in Flying Training 637 Command. Another interesting development is the jet Provost for primary aircrew training. As the House knows, we have ordered a number of these for evaluation trials and the first one flew at Farnborough last year. The possibilities of this aircraft are most impressive. When it has emerged satisfactorily from the exhaustive tests which the Central Flying School will give it, we plan to begin an experimental all-jet pilot training scheme. Thus before long we should see the first pilot to complete his training without ever having flown with a propeller. I think there is a good chance that this development will bring about a real advance in our training methods and should help greatly to reduce the number of men who fail to pass the training courses.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman mind going back to the question of the Comet? Did I understand him to say that it was being delivered, and if so, can he give us any idea of what use will be made of it? Is it to be used for passengers or freight?
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
The hon. Gentleman referred to "strengthened" Comets. Is that a fact, or are the fuselages for delivery to the R.A.F. already built? And can he answer the question, already asked by my hon. and gallant Friend, about what use will be made of them?
§ Mr. Beswick
I am not suggesting that there is anything funny. What I did 638 think was slightly funny was that the hon. Gentleman does not know for what purpose they are to be used, and that when he gets them he will probably make up his mind.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Gentleman is at fault here. There is some public interest in this matter. This is an aircraft not to be used for civil operations, and people wish to know whether it is to be used in the Service for carrying passengers. That is all I am asking. A perfectly simple and straightforward question has already been put by my hon. and gallant Friend, and it has not yet been answered. Are they to be used for carrying passengers?
§ Mr. Ward
I did say that eventually they would be used for that. But they cannot carry passengers until they have a certificate of airworthiness. It is a little early to say whether they will have that certificate, but if they have it, there is nothing to prevent them from being used for carrying passengers.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I appeal for fewer interruptions? I had to draw the attention of the House the other day to the growing habit of conducting these debates as if they were conversations or cross-examinations. Hon. Members will have plenty of opportunities to put their own points of view. Meanwhile, it prolongs our affairs if an hon. Member who has a narrative to dispose of is continually being side-tracked by questions.
§ Mr. Ward
I do not wish the House, and particularly the hon. Member, to think that there is anything funny or anything to conceal here. All I am saying is that these aircraft will have to have a certificate of airworthiness. If we decide to start off with freight, it does not mean that they will not carry passengers.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
As mine was the original question, may I say that the object of my question to the Minister was to find out when we shall have the strengthened Comets in Transport Command? It was not a criticism of Transport Command. The information I wished to 639 obtain from the Minister was when Transport Command is to be added to by good aircraft and when we shall get the Comet.
§ Mr. Ward
I appreciate the object of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I know that he is as much interested in the Air Force as a whole as anyone is. I can only say that we shall get the Comets as soon as we can and as soon as they are strengthened and ready to come in.
May I now turn to the question of aircrew? I am glad to say that we are now fully manned in all categories, although we are not yet attracting into the Service enough candidates of the right type for aircraft training to replace those who will be completing their engagements each year.
We have now made one important modification to the direct commission scheme and we think that it should be even more attractive. Under the original scheme a man stood a very good chance of having a long-term pensionable career but we could not promise it to him when he first came in. Now when a man comes in on a direct commission he can choose from the start either to serve to pensionable age or to take an engagement for12 years. If he chooses the 12-year engagement, he can leave after eight years' service if he wants to or transfer without disadvantage to the pensionable engagement. I do not think that many other occupations offer such a free and attractive choice of prospects to newcomers.
In the past year, after the direct commission scheme had been introduced nearly 2,000 fully-trained and highly experienced pilots and navigators who came in under earlier schemes volunteered to stay on for longer periods of service. In addition, nearly 1,000 extended their service under earlier schemes. Although these figures are encouraging, the first year of a new scheme is bound to show a purely temporary increase in the number of those who extend their service. There are still many pilots and navigators in the service whom we should be glad to have with us for a longer time. I hope that the improvements in the direct commission scheme which I have just announced will persuade many of them to volunteer for longer service.
640 Entries to the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell are still disappointing. The standards set are necessarily very high and we realise that the number of such young men is not unlimited. But the future of the Royal Air Force and the defence of the country largely depend on our ability to solve this problem and improve the position. The House will remember that the Cranwell Scholarship Scheme was introduced in November, 1953. In its first year, the scheme has had encouraging results. Over 800 candidates from schools of all types well spread over the British Isles have competed in the four competitions held. The 71 boys chosen for awards are most promising and the first group of them will enter Cranwell next September. We are greatly indebted to the headmasters who have served on the selection boards and have been of such help in operating the scheme.
All that I have just said about aircrew applies to pilots and navigators equally. Too many people even now tend to ignore the great responsibilities of a navigator in a modern military aircraft. The success of a mission depends on the team-work of the crew, but in that team very special qualities are called for from the navigator. We are introducing a navigator's course into the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, and the Cranwell Scholarship Scheme is open to boys who want to be either navigator or pilot. Career opportunities for navigators will be comparable with those for pilots.
Turning to ground personnel, I can tell the House that we have improved the state of manning in the Force and also the balance between the various trade groups. To maintain the numbers, however, it is still necessary in some trades to give long training to men on short engagements who can give us too little productive service. The improvements in pay and allowances which we made last spring and the measures which I announced to improve the career prospects of technicians have undoubtedly helped to persuade a number of men to stay on.
The House is well aware of the importance of raising the level of experience, and I am glad to say that during the last year the numbers of men serving on engagements of 12 years or more increased by nearly 15 per cent. There are 641 indications that this trend is continuing, but if our manning problems are to be solved it is essential that the number of long-service men should continue to increase. We shall have an Amendment on this subject later in the debate.
In the highly-skilled advanced trades I am glad to say that we have now achieved full manning in the aircraft and electrical groups and we hope to achieve it shortly in the armament group. This does not mean that these advanced trades are yet manned mainly with long-service tradesmen. We are still having to train a number of men on short engagements and National Service men with engineering experience. We are also making good use of the National Service men who come to us after an apprenticeship in industry.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
On this point regarding technicians, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that over the years ahead he will get sufficient highly skilled technicians to be able to maintain the tremendously specialised aircraft which he spoke about in the earlier part of the speech? It will not be very useful to have the wonderfully specialised aircraft if they cannot be maintained.
§ Mr. Ward
I agree that that is of the greatest possible importance. We are doing everything we possibly can to attract these people to stay in the Service. But if the hon. Member listens a little longer, he will perhaps get a better picture. In any event, we shall spend quite a lot of the afternoon in debating that very point on the Amendment which will come before the House.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The hon. Gentleman is dealing with the important and vital question of prolongations. What I do not understand is how in 1951, with about 8,000 men, the Royal Air Force managed to get prolongations amounting to 63,000 man-years, whereas in 1954, with about the same number of men, the man-years figure is down to 45,000. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman's policy is worse than that of the Secretary of State for War, but on the figures it appears to be so.
§ Mr. Ward
If I remember rightly, there was a pay increase in 1950, which would be reflected in the figures for 1951. Of course, the 15 per cent. of people signing on this year for 12-year engagements no 642 doubt reflected the increased pay that we introduced last year. That probably answers the hon. Member's question.
The position in the fourth trade group, radio engineering, is more serious. The problem here is to find enough young men who are able to cope with this very difficult and highly specialised training. We have not yet achieved full manning, but we have managed to increase the number of advanced tradesmen in this group during the year, partly by the methods I have just described and partly by finding and training National Service airmen who have no previous experience, but nevertheless have suitable aptitude. Although their period of productive service is short, and we would like many of them to take on longer engagements, they are filling a highly important rôole.
While we have been building up our strength of advanced tradesmen, we have also been making strenuous efforts to close the gap from the other side by reducing our requirements. By a careful review of establishments, we have substituted some 2,500 less skilled posts for more highly skilled posts, thus economising in training and making the services of our most skilled men go further.
I do not want to be over-optimistic, but the picture on the personnel side is undoubtedly brighter than it was last year. And perhaps the most encouraging part of it is that the recruiting figures for establishments such as Halton, Locking and Cosford, at which we train our long-service airmen, are now very satisfactory. It is, after all, to these boys that we look for the advanced tradesmen of the future. One of the brightest spots of all is that the number of boy entrants coming forward now justifies the opening of a new training school, and we hope to do this later in the year.
Of all the things we can to induce men to make the R.A.F. their career and keep them contented, by far the most effective is to try to give them a more settled family life. Indeed, during my recent tour of Middle East stations, I found that the greatest single cause of complaint was the enforced separation of many officers and airmen of all ranks from their wives and families. In the Canal Zone particularly, conditions during the past few years have put a particularly severe strain on married officers and airmen.
643 And so most of the 260 married quarters which we hope to start overseas in the coming year will be in the Middle East. In Cyprus and elsewhere, we are putting up married quarters at the same time as we build the new airfields and barracks that we need for the redeployment.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
Has the hon. Gentleman's Department considered shorter tours instead of married quarters—in other words, to bring people home, as the Navy does, by Transport Command after a shorter period abroad?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
Will the hon. Gentleman be able to deal with a matter on which he and I have corresponded many times: the problem of the Air Force man who leaves the Service? People are inclined not to be recruited into the Service because they will have nowhere to live when they leave. I raise the question because in my constituency there is an aerodrome at which people are continually being evicted from married quarters and they have nowhere to go.
§ Mr. Ward
The hon. and learned Member will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing made a statement about that matter a few days ago. I ask the hon. and learned Member to refer to that statement. If it does not satisfy him, perhaps he will raise the question again and I will see what I can do to answer him in winding up the debate.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
There is to be a debate on an Amendment relating to manning. The hon. Gentleman said that he is more optimistic about manning this year than ever, yet in the Memorandum his noble Friend says that the percentage of National Service men this year will probably rise. Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that matter now or when we discuss the Amendment?
§ Mr. Ward
I will deal with any question that is raised in the debate on the Amendment, and if that is raised I will 644 certainly deal with it. But I was talking about the number of people who have signed on for 12-year engagements—the long-service men—in the four advanced skilled trades.
I have dealt with aircraft and manpower at greater length this year than usual and I apologise for the fact that I have left myself no time, without tiring the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."]—to discuss organisation and other matters; but I shall do my best to deal with any questions that the House may have when I wind up the debate.
In 1952, in drawing the attention of the House to the state of our air defences, I said it would be some time before we could begin to equip our squadrons with our own latest types. I went on to say that we had temporarily lost our lead and could not regain it for some time to come.
We have been well aware of the immense difficulties facing the aircraft industry, caused mainly by the run-down of that industry after the war and its subsequent over-loading when Korea started. But our impatience should not lead us into the serious dangers of underestimating the capability of the Air Force either now or when it is rearmed. If we make this mistake, we shall do two things. First, we shall do unnecessary damage to the public confidence and may well undermine public support for what is now generally accepted as the most important part of our defence policy. Secondly—and do not let us ignore this danger—we could lead a potential aggressor to take a wholly false view of our present ability to defend ourselves against attack.
I would not for a moment deny the right of any hon. Members to inquire critically into the state of our air defences. Indeed, it is their duty to do so, and I used to exercise it myself year after year from the benches opposite. Much of the criticism has been moderate and informed. But there have been some exceptions, notably from the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). In my view, neither the essential right which I have mentioned nor the cut and thrust of party politics, in which we all indulge from time to time, can possibly justify the constant assertion and reassertion of damaging untruths and half-truths about so vital a subject. A deliberate campaign of denigration will get us nowhere and can only do immense harm.
645 I was impressed by the intervention of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) during the Defence debate. He asked the only really important question. It was simply this:Do the Government really think—whether there has been a deficiency in armaments or not—that they are now on the right lines as regards equipment, and are therefore able to give protection to the British people and to the people of Europe through the steps that they are taking today? That is all I am concerned about."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 2101.]That is what we should all be concerned about. The essential questions are these: What can the Air Force do now? What will the Air Force be able to do when it is fully re-equipped? Is our new equipment going to be up to its job? I want to end my speech by trying to give concise and objective answers to these questions.
Of course no nuclear war can be anything but devastating and appalling, but I am quite confident that Fighter Command as it stands today provides an extremely efficient and powerful defence capable of dealing with any type of bomber which the Soviet air force now has in service, and when it is fully rearmed the Command will have day and night fighters well capable of destroying the new jet bombers which the Russians will then have in service.
When Bomber Command is fully re-equipped, it will have aircraft which will be able to reach their objectives against the kind of opposition they are likely to meet. Meanwhile we have laid the foundations for these bombers which are starting to come in. We have a Canberra force trained to a high standard of efficiency and a Coastal Command equipped with good maritime aircraft and anti-submarine weapons. On the Continent, the Second Tactical Air Force provides a valuable contribution to the defence of the central theatre, and its equipment is being modernised.
