§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
On a point of order, Dr. King. May I raise with you a point of order which refers to the proceedings which took place last Monday in Committee? It will be within your recollection that, on that occasion, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) made a speech in which the burden of the first part was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) had improperly altered the record in HANSARD of a speech which he made last year when he was Secretary of State for War.
Yesterday, this matter was raised in the House by the hon. Member for Buckingham, but Mr. Speaker, having been able to make his investigations, found that the alteration which had been made in HANSARD had been properly made and that no imputation whatsoever could be levelled against my right hon. Friend. Further, Mr. Speaker went on to say that, as far as he was concerned, whatever had been said in Committee was no concern of his, and, therefore, he resisted invitations made from this side of the House to ask the hon. Member for Buckingham to withdraw the remark.
Mr. Speaker said that he had no formal knowledge of what had been said, but he had understood from the hon. Member for Buckingham yesterday that he had made 425 a general charge against this side of the House and no specific charge against any particular person, and certainly not against my right hon. Friend. I suppose that in those circumstances it would be common ground that the hon. Member for Buckingham would not be bound to withdraw a general charge, although, by implication, he would be bound to withdraw a specific one.
It will be seen from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings on Monday that the hon. Member for Buckingham said:I do not want to kick the backside of the right hon. Member for Harrogate, but …I omit some words, and then the hon. Gentleman went on:there is evidence that they"—meaning the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends—cooked the books to suit their party …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 72–3.]
§ Mr. Kershaw
By his applause at that statement, I imagine that the hon. Member for Buckingham is repeating that my right hon. Friend, as well as his other right hon. Friends, cooked the books.
In these circumstances, is it not perfectly clear that a specific charge was made against my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate, a very grave charge, indeed, which the hon. Member now knows to be untrue? Would it not, Dr. King, be in accordance with the customs of the House and in accordance with ordinary courtesy and the rules of order that the hon. Member for Buckingham should now be asked to withdraw that remark against my right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Further to the point of order, Dr. King. Before you comment on the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), may I make a submission to you? I submit that the representation which the hon. Member has given to the Committee of what occurred on Monday is completely inaccurate. I think that this is strictly relevant to the point which he has raised, because when the matter was raised on Tuesday I do not think all hon. Members in the House were fully aware of what had occurred on Monday. Now, 426 those of us who have been able to check it find the situation entirely different.
Charges were made yesterday against my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), some of the most odious kind, a charge, for example, like that made by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams), which is the kind of charge that we fully expect from a Tory gentleman but nobody else—
§ The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) will deal only with the point of order which has arisen, and that is about what happened in the Committee on Monday and not what happened in the House yesterday.
§ Mr. Foot
I apologise, Dr. King, if I was misled, but I am dealing strictly with what happened on Monday. My claim is that the submission which has just been made to you by the hon. Member for Stroud is a gross misrepresentation of what actually occurred in the Committee on Monday. I can prove it, I think, by giving you two quotations.
In column 75 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee on Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, after he had heard a statement made by the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), said:I entirely accept that what the right hon. Gentleman did was perfectly honourable …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 75.]There was never any charge against the right hon. Gentleman's honour.
My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, who is sometimes accused of stating his opinions rather strongly in the House, referred to the right hon. Member for Harrogate and said that he had played a perfectly honourable part in this. So what in heaven's name are the Opposition screaming about? Why have they got such thin skins? If the House of Commons is to debate every charge of this nature which is made, and we are to have all this paraphernalia, we shall never be able to get on with any business.
Indeed, the right hon. Member for Harrogate never supposed that any charge against his honour had been made, because—this is my last quotation, Dr. King—he said, in column 73:The hon. Gentleman"—427 that is, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham—appears to suggest that, either dishonestly or somewhat simple-mindedly—it did not seem quite clear which—I had had an alteration made in HANSARD."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 73.]So the right hon. Member for Harrogate himself was accepting the fact that it was quite possible that all that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham was alleging against him was that he had acted in a simple-minded fashion. So far as I know, that is not an unparliamentary expression, and if it were, Parliamentary business would be utterly impossible.
I suggest, therefore, with great respect, Dr. King, that you should rule on this matter in the strongest possible terms, because if we were to be held up with mares' nests of this character, and if it were suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham had said something improper when, at the time that he was making the charge, he made it clear that he was not attacking the honour of the right hon. Gentleman—if, in such circumstances, we are to go through all this arrangement of having points of order raised and demands for apology, a mockery will be made of Parliamentary business as a whole.
§ The Paymaster-General (Mr. George Wigg)
I should have been reluctant to intervene in this matter, Dr. King, but the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has given me notice, asking me to be here today.
With respect, Dr. King, may I draw your attention to the circumstances in which the phrase "cooking the books" first came about? I charge no copyright. It was on 28th July, 1958. Following a statement by the then Minister of Defence, the ex-Minister of Defence, now Viscount Head, made a charge against the Government. Referring to the size of the Army, he said:I was additionally worried because that size did not seem to be a balanced force fitting our commitment, but it coincided exactly and precisely with the actuarial estimate of the number of recruits that we were likely to get."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1958; Vol. 592, c. 990.]That was cooking the books. I said in column 1017 on 28th July, 1958, that it was cooking the books, I still think that it was cooking the books, and as long as there is breath in my body I shall go on 428 saying that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have cooked the books about defence in the interests of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Further to that point of order, Dr. King. The Committee has heard the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who drew attention to certain saving clauses that were put in through interventions by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) and the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General.
Those saving clauses were, of course, very much appreciated, but the real point of the intervention by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was to make out that the words used by the hon. Member for Buckingham were general and not specific and that he was not, in fact, referring directly and exclusively to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden).
But, although those saving clauses may have been there, at the bottom of col. 72 are the words:… he"—that, is my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate—and his right hon. Friends"—and then it goes on four lines later:cooked the books".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 72–73.]
§ Mr. Iremonger
The words "he cooked the books" which are here, and have not been corrected in HANSARD, are a specific and personal reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate. The right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General, in col. 75—I should be obliged for the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General, who has been courteous enough to attend; I am referring directly to him and quoting his words—said:I found that the right hon. Gentleman had been trying to get away with it by putting in… attached".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 75.]instead of "detached".
That again, was a direct and personal reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I think that the 429 Committee will have appreciated the fact that the hon. Member for Buckingham and the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General definitely did impute dishonesty. All that we on this side of the Committee are asking is that they should say that that is what they meant and that the specificity of it was not, in fact, intended.
§ The Chairman
Order. I think that I have heard enough on the point of order, I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides who are trying to advise me in the issue before us. Perhaps it will help if I now say a few words on the point of order which has been raised.
First of all, I would deprecate from the Chair any tendency to go back to the deliberations of the Committee two days ago. If there were any imagined breach of order in the Committee proceedings of Monday—and, as hon. Members must know, I have studied them most carefully since Monday—then the appropriate moment to have raised the point of order was during the deliberations of the Committee at the moment at which hon. Members thought that Order was breached.
I have every confidence in the Temporary Chairman, the hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), and I am sure that every hon. Member has every confidence in the Chairman on that occasion. This particular point was not raised. The point of order which was raised was another one and was dealt with very competently by the hon. Lady. That is the first point.
The second point I would make even more strongly is that I would deprecate any attempt on the part of any hon. Member to invite the Chairman of Committees to go behind a Ruling which Mr. Speaker made yesterday, when this matter was raised. It would be intolerable if the Chairman of Ways and Means were asked to express any opinion contrary to that which was expressed by Mr. Speaker in the Chair in the House.
I would only say that, as far as I am concerned, any matters of order which were appropriate to be raised and which hon. Members felt that they should raise on Monday were raised and were dealt with by the Chairman on that occasion. I hope that we can now proceed to the 430 business of the day, which is to discuss the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Further to the point of order, Dr. King. With the greatest possible respect, and at the risk of imposing on the patience of the Committee, this is an important matter. If I might reflect on the two points you have made, may I say, with great respect, that I think that, in regard to the first point, all hon. Members of the Committee would agree with me that this was not pursued vigorously at the time in Committee because my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) had not been able to refresh his mind as to the actual facts of the alteration made in HANSARD—
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Member has misunderstood everything I said. I have deprecated the habit of pursuing on Wednesday matters which should have been raised, if at all, on Monday and I would regret that the Committee should now try to consider the motives which were in the minds of hon. Members when they did not raise on Monday a point of order which they might have appropriately raised on Monday. I hope that the Committee may now proceed with its business.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged for your patience, Dr. King. Without pursuing that first point, what Mr. Speaker ruled was not on this point; it was that the Chair—
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Member has now misunderstood the second point which I made. I am not prepared in the Committee to discuss the Rulings which Mr. Speaker made in the House yesterday.
§ Mr. Iremonger
This is the Committee, Dr. King, and the Ruling is for the Chair of the Committee; and, without discussing what Mr. Speaker ruled, he merely observed that the Ruling was for the Chair in this Committee. With great respect, it was for that reason that we asked for your Ruling from the Chair upon the subject.
§ The Chairman
Order. The Chair has already given a Ruling on the matter raised. I cannot help it if the hon. Member could not understand the Ruling which the Chair made.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Further to the point of order. With great respect, and without wishing to hold up the proceedings of the Committee, it is not a question of not being able to understand what you are saying, Dr. King. Mr. Speaker, yesterday, when this same matter was raised with him, said:I am not criticising anybody …but I cannot deal in any way with matters spoken in Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 245–6.]I ask, therefore, where our remedy lies? At the time, in Committee, it was to the knowledge of the Committee that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) had given notice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), very properly, that he would raise this matter. It was, therefore, for my right hon. Friend to take up the point, which he did, and he denied it. But as the point was persisted in afterwards we had no remedy but to bring it up yesterday, and Mr. Speaker said that he would not deal with it. So where are we? When can we have it dealt with? I think that this is a genuine difficulty. We are not trying to be difficult, Dr. King.
§ The Chairman
May I say that I have no doubts in my mind of the genuineness of the hon. Gentleman in raising the point which has been raised, and, as a good democrat, when he asks, "What is my remedy" I must tell him that the remedy which the hon. Member had—large, flowing and ample—was on Monday, in Committee, when the issue was before the Committee.
I am not prepared to have a Committee on the Air Estimates spend a lot of time discussing what might or might not have happened in Committee on Army Estimates on Monday. I so ruled. I have ruled that the Chairman in Committee on that occasion was competent to deal with any point of order which arose and that whatever points of order were raised were dealt with. I hope that we may now proceed to the business of the day.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Further to the point of order. I wonder whether you would be prepared to suggest to Mr. Speaker that he might use his great influence to try to persuade the Prime Minister—
§ The Chairman
Order. No. I am sure, having heard a half sentence from the hon. Gentleman, that what he is going to suggest is utterly unthinkable. I think, therefore, that we may leave that suggestion where it is.
§ Mr. Hastings
With the greatest respect, Dr. King. I wonder whether I may be allowed to put that to the test and take my point of order a little further?
§ The Chairman
I understood—and I am very kind to the hon. Gentleman—that what he was asking was that the Chairman of Ways and Means should make some kind of suggestion to Mr. Speaker as to the kind of influence which Mr. Speaker should hold. This Chairman is not prepared to make any such suggestions—
§ The Chairman
—and it was on those grounds that I refused to hear the hon. Gentleman further. However, if he wishes to raise another point then perhaps he will address me.
§ Mr. Hastings
It is not exactly like that, Dr. King. I was suggesting that you might be prepared to ask Mr. Speaker to use his influence, or perhaps you yourself might use your great influence, to try to persuade the Prime Minister to send his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) on a long Parliamentary mission abroad.
§ The Chairman
Order. I hope that all kinds of well-meaning and innocent suggestions will not exacerbate things further. I had better say, for the record, that neither the Chairman of Ways and Means nor Mr. Speaker has any influence over the Prime Minister.
§ 4 19 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Bruce Millan)
After that interlude, I hope that we may now proceed with the Air Estimates. Since this is the first occasion on which I have had the responsibility and pleasure of introducing the Air Estimates, perhaps I might be allowed to start on a personal note. 433 When I took up my present office, about five months ago, I had had absolutely no connection with the Royal Air Force. My noble Friend the Minister of Defence for the Royal Air Force had, of course, served in the R.A.F. during the war and had a long connection with the Service.
This was something entirely new to me, so perhaps I may be allowed to say how very much impressed I have been personally with what I have seen of the Royal Air Force over the last few months, particularly from the efficiency point of view. In the operational commands at home, for example, we maintain an extremely high state of preparedness. Anyone visiting the stations at home can very quickly see the high level of professional skills which the serving airmen and officers bring to the duties which are allotted to them.
The same thing is true—perhaps it is even more true—of the overseas commands. I had the pleasure of visiting the Middle East Command just a couple of months ago, and I was extremely impressed by the skill and morale of our airmen in that extremely difficult area, in circumstances in which they were often very hard-pressed indeed. I should like to put on record the very fine impression of the Service I have gained during these first few months.
The Estimates we are now discussing amount to £562 million. After making certain adjustments to last year's total to allow for the transfer of some services between Defence Votes and to Civil Votes the figure we are now discussing is about £45 million higher than the Estimates prepared for 1964–65. About £8 million of this increase is in respect of pay and pensions, but the bulk of the increase—about £37 million—is on Vote 7, and is accounted for by larger deliveries of aircraft and stores than in the current year, 1964–65.
I shall have something to say later about some of the equipment we are expecting in the current year, but I should like to make the general point now that the Estimates we are now discussing are very largely Estimates prepared by the outgoing Administration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already explained to the House how the Government were able, in the defence budget as a whole, to make very 434 considerable savings—amounting in all to about £55 million—compared with the Estimates which the previous Administration had intended to present to the House. Some of that saving, naturally enough, came in the Air Estimates. By and large, however, it is still true that these Estimates are Estimates on lines prepared by the previous Government because, of course, particularly on the equipment side, it is not possible to make short-term major changes. That requires a considerable amount of time to put through effectively.
From the long-term planning point of view, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced, the Government are at present carrying out comprehensive defence reviews, and these will affect the Royal Air Force as well as the other Services. They will largely determine the future size and shape of the Royal Air Force, but even before the conclusion of these reviews we have taken certain decisions about some of the major aircraft programmes that we inherited from the previous Government. I hope later to say a good deal about that from the point of view of the Royal Air Force's operational efficiency, but I should like, first, to deal with perhaps rather less contentious matters than the aircraft supply programmes.
First, I refer to manpower, because this debate takes place formally on Vote A, which lays down the manpower ceiling of the Royal Air Force in 1965–66. The Committee will have noticed from page 145 of the Estimates that we are proposing that Vote A should be 4,000 less in 1965–66 than in the current year—136,000 as against 140,000. We expect the total strength of the Service—and the figures I have just quoted are, of course ceiling figures—during the next year to be about 132,000, which will give us a trained strength—allowing for those on training—of about 123,000.
I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that in the Royal Air Force we have been running down our numbers; and that during the last year that run-down has been taking place against a background of an increasingly difficult situation in Borneo. The figures laid down for the manpower ceiling last year did not take account of the Borneo emergency. From the long-term point of view, we are reluctant to recruit 435 more men simply to meet what we hope will be a short-term situation in Malaysia and Borneo, but the fact that we are meeting this additional commitment without additional recruitment means that there is a good deal of strain on certain parts of the Service at present. Again, it is a tribute to the efficiency of the Service that over the last year it has been able to bear that strain so successfully.
My noble Friend and I are, in general, satisfied with the present recruitment position. There are certain difficulties—obviously, the pattern is not the same over the whole range of recruitment—but, in general, it is true to say that we are getting the numbers of men we want. This refers to officers as well as to airmen. Even more important than the numbers is the fact that we are still getting the high quality of recruitment we require for the Service. There has been a certain amount of difficulty in recruiting officers for direct-entry aircrew. We are getting good figures there, but they are not quite good enough, and we hope that the position will improve over the current year.
We are also in some difficulty in recruiting officers for ground branches, where professional qualifications are required. This is a reflection of the national shortage of professionally-and technically-qualified people. It affects, in particular, our Technical Branch. This is a very big branch and recruits highly technically qualified officers. We also have certain difficulties in the Education Branch, particularly in the Women's Royal Air Force.
Generally speaking, however, our officer recruitment is good, and that is particularly true of Cranwell and of our university graduate entrants. The position at Cranwell has improved just over the last year or so. The entry there has risen by about 20 per cent. in two years, and we are still maintaining the high standard we require.
Perhaps I may here say something about the sources of our recruitment to Cranwell, since one of my hon. Friends recently spoke of Sandhurst. I do not want to draw invidious comparisons between Sandhurst and Cranwell, but I would point out that we have a very wide range of recruitment at Cranwell, 436 where rather less than 30 per cent. of the entrants come from the independent schools—the public schools—and rather more than 70 per cent. come from the direct-grant and grammar schools. We are very happy that that should be the situation, and would, in fact, like to spread our sources of recruitment even wider than we do at present. The university cadetship scheme for the General Duties and Technical Branches has also been successful, and we had 44 cadetships last year from that source.
There is one particular development in officer training that I should like to mention—the amalgamation during the current year, at Cranwell, of the Royal Air Force College, which is already there, and of the Technical College, which is at present at Henlow. The cadet entry in October this year will be the first in which all cadets will enter Cranwell. They will live and train together in one establishment, and this will provide an excellent opportunity for future officers to understand the rôles and responsibilities of officers in other branches.
The October entry will be followed by the move to Cranwell of the technical cadets and officers who are already under training at Henlow, so that the complete merger will be completed by January, 1966. We have, of course—at least, in fairness I should say that the previous Administration have, since this move was planned some time ago—improved the facilities at Cranwell to meet the new situation. In all, the move has cost about £2¼ million, but on personnel costs alone, apart from other savings, we will be saving about £¼ million a year.
As to airmen, again the situation is in general satisfactory, although we are by no means complacent about it and there are one or two administrative trades where the situation is rather difficult at the moment and we have, for example, to retain men in the Service when they would themselves want to be released on purchase. But generally speaking, again, the situation is good.
This year will be the second year in which our new apprentice entry scheme will be operating. Last year the craft apprenticeship and the administrative apprenticeship categories were largely filled and we got recruits of good quality. The technician apprenticeships are rather more difficult to fill, because here we 437 really are asking for extremely high qualifications. We are taking in boys between 16 and 17½ who have four O levels in the G.C.E., including mathematics and a science subject. These are very high standards and, although we are getting a fair number of boys under this apprenticeship scheme, there is a difficulty in attracting a sufficient number of boys with these educational qualifications.
The whole question of manpower—getting the right kind of manpower, the right quality as well as the right numbers of manpower—is absolutely fundamental to the Service. Perhaps I might just mention, as an illustration of this, that personnel costs amount to about 46 per cent. of the present Defence (Air) Estimates; that is, something over £250 million. It is in fact our major cost, and the Committee will be glad that this is so.
If we are to attract men and women to make their careers in the R.A.F., we have to pay them well; we have to clothe them well; we have to feed them well; and we have to see that their amenities are taken care of. But, because the expenses are so high, we have to ensure that we manage the Service in as efficient a way as we possibly can to make sure that there are not considerable wastes taking place.
I want, therefore, to turn now to the question of management in the Service. The first point I would make—it is something which I may frankly say came as a rather pleasant surprise to me—is that the Service itself is extremely willing to improve its own efficiency, even without prodding from Ministers or from the House of Commons or from anybody else. In fact, a considerable amount has been done on Service initiative, even distinct from ministerial initiative, to improve the efficiency of the Service over the last few years.
While we are still all agreeing with one another, may I pay a tribute on this to the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), the former Minister, because a good deal of the improvements in efficiency which we have had over the last few years took place under his Ministry. However, to introduce a note of controversy now, by contrast, this does not invalidate the point that the Government made in the Defence White Paper about the general state of our forces at present.
438 What the two sides of the Committee are quarrelling about is not the management of the Services, but the general policy directives which the Services have been given by the previous Government and now by the present Government. If the Service gets clear policy directives, the Service will carry these out efficiently and effectively. But the difficulties that we are in in the defence field at the minute arise precisely because these clear policy decisions or directives were not taken by the previous Administration. That is the thing that we are trying to put right at the present time.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Surely it is clear that policy directives were given by the last Administration, both for the operation in Kuwait and also, on the conventional side, for the operations in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. I am not clear what the hon. Gentleman is getting at.
§ Mr. Millan
I am talking about the policy in regard to the rôle, the shape and the size of the Royal Air Force at the present time. The only clear policy decision which was ever taken on that particular matter by the previous Administration was that taken by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) in 1957, with absolutely disastrous results from the point of view of the R.A.F.
I return to the question of management. There is one decision which I want to announce now. This is an important management decision which has recently been taken. It is that the Flying Training and Technical Training Commands are to be amalgamated into a single Training Command which will come into existence on 1st June, 1968, with its headquarters at R.A.F. Brampton in Huntingdonshire. This amalgamation can be done because Flying Training and Technical Training Commands have been contracting in size, both in the number of personnel under training and in the number of active stations under command.
This reorganisation will produce significant economies with no diminution at all of the present high standard of training. I want to emphasise that there is no question of the present standards being reduced in any way. We estimate that in due course the savings will be in the region of 278 Service and civilian posts and nearly £400,000 in annual 439 runnings costs. There will also be consequential economies arising in the lower formations. This is only part of our general review of flying training from the point of view of increasing the efficiency of it, while maintaining the high standards that necessarily we have to set.
Perhaps from the efficiency point of view I might just mention that the wastage rates for aircrew training have been improved very considerably over the last three or four years. The wastage rate, for example, for direct entry pilots has been reduced by more than one-third. For direct entry navigators the wastage rate has been reduced by half. There has been a very considerable reduction in the wastage rate for air electronic officers. This means a great deal in training costs, because it is an extremely expensive proposition. It is quite frighteningly expensive to train aircrew at the present time, and anything that we can do to reduce wastage rates does, apart from anything else, save us very considerable sums of money. There have been other improvements in flying training and, if hon. Gentlemen are interested, I should be glad to deal with that matter in winding up later today.
There is one other management question which I now want to mention. I think that the Committee will be interested to know that in the coming months we shall be starting to bring into use two very large computers. One of these is at Hendon. It will control the storage and distribution of all R.A.F. stores, wherever they may be all over the world. When I was in Aden the other day—I think that it was at Salalah or Masirah, one of the most remote stations—I was interested to see the stores there being done on electronic machines geared into the new computer which is to be introduced at Hendon. So even in the remotest parts of the world we will, in fact, be controlling our stores by this new computer, and we hope to save about £1 million because of this.
The second computer that I want to mention is being installed at Gloucester. It will keep all the personal records of airmen and maintain their pay accounts and will asist the management in manpower planning. It will eventually lead to substantial savings in manpower, 440 although these will mostly be in uniformed as distinct from civilian personnel. The whole operation will take another two or three years now, but the computer is coming into operation very soon.
In fact, a considerable number of improvements in efficiency of the kind that I have just mentioned are taking place in the Service all the time, and a considerable amount of hard work has been put into the introduction of some of these improved methods, particularly as there have been what I might legitimately call vested interests in the Service who have been affected by the new methods. I think that it is a tribute to the Service that they have gone in so smoothly without any kind of obstruction at all.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the computers are British or American? Also, will his Department be having consultations with the Minister of Technology when there are any future applications for computers in the Service?
§ Mr. Millan
It is intended that the Ministry of Technology will co-ordinate the use of computers, particularly the introduction of new ones, in Government service as a whole. That was announced the other day.
The computer at Hendon is British. I believe that it is an I.C.T. or an A.E.I. computer.
§ Mr. Millan
I am sorry, however, to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the new computer at Gloucester is not British. It is a Remington Rand Univac. This is regrettable, but, I might say that this was done under the previous Administration. Without wishing to say anything detrimental about the Univac, I think it a pity that it is not a British computer. However, now that the Ministry of Technology is paying particular attention to computer development, I hope that we shall be able to use British computers in the future.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Will the hon. Gentleman say to what factors he attributes the improvement in the wastage rates in respect of aircrews?
§ Mr. Millan
A number of factors are involved there. General improvements are taking place all the time, but it is largely a matter of seeing at an early stage in training that unsuitable candidates are wasted away there, so to speak, without allowing them to go to advanced training stages where it becomes even more expensive. For example, we have a fair number of flying scholarships which are operated through the A.T.C. There are something like 350 of these a year. Young people are able to get a certain amount of flying training before they join the Service at all. There are a number of different ways of improving the quality of our intake, quite apart from what we do with the personnel when they get into the Service. There are many things involved and there has been a general improvement in the last three or four years.
I should now like to turn to some of the current activities of the Commands of the Royal Air Force, and to say something about the new equipment and aircraft which are coming into operation in the current year. First, taking Bomber Command, the front line has now received its full complement of Victor 2s, and re-equipment with Vulcan 2s has entered its final phase. Until they are run down early in the 1970s it is our intention that British V-bombers, except those required for commitments outside Europe, should form a major component of the Atlantic nuclear force which we have proposed to our N.A.T.O. allies.
This is very much in line with the policy on which we fought the election, of using the British V-bombers but committing them to some kind of integrated nuclear force until they run out some time early in the 1970s. The V-bombers, of course, apart from having a nuclear capacity, also have a useful conventional rôle and are available in this capacity in all parts of the world.
As to the Valiants, it has already been announced that these have had to be grounded. We have managed to take a certain amount of urgent action particularly on the Victor tanker programme and we hope to receive six partially modified Victor tankers by the end of August and more of these will come after the end of August. They will build up over the next two years or so. Also from next 442 month we shall be starting to build up the new Victor 2 reconnaissance force.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Could my hon. Friend give us any idea of the cost of these aircraft?
§ Mr. Millan
I could not give that information "off the cuff". I do not think that we have ever disclosed the cost of these aircraft, or, indeed, the cost of any other of our combat aircraft. If I am able to get a figure and if my hon. Friend likes to wait till midnight I will try to give some indication then, but I am not making any rash promises.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Before my hon. Friend continues, may I ask him whether he intends to give any more information on how the V-bombers are to be used east of Suez? I should like to know whether they will carry an independent nuclear deterrent.
§ Mr. Millan
This point was put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the other day. He said then that it has never been the policy of this Government or, indeed, of previous Governments to disclose in public the deployment of our forces or the weapons which they are carying, whether east of Suez or in any other area.
Coming to Fighter Command, the re-equipment with the Mark III Lightning, which started in the first half of 1964, will continue throughout next year. It is a much superior aircraft compared with the earlier marks in terms of speed and of range. The main weapons which we shall be buying this year are Bloodhound 2, Red Top, which is an advanced air-to-air missile for the Mark III Lightning, and the AS30, the air-to-surface missile for the Canberra strike aircraft.
Perhaps I may mention one point about the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile which is used in a ground defence rôle particularly for the protection of airfields and bases. The first squadron of Bloodhound 2s was deployed to Singapore last year. We also have some deployed in the United Kingdom for training purposes and a Bloodhound 2 site will be established at West Raynham in Norfolk during the coming year.
Turning to Coastal Command, the most important decision that has been taken is the decision to replace the older Mark II Shackleton, which was introduced in 1952, with the Comet which 443 is to be specially developed for this purpose. A whole range of alternative aircraft were considered before this final decision was taken, but we are satisfied that the Comet replacement will do all the tasks that we intend it to perform.
Perhaps while I am speaking about Coastal Command I might slightly diverge for a moment and refer to the part that the Service continues to play on errands of mercy. Last year, Coastal Command's search and rescue helicopters were called out 416 times to help in emergencies concerning drowning bathers, marooned holiday-makers, capsized small craft and shipping in distress; and 142 people were rescued, most of whom would probably have been lost but for the prompt assistance of the search and rescue organisation. Overseas, a further 73 people were rescued by our helicopters and marine craft. This work goes on all the time, often in atrocious weather conditions, and this is a useful service that Coastal Command performs, among its other activities.
Coming to Transport Command, there will be certain improvements in our smaller aircraft which, if the Committee wishes, I shall be glad to deal with in detail later. During the current year the Command will receive the first of its order of 10 long-range freighter Belfasts and at the end of 1966 we shall get the first of our new VCIOs. Looking ahead to the introduction of these two aircraft, we are preparing Brize Norton, which was formerly a United States Air Force base, in Oxfordshire, as a new transport base for these aircraft.
The Comets and the Britannias will continue to operate from their own base at Lyneham and continue, in particular, to make a useful contribution to trooping in the Middle and the Far East. As the Committee knows, most of our trooping is done on charter either by the private companies or now by the nationalised airline corporations, but Transport Command also makes a useful contribution to trooping, up to about 15 per cent. of the total of Service men who are carried.
Frankly, this is not as high a figure as I expected, but the fact is that this is very much a secondary rôle for Transport Command. The primary rôle is to provide air mobility for our forces, but we are looking at the question whether 444 we can further utilise Transport Command for air trooping purposes.
As I have said, the primary rôle is to provide air mobility for our forces. The efficiency of operation of Transport Command was demonstrated on several occasions last year when troops and equipment were deployed swiftly in response to emergency situations in Cyprus, East Africa and British Guiana and reinforcements were also flown to Aden at the time of the Radfan operations and were and are to be flown to Malaysia in connection with the operations in Borneo.
This brings me to the question of the R.A.F. in its overseas commands. Obviously, I cannot deal with all the R.A.F. overseas commands, but I might mention, in particular, the Middle East which was a particularly active area over the last year, and, of course, the Far East, where the main operational task of the R.A.F. has been to provide logistic and tactical air support for ground forces which have been engaged in defending Malaya against Indonesian aggression. The total airlift between Singapore and Borneo over 12 months amounted to well over 20,000 men and nearly 5 million lb. of freight. It is no exaggeration to say, both in respect of airlift to the area of operations and the use of tactical transport forces in the operational area itself, that without them these operations could not take place a all. Transport Command has maintained a very high level of efficiency in extremely difficult conditions.
In Borneo and elsewhere there is extremely close and effective co-operation between all the Services and, in particular, between the R.A.F. and the Army. Those who have seen this at first-hand, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has done, are extremely impressed with the willing and active co-operation of the Services in this extremely difficult situation.
§ Mr. A. Royle
Could the hon. Gentleman say something about unaccompanied tours by R.A.F. personnel at overseas stations? As he knows, in El Adem there are accompanied tours, with all the expense of providing accommodation for wives and families. In the Maldive Islands the tours are unaccompanied, with no such expenditure, and the morale of the troops is high. Are the Government 445 considering this problem? It is important and could involve considerable saving.
§ Mr. Millan
We have it very much in mind. It is an extremely difficult problem. I know that unaccompanied tours, when, unfortunately, they are necessary, are not popular with the Service men concerned. If the hon. Member does not mind, I will deal with that when I wind up the debate, because anticipate that a number of hon. Members will want to raise similar points. I know that there is a good deal of feeling about it.
Finally, I should like to deal with the question of the new aircraft equipment programme. First of all, it is not possible for me to say a great deal more about the TSR2 at this stage. The R.A.F. requirement for a highly sophisticated strike and reconnaissance aircraft still stands but, as the Committee has already been informed, the costs of the TSR2 have risen to a very alarming degree.
The R and D costs, for example, have risen from about £90 million to nearly £300 million. The best estimate that we have, although even this estimate is many months out-of-date, of the cost of research, design and production is in the region of £750 million for 150 aircraft. Faced with this alarming cost it is prudent that the Government should he looking again at the whole question of TSR2 and the substitution of some other kind of aircraft for the rôle which we have in mind for this particular aircraft.
This further review—and I can assure hon. Members, having worked a little on it myself, that it is an extremely thorough review—is still going on at present. We realise that there is bound to be a certain amount of uncertainty, particularly among workers involved on the TSR2 at present, until the decision is finally taken. We are, therefore, pressing ahead with the evaluation of the situation, the consideration of a possible alternative, the various questions of costs, time-scale and serviceability and the rest, as quickly as possible, and we hope to announce a decision in the reasonably near future, though I cannot be precise about it.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman is trying to be fair in discus sing the TSR2, but my impression from his remarks is that we are going 446 through a softening-up process for an adverse decision. What the hon. Gentleman has told us about research and development costs we have been told before, but it would be interesting if he could elaborate about the capabilities and the way that the aircraft has performed even since the investigation started some weeks ago.
§ Mr. Millan
All this is being taken into account. I do not see why the hon. Gentleman should imagine that it is a softening-up process to point out that this aircraft is extremely expensive. No one disputes that this aircraft will cost £750 million—perhaps even more. This is not a softening-up process; this is giving the facts.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is it not fair to add that if it is cancelled none of the £300 million research and development bill will be recovered?
§ Mr. Millan
That is not true. Research and development is still going on at the moment. Without disclosing the figures, within the £300 million there is a large amount of money to be spent on research and development. Therefore, it is not a question of giving up the whole of the £300 million.
I will not tell the hon. Member what the exact figure is. I hope very much, and I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees, that when the whole thing is done we shall be able to give considerably more financial information. It is not £300 million. I agree very much with the sentiment which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has expressed on a number of other occasions, that we should have more information about these things.
To turn from the TSR2 to the question of Hunter replacement and the decision of the previous Administration to develop the P1154, I want to say something about the P1154 and the decision which the Government took to cancel it. It is not in dispute—I do not think that it ever has been—that the P1154 would have been an excellent aircraft, but I think that the Committee might well note the tense "would have been". It is not in existence at the moment. Part of the trouble was that it was not to be in existence for a considerable number of years yet. As well as the time-scale for deliveries we also, 447 of course, had to take account of the cost of the project.
The estimated research and development and production costs of the P1154 had continually risen over the last three years. Research and development costs had trebled and yet this was still at a very early stage of development. All our experience, unfortunately, led us to believe that the escalation in costs would continue.
But, of course, it was not just a question of cost and I hope that the Committee will understand this. It was also a question of time-scale. The P1154 was still at least six years away from squadron service and it would have been—and that is assuming, again, that there would have been no further delay in development—about eight years before all our squadrons were re-equipped with this aircraft.
Yet the P1154 was supposed to replace the Hunter, which entered service as long ago as 1954 and which is now ageing fast. Any one who has seen Hunters at close quarters knows that this is, unfortunately, true. The Hunter is an excellent aircraft, with good service behind it, but it is old and it is no kind of match for any potential or existing supersonic opponents. On military grounds, therefore, quite apart from financial considerations, we were compelled to reject the P1154.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
The hon. Gentleman talks about escalating costs, particularly in respect of research and development. Is he being completely fair to the Committee and the country? Is not he aware that the requirements are changing and that what the country gets, as a result of the escalating costs, is very often a quite different and very much better aircraft at the end of the day?
§ Mr. Millan
That, unfortunately, is not true. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that costs keep going up because the Air Staff continually increases and improves requirements. That just is not true, and the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone will be able to confirm me in saying so. That is not the basic reason for the escalation of costs. They have escalated even on the basis of operational requirements which have not been altered.
448 Faced with the position that the P1154 was unacceptable, we had to look for alternative aircraft and we have decided, as the Committee knows, on a mixture of the American Phantom and the British Kestrel, the P1127. The Phantom, as everyone agrees, is an excellent aircraft. I have seen nothing in the recent controversies about the decision that suggests that it is not excellent. It is excellent in the air defence rôle, has an extremely good attack capability and by the time we receive it further improvements will have been incorporated.
The Phantom will be superior to anything similar in service in the world today and, of course, the last Government admitted that when they decided to buy it for the Navy. If the Phantom has a fault at all—and this is not, indeed, a fault in the true sense—it is not the most suitable aircraft for providing really close support for the Army. Here, of course, the P1127 meets the need because it has V./S.T.O.L. characteristics.
Some hon. Members opposite—and the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone has been party to this—have been making irresponsible statements about the P1127 being some kind of a toy which is not really a military aircraft at all. It is admitted, and I have no difficulty in admitting, that, as it stands at the moment, it is not a satisfactory military aircraft for the requirements we have. But then it was never meant to be. It is a tripartite evaluation aircraft and it is extremely successful from that point of view. Of course, it will require a considerable amount of development, but we are confident that it can be developed into an extremely effective aircraft by the end of the decade. It can be put into squadron service then as an extremely good fighting weapon which is able to operate from forward strips in close support of the Army and to deliver a considerable punch from a selection of armaments—air to ground rockets, guns, bombs and other weapons.
There is another aspect of it that I would mention. There are quite good export prospects for the P1127 and this, unfortunately, has not been true of other military aircraft that we have developed over the last decade. For example, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he held his talks with the Federal 449 German Chancellor the other day, included the question of the export of the P1127 and, obviously, we are at an extremely early stage. But I say that there are better export prospects for the P1127 than there were for the P1154 or other aircraft that the Government have discontinued.
§ Mr. A. Royle
I am a little puzzled. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that the P1154 would not be ready for service until 1971, in about six years. Now he says that the aircraft chosen, the P1127, will not be ready for five years, until 1970. There seems to be little difference between the two in time-scale.
§ Mr. Millan
The hon. Gentleman is forgetting that the Phantom will be ready long before that. We did not replace the P1154 by the P1127. We are replacing it with a combination of the Phantom and the P1127 and the Phantom will be available before the P1127.
§ Mr. Millan
The Phantom is not completely incapable of giving close support to the Army. I simply say that the P1127 is better from that point of view.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
When does the hon. Gentleman expect to introduce the Phantom with the Spey engine into squadron service?
§ Mr. Millan
I cannot give an exact date at the moment, because the negotiations with the Americans, particularly for the installation of the Spey engine, are still going on. But it will be long before the P1154 would have been available as the Hunter replacement. We are thinking in terms of 1967–68 rather than the early 1970s, which would have been the case with the P1154.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
What sort of forecast of escalating cost has the hon. Gentleman made in the case of the P1127?
§ Mr. Millan
It is at a very early stage of development. We are calculating what it will cost for the developed version. It is bad enough having to calculate escalating cost when the project is going on without having to do so right at the beginning, when we have only just decided to develop the aircraft. But we 450 have every intention of seeing that the cost scale we have laid down for the P1127 is adhered to over the next few years; and if we manage to do that it will be something that the last Government did not do either with the P1154 or with any other aircraft.
There is now a greater cost consciousness not only in the Defence Department and the Ministry of Aviation, but also throughout the aircraft industry, because the industry understands that it is dealing with a Government who will not allow a repetition of the disastrous escalations of cost experienced over the last few years, particularly in respect of projects which we have had to cancel.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Could the hon. Gentleman explain a point on which he has left us dangling in mid-air? He has dropped a broad hint that the Prime Minister has been able to interest the West German Government in the P1127. That is an extremely important statement, which has just been, as it were, pushed to the side. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to be very careful about this, but I would like to know whether he could give us any further reason why the Germans might prefer the P1127 to the other project that they were just as interested in until it was cancelled?
§ Mr. Millan
Because it will be a jolly sight cheaper and will be available sooner. It is not correct of the hon. Gentleman to sugest that the Germans have just become interested in the P1127 because, of course, West Germany was one of the three nations involved in the tripartite evaluation. There is thus a basic interest already. The Germans know some of the capabilities of the present aircraft and something of what we intend to do in developing it over the next few years.
§ Mr. Millan
I have spoken for a very long time and I have been interrupted quite a lot. I must say something about the C130. I see that that meets with general assent, at least on the Front Bench opposite.
I want now to say something about the Hastings/Beverley replacement, a medium-range, transport aircraft, for 451 which the previous Government had planned to use the HS681 which has been cancelled, the present Government deciding, instead, to buy the United States C130. Since this decision has been criticised in more exaggerated, extravagant and inaccurate terms than any other decision which the Government have made about aircraft, I should like to say one or two things about it and to give one or two facts about the C130 and the background to the decision to go for it instead of the HS681.
The firm operational requirement for the Hastings/Beverley replacement was first issued by the previous Government in 1961, and it was then intended that the new aircraft would be in operation by 1968, or even earlier. In fact, about three years elapsed from the date of the operational requirement until the issue of the firm requirement and the decision to go for the full development of the HS681. In that period, the estimated R and D costs had doubled and the unit costs had also greatly increased. Even worse than that, it had become clear that the HS681 could not be in full service before 1971 or 1972, and even then it would have started life without its short take-off characteristics. It was true of the HS681 as of the P1154—that it was not just a matter of costs alone, although they were disastrous enough, but also the time scale. It was, therefore, impossible for the Government to proceed with the HS681.
We decided to go for the American C130E. There has been a good deal of loose talk about this being an obsolete aircraft, and I want to give some of the facts about it. First, the version of the C130E which the R.A.F. will be taking will be the same as that now being introduced by the United States Air Force. One of the troubles has been that there are different versions of the C130, but the R.A.F. will be getting the same as the new and improved version which the United States Air Force is to introduce as from next month, not the other version of the C130 which has been in operation in the United States for about—
§ Mr. Millan
I shall give way at the end of the sentence.
452 It is not the same aircraft as that which is in operation with the United States Air Force at the moment, but is the improved developed version which is only now coming into operation in the United States.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That statement presumably means that for the first time the Government have announced a decision to take this aircraft with American rather than British engines.
§ Mr. Millan
No, it does not mean that. If the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to finish, I was about to say that it still has to be decided whether we shall take the C130E with the present American engines, which are the Allison J15 engines, or to go for the Rolls-Royce Tyne engines, and this decision is being evaluated. The Rolls-Royce Tyne engine is also extremely effective and there would be no question of reducing the capability of the C130E by the installation of the Tyne as compared with the Allison.
§ Mr. Millan
It will not have the very short takeoff characteristics of the HS681, but we have never pretended that it would. It does not need a concrete runway and can take off from a graded earth surface. We have made a careful analysis of all the available air strips in various parts of the world where we are likely to operate with the C130E and we have concluded that in most instances it could operation within 100 nautical miles of the scene of any likely ground operations.
Thus, the absence of a S.T.O.L. capability is not a serious deficiency in present circumstances. Obviously, other things being equal, one would want to go for a short takeoff capability, but other things are not equal. As the Prime Minister pointed out, the HS681 cost three times as much as the C130E, so that it is unequal in that respect for a start.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman said that the type of engine for the C130E had not yet been decided. Can he confirm the information, which I have received this week, that if Her Majesty's Government insist, as we hope they will, on the Rolls-Royce engine for this aircraft, there will be an additional charge of 500,000 dollars to cover the modification of the engine installation?
§ Mr. Millan
That is not accurate information. The whole thing is being evaluated at the moment, but I want to say quite frankly to the Committee that taking an American aircraft and putting British parts into it must mean some cost penalty. This is also true of the Phantom. In some cases it can be serious and in others less serious, but there is obviously a cost penalty once one starts "mucking about" with any aircraft.
The fact is that the C130E, from every point of view, is a perfectly adequate aircraft for the kind of tasks which the R.A.F. wants it to do, and as it is already in service with the U.S.A.F. we shall not have the same difficulties about teething troubles and will be able to get a much quicker and concentrated build-up because of the large American production line. The C130E—and this may dispose of some of the arguments about its being obsolete—is the same type of aircraft as has been ordered by the Australians and New Zealanders and in many situations this would be an extremely useful advantage.
§ Mr. Millan
I cannot give way any more. I shall be winding up the debate and shall be pleased to answer questions then.
To sum up the aircraft programme, under the plans of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the R.A.F. would soon have been trying to fly and maintain obsolete, vulnerable aircraft right at the end of their lives and there would have been a fantastic expenditure on replacements bunched in the years 1970 to 1974. No right hon. Gentleman opposite who was in the previous Government and knows the facts has ever disputed that there would have been this bunching of expenditure at the end of this decade.
As it is, with the P1127, the Phantom and the C130E, not forgetting the Comet replacement for the Shackleton, the R.A.F. will be receiving first-class aircraft more than adequate for the tasks it will be, called upon to perform, and will be receiving them in time and at a cost the nation can afford.
It is a grave disservice to the R.A.F. to suggest, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been suggesting over the past few weeks, that the R.A.F. has been palmed 454 off with second-class, inadequate aircraft. That is not so and that kind of thing causes a considerable amount of offence within the R.A.F. where the people who have to fly the aircraft know the situation a good deal more intimately, and from personal experience, than hon. Members opposite.
In many respects the R.A.F. is in excellent shape. I have already mentioned the very satisfactory recruitment figures and some of the Government's plans for equipment. When the defence review now going on is complete, the essential tasks of the Service over the next decade will be clearly defined. Over the last 10 years, the R.A.F. has suffered more than anything else from the frequent changes of policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite and, particularly in the last few years, from indecision and from delays in making decisions of any sort.
What the R.A.F. requires more than anything else is a precise statement of the job it is expected to do set in the context of a clear worldwide defence policy and a knowledge of the kind of weapons and aircraft it will have to do the job. That is the Government's task. That is what we are working on, and we are pursuing it with every possible vigour.
May I end on a note with which hon. Members on both sides will agree. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. We all have special reason to feel proud of and grateful to the R.A.F. To repeat what I said at the beginning, the same spirit and high standard which was a feature of the R.A.F. in 1940 is still a feature of the R.A.F. in 1965. It is the job of the Government to harness this spirit and high standards of efficiency to see that the Service has the weapons and equipment which will enable it to do the job which we place on it. This, in sum, is what the Government are pledged to do.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I am sure that the Committee will wish to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on the admirably lucid, fluent and competent manner in which he presented the Estimates. Those of us who have had anything to do with the R.A.F. in years past, in whatever capacity, will not be 455 surprised by his references to the Service or at his feeling of pride in taking over his present responsibilities. He has a heavy day before him. As he explained, owing to the fact that his titular master is in another place, he will be winding up the debate tonight. I hope that he will be able to deal with the questions which, no doubt, my hon. Friends will wish to raise, primarily as a result of his speech.
May I make a general comment on what the Under-Secretary of State said. It sounded a little like the first paragraph of the Defence White Paper. He blamed the previous Administration for lack of policy decisions about the rôle, size and shape of the R.A.F., but offered no solutions of his own. Nor did he indicate the Government's views on these major questions or say whether they have changed in any sense. He told us very little which was new. He said very little which we did not know already from the previous debates. I should have thought that, in view of the upheavals which have been caused in the R.A.F. by the cancellation of some of the projects, we would have had a little more information and justification for those decisions from the Government.
This debate primarily is about money. As the Under-Secretary of State said, we are concerned with the tidy sum of £562 million. In dealing with sums of this magnitude, obviously all of us must be concerned to see that, in so far as it lies within our power, we get value for the money which we shall be voting this evening. As the hon. Gentleman indicated in the account which he gave of the wide variety of tasks which the R.A.F. is called upon to discharge, there is very little room for manoeuvre. The pay and conditions must he as good as we can make them. The hon. Gentleman said that about 46 per cent. of the present Estimate is in respect of personnel. The Deputy Secretary of State made a valid comment in this Committee on Monday when he indicated how much of the expenditure on the defence Estimates would fall on other Votes, social services and other departmental requirements if our defence forces were not of the size and strength that they are.
There is another reason why there is comparatively little room for manoeuvre, 456 even when contemplating a sum of this magnitude. As long as Britain's interests and obligations are world-wide—and that will continue to be the case for years—there will always be a need for overseas bases, overseas supply depots and refuelling posts. We cannot simply contract out of these responsibilities, close down these overseas bases, and draw in our horns as though we were a snail content to live in the security of our shell.
It is our duty to question, probe and seek information. Of necessity, these questions will be somewhat superficial. Since the Government have made great point in beating Mr. McNamara's drum about giving a lot of information, I think that they could have done better than this, even in the short time available to them. After thirteen years in opposition and of studying these things, they keep to the same old pattern. These are the people who year after year pestered the then Government for not giving sufficient information to hon. Members. Now, we have no information, and it is virtually impossible to find one's way through these complex Estimates. I speak as one who served for a number of years on Estimates Sub-Committee G where we had some training in these matters. We must consider this question very seriously. The Government must give a great deal more information to the Committee in the years ahead, should they have the chance to do so, and make sure that it is factually presented in a clear-cut and readily understandable manner.
There are other reasons why there is little room for manoeuvre, but these no doubt will be deployed by my hon. Friends.
I welcome the effort being made to try to reduce costs and to make economies. The Under-Secretary of State was right when he said how keen the Service is to introduce cost-saving practices and to reduce expenditure wherever possible. One instance of this lies in logistic and supply services where the cost increasingly is being shared between the three arms of the defence forces. A similar example is in the organisation of health facilities, hospitals and education. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) will deal with these points at greater length and will have a number of questions to put to the hon. Gentleman which I hope he will be able to answer.
457 I welcome the new procedures to examine cost effectiveness and the functional costing proposals which have logically grown out of the move made by the previous Government to centralise the defence organisation. This will help to give a truer picture of the nature of these expenditures and must lead to the elimination of unnecessary expenditure which certainly takes place in any vast arganisation such as this.
We welcome, naturally, the establishment at Byfleet of the Defence Operational Analysis Centre, but I want to give word of warning. The hon. Gentleman spoke about computers. They are complex machines. Computers, slide-rules and the gamut of new techniques for analysis and evaluation are fine and necessary. But they must be properly used and the answers which they give must be properly evaluated. They cannot do away all together with the need for clear-cut thinking and decision by those for whom these instruments provide the information. They must not become the masters.
One thing which I fear is that some of the processes which are being introduced, necessary though they are for the purpose of achieving economies and avoiding unnecessary expenditure, could conceivably become obstacles to the development of desirable and necessary weapon systems or might even introduce elements of delay which would hold up these necessary processes. At least, the people who man the centres, the experts in charge of the proceedings, the equivalent, presumably, of Mr. McNamara's "whizz-kids", must not overrule the considered judgment and professional expertise of the heads of Services.
In any event, the heads of Services are in danger—too much, I think—of being swallowed up in the central machine. They are not responsible for the policy decisions of the Government. We must try to keep them as far outside politics as possible. There has been a tendency, I recognise, on both sides of the Committee, to call them in aid whenever it has been desirable to do so and to quote them as supporting the particular views of the Minister at the time. Since I have been holding this responsibility from the Opposition side, I have found that many friends, heads of commands in the Royal Air Force, are taboo, almost 458 unapproachable people; they seem to go into purdah. That is carrying diffidence and respect towards the political masters a little bit too far. I will not stress the point beyond saying that they are serving officers and not civil servants. Their job is fighting. The job of the Royal Air Force is to fight.
Our Air Force exists to defend the country, to protect it from the threat of nuclear attack, to provide air cover and close support for the other two Services and to ensure the maximum degree of mobility for the forces as a whole. In short, wherever speed, flexibility and striking power are essential, the Royal Air Force must be ready to act in a host of different ways and to meet a wide variety of demands.
To discharge those tasks effectively in the future, the Royal Air Force will inevitably need new, increasingly complex, and, therefore, more costly equipment. The art of defence is growing the whole time. Therefore, the power of penetration must grow with it. The task of the planners is to foresee the developments in defence and to forestall them with new developments in attack.
I welcome, therefore, the establishment of the Operational Requirements Committee. I am sure that it will help a great deal in avoiding duplication and in assessing the requirements of the Service. I hope, however, that this Committee will not take too short-term an outlook, because weapons systems, as the Minister well knows, take many years to develop and, therefore, there is a great need always to anticipate the nature of the job which the Service will be called upon to perform several years, if not a decade or more, in advance of the time of the fixing of the operational requirement.
It was because they clearly foresaw the great strides that will be taken in the techniques of defence that the last Government opted for even more advanced systems of attack. That was why the decision was taken to go ahead with the HS681, the P1154 and the TSR2. These weapons systems and aircraft have been attacked and pilloried by hon. Members opposite, not merely since they came into power, but long before. They attacked them when they were in Opposition, as they have done since the election, for being too expensive. But they are extremely complex. Hon. 459 Members opposite have attacked them for being too sophisticated, but so will be the nature of the operations which they will be called upon to fulfil. An extremely sophisticated requirement must lead to the development of extremely sophisticated machinery, which inevitably will be costly. Hon. Members opposite delude themselves if they imagine that they can find substantial savings in the equipment required by the Royal Air Force to meet the operational task which it will be called upon to discharge and, at the same time, ensure an efficient fighting Service.
As the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force knows, the HS681 was designed as a tactical jet transport. It would have had outstanding short-field performance and carried a heavy payload. It was due, as the hon. Gentleman said, in the 1970 time-scale. I merely interject that we do not want to be too fixed by any particular year when forecasting the time when an aircraft is coming into service. I do not intend to lecture, but I think that it would be better in future to talk about a time-scale covering a period of years, because this is much more pertinent to the nature of the problems that these aircraft are designed to meet.
The HS681 would have lent itself readily to conversion to vertical take-off and landing capacity. This meant that it had a considerable development capacity. This type of development was extremely important, because the purpose of the aircraft would have been to give transport support, spares support and logistics support to v.t.o. fighter aircraft such as the P1154. This we have lost. Whilst the Under-Secretary understandably talks about bonus in terms of cost, what he has not emphasised is the deficit incurred in performance. It is easy to get something cheaper if the requirement is down-graded, and that is what the Government have done.
The large freight hold of the HS681 was specifically designed to accommodate the bulk of army vehicles and equipment. Inevitably, I am certain, within the time scale for which this aircraft was designed, in spite of, if not because of, the fact the Government have now ordered the Hercules, the Royal Air Force will be requiring a jet transport with very short 460 field capabilities, if not with v.t.o. capacity.
It was the Deputy Secretary of State and Minister of Defence for the Army who last year, when debating the Air Estimates on 1st March, wagged a finger at my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), who had introduced the Estimates and referring to the HS681 said:I hope that it will not be another six years before we get this welcome addition to our transport capability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 1161.]Now, the right hon. Gentleman has cancelled it. In its place he and his colleagues have ordered the Hercules, the C130E, an aircraft which has been studied time after time and has in each case been rejected as not being suitable for the requirements of the Royal Air Force. This is the only point at which the hon. Gentleman gave us any new information. He said that this was not the C130E as such. It is a newly-developed version of it.
There are an awful lot of Hercules aircraft. I have a list of some of them. All I know is that the original Hercules type from which this version has been stretched was the result of a specification prepared by the United States Air Force Tactical Air Command in 1951. The C130E is an extended range version of the C130B, which first flew in 1958. Incidentally, ten of the C130B version were delivered to the Indonesian Air Force and seven to the South African Air Force, so we are in very good company thanks to the Government's decision.
The C130E version first flew in 1961 and deliveries to the United States Air Force first began in April, 1962. This aircraft, therefore, is not just coming into service. The hon. Gentleman tells us, however, that this aircraft which we are to have is not, in fact, the C130E. Does it have a different label attached to it? It will be very confusing if we talk about a stepped-up version of the C130E and have to refer to it constantly as the C130E when it is something different. It is just as well to get the point clear. If the hon. Gentleman can return to it in his winding-up speech, it would be helpful if he were to tell us in what respects—in range and payload, for example—the new version differs from the C130E, whose performance figures we have.
§ Mr. Lubbock
How can the Minister say any thing about the capabilities of the C130E when he has told us this afternoon that he does not even know what engines will be put into it?
§ Sir J. Eden
I was coming to that. I was referring, of course, to the C130E which is in service with the United States Air Force. But coming to the point which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has just mentioned, why has no decision been made about the engine? What is it that is holding up the right hon. Gentleman? Was not this decision taken before the original agreement was signed? This is what I find extremely difficult, what I think the whole Committee finds difficult, to understand. Are we being led to believe that the Secretary of State for Defence announced a decision to purchase this and other aircraft before the technical details had been arranged? I agree very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said in an intervention earlier on, that this must give rise to a great cleat of doubt not only as to cost, whether there are any cost penalties imposed on us by Lockheed's if we do not take the aircraft exactly as it now stands, but also as to performance and as to the time scale. Will the hon. Gentleman give us more information? What number is the R.A.F. to have? What is the anticipated cost of each aircraft? Are we or are we not going to get an early decision on the type of engine which will be fitted to our version of the C130?
Again, I noted that, perhaps understandably, the hon. Gentleman said nothing about the Belfast. But why not? Surely the R.A.F. will have considered the potentiality of the Belfast in this regard. In most of its performance data it is equal or superior to the Hercules, and its carrying capacity is greater and, therefore, a smaller number of that aircraft would have been required.
Turning to the P1154, I regard the cancellation of this project as a tragedy. It is a tragedy for the aircraft industry, and it is a tragedy also for the Royal Air Force. It would have put the Royal Air Force streets ahead of any other air force in the world. We have, as a result of this decision, in one blow lost years of development of this new technique, in which we led the field, and it has resulted in the dispersal of the world's most 462 famous design team under Sir Sydney Camm, and once men like these men leave the area in which they have been working it will never be possible to bring them together again.
Of course, I and every hon. Member on this side of the Committee wish the P1127 every possible success. The hon. Gentleman said that it is going to be ready in 1970 and that the 1154 would have been ready in 1971. Even making an allowance about the exact year, even allowing that it would have been 1972, there is no justification here for the time gap argument which the Government have been pressing on us about the P1154. Here again the argument, apparently, is about cost, but the P1127 is now subsonic. It is not designed, or equipped even, to carry any weapons system. It will probably have to be stretched. If it is going to be upgraded into a supersonic version, how will it ultimately differ from what the P1154 would have been in the first instance? What will be the extra consequences or penalties of this development, which must take place, of the P1127 in terms of cost and in terms of time scale and in terms of delay? Will not this completely erode the so-called gap to which the hon. Gentleman referred?
Naturally, we hope for overseas sales of this aircraft, and we would look automatically not only to Germany but to the United States of America as being customers for this particular aircraft—
§ Sir J. Eden
—because, as the hon. Gentleman said, they have been partners with us in the tripartite evaluation of this technique. I agree very much with the views which were expressed last year in this Committee, that we really must press the United States of America to buy British aircraft, as well as to sell American aircraft to this country.
This was put strongly by the Deputy Secretary of State last year, when he said:It was a great pity … that before arranging to buy United States aircraft we did not make arrangements of a bilateral character whereby America would buy, or at least contribute to the development of, aircraft here."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 1162.]I absolutely agree with that sentiment, and I send it back to the right hon. 463 Gentleman with interest. If he held those views then, he had every reason to make and he should have made every possible effort to ensure that we got some bilateral agreement out of the United States of America on this question before jeopardising the lead we had, and have had for so many years, in vertical takeoff capacity, and taking the Phantom from the United States industry.
Turning to Phantoms, I agree with the hon. Gentleman in making it quite clear that they are fine aircraft. They are. They are wonderful aircraft, capable of speeds perhaps greater than Mach 2. They were the aircraft which the Paymaster-General last year described as wonderful but essentially interim aircraft. If this is an interim aircraft, then we shall want to know exactly what the long-term replacement of this is to be when it comes into service. What version of Phantom II is the R.A.F. to get? The hon. Gentleman referred to the Hercules C130E. He said it was not the C130E, that it was something better than the C130E, but he did not specify what type of Phantom II we were going to get—and there are a lot of Phantom IIs available in different versions. Will this be the RF4C version? Is this to be the reconnaissance version? Or is it going to be a fighter-bomber version? If it is a fighter-bomber version-and incidentally this will interest the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—if this is what we are going to get, it is capable of carrying 16,000 lb. of nuclear and conventional bombs. No doubt the hon. Member will support this decision of the Government.
But what exactly is the version we are to have? What is the range of the aircraft? The range of the earlier version which I have mentioned is public knowledge. We would wish to know what is the range of this aircraft we are going to get. Is it the intention to equip it with the Spey engine similar to that with which the naval version is to be equipped? Incidentally, referring to the time scale, the hon. Gentleman said this would come completely into service—if I understood him aright, and I hope he will interrupt me if I am wrong—by 1967 or 1968.
§ Mr. Millan
I said it would be coming into service. I did not make any commitment at all as to the total delivery date.
§ Sir J. Eden
So we take it this one would come in about 1967 or 1968, but the remainder would come in some time later.
This is the point I want to make here. We cannot, on the one hand, refer to the time scale, by specifying a year of entry into service of the first batch, for the benefit of the Government when introducing their own choice, and then attack the previous Administration by picking a particular year at which the whole lot would have been in service. There is a bit of juggling here of which the Committee needs to be aware. That is why I think it is much better to concentrate on the time scale rather than fix any particular year. On this point, the hon. Gentleman will know that the time scale of introduction of the Phantom with the Spey engine for the Navy is the latter part of 1968. So how we are going to get the R.A.F. version, perhaps with a Spey or perhaps without a Spey, before the naval version which was ordered before I shall be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Millan
So far as delivery rates are concerned, of course the Phantom will come in at a rate very much quicker than could have been possible with the P1154. Apart from anything else, they will be coming from a very much larger production line in the United States. One of our difficulties has been, even with British aircraft, arranging delivery periods at the rate of delivery. With the Phantom we shall get a better rate of delivery. In fact, the first will be roughly simultaneous with the production of the naval version.