In short, the standards of efficiency of the R.A.F. have never been higher. From the information available to me, I say with every confidence that it would be nothing short of disaster for the Royal Air Force to have to exchange its weapons with the corresponding weapons which the Russian air force has today and has in prospect. Our airmen are fully conscious of the supreme responsibility which fate 646 has cast upon them for the safety of these islands and for the cause of freedom.
§ Mr. Ward
I want to send out from this House today a message of confidence in the spirit and skill of our airmen and of our determination to do all we can to give them weapons and equipment which will be superior to those of their adversaries, not only today and tomorrow but whenever they may need them; and an assurance that before we put them into their hands these weapons will be as technically perfect as our fine craftsmen can make them. Only thus can we keep the great shield of air power always burnished and bright.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, I would ask him one question. We have passed into the atomic phase. In the last war we could stop between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the raiders. Now that the enemy flies twice as fast and twice as high, what does the hon. Gentleman mean in saying that the Royal Air Force can make these islands safe?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
The sentiments expressed by the Under-Secretary of State towards the end of his speech, especially his reference to the courage and skill of the Royal Air Force, will meet with agreement from every Member of the House. He made a comprehensive statement, delivered in the agreeable manner that we have come to expect from him during the past three years, but it leaves the House very much in the dark on some very important matters connected with the Royal Air Force.
The hon. Gentleman told us nothing about the size of the front line or about the number of squadrons. Indeed, he seems still to refuse to accept the advice which the present Foreign Secretary tendered to me on one occasion, not to hide behind the veil of secrecy. He rather chided one or two of my hon. Friends 647 for raising matters critical of the state of equipment in the Royal Air Force, but that is part of the price which any Government have to pay if they will not take the House and the nation more fully into their confidence.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) knows, I do not always agree with the strictures that have been made on this side of the House, but my hon. Friends are fully entitled to raise various points with regard to the fighters and bombers that are to come into service in the Royal Air Force. Now that we are in the hydrogen era, is there still the same necessity to impose a ban of secrecy upon the size of the Royal Air Force? I was very much in agreement with the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State last year that the important thing these days is quality rather than quantity. I should have thought the Government would be much more concerned in dealing with quality and be not quite so secretive about the numbers.
Last week, the Prime Minister said that force and science, hitherto the servants of man, were threatening to become his master. Consequently the world is faced today by a mortal danger which, while it may be held off by a defence policy through deterrents, can only be actually and effectively removed by political action. Therefore we should intensify our efforts to get a comprehensive agreement with the Russians to control and eventually to abolish all these dreadful weapons of mass destruction. This is an essential step to a genuine system of world collective security, backed by an international police force. People of all nations today are worried by the deep anxieties to which the growing danger of mutual destruction has given rise.
If, as is widely recognised, the choice is between mutual extinction and mutual existence, there is surely only one decision for both us and Russia. I believe that the nations are looking to their leaders for a new political and diplomatic effort to rid the world both of the fear and of the means of self-destruction.
But, meanwhile, it is our duty today to consider how best security and freedom can be safeguarded against the 648 threat of aggression, and how best to organise our air defences to meet the threat of nuclear war, for in present circumstances, until we have achieved a comprehensive disarmament agreement which is fair to all and which provides equal security for all, we must plan and provide for our effective defence by deterrents against possible aggression; otherwise we should be dooming ourselves to eventual surrender.
That is a hard fact which has to be faced, and it is a fact which the country will face. Moreover, we must recognise that if a policy of deterrents is to have a chance of being effective, not only must the deterrent weapons be in our possession but we must also have the means of delivering them.
Last week the Prime Minister stated that in his view the Russians are unlikely to be in a position to launch a nuclear attack on this country for three or four years. That may be so, but we must not under-estimate their capabilities. According to American newspapers and, indeed, other sources of information—I do not know whether the Under-Secretary will agree with what I am about to say—the Soviet Union today has at least 3,000 bombers. It is said that 1,000 of them are TU4s, piston-engined copies of of the American B29. There are possibly 1,200 I128s, twin jet bombers equivalent to our Canberras.
It is also stated that the Russians have several hundreds of the new T39, twin-engined jet bombers of considerable range and performance, and that they are building fast, high-altitude long-range T37s, jet aircraft of a modern type comparable with the American B47s and B52s, probably the best bombers in the world at the present time.
While these latest Russian jet bomber aircraft may not yet be in squadron service, we should make a great mistake, I think, if we under-estimated the time at which they will come off the production line. In short, the Russians are now synchronising their atomic and nuclear weapons with the necessary means of delivering them, although we were told by the Prime Minister last week that there is as yet no evidence that the Russians have developed the mechanism which will enable them to carry and deliver a hydrogen bomb from aircraft.
649 Can we and our American and other Allies afford to ignore the build-up of these powerful Soviet bomber forces? If it is our policy to build up a deterrent, surely we must build up our own bomber force in conjunction with that of our American Allies.
I do not propose tonight to argue the ethics of conventional as against nuclear war. I cannot see any logical or ethical difference between the saturation bombing of Hamburg or Dresden by high-explosive bombs, involving the deaths of 100,000 and 200,000 persons respectively, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two atomic bombs, involving the deaths of an almost equal number of persons.
Nor do I consider it practicable to ban this or that type of weapon of mass destruction, or to ban the nuclear bomb and retain the high-explosive bomb. Science has gone too far, and today the dividing line between conventional and nuclear weapons is becoming almost obliterated by recent scientific developments. Today conventional artillery can fire atomic shells, conventional rockets are being fitted with atomic and hydrogen heads, conventional fighter-bombers are being equipped to carry and drop the atom bomb. Strategic bombers are being equipped to carry both strategic bombs and high-explosive bombs.
The world has entered a new era of warfare. Mankind cannot now chose its type of warfare; its only choice is to abolish warfare of every kind. But until we have attained the goal of world disarmament and established international relations on the basis of co-operation and co-existence, we are entitled, in my view, to make it clear beyond all doubt that the free peoples intend to safeguard their freedom, independence, and way of life, and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said last week, that in the event of open aggression retaliation would be devastatingly certain.
In these circumstances, Britain's major contribution must be to allied strategic and tactical bomber strength. I agree with what the Under-Secretary said about Bomber Command and the need for a modern strategic bomber force. Of course, we cannot hope to compete with the United States Strategic Air Force in numbers, nor, indeed, is it necessary for us to do so. But, as I said last year, 650 we must not put all our eggs into the copious American bomber basket.
Our contribution, first, must be a relatively small but highly efficient force of modern V-bombers capable of filling a strategic rôle. I would again suggest that such a force need not exceed 100 in number, equipped, as they would be, to carry either nuclear bombs or high-explosive bombs. I mean a front-line strength of about 100 in number. As I said last year, the days of the sky being filled with a thousand bombers has, in my view, gone for a very long time to come, and probably for ever.
Secondly, in the tactical role there would be the powerful force of Canberra light bombers, to which the Under-Secretary referred—admittedly aircraft of outstanding performance which are, or can be, I believe, equipped to carry the atom bomb. Thirdly, there would be our fighter-bomber force with a similar role, and similarly equipped.
It appears from the White Paper, from the Air Estimates Memorandum, and from the debate of last week, that our V-squadrons are unlikely to be operationally ready before 1956. In these circumstances, I still consider that it was a mistake to disband the B29 squadrons, the Washington squadrons, which were always intended to strengthen Bomber Command pending the arrival of the V-squadrons.
But if we are to be associated with our American Allies in building up this formidable strategic and tactical bomber force, with all its devastating and frightening potentialities of attack, I suggest the following considerations to the Government. First, once we are in a position to make our contribution to a strategic air force, this country must be assured of an effective voice in the planning and decision of air strategy. In my view, a joint planning staff, as suggested in the "Manchester Guardian" a few days ago, is essential if there is to be proper and adequate co-ordinated strategic air responsibility.
Secondly—the Minister of Defence will correct me if I am wrong—we have been told that we are producing the hydrogen bomb in this country. That suggests that we already have the "know-how." Why cannot arrangements be made between ourselves and the United States to streamline production of nuclear weapons? 651 That is all the more important if it is correct that advanced British processes for making the hydrogen bomb are more efficient and less expensive than those of America. Whether that is so or not, I do not know, but if it is so it seems to support the consideration I am putting forward.
Surely it is not necessary to have competitive production by Britain and the United States in this field? That would be duplicating the use of defence resources in plant, scientists, manpower and money. Why should there be division of resources in producing identical weapons when, by sensible co-operation, there could be greater individual concentration on other new weapons, to the advantage of both countries?
Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, South)
I think everyone will agree with the right hon. and learned Member, but would it not also be necessary to repeal the McMahon Act, which was passed after the war, if that happy state of affairs is to come about?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am not suggesting that this House can repeal the McMahon Act, or that this House can control the American Government.
What I am putting forward for consideration is the view that we should certainly be justified in bringing to the attention of the American Government the fact that if they want the best combined defence effort of this country and their own they must take into account the economic resources of our country, which make it quite impossible for us to provide everything of the highest quality in the greatest quantity.
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes, I was widening the field of co-operation to nuclear weapons and suggesting the need not to impose on this country the expense—perhaps great expense—of producing hydrogen bombs when we can make our contribution in the "know-how" and the ability to produce them cheaper than it is possible to produce them today in the United States.
§ Mr. Wigg
This is a very important proposal which my right hon. and learned 652 Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) is putting forward, that we should rely on the availability of the American fusion deterrent. Can my right hon. and learned Friendsay why he rejects the idea that we should produce the fusion deterrent, and does he reject the idea that we should buy American B47s?
§ Mr. Henderson
I think I made it clear that America and ourselves are full partners. It should not be necessary for us to work along parallel lines.
I am not suggesting that we should not exchange bombers. If they like, they could have some of our V-bombers when they come off the production lines, and give us some B47s. The point I am trying to make is that it seems unnecessary, undesirable and unfortunate that we should work along independent and parallel lines in producing weapons of war which are for the use of both countries.
My suggestion would enable the United States to build up a stockpile of atomic and hydrogen bombs, supply our strategic bomber forces with them, and thus enable this country to devote its more limited scientific, financial, and productive resources to other new, important weapons such as guided missiles. There are obvious limits to what we can attempt with our resources compared with those available in the United States and the Soviet Union.
In that connection I ask whether the Government are taking any steps to secure agreement with the United States regarding the exchange of information on nuclear weapons and guided missiles. I know the difficulty with regard to the McMahon Act, but I think it is important that the Government should make some attempt to make an arrangement for the exchange of this type of information. I also ask the Government whether they are considering the question of rationalisating production on the lines I have suggested.
I come to my third point, dispersal. I was very interested in what the Under-Secretary said about the dispersal of our bomber squadrons. I think all of us would agree that at all costs we must avoid the danger of surprise knock-out blows against our strategic air squadrons and bases. The Under-Secretary did not say where those air strips and landing grounds which, I understood, were to be 653 made available on the basis of dispersal, were to be placed. Why should we not secure air strips in Central Africa, the Middle East and, if necessary, further afield? Surely those areas would assist us in implementing the policy, to which I understand the Government have committed themselves, of dispersing to the widest possible extent the strategic bomber squadrons that will be available in due course.
I therefore welcome, in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates, the reference to the rotation of bomber squadrons which, I imagine, is related to the implementation of this new policy of dispersal. That, of course, does mean that the landing strips and widely dispersed airfields will have to be properly equipped and supplied. That will add to the bill which will be presented to the Air Ministry.
I wish to say a word or two about the early warning system. One of the most important elements in air defence is early warning. The Under-Secretary will not deny that completion of the plan "Rotor" is most satisfactory. I think the Minister of Supply acknowledged our part in this plan last week. The plan was initiated in 1950 by the Labour Government.
I know there is an expert on the back benches opposite who perhaps knows more about it than I do, but the Under-Secretary will agree that radar warning is limited by the physical properties of the beams to a distance of approximately 180 miles, providing us with a bare 10 minutes warning. I was not sure whether I heard the Under-Secretary correctly, but I understood him to say that we cannot count on any warning against attack. Those were the words I took down, but whether or not he was referring to something else I do not know.
§ Mr. Henderson
That is a very different matter and is not quite what the hon. Gentleman said.
We will agree that first we would have 10 minutes warning on our radar chain around the United Kingdom. In my view that is not sufficient. That is why I believe we must have an effective radar chain across Western Europe. That is 654 vital, not only for the protection of our European Allies, but because it would extend our own warning to at least 45 minutes. Those 45 minutes might be very valuable, and indeed vital, to the successful operation of our air defence.
Can we be told whether an effective radar chain with the latest type or equipment is being built across Western Europe from Norway to the Mediterranean? I know that is a N.A.T.O. responsibility, but it is very vital when we are discussing the air defence of our country. Can we be told a little more about our own reporting system? American and Canadian authorities are much more frank than we are.