§ Sir J. Eden
I marvel at the way in which the hon. Gentleman can be quite so categorical when no decision has been taken yet about the engine to be fitted into this aircraft.
§ Mr. Millan
I do not want to keep interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but there is no doubt about the engine for the Phantom. It was announced by the Prime Minister, in the debate, I think, in December, or later. But the engine is to be the Spey engine. There is no doubt about that.
§ Sir J. Eden
Will that be fitted here? These are points which perhaps the hon. Gentleman cannot answer completely. The fitting of new or different types of engines to this aircraft is bound to delay it entry into service, and this process is bound to erode the time gap, which is one of the principal charges which the Government have levied against the previous Administration.
The hon. Gentleman has not told us what is to be the rôle of the Phantom when operating in conjunction with the P1127. Is this to be a ground attack aircraft? If so, what is the nature of its armoury? Is it going to have American weapons, or is it going to be equipped with the AS30, the air to surface missile? Can the hon. Gentleman give us some information about the numbers, about the cost, and about the time scale to which I have referred?
I have emphasised the importance of getting more information about these aircraft, and I am sure that I carry the Committee with me in pressing for this. In doing so, I echo the words of the Minister of Defence for the Army, because last year he said:What will be the size of the aircraft bill in future years? The orders have been placed, but we have been given no indication of the financial commitment involved. It is pointless having a. debate about the cost of the Air Force and being asked to approve Estimates unless we get this kind of information."—[OFFICLAL, REPORT, 3rd March, 1964, Vol. 690, cc. 1161–2.]This is the kind of information which the Committee ought to have, and indeed must have, if it is to judge fairly and properly, not only the amount of money involved in these Estimates, but whether we are getting value for money in terms of the efficiency of the Royal Air Force.
I think that we are getting remarkably little information. Even when my hon. Friends and I table Questions to the Secretary of State for Defence to get this information we get what amounts to a virtual brush-off. We get no information from asking Questions. I think that the period of purdah is over. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends can now come out from behind their veils of discretion and give the Committee and the country a litle more information. It is important, not merely for our benefit, but for the benefit of the Services and the taxpayers of this country that the 466 Government should provide us with as much information as is possible within the limitations of security.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the gap, as I have done, and attacked the HS681 and the P1154 for coming into service too late, but it is always possible to prevent a gap. There is no merit in stopping a gap. It can be done by ordering more aircraft, and by shopping around and purchasing from other nations, as the Government are doing. Otherwise, there will always be a certain risk of a gap. It is not the present gap, or the gap which the Government are now apparently attempting to fill, which is the really worrying aspect of the matter. What I think is dangerous is that the Government's decision has been not so much to purchase interim aircraft, but to cancel the next generation of aircraft on which the future of the Royal Air Force depends, and it is the future with which my hon. Friends and I are concerned.
That leads me, inevitably, to comment on the position in which the TSR2 finds itself, thanks to the inability of the Government to come to a decision. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have very little idea of what lies behind the initials TSR2. They have no idea how many years of imaginative planning and skilful design work have gone into this complex weapon system. The TSR2 was designed as long ago as 1958 with two specific rôles in mind—tactical strike with a wide range of weapons, and reconnaissance. The reconnaissance equipment is designed to be effective at all altitudes, and in any kind of weather. The aircraft is capable of high speed at very low altitudes. It has an automatic terrain following device which enables it to approach a target while keeping below the enemy's radar. Its performance is not matched by any other known aircraft in the world.
The TSR2 would be of particular value in Europe, and it was designed primarily for this rôle. The central region of Europe is the danger spot in the N.A.T.O. defence system. Much has been made recently in our defence debates of the prospect of greater conflict in the Far East, and less in Europe, and I agree with that, but we should not underestimate the need to counter the strong threat of Soviet and satellite tactical air forces which are mounted in the central region of Europe.
467 This is where R.A.F. Germany plays a most important part. This section of the Royal Air Force is capable of a number of rôles—air defence, reconnaissance, conventional attack, and nuclear strike. Although it is tactical by nature, the Royal Air Force in Germany has this nuclear capability which makes it an integral part of the Western nuclear defence, and it is in this rôle perhaps more than in any other that the TSR2 would be of such great significance. This aircraft could also be used in the Far East, because it has built into it a long ferry range. It is capable of deep penetration, and it is easily maintained.
Those are points worth emphasising, because the aircraft, together with all its equipment and weapons, has been designed as one complete unit. That is why the costs are particularly high. Every component part has been specifically designed for this aircraft, and the cost of the design of all these new techniques goes to the TSR2. This point is recognised in the Estimates, and it ought to be recognised openly by Government spokesmen in future, because we are getting an aircraft which is new from nose tip to tail in all its instruments and systems, and this naturally means a higher total cost.
This is the weapon system of the future, and it was knowledge of this particular weapon system which caused the United States to rush through the construction of the TFX. The performance of the TSR2 at low levels will be infinitely superior to that of the TFX. That it is living up to its high expectations is clear from what the test pilot who has been controlling the development of this aircraft system and who has been in charge of the test flights had to say. Wing Commander Beamont has given the TSR2 the highest praise that it is possible for a test pilot to give a newly developed aircraft.
There was a rather interesting news item in Flight of 4th March, 1965. It said:Cancellation of Wing Commander Beamont's Barnwell Memorial Lecture on the TSR2 is understood to have been at the M.o.A's request. TSR2 tests have been very successful to date, but the Government does not seem anxious to publicise the fact.Why is there this conspiracy on the part of the Government against one of the 468 finest technological achievements of the aircraft industry? In presenting these Estimates to the Committee, and in talking about the future equipment of the R.A.F., why did not the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity of giving the Committee specific and detailed information about the success of the TSR2? There is something very mysterious indeed about the attitude of the Government to this weapon system. Or perhaps it is not so mysterious. Perhaps, after all, they are concerned not so much with providing the necessary equipment as with playing politics with those instruments under development. This aircraft has been designed with future conflicts in mind. Those who drew up the original specification did a brilliant piece of work.
I ask this question specifically, and I hope that the hon. Member will devote attention to it in winding up: has there been any change in the operational requirement since October? Has any such change been brought to the hon. Member's attention by the Air Staff, or anybody else in the Services, which now lead the Government to feel that the requirements out of which the TSR2 has been developed are now not necessarily so stringent and can be down-graded? What are the changes, if any, that have taken place since then? If there are no changes in the projected operational requirement for which this aircraft was specifically designed, the Government must come to a decision to back it and bring it into service as soon as possible.
What matters with an aircraft of this type, as with the aircraft in the V-bomber force, is that it provides the fighting man with the certainty of a strike. The philosophy behind the TSR2 is the philosophy of "one sortie—one strike." This applies equally to the V-bomber force. What really matters there is the "bomb-on-target" capability of each aircraft. This led the previous Administration to upgrade the performance of the V-bomber. These bombers now have the advanced type of Blue Steel weapon. The V-bomber force as a whole—as we heard from the hon. Member—is equipped with the Mark II version of the V-bomber. They have low-level capability. Does not the hon. Member, if not his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, agree that here, in the V-bomber force, the Royal Air Force and the 469 defence forces of this country have the finest weapon to hand that it is possible to conceive of at this time?
Will not he pay tribute to the work of those who serve in the V-bomber force and who spend long days and nights constantly at the ready manning this vital fleet of aircraft for the benefit of this country and Western defence as a whole? I cannot understand why the Secretary of State has decided—as apparently is the case—to split up the V-bomber force. He refers to the irrevocable assignment of part of the V-bomber force to the proposed Atlantic nuclear force. The other part he will assign to duties of a less arduous nature in the Far East. He is splitting up the V-bomber force, which is the very antithesis of the way in which a bomber force should be used. The great value of such a force is that it shall be concentrated where it is needed. For this purpose those who control our defences must retain control over its deployment, otherwise it ceases to have any value or merit for us.
Can the Minister give us a little more information about the progress that is being made in bringing the Mark I V-bombers to service with SACEUR, in place of the Valiants? This decision should have been taken straight away. It is something that we could well do. These aircraft are available, and they would be appreciated in SACEUR, where the Valiants in the past have played a significant rôle..
In the case of these aircraft, the TSR2, V-bombers or whatever they may be, survival and effectiveness are the keys. The prerequisite for new aircraft is that they should be capable of doing the job required. When we talk about value for money, I hope the Committee will recognise that the main value for money lies in the accomplishment of the rôle.. That is why we are pressing the Government to keep the TSR2. That is the decision we want the Government to take, because we fear the gap that is forming, not immediately but in the 1970s, for which this weapon system was primarily designed.
I turn now to the question of the Shackleton replacement. We are grateful that this has been ordered from British industry, but how has this decision been 470 arrived at? What is the nature of the alteration which will have to take place to the Comet? Will the aircraft have the necessary hover capacity which our Coastal Command aircraft need? Will it be equipped with a by-pass engine? How long will this new development take? I do not wish in any sense to damn this aircraft, but it smells slightly of being political in nature. It appears to have been devised in order to provide work for a certain aircraft firm rather than to meet the operational requirements of the Royal Air Force. Why was the decision not taken to go for the Breguet Atlantique?
Since the Government revised the decision on the Comet we have heard a lot about the need to co-operate with the French. I was glad to hear the announcement of the Secretary of State that in conjunction with the French Air Staff we are looking closely into the possibility of developing an advanced jet trainer and/or a two-seater fighter for naval or ground attack, with variable sweep. Perhaps the Minister can give the Committee more information about this later on.
§ Mr. Millan
It seems odd that the hon. Member is now complaining that in this case we have bought a British aircraft—the Comet. He apparently thinks that we should have bought a foreign aircraft. The previous complaint has been that we have been buying foreign aircraft instead of British. I do not know what the hon. Member wants, unless it is to complain about every decision the Government have taken.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Member misunderstands my point. What I have been complaining about throughout is the persistent downgrading of the operational requirement, for which the Government have been responsible. It was the down-grading of the operational requirement which led them to accept the P1127 instead of the P1154, the Hercules instead of the 681, and this type of aircraft instead of the type to which I was referring previously, namely, the Breguet Atlantique. That is my only point in that connection.
I will leave references to Transport Command to be made later on by my hon. Friends. I would only emphasise that it is desperately important for us 471 to maintain our capacity to meet the future requirement for rapid deployment, speedy reinforcement and logistical support of our forces.
The hon. Member referred to the fall in the number of men coming into the Service. He said that this was planned, in spite of the strain which the new Borneo emergency has placed upon them. Is there any difficulty in getting pilots into the Service? I know that we are getting the right quality, but at that right quality—which should not be debased under any circumstances—are we getting the number of pilots we require?
On recruitment generally, there is a matter which the Government must decide upon very early. In the retired pay and pensions of officers and men who have already left the Service there are far too many codes in being at present. Another code is due to be introduced at any moment. Surely, if the Government are not able to go the whole way towards parity, at least they could bring all the preceding codes up to the 1956 code level. I hope that we shall have some indication of what is in the Government's mind before very long on the question of retired pay.
The whole Committee will welcome the establishment of the Templer Committee, which includes a most distinguished airman, Sir Dennis Barnett, who has served the country well already in a number of notable capacities. This important Committee is investigating the economic use of air power. This is probably the most important decision which has been taken and, perhaps more than any other, will contribute to a more efficient use of air weapons.
I am glad the Government have made clear that they are not going to amalgamate the three Services completely and that they will preserve the separate identity of each one. This clearly indicates that there is a great future ahead for the youngest of the three Services.
I am sure I speak for the whole Committee, and indeed for all taxpayers, when I say to the men and women of the Royal Air Force, "Though the cost may run into many millions, as it does, we readily vote you the sum, knowing that you will continue honourably and effectively to discharge your tasks in the interests of the country and in the cause 472 of peace". That is what the Royal Air Force stands for. The manner in which they have discharged these rôles in the recent past has met with the admiration of every hon. Member in the Committee. We look to the Government to continue to support them and provide them with the weapons systems which their task requires.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I join with the hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Sir J. Eden) in the congratulations he extended to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. During the last 15 years I have taken part in many debates on the Air Estimates. We have had a succession of Service Ministers who read out the Service brief composed by someone in the Air Ministry. These Ministers were very agreeable people, but they always seemed to be of the same type. Now we have a Minister who does not fit into that type at all, because by profession he is a chartered accountant. I have always believed that a chartered accountant was exactly the sort of person to be allowed into the Air Ministry in order to examine its complicated and interesting finances.
In the speech of the Minister we had a mixture of brief from the Air Ministry and undertones and footnotes from the experienced chartered accountant. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West asked for more information. I have been asking for more information about Air Estimates for an incredible number of years. I always thought that the most pained expression to come across the face of a Minister appeared when I asked the indecent and obscene question, "What does this thing cost?"
On this occasion we have been given far more information about what the various aircraft cost than we have ever had before. I hope that the Minister, when presenting the case for his Ministry, will not forget that there is also the need for the chartered accountant's mind.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Member must have been paying more attention to the speech of the Minister than I was, because I did not hear the Minister mention the cost of a single aircraft. Can the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) remind us of which aircraft he is speaking?
§ Mr. Hughes
Certainly, I am talking about the TSR2, and I am quite sure that had the hon. Gentleman been here he would have remembered the astronomical figure to which the cost was likely to jump by the time the aircraft was completed—of £750 million—I repeat, £750 million.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman did say something about the ultimate cost of the TSR2, which is highly problematical at the moment. But he did not say anything in relation to the Estimates before the Committee or how much was the cost of the individual aircraft which we are paying for out of this Vote.
§ Mr. Hughes
The case against the Government has been that they are going to abandon the TSR2. The figure of £750 million was given. I work out that the aircraft will cost £1 million each. That brings the matter down to earth. If the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) wants more information, I should be delighted to join with him. I want to know the cost of the Phantom and the cost of everything else. It would be a good thing if whenever a spokesman for the Air Ministry mentioned any kind of aircraft he also said exactly what the aircraft cost. Every reference to the Phantom, the Vulcan or the TSR2 should be followed in brackets, with the cost, in hard cash.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member referred to the development costs of the TSR2, which the Minister spoke about as being somewhere about £300 million for a possible order—£750 million for 144 aeroplanes. He did not say that if the Government cancel the order now, there will be cancellation charges of approximately £150 million, bringing the figure to £450 million. They are going to buy a number of American TFX aircraft. Where is the saving?
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree with the first part of what the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) has said. It would be a good thing if the cancellation costs were incurred and the loss cut down. The hon. Gentleman says that we should take the American aircraft into account. If he is objecting to the American aircraft, I agree with him. I hope that he will pursue that point, but that he will not be too anti-American in the process.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Minister used an interesting phrase which I have never heard used before in a debate on the Air Estimates. It could have come only from a chartered accountant. He referred to "cost consciousness". The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West would never have used that term. In his sky the stratosphere is the limit and he is incorrigibly romantic. He is not the sort of person who should be allowed within a thousand miles of the Air Ministry.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. James McInnes)
Order. I must ask the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to confine himself to the Estimates and not refer to the personality of the Minister.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know why every Chairman who takes the Chair during a debate on the Air Estimates is given an awful warning to keep an eye on the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, to see that he does not stray from the Estimates.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I can assure the hon. Member that no such warning has been issued to me, and I know the hon. Member for South Ayrshire too well for him to need such a warning.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am trying to deal with the cost of the Royal Air Force. I could seek your affection, Mr. McInnes, by translating all this about the cost of aircraft into the cost of housing, but, out of consideration for you, I will refrain.
In considering these Estimates we must take into consideration the costs and the possibility of them escalating according to the calculations of the Minister. If the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West had been at the Ministry the value of the £ would have gone down to about 3s. 4d. I have given these warnings for a number of years. The hon. Member for Macclesfield has listened to them for years;—
§ Mr. Hughes
I am going back only 10 years. When we were discussing 475 the Air Estimates in 1954, I made a statement, and when I looked it up I was surprised at what a good prophet I had been. I said in the debate on 16th March, 1954:I dissent completely from the idea that we must embark on finding the men and the money for this very big bomber force, especially at a time when it is generally assumed that if … these bombers have to go into action, they would be on the side of the United States of America.I went on to say:I fail to see why this small country, facing a very dangerous and difficult economic situation"—this was in 1954—should have to embark upon this grandiose expenditure of a very large amount of our national resources, taking 280,000 of our men, when the programme will be in addition to all the bombers which presumably are gathered together in the American bombing bases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 313.]That is precisely my criticism of the Estimates today. The economic situation of this country is worse, yet the cost of the Estimates has gone up. But my exhortations have passed unnoticed, as they usually do. The present economic situation, as the Minister has said, has resulted in the Government having to look at the Estimates of the previous Government and cut them by approximately £56 million. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Estimates?"] The previous Government's programme. Yet we still find a substantial increase in the Estimates. In these Estimates—
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that this shows what a chartered accountant does in the Air Ministry—he arranges to cut the expenditure, but it still increases.
§ Mr. Hughes
What an intelligent chartered accountant does when he sees that things are going wrong is to wind up the concern. That is exactly what I want to do.
We have heard about the TSR2 and about its wonderful achievements and we are pressed to proceed with it—"Never mind the costs. Go on and spend and let them escalate until this country is bankrupt." But what would actually happen if the TSR2 went into action? I should imagine that it would be something like this. Suppose that the TSR2 is 476 ordered to go into action to bomb a target in the U.S.S.R. Ministers—especially the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser)—used to tell us in these debates, "We have now reached the stage at which one of these pilots can get into an aircraft in four minutes, where it used to take him four and a half."
I always tried to follow that argument to its logical conclusion, and ask what would happen to the TSR2, travelling at a very fast speed over the treetops, when it reaches its objective and drops its nuclear weapon. The bomb lands on some city like Moscow or Leningrad, which goes up in smoke. But what is Russia doing at the time? If the TSR2 pilot is able to listen in on his radio and is still in contact with the base at home—he must be, otherwise it will not be a good aircraft—he will find that signals from the base suddenly lapse into silence because the base has been destroyed by something else coming through—probably the Russian version of the TSR2. The base would be wiped out, and not only the base, but the R.A.F. and the country, which is supposed to be defended.
I am amazed to see these realities ignored. I do not know what would happen to that TSR2 if it escaped being shot down by the Russians. Would it land in Australia? Would it land in China? Where would it land? There is plenty of talk about the TSR2 being a wonderful machine, but nobody takes the trouble to think out the logical conclusion of this argument. We must be realists. The Minister spoke about developments to the end of this decade, and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West was talking about the 1970s. It is assumed that no technological change will take place in the world of aircraft in the next 10 years.
We all agreed with the tribute which the Minister paid to the people who fought in the Battle of Britain—I believe that the hon. Member for Macclesfield was connected with it—but surely there is a world of difference between the situation in the world today and that which existed 25 years ago at the time of the Battle of Britain. We now have the rocket. I once asked in these debates, many years ago, "What action can a fighter take against a rocket?" The hon. Member who subsequently became Air Minister, who is now Lord Ward, to my great surprise, 477 backed me up out of his great technical experience and asked the same question.
This argument is based on the assumption that there are no rockets. I would assume that, if an attack were made on the Soviet Union by a bomber, the reply would be a rocket. We do not need to be told of the young Russians who are being sent up to the stratosphere and who travel round the world. We know about them. We met them. Russia has sent up about half a dozen of these people. I have spoken to some of them. They have sent up a woman. The last spacecraft they sent up contained two people. It seems quite obvious to me that, if we have the kind of war fought with the sentimental attitudes envisaged by the romantic hon. Gentleman from the opposite side of the Committee, before the TSR2 reaches Russia they will know that it is on its way, someone will press a button and the whole country will be wiped out.
Yet both Government and Opposition, as far as I can see, have spent approximately £500 million on this project, which is already obsolete in the light of the development of rockets. We do not have any rockets. I think that it would be realistic to say that in the first few minutes of another war somebody would press the button in Moscow. The result would be that the rockets, with their tremendous explosive power, megaton after megaton, would descend on this country. That would be the end of the war for us, and possibly the end of civilisation. These are the realities, so I believe that the Government, in so far as they are continuing—as they propose to continue—this expenditure, are continuing a colossal expenditure which is a waste of money, a waste of manpower and a waste of national resources.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
In that case, does the hon. Member intend to vote against it, or will he give his support to this expenditure?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
As it is a waste of manpower and expenditure and various other things, in the hon. Gentleman's view, does he intend to finish tonight by voting against the Estimates or not?
§ Mr. Hughes
I might have been tempted to do that, if I had not heard the speech of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West. If I voted against the Estimates, I should be voting for putting the hon. Member in, and that would mean another £500 million on the present total.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member nods his head. While I am a technological realist, I am also a political realist.
There is one suggestion on which I think I ought to finish, and which is based on something in the Air Estimates of which I approve. I am attracted by the idea of helicopters. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I think that helicopters can be used for non-military expeditions. I approve of helicopters rescuing people in the sea, on the mountains and generally carrying out rescue operations. I think that if hon. Members opposite want to divert the aircraft industry into work which would really help the industry, they should advise it to go in for helicopters. I put that point of view to the hon. Member for Macclesfield. We have only 280 helicopters. Instead of cultivating the illusion that we shall sell the TSR2, the TXYZ and so on to Germany, what about offering the Germans, the Chinese, the Russians and others helicopters? I am sure that the helicopter would be used not for military purposes but for peace activities and would have a huge market all over the world.
Perhaps I might pass on a suggestion. There is a Scottish aviation company manufacturing aircraft not far from my constituency which has been shamefully neglected. I should like that factory diverted to helicopter manufacture. That would not be a military aircraft; it would be a useful aircraft, and the components could be made in advance factories established in my constituency.
I think I have made a constructive comment to end my annual oration in this debate. I have the facts on my side. I am no longer a voice calling in the wilderness that we cannot afford to continue this expenditure. The economic facts are facing us; they appear in the White Paper, and when they appear in a White Paper, it means that probably in about five years' time after that they become political realities.
479 When I looked back on that old speech of mine 10 years ago, I was amazed at my accuracy as a technological prophet. Therefore, I hope that in these reviews the Government will not listen to the big bosses, the brass hats of the aircraft industry, and not listen too much to the workers in the aircraft industry, because they have to change their occupation—they must stop making aircraft and, instead, make machine tools or products of the electronic industry or something else which can sell in the export markets of the world. I think that my right hon. Friends have done their best in the little time at their disposal to prune these Estimates and I hope that they will continue their good work, and I trust that next year the Estimates will be considerably less.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I find it difficult to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). We always find him entertaining and always respect his views and his sincerity. However, I feel that he has given his views on so many occasions that it is no part of my function to try to answer his points.
But, at least, I join with the hon. Member in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force upon his performance in presenting these Estimates to the Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be in that office too long. Nevertheless, let us thank him for the lucid manner in which he made his oration. He certainly covered a wide field. No doubt he can claim that he has already mentioned some of the points which I shall put to him. Nevertheless, he invited us to ask him to go into greater detail later if we wanted him to do so.
I have spoken in most of the Air Estimates debates in the last 15 years. Although in that time there have been many changes in rôles and in aircraft and rocket construction, I feel, like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, that many points that I have made in earlier speeches can well be reiterated today. On occasions I have spoken of the necessity to step up methods of recruiting, and I have emphasised that, contrary to the opinion of some airminded judges, the pilot of the manned aircraft will be 480 required for many years to come—and I am still of that opinion. Judging by the many recruiting advertisements in the national Press offering a flying career, the Government are of the same opinion.
Perhaps when the Government reply to the debate we may have some more details about recruiting. I was interested to read in paragraph 92 of the White Paper:Progressive reductions are taking place in the establishment of the Royal Air Forceand that the adult male strength fell by more than 4,000 during last year. Indeed, the Under-Secretary briefly touched upon that point today, but perhaps he could enlarge upon the three-line statement in the White Paper. For instance, what is the ultimate establishment? What are the Government aiming at? What do the Government see as the ultimate establishment of the Royal Air Force? Paragraph 101 tells us:It is becoming more difficult to recruit direct entry aircrew.Should not the Government give more and not less encouragement to the flying training schools and flying clubs? Is effort being made to combine the work of big business flying and suitable auxiliaries? Are auxiliaries being built up for use in emergency as a reservoir of pilots? These are questions that I should like answered.
According to the White Paper—there were a few sentences on this subject from the Under-Secretary—entries to Cranwell are satisfactory and all scholarship awards are being taken up. The hon. Gentleman invited us, if we were interested in this sphere, to ask for more information. I want to know whether it is the intention of the Government to make more scholarship awards available.
Recruiting is a specialised job, and if the conditions are not right recruits will not be forthcoming. For instance, no mention has been made about planning for promotion within the Service. I know from experience that this is a controversial issue. I know that many of my colleagues and I were bogged down for some time as flight lieutenants. That seems to be a bottleneck. Have the Government any ideas in this rather controversial sphere?
Recruiting can be affected adversely, as can the morale of the Royal Air Force, by irresponsible statements and hasty and unwarranted opinions. I am certain that 481 the recruiting prospects for the Royal Air Force will not be improved by the opening lines of the Defence White Paper, which have rightly been condemned from these benches and by all thoughtful people. To say that our defence forces areseriously overstretched and in some respects dangerously under-equippedis quite irresponsible and not entirely true. Of course we were stretched in the last 12 months because we had so many commitments to undertake, but we fulfilled them all with speed and efficiency. There is no question that the Royal Air Force is capable of tremendous damage in any second strike, and since the war that fact has undoubtedly deterred any would-be aggressor. Perusal of the White Paper denies the opening paragraph in almost every consideration. Nevertheless, this denigration must have its effect on morale, if not on recruiting.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. and gallant Member refers to the Royal Air Force in a "second strike" rôle. Does he not mean "first strike"?
§ Sir E. Bullus
. There is a second strike afterwards. The would-be aggressor knows the great damage that can be inflicted by the Royal Air Force. That is the deterrent. I would say—I am sure that all hon. Members would subscribe to this view—that there is no conceivable idea of this country ever engaging first. Our experience during two world wars surely is sufficient.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I hope that in winding up the debate the Minister will say something about the morale of the Royal Air Force. My experience in recent years is that the Royal Air Force has built up as a whole a tremendous morale. The bomber force especially knew its potentialities, and it believed that its striking power and capability were accepted. They were the corps élite. But too often in recent years—there is no denial of this—they have heard of criticism from the party opposite, more particularly when hon. Members opposite were on these benches, that we did not possess the independent deterrent, that our bombers would not get through and that the independent deterrent was a huge bluff. Now that the Socialists are in power we have them confirming their accusations that we were dangerously under-equipped, they say.
482 This is not the stuff to give the troops. It is anything but the stuff to hand out for morale and recruiting and, above all, it is not true. I hope that it will be corrected and that we will hear no more of this degrading and deplorable line. The two opening lines in the White Paper are, most unfortunately, right out of keeping with the entire review and, indeed, with the review made by the Under-Secretary this afternoon. On almost every page of the White Paper is some report of the wide-flung and numerous commitments of the R.A.F. I will quote a few of them.R.A.F. Transport Command in the U.K. is ready to provide airlift of men and equipment on behalf of all three services and reinforce the tactical forces overseas. … Other forces in the U.K. include Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Coastal Command. … Apart from its nuclear rôle Bomber Command provides a major strike capability with conventional weapons and with a capacity for rapid movement world-wide at short notice. The R.A.F. maintain a presence in the Persian Gulf … R.A.F. units permanently deployed in the Far East include Canberra bombers and recce aircraft, Hunter ground attack aircraft, Shackleton, Hasting, Beverley and Argosy aircraft, Whirlwind and Belvedere helicopters and Javeline fighters … Bloodhound Squadron in Singapore … R.A.F. transport in Cyprus support in South Arabia … in Kenya in Tanganyika operations … even in Fishery protection …This applies even in fishery protection and air sea rescue work, as the Under-Secretary underlined earlier. It is a fine record for the R.A.F.
When one reads of the world-wide commitments being fulfilled by the R.A.F., of its operations and efficiency, one realises that such coverage must stretch a peace-time force. However, all our commitments have been fulfilled. A significant and unpalatable footnote to ask is this. Would these commitments have been fulfilled, in whole or in part, had the Socialist Government come to power earlier? It is a salutary thought.
During the defence debate the Secretary of State for Defence stated, almost as an aside, that he was going to save about £300,000, which had been set aside for R.A.F. ceremonial dress. I thought that he then spoke in a rather derisory fashion. What are the details of this saving, for we have not heard since? Is it really for ceremonial dress? Certainly some ceremonial dress is required, but is it, possibly, money set aside for tropical kit? These are the sort of questions, 483 when accusations and derisory statements are thrown about, to which answers should be given.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) in asking the Minister to tell us more about the replacement for the Shackletons. Is it the intention to use Comets? Is this the right answer and, in this connection, what of fuel consumption and rôle? Can the Comets fly low level and fulfil the service required? I join my hon. Friend in asking for these details, because morale and recruitment are much affected by the policy of a Government in respect of their aircraft, and the recent decisions of this Government in regard to aircraft are anything but reassuring.
While all those with the good of the R.A.F. at heart will welcome the decision to retain some of our bomber force for our independent use East of Suez, cannot the Government be prevailed upon to retain the whole of the force together and not to hand over a part of it to a larger authority and outside our own independent control? A divided, uncertain or unhappy R.A.F. can only mean havoc in our defence policy. It is the R.A.F. which is the front line service in this modern age; indeed, the cornerstone of any defence policy.
I counsel the Government to act on the advice of our defence experts: procure the equipment that is needed; this is British and order those planes at once. Do not rely on American planes, despite what has been said this afternoon, because some of them are obsolete already. We should give maximum encouragement to our own aircraft industry. Where should we have been in the last war had we not had a British aircraft industry?
I turn to less controversial points. I am glad to learn from the few lines devoted to the Air Training Corps that the strength is 2,700. The whole Committee will agree that this Corps is an invaluable source of recruiting and should be given every encouragement. Its senior officers give much voluntary time and the R.A.F. owes a great deal to them. Mention of their work should be made as often as possible, for they are undoubtedly encouraged by any kindly reference.
We have a flourishing squadron in Wembley, the No. 78 Wembley Borough 484 Squadron, and the local council has agreed to the presentation of a banner later this month. A few years ago I was able to help—by mention in debate and communications with the then Under-Secretary—in securing new accommodation for the squadron. That has been of great encouragement and practical help to the squadron, of which I am now a vice-president.
I cannot too strongly stress the value of giving maximum encouragement to the Corps and I hope that increasing interest will be taken in its members and their work. In this respect, what is the position throughout the country? Is the accommodation problem being solved? Is maximum use being made of naval cadet and Territorial Army buildings? How is the work progressing in Scotland?
I was glad to read in the White Paper of the success of the joint-service training which was carried out with Commonwealth countries and our allies. It is encouraging to note that in the Commonwealth and elsewhere 780 officers and men from 30 countries undertook flying or technical training at R.A.F. establishments. The White Paper states that there is to be continued co-operation in flying training in the next 12 months. Could we be given more details of this; for example, are the numbers to be stepped up?
This naturally makes us think of the future and it is relevant to ask at this stage when we are to receive a report of the Committee which was set up to deal with space research. This is an important Committee; we should like to know what progress is being made and if it is possible to have a report soon.
Is the Minister able to say anything about the absorption of the R.A.F. into the unified Ministry of Defence? Although the whole Committee agreed that this was a necessary step—and I believe that it was carried out with great efficiency by my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft)—there must obviously be teething troubles and no doubt the Government, having recently come to power, have experienced some.
Is unification proceeding satisfactorily and are there any major difficulties? Can we have a report on the progress being made? For example, what is the present position of the Ministry of Aviation? Is 485 it contemplated to bring that within this sphere eventually? How is the new Public Building and Works Department affected by the new Ministry of Defence? Is enough being done for Service accommodation?
One could ask many questions about this grand scheme of unification, Sir Samuel, but it brings with it some difficulty in the way of limitation of debate. This is more a matter for the Leader of the House, I know, but could we not, just as we devote a whole week each year to the Budget, devote a whole week to defence? The first two days could he taken up with general defence and the other three days with the Service Estimates. Within that limitation, hon. Members could then speak on defence generally—and even on foreign policy, because defence is the handmaiden of foreign policy.
Last year at this time we were asked for a global sum for the Defence Services of £1,553,198,000 and this year we are asked for £1,692,017,000. That is an increase of £138,819,000. Last year at this time we were asked for the Royal Air Force a sum of £503,800,000. This year the figure is £561,770,000—an increase of £57,970,000. These are huge figures. Where are the tremendous savings claimed by the Government, and what accounts for the extra expenditure? Perhaps the Socialist Government are now learning that we cannot have reasonable and responsible defence on the cheap. World-wide responsibility is a costly business, and I am afraid that it will cost us very much money for many years to come.
I may have been unduly critical of the Government's policy for the R.A.F., but I have nothing but the greatest praise for this Service itself. I would also add to the appreciation expressed by my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Defence the other day of Earl Mountbatten. I served on Earl Mount-batten's staff during the war, and I know what a vast amount of work he has done and what the country owes him for its defence. The same applies to the officers and men of the R.A.F. I hope that the Government will be conscious of the great heritage we have in this fine Service; that they will encourage and not discourage it, and that the Service itself will prosper and maintain the high standards 486 and efficiency for which it is noted, and in which our best wishes and our hopes are enshrined.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
I intervene with some trepidation in a debate in which the air marshals and ex-officers take part. My association with the Royal Air Force was not quite so illustrious as theirs, though I saw service with Bomber Command during the Second World War. I therefore know at least something about the old R.A.F.; but it is of the new Service that we are now particularly talking. In what I say I shall be critical of events and expenditure, but I shall certainly not be critical of the men and women serving in the R.A.F. at present. Great changes are at present taking place in the Service and in the aircraft industry that supplies it, and because of that we have to look clearly and frankly at the situation.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Defence has set up this critical review of defence expenditure. Any country of our size and capacity that contemplated spending £2,000 million a year plus—on an escalation basis, because of inevitable rises in cost—and did nothing about it would be committing suicide in relation to its general advancement. This inquiry is, therefore, to be welcomed. Nevertheless, despite what has already been done by way of cancellation of certain aircraft, these Estimates show an increase of £46 million on the previous figure, bringing them to a total of £561 million. As I believe that that figure does not include all expenditure, particularly in relation to certain weapons that the R.A.F. may carry, the real total is possibly even higher.
I feel as other speakers have about the cost of certain individual items of expenditure on the Royal Air Force and its ancillary services. It seems that though we can get details of Government expenditure down to the number of pencils purchased, and their cost, we cannot find the specific cost of individual aircraft being manufactured. I believe that part of the reason for that is that aircraft are continually being put on the drawing-board, put into experimental work, and then manufactured, and the escalation is such that it is impossible 487 to give a specific cost for the manufacture of a certain item of aircraft.
Another thing that is increasingly alarming the public is that aircraft now recommended by the Air Council and the Government are obsolete by the time they are in general production. In other words, we are running in order to stay in the same place. Such is the whole facade of defence expenditure that we are never able to say that we have reached a stage at which defence can rest at the specific figure of cost—that we have enough of this, that and the other—because we find that as soon as an aircraft is in production it is obsolete and we then have to look for a more advanced type. That seems to me like lunacy in the modern world, and we must get away from it.
I hope that the Government cancel the TSR2—
§ Mr. Orme
We have been told that a serious inquiry is being made into this project and, unlike the hon. Member opposite, I believe that when the Government say that they have not taken a decision, they have not taken a decision but that a report will follow the inquiry. I accept Government statements in that respect, and I will await the report. Nevertheless, I say to the Government that I hope that the TRS2 is cancelled—
§ Sir E. Bullus
Will not the cost of the American substitute escalate in the same way, and we shall be spending the money out of the country?
§ Mr. Orme
I will come to that point, and this is where I am in disagreement with my own Front Bench, perhaps, as well as with the Front Bench opposite. I do not feel that we need the American substitute, either. Our defence commitments should be in line with the rôle we can play in the world without having all these modern aircraft and systems. I hope that we can get away from that.
I am an engineer. I, like some of my colleagues, think that the day will come when the aircraft industry must redirect its sights. It is only right that the interests of members of my society who work in engineering should be protected. I want to see the time come when, if there 488 is redundancy, there will be no argument about severance pay and average earnings will be paid for a period whilst men find employment. Speaking as a Socialist, I want work to be taken to where the men are. We should not expect redundant workers to pick up their homes and move to other areas, whether to the South-East or anywhere else. I cannot understand why modern skilled engineers—there is a specific problem with some designers—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman is straying rather from the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Orme
I stand corrected, Sir Samuel. I am trying to link the aircraft which are supplied to the Air Force with the economic consequences of either cancellation or redirection. This is a real problem. Government policy must be geared to this whole problem from start to finish. One facet of it cannot be taken in isolation.
In an interjection, I asked a question to which I have not even now received a satisfactory answer. The question of the rôle. of the V-bombers east of Suez is most disquieting. I want to know specifically whether those aircraft are to carry independent nuclear weapons, the deterrent. I contend that the Government's policy—the policy on which I fought the election—was that we would reject the independent nuclear deterrent. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but this, to my way of thinking, is an exceedingly serious question. The rôle of the V-bombers and the extension of their rôle east of Suez is not in line with what I think our foreign policy should be. If it is a case of cover for India or for South-East Asia, we should go for political settlements and not settlements by the V-bombers.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is again getting very wide of the Air Estimates. This is not a general debate on defence.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Further to that. I gather that my hon. Friend is asking about the strategic rôle of the V-bombers in the Far East.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman must come back to it and not speak in such general terms.
§ Mr. Orme
Thank you, Sir Samuel. I am dealing with the rôle of the Royal Air Force and the rôle of the V-bombers east of Suez. It can be inferred from the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will not slate whether those planes are carrying an independent deterrent that they can, and possibly will, carry such an independent deterrent. I myself feel that the V-bombers should not play such a rôle. I am convinced that this rôle east of Sue—-the provision of bases which the V-bombers will use, the possibility of them carrying a nuclear weapon—will in itself bring pressures to bear on this country's expenditure which we cannot afford at present.
My constituents want to see bathrooms before bombers. In my constituency there are one in four houses without a bath. We want some of this Air Force defence expenditure to be spent on these sorts of things at home and not be spent, as it is in many cases, on weapons which become obsolete before they are manufactured I do not want to see this money spent on a type of foreign policy which I think is redundant and on Britain maintaining and retaining an independent nuclear deterrent which I thought we had rejected when we went to the polls at the General Election.
I have put this point of view to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will deal with it when he winds up. What I wanted to say was in the broad terms of defence expenditure and the Air Force Estimates. As I said at the beginning, when I was flying in the Royal Air Force some years ago I was doing a job in a war against Fascism in Europe, and the Royal Air Force, right from the Battle of Britain to the end of the war, served the country absolutely magnificently. Other people may talk about the development of rockets, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) pointed out, we might elect to go for a costly weapons system such as the TSR2 only to find in five or six years' time that it is completely obsolete because it has been superseded by other methods or systems. If we are sincere in not wanting to see the proliferation, not only of nuclear weapons, but of other weapons throughout the world, we must 490 play our part by ensuring that we reduce our own weapons. The first thing to do is to cancel the V-bombers east of Suez.
I say this to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who spoke so lucidly for the Government. I recognise the job the Government have undertaken. I believe that for the first time the public is becoming really aware of the amount of our gross national product being spent on defence. I say this to right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee: increasingly over the coming months and years they and I will be pressed by our constituents to justify this expenditure, in a world where tension could possibly be eased, in relation to the social services and benefits that our people want.
§ Mr. Orme
I am talking about both Labour and Conversative voters who will be concerned, because I assume that nobody wants to see needless expenditure on weapons systems or anything else when other means can he found to do away with these sort of things. We recognise that they cannot be abolished overnight. Nevertheless, we should be looking to alternatives whereby we could reduce Air Force expenditure.
I hope that the public, as I have said before, will seek increasingly to ensure that they get value for money in relation to defence expenditure, including Air Force expenditure. It is all very well for experts on either side to talk, as they have done, in the language of algebra about the TFX, the TSR2 and all the other names, about first and second strike, and the fancy names which have been devised in recent years. I hope that the public will seek to cut through this verbiage and say categorically, "We want to know what you are prepared to provide in the way of other services. Why are you spending this money on the Air Force and on the other Services? What are we getting in return for it?" This is the question which will be asked, and it is the question which I pose here today. I recognise the care with which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his Department have examined this defence expenditure. I recognise that he is using a valuation assessment which means value for money. I also recognise that the defence expenditure has not been reduced in reality but that it has merely 491 been cut from the amount for which the previous Administration budgeted. In 12 months' time, however, we shall come back—
§ Mr. Orme
—and we shall expect something considerably more. The pressure of events on hon. Members on both sides of the House, and on the Government in particular, will show that the time has come to have a reassessment of this arms race, this race to destruction, in which so many nations are involved, and we shall have to look for alternative courses of action, through the United Nations, to achieve peaceful settlements.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
It is rather striking that when we debate defence or Service matters the Government find it impossible to get anyone on their side of the House to support their policy. It is striking but it is not surprising, because theirs is not a particularly good policy. It is quite clear from what has been said that we can take it as certain that the ultimate defeat of the present Administration cannot be delayed beyond the debate on next year's Defence White Paper.
On this year's Estimates I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions arising out of a remark which he made towards the end of his speech. It was to the effect that the R.A.F. needs a clear statement of policy and of the rôle which it is to carry out. It is quite clear that this policy has not been formulated and does not exist.
We have been told a great deal, in speeches by the Prime Minister and in the Defence White Paper, to the effect that the R.A.F. will be able to fulfil its rôle if it gets certain weapons and aircraft. But nowhere has there been a sign that these rôles have been thought out and defined, and it is particularly unfortunate that nowhere have we had any evidence that there has been a rethinking of defence policy and the rôle which the R.A.F. may now need to play east of Suez and in particular in South-East Asia. Since 17th October when the Chinese detonated an atomic weapon there should have been a strategic reappraisal. There should also have been a strategic reappraisal on the basis of what has been happening in 492 Vietnam. But we can find no evidence of this, and there still seems to be no certainty that the Government have any clear idea of what rôle the R.A.F. is likely to have to play if it is called upon to perform more active service in South-East Asia.
What we have instead is a decision to acquire certain aeroplanes now and to build a strategy round them later. I am sure this must be wrong, if only because, if the strategic needs are not forecast, the risk of waste in aircraft purchase is much greater. When we consider the aircraft which the R.A.F. is now promised—what are laughingly called in the Defence White Paper "new aircraft"—the situation is by no means encouraging. One so-called new aircraft, the C130E—which the Under-Secretary this afternoon revealed to us as flying mutton dressed up as airborne lamb—a machine which apparently we are going to buy in considerable numbers, is not only outdated but it is not certain what engines it will have and, in addition, it has a defect which I do not think has even been considered. It is tied to 3,000 ft.-plus runways, which means that in operation it is much less flexible than the alternative HS681.
This in turn has an effect which I do not think has been considered. I refer to the additional requirements which must stem from using 3,000 ft. runways—the ground defence requirements for the defence of the perimeter. This aircraft is so designed that it needs airfields twice as long as the HS681 requires. This is an additional commitment which arises with the purchase of these aircraft, namely, the manpower requirement for airfield defence.
The P1127 is certainly a new aircraft. In fact, it is so new in the form in which the R.A.F. will ultimately get it that it can be said to have been scarcely invented yet. The Prime Minister told us on 2nd February:… there is an urgent need for an operational version of P1127, a successful aircraft which, in its present experimental form, is about to go to an American-German-R.A.F. squadron for evaluation. … the R.A.F. can have, by the time they need it … an aircraft which will in fact be first in the field, with vertical take-off for close support of our land forces."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 931–2.]But it seems doubtful whether the P1127 in its operational form, and carrying 493 armaments to any reasonable degree, will remain a vertical take-off aircraft. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that in order to make the P1127 operational we shall have to scrap the vertical take-off capacity, and this in effect will deprive the R.A.F. of the advantage of flexibility and the ability to disperse which the real vertical take-off would have given. The P1127, whose costs apparently have not been calculated but which are certain to escalate, is likely to come into service very little before the P1154 would have done—this the Minister made clear this afternoon—and yet this aircraft has been committed to the R.A.F.
A much more serious matter is the decision, which has not yet been taken, about the TSR2. The Minister this afternoon was not exactly encouraging about this aircraft. He denied that he was attempting to soften up anyone, although that denial was probably unnecessary since one might diagnose the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) as having been softened up for some time. The evidence that we are being prepared for a decision to cancel TSR2 is frighteningly frequent. We had a statement from the Minister of Aviation on 9th February when he went on record as saying that:The TSR2 … is as firmly geared to an exclusively British market as is a week's holiday at a Butlin's holiday camp. But it is a good deal less good value for money."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1965; Vol. 706, c. 233.]If that is enthusiasm, I fail to recognise it. That is a cynical jibe which has been bitterly resented by the R.A.F. which hopes to have this aircraft, and by the men who make it. This afternoon the Minister mentioned the bad effect which the delay in the Government's decision is having upon the morale of the aircraft workers, and this is so.
I can say from personal knowledge, because a very large number of my constituents work in the aircraft industry, that they morale of the men who are making the aircraft is bitterly low. They are depressed to a degree which, if it is allowed to continue, may have a damaging effect on the standards of their workmanship and the pride that they 494 take in their work. This is something which I hope that the Government will bear in mind as an additional reason for taking a quick decision, and a quick decision not to cancel the TSR2.
We have had much talk about what the nation can afford and about cost consciousness. We are not moving here in the world of the audit. The definitions which we are being required to accept as being the dispassionate judgment of the super-efficient chartered accountant are very subjective decisions and they are reached as a result of a political view. Other decisions can be reached equally effectively as a result of a different political view. The question of what the nation can afford is something which may be defined by one side of the Committee in one way and by the other in another way and either can be right.
The Government are attempting to say, as if it were an absolute truth, that certain costs cannot be afforded by the nation. This must be seen for what it is, which is simply an attempt to state a political view as if it were a categorical truth in the hope that people will fall for it as a categorical truth. But it is not. It is a subjective judgment.
All that we have heard in the past weeks and months since the election, all the argument against the TSR2, against the cancelled Hawker Siddeley projects, against the Concord, against the independent airlines and so on—all this is not the fault of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. He is here today in the rôle. of the sorcerers' apprentice. There are three sorcerers, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister of Aviation. We are glad to see their apprentice, but we would have been glad to see them here, too.
The Under-Secretary has reminded us that this is the anniversary year of the Battle of Britain. I do not want to give any further currency to attempts to invoke shades of glory for one or another political point of view, but if we are to be reminded of this, and if we are to have a thought for this anniversary year, it might be as well to remember that as a nation our people would far prefer to have a first-rate Royal Air Force than to be freed of prescription charges.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) had a difficult job to do in opening the debate. Nobody could blame him for having made rather heavy weather of it. It was terribly difficult to try to criticise a programme which was, in the main, the programme of his own Government. The hon. Gentleman started by trying to say that there was no difference and by blaming us because there was no difference. He said that we were carrying on with the same old pattern. If the hon. Member does not recognise any difference, the taxpayers and the electors do. The most notable difference is in the fact that the present Government are determined to obtain value for the taxpayers' money. This is a noticeable difference in policy which is obvious to the public if not to right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The hon. Member went on to say that we must not allow computers to become masters and that they cannot replace clear-cut decisions. He is correct there, but where were the clear-cut decisions of his Government? Three hundred million pounds were wasted because they could not make a single clear-cut decision. Projects were abandoned and came to nothing and we were left at the end with aircraft inferior to those owned by countries such as Egypt and Indonesia. If that is taking clear-cut decisions, very few people apart from hon. and right hon. Members opposite would think so.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Does the hon. Gentleman think it particularly helpful to the R.A.F. in the Far East to allege that its aircraft are inferior to those of the Indonesians whom they confront?
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to be misunderstood. Does he mean that the performance is inferior but not the aircraft itself? The aircraft in its general construction and quality is equal, if not superior, to anything in the world, but its performance might not be as good as that of a machine designed and developed later.
§ Mr. Doig
It is a rather strange argument to say that we have a machine which is superior but that its performance is inferior. I regret to say that I cannot follow my hon. Friend. If its performance is inferior then it must be inferior.
May I quote an example of the opinion of outside independent persons about the clear-cut decisions of the last Government? The chairman of the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company, speaking about the ex-Secretary of State for Defence, said that he could not take a clear-cut decision. He could not make up his mind and he waffled for years. I admit that the chairman's co-directors subsequently held a meeting and decided to dissociate themselves from those remarks. I quite understand that the chairman of Hawker Siddeley said this in all honesty, and his first words were that by no stretch of imagination should he be considered a Socialist.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying very far from the Estimates which we are discussing.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Whatever the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) said, I am saying now that the hon. Gentleman is straying very far from what is being discussed.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I have not yet put my question. I was about to ask the hon. Member if he would continue with his reference to future aircraft for the R.A.F. and quote what was said about the C130E selected by his party.
§ Mr. Doig
Since Sir Samuel has just stopped me from carrying on that line 497 of argument it would be wrong for me to pursue it now. It would be out of order.
The C130 has been ordered by the Government. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite blame them for trying to get a British engine into it if that will not cost too much? Is this something that the Government should not do?
§ Mr. Doig
I cannot give way again.
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State about a point which has disturbed me very much. Is the use of non-British aircraft temporary? This is a very important question. While I agree that it was necessary in the circumstances which the Government inherited that they should secure aircraft suitable for the jobs that need doing, and get them quickly, I think that it would be wrong to pursue a long-term policy of relying on aircraft manufactured by other countries.
I would be rather disturbed if the Royal Air Force were to be equipped with German or Japanese aircraft. It is quite possible for potential enemies to know too much about the performance of aircraft, what kind a country is ordering and how many. Before the last war, the Government had to take the decision that, while aircraft were improving all the time, they would order the best aircraft available and produce it whether further improvements to it could be made or not. On that basis, we got the Spitfire and if the decision to go ahead with that aircraft had not been taken we would have been in serious trouble.
There may well come a time when a similar decision will have to be taken. If that is so, the aircraft involved will have no value if a potential enemy knows about it—and if we buy aircraft from other countries then a potential enemy will know about them. I would be very disturbed if my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary decided, as a long-term policy, on the provision of aircraft for the Royal Air Force by buying from any other country.
I want to deal with a question that was bandied about a great deal during the election but which has been forgotten 498 both today and in last Monday's debate on the Army Estimates. It is the question of conscription. During the election, the leaders of both main parties said that they would not reintroduce conscription in peacetime. But right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their supporters claimed many times during the election that the return of a Labour Government would mean conscription. It is strange, therefore, that during our first debates—
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order, Sir Samuel. I suggest to you that conscription is a matter which concerns defence as a whole and more concerns the Army than the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Further to that point of order, Sir Samuel. I have vivid recollections of the debate on the Air Estimates a year ago in which an hon. Gentleman highly respected in this House, whose name, I believe, coincided with the name of the present Deputy-Chairman, ignored this type of futile intervention in view of the general health of the debate and I would like to encourage that hon. Gentleman to help the Committee as he did only a year ago.
§ Mr. Doig
Surely conscription can be discussed in deciding the amount of money to be spent on recruiting. This issue was raised widely by the party opposite during the election. The inference was that if a Labour Government were elected we would have conscription. It is, therefore, rather strange that, in the first Service Estimates debates since then, the word "conscription" has never been mentioned. This shows that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite did not believe the things they were saying during the election. In effect, they are now admitting that this was purely an election stunt.
Recently, there was a recruiting programme on television which attracted quite a number of recruits. The Press was told that the cost of the programme per recruit worked out at £275. The money spent on recruiting, which must be a very large sum, could be cut down very substantially. We are told in the 499 White Paper that the Royal Air Force is short of tradesmen and specialists. Why is this? Why cannot the R.A.F. get motor drivers, motor mechanics, electricians, clerks and the rest?
The answer is that, in order to serve in the R.A.F., or any other Service, these men have to become slaves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They have to sign away their freedom. A slave has to do exactly what he is told and go where he is told. That is a very good description of a member of the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Cooper
Would the hon. Gentleman say that that was a fair description of hon. Members opposite, who are slaves to the Whips at the moment?
§ Mr. Doig
I will return to the subject of the shortage of tradesmen. Why will not a tradesman who has spent years learning to do a job efficiently join the R.A.F.? Simply because he is not prepared to give up his freedom, which is the first condition of joining any of the Armed Forces. A recruit must be prepared to surrender his freedom. If a man surrenders his freedom then the nearest word for his situation that I can find in the dictionary is "slavery". He can be sent to any part of the world.
§ Mr. Doig
A bank has branches all over the world, but it does not say to potential staff that they must sign on for seven or fourteen years, or whatever it may be, and go anywhere the bank wants them to. That is why the banks have no difficulty in finding clerks. But the R.A.F. cannot get clerks and other tradesmen.
500 I believe that the R.A.F. could save considerable sums of money by making greater use of civilians. After all, aerodromes stay put all the time. They do not move about. They require staff but only a tiny proportion of their staff at present is civilian. Surely, if an electrician is required, for instance, at Turnhouse, a civilian could be engaged who lives near Turnhouse with his family. This would save a great deal of money.
There are jute mills in my constituency with branches in India. When they want someone to go to India, they give him an inducement to go. They do not say to everybody who starts in the jute mill, "We will not start you unless you are prepared to go to India and stay there as long as we want". If they did, they would not get anyone to work for them. This is a fact which the R.A.F. could well consider.
I want now to refer to recruit training. We were told earlier that it takes roughly two months to train an R.A.F. recruit. Let me tell the Committee some of the things which I had to do during the war when training as a motor driver after having been a civilian driver for years. I had to learn drill and how to use various types of weapons. In addition, I had to learn about the mechanism of those weapons, which was silly. If something went wrong with them, I had learnt how to repair them, or supposedly so, and I found that very few men could. I had to learn to find my way by the stars if I landed in the desert and how to find my way by the sun by putting a stick in the ground and observing the movement of its shadow. I had to learn details like how to time the engine of a motor vehicle and I had to memorise form numbers, and there are many forms in the R.A.F.
If that state of affairs still continues, 19/20ths of the training is absolutely useless and the R.A.F. should review its training to see that only that which is useful is taught.
§ Mr. Cooper
The object of training in a Service is to fit a man to cope with any eventuality, particularly an emergency. The hon. Member may have found in the whole of his training some things which he never needed, but there could have been times when he would have needed them. The great trouble in war—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) must not use an intervention to make a speech.
§ Mr. Doig
What I am trying to say is that the vast bulk of this training is wasted. Although many commercial drivers were taken into the R.A.F. and taught how to do all sorts of intricate things, when a vehicle broke down hardly any of them could ever make a repair. [HON. MEMBERS: "Badly trained."] Two months' training covering all subjects is not sufficient time for an unskilled person to learn how to repair a motor vehicle.
§ Mr. Cooper
Will the hon. Gentleman admit that he is talking more rubbish than has been heard in the House for a long time?
§ Mr. Doig
Hon. Gentlemen are entitled to their opinions. I am confident that when my constituents read what I am saying—and I said it last year, as ton. Members will find if they look up the debate—they will agree that it is not nonsense. Some very senior officers in the Services agree with me. If the hon. Gentleman reads what I have said, he may come to a different conclusion.
I am convinced that much of the money which goes into detailed training is wasted. As the Government have shown an interest in protecting the taxpayers' money, they should have a look at this matter, because I am sure that much money could be saved along the lines I have suggested.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) will forgive me if I do not comment on what he had to say. The Committee was interested in his comments about personnel, especially as his arguments were well informed from his own personal experience. I should like to discuss what the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force had to say about procurement.
I want to be constructive. Hon. Members know that there are many aircraft workers in my constituency and it is easy to make political capital out of the present situation and the Government decisions announced just before Christmas when we debated the subject. It is 502 a subject which we have discussed at great length in censure debates, debates on the aircraft industry and, finally, in the defence debate last week. The number of persons involved in the aircraft industry in the United Kingdom as a whole is high. There are 264,000 in Great Britain and about 7,500 in Northern Ireland, a total of about 272,000. Of these, about 70 per cent. are employed on military and about 30 per cent. on civil work.
The Government's decisions seem to present a serious threat to the major construction firms in the industry. From my own knowledge and visits to British Aircraft Corporation factories, I want to reinforce what has been said by hon. Members who have asked for a favourable decision on the TSR2. I have listened carefully to all of these debates and I believe that there is only one fresh point to be added.
It has been suggested that the TFX would be cheaper than the TSR2. I believe that the TSR2 is the one aircraft in the world capable of very low contour flying. What is the point of ordering the TFX if, although cheaper, it fails in its mission while one TSR2, which might cost more, because of its very low contour flying, might get through and get back?
I have seen and read much about this aircraft so that I speak with some direct personal knowledge. The systems developed for the TSR2, although costs have greatly escalated, are unique.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. Gentleman has said that the TSR2 would get to its objective and get back; get back to what?
§ Mr. McMaster
That depends on the mission. The letters TSR stand for "Tactical, Strike and Reconnaissance". If it were a reconnaissance mission, the aircraft would get back with its photographs. If it were fulfilling a nuclear rôle., a second-strike rôle., its very existtence in a form which enabled it to elude an enemy would make it an effective deterrent, more effective than any other aircraft could be.
§ Mr. McMaster
I do not wish to take up too much time on it. The hon. 503 Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) will have an opportunity to deal with that point if he catches your eye, Sir Samuel.
I have some experience, too, of the work done by Hawker Siddeley. I should like to say how very much I regret the decision to cancel the 1154. I do not think that the Government will gain anything by this. The 1127 will not be in service very much before the 1154 would have been. It will be a subsonic aircraft and even the advanced version will probably require Phantom cover before it can take off. What is more important is the fact that the decision to cancel the 1154 and to order the 1127 is a bad blow to the morale of the Hawker Siddeley group and the aircraft industry in Britain as a whole. Only by developing the very advanced types of technique required for the 1154 vertical take-off supersonic aircraft, and, in fact, by leading the world, can we hope to keep ahead of the Germans with their Dornier.
I was particularly interested in the suggestion that the Germans might be persuaded to buy the 1127. Is this in spite of the work which they are doing on their Dornier aircraft which is even more advanced than the 1127 as it combines both deflected jet and separate vertical take-off engines? What we will find will be that the Germans will develop the Dornier vertical take-off aircraft, that they will share this with America and in this way America will come into the field. Approaches have been made in this respect, as hon. Members know. American representatives and salesmen wearing army uniforms have been in Germany recently and are already planning to take these ideas to America, our main competitor. In face of that, what do we do? We give the Americans an additional boost by ordering their aircraft. What advantage is this to the British aircraft industry?
I should like to speak on the subject of which I have perhaps more special knowledge than most hon. Members, namely, the tactical transport. As I said, I wish to be constructive and I want to make my remarks as short as possible. But I must answer the points made not only in this debate but by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for 504 Defence in the defence debate in answer to questions from myself and other hon. Members.
In the debate on 2nd March, the Secretary of State for Defence, in answering questions by myself and others, stated that the Belfast would be a very expensive strategic transport. This statement has caused the greatest concern in the factory of Short Bros. and Harland, because of the facts of the case. Ten Belfasts were initially ordered. The development costs of the aircraft were to be covered by the production, not of 10, but of 30 or more of the aircraft. If only 10 are to be ordered, the entire development cost must be written off against those 10, and this makes it a very expensive aircraft. But it does not make sense to order only 10 and to have to pay all the development and capital costs and spread them over such a small number of aircraft.
As hon. Members who were in the House when this matter was debated in 1959 and 1960 will remember, the development costs were kept very low because Short Bros. adopted the existing wing and tail until of the CL44, and the proved Vanguard engine. By doing this the development cost was kept low, and whether more aircraft are ordered or not, these development costs must be paid. The version of the Belfast to which the Minister of Defence referred was an old version—the SC5, to give its full number. It had a sub-number, 21B. That was suggested four years ago when the operational requirement 351 was first put out. This version of the Belfast was put forward in competition with the HS681.