We are told that they are constructing three radar chains, one stretching along the United States-Canada border—known as "Pinetree"—another 500 miles further north—known as "The Mid-Canadian" chain—and a third lying on the northern edge of the North American Continent—called the "Distant Early Warning."
Although the question of a radar chain across Western Europe is a N.A.T.O. responsibility, I hope that the Under-Secretary will give us some indication that the Government are pressing for high priority to be given to the completion of this radar system. In addition, one has only to look at the map to realise that there are wide areas of sea which cannot be covered by land radar stations. The Canadians and the Americans are using radar ships. Are the Government considering the possibility of doing likewise?
I now turn to the question of fighter defence. I agree with the Under-Secretary that so long as piloted aircraft are in use fighter defence must be an essential part of our air defence system. Although a large part of our fighter force, both at home and abroad, is still composed of Vampires, Venoms and Meteors, we should not overlook the squadrons equipped with Sabre jets which we have (received from Canada and the United States. Whilst these were received after the Labour Government left office, I am sure that the Under-Secretary knows that upon the initiative of the Air Ministry all the arrangements for their supply had been completed before we left office.
I agree with the Minister of Supply that all fighter forces, including those of the Russians and the Americans, have a large proportion of obsolescent aircraft, 655 but that does not mean that they have a low operational value. I agree with the Under-Secretary that our fighter forces today could give a very good account of themselves if it were necessary for them to do so. I agree with the Minister of Supply and the Under-Secretary that the Hunter compares favourably with the F 86, the MIG 15, or even the MIG 17, but it is none the less most disappointing that the Hunter is not in squadron service in greater numbers today.
It seems to me that the policy of super-priority has been spread over too many types and has consequently failed to achieve its main purpose. So far as I can see, the production dates for the Hunter, the Javelin and the three V-bombers, anticipated in 1951, do not seem to have been advanced at all as a result of super-priority being given to them. It is also disappointing to be told of the many teething troubles which have slowed down the production of the Hunter and the Javelin.
In my view my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley were absolutely right to draw attention—as they did in their own effective ways—to these teething troubles. At the same time, anybody who has been connected with aircraft development and production will know of the constant setbacks which occur due to teething troubles. To my own knowledge, the Canberra, which is today one of the finest aircraft in service, had more than its share of them. It will also be remembered that only a few days ago, for technical reasons, the United States Air Force had to ground the equivalent of our Canberra—the B 57—and their super-Sabre, the F 100 is certainly having considerable development difficulties.
The story of the Swift is a dismal one, and it is an expensive loss, but, as the Minister of Supply pointed out, that kind of trouble is not peculiar to our country or our Air Force. At the same time, I find it difficult to understand why it took the Government so long to discover that it was a failure. In March, 1953, the Under-Secretary described it as one of the finest fighters in the world, and only in recent weeks have we been told of its failure. It is of the highest importance that the time taken to discover defects 656 and put them right should be reduced to a minimum, in order that the supply of operational aircraft to the squadrons may be speeded up.
I now want to say a few words about the light fighter. Last year I urged the Government to consider the provision of this type of aircraft, which I was informed cost one-third as much as the Hunter, was almost its equal in performance, and took only one-third of the time to produce. I think that the Government are wrong in their view of this aircraft. I am told that there is in prospect a Mark II, which is capable of travelling at supersonic speeds, and which could be in production by 1957 or 1958.
Can we be given any information about the attitude of the Government to this aircraft? I know that it has not yet flown, and I am well aware that the Midge has a civil version with an engine which is not suitable for military purposes, but I should like to know whether the Government will give serious consideration to the question of a supersonic light fighter in addition to the P1, to which the Under-Secretary has referred.
The Government recently announced that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were all to have their operational role taken away, and, indeed, their aircraft. Today we have been told—as we were told in the Memorandum on the Air Estimates—that that decision has been reversed, and that they are to have their Vampires and Meteors returned to them. I welcome that announcement, although I consider it regrettable that the decision was ever made. From contacts which I have had with them in the past, it appears to me that these 20 squadrons constitute a Reserve force of the greatest value, and I can only hope that their splendid morale, based upon their great traditions, will in no sense be impaired by the treatment which they have received.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether it is intended to restore them to their operational role. If so, could not the more advanced squadrons in due course be given light fighters, if that type of aircraft is to be provided for the Air Force? It seems to me that they would be ideally suited for the Auxiliary squadrons, especially as the light fighter, whether subsonic or supersonic, has great manoeuvreability. I also believe that the 657 light fighter could play a very valuable operational rôle in the Second Tactical Air Force in Europe.
I believe that the Government were unwise to state in their White Paper that we have a better night defence than any other country. I know that the word "system" was afterwards introduced, but, even so, I doubt if there would be general agreement outside this country that that claim is justified. Certainly the American Press did not share that view. We probably have the best reporting system in the world, but until we have an adequate supply of Javelins, equipped with the latest guided missiles, we should avoid making complacent comparisons about the night-fighter defences of this country and other countries.
In any event, comparisons with other countries do not carry us very far. However good our night defence system may be—and I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will be interested in what I am about to say—we must be frank and admit that there can be no absolute security against the bombers. What proportion would get through is the question which was put to the Under-Secretary. My view is that it is anyone's guess, but it is probable that a high proportion would get through. Whether they would be those that carried nuclear weapons is another matter.
The fact that an absolute defence is impossible, however, is no excuse for not doing what we can to strengthen our night defence. Both the Venom night fighter and the Meteor 14 night fighter should be capable of dealing with the earlier types of Soviet bomber, which today constitute the greater proportion of the Soviet bomber force. It must be admitted, however, that they do not have the performance to deal with the latest Russian types—the T37 and the T39—to which I have already referred.
The Javelin is another proposition. With its speed of from 600 to 700 miles an hour and operational altitude of 50,000 feet it should be most effective against any subsonic type of fighter or bomber—provided, of course, that its performance comes up to expectations, and provided it is equipped with air-to-air guided missiles. I was glad to hear the Minister of Supply say last week that 658 the Javelin is expected to become available in substantial numbers during 1955, and that its development problems, one of which is quite serious, I understand, are being overcome.
I understood the Under-Secretary of State to say he could not give us any information on the P.1. I should like him, however, to say whether he is satisfied that the development of P.1is making good progress. I would ask him what is the position with regard to a supersonic night fighter to follow the Javelin. It is almost certain that supersonic bombers are being developed in other countries which can be dealt with only by supersonic day and night fighters.
I thought the statement by the Minister of Supply on guided missiles was disappointing. He stated that production orders have been placed for only one weapon, presumably an air-to-air weapon, for which the development contract was placed in 1949. The Government have only themselves to blame for this disappointment, because it was as far back as October, 1953, that the then Minister of Supply, in a written answer, said that we were now entering the trial stage of what he described as several miniature rocket weapons capable of flying at high supersonic speeds. It is now evident that we have not reached the production stage, with one exception, and I suggest that it would have been wiser frankly to have stated then that we were several years away from the production stage.
It may be that piloted aircraft will continue in a major rôle probably until the early 1960s. We are then likely to enter the era of the inter-continental missile of the guided ballistic types capable of accurate flights between continents. It appears that the United States and Russia are developing guided missiles, inter-continental ballistic rockets, with speeds of anything up to 3,000 miles an hour. Only recently we were told by the American Chief of Air Staff that they are developing such a missile which he calls "Atlas."
Mr. Finletter, the former American Secretary for Air, in his book, "Power and Policy," states that the Russians also are working on such a weapon, and there is evidence already that the Russians have a V2 with a range of about 400 miles. It is obvious, in these circumstances, that 659 our own country will be well within the range of these various types of rockets, and I ask the Under-Secretary of State, are we ourselves developing a long-range rocket?
Can anyone doubt the vital importance of research and development if we are to keep pace with technical advancement? If this is to be so, surely more and more emphasis should be laid on research and development in defence preparations. All these developments to which I have referred will be of extreme importance; there are the hydrogen weapons, the long-range bombers, the guided missiles, the increased facilities for research, the new Civil Defence measures—all these in addition to our ordinary conventional Forces.
Even allowing for reductions and savings and reorganisation, it seems obvious that all this will involve this country in an increased expenditure during the next three or four years. The Minister of Defence said the other day he could not predict… how long or how costly the journey would prove to be."—[OFFICIAL REPOR, 2nd March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 2181.]but sooner or later the Government will have to put the picture before the country.
The advent of the hydrogen bomb has profoundly changed the basis of war. It raises problems affecting both the traditional organisation of the three Services and their inter-Service relationship. We have also to take into account the fact that we are approaching the era of press-button warfare. All these developments will be far-reaching in their effects upon defence organisation.
The whole question of National Service will also require to be reviewed in the light of the changed strategic position. As we approach more closely to the rocket era, the mass of men and material required in the past will give way to the need for relatively small numbers of highly trained and—I would add—highly paid technicians. In my view, therefore, all these problems call for urgent examination by the Government, and I would ask either the Under-Secretary of State or the Minister of Defence to tell us what steps the Government are proposing for dealing with these urgent problems.
In the light of all these technical and scientific problems affecting the Royal Air Force we must not overlook the human 660 element. There are 260,000 men and women serving in the Royal Air Force today. Their standards of pay, their accommodation, their married quarters, the education of their children, and their settlement in civilian life on the termination of their service, are all human problems which profoundly affect the contentment and morale of the Royal Air Force itself. These human problems must continue to be the concern of the House.
The House and the whole nation are entitled to expect and to require the Government to do everything within their power, in conjunction with N.A.T.O., to enable us, by joint effort, to save mankind from the threat of mass destruction which hangs over the world. This threat of mutual annihilation is already a terrible one. It will become even more terrible when the stage of press-button warfare is reached.
Of course, we are right to build up deterrents against aggression, but the safety of the human race cannot be entrusted for long to the dangerous and precarious equipoise of the forces of mutual destruction. There is still time—but, perhaps, not too much time—to lead mankind out of the perils which threaten to overwhelm it. Salvation can be found in the long run only by taking out of the hands of all Governments the means of bringing inescapable doom down upon us all.
It is the most urgent duty of Governments and Parliaments to work out a political agreement between East and West thatwill reduce and finally remove not only the risks but the instruments of war. The Prime Minister, in reply to a Question I recently put to him, agreed that world disarmament was the immediate aim of this country. Immediate aims call for immediate action. The public interest and the public will demand that such action be taken, and I believe that decisive political results can be achieved only by an agreement at the highest level.
To my mind, therefore, the political and diplomatic resources of the West should now be directed to bringing such a conference at the highest level into being as soon as possible. That is the path to peace. It must be taken sooner or later, and in my view, the sooner the better.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
With a great deal of what we have just heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) we can all agree, but I felt that we were possibly putting the Royal Air Force rather out of perspective. Was he not trying to put upon the Royal Air Force responsibilities which really should be spread far wider and not all be put on one of Her Majesty's Services?
However, I would return for a very short time to an aspect of the Estimates which I had the pleasure and honour of examining last Session as Chairman of the Sub-Committee which looked into the manpower question of the Royal Air Force under two Votes. I do not want, in so doing, to anticipate the debate we are to have presently on an Amendment to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs).
First I should like to clear up a matter mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, namely, the effect of jet training of pilots at an early stage. I do not know whether my hon. Friend can bear to listen to the question, but if he could I should very much like an answer, either now or later. My hon. Friend assured us that in future jet training would be introduced at the earliest possible moment at which the right type of machine became available as far as the pilot went, but in that respect he did not mention the navigator.
At the moment, the navigator goes into the air with a jet aircraft only when he goes to a "conversion unit." It appears to us that that is far too late a stage at which to subject this extremely expensive, valuable and gallant young man to strain and stress, the effect upon him being completely unknown. He practically completes his training before there is a possibility of seeing how he will react to jet flying. If the pilot is trained at the earliest moment on a jet machine, where does the navigator come into the picture?
It would be reassuring if my hon. Friend could give us an assurance that the navigator will be given at least some experience of high altitude jet flying at an earlier stage. Unless that is done, not only will there be a disappointment in the minds of young men who later find 662 these experiences impossible for them through no fault of their own, but it will be very expensive indeed. It is wrong to subject a man to a highly expensive, long course of meticulous training and then to find all that wasted because only at a late stage is it discovered that it is impossible for him to serve in a jet aircraft at high altitude.
The whole question of skilled trades and advanced trades and manpower needs going into in far more detail. I had an impression that even today, with the realisation of the appalling importance and danger of shortages in these advanced trades of the Royal Air Force, no forward picture was being projected and no one body was responsible for projecting that picture forward among all the interested parties. I am not speaking only of Ministries.