The OR351 had, as an important part of its requirement, a short field take-off. The hon. Gentleman admitted, I think in answer to a question from me, that the C130E will not have a short field take-off. This puts a very different construction on the requirement. The Government have changed their requirement without consulting or informing either Short Bros. or Hawker Siddeley. If there was a reassessment of the position since the Labour Party came to power, I should like to know why this was done without consulting the two main firms concerned and without asking them what they could produce instead.
§ Mr. Millan
That is not true. Hawker Siddeley put in an alternative, the 505 HS802. Therefore, it is not true to say that that firm was not consulted and did not have a chance to put forward an alternative to the HS681.
§ Mr. McMaster
I can only say that the decision had been taken before these two companies heard about it. I know that Short Bros. put forward its own suggestion, but not because it was approached directly by the Ministry of Aviation. It heard in a roundabout way that a reassessment was taking place, and, not wanting to miss the bus, it put forward an up-to-date alternative which, strangely enough, had not been mentioned in any debate in the House and which would have met the OR351 from the point of view of speed. It would not have met the very short field take-off requirement, but that will not be met by the American aircraft either.
I should like most sincerely to ask hon. Members opposite to think about this flatter most carefully, for this reason. If it were decided to order further Belfasts, there would be the great benefit of interchangeability, to start with. There would be 10 of these strategic freighters in use. Enormous benefits could be derived from the interchangeability of parts. There would be a similarity of loading. In addition, further work would be provided in this country. To do that, an advanced engine would be required—that is Tyne 20 engines, which would have 18 ft. propellers.
I was surprised by some of the answers given by the Under-Secretary of State during his opening speech. He will recall that he referred to escalating costs. I asked whether he was aware that, although costs escalated, requirements changed. He seemed to think that requirements never change.
§ Mr. McMaster
It is common knowledge that aircraft are planned 5, 6, 7 or even 10 years before they come into service. Are hon. Members opposite so naïve as to think that 10 years can pass without requirements changing?
The original Belfast had its engines wide enough apart to take 16 ft. propellers, which were being used in the Vanguard. The requirement was changed. Some time after the original requirement was laid, it was realised that 18 ft. or 506 even 20 ft. propellers could be used. The spacing of the engine nacelles was changed and this required a change in design which necessitated additional cost. It is obvious that the 10 Belfasts on order will probably have to have these larger propellers and engines because yet another requirement has changed. These aircraft will be required to fly from Cyprus to Bahrain, which was not thought of in the early and mid 1950s. In order that they have the correct ceiling height to do this, a new Tyne engine with larger propellers will have to be developed. The same engine could be used in a tactical version of the Belfast to give superior performance to the C130E.
In view of these facts which apparently have not been considered by the Government, I should like to deal again with the whole proposition. The Belfast can carry 50 per cent. more load than the Hercules. It has a hold 12 ft. sq. as against the smaller hold in the Lockheed Hercules. It can, therefore, carry a much wider variety of equipment. It was designed originally to take a Chieftain tank. No other aircraft in the world could take such a load. Therefore, if we wish to transport quickly our forces and their equipment, and as wide a range of equipment as possible, including armoured cars and even helicopters, they could be carried in the Belfast. We all know how important helicopters are for mobility. They could be transferred from Europe to meet requirements in the Far East by the use of the Belfast freighter aircraft. Troops and equipment, including rockets and other sophisticated equipment, could be carried in the Belfast but not in the Hercules.
The Hercules is an old aircraft at the end of its development. The Belfast is brand new and has lots of stretch in it. With larger enginees it would have greater range and greater height. I am told that the cost of the Belfast would be £1.6 million each. I agree that this is about double the cost of the Hercules, but by getting the Belfast the Government would have an aircraft which is completely new and which, furthermore, would save dollars because it was built in this country. It would help to keep together our production and design teams and to retain the scientific and technical knowledge in this country.
507 I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they should look again at the Report of the Estimates Committee on Transport Aircraft. One of the conclusions of that Committee, which reported in 1963, was that we should concentrate upon fewer aircraft. I believe that the Government accept this. We all know how civil aviation is growing and how particularly the freight side is growing. There could well be a good civil market with one of the nationalised Corporations or with other airlines throughout the world for such a developed version of the Belfast.
All the capital cost must be paid off on the existing 10 Belfasts. Therefore, if the Government were to order more, this would enable them to spread the capital cost over a longer production run. To put it another way—and I can put it truthfully this way, because we have to pay for the development in any event—the additional aircraft would be delivered for the cost of labour and material only.
I therefore ask the Minister to consider this solution. He said that the Hercules are required immediately. Why should not the Government lease sufficient C130s for three or four years to meet our immediate needs instead of buying them? In the meantime, the new Belfast, with a better engine, could be designed, developed, brought into production and put into service. This, I am told, would take three or four years, if the machine chosen was the new one. If, however, it were the existing aircraft, it could come into service more quickly because it is already in production.
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
My hon. Friend has said that the Government have stated that they want the C130s quickly. They will not get them very early. According to the Government, the aircraft has not been made yet. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. McMaster
I am aware of that. It reinforces my point. The Minister admitted earlier—[Interruption.]—I do not know why the Government benches are protesting about this. The Minister said this afternoon that he did not know what engine would be used for the Hercules. I cannot see the C130s being re-engined for service in less than a year.
§ Mr. Rankin
We are sympathising with the hon. Member and wondering 508 whether he does not want to be spared from his friends.
§ Mr. McMaster
I do not need any help to defend myself.
I put one final question to the Government Front Bench. It turns upon the great importance of Short Brothers and Harland, particularly in Northern Ireland. I know that the Government are aware of this. We appreciate what the First Secretary to the Treasury said on this point and what the Minister of Aviation and other Ministers have said about it and the interest they have taken. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation is present on the Government Front Bench. He has visited my constituency and he knows about this.
I refer the Government to the recent Wilson Report on the economic development of Northern Ireland, which stressed the importance of Short's as a centre of scientific and technical knowledge in Northern Ireland. It has been suggested by hon. Members opposite that the factory should be diversified, and I agree with this within limit. One must, however, remember what kind of factory the company has. It has 2 million sq. ft. of floor space and 7,000 employees, all in the aircraft industry, designing and manufacturing aircraft. Seven hundred of those people are aircraft designers, representing the cream of knowledge.
If orders are cancelled, those men are likely to go abroad and Britain will lose this valuable asset of men who have been brought up and trained in this country. They include designers like Mr. Keith Lucas, one of our leading designers. If these men were to go abroad, there would be a tremendous financial loss to this country. The hangars at the Short Bros. factory are 300 ft. wide and the main hangar is 100 ft. high. How could these places be used economically for making machine tools? Is there a market for machine tools or other light engineering products which could be manufactured by this number of employees? How many men do the Government foresee being employed?
Because doubt has been expressed, I should like to quote two statements made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) when he was Minister of Aviation in the last Government. As reported in 509 HANSARD of 5th March, 1963, my right hon. Friend said:Taken together with the Belfast and Seacat programmes and the sub-contracting work on the VC10, this should provide employment for a production labour force not far below the present level of 6,000 or so until about 1970." —[0FFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 210.]That quite clear statement of March, 1963, was repeated on 3rd June, 1964, when my right hon. Friend said thatThe number at present employed is about 7,300.In answer to supplementary questions, my right hon. Friend said:I stand by the earlier statement which I made that the figure of employment will not fall, we think, much below 6,000 for the rest of the decade.I asked my right hon. Friend to be more exact and he said:I should not like to be pressed into exact detail, but I should have thought within a few hundreds of 6,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1964; Vol. 695, c. 1068.]That was a clear statement of the intention of the former Government to maintain the work for Short's at least until 1970.
I should like to know the intention of the Government towards these men working at Short Bros. and Harland. This is an industry which is ideally suited to Northern Ireland. Freight costs are minimal because all the products of the company have a high labour content. There is a dock on one side of the factory and an airport on the other. The fact that the finished production has a high labour content is important in an area of high unemployment. Short's have contributed a great deal through their apprenticeship training to skill in Northern Ireland.
The threat to Short's is immediate. I am told that if alternative work is not found soon, 1,000 men in the factory will become redundant. The experience of the company has been built up not only on the Belfast, but with the first variable swept-wing aircraft, which we have talked about as being the most up to date. It is built in Belfast and there is no criticism of it. The Seacat was designed and is being made at Short Bros. and Harland.
I should like to set this position alongside the threat to Hawker's and to the 510 British Aircraft Corporation. The Government do not seem to recognise the work of men like Keith Lucas and Sir Sydney Camm. Men like that would rather be recognised in the United States than receive the type of shabby treatment that the Labour Party is handing out to them.
I should like the Government to count the cost of this carefully. They say they are going to save £300 million, and yet they tell us that they are not sure what engine to put into the aircraft. How can the Government be so sure of the cost and the saving? How can they be sure American costs will not escalate as the British do? And why are they selling the British aircraft industry out to our strongest foreign competitors, the Americans, who are so aggressive in their competition with foreign countries? Are we to lose all the by-products of the aircraft industry, such as electronics, miniaturisation, and advanced metallurgy and all the other similar by-products which have put our industrial nation in the forefront of the world?
I finish by asking the hon. Gentleman. when summing up, to deal more specifically with what the future is to be of the industry. I have read and re-read the White Paper on defence. It leaves so many questions unanswered. There is nothing there about the future, nothing about aiming to keep our design teams and work teams together. I should like to hear some clear, unambiguous statement made now and not be referred again to committees of which we have heard so many times in the past.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth
It is one of the penalties of being a new Member of the Committee. I must ask more Questions in future and so become better known.
This is the first debate on Defence Estimates I have had the pleasure of attending, and I have much pleasure in 511 attending it. I have found it interesting, though it has contained, I believe, the usual irrelevancies which hon. Members manage to introduce into this type of discussion. I hope I shall not be guilty of that. I shall try to stick very closely to the Question under discussion.
I like first, to deal with the claim which has been made on two or three occasions by hon. Members opposite when they have asserted that in some way manned aircraft are second strike weapons. According to my understanding of military strategy, manned aircraft are far from that. Surely the Polaris submarine or the I.B.M.s in their silos are really true second strike weapons. To pretend that manned aircraft, vulnerable on the ground, or even in the air for that matter, are anything other than first strike weapons seems to fly in the face of established facts, certainly, I understand, established and accepted by the United States, who seem to have gone into this as deeply as anyone.
I found the contribution by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) robust in character, so robust that at one time I wondered whether he and his party intended to divide the Committee ultimately on these Estimates. I have, however, been assured by the more experienced and senior Members that they are not likely to do that in any circumstances. Presumably, therefore, a lot of what the hon. Member had to say was not meant for us in this Committee but meant for his eager workers outside.
I thought that both he and various hon. Members opposite missed the whole point of the various contributions made today by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and by the Secretary of State himself since coming to office, both here and outside in the country. The point my hon. Friend made was that as a relatively small industrial nation—relatively, that is, to the major giants of this world—we cannot entertain development of the whole range of military aircraft in the future; it is beyond our ability. He has pointed out that if we were to maintain the sort of programme initiated, certainly in the last few years, by hon. and right hon. Members opposite we would not only increase the aircraft defence burden in absolute terms, but certainly increase that proportion of the gross national product which we are spending on 512 defence, and we believe that the time has come to try to draw a halt to this and to keep the figure at a reasonable level.
It was significant to me that not once in the speech by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West did he express regret at the extra £45½ million detailed in this statement. When I think what this sort of money could do for housing, the health programme, education, building, new roads, then I must express some amazement that he did not start by regretting increased expenditure of this size on military aircraft and the Services. I believe that his main fault was that he tried to pick out those aspects of the Defence Estimates and statements which suited his argument and tried to cover up the skeletons, arising from past policies, which are the legacy for the present Government.
Some very good examples can be taken by considering the situation arising from the cancellation of the 681 and P1154. They were decisions which, I believe, were regrettable, but certainly understandable. The main problem was very real. The 681 was likely to come along about 1971 or 1972. I would have thought, in view of our experience over the past two decades of the introduction of military aircraft, that we would have treated those dates with very great reserve. If anything has been learned in the last ten to fifteen years, it is that it is better to add on one or two years to any Government aircraft programme.
The question, quite naturally, for the new Government was just how long the R.A.F. could be expected to use the Hastings and Beverley aircraft. These are very old aircraft. One wonders whether they may become very shortly a danger to their crews. I do not know. However, we have had an example with the Valiants, now being withdrawn from service because of a defect in their wing spar. They have a lot less use behind them than the Hastings and Beverleys. Therefore, I understand that it was very urgently necessary to find a replacement for at least these two aircraft.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
May I, as a director of the firm which built the Hastings, assure the hon. Member that it is not going to fall to pieces, and that its shows no sign of it? On the contrary, modification teams are still working on it.
§ Mr. Howarth
I am very glad of that assurance, and I accept what the hon. Member has to say, but he will admit, I am sure, that they are really quite old aircraft and really approaching the end of their useful life, and that a replacement is necessary.
The Belfast strategic freighters will be coming along, but they do have a specific rôle., and there is no doubt that the C130 are aircraft which the R.A.F. would find invaluable. To describe them as obsolete is nonsense. According to my reading of the technical journals, the United States Air Force has no plans for phasing these aircraft out of the forces for the foreseeable future. They seem to be planning the use of this tactical freighter for as many years ahead as normal.
I hope, however, that the C130 will be soon available. It is most urgently required by our forces, and, therefore, the question of the introduction of new engines to the C130 surely introduces a delay which, I would have thought, would be unacceptable. I can see unfortunate consequences of accepting a new engine, the Tyne, but I must say, from what knowledge I have of the aircraft industry, that the redesigning which this would involve of the C130 wing, by cutting out the Allison engine, would seem to impose a penalty which I would have thought unacceptable, and I hope that my hon. Friend, when replying, will deal with this point.
I can see the need—so, presumably, can my hon. Friends on the Front Bench—for a VTOL tactical replacement. This is obvious, but it is expecting a lot to suggest that within four or five months of coming into office a new Government should be able to lay on the table all the plans they may have for the future replacement of current aircraft. When one thinks of the time that it took the previous Administration to come to certain decisions—I shall deal with these in a moment—one realises that it is expecting a little too much to ask the Government to give their views on this matter. I accept that a replacement will be necessary, and I assume that this will be done o a the basis of a joint effort with other nations of Western Europe.
I should like now to deal with the P1154. I believe that the parallel is quite clear with the 681. The Hunter, which has given sterling service to the 514 R.A.F. for many years, must be approaching the end of its useful life, and to contemplate sending our Air Force into action against the kind of equipment which nations such as Indonesia possess—supersonic military aircraft provided by Russia—would be suicidal. A replacement is, therefore, urgently necessary for the Hunter, and the decision to cancel the P1154 and to go for a developed version of the P1127, protected above by the Phantom, seems to me a regrettable compromise, but an understandable one.
I fail to understand why on earth the previous Government did not seize the lead that we had with the 1127 but allowed it to drift along at a slow pace of development for so many years. Criticisms about us losing our lead with VTOL aircraft come ill from hon. Members who allowed us to lose our lead over the world when the 1127 first flew. I believe that that was a tragic example of inaction by the previous Government, and was bitterly resented by the aircraft industry.
I understand that Hawker Siddeley is optimistic about the export prospects of the Kestrel, the developed version of the 1127. The firm reckons that it has better export prospects than the 1154. Only time will tell, but I am disturbed by the fact that the date quoted this afternoon for the possible introduction of the Kestrel is now 1969 or 1970. If this is the date suggested—and I shall await my hon. Friend's reply to the debate with interest—it seems that hon. Gentlemen opposite have a valid point when they complain that the difference in the time scale between the 1154 and the 1127 is so small as not to be a valid reason for dropping the 1154.
When we come to the question of a replacement for the 1154, I believe that the Government are on very strong ground. Last summer I was intrigued when I saw the announcement that the previous Government had decided to replace the Sea Vixen with the Phantom. I was not in the House at the time, and I can only assume that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who at that time were on these benches, rose as one man to protest against the sell-out of the British aircraft industry. Maybe they did.
§ Mr. Howarth
My hon. Friend tells me that one or two did. Whatever happened, it did not have much effect on the Government of the day, because the order went ahead. I might add, as a digression, that I am always rather intrigued at the psuedo-defence of the British aircraft industry by hon. Gentlemen opposite. When there was a sell-out of an important section of the British car industry to American interests, not much was heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I believe that the decision to order a replacement for the Sea Vixen from the United States was remarkable for a Government which had been in power for about 12½ years. Why did they not go to the British aircraft industry many years earlier and ask it to design and develop a replacement for the Sea Vixen? The criticisms made by hon. Gentlemen opposite today could equally well be made against decisions made when they were in office.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that we should be given more details of the Government's order for the R.A.F. Phantom. Be that as it may, I have never seen details of the numbers ordered for the Royal Navy, or the cost, or when they would be available. It may be that this is because I am new to the House, and the information has been given, or it may be, of course, that these details were never given by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power.
I am also rather intrigued by the failure of the previous Government to persuade the Navy and the Air Force to order a joint aircraft as a replacement for the Sea Vixen and the Hunter. There was, I thought, a rather sneering reference to McNamara's contribution, but at least he was able to persuade the United States Navy and Air Force to go for the TFX and to order what was basically the same aircraft. It seems to me that by ordering a foreign replacement the Secretary of State for Defence has to some extent succeeded in obtaining a common aircraft for the two Services. Perhaps when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will be able to tell us why it was not possible to order a joint replacement for these two aircraft many years ago.
If there is one sphere in which hon. Gentlemen opposite are on particularly 516 weak ground, it is on the question of a replacement for the Shackleton. This aircraft has been flying for about two decades, and one wonders what on earth was the reason for the delay in ordering a replacement. This aircraft must surely be reaching the end of its useful life. I should have thought that a replacement would have been due to come in, not in 1965, but much earlier, and yet when the new Government decide to take up a project which I understand Hawker Siddeley have been pressing on the Forces for a long time, they are criticised for doing so.
The suggestion is that we might have considered the Atlantique as an alternative. The Government have chosen a British aircraft, with superior speed, greater range, and superior payload to the Atlantique, and yet they are paid an offhanded compliment by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They seem to want it both ways. Yet it seems to me that the maritime Comet will be an excellent aircraft. I hope that it will take over fairly soon from the Shackleton, which has done a first-class job for so long—far too long.
I now turn to a question which was referred to by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West in his rather critical remarks about the decision to order the Comet. He seemed to imply that there was an operational requirement in existence which would be better met by the Atlantique than by the Comet. I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with this point. I shall be interested to know whether this is so, or whether it is merely a case of an advocate clutching at a, straw and trying to make out a case to cheer his troops on. The decisions of the Government have been bold and understandable. To a large extent they were inescapable.
I now turn to the question of the TSR2. I accept that the Government are trying objectively to assess the merits of this outstanding aircraft. Three obvious questions need to be answered before a decision can be made. First, can this aircraft, which was designed primarily for the European operational requirement, be adapted to fulfil the worldwide conventional rôles which are now being demanded of it? Secondly—and obviously of equal importance—can we afford it? Can the company at least 517 give some reasonable indication of the likely final cost of this very complex aircraft? A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the B.A.C. works to see the TSR2. At one time I used to wonder where all the money went, but when I saw the facilities at the B.A.C. works—and as a mechanical engineer I can appreciate the mechanical side of the matter—I began to appreciate where the money goes in the development of modern military supersonic aircraft. The final question is: can the company indicate firmly when this aircraft will be available to the forces?
If these questions can be answered favourably it would be unfortunate to make a marginal saving by ordering the TFX. The TSR2 not only extends the frontiers of our knowledge in aviation and in other fields—because of the fallout—but provides employment for many people and, equally important, provides essential industrial backing to the production of the BAC111. If there is one civil aircraft which really offers a prospect of large export sales it is surely the BAC111. This aircraft depends to a great extent upon the work load carried by the B.A.C. factories which are manufacturing the TSR2.
I hope that the final decision will be favourable to the TSR2, provided that the answers to the questions that I have raised are positive. A decision not to go ahead with the TSR2 could cripple the prospects of the BAC111. That factor must be taken into account. To let our orders for a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft go to the United States would deliver a serious blow to the aircraft industry.
The omission of any reference to helicopters was very significant in the speech of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West. No wonder! If there is one aspect of this matter which illustrates the failure of hon. Members opposite, after 13 years of complete power, both to meet the needs of the nation and to contribute to our economic wellbeing, it is the question of helicopters. After 13 years of government by hon. Members opposite we have to go to a United States-Italian helicopter for the Army, and B.E.A. has to buy an American helicopter for civil use.
518 Other than the Scout and the Wasp, no indigenous helicopter is available for civil and military use. I fail to understand why some of the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on projects that have been cancelled by hon. Members opposite—projects which were listed in "Flight International" of 4th February, involving the sum of £200 million in the last 12 years—could not have been devoted to the development of helicopters for civil and military use. This is certainly no credit to hon. Members opposite.
It has meant that our forces, particularly in the existing situation in the Far East, are short of suitable helicopters—this is not denied by anyone—and that our military operations are suffering accordingly. I suggest, therefore, that on that score alone the case advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite falls.
Because of the jibes from some hon. Members opposite, may I express my general support for the efforts of the Government to bring what I believe anyone would consider sanity and control into our defence policy? I regret the tremendous sums which still have to be spent on defence. I accept that much money will have to be spent until such time as we have effective U.N. peacekeeping, which would give the sort of protection that we are forced to provide at present for ourselves. I believe that the Government have taken the first difficult steps towards applying the principles of cost effectiveness to defence matters in a sensible and progressive way.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I wish to concentrate primarily on the question of aircraft procurement, and specifically on the purchase of the Lockheed C130. There are some serious questions which I wish to ask the Minister of State, and it is sufficiently early for the hon. Gentleman to secure the answers before the end of the debate. When the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend entered into an agreement with the American Government and the Lockheed Company to supply C130s, did he, before doing so, get an undertaking that British engines would be installed in those aircraft at a given price which was acceptable to the British Government, if the British Government so 519 wanted? I would hazard rather more than a guess that the answer is "No". Neither his right hon. Friend nor those commissioned to enter into the negotiations got any such undertaking from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The result is that the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation can put the screws on the British Government.
The United States, as well as Lock-heeds, wish to sell the greatest possible proportion of American equipment to this country. If there is any doubt about that I should like to quote Mr. Henry J. Kuss, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence:The overseas expenditures of U.S. forces in the last few years constituted a drain on our international balance of payments in an amount approximately equal to the deficiency. One of the major actions taken by this Administration to offset this deficiency was the promotion of military exports consistent with our political economic objectives to meet the defence objective of our Allies.In the same context, it is interesting to note that the United States military exports accelerated from approximately 400 million dollars in 1960—what the Americans would call .4 billion—within two years, by 1962 to 1.600 million dollars, a 400 per cent. acceleration. When the former Conservative Government ordered Phantoms for the Navy, they specified that British engines must be in them, otherwise the deal was not on, and thereby, with modest increase in price, got the prime manufacturer to redesign the aircraft to take the British engines. Now we have got out the begging bowl. The hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend has committed this country to buying this aircraft before Lockheeds had committed themselves to undertake the redesign and development work at a reasonable figure. That is why an astronomic sum has been quoted by the Lockheed Company to the British Government to alter the aircraft so that it can take British engines. Lest anybody should think that this is a purely jingoistic approach, may I point out—
§ Mr. Millan
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member, because I shall be replying to him when I wind up, but everything which he has said up to now has been completely inaccurate.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I suspect, in that case, that the hon. Gentleman is grossly 520 misinformed, possibly because he did not take part in the negotiations. What will this aircraft be? When the statement was made by his right hon. Friend, the Government did not know whether the Hercules would have a British engine or not. Today, the hon. Gentleman said that the aircraft would be the same one which was going into service with the American Air Force. Demonstrably, it will be the same one only if it has the same engine, because if this aircraft is re-equipped with a Rolls-Royce engine, even if it is derated to 4,000 h.p. on takeoff so that the aircraft does not fall to pieces, it will have a superior performance to the aircraft as it will go into service with the American Armed Forces. So it will in no way be the same aeroplane.
Secondly, is he aware that the developed Allison engine—to which reference has been made as if it were already in service—is not in service? It has had approximately 500 hours of development flying time. It has caused considerable trouble. It has nearly gassed some of the aircrew because the air bled off for pressurising the aircraft is contaminated with oil because of the oil sealing system which General Motors employ. Is he aware that its air-cooled turbine blades are made by a company which has no previous experience whatsoever of air-cooled turbine blades, and that they are not even forged blades, they are cast blades? Yet he talks of this completely undeveloped project as if it were a developed project of which there is service experience, and as if we can depend on a date of introduction which is not a gleam in the eye but a fixed date. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has even learned what questions to ask of his professional advisers, let alone ensure that he gets the proper answers from them.
There is more in this than just delivery dates. Does he want to introduce into the Royal Air Force yet another engine type, for which maintenance spares must be held at R.A.F. depots all over the world, an engine, moreover, of not only a make but a design which is completely foreign, which the existing dynamometers will not fit, and in which most of the threads are American threads rather than British threads? In other words, the consumer spares will be unique to it. Is he aware that the aeroplane itself will have to be structurally modified to take this 521 Allison engine, because not only is it an old design, it is a ropey old design? Does he bear in mind that it is produced by a company which succeeded in killing nearly three times as many people as were killed in the Comet I disasters, because the wings came off the Lockheed Electras due to wing flutter, the parameters of which were known in 1935?
Yet he has the effrontery to call this an up-to-date aeroplane. It is nothing of the kind. It is a clapped-out old aeroplane which is being revamped by installing in it engines too powerful for it and which have not yet been developed. This is what is offered to us as a developed and tested aeroplane, to be delivered on a fixed date, so that the magic gap is closed. It has taken the brilliance of the Labour Party Front Bench to perceive this as a wonderful piece of military equipment which is waiting on the shelf to be bought. The Minister has been taken for a ride, and so have his right hon. Friends, and so have the Royal Air Force.
This is not to say that one could not make a case for leasing a limited number of aircraft. This, incidentally, is what any competent airline does if it finds itself short of major aircraft types between the runout of one, and the arrival of another. What does it do? It does what B.O.A.C. and other major airlines have done before now. If they find themselves temporarily short of capacity, they lease it.
But to present these clapped-out aircraft at the end of the development line and equipped with the Allison engine without considerable structural modifications as God's gift to the Royal Air Force and the culmination of the Labour Party's determination to advance into the new technological era would be accepted only by very simple souls as a contribution to the defence of the country, and to its economy.
If we take the American engines we shall be spending more than another 90 million dollars. I put a Question to the First Secretary asking how he is going to increase British exports to cover the cost of these American aircraft. I received a ridiculous reply to the effect that since our trade was multilateral rather than bilateral the question would not arise—as if the aircraft did not have to be paid for because of our indulging in multilateral trade. The understanding 522 of the First Secretary of State is outside the scope of the Estimates—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ Committee counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I was drawing to the end of my observations on the C130 aircraft. I was trying to point out once again the tremendous distinction that there is, and must be, between getting one's price-guarantees before one enters into a contract, and going along cap-in-hand after one has already entered into a contract, and asking the other side to be charitable and merciful and not to do what their own Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence says he wants them to do—asking them to cut their own throats by taking one's engine rather than their own. Does anybody imagine that this is the way to get a proper deal for the Britisth taxpayer? Of course not.
Not only will there be more than 90 million dollars extra that we must earn by increased exports if we get the American engine; not only will the aircraft have a worse performance if we get the American engine, but, worse still, we shall have thrown away yet another opportunity for co-operation with our fellow members of N.A.T.O. It is interesting to note that if these aircraft were now re-engined with Roll-Royce Tyne engines, those engines would be made by the N.A.T.O. consortium, which consists of Hispano-Suiza, M.A.N. in Germany, and Rolls-Royce. So this would be in line with both the policy so strongly recommended by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the declared policy of the Government in entering as far as we can into joint projects with our fellow members of N.A.T.O.
I cannot for the life of me see why, before the Government announced the order for this aircraft, they did not get Lockheed's assent, as a condition to the contract being placed, to redesign the aircraft to take Rolls-Royce Tyne engines at a very modest fee indeed. Lockheed would then have had to have done that if it wanted the order, instead of which the Government announced the order and threw away their own 523 case. Incidentally, as the power-plant would have been substantially that which is already constructed and designed for the Belfast, a lot of work would have been saved. Short's, which desperately needs work, could then get work for something like 350 power plants, which would be very useful indeed during the rundown to which the Government seem to have condemned Short's.
From every aspect which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite look at this, this project has much to commend it, yet they still have not decided whether or not to go ahead with it. The only argument I have heard put forward for what I would call the vamped-up, clapped-out aircraft—that is, the C130, with completely untested and undeveloped engines—the development of the Allison T-56—is that it will enable Lockheed to deliver the aircraft at a rate which is suitable to Lockheed, but quite in advance of the capacity of the R.A.F. to train flight crews for them.
Even this does not seem a particularly good reason for taking the American engine, purely for the convenience of General Motors, which makes these engines, the American Government, who want the foreign exchange, and Lockheed, which finds this a convenient rate at which to manufacture the aircraft.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth
The hon. Gentleman has several times referred to the C130 as being clapped-out. I presume that he is describing it as such because of the age of the aircraft.
§ Mr. Howarth
Perhaps its performance? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, on that basis, the R.A.F. has been using aircraft which have seen longer service than the C130?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I was referring to it as being clapped-out for a much more fundamental reason: that it will not even take an engine of 4,200 h.p. without a lot of strengthening work having to be done to it. I call an aeroplane clapped-out, not merely if it is in the last stages of physical fatigue, but also if it is so obsolescent that it cannot take the normal power increases which one expects to come in the development 524 life of an aeroplane without severe structural modifications. That is the situation which obtains in the case of the C130. It may be clapped-out in the other sense as well, but obviously one would not expect a brand new aircraft being manufactured by the Lockheed Company to be clapped-out in the sense that the rivets were loose and that the whole plane was falling apart.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth
By that definition, the Shackletons, Hastings, and Beverleys are clapped-out as well.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
No, because I am not aware that anybody has contemplated re-engining the Hastings. It would be a ludicrous and inefficient thing to do, which does not mean that the present Government might not want to do it.
The Shackleton has had quite an interesting development life. I think I am right in saying that not many years have passed since South Africa took a load of brand new ones. The engine which powers it has been developed on several occasions, but if one compares the C130 with, for example, the Belfast one finds that whereas the Belfast's design enables that aircraft to benefit from the development of the power plant—for example, by fitting a larger propeller—that is precisely what the C130 design does not enable one to do. That is why one is entitled to call it a clapped-out design. That is exactly what it is. Incidentally, the original engine with which it was fitted was not a very clever design, but, then, the Allison Division of General Motors is what one might call the runt of the litter.
Two of the largest American aero-engine firms were chased out of business by Rolls-Royce—I refer to Curtiss-Wright, and Westinghouse; and the aero-engine division of General Motors just hung on by its fingernails sustained by licenses bought at considerable cost from this country. Even so, they are now producing a version of the T-56. Anybody who has followed the development of the engine for the Concord to date will be aware of the difficulties—I will put it no more strongly than that—accompanying any manufacturer who, for the first time, goes into the technical sphere of production of which he has no previous experience. It would therefore surprise me if 525 the Allison division of General Motors, which is quite the tiniest of the American aero-engine firms, produced an engine with air-cooled cast-iron turbine blades which was not troublesome for a considerable time.
I would not go so far as to say we would be happy watching the U.S. Air Force suffering all the teething troubles, but that is no reason for us voluntarily to share them, when we could use the Tyne. This thoroughly developed engine is in service in the Vanguard and Breguet Atlantique, and will also go into service in the Belfast and the N.A.T.O.-sponsored Transall.
Therefore, we could have a well-developed engine giving a far superior performance, whether we think in terms of take-off run, the load that can be carried, the ferrying range, specific fuel consumption, or performance with one engine out on a particularly long stage like Cyprus-Bahrain in high temperature conditions. From whichever angle we look at it, it is a superior proposition, as well as from the point of view of the Treasury. Why, then, did it not occur to the Minister of Aviation—or, if it did occur why did he not do something about it—to make sure that this was all tied up before he threw in the whole pack of cards by announcing the order? There are many other aspects that I would like to cover, but as I know that there are also a considerable number of my hon. Friends who also want to address the Committee, I will confine myself to what I have already said.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
During the debate, and particularly when the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) was speaking, I was satisfied that a serious note was being struck. I think that all hon. Members will agree that in dealing with questions of the Royal Air Force, and of the Armed Forces generally, we are involving ourselves in something paramount to the interests of the country. Since the hon. Member spoke some three hours ago, however, I have noted a spot of frivolity, and when we are dealing with the defence of the country, particularly in a world as turbulent as this is at the moment, I have no room for frivolity or for making political points.
526 We are discussing the Defence (Air) Estimates, and I have been rather surprised in the last few hours to hear so little said about the Estimates themselves. Only a short while ago we debated the aircraft industry. The Minister of Aviation placed before the House an irrefutable case for the reviews and changes which he then outlined. It will be agreed by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West and hon. Members on both sides that practically all that there is in the Estimates is the consequence of the last Administration. Therefore, there is no justification for hon. Members opposite to criticise, unless at the same time they confess. When I studied the Defence Estimates I certainly felt alarmed. However, we cannot but come to the conclusion, in the words of the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), who was Under-Secretary of State for Air in the last Government, that a number of financial pressures had to be taken into account.
The job of this Government is to try to relate their responsibility for our defence, our obligations to N.A.T.O., and our obligations in Europe and in the Far East to our ability to pay. The priorities are most important. We can buy ourselves out of court and have an education system which is not comparable with the demands of the modern age and is incapable, possibly, of producing the technicians we require, even for the aircraft industry. We must have a proper apportionment of the national wealth for schools, houses, hospitals—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he must relate his remarks to the Air Estimates and not speak as though it were a general debate on defence.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I take your point, Mr. Grant-Ferris. I was merely trying to place the Estimates in relief in relation to the apportionment of the national wealth. Last year the then Under-Secretary of State for Air said:The pressure of finance and the necessity to keep the front line intact have necessitated the most efficient and ruthless use of available resources. In the last year alone, 5,000 Service posts have been pruned and 14 stations closed down. Nevertheless, with personnel costs of all kinds, including civilians, in the coming financial year amounting to no less than 48 per cent. of the Air Estimates it will be realised that there must be constant pressure to see 527 that organisation is right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 1250.]The last words are highly important. I would not accept that responsible Members of Parliament would minimise the responsibility to ensure that organisation is right. Bearing that in mind, and according to the hon. Member for Harwich the respect to which he was entitled, I cannot help reminding the Committee that only a few days ago my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation on another subject indicated that right hon. Members opposite during their Administration were responsible for a rundown in the aircraft industry of 13 per cent., broke a promise to the industry in the sense that 26 projects were cancelled, and themselves placed the order in America for the Phantoms. In view of this, hon. Members opposite should give this Government credit for carrying out their responsibility in such a way that they are succeeding where right hon. Members opposite failed.
Admittedly, when right hon. and hon. Members opposite were in charge of the country's affairs they had trying problems to grapple with. Certainly they had difficulty in finding solutions. But it is not responsible of hon. Members opposite, after only 16 weeks of office in this Parliament, to charge us with responsibility for all the ills, the adversities and difficulties which they themselves failed to meet. I cannot go so far as to say that there has been any act of irresponsibility on their part, but I am stating the fact that over a number of years this trying problem was not resolved. Neither will it be resolved in the next few years because we all know that from the planning board to the final stage many years have to pass during which the original plans have to be altered. On questions of defence, even when we discuss them within the terms of the Air Estimates, or of any other Vote, for that matter, there must be unity in the House if we are really sincere about the defence of this country.
I said a little earlier that I was alarmed about the Estimates. There has been a failure to provide voluntary recruitment in certain areas of our defence commitment. I think that case has been made out. There has also been, if not a failure, certainly not a success, in providing the weapons and the equipment, and in this 528 case the aircraft, which are necessary to carry out the tasks to be undertaken by our forces.
Looking at the expenditure during the past two or three years in terms of the Estimates, we find that in 1963–64 £1,138 million were spent. I am speaking of the total Estimates because it is against them that I want to discuss the Air Estimates. A year later the expenditure increased to £1,198 million. This involved an increase of 8.7 per cent. or, as I understand it, a 5 per cent. increase in real terms. This situation has been inherited, and we are still discussing the conditions and the circumstances which were responsible for those Estimates. There is a carry-through, and this year there is an increase of some 8.1 per cent.
The significant thing about this increase in the expenditure, apart from our responsibility to try to keep it as low as possible commensurate with our responsibilities at home and abroad and our social and economic circumstances at home, is that there was an assumption in 1963 that the Estimates should grow by only 3½ per cent. There was a further assumption on the basis of a 4 per cent. growth in the national wealth. We are now discussing matters concerning the welfare of the R.A.F. personnel, and, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West said, their job is to fight. It is within this context that the equipment supplied to these men is vitally important, and that it shall be reliable to meet modern needs so that efficiency can bring about confidence. Indeed, this is the least that the R.A.F. personnel ought to expect. But we did not achieve either the 3½ per cent. growth in the Estimates or the 4 per cent. growth in the national wealth to meet it. This is a sad reflection on the country.
I want to condition what I have said because I am trying to be fair and not recriminatory in my language. I have already listened to talk in the debate about the nuclear bomb and the V-bombers and I really believe that neither side of the Committee wants the nuclear bomb. I say this openly and sincerely. All that is between us is a matter of degree, of when and how, and I hope that the Committee will persist in getting together and uniting to discover the how so that we may determine the when.
I say within the context of the Air Estimates that it will be a sad day for 529 England and for the world if by any chance we pursue a course which will mean that we shall have to use nuclear weapons and then find that what we fought for in the beginning has ceased to exist and that those who come out best are not the victors but the vanquished, the latter finding peace in silence and the former torment in contemplation of the future.
But we must look at the future not in despair but with a sense of responsibility. We must address ourselves man to man across the Floor of this Chamber and ask ourselves whether we have been obtaining value for money. On this subject we could sling across the Floor words which could anger. The question can pose an answer in the mind of each of us. I know that the answer in mine is, "Certainly not." Costs have been outstripping our capacity to pay. It seems sad in this age that £20,000 million has been spent without producing results.
We would not be discussing this subject in this way if we were all happy about the defence of the country. Is it not sad, having spent £20,000 million, and failed to do what we wanted to do, to think that we might have invested the money far better in those regions of the country where people are crying out for work?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Whatever the hon. Member says about the last 13 years, would he not agree that at any rate the most important thing has been achieved and that is peace in the world?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
It may be all right for those of us who are enjoying peace, but I am not satisfied about the peace which I enjoy. Peace in the world is so much suspended on a thread that sometimes I feel ashamed that, after our having fought two world wars, my parents before me and my children today still are without the answers and that we have so much trouble in the world. Let us not be so certain. Let us think of Indonesia at the moment.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I was hoping that he was drawing these remarks to a close and I did not wish to interrupt. But he is straying from the subject before us, which is the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I agree, Mr. Grant-Ferris, but I was answering a question put by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey).
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of Order, Mr. Grant-Ferris. Surely in Indonesia the R.A.F. is operating and the cost of the aircraft is in the Estimates.
§ The Temporary Chairman
That may be so, but the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) was seeking to go wider in his remarks than the strict terms of order dictate.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I respect your Ruling, Mr. Grant-Ferris.
I have posed two questions and now I come to the third. Is there any evidence that the Royal Air Force has not been provided with what has been needed in the right place at the right time? This is what we have been discussing in the last few weeks. If there is such evidence, let us recognise it. Within the terms of that evidence, I am satisfied that there is evidence—an abundance of it over the years—that we have not been getting what we have needed for the forces, the defence of the country and our commitments abroad at the right time and in the right place.
Attention has been drawn to the decline of manpower in the R.A.F. and I note with some concern that in 1963–64 the Estimates catered for a maximum of 143,000 personnel and that in the following year they included a maximum of 140,000. The Estimates before us include a maximum of 136,000. The signficance is that, in these Estimates, there is the figure of £281 million for aircraft and stores compared with £244 million for the previous year. It is to be seen, therefore, that some £37 million goes to equipment and stores out of a total increase of £45 million.
There are various headings—officers and personnel, reserves and auxiliary services, civilians at outstations and meterological offices and within the terms of those headings such things as training, educational services, allowances abroad and so forth. The attention of the Committee might be drawn to the fact that only a very small amount of the increase is spread over a wide range of the social responsibilities wthin the Service itself. Bearing in mind the manpower figures I 531 have mentioned, the adult strength of the R.A.F. has fallen from 127,276 to 123,051 in one year. The major part of the reduction in personnel is in adult strength. We must evolve better incentives and inducements to attract the personnel we need. This has been said many times, but little seems to have been done about it.
Vote 1A deals with education allowances. The total for airmen and airwomen in 1964–65 was £262,000 and the estimated figure for 1965–66 is £320,000, an increase of £58,000, or 22 per cent. The amount for officers is higher. I hope that in saying that I shall not be accused of making any imputation. As an ex-officer myself, I would be most disturbed if any wrong interpretation were placed on what I have to say about this matter. These items are under different heads and it is easier to keep them that way. Education allowances for officers were £950,000 last year and are estimated at £1,185,000 for this year, an increase of £235,000, or 24 per cent.
I am prepared for more experienced hon. Members to say that my deductions are wrong, but it seems to me that in these debates we must talk not only about equipment, important as that may be—and I have listened with patience and, I hope, understanding to what has been said about that subject today—but about those items of the Estimates which affect the daily lives of the men and women in the Services. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to say that sufficient attention is given to this part of the problem. It may be that because of the magnitude of the Government's immediate problems, far too much emphasis has had to be placed on the equipment side, highly important though that is, at the expense of considering the necessary incentives for getting personnel into the Service.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
As after considerable provocation you stopped the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) from the more theological aspects of his speech, Mr. Grant-Ferris, I will not endeavour to follow him in that, apart from saying that, as all hon. Members opposite invariably have done, he kept on blaming all the peculiarly inept decisions of the Government on to the past 13 years. There is nothing new about this. When the 1945–50 Government 532 started getting into an awful mess—which, to give them credit, took them 18 months as against the four months which is all that these people have required—they used to talk solidly about 20 years of Tory misrule. That lasted them up to 1951, and no further. This time they have started so much earlier on the "13 wasted years", and I reckon that it will last them until next October, and no further.
I must now return to the Air Estimates. We are here dealing with what is the dominant arm in our national defence. I say this with every expectation sooner or later of finding a flotilla of ex-naval officers descending on me from this side.
I am not decrying the other Services—they have their function in the defence of the realm—but I want to draw attention to the fact—I hope you will forgive a mild digression, Mr. Grant-Ferris—that, as was pointed out the other day, an aircraft carrier, with all its attendant ships required to keep it at sea, costs well over £50 million, the cost of about 20 TSR2s, which the Government cannot make up their mind to have. It takes only one TSR2 to sink an aircraft carrier. That is the way in which we must consider this matter.
I am distressed to find that of all the three Services the R.A.F. is the only one in which it is planned to make a reduction in manpower next year, although admittedly it is small. I also noted, which the hon. Member for The Hartlepools should also note, that there is a very considerable increase in the cost of civilian personnel. I am not sure that we are not doing what was done before—getting rid of one soldier and employing two expensive civilians to do his job. We want to keep a very close eye on this sort of thing.
This dominant arm was inherited after 13 years. Apparently, according to hon. Members opposite, some person of genius succeeded in clearing all the files so that no notes were left of what had happened in the past 13 years and the Government had to make their own decisions in the last four months without any information about what had gone before. But even hon. Members opposite can read, and they had the necessary information on which to make their decisions.
533 What decisions did they make concerning the Royal Air Force? I often wonder who was their major adviser. Is it true that the strategic genius of the Government is the Paymaster-General? If so, the depth of strategic reserve in the Army Education Corps must be far greater than I ever met in my personal experience. If it is true, we are faced with this rather curious proposition, that the unfortunate Royal Air Force, instead of springing like Athene ready armed from the head of Zeus, is springing wholly disarmed out of the Prime Minister's "Wigg".
There is a false conception of the functions of our defence forces among hon. Members opposite. The result of this false conception is enlarged and forced unemployment in my constituency to which I propose briefly to refer because it impinges on the lives of many people for whose welfare I consider myself partly responsible. The Hawker-Siddeley factory a t Bitteswell is shut. The factory at Baginton is practically shut. These men are now out of work. During the Nuneaton by-election, the Minister of Technology promised that they would all be absorbed without any trouble in neighbouring industries. The nearest industry to Bitteswell is the stocking factory at Hinckley. Is it proposed to move these aircraft workers across to knit hosiery? If so, I see little chance of that being very much of a success.
The other solution which I believe his been put forward is that the factory at Baginton should be turned over to making prefabricated Swedish houses which, I am told, will use up the factory space because prefabricated houses take up a great deal of room. I am told that this would employ 200 workers on a three-shift basis for the best part of 18 months. That is the proposed alternative for about 6,000 men. That is not good defence policy. It is not even good economics.
These men have spent their lives in the aircraft industry. Most of them are not young men. They have houses around their factory. Where are they to go? What is the good of suggesting that they can be absorbed elsewhere and that large drafts can be transferred to the North-East Coast to make something else? This is a typical example 534 of what might be called the intellectual approach to any human problem: that men are not men but are units of labour and that units of labour are just as easily transferable from one place to another as units of anything else. It is an inhuman policy and I sincerely hope that, even at this late stage, we may be able to save something from the wreckage that the Government are creating.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
Does the hon. Member recall that after the war we had this problem on a much larger scale than it exists now in Rugby? We redeployed many millions of people into new, peace-time industry. Does the hon. Member think that we will never be in a position in which it is possible to get away from the large armaments programme that we have now?
§ Mr. Wise
I must be excused from probing too far into the future. I am saying that we cannot possibly get away from it now, nor is it desirable in the interest of national defence that we should even try to do so. It is true that after the war we were able to absorb vast numbers of men. Industry had practically come to a standstill. There was an overwhelming demand for a large number of products and it was perfectly possible then, not to redeploy, but to reabsorb people more or less in places from which they had come. That is very different from picking out middle-aged men who own their houses and drafting them arbitrarily throughout the country. There is no serious resemblance between the two.
What is the result of the thinking in the void which the Government have done on the Royal Air Force? As we have heard, they have scrapped a number of aircraft which were getting ready for production and which would have put this country an air generation ahead of any other country.
We had an eloquent exposition from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), which is not likely to be satisfactorily answered from the Government Front Bench, about the inferiority of the replacements which the Royal Air Force will get. We have been told by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force that 535 the P1154 would not have been ready until 1971. The jigs are made. They are complete. I do not believe that a little zeal could not have speeded up production and got this aircraft into action as soon as any possible aircraft which we are likely to get from elsewhere of equivalent performance. Now, the P1154 is a dead duck. It would have been an aircraft without parallel in the armed forces of the world. We shall only get it now if, somehow, some brilliant man succeeds in selling the jigs to America so that we can waste more dollars in buying the aircraft from the Americans when they have made it. That is not sound sense or economics.
The HS681 is a military freighter which would have covered about the next three air generations. In exchange for it, we are to get what my hon. Friend has described as a clapped-out aircraft. I shall not be as extreme as he. All I shall say is that the aircraft as we know it is wholly out of date. The Under-Secretary told us that the aircraft which we are likely to get has not yet been completed. It has not even been decided what engines it will have and, as far as I can see, it is not likely to be in service any earlier than we could have put the HS681 into service. The only difference is in performance. The HS681 is perfectly designed for all the needs, not of the United States Services but of our Services.
As to the other aircraft which we are to get in exchange, the Minister of Defence recently got up at the Box and said, "What is wrong with it? We can get it to within 100 sea miles of almost anywhere we want our stuff to go." Wonderful. How does it go on from there? In triremes or wheelbarrows? Really, to suggest that as an alternative to our own freighter aircraft is too absurd even from a Socialist Government.
Even if there were a delay in HS681, which I doubt there need be, was it not possible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) said, to replace it with one of the Short products? Was it not even possible to order a few Argosies to tide the thing over? The Argosy is a very adequate freighter aircraft, and a cheap freighter aircraft. There is nothing wrong in getting a temporary machine till we are ready with a really perfect one.
536 There are two alternatives, and in view of our balance of payments problem would it not be better, even at slightly increased cost—and I am not at all sure there would be increased cost—to spend this money in sterling and not waste dollars, which we have to earn with considerable difficulty, against, of course, a protective system and the most extraordinary and ingenious system of protective measures? American salesmanship is one thing; I only admire their capacity and skill and absolute ruthlessness in what they do; but I do not think it is necessary that we should allow this sort of thing to be done on us. We have had this difficulty before. The American lobby, as it has been known, I believe, in flying circles in B.O.A.C., very nearly did us out of the VC10. It tried extremely hard to do it.
I have heard curious rumours of a certain gentleman who advises the Labour Party on aircraft policy. I have heard that he wrote a report about what is regarded, I am told, by progressive circles as almost the bible of what to do about military aircraft. I am also told that that report lays it down that all aircraft and missile projects in the United Kingdom should be stopped at once and that we should manufacture solely on licence from the United States.
§ Mr. Wise
Really, Blue Streak is still going on, to start with, and Polaris is being made in this country, so if American sales pressure was really exerted about that it has in fact failed. In any case I was not talking of either of those. I was concentrating, curiously enough, on the Air Estimates, to which Polaris is hardly relevant.
We should like to know whether this report is the basis of Government thinking, if thinking it can be called, because we do need to have this clear statement in order that we may successfully propagand against it.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
Will the hon. Gentleman kindly give the name of this gentleman who is said so to have informed us on this side?
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher
I think I was perfectly justified in asking the question, because the imputation was that we were merely puppets dancing to his tune.
§ Mr. Wise
I am prepared to accept that the hon. Gentleman is merely a puppet, and because of his intervention, I am even more convinced of it.
The last of these aircraft which has been imperilled by the Government's policy is the TSR2. I am not going into the details. It is an unparalleled aircraft. I am told that the latest Government thinking is that they propose to acquire a reduced number of these aircraft. This is typical of Socialist economics. All it can do is to increase the price per aircraft to an astronomical figure. It is obvious that the price per aircraft will be lowered if they order what the R.A.F. want, rather than have a series of samples at the most expensive price.
It is also said that we may acquire an American aircraft which is untested, which is years behind the TSR2, and of course even when fully in service, if it ever is, will not do any of the things which the TSR2 is designed to do. I am convinced that if we want a strike reconnaissance aircraft, it will be better to give the R.A.F. a plane in which the pilots will have a chance of survival after a mission, rather than one in which they will not.
We are told that all these economies will save £50 million. This is just about the cost of the free prescriptions. Is it really worth while exchanging an efficient Royal Air Force for a few false teeth? I do not think that it is. If we want to economise, there is one possible way of doing so and by this method we can save foreign exchange as well. At the moment we have a large Air Force contingent stationed on the Continent of Europe. I cannot see why this is particularly necessary. I can see some argument, though not very much, for keeping the Army there, although we have managed to get ourselves into two European wars without having any soldiers on the Continent to start with. If the R.A.F. has to undertake 538 a defensive rôle in N.A.T.O., all it needs in Europe is a few landing grounds and opportunities for refuelling. Why cannot the main force be kept in this country, where it can be paid for in sterling and where there will not be this constant drain of foreign exchange for which we do not get a very large direct return?
The Prime Minister did his best the other day, so we are told, to get some agreement with the German Government which would be wholly satisfactory and make us all happy again. As far as I know, the Prime Minister has committed this country to a rather dangerous programme in backing German reunification to the hilt, but he has got nothing whatever in return, not even the vaguest promise to buy enough British goods to offset the cost—
§ The Chairman
Order. I am listening with interest to the hon. Member, but he must get back to the Air Force Estimates.
§ Mr. Wise
I agree, Dr. King, but I was making the point that we could save some foreign exchange by stationing the R.A.F. here, and not in Germany. Having made the point, I will pass from it.
I have become extraordinarily tired of this business of the last 13 years. It is not an excuse. It is just an ordinary straight bleat, and a bleat which comes well from a party which is as well disciplined as the party opposite. Its members precede their sheepdogs so closely.
I would like to vote against the Estimates, but that might be misinterpreted by people outside. I am not in the least against adequate defences; I am against wasting vast amounts of money on foreign aircraft which are of little use to us while, at the same time, we are putting out of jobs large numbers of British workmen who should be making aircraft which would be of use to us.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am rather shocked at some of the things that I have heard in this debate, and which have arisen out of the fact that the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) ordered Phantom aircraft from the United States. We are debating Estimates which were prepared on the basis of the last financial year. 539 There must be continuity, and so these are the Estimates for the next financial year. We are debating whether they are justified.
The first question that we must ask is whether we are getting the best equipment for our Air Force—our airmen who may be called upon to defend this island. As a taxpayer I hope that every other British taxpayer who loves this country will be prepared to pay a reasonable proportion of his taxes to ensure that the Army, Air Force and Navy have the best equipment which can be procured. That is what we are all trying to do. I believe that the right hon. Member for Monmouth was trying to do it, and I am certain that my hon. Friends are trying to do it.
I do not know one good aircraft from another, but I hope I have sufficient common sense to realise that to procure and design aircraft, while at the same time achieving the greatest economies and keeping our troops equipped at the highest level, is a very difficult problem. If we introduce the heat of politics into a debate on the equipment of our forces lots of loose words are used. We are not debating policy; we are debating the cost of equipment, and if we get too heated we use phrases that read very badly and do not make much contribution to the provision of equipment for our forces.
This talk about not using foreign equipment is stupid. It is said that if we buy equipment from foreign countries they know the secrets of our equipment. In 1939 I worked for 16 hours a day tooling up the Bren gun, developed in Czechoslovakia at the Skoda works, then under the control of Germany. We armed our troops with those guns. They were the best guns in the world. We did not care who designed them, or where they were made. If I were serving in Her Majesty's Forces I should want the best equipment, irrespective of where it was made.
I do not think that the men who command the Royal Air Force are so stupid or disloyal as not to seek to advise the political heads of the Department to get the best possible aircraft in order to keep the Air Force fully equipped and manned to fulfil to the best of its capacity whatever operations are required of it in any part of the world.
540 The right hon. Member for Monmouth ordered the Phantom aircraft for the Royal Navy. I do not criticise that. I have no doubt that he was justified. That was his advice. But it was an American aircraft. I resent it when hon. Members opposite try to pretend that hon. Members on this side are criticising the quality of British aircraft when we say that the aircraft in service in our squadrons today are inferior to those in service in American, French or Russian squadrons.
This may be said without impugning the quality of our own manufactures. The fact is that throughout the world the whole system of the evolution and development of aircraft means that very often in military respects and in naval considerations—I do not see how they can be divided when they are acting on a national basis—we cannot escape a situation in which a project may come off the drawing board, and a short time later another design team may product something which is an improvement. Aircraft design teams working all over the world have a pretty good knowledge of what the other teams are doing, and the direction in which aerodynamics is moving. I do not believe that design teams in Belfast, Clifton, Bristol, or in America work in isolation. A good deal of international knowledge is circulated.
In this age, when technology and science are advancing so rapidly, it is inevitable that the nations of the West must experience overlapping and excessive costs in respect of national economies and defence forces because they are acting independently in many respects, or have been for many years, in the sphere of defence. I believe, and some hon. Members may agree with me, that the greatest deterrent to an attack on this country would be a united defensive system with our allies. If the entente cordiale among the allies of the West, including the United States, had been more in evidence we might not have experienced two world wars. It may be that the security of the West depends more on the unity and co-ordination of the nations of the West than on individuals and independent and powerful air forces, armies and navies.
§ Mr. Bence
I will come to that. I believe there must be some integration and co-operation between Britain, France, and the United States in the development and evolution of the new highly technological equipment which is necessary for the arming of our troops and the defence of our country. I do not believe that we should act completely independently. I think there has been a great deal of co-operation with the United States and I hope that there will be increasing co-operation with France so that together the countries of the West may economise and lighten the heavy burden of expenditure which is carried by the people of this country and of other European countries, because there is a certain amount of duplication in research and design.
I can understand the nineteenth century concept, and the desire to feel independent, to have a Royal Air Force equipped entirely from British factories, and military equipment which had been produced entirely by our own industries. That was right and proper in an age when often we might have to stand alone, but I do not think that we should have to stand alone today. I do not believe that Britain would stand alone if faced with any possible enemy today. I believe that we, as well as France and the United States, have learned the lesson of two world wars, and we will act and function unitedly.
I have faith in the United States and in the N.A.T.O. Alliance. I do not doubt the sincerity of the United States in wishing to defend and protect Western civilisation from any possible attack. Therefore, I believe that it is right and proper that there should be a coming and going, that we should use the best of their equipment and that they should use the best of ours. To some degree this has been happening. There are more Rolls-Royce engines manufactured under licence powering American planes than there are American engines. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Not more. At least there are as many. It is a very high proportion. Rolls-Royce engines, both for civil and military purposes, are manufactured 542 there under licence. [Interruption.] I am sorry if I am wrong. I was under the impression, from the figures which I have studied, that they were powering those aircraft. There are more Rolls-Royce engines powering airframes all over the world, including the United States, than American-designed engines.
It is well known—I have heard this said wherever I have been in aeronautical circles—that Rolls-Royce is producing the most progressive and efficient aero-engines in the world. This is a good thing, and I have no objection to bringing to this country or manufacturing in this country airframes designed by aerodynamic engineers in the United States.
Let us come to the aircraft industry. I have heard some extraordinary statements on this subject. I hope that no British Government will ever maintain a sector of production just for the sake of maintaining the employment of a certain section of the population. Some special pleading was submitted by one hon. Member who said, "Here are 2,000 men with high skills. They must not be redeployed. They cannot be redeployed. They cannot be expected to knit stockings." No one knits stockings commercially today. We manufacture very complicated machines for weaving man-made fibres, silks, cottons and wools. To use that sort of argument is to lower the debate to the ridiculous. That is not the situation at all.
Many of us, over the last 13 years, have witnessed the decline in coal mining Many of us have seen hundreds of miners—skilled men working at the coal face, using a skill which is required by no one else—having to take their labour into other fields. Of course, in an authoritarian society one can be pushed to do a job, but in a free society one must be free to change one's job. [An HON. MEMBER: "Even in Parliament."] Even in Parliament. I have been here for 13½ years and I have seen about 10 Ministers of Defence. I remember, when hon. Gentlemen opposite sat on this side—
§ The Chairman
We are not discussing Parliamentary democracy. The hon. Member must get back to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Bence
Thank you, Dr. King. We had experience of regular redeployment when hon. Gentlemen sat on this side in the last Parliament. I am certain that what hon. Members opposite are sore about is that they recognise in their hearts that a Labour Government has had the courage to take decisions about the aircraft industry which they failed to take over the last 13 years. One of the greatest weaknesses over the last 13 years has been this problem of procurement. The aircraft industry has never been certain what the Government wanted. It has been faced time and time again with—
§ Mr. Bence
—yes, dithering on the the part of the Administration. It is easy to criticise and sneer at these difficulties. I have criticised the Government in many respects over the past 13 years for their failure to give the industry at least a five-year procurement programme. I understand that this is a very difficult field of procurement—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.
That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after Ten o'clock and may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour during a period of Two hours after Ten o'clock, though opposed.—[Mrs. Harriet Slater.]
§ Supply again considered in Committee.
§ Mr. Bence
My next point is based upon some of the speeches I have heard today and some of the articles I have read by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite about the so-called treatment by the Labour Government of the aircraft industry. Let there is no illusions. There has been serious lack of control by the Government. I appreciate the difficulties about controlling the industry. On the expenditure side, it must be appreciated that research and development contracts are given out, and, therefore, one must be prepared to spend a large sum of money on paying scientists and technologists to do research. Research and development at this level is not an easy business. At the stage where we are nearly in the supersonic range, it 544 is very expensive. It is a very longterm business. Nevertheless, as has been proved by the Public Accounts Committee, there has been a serious lack of control from the centre and far too much weakness in handling the industry.
A few years ago we had the shot-gun marriage of various companies. They had to get together and form three groups. The groups having been established, they were promised more security and more long-term development projects. The industry was reduced by about 13 per cent., although I believe that the estimate was a little more than that. An hon. Member opposite said that the contracts for the TSR2 and other aircraft are essential to enable the aircraft industry to develop its civil side. I am sorry if that is true, but if it is, it is very bad. I do not think that the Viscount evolved from a military aircraft. It is a sad reflection on the industry if it has to depend for the devlopment of its civil side entirely upon development contracts given to it by the military authorities.