Industry can represent itself far better than it can be represented by a Minister, but industry, the Ministry and obviously the Services should have some joint organisation, some body or committee to study not merely the problems of the moment as they arise. I admit that the machinery is there for that. There should be some body to study the problems which are likely to arise in future, in view of the increasing skill of men that will be called for with the emergence of these modern scientific weapons in this ghastly era through which we have to fight our way.
It is not only because of the more rapid emergence of the hydrogen age that we have been caught short, but also because of the more rapid development of the scientific age generally in connection with Service matters and defence. We should not go on being caught short in this respect. There should be someone or some body looking ahead to a greater degree than apparently has been found possible up to now.
I fully appreciate that the problems of the moment as between industry and the Services, the problems arising today and those which will arise next week are being, can be and should be dealt with, because the organisation is there. I am not suggesting that everybody is at loggerheads and that the Ministry is fighting the industry and the industry fighting the Ministry and so on. That is not the case.
There should be, however, somebody, and a very strong-minded man, who can 663 say, "I do not believe that you have looked far ahead. Please look again. Use a telescope. Do not merely look over the next three or 12 months, but try to see what you need and can get in three years', five years' or even ten years' time. "Unless wo do that, we shall find ourselves woefully short of the human beings who will work these highly scientific instruments, whether they are forged for defence or attack. I, therefore, strongly urge that this problem should be looked into as a matter of real urgency.
I do not want to make it appear that my experiences and those of my colleagues on the sub-committee were confined to bad cases. They certainly were not. We saw some magnificent work and some magnificent men, but we came across some rather difficult things. I must say something about accommodation in Technical Training Command and in Maintenance Command. The unfortunate thing was that although the accommodation of our operational stations was on the whole of a higher grade, accommodation in Technical Training Command was frequently of a very bad grade. That experience of bad housing accommodation and the bad housing of instruments affected the young new entrants into the Service at the very first and worst moment. Nothing could deter a young man more strongly than some of the conditions we saw. It is really a terrible situation.
I know that the official answer is, "This camp will be destroyed and will not be used very much longer." Let us take the one example of Yatesbury. That camp has been held in suspense for year after year. Thousands of young men have passed through it and there are stored there over £1 million worth of instruments in connection with training. They are stored under the most appalling conditions, and there is the highest possible form of fire risk that one could find in a camp. It is wrong that that should be allowed to exist for one month longer than is absolutely necessary.
What is the reason for the doubt as to whether the camp should continue in being or not? That reason for doubt is largely a matter of geological interest. Surely someone can make up his mind on the battle between the geologists and the training of young men for the Royal Air 664 Force. If the place is to be maintained, let us translate it into decent buildings, so that no young men will be deterred or held back but rather will be encouraged to remain in the Service.
There was another fascinating facet to that picture. I do not think we could possibly have found a keener staff, keener training, or better morale. Our report was unanimous that it was amazing that, in spite of the difficulties and the long distances involved in attending classes, the general set-up and the morale in that camp were magnificent. That is a very great tribute to the training given in the past to the officers and staff of the camp. I hope that the training of officers and non-commissioned officers of the present day will bring out that spirit, which can be instilled into the hearts of those coming into the Service.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The hon. Member has mentioned Yatesbury and has spoken of the difficulty about the decision whether the camp should be a permanent one or not. He referred to an argument from a geological point of view. I do not know that argument, and I doubt whether my hon. Friends do. Will the hon. Member develop that argument so that we may see what issues are involved?
§ Sir I. Orr-Ewing
I think that the hon. Member will find the evidence in the Report of the Select Committee. There was some objection to the camp being made a permanent camp on that stretch of country because the area is of great geological interest. At the time, that impressed the minds of those who were responsible for constructing the camp. I do not want to be unfair about this, but this question of geological interest was a sore point when consideration was being given to the question of translating the camp from temporary wooden hutments into permanent buildings. I would not say more than that, but that factor certainly entered into the picture.
There is one other thing which I wish the Under-Secretary of State had mentioned, and that is the question of encouragements to efficiency in the Service. So many of the public still think of the R.A.F. as a Service in which a very high proportion of the personnel fly at high speeds and spend a lot of their time in the air. As we know, it is just the exact opposite. Large proportions of 665 those in the Service never get inside an aircraft at all, but at the same time those who do not go into the air are performing as valuable a function—in some cases a more valuable function—than pilots, navigators and other members of the aircrew.
But the difficulty is to get that across and fixed in the minds of those who believe they are performing dreary duties. The trouble is to get into their minds that looking after equipment in the maintenance unit or the work that is done for training in Maintenance Command is very important. Some of these men look on it as a monotonous job to look after instruments for aircraft which they have never seen, and yet it is an essential part of the Service.
I believe the Under-Secretary of State could do a little there, and I hope a lot more can be done to push it into the minds ofthose concerned, especially those far removed from the air, that there is a very important connection between the work that they are doing and the actual point at which it helps the pilot to make the aircraft more efficient. That would bring these people right into the picture and right into the aircraft
We had the temerity to suggest that more should be done to take ground maintenance unit men and other personnel to different stations so that they could see the aircraft into which went the bits and pieces which they look after. We were told that it would be a very expensive business, but I do not care how expensive it is so long as it brings results. I believe that it would result in increased efficiency and economy. We asked one officer in a unit employing thousands of men, "How many of your men have been inside an aircraft?" and he replied, "I do not suppose 1 per cent. have." Yet they were looking after bits and pieces which were absolutely vital to the aircraft and without which it could not possibly survive. I hope something can be done about this thing. It needs drive and it needs push. It is not a very easy thing to arrange, but could it not be done at intervals? Surely the time and money for it could be taken out of something else; for instance, a parade cancelled.
In that connection I would press very hard for another improvement. I know something is being done about it already by way of investigation, but can it be 666 hurried on? I am referring to the pricing of the articles which these men handle, so that they will know what the bits and pieces cost and what their value is. I have been told so often, "We do not think it would help very much," but more intelligent people do not agree with that.
I recall being in a little hut where we saw on the table the results of bad workmanship compared with good workmanship, the result of bad storage, defects and things that had gone wrong. But what a pity the price was not attached to them. What was being done was of immense value, but could not the price and the value be put on the articles? It would be of such immense help to be able to say to personnel looking after such equipment, "Do you not realise that if any thing happens to that piece of equipment you will hold up something worth £100,000." I believe it would be of great value to be able to tell the men something like that, or "Look here, if you drop that, it is going to take a long time to replace it, and the instrument is going to be out of commission for a considerable time."
I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some sort of assurance that these things will be pressed forward rapidly. The costings of the service in the Royal Air Force at the moment are based, so far as the commands are concerned, almost entirely on a man-hour basis, which gives a very fictitious picture. It does not mean the same thing to the ordinary human mind as assessment in terms of £ s. d. If something could be done to translate these man hours and fractions of man hours into £ s. d., it would transform the picture.
I am sure such a translation could be carried through, and so soon as the information is disseminated throughout the Command so soon will there be a higher rate of efficiency in the Service. I am perfectly certain of that, and every man in industry experienced in the handling and management of men and responsible for the direction of management will agree with us in this. I know the Service is not an industrial concern, but I do urge that that should be done as quickly as possible.
I intended to speak for only a few moments, and I do not want to say anything more. There is, however, one aspect of this manpower issue which 667 impressed every one of us who had the great honour of going round so many types of stations. I do not think any of us would deny that we met some magnificent men whose history and record of actual work should be better known in the Service and by the public. I know it often cannot be, but it should be where-ever possible.
It takes a lot of courage when flying for Training Command for an instructor deliberately to make an aircraft get into trouble when travelling at a high speed. What is more, it is much more difficult to get the modern aircraft out of trouble when it is put into it. It takes an awful lot of courage, skill, pertinacity and bravery deliberately to force an aircraft into trouble to find the right way to train people to keep out of that trouble or to train them to emerge from such trouble if they do happen to get into it. Yet that goes on day after day in the Royal Air Force. I say it needs cold-blooded courage to do a job like that properly.
These things should be better known to the public, because they are worth telling. We certainly never could have found greater courtesy or men with finer records than those we met, and they need all the encouragement that we can give them because, however wonderful the instrument or however marvellous the weapon, the real success of the Royal Air Force lies in the individual human being and what he is doing and is prepared to do. There is a magnificent spirit in the Service. For heaven's sake, let us do everything to encourage and to maintain it.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Winterbottom (Nottingham, Central)
I am very glad that I have been called upon to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir I. Orr-Ewing), because it was under his amiable and efficient chairmanship that I had the great honour of visiting Technical Training Command, Flying Training Command, and Maintenance Command in connection with the survey undertaken by the Estimates Committee. It was for me an inspiring and fascinating experience.
Quite frankly, the first impression of a layman looking at the R.A.F. is the appalling complexity of the problem being faced. Simply to examine the 668 lubrication diagram of a bomb sight induces in my mind a haze, because this enormously complex and immensely expensive piece of apparatus has got to be maintained in fair weather and foul by a body of men who have to possess skills beyond the ordinary. The converse of the complexity of the R.A.F. is that we must have in it men of outstanding ability. The problem is serious in every aspect of the R.A.F., but, as the Under-Secretary of State pointed out, the most difficult of all aspects is that of arranging for an adequate supply of radio engineers to deal with the new types of radar equipment which are coming into use.
Two problems are involved in staffing up this branch of the R.A.F. The first is the degree of intelligence required to carry out the simplest maintenance tasks on these pieces of apparatus. The second is represented by those attractions of civil life for the young men who have been trained by the R.A.F. It will be of interest to the House to know roughly how this problem is tackled, because it gives a measure of its immensity.
The only type of young man capable of undertaking this routine work is one who has either a university degree or a General Certificate of Education taken at the higher level. That type of young man is rare. Having joined the R.A.F., he is exempted from a great deal of his basic military training and is sent at once into specialised training for this branch of radio engineering. His training may last a year or even longer. Indeed, we have received evidence that in certain branches only eight months work can be obtained from a National Service man.
That is serious in itself, but even more serious is the fact that, when he has received this training, he has become an extremely attractive technician for the radio industry and most of these young men join that branch of the R.A.F. with a view to improving their technical qualifications before leaving and going back into industry. The Air Ministry conducted a survey of 30 per cent. of this type of intake and found that not one of these young men would stay in the R.A.F. after this period. Clearly the problem is extremely serious, and I thought the Under-Secretary rather underestimated its seriousness because, although he said it was serious, he did 669 not draw the attention of the House to its extent.
There is one other aspect which should be stated in considering the length of National Service. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends consider two years to be too long, but if a young man is able to give only from eight months to a year of service after he has received highly concentrated and specialised training, 18 months of National Service would rule him out because he would be useless. So we must not forget this factor which, although only small in numbers, is important in significance when we are thinking of National Service.
I think my colleagues on the Estimates Committee will bear me out when I say that the present system works, but it works only because of improvisation, only because there is a considerable degree of dilution of skill, and perhaps even most of all because of the devotion and consistent over-work of officers and senior non-commissioned officers in the R.A.F. The average technician and senior N.C.O. in the R.A.F. is doing his own job, the inspection and maintenance of highly complex pieces of machinery and, in addition, he has to supervise the work of the part-trained mechanics. He cannot devote his whole time and attention to his trade but must constantly look over his shoulder to see that no mistakes are made by half-trained men.
Just as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare has suggested that we pay tribute to the work of flying instructors, the House would do well to pay tribute to the work of the senior N.C.O.s of the R.A.F. who at great cost are holding the organisation together. While this works, we should not delude ourselves that the organisation is a particularly efficient one, because of the degree of dilution of skill that has to be accepted.
If we consider the experiment conducted at Tarrant Rushton, the House will understand what I mean. There a civilian firm was entrusted with the job of running a jet flying training school and was able to employ skilled men for the technical work. Everyone on that airfield was a trained technician. The result was that an Air Ministry estimate showed that at Tarrant Rushton 145 civilians were doing the work which would have to be done by 350 Service 670 men. Although the work done there is not on all fours with the work that has to be done in an R.A.F. flying training unit, nevertheless the point it brings out is that if we could staff the R.A.F. with wholly trained and skilled men, we should be able to bring into being considerable economies.
Arising from that, there is one idea which has been gaining strength constantly in my mind. Before I express it, may I say that I know how dangerous a little knowledge is, and the mere fact that I have spent six months or so in the R.A.F. with some of my colleagues does not give me the right to call myself an expert. The impression I am gaining is that we should be considering carefully whether or not we should take energetic action to move towards an all-Regular R.A.F., or an R.A.F. as near to an all-Regular Force as the Navy is at present. The Navy has about 7 per cent. of National Service men and the R.A.F. from 26 per cent. rising to 30 per cent. I believe that we should try to move to below 10 per cent. of National Service men in the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Wigg
But my hon. Friend realises that if that is done it will cause an acute manpower crisis inside the Army, because it has been established that there is only a certain number of Regulars and, if they are not divided fairly between the Army and the Air Force, we might as well wind up the Army.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I was not laying it down as a law of the Medes and Persians. I only stated it as an idea that was growing strongly in my mind, having looked at the R.A.F. I would not attempt to steal technicians from the Army and thus immobilise it. My point was that what we should try to do in the R.A.F. is to free that important section of its highly skilled men, who are employed now in training young National Service men for short periods of service, to come into the squadrons and themselves become part of a front-line Air Force.