This year's estimate of expenditure must be the consequence of the last financial year. It cannot be otherwise. It is the product not of the present Administration but of the previous one. There is nothing unusual about this. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) made a great many cheap political points which bore no relevance to these Estimates. However, I am a member of the Estimates Committee, and I hope that in the next financial year we shall be able further to tighten the control on expenditure by making further agreements with our allies. I understand that an agreement is in process with the French, and I hope we can make further agreements with the United States. I trust that, with the development of the aircraft defensive system of the Western Alliance being, by its very nature, a collective and integrated effort, we shall be able to reduce next year's Estimates considerably.
If we are to attain a 4 per cent. growth rate we cannot go on carrying this huge burden for our Services. I agree that it is right that we should have troops and air bases on the Continent of Europe, but our allies should help us carry the burden of doing that. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is doing his best to secure that help and I believe that he is likely 545 to succeed where his predecessors failed. All of us—including, I am sure, hon. Gentlemen opposite—hope that he will succeed. In the next four years of the Labour Administration I hope that we will considerably reduce the Estimates for the Royal Air Force.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) spoke about the next four years of the Labour Government. I wish that he was as optimistic about the affairs of the aircraft industry as he is about the future of his party. He said that he wanted to see the R.A.F. have the best equipment. We all do, but the basis of our complaint is that it will not get the best equipment because it will get equipment which has been stepped down performance-wise, but I will come to that later. I was shocked to hear the Under-Secretary give the dates of delivery of the P1127, but I will deal with that later, too.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East referred to co-operation with the United States. What sort of co-operation has he ever seen between Britain and the United States in the aircraft industry? Is he not aware that it is a one-way traffic? He spoke about Rolls-Royce engines being predominant in the United States, but that is not the case. What happened was that the jet engine was a British invention, and we sold it to America very cheaply indeed. I do not suppose that one American in a hundred realises today that the Curtis Wright—or whichever one it is—jet engine comes From a British design. We should say more about this when we speak about the aircraft industry. As I say, it is a one-way traffic, and there is no real co-operation between Britain and America in this respect. All that they want at the moment is the vertical take-off, because there is a two or three year lead in its development.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that by handing over the manufacture of airframes to the United States we will continue selling British engines, he should think again.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Other hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to this during the day and have said that Britain could sell engines to the United States.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman has not studied the problem. He should do his homework. Who will design the British aircraft if the Hawker Siddeley design team is broken up? It took 30 years to get this design team together, and they will not come back now. We hope that the design team of the British Aircraft Corporation, the TSR2, will be saved, but that is uncertain.
I return to the subject of the Estimates. Do not let us underrate the importance of manned aircraft. It may be said that in his White Paper of 1957, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) thought, or indicated, that the guided weapon would take over the rôle of the R.A.F. He did not say that, but it was taken to mean that. The fact is that there will always be an important rôle for manned aircraft. No one should under-estimate that. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) is all smiles, but he was not here. He came into the debate only a few minutes ago, but he will no doubt play a large part for the rest of the evening—
§ Mr. Maxwell
It does not come well from the mouth of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) to state that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) did not say in that White Paper that he intended to rely on missiles—on Skybolt and all those weapons. He ran down the rôle of the Air Force to nothing. If anyone is at fault for the Royal Air Force being in its present state, it is the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Streatham and for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), and no amount of whitewash will do them any good.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I could reply to the hon. Gentleman very effectively, though I do not want to exceed the bounds of order, by saying that his own Government are carrying out the policy of manufacturing the Polaris submarine. I leave it at that.
547 One of the most important factors we have to consider is the Royal Air Force's lines of communication throughout the world. We saw what happened exactly a year ago in East Africa, when the Royal Air Force went to the rescue of the new East African States and assisted in bringing law and order there. It played an important rôle there with the Army, but it could not have done so without its air base at Aden. I hope we shall be told what progress has been made about the future of the Aden base as it relates to the Air Force.
There is also the staging post at Gan. One hon. Member opposite complained that the staging post at Gan cost £1 million a year, but the fact is that this is one of the cheapest investments we have had. To have a fixed aircraft carrier south of Ceylon as a staging post for civil and military aircraft is a remarkably good investment. I only wish we had two or three more places like Gan on which the Royal Air Force could rely, and I should like to know whether a survey has been made to see whether, in the event of things going wrong with this particular staging post, there would be alternative landing places in the Seychelles or Mauritius.
The R.A.F. rôle in Malaya is considerable, and there are no indications that the Service will be released from its commitments there. A short time ago I heard an hon. Member complain about the work the R.A.F. has east of Suez. He said that it should be brought back home. I would remind the Committee that Britain has a treaty obligation to Malaysia—a loyal, friendly, small country with a population of very fine people—and we could not possibly walk out now and hand over this responsibility. As a matter of fact, there is no one to whom we could hand it over.
What is keeping the peace there today is the rôle of the R.A.F., and that means the V-bombers that are stationed there—
§ The Chairman
Order. I must ask hon. Gentlemen not to interrupt from a sedentary position, and I would ask the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), who has just joined this debate, particularly not to interrupt.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Thank you very much, Dr. King. I am doing my best to put my argument about the rôle of the R.A.F. in Malaysia. Had the Royal Air Force not been there, the situation would undoubtedly have worsened. The V-bombers there, whether or not they have conventional weapons, are a real threat to Mr. Sukarno's air bases. These V-bombers are keeping the peace. I do not want to complain about broken Government promises and the rôle of the R.A.F. I welcome the fact that the party opposite has seen reason and has followed a policy that we would have carried out had we been the Government. I congratulate the Government on doing this.
There is the possible threat to India, that enormous continent, from the Chinese. We hope that it will not happen, but two years ago it happened and it might get worse as the Chinese develop. Here I am referring to the rôle of the Royal Air Force which is in Malaysia at the moment. It might possibly be switched to assist in the defence of India. There again, the V-bombers, or the TSR2 if it came into being, could make a contribution.
We know that a number of aircraft have been ordered for Transport Command. We know that this Command is now to have another station in the West Country from which to operate. Has it enough aircraft for the future, bearing in mind that the communications may be stretched and mobility will be more necessary than ever? There are 10 Belfasts coming along. When will these Belfasts be delivered and be operational in the squadrons? I am not interested in the test flying. I want to know when they will be operational in the squadrons. When will the VC1Os for the Royal Air Force be operational in the squadrons? It is very important to have these figures.
I want to refer to the procurement of some of the equipment for the Services. We were told today by the Under-Secretary that the TSR2 is still under consideration. I thought that the hon. Gentleman did what several of his right hon. Friends have done recently. He went out of his way to give rather the worst picture of the TSR2. He did not keep it balanced and say, for example, that it had been an expensive project. Had he said that this aircraft went 549 through the sound barrier on its twelfth flight, it would have been helpful, because it would have enabled the Committee to assess how well the aircraft was doing. In fact, the TSR2 is doing remark ably well. It is probably two years ahead of the American project. Without getting involved in the overall finance, we think that the cost of the research and development of the TSR2 is somewhere between £250 and £300 million. We were told a few weeks ago that the cancellation charges, if it were cancelled, would be about £150 million. That brings us to a total possible expenditure, even if it were cancelled, of £450 million. We were told that the overall expenditure for 148 would be about £750 million. If the Government were to decide to buy the TFX Mark II. which is not yet designed completely and certainly is not costed—they could well be £2 million each—this would work out quite simply: 144 aircraft for the Royal Air Force at £2 million each, very nearly £300 million.
§ Mr. Millan
The hon. Gentleman has quoted a number of figures. May I ask him where he obtained one figure in particular, because he said that we were told a week or two ago that the cancellation charges would be £150 million? Whoever told the hon. Gentleman that, it was certainly not any spokesman for the Government, because no figure has ever been disclosed.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I stand to be corrected, but I think that it was when we were discussing this matter on a statement by the Prime Minister. I think that I put a supplementary question to the Prime Minister and he gave that information. I stand to be corrected. The figure of £150 million cancellation charge definitely came from the Treasury Bench. Research will show who is right on this. That is my clear recollection. I could not have arrived at the figure by guesswork.
I cannot see that there will be a saving by going to the United States to buy the TFX. It has not got the same range. Had the Government when in opposition shown some enthusiasm a year ago for the TSR2, it is possible that the Australian Government would have placed an order for this aircraft. We would then have had a common aircraft between the Australians and the Royal Air Force, 550 which would have been a very useful arrangement in the years to come in the Far East.
We have been told that the P1127 will be delivered at the end of this decade. I was astonished to hear today that the Royal Air Force will not get the P1127 for at least another five years. We were told the other day that the bad men of the Conservative Party were absolutely at fault because the Hunter had to go on for another five years. I know that the Phantom will come in. It will go some way to replace the Hunter, but not entirely. The P1127 will be delivered five years from now. Whatever is done to it, it will still not be supersonic. It cannot be; and, if the Government are going to increase the load and the range, why not wait another year or possibly 18 months and go all out for the P1154, which is what the Americans want? This seems to me to be the most inept decision that the Government have made. Of course, it will be cheaper—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he made the statement earlier this afternoon. Perhaps he can amplify his remarks or correct them later this evening.
As to the C130, the transport aeroplane on which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) made a brilliant speech this evening, I should like to know when the Prime Minister and his advisers placed the order for this aircraft and whether they specified British engines. I am inclined to think that they did not. I was told yesterday on the best authority that if the Government insist on Rolls-Royce engines going into the C130, the Americans will charge 500,000 dollars extra for that installation. I should like to know what the real facts are. Once one signs the dotted line the Americans put the screw on. That has been my experience, and the British Government will find this out as they go along. What price do they think they will pay for spares in the years following the delivery of the aircraft? That is where the money will go. It is like a loss-leader, and eventually they will find that they have paid a high price for the main article.
551 Can we be told when the Phantoms will be delivered? What development and what modifications have got to be carried out to these aircraft, and may we be told whether the aircraft which are going to the Royal Air Force are to have Rolls-Royce engines? In addition, will British or American electronics be fitted?
The hon. Gentleman said that the cost price of the P1127 will be adhered to. Does he mean that there will be a fixed price for an aircraft which is going to be considerably modified and delivered five years hence?
I am delighted that the Government, in spite of all the errors they have made in rushing into this and doing a deal with the United States, can see that the logical thing to do is to co-operate with our friends on the Continent, and particularly with the French. I think that the French have been very reasonable in wanting to do a deal with us, in view of the way in which they were treated. They had very rough treatment indeed. However, some progress seems to have been made in that direction, and my feeling is that through the Royal Air Force we have a strong card with which to get closer to Europe as a whole, which I am sure has got to happen in some form or other, not only for defence purposes but for economic and other reasons.
I now want to turn to the reserve and auxiliary forces mentioned in the Estimates. Last year £228,000 was spent on the cadet forces. In the current year the figure was £218,000, a reduction of £10,000. Surely when we are speaking of £562 million, here is a modest sum with which to try to encourage the interest of these youngsters at school in this great Service. I should have thought that this was a project on which expenditure ought to be increased, when we are experiencing trouble in getting the right type of man required both in the ranks and as officers.
On page 153 of the Estimates, under the heading "Liquid fuels", etc., we see that a slightly smaller sum has been spent on fuels. I should like to know whether this means that less flying is taking place in the Royal Air Force. I also notice that recruitment of aircraftmen 552 and youths is down by some 3,700. We know that there is a deliberate plan to run down the personnel, but how far will this be allowed to go? Will the standard of efficiency be maintained among these very important men?
My view has always been that apprentices trained at Halton get the right background for the R.A.F. A great percentage of these apprentices after they have joined the Service become officers either on the technical side or on general duties. They have been the backbone of the R.A.F.
I should like to ask the Minister how much we are going to rely on the United States in all these matters. We read in the Sunday Press the statement made by Mr. Kuss, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence in Washington, about some of the methods used by Americans to try to get a complete monopoly of the Western European market. It would be a bad thing for the air defence of this country if five or ten years hence we are almost 100 per cent. dependent on the United States. It would be most regrettable. I am all for trading to some extent if we are short or something, either by lease or hire, but this has almost been a complete sell-out to the United States.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member shakes his head, but the R.A.F. operational requirement department, which has been very efficient and plans ten years ahead for requirements for a specific rôle, worked out the requirements for the TSR2 and over the years during which it has been building the specifications have hardly altered at all. These people are experts and it is not for politicians or even Governments to work against these men who say that the TSR2 is the type of aircraft required for reconnaissance and the HS681 for vertical take-off.
§ Mr. Maxwell
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that instead of making rabid anti-American speeches on this issue it would be better if he concentrated on asking the Secretary of State for Defence to set up an organisation similar to that which the American Defence Department has to help sell British weapons systems and equipment to our allies, including the United States? Let 553 us get a little more aggressive on this issue instead of spending time on being anti-American.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I do not want advice from the hon. Member on how to make my speeches, and I have been long enough in the aircraft industry to have great respect and affection for the Americans. I tried to sell equipment to them when I was in the business. I know their methods, but I am warning the Committee, as I have warned the House for a great many years before the hon. Member for Buckingham came here, of the dangers of selling out to the United States. At least I have been consistent, and it will have to be seen whether I am right or wrong in saying that if that policy is continued design teams will be disbanded and these men will not be happy to go into the tractor business and see their wages halved. I would prefer to see us merge with the Europeans. I want to see a complete integration in N.A.T.O.
It seems now that the Government have come right round to the advice given to them by the previous Administration on how the Services and the defence system should be run. In today's debate I have heard only about 1½ speeches from hon. Members opposite giving some measure of support for the Government. The first three speeches from the back benches opposite were anti-Government right throgh. I noticed 554 that in all these debates the Government have not had support from their own back benchers. It is very significant that, whether we are discussing the supply of aircraft in an aviation debate or in a defence debate, or in a debate on the Service Estimates, the Government are not getting support from their back benchers. It is a bad thing for Britain to have a Government, with an overall majority of four, who do not have their party behind them in these very important matters.
In the five hours of this debate so far, the number of Members present on the benches opposite has varied between six and eight. Yet hon. Members opposite go around the country saying that they are concerned about the taxpayers' money. Today we are dealing with £560 million, but where have hon. Members opposite been? Where have the Liberals been? The nation should know these things.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
About three times the number of hon. Members opposite throughout the debate. I have kept a careful count. The Conservative Party has been consistent over the years in its defence policy and towards the R.A.F., and there is only one thing to do—to turn the Government out neck and crop and reverse many of the decisions they have made.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I should begin by declaring an interest, however remote. I am a director of the Handley Page Company. I say "remote" for, as an independent airframe constructor, the company has had a difficult time over a number of years now against somewhat artificial difficulties and has made, and is making, a success both in the export of civil aircraft and in a number of important military projects, as the Under-Secretary of State, who was good enough to pay us a visit the other day, will confirm.
In all this time, the company has never made any public complaint about the difficulties it has faced and certainly will not wish to start tonight through me. I therefore make it clear to the Under-Secretary of State that I am speaking tonight as a private Member and in no sense as a director of Handley Page.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) that, of the three Service Estimates debates, this one is the most important. The military projects which have formed the kernel of the debate lie at the heart not only of air power but of much else besides. Of course, the three British projects which have attracted most attention during the debate have been the cancellations—the HS 681, the P 1154 and the TSR 2. But it would be a mistake if we concentrated solely on the relative merits of these and of the American aircraft it is proposed to buy in their stead. If we did, there would be some danger perhaps that the Committee might miss the main threat implicit in the cancellations as a whole, and therefore I want to deal briefly with this general aspect at the beginning of my remarks.
These cancellations have come about in my submission—and I accept that this has been said time and again, certainly by my right hon. and hon. Friends—because the Government have been taken for a ride by the Americans. It is as simple as that. But they also stem from a proposition, sedulously peddled by a small group in Whitehall, and which, I believe has been or was swallowed hook, line and sinker by this Government. That proposition is that we can abandon military projects in aviation, concentrate on civil aircraft and yet retain an aviation 556 industry and an adequate and independent defence. It is even said in the White Paper that the purchase of American aircraft is, in a sense, an interim measure and that we can get back to building our own independent military aircraft later on. I believe this proposition to be wholly false and extremely dangerous.
The interdependence of the military and the civil sides of this industry is complete, and I would like briefly to quote some statistics from the United States which show graphically that what is true for us is even more true of the Americans. In one or two speeches today there has been a tendency to suggest that we can separate these two sides of the industry, and that is the main proposition I am dealing with now.
In the United States industry there is an immense preponderance of turnover in military projects. The proportion of total sales of aircraft, engines and parts accounted for by United States Government contracts for military aircraft from 1949 to 1959 was never lower than 84 per cent. and has been as high as 91 per cent. This explains why the Americans can offer civil aircraft at such competitive prices and shows that the two sides of the industry, certainly in the United States, are completely interwoven. Undoubtedly the same applies in this country.
Various results immediately follow from the cancellation of the military projects in the industry as a whole. The first is that we can no longer offer civil aircraft at competitive prices and the second—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the aircraft industry and not about the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Hastings
I am endeavouring to show the results for the industry as a whole of trying to separate the two sides. It is my contention that this proposition is the reason for the cancellation of these projects and I therefore submit—
§ Mr. Hastings
Yes, but does it not follow that we cannot hope to maintain 557 an efficient Air Force unless we have an aircraft industry which can keep going technically? That is the point I am trying to make. I know that this seems to be on the borderline of order, Sir Samuel, but it is my contention that if you make the mistake which the Government have made and imagine that you can cancel the military side and keep going on the civil side independently, the industry as a whole will become quite incapable—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to relate what he is saying to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Hastings
I would have thought that the cost of the projects as a whole was closely related. I was about to say that if the military projects are cancelled the whole pace of technical advance throughout a wide range of equipment, as well as in airframe construction, will fall behind and that we shall be forced to buy military equipment as well as civil aircraft in ever-increasing numbers from abroad and we shall progressively fall behind technologically.
It may be asked what would happen to the civil side if all major aircraft-producing nations dropped military projects. Does my argument fall down on that score? It does not, because if that happened we should all be in the same boat and we should be competing on level terms. If, as is implicit in these cancellations, it is conceived that we can keep the industry alive while cancelling major military projects, the results will be disaster all round.
I contend that there are two separate threats to the maintenance of an efficient Air Force, which of course, is the objective behind the figures which we are discussing. They may be described, respectively, as the commercial threat and the technological threat to the air power of this country. It should be evident by this time that, as of comparatively recent date, it has been a clear American aim to turn the whole of Europe into one vast technological market for American arms and aircraft, with the object of financing research and development and the maintenance of the American Air Force and American air power. The Americans cannot be blamed for that. A number 558 of hon. Members have already alluded to this and it is undoubtedly the case.
If it is not obvious to the Government or in this country by now, it is certainly not the fault of the Americans, beginning with Mr. McNamara, the Secretary for Defence, who told Congress only a week or two ago that this new policy was saving the American taxpayer thousands of millions of dollars. The architect of this supermarket—it is all on the "never-never"—has also been alluded to in the debate. He is Mr. Henry J. Kuss, Jnr., rejoicing in the title of Deputy Assistant of Defence for international logistics negotiations, a euphemism for the hard sell, and a hard sell which is succeeding all too well in this country, thanks to the mistakes of the Government. Moreover, Mr. McNamara called a Press conference last month to crow, as he well might, over the successful sales of £357 million worth of American equipment to the British and to the Australians.
Now I know it has been suggested by Ministers on the Government Front Bench that there may be a chance of installing British control gear, ejector seats or aero-engines in the longer term in any American aircraft which are purchased now or later. I should like to know from the Under-Secretary of State when he replies whether there has been any suggestion of encouragement from Washington to lead us to believe that that is likely. I do not believe that there has been any encouragement whatever. I prefer to rely upon the comment of Mr. Cecil Browlow, editor of Aviation Week, a publication of wide significance and importance in the industry internationally, who the other day described the policy of the British Government as "a policy of suicide" in that it was financing development on the part of our largest competitor in the world in aviation.
I should like to pass briefly to the various projects and to start with the P1154, which, naturally enough, has been one of the chief subjects of debate, and to ask the Minister whether he is aware that a Senate committee of the United States reported, at about the same time as the decision to cancel was taken, that we were over two years ahead of the Americans on v.t.o.l. A great many hon. Members on the benches 559 opposite have suggested that the former Government were late in making up their mind on this project. One hon. Member even suggested that there had been dithering in the industry. Is it really so dilatory of the former Government to have made up their mind on a project as complicated, expensive and difficult as this in order to procure a lead of two years or more over our main competitors? I simply cannot reconcile that. I would not mind betting that in eight years' time, unless there is a radical reorientation of policy on this side of the Atlantic, we shall certainly be buying the replica or the twin of the P1154, for which the Americans have already put out a specification, or, failing that, perhaps even the Mystere 3V which the French are constructing.
For all we know—and the Minister certainly has not informed us to the contrary—the P1127 is still a development aircraft. If it is to be stretched, although many of us doubt whether it can be, to do a job even remotely comparable to the P1154, it will have to be modified in such a way that it will hardly be recognisable as the same aircraft. The Minister admitted that he has not the faintest idea when it will be ready. How long, for example, does an engine change take? This alone is a relevant factor in turning this machine into an operational aircraft.
The main point about the HS681 is that in cancelling it we are handing over the whole sector of military air transport to the Americans. How we are to get it back, I cannot foresee. Surely, at a time when our bases are becoming steadily fewer in number and further away, the ability to concentrate force wherever it is needed fast becomes more rather than less important. That is to say, air transport as a factor of air power is greater, perhaps, than it has ever been. This is the moment when the Government choose to let the initiative pass altogether to a foreign Power, however friendly it may be.
The 802 has so far been mentioned in one speech only, I think, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Mr. McMaster). Hawker Siddeley attempted to improvise, as the Minister knows very well, after the decision was apparently taken to buy the C130, with the HS802. There is no doubt that this 560 aircraft could have done a very satisfactory job, and certainly better than the C130, and it would have been ready at a comparable price and time. The Minister said earlier, when he was asked a question about this, that adequate consideration had been given to that project, but on the evidence, and with respect to him, I do not think we can accept that at all. I think it was only a suggestion from the company which forced the Government to consider it at all, or to go through the motions of considering it; this process lasted about a week, and then the project was written off, whereas it could in fact have done the job very adequately indeed.
§ Mr. Millan
I do not want to keep interrupting, but the hon. Member has made so many inaccurate statements, and the last one about the 802 is the most inaccurate of the lot. There has never been any question that it could have been available at the same time as C130. It has been stated from this Dispatch Box on at least three occasions that the first of them would have been two years later and the last of them four years later from the date on which the whole of the C130s were in service.
§ Mr. Hastings
Yes, but the Minister has already made it quite plain. He has been challenged again and again from this side to admit whether he does or does not know when the C130 will be ready. He has admitted he does not know. How, then, can he maintain that it will be ready before the 802? Does he or does he not accept that the air transport factor is one which we should not have surrendered lightly, as it is absolutely plain we have?
TSR2 has been mentioned so many times that I do not intend to spend any time at all on it, except to point out that operational requirements really rest on three factors, range, vulnerability, and hitting power. This is dictated by the Far East, not simply by the Soviet target, as was mentioned by one hon. Member opposite. I do think that there has been more ill-informed nonsense written in the newspapers and generally about this project than perhaps about any other. And here, I think, the Government are grossly to blame. Nobody, in the whole range of this series of debates on aviation, the aircraft industry, the Air Force, has denied that the Government had a perfect right to 561 look into these projects, but that they should have allowed the situation to develop semi-publicly and then entirely in public so that normally responsible organs such as the Sunday Times, The Observer, and the Economist have written what really has been extraordinarily ill-informed stuff about this project was a lamentable dereliction, and it should never have come about.
If, as I most deeply hope they do not choose to do, they take the TFX, I must ask the Minister a question about it. The Minister knows as well as I do, to be effective missile defence depends on the angle of fire, and the lower an aircraft can operate the safer it will be. What are the operating heights of the TSR2 and the TFX? What is the difference between them? Secondly, if TFX is to fulfil two rôles, interdiction and reconnaissance, it must carry linescan. Can it do so, as it will have to, if it is to perform the reconnaissance rôle adequately?
I mentioned two principal threats to the industry: first, the commercial one, the question of Europe as a whole being absorbed as an American technological market, and, secondly, I believe it right to say that there is also a technological threat, which I express by saying that for technology generally in the country to succeed there must be a leader industry of some kind. The advance of science generally is so rapid today and the extent of investment so vast that we cannot do it on a wide front—this is the view of the Russians at any rate. There are, therefore, two choices before us as a leader industry; first, nuclear, and, secondly, aircraft construction and aerospace research.
It is plain that, for a variety of technical reasons, the nuclear one is not one because of the materials involved. It is a science removed completely, and there will be no spin off, no question of its leading other technologies. Aero-space and aviation is the only alternative. If this is not followed, which industry is to be encouraged as the leader? We have never, in this series of debates, had any sort of answer to that question, although it has been put to the Government.
The provisions that we are discussing today lie at the heart of this industry. If they go, and the TSR 2 follows them, 562 it is possible that in a few years' time we shall not have any competitive form of aviation industry, or an Air Force equipped with British equipment in any way to compare with our competitors on a world scale, and our leader industry will be the very section of the economy at which the Government will have struck most violently.
What is air power? Does it matter in modern conditions? I am sure, as other hon. Members have said, that it is the key to our survival, just as it was in 1939. I am sure that it is the key to technological and, therefore, to economic success. It is also, if I may say so without straying too far from the bounds of order, the key to adventure. During the middle ages nothing aroused more passionate interest than the tales, the speculations, and the voyages of the navigators. During the nineteenth century it was overland discovery in Africa and at the Poles which aroused interest. Today, it is the air which leads in this regard.
It is not for nothing that youth in this country is absorbed with tales of outer space, nor that serious people are as concerned as they are with what have come to be known as flying saucers. It is man's lot to be adventurous, and it is a poor race of men which does not respond to this. We have always responded, but by taking the action which the Government have taken in the last four months on the projects which we are debating today, they are rapidly denying the nation the means to respond to this challenge of adventure.
The decisions on these projects can only be compared with a decision in the sixteenth century to turn away from the sea. It must not rest there, and I hope that my hon. Friends will do everything that they can to upgrade aviation again to the position which it should hold, but no one can recapture the time and the precious lead which has been so shortsightedly squandered by the party opposite.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) and many other hon. Gentlemen opposite passed off the TSR2 as something hardly worth talking about. I rise to remind them what the former Administration—
§ Mr. Maxwell
I must remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that this aircraft started off with an R and D cost of £30 million. We have already spent £300 million on it, and we have not finished yet.
§ Mr. Maxwell
In the 1957 White Paper the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) informed the House that there would be no replacement for the V-bomber force, and in 1958 Mr. Ward announced that it had been decided to develop a new strike reconnaissance aircraft as a replacement for the Canberra. Out of this decision, and for purely political reasons, to suit the party opposite, has grown the TSR2.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Where has the hon. Member garnered his facts? He has not been in the Chamber all day to listen to the debate. This subject has been discussed in great detail by hon. Members on both sides. Where has he got his facts?
§ Mr. Maxwell
If I had been in the Chamber I would not have learnt the facts from hon. Members opposite. The point I am trying to make is that the only facts that hon. Members opposite are willing to present here are those that suit their books, cooked or uncooked. The TSR2 came into being out of the cancellation of Blue Steel, Blue Streak and Skybolt. The TSR2 was created by the former Administration to maintain the ridiculous idea of creating an independent nuclear deterrent.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member must get his facts right. The TSR2 was laid down in 1957, as he knows. Skybolt was cancelled two years ago, and had nothing whatever to do with it. Neither has the TRS2 anything to do with V-bombers. It was to replace the Canberra, which was not a V-bomber.
§ Mr. Maxwell
The facts surely speak for themselves. No amount of doubletalk 564 can hide the fact that at the height of the Korean War our aircraft industry employed about 150,000 people, whereas when the former Administration was defeated that number had grown to 280,000 and the Royal Air Force was never worse equipped than it was at the time when the former Administration left office. The French Government and Air Force recognised, years before the former Tory Administration, that if one wishes to have a strike aircraft with a nuclear capability one has to fly it at tree-top level. For all these years the former Administration pretended to have an independent nuclear deterrent with a highflying, ageing V-bomber force, which they patently knew could be brought down by the available Soviet anti-aircraft guns.
§ Mr. Maxwell
We do not propose to replace it. I have been asked not to be too long, and although hon. Members opposite believe that I wish them ill, I have been asked to finish by 11 o'clock and I shall oblige. I appeal to my right hon. Friends to use their efforts and energies to ensure that our electronics industry does not become a burden on the taxpayer as the aircraft industry has been in the past 20 years. I should like to see this Administration use some panache and some unorthodox methods to install in the Defence Department the kind of technical sales force which Mr. McNamara has in his Defence Department. There is absolutely no reason why we should not take the initiative today with the French Government to bring about co-operation over electronics on the widest possible scale. This would not only benefit our military capability; it would be of the greatest service to the industries of Great Britain and to Europe as a whole.
It must be accepted, because of the political and administrative errors of the former Administration, that the aircraft industry of this country must be built down. It cannot—with the exception of the engines business—be a major force in our industrial life. I trust that our Government will make certain that the electronics industry does not fall the same way.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) for sitting down so promptly.
I am sure that I shall have the sympathy at least of the Under-Secretary of State in speaking from this Box for the first time, since he has done the same today with a major speech. I am sure that I shall also have his sympathy as a member of the Opposition, for he sat on these benches for some time and knows what it is to depend on one's own researches instead of having a Department to work for one.
The form in which the Statement on the Defence Estimates appears this year makes it even more difficult for back benchers, because when one is trying to deal with Air Estimates one has to grub around, picking up a little here and a little there, instead of having the Services dealt with by three separate Departments. Since there are three separate Services, I would have thought it reasonable to have had three separate compartments in the explanatory statement.
It is tempting, after all the discussions about aircraft and procurement of aircraft for the Royal Air Force, to launch straight into that subject, especially after the provocative remarks of the hon. Member for Buckingham. In passing, I must say—I must get back to other matters of importance before coming round to aircraft towards the end of my speech—that the TSR2, in any event, started off as a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, and the nuclear capability was a bonus which was found to be there. It was never intended—[Interruption.] The Paymaster-General has contributed to these debates in the past, and we have missed him tonight. However, his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has done exactly the same thing, having come in after dinner and filled in a happy few minutes. He must accept that this is the position about TSR2. When the hon. Member for Buckingham says that the Administration which departed in October left a frightful mess for the Government to take care of—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Have a good cheer. I would just refer him to what his own Secretary of State for Defence said on 23rd November, 1964: 566I agree with the right hon. Member for Monmouth that he has handed over to me the best weapon any defence Minister in this country has yet had.…"-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 1026.]So it does not come very well from the hon. Member to talk as though the defences of this country were in a bad state when the Conservative Government left office.
§ Mr. Goodhew
He was referring to the whole weapons system, the defence weapons which this country possessed.
The question of recruitment has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Sir E. Bullus), and it was mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State. One thing which must be of some concern is that it is becoming more difficult—this is stated in the White Paper—to recruit direct entry aircrew. I wonder why this should be. I understand that numbers are beginning to fall below the requirement. To try to counteract this, advertisement in the Press and elsewhere has been increased. I think it is right that we should pay a tribute to those who devise these advertisements, which are very good in content. Is it because there is a shortage of the right sort of material for aircrew? Or is it because the pay of aircrew in the Royal Air Force is lower than that of the civil airlines? It is unfortunate if that should be so. I appreciate that there are the advantages and attractions of Service life, such as the comradeship which we all enjoyed during our period in the Services, the sense of purpose and duty which is there, and the possibility of service overseas; but this should be a bonus rather than something that we have to pay for. I hope that the Government will look at the question of pay for aircrew to see whether it is not this which is discouraging direct entry. After all, this is the most vital section. Whatever else we may talk about, it is aircrew who are the spearhead.
The Under-Secretary talked about wastage. If he has time, I should like him to say something about the reasons for the wastage of aircrew and the stage at which it occurs generally speaking, whether early in training or late. The situation in the ground branches is apparently generally satisfactory, but we were told by the hon. Gentleman that the 567 need for qualified entrants in the technical branch is still not being properly met. He said that there was a national shortage of people with technical qualifications. I am not sure whether this has anything to do with the "brain drain" about which we have heard so much in the last year or so, but, if it is, I would mention that that "brain drain" will be as but a drip from a pipette compared with what will happen if hon. Gentlemen opposite have their way with our aircraft industry. If we are faced with this competition with industry for technically qualified persons, we can only ask whether it is the question of pay once more, because this is a field in which there has been a deficiency and it was commented upon year by year during the last Parliament.
It is not so surprising that there is a shortage in the education branch because one knows of the wastage in that profession, particularly among women, and I understand that it is among the W.R.A.F. that the shortage occurs. But it is somewhat surprising that there should be a shortage in the medical branch at a time when doctors are apparently dissatisfied with the civilian Health Service.
In passing, I would say how gratifying it is to read of the success of the university cadetship scheme and also of the university air squadrons. These have been a great source of good, high quality recruits to the Royal Air Force in recent years. It is encouraging to notice that the scheme has now been extended to cover five more universities, so that there are now 18 squadrons covering 24 universities.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North mentioned the Air Training Corps. We would all wish to pay tribute to this body which provides over one third of the direct entry aircrew for the Service and nearly half of all officer cadets. Cranwell has been mentioned. It is encouraging to note that the entry there has been increasing over recent years and that last year there was a total of 125 entries. We started, I understand, at that time the new syllabus about which much was said in last year's Air Estimates debate. It includes more flying, especially advanced flying training, and more concentration on professional subjects, 568 and to make up for that there is a reduction in the academic content of the course and a cutting down of drill. I dare say that most of us, if going to Cranwell, would approve of that re-arrangement. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to say a word or two about that.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Would my hon. Friend care to invite the Under-Secretary to say whether he proposes to initiate any action on haircuts in the Royal Air Force as has been done in the Army?
§ Mr. Goodhew
I do not think that in my present state I am fit to argue about that. I should have been to my own barber had it not been for working on this speech this week.
The cost of training these men is very high now. From a cost of £9,000 to produce a bomber pilot in the last world war we have now worked up to a figure of £100,000 to train a V-bomber pilot. I dare say that this cost will continue to rise, but we should not begrudge the expense, because these crews must be responsible for the most expensive equipment. As has been pointed out during the debate, it is only right that they should be given the necessary training to enable them to use this equipment to the best advantage. It is to be hoped that this is a sphere in which cuts will not be made.
It appears that we are recruiting the airmen we want, apart from certain categories. It has been unfortunate to learn from the Under-Secretary that it has been necessary in certain trades to prevent those who wish to purchase their discharge from so doing. This must be a bad thing from the Service point of view. A constituent of mine was in this position. It is a bad thing for the Service that people should have to stay on when they do not want to. I appreciate, however, that the only remedy is to get additional recruits to take over in those trades.
The Under-Secretary was right to say that when considering recruiting for the R.A.F. the future shape, size and rôle of the force is of great importance. We will not get people to join the R.A.F. unless these are made clear and unless they can see a good future in the Service. I suggest that there could be cause for anxiety—this is not reflected in the present figures but it might be next year—if the future shape of R.A.F. aircraft procurement and so on is not clarified.
569 The trade structure in the R.A.F. is something which the other Services somewhat envy. I understand that there have been important changes in the last 12 months, particularly in the career prospects arid system of promotion for those in ground trades. Since there had been a certain amount of frustration due to people thinking that they were overdue for promotion long before they got it, this is obviously a good thing.
Housing and accommodation is of extreme importance, for if we are to recruit people into the Service they must be content on an issue which, after all, affects their lives very much. This applies particularly at a time when men are marrying at a much earlier age and are often entering the Service as married men or are marrying soon afterwards. The provision of married quarters is, therefore, of greater importance now than in the past. Could we be told what percentage of married airmen are in married quarters or in hirings, both at home and abroad?
The question of accompanied and unaccompanied tours was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle). This causes some difficulty because at a time when we cannot foresee whether our overseas bases will still be there in, say, 10 years' time, if I had my way I should prefer to build married quarters and accommodation in this country where we know that they will be there for ever, and send men on short, unaccompanied tours of one year. Having seen, during visits to our Services in Aden and elsewhere, how Army units are given tours of just one year, unaccompanied, and are able to do their training and exercises completely unencumbered, I am not so sure that that is not a better line of approach than that of trying to see that all airmen are accompanied.
However, I appreciate that there must be flexibility; that there are people in, say, staff headquarters who, for the sake of continuity, need to complete longer tours. There is a lot to be said for having married quarters in this country, to which a man can return. It is difficult for a man who goes abroad and has married quarters there to find, when he comes home, that his family, his wife and children, are not entitled to married quarters and cannot obtain another home.
570 The works services have been transferred to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. How is this working out? We have not heard from the Under-Secretary what the form now is. It should have avoided a good deal of duplication and resulted in some saving. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will comment on this issue. I turn to the educational allowances—
§ Mr. Goodhew
I will gladly give it to the right hon. Gentleman later, if he cannot find it. I do not have it with me now, but he will find it in one of the pages the Prime Minister may have mentioned one day when he made a cheap gibe at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot find it, I will find it for him later.
The educational allowances are important to those who are serving, and one thing that has aggravated the position has been the publication of the Plowden Report, which dealt with people in the Foreign Service and the Commonwealth Relations Service to whom allowances are made for boarding-school education and two holiday visits a year by children to their parents. Quite honestly, that is something that should have been looked at. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), then Under-Secretary of State for Air, said:…the repercussions of the generous increases recommended by Plowden must be seriously considered by the Service Departments."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 3rd March, 1964, Vol. 690, c. 1255.]Have they been considered, and has any decision been come to?
The Airfield Construction Branch has been transferred to the Royal Engineers. How has this change of activity worked out? Is there effective liaison between the R.A.F. and the Engineers in this respect? How does it affect the forward bases, for instance? Is it merely Royal Engineers in name, and do the soldiers now wearing khaki go to the R.A.F. and remain attached to it wherever they go—
§ Mr. Goodhew
No. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been brought in by his right hon. Friend. I certainly did not notice him when I started my speech. I am sure that he will allow me to finish, because there is little time. He has often refused to give way to me. If he cannot take what I have said, he can come back later.
As I was saying, I hope very much that we may hear something about the Airfield Construction Branch, how the transfer is working out, who pays for it, and how the allocation of expenditure is made.
I turn now to the military use of space. This subject has been mentioned from time to time in recent debates. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North has mentioned it, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). It is constantly mentioned in debates, but we never seem to get any further. One wonders whether the Government are considering the subject, whether they have a committee inquiring into it, and what proposals they may have in mind. This is a sphere in which we as a country should be very active—
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Member asks "Why did the previous Administration not do it?" That is the classic remark to everything we mention in the Chamber, but I am not afraid of this one. I have asked my own party in the past to deal with this matter. I was not a member of the Government, but I did my best—and did so a little more quietly than the hon. Member for Buckingham, who makes a lot of noise.
The V-bomber force has been mentioned and, in particular, its rôle East of Suez. I understand the feelings of hon. Members opposite—the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) among them—who are anxious about this because they are once more concerned with the nuclear capacity of these aircraft. I would just suggest that these aircraft have a conventional rôle as well; and that it would be quite wrong for any Minister to say outright whether they were there for conventional 572 or for nuclear purposes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad the Secretary of State is in such a genial mood. I think it is quite right that they should be available for either means of attack. But I was surprised at the hon. Member for Salford, West when he admitted his own experience of having flown in bombers during the last war and then said that we should not today provide ourselves with a proper form of defence. Had we had in 1939 the sort of R.A.F. we have today, which is a great deterrent to any would-be aggressor, perhaps the hon. Member would not have found himself having to fly in a bomber at all because there would probably have been no war.
The increasing complexity of aircraft today, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) made clear, is bound to result in increasing time for development and increasing costs. I should like to say a word or two about some of the less complex aircraft. I think the Under-Secretary said that he would mention some of the smaller aircraft. I was delighted to learn that there are 20 Beagle 206s, or Bassets, for communications in the R.A.F. But I am surprised, as there are 79 Avro Ansons, that there are to be only 20 Bassets. It seems to me that we might have ordered at least 30 and perhaps 40. Perhaps the HS125 is being bought for some of the purposes which the Anson once fulfilled. I should like some information about that.
There is also the question of the Chipmunk replacement. I understand that the Beagle 121 is a possible candidate for this. It seems to me that this is a field in which we could compete with the United States. They have the field, but if the R.A.F. gives orders for these lighter aircraft and they are given a lead, foreign countries will buy.
While on the subject of exports, I would mention Martin-Baker ejector seats which have contributed greatly to the safety of our aircraft and also to our export drive. Some £17 million worth have been sold in the last five years without direct aid or assistance from the Government, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will derive great satisfaction from that fact.
Now I come to the decision to purchase the C130E and the Phantom in 573 place of the HS681 and the P1154. I was surprised that the Under-Secretary should have suggested that by seeking to compare these aircraft unfavourably with the British products we were likely to damage the morale of the R.A.F. I should have thought that the damage to the morale of the R.A.F. was much more likely to arise from this House deciding to downgrade a requirement which the R.A.F. decided was what it needed. This, it seems to me, is much more the point with which we should be dealing today.
There was mention of Sir Roy Dobson, and I think it is pertinent to remark that he described the C130E as a quite different aircraft. It was turned down by the R.A.F. some years ago. It is obviously much less flexible than the HS681 and we do not even know now what is the latest version of the C130E that we are to have. We are told that it is a later version than the one that the Americans have been using and we do not know what its additional capacity is, going to be. But I think we are entitled to expect from the Minister an answer to the formidable case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I am afraid in my absence to get some much-needed sustenance. I gather that he made a formidable case, and I hope to have an answer to that.
The HS681 is a jet tactical transport aircraft which can be used on the much shorter unprepared jungle strips, and is the sort of aircraft one needs for the "bushfire" war that we are constantly talking about in this House. I cannot understand how it is that we should wish to cancel it when, as my hon. Friend said, it was regarded last year by the Deputy Secretary of State for Defence as a welcome addition to our transport capacity.
We do not know now whether it is to have the Tyne engines in it or not. It is strange that I should have had the same figure as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) of a price of 500,000 dollars each as the extra cost if we wish to have British engines installed, and it is interesting to note that this is nearly four times the extra charge on Phantoms for putting in Speys. It shows how stupid it is to come 574 to an agreement before one has settled the terms and the final requirements.
The Phantom is a good supersonic fighter, but we cannot possibly consider it as anything like meeting the needs of the R.A.F. as compared with the P1154. We come back over all these requirements and procurements to the question of figures of cost, of time scales and dates. We have had all sorts of figures bandied across the Floor but we have never had a White Paper setting out the actual time scales and I am more confused than ever about the P1154 and the P127. It seems to me that the difference in time and cost is so narrow that I should have thought that there was a good case for reconsidering the matter.
The complete lack of understanding from the other side of the Committee of the needs of the R.A.F., as assessed by the R.A.F., is quite remarkable. I do not understand how, having seen these requirements built up over the years and a great deal developed, the Government should suddenly write them off. What is the reason for the change-over to U.S. aircraft? We started off by being told that we must have a review of defence because of the balance of payments problem. Buying American aircraft will not help solve that.
Who wrote down or reduced operational requirement? Was it the Chiefs of Staff or the Secretary of State for Defence? Who decided that Fate would be so kind that if we had to fight in future there would be prepared runways and we would not have to land on jungle strips and would not need forward support? What assessment was made of the R.A.F.'s rôle. in Britain's foreign policy which must be affected by the change.
§ Mr. Healey
One thing deeply resented by the Air Staff is the suggestion that somehow they compelled the previous Government to accept requirements which would not have provided the R.A.F. with aircraft at the time it needed them. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Air Staff is not only content but convinced that there is no way of meeting the requirements for the Hunter replacement or for tactical transport within the time available except by buying foreign because of the previous Government's policy.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I will come to the question of whether it was necessary to 575 have a stop-gap of foreign aircraft, but this does not necessarily mean that it is vital to order American for ever more, which it looks as if the Government are doing. Was this done on the advice of Mr. Richard Worcester? His previously publicised views on the British aircraft industry are very reminiscent of those of hon. Members opposite. The words "overgrown" and "mentally retarded" appear constantly. It is worth mentioning that in 1956 this gentlemen, who is such a prophet, described the air transport industry as "an industry gone mad" and said that to order jet aircraft was "a revolutionary orgy." He was all for sticking to turbo-props—a very progressive gentleman. I hope that it was not his advice that we should buy American aircraft.
Perhaps it was not a military decision. Perhaps it was the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs who decided that we had to save £30 million a year to pay for the abolition of prescription charges. We have heard much talk about strangling our social services during the debates on the aircraft industry and the R.A.F. and if this is so one can well understand why the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs is so coy about coming to the House to answer Questions.
This is an illusory saving. If hon. Members opposite think they are going to save £30 million a year are they quite sure that it is true saving? The millions which will go to the Americans will be in dollars. The money spent on the British aircraft would be spent in this country. The workers earning money would pay taxes; the companies would pay taxes on their profits; the people making profits or earning money would pay Purchase Tax. Much of the money would go back to the Treasury. How can it be said that £30 million a year will be saved? I should like an explanation of how this figure is arrived at.
This is the first time a Government have taken a deliberate decision not to give the R.A.F. the best planes possible. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh but I wonder what would have happened in the last war if, instead of developing and building the Spitfire and the Hurricane, we had bought American 576 aircraft which had been in use for some years. The Under-Secretary of State mentioned the Battle of Britain. I doubt whether we would have won that battle with foreign aircraft.
All that we have discussed today goes by the board if we have not effective air power, and effective air power means having the best aircraft available at the time.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The right hon. Gentleman has no right to say that. He does not know what is in my mind. I was saying that I would have understood the stop-gap had the question been answered as to what was to happen in the 1970s. But we are purchasing American aircraft for the R.A.F. without thought for what is to happen when a much more serious gap occurs in the 1970s—and when we could have had, with British aircraft, the best and most sophisticated air force in the world. It look as if the Government are softening-up on the TSR2. Everything they say points to that and the R.A.F. will be watching everything the Government do with the greatest anxiety.
§ 11.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Millan
The first thing I must do is to congratulate the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), if I may, on his debut at the Dispatch Box. He has not had a completely uneventful half-hour but he has comported himself admirably and has raised a considerable number of questions, not all of which I shall be able to answer in the time available to me. I will be glad to write to him on some of the more specific questions he raised about recruiting and give him specific answers.
The hon. Gentleman also raised a number of other points, apart from those dealing with aircraft procurement, as did other hon. Members. But, of course, this is not a debate on the aircraft industry, although it sounded suspiciously like one on more than one occasion. There are lots of other matters concerning the R.A.F. which we should be discussing and should be concerned about and I will deal with some of them now.
577 The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) asked if I would say something more about the recruiting of direct entry aircrew. He may have misunderstood something I said earlier. I think that he was under the impression that we were well off our target for the recruitment of aircrew. I am glad to be able to say that that is not so. Obviously, there are difficulties. There is great competition for the kind of highly qualified and intelligent young men we require and there is obviously a big demand for them in industry and elsewhere. However, we are pretty near the target we need and we are by no means in serious difficulty in this respect.
The hon. Member for St. Albans, the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) and others mentioned the Air Training Corps. There is no intention of running down the Corps. We greatly appreciate its tremendous value to the Service. In 1964, for example, 583 of our administrative, craft and technician apprentices recruited had been members of cadet forces, and that figure represents about 44 per cent. of our recruitment in that category. We get a very large percentage of our officer cadets through the Air Training Corps, which is our biggest single source of recruitment for the Service and we are very anxious that its activities should be expanded in every way possible.
The hon. Member for St. Albans and a number of other hon. Members mentioned family separation, with particular reference to unaccompanied tours overseas. This is an extremely difficult problem. As a general principle, the aim of the R.A.F. is to provide accommodation for every married man and his family on every posting. The hon. Member suggested that in certain circumstances a Service man would not mind being separated from his family. Unfortunately, that is not our experience in practice.
Nowadays, the airman wants to be accompanied by his family wherever possible, and we try to see that in practice he is; but there are obvious difficulties in some overseas postings. There are places where actual operational activities are going on, where fighting is taking place, and wives and families obviously cannot go to those. There are 578 remote stations where there are no accommodation facilities for wives and families, and a number of difficult places like Bahrain and Aden where there is a shortage of accommodation and where, as in Aden, there are political disturbances so that there has to be a certain amount of unaccompanied posting.
However, we appreciate that this is not popular with the airmen. It is unavoidable, but we try to keep it to the absolute minimum. Even in places where there is unaccompanied posting, like Bahrain and Aden, there is a fair number of married quarters and a fair number of men who are accompanied by their families.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I have been listening to the debate for some time, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I have not been able to speak. When R.A.F. personnel are posted overseas, it is often the case that their families are left behind in married quarters. But the families then have to leave those married quarters and find other accommodation, and this creates great difficulty. The man has to go abroad because of Service demands and the family has to stay at home and yet leave the married quarters. Will the hon. Gentleman promise to look at this important matter?
§ Mr. Millan
I very much appreciate this difficulty and I am now studying it. The trouble is that there is a shortage of married quarters and when a man is posted from a station on an unaccompanied posting, the airman replacing him may need the married quarters for his own wife and family, so that there is a certain amount of disturbance of families. However, we are looking into this very difficult matter.
The hon. Member for St. Albans asked why we were buying only 20 Basset aircraft and why we could not step up the order. The Basset is largely a replacement for the Anson communication aircraft. At the time the decision was taken to replace the Anson, there was no British aircraft in production that could fully meet the requirements that we needed under new communications arrangements which had just been devised. We need an aircraft of rather greater flexibility than the Basset provides. That is why we have restricted the Basset order. We are, however, 579 considering various other possibilities. Included among these are certain later Beagle aircraft. The company is, therefore, by no means being neglected.
The hon. Member asked also whether a lighter version of the Beagle might be used as a replacement for the Chipmunk. Current holdings of the Chipmunk are adequate until the 1970s, so that there is at present no question of replacing the Chipmunk and, therefore, its replacement by the Beagle does not arise. If and when the Chipmunk comes to be replaced, however, naturally all aircraft which might be suitable will be taken into account.
I wish to devote the rest of my remarks to aircraft procurement, because this has occupied by far the bulk of today's debate. I said earlier that I sometimes had the impression that some hon. Members thought that we were debating the aircraft industry. That applied particularly to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), who, unfortunately, seems to have left us. It is not by any means the Government's policy, as has been charged by a number of hon. Members opposite, to kill the British aircraft industry. Certainly, it is not the policy of the Ministry of Defence or of the Royal Air Force to kill the British aircraft industry. Other things being equal, we would, naturally, prefer to fly British. Of course we would.
As to the projects that we have cancelled, the British aircraft that were to be made available were acceptable neither in terms of time nor in terms of cost. Therefore, we had to go elsewhere. It is an unpleasant decision to have to buy foreign. This has been explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation on a number of occasions in the House.
A number of hon. Members seem to think that, in some way, the defence industry should subsidise civil projects. We were told, for example, that cancellation of the TSR2 might have serious effects on the cost of the BAC111. We are well aware of the interdependence in some cases of civil and military aircraft, but we must not get into a position that we can produce good civil aircraft only if some of the overheads are being 580 borne by military aircraft. That is one of the things that has happened over recent years.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had the pleasure of seeing "Panorama" on Monday night, when it was said that at the Boeing plant the Americans produced 500 aircraft, which were mainly military, before they showed a profit and before they got on to the 707. This bears out the point.
§ Mr. Millan
The interconnection between the civil and military sides of the industry applies in the United States as well as in Britain. I have said that I recognise that there is a connection. I repeat, however, that we must not get into the position of using this as an excuse for continuing with uneconomic military aircraft which will not even arrive by the time we want them.
A number of hon. Members, starting with the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, raised the question of getting more Information about aircraft production. I must say that this comes with more than a little irony from hon. Gentlemen opposite who, when our predecessors in office, steadfastly refused over a period of 13 years to give the Committee or the House—or anybody else for that matter—any information at all about the cost or delivery dates or the specifications of military aircraft. I would just quote from what the then Prime Minister said on 21st November, 1963. He said:As to the cost of an aircraft or weapons of this kind, I do not think that such details are ever disclosed, for clearly if countries overseas know the cost they can calculate, for example, the number of aircraft we have."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 1179.]For once, I think there was a good deal of truth in what the Leader of the Opposition said on that occasion.
I said in my opening speech that I would be pleased if we could give more information. I think that in fact we have been considerably more forthcoming than the previous Government. I hope we shall be able to be more forthcoming in future, because I think the more this Committee, the House and the country know about the facts of the aircraft programme the more they will recognise the urgency and the acceptability, and inevitability, indeed, of the decisions which 581 this Government have taken over the last few months. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite think that disclosure of more information about these aircraft projects will provide them with ammunition for their case, then I can only say that they could not be more mistaken: the very reverse is in fact the truth.
Perhaps I may now be allowed to say one or two things about each of the projects which have been discussed in some detail today. First of all, about the replacement of the Shackleton by the Comet. I must say that I was absolutely astounded to hear the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West raising a considerable amount of carping criticism about this particular decision, because here we are buying a British aircraft, a well-known and well-tried British aircraft with an international reputation, and yet he seemed to complain that because of the cost of it we should have gone for the Atlantique, which is not in service at the minute, incidentally, and which, of course, the Government considered in their general assessment of the various alternatives for the Shackleton replacement before deciding to go for the Comet. In this case, as in the other cases, every kind of alternative was considered and assessed, but we had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the Comet was the right choice, that it would meet the operational requirements which we should place upon it, and that it would come into service at an acceptable time. This I should have thought was something the Committee as a whole would be delighted should have happened.
I turn to the question of the C130, because I think there has been more discussion today—and, incidentally, more inaccurate information from the other side—about the C130 than about anything else which we have dealt with in today's debate. Let me start with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster). I must say I admire the pertinacity with which he pleads the case—perfectly rightly—for his constituents and Short Brothers in Belfast, but it seemed to me that today he was really very confused indeed about the Belfast as an alternative to the C130. He jumped from talking about the Belfast strategic freighter to some new developed aircraft which would be much nearer to the C110, and I found great difficulty at various points in his speech in knowing exactly 582 what particular version of the Belfast he was talking about at the time.
We did, of course, study the Belfast very carefully indeed, and we came to the conclusion that the present Belfast was essentially unsuitable for the tactical rôle, and of course, the cost of producing a developed, modified Belfast would have been very high indeed. So many modifications would have been required that we really should have needed a full programme of research and development, and we should have had all the uncertainties then of timescale and cost. We came to the conclusion that, if we tried to go ahead with the Belfast, we should put ourselves in the same position we were already in with regard to the HS681. We therefore decided that we had to discard the Belfast as a possibility.
Naturally we are concerned about the future of Short's from the point of view of employment in Northern Ireland, but, for the first time, something practical has been done about it by the Government. This is not a problem which has suddenly come in during the last few months. I cannot remember an aircraft debate, or an employment debate, or in some cases rather inappropriate debates, during the last few years when the hon. Member for Belfast, East has not jumped up and asked the Government to provide more money and assistance for Northern Ireland.
The Government are doing something, and I only wish that when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power they had had the gumption to do something practical for Short's in Belfast and Northern Ireland generally. If we had a number of Labour Members from Northern Ireland, we might see some results.
§ Mr. McMaster
The aircraft to which I was referring was the SE515, A and B versions, one with short take-off, and one with standard take-off, as against the one suggested two years ago, the SC521B. That was a four-year old one, and that was the one on which the Minister of Defence seemed to base his argument. What does the hon. Gentleman say the Government have done for Belfast? What aircraft are being ordered there in place of the HS681?
§ Mr. Millan
I am saying that we are going to see that the facilities and labour available at the moment in Short's in 583 Belfast are given a guarantee of employment on a long-term basis, and do not have to live from hand to mouth as they have been doing for the last 10 years, in some cases by having projects given to them simply to get the Government out of political difficulties in Northern Ireland.
There will be ample work after the Government have made their review of the Belfast position, and Short's position. We are saying that we shall see that there is work available in Belfast for the people who are at present working in Short Brothers, whether in the aircraft industry, or in some other field. The hon. Member for Belfast, East need not jump up and down. He knows that we have given a good deal of consideration to the position in Belfast, and I have said that I have some sympathy with the employment situation there, more so as I come from an area where there is a high rate of unemployment.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Gentleman made a special point earlier of saying that it is the present Government who have done something positive for Short's —it was not a question of talk, it was action—but he has not specified in any detail the nature of the action.
§ Mr. Millan
Yes. When the hon. Gentleman's Government were in power they made no effort at all to put the position of Short's on a satisfactory long-term basis. I should have thought that this was not a matter for party controversy. The position of Short's has been very difficult for a considerable number of years, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should even try to dispute that.
I have other points to deal with on the C130, and I want to say something about the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). His speech was delivered with considerable vigour, but it was, nevertheless, based on a complete misconception. I tried to point this out to the hon. Gentleman when he was speaking, but he would not pay attention to me. Perhaps I can now point it out at greater length.
584 He suggested that we had entered into an agreement with the Americans for the purchase of the C130 which prohibited us from putting Tyne engines in that aircraft, or, if it did not prohibit us from doing that, it made it possible to do it only at prohibitive cost. The position is not that at all. The so-called agreement with the Americans, or the contract with Lockheeds, about which the hon. Gentleman spoke is not a contract or an agreement at all. It is simply an arrangement laying down certain agreements in principle about the purchase of certain American aircraft. There is no question of the Government's being contractually bound with regard to a certain kind of engine for the C130 or the Phantom. In the case of the Phantom we have said we will put Spey engines in, and we are now discussing the precise terms of the agreement from that point of view. In the case of the C130 the Tyne engine is still a possibility. It is still something on which we have finally to make up our minds.
I shall not go into the arguments put forward by the hon. Member as to the respective technical merits of the Tyne engine and the Allison engine, because I am not an engineer and do not pretend to be able to talk about the technical details mentioned by the hon. Member. What I say is that my advice—and I have no reason to suspect that it is less technically qualified than the hon. Member's; rather the reverse—is that the Allison engine, if we go for it, will be a perfectly satisfactory one, and that the aircraft as a whole will certainly do the job we are going to call upon it to do. If we have been sold a pup by the Americans that is also true of the Australians and New Zealanders, who are going for the C130E, in its modified version.
As for the logistic arrangements—spares—it was announced when some of the terms of the agreement were publicly disclosed that we should be in the same position as the United States Air Force in regard to both availability and costs. If hon. Members opposite think that we have bought a cheap aircraft and will be taken for a ride with the cost of spares I can only say again that they are completely wrong, because all this is already provided for in the arrangement that we have with the Americans.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Will the hon. Member confirm that what he has been saying is pure speculation, and not a statement of fact? He does not know what will be the overall life of the Allison engine. Nobody knows, because it has not done any development flying. He does not know how many spare engines he will need, or what the spares consumption will be, or even what the fuel consumption will be.
§ Mr. Millan
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but we do know the answers to all those questions.
§ Mr. Millan
All these matters have been considered. The hon. Member is giving us little credit for looking into any of these points. He will have to accept my assurance that we have looked into them. They are not unfamiliar to me, and certainly not to our technical people who have been dealing with this matter.
I want to say a few words about the P1127 and P1154. There has been a certain misrepresentation of what I said earlier about the time scale. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) brought it down to a difference of a year or 18 months, but this is not so; the difference will be at least two or three years, and it may be considerably more than that, because the P1154 was an extremely complicated and difficult aircraft to develop, and it was likely to slip in time very much more than will be the case with the P1127. There is no question of the P1127 being developed to a supersonic capacity, as a number of hon. Members opposite thought would be the case. The prospects of exports are very good.
On all these projects—and we have now considered them at considerable length—I do not think that anything that hon. Members opposite have said has destroyed the case that the Government have deployed, or in any way invalidated the decision that we have taken. The Royal Air Force is getting excellent aircraft, and getting them in time, and at a cost which the nation can afford.
§ Question put and agreed to.586
That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 136,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1966.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received this day; Committee to sit again this day.