I do not see how we can attract to the R.A.F. a hard core of skilled technicians of high quality in every branch unless the incentives are increased considerably—higher incentives of technical pay and of housing, education and the rest. There is no doubt that officers and 671 other ranks will stand a great deal of discomfort for themselves if their wives and families are well cared for, if there is housing for them and if their children have conditions of education equal to those that they would get in civil life, and I think we can in due course increase the proportion of Regulars to the sort of percentage that exists in the Navy.
There is another point to make in favour of the argument. In the strategic position that we are facing at the moment, what is important is the condition of the R.A.F. during the first 30 hours of battle and not after the first 30 months. The number of enemy attackers which are destroyed in the first shock of battle may well determine the result. I feel that a completely trained and balanced force in being at the outbreak of hostilities is more important than the possibility of a very fine force at the end of a couple of years.
There is another factor in favour of the argument. I believe—my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will probably have a more authoritative view on this than I have—there is a case for reserve divisions in the Army and that the present system in the R.A.F. is inefficient because when so many young men have passed through the machine they are no longer of any use to the R.A.F. at all. We turn them into civil defence workers. The hardcore of highly trained men who have been training these younger men over the years in preparation for a short period of service have wasted their time and efforts, and they might just as well have been part of a Regular Royal Air Force occupied in preparing a front line Air Force up to the maximum pitch of efficiency for the first 30 hours of battle.
That is the one point that I wish to make. Perhaps it could better have been covered on the subsequent Motion. However, it arose from our studies in the Select Committee, and I felt that this was an opportunity to speak about it.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winterbottom) has made a constructive speech which I am sure will give the Air 672 Ministry much to consider. I wish the terms of reference of the Select Committee had been wider so that it could have considered the whole aspect of technical services in the Royal Air Force. I have always felt, and still believe, that the Air Force is not as strong in the technical services as is the Navy. The great tradition of engineering and the status given to engineering officers has helped the Navy enormously. The R.A.F. lacks that backbone. I should like the Air Ministry to consider the matter—steps have been taken at the engineering college at Henlow—and do more about it, giving a better status to technical officers.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) made a fair and constructive speech. I wish the Labour Party had called him to speak in the defence debate last week. It was most significant that he should be left out. His place and the place of his right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), a former Minister of Supply were taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), a former Secretary of State for Air, and the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). I suspect that they knew too much about the subject and that was why they were not called to take part in the debate.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Aston in his place. I wrote to him to say that I should refer to his speech in the defence debate last week. In recent weeks he has asked a series of Questions about aviation. He certainly hit the headlines in the United States, if not in this country. Whether he set out to do that is immaterial, but it has done infinite damage to this country. His speech last week—I want to be frank—was quite irresponsible for an ex-Minister of the Labour Government. It was in no way helpful. It was not constructive. He went out his way to denigrate plans set on foot by his own Government, many of which could not possibly have matured by this time.
Furthermore, much of what he said was very inaccurate. He talked about transport aircraft and said:There is not the slightest sign of any such transport, except that the Government, true to their principles of free enterprise, have been giving contracts for trooping to private charter air companies. ……673 He went on to say:The transport required to move the equivalent of a division ought not to be in private hands but in the hands of the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1955; Vol. 315, c. 2007.]I would remind him that at the time of Abadan transport aircraft were in the hands of the Government, and yet we saw airborne troops being taken to Cyprus in an aircraft carrier, a journey taking 11 days. That is what was done by his Government. Furthermore, contracts for transport aircraft were cut and men were made redundant in the works and on the design side. Men were then lost to the industry, and they have not returned to it because they went to the motor car and other industries. It little behoves him to criticise this Government for what is being done in respect of Transport Command.
Furthermore, every word that he says has an untold effect upon foreign orders. The aircraft industry is exporting £65 million or £70 million worth of goods a year. What will the men in the shops think if they are out of work because of his irresponsible speeches? What will the unions think about it? I thought his speech more disappointing than anything I have heard in the House for a very long time.
If criticism is wanted, why did not the Labour Government cancel the Brabazon project? The amount spent on it was £14 million, and it ought to have been cancelled at least two years earlier. I am not quarrelling particularly about that, because it is always difficult to say when one ought to cancel a certain contract. It may be that things were wrong with the Swift from the beginning, but the defects did not come out until recent months. If the Government had cancelled that contract too soon, they would probably have been criticised on that score.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Is it not problematical what amount we lost through carrying on with the Brabazon longer than the hon. and gallant Gentleman says should have been done? Did we not as a result of that expenditure gain a great deal of invaluable knowledge about any aircraft up to a weight of 300,000 lb.?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
We used to be told that in the days of the Labour 674 Government when we asked what we were getting for the expenditure. We were told that the whole aircraft industry would benefit. I do not want to get carried away on the subject, but only a few weeks ago hon. Gentlemen opposite were speaking against the Britannia aircraft, but that is really the only aircraft which has benefited from the Brabazon project.
I hope the Government will take more interest in helicopters. So far it has rather been left to the Royal Navy. There are firms which are short of work. Perhaps the present type of helicopter will have a comparatively short life. It may be that jet helicopters will come along, and perhaps in a few years' time the existing type will be out of date. However, there are tasks which the helicopter can carry out, particularly anti-submarine work, and more should be done about its development. I should like to know what progress has been made with automatic pilots for use in helicopters and instrumentation for blind flying, because so far the helicopter is not very useful at night.
I want to criticise the method of procuring aircraft for the Royal Air Force. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply will not take exception to anything I have to say, because the little I have seen of him in the few months since he took office leads me to believe that he could not have been more fair. He has done everything to make the set-up work and he has done a great job of work in doing so. However, I do not believe that the supply of military aircraft should be in the hands of the Ministry of Supply.
The Ministry of Supply, as I understand it, employs something like 140,000 people. It is a vast Ministry covering many subjects. The building and construction of both military and civil aircraft is so important not only to defence but to the economics of the country that it should be taken right out of the control of the Ministry of Supply. I understand that the Air Ministry does not want it, although that system worked before the war. If that is so, responsibility should go to the Ministry of Defence where we are fortunate in having a very able and strong Minister who would be capable of proportioning aircraft between the different Services.
675 At the moment the Air Force is represented at the Ministry of Supply by one Air Marshal, the Controller (Air). That Air Marshal carries tremendous responsibility, and I do not believe that it is possible for one man to carry that responsibility outside his own Ministry. I would much rather see responsibility taken from the Ministry of Supply and put under one roof. The complications of designing and constructing modern aircraft are enormous. It is very easy to say that a particular aircraft should be built to time, but no sooner has one trouble been put right than one gets into further difficulties which could not have been foreseen and months of research and development work must continue. That especially applies to aero-dynamic advances and materials.
Another criticism is that prototypes are publicised far too soon. Immediately a prototype flies there are headlines in the newspapers declaring, "Britain's New Fighter," or "Britain's New Bomber. "Photographs are published and the public is led to believe that a new military aircraft is in being. But that is only the beginning of the story and there is a long way further to go.
In addition to aircraft being taken over by the Ministry of Defence, I suggest that armament electronics—that would include guided missiles—should come under one Ministry. There must be closer co-ordination between the manufacturer and the user. At the moment it is completely missing.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
In the past that is what has happened. I am not saying that I agree with it. I was saying that secret aircraft ought not to appear so that even the Russians can go to Farnborough and have a look at them. This is the first time I have been in agreement in the House with the hon. Member.
Since the war the arrangement among the manufacturer, the Ministry of Supply and the Air Ministry has worked because 676 the design side and the technical people have kept in touch with the Air Ministry. Whether they were supposed to or not I do not know, but that is what has happened. If it had not been so, the system would not have worked. But in modifications and further development there must be close liaison between the manufacturer and the user.
It was said this afternoon that we are in the transitional stage. We are still using many of the orthodox type of aircraft and moving into the field of guided missiles. Let us now face up to the fact that this country is desperately short of scientists. I am told that last year only four men left London University to teach science. When a man has been trained for five years at a university, it still takes another five years before he is of use to industry. That means 10 years' training in a country desperately short of scientists.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary should suggest to the Minister of Labour that engineering students of degree standard should be exempt from National Service. I cannot for the life of me see why these men are called up when they have had this expensive training and when in the event of war they will be used in their trades. Yet they are called up today for two years' military service, wasting and forgetting much of their knowledge. In a day when we are supposed to be building deterrents, it is vital that these men should be furthering their training and helping towards solutions of these problems.
The Government should concentrate everything in their power, even at the sacrifice of other things, on guided missiles. In the autumn I was fortunate enough to be in Australia, when I visited the ranges at Woomera. Much has been done, but much more could be done, and we have to have these guided missiles. While not wishing to be alarmist in any way, the best fighters in the world will not shoot down—and nobody will claim that they will shoot down—100 per cent. of the bombers coming in. Fighters may be grounded by fog conditions. It is not unusual to have fog over the whole of Britain and Western Europe. What will happen to the defences if the bombers take off in clear weather? It is essential to go ahead with large sums of money spent on the development of guided weapons, both air-to-air and ground-to-air.
677 What is being done about servicing the new bomber force? Is the Under-Secretary satisfied that he has sufficient technicians to service them both at home and abroad. If not, has he considered taking on a number of civilians, or putting the work out to contract? These matters have to be dealt with now. There is not a day to be lost if the aircraft coming at the end of this year are to be kept in the air, although I agree of course that the problems are complicated.
I want in the few minutes available to refer to the conditions of the education of children in the Royal Air Force. I believe there are about 180,000 children of officers, N.C.O.s and other ranks. One of the problems of getting trained men is that they are not prepared to face up to the disruption of their children's education. It is noticeable that this year Regular engagements for long-term and semi-long-term have declined.
Another point is that an eight years' service commissioned officer is not told until within a few months of the expiration of his term whether he will get a permanent commission or not. He must be given far more warning and then he might decide to stay on. I met one only the other day who said that he was leaving the Service because he could not run the risk of going out at 34. He should have been told whether he was staying on or not.
With the advent of the cold war the hardship of married families has enormously increased. Much has been done to lessen the number of postings at home and overseas, but many still take place and constant changes of station completely disrupt the home. The interruption of the education of children is the most harassing problem of any of the families. If a man with children is serving in the Air Force, he has either to keep the family together, which means constant changes of schools—and I am told that some children have been up to as many as 10 schools by the time they are 15, which is a bad thing—or he has to face the alternative of installing the family in a permanent home, leaving them there and travelling around on his own. That is bad from many aspects.
Lastly, on this point of education, officers and N.C.Os. and other ranks simply cannot afford to send their children to boarding schools. I want to 678 know what the State intends to do about implementing the Education Act. The total number of children of parents serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force is not small. They are fine children, they are of all ranks and they are brought up in the tradition of their Service. Their parents cannot afford to send them to boarding schools while they are abroad.
Why is it that members of the Foreign Service, if they are Branch A, get £150 a year free of tax to educate children at home while they are serving abroad? Even members of the Works and Buildings Department in the Air Ministry get a grant of £70 a year, I believe, while a young flight lieutenant or a senior officer with children gets nothing at all. I cannot see it. There is far too much differentiation between the two. I hope, however, that something will be done about it.
I think that today the trouble in regard to recruiting for the Royal Air Force is that the Service and the Government do not realise the hardships. First, there is the risk aspect of flying. The young officer goes into it with his eyes wide open. He does not mind the risk aspect so much at the age of 19 or 20. By the time he is in his late 20's, and probably married, there is a great risk that he will be killed while flying one of these very fast aircraft.
He has frequently to take out an insurance policy to cover his life, because the pensions are quite inadequate to keep a widow and children. He is supposed to supplement by savings his wife's income in the event of his being killed. No serving officer today can save money. Most of these young officers have bills owing and great difficulty in keeping their heads above water. I hope that the Government will try to do something about this if they want men to stay in the Royal Air Force either as Regulars or on other engagements.
For a great many years these debates, although we have attacked each other's views, have been on a most friendly basis. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been constructive in what they have had to say. We are moving today in a day of peril. Nobody quite knows what will happen in the world. Precautions can be taken, but we cannot always attach a great deal to them. This small Air Force of ours is now the main deterrent.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman is used to talking nonsense. It is the main deterrent, and I think that he is only one of few in the Labour Party who do not think so.
§ Mr. Hughes
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to use the argument that the Air Force is the main deterrent from the point of view of the Labour Party, let him read the speech which the Leader of the Opposition made on 4th April last year in which he condemned deterrents. Let him answer that.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Instead of doing that, I would rather be a fly on the wall at the meeting of his party next week to hear what goes on.
I conclude on this note. We are all very proud of the Royal Air Force. It is now referred to in some quarters as our senior Service; but I do not want to quarrel about that. All the Services have to work together, and the more that we can do to help them to be efficient, to run their Services economically and to maintain their great traditions wherever they are in the world, the more likely we are to make our contribution towards the peace of the world.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
I regret that I cannot follow the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) in his arguments on many of the detailed points on which he has made such very constructive suggestions, beyond saying that I was interested in the point he made about the possibility of fog grounding the whole of our fighter force. That only goes to emphasise a point which is part of the foundation of my own view, namely, that there is, of course, no defence against thermo-nuclear attack.
Although the hon. and gallant Member urged that to remedy the possibility of our finding ourselves with fog-bound piloted fighters we should go ahead as fast as possible in the construction of the guided missile, I think that he would agree that we are not likely to perfect the guided anti-aircraft missile before our potential opponents have perfected the guided ground-to-ground, aggressive, long-range rocket, with a thermo-nuclear warhead, against which the guided counter rocket is no defence whatever.
680 In any event, I want to leave these relatively small considerations, because this evening it is my purpose to oppose the Air Estimates on the grounds that they make provision for the strategic bomber force whose sole purpose is to carry the hydrogen bomb. I believe that that decision is wrong. I do not regard it as being relatively wrong or wrong in some small way. I regard it as being absolutely wrong, and I believe that the taking of this decision is the crucial decision which heads us towards disaster: whereas, if we had the courage, the vision and the clear sightedness to refrain from this decision, the defence of our country and the peace of the world for the next quarter or half century might yet be secured.
I feel so intensely on this problem that I have to make a personal point. It is no longer possible for me—or rather to be more accurate I should say that for rather special reasons it is only possible for me for a few days longer—to go along with the majority of my colleagues on these benches who take the other view. This, therefore, is certainly the last speech that I shall make in this House except on the other side of the next Gravesend by-election, and it could, therefore, be the last speech that I shall make here for a quite considerable time. I have to face that possibility.
I want to make another personal point, with your permission, Sir, and that of the House. In taking the line which I take this evening, with this emphasis, I am bound to start with the word Peccavi. I have myself sinned in regard to this issue because, of course, I should have protested, or protested much more vigorously, not merely against the hydrogen bomb today but against the A-bomb and the strategic bomber force in each year that this matter has come forward since the war.
I did, indeed, make a speech at this time last year against the strategic bomber force, and, to that limited extent, I am consistent. For the rest, I can only say two things in extenuation of my failure. One is that in the last 12 months something has happened. The hydrogen bomb has been actually exploded, and Japanese fishermen have been killed hundreds of miles from the explosion. That is something which affects anyone's emotions, and makes one understand and 681 grasp the significance of things which, to be quite candid, one ought to have grasped before but did not. There is another change in the situation that has occurred during the last 12 months which I shall come to in the course of what I shall have to say.
Now, in considering the strategic bomber force, with all its terrible implications to humanity, I am bound to say, first of all, that the purely pacifist argument is enormously strong. When honestly stated that argument is quite simple. It is that this sort of thing is morally wrong. There is no room whatever for calculation about any consequences in the pacifist argument. Whatever the consequences may be, they assert that war is wrong.
That argument, which completely discounts the calculation of the consequences, can today be reinforced by another which is not without significance. It is a truism that there have been great changes in the methods of waging war in the last decade. In 1939, it was myjudgment—perhaps I was wrong, but I thought it right at the time—that all the worst that could be done to the human race by the sort of war that seemed probable in the 1940s could not exceed the damage which would have been done to the human race by the world victory of Nazism.
I am not sure that a comparable judgment could be made today. We look, of course, at what is worst in Communism, and we are apt to forget some of its material achievements. I think, perhaps, that is no worse than the attitude of those who look only at the material achievements and quite forget what is bad and evil in it. What is evil—if one thinks of it extending over the whole earth and lasting many years, perhaps decades—is a daunting prospect. But it would not last for ever.
To confine the spirit of man within a spiritual strait-jacket for ever is absolutely inconceivable. All I have to say is that it is not a self-evident proposition that the damage done to the human race now, and in the centuries in the future, by the world victory of Communism would be worse than the damage done to the human race by a hydrogen-bomb war fought in order to prevent it.
682 Now I will pass to some much more practical considerations, and I would say that these are the ones which, in the end, decisively move me. I want to stick as closely as I can to purely strategic considerations, to the problems of defending this country and sustaining the peace of the world for the next 25 or 50 years. But it is very difficult to confine oneself to what are strictly called strategic, let alone tactical, arguments; for the fact which emerges—and this was confirmed in part by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield—is that there is no defence in weapons today.
There is no way of saving ourselves unscathed through the next quarter-century or half-century by the disposition of this weapon or of that, or by the adoption of one or the discarding of another. The fact is that, in the new conditions of warfare, strategy has become policy and there is no other long-term strategy except policy.
Here, then, let us come to some of these strategic facts of our situation. We now say, quite openly, that what we rely on to save the peace of the world is the deterrent—the H-bomb—and it is this which makes a decisive difference compared with the situation a year ago. It makes a difference particularly in relation to the problem of co-operation with our American friends, a point which was touched upon by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson).
Twelve months ago was the last occasion on which, in the last resort, we were relying for the defence of the free world upon men on the ground; armed men—some, maybe, armed with atomic artillery. But the essence of the defence of the free world, as we conceived it 12 months ago, was by men on the ground. When we consider men—and in part of this Estimate we are doing so—the fact is that Western Europe has far more men than the United States. It would have been churlish, it would have been intolerable, to suggest, when defence depended on men on the ground, that the United States should provide all the men and Western Europe none. That would have been a fantastic suggestion.
But now the situation is entirely different. For the defence of the free world now and henceforth we count on the deterrent. In this connection, the 683 United States of America—far from being, as it is in terms of manpower, smaller than Western Europe—is fantastically larger in its industrial capacity; in its power of producing aircraft and other weapons, and, of course, fantastically larger still in its taxable capacity.
Even were that not so, the fact stands out that the United States alone, without any assistance from anybody, has got the whole of the deterrent that is needed. Whereas when the matter ultimately depended on men, the United States rightly asked, and insisted, that others concerned should make their contribution in men, the United States—so far as I know—does not even want us to make any contribution to the thermo-nuclear deterrent. The Americans have got enough of it themselves in their own country.
I do not know whether all hon. Members have read the remarkable article by Cassandra in the "Daily Mirror" of 24th February. I confess that I should normally expect to find deeply significant articles more frequently in the "Manchester Guardian" or "The Times" than in the "Mirror." But when we find them in the "Mirror," they are not less impressive for that. Our friend, Mr. Connor, paid a visit to the headquarters of the American strategic bomber force. He had the advantage of being shown round and of discussing its present strength and problems and intentions in a big way.
Among other things, he wrote:The spearhead of strategic air command is over 1,200 B 47 six-jet bombers and swiftly increasing reinforcements of the new B 52 eight-jet bomber …the B 47 is … capable of carrying the hydrogen bomb …at over six hundred miles an hour at … nearly fifty thousand feet. And its range—by being refuelled in mid-air … can take it to any part of the Soviet Union—and back.What has the R.A.F. in being, or in prospect, which can compare for one moment with that? What have we in prospect, in three or in five years time, which will compare with what this will by then have grown into? And what are they doing?
Reading between the lines—one does not have to go very far between the lines, one can read the actual plain meaning of the words—it is pretty clear that the American's strategic bomber force has already photographed every square mile 684 of the Soviet Union by night, at over 50,000 feet, with infrared photography. There they are, in fact, poised and ready.
And then come these words:I questioned General LeMay on the possibilities of a 'preventive war.' He would express no direct opinion, but said that when it comes to trading knock-out punches … it might not be the best policy to sit and wait until you are hit so hard that you never wake up again.We in the West naturally have fears—justified or not I will not argue—that some time, when it suits their case, and when they think they can get away with it, the leaders of the Soviet Union may launch an unlimited military assault upon us. But were one a Russian responsible for policy, and were one to read that article, might not a slight cold shiver travel up and down one's spine?
At any rate, the position is that here are these two giants. They threaten each other with complete extermination. The American Air Force is quite sufficient to carry out the threat of complete extermination if need be. To that possibility the R.A.F. of today, and even the maximum possible R.A.F. that we could build by concentrating all our economic resources upon it, would make a hardly significant addition.
I must turn aside for a moment to deal with one argument which has been particularly prevalent amongst hon. Members on this side of the House. It has been stated that in some curious way the possession of a strategic bomber force armed with hydrogen bombs will make us independent of the Americans. That is the most extraordinary argument that I have ever heard. I hope that you, Sir, and the House will allow me time to spell out the strategic nonsense of it, because if by the possession of strategic bombers armed with hydrogen bombs we make Britain independent of the United States we must mean one or both of two things.
We must either mean that with our bomber force we could threaten the U.S.S.R. with the ultimate deterrent, even if the United States stood passively by; or we must mean that if the U.S.A. got itself into the position of exchanging hydrogen punches with Russians in circumstances of which we did not approve, we should have the power to keep out. But surely if we examine either of these 685 propositions we shall find that neither can be maintained for a single moment.
It is a very unpopular thing to say anything which reminds us of how small is our island. But can anyone in this House get up and tell me that, with the U.S.A. standing neutral, we could sit across from a tough Russian negotiator at a conference table and say to him, "If you do not give way to us then we are going to drop our hydrogen bombs on you"? In a hydrogen-bomb war, with the Americans out, and with Britain fighting the U.S.S.R. does anyone think that we could annihilate one-quarter of the bases from which the Russians would launch their bomber planes and their rockets before they had destroyed, mainly by short-range rockets, every possibility of organised life here, let alone any possibility of carrying on a military struggle? If it is thought that by possessing a strategic bomber force we make ourselves independent of the Americans in the sense that we could threaten the Russians without the Americans, then I say it is untrue.
What about the other argument? If the Americans and the Russians start trading H-bombs with each other, various countries might have the good luck to escape from the consequences. India might be left out; or Italy or New Zealand might be left out—
§ Sir R. Acland
My hon. Friend says Ireland.
The argument that I am going to advance now is one of a relatively lower level of national selfishness, but I offer it all the same. We might be left out if we have not a strategic bomber force or the hydrogen bomb. But if we have a strategic bomber force and the hydrogen bomb, which cannot add 5 per cent. to the strength of the American onslaught, one thing is absolutely certain—that we shall, from the first day, be in any hydrogen-bomb war into which the Russians and the Americans get themselves.
I must, I am afraid, pick out one argument used by the Prime Minister in the course of his speech in the debate on defence, because it seems to me an argument which anyone of his strategic capacity ought to have seen through. He said that we must have a strategic bomber force of our own in order that, 686 if the hydrogen-bomb war started, we should be in the happy position of picking and choosing our targets and of not having to rely on the Americans to bomb targets for us.
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that is irrelevant. Let anybody advance to me an argument about the kind of weapons which we might need for the kind of cold war action such as in Korea, which might take place again without leading to the hydrogen bomb; such an arrangement is relevant. Let anybody offer in argument the idea that this course or that course could make the use of the hydrogen bomb less likely or more likely, and I say that is also a relevant argument. But to start offering apparently as a decisive argument a calculation based on what happens if and after the hydrogen war itself has broken out, is irrelevant, because when it breaks out it does not matter whether we pick and choose the particular targets which the Americans might not have chosen for us. It is the end.
In passing, may I repudiate the idea that a hydrogen-bomb war would mean the end of the human race. In some parts of the world men would survive, and although they might have to revert to infanticide to rid the world of monsters, they would none the less survive. But not for us. If this war breaks out and we are in it, that is the end for us.
That brings me back to the question of how to stop it, and here in the short run I accept the answer that was given in the defence debate by the Prime Minister. In the short run, the hope of not having a hydrogen-bomb war rests in our belief that these two giants, counterpoised against each other in hatred, fear, power, and suspicion, may each be so terrified of the damage that might be done by one to the other than neither will take the responsibility of unleashing the final holocaust. That is a real hope, though not a certainty, in the short run.
But what about the long run? How long has the human race to live on this razor edge of tension, with the minds of our young men in schools and universities—as hon. Members must know it in cases of their own children—distorted through the domination of their lives by this fear which hangs over all of us? How long is it to go on? Surely the only relevant, strategic question is, what line of policy 687 can we possibly adopt which will give us some chance—I do not say a certainty because we cannot say "certainty" in these matters—to play our part in relaxing, over the decades, this tension between these two giants which strains the world to distraction.
Consider the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. in isolation, and assume, for the purposes of argument, the hypothetical case that they are the only two nations in the world. I would say that in such a situation there could be no long-term hope for the relaxation of the tension at all. It exists between these two great Powers, and nothing that can happen so far as either of them is concerned will ever begin to lessen the tension.
I say, not in hatred or even in criticism of the people or the Government of the U.S.S.R. or those of the U.S.A., but just because of the nightmare situation in which they find themselves, that, as far as those two giants are concerned in their relations with each other, there is no possibility, except a continuance of fear, distrust, power to meet fear, more fear because or more power, more hatred because of more fear, more distrust and more tension.
Therefore, the only hope of the world and for our children and grandchildren lies in this: that some other peoples, extending at each moment the very maximum of tolerance, sympathy, and understanding, and, of course, constructive criticism, both to America and to the U.S.S.R., may be able, over the course of years, to show those two giants the way of learning to tolerate each other. India has done a little of this essential work within the last couple of years.
I do not want to whitewash the Indians completely as if they were saints. Alas, their relations with their nearest neighbours are sometimes open to criticism, whether it be valid or not. But in relation to the great world and to the tension between East and West, the Indians, in the last 12 months or two years, have achieved something.
I will add something more. The Foreign Secretary achieved something in relation to the conflict in Indo-China. Let me point out, however, in relation to the question whether we need to possess power in order to achieve such results, that the right hon. Gentleman 688 achieved this success before we were committed to building the hydrogen bomb and a strategic air force; and, much more important, he achieved his success after it had become clear that we were not in any circumstances going to use force in relation to the Indo-China conflict.
By embarking now upon the building of the strategic bomber force, which has no purpose except to carry the hydrogen bomb, we place ourselves for ever—or at least until this decision is reversed—outside the arena from which we could be effective in assuaging the ghastly tension between the two great countries which tears the heart out of mankind. By making ourselves an integral part of one of the two poles between which the tension rages, we can do nothing more to relieve it.
All our actions from now on will only serve to intensify fear, hate, power, and suspicion. We are handing over the task of assuaging the tension to others, such as Sweden, India, Indonesia, and a few more. My fear is that without us those others are not quite strong enough to succeed. If we pursued the strategic policy necessary to join them I believe that we and they together might bring it off.
I hope you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for ending by making a few personal points. My arguments, such as they are, are not, of course, strengthened in any way by anything that I intend to do about them. They deserve only such attention as they can earn on their merits. No man will expect, in a large organisation, that everybody will always agree with him. Often he has to vote in a minority, and then shrug and go along with colleagues whom he trusts but who take a view different from him.
To each, however, there is bound to come a time when he has to say to his friends that here he has come to an issue that he feels to be so decisive that he cannot keep company with them any longer with only such mild protests as a speech, a Motion on the Order Paper, and perhaps an occasional naughty vote in a Lobby which the Whips suggest to be the wrong one. The time must come when he has to stand up and take the final step and say, reluctantly, "On this issue we must part company and I must test out what the electors feel about it." 689 I would say to my constituents, if I could, that I understand the difficulties which I shall impose upon them. Indeed, the prospect of that has been by far the strongest argument which might have deterred me from the course which I am pursuing.
But at this time, when I am sure that many little people are bewildered by the fact that both the leading parties have accepted this horror and—if I may say so with all friendship—when the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in the defence debate last week was, to say the least of it, so bewildering—somebody must go to the limits of what is possible within the framework of our democracy in order to assert that reconciliation, sympathy and understanding—even sympathy and understanding for men and nations that we believe to be wrong—are, in the end, stronger and more decisive forces than anything that comes out of the instruments of unlimited physical power. I should not be true to myself if I did anything other than that.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
However much we may disagree with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), all of us will admire his candour and his sincerity. The steps that he has announced he is going to take require great courage, and I for one respect him greatly for it. Although I disagree with his conclusions, I do not have the time to follow him at any length. I would, however, say this: until we can get total disarmament in conventional as well as in hydrogen weapons, the best deterrent to aggression is the establishment of the strategic air force. It is not enough for the Americans to have it. We have to have it ourselves.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), in a valuable speech this afternoon, referred to the light fighter and its possible use by squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force. I am particularly glad that he raised this subject. I understand that such trials as have been undertaken with the earlier type have been satisfactory and that the Service is pleased with it. It might very well be the answer to the re-equipment of selected squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force to give them 690 this aircraft. Some of the squadrons might well use them, and operate them without any greatly increased risk of accidents. And it is to the question of the accident rate that I wish to address myself in the few moments that I shall detain the House.
It is estimated that we shall this year spend £186 million on the provision of new aircraft. It makes a poignant reflection that during subsequent months flying accidents will dissipate a not inconsiderable fraction of this expenditure. It has always been so. It is one of the more ironical aspects of Service life that, despite the great advances in design, technique and knowledge, and despite all the vigilance that is shown, the accident rate remains at its present level.
We all recognise that security has prevented successive Governments from doing more than give some general indication of the accident trend. The statement by my hon. Friend this afternoon and other statements that he has made suggest that the number of accidents in relation to the hours flown has, on the whole, decreased since the war. I do not question that, and I was very glad to hear his statement, but the rate of accidents in the R.A.F. at the present time is still high enough to give rise to uneasiness. One has only to look at the newspapers, which, after all, cannot report everything, to realise that it must cause concern. It demands constant probing for some new approach.
For the flying commands, a reduction in the number of casualties should now be the primary concern. Over-riding all else is the human factor. All losses in Service personnel are grievous, but I feel the losses in this Service acutely because of the exceptional qualities demanded of those whose job it is to fly modern aeroplanes. One can appreciate the attitude of parents to sons who contemplate taking up a military flying career. One ought not to disregard the effect that this alone must have on the recruiting of aircrews. It is something that we must face. We all know that many young men are determined upon entering the Service irrespective of anything that their parents may say to them, and we admire them for it. It may well be that this is the spirit which, beyond all, breeds success. Certainly it is highly cherished, and rightly so, by the Service.
691 It is inevitable that the human side should govern and dominate our thoughts, but with the complexity of modern aircraft which are now coming into squadron service, with all their costs and the problems of design, development and production, these losses take on an increasingly serious economic aspect. It is often said that flying is as safe or as dangerous as a pilot makes it. Broadly speaking, I believe that assertion to be true, but I doubt whether much more can be done by improving flying discipline to reduce the number of casualties.
The flying discipline in the Service at the present time is very high indeed, and it would be hard to find room for improvement there. Likewise, the standard of flying instruction in the training schools is very high. I am inclined to think that it is the highest in the world. Our flying instruction has always been of an exceptional standard, and I doubt whether any comprehensive advance to greater safety can be contemplated in this field.
It would seem that on the flying side at the moment, with training discipline and so forth, it is unlikely that we can expect any adjustments which might widen the margin of safety. One of the problems which the latest types of Service aircraft pose is that they react so quickly. If a pilot gets into difficulties he does not have so much time nowadays to sort himself out as he did with the earlier aircraft with their lower wing loadings. In these days of jet propulsion, the limited endurance of fighter aircraft does not give the pilot the same latitude for the human errors which are bound to occur no matter how skilful he may be, and the position becomes more serious in difficult weather conditions.
One knows only too well the amount of thought, care and research which has gone into the problem of reducing the rate of casualties. I am sure that my hon. Friend's statement will reassure us, but I do not think we should rest content. We should not conclude that nothing more can be done to improve matters. For instance, I am not at all convinced that it would not pay us substantially to revise our conception of the type of minimum weather in which our pilots should normally be asked to operate. I am well aware of the necessity 692 to establish in a pilot confidence to fly in bad weather and to encourage the determined, "press on" spirit. Equally do I appreciate the need to combat any suggestion that the Royal Air Force should become a "fair weather" Air Force. I believe that the spirit of determination in the Royal Air Force today is the same as it has always been. It is such among aircrews that in an emergency they would be prepared to accept almost any risk if they felt it was their duty to do so.
Therefore, I say that the important question is to decide whether there is now a case for raising the minimum standards of weather in which pilots are expected to operate. The United States Air Force, which cannot be said in any sense to be a "fair weather" Air Force, does not normally fly in conditions which we have come to regard as minimum. My information, which I have not been able to confirm, is that its accident rate, having regard for the amount of aircraft used and the number of hours flown, is not as high as ours. It is true that the peculiar meterological conditions in this country demand that a pilot should become proficient and able to operate in all weathers, but I hear that a vigorous attempt is being made in one command in the Royal Air Force—I do not think it would be right to mention it—to introduce easier standards with the one intention of reducing accidents. My information is that the trial has not been wholly unsuccessful. However, I believe that the initiative should come not from command level but from the top and be driven right down through the Service.
What is needed is a new look at an old and worrying problem. A fresh approach might well be tried even for a year or two on the basis of an easier minimum weather standard. I do not for an instant believe that this would make pilots hesitate to operate in the very worst conditions if a supreme emergency ever arose. It might even achieve results the benefits of which would far outweigh the disadvantages, and perhaps provide a fresh measure of confidence where there is now understandable concern.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It was with great sadness that I heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland). For many 693 years he and I have been close personal friends. Before I came to the House I felt a great measure of affection for him. and our close association has increasingly tended to strengthen my regard for him.
I am certain, as will be everyone else who knows him, that he has acted from the deepest and most sincere motives, and I am sure he will accord to those of us who do not agree with him the same feeling that we are sincere in our way. Although I do not agree with him in the action that he has taken, I am, like him, by no means certain that I am right and can only hope and pray that I am. During the past few months since I became aware, perhaps only dimly, of the impact of the hydrogen bomb, I have striven to understand. I have tried through the Press in Dudley to make my constituents aware of the nature of the problem. I have also tried to do something by my speeches in this House. I am sure that the doubts in my hon. Friend's mind are shared by millions of our fellow countrymen. They have come face to face with something which they do not understand. I am afraid, deeply afraid, that unless a great deal of responsibility is shown by all leaders in public life, we shall find many, like my hon. Friend, taking short cuts which may lead us to national disaster.
My hon. Friend, like myself, had the very great privilege of knowing—in the case of my hon. Friend of sitting at his feet—a very great scholar, the late Master of Balliol, Lord Lindsay. My hon. Friend had the good fortune to be a Balliol man. I knew Lord Lindsay as a friend, and I came to know him through attendance at classes organised by the Workers Education Association. As I grew older and came to this House I used to meet Lord Lindsay almost weekly, and many times I have discussed the problem of power and morality with him, as I have discussed the same problem with my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend. As I see it, although I have no right to say these things publicly, because I am not good enough or worthy enough to say them, it is the duty of all who profess and call themselves Christians to try to maintain and sustain that state of affairs in which the humble and weak can live their lives out to the full.
I am sure Lord Lindsay tried to teach the hon. Baronet, as he tried to teach 694 me and as he has written in his book, "The Two Moralities," that the first duty of us all is to maintain the law, for without law there is bound to be anarchy and chaos. We are now faced with a situation which is likely to break up every conception of law and to destroy all that which we have evolved through the long history of mankind and by which we maintain a society which enables the humble and the weak to live in peace.
I am not sure that this country, by accepting what I might call the theory of the deterrent, will bring about the state of affairs we want. If the hon. Baronet has his way, it means that we should all turn our backs on the nature of the world in which we live. That is what he is doing and, if he will allow me to say so, he is doing it rather emotionally and without a very careful study of the facts. After all the great contributions he has made to the public life of this country, he ought not to base his views on an article written in the "Daily Mirror." It may be that General Twining and General LeMay may be loquacious, as Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, but I have some doubt whether very senior officers talk in quite the way that Mr. Connor claims they talked to him.
If any part of the case of the hon. Baronet is the conviction that night after night United States bombers are flying over Soviet territory photographing by infra-red rays so as to plot bomber targets for the day of the great opening phase of a preventive war, I do not believe it. I will tell my hon. Friend why. It is because I have much greater confidence in the competence of the Russian Air Force than that. Consider what it means. First, we know that the Russian fighters can get above the ceiling of anything the Americans have yet produced, and if they can get above them they can get at them. If United States aircraft go in night after night, first, there is the very strong probability that sooner or later one of them will have engine failure and land on Soviet territory. So far that has never happened. I also think it extremely probable that on at least one occasion the Russians would have made contact with one of those intruding aircraft and it would have been shot down. I do not think the Russians would have failed to photograph it. They would have announced it to the Press of the world and have proved conclusively that the 695 Americans were planning offensive intervention. Therefore, on the spur of the moment, for that reason, if for no other, I would take the argument with a very great grain of salt.
§ Sir R. Acland
My hon. Friend may be right about that, but that particular point is no essential part of my case. The only part which is essential to my case—I do not think my hon. Friend will dispute this—is that the United States and the Soviet Union are capable, or within a matter of a few months or years will be capable, of dealing mortal blows at each other. That is all my case rests upon.
§ Mr. Wigg
I would not dissent from the proposition of the hon. Baronet that our peril is great and the time is short. Indeed, I would go a little further. I do not believe in the Prime Minister's story that we have three or four years. I think that concept was introduced into the argument of the Prime Minister for internal political reasons. I am prepared to accept here and now that both Russia and the United States have the fusion weapon and both have the means to deliver it.
What we have to ask ourselves, if that is the kind of world in which we live, is what about our own country. As I said in the debate on the Army Estimates, it is possible to do what the Government are doing and to add the nuclear weapons to what we have already. It is possible, also, to have what I regard as a manly form of neutralism—a neutralism of the kind the Swedes and the Swiss have—which makes positive demands on its citizens. That kind of neutralism says that no longer are we in the position to exercise an influence and, therefore, we will build up a fighter force and civil defence and contract out of world affairs, acting only within what we regard as the limits of our power.
On the other hand, there is another way in which I am afraid the hon. Baronet and the Prime Minister will lead us if we are not very careful. That is a kind of hopeless neutralism, the kind of thing which disfigured life in France in 1940. That is what I want to escape at all costs. If we have to choose between the two, I prefer the first. That is where I stand on the issue, but that is not all 696 the story. Like my hon. Friend I believe in and value the way of life which has been built up during the past 2,000 years in this country. I still believe it has a part to play. I believe that the one thing which will make war certain is if we contract out. Like the hon. Baronet, I look into the future with very grave doubts indeed. If there is a possible chance of mankind escaping the major catastrophe, I believe it will come because this country—I am not now speaking for the Labour Party but for the country as a whole—exercises its power and determination to lead mankind into better ways.
There is no choice between disarmament and complete disaster. In my turn I say it would not be honest if I thought for a single moment that there is a short cut to general disarmament. It is a prize to be fought for, a prize to be won. There is no short cut. Like the hon. Baronet, I have three daughters. I have had a much rougher time than he has, and if there is anything left for me to do in life it is to try to give my girls a better life than I have had myself. I, too, would resign my seat and walk out of public life if I thought that by my example I could do anything to find a short cut. But there is no short cut. The only way is the hard way and the hard climb born of the fearless, honest courage that comes from examining the facts and facing them. The hon. Baronet has chosen to go his way and, unfortunately, I must go mine. I am very sorry, and I very much hope that nothing that happens will affect our personal relations.
I turn now to something very different. I tried to indicate, first in the defence debate, again in the debate upon the Navy Estimates, and yet again in that upon the Army Estimates, that the Government's defence record is wholly deplorable. I have given notice to the Minister of Supply that I should say some things about him and refer to things which he has said, which would be much better said in his presence than in his absence. I have been questioning the Government about the state of our defences, especially about night fighters. The Minister of Supply was kind enough to answer a Question which I put to him concerning the relative merits of the British night fighter in use in this country and the United States F.86D.
697 In his reply the right hon. and learned Gentleman said two things which amazed me. First, he said:In any case the F.86D is a single-seater night fighter and we do not use single-seater night fighters.Secondly, in reply to a supplementary question from me, he said:I do not believe that single-seater night fighters could operate in the climatic conditions around this country.When I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that I almost went through the roof. I was so shocked and horrified, Mr. Speaker, that I subsequently made some remarks about the nature of the reply which met with your disapproval, and you asked me to withdraw them. I said:Certainly I will withdraw the word 'dishonest,' and I will replace it with 'grossly misleading.'I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell the House and the country the facts. The reason I got excited about this was that it was within my knowledge that there were in this country three squadrons of F.86D's, which had been here for the last four months, under the operational command of Fighter Command—and there was the right hon. and learned Gentleman trying to get the Government out of a tight corner by telling the House and the country that single-seater night fighters were no good in Britain.
He surely must have known that three squadrons of single-seater night fighters were based here—at Manston—and were in operational use in Fighter Command. The only reason why I accepted your rebuke and withdrew my original phrase, Mr. Speaker, was because I was thinking of security considerations. I therefore bit my tongue and said nothing about it despite the fact that reference to the presence of F.86D's in the country had appeared in the Air League journal "Air Pictorial."
Since that time the facts have come out, and I should like to quote from last Saturday's "Daily Express" which reported that the 406th Wing of the United States Air Force had three squadrons ofF.86D Sabres, with two squadrons at Manston, Kent and a third at Bentwaters.
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes—three squadrons of F.86D's, the aircraft in respect of which I put down my original Question.They are under the direct operational control of Royal Air Force Fighter Commandsaid the "Daily Express." This is an astonishing situation. I was flabbergasted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's denial and—speaking to him somewhat sternly—I very much hope that he will give an explanation, not to me, for I make no claims for myself, but to the country, because it is the country that he has misled. I knew at the time that these squadrons were in existence.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for being courteous enough to tell me that he was going to raise this point. I admit that the answer to which he refers—made upon the spur of the moment in reply to a supplementary question—is an overstatement. I said:I do not believe that single-seater night fighters could operate in the climatic conditions around this country.I regret that I made that statement, and I certainly withdraw it, but in my reply to yet another supplementary question I said:I think there are great advantages in having twin-seater night fighters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 878–9.]That is the position which I was really taking up, and in my considered answer, when I said:we do not use single-seater night fighters.I was referring to the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Wigg
I gladly accept the Minister's explanation. Whether or not the country will is another matter. I have established the fact that a Minister of the Crown, in giving information upon this vital subject, has been grossly misled by his Department—because I now return to the White Paper on the Supply of Military Aircraft and my reason for putting down my Question in the first instance. Paragraph 40 says:This country has an effective air defence against what any potential enemy is at present able to bring against us. By night, the most likely time for attack, we have a better defence than anyone else in the world.In his reply to the Defence debate, the Minister moved his ground a little. He moved from "a better defence" to "a setter defence system." I do not deny hat it is more than probable that our 699 system of radar reporting and control is infinitely better than anything which anyone else has; indeed, it would be surprising if that were not so, because we had much more experience than anyone else during the war. My Question was directed to the kind of aircraft we were operating at night, because even when one finds one's quarry one still has to shoot it down. As far as I know, the only effective night fighter operating at the present time—and I emphasise the present time—is the F.86D.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I query the word "effective." It surely cannot be true that the F.86D is the only effective night fighter. Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment upon the report in "Aviation Week," which says:… the M.P. from Dudley has 'flipped his wig.' This is a prime example of how a poorly informed politician can befuddle the public on the real military security problem with his raucous cries of 'wolf' when no real danger exists.
§ Mr. Wigg
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, but he has abused my courtesy. I thought that this matter would be introduced during the debate, and my speech will now have to be a little longer than I had intended.
I shall tell the House why this attack was made upon me by "Aviation Week." It was because I put down three Questions on the Order Paper about breaches of security. There was not much in two of them, but the third one, dealing with infrared, in my opinion is a gross breach of security. If I am wrong about this, I hope that one of the Ministers now sitting on the Front Bench will say so. The periodical has attacked me because the leak about this subject was revealed to a representative of that periodical by a senior officer of the Royal Air Force, when the member of the staff of "Aviation Week" was at a luncheon, and the Royal Air Force officer was speaking off the record. A representative of "Aviation Week" broke that embargo, and when I put a Question down I was attacked in the American Press. I am proud of that. The American Press would not go out of its way to attack me at great length, and circulate a copy of what it says in attacking me to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House—
§ Mr. Wigg
Maybe the hon. Gentleman does, but it did what it did because I got very near the truth. I affirm that that major security breach came about as a result of an action of an officer of the Royal Air Force, which, in certain circumstances, I am prepared to reveal to the Government; on one condition, that they will charge the representative of "Aviation Week" in the courts with an offence against security and court martial the Royal Air Force officer concerned. If that does not satisfy the hon. Gentleman opposite, I suppose nothing will.
However, I am not going to be put oft my stroke by that diversion. I come back to the point with which I was dealing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to give an explanation of what had happened about the F86D. I was saying that the only effective night fighter we have at present—
§ Mr. Wigg
A night fighter has to locate the enemy bomber. What would happen if the TU4, with a speed of about 300 knots, came over here? Let us assume that a Meteor night fighter is waiting for the TU4 to come over. The Under-Secretary of State can deny this if it is untrue, but I say that that Meteor night fighter is incapable of firing its guns effectively at a greater speed than 330 knots.
§ Mr. Ward
The hon. Gentleman is doing precisely what I warned the House about in my speech earlier. He is making the wildest possible assertions which are completely untrue. There is absolutely no truth in the assertion that the Meteor cannot fire its guns at high speed. The Meteor can fire its guns at any speed, including full speed. As to the F86Ds being here, why should not our American allies come here and be with Fighter Command and learn its ways, and the men get to know each other?
§ Mr. Wigg
That is a good idea, but why was their presence denied? We have the fact of their presence admitted now, but it is said on behalf of the Government that the F86D single-seater fighters are not effective in our climatic conditions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has partially explained that, but the fact is that there are three squadrons of F86Ds here, and I assert that the F86Ds here have been brought under the control of Fighter Command because that is operationally necessary and there would be an enormous gap if they were not here.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman has made extremely wild statements, and has not yet withdrawn them, in spite of what my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend have said. I wonder if they would arrange for the hon. Member to be taken up in a Meteor firing its guns at 500 or 600 miles an hour? I wonder if he would go if it were arranged? Then he would see.
§ Mr. Wigg
Certainly, I am quite willing to go to see for myself. I was asked to go to see the Hunter, and I went down to see the Hunter. However, I am certainly not going to be put off my stroke when I have managed to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that the Government have made claims which cannot be substantiated. I assert that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's claim in paragraph 40 of the White Paper is wholly untrue.
I do not want to take up many more minutes so I shall not quote at length, 702 but one has only to read the reports which have appeared in the American Press, and I instance particularly the "Washington Post" of 3rd March as an example, to see what the Americans are thinking about the nonsense that was talked by the Minister of Supply. It is common knowledge that the Americans did not believe a word of it. They do not believe a single word of it. Neither, in their heart of hearts, do hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are going through one barrage of illusion to another.
That brings me to my last point, for I promised not to be long. I come to the question of the V bombers. I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on the skill with which he skated round that subject. He talked about the Valiant coming into operation, and one Vulcan which had come off the production line. He did not say very much about the Victor.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman is really irresponsible. He is absolutely hopeless. Without giving any State secret away I can tell him that the Victor was flying for six hours last week at 50,000 feet. He should withdraw his remarks.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says "Rubbish." Let us put it to the 703 test. At the present moment, there are 10, or about 10, Valiants. There is one Valiant Squadron at Gaydon and another is being formed at Wittering, and then there is one Victor and one Vulcan.
I ask the Minister of Supply, how many does he expect to have in a year's time, 20, or 30, or 50? Every prophecy ever made about the Hunter and the Swift was wrong. Before the debate ends tonight let us be told so that we can check against the facts, not against assurances. Let us be told whether this time next year we shall have 20 Valiants or four Victors or four Vulcans. What shall we have? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be good enough to tell us that, I for one shall be satisfied.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman said earlier, I thought, that he subscribed to the view that we should have a deterrent bomber force. Does he want us to tell a potential enemy precisely how many planes we have?
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course I do not want any information given away to an enemy. That is why I put my Question about the security leak, and have said what I have said about it, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman's hon. Friends behind him do not like it.
What I want is this. I want the British public to be told as much as possible subject to security—as much as security will permit. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that for security reasons he does not want to give this information, well and good. At present I am only reporting what is printed in the British or American Press.
No one has told me. I have no contacts on the Air Council. I have read in the Press—and if necessary I will give the references—about where these squadrons are being formed and the numbers. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "This is a security risk, I cannot give you the information," I am satisfied. If it is not a security risk, I hope that he will be kind enough to tell us what he expects to get, so that the House and the country can make sure that we are having value for our money.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member made the wild assertion that the tail of the Victor was not safe. He should bear in mind that a crew flies that aircraft 704 daily, and he should remember that those men have mothers and wives. The hon. Member should ask the Minister of Supply if he can go to Farnborough, where he would be reassured by Sir Arnold Hall and his team that the figures have been re-calculated and there is now agreement, in view of the modifications that have taken place, that the tail is safe. The hon. Member should withdraw.
§ Mr. Wigg
I want the Minister to tell the country, as far as he can inside the security requirements, what the facts are, because I am quite certain that we are spending vast sums of public money and we are trying to do too much. I have said before that if we try to do all these things we shall have neither deterrent, V-bombers nor fighters nor anything else. I do not want to say that the Victor is unsafe. All I ask is that the Minister should put some jerk into things and obtain value for some of our money